Caution: this story is not meant to stand alone. The Beyond Happily Ever After stories are vignettes and outtakes showing the O’Kanes & other Sector residents in their daily lives, in between the adventures and often after their happy endings. These stories were written exclusively for readers and fans of the series, and will probably not make very much sense to anyone not familiar with the characters.
Gia (published as Compartmentalization): 2019 Patreon Reward Story. A short story from Gia’s point-of-view, with the story of how Tatiana managed to open her new store inside Eden so fast.
Timeline: Set after Beyond Forever
Gia had learned long ago that compartmentalization was the key to success. It had been the key to her longevity as a whore, the secret to how thoroughly she’d excelled as a businesswoman, and the titanium armor that kept her irritatingly fragile heart whole through street fights, rebellions, and outright war.
Of course, compartmentalization was never as simple as most people who struggled and ultimately failed to properly utilize it imagined. They fancied that emotions were simple, concrete things. That you could lock them away into disparate boxes and not suffer the consequences.
Feelings were messy. Raw and tactile and shaded with complexity. You couldn’t just shove them into a dark corner and expect them to lie dormant and obedient. Compartmentalization wasn’t a single desperate act, but an ongoing process that took patience and a rather uncomfortable level of honesty with one’s self.
Gia had gotten rich by understanding that. She’d built an empire by understanding that. But it didn’t make facing her own messy truths any more pleasant.
However, she had enough of a sense of humor to appreciate the grim irony that her messiest truth was a closet full of soap.
“I appreciate this,” Lili said as she followed Gia through her sitting room. “I was going to ask Tatiana, but she has all she can handle right now with her shop’s grand opening. But Jared said you might have something we can use for the club…”
Jared had clearly been circumspect with her secret, even to the woman he loved. He’d always protected Gia’s vulnerable spots, just as she’d protected his. Just as they’d both tried to protect Ace’s, even when it seemed he was made of nothing but vulnerable spots.
Gia hadn’t much cared for Dallas O’Kane in his earliest days. He’d come into Sector Four hungry and determined and smart, and Gia was far too wise to trust such a clear kindred spirit. But she’d still exhaled in relief when Ace joined up with him. Dallas was loyal and protective, and he was clearly bent on building a world where Ace wouldn’t need the armor he’d never worn easily.
Now they were in that shiny world, and even Jared put aside his armor from time to time. Gia was the only one still guarding all her vulnerable spots.
The boxes tucked in the back of her massive sitting room closet were the most vulnerable spot of all. Literal compartmentalization, and the muscles in her neck felt painfully tight.
“Gia?” Lili’s warm, sweet voice was hesitant. Worried. “If you’d rather not…”
Hell, if she was being so obvious that people could tell she was upset, she definitely needed to get the damn boxes out of her life.
Though that wasn’t fair. Lili wasn’t some random person off the street. She was razor smart and highly perceptive to the moods of those around her. She’d honed her instincts in a crucible as brutal as any Gia had known, and maybe that was why she’d been the one to finally touch Jared’s carefully guarded heart.
Now that she was truly awake, it was difficult to lie to Lili. You could show her the most carefully constructed mask in the world, and she’d still see you.
“I’m fine,” she assured the girl, summoning a smile. It wasn’t hard. She was fond of her. “What I’m about to show you, however, is perhaps not my finest moment.”
A gentle furrow appeared between Lili’s perfect eyebrows. “Are we…still talking about soap?”
“Only literally.” With a sigh, Gia hauled open the closet door and gestured to the far wall.
Boxes sat stacked across the back of the closet, damning in their sheer number. Dozens of them, each holding a fortune’s worth of the fancy little soaps Tatiana had designed to sell in Eden’s markets. Gia didn’t want to do the math on how much she’d spent. At the time, she’d told her business manager to be generous but discreet.
Well. He’d been generous, at least.
“That…” Lili paused. Slanted a look at Gia. “That is a lot of soap.”
If Gia had been the type of person given to wincing, she would have done so. “I know what you’re thinking.”
“You can’t possibly. I’m not sure I know what I’m thinking yet.”
“Yes, you do, Lili.” Gia leaned against the door frame and surveyed her indiscretion. “You’ve been an O’Kane for long enough now. You’ve watched those impossible cavemen lose control of their good sense when they think the person they love needs to be protected.”
Lili didn’t speak immediately, and that was one of the reasons Gia liked her. She observed the world in silence, collected all the bits of context she knew like random puzzle pieces, and never opened her mouth before she’d assembled enough of the picture to have something worth saying.
Finally, she leaned against the opposite side of the door frame and studied Gia’s face. “You made sure she could have the life she wanted with Zan without needing to depend on him or the O’Kanes for her independence.”
Dead in the black. Oh, Jared had done well by all of them with this girl. “She did most of it herself. One thing I’ve learned over the years is to never underestimate Tatiana’s business instincts. She would have built her own foundation again eventually.”
“But not this quickly.” Lili tilted her head. “Why, Gia?”
And there it was. The messy question. Gia let it sit, not fighting the tangle of feelings it brought with it. Guilt. Loss. Shame. Anger.
Tatiana had been her biggest mistake. Her one fatal slip.
She’d let fondness and desire shape her responses to the girl, as oblivious to her own power as any of the corrupt men she’d loathed over the years. Their relationship had been explosive and intense, and Gia had fallen into it so hard that she’d missed the warning signs. Tatiana had pretended to want Gia and everything that came with her, but the girl had been lost. Terrified. She’d needed protection, not passion.
Gia should have seen that. She should have known. Tatiana’s lies were her own responsibility, but Gia had been seeing through more skilful liars since her teens. It had been so easy to believe what she wanted to be true.
And that would always be her responsibility.
“Our past is complicated,” she said finally. “When Tatiana came into my life, all she needed was a foundation. A strong place to rest and find her footing. I didn’t give her that, and I should have. I’ve owed her one ever since.”
Another long silence. Lili studied the boxes, and Gia studied Lili. She was casually elegant in a way that couldn’t be taught in adulthood. The fine wives of the councilmen in Eden might consider her beneath them, but Lili was sector royalty, raised with wealth and an understanding of social niceties that Eladio had sometimes despaired of driving into Gia’s head.
Gia’s hard-won poise still felt gauche next to Lili’s understated grace. Lili could move amongst the elite of Eden almost invisibly. Gia would never be able to. It didn’t matter what she wore or that she could buy most of those women’s husbands a dozen times over. She stepped into their world, and they could smell the street on her.
The half-feral teen who’d tried to knife Eladio in a dark alley would always be a part of her, so Gia didn’t bother to blend in. She embraced their gawking stares and their scandalized whispers. She loved terrifying them.
“Tatiana wouldn’t have approved,” Lili said finally, turning to face Gia fully. “But you know that, or you wouldn’t have bought the soap in secret.”
“I did say it wasn’t my finest moment, darling. Besides, I took temptation away from Zan. If she’s going to hate someone for it, better me than him.” Gia hesitated. “Are you going to tell her?”
Lili’s sudden smile was a shock. “Oh, Gia. Do you honestly think she doesn’t know?”
Gia blinked. “I don’t think–“
“No,” Lili interrupted. “You didn’t think. You say you’ve learned to never underestimate her business instincts. Tatiana knows the Eden market inside and out. And Jared was your middle man. When orders for more soap than the market could possibly demand came in, you think she didn’t put the two together?”
Gia had hoped she wouldn’t. But phrased like that, it seemed…rather unlikely.
Lili laughed and, unexpectedly, wrapped her arms around Gia in a tight hug. After a startled moment, Gia returned the embrace. “What’s this for?”
“For knowing it was not your finest moment,” Lili replied as she pulled back, her eyes sparking with amusement. “You might have impossible cavewoman tendencies, Gia, but at least you’re fighting them.”
“I try,” Gia replied wryly. But the words had shifted something inside her. The tension in her neck was gone. She’d looked her messiness in the face, and the world hadn’t caved in.
That was not a bad day’s work.
“So,” Gia said, turning back to face the mountain of boxes. “Please tell me you’ll find a use for this.”
“I think I can,” Lili replied. “On one condition.”
“And that is?”
“You’re not allowed to buy any more unless you go through the front door of Tatiana’s store and buy it from her personally.”
Tatiana didn’t need Gia’s secret support anymore. The girl had taken a few bricks and built herself a glorious foundation and an even more impressive empire. Gia had known she would. “I can promise that.”
“Good.” Lili clapped her hands together. “Let’s clean out this closet.”
A half an hour later, as a trio of guards dragged the boxes down to Lili’s waiting car, Gia stared at the empty space in her closet and pondered the matching empty spot where a years worth of guilt had so recently resided.
She’d have to find someone else to worry about now. Luckily, that never took long in the sectors.