“Yeah Gabriella, just tell the boys to start eating without me. I don't get off for another two hours.”
Cassidie Powers was on her phone again. This time, she was in the middle of a conversation with her best fiend, Gabriella. Maybe I should just start sending it to voicemail when I’m at work. Cassidie thought, noticing Mrs. Harris, her boss, giving her a disapproving look.
Cassidie hung up and glanced at the phone in a vague sense of pride. It was sleek and black with purple stripes on the sides. She had even decorated it with a few stickers of mummies and vampires to liven it up. Even if the puffballs consider them monsters, Cassidie really didn’t.
Puffballs were what the Goths called people that regarded black as something that is repulsive and should be made illegal. All of the cities were segregated like that now; if you liked black and wore it or if you used too much of it, even if you didn’t like the color black, you were forced to move into the ‘Goth’ part of that city. Now, though, the Goth parts just considered themselves an individual city. Cassidie lived in the largest Goth city on the continent, Midnight Haven. The city next to them was White Castle and it was one of the harshest puffball cities to be found. Cassidie bitterly remembered her last time in White Castle, a slight frown curling her lips.
She had just turned eight and to celebrate, she and her best friend, Alex Mendez, had been playing around in the park when their worst enemy strode over. Jennifer Monroe was the Queen of Mean back then and she didn’t like Cassidie because the pale girl’s pale skin and large purple eyes made the adults pay more attention to her than the blue-eyed and dirty blonde Jennifer. Cassidie sighed and closed her eyes for a moment, watching the memory play out behind her eyelids.
Cassidie and Alex played tag as they ran around the spacious park. It was Cassidie's turn to run after Alex and she almost tagged her friend, but Alex dodged and ran in the other direction. Cassidie laughed, purple eyes sparkling, and leaped after her best friend. Alex’s clothes fluttered in the wind and Cassidie got an idea. Jumping forward, she grabbed hold of the edge of Alex's shirt and used it to pull the brunette to her, making the tag and racing away. From the corner of her eye, Cassidie saw a shadow coming toward them and her heart sank.
Jennifer Monroe was heading their way.
Deciding to subtly lead Alex away from the blonde menace, Cassidie began running away from Jennifer. However, Jennifer moved closer to them and Cassidie sighed, hiding behind a tree and making Alex chase her around it. Finally, her best friend caught up with her and they both tripped and slipped in a bit of mud, getting spots on their clothes.
Jennifer eyed the two friends scornfully for a moment before taunting Alex on having Cassidie for a best friend. “Why would you be friends with someone as ugly as her, Alex?” the blonde sneered, crossing her arms. “She’s bad luck on everybody who goes near her, don’t you know that?” Alex glared at the blonde, but couldn’t keep eye contact and the brunette looked away.
“Cassi’s my best friend…” Alex said timidly, frowning down at the ground. Cassidie watched Jennifer closely, her eyes narrowed angrily.
“Well, she’s stupid and ugly-looking,” Jennifer said, smiling as Alex’s tiny hands curled into fists angrily.
Cassidie growled under her breath and took a step closer to Jennifer. “Shut your mouth, Jennifer!” she shouted at the cruel blonde.
Jennifer turned her beady blue eyes to Cassidie and snorted. “What are you going to do about it, Ghost?”
Cassidie’s teeth clenched at the horrible nickname Jennifer used on her because of her pale skin. With narrowed eyes, Cassidie ran at Jennifer and pushed her into the nearest mud puddle. When Jennifer fell, she began crying and yelling loudly. The park monitors rushed over and asked her what had happened.
“Cassidie pushed me down for no reason!” Jennifer screamed, standing up. “I was just talking to Alex and she ran over and pushed me away!”
Katheryn Caldwell, Jennifer’s best friend, rushed over and tried to help her clean off a bit before turning to Alex.
“Did Cassi hurt you too, Alex?” she asked, twirling a strand of brown hair nervously.
Alex jumped to reassure Kate. “No, Kate; Cassi was helping me,” the darker brunette murmured.
The two monitors turned to Cassidie and Alex and told them that they would have to move to the Goth side of the city. The two of them tried to explain what had really happened, but no one paid attention to their explanation.
Cassidie turned to Alex with an apology on the tip of her tongue, expecting Alex to hate her, but instead, her best friend stopped her with a smile and said, “Don’t worry. It’ll be ok.”
The pair was led to Alex’s house first, where the monitors explained to Mr. and Mrs. Mendez what Jennifer had told them. Alex’s parents wouldn’t believe a word of it and immediately began packing, complaining about some kind of faulty system that Cassidie hadn't understood at the time. Cassidie looked on with curiosity as she was escorted to her own home.
That’s when everything went wrong.
Cassidie’s parents were the mayors of White Castle and Cassidie’s hope was dashed as soon as she walked through the door. Her mother berated her for getting her birthday dress dirty, complaining about the cost of dry cleaners. Then the monitors told her parents what Jennifer had said and her parents glared at her.
“First, our daughter is born looking like those filthy Goths and now she’s a criminal in her own city.” Cassidie’s father was beside himself with anger as he stormed up the stairs to her room to begin packing for her.
“Aren’t one of you coming with me?” Cassidie asked.
“Of course not!” her mother raged. “We have an image to uphold and it will not be smudged by a delinquent like you. Out you go!”
Cassidie’s father returned with a backpack and a wheeled suitcase full of her clothing and most prized possessions. Cassidie felt the tears run down her cheeks as her father tossed her a jacket. Slipping into it, Cassidie tried to hug her parents goodbye, but they merely moved away, turning their backs to her. Cassidie frowned at them and turned around, angry that they were letting her just go like this.
Hitching her backpack onto her shoulders, Cassidie huffed out of her parents’ house without a backward glance. As Alex’s family and Cassidie were crossing the border, Kate rushed over and gave each of them a hug.
“Don’t worry,” she said softly. “When I’m old enough, I’ll visit you. I promise.”
Cassidie and Alex waved goodbye to their friend and crossed the border. Kate waved to them with tears in her eyes before going over and talking to Jennifer, who had come to watch them leave with her usual smug grin. The blonde began yelling at her for a moment before calming down and storming off. Kate glanced at Cassidie and Alex one last time before shuffling home. Alex’s family immediately began their trek to their new home, leaving Cassidie by the border.
Cassidie was left to wander the streets, homeless, for several days before Alex’s mother found her. She was curled into a ball in an alley and trying to keep warm with her jacket. Cassidie hadn’t been able to find any food for the past few days and was been really weak, on the verge of sickness. Mrs. Mendez carried the weakened young girl back to her house and gave her food and a bath.
Cassidie stayed with their family for a few days to get her health back up. When she was feeling better, she thanked them and began gathering her things to leave again. Alex’s father stopped her and offered her a job so that Cassidie could rent a home of her own. Cassidie slept in the park close to their house, but she went to work for Alex’s parents every day after that.
Cassidie pulled out of the memory with a small smile as she realized, not for the first time, that she hadn’t expected a lot of things that had happened after that. For instance, she hadn’t expected Alex to still be her best friend. But sure enough, Alex still hung around Cassidie whenever the pale girl came to work, though they had to make sure that Cassidie wasn’t distracted or they would both get into trouble.
Cassidie also hadn’t expected to make a new friend while at the park. One day, Cassidie had been camping out in the park and was about to get settled when another little girl ran up to her and asked her if she wanted to play. Cassidie had looked at the darkened sky and shook her head.
The girl was upset; she had really wanted to continue playing. However, she still smiled and said, “Well, if you ever want to play, I’ll be here. My name is Gabriella Gonzales, but you can call me Gabby. I come to the park whenever my mama says I can!”
Cassidie gave the girl a small smile and said, “I’m Cassi. I sleep here.”
"Do your mama and papa sleep here with you?" Gabby asked excitedly.
Cassidie frowned and looked at the ground. "No. I don't have a mommy or dad."
At that moment, Gabriella’s mother came over and ushered her away, but Gabriella turned to wave at Cassidie with a smile. "I'll come play tomorrow!" she called.
But the biggest surprise had been when Kate showed up at her new home when she was eleven. Cassidie had made enough to buy a small house of her own and was just working to pay for the necessities. Kate had come to her door with a smile and asked her how she was. To say the least, Cassidie was extremely surprised, despite her deadpan demeanor.
The two girls hugged each other tightly after not seeing each other for three years and Cassidie asked, “How did you get here, Kate? You were almost as puffball as Jennifer when Alex and I left.”
“I attend The Academy now!" Kate explained eagerly, entering the house as Cassidie went to make tea in the kitchen. "I can go through both cities whenever I please.”
“The Academy?” Cassidie asked in confusion. “You mean Midnight Haven Academy for Adolescents?”
Kate laughed and shook her head. “No, I mean a secret spy academy that trains investigators and spies to make sure everything is going smooth between the two cities. But don’t tell anyone because I’m not supposed to talk about it all that much.”
Cassidie chuckled darkly and asked, “Does Jen know?”
Kate snorted. “Of course not! She would lie on me like she did to you and Alex and they wouldn’t let me be a spy for White Castle anymore. I came to see you first to make sure you were alright. You know, since you didn’t have anyone looking after you when you left…”
Cassidie shrugged. “I’ve been working for a while to make sure I knew how to cook, clean, and do the essential stuff. Alex has been better off than me, you know, ‘cause of Mr. and Mrs. Mendez, but they’ve helped me, so I don’t mind." Pouring two cups of tea, Cassidie set one in front of her guest before taking her own seat. "How have you been, Kate?”
Kate shrugged as well and sighed, “White Castle isn’t the same without you and Alex standing up to Jen. She’s gone power hungry because she’s popular and it’s unfair to other kids because she’s rich and she acts like she rules the city. You know her parents got killed in a car crash? Guess what happened? Your parents took her in.”
“They aren’t my parents,” Cassidie cut in, her eyes narrowing dangerously.
Kate coughed and nodded, continuing, “Well, uh, they believed that since she had exposed your ‘evil obsession with black’ then she was a very obedient child. But they don’t hear what she says behind their backs.”
Cassidie cocked her head to the side. “She talks about them behind their backs?”
“Yeah,” the brunette nodded. “She says that they’re idiots for actually kicking out their own daughter on the word of someone else rather than listening to you. And that they’re so gullible because they actually think she’s a good girl. It’s ridiculous the things she says.”
“I believe it,” Cassidie deadpanned, sipping some tea. “She hasn’t changed a bit apparently.”
“Unlike some of us,” Kate chuckled, cocking her head at her blank-faced friend. Cassidie nodded to her, barely cracking a smile. She had begun losing her emotions around a year ago, so smiling wasn't something she did often anyway. Kate sighed again. “Anyway, I’ve gotta go talk to Alex. See you later?”
“That’d be killer,” Cassidie replied. Kate cocked her head and the blonde explained, “It means cool. I’ll explain more of this side’s jargon later. Bye.”
Suddenly, a jingle brought Cassidie out of her memories and she glanced up to see a man walking through the door of the shop.