Author: mercurysmile PM
A girl, a catalyst, and the long journey to a breakdown.Rated: Fiction T - English - Humor/Angst - Chapters: 3 - Words: 32,654 - Reviews: 5 - Favs: 2 - Published: 04-16-01 - id: 256150
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
The rest of the week went by, remarkably boring. It seemed as if it should have been more exciting or nerve-wracking, but surprisingly it remained uneventful. Alex didn't come back, and the only time I allowed myself to think of him was on my daily visit to Mr. McAllen's. He was scared to death, and I practically organized the whole funereal, which was disgustingly sad. Practice was cancelled for three more days, and my date with Noah went well. Not too well to have us consider becoming a 'couple,' but well enough to make us set another one. Corin finished his book and I threw him a party, which only he, I, Josh, and our brothers David (and his wife, Lillian Mallan-Adrionack and their two-year-old daughter Eliza Beth) and Ricky (the only two closer than three states away) were the only people in attendance. Of course, it wasn't the most exciting party, David being an aspiring lawyer, Lily a social worker, and Ricky having some boring business job. Everyone went home the next day, and Eliza was always a delight to play with. She had Lily's frail, tiny figure and David's pitch-black eyes and hair, and unfathomable energy.
I taught soccer three times, and was getting along with Scott remarkably well; we had a lot in common, although he picked on me constantly. I went to the beach again on Saturday, and Scott was there with his friends again. That time, I gone and said hello to him, and I met a bunch of his Elliot friends: Andrew Carlson and Nathan Jillson, two particularly intelligent guys whom I recognized from the soccer team, Ben Dryst, a class-clown type that seemed surprised that Scott knew me, and Adam Quinter, the guys with the crush on me. He could barely spit out two words. We had more fun than before, although Corin stayed home. Mikey Rogers, Carl Natt, David Keene and Oliver Tomeback, more guys from the team, joined us, and I won the tournament with Oliver, who lived across the street from me, and although we'd never become close friends, we got along quite well.
Then, on Monday, school began. I woke up bright and early to the sounds of Silverchair, then took a shower, and braided my hair. I wore a blue tank-top that had a semi-open back that tied (about as risqué as I dress) and somewhat tight straight-leg jeans with my All-Stars. I opened my schedule card when I got to school and found my homeroom-unfortunately, it went by alphabetical order, so Robby was right before me. However, Josh sat across from me and that made the experience bearable. This year, my schedule was first period-AP Psych, second period-Human Anatomy and Physiology, third period-AP Calculus, fourth period-Spanish 5, fifth period-lunch, sixth period-AP English, seventh period- AP European History, and eighth period: genetics or Creative Writing. Quite the ambitious schedule. I was glad to note that Josh had the same lunch period as I, and he said that Noah ate then too, although I couldn't tell if he was joking or not.
In first period Psych, I found Noah, and we sat together. I didn't say a word when Mrs. Anderson called Alex's name on the roll.
I knew at least one person in each class. Josh, something of a math whiz, was in my AP Calc class, and Dave Keene was in Spanish 5 with me. Noah also joined me in creative writing/Genetics and Brendan and Brandon were in my English class.
At lunch, I sat with Josh, Dave and Mikey-Noah ate sixth period. (That earned Josh a swift kick to the shin.)
When the day finally finished, I rushed to soccer practice with Noah, picking up Bren and Bran on the way.
"Ready for the game?" asked Brendan.
"It's tomorrow," I answered.
"I know," he said, and I believed him.
"How was your first day of hell?" I questioned them all.
"Fine," said Brendan.
"Boring," replied Brandon.
"Monotonous." Leave it to Noah to use such a word.
"Yours?" Brandon asked me.
"Grand," I replied in a heavily sardonic voice.
"As valedictorian, aren't you supposed to breathe, eat and sleep school?" Brendan asked.
"Well, it's not sure that I'm going to be valedictorian," I replied.
They all sent me wry looks. I laughed. "It was a joke.
At that, they laughed.
"Necesitamos practicar al futbol!" I exclaimed, and took off to the girls' locker room.
The cheerleaders were in there, changing into even more promiscuous outfits for their own practice. I rolled my eyes. They greeted me with "Hey, Cass!" in a single helium-pitched voice. "Hey," I grunted."
I faced a locker corner and whipped off my tank top in favor of a longer jersey, then put on my mesh practice shorts. I kicked off my all-stars and shoved my feet into my cheats. I velcroed my shin guards on and began to walk out to practice after locking my clothes in my locker.
Jessica Reynolds' voice stopped me. "Gee, Cass, I wish I had your body."
Girls freaked me out, with all their same-sex body coveting and open talks. I bolted as fast as I could.
I was one of the first on the soccer field, along with David Keene and Ryan Brennan, a junior, and the gaggle of sophomores: Tyler Fledger, Steven Fredrick, and Jimmy Fulter.
"What are we waiting for?" I exclaimed effervescently when I got to them. "Ten laps, now!" I took off, Dave right behind me. Noah joined us next-he was one of the best runner on the team and kept pace with me. The rest of the team meandered out of the locker room and joined us as we ran. Noah and I finished first, followed by David and Josh.
We sat on the ground. I'd barely broken a sweat. I laughed at Dave's panting.
"You're so out of shape," I teased him.
He grinned and nudged my foot with his. "Dork," he said.
Coach Dally came out onto the field then. "Spectacular," he said when he saw that we had finished our laps. "Now, which of you wonderful cherubs had this idea?"
Josh lay down and rolled his eyes.
"Cass, huh?" Coach said, chuckling.
"I plead the fifth," I answered.
Noah looked at me and grinned. "A sure sign of guilt."
"Places!" Coach boomed. Brandon and I took our places as forwards on our team, Noah in the goal, Josh backing Brandon up, and Brendan taking Alex's place and backing me up.
We hadn't tried this formation yet, and Alex obviously left our team with a big disadvantage. After playing together for years, we'd developed a real sense of how to play perfectly together, and we'd won states two years in a row, last year going all the way to Nationals. Alex could anticipate my every move and I anticipated his, as did Josh and Brandon, so we played perfectly together, and the addition of Noah's goalie talent kept us unstoppable.
Traditionally, Brandon started first, and I let him. He passed me the ball, and I took it downfield before being cut off by second-string defense player Oliver. I passed it to Brandon, who scored easily against Dave. However, the other team started next, and Brandon gained possession of the ball. As we played, it should have been passed to me, but his instinct was to pass it to Brandon, his best friend. Jimmy blocked this pass, whereas the pass to me would have been clear. Josh managed to reclaim the ball and pass it to Brandon, but our concentration had been thrown off. He passed it to me, and rather than focus on the fact that we'd have already scored if Alex was there, I took the ball down the field and channeled my frustration into raw power as I kicked the ball brutally and watched it whiz past Dave's head.
I shrugged at him. "Sorry," I said. Coach came thundering over to where I stood, Brandon two feet away. He looked at us, the glanced upfield to Brendan and Josh. "Get up here, Richen and Begaan!" he screamed.
They complied. "What the hell was that?" Coach boomed.
I was the only one holding my head high. Brendan sighed.
"I'm sorry, coach," he said.
"We're not used to this way of playing," Brandon defended his friend.
"Get used to it! When will McAllen be done dealing with his family problems?"
I knew Coach didn't mean it malevolently, but the offense I took was as great as the frustration powered into the goal I scored a minute ago. "Well, Coach, that's a really good question. Really, we don't know, since after his mother killed herself he skipped town!" I screamed the last sentence, taking out my anger directed toward Alex on Coach.
Coach looked at me. I could see he was angry. "Adrionack. If these were any other circumstances, you'd be benched for that. I'm sorry about Alex. You still need to concentrate on the game and get used to this setting. We are not going to lose that game tomorrow."
Suddenly, everything came to a head. Frustration and anger at Alex's situation, the deep sadness I'd been ignoring, crashed down upon me and almost knocked me to my knees. I tried a deep breath, but it didn't work, and I said in a deadly calm voice almost broken with melancholy, "Yes we are. We can't play like this. Josh backs up Brandon and Alex backs up me. Brendan was never a part of that, and Noah's not Superman. We're going to lose and we're going to be humiliated because this is not the winning team!"
Brendan stared at me, hurt. Brandon glared at me.
"You're right, it's not," Coach said. "You're stirring up animosity."
"It's the truth! Bren, you're a great player, but you're not used to the way we've always played. And I can't concentrate because I don't have the same kind of trust for you that I had for Alex because I knew he knew exactly what he was doing. You've never been first-string before!"
Brendan nodded and Brandon's face softened. However, Coach didn't look appeased.
"Our first game is tomorrow," he said angrily. "Here you are, creating rivalries and knocking your team's confidence! Alex isn't here. You have to learn to deal with the circumstances. I think you need to leave before you make anyone cry," he spit venomously.
"Coach-" Josh said, jumping to my defense.
"You wanna go too, Begaan?" he asked in a despicably sarcastic voice.
Josh had eyes of steel as he stared Coach Dally down. "Yeah," he replied slowly. "I think I do.
"Josh, don't," I said.
"No." He looked at me. "Of course you're not fine with this, you have no idea where your best friend is and he springs this on us the day before the first game? What you said was the truth, Cass."
"Fine," Coach said. "Goodbye. If you show up for the game tomorrow, don't expect to be guaranteed your spots."
"Coach, if they don't play, we may as well forfeit!" cried Brandon.
"Well then, I'd hope your teammates get their heads on straight and realize what's important on this field."
Alex, apparently, didn't fit into that category. I sighed shakily and began to walk off the field. Josh joined me.
"You're an idiot, Begaan." My voice shook.
"I know," he said, wrapping an arm around my shoulders. I leaned against him, breaths hitching in my chest. I couldn't take it a second longer, I couldn't keep the denial going, and I couldn't be told that Alex's fleeing wasn't important. I breathed deeply, on the verge of tears.
"It's okay, Mi Casa," Josh said, steering us to a bench. We sat and He put both of his arms around me. "It's okay," he said again, and a few tears rolled down my cheek, wetting his uniform.
"I miss him, Josh," I said mournfully.
"I know. Me too."
"Do you think he'll come back?" I whispered.
He pulled back slightly, ruffling my hair. "Of course, Mi Casa. He wouldn't do that to you."
"He already did. He can be so naïve. What if he gets murdered?"
"That won't happen," he said soothingly.
"But it could," I replied stubbornly.
"And one of us, right now, could drop dead from an aneurysm. But that's not gonna happen either."
I sniffled loudly, tears ceasing, but remained leaning against Josh.
"I think I'm going crazy," I said quietly.
"You've always been crazy." I laughed.
"No, I mean it."
"You're just…scared. You've been so in denial about this, it hit you even harder than it should have when it really hit you. But he'll come back, and even more importantly, you'll be just fine in a day or two."
"Really?" I asked, sounding like a two-year-old.
"Really." It was only a word, and it shouldn't have been so comforting, but right then if Josh told me that he could see Africa from here I might have believed him.
"Ready to go home?" he asked me.
I smiled at him shakily. "You should probably drive."
He stared at me incredulously. "Really?" he cried.
He stood and lifted me, swinging me around. I giggled uncontrollable.
"Cass, you are the coolest person ever!"
"I know." He grinned at me.
"Ah, there's the girl we know and love. Let's go."
I tossed him the keys.
He drove with careful precision and gentle reverence. When we got to my house, we both entered through the garage.
"I don't recall inviting you in,' I said in a faux-haughty voice.
"I don't recall caring," he answered with a grin.
"You're a good driver," I told him.
"Yes, well, that car is an object of worship."
I laughed. "Right, you've got a shrine to it in your room."
"A shrine, candles, pictures, I sacrifice inferior cars on the altar every night." We both laughed.
Corin sat in the recliner, watching TV and eating a sandwich. His burn had faded to a tan, and he was slowly regaining all the weight he'd lost in the past year, so he almost looked like a real person.
"Hey, Cor," I said.
"Cass, Josh," he said cheerfully. I wasn't used to his newfound sunny demeanor.
"Hey, Corin," replied Josh.
A flicker of realization flicked on behind Corin's brown eyes. "Shouldn't you guys be at soccer?"
"Got kicked out," said Josh as I sent him a reprimanding look.
"How?!" Corin exclaimed.
"Coach Dally was unfairly persecuting Cass."
"It was fair," I corrected.
"No it wasn't!"
"And we might be kicked off the team," added Josh.
"Ah!" I yelled.
"What?" cried Corin.
"We're not kicked off," I told Corin.
"Okay," he replied.
"I don't know, Coach was mad," objected Josh.
"Not that mad. We're part of the winning double-duo."
"And a fourth of it's already gone, what's one more?"
"Josh," I said quietly.
He brought his hand up to my elbow for a second. "Sorry."
I nodded. "Want a banana?"
"The food of champions!" he quipped, following me into the kitchen.
I broke off two and handed him the smaller one.
"Yum," he said.
"Damn straight." I chewed my banana thoughtfully. "This is heaven."
Josh smiled cockily. "My company?"
"Bananas," I said through a mouth full of said substance.
He rolled his eyes tolerantly. "Right."
We were seated on the spinning stools facing my kitchen island. I spun to face the living room.
"What are you watching?" I called to my brother.
"Oprah," he said.
I looked at Josh, who was grinning madly. "I liked you better moody and stressed," I announced.
"Ee foo," he said through a blanket of peanut butter, jelly and bread.
I rolled my eyes. "You're gross."
"I'm a published author," he said gloatingly.
"You sister is a nationally hailed soccer hero," Scott interjected.
"Nationally hailed?" I repeated.
"So I'm stretching the facts a little. You did make the national girls' soccer team last year as the number one starter and you got your picture in the Parade."
It was true; I'd also been picked for girls' basketball, but declined because I had to choose one or the other. I'd been on the team since freshman year, but until last year I'd been second string. "Because so many people read the Parade."
"They do," insisted Josh.
"It does have millions of readers," said Corin.
"And I'm sure they all took the time to notice the little blurb on me," I said wryly.
"Hey, if they saw your picture, I'm sure they did." I sent Josh a dirty look.
"And I get glared at for a compliment." Josh always complimented me and took great notice of my elemental beauty, and while he only commented on it in jest, I didn't like how it made us seem unequal-he didn't say things like that about Brandon or Brendan or Noah.
"Don't compliment Cassandra, she's a miscreant." Corin decided to take part in our conversation.
"How am I a miscreant?" I asked, disbelieving.
"Well, first, you hate 'girlie-girls,' as you so commonly call them," Corin explained.
"And lots of guys," added Josh.
"And anyone who disagrees with you," finished Corin.
"I hate them all for valid reasons!" I exclaimed.
"Right, right," said Corin, with a mocking glance to Josh.
"I ha-" I cut myself off before I dug myself deeper. "Maybe I am a little…anti-social."
Josh howled with laughter. "A little?"
"Okay, a lot."
"Thank you," I said.
"Let it all out, sister!" Oprah cried from the television set.
I rolled my eyes at Josh, who chortled.
"Corin, you gotta get a life now," I yelled to him."
"I know. Give me time."
"I've got an idea!" exclaimed Josh.
"Oh, God. Here we go," I muttered.
"Why don't we go out tonight?" Josh asked.
"Because we're sixteen and seventeen years old and he's twenty-three," I answered.
"There's a new bar opening," Josh started.
"You want me to take you and my baby sister to a bar?" yelped Corin.
"It's not all beer. You need a wristband to drink. Anyway, it's also a pizza place/karaoke bar," Josh finished.
I stared at him. "Please tell me that this won't be a rerun of last year's states celebration party." A sugar-high Josh had sung 'We Are the Champions' by his dearly beloved Queen during the post-game jubilation.
"Nah." He grinned devilishly. "I plan to sing something different."
"What?" I asked cautiously.
His grin grew. He whistled a few almost unintelligible bars of 'We Will Rock You'-of course, another Queen song.
"You're not," I said, astonished.
"Oh, but I am."
"Count me in!" Corin called.
I shrugged. "Can't miss this!"
His devilish grin never left, and now it was accompanied by a wagging of his dark eyebrows. "Want me to invite Noah?"
I considered it; Noah was a blast, and incredibly easygoing, but last year, he hadn't sung one song at the karaoke place. I, embarrassingly, sang "All I Wanna Do" by Sheryl Crow, and I sang it quite well, thank you very much, but Alex decided to join me in a crazy falsetto at the end of the song. He ruined the whole thing. "Nah," I told Josh.
"Really? Trouble in paradise?" he asked.
"It was never paradise, Josh."
"Of course not."
"Let's go at seven," I declared.
"Fine with me," yelled Corin.
None of us talked for a minute.
"Weeeee are the chaaampions, my friendsssss…" sang Josh.
"Save it for your debut!" I said.
"You're no fun," he pouted.
The phone rang, and I grabbed the cordless. "The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain made of rocky terrain, I'm insane, not vain, sugar cane, flying crane." That should have scared away whoever decided to call.
"Yeah. Right. Cass?" It was Scott Brewer.
"The one and only," I replied. Josh made kissy noises in the background and asked silently, Noah?
I shook my head. "What's up?" I asked Scott.
"I just got home from soccer and I was wondering if you wanted to get some dinner later." Scott and I had grabbed dinner after practice on Thursday, when I realized that for five days I'd eaten nothing but bananas. It wasn't a date, but it was fun.
"Well, actually, I have plans tonight." Josh's eyes popped out of his head, and Corin switched off Oprah and wandered into the kitchen. "But you can come."
"No you can't!" Josh yelled.
"Yes you can," I told Scott.
"Where are you going?" he asked.
"What's the place called?" I asked Josh.
"How should I know?" asked Scott, bemused.
"I'm asking Josh."
"Tell him I said hey."
"Scott says hey."
"Hey," Josh said. "It's called Canciones."
"Songs?" I queried, translating the Spanish word.
"What?" asked Scott.
"Sorry," I replied. "Canciones."
"It's called Canciones?"
"I heard about that. What time are you going?"
"Seven," I told him.
"I'll be there."
"Well, bye," he said.
"Adios," I replied and hung up the phone.
I looked at Corin's raised eyebrows and Josh's knowing grin. "Don't look at me like that," I said.
"Like what?" they chorused innocently.
"Shut up," I retorted.
"Cass's got a thing for soccer boy!" Josh sing-songed.
"I do not. Any by the way, 'soccer boy' could be Noah, Bren, Bran, Dave, you, Mikey, hell, even Robby."
"Don't even joke about that," Corin said.
"What?" I questioned.
"Robby. Don't even joke about that. It'll give me nightmares."
"Gives me nightmares, too," I commiserated.
"I'm calling my mother," Josh announced.
He grabbed the phone and held it to his ear, dialing. "You could have just gone to my room and hit speed dial two," I remarked.
"Trying to get me into your room, Adrionack?" he teased.
"Hey, mom. Yeah. I'm at Cass's. Mo-om. I'll be back around nine, okay? We're going to Canciones. It was fine. Fine! Bye, mom." He hung up the phone.
"How can we kill and hour and a half?" asked Josh.
"Let's play Scrabble!" I replied.
And we did. Josh was beaten brutally by both Corin and I in all three rounds. I won every game by mere points against Corin.
When we finished the last game and it was 6:22, Josh looking pathetically defeated and Corin looking astonished that I'd beaten him, we all got ready to go. I washed my face, and just for the hell of it, I unbraided my hair so that it fell in long waves. I walked downstairs to meet them and Josh whistled.
"You sure clean up nice," he said.
"'Nicely.' And that's more than I can say for you." Although Josh didn't look that bad, dark-haired and dark-eyed, cute in a quirky, offbeat way.
We ventured into the garage and all got in my car. For once, Josh didn't beg to drive, just looked at the car with a loving sigh. His eyes practically formed hearts.
I looked at Corin and we shared a silent laugh.
With directions from Josh, I found the place easily. There was ample room available in the parking lot and I grabbed a spot near the entrance. It looked almost seedy, a wooden building decorated with singing animals painted on the sides. Loud music boomed out from the open doors.
"Well, this is it," I drawled.
"Let's go," said Josh energetically.
Corin looked shell-shocked. "Whoa," he said.
I patted him on the back. "Welcome to the life of the young and vibrant," I wisecracked.
"I'm not that pathetic, am I?"
"Yeah," Josh said. I tripped him but caught him before he fell.
"Abusive," he murmured.
We walked to the entrance. A bouncer looked at us. "ID?" he asked.
"We're not drinking," I said naively.
Josh sent me a baffled look. "What?" I asked.
He smiled lightly. "Nothing."
The three of us walked right in.
"Did you see how he thought I was your age?" Corin exclaimed. "How can he not see I'm six years older than you?"
"Apparently not," I said. "Besides, Cor, you don't drink."
"So?" he said.
I shook my head. The inside was just as seedy, with a large bar on one side and a dance floor lined by booths, of which three were occupied, and a karaoke stage. A short, healthy-looking girl sang a zealous version of 'Video Killed the Radio Star' on the stage, playing a guitar, dancing with skill and singing in a voice that would have been horrible had she not carried herself with such confidence.
"Isn't that Caitlin Cressalin?" Josh asked me. I nodded; she was in a few clubs with me and we'd worked together on some projects throughout the years. Earlier today, I'd noticed her in a few of my classes, and we'd had a conversation in Human Anatomy and Physiology. I could almost consider a friend. While she was as far from a girlie-girl as I, she wasn't a tomboy due to her severe lacking in athleticism. She didn't hang out with the cheerleaders or the druggie and gothic kids (there were some, even at our private school), but rather a small group of smart girls who didn't stand out much. All, of course, except Caitlin, who seemed to stand out in any crowd, probably because she constantly wore a pair of blue-lensed, blue-rimmed sunglasses. She sometimes streaked her shoulder-length curly/wavy blonde hair and liked to write. She told me once that she played the guitar, too. All in all, a completely original person, and one of the few that I could stand. Caitlin glanced up and smiled at me.
"She's hot," commented Josh. He looked at Corin for approval.
"Don't look at me. She's not even legal."
"She's nice. And smart. She dyes her hair sometimes."
"I like her glasses," noted Josh.
"They're nice glasses," said Scott as he approached our booth. I sat on the inside across from Josh, who sat next to Corin; Scott had no choice but to sit with me.
"So I have to warn you," I began. "You've gotta sing."
Scott grinned. "No problem."
I nodded to the stage. "That's Caitlin Cressalin from school."
"She's better on the guitar than she is at signing," he replied.
"She's actually pretty cool. Josh thinks she's hot."
"She is hot," Josh insisted. Caitlin wasn't skinny at all, but she was curvy, and she wasn't fat either. Her confidence compensated for what she might have lacked in looks; she was also frighteningly intelligent and a deep thinker, with a quick wit and an endless supply of jokes.
She actually sounded a lot like Josh.
"Go talk to her," I prodded.
"Who's she here with?" asked Josh, craning his neck to search the empty room.
A booth of kids from our school sat in one corner. Two other girls, Maggie Herman and Abby Franklin, simply sat on the inside of the booth, but a boy whom I recognized to be Toby Kramer, whom Caitlin talked about a lot, glowingly, and I had always assumed to be her boyfriend (although when I asked her earlier, she denied any involvement) whooped fervently.
"Abby, Maggie and Toby," I told him
"Maggie Baker?" he asked in horror. Maggie Baker was the head cheerleader and a curse to everyone's existence.
The unsure look looked so out of place on his usually self-assured face. "Think she's talk to me?" he questioned.
"Of course," I replied. I noticed Scott looked slightly left out. I turned to him.
"Don't you think she'd talk to him?"
He mulled it over in his head for a second, and I quelled a smile. "Yeah, it seems like she would," he answered as Caitlin dismounted from the stage and received a one-arm manly hug from Toby.
"What about him?" Josh sounded panicked.
"They're just friends as of this morning," I assured him.
"I'm gonna do it," he announced, determined.
"Go for it," I encouraged.
Corin and Scott leaped in on my plight. "Go ahead." "Take your best shot."
Josh stood up. "Here I go," he said proudly, puffing out his chest proudly. An anxious look flitted through his eyes and he sat back down, hard, almost on top of Corin, who had just stood to let Josh out.
"What's wrong?" I tried for concern.
"New and strange emotions," commented Scott.
"Just go. If you're lucky, she'll find it cute."
Corin shoved him up and gave him a pointed look. "Bye."
Josh walked away shakily.
"I feel kinda bad about doing that," I said.
Both guys just looked at me. Finally, Scott smiled fondly and said, "Don't."
"It's for his own good." He pointed to where Josh was smiling nervously down at Caitlin, who was standing and drinking a Pepsi, barely reaching his shoulder.
"Young love," sighed Corin.
Scott and I rolled our eyes in unison.
"Well, rookies," I said, "who's going first?"
Scott grinned adorably at me. "I will."
"What are you going to sing?" asked Corin, leaning his head back against the booth.
"Don't do that," I scolded. "You don't know what's been there."
He scowled at me. I turned to Scott. He was still smiling.
"You'll see," he replied enigmatically as he rose and walked to the stage. I followed him with my eyes.
"Young love times two," said Corin quietly.
"What?" I cried.
"You two. It's cute. When he looks at you, he almost glows. And when you look at him, you get this girlie shy expression."
"That is such crap, Corin! Besides, what about Noah?" I gave him a 'duh' look.
"What about him?" Corin dismissed the thought with a wave of his hand. "Remember what Josh said?"
I did. And we still didn't take our chemistry seriously enough to consider it something worth manifesting. However, we also didn't reject it as without potential, either. "You're seeing things," I told Corin. "We're not people in a book."
He took my scathing comment with good humor. "I am aware of that."
The strands of a familiar tune began on the cheap karaoke equipment. I recognized it as 'Magic' by the Cars. I laughed, surprised; the Cars were one of my favorite older bands.
Scott's voice was good, and he didn't look at me while he sang. I was slightly disappointed, but told myself not to expect him to sing to me. Corin sent me a tenacious "see?" look, and I caught Josh's eye across the room as he winked at me.
When the song finished, Scott beamed to the room and almost skipped back down to the booth. "That was fun. Liberating," he proclaimed.
"I love the Cars!" I informed him.
"Me too, apparently," he replied.
"Well, after such a performance, I don't know if I can challenge it," I started.
"You have a great voice!" Scott broke in.
"But I can try." I had to climb over Scott to get out of the booth, but I didn't think either of us minded. I asked the man for the songbook, although I was sure my song was already in there, and sure enough, it was. I gave the greasy, fat karaoke operator my code number and began to sing where the Cars would have if they were performing. "You might think I'm crazy to hang around with you," I sang. It was another Cars song-this time, 'You Might Think,' my favorite after 'Just What I Needed.'
My rendition was rousing, and I jumped all over the stage. Corin laughed his head off, and Scott clapped wildly; Josh cheered lewdly and Caitlin joined him. They seemed to be hitting it off, I noticed with a smile.
My song was over way too soon, and everyone-all ten people (two more had matriculated in while I was singing)-cheered. I bowed and bounced off stage.
When I neared the booth, Scott moved in and I sat on the outside. I smiled at him. "I know what you mean. That was great. I've only done this once before, but that was amazing."
"I think I'm going to break your theme," said Corin.
"Now?" I asked.
"You're too shy," I ventilated.
"Yes I am," he agreed.
I heard the unmistakable beat of 'We Will Rock You' pound through the speakers directly over my head, and looked up to find Josh nodding his head to the music. "Buddy, you're a boy..."
"He's got a thing for Queen, doesn't he?" Scott asked.
"Don't even get me started," I answered. Scott laughed.
"Well, they are a good band," Corin defended.
"He's killed every Queen song ever written," I stated.
"I heard the mangling of 'Bohemian Rhapsody' yesterday," Scott said.
"Last year at States, after we won we went out on the town. It was near LA and we had no idea where we were, but we found this karaoke bar and we all sang. He did 'We Are the Champions,' and I almost cut my ear drums out."
Scott smiled waggishly. "And what did you sing?"
"Sheryl Crow, 'All I Wanna Do.'"
"How'd you do?"
"She did beautifully until Alex jumped onto the stage and started wailing along with her. He ruined the whole thing," answered Corin for me.
"Did I meet Alex?" Scott asked.
I felt like a deer in headlights. The issue of Alex, due to my denial, hadn't come up yet.
"Hm-mm," I murmured in denial.
"That's too bad, he sounds like my kind of person," he said guilelessly.
I turned my head, and Josh launched into the second chorus. "He might be," I said as I considered it: Would Alex like Scott? They both had a lot in common with me, and it was like the substitution property of Geometry: a=b and a=c, so c=b. They were both reasonably cool guys who liked reasonably cool things, and of course, they had me on common. Alex got along with everyone he met, so there were no doubts in my mind they'd become fast friends.
Corin watched me with worried eyes, and Scott asked, "Cass, are you okay?"
"Alex is my best friend," I said quietly. The urge to talk filled me, an uncommon occurrence. "His mother committed suicide a few days ago, and as soon as she died, Alex took three thousand dollars out of the back and kind left. No one knows where he is or when he'll be back." The words felt like a million pounds coming off my shoulders; now only if there weren't two million there in the first place.
"I'm sorry," Scott said, placing a hand on my back. I nodded.
"Well, I'm dealing. I'm mostly in denial, but I'm dealing."
"If you ever…"
His sentence trailed off awkwardly. He looked uncertain, as if the right words didn't seem right for the given situation. Somehow, I understood what he meant, and I nodded.
Josh finished singing, and I jumped up and screamed, "Woooooo!" at the top of my lungs in a shrill squeal. Scott and Corin laughed. I noticed one Caitlin Cressalin cheering fervidly, too.
I looked at Corin. "Your turn!" I chirped.
"I know just the song," he muttered as he strolled to the stage.
A flicker of realization hit me. "I know what he's going to sing!" I cried.
"What?" Scott asked.
"I would bet my life," I continued.
Scott looked at me with questioning eyes.
The chords started up, and realization burgeoned behind Scott's green eyes.
"Paperback writer," we said in unison, labeling the familiar Beatles tune that fit Corin so well.
"He's so creative," I trilled.
"You're cheery," Scott replied.
"Well, I'm glad." He grinned at me. "You know, you look really nice. Transcending nice. Resplendent."
I giggled, and I might have even blushed. "Well, I like a man with a vocabulary," I said.
Scott's smile augmented so much his eyes crinkled at the corners. I was overcome with the urge to coo and say, "Aww," as if he were a three-year-old boy.
Corin's out-of-practice and therefore odious voice wailed the title of the song from the stage, directly into our ears. He didn't sound nervous, just trying too hard.
"What a dork," I said delightfully.
"You're lucky to have such cool siblings," Scott informed me.
I sent him a quick questioning glance.
"I've got an older and younger sister, and they both despise me. I think I broke a girl code or something when I used their YM as a coaster," he elaborated.
"You did them a favor," I proclaimed.
"That was how I looked at it," he laughed.
Corin finished his song and we applauded ardently.
"Good job," I told him when he returned to the table.
"It seemed to fit," he said, shrugging. We talked for what seemed like hours about almost nothing at all, casually, laughing constantly.
Josh ambled over to our table. "Nice job, guys," he said.
"You too!" I exclaimed, squeezing his shoulder.
"Anyway, it's 8:30, and I promised my mom I'd be back at nine…" he trailed off.
"Say no more." I stood, glancing at him impishly. "Did you get her number?"
He held up a piece of napkin with seven digits scribbled on it. I held up a hand for a high-five, which he willingly gave me. "Congrats," I said.
He nodded smugly. "Thank you, thank you."
We left the building, now smelling of cigarette smoke and stale beer. The bouncer glared at us as we left, and I smiled tentatively. Scott grabbed my arm and pulled me along, forcing me to quicken my pace.
"Hey, hey!" I exclaimed.
"Being a lowly public-school student," Scott started, "I know that you should never ever smile at such a large guy. They're often downright creepy."
I glared at him. "I can take care of myself."
"I know that, and you know that, but Bubba over there doesn't," he said.
We neared my car, where Corin and Josh stood. "I don't suppose you ran here?" I asked.
"Nope," he said, gesturing to Jenny.
"Well, I'll see you tomorrow."
"See you." It seemed as if the parting was understated and incomplete; I smiled up at him and he shifted uncertainly, balancing his weight on first his right, then his left foot. Then, as if acting on vagary, he leaned down and kissed the top of my light blond hair.
He stepped back. "Bye," he said, smiling happily after me. I grinned back.
"Bye," I murmured. I walked to my car and unlocked it.
"Aww," cooed Josh scurrilously.
"Shut up, Begaan," I said.
"No, really," he began.
"Josh!" I yelled.
"Backing off," he mumbled.
"That's right," I said.
"Isn't she just your favorite little practitioner of denial and ignorance?" Corin asked rhetorically.
I turned to Josh. "What was Caitlin like?"
He practically glowed. I was infinitely creeped out. "She's so funny, and smart, and she just doesn't care what people think about her. She just concentrates on being herself…which is definitely a great thing," he gushed.
"Love. It screws you up more than LSD," I commented ironically. I stuck the key in the ignition and pulled out of the parking lot.
"I've disclosed, your turn," Josh said.
"Scott and I are just friends," I responded firmly.
"Just like you and Noah are just friends. Just like Sarah and Bailey were just friends. Just like Corin and his computer are just friends."
"You're a sick bastard," Corin decidedly, at the same time I asked, "Sarah and Bailey?"
"Party of Five," Josh answered.
"You watched Party of Five?" I asked, laughing hysterically.
"It was a good show!" he cried, defending himself.
"I'll bet," I teased.
"You're just trying to change the subject," he said.
"No, I'm trying to mock your every habit and personality trait," I retorted.
"Just the usual, then," Josh said.
"Exactly," I replied.
"I can't believe this," said Corin.
"What?" I asked.
"This twenty-three-year old published author hanging out with seventeen year old kids," he clarified.
"I'm only sixteen," I corrected. My birthday-late to mid December-meant that I should have only been starting my junior year, but my parents had waged a war against the school, along with Alex's parents, to have us put in the class we were in. We'd have been way too far along if we were in a lower grade because we were both so bright. Alex and I had the same birthday-our parents met in the OB room while they were in labor and got to be friends, so Alex and I had known each other literally since birth. "And you're just off your game. You graduated from college over a year ago, and you were completely absorbed into your book. You need to take baby steps. We're the first step."
"And that first step lands at the beach and dilapidated karaoke bars?" he asked.
"Sure," I replied automatically.
"Are you listening to me?"
"Sure," I said again. However, I really wasn't; I was lost in reminiscing. Another Alex memory:
I looked at Alex and laughed, forming a wry look with my lips. He shook his head abashedly, then walked on to the dance floor; I had no choice but to follow him.
'Wind Beneath my Wings' came through the speakers, and we both lost it. Tears ran down our faces, as we laughed, unstoppable, swaying melodramatically to the cheesy music. When the song ended, we stood on the floor, leaning on each other for support, unable to stand as we still shook with laughter.
"Cass?" drawled Josh.
"Can a person not be one with her thoughts?" I yelled in mock-exasperation.
"That sounds gross. Don't do it in front of me," he declared.
Corin laughed. "Man, I wish I had this when I was in high school."
I looked at him questioningly. "What did you have?"
"The typical tortured artist adolescence: I was ignored by the cool girls, didn't have one girlfriend, I got teased for being myself. Don't you remember my black period?"
I laughed. "Corin, when you were in ninth grade, I was eight."
"Well, you could still do me the favor of remembering. Besides, when I graduated, you were twelve."
"Like I paid attention to you when I was twelve!" I laughed.
"Yeah, she had better things to do," threw in Josh. "Like, you know, pants me in front of the cheerleading team." His voice had a tone of bitterness.
"That was five years ago! Besides, how was I supposed to know that you wore boxers with flowers on them?"
Corin howled. "How masculine!" he choked out.
"My mom bought them for me!" Josh cried.
"At least I didn't pull down your boxers, too," I said.
"Venturing into dangerous territory," declared Josh.
"You gotta admit, looking back, it was funny."
"Looking back, I know why Jessica Reynolds won't go out with me."
I glanced at him in surprise. "You like her?"
"What's not to like?"
"She's a brain dead skank," I said in a voice reeking of blatancy.
"But she's pretty."
"Caitlin?" Corin said.
Josh smiled stupidly. "Caitlin, indeed. I was just kidding about Jessica."
"Good," I grumbled. "I think she hit on me in the locker room."
"How?" asked Josh seriously.
"She was all, omigod, I wish I had your body!"
"That's how normal girls act, Cass," Josh replied.
"Oh, shut up," I said angrily.
"What?" Josh looked confused.
"Normal girls," I mimicked him.
"Come on, Cass, you know what he meant," Corin said softly.
"So?" I groused.
"So don't be so defensive," suggested Corin.
"Don't be yourself, Cass. Act like a girl, Cassandra! You sound like mother," I spit.
The sound of my own breathing was the only thing I heard as my comment rendered the car silent. I laughed sardonically. "I sure know how to kill a conversation."
"Damn. I was about to start singing 'Another One Bites the Dust,'" Josh said. I laughed.
"Well, then, I'm infinitely glad I spoke up."
"Me too," agreed Corin.
I turned on to Josh's street; his was the fourth house on the left. I stopped the car and he got out. "Thanks, Cassie," he said, ruffling my hair through my open window in a familiar and comfy gesture. I grinned at him.
He walked inside.
He'd never called me 'Cassie' before. He knew it was a term of affection, and he never dared use it; I was 'Cass' or 'Cassandra' or, most frequently, 'Mi Casa' and sometimes even 'hon' or 'babe.' Never, ever Cassie. However, in light of the fact that we'd grown closer in the past few days, it seemed right.
"He merits the Cassie?" Corin asked.
"That sentence sounds so weird," I replied.
"But he does?"
"Yeah. I think he always has, but he didn't want to abuse the privilege. I am his best friend." I always felt irrevocably guilty that I couldn't say the same for him, but he'd told me that I was his closest friend on a few separate occasions.
I drove home automatically, turning when required, and found my way into the garage. The living room lights were on and one of our 4-car garages was full with Mom's Lexus and Dad's BMW Z3. I pulled in on the far side.
Corin and I walked inside slowly, him before me. We were greeted by the sight of Mother and Dad in the living room, on opposite sides, each reading a book silently.
Dad looked up. "Hello, kids," he said warmly. Dad was a business executive of some kind-what kind, I wasn't sure-but he loved his five sons and his 'daughter,' and wasn't stuffy and too old to play catch or basketball.
"Hi, Dad," I twitted in a happy voice. My father was one of the nicest men on earth. Why he's married my ice-queen mother was beyond me.
My mother didn't look up from her book. "A little late, don't you think?" she asked in a nasally voice. I rolled my eyes.
"Actually, by my watch, we're right on time." Curfew was eleven on school nights, and it wasn't nine yet.
"How was the first day of school?" Dad asked. Corin brushed past me to go to his room.
"It was fine."
"And soccer?" I heard Corin's footsteps stop on the steps, waiting speechlessly to see if I needed backup. I smiled in my mind.
"Well, I got kicked out of practice," I said gently.
"Why?" asked Dad, ever understanding.
"Well, it was my fault. We're not doing too well, you know, since," I sighed, "Alex isn't there. And Coach yelled at us the first time we tried a formation, and then he said something about Alex, and I flipped a little, and then he said Alex wasn't important when I was on the soccer field, and I flipped a little more, and he told me to leave." I left out the part about Josh standing up for me and being kicked out, too; my father was paternally suspicious of any boy that wasn't Alex.
Dad studied me for a second before saying, "It seems as if you acted in character, Cass. You didn't do anything not expected. I think you need to loosen your hold on yourself and give yourself a little breathing room; the pressure is going to cave you in."
I smiled tightly and said, "I'm fine, Dad," as I walked upstairs to my room, passing Corin on the stairs.
"He's right, you know," Corin said to me.
I looked at him plaintively. "I know."