Cassie peered down at her fingers as she avoided looking herself in the mirror, they were practically white from gripping the cool marble for so long. She was nauseous and close to falling in her bright red heels. She didn’t dare peak at the reflection standing before her, knowing if she did the tears collecting in her eyes would begin cascading down her cheeks. Instead she focused on the tile below her, studying the cracks and crevices weaving together in an almost artful manor. She could feel the muscles in her hands flex, the blood rushing through them once more. Her breathes were ragged and uneven, her stomach twisting in tighter knots as the seconds ticked by. Laughter echoed through down the hall, one pitch much higher than the other.
“Cassie, get out here!” She could hear Abby whine, the sound of her heels clicking along the hardwood sounded when no reply came. Cassie knew she’d begin knocking on the door any moment and wouldn’t stop until she exited the room. Running an anxious hand through her blonde curls her vision darted around the room frantically, uselessly looking for a way out. She knew she’d have to face her friends, it was inevitable. The pounding began as Cassie anxiously dug her nails into her palms. “Let’s go Cass.” She sounded agitated. “We don’t have all night. Besides you look hot, you don’t need a once over.” Sliding her hands along her skin-tight dress, if you could even call it that considering the lack of fabric, she made her way for the brass handle. Holding her breathe Cassie was met with Abby’s wicked smile, smoke leaking from her lips before the excess was blown in her face. Cassie began coughing incessantly, a look of annoyance plastered on her features as she did her best to swat it away.
“Oh, come on.” Abby cooed, grabbing her arm as she dragged her down the expansive hall. “You used to love this stuff.” Her green eyes were bloodshot, her dirty blonde hair almost stiff with hair spray.
“Yeah when I was a freshman.” She replied coolly, rolling her eyes in the process as they passed Jenn’s family photos. Drugs hadn’t been her thing in the recent years. Cassie strayed as far away from them as she could after a bad experience with coke her sophomore year. She awoke as Abby normally had, barley clothed and still buzzed from the night before. She promised herself it would never happen again, the feeling the day after was one she couldn’t explain, thinking about it filled her with dread.
“Don’t be so hypocritical Cassandra.” Jennifer scolded as she appeared at the bottom of the marble stairs. The pair ascended effortlessly, their heels echoing off the vaulted ceiling above. Jennifer stood, her arms crossed over her chest, while her features gave away her attitude. Cassie dared not challenge her in that moment, the consequences were imminent and not wished for by anyone. Dashing for the curtains at the sound of car horns filling the house, Jennifer peered through the glass. Her demeanor returning to its normal state as Abby searched through a nearby desk for anything resembling a small baggie. Cassie knew how the night would end for Abby, how it always ended for her. The lipstick that she would tirelessly apply would become smeared by the end of the night, and her nose would be coated in a faint white powder more often than not. Every so often they would find her passed out in the morning, wrapped around one of her many guys. The thought sent a shiver down Cassie’s spine, shaking her head she did her best to dispel the images.
“Come on ladies, we have a show to put on.” Jennifer’s voice was beaming as she reached for the front doors handle. Cassie could hear the sound of more cars pulling up, voices intensified gradually as people waited on the front lawn. Taking a deep breath in Cassie did what she could to keep her hands busy, hiding the shaking. Standing in front of at least one hundred people wasn’t something she looked forward to doing. She wasn’t a fan of being criticized and it seemed like the perfect opportunity for everyone to pick her apart. It was times like these she wished she had Jennifer’s confidence.
Shaking her nerves from her thoughts Abby held out a small shot glass. “Here.” She stated, grabbing the glass she stared into it wondering what hard liquor would be in there this time. “You look like you need it.” Taking in a deep breath she thanked her quickly before tossing the glass back and ingesting the alcohol. Face crinkling in disgust she did her best to swallow the burning feeling that refused to leave her throat.
“Much better.” She said, giving her friend a small smile as she shook her arms out, doing her best to loosen up.
“That’s my girl!” Jennifer exclaimed, an amused look crossing her features. Before she knew it, Jenn had thrown open the door and ushered the two outside on the wrap around porch. Heat flooded through her chest before radiating down her thighs. Her muscles seeming to catch fire as the alcohol passed through. So many sets of eyes watched her, it was time for her to transform into the Cassie everyone wanted. She flashed an eye-catching smile at the crowd noticing several faces almost immediately. Her ex-boyfriend John was among the first. She was surprised to see him; he had never been much of a partier. She stopped herself from grimacing, surely, he came to see her. In the end, it was Cassie who broke up with him and all he had done since they agreed to be friends was do his best to win her back.
“I see you’ve found your dog.” Abby laughed, elbowing her in the process. “I don’t know how you ever let that go.” Shaking her head disapprovingly, Cassie broke out in a fit of laugher, careful not to fall in her sky-high heels. Abby was right, John was a school favorite, popular among parents, and surely one of the better-looking guys on the north side if not the best. Everyone was shocked when she left him, almost relieved thinking they had a chance. He just wasn’t right. It wasn’t like he wasn’t a great guy because he was, he just wasn’t really hers. Their relationship had been forced by their parents, and basically the whole community. She couldn’t handle the pressure, it made her feel like she didn’t even have herself. But who was she kidding, she still didn’t, she was everyone else’s. A perfect doll.
He sent a shy smile her way when Jennifer’s loud whistle rang out above all else, and eventually everyone silenced themselves to hear what she had to say, sure to catch every word coming from her lips. “I just wanted to take the time this year to welcome our special guests!” She yelled, gesturing somewhere within the crowd. “Welcome in!” Her statement caused a loud rupture of applause within the audience, claps and shouts alike mingled together as Jennifer threw open the door to the house. People began flooding in and a moment later music was blaring from the living room. Cassie could feel the vibrations hit her through the wall. They of course held their positions on the porch, Jenn wanted to make sure her target made it through the door. She was like a predator on the hunt, her eyes scanned the incoming crowd carefully. John came into her view only moments later.
“Is there any way we can talk?” He nervously ran a hand through his blond hair, doing his best to look her in the eyes.
“Uh, yeah. That’s fine.” She forced her words out, crossing her arms over her chest. He motioned for her to sit on a nearby swing and she quickly shook her head, taking a shaky step backward. “Is later alright?” He froze, slowly agreeing to her proposal.
“I’ll see you soon Cass.” He pulled her in for a quick hug, tenderly kissing her forehead. Sighing, she was relieved when he joined the crowd. Her cheeks burned harshly at the thought of everyone seeing their intimate encounter. Pushing the thought aside Cassie began glancing around nervously, her attention soon fell on Jennifer who was seething relentlessly. Ever since their small town had integrated the north and south sides Jennifer planned to rebel against her cold-hearted mother by associating herself with the very people she despised. It was a childish act overall, Jenn herself wasn’t serious about it until she laid eyes on Jason Miller. He was considered to be a part of the south sides elite. She vowed to have him and Jenn got everything she wanted. At least up until that moment.
Following her line of vision Cassie finally caught sight of him, killer smile, and muscled arms wrapped around another girl. Jason’s arm was slung carelessly around the brunette’s small frame; her hair fell in long waves swaying down toward the small of her back. Cassie immediately saw why her best friend had such an infatuation with him, she had no problem keeping her eyes on him as her made his way up the stairs alongside his group. Peaking at Abby, who did her best to stifle a giggle, Cassie flinched knowing the anger filling her friend. Jennifer’s fists were clenched as they approached, she was genuinely impressed when the small girl wrapped around him ceased to crack under her glare. Examining her with a questioning eye, Cassie became confused. She looked odd, appearing to be from neither the south or north side. She concluded she wasn’t from around their sleepy town.
The others soon followed them alongside many others, a girl with dark skin that seemed to gleam even in the poor lighting with sharp eyes to match and two boys, laughter erupting from their mouths as they pushed through the doorway. Time seemed to be moving slower, yet just like that, they all were gone. But not before Cassie caught the eyes of someone else among the group. He was on the taller side, with a mess of light brown hair poking out of the hat atop his head. But his eyes were what truly caught her attention, green with bits of hazel. His smile was sweet and warm, maybe even a bit mischievous. She could feel the corners of her mouth tug up a bit in return as he followed the crowd. She was sure thoughts of him would’ve continued if she wasn’t whisked away by Abagail to find a surely pissed of Jennifer.
“Can’t say I saw that one coming.” The younger girl yelled back to her. Cassie couldn’t say she did either.
Where Cassandra normally took shot after shot after shot of hard liquor to help ease her nerves, she couldn’t bring herself to do so tonight. Jack Daniel’s had been her favorite, they went all the way back to her freshman year. The burn would awaken something in her and a more carefree version of herself that was so hard to find on a normal basis would come out to play. Alcohol couldn’t help her that night, nothing could. Abby stood before her in the semi packed hallway as she pulled out something from her clutch that resembled a blunt, holding it out to Cassie she fished for a lighter.
“You’ve got to try this stuff!” That was the last thing she wanted to do. “I had to drive into the city for it a few days ago.” Shaking her head, Cassie received an annoyed sigh and a fierce eye roll.
“I think I’m going to go find John.” While that wasn’t her plan she did want to find a seat, her head was spinning rapidly.
“I swear you’re literately no fun anymore! What happened to you?” The words made her cringe as she began to walk away. She shimmied through person after person, only a bit of alcohol was spilled on her alongside a few awkwardly placed hands. She didn’t know the answer to Abby’s question and she wasn’t sure she wanted to.
Jennifer had disappeared after the incident occurred, locking herself in her room until she presumably came up with another plan. Abby then darted for the bathroom with a few of her “regulars”, slamming the door hastily, ready to get their next fix. Cassie was alone and not, all at once for the first time that night, the peace was deafening and comforting all at the same time. People greeted her and crowded around her as she made her way through the house. All she had to do was avoid John for the time being, she was unsure about almost everything but she knew in her heart she wasn’t quite ready to face him yet.
As she passed through the back hallway leading to the kitchen downstairs, she watched as some south side girls danced to the beat of the music, swaying their hips on the family coffee table. Rolling her eyes, she decided nowhere was safe to go with the amount of people that had showed up. Her best bet was to suck it up and try to enjoy what she could of the party. As if that was possible. Making her way to the living room she plopped herself into the only empty chair in the space. People danced around her and yelled over the blaring music as she tipped back a bottle of Malibu hoping it’d make the night fly by. The cool rum left her cringing where she sat, the bitter taste did nothing to improve her mood.
Hearing a loud crash from within the kitchen Cassie could see someone tumble from the chair she sat in, most likely a girl. Probably Abby. She was extremely surprised to see a flash of black hair, before her was Jennifer in Jason’s arms, his black tattoos in the form of a sleeve seemed to engulf her slender frame, taking her in whole. Mouth agape, she wasn’t sure how her friend did it, but she’d be lying if she didn’t admit she was fairly impressed. He was smirking at Jenn, steadying her with ease. Cassie hoped whoever he had come to the party with wasn’t important, she already had him wrapped around her finger tightly.
She began whispering something in his ear, surely luring him in even further until there was no way he could escape her grasp. He was intently listening, a look she wasn’t sure of crossed his features and that’s when it happened. He couldn’t have saw it coming, Jenn was ruthless and quick. By the time, he registered what was happening her red lips were on hers, arms locked around his neck. It was in that moment Cassie had realized deep inside she had wanted her friend to fail. To not get something she wanted for once, hell she couldn’t even have an ounce of happiness to herself so why did she get to? She wasn’t fond of being jealous but it seemed to be a reoccurring emotion that plagued her constantly in the last few weeks. She was losing it for sure. If only she could catch a break.
Thrusting herself from the chair she could no longer take the sight before her, making her way for the front door to her right she saw John with his back turned toward her conversing with someone on one of the many sports teams he played for. As he moved to turn around Cassie darted into the kitchen, not wanting to be seen. Not wanting to explain her actions to him or really anyone in that moment. Jennifer had disappeared along with Jason to god knows where, by the time Cassie passed by, making a bee line for the back door she let out a sigh of relief when the cool August air hit her face, blowing her blonde curls behind her. No one occupied the back porch like they normally had when Jenn’s in ground pool was filled over the summer. For the first time that night she was more than thankful to be alone. Pain shot up her shins from the bright red pumps adorning her feet, kicking them off she collapsed in the swing facing the tree line. The wind was howling, blowing the branches relentlessly every which way possible as she swung back and forth. The leaves hung on for dear life, not daring to fall into the darkness below.
She wanted to go home, yet she knew she’d never hear the end of it if she left. From Abby, from Jenn, even John. Her mom worked tirelessly at the hospital on third shift most nights. Their home was practically her own most of the time, free to do as she pleased. Loneliness would creep up on her sometimes when she laid in bed at night, she absolutely hated being alone but on the back porch amidst the vibrating walls and yells from inside the sliding glass door, she was finally grateful for it. Cassie’s head dropped into her perfectly manicured nails, her head was throbbing and tears threatened to surface in her eyes.
“You know the party’s, inside right?” She almost missed the voice coming from her right, and surely missed the sound of the door sliding opening. She couldn’t seem to raise her head, couldn’t meet the eyes of whoever was speaking to her, she was breaking inside and no one could see. Before she knew it, she was out of her seat and beside the wooden railing hoping to hide her face as she began looking out over the yard, her back turned toward the stranger.
“What do you want?” She choked out, her throat was tightening painfully making it much too hard to talk.
“Just wondering why you’d want to be standing alone outside in the cold.” His voice was deep and very rich, nice to listen to. “And surely you have to be cold in that.” He had to be referring to her dress, she wanted to see who the voice belonged to, he was a stranger to her, that she knew.
“Not sure why you care.” She crossed her arms over her chest, she was still unable to turn around and face him. For the first time since she had been out there the cold nipped at her legs and shoulders harshly, her skin becoming paper-thin
“Why wouldn’t I?” His statement was plain but it struck something in her. Wiping a lone tear from her face she whipped around fiercely. The same black hat she had seen earlier sat on his head perfectly yet this time it was turned around, the buckle facing her. His hair still effortlessly flipping up along its edges. The stranger’s hands were tucked into his pockets, shielding them from the wind. He wore jeans and a plain grey t-shirt, a hoodie looped through his right arm. On the north side people wore ensembles not just clothing, it was a way to show off so she was surprised to see him in such casual attire. But god did he pull it off. South side. “Here.” He extended his hand to her along with the jacket in hopes she would take it, yet all she could do was stare at him. Kindness was rarely offered on the north end of town, not without a price that was. “Do I have to put it on you myself?” His eyes were pleading, no other motives seemed present and he could see her physically shaking.
Cautiously reaching forward she retrieved the soft fabric, pulling it over her head. Heat continued to radiate off it, Cassie enjoyed the scent of his cologne filling her nose. Pulling the end of her dress down a little more in hopes it would cover her up but it was futile, mumbling out a quiet thank you she returned to her post on the edge of the porch facing the woods.
“You can’t tell me you’re staying out here.” He was oblivious, she had to. If she returned inside she would have to return to being herself and she wasn’t ready for that just yet. Her shrug was the only response she could give him, he wouldn’t understand.
“I mean; I could stand out here all night. I don’t mind the cold.” He sounded so sure of himself.
“There’s no need for you to.” She peered over her shoulder at him, making sure he caught her questioning glance.
“I never got to introduce myself.” He adjusted his hat carefully. “I’m Matt.” He was smiling this time when she turned, Cassie was unable to hide her own. It was infectious, even at a time like that when she felt the most vulnerable. Cassie couldn’t put a finger on it but she didn’t mind the feeling she got while sharing the company of someone she was forbidden to associate with. Maybe it was just him. Just as she was beginning to reply Cassie heard the sliding glass door open. A hip-hop song with exceptional bass was playing, it began shaking the porch once it had its hold through the open door. Turning around she was face to face with the one person she had been avoiding all night, the look on John’s face was contorted slightly with pain.
Here she was wearing another guys jacket, alone on the back porch. While she wasn’t his, he had some sort of claim on her and everyone knew not to interfere. More importantly she was the one not to put herself out there, he could but surprisingly he didn’t, he was waiting for her. Girls everywhere swooned at the thought of someone doing that, she was different. She didn’t belong in this town, Cassie so badly wanted to go far, far away after graduation. Her mom had her apply to the same schools John was planning on going to, Jenn as well. Escape wasn’t a possibility. She would always be trapped in her own personal labyrinth, never able to escape.
The sudden thought twisted her stomach making her feel sick, glancing between the two she felt claustrophobic even though she had the vast expanse of the forest before her. It was time to leave.
“Come inside Cass, it’s cold.” He extended his hand, sure to give Matt a glare in return. Those very words sealed her fate, she had no other option than to accept his offer. She knew she had to take his hand, he mother would be notified immediately if she didn’t. Associating herself with Matt meant social suicide in her eyes. Fight it.
“I’m fine, really.” She stuttered out. “It’s not that cold out.” Cassie could feel hot tears spring to her eyes once more, fear filled her chest.
“Come on, take that thing off and get in here.” John waved for her to follow, glancing one last time at her savior, she sent him a pleading look before taking John’s hand disdainfully as her led her back into the house. Cassie could feel the walls closing in on her, her chest seemingly collapsing. It became fact that she was trapped. She always would be. The labyrinth proved to be an unforgiving place, even on nights like those.