Monday, Simtember 12, 2416 | Bay City, Califorsimia
I stomped out of the Bay City Buzz like I was a five-year-old having a temper tantrum, the knife of betrayal still twisting in my gut. I couldn’t believe my best friend would imperil our relationship and complicate my workplace situation by going clubbing with my boss.
“Wait! Are you? No… you’re jealous.”
Ayesha’s words sang an inane little tune in my mind like a pianist rolling over and over the keys but somehow missing the correct chords. I’m not jealous! I argued with myself. She should know better. My thirties-ish boss should know better. I didn’t want to think about what would happen at work if Brendon and Ayesha started dating… or worse… sleeping together.
“GAH!” I yelled to no one in particular, startling a pigeon from its perch on the wrought-iron fence. “Yeah, you better fly away!”
I waved my arms like a madwoman, and kicked the metaphorical dust from beneath my feet nearly losing one of my flip flops. Will Ayesha come home from dates and want to flop on my bed and discuss my boss’s bedroom preferences? I shuddered at the thought, feeling chills rise on my arm despite, even though the night was unseasonably warm. I made a mental note to start going to bed earlier. Another terrifying thought thrust its way into my skull. Will I hear about their nights together from Brendon over the water cooler? I made a mental note to start bringing bottled water to work, but then I remembered in order for it to be cold, I’d have to stick it in the refrigerator and that would require walking to the break area where I might see Brendon and he might share some intimate detail. I’ll drink warm water or better yet, I’ll give up water altogether.
The pigeon returned to its roost and I shooed the bird away once more. Kass, get a grip! This is crazy! You’re not giving up water. I shuddered and walked to my vehicle. I have to get out of here before they walk outside together and find me still standing here. The nerve! Ayesha didn’t want a ride home because…
“Oh Brendon invited me to go to this club he knows.”
“Grr! Clubbing!” I shoved my key into the ignition.
“Since I’m new, he’s going to show me around. Isn’t that nice?”
“Isn’t that nice?” I said in sing-song mockery as I jerked the gear into reverse and backed out of my parking spot.
“You never told me your boss had such dreamy eyes.”
“Oh shut up, Ayesha!” I growled as if she were sitting in the passenger seat.
I flicked on the radio as I drove down the road, but nothing comforted me. Usually the soothing sounds of jazz could lift my spirits, but the radio announcer was jabbering on about some details regarding an artist. Everything else was simply noise. Pushing the off button, I drove down streets with nothing but my own crazy talk to keep me company.
Why am I so angry? I thought with despair. My eyes shifted down at the steering wheel. My hands were shaking.
A car horn wriggled me from my thoughts and I realized I had nearly crossed over the center line. A sigh of relief escaped my lips. That was close, I thought, seeing the taxi cab pass me in my side mirror. I gripped the steering wheel, resolving to focus better on the road. I shouldn’t be driving right now. I need to get my mind off…
Ayesha’s descriptive words echoed in my mind.
“Superficial,” my fingers tightened around the wheel.
“Masterfully manipulative,” I replied aloud, the corners of my mouth turning up as if I was playing a game.
“Stubborn. Slimy. Shocking. Savage!” I screeched, echoing the sound my tires made as I halted at a stop light. “Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!” I hit my head against the steering wheel. “I’m so stupid! I’m not jealous! This is pathetic, Kass. You can’t like your boss. Repeat it to yourself. You… cannot… like… your… boss… Kassiopeia… Celestia… Fullbright!”
The light changed, and I pressed the gas with more intensity than I intended. The rear end of the truck in front of me came up a little too close and I switched lanes to avoid a collision. Get off the road!
I pulled into a parking lot. Luckily, I always kept my gym bag in the car. I popped my trunk, snagged my swim suit and towel, and headed inside. Swimming laps should help clear my head. As a student at Legacy College, I could get discounts at many local establishments, including the 24-hour Los Sueños Gym. Since it was after ten o’clock at night, I had access to the outdoor swimming pool and workout rooms for free, at least until 5 A.M.
I won’t need to be here that long, I thought to myself as I walked into the locker room. Los Sueños. The Dreams. That was ironic. Just long enough to kick these fantasies out of my head.
A quick up-do and a slip into my snug red swimsuit later, I grinned at myself in the mirror. The suit hugged my curves nicely and my scars weren’t noticeable. I didn’t need sunscreen because it was night so I could get into the water right away. I stepped out onto the diving board as if I was walking a fashion runway.
“I am an attractive woman,” I chanted a little mantra to myself. “I am an attractive woman and I don’t need to concern myself with my boss because I am capable of getting any man.”
As I approached the edge of the board, I wondered if I really believed my words. It doesn’t matter. I’ll say them as long as I need to so I do believe them.
The cold chlorinated water reached up and yanked me off my high horse, rudely interrupting my proud moment. I supposed I deserved it. The water whizzed past my ears, burning my nose and throat. My legs flailed above me, kicking hard against the stream of water engulfing my body. I gasped as I surfaced, my lungs craving air. My head swooped about, praying no one saw my ungraceful entry into the swimming pool.
There was only one other person beside myself, a young woman in the corner. My face flushed hot, and I forced my eyes forward, ignoring her snickering. I tread water for a moment, regaining my composure before pressing onward to do laps. After five or six times across the pool, I was feeling invigorated. Despite my embarrassing entry, I managed to keep up my pace with ease. Even so, I felt the eyes of the sole occupant in the pool following me. This kicked my resolve into gear all the more.
In Simuly, I had joined the swim team at Legacy College. I had always been a strong swimmer, and it felt good to participate in a competitive sport. Mamma had wanted me to focus on my studies and academic pursuits so I had never been on a school team. When I had my accident a week ago, I had been forced to take a leave from the team. The coach said I could come back after my full recovery, and I could keep the suit for solo practice.
I might be back earlier than expected, I thought as I finished my eighth lap. My body was feeling strong. I had always been quick to recover from illness and injury. I paused at the far edge of the pool, quickening the pace of my legs as I tread water. I wanted to push myself and prove that I was capable of returning. We had an upcoming meet with the Slippery Dragons from China Bay College and I wanted to attend. The Kangaroos will make a killing, I thought before a splash pulled me out of my thought world again.
The woman who had been in the pool hoisted herself onto the side. She flexed, the water dripping from her skimpy bikini-clad body, drawing the attention of the man who had just jumped in. She flashed a smile and waved. He nodded, acknowledging her wave. My fingers drifted to my abdomen, rubbing at the fabric. I can’t wear a bikini now. I felt self-conscious, even though no one could see the scars. Unless they have X-ray vision like Superman.
The thought of Superman brought Brendon’s name to my mind again. For some odd reason, he reminded me of Clark Kent before the Superman powers. Kass, there you go again. Stop it! I sucked in as much air as I could handle and disappeared below the surface.
You can’t think about your boss that way, I chided myself like I was a child who wanted candy before dinner. He’s dangerous. These thoughts are dangerous. You need to stop. You are an attractive woman. You could have any guy. You don’t need Brendon. Ayesha can have him. I grimaced. I wasn’t sure I was ready to let go of my delusions, but it was hardly appropriate. Perhaps my foolish fantasizing was a sign that I was ready to date again.
Is she right? Am I still living in the past? I thought miserably. Davis had been my first boyfriend and it had only been a year since our relationship ended. Davis. Even the thought of his name pricked the depths of my heart. I got so wrapped up in him. I fell in love… at least, I think it was love. Maybe it was just childish infatuation. He was my first boyfriend. Maybe I didn’t really love him. But even as I thought the words, my heart knew differently.
I really cared about him.
And I blew it!
Davis had a complicated past. I wasn’t sure I could deal with that kind of complication. Still, my outburst had been uncalled for…
I felt a tear twinge at the corner of my eye. I closed my eyes tightly, blaming the reaction on chlorine agitation. In the darkness, I allowed the water to embrace me. The water didn’t care about my scars. The water didn’t judge me or my pain. I released my arms from my sides and allowed the water to flow over and around and through me. I thought about Nonno and Nonna. How Nonna had accused me of sleeping with Gage. How she was worried I would become pregnant. I thought about Gage. How angry he had been. No angry wasn’t the right word. Enraged. He had been so hurt because I didn’t share with him that I had started dating Davis. He shared his heart and I crushed it. He loved me. No, not really, I decided. Not really if he didn’t know me. He didn’t know me well enough to know that I didn’t love him back. I could’ve told him. But… it’s not my fault. It’s not my fault. None of it is.
Yes it is, the words roared within me. I thought about Davis. I thought about when I had seen him in the hospital. I had turned him away. He came because he cared and I turned him away. No he came because Carina called him. Would he have come otherwise? My head said, “No,” but my heart pleaded, “Yes.” I turned him away because I thought he was with Danny. I had seen them together in Starlight Shores in Simpril. She looked so happy. She was smiling so brightly. When I had asked Davis about her, he told me she had two little kids of her own, but the father wasn’t in the picture. That was just like Davis to feel obligated to help. That’s the kind of guy he was. He’d make a good father someday. Would I make a good mother?
I shook my head, the water swirling past my ears. Why was I thinking about such things? I had to date first and find the right man. I had plenty of time. I didn’t need to think about that. Not now. Not yet. I could just date. I could meet some nice guys and go on some nice dates. I’d only ever really dated Davis seriously, and there was that one guy in Lucky Palms I went out with a few times. My brow furrowed. I didn’t want to think about it. I was terrible at dating.
I thought about Davis again. I thought about his face when he saw me in bed with Gage. What was he supposed to think? Of course, he’d assume things. Of course, he’d be hurt and confused. Even if we had broken up, I still don’t think he expected to walk in and find his ex-girlfriend, the woman he just shared his deepest, darkest secrets with, in bed with another guy. I was so stupid! Why did I go pick up Gage on the beach that night? Why did I get plastered? Why did we skinny dip in the ocean? Of all the stupid insane things…
Something tugged on my waist pulling me from my runaway thoughts. As my head broke the surface, I flailed my arms to regain control. The arms let go and I was met with a familiar face.
“Hey what were you doing down there?” he asked, the water streaming down his face and pooling around his chin.
“Um… uh…” I responded, bewildered. “How long was I down there?”
“Almost seven minutes,” he exclaimed, squeezing the excess water out of his beard. “Do you normally hold your breath for that long?”
“Uh… I…I…don’t… don’t…know…” I stammered as I grabbed the edge of the pool. Was I really underwater for seven minutes?
He hopped out of the water and reached over to help me. I shook my head and hoisted myself onto the pool deck.
“It’s not good for your lungs,” he said.
I frowned as my legs felt weak and buckled beneath my weight. I swung my left arm back to steady myself. Once I felt secure, I allowed reality to wash over me once more. Seven minutes? It didn’t feel like seven minutes. I held my breath for seven minutes? Did I really get lost in my thoughts that long?
“Hey?” the guy spoke up again, and I realized he hadn’t left my side. His mouth stretched into a smile. “You aren’t a mermaid, you know?”
Tension melted from my shoulders and I relaxed into a laugh. “Thank you for rescuing me,” I replied. “Hey wait… I know you…” Seeing confusion dawn on his face, I added, “I mean… I’ve met you before. Uh… somewhere?”
“Most people meet somewhere,” he teased, walking to a deck chair.
I laughed again as I followed him over and took a seat. It felt good to laugh. “No, I mean, I know your face.”
“It’s a pretty remarkable face,” he grinned, and stroked his beard. “Although I should remember a pretty face like yours.”
I blushed. “Thank you. Oh I know! Wolfbane Tavern! A week ago, you were in there asking people if they could move their cars for the farmer’s market.”
“Oh yeah,” he nodded. “I remember. You ran into me. Oh man! And I wasn’t gone from there five minutes when some crazy car crashed through the front entryway.”
My smile slackened. “You saw it? I mean… you were there… did you see anything?”
“I heard the crash. We all did over at the booths,” he replied.
“The car? Did you see the car?” I exclaimed.
“A forest green GTO was pulling out as I was calling for backup,” he answered. “It took off down the road. I only got one letter from the license plate – P.”
“Backup?” I frowned.
“Oh, I’m a traffic cop,” he clarified. “Yeah, it was crazy. I have never seen a car drive into a building like that before and then take off like it was a normal hit and run… not that there’s anything normal about a hit and run.”
“Yeah,” I said, straining to remember details. “I’m pretty fuzzy on what happened. I just remember hearing glass shatter and wood splintering. I mean, who remembers wood splintering?” I frowned, pulling my knees up to my chest and staring down into the ripples in the water. “Hey,” I looked up. “Did you take my statement?”
“No,” he shook his head. “Another cop did. She didn’t get much from you though because you were pretty out of it. I think they followed your ambulance to the hospital. I’m sorry. I don’t know if they questioned you further.”
“Oh,” I replied,. “It all happened so fast.”
“You were very lucky. I can say that,” he added.
“Yeah, the owner said when the car came through the doors a young man leaped up and knocked you out of the way.”
“Really?” I didn’t remember that.
“Yeah, I took the owner… Carlos Lopez’s statement. He was very insistent that we know someone tried to save you.”
“Did he save me?”
“No…but he saw the person who did.”
“Did he say anything else?”
“I’d have to look at my notes.”
I wondered who my mysterious savior was. I made a mental note to check in with Carlos Lopez at the Wolfbane to try and piece together what had happened.
“Well thank you for what you did,” I remarked. “I don’t even remember your name.”
“It’s my pleasure and my job, ma’am,” he replied in a gentleman-like fashion. “Probably because I didn’t mention it. Jon Miller.”
“Jon,” I repeated and flashed a smile. “I’m Kass.”
“Kass, it’s a pleasure to officially meet you. Perhaps in the future we could meet again without bumping into one another.”
“This time I didn’t exactly bump into you. You tried to rescue me.”
“Yeah, well you elbowed me.”
“Sorry,” I winced. “Next time I’m being forced to the surface of the water, I’ll try to remember where I have my arms.”
“Well, I guess I did startle you,” he admitted. “I’ve just never seen anyone hold their breath for that long. You must be a fish.”
I wrinkled my nose. “Fish?”
“Okay, mermaid… that’s what I called you before.”
“I can live with that. And what are you? The prince?”
“If I recall correctly, the mermaid rescues him.”
“Touche. I’m glad you caught my reference. So do you always swim laps late at night and rescue pretty women?”
He laughed. “You’re fishing for a compliment.”
“You called me a fish,” I retorted.
“Okay now it’s my turn to say touche,” he replied, and rubbed his beard again. “I have a late shift on three days a week. I work through dinner so my colleagues can all take their breaks.”
“That’s nice of you,” I said. “I bet they appreciate that.”
“They do. Sometimes I come here after my shift, especially if the day has been stressful. Being a city employee I get a discount.”
“Well, is it terrible to say I hope you have more stressful days?” I said, leaning over the edge of my deck chair.
What are you doing, Kass? Was that flirting? Oh it was flirting? Ayesha would be so proud. The thought of Ayesha made me sober up as I remembered why I was at the gym in the first place. I tried to shove the unpleasantness from my mind and reached down into my gut for some courage.
“Are you hungry? After a workout like this, I’m usually hungry. If you’re interested we could go grab a bite after I get a quick shower,” I offered.
Ooo… did you just ask him out? You did, didn’t you? Oh Kass, I’m so proud of you.
“Kass?” Jon winced. “Please don’t take this the wrong way. You are a pretty woman, but I feel like you should know before we keep talking that I’m engaged.”
Any pride I had was squashed in an instant. My courage crawled back into its corner where it resided. I felt heat rising to my cheeks.
Seriously? I meet a cute guy and he’s engaged? He rescued me from the pool and he kept me from falling over at the tavern and he’s engaged? And the beard was starting to grow on me.
“Oh…uh… I’m…uh… sorry… uh… it was nice to… meet… thank you… uh… Jon…” I stammered as I stood up too fast.
My foot got caught on the chair and I nearly plummeted to the pool deck. Jon caught my wrist. I was certain my face turned as red as my swim suit.
“Uh… thank you,” I said, jerking my wrist back and turned to go into the building. “I’ll see you around.”
“I’m sorry if I made you uncomfortable,” he called after me.
I’ll see you around? Oh, can I be any more lame? I swiped my gym bag and headed for the showers. Clearly, I had no flirting capabilities. I tried not to bemoan my terrible rate with men while I washed off the chlorine and soaped up my hair. One try shouldn’t doom me for eternity, although I made a mental note to avoid mentioning Mr. Wonderful films ever again.
“Sheesh! My list of mental notes is getting way too long,” I admitted as I snapped the lid on my shampoo.
The door to the locker room creaked open and I clamped my mouth shut. I wasn’t going to be caught talking aloud to myself in the women’s showers of all places. I waited for someone to hop into the shower next to me but no one came. I reached for my body wash.
Sensual kisses of amber and hints of seductive sandalwood caress your body so you can feel like the sexy, confident woman you are.
I frowned. How does body wash make me feel sexy and confident? Who decides amber is sensual and sandalwood is seductive? Who writes these things? Shivering, I adjusted the temperature of the water.
Five minutes later, I stepped from the shower, feeling refreshed. I wiped my face and squeezed the excess water from my hair before stepping around the corner to the lockers. I was ready to sleep away the miserableness of the evening. When I reached my locker, I noticed the lock was broken.
That’s odd. I opened the locker. Nothing was inside save my phone and wallet. My clothes, makeup bag, and even my swim suit were conspicuously missing.
“Oh seriously!” I groaned.
You look so beautiful. I just had to take a souvenir.
My face paled. Someone had been watching me? I shivered, making sure my towel was securely wrapped around my body. Someone was watching me. When I was swimming? When I came in the locker room? While I was showering? I squirmed feeling weirded-out. Who would do that? I wondered if it was Jon, but he didn’t seem at all like the creepy stalker type. He’s a police officer. He wouldn’t, would he? He made a point of telling me he was engaged.
If it was someone else, I hadn’t noticed anyone at the gym, save the woman who had been swimming in the deep end earlier. I doubted she took my clothes given she left awhile ago. Or did she? The black and white tile walls danced tauntingly. I had never noticed how menacing cold tile could look. I gulped and swallowed hard.
Get a grip, Kass.
I tried Ayesha first. After four tries, she finally picked up.
“Hello?” her voice sounded strange and muffled by loud noises.
She was probably still at the club.
“Ayesha, hey, it’s Kass.”
“Kass? Is that you? Oh we’re having a great time. Brendon took me dancing. This place is awesome.”
I rolled my eyes. “Listen, Ayesh, do you think you can swing by the house and grab me some clothes?”
“Do you think you could go home and get some clothes for me?”
“What? Why? Did you get rained on or something?”
“No, someone broke my lock and stole my clothes at the gym. They even took my swim suit. It’s a long story.”
“Ayesha, can you hear me?”
“What? I can’t hear you, Kass. I’ll have to call you back. We can talk tomorrow. Don’t wait up. I’ll probably be back really late.”
“What? AHHH! Thanks you’re a great friend too!” I yelled at my phone as I hit the end button.
I wandered to the front desk, but no one was there. I had to hunt through the gym before I found an employee. I explained my dilemma and asked if anyone had turned in some clothes by any chance. She grunted a response saying no one had, and told me I couldn’t wander around the gym in just a towel. I asked for a manager, but she said he was busy and I should just call the police to report anything stolen.
Since I dialed the non-emergency number, I had to wait forty-five minutes for dispatch to send someone. The female cop was sympathetic, but she wasn’t helpful. I had no description of the thief and I hadn’t lost my phone or wallet. Essentially, since my valuables hadn’t been taken, there wasn’t much we could do. She filed a report irregardless, mostly for the lost keys in my pants pocket, and suggested I call someone to come get me. Reluctantly, I called the one person I knew would come.
“Kassiopeia, do you know how late it is?” Mamma exclaimed when she arrived. “You shouldn’t be out at the gym right now.”
“Mamma, it’s before midnight and I’m an adult woman,” I sighed. “Thank you for bringing me clothes.”
“That’s just awful that someone would take your clothes…”
“Did you bring my spare set of keys?”
Mamma seemed to miss my question as she talked a mile a minute.
“And they didn’t take your wallet or your phone? Did you check to make sure all your cards were there, and your id? You should still have new cards made. With all the high-tech thefts these days, a criminal can just write down the numbers or swipe your cards on their machine things and make a copy without ever having to take the physical cards. You might still be a victim of identity theft. You said you talked to the police? Did you get the name and badge number for followup?”
I resisted the urge to roll my eyes. “Thank you, Mamma,” I said tersely. “I’ll be fine.”
“Are you sure? I should probably wait until you get changed and then follow you home to be sure. Oh you poor thing! Are you cold? I forgot a sweater,” Mamma snapped her fingers, upset with herself.
“I’ll be okay,” I purposely dragged out my words to try to soothe my mother’s nerves. “Thank you for coming.”
“Okay the keys are in the side pocket,” Mamma replied. “Are you sure I shouldn’t wait?”
“No, thank you,” I took the backpack before she could ramble more.
She reached out and then hesitated. I wasn’t sure if she was going to try and grab my hand or squeeze my shoulder, but she stopped. I waved goodbye and walked toward the bathroom.
Things had been tense between us lately because of her shocking revelation about my father’s origins. We hadn’t really talked about it since this morning and even our conversation earlier in the day was uncomfortable. I wanted to know more about my father, but I didn’t think it was polite to pry. Howard had been my father for my entire life and this other guy was just a selfish abuser. I shouldn’t want to know more, but I did. I had questions I wanted to ask my mother like why she didn’t tell Howard about the rape and why she didn’t report it to the police, but now certainly wasn’t the time.
I slipped into the comfy black sweat pants, pulled the tee shirt over my head, and secured the laces on my running shoes. I walked over to the sink to wash my hands quickly before leaving. I just wanted to be done with the night.
Oh! I caught sight of my reflection in the mirror. Mamma had brought this shirt – Davis’ lifeguard shirt – the one I borrowed from him back when we were still dating. I had never returned it. The shirt was a little big on me, the sleeves swallowing my delicate arms and flowing loosely around my chest and waist. It still smelled like his sunscreen and aftershave, even after all this time. I was too tired to care. No one was going to see me anyway.
When I reached the parking lot, I stuck my keys in the passenger side door and dropped my backpack on the seat. That’s when I realized my front right tire was flat. I popped the trunk but I was unable to find tools.
“Gah!” I yelled. “The universe hates me!” I kicked the rim of my tire. “Everyone hates me!”
Collapsing in frustration, I tried to think of a way to remove the tire without the necessary tools. No tow truck would come get me this late and I didn’t have roadside assistance.
Could this night get any worse?
- Who saved Kass at the Wolfbane Tavern?
- Who took Kass’s clothes and keys and why?
- Will Kass and Amy work things out and talk to each other?
- How did Ayesha’s night with Brendon go? Will Kass come to terms with their “date?”
- Who said hello to Kass at the end of the chapter?
Author Note: What Changed:
- Dates were changed.
2.20 Coming Soon!
Author’s Note: This chapter got really long fast. I thought about breaking it up into 2 parts but I couldn’t find a good place to do that. I wanted to bring Jon back and explain his presence from 2.1 Pretending and also to give a little more detail about the accident at the Wolfbane Tavern because it’s been awhile. I also wanted to write a chapter focused more on Kass’s thought life more. Hope you enjoyed!