Cassie was stirring some spaghetti sauce on the stove when the doorbell rang. I looked up from the homework at the table as she muttered a curse under her breath.
"Luke, could you answer it? Josh is in the shower." I shrugged and got to my feet, not entirely comfortable with answering someone else's front door. "I'll be there in a minute, but the sauce is sticking."
"I'm going" I replied with a small smile of my face. I shoved one hand in my pocket as I reached for the door with the other. Pulling it open, I eyed the boy on the front porch carefully. He was our age with sandy brown hair and dark eyes. I figured him for an athlete by his build. His hands were in his back pockets and he looked nervous. When he looked up at me surprise crossed his features.
"Oh!" He blinked several times, as though unsure of whether I was real or not. "I'm sorry. I guess I've got the wrong house."
"I don't actually live here. Who're you looking for?"
"Luke? Who is it?" Cassie came up behind me, wiping a splatter of sauce off her shirt with a paper towel. She looked around me and froze, eyes wide.
"Cassie, I know this is a surprise but-"
"What the hell do you think you're doing here?" She asked, voice trembling a little. Without thinking I reached back and wrapped my hand around hers. "You shouldn't be here!"
"Who are you?" I asked, feeling my shoulder muscles tense as I kept my eyes trained on our visitor. I was suddenly very alert.
He eyed me carefully and folded his arms over his chest. He probably thought it was menacing, considering he was a couple inches taller than me. It made him pretty tall, probably about six foot two. "Who are you?" He echoed back accusingly.
I'd thrown men taller and much wider than him around like they were rag dolls, so I just leaned on the doorway and slid my hands into my pockets. Still slightly behind me, Cassie relaxed slightly. I was glad that I could reassure her by appearing to be unconcerned by his presence and by being between her and him.
"Patrick, you can't be here" Cassie said, and I felt relief flood through me. This wasn't the bastard who had raped her. It made it only a little bit better, but this guy was that bastard's best friend. "You've been called-"
"Cassie, you know how Dave is. He still thinks everyone at school is his friend. Look. Can I just come inside and talk?" I saw Cassie's face pale out of the corner of my eye and felt the need to do violence. Instead I poured my anger out in my glare at him.
"I think you'd better leave" I said quietly. Patrick looked up at me and blanched.
He held his ground though. "Cassie, I just want to talk to you."
"If you don't get out of here now I'm going to make you get off her porch" I said, still as calmly as I could manage. I used my shoulder to push myself upright without taking my hands from my pockets. "I'm not going to wait around for Josh to come down. I have a feeling he wouldn't be too happy about you being here."
"Luke. . ." She still sounded uncomfortable and it was taking everything I had not to turn and look at her. I had a feeling that if I did this guy was going to deck me.
"I don't have to do anything until Cassie tells me to. This isn't your-"
"Patrick, I said you shouldn't be here." Cassie cut him off and her voice was stronger and more self-assured. I couldn't help a small smile as she stepped up to my shoulder and I could see her out of the corner of my eye. Her chin was stuck out stubbornly and a determined scowl was painted over her face. "Please go." The 'please' reassured me that she hadn't been taken over by aliens and that this was just a new, more assertive Cassie.
Patrick didn't move.
"Patrick, please." She stepped around me and out onto the porch. Alarm bells went off in my head just before Patrick reached out and took hold of her upper arm.
"Cassie, I just want to talk!"
"I don't want to talk to you!" She started in on a move that I showed her, but he grabbed her wrist faster than I would have thought, in a clumsy countermove too.
"Cassie!" I was moving reflexively. I grabbed the wrist of hand holding her arm with one hand and twisted it back. He yelped and let go, so I shoved him away. He stumbled, then regained his balance, face twisting in anger.
"You don't want to mess with me!" He exclaimed.
"Patrick, just go!" Cassie said, and I eased her behind me. To my surprise, she let me move her.
"Cassie, who is this guy? Come on, we were friends!"
"You called me a liar and a slut." The hurt in her voice cut straight through me and I wished I could turn around and hug her. This guy still looked ready to hit me though. "Get away from me." I took half a step toward him.
"I know Kenpo" he bit out. "Don't mess with me."
"After this guy apologizes" He insisted. I slid my hands into my pockets. I wasn't about to underestimate him, but I wasn't going to be worried either.
"That's not happening. You grabbed her. Now she asked you to leave, so leave."
"Suck it!" He swung at me, wide and clumsy. I ducked, my hands coming out of my pockets as I threw up a block and deflected the punch well over my head. Reversing my hand as I came up, I grabbed his arm and pulled it toward me as I slammed my hand into the bottom of his jaw and swept my right leg into his left. His eyes widened as he lost his balance on one leg and I used my hand on his jaw to shove him to the ground.
I stood, taking a step back so I was out of arm's reach and repeated "Leave." He glared at me. "I'm not asking again." Still glaring at me, Patrick left. I didn't move a muscle until his car was out of her driveway and heading down the road.
Then I turned around to find Cassie leaning against the doorway, arms folded over her stomach. Her head was down and her shoulders were shaking lightly. I put a hand on her shoulder, unsure of what to do. Just when I had come up with something to say she surged forward and buried her face in the hollow of my shoulder. For a long moment I was dumbstruck, then I wrapped an arm around her back just as Josh tore down the hall, shirtless with his hair dripping.
"I heard a commotion when I got out! What happened?"
"Patrick showed up" I replied as Cassie fisted a hand in my shirt. I hoped she couldn't feel my heart racing. "Cassie asked him to leave but he wouldn't."
Josh looked from my to the back of Cassie's head with wide, worried eyes. His eyes flickered out into the night behind me and for a long moment I thought he might tear out of the house after Patrick. Then he took a breath and stood up straight, his shoulders loosening.
I raised an eyebrow at him and his lips lifted in a small smile before he gave me a little nod. "I'm going to finish getting dressed" he said and headed back toward the stairs.
"Cassie, it's all right. He left."
She stepped away from me and I felt the cool night air hit my body as she did. It left something akin to an ache. When I saw the look on her face, I bit the inside of my cheek so I didn't step toward her and draw her back into my arms.
"Patrick used to be my friend" she said, her voice barely louder than a whisper. "He was friends with Josh and. . . Dave." Her jaw muscle worked and I could see her fighting the pain that was so clearly etched on her face. "After that night, he believed Dave over me." She looked up at me and held my gaze.
I could feel every bit of tension in my muscles, which were screaming at me to move. I wanted to grab her, bring her warmth back to me and just hold her there until she forgot all the pain she was carrying around.
She took a deep breath, then finally spoke again. "He's been called as a character witness for the defense in Dave's trial."
That stopped me in my tracks. "His trial still hasn't happened?"
She looked me in the eyes, then quickly turned around and went back inside. I knew exactly what she was doing. She was running away.
I stepped back inside and shut the door behind me as I contemplated what to do. I could follow her into the living room where she'd retreated, head upstairs to where Josh was had either gone to sleep or was doing homework again. I could also leave, but that seemed far too cowardly. Plus, I wanted to make sure Cassie was all right. Patrick's presence had really shaken her up.
With a final glance at the stairs I steeled myself and walked into the living room. She was curled up on one side of the couch, knees drawn up to her chest. She was staring straight ahead.
I thought briefly about the dinner we'd been working on in the kitchen. I wanted to go check on it but I couldn't just leave her sitting there like that.
Footsteps sounded on the stairs and I looked up to see Josh step off the bottom step and glance at his sister. I threw a pained look over my shoulder to the kitchen and when I looked back he raised an eyebrow at me. I shrugged helplessly and glanced at Cassie. She didn't seem to realize we were standing not ten feet from her. Josh pointed first to himself, then the kitchen and Cassie and raised his eyebrows in a silent question.
He was asking me what I wanted him to do. I glanced at Cassie and something in my chest tightened. I jerked my head toward the kitchen and the beginning of something pulled at the corner of his lips. I didn't catch the tail end of the expression because he disappeared into the kitchen.
I looked back at Cassie and let out a long, silent breath. Steeling myself, I walked slowly over to the couch and sat at the opposite end from Cassie. Her breath hitched, but she gave no other indication that she noticed me.
I waited silently.
After what seemed like forever she relaxed a little and her forehead dropped down onto her knees.
"You used to be friends with him?" I asked.
She nodded and her hair fell over her shoulders, swinging down to hide what little bit of her face I had been able to see. She stayed curled up. "It was more than that" she said, so quietly I almost missed it. "He and Josh had been friends and teammates for a long time. They used to hang out and stuff, and a lot of times. . . Dave would tag along. When we hit high school Dave became the big shot, but he was still always trying to hang out with Josh and Pat." Her voice was soft and it seemed to catch in her throat every so often.
I let her just talk. It was hard to say nothing, but I knew if I did she'd never talk about it.
"I. . ." She sighed and lifted her head up. She still didn't look at me, but at some shot in the shadows on the wall. I hadn't bothered to turn on any lights when I came in, so the room was still rather dark. "I'd always had a huge crush on Pat. I don't think Josh knows. Pat did, and so did Dave. That night. . . We were at a party and Dave told me Pat made me a drink, but Josh had dragged him off."
I felt the rising tension in my shoulders and when I looked down I could see my hands were balled into fists. I tried counting to ten in my head to relax, but it proved impossible as she continued.
"Nothing seemed weird" she said quietly. I heard soft footsteps on the carpet, which meant Josh was just inside the room. I glanced over at him, but he was focused intently on his sister. She didn't notice him because she was now looking at the ceiling, her head resting on the back of the couch. "I went around the party for a while and I started feeling strange, so I put down the drink. Dave told me Pat wanted to talk to me, so I followed him upstairs. He'd put something in my drink, so I didn't fight him as much as I should have."
My head started feeling too light for my body and I closed my eyes, trying to stop hyperventilating. I was so angry at this Dave guy that my body was ready to fight, but I wasn't moving to use the oxygen it was giving me.
There was a strangled sound from the doorway and Cassie's head snapped up. Her eyes widened when she saw Josh standing there.
The twins stared at each other for a while before Josh broke the silence with "You never told me that!" She looked down. "He told you Pat was looking for you?"
She nodded, eyes still on the carpet. Her arms came away from her legs and just rested on the couch as she leaned back.
"Why didn't you tell me?" I felt like an intruder on a private moment, but I knew I would only break the conversation if I got up; so I stayed where I was.
She shrugged. "I felt stupid for believing him."
Josh lost it. "You had no reason not to!" He exploded. "You had no way of knowing what he had going on in his head and he was our friend!" Cassie pulled back into the couch and I was on my feet before I knew I'd moved.
"Josh-" He didn't let me get out more than that.
"You need to quit beating yourself up about this! None of it was your fault and you weren't stupid! It's not your fault!"
I stepped toward Josh, trying to keep my voice down. He looked halfway hysterical. "Josh, please take a breath. She doesn't need you shouting right now."
He glared at me and I realized that all the pent up anger inside of him had just found a target.
His eyes narrowed. "And you know what's good for her Luke?! Better than me?"
I tried my best to look as non-threatening as possible. I don't think it worked. "Josh, I'm just-"
"You think you know better just because you like her?!" His arms were waving wildly about and he gestured in Cassie's direction. "You don't know what's best for her!"
I heard a sharp intake of breath from behind me so I turned, preparing myself for shock and disgust on Cassie's face. She'd been hurt by a man so I expected Josh's revelation to scare her.
I saw the shock I expected, but no disgust. There was an open look of terror on her face, directed at me. My chest tightened and I looked back at Josh.
I'd just lost her. The look of sheer panic on her face told me that I didn't have any chance of taking back or fixing what Josh had just done. Anything I did would only make the situation worse.
I looked back at Josh, who looked just as surprised with himself as Cassie was. He only looked terrified insofar as he thought I might hit him.
Instead of screaming in frustration, punching him, breaking something, or anything else I could do to release the building tension inside my chest I looked him dead in the eye and said "you're going to burn your dinner."
With that, I left.
I lay in my room, looking at the ceiling as my phone buzzed for probably the hundredth time in an hour. I glanced at the screen and saw that it wasn't Josh. It was Violet.
Sighing, I picked it up. "Hey Vi."
"What did you do?" She demanded. "Josh has called me six times tonight, asking me to talk to you!"
I sighed heavily. "Vi, I don't want to talk about it."
She was silent for such a long time I started to think she'd hung up. "Is this about Cassie?" She asked quietly. I tried not to let anything into my voice as I told her what happened.
Violet listened patiently, without interrupting once. She was still quiet for an uncharacteristically long time after that too.
"So his trial is next week?" She asked quietly. I let a breath out very slowly, letting some of my anger go with it.
"Yeah. It could take a while. It's going to be really hard on her."
There was a hint of a smile in her voice as she said "and you want to be there for her."
"Of course I want to be there for her" I said, still trying to keep the annoyance out of my voice. "She needs someone around who isn't jumping down everyone's throats like Josh. Maybe her Dad will help. He seems to have a cooler head than Josh."
There was a pause, and I just knew she was frowning. "Luke?"
I looked up at the ceiling because of the tone of her voice. She sounded like she was afraid of what she was asking me. "What Vi?"
"You really like Cassie don't you?"
I thought about it for a long moment. I thought about the cold rage I felt every time she got that terrified look in her eye. I thought about the helplessness I felt when she'd had a panic attack next to the pool. I hadn't been able to do anything and I felt so useless just sitting there and holding her.
Holding her. My brain caught on that idea and ran with it. Every time I showed her a new technique I was fully aware of exactly how close she was. I thought about just a few hours before when I'd held her against me and tried to calm her down.
"Yeah" I replied quietly. "Yeah I really do Vi."
She didn't reply so I said bye and hung up without waiting for a reply.
A/n: Eh. A month between updates? I'm a terrible author because I seriously haven't written anything for this story in about two months, and I haven't finished writing the next chapter. I kinda had my heart ripped out and stomped on recently, and it was so bad that even writing wasn't making me feel better. I'm hoping I can write some more soon without it turning into a whole big angst-fest.
Thanks for sticking with me guys! Reviews always make me happy.