Authors: Riley Edgewood
"Is that your gearshift or are you just happy to see me?" I cringe as soon as the words leave my mouth, but he laughs and slides out of the car.
He comes around toward my side, maybe to open the door for me, but I beat him to it and meet him halfway. He says he wants to see me again, and I smile, giving him my number, telling him to call me.
I turn toward my house, but he takes my hand and pulls me lightly back to him.
"I'll see you soon. Right?"
Before I can respond, he's kissing me again. His mouth soft, lingering. He slides his hands up my arms, and electricity sizzles under my skin along the path his fingers trace.
When I break away, nervous we might be spotted by my parents, I'm breathless. And grinning.
He waits by the curb until I've reached the front door, but when I turn to wave goodbye, my smile's shifted from genuine to forced.
Home. The word is a boulder in my stomach that sinks lower as I let myself through the front door.
I walk into a wide foyer sprinkled with shifting splashes of light—reflections of the sun as it hits the chandelier hanging in the domed ceiling above me. A winding wooden staircase wraps above the hallway that leads into our kitchen. I grew up here, but what once was so familiar now seems completely foreign. Sterile. When I walked through the door when I was younger (or, to be honest, even just six months ago), I'd be met with the smell of something baking—or, more likely, burning sugar—and
. Any sounds. Laughing. Yelling. Video games. Music especially… Anything that said,
there's life here
. That, plus clutter, clutter everywhere. Books and stacks of papers and little odds and ends. But today not a single thing is out of place, and all I smell is the strange and overly floral scent of the potpourri on the console under the stairwell. The only thing I hear is the soft bumping of the washing machine's spin cycle a few rooms away.
I find my mom in the back room of our house. It's bright—the walls are lined almost entirely with windows—and my hangover headache sears back in full force. Cascades of heavy white fabric frame sections of windows, but the drapes are never closed anymore. As though if we let in so much brightness, how can the shadows of Jason's death drag us down? Plus, the walls are empty of the once-many family photographs. Still, my heartbeat trips when my eyes pass over the spaces on the wall where Jason used to hang. My mom says she'll put them back up when enough time has passed, but I don't think that day will ever come. Not for her, anyway.
Not for you either
, my subconscious screams so loud I tremble.
My mom's arms hang low at her sides, a dustcloth in one hand. She's statue-still, studying something on the floor, her chin tucked against her chest, her graying waves falling forward into her face. But her head snaps up when I clear my throat and she rubs the back of her hand across her eyes, so quickly I could've missed the motion if I'd blinked.
"Good morning, honey!" She smiles even though her voice is so thick it brings a lump to my throat. The chasms of wrinkles around her eyes, the ones that cracked through her skin pretty much overnight six months ago, deepen. "Did you have a nice time at the concert?"
I nod, a wave of fatigue and sadness crashing over me. It's times like these I find myself wanting to scream "Jason, Jason, Jason, Jason, Jason!" at the top of my lungs over and over until she finally just snaps. Breaks. Shatters. Lets her grief out instead of holding it in and letting it eat her soul bit by bit, day by day.
But I'm too scared she won't ever recover if I force her to feel anything.
And my father would murder me. Or, it's also possible, he'd end up in broken pieces on the floor right beside her. It could go either way.
I probably couldn't handle it either. The air in this house is so empty of the word "Jason" these days, sometimes I think it's a wonder I'm able to remember him at all. So all I say is, "I need a nap," and turn back the way I came.
"Don't take too long," she calls after me, all singsong and roses. "We've got an appointment this afternoon to get you fitted for suits!"
"I'll set an alarm."
I leave her there to stare at the floor, or whatever she was doing before I interrupted, and trudge up the stairs and down the hallway to my room. I crawl into my bed. It's the same size as Vera's, but it feels very, very empty. Just like the rest of this place I call home. I curl into a ball under my covers. Sleep. I just need some sleep. I'll wake up refreshed and actually excited to shop with my mom. I'll wake up refreshed and happy about the internship.
I will. Really.
I just need some sleep.
I dream about Jason. I'm searching for him in our old high school and I know, I
he's around the next corridor, but—a hand clamps down on my shoulder and I lose my chance to turn down the hallway to find him.
"Cassidy. Wake up."
My eyes shoot open, Jason's name trapped in a whisper behind my lips.
I'm in my room. In bed. My father stands over me, his hand still gripping my shoulder.
"Dad. Hey." I sit up and rub sleep from my eyes. The dream shifts further and further away from me until it's disappeared from my mind's view altogether, the way dreams do.
"Your mom didn't want to wake you, but you need to get up. Your fitting is in half an hour." His green eyes—the ones I inherited—drill into me.
"Right. Suits for the internship." The boulder is back in the pit of my stomach. It never really goes away, just gets heavier at times like these.
"Nothing too short and nothing too tight." His words are abrupt, clipped. "You want to be taken seriously." He heads back toward the door.
"Right." I say again. But…do I really want to be taken seriously? I mean, of course I want to be taken seriously. But that's not really what I'm asking myself, is it?
Maybe it's time to face the facts.
I don't want to do this internship.
A few months ago, when my dad approached me with the opportunity, I was excited to work with him all summer. To learn the ropes. To bond again after all the roughness of the past half year. I thought it might help him heal. Help
heal. But I had no clue he would still be as broken as he is, as angry all the time.
Now, the thought of working with him pours dread, thick and heavy like concrete, into my stomach. "Dad?"
"Yes?" He turns back to me, smoothing a wrinkle from the leg of his slacks.
"Uh." I stall, my mind going blank on how to approach this. With him. With myself.
"Out with it," he says, gruffly, like he doesn't have the patience for my hesitation.
Am I actually going to say this? I…think I am. My mouth goes dry, but I keep my eyes on his and I stand, needing my two feet solidly on the ground. "I got a job offer last night."
"Waitressing, or maybe tending bar"—I'm not sure which, actually—"at BackBar."
His expression doesn't change, but he moves back into my room to lean against my dresser, the white wood a stark contrast against his sleek, navy blazer. I turn to my body to face him, waiting for his response.
It isn't pretty.
"You aren't considering it."
"Actually, I am." My stomach is in my throat. And down between my knees somehow, at the same time. "I want to accept it."
"Please, Cassidy." My father gives his version of an eye roll, which is basically just a nostril flare. "You've already committed yourself for the summer."
"I know." And here's the tricky part, the part that goes against everything I've been raised to believe. "I'm going to have to break my word to Mr. Chambers."
"Absolutely not." His tone is all steel and ice, and he pushes off my dresser as though to leave the room.
"You can't just end this conversation," I say, resisting the urge to smooth out the sheets on my bed. Direct eye contact. Full attention. These are the things that matter to my father.
"I certainly can." But he stays where he is. "You are not waitressing this summer. You have an internship at one of the best financial organizations in the United States. In the world, even. That's not something you throw away."
I wait for the enormity of his words to swallow me. For the
of his reminder to sink in.
Except it never happens.
tells me more than anything. "Dad, listen —"
"No, you listen." His face flushes with color, the first sign of an upcoming—and almost always one-sided—argument. "You're an adult, and you need to behave like one. Waitressing all summer is something teenagers do. Your internship could easily launch your entire career after college."
"I don't think—"
"Have some respect for what I've done for you."
"What you've done for
? Let's not forget that this was supposed to be Jason's internship. Jason's opportunities," I snap, watching my father's face pale. "Yes,
. My brother who was two years younger than me. You set up all of this for him, not me. I'm just the default replacement."
"That's not true."
"Isn't it, though?"
He clears his throat, his eyes darkening in anger. "You never said you wanted an internship."
"Neither did Jason! You just initiated it for him."
"I assumed he'd want it. He said he wanted it. He said—" He breaks off, his fingers clenching into fists at his sides. "Are you saying I put too much pressure on him? That it's my fau—"
"He did. He did want to work with you. That's not my point." My breath comes in short bursts. "It's that you never bothered to make the same assumption about me—when I started college as a business major
two fucking years
before he did."
"You watch your mouth."
"That's your takeaway here? That I cussed?" I want to ask, are you
kidding me? But I refrain. Barely.
We glare at each other in a standstill.
Come on, Dad. Show some regret. Some sadness. Some anything other than this blind anger. I'm begging you
"If you didn't want it, you should have told me before I worked it out with Philip, who, in case you've forgotten, is my goddamn CEO, Cassidy. There's no backing out now."
"I did want it. That's what I'm trying to tell you. But now… But now…"
"But now what?"
"Now I feel like I'm just filling Jason's shoes for you. So you can continue pretending like what happened to him never happened. But it did. He—"
"That is enough."
"It's not though. Can't you feel it?" Tears sting my eyes now and I let them fall, not bothering to wipe them away. Let him think I'm weak. I'm beyond the point of caring. "Can't you feel what you're doing to him by acting like he never existed? You're so angry—and mom's so purposefully ignorant."
His eyes go cold. Flinty. Furious. "We grieved for your brother. We're trying to move on."
"No. You didn't. And you're not." I suck in air, gulping it shakily into my lungs. "But that's on you two. I have to deal on my own—I have been dealing on my own. I'm not doing the internship." The words come out of my mouth and for the first time in six months, gravity doesn't sit so heavily against my shoulders.
"The hell you aren't."
"I'll be in hell if I do." The more I let the truth out, the stuff I'd been hiding even from myself, the more I realize I absolutely cannot do this thing over the summer, even to make my parents happy. My skin itches all over just thinking about it.
"You said yourself you're a business major," he throws back at me. "Passing this up would be a huge mistake."
"You're right," I say, nodding. "But I'm still not doing it."
"As long I'm providing you with a place to live, you will follow my rules," he growls. "Rule number one is that you keep your word to Philip Chambers and get your ass out the door to get fitted for suits with your mother."
"I appreciate the place to live," I spit out. "Granted, most kids back from college would call living with their parents
and find it always welcoming." Not all places, though. Teagan comes to mind for a moment, and the arrangement she has with her grandparents. Fine. Maybe I'll end up with the same exact one here. "You want to give me a curfew again? Do it. You want me to contribute to grocery shopping and bills? Great. My new job will help with that. But you cannot tell me that I have to do this internship. You don't have that much control over my life anymore."
"Don't be so self-indulgent." He slams the palm of his hand down on the top of my dresser, making a few of the picture frames fall onto their faces. I'd maybe care if Jason was featured in any of the pictures, but my mom took those, too. My dad's face is turning red. "This is my job, too. My boss reports to Philip. How do you think I pulled these strings in the first place?"
"This isn't about you." I almost roll my eyes. "I'm sorry if it makes you look bad. Play the dead kid card, I'm sure that'll help."
"Cassidy Rachel Evans."
I spin around so fast I fall back onto my bed—and I stay there, clutching the comforter under me, frozen. My mom is poised in the doorway, fist pressed to her mouth, tears swelling in her eyes and hanging in tiny droplets from her bottom lashes.
My anger collapses into itself, leaving the shock of complete horror in its stead. "Mom. I didn't mean —"
"Goddamn it, Cassidy." My dad storms past me toward my mom, but her face crumples and her tears become rivers and she flees down the hall.
"You," my dad snarls, pointing at me from the doorway. "Make a choice. Keep the internship or get out of my house." Then he's gone, too, slamming the door behind him and I'm left on my bed, shaking uncontrollably.