Valentines Day Showcase 2009Rekindling the Flameby DrSupremeNerdA tale of broken hearts and passion ignited, featuring Spider Jerusalem Vetinari, Cassidy Vetinari, and Gilbert Jacquet.
A shaft of sunlight fell across Cassidys face, rousing him from his slumber. For a moment, he considered merely rolling overand getting more shuteye.
It occurred to him that Spider Jerusalem, his brother and roommate, wouldnt be happy if he stayed in bed, so, with anaudible groan, he tossed back the blanket and stood.
Cass made his way downstairs, fighting the urge to yawn, looking at the stairs through bleary, half-lidded eyes. He realizedthat he had no idea what time it was. His stomach, however, convinced him that it was time for food.
"Finally up, huh?" Spider said, his voice muffled by the fridge."Whats for breakfast?" Cass asked."Lunch," Spider replied."Brunch?""Maybe if we had eggs. Or sausage. Or bread.""What do we have?"Spider shrugged. "Condiments?" The bottles of ketchup and mustard rattled as he closed the refrigerator.
"We seem to have a case of bachelor-fridge-itis," Cass said, glancing around at the empty kitchen. There wasnt even a bowlof fruit on the table, and he was well aware that the canisters normally containing coffee, sugar, and flour actually held loosechange, a hidden roll of toilet paper that Spider didnt think Cass knew about, and menus and coupons from the various food-delivery restaurants they frequently used to supply them with meals. "You want I should order pizza?"
"Why dont you go out for lunch?" Spider asked. "Its still pretty early. I know its the weekend, but you should be able to get atable somewhere without too much trouble.""Or I could just go over to the phone and call Pizza Pappiano. I mean, then I dont even have to get dressed.""Yeah..." said Spider, his voice trailing off. "Thats sort of why I suggested going out for food."
"What are you talking about?" asked Cass. There was a sinking feeling in his gut as his brain fast-forwarded through the nextfew minutes and found nothing good on the road ahead."Youve barely left the house since you moved in here with me," Spider said. "Dont get me wrong, Id rather see Cass-the-hermit than Cass-with-Jake, but youve gotta rejoin the world sometime. Look, just put on some pants and a shirt and go havea burger." Spider Jerusalem knew that he had to push his brother eventually. As much as he wished Cass would pushhimself, hed had to admit that Cass couldnt do it on his own. He hoped Cassidy would forgive him."I cant," said Cass."So, what? Youre just gonna go back upstairs and hole up in your room some more?""Maybe.""Cass, you left your door open when you took a shower last night, and I got a whiff. Your room smells like stale feet. Youreleaving the house today if I have to drag you to the sidewalk and lock the door behind you."
"I cant," said Cass. For him, it was the beginning and the end of the argument, but he saw that it wasnt enough for hisbrother. "You dont get it! What... What if...""What? What are you so worried about?""What if I run into Jake?" There. It was out. The thing Cassidy currently feared the most. It was the thought of encounteringhis ex that banished all thoughts of food from his mind.
Spider sighed. Cass may have left Jake, but remnants of the toxic, doomed relationship clung to him like leeches, drainingaway his vitality. "So what if you do run into him? You walked away, Cass. You realized what he is, and who he is, and youleft. If you see him, just walk away again."
"Its not that easy!" Cass insisted. "We were together for ages! Jake was the first guy who ever made me feel like I wasspecial. He was the first guy who ever told me he loved me! And, yeah, okay, now I realize that he didnt love me, not really,but I believed it for a long time. Besides, whether he loved me or not, I loved him. Part of me still does. Part of me wants tothink that if I go back, hell be different and he wont hurt me again, and that things could be like they used to be. It wasnt allbad. When it was good, it was really good. Sometimes, he made me feel like I always wanted to feel. I know it was a lie, but Iliked living it."
"He was horrible for you!" Spider said, raising his voice as his legendary temper flared. "He treated you like crap! There areinvertebrates too good for him! You can do a million times better than that jerk!""I miss him," Cass said quietly. "I know what he did to me, I know what I was to him, I know that if I went back nothing wouldchange, and I know that he didnt even care about me, but I still miss him. I wake up alone and I remember when I didnt andI want that again, and hed take me back if I asked. If he promised to kiss me like he used to, Id move into his place in aheartbeat. I know its stupid, but its the truth."
"That is stupid," said Spider. "Dont you even care how badly he hurt you?""Of course I care. But if I see him, Im gonna remember what I felt for him, and I wont care about what he did. I dont wannago back to him, and I dont want him to be able to hurt me again, but I dont think Im strong enough to keep away if theopportunity presents itself."
"Thats why youve been hiding out in your room for a month?"Cassidy nodded. "I thought it would be easier but its not."Spider knew that Casss life hadnt been a walk in the park, but he hadnt known how damaged his big brother had been byJake. "Why didnt you say anything?"
"Not really a whole lot you can do here," Cass said with a shrug. "This is kind of a me thing.""I still think you should go out for lunch," Spider said. "Get out and meet some people.""Isnt that how I got in trouble in the first place? Meeting someone?""No one said you had to meet someone in a groping sense. Just talk to new people. If you see Jake, call me and Ill talk youdown off the ledge. But you have to get out, Cass. You cant shut yourself away forever."
"Youre not going to let me off the hook for this, are you?" Cass asked. His chest tightened at the thought of going out andtrying to socialize."Nope," Spider said with a grin. "Now put some real clothes on and get your butt out that door."
Cassidy headed back to his room. He knew Spider was right, but that didnt mean he had to like it. Normally, Cass was a "T-shirt and jeans" kind of guy, but today, he felt like he needed something more. Even as he pulled clothes out of the armoire,he realized that the tailored blazer and leather pants were armor of a sort. The fabric might not have been able to keep theworld at bay and protect him from everything life had to throw at him, but he wasnt in the frame of mind to pass up even asmall boost to his confidence.Retying his ponytail, he gave himself one last look in the mirror before heading out to a small local restaurant where he couldget lunch and encounter people who werent Spider Jerusalem or the delivery guys.
Cass walked through the restaurants door. Hed only been there a few times with Spider, right after the breakup, before hedcome to the conclusion that his bedroom was safer than the outside world, but he thought that things looked differentsomehow.
Hearts, and not drapery panels, dangled from the curtain rods.
The salt and pepper shakers that typically sat in the middle of the tables had been replaced by candles and roses.
The clientele seemed better-dressed than normal, wearing sport coats and dresses instead of blue jeans and polo shirts.
Even the foliage was not immune: the small potted shrubs had been carved into heart-shaped topiaries.
Cass tried to think of when hed left Jake. It had been after the start of the new year; he could recall the New Years partytheyd attended, where the champagne had flowed freely, and at the stroke of midnight, the traditional kiss had been followedby a slightly slurred rendition of "Auld Lang Syne."Hed ended things with Jake not long after that, and taken refuge with Spider Jerusalem, who had been only too glad to openhis home to his brother. It had been roughly a month since the shouting match that had left Jake fuming and Cassidyheartbroken.
Which meant that, in all probability, today was Valentines Day.A day meant to be spent with a lover.A day where, no matter where he went, hed be surrounded by saccharine displays of affection and red hearts and chubbydiapered babies with projectile weapons, and any number of other constant reminders of what he no longer had.He immediately dismissed the idea that Spider had known. He may have had a short fuse, but Spider was rarely cruel, andnever cruel to Cassidy.Still--what to do? Stay, and try to brave the day alone, or admit defeat, and slink back home before anyone noticed him?
Cassidy gnawed on his thumbnail, as if that would help him make a decision."Single on Valentines Day, huh?" came a calm voice from behind him.
Casss eyes snapped open in surprise. Hed almost come to the conclusion that the best course of action was to sneak outundetected. "Mrph?" he said."What?"Cassidy removed his hand from his mouth. "Yeah. Single on Valentines Day, thats me, all right."
"Im sorry I startled you," said the man in the tweed blazer. "Im Gilbert Jacquet, but most people call me Gil. I own the localbakery.""Cassidy," Cass responded. "Cass, I guess. I dont own a bakery." He didnt do anything, really. He lived with Spider andmooched off of him. Before that, it had been Jake. Before that, college. Before that, a life he knew hed never leave behindhim.Gil smiled. "Good. Id hate to think I was inviting a business rival to eat with me."
"What?" said Cass. "I mean, you dont even know me.""So?" Gil said, shrugging. "Im here because I eat lunch here every Saturday. The bakerys right up the street, and the chefhere does great specials on the weekend. I usually eat alone. You also seem to be here alone, and it seems a bit silly forboth of us to eat by ourselves when we could just as easily eat together. Especially on Valentines Day."
"How do you know Im not, like, a crazy person?" Cass asked. "For that matter, how do I know youre not a crazy person? Or,like, what if were both crazy people, and we decide to get together and go on a crime spree like in that one movie, and weend up, like, killing people and then we get gunned down in a firefight with the FBI or something?" He paused for breath."Please make me stop talking now."Gil raised an eyebrow. "Im fairly certain Im not crazy, but your sanitys still up for debate.""Really Im not nuts," Cassidy hastened to explain. "Its just, you know, there are tangents, and, um... Sometimes I go off onthem."Gil chuckled. "Were you thinking of Natural Born Killers? Or Bonnie and Clyde?""One of those. Or maybe both. Or maybe Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Although Id totally have to be the SundanceKid even though my names Cassidy, cause youre way more Butch than me." He groaned. "Seriously, please shut me up."
Gil gestured towards an empty table. "If youre eating, youre probably not talking. I got here just before you did; I haventeven ordered yet. What do you say?"Cass took a moment to think about it. Hed given Gil several reasons to rescind his invitation, but the other man was stillasking him to join him for lunch. Besides, it was just lunch, wasnt it? And he was only doing it so that the two of them didntstick out, eating alone. Right? It had absolutely nothing to do with the fact that Gil was friendly and kinda cute. Nothing at allto do with that. Not a thing. "Okay," said Cassidy.
Cass felt a sudden pang of Jake-induced paranoia. "Hey, this is just lunch, right? Cause if you try anything funny, I... Ill...Uh... Ill think of something bad, and then Ill do it! For real. Im not kidding." Maybe he should take lessons in threateningpeople from Spider Jerusalem."Well, now that you mention it..." Gilbert leaned forward. "I gave their pastry chef my recipe for tiramisu, and I was going tosuggest that you try a piece," he said in a conspiratorial whisper. "But I didnt know you had such strong feelings againstdessert."
Cass sighed. "Im sorry. I promise Im really, honestly not crazy. I just... Im tired of making bad decisions.""Its all right." Gil waved towards the table. "Shall we sit before they decide I really didnt want that table after all?""Sure," said a relieved Cassidy.
"Theyve got their special Valentines Day menu today," Gil said as Cassidy pulled out the chair and sat. "The specials arepork chops, filet mignon, and lobster thermidor.""Fancy schmancy," said Cass. "And here I was just going to order a pizza when I got up this morning.""The filets good, but the lobsters shipped from Maine," Gilbert said. "Fresh is always better than frozen, in my opinion. Thesalmons good, though. Farm-raised upstate, always fresh. Not as good as wild salmon, of course, but there arent a lot ofsalmon-containing rivers around here."Cass relaxed. This was normal conversation. Friendly chit-chat. He was pretty sure he remembered how it went. "I went toMaine once with my ex. We got some lobster fresh off the boat. It was excellent." He winced at his mention of Jake.Gil ignored the gesture. "The scallops are good on the East Coast too. So tender they almost melt in your mouth. Id almostdecided on having the turkey today, myself."
The waiter came and took their order. Gil chose the turkey; Cass opted for the salmon."So," Gil said once the waiter had gone, "lost track of time, did you?""You mean the part where I didnt realize that today was Valentines Day, and ventured out in public without someone hangingon my arm? Yes. I suppose you could say that I lost track of time.""You did look a bit lost at sea, although I find it hard to believe that anyone could forget about Valentines Day when there arehearts and chocolates and cupids in every store window in the country.""I, uh... havent been out much lately," Cass said. "And I havent really been watching TV, so I guess Ive missed all thediamond and chocolate commercials."
"I know weve only just met, but you dont strike me as the type of guy who sits at home every day and every night, knittingsweaters for your fifty-two cats," said Gil."I didnt used to be," Cass said, remembering the crazy toga parties in college, the nights where hed stayed up dancing untilhe was ready to drop, the Events he used to attend with Jake, those big parties that required the capital E on Events."What happened?" Gil asked."Things changed. I changed."
"I cant believe youve never had the salmon here," Gil said, neatly changing the subject. "You must have your usual dishevery time you come in.""I havent been in much," Cass replied. "Maybe three times. Ive had a couple of burgers and a good cheesesteak.""Only three times? Youre not a long-time resident of the neighborhood, then. I didnt think you were; I know all the natives."
"I moved here a little over a month ago," Cass said. "I lived downtown for quite a while. I really liked it. The hustle and bustleof the big city, being able to get anything I wanted at any time, all the energy and the people..." He wondered why allconversations seemed to lead to Jake."I know what you mean," Gil said, grinning. "I went to culinary school in New York City, and trained under a pastry chef inParis. Theres nothing quite like a red-hot from a hot dog cart, or a warm croissant fresh from the oven." He cocked his head."If you liked it so well, whyd you leave?"
"I moved in with my brother." Cass deliberately avoided the question. "Spider.""Your brothers a spider?" Gil asked, his brow furrowing with confusion."My brothers name is Spider Jerusalem," Cass said. "Hes my half-brother, really. Hes as human as me."Gil gave Cassidy a strange look. "More human, perhaps?"Cass thought about it. " Bout the same, actually."
The waiter returned, bearing a pair of plates from which luscious aromas wafted."What made you move in with your brother?" Gil asked, speaking around a mouthful of mashed potatoes."Like I said: I changed." Cass took a bite of his salmon. It was perfectly cooked, and delicately seasoned with lemon and dill.
Cass watched with amusement as Gil shoveled food into his mouth at top speed. Just when he thought the mans mouthmust be completely full, he crammed a dinner roll in whole. "Good turkey?" he asked.Gilbert swallowed several times. "Sorry. My mother says Ive got the table manners of a ravenous hyena."Cassidy considered the late-night wildlife documentaries hed been watching. Even hyenas werent as messy as Gilbert. "Idont think thats very true," he said honestly."Thats kind of you to say," said Gilbert. "Youve got a little something on your lapel."Cass looked down and saw a bit of stuffing on his jacket. He picked it off carefully and held it out. "Did you want this back?"Gil took the small wad of stuffing, flipped it off his thumb, and caught it in his mouth. "I cant decide whats in the dressing. Ican taste the cornbread, and the sage, and the raisins..."
"Mind if I taste?" Cass asked, waving his fork at the stuffing."Help yourself," Gil replied. "Better get some now before its gone!""Two more bites?" Cass guessed."Probably. Maybe three."
Cass took a bite of the stuffing. He could taste the cornbread and the sage, and a golden raisin squished between his teeth.Gil was right, though, there was something else in the mix. "I think its dried apples," he said."That may be," said Gil. "It was something sweet like apples, anyway.""I bet it is," Cass said. "I had stuffing with dried apples once. Thanksgiving. My mom..." The memory was clear as day. A juicyturkey, mashed potatoes with just a hint of garlic and white cheddar cheese, sweet potato casserole with little marshmallowson top, fluffy biscuits, tart-and-sweet cranberry relish, the awful green bean casserole topped with fried onions that no oneever ate but that always got made, and of course, homemade cornbread stuffing with raisins and apples and even little bits ofsausage. Shed let him mix the stuffing, and hed been so proud of his contribution.
"Your mom?" asked Gil, cramming his mouth full again. "Arent you half-alien?"Cass nodded. "She was my stepmom, I guess. But she was the only mom I ever had.""What happened? Did she and your dad split up?""She died." Cass hoped that Gil wouldnt ask about it.Gil straightened and wiped gravy off his chin. "Im sorry. My dad died not long ago. I know how much it hurts. Was it anaccident?"Cass looked out the window, where stormclouds were beginning to gather. "It was pretty much an on-purpose.""I dont understand," said Gil.
Taking another bite of food, Cass chewed it slowly. A lot of time had passed, but it still hurt, and it was never easy to talkabout. "Dads not a nice guy. In fact, hes kind of a raging nutball. My brother? The one whos as human as me? Hes aReaper Child. Dad wanted to impregnate himself by the Grim Reaper, and he murdered Mom to do it. I was a teenager, and Iknew what was going on, and I ended up taking care of Spider by myself because Dad threatened to kill me if I didnt.Eventually Dad and I got into a huge fight and I left for college. Spider forgave me for it, but I dont know if Ill ever forgivemyself. He was just a kid, and I left him there. I just... didnt want to die."
"You cant blame yourself for that," Gil said. "It wasnt your fault. You did what you had to do to take care of yourself.Sometimes, thats the only thing you can do. It sounds like your brother understands why you went away, so theres noreason to be hard on yourself for it. Your father did terrible things, but theyre on his conscience, not yours--if he even hasone."Cassidy looked across the table, trying to determine if Gil making a joke at his expense. All he saw in Gilberts brilliant greeneyes was kindness and honesty, and perhaps even a touch of sympathy.It wasnt a sight Cass was used to.
Gil gobbled down the last of his turkey. "So. College. That must have been fun."Cass shrugged. "It was college. Go to class, throw parties, find cute boys, date them. When the parties and the dating cuteboys interfere with the going to class, a little of the hanky-panky with the professor gets the grade back up.""That sounds a bit unethical," Gil said."When your dads the Mayor of Crazytown, your moral compass doesnt always point due north," Cass said. "I mean, I try mybest not to do anything blatantly illegal, but sometimes stuff slips through the cracks."
Gil dabbed the rest of his lunch off of his face, crumpled the napkin, and tossed it onto his plate. "Let me see if I can guessthe next part of the story. You and a bunch of your college chums decided to head to the city to seek your fortunes, and got aloft apartment in a hip and trendy part of town. You ended up working as a waiter while trying to finish your novel, and yourroommates worked as waiters trying to break into acting, music, and modeling. You knew the right people to get you into allthe clubs, and you danced until the wee hours before stumbling home and falling asleep in your clothes. Finally, you finishedyour novel, but the publishers rejected it, and, feeling the crushing despair, you left the harsh lights of the city for the comfortsof home."
"That sounds like a really nice story," said Cass. "I sort of wished Id lived it.""No burgeoning writing career?" Gil asked."Maybe a horror story," Cass said. "My autobiography.""What happened? What made you move to the city?"Rain started to splatter against the window. Cass wondered when the weather had started reading his moods and reactingaccordingly.
"I dated a lot of guys in college," Cass said. "But never anything serious. I just wanted to have fun, you know? I always madesure we were both clear that it was just a fling. Sometimes, all you really want is to feel close to someone. I knew that all Iwas doing was trying to feel like someone wanted me and needed me, and maybe that wasnt the best way to go about it, butits not like I knew any better. And then...""What?" Gil asked gently."I met Jake."
"The man who done you wrong?""There was definitely wrong done," Cass admitted. "Much wrong.""It doesnt seem like you needed more wrong done to you." Gilbert could see the sad tale in Cassidys liquid black eyes.
Cass continued to eat, though the formerly-delicious salmon tasted of nothing and sat in his stomach like a brick. "I was outdancing, and when he came up to me, I thought Id hit the jackpot. I mean, he was good-looking, and well-dressed, and hewasnt shy about flashing a large wad of cash. I never would have guessed that hed hit on a guy like me, but he did. Hecould have had any man in the place, but he wanted me. It was the first time someone like him had ever pursued me, and itwas such an ego boost. I was flattered by the attention. Im not proud of it, but Id have gone home with him that night if hedasked me. He didnt, though, just took my phone number and said hed call me."
"So you figured that was the end of it," Gil said. "He was just playing with you that night, hed had his fun, and he wouldntbother to call."Cass nodded. "Wouldnt be the first time that had happened. You know, flirting with the green guy seems like a good ideaafter a couple umbrella drinks, but the next morning, senses are come to and phone numbers are lost. I get it. I never took itpersonally. It wasnt like I was looking for anything serious anyway.""But he called.""Called and asked me to dinner," Cass said. "To one of those restaurants with a two-month waiting list to get a reservation,where it costs twenty bucks for an appetizer you eat in two bites.""I know the type," Gil said. "Ive worked in a few of those, come to think of it."
"He asked me all the right questions," said Cassidy. "Made all the right noises in all the right places. Jake was so focused onme that I felt like the most important person in the world. I hadnt felt that way since the day Spider said his first word, andthat word was Cassy. Jake was so sophisticated; he knew which expensive wines went with which dishes. His shoes werehandmade in Italy. He spoke French to the waiter.""And heres this guy whos rich, urbane, and suave, and hes paying attention to a half-alien college student who probably gothis entire outfit for under a hundred bucks, so of course you feel special. Both of you reach for something at the same time,and his hand brushes yours, not long enough to be creepy, but long enough that you know he was looking for an excuse totouch you.""Wineglass," said Cass. "Just his fingertips on the back of my hand.""He didnt ask you home that night either," Gil guessed.
"No. He said hed call me. I figured that meant Id messed up, or that hed realized hed gone on a date with some brokecollege kid. The next day, he didnt call, so I shrugged it off and told myself that at least Id gotten a really nice dinner out of it.The day after that, he called. I heard his voice and it was like Id been holding my breath for two days and finally got somefresh air. He asked me to an art exhibition at a gallery. There was no way I was saying no to him, but I knew I didnt have theclothes for it, and I told him so. He said hed come over and pick me up and take me shopping, so I said that the real issuewas that I didnt have the cash for the wardrobe. He offered to buy me a good suit. I didnt want to turn him down. He cameover, and took me to this little store where even the air was expensive, and the shoes alone cost more than my entirewardrobe."
"After two dates, he was showering you with expensive gifts? Didnt that seem suspicious?""It made me feel important," Cass said simply. "I wanted that. I mean, I got a nice suit, and I got to go to a party Id neverhave been able to get into if I hadnt been with Jake, and I got to drink free champagne and eat bits of food on toothpicks,and people who wouldnt have looked twice at me normally were talking to me because of Jake. I was a somebody, and hewas the reason.""That was the only thing that mattered?"
Cassidy pushed the last few bites around on his plate, trying to decide if he wanted to eat them. "Jake was older than me. Anolder man had never paid me the kind of attention that he did. Once he started pursuing me, I craved him. And he knew it.After the gallery party, he kissed me goodnight, and I was hooked.""You make it sound like a drug," Gil said."It was. He was. When he didnt call me, I drove myself nuts trying to figure out what Id done wrong. When he did call me, itwas like everything got a little brighter. When he touched me, even just a casual thing, it gave me a rush. When he kissedme, I couldnt even think straight. I wanted Jake more than Id ever wanted anything.""Be careful what you wish for, because you just might get it?"Cass nodded sadly.
He finished his fish before continuing. "Jake would ask me out a few times a week. Most of the time, hed bring me gifts. Theywere always expensive. We were dating for over a month before he asked me home with him. By then, Id imagined it somany times that I was convinced reality wouldnt possibly measure up, but it did. Surpassed it, even. And, lets face it, at thatpoint, I wasnt exactly new to the between-the-sheets stuff. I stayed the night, and we spent most of the next day in bed. Hetold me there was no one else like me. He told me I was special. He told me hed give me anything I wanted. He told me heloved me, and he told me that no one else would ever love me like he did."
"He knew just which buttons to push, didnt he?" Gilberts tone was kind, and without judgment. "Clearly, hes very good atwhat he does.""Jake does nothing badly," Cass said. "He read me like a book. I started spending more and more time with him, being hisdate to parties or just being seen with him. I was already head-over-heels in love with him. Id have done anything for him,whether he kept giving me expensive things or not. Whatever he asked, I did.""Why?""Because I loved him. Because he said he loved me."
"When I graduated from college, I moved to the city, to his place," Cass said. "He told me not to even bother bringing my clothes or mybox of worldly possessions. I did, of course, but he had a whole closet full of expensive clothes waiting for me. And a plasma TV as agraduation present.""Thats when things went from bad to worse?""I didnt see it that way. If Jake made more demands on me after I moved in with him, I was okay with that. I loved him, he loved me, anddidnt I owe him for all the things he gave to me?""Gifts dont come with a price tag," said Gil."All I saw was someone who thought enough of me to give me nice things. I wanted to give him something back, so anything he asked, Idid. It was the least I could do, right?""Anything?""Uh-huh," said Cass.
"Cass? Did he ever hurt you? Physically, I mean." The concern in Gilberts voice was mirrored in his eyes.
Cass rubbed the back of his neck. Spider had asked the same question, and hed lied--one of the few lies hed ever told hisbrother. Hed known that if he told Spider the truth, Spider would have gone after Jake. Cass had just wanted to put Jakebehind him, and the lie had been easier than siccing his angry brother on his ex. "He didnt mean it. He never, you know, hitme or anything. He wanted me, and sometimes it was like he forgot I was flesh and blood, just like anyone else. It wasnt onpurpose. He always apologized when he realized hed bruised me. When he felt really bad, hed buy me something to makeup for it. Pinball machine. Pool table. Video game system. Another plasma TV. He was always nice to me after. And it wasonly because he wanted me."
"You didnt leave him even after he hurt you? Why would you stay with someone who didnt treat you like a person?""He said he loved me. I wanted to believe it. He was better to me than anyone else had been, so what did it matter if hewouldnt let me see my brother, or really only said he loved me when Id done something he wanted me to do? At least hesaid it."
"Have you ever loved someone so much that you saw only what you wanted to see? Ever wanted something to be true sobadly that you believed it even when all the evidence was screaming that you were wrong? I knew that Jake was just usingme. But he said he loved me, and I needed to believe that. I thought it was better to have someone say he loved me and bea liar than to not have anyone say it at all. I was wrong."
"What happened?" Gil asked. "Obviously youre not together anymore.""He didnt dump me, if thats what youre thinking," Cass replied. "I walked out on him and my only regrets that I didnt do itsooner.""He must have done something really awful to open your eyes to what he was."
Cass wrapped his arms tightly around himself. The wound was still raw. "I came home one day and found him in bed--in ourbed--with someone else. Thats when I knew. Because when you love someone, when you really love them, you dont wantanyone else. At least I didnt. Jake would take me to parties and guys would hit on me and Id turn them down because Iloved him and I didnt want anyone but him. And then I saw him with someone else, and I felt so betrayed, and so foolish thatId let myself be blinded. When the blinders came off, I knew I had to leave."
"Thats horrible," said Gil. "Im sorry. What was the damage?""A couple of mirrors, the plasma TV in the bedroom, and most of the glasses from the bar," Cass said."Ouch. Those TVs arent cheap.""Yeah. I guess I wasnt supposed to duck. I mean, at least when I threw stuff, I wasnt aiming at him, but he whipped thatglass right at me. I broke the mirrors, though. But I figure since it was his fault I was so mad, hes the one gets the sevenyears bad luck.""I think youve had your share of bad luck already.""Maybe. I dont even remember what I was shouting, but I could barely talk for three days afterwards. Jake, though... He saidsome pretty awful things when he realized that an apology and something shiny with a big price tag wouldnt get me back.Said hed never loved me. Said no one ever would. Said I wasnt worth what hed spent on me."
"Of course you arent," Gil said. He noticed the hurt look that immediately crossed Cassidys face. "Ive always thought thatpeople are priceless," Gil said with a warm smile. "Real, honest love cant be bought and sold, and doesnt come with stringsattached." Casss eyes brightened at the words. "Youre not the only one whos ever made a mistake when it comes toromance. The trick is to learn from your mistakes, and not make the same ones again. Eventually, you get it right."
"Thanks for listening to my sob story," Cass said. "Im sure when you invited me to eat lunch with you, you werent intendingto hear Cass Vetinari: A Romantic Tragedy in Four Acts. Even my brother doesnt know some of the stuff I just told you.""Sometimes you just need to talk to a willing listener," Gil said. "Im told Im quite good at sitting quietly and letting people talkat me.""You are," said Cass, a ghost of a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. "Maybe it was easier because I dont really knowyou.""How would you like to?" Gil asked. "Theres a club just down the road. The bartenders top-notch and the DJs pretty good.""Dont you have to get back to work?"Gil shrugged. "I own the place. If Im late getting back from lunch, Ill be sure to give myself a very stern warning, andthreaten to dock my pay if it happens again."
"I just... I dont know if Im ready for this," Cass said."Ready for what? Dancing? Its easy, really. You seem to have all your limbs intact, so what you do is you move them in arhythmical fashion, while other people around you do the same thing. It can be quite fun.""I can dance," Cass said wryly. "I dont know if Im ready for people. Or person, I guess. I mean, youre nice, but Im kind of awreck, and Im not really sure what your intention is here, and this is confusion I really, really dont need right now.""Its your choice," said Gil. "How bout this--if you decide to come, and at any point you want to leave, you can. No pleas, nohard feelings, you can just get up and walk away."Cass considered the offer. He did like dancing, after all. "Okay. Ill come."
"Im glad," Gil said. The smile on his face was genuine, touching his eyes as well as his mouth.The waiter came and cleared their plates, leaving the check behind."I guess I wont be ordering any dessert," said Cass.Both men reached for the check at the same time.
It almost felt like an electric charge going up Cassidys arm."Ive got it," said Gil.The words took a few seconds to register in Casss brain. "What? No, let me. I made you listen to my whole life story; theleast I could do is pick up the tab." He was almost afraid to move his hand, not wanting the touch to end."Call it a gift," Gil said. "A real gift. One that doesnt have to be repaid. It doesnt seem like youve had many, and everyonedeserves at least a few.""Thanks," said Cass.Gil slid the piece of paper towards himself, breaking the contact between the two of them. He placed his credit card on top ofit, and the waiter whisked it up as he passed by the table. When the waiter returned, Gil scrawled his name on the receipt,and flashed Cassidy a bright smile. "Shall we go?"
Cass followed Gil into the club. Theyd been able to hear the thumping bass music from the sidewalk, and the colored lightsin the ceiling turned Cassidys skin nearly white.
Even as early as it was, there was a crowd of people on the dance floor, and the DJ kept them energized with his selection ofdance music.
"The bars upstairs!" Gil shouted over the music. "Care for a drink?"Cass looked at the dancing crowd. "Sure!"
"Drinks are on me," said Cass."You dont have to do that," Gil replied."Consider it a gift. Everybody deserves a few, right?" Cass flagged down the bartender and ordered drinks.
"Well, I bored you with my life story, so if youd like to chew my ear off about your love life, feel free," Cass said."No tragic heartbreak stories here." Gil shrugged. "I guess my romantic historys pretty boring. A few dates here and there,but nothing serious."Cassidy wrinkled his nose. "Thats no fun. Any deep, dark secrets youve never told anyone? How about embarrassinganecdotes? Those are always fun.""Not really. I did spend a night in jail in Provence, if that counts."Cass propped his elbow on the bar and rested his chin on his fist. "Do tell."
"Not really much to tell," said Gilbert. He ran his hands through his hair. "Mostly, I just learned the lesson that if youre in abar in France, and youre putting the moves on a cute French boy, you should probably make sure that his fathers not thelocal police chief, and that hes not lurking in the corner of the bar, and you should double-check that before you flirt.""That must have been some flirt," Cass said.
"Not really. All I did was blow him a kiss." Gil repeated the motion, lightly touching his fingers to his lips, then holding out hishand and gently blowing across his palm.
Cass touched his hand to his cheek. "Totally arrest-worthy.""You think so?" Gils voice carried a trace of amusement.Cass winked a big black eye. "Its practically a weapon of mass flirtation.""I just hope you wont make a run for the cops," Gil said. "Once was enough!"
Cass slid off his barstool."I was just kidding about the cops," Gil said."Im not calling the cops," Cass assured him."Oh." Gil recalled telling Cass that he was free to leave at any time. "It was nice meeting you."
Raising an eyebrow, Cass said, "I need to take a leak. Wheres the head in this place?"Gil let out a breath he hadnt even realized hed been holding. "Downstairs, other side of the dance floor. Just go through theblue curtain--its the one on the left.""Thanks. Be back in a few."While Cass was gone, the drinks came, and Gil watched over the glasses. Through the windows, he could see peoplepairing off on the dance floor, and when he saw Cassidy threading his way through the crush of bodies, he grabbed theirdrinks and met Cass halfway across the floor.
"I think we should make a toast," Gil announced."Okay," Cass said. "What should we be toasting?""What sounds good?"
Looking into his drink gave Cass no inspiration. Finally, he said, "How about Heres to realizing hes a jerk before he breaksyour heart? I could definitely drink to that."
Gil shook his head. "Thats kind of a depressing toast, isnt it? I mean, theyre supposed to be celebrations.""Fine, then. Lets hear yours."Gil raised his glass. "May our worst days be behind us and our best days yet to come."
"I see your point," said Cass, clinking his glass against Gils. They both drained their glasses."Club soda?" Gil asked."Like I need any more temptation," Cass replied. "Plus, I like club soda. Good for getting out stains." He nodded towards thebar. "Can I interest you in another?""If the bartender ever comes back," Gil said. "He makes good drinks, but he operates on his own timetable."They sat back down.
"Thanks for suggesting this club," Cass said. "I didnt even know it was here. The DJs good, and the bartender makes amean club soda.""Im glad youre enjoying yourself. This is the first time Ive seen you smile. You should do it more often.""I guess I just havent had much reason to smile lately." Cass widened his grin. "You must just bring it out in me.""I cant say Im sorry about that," Gil said. "You have an amazing smile. It lights up your whole face.""Nobodys ever said that to me before.""Then theyre idiots," Gil said softly."For not complimenting my smile?""For not doing whatever it took to see it as often as possible."
A sudden feeling of shyness passed through Cassidy. In many ways, Gil was like Jake. Both older, both well-traveled, bothsuccessful, both had made the initial contact with him... Cass recalled the electric feeling when hed touched Gils hand asthey reached for the check. Hed felt that with Jake too.Gil was different, though. He had an honest face, and Cass could see that his emotions--the kindness, the concern, thecompassion--were genuine. Gil was calm, and patient, and there was a certain innocent sweetness about him."My brother used to make me smile all the time when he was a kid," Cass said. "Sometimes it was silly stuff, like when hewas playing with a toy horse and making vroom vroom noises. Or, every night, Id tuck him in and read him a story, and whenI turned out the light, hed mumble I love you, Cassidy. Or hed just come up and randomly hug me. So the idea of a smileisnt totally foreign to me."
"Thats nice to hear." Gil put his hand on Casss arm. "I dont think were going to see the bartender again any time soon.Why dont we head to the dance floor and get our groove on?"Cass shot Gil a sassy smirk. "You think you can keep up?""Just watch me!" Gil said, hopping off his barstool. He slid his hand down Casss arm, and again Cass felt a surge ofelectricity at his touch.
Gil immediately started dancing, but Cass held back. There were a lot of people in close proximity, and he felt a bit nervous.Noticing his hesitation, Gil shimmied closer. "Cmon--are we standing, or are we dancing?""Dancing!" Cass said.
Gil broke out some fancy footwork, while Cassidy was more restrained. "So far Im not having trouble keeping up!" Gil said."Hey, Im just warming up!" Cass replied.Gil cut loose with a spin and a series of complicated steps. "Think you can do better than that, Spaceman?"" Spaceman?! " Cass feigned outrage.
"Beat this, Doughboy!" Cass shouted as he bent backwards, nearly touching his head to the floor. As he pumped his fist, Gilcaught his arm and pulled him upright."Not bad!" Gil said.
" Not bad? Thats the best you could do?" Cass asked, slipping a leather-clad leg between Gils and getting so close thattheir hips were nearly touching."I admit it was impressive," Gil said."Yeah it was impressive! Do you have any idea how hard it is to bend your knees that far in leather pants?""In that case, I take back my not bad and change it to spectacular. ""Now thats more like it!" Cass felt a sudden strange feeling in his chest, and stepped back.
A laugh burbled up from deep within him, and he was barely able to take a gasp of breath after one fit of laughter before thenext overtook him.
"I hope this isnt about my dancing," Gil said."No," Cass giggled. "Its you!""Im not sure thats better," Gil said, a look of vague annoyance crossing his face.Cass managed to get control of himself. "I dont mean it like that." He stepped closer to Gil again, and on an impulse,wrapped his arms around the other man.
"Im having fun with you," Cass said. "Id forgotten what fun felt like. And I cant remember the last time I laughed." With nosmall measure of reluctance, he broke the embrace.
"All right!" the DJ said, shooting the crowd a finger-gun. "Time to slow things down!" The next song was softer, and the beatwas slower.
The other couples on the dance floor took each others hands and got close.Gil reached out to Cassidy. "May I have this dance?""Absolutely," said Cass.
Though Gil had taken Casss hand, Cassidy had a different idea. "Lets do this the right way," said Cass, putting his hand onGilberts shoulder.Gil rested his a hand on Casss hip. "Are you sure?""Yeah," said Cass. The tingling feeling ran through his whole body, from his toes to the tip of the nose hed inherited from hisfather.
Cass looked into Gils eyes. In them, he saw not even the faintest hint of negativity, of cruelty, of callousness, of manipulation.He understood that Gil was not the type of man whod want to have a fling. It was all or nothing.Cass didnt know if he was ready for that again. He didnt know if hed ever be ready for that again.Gil noticed the indecision flickering across Casss face. "Is something wrong?"
"Dont talk," said Cass, resting his head against Gils shoulder. He realized the tweed jacket must be one that Gil wore often;it was imprinted with the scents of the mans profession. Gil smelled of vanilla, of ripe berries, of cinnamon and cloves, ofchocolate, of caramel, of warm cookies and flaky breakfast pastries and freshly-baked bread.Comfortable smells.Smells that reminded Cassidy of a time when hed been happy, when his mother had baked homemade cinnamon rolls everySunday, and saved the biggest one for him.He realized that his decision was already made.
Cass raised his head, and Gil saw the change in him. The last vestiges of tightness around his eyes and his mouth weregone, and there was something in his eyes that hadnt been there before, a calmness that spoke of a shift in his mood.
Gil leaned forward and kissed Cassidy softly.It may have been the lightest kiss of his life, but to Cassidy, it felt like an explosion. The tingling throughout his body changedto heat, and he knew that a faint brush of Gils lips wasnt enough.
Cassidy pulled Gil closer, and it was as if the rest of the world dropped away. The music faded to nothing, the other dancingcouples disappeared. All that existed was Cassidy and Gilbert, all that mattered was the kiss. It might have lasted a fewseconds. It might have lasted a few thousand years. The only thing either of them knew was that it didnt last long enough.
"All right, enougha that mushy stuff," the DJ said, putting on another faced-paced techno song.
The other dancers separated and resumed their gyrations, but Cass and Gil stayed in each others arms, moving to musicthat only they could hear.
"I should go," a reluctant Cassidy said. "Spiders probably wondering why its taken me so long to eat lunch.""I should probably open the bakery back up," Gil admitted.They parted, regretting the loss of contact. Gil walked to the door with Cass.
Gil ran his fingers along Casss jawline and gently cupped his chin. "Would you be terribly angry if I said Id call you?""Depends. Are you going to call me?""Yes," said Gil.Cass brushed a bit of lint from Gils jacket. "Then I dont think Id be angry at all.""I cant promise to give you everything you want.""Could you promise to give me what I need?" asked Cass."That, I could do," replied Gil.
They kissed once more. Cassidy thought it might have been the best kiss hed ever had."Call me," he whispered into Gilberts ear."Count on it," Gil replied. He held the door for Cass, and they went their separate ways.
"Hey," said Cass, wandering into the living room and giving Spider a lazy wave."I expected you back a couple of hours ago," said Spider. He looked up from his book. "Especially considering how thrilledyou were when I kicked you out earlier.""I met someone.""Wasnt that the point?""Its more like I met someone met someone."
Spider Jerusalem slid the book back onto the shelf. "This better not be Jake. If its Jake, Im gonna smack you upside thehead for reason of extreme stupidity, and then find him and mess him up so bad even his own mother wont recognize him.And dont think for a second that I wont do either one of those things."
"Hostility much?" said Cass. "Besides, its not Jake. No need for you to thump me on the head." Cass knew that his crankybrother never made idle threats, and he had no desire for a smacking."So who is this guy?" Spider asked."His names Gilbert.""Whats he like?"Cass took a moment to consider the question. When he thought about Gil, he noticed a warmth in his chest that spreadoutward to the rest of his body. "Hes kind. And hes sweet. And he made me feel special, not because he told me I was, butbecause of the way he looked at me."
"It sounds like you really like this guy," said Spider, who was happy to see his brother so energized and excited."I really do. And I think he really likes me, which is kind of a strange feeling.""You must be sort of crazy about him.""What makes you say that?" Cass asked."Because youre smiling. I havent seen you smile in forever." Spider couldnt help but smile back, an equally rare sight.
Cass could feel the upturn at the corners of his mouth--a curve which became more pronounced as he thought about how ithad felt to kiss Gilbert. The empty longing hed felt for Jake was gone, replaced by a fire in his heart for the compassionatebaker. Cassidy noticed that the worry on Spider Jerusalems face was gone, and he knew why: things had been bad, but thepast didnt have to be the future. "You know what, Spider? It turns out that being single on Valentines Day isnt so bad afterall.""Wait, what?" said Spider. "Its Valentines Day? For real?"As Spider frantically began to apologize for banishing him from the house on a holiday traditionally devoted to romance,Cassidys grin broadened even further. Yes, there were far worse things than being single on Valentines Day, and he held outhope that there were even better days to come.fin
Thanks to the many talented CC creators who make my game amazing:House: Bitsy (boolprop.com)Eyes: brunoEyebrows: AnvaFacial hair: NymphyMakeup: bruno, kamikitten, Barcelonista, dragonmandy (Mod)Clothes: Judie (All-About-Style); Aikea Guinea, Geldyh (Club Crimsyn); Nouk; Liana; Nymphy; HP, Lady M, Sentate (Mod)Hair: Ghanima Atreides (GOS); Nouk; HP, alkaloid, mimiextra5 (Mod); Kavar, Arice (InSim); Flora (XM); Rose; Myos (SAU);RaonHeart CC: Tazmanoregon, Klinny, -Maylin- (Mod)
Also thanks to the people whove lent me their Sims and SimSelves and generally been awesome!Standing: Spider Jerusalem Vetinari, India Vetinari, Dicreasy (Victorian Legacy), Theodore Harrison (Victorian Legacy),SimNerd (me; Vetinari Dualegacy), Chad Vetinari, MichelleFobbs (Planetary Apocalypse), Larch VetinariSeated: Flavius Marius (Ten Caesars Legacy), Professorbutters (Squeaky Clean Legacy), Jack Buccaneer (Piratical Legacy),Sophia Goodytwoshoes (Squeaky Clean Legacy), Wren Vetinari, StyxLady (Just Another Legacy)Floor: Simon Vetinari, Penguingirl0384 (Penguino Legacy), Cassidy Vetinari, Gilbert Jacquet, Archimedes Vetinari, Orikes(Pseudo Legacy)
Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoyed it! My Sims and the Vetinari Dualegacy can be found at docnerd.livejournal.com.Oh, and Happy Valentines Day!