Gene sat in the taxi legs shaking as he waited for her to emerge from the house. What’s taking her so long? Did she change her mind? “Finally,” he sighed as he scrambled out of the car and ran across the lawn towards the girl struggling to carry multiple bags at once. “Here let me help you,” he said grabbing the bag from her hands.
“Err …. ok …. thanks,” she mumbled with downcast eyes.
Setting the bags down he wrapped his arms around her “Aimee what’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” she mumbled as a tear made its way down her cheek. Gene cupped her face in his hands forcing her to look at him. Peering into his warm brown eyes she smiled slightly drawing comfort from his presence. “Everything” she said “everything’s wrong. My … my parents said I was a disgrace. An embarrassment. All my life they’ve ignored me. The one thing I did for myself and they call me an embarrassment” Lips quivering, breathing hard she fought to control her emotions. She felt Gene envelop her in his strong arms. She snuggled close, leaning her head on his chest inhaling his scent she loved so much. She loved feeling sheltered and loved, something she never felt before and couldn’t experience from her many virtual realities. It was all so frightening and exciting at the same time.
Kissing the top of her head he stared across the lawn where an older couple stood staring coldly out at them. Tensing Gene asked “do you want me to talk to them for you?”
Shaking her head “no” her voice small and quivering. “I just want to go.”
Looking down at her as she grabbed his hand while she wiped tears with the other. His heart ached to find something to comfort her. Looking back at her parents who were still watching them from the comfort of their large, ostentatious house. He shivered, no wonder Aimee had turned to video game, her virtual reality had to have been better than this. A slow burning anger boiled within him. What right did they have to call her an embarrassment? Just because she didn’t fit into some mold they made for her. So what she wanted to become famous for video commentary. Why would that make her an embarrassment to anyone? All she ever wanted was to be loved, accepted, noticed by her parents and this is what she got in return? It’s what he most wanted but lacked from his own mother but at least he had his dad. Aimee didn’t even have that.
A tug on his arm brought him back to the moment “right let’s get the hell out of here.” He picked up her bags as she walked silently beside him to the taxi. Giving the driver the bags to stow in the trunk Gene leaned over and kissed her “it’s going to be alight” he whispered gently in her ear.
As they drove up to his house Aimee asked “who are all these people?”
Shrugging Gene looked out the window sighing “that my dear are paparazzi. Vultures of the media world.” Reaching over he opened the door sighing again “I can’t go anywhere without someone following me.” He got out and reached in to help Aimee out. He leaned close whispering “smile and keep walking.” He grabbed her hand and marched through the crowd. Aimee did her best to keep up with the pace Gene was setting as everyone shouted at once and she was half blinded by camera flashes.
Aimee bumped into Gene’s back as he stopped abruptly in front of her as a man stood in front of him “How do you feel about the disappearance of your brother? Is it true his disappearance is due to his involvement in drugs?” The man sneered as he thrust a microphone Gene’s face.
Aimee felt his body tense as she grabbed his hand before he had the chance to punch the man. He turned around and glared at her. Refusing to relinquish her hold on his hand she tried not to flinch under his steely glare. She silently pleaded for him to calm down. Slowly she saw his eyes soften before he turned to face the man in front of him. Without replying he jerked Aimee around and into the house. Once inside Aimee stood back and watched him pace back and forth like a caged lion.
A soft knock on the door had Aimee jumping in fright. However the sound seemed to have brought Gene back to reality as he looked out the window before he opened the door. The taxi man stood there with her bags. Gene helped him carrying them the rest of the way into the house. Aimee watched as Gene paid the taxi driver for his services and heard him thank the man for his help. Once the driver had left she ran to Gene crying “what’s going on? Why are all those people here? What happened to your brother?”
Instead of answering her questions Gene began to cry, silent sobs that shook his shoulders. ‘What do I do now?” she thought as the man she thought was larger than life fell apart in her arms. She didn’t know what to do and there was no one there to help her figure it out. she felt Gene’s legs buckle beneath him as he slipped from her grasp. Following him down she didn’t relinquish her hold on him, her instincts were telling her it was important she stay and hold him.
This was beyond her depth of understanding, she had no idea what was going on. She didn’t know how to handle this much emotion. Part of her wanted to detach herself from the situation, lock herself away where she didn’t have to deal with it. She needed to immerse herself in her gaming community where she could distance herself from this chaos. She wasn’t ready. She couldn’t handle this. She clung to Gene as if he was her life preserver and she was the one drowning.
Sniffing Gene pulled back “I’m sorry,” he mumbled “I didn’t mean … I’m sorry.” He wiped his eyes on his sleeve taking in a halting breath. He gave her a lopsided grin “would you like a tour of the house?”
Sighing in relief Aimee nodded. Getting up he took her hand and with the other he waved around the room “this obviously is the kitchen/dining/living room. It’s small but eventually we’ll be able to upgrade to a bigger house.”
Her eyes darted to his face. Did he just say we? It sent a shiver through her that he wanted her to be a part of his life now and into the future. If he could see it, why couldn’t she? Why did she feel so relieved when he decided not to tell her why he broke-down? Was it obvious that she couldn’t handle it? What if she wasn’t what he needed? What if he gave up trying? What if the connection they shared on the show was just a passing feeling? So deep in thought she jumped when she felt Gene’s hand on the small of her back.
Dropping his hand he mumbled “sorry.” He moved past her towards a door off the kitchen smiling like the Cheshire cat. He opened the door wide, gesturing for Aimee to proceed him into the room. As she walked in, her eyes bulged as she looked around her with obvious delight. Smiling she pulled him close “you did this for me?”
He nodded his head “do you like it?” he asked a hint of doubt in his voice. “I asked my kid brother Michael what a video commentator would need. He made all these suggestions.” He made a self-deprecating shrug “I have to admit I had no idea what he was talking about half the time. In the end I just gave him my credit card and had him just buy the stuff he thought you would need. Then we put it together, well mostly him but I helped.”
As she wandered through the room her eyes sparkled with delight. She came to a stop in front of Gene. “I thought you said you didn’t play video games,” she teased smiling up at him.
“I don’t,” he shrugged “but you do. I wanted you to feel comfortable living here. Gaming is a part of who you are. Why would I want to change that?”
“I don’t know, maybe because it’s weird,” she suggested as she took a step closer. “Maybe because it’s not a conventional way to become famous for and I should just grow up and forget about video games.” Another step brought her close enough to touch “thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” he smiled enjoying the pure happiness that radiated from her eyes. “Have I told you how much I love your eyes and how they sparkle like pink diamonds in the sun?” She looked down fiddling with her fingers. “Why do you do that every time I compliment you?” He tilted her chin up smiling as he leaned in close. As his lip met hers he felt as if an electrical shock jolted through his body. He never felt this way about anyone in his life, not even Tracie. He never felt like every nerve ending had come alive until he met Aimee. Who would have thought he would fall for the quiet, awkward shy girl. As his hands tightened around her he wondered what a girl like her saw in a guy like him.
Coming up for air she looked into his deep brown eyes and smiled. She couldn’t believe she was here, alone in his house. The girl voted most likely to never have a boyfriend. From the tweets she’d read there were plenty of girls that would give their eye teeth to be where she was right now. If she was so lucky, why did she feel so overwhelmed? Things were happening way to fast for her.
Gene watched her bite her lip as she once again withdrew into herself. Why did she have to make it so hard? He chuckled, this was coming from the guy who would rather drink himself silly before admitting he needed help. That he couldn’t handle what life had dealt him. He knew he was pushing Aimee beyond her comfort zone but living with him was going to be anything but normal. The sooner she accepted that the better. The constant paparazzi presence since the media got wind of Robert’s disappearance. People all but forgot about his appearance on Sim Star Idol. So much for gaining a following for his talent, he was and always be the younger brother of the boy who was abducted by aliens and the son of the man her gave birth to the first alien hybrid. He was tired of reading it rehashed in the papers. One day he knew he would have to sit Aimee down and explain it all to her but for now she was on emotion overload. He knew it ever since he came to his senses after bawling like a baby. She simply couldn’t handle it so he kept his mouth shut.
Taking her hand he escorted her through another door. “This is the bathroom. A little small but adequate.” He winked at her “as you can see the powder room is separate from the toilet and shower area. This way you can do your face while I take a dump in the morning.”
She slapped his arm walking away “that’s just crude.” She opened the other door leading into the bedroom. She stopped in her tracks staring at the double bed.
Following after her Gene laughed “this obviously is the bedroom.”
“But …. but …. there’s only ….” her voice faded as her eyes grew large and her face flamed red.
Enjoying her discomfiture he squeezed past her. Dropping to his knees he pulled a sleeping bag from underneath the bed. “I’ll sleep in the other room.” He kissed her briefly pulling away he told her “we’ll take this as slow as you want.”
She watched him walk out of the room, the door closing behind him. She wanted to call him back but she couldn’t form the words. What did he mean? What did any of this mean? Hands trembling she sank to her knees wanting desperately to understand what was happening. Things like this never happen to her, maybe in some online virtual reality but never to her in real life. She pulled her phone out and sent her best and only friend an urgent request … Help!
On the other side of the door Gene listened to make sure she was alright, half hoping she would call him back. Shaking his head he knew that wasn’t going to happen but it didn’t hurt to hope. He was serious when he said he would take it at her pace. That’s why he had gotten the sleeping bag. Smiling he just couldn’t help teasing her a little. Her face was priceless when she saw there was only one bed.
Shaking his head, sometimes he wondered at her thought processes. He remembered the frantic call she made to him when she found out her parents had thrown all of her gaming equipment away. The way she acted you would have thought it was the end of the world. He personally didn’t understand it, her obsession with video games. His little brother Michael was visiting when he got the call and he was as upset as she was. In his opinion Michael acted like he had a crush on her, his girl of all things. Evidently Michael was following her video commentaries online. Gene just hoped he wasn’t among her virtual men. He didn’t think he could look at either one the same again if he ever found out. After he calmed her down he suggested she move in with him. Once she got over her shock she agreed after all it wouldn’t be much different from when they were on the show just fewer people. Gene had wanted Michael to stay for the first week so that Aimee wouldn’t feel so uncomfortable being alone with him but his dad wouldn’t go for it, school and all that.
Gene even took the step to contact Aimee’s best friend Ivy to ask her advice on how to proceed but she was out-of-town and hadn’t returned his calls. Gene assumed she was on some expedition searching for that elusive new species she wanted to discover. He wished her luck in her endeavors. The only species he wanted to discover was in the next room. Sighing he looked at the time which told him what his body already new, it was late and he needed sleep. Walking towards the other bedroom aka the gaming room his phone began to vibrate. Who would be calling this late?
He half expected it to be Tracie who had been calling at odd hours hoping to find him in a drunken stupor. Each time he’d answer with a smile “sorry to disappoint but I’m still sober.” She would say something that she was just making sure he was alright and then he’d get irritated and hang up on her. He didn’t want to get involved with her again and wished she would give up the smothering bit. He had enough of it when they were living together and it got to a point where he couldn’t make a decision without her consent. Doing the show was his escape, it made him realize that Tracie wasn’t the one but he realized in the process that he wanted to share his life with someone.
Pulling out his phone he stared at the text message that he received.
I don’t know who else to ask. Casey needs help.
He’s locked himself in his house and won’t come out.
Maybe you can get through to him. Please come!