Wished away a broken fai.., p.10
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       Wished Away: A Broken Fairy Tale, p.10
 

           S.P. Cervantes
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  I walk quickly past him wishing that there was something I could do to make myself look better. I know I shouldn’t care, but I do. I stroll past the mirror in my entryway and try to slyly check myself out, hoping for the best, but when I take off my sunglasses to see the dark circles under my eyes, I cringe. Seriously? Gage starts to follow me down the hall to the kitchen not giving me much time to try and fix myself up, but stops and starts looking at all of the pictures I have lining the entryway. My heart feels conflicted wondering what he’s thinking as he carefully examines my memories displayed prominently in my house. For the first time, a part of me wonders if surrounding myself with pictures of Dave is helping me heal or holding me back.

  “Is it hard having so many memories of Dave around you like this?” he asks staring at my favorite picture of Dave, Charlotte, and me on our boat. I turn to see him rub his chin and look at me like I’m the only person who can understand him. “I can’t do it. I only have a picture of Cass in my room, the only place I’m ever alone. It’s good you do this, especially for Charlotte.” He walks into the kitchen and leans into the counter taking a sip of his coffee. “It’s like being punched in the gut every time I see her face. Even after all this time, seeing her face just makes her absence seem so much more painful. Is that horrible to say?”

  I smile up at him. “No.” I take a sip from my coffee thinking of Dave and what he’d do, how he would handle things if he lost me. “Sometimes I feel the same way. I guess I feel like if I put the pictures away, his absence will feel too real.”

  “But it is real, Jess.” His blue eyes bare into mine with sincerity and empathy. “Don’t get me wrong, every day I want Cassie to be alive and it took me a while to accept it. I think that’s what she’d want me to do. I think she’d want me to live.”

  “That’s the last thing Dave said to me. He told Joey to tell me to live.” I look down at my cup not sure what made me tell him that. I’ve never talked about this before. I don’t really talk about my feelings about Dave’s death with anyone. Sure, Cam and my friends are always here for me when they know I’ll be missing Dave the most, and we all reminisce, but I don’t ever express how cut to the core I am. I feel like I’m walking through life skinned alive and my memories are like a gust of wind scraping across my exposed, raw skin. But with Gage, I feel like he’s the only person in the world who can understand how I feel. He’s the ointment to heal my scars.

  Gage turns so that he’s facing me and bends down to look into my eyes and my heart softens. “Is that what you’re doing, Jess? Are you living?”

  I nod my head. “Honestly, I’m just trying to get by each day making sure my daughter knows how loved she is and trying my best to fill the huge gap that’s missing in our life.”

  He bumps his hip into mine trying to keep this light and easier than it is. “That’s a start.”

  I’m grateful he doesn’t say what I’m sure he is thinking--that I need to live for myself. “Well, I’m sure you didn’t come here to talk about all this.”

  He straightens up and smiles broadly, clearly happy for the change of topic. “No, actually, I came by here because you were trying to stand me up, and I don’t like to be stood up, especially by the first girl I’ve asked out in years.”

  I try and make a shocked look appear on my face and drop my mouth open, fluttering my eye lashes. “Why would you think that? Cam really needed me this morning. The baby hasn’t been sleeping at all, so I was there all morning until DJ fell asleep, then went for a quick run. She’s expecting me back….”

  “All morning huh?” Gage’s sultry deep voice has a hint of amusement as he flicks my ponytail playfully when I nod in agreement. “Well then, I guess I should tell you that Camryn and Holden asked me if I’d let you know they have to cancel your lunch date today,” he raises his eyebrows knowing he’s got me, “and they invited us both to dinner tonight instead. They are having Joey over too.”

  Crapity, crap, crap. I begin picking at my cup. I never fold when caught red-handed, but any excuse I can come up with is a jumbled mess in my head, so I just start mumbling under my breath before Gage decides to save me from my torture and he reaches over and taps the tip of my nose. “Listen Jess, I get it. I’m sorry if kissing you Saturday night made things weird. All night Joey was throwing women at me and when I saw you, looking so damn hot in that sexy top, I couldn’t think of doing anything but kissing you. But I also like talking with you. We both have gone through things most people haven’t had to live through and it’s nice to have someone who understands. I like you Jess, and I want to get to know you better.”

  I feel some of the bravery I had before peek through. “I like you, Gage and I do want to get to know you better too, but I just don’t know if I’m ready for anything more than that right now. And I don’t know when that will change for me. I guess I just didn’t want to give you the wrong idea.”

  He runs his hand over the top of my hand, tracing along my knuckles tenderly. “How would you feel about spending time together today then, and just get to know each other a little better then? I don’t work today and thought we could hang a bit before Charlotte gets home. I have to go Joey’s this afternoon and help him fix some loose boards on his deck. We can meet you back at the Patrick’s place tonight. Since I was invited to dinner tonight and it would be rude of me not to show up,” he says playfully trying to lighten the mood. His smile causes me to relax instantly.

  I roll my eyes at him. “Oh yes, it would be rude of you not to go.” I’m so confused right now because my body is telling me to jump on top of this amazing guy in front of me, but my mind is saying to keep a distance. “Just be prepared, Cam’s been trying to get us to get together since the benefit. When she has her mind set on something, she doesn’t give up.”

  His eyes float back to mine. “I guess we are similar in that way,” he rasps out and there’s no mistaking his meaning.

  I smile back. He’s such a mix of confident and caring, that a spark inside me that I thought would never ignite again begins flickering to life. “Well since it seems you’ve just invited yourself over all day, make yourself comfortable while I take a quick shower.” A cold shower.

  I walk downstairs wearing a casual grey maxi dress with my hair up in a lose ponytail with minimal makeup. I rushed through my shower and tried on four different outfits trying to appear like I wasn’t trying, like I don’t care what he thinks about my appearance, even though my heart is thumping like a bass drum knowing he’s just feet away, waiting for me. I have feelings right now that I haven’t felt since I was a teenager and I feel more alive in this moment then I have in years.

  I find Gage sitting out on the deck drinking his coffee with his feet kicked up on the glass table. He doesn’t look like he can actually be real. His dark hair is perfectly tousled, slightly hanging over his aviator sunglasses that are covering his eyes that I love so much. When I walk out to the deck, he turns in my direction and lifts his glasses, revealing his blue eyes that light up when they meet mine.

  “That was fast. Hell woman, you get better with each new thing I learn about you.” He smiles and drops his glasses back down.

  I smile and curtsey. “I have many talents, Dr. Scott. I perfected the quick change years ago.”

  “So it seems.” I love seeing him so playful this way. The other night was one of the first times we actually had a light conversation with each other, I liked it then, and I like it even more now. I’ve tried to think back to the times I’ve met Gage and his wife in the past, and remember they always seemed to have a very light and happy relationship, always playing along with the ridiculous games Joey would have us participating in at his parties. We never really interacted much back then, they were acquaintances, they’d only moved to Brick a year before his wife died. Although Gage went to Yale with Dave, they didn’t reconnect the way Joey and Holden had, and I never wondered why until now.

  I take a seat in the lounge chair next to him looking out onto the still lagoon fee
ling excited and a little nervous, but don’t want him to recognize the insecurities that are filling inside me. “Well, what is it you have planned for today?” I prop my feet up on the grey gate separating us from my boat docked on the lagoon.

  “I was actually just thinking about it. I didn’t think you’d actually agree to spending the day with me.” He smiles devilishly at me and my body temperature raises instantly. “How about we go to the beach for a bit, then we can take my boat out for a ride down to Casper’s and get some crab to bring to Holden’s tonight?”

  Does he actually want me to spend the day in my bathing suit with him? I’m not twenty-five anymore, and although I exercise all the time, I also eat like a truck driver. I’m really regretting that pork roll and egg sandwich I had this morning. “Kind of an unconventional first date isn’t it?” Sarcasm drips in my words. “You’re just lucky the beach happens to be my favorite place on earth.”

  “Mine too.” He finishes off the last of his coffee and turns facing me with his elbows resting on his knees leaning towards me, making me smile when he gets a sexy-as-hell smirk on his face. “And I think you called this a date, which makes me very happy.”

  I drop my mouth open and start to clarify. “No…I….friends can…”

  He laughs deeply, and squeezes my knee. “I’m just playing with you, Jess. We’re friends getting to know each other better…half naked…”

  I smack his hand and roll my eyes at him. “I’m wearing the frumpiest bathing suit I can find so you stop gawking at me. Have some dignity, will you?” Two can play at this game, and I love the way he now drops his mouth open to act hurt by my words.

  “This is the Jess I remember.” His face turns soft, and he tucks a loose piece of hair that’s fallen behind my ear, tracing his fingers across my cheek. “I’ve always liked that smart ass mouth of yours.”

  “Yeah well, you say that now…” My eyes meet his and I shiver a little from the intensity in them. My questions from before flood my head. “How come we never really hung out before they died? I mean, you and Joey are so close, and you and Holden even stayed close, why not Dave?”

  Gage breaks our gaze and sits back up in his chair and laughs sadly to himself. “Do you want the truth, or do you want me to make you feel better?”

  I don’t like the sound of that. “What the hell? I want the truth.”

  “A couple of reasons I guess. I mean we hadn’t lived here for long before the accident.” The sadness returns to his eyes. I reach over and am the one to make the connection by taking his hand in mine. He looks down at our hands and takes a deep breath in smiling a little, then looks back over at me, and his eyes once again reel me in. I can see there’s something he’s holding back, but I don’t want to press him. “Cassie was a little intimidated by you. I remember that one Thanksgiving after Sandy, my last Thanksgiving with her, she saw the way you were with everyone and even commented that we should try and spend more time with you and the others. It was just, she wasn’t sure if you liked her or hated her.”

  “Why would she think that? I like everyone…usually.” I try and smile and lighten the mood, but his forehead furrows and he’s looking at me with a questioning expression.

  “Did you know Cassie went to Yale with all of us?”

  I have no idea where he’s going with this. “No, is that where you met?”

  He puts his glasses back down over his eyes and squeezes my hand. “Yes, Dave is the one who introduced us.” He smiles and stands up, pulling me with him. “How about we get going? I have a suit in my car, you go grab yours and we can head out.”

  I’m glad he changed the subject. I want to get to know Gage, but we both always seem to bring everything back to Dave and Cassie. Today, I’ll try not to let my memories of Dave hold me back from letting myself see if Gage is someone I can spend more time with because every time I hear his name, I feel my heart closing itself off more and more.

  “You can change down here. I’ll grab us some towels and water.”

  I try to step away when he pulls me in close, his body pressed up against mine feels so good, and I almost lose my balance. He takes both of my hands in his, lacing his fingers through mine. “This is much better than coffee. Thank you.” His deep voice is filled with sincerity.

  My voice breaks a little. “I should be thanking you.” He tilts his head and gives me a questioning look. “For being a persistent jerk and seeing through my walls.”

  He presses his forehead to mine, his lips so close to mine, I can feel his breath on them. Memories of his full lips the other night make me want to pull him down to me just to feel that again. Instead he stands back up and smiles. “Let’s get going.”

  Once he’s outside I run up the stairs and look through my suits for one that is sexy without screaming that I’m trying too hard. I’ll be damned if I’m putting on a frumpy suit like I promised when he’s sure to look drool worthy. I decide on a monokini, thinking a two piece would be too little fabric for a first date. I oddly feel like I’ve known Gage forever, and although we’ve had many moments together and shared feelings that I’ve shared with no other, there’s so much I still don’t know about him.

  I begin to feel guilty when I imagine Gage’s naked body next to mine. It feels like I’m betraying Dave and what we had when I think of Gage this way, and my excitement for the day is turning back into hesitation and regret. I look out my front window and see Gage leaning inside the car window of his blacked out Beemer, wearing a blue checkered bathing suit that’s hanging dangerously low. When he turns and lifts off the loose fitting shirt he’s wearing revealing a ridiculous six pack and tanned skin with more tattoos that I can’t wait to check out and begins spraying on sunblock, my pulse begins thumping with excitement and anticipation and I close my eyes saying a quiet prayer. I need to feel happiness again, and so far, every time I’m with him, I am happy.

  Dave

  “Jess, come here, you’ve got to see this.”

  Charlotte was lying upside down on my recliner on the deck snuggling her new stuffed animal sound asleep and I was amazed at how her little body could defy gravity that way. Her unruly blonde curls were covering her little face, but I knew it must be getting red from being upside down that way. Jess began laughing and took a picture with her phone. “How does she always find the most uncomfortable positions to sleep in? I swear I have no idea why we even bought her a bed.”

  I lifted Charlotte up and took her inside. “Should we put her up to bed before Kat gets here? She really wanted to be able to say hi. She hasn’t seen much of Kat since we moved back in here.”

  “She’s had a busy day, and Kat will be here in the morning. Let’s just get her up to bed before the sitter arrives.”

  Kat’s house had become our home away from home right after Hurricane Sandy hit and our house was being repaired. Our street was one of the few in all of Mantoloking that hadn’t been totally decimated, but even so, it was months before we could move Charlotte back full time. Kat is a few years younger than Jess, but they’ve always been close, and after Sandy, they reignited their friendship and Kat has become a regular down at the shore with our gang much to Joey’s pleasure. Thankfully Kat’s as feisty as Jess and she doesn’t put up with Joey’s womanizing, so they just have a playful flirtation that all of us know will go no further. Maybe one of these days Joey will grow up and see the joy being with one person can bring. Hell, both Holden and I’ve been in love with the same women for most our lives, and while Holden and Cam had several years apart, the same can’t be said for Jess and me. It still blows my mind that I can still be so in love with her after so long together. I’ve never once felt like I was missing out on anything by getting married so young. It’s just the opposite, the thought of entering the dating pool again makes me feel sick.

  When I got back downstairs Kat and Jess were sitting at the bar in the corner of the living room having a glass of wine and talking with each other. Jess had on a strapless black dress that fit her perfectly.
Her bright green shoes were like the bright splash of color that she always brings with her personality. Tonight we’re going to a Save the Shore Charity event thrown by Joey’s parents at their newly remodeled beach house and there was sure to be everyone there from our loyal friends to Hollywood’s biggest and brightest. By now, we’re all used to these types of parties and have no trouble mingling in with the crowd, but always somehow find ourselves gathered together in some private spot on the beach, just the close group of us with the occasional Joey hook up, recapping the drama and pomp of the night. Tonight at least I could be sure Joey wouldn’t have some random crashing our late night rendezvous since Kat was with us. I think he’s always hoping for Kat to finally break down and let him finally have her, although he’d never admit it. Man if those two ever did hook up, I have no doubt he’d be as done as Holden and me.

  Jess and I spent the night mingling with the guests, all sharing ideas on what can be done to help speed up the rebuilding efforts along the shore. Jess’s sarcastic and witty humor won over every person we came in contact with and I couldn’t help but feel a little jealous watching so many of the men’s heads turn when she walked by. I swear, Jess was just as sexy now as she was wearing sweats and her hair in a disheveled ponytail, because it’s not only her outward beauty that was alluring, there’s just something about her that attracts everyone to her like a moth to light. Her positivity and easy going nature along with her welcoming demeanor makes her absolutely irresistible.

  Holden walked over to us with Cam each holding a bottle of wine and giant smiles. Holden leaned into me. “Each of you grab a bottle and meet us at Tower 12 in fifteen for a team meeting.” Cam giggled and they both walked off arm in arm. Since getting engaged, I’ve never seen either of them happier. I couldn’t help but be excited about the happiness their relationship has also brought to our lives. Seeing our best friends find the kind of unwavering love Jess and I’ve found, is a special thing.

 
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