I sit on the sofa, and turn on the TV. The Digital box isn't on, and I realise I don't know how to work it. I grab a remote and press a few buttons but nothing happens, so I flop down, unconcerned and sit nestled in the cushion. This is the first time I've been left alone in the house, and I'm strangely tense. The constant watchful eye of Ethan and Jake has become reassuring, rather than irritating. But there is no one to look after me tonight – Ethan is 'working', and Jake is at the supermarket. It took half an hour of convincing to get him to leave and stop worrying, so I figure I should relax for a bit.
I'm just getting comfy, when a picture on the fireplace catches my eye. Jake and Ethan, laughing together, arms slung around the other's shoulders – like a photo you would find in a show-home, two models posing for a happy family shot. It makes me think about dad. When his first wife Nicole left, the boys went with her – only small. They got away. I smile to myself, because I've gotten away, but it soon slides as I realise that I can't stay here. I can't impose myself on my brothers for too long, they won't be this patient forever.
I've got nowhere else to go, that's the problem. I couldn't go back to dads even if I wanted to. Ethan went to see him yesterday, to get my stuff, but the flat was empty, and a window was smashed.
It looks like he's gone for now. I mull over the past year, and wonder what went wrong, coming to the same conclusion that I always do: I'm a constant reminder of wife #1. The charismatic woman, who changed him for the better, then abandoned him in the worst way - dying a slow and painful death which left him brimming with resentment and anger, which was directed in its entirety towards me - the unwanted child who was the spitting image of her mother. I subconsciously rub my arm, where the last remaining bruise is fading. My destructive lifestyle became my outlet, but eventually became the reason for my isolation, alienating me from my friends and blurring the lines between reality and hell.
A burst of static from the TV crashes my train of thought, and I am brought abruptly back to reality. I get up and jab the off button aggressively, grimacing. 'Cassie doesn't do self pity', I chant a couple of times in my head, before heading upstairs to bed. Upstairs, I stand in the bathroom, one hand braced against the sink as i wipe the mascara from my eyes. Ridden of make-up, they are pink and puffy, with my white-blonde eyelashes almost invisible against my skin. I realise, as I examine every centimetre of my face, that they resemble those of a newborn. Dusky pink, protruding and blinking blindly at the light. Suddenly, I feel vulnerable, and terribly alone.
I wish Jake would come home.
I fumble for my keys in the darkness, patting down my jacket and jingling loose change for a good few minutes before I find them buried at the bottom of a pocket, amongst a week's worth of crumbs. The momentary unease dissipates as I feel cold metal underneath my fingertips.
I reflect on my trip to Tesco as I struggle through the door. It was not without difficulty, as with every passing minute the urge to turn back and check on Cass grew stronger. Even now I feel it, but I force myself to collect every carrier bag from the car before i look for her. As I close the door behind me, I'm instantly wary. It's 9pm, and all the lights are off.
My nerves shredded by an evening of imagining every horrific possibility, I don't stop to take off my shoes, jumping the stairs two at a time. I sprint to the door of the spare room, and my sigh of relief is audible as I see blonde hair fanned out over the pillow, like a mane. 'See?' I inwardly reprimand myself. 'Don't get worked up over nothing'.
I turn to leave, but pause with my palm on the handle as she stirs. I catch sight of her face, as she rolls over. Like a wild animal, she captures my curiosity, and I lean closer to study her face, pale in the weak light.
My breath catches. She is fast asleep, but... I frown. Her face is scrunched up as if in pain, lips pressed together in a thin line. A tiny crease rests on her forehead, and she mumbles and twitches, never lying still for more than a few seconds.
''N... no. Don't.''
I slowly close my eyes. I itch to move closer, and comfort her. But I can't shake the feeling that I'm almost listening in on some private conversation. She wouldn't want me here. It's not my business.
So when she sighs, and says my name, I turn and walk away.