A/N: Hey, guys, sorry it's been so damn long. I really really really hope I haven't lost anyone!
"Do you remember…" I started hesitantly, staring down at my pretzel-crossed legs on my bed.
"…what we were talking about that day?" Dell guessed, but I shook my head.
"When Stevie left," I corrected her, looking up into her face.
She bit her lip, a small smile flickering over her lips. "You haven't called him that since we were kids," she said. She sighed and re-capped the nail polish bottle. I pulled my hands up to my face and blew lightly over the wet nails. "You know, I don't really remember too much about it," she confessed, the smile growing slightly. "He was just gone. There wasn't a big scene about it. I remember Mom didn't want us to grieve a loss that didn't matter." She shrugged. "Why?"
I slowly considered my word choice as I blew on my nails, and then paused to say, "Do you remember Mom spending two days wishing she was dead?" Dell nodded silently, indicating that I should continue. "That was it, though. She only lived in bed for two days, and after that, I don't think she cried once. Dell, they were together ten years, and Mom only cared for two days." I briefly went back to drying my nails, and then added on, "I wish I'd handled Cam like Mom handled Stevie."
Dell reached over to replace the nail polish on my bureau, then stretched back out across the bed. "I'm glad you didn't, though," she said thoughtfully after a moment. "I mean, it did take too long for you to snap out of it, but…At least you're still here," she said, and rolled onto her side to look at me. "Mom's totally out of it, and you're still sane. I'm glad you didn't go crazy. Crazier, anyway," she added on with a small smile. "We, at least, can still communicate somewhat normally…Where Mom and I…lack that skill now, I guess." She sighed. "I can tell you're beating around the bush, Cass. Just talk to me. Let it all out, honey."
My eyes darted to the photo album on the floor next to my bed and felt my innards freezing back over. If I was ever going to talk to Dell about this, now was the time. Before I lost all of myself to memories again.
And so, I took a deep breath and bravely ventured down a path I had never explored.
"We…you were telling me that I didn't need him," I gushed quickly, shoving it all out before I could chicken out. "That's what we were talking about. And then we heard Mom crying in the kitchen…"
Mom's crying in the kitchen. Dell and I exchange a perplexed glance; we had been calmly discussing the pros of being dumped by Cam when the sudden noise met our ears. The sound of glass smashing to the floor violently reaches us, and we instantly jump to our feet and run for the stairs. "Mom?" Dell's calling. Her voice is steady, but her hands are shaking…I imagine that's what my heart is doing; trembling.
The glass plate is all over the floor in messy shards, along with the towel Mom had been using to dry it. The house phone is on the counter, buzzing in the impatient way phones will do when they're left off the cradle. Mom has sunk into a crouch, holding herself loosely and bawling her eyes out. Her feet are a bloody mess, but that doesn't appear to be what has set her off. "Mom?" Dell asks, more cautiously than before. Mom doesn't answer, but continues to cry; great, wet, violent, shaking sobs.
Unable to control some ingrained urge to comfort her, I dance carefully around the glass and hunch down beside my distraught mother. "What's wrong, Mom?" I ask, suddenly feeling like I am ten years old again. I try to hold her, but she is weeping too passionately, and I can't seem to find a purchase. Helpless, I look to Dell. She shrugs, absolute bewilderment flashing across her face.
As suddenly as she started, Mom stops crying, fading quickly into gasping breaths. She addresses me, but avoids my eye. "Cass…That was Rita." Confusion hits me. Why is Cam's mother calling my mother? Did she tell her about the break-up? But of course that couldn't be it; Mom wouldn't be that upset. Again, I look to Dell, but she just stands there, as useless as I feel. "There's…there's b-been an…accident," Mom manages to choke out, and that's when confusion morphed into inexplicable terror.
"What kind of accident?" I hear myself asking, but the voice is too far away to be mine, surely. Mom doesn't answer immediately, and I grab her shoulders impatiently. "What kind of accident?" I demand, but once again it's hard for me to connect the voice with my own.
Mom's crying again. Her face crumples before me, and her mascara tears roll faster than before. "She says…Cam's in the h-hospital," she pushes out, her lower lip absolutely trembling. "Car accident," she stutters before dissolving into tears again.
"Let's go," I hear myself say, standing and looking at Dell. "Get in the car."
Mom tries to say something else, but I'm already halfway out the front door.
I've never felt my heart pound so heavily as it is now. My hands are jumpy and it's hard to grip the steering wheel at first. My brain subconsciously muses that it's lucky I have shoes on already before I jam the gear shift into drive and pull away from the house. I barely have to glance at Dell in the passenger seat to know that she's uncomfortable with me driving, but there's nothing to be done about it now.
"Don' worry," Bob Marley is singing from the speakers, though I can barely hear him, "about a thing. 'Cause e'ry little thing, is gon' be alright." Irritably, I snap the radio off.
When we arrive at the hospital, my mind puts out another half-hearted bout of optimism; I'm lucky that no cops pulled me over, because I left my permit at home. The woman at the front desk sees how flustered I am and stands to calm me down, but I'm already speaking, though I don't remember planning the words: "Cameron Triste. Car accident. Where?"
Nervously, the receptionist grabs a nurse to show us the way, and we hustle down corridors and up staircases as fast as our feet will carry us. When we arrive at the crowded waiting room, I almost run straight into Mrs. Triste. Rita—along with everyone else in Cam's family—is sobbing. I can't help myself; I grab her and shake her. "Mrs. Triste," I begin, but I'm suddenly crying so hard I can't formulate the remainder of the sentence.
A pair of arms circles me from behind, and foolishly, I think it's Cam—he's alright, he's fine, it was all a mean joke—but when I look back it's only Leo. He's crying, too, and that's when I know. Leo never cries. I know. I know that Cam has somehow slipped away from me again, that he's gone.
As I'm falling, all I can think to myself is, pros and cons my ass. This time, I really do faint.
"Cass, it's okay," Dell soothed me, her arms locking themselves around me. I was vaguely aware that I was sobbing, but I knew that if I stopped talking about it, I would close back up and seal the information off.
"I just…" I started, feeling incapable of explaining myself as another bout of sobs wracked over me. "…I feel so bad, Dell, 'cause I got so…so angry at you."
Dell's hand gently rubbed my back, and I couldn't believe how absolutely wonderful she was. "Shhh, Cass, honey, it's fine. I don't care about you getting mad at me; I'm just glad that you're opening up." When she pulled away, holding me by the shoulders so as to survey me, I saw that she was crying. "I'm so happy that we can talk again."
"Me too," I said with a wet laugh.
And we did talk. Minutes lapsed into hours, and before I knew it, we were giggling and playing stupid card games that spread themselves out creatively all across my bed. I didn't mention James—as far as I had planned, I was going to ignore him for the rest of eternity—or my fight with Leo; I just wanted to focus on my sister. And for a while, it didn't matter, anyway. Neither of them mattered. I was back. Dell was back.
"I am totally in love with Leo Fitzpatrick," Dell burst out randomly after winning a hand at Rummy.
My jaw dropped. "No way," I giggled, dropping the stack of cards into my lap and feeling them scatter everywhere. "No freaking way, Dell." And then the implication of what she'd said actually made its way to my brain, and my smile dropped completely. "No, Dell, sorry."
"What do you mean, 'no'?" she demanded, scooping the cards up in her hands and making a face at me. "I mean, I get it if you like him—you obviously had him first—but it's no fair to tell me that I can't like him—"
"It's not that, Dell, it's just…" I sighed. I hadn't wanted to re-hash everything that had happened over the last few months. But Dell didn't want to let it go without an explanation.
"No, what, Cass? Seriously, just tell me. You like him, don't you?" Her face was defensive, and insulted. I'm sure she thought I was implying that he'd never go out with her.
I sighed again, and rolled my eyes, bracing myself for the inevitable.
And I told Dell everything, starting back to the very beginning. I told her about Trouble's—James's—first letter, and about getting partnered up with James in biology. I told her about sitting together at lunch, about visiting Miles' grave. About the fight with Leo. About lying. I told her about our day on the boat—and she aww'ed in all the appropriate places—before I finally came to the photo album, which we looked through together while I recapped the most recent happenings, ending with Leo's unexpected kiss.
She made a face at me. "You didn't see that one coming?" She raised an eyebrow. "Seriously?" she deadpanned.
"You did?" I asked back, incredulous. "After everything I told you, him kissing me still makes sense to you?" I shook my head. "Maybe you should be in counseling."
"I'm not joking," she insisted, reaching out and touching my hand. "Leo's been around for years—liking you behind the scenes—and when Cam died—oh, don't wince, it's been almost a year, now—Leo was there for you every waking second. And even sometimes when you weren't awake! He falls all over everything you do, he drives you everywhere—not recently, I understand, but still—he picks up your letters…He must feel like your boyfriend, even if you guys don't do anything." She sat back. "It makes sense."
I ran a hand through my frizzy bed-hair and heaved another deep sigh. "So what do I do?"
"Well, first," she said with a smile, "you set me and Leo up on a date." I opened my mouth to tell her it wasn't funny, but she held up a hand. "I mean it! I'll take care of him. He likes me as a friend, and he can learn to like me like he likes you." I relaxed a little. Maybe that could work. I mean, Leo certainly did like Dell; whenever he was waiting for me to get ready for school, he sat and talked with Dell, and they seemed to get along just fine. "And then," Dell continued, and I eyed her warily. What more was there to take care of? "You go and find James, and fix things." When I made to protest, she held up her hand again. "Don't say you don't want to because I know you do. And don't say you don't need to because we both know you do. This conversation couldn't have happened without his help, and don't bother denying that, either. He's been helping you get yourself back, Cass. Why would you want to shut him out?"
A/N: I know it's super-short, but there will be more, I promise. I'm baaaaaaack!