2.19: Homeless

Hello! It’s been awhile. This past year has been busy. I had a baby and bought a house. Things have been settling down back into a normal routine, so I’ve been back to work on this legacy story that I love. You may want to catch up on recent chapters here: http://simsl3gacies.com/chapter-list/

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This is fucking killing me
, he thought. Angrily, Jessie tossed his guitar aside. He didn’t have it in him to feel any remorse when he heard the sharp crack of its wood shell landing on a stone. It was no goddamn comfort anyway.  There was no music in his heart these days. Not without Annika. Why did it seem like every part of him was tied up in her somehow? Why did he only realize that now, when she was gone?

Hell, what difference would it have made had he realized that before she was gone? What a joke. Everything was a big, fucking sick joke, and the joke was on him.

If he could cry, he would. There had to be some way to let this shit out. He didn’t want it. He didn’t want to love Annika.

But even before that thought ran its course, his heart screamed its tortured outrage. He didn’t want to stop loving her. He fucking needed her.

Hadn’t he always?

What the fuck was he supposed to do now?

Gazing up at the volcano towering above him in the rays of the day’s last stand, he drank deeply from his bottle of rum, which he’d pilfered from his step-father Joel’s stash at the Community Center. Dragons used to live in the volcano, it was said. Fire-breathing creatures that destroyed everything in their paths, until they had destroyed even themselves. It was a concept that resonated somewhere inside him. He wasn’t sure who the dragon was in this scenario, himself or Annie. It sure felt like she’d laid waste to everything he was; but that wasn’t fair. It was her absence that had done this, and now he was hellbent on destroying himself to escape that void. Gods knew, if he’d managed to keep his own dragon in his pants, he wouldn’t be sitting here now, drunk and pissed at the world, pondering mythical dragons while Annie was half a world away.

Village lore said that after the dragonfyre, life nonetheless sprang anew, defiant of destruction. Not even utter devastation could stop life’s forward roll. In his liquor-hazed mind, that seemed important. The business of life, as Aimee had called it, went on, with or without him. And with or without Annie. The village and its inhabitants continued moving forward into the future, leaving the past behind, while he was up here drunk and sulking on a fucking volcano.

 

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Jessie’s stomach growled, eliciting a curse when he remembered suddenly that he’d forgotten to pack any food. He’d have to hunt.

Except, he remembered that he hadn’t brought his bow, either.

“Fuuuuuck. I’mma too drunkk to hunt annyway.” In his current condition, he was more likely to spear his foot than anything he could eat. Lifting the bottle to his his lips, he took another gulp, spilling drops of liquor down his unshaven chin. Briefly, he considered digging for some roots to roast on the fire. But then, he errantly wondered what meal his mother had on her fire, back in the village. Probably something savory and hot. Jessie wished he’d stopped by there before heading up to the volcano. Bronwyn always cooked extra. But the fact was, he’d been avoiding his family, along with everyone else. He didn’t want the quiet understanding of his mother. The knowing looks.

It wasn’t home anymore, anyway.  With the birth of his brother, his mother’s camp was crowded and noisy.  He’d been keeping to himself, sleeping at an old camp on the outskirts of the village. That wasn’t home, either. Home was where the heart is, and so Jessie was homeless.

 

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His stomach growled again, more insistent this time. Roots didn’t sound good. His mother’s cooking did.

At least you have a mom,” Annika’s voice from the past circled round and round his head. He knew that she regretted not having her mother as she grew up. She had wondered aloud to him, once upon a time in the past, whether she would have been a different person if she hadn’t been motherless so young. It wasn’t quite an admission of any fault of character, but there is was. Nor was it something she’d ever let herself dwell upon for long.  Annika may be more introspective than many people realized, but she never let it hold back her enjoyment of life.

He smiled in the fire-lit shadows of his volcano haunt, but the smile faded as quickly as it had come. She was all about ‘fun’, his Annie. She’d dragged him into her ‘fun’ a few times, not knowing how much more those encounters would mean to him than to herself.

Putting aside that his depression was about her, Annika would not at all understand what was going on with him right now. She had always been the perfect counterbalance to his sometimes overly-serious tendencies. She could always bring out his lighter side, coaxing him into a mellow state of mind. He wondered what she’d do if she saw him like this. She would probably do her best to chide and nag and tease him out of it. With great merriment and persistence. Don’t be so serious, Jess, she’d ordered him on more than one occasion. Stop overthinking everything!

“Huh.” Jessie tossed the bottle aside. The bright, tinkling sound of shattering glass didn’t even register.

His stomach growled, yet again. At least you have a mom. 

“Damn it.” He lurched to his feet, and started kicking the sandy dirt over his hasty fire.

“A man’s gotta eat, after all,” he slurred to himself. Hefting his pack to his shoulder, he set off down the trail, staggering and weaving his way down the side of the volcano and back across the island. He left the broken guitar behind.

By the time he neared the village, he was just plain weary. His mind sober, his heart raw, he sniffed the campfire smoke on the air and turned toward his mother’s camp.

 

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The sun had fallen below the waves by the time Jessie rounded the village toward his mother’s camp, the moon peeping above the trees and growing fuller. Twilight stained the early evening sky a deep purple. Most villagers tended their families around their fires, or socialized with friends and neighbors. He nodded to those who greeted him along the path weaving through the village toward Bronwyn’s camp.

Except for Carrick. Jessie’s eyes slid over and past Carrick, ignoring the hand raised in greeting. A small ember of anger flared in his chest; Carrick’s say-so had weighed heavily in the Meadowstone family’s decision to send Annika away, he knew.

If only Carrick hadn’t sent her away. If only Jessie had not walked in on Annika and Aimee that day. If only he’d resisted the temptation.

If only.

 

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“I kept some food warm for you.” His mother materialized out of her small orchard of fruit trees surrounding the cabin she shared with Joel.

“Thank you.” Jessie shrugged off his pack and sank by the fire. He felt a mixture of irritation and gratitude at Bronwyn’s seemingly omnipotent foreknowledge of his arrival. The aroma that issued forth as she lifted the lid off the crock beside the fire tipped the scales in favor of gratitude, though.

“I made your favorite,” she said, ladling a thick, rich soup into a large bowl.

“Really?” Jessie’s stomach growled in response as she placed the steaming bowl in his hands. The soup was composed of a multitude of starchy roots–potatoes, yams, malanga–mixed with cured beef and stewed pork, tomatoes, and corn, in a meat broth thickened with pumpkin and yuca flour, and peppered to perfection. Beef was somewhat of a delicacy, as the herds were small and the islanders loathe to deplete them. The few domestically-kept bovines were hoarded for their rich, creamy milk. He breathed his thanks again, then dug in without further delay.

Bronwyn sat nearby nursing her new son, studying her eldest, while Christa played near the fire. It was hard to see the anguish so plain in every line of his body. Even knowing the outcome, and how important this journey was to his future happiness, her heart hurt for her oldest child. There was nothing she could say, though, and he wouldn’t believe her if she did. He had tamped down tightly on his own early visions, and he would not trust hers on the matter. Nor appreciate her efforts, she knew. So she held her tongue, and cared for him whenever she could, in whatever little ways she could. Even that, she knew, was met with some resentment on his part.

 

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Joel stepped out of the cabin with his tool sack in hand, stopping when he saw Jessie cleaning out his bowl beside the low, sputtering fire. His dark face flashed a wide, white smile as Jessie looked up. “Hey Jessie!” he said, with a wave of his hand. “I was starting to wonder if you were going to make it tonight.”

“Joel.” Bronwyn shook her head sharply at Joel.

“Ah, right,” Joel said.

Jessie set down the empty bowl with an inward sigh. He decided to ignore the confirmation that he had obviously been expected, though he hadn’t himself known he was coming, until he found himself drunk at the top of the volcano and suddenly longing for his mother’s cooking. “Um. Hey, Dad. You going to do a tattoo?” he asked, indicating the bag of tools in Joel’s hand.

“Finishing up a tattoo for George,” his dad affirmed. Joel had many tattoos of his own, and had learned how to give tattoos during his travels abroad when he was younger, before he landed on Ouroboros years ago. His artistic ability, combined with a steady hand, had since designed the tattoos of many islanders.

“I want a tattoo,” Jessie blurted. It was a snap decision; an image, half-formed, rose in his mind.

“Sure, son, come by tomorrow. I have some great ideas for dragon designs.” And then Joel headed off down the path that ran through the village and out beyond the cove.

Jessie blinked, then turned a tired, half-hearted glare upon his mother. Bronwyn smiled before returning her attention to the baby.

Damn hocus pocus crap, he groused. She could at least keep it to herself.

 

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Jerking himself awake, Jessie yanked his chin off his chest, realizing he’d dozed off where he sat. Shaking his head, he saw his mother was still sitting across the fire from him, playing with the baby, Jared. Jessie hadn’t been around much since before the baby was born, and, looking at him now, it was another reminder of how life had gone on without him. Aimee was right; he needed to get back to himself, somehow. Life was going to happen, with or without him. The fire in his heart couldn’t stop that.

Jared’s chubby legs stomped unsteadily at the air when Bronwyn lifted him, and the joyful laughter that only babies possess rang through the trees surrounding the camp.

“Can I see the baby?” he asked suddenly, holding his hands out.

The answering smile on his mother’s face was, for a change, not laced with pity or understanding. Just happiness.

 

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Jessie peered down the slope toward the beach, where the Brooks cabin was built over the sheltered shoreline. Calla’s parents were fishers, and oddly chose this locale away from the village to build their home on the water. It would be foolhardy in any other location, but the huge stone arch guarding the small cove behind the Meadowstone camp sheltered it from all but the worst of storms and tides. It was really quite novel, and almost genius. He imagined it must be peaceful to fall asleep to the sound of the surf on the beach below you.

He had hoped he would run into Calla in the village before now; he owed the girl an apology for his behavior toward her last month. She’d only been trying to be nice, no doubt because his shitty attitude made his distress obvious to anyone with eyes. Jessie hadn’t wanted anyone’s company or comfort, though, least of all hers, some girl he barely knew–and had told her so in the worst possible terms. It had obviously hurt her feelings. Not that he’d cared at the time.

Their camp’s distance from the village ruled out this being an easy, casual encounter. So after setting up the crab traps in the inland lagoon for his mother, he crossed over the path back to the village, taking the long way back along the outside shore of the island. This route would take him past the Brooks’ camp. 

Since coming down off the volcano last week, Jessie had been making an effort. Frankly, it wasn’t going well. He still preferred to spend most of his time alone, and drove himself into a stupor of physical exhaustion every day to avoid his thoughts, and still frequently snapped at family and friends, or just remained silent. Aimee had been right, though. He needed to get back to some semblance of the business of life, and wallow a little less in his misery. What kind of idiot just let themself waste away over a hopeless situation whose conclusion was far from foregone yet?

He saw Calla exit the hut on the cove, interrupting his thoughts, and decided to get this crap over with.

 

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Calla broke into a smile when she saw the tall figure walking into her camp, but the smile was quickly smoothed over with an impassive, questioning look as she rose from the hides she’d spread out to work on. Her lips were pursed, and one brow was raised questioningly.

“Jessie, what a surprise,” she said coolly. Dropping the tool in her hand, she took a step toward him, then stopped, waiting.

“Hey,” he said, rather awkwardly. He hadn’t planned in advance what he was going to say to her. Maybe he should have. He didn’t really know this girl, but she’d gone out of her way to be nice and he’d told her to fuck off. There was no sugar-coating of that. “Ah, I.” He dragged a hand through his hair. “I just wanted to say that I’m sorry I’m such a jerk.”

Her black eyes flashed as she regarded him gravely. Jessie shifted his weight, feeling awkward and anxious. Was she about to chew him out or something? “It wasn’t anything you did,” he offered.

“I know,” she said, finally. “I didn’t mean to bother you. You just seemed…”

“Yeah. Anyway, I’m sorry. That’s all I wanted to say.”

Something in her impassive face flickered for a moment, and Jessie wondered if he’d offended her again. He realized he knew nothing about this girl, despite having gone to school with her all these years. Her manner now was clearly distant from the personality discernible from her attempts to befriend him a month ago.

She inclined her head. “Thank you.” Her coolness left him floundering, cut off at the knees.

“Ok then.” He shuffled his feet. “I’ll see you around.”

 

screenshot-48He turned away, taking four, then five steps toward the village in the distance, then stopped. What a shitty apology. She had gone out of her way to try to be nice, to talk to him, to offer her company, and this was the best he could do?

A curse loudly escaped his lips.

 

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“Did you say something?” Calla asked. Her eyebrow quirked ever so slightly as he turned back toward her.

Searching her face, Jessie wondered what was going on behind those inky black eyes.  “Actually, I’m going to stop by Aimee and Drake’s new camp to hang out for a while. Do you want to come with me?”

She smiled then, a full smile, and nodded hesitantly. “Okay.”

She was a pretty girl when she smiled, Jessie observed.

 

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Annika hopped off the bed and made her way to the entrance of her rooms, irritated at the barrage of pounding against the door of the suite, rattling the door frame, but happy at the prospect of a diversion. Portraits shivered in their frames on the walls as Colin’s assault on the door continued. Pausing before a trembling mirror, Annika took a moment to check her appearance. Assured that her hair and clothes were smooth, she slowly opened the door a crack and peeked through, as if she didn’t already know who was standing on the other side.

Peering through the opening, she saw precisely what she had expected to see: Colin waiting impatiently in the downpour, the usual scowl gracing his brows. I should tell him how old he looks when he does that. That’ll really rile him up, Annika thought. Her mood lightened considerably. Opening the door wider, she put a hand to her hip, looking coyly at the drenched fairy at her door. 

The brash fairy had become a regular visitor in recent weeks; frequent enough that Annika rarely had time for Nadia now, which she somewhat regretted. But she had come to regard Colin as a friend in his own right, and their friendship was certainly as mutually satisfying as was hers with Nadia, if not more so. He had also helped her select several outfits that looked much more like things her classmates and other women in town wore, so she didn’t draw as many stares and whispers as she did at first. Colin seemed to enjoy exposing her to aspects of modern living and observing her reactions. Sometimes her reactions surprised him, but as often as not, he laughed at her. “You’re an asshole’s muse, Mayberry,” he’d told her, more than once. She didn’t mind; she relished the experiences.

“Fucking let me in,” he demanded. “I don’t have time for this shit. It’s raining.”

“Who died and made you king?” she retorted, giving way as he pushed past her into the suite, puddles of rainwater marking his heavy footsteps across the no doubt expensive carpets.

“You know that saying in Mayberry? Wow, you never fuckin’ cease to amaze.” He barked a laugh, tossing his wet jacket over the chaise and ripping his shirt from his waist. “Why are your clothes still on?”

 

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Annika moved around the room, oddly restless despite the rousing round of sex. Rain still drizzled down the window panes, the sky heavy and low behind it. She stopped before the large organ with black and white keys in the middle of the suite, trailing her fingers down the ivories lightly. A piano, Nicola had called it. She had played a lovely tune on it once while visiting. Here and there Annika’s fingers depressed the keys, bringing forth pretty, but jangled and discordant sounds.

“I bet you don’t have anything like that on Ouroboros,” Colin commented. He lounged on the couch nearby, smoking his usual nasty, caustic cigarettes. It was difficult to believe anyone would want to smoke such foulness. The earthy, sharp, clean odor of the tobacco that Jessie sometimes smoked was much more pleasant. Remembrance of the scent brought to mind carefree nights around the fire, surrounded by friends, the sound of Jessie’s guitar weaving throughout the scene.

“No, we don’t,” she answered somewhat absently. She could almost imagine Jessie’s dexterous fingers playing across the keys as effortlessly as they did the strings of his battered old guitar. What she wouldn’t give to see Jessie with that old guitar, back home on Ouroboros, rather than be here in dreary Midnight Hollow. The mental image brought with it a pang of homesickness, but Annika pushed it aside with a conscious effort.

“I bet Jessie would love something like this. He loves music. It seems to come so naturally to him.” She turned from the piano finally to look at Colin. “Is there some place here that sells music instruments? I want to buy him a guitar. The best.”

Colin released a plume of smoke and raised a brow as he regarded her. “Only the best for Jessie, huh? Not Abel?”

“Abel wouldn’t know what to do with a guitar,” she replied, pulling her shirt on over her head. Her mind was a thousand miles away as she finished dressing, planning this and a dozen more gifts for her friends.

 

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After the heady ride on Colin’s motorcycle, amidst breezes that smelled evocatively of Autumn, Annika followed Colin into a smallish, squat building. Compared to other buildings and homes in Midnight Hollow that hearkened to classic and Gothic design, it was, frankly, ugly.

The atmosphere they walked into caught her interest, however. It was a place of lights that shone deep into shadowed corners, the unmistakable sound of guitar strings impossibly loud. Stale cigarette smoke lingered on the air, along with a hint of the same herb that Jessie liked to smoke back home.

Forgetting Colin’s presence, she gravitated toward a beam of light on the floor encircling two figures seated in plush leather chairs, drawn by the warring melodies from competing guitars. One instrument looked similar to guitars she had seen on Ouroboros, only much smoother, and more polished. The other looked like no guitar she had ever seen before. Its body was thin, and it lacked a sound chamber. The shining strings looked to be made of metal. The sound of each instrument was amplified through small black boxes situated around where the men were seated.

Behind them, guitars of many sizes and shapes and colors were arrayed against the wall. Following the focus of her attention, she passed the two men playing guitar to examine the highly varied display. Looking over the daunting selection before her, she realized that a guitar was not just a guitar. She had no idea which of these would best suit Jessie.

“Oh. Can I help you?” One of the men finally noticed her, his fingers slowing their work on the strings. His gruff, gravelly voice sharply contrasted with the music he played.

Annika turned her head to glance at him and nodded, then turned her eyes back to the wall of guitars.”I want to buy a guitar, but I’m not sure which one.”

“Yeah, Sweetheart? What’s your muse? Electric, or acoustic?” He stood, nesting his instrument carefully in a velvet-lined case on the table beside him, then came to stand beside her. “Or electric acoustic?”

 

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“Um, not electric.” Her eyes surveyed the collection of guitars on display, settling on one that appeared similar to Jessie’s guitar. “Like that one,” she pointed.

“Acoustic. Alright. What size you play?” He looked her up and down, business-like despite his disheveled hair and bloodshot eyes. “I can see you with a 3/4, mayyyybe a 7/8.”

“Me? Oh it’s not for me. For a friend back home. He’s played for years. We don’t have anything like these, though.” She gestured at the wall of polished, gleaming guitars. “He would love to have one, they’re beautiful.”

“Yes they are, you have a good eye. Ok. Let me back up. He plays acoustic. Are we talking classical or flat top?”

“Explain,” she demanded. “I’m not familiar with the options, and my friend is not here. I want to surprise him with a good guitar, and I was told you could help me.” She was being needlessly sharp, a tactic she’d observed Natalia take with salespeople many times. She wanted to get to the point, and in terms she understood.

Annika heard Colin’s footsteps behind her, his rough hand finding her ass. The young man’s eyes left hers and widened slightly in recognition. “Kahekili,” he nodded coolly, with understated deference. “This a friend of yours, sir?”

 

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“Let’s just say I’m fucking the hell out of that ass, so don’t get any ideas. She’s a rube, but she’s not dumb. Pretend she’s one of those clueless rich broads that come in buying crap for their overachieving brats.” Annika had to smile at the delivery. It was so callous, foul cigarette smoke wreathing his impassive face. She shook her head in mild amusement.

The salesman blinked, but was apparently nonplussed by Colin’s crass pronouncement. “I wouldn’t presume,” he said. “You can call me Dylan,” he turned back to Annika, addressing her. “Does your friend play on nylon or steel strings?”

“Not steel,” she said confidently. “He makes his strings from animal intestines.”

“Wow, that’s primitive. Primitive but kind of cool. You don’t see that very often. I can hook you up with several sets of nylon replacement strings to take with you, if that would interest him.” Beside her, Colin nodded approvingly.

Dylan went to the guitars on display, bringing several of them slightly forward, then turned to her. “Are any of these a definite ‘no’?”

 

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Annika studied them each in turn, then discarded four. “Too small, too small, too small–and that one, would just look ridiculous on Ouroboros.”

“Alright. Now, maybe the most important qualifications–size and scale length. This friend of yours, is he tall? Short?”

“Tall,” she told him. “Taller than you, and…” she turned an appraising glance on Colin. “Taller than Colin.”

Colin snorted.

“Ok,” Dylan went on. “And this one might be a little harder. How big are his hands?” He spread his out for an example, stretching out all of his fingers. Annika could picture Jessie’s hand splayed across the neck of his guitar, sliding up and down scales, in a very similar gesture. Of course, the last time she’d seen his hands up-close, just before her stupid brother had walked in, they’d been wrapped around her naked waist right when he–

“What’s with the fucking stupid grin, Mayberry?” Colin barked.

She refocused on Dylan. “Big hands. Long fingers.” She held her hand up against his, her fingers overlapping his to show her approximation of hand size.

“Good grip. Bet he can play scales like a beast.” He set several guitars back against the wall display.

 

screenshot-69Annika surveyed the three remaining instruments, and without hesitation, pointed to the center guitar. It was the first that had caught her eye, and now at the end, she knew it was the one. The glowing rosewood shone in the display lights, mother-of-pearl inlays along the frets adding understated elegance. “That one. I want that one.”

“Good choice. That one would make your friend the envy of every guitar player around. It costs a pretty penny, though, depending on your budget. These other two are nearly equal in quality, but far more affordable.”

“Hey man, I fucking told you she’s with me. It’s on the house, Dylan,” inserted Colin.

“Ok Kahekili, no problem.”

“On the house?” Annika questioned, looking at Colin.

“I’m a partner here,” Colin shrugged, lighting another cigarette. “Pick out whatever you want.”

Annika regarded the guitar again. She didn’t want Colin to buy it, or give it for free, whichever he meant. She wanted to buy gifts for her friends, but not as some favor from Colin. Colin was her friend too, and he was very generous, but gifts meant nothing to him. And that was exactly the problem.

“No.” Annika’s refusal was flat, devoid of argument or insult.

She stepped forward and lifted the tag hanging from the headstock of the guitar. It was indeed a pretty penny. More than half of the money she had brought with her, simoleons she’d been saving up for years from trading her fishing catches to the occasional schooner that dropped anchor in the bay. But it was worth it. Jessie would love it. She’d have plenty of money leftover to buy Amy some clothes and other trinkets, and toys for her nieces and nephews. “I have the money,” she said, turning back to the men. “I want to buy it.”

Colin gave her an odd look, but said nothing. He shrugged, nodding at Dylan.

 

screenshot-72After arrangements were made to have the guitar delivered to her suite at the resort, they climbed back on Colin’s motorcycle, which he turned toward town, rather than back to her hotel. The rain had let up, though the clouds, as almost always, lay heavy and dark across the mountains. Here in Midnight Hollow, the leaves were beginning to show their Fall colors. The long summer was ending, ushering in the Autumn years. Looking out across Colin’s leather-clad shoulder, she wondered if the season was turning so noticeably back home as well. 

“Where are we going?” she queried. She recognized the shopping district from previous trips here, first with Natalia, and later with Colin.

“We just spent an hour shopping for this big, tall bumpkin friend of yours. Now we’re going shopping to reward my fucking patience. And then you need something you can wear to that fancy fuckin’ French place downtown.”

“Why do I need new clothes to go there?”

“That place is fucking pretentious, but I feel like decent food tonight. It’s no Le Cinq, but it’s still pretty fucking good. You’ll like it, trust me. You’ll fuckin’ love the clafoutis with chocolate sauce. Bet you’d like the bouillabaisse, too.”

 

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“Bouillabaisse?” Annika repeated the word as best she could. “What is it? And you’re probably right about the chocolate sauce.”

The side of Colin’s cheek creased, and Annika knew he was smiling, a rare occurrence.

“The clafoutis with chocolate sauce, you fucking chocolate fiend. And the bouillabaisse is a seafood soup.” She felt his shoulders shrug beneath her hands. “You’re always bragging about catching and roasting fish back on Gilligan’s Island, but I fucking guarantee you’ve never had it this good.”

Annika smiled when he parked the bike in front of a lingerie store they had been to before. His comment about rewarding himself suddenly made sense.

 

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“Not that one,” Colin said, shaking his head. “Looks too innocent.”

Annika rolled her eyes, but returned to the changing stall and slipped out of the satin negligee.

“This one,” she heard from outside the curtain. A black, lacy slip of lingerie was tossed over the door. It was completely sheer; it wasn’t hard to see why Colin picked it out.

“Really, Colin?” she asked, holding it up against her body while she inspected it in the mirror. “This doesn’t leave much to the imagination. People sleep in these things?”

She heard Colin snort in response. “‘Sleepwear’ is just the fuckin’ polite term for it. Just put it on, Mayberry, and hurry.”

Annika stepped outside the fitting room and struck a pose, inviting the verdict she knew he would give this garment.

“Now turn around,” he ordered, then whistled appreciatively as she complied. “Fuck. I’m going to tear that ass up tonight.”

“Why wait?” Annika leered at him over her shoulder, nodding a head at the changing room.

“Fuck, woman.”

 

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Colin grunted grumpily, conspicuously rearranging himself on his seat. Not seeing the sales lady anywhere in sight, Annika swiftly turned and deposited herself in Colin’s lap, her knee bent at his hip, her crotch snug against his. She ground her hips against his obvious arousal. “What, you didn’t have this in mind? Tsk, Colin!” Annika teased, still moving her body over his until he forcefully grabbed her by the hips and held her still.

“I didn’t bring any condoms,” he growled. He was not accustomed to denying himself gratification when the mood and opportunity arose.

Annika wilted against him, groaning in frustration. “Damn it, Colin!”

There had been an epic freakout when Colin had realized she wasn’t on ‘birth control’. He had raged and accused her of trying to get pregnant on purpose. Annika had never heard of such a thing, of course, and after he calmed down, he realized that. He knew too much of her background already to believe otherwise. Later, that hadn’t slowed him down in any in bed. Or on the bar, either. But, the next time he appeared, he had an economy-sized box of rubbers which he thereafter–for the most part–insisted on using. Annika wasn’t a fan of them. They sometimes resulted in uncomfortable pinches and chafing, and always meant pausing in the moment to put the damn things on. And like this moment, it sometimes was a frustration.

 

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Peering over his shoulder, Annika saw that the sales lady was still occupied elsewhere. This back corner of the store was deserted. There was no reason not to put on a quick show, and take care of herself at the same time. With a wicked grin, Annika put a finger in her mouth and sucked on it, resuming her suggestive movements on Colin’s lap. Slipping her wet finger into the negligible panty of the lingerie, she began stroking herself in tandem with the movement of her hips.

“Fuck,” Colin cursed, then unfastened his belt buckle. “Just a quickie, you fucking minx. Make it quick.”

 

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“Gods, I’ve never seen anything so fine!” Annika exclaimed, running a hand over the satiny skirt that fell delicately from her hips. Swaths of chiffon wrapped around her waist, building to a delicate bust. Gemstones of some sort glimmered like raindrops along the bottom hem of the gown. “People wear things like this just go out to eat?! Colin, look!”

“It does look lovely on you, miss,” agreed the clerk hovering behind her.

Colin grunted.

After concluding their business at the lingerie shop, he brought her to this dress shop containing some of the grandest finery she had seen yet. She wondered what sort of restaurant they were going to that it required such formal clothing.

Annika met Colin’s eyes in the mirror. “Well? What do you think? Is this suitable for whatever you have in mind?”

“It’ll do,” Colin decided. “We’ll take this, and the other two outfits as well,” he instructed the clerk, handing her his credit card. “And the red dress,” he added. Annika seemed to be fond of the color. And besides, he was feeling generous following the shameless afternoon delight she’d instigated at the lingerie store. They’d made a wreck of the little number she had been trying on, so he’d bought two of them.

It was rare for him to spend this much effort on one broad, but then, it was rare to find a female that was still interesting when the fuck was over. He’d never even bothered before; nor had he this time. It had just happened. He’d had no thought of seeing her again after their first antagonistic meeting, but his curiosity had been aroused when he and Samantha happened across her and the Riverhaven bitch downtown and Annika had appeared wholly unmoved by seeing him with another woman. Indeed, she was flippant about seeing him at all. Her dismissal after their second encounter, along with the revelation that she was only in town for a few months, had deepened his curiosity and also made him begin to realize what an opportunity she presented.

He found it highly entertaining to see her unfiltered reactions to aspects of life that no one else gave any thought to. It had become something of a hobby of his to expose her to things she’d never tried, things she’d never seen. Her response to this dress alone was worth the cost. Not that cost was a consideration for him; he came from old money, and there was no shortage of it. Her insistence on buying her bumpkin friend that guitar today had actually impressed him a little. The cost of it was paltry compared to the cost of the dress she was wearing. Not that she knew that, and therein lay part of Colin’s intrigue. She had little knowledge of material pursuits to begin with. Hell, she didn’t even know when to be impressed by how much he was spending on her. The girl was no gold digger.

And not once had she asked when she would see him again. She’d never even asked for his phone number. No unsubtle hints about the future–at least, not with him. She still pined for that gods-forsaken rock somewhere in the southern Simlish sea, or wherever she was from, and fully intended to return there after the school term ended in a few more months.

He found himself smiling while Annika, with wide-eyes and mouth agape, fingered the gemstone fringe of the amethyst chiffon gown. Fucking females and their love of shiny shit. She was such a refreshing change of pace from his usual fare. Hell,  ‘a few more months’ wasn’t even an unpleasant thought. It would be an impossible feat for most women to achieve with him. He’d had women all over the world, women of class, women of station, women of celebrity. Most he’d shaken off as quickly as possible after he’d had them, and here he was shopping with an uncultured heathen from Blue Lagoon, or wherever the fuck she was from. A fantastic piece of ass, no strings attached, and she’d walk away willingly when her time here was up, if he didn’t tire of her first.

Colin resolved to talk to her about the pill. Might as well, if he was going to keep her around for that long. He fucking hated condoms, when he remembered to use them. He didn’t need another dumb cunt trying to saddle him with a snot-nosed brat. Fantastic ass or not, he didn’t like the girl that much.

“Let’s go,” he abruptly announced. “We have one more stop to make. You’ll need some shiny shit.”

 

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“Holy Master Controller!” she exclaimed after following the fairy into yet another shop. Banks of soft lights caught the dazzle and shine of mounds of jewelry. Prisms of reflected light lit her face as she leaned over one display. Everywhere she looked, gold and silver and multitudes of brilliant gemstones of all colors, shapes, and sizes tempted the eye. Moving to another display, she saw necklaces of thick gold chain, bands of silver, delicate ropes, and pendants of ruby, sapphire, and diamonds.

Stopping at another display, she ran a finger over a bracelet. “An opal,” she exclaimed, wonderingly. “My mother’s ring was an opal. They say my daddy found the stone in France and had it cut for her. Aunt Nala wears it now.”

“And look!” She pointed at a case of gold wristbands. “What are these?”

“You’re like a kid in a fuckin’ candy store,” Colin laughed. “Those are watches.”

“What are they for?”

“Why am I not surprised you wouldn’t know what a fucking watch is? It displays the time of day.”

Annika studied the devices, trying to determine how the time of day could be derived from their tiny, jeweled faces. They were miniature clocks, she realized. There were several in the Riverhaven household.

“Would the lady care to try one on?”

She jumped when the clerk spoke. So engrossed in the shiny baubles all around her, she hadn’t heard him approach.

Colin laughed. “‘Lady‘, that’s a good one. You should’ve seen her riding–fuck, nevermind. The ‘lady’ needs some appropriate evening jewelry. A necklace, bracelets, some of those dangly little earrings. Cocktail rings. Keep it classy, though. None of that fake shit,” he instructed the clerk, handing him his platinum credit card. “But keep her away from the fuckin’ diamond solitaires, if you catch my drift.”

“Of course, sir,” the man replied swiftly, eagerly taking the credit card. “And may I ask what price range you have in mind?”

Colin waved off the comment with a flip of his hand. “Anything but a diamond ring.”

“You’re very generous, sir. I’ll be honored to assist the lady with her selections.” The man scurried away, already counting his commission.

 

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Soft music filtered through the background, weaving through the ambience of muted conversation, soft lighting, and the aroma of savory dishes and delicate pastries. Annika and Colin were seated in a private bay in the upper level of the restaurant, overlooking the common dining area below. A few other patrons were seated in similarly private arrangements around the upper floor.

An open window nearby let in the night breeze, surprisingly cool. It occasionally raised goosebumps on her bare shoulders. She pushed back the elegant china bowl with a satisfied sigh. Stretching out her wrist, she admired the way the light played on the facets of the diamond bracelet. 

“Hope you saved room for dessert,” Colin commented. He lounged in his chair, legs stretched out and crossed at the ankle, a small smile playing about his pierced lips. He looked strikingly handsome in the black suit he wore, and, Annika thought, looked remarkably relaxed. His usual arrogance was replaced by a more relaxed, self-satisfied demeanor. “Raspberry sauce and extra chocolate sauce, remember.”

Annika chuckled, leaning back in her chair and wrapping her hands around the mug of hot cocoa the attendant had just placed before her. “I’m pretty full, but I’m sure I can find room for chocolate. That–what’s it called, again? Boo-bess?–was excellent–” Her pronunciation drew a laugh from Colin. “It was definitely better than fish stew at home, but it was very similar. Some different seasonings, and of course, not cooked over a fire.”

“Cooking over a fire as a means of existence. Man. That wasn’t fun even as a boy scout,” Colin commented. His tone lacked his usual derision, though.

He pulled his legs in and sat up, rubbing his hands together as the waiter placed a dish on the table between them. “Alright Annie, prepare to be amazed.” He picked up a small fork and sliced off a small piece of the confection, dragging it through the chocolate sauce. “Custard, black cherries, raspberry sauce, and of course, your favorite, chocolate sauce.”

He leaned across the table and placed the morsel in her mouth, pale eyes watching expectantly for her response.

Annika closed her eyes as the custard and fruit nearly melted in her mouth. “Oh. Gods.”

“Yep. Told you.” He sat back, smiling, and handed her a fork. “Garçon, more wine for the lady, please.”

Annika eagerly dug in, tipping the plate to get more of the chocolate sauce over the bit of custard. “Wow. I don’t think I’ve ever heard you say ‘please’. We should come here again. The chocolate sauce alone is worth it.”

The fairy smiled, and Annika was struck again by the change in his demeanor.

He was, in fact, enjoying himself immensely. It was a side of the finer things in life that he did not usually bother to experience. Surely, he could bring women drenched in diamonds to expensive restaurants anytime he wished, but those women would know the cost of every single item they wore, and would be plotting how to affix his last name to theirs. This one didn’t have a clue there was a quarter-mil worth of simoleons around her neck alone. And she licked the plate, much to his amusement. So unpolished, but a diamond, nonetheless.

 

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“So tell me more about this music man of yours,” Colin said, changing the subject. His hands raised and flowed in tune with the background music, accompanying his statement.

Annika cocked her head, quizzically. “Music man?”

“Your bumpkin friend you bought that expensive guitar for. Back on Ouroboros or wherever.” He cupped his hands around his cigar, puffing to get the cherry going, then dropped the spent match into the crystal ashtray.

“Why do you want to know? I know you’re not jealous.” Annika stated flatly, sipping her hot cocoa. She sniffed the air. “Whatever you’re smoking smells a hell of a lot better than what you usually smoke. And kind of like cherries. Weird. But better.”

Colin barked a short, guttural laugh. “Jealous, ha, good one. I’m the gold standard. I’m just curious why you dropped a poor man’s fortune on him today. We would have let you have the  guitar.”

“His name is Jessie, my best friend. I’ve told you about him before. He plays the guitar.  It’s always in his hands at bonfires.” Annika leaned her chin in her hand. “I guess he is a ‘music man’. I never really thought about it, but it’s very much a part of him. I wanted the guitar to be a gift, not just something free from someone who wouldn’t know what it meant to him. And what’s this ‘gold standard’?”

“Huh,” Colin commented. “I thought the lesbian chick was your best friend.”

“Aimee? She’s not a lesbian. At all. We just messed around sometimes. For fun, you know.” Annika shrugged, taking another sip of her cocoa, savoring the smooth chocolate on her tongue. “They’re both my best friends. I just relate to them each differently, I guess.”

 

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“Excuse me, you’re Annika Meadows, aren’t you? I’m sorry to interrupt, but I overheard you speaking of Ouroboros.”

They looked up into the face of an intense, plain woman looking intently at Annika with sharp green eyes.

“Meadowstone,” Annika corrected. “Do I know you?”

“Who the fuck do you think you are, intruding on our dinner? Get the fuck out of here,” Colin demanded, his voice harsh. Gone was the relaxed man of a few moments before. The adversarial and confrontational Colin was instantly back in place.

The woman glanced briefly at Colin, then returned her focus to Annika.  “I’m sorry, please do excuse me. I’m Rae Holt. I’m doing my thesis on the society of Ouroboros. I know the Riverhavens are from there. I’d love to ask you–“

“Get the fuck out of her face, cunt. This is me asking nicely,” Colin practically snarled at the woman.

 

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“I–My apologies to you both,” the woman said stiffly. “Pardon me.” Her green eyes looked searchingly at Annika for a moment, then she beat a hasty retreat, nearly colliding with a maitre d’. 

Annika stared at her retreating back. “What was that all about?”

“Most likely a fucking reporter. They’re always fucking nosy and asking questions they have no business asking.”

“She said she was doing a thesis Ouroboros. What exactly does that mean? Like a paper?”

“Probably just doing a news piece on the Riverhavens. They think they’re a big fucking deal around here because of Alastair’s little potion business.” Alastair had started his own elixir consignment store when he and the twins first came to Moonlight Falls, Annika knew. He owned the one in Midnight Hollow, Hocus Potion, as well. She didn’t know much beyond that, other than that he’d branched out from his original business endeavors.

She shook her head, turning her eyes back to Colin. “Anyway, where were we? Gold standard? You said you’re the gold standard. What is that?”

“The fucking benchmark. It doesn’t get better than the gold standard. I set the bar for everyone else.”

Annika laughed out loud at his audacity. “As in the best? You think you’re the best I’ve ever been with? I mean, you’re good, but you haven’t exactly ruined me for all other men.” He was good. Damn good. But him bragging about his prowess was so ridiculous, she couldn’t help laughing.

 

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He blew a plume of smoke across the table toward her and arched one brow. “We both know the lesbians can’t scratch your itch, and you’re not fucking seriously going to tell me that that dumbass Abel knows what he’s doing.”

Annika laughed at the notion. “Gods no, not Abel. But you and Aimee and Nadia and Abel aren’t the only people I’ve had sex with.”

“Then who am I missing? You said that the night we met, some bullshit about you’ve had better. Your fuckin’ body doesn’t lie, Mayberry. Shit, you jumped my bones in the middle of the store today, you fuckin’ thirsty broad.”

“You know I was just saying that to get a rise out of you. You can be ridiculously predictable, Colin.” She waved a hand, fanning the smoke away. “I needed to blow off steam in the worst way, and there you were, all brass balls and machismo.”

“You didn’t answer the question.” He gestured for her to continue.

“There was someone else,” she admitted.

“I have a feeling we’re getting back around to the music man.” Colin’s tone was sardonic.

Annika didn’t bother denying it, though for some reason it bothered her that he was needling her about Jessie, of all people. “Abel was pestering me all the time for sex, but I wasn’t interested at first, because I thought it would hurt. Then I wanted to see what it was like, but in case I didn’t like it, I didn’t want Abel to know. So I did it with Jessie.”

“Kid must know what he’s doing if you’re over here buying him expensive guitars,” he commented.

Annika shrugged. “I don’t what ‘expensive’ is to you people here, but it’s not like that. We were just virgins experimenting with someone safe. That was years ago, anyway. I was 14. Jessie’s my friend, and I know he’d love that guitar, so I bought it.”

Colin let out a bark of laughter. “So you have this friend who, even when he was a virgin, was better than your boyfriend. And yet you stayed with your useless boyfriend. What’s wrong with this picture Annie? You’ve over here buying him guitars and holding him over my fuckin’ head.

“I’m not! It’s not like that! Why the hell do you care?”

He leaned back in his chair, studying her curiously. “I don’t,” he said frankly. “But you obviously do. Why aren’t you with Music Man instead of that waste-of-sperm boyfriend of yours?”

His question caught her off guard. Why indeed? She wondered, leaning back in her chair. It was a logical enough question–if it was about anyone other than Jessie. She thought of how upset he’d been after that time at the tidal pool. And she knew he was upset and probably blamed himself for being involved in the situation that resulted in her brothers sending her here, to Midnight Hollow. She shook her head. “I couldn’t do that to Jessie.”

“No? Seems to me you have zero fucking issues with using your friends for sex.”

 

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“I’m not using anybody, per se,” she pointed out. “I can count on one hand the people I’ve had sex with. Jessie, Aimee, Abel, Nadia, and you. Aimee, we’re just messing around. Nadia knows we’re not a couple, and she doesn’t try to make it about that. Abel, I didn’t have sex with often because he sucked at it, and didn’t care about me getting off. To be honest, I don’t think I like him at all, and haven’t in a long while. It was just a habit to call him my boyfriend, because he always was. Me and Jessie, that was only a few times. He told me he didn’t want to complicate our friendship. The other times were just an accident.”

Colin laughed so loud that other restaurant patrons turned to look. “Just an accident? What the fuck, Annika? Doesn’t want to ‘complicate your friendship’ and then ‘accidentally’ fucks you anyway? That poor dumb kid.” He leaned back and laughed again, loudly, until a few other restaurant patrons glared. The maitre d’ nearby cleared his throat, looking their way. All of which Colin ignored.

It did sound pretty lame to her own ears, having explained it like that. She’d just never given it any thought before now. She felt a little ashamed, not that she would voice that Colin; it was none of his business. Jessie was not a fucking idiot. He was a good guy and a better friend than she deserved. Now that she thought about it, though, she realized why Jessie had never wanted to complicate things. For normal people, sex was usually a part of romance and relationships. But they were just friends, so Jessie wasn’t comfortable with it.

Jessie’s angry words from that day by the tidal pool rose in her mind. That’s the problem, Annika, it doesn’t mean anything to you. You don’t realize, or you don’t care, that most people aren’t this casual about sex. If you care about me, at all, don’t complicate our friendship with your fun. He always took everything so seriously–hadn’t she teased him about that enough herself? Of course it complicated things for him.

 

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That didn’t feel like a solid conclusion, though. Annika frowned.

“Wow, you’re really giving this some thought, aren’t you? Annie, for being such a smart girl, you can be fucking oblivious sometimes. The idiot doesn’t want to get hurt, but he can’t fucking resist you.”

“What do you mean, he doesn’t want to get hurt?”

“He wants the fucking strings, Mayberry. The only reason a guy wouldn’t want no-strings-attached sex the way you do it would be if he wanted more. He wants the fucking strings.”

 

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