Wednesday, Simtember 7, 2416 | Bay City General Hospital | Bay City, Califorsimia
“Oh Kass, if you were going to report him for sexual harassment, you would’ve already done it!”
I grunted in frustration.
“He’s good looking, isn’t he?” Ayesha was asking.
“I’m not answering that!” I retorted. “I called you to get good advice, not discuss my boss’s appearance.”
Ayesha laughed. “Sweetheart, if you wanted good advice, you would’ve called someone with a better head on her shoulders. You want the truth? I think you like it… secretly… but you’re just too chicken to admit it.”
“I do not!” I screeched as I felt my cheeks grow warm.
“You’re blushing, aren’t you?”
“Are too. I know you too well, Kassiopeia Celestia Fullbright. Keep the lingerie. You can always hold it over his head later.”
I hung up the phone with a huff. Ayesha was no help at all. But she had a point. I hadn’t reported Brendon for sexual harassment, mostly because his reputation for shamelessly flirting with everything female that moved. Also everything had been harmless up until today…
Gah! Why do I let him get under my skin? Stupid pitiful me! I’m pining over Davis last night and I let myself get too loose with my boss. He practically kissed me.
Brendon was already waiting in the lobby when I walked out of my hospital room. I had forgotten he had offered to pick me up and drive me to my great-grandmother’s estate. He was still wearing his clothes from yesterday and he still hadn’t shaved. I wondered if he’d been here all night waiting. Oh why did I have to agree to letting him take me home?
I wished I had combed my hair better and worn something cuter just to spite him – flaunt that I was something he was never going to have. But practicality necessitated I wear something comfortable as my ribs were still swollen and my hip still ached something fierce. My mind might want to wear “sexy,” but my body sure wouldn’t let me.
I could just call a taxi. I didn’t need Brendon. I was hoping to sneak by him when he turned his head and noticed me.
“Good morning, Fullbright.”
Oh it’s gonna be good alright… when I rip you a new one, I glared at him.
“Morning,” I growled.
“Are you always a grouchy bear first thing in the morning?” Brendon teased when he got to his feet.
“Are you always a pervert?” I exclaimed in annoyance.
Brendon’s smile faded. He looked taken aback. “Did I do something?”
“Did you do something?!” I repeated incredulously as I lifted my hand and smacked him hard across the face.
“Oh!” he said, stunned.
My side screamed as hot pain seared up my side. Lifting my arms really wasn’t a good idea. I was worried I’d pulled stitches as I laid my hand to rest on my lower rib cage, and brought both arms to rest at my side. But it was worth it. Worth wiping that smug look off Brendon Shore’s face.
“Oh… is this about the lingerie?” Brendon suddenly clued in and leaned a little to the side. “Okay, I deserved the slap… but…” he grinned like a school boy. “I bet you look hot in it.”
“I’m not keeping it, Shore!” I huffed.
“You aren’t?” he quirked a brow. “Did I get your size wrong?”
“It’s wildly inappropriate…” I raised my arms again without thinking. “…for you to be giving me…” I lowered my voice as two nurses walked by and suddenly felt embarrassed. “…such a gift…” I whispered.
My muscles tightened and pulled. This time I visibly winced. Must. Keep. Arms. Down.
“Ouch,” I pouted.
“Are you okay?” Brendon asked, taking a step toward me.
“I’m fine,” I said through gritted teeth.
“Well, okay, if you say so,” Brendon dropped his eager-to-help arms back to his side.
I stood motionless for a moment trying to convince my arms to move back downward. I would feel better once they were there, but the movement part was painful. Mind over matter. You can do this, Kass. I gave myself a quick pep talk.
“Will you at least tell me if you tried it on?” Brendon asked in a low seductive voice.
My arms came flying back down in heated exasperation. Instantly I regretted my anger because I felt my hip pop and shift.
“Ahhhhhhh!” was all I managed to grunt out.
“Okay, okay,” Brendon said as he took a step back.
Good. I intimidated him. I thought smugly even though the pain was escalating.
“Should I get the nurse?” he asked, and then winked at me. “Or should I take you home and I can play nurse?”
“You’re… shameless…I’m hur…hurting…and…all you can… think about… is your… sex drive…don’t… you… have… a… story to work on… maybe a flagellation…to…get…to?” I asked between angry breaths.
“I get it. I’m sorry, Kass. You’re right, I shouldn’t be teasing you at a time like now,” Brendon said, sounding genuinely apologetic.
He called me Kass. I nearly shook my head in my mixed emotions of surprise, anger, and frustration, but I thought better of it. Moving was a bad idea right now. Dr. Bachelor had said I’d experience pain, but I didn’t think it’d be this excruciating.
“I picked up your car,” he said quietly.
“You did?” I looked at him, surprised. “But I had to leave it in…”
“In Sunset Valley?” Brendon cut me off. “But I had one of the guys I know drive it up for me from Sears Auto Care while you’ve been in the hospital.” He handed me the keys. “It was the least I could do.”
“Thank you,” I stood, open-mouthed, and almost feeling guilty about slapping my boss. “Uh… thank you.”
“Yeah, I know. I should’ve just given you the car as your get-well gift instead of the well… you know… but I just wanted to get you something special and you already had the car,” he shrugged.
“Special?” I felt my cheeks grow hot again. “Brendon Shore! Don’t you ever buy me anything like that ever again!”
“Does this mean you’re keeping it?” he asked with a hopeful smile.
“Argh!” I started to walk forward, wishing I could stomp off, but my body wouldn’t let me. “Yes, I’m keeping my car, thank you,” I grunted. “Now I need to ask you to drive me home. Dr. B says I shouldn’t drive myself.”
“Heavy pain meds got you doped up?” Brendon grinned wickedly, and then seeing my pained expression, quickly frowned. “Uh… sorry…” he perked up again. “…gladly… do you want a wheelie?”
“No,” I shouted, and waved my arm dramatically. “No wheelchair! I’ll walk to the car on my own.”
“Touchy, touchy, Berns,” he smirked.
“What did you call me?” I growled.
“Berns… it suits you… you are Bernish, right? The red hair and all?” he asked. “Where’s your homeland Hibernian pride? I know you have a little Bernish in there.”
“Shore I swear to God…”
“I’m getting the car.”
We drove in silence through the streets of Bay City. The day was unusually warm for Simtember. Brendon had flicked on the A/C. The cool air felt good against my face, my cheeks still stinging from the scrapes and bruises. I tried to think of something I could say, but honestly, I was drawing a blank. I couldn’t figure out Brendon. I should probably quit, or maybe threaten to quit. His “harmless” flirting was bordering on sexual harassment. I wasn’t a little girl anymore, but he was at least eleven years older than me, not to mention I was sure he’d been around the track. Still, I found myself staring at his profile. His chiseled jaw and five o’clock shadow did give him a certain appeal.
Kass, snap out of it! He’s your boss. He’s a Casimnova. He’s out of your league. Actually, wait, you’re out of his league. He just wants you because he can’t have you. All this flirting and the gift… My cheeks were burning. Llamas! The gift! I didn’t want to think about it. It was too humiliating.
“Give me one good reason not to report you,” I snarled.
Brendon didn’t even blink as if my angry comment didn’t even faze him. Does anything faze him?
“Kass, come on, if you were going to report me, you would’ve done it already and I certainly wouldn’t be driving you home, am I right?”
I slid down in my seat, all of my steely resolve melting away. He used the exact same argument Ayesha did. Why should I listen to Ayesha anyway? She’s halfway around the world. I tried to think about what I should do, but my brain felt fuzzy, probably from the pain medication.
“Listen Kass,” Brendon answered for me. “I’m just a guy who happens to be your boss that likes to buy nice gifts for the women in his life and before you get all huffy on me, Berns, just understand I only do casual relationships and I never have a fling with someone in the office. Office relationships just don’t work out in my experience.”
“Oh,” I said, looking down at my hands.
I didn’t know whether to feel relieved or disappointed. Relieved! Feel relieved! my brain screamed at me internally, but then it shouted obscenities in the form of shooting pain. I made a face and lifted my hand every so gently to my temple, massaging the pain away.
“I would never take advantage of you when you were injured or indisposed. I’m not that kind of guy,” Brendon continued.
I froze. His words struck a nerve. I gulped, wondering if the nausea I felt was related to my headache or old painful memories. I took a deep breath. He said never, Kass, I said to myself. That’s a good sign. I don’t think he’d say never if he didn’t mean it.
“I’m sorry if I gave you that impression. I’m just teasing you a bit and all. Consider it a hazing for the new girl since you’re still fairly new and all,” Brendon kept talking, and I was relieved he hadn’t noticed my fleeting fear. “Now you’re only an intern, but I’ve read what you’ve written, Kass, and you will make a damn good reporter. A great one in fact. I would never dream of getting in the way of a great writer, especially one on my staff. I’m the kind of guy who holds girls like you back, though I hope you’ll work for the Buzz forever because frankly who else is going to get my Simpanese order right at lunch?”
I managed a laugh.
“If you want I can take the gift back,” he offered.
“That’s a noble gesture,” I grinned. “We should probably talk about a neutral topic.”
I frowned. “I said neutral. I would hardly call EXCES neutral since you hate it when I bring it up.”
“Well, all I’m going to say is I’ve never seen anyone care as much about an relatively unknown disease as you have,” he grunted.
“It’s not relatively unknown! And that’s precisely why I should be researching it and writing about it,” I protested.
“Fine, but on your own time, not at the office anymore.”
“Speaking of the office, when should I come in?”
“Take the week. You can come in end of next.”
“End of next? Brendon, I should come in sooner. I have that article to write about the upcoming sidewalk beautification project.”
“Seriously, Kass, let Simone write it. Who really cares about the sidewalk beautification project? It’s just a fluff piece for the intern to write. You don’t really want to come back for that article.”
I tried not to take offense. I knew he meant that I should focus on getting better and not worrying about the newspaper but he was right. No one cared about the vegetation near the sidewalks only which celebutante was strutting them this week. I sighed. Brendon was right though. The office had better resources for researching EXCES than my home laptop did, and I’d much rather be studying than writing about sidewalks.
We drove past the Wolfbane Tavern. The place still had crime scene tape across the entrance and the window was boarded up. I looked away, feeling strange about being back here. It was only two days ago since I arrived back in Bay City and a horrific accident happened. Psh! Accident! Kass more like tragedy. Someone had targeted the Wolfbane and started shooting after driving a truck through the front window. It was all too bizarre.
“Hey are you writing a piece about the accident?” I asked.
“I think Alonso is,” Brendon replied. “We ran a small piece about it yesterday.” He cleared his throat. “I’m assuming Alonso is doing a more in-depth piece. Did he contact you about an interview or something?”
“Uh… no,” I said. “But I’m surprised you aren’t doing a full spread. I mean this whole thing reeks of conspiracy.”
“Yeah,” Brendon ran his hand through his hair. “I’m sure Alonso is on it.”
“It’s all so weird. I mean, who shoots up a place after driving through a window. I said as much to the police,” I continued. “When they came and took my statement, but I didn’t really have anything useful for them since I passed out when I hit the floor. It’s so sad about the waitress that was killed. Hey do you know who it was? Being in news and all, I thought you might. I should send her family a card.”
“Kass, can we talk about something else?” Brendon asked as we drove through a tunnel.
“Okay,” I shrugged. “Hey, did you hear about Bella Goth?”
“I heard about it on the news. I watched it all day yesterday. I’m surprised you didn’t mention it at dinner last night.”
“Well you didn’t either.”
“Yeah, well, I’m mentioning it now. Bizarre right? She’s reunited with her family and then bam! She’s killed the next year. Smells fishy to me.”
“Hey you know her mom is my personal doctor,” I said, and noticed Brendon’s grimace. “Was that why you were at the hospital? Ah ha! I knew it! The truth comes out!”
“There’s no truth to be out,” Brendon sighed. “I was at the hospital for you.”
“Yeah, but you were totally trying to get a statement from her, weren’t you? That’d be just like you, taking advantage of a prime opportunity. I might’ve done it to weren’t it for the accident part, and well, I felt bad and all,” I remarked. “I’m surprised you weren’t on the first flight to Oasis Landing. This story has Brendon Shore written all over it. You know after you drop me off I bet you can still get to the airport. I bet there’s a flight you can take out tonight.”
“Kass, I’m here for you. I think one of the other guys is doing the story,” Brendon said, his voice sounding strained.
“Really? Because didn’t you write a paper on her back in college or something?” I asked. “I thought you told me you were pretty psyched about the story of her disappearance ten years ago…”
“What did you say the address was?” Brendon interjected, seeming distracted.
“16 Crooked Road. Turn right up ahead,” I pointed. “Didn’t you even follow the trail down to Strangetown?”
“I think we’re here,” Brendon said.
He pulled off the grassy road and into the small field next to the Silverton Estate. I decided to let the subject drop as I leaned forward in anticipation.
“My new home,” I breathed as I looked through the windshield.
“Is there someplace else I should park?” Brendon asked, pulling the keys from the ignition.
“No, here should be fine,” I replied.
I eased my way out of the car. Brendon had been kind enough to turn around so the passenger side was away from the road. In the daylight, the house looked larger than I remembered and more run down.
“So that’s it?” Brendon remarked.
“Uh… yeah…” I frowned.
The yard was completely overgrown with weeds and stray brush. The ground was bulging with rocks and boulders, making the path, if you could even call it that, to the house bumpy to say the least. Ivy draped gracefully over the brick walls, and crawled up the stone walls. The metal entryway gate was rusting. The stone walls of the house were looking worse for the wear, not exactly crumbling, but certainly not the glorious vision I had in mind when I heard I had inherited my great-grandmother’s estate from her glamorous movie star days. The paint around the windowsills was cracked and peeling. Even the front door looked dull and splintered.
I took a step forward and let out a small yelp, holding my side.
“Why don’t you let me go first?” Brendon suggested. “I’ll go see if I can find the groundskeeper.”
“What? You think there’s a boogie man in the middle of the day?” I teased, pouting my lips.
“Kass,” Brendon made a face.
“Fine,” I waved my arms ahead.
I stood at the gate wondering what kind of project I had gotten myself into, especially now that I’d been injured. This wasn’t going to be easy from the looks of it and this was just the outside of the house. I tossed Brendon my house keys and watched him walk away while I made my way to a small stone bench in the front yard. There was a small pond filled with murky waters, sea reeds, and something alive and probably slimy. I wrinkled my nose at the putrid smell.
Brendon came back and ushered me into the front hallway.
The inside was as much in shambles as the outside. The yellowy wallpaper was faded and outdated, not to mention ugly. The couches were in sad need of repair, one of them missing a leg, the fabric worn and thin. A thin burlap runner ran across the entire foyer. The chocolate colored candelabras held modern flickering lights, but the light was so faint, it might as well have been real candles. A small sculpted ivy in a terracotta pot sat atop a imbalanced scratched wood table, appearing out of place since everything else in the room was decaying. I leaned forward, using the table to steady my weight, and sniffed the ivy as if the essence of life would flow right out of it.
“What are you doing?” Brendon frowned.
“It’s alive,” I smiled, touching the leaves delicately. “That means there has to be a caretaker here somewhere.”
“Hello?” I called out. “Anyone here? Heeellllooooo?”
“No one answered when I walked in before,” Brendon said.
“Yes, when you were checking for boogie men,” I smirked. “Did you check out back? This is a big house. Maybe she just can’t hear you.”
“What did you say her name was?”
“Honey something?” I frowned, trying to remember. “Honestly, the caretaker was supposed to be a Mr. Butterworth. He’d apparently served my family for generations and then mysteriously disappeared before my arrival. Strange right?”
“Intriguing,” Brendon quirked a brow. “So where is Ms. Honey?”
“I don’t know. Ow!” I doubled over and grabbed my waist.
“Pain again? You should sit down,” Brendon suggested. “I’ll go look for the caretaker.”
“I’m fine,” I shrugged, limping forward. “Maybe she’s on another floor.”
“I don’t think you should be walking upstairs,” Brendon eyed me worriedly.
“I’ll be fine,” I tried to reassure him as I walked slowly to the stairwell.
“I’ll wait at the bottom in case you fall,” Brendon said.
I looked up and felt overwhelmed. There were too many stairs. This place had to be at least four stories high and I didn’t know if there was a basement so possibly five. I couldn’t sprint all over the house looking for the mysterious woman who had taken Mr. Butterworth’s position. I hoped she would’ve heard us, but the waitress at the bar made her sound old so perhaps she had a hearing problem. Maybe she was napping and took her hearing aid out. I frowned. Either way, she had to have known I was coming. Surely, Butterworth would’ve told her to expect me.
Stairs had been a bad idea. Every step I could feel my ribs screaming for me to stop. The pain was increasing. I would need to take more of the medication Dr. Bachelor gave me. I held my lower back and leaned forward. The last thing I needed was to plummet down the stairs. I could hear Brendon race up the steps behind me and I envied his maneuverability.
“Hey, take it easy,” he said, coming alongside me and slipping an arm around my waist. “You need to sit down?” he motioned toward the next flight of stairs.
I shook my head adamantly. I didn’t think I could bend down. Without a word, Brendon put his arms under my legs and lifted me off the ground. I squirmed and squeaked.
“What are you doing?” I shrieked.
“Oww!” Brendon exclaimed. “You’re jabbing me in the jaw.”
“I’m jabbing you!” I said breathlessly. “You slammed your face into my stitches.”
“Argh!” Brendon grunted. “Quit fighting me and bring one of your arms around. I’ll be able to carry you better once you do.”
“Put me down, Shore!”
“Not a chance, Berns. You can barely walk and those stairs did a number on your ribs, am I right?”
I whimpered a tiny protest, but obliged him for my own comfort’s sake. He carried me laboriously down the steps, bending his knees more than normal to stay balanced. I felt awkward bumping up against his unbuttoned shirt, feeling his chest hairs tickle my neck. I tried to avoid squirming.
He carried me down the stairs and through the foyer.
“Ouf! Kass, I can’t see,” he mumbled into my sweatshirt when my arm slipped.
“Sorry,” I said.
He carried me into another room, the library, I think, and laid me gently on the couch, thankfully the one with all its legs. I sighed, feeling exhausted from the whole ordeal. The day felt long and my eyelashes felt heavy. I must have dozed off. The last thing I heard was…
“…it’s okay, Berns, I’ll find her. You just rest.”
2.6 Coming Soon!
- What will Kass think once she settles into her new home?
- Why was Brendon being dodgy about her accident and the Bella Goth murder?
- Where is Kass and Brendon’s relationship headed?
Author Changes: What’s different?
- Date changes
- Minor grammatical changes
- Sears Auto Care is a reference to Tuesday Sears, a repairwoman in Sunset Valley. The shop is owned by her family.
- Simbernia is a play off Hibernia which is an old name for Ireland. Nationals of Simbernia are called the Simirish people or Bernish peoples, but often this is shortened to Irish or Berns (usually a pet name for sweetheart or a nickname for a child).