Chapter 33

Five more minutes passed, and Cassandra sat, still curled up in a ball, staring, wide eyed, at the floor. She couldn't believe what she just thought. She couldn't be in love with Nate, she barely knew him. Heck, she had only known he existed for about a week. He had a girlfriend! Maybe it was just her mind tricking her. It was more likely her mind tricking her anyway. Her mind was just playing tricks on her due to the situation. That was all.

The sound of the door opening didn't rouse the girl from her strange daze. Cassandra continued her staring contest with the floor, until she felt a cool breeze blow across the right side of her face. Surprised, she jumped a few inches off her seat, before turning her head to see who sat next to her. A smile spread across her lips as her chocolate orbs landed on the dark haired, bruised boy beside her. Her arms flung themselves around his neck, in a tight hug, and she pressed her face into Nate's shoulder, taking in his scent.

"What happened?" Danika asked from the other side of Cassandra.

Nate glanced up at his sister and gave her a crooked smile, his head resting on Cassandra's shoulder. His smile didn't seem to have the same reassuring effect on his sister that he had hoped for, probably do to his split lower lip.

"What happened to you?" Danika demanded, about to go into hysterics as she took in his black eye and slit lip. Nate freed one of his arms from around Cassandra and pulled Danika into their hug.

"It's okay," Nate crooned softly to both his sister and Cassandra. "Everything is going to be okay. Nothing like this will happen again." The two girls took instant comfort in his words. Cassandra scooted closer to him, sitting half in his lap, while Danika slipped out of his grip, so that he could comfort Cassandra, who was on the verge of crying, if she already wasn't.

Nate's freed arm instantly returned to its place around Cassandra, his fingertips gently massaging her lower back. "Everything's going to be all right," Nate whispered soothingly in her ear, his lips brushing against it as he spoke.

"How do you know?" Cassandra's voice sounded hopeless, and he could tell in an instant that she was crying.

"I'll explain later, alright?" Nate asked, his hands moving to Cassandra's thin shoulders and holding her out away from him so he could see her face. She nodded a simple yes in response, trying to get control of her crying. "Hey," Nate's voice was soft and kind as he delicately wiped the tears from under Cassandra's eyes. "Don't cry." Reassuringly, he rubbed her arm with his free hand. "I don't want you to cry just 'cause I got a few bumps and scratches." Cassandra stared up into Nate's innocent face as she listened to his words, wondering if she really was overreacting.

"Ehmm," the lady that worked at the humane society cleared her throat. "I hate to interrupt your little moment, but I've got my own children I have to get home to, so if we could hurry up and sign the papers for Socks, that would be great."

"Are you okay?" Nate asked Cassandra, looking into her eyes. She nodded her head.

"Shouldn't I be asking you that question?" Cassandra retorted gently.

"Cass, I'm fine, there's nothing to worry about. Nothing's broken, I'm just a little bruised," Nate reassured the girl in his arms.

"Okay," Cassandra finally caved, releasing her tight hold around his neck. They both turned toward the lady, Nate's left arm staying around Cassandra's waist.

Papers were set in both of their laps, and as the two of them were reading through the documents, pens were put in their hands.

Ten minutes later, the three teenagers started back across the parking lot towards the beat up red car at the end, a small puppy bouncing along at their feet, on a thin, temporary leash. Cassandra's head was resting against the front of Nate's shoulder. His arm sat around her shoulders, holding her close to his side.

The ride back to the Rittersons' house was a silent one. Everyone was preoccupied by their thoughts or just didn't have anything to say. Cassandra's hand rested on the top of the glove box, Nate's hand over hers as he gently rubbed the tops of her fingers with his.

Socks sat in the back seat, beside Danika, her big, brown eyes closed as she snored softly in her slumber. Danika's hand rested absentmindedly on the dog's shoulders, her head rested against the cold window. Her eyes, like the little dog's, were closed.

When they pulled into the driveway, Cassandra's eyelids were beginning to droop closed and she wobbled slightly as she climbed out of the car.

"Danika, wake up," Nate said before throwing an empty coke bottle at his sister. She jumped into alertness in a second.

"What, huh, where are we?" Danika questioned as her head turned in every direction, spastic-like, as she scanned her surroundings.

"We're at home," Nate clarified before getting out of the car. "Don't forget to bring Socks inside," Nate called as he walked around the car to the almost unconscious girl standing on the other side. "Let's get you inside," his arm went around her waist again as he started to help her toward the front door. Tired, Cassandra thought about pulling away until she figured out what was going on but she found herself too exhausted to act on her thoughts.

Inside, the two teenagers started toward the closest, most comfortable piece of furniture that they could think of in their drowsy state. Cassandra and Nate barely made it across the family room to the couch before they were out cold, once again tangled in each other's arms.

Danika entered the family room a few minutes after them, dragging a dog crate and a tired puppy close behind. She dropped the dog crate from her grip, next to the television, before picking up Socks and dropping her in the open top. When the puppy was securely in the crate, Danika finally unhooked the leash and stumbled out of the room, down the hall, and up the stairs to her room. The house fell silent. Mr. and Mrs. Ritterson weren't home yet, and wouldn't be for another half hour.

"Should we wake them?" Mr. Ritterson stood beside his wife in the doorway to the family room. Sun sifted through the shades on the windows, dimly lighting the room. The dark haired woman at his side shoved him in the shoulder, a loving smile on her lips.

"No, we shouldn't wake them up," Mrs. Ritterson scolded. "Look how happy they are." She waved her hand toward the sleeping teenagers, holding each other tightly in each other's arms.

"Well, then, can I take a picture?" Danika asked with an uncertain tone. "Or would that be too cruel?" A smirk formed on Mrs. Ritterson's face as she glanced back at the teenagers, Cassandra's leg wrapped around Nate's upper thigh, her face against his chest.

"I wanna say that would be too cruel," Mrs. Ritterson admitted.

"But wouldn't it be great to see their reactions?" Danika asked eagerly.

"Yes, it would," the older woman laughed.

Cassandra shifted where she laid, her elbow somehow stabbing Nate hard in the stomach.

"Oww," The hurting boy cried, as he tried to sit up, his eyes wide. Realizing that she'd hurt him, Cassandra instantly followed suit.

"I'm so sorry I didn't mean to," she fretted as she sat back away from him, afraid to hurt him again.

There were moans and boos of displeasure coming from the peanut gallery, near the entrance to the room, drawing Cassandra and N ate's attention. Moderately annoyed the two sent the rest of the Rittersons a look that screamed "Go away". Taking the not so subtle hint, the three family members started towards the kitchen to avoid questions.

"Are you okay?" Cassandra sighed as she turned back to Nate, her eyes as innocent as ever.

"Yeah, I'm fine," Nate said, before stretching his arms over his head. His dark t-shirt rode up a little, revealing a large purple bruise covering his stomach. Cassandra noticed it and air escaped her lungs in a loud whoosh of breath. Nate looked sideways at her. "What?" he asked, his arms dropping back to his sides. Cassandra pointed at his stomach. "What, my perfectly tanned and muscular torso?" he joked, waggling his eyebrows playfully.

"No, the bruise," Cassandra clarified. All playfulness dropped from Nate's face when he noticed how much Cassandra looked like a lost puppy at that moment, her eyes wide and glimmering as she stared up at him.

"Cassie, I'm fine," he assured her as he pulled her into a comforting hug.

"But you could have broken something," Cassandra spoke weakly into his shoulder.

"I'm fine, nothing's broken," Nate reassured her, rubbing her back gently. She nodded her head, not really believing that he was okay, but agreeing to be quiet about it.

"Breakfast's ready!" Mrs. Ritterson called from the kitchen. Nate shifted, about to get up, when Cassandra pushed him back.

"Stay, I'll get it," she said as she got up and started out of the room. Nate shook his head, a smile on his lips before he got up and followed her out of the room.

As he walked down the hallway, Nate could hear Cassandra talking to Mrs. Ritterson. Entering the kitchen behind Cassandra, Nate smirked, before slowly coming up behind Cassandra, not touching her, just standing inches away.

Mrs. Ritterson glanced at him discreetly. He lifted his finger to his lips, signaling for her to be quiet.

"So anyway, I don't think he knows how much he is… Aww!" Deciding to interrupt her, Nate closed his arms around Cassandra's waist as she was talking. She let out a shriek of surprise before looking up at him. Nate grinned down at her, pretty proud of himself. Rolling her eyes, Cassandra stayed where Nate held her, knowing that he probably wouldn't let her go anyway.

"What do you two want?" Danika asked from where she stood by the stove, a spatula in hand. "Pancakes, eggs, a room." The blond teenager smirked at her brother, as Mr. and Mrs. Ritterson burst in to laughter. Pretending to ignore the joking, Nate and Cassandra started over to the table.

"Pancakes would be fine," they said together as they dropped down into chairs, leaning away from each other.

Minutes later, the laughter subsided. Danika brought over two plates and set them in front of Nate and Cassandra.

The two ate in silence as the other Rittersons sat down around them, both too embarrassed to look up at anyone or speak. Again, Danika smirked at her brother before she dug into her food.

After a rather silent breakfast, Mrs. Ritterson shooed Nate and Cassandra out of the kitchen, claiming that they should go out or something.

In the end, the two of them ended up back in the family room, looking over the many DVD's that lined an oak shelf on the wall beside the brick fireplace. Neither one of them wanted to watch something serious; they were planning on playing a board game while watching.

"Uh, how about this one?" Cassandra asked, pulling Aladdin off the shelf.

"Put it in the pile," Nate said after glancing at the cover. She set the DVD on top of the five movies, already sitting between them. "What about Santa Claus 2?"

"Haven't seen the first one," Cassandra responded, her eyes raking over the titles of the movies still on the shelf.

"Okay, we'll watch both then," he said, pulling another case off the shelf and putting them both on the pile.

"What are you two planning on doing, shacking up for the day," Danika asked as she walked into the room to find blankets and pillows covering the couch and board games stacked on the coffee table.

"Wouldn't call it that," Nate stated, glancing over his shoulder at his sister. "But yeah."

Danika let out a loud sigh, "Well, I guess I'll have to join you to supervise."

"What?" Cassandra questioned, peeking over at Nate, her eyebrows lifted.

"Nate cheats at Monopoly and Life," Danika responded innocuously, pointing at the pile of games.

"Oh," Cassandra didn't really believe that was why she was 'supervising', but she let it drop as she turned to Nate. "Don't you think we have enough movies?" she asked.

Nate glanced at the pile before nodding his head once. "Come on." He grabbed the stack of movies in one hand and pulled Cassandra to her feet with the other. Letting go of her hand as soon as Cassandra was standing, Nate shuffled over to the DVD player as Cassandra buried herself in the mountainous pile of blankets and pillows on the couch.

After sticking the first DVD, on the pile, into the player, he turned and made his way back to Cassandra, and maneuvered himself through the blankets to a place where he could get his arms around Cassandra's waist.

Danika sat in the love seat, watching the screen as the movie started. "How old are you two? Six?" Danika questioned glancing from the TV to the teenagers on the couch. "Why are we watching Cinderella?"

"'Cause," they replied in unison, both equally defensive.

"You are both weird," she mumbled, turning back to the TV screen.

Cassandra leaned back against Nate's shoulders, her hands resting over his on her hips, perfectly happy with the idea of staying there all day. She knew she should stay away but for the moment, a small smile spread across her lips. In almost nine years, Cassandra hadn't felt as safe as she did in Nate's arms.

"What?" Nate asked, noticing the smile on her lips. Glancing up at him, Cassandra shook her head. "What?" he asked again, laugher evident in his tone.

"Nothing," she spoke innocently. For a moment, Nate stared down into her big brown eyes, the movie completely forgotten, and understood exactly why she was smiling. A grin formed across his face.

"Whatever," he laughed, turning back to the movie.

I think this is probably the last chapter for the day. I hope you enjoy! Sorry it was a bit longer than the others. In my edits I decided to combine 2 chapters because nothing really happened in the first one.