Wednesday, Simune 4, 2415 | Sunset Valley, Califorsimia
Gage flopped over on his bed, dropping an arm lazily behind his head on the pillow. He couldn’t sleep. He hadn’t even changed from out of his clothes. Maybe if he put on pajamas and actually got under the covers he could sleep. Somehow he doubted that simple act would actually help.
He had an argument with Kass again. It was a bad one. Was he an idiot? He didn’t really think she didn’t care about him and his plans, his family and his future, right? Gage rubbed his eyes and swung his legs over the side of the bed. He glanced at the clock. One minute after midnight. Reaching for his phone, he checked to see if he had any missed calls. Or text messages? He grimaced. Not a single one.
Slipping his feet into his boots, he re-laced his shoes and stepped out of his bedroom into the hallway. Maybe he should go over there. This conversation would be best face to face. He needed her. He needed Kass in his life. One way or another. He was half-in-love with her, he thought. Every time he was around her, she made him smile and feel good and feel important.
Gage stopped his progress down the hallway when he heard voices. His foster parents. Arguing. He frowned, and leaned over the railing, the light of the entryway drifting upward and illuminating his face.
“Pablo? Do you really have to go?” Jennifer was asking.
“Jen, they call. I go. It’s that simple,” Pablo replied.
From the shuffling sounds, Gage guessed his foster dad was collecting his gear to leave for the firehouse.
“But it’s your night off,” Jennifer protested.
“And the chief called me in so I go,” Pablo said, simply. “It’s a fire at the school, Jen. It could be bad.”
“But it’s the middle of the night and the start of summer. Who could possibly be there?”
“You’re right. But just in case, I go.”
“This is the fifth time you’ve been called in on your time off. You don’t think it’s him again?” Jennifer sounded almost panicked.
Him? Gage frowned. What was his foster mom referring to?
“If it was, I can’t talk about it,” Pablo said, kissing Jennifer’s cheek and walking out the door.
What was she so worried about? ablo was doing his job. True, it was strange that he was called in so frequently when he was supposed to be at home. Seventy-two hours on. Forty-eight hours off. That was the schedule for as long as Gage could remember. His parents didn’t see each other much as is. He hoped this wasn’t a sign they were headed for trouble, but as they argued more and more frequently, he figured they were already there.
Gage slipped back into his bedroom and waited until he heard his foster mom climb the stairs and shuffle into her own room. When he passed by her door, he could hear her praying in hushed Mexsimican. He recognized a few words. Protection. Safety. Arsonist.
Arsonist? He grimaced. Could they be referencing that guy who was lighting fires for fun in public buildings all over town back when he first moved to Sunset Valley? It was the same year Jennifer had transferred to legal aid and out of the district attorney’s office. At the time, Gage didn’t understand, but the arson case cost Jennifer her fancy job because of lack of evidence, he thought. He rubbed the back of his head, hopping into his car.
Out of curiosity, he drove past all the schools in town, starting with the public, to check on his foster dad. He wanted to make sure Pablo was safe. Like what could I do? Gage thought, snapping off the radio as he pulled up along the curbside where his foster father’s company engine sat. Pablo was loading equipment back on the truck.
“What are you doing here, mi hijo?” Pablo inquired.
Gage shrugged. “Couldn’t sleep,” he shoved his hands into the pockets of his leather jacket. A partial truth. “I saw your truck. What’s going on?”
“False alarm,” Pablo replied. “Some wires sent a bad signal.”
“That why you got called in?” Gage followed up.
Pablo arched a brow. “You’ve been talking to your mama.”
“Naw…” Gage shook his head. “Just wondering. Thought it was your night off.”
“It was, but…” Pablo dropped his voice as other firefighters approached. “I…they thought it was something else… it’s nothing…” he forced a strained smile. “Go home, Gage. I’ll see you in the morning. I’ll make crepes.”
Gage returned to his vehicle, but instead of going home, drove up the hill to Kass’ home. It was well after midnight now, but knowing Kass, she was probably still awake. He pulled up to the curb outside her house and texted. After no response, he noticed the lights were still on downstairs. He walked over to the door, up the steps, and knocked. What am I thinking? It’s late. I should just go… I should go home like dad suggested…
The front door cracked open, and he saw the sleepy face of Carina.
“Hey Cari,” he began. “Sorry if I woke you up.”
“It’s nothing,” she shrugged. “I was awake. Mamma and Kass are still out and I can never sleep until I know everyone’s home.”
Really? Kass is still out? Out where?
“She’s with Ayesha,” Cari added. “Did you call?”
“Yeah,” he looked down at his shoes, feeling stupid.
“You want to come in? I could make tea,” Cari offered.
“No, that’s okay,” he said, feeling like it was a wasted trip. “You have a good night, Carina.” He started down the steps.
“Hey Gage?” she called after him.
“I forgot to tell you congrats the other night at graduation… so… um… congratulations!”
Gage broke into a smile. “Thanks.”
She shut the door. He sighed, looking up at the stars. Kass was still out with Ayesha. That made him feel a little better. Still… he realized how much he missed her when she wasn’t around. Like his heart ached a little. I love you, Kass. Gage walked around to the back of the house and plopped into the patio chairs. Maybe they would think he was a stalker, but he wanted to wait. To make sure Kass got home safely. She still wasn’t answering his text messages. Where are you?
He didn’t have to wait long. Within fifteen minutes, the family car pulled into the carport. He figured that was Kass, and if he knew her like he thought he did, she’d come around to the back door rather than going in the front. Sure enough she did. He frightened her more than he intended when he walked up on the porch. After a moment, she asked what he was doing there, and he said he was awake because of her. Maybe it was a dumb segue, but it was true. He had been thinking about her since the argument. It was high past time he told her the truth. She looked so shocked so he rushed through his next words quickly.
“I need you in my life, Kass, and if that means, not going to Windy City, then I won’t go. I realized you’re the closest thing I’ve ever had to real family. I don’t need to go to Windy City to know that, to experience family. I have family right here. Pablo and Jennifer would’ve adopted me had we not had so many issues with the papers before I turned eighteen and well, they’ve treated me alright and brought me up okay. After all my foster care homes, they were amazing. And you, you’ve been my friend from the beginning for as long as I can remember. I don’t know how to say this, Kass, but I care too much about you to lose you and to go off to some different university. I was thinking. I could come with you… with your dad.”
She looked startled.
“You need moral support and I want to go with you and you will regret it if you don’t go. And I was thinking we could go together to see my family. Then you’d get to meet them too and see for yourself. I want to be with you, and I want you to…” he stopped. “Say something.”
Did I ruin it? Did I say too much? I just said I loved her and rushed into everything else. She’s going to think I’m crazy. Kass replied by telling him she couldn’t give him an answer tonight. He had been so hopeful, but he wasn’t truly sure what he was hoping for. That she’d say she loved him too? That she’d want to go out with him? That she’d want to be his girlfriend? Ask him to stay? Kiss him with those soft peachy lips of hers? A guy can dream. He tucked his head, feeling almost embarrassed to have thought about her lips.
“Well yeah, I mean, I didn’t know you felt this way,” she replied.
“I didn’t either… I mean… I did… but well… oh boy!” Gage rushed his words so she wouldn’t say something he didn’t want to hear. “I didn’t know how to tell you. I didn’t want to pressure you or make you feel weird. I also was mad at you. I mean, you haven’t been supportive of me leaving, but then I thought… maybe you felt like I was abandoning you. Maybe you felt betrayed. Maybe you thought I was giving up on you. Then I thought, maybe you felt that way because you cared about me too… you loved me.”
“I do love you, Gage,” Kass said, but he could hear the hesitation in her tone. “As a friend. You’ve always been my friend. Honestly, I haven’t thought about you as more than that.”
“I just have always accepted you as Gage… my Gage… my good friend… my best friend…”
“I get the picture,” Gage cut her off as he realized this was fast going where he didn’t want it to go.
“Gage, I didn’t mean I don’t… I can’t… I won’t have feelings for you. I just have a lot going on in my life right now to sort through. I’m sorry for hurting you and for confusing you and for getting so angry. You’re right. I was feeling a little betrayed when you made plans without me, when you changed plans on me. You’ve always been there for me as long as I can remember. Even before Ayesha was my friend, you were there. I always was scared social services would come and take you far away from Sunset Valley, that you’d meet your real family and well… leave me. I don’t know what I’d do without you, Gage. You are my best friend. I need you too, just maybe not the same way you’re thinking right now…I don’t know what to think or what to feel right now. I’m confused. I’m a little lost. I need time. I don’t want to hurt you, Gage,” her voice cracked. “Can you give me some time to sort through some stuff?”
“Yeah,” he said, stiffening as he suppressed his hurt feelings, promising to always be there.
“I know,” she offered weakly like a pathetic consolation prize.
He didn’t need one. He bid her goodnight and walked down the steps, deciding that he shouldn’t hug her. If he embraced her, he would lean into her hair and cry… or kiss her… he wasn’t sure which one he wanted to do more. He let his heart out on his sleeve, and she didn’t exactly crush him, but she didn’t affirm him… not really. Gage slipped into his vehicle, turned the key, and drove down the street as the engine roared to life. Once at the bottom of the hill, he pulled over to the side of the road, out of view of her house, and dropped his head against the wheel.
Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.
Author Notes: Thanks for reading. I wanted to fill in the gaps a bit, and explain what’s going on in Gage’s mind. I also wanted to show some crossover and the effects of Kass and Ayesha’s little escapade in the high school. And add more Pablo and Jennifer. Hope you enjoyed, even if this chapter was bittersweet. More bitter for Gage than sweet.