She wasn’t sure how they ended up in this situation. This wasn’t at all what she had intended to happen. Honestly, she had just answered his question and somehow they’d ended up here: sitting in his car outside the restaurant where she was meeting her mother.
Perhaps it was their date a few nights ago that had served as the catalyst; it had been seeping with domesticity, after all. Justin and his wife had been invited to a dinner party and Jessamine had made herself scarce for the evening so that Tyler and Cassie could get some alone time.
He had offered to cook dinner for her, so she’d sat on the kitchen counter and watched in fascination as he’s chopped onions and sautéed vegetables and made a cream sauce for the bowtie pasta.
“How long have you been cooking?” she asked, swinging her legs lightly from the counter top, tilting her head to the side to watch him use a wooden spoon to move the onions and vegetables around the pan.
“Since I was like twelve?” he replied, grinning at her over his shoulder. “Neither of my parents can really cook, but my grandma is amazing, so one day, I wandered into the kitchen while she was cooking us lunch and she put me to work and I just sort of fell in love.”
“Do you find yourself critiquing other people’s cooking now?” she teased, loving the way his eyes lit up when he talked about his history.
Shaking his head, he lowered the heat of the stove, but continued to move the vegetables around. “Not really, but I do enjoy discovering new recipes and new places to eat. Speaking of which, there’s this new Greek place that opened on the pier that’s supposed to be amazing. Do you wanna go next week?”
It amazed both of them how easily making plans came into the conversation. Not that Tyler wasn’t normally adept at asking people out, but when it came to Cassie, it was as though it was almost assumed that they would be hanging out again in the near future. Though, he supposed now that they were exclusive, that was completely normal.
Still, Tyler hadn’t been in a relationship in a while and Cassie wasn’t sure she’d ever been in one at all, so everything that was currently happening was a bit overwhelming. They were taking it one day at a time, both avoiding talking about what was going to happen when Cassie went back to school in a week and a half.
“Sounds good,” Cassie grinned in response. “When?”
Pursing his lips, he lifted one should as he turned to face her. “Wednesday? I have swim training every day, but Wednesdays are usually less intense because we do weight training.”
“I can’t Wednesday,” she scrunched her nose apologetically. “I’m having dinner with my mom.”
Her mother was in town for some sort of work conference and since she knew Cassie was staying with the Copelands, she had asked her daughter to get dinner. Cassie figured it was the least she could do, seeing as she was spending none of her break with her parents.
“That’s fine,” Tyler shrugged, moving away from the stove to come stand between her legs, his hands automatically coming to rest at her hips. “We can take her too. How come you didn’t tell me your mom was in town?”
“I only just found out this morning and-” It took her a moment to process what he had said. “You wanna come to dinner?”
He’d slipped that so casually into his response that he even had a hard time believing he’d said it, but now that it was out there, he supposed there was no turning back. It was strange to think that meeting the parents had literally caused the demise of his last relationship, yet here he was, offering to do that for Cassie. She really had a hold on him and he wasn’t entirely sure how he felt about it, but he figured he should at least attempt to be a good boyfriend and meeting her mother would definitely fall into that category, so he shrugged and squeezed her hips lightly. “Yeah, sure, if you want me to.”
She honestly had no idea how to respond. On one hand, she knew that Tyler offering to meet her mother was a huge step for him, considering his history with commitment, or lack thereof. On the other, they had only just become exclusive a few days before, so surely it was much too soon for him to be meeting any members of her family. Then again, she was living with his, so maybe the normal relationship timelines didn’t apply.
“Of course I want you to.”
The words left her lips of their own accord and he wasn’t sure if he was relieved or terrified to hear them. Smiling softly, he leaned in to kiss her on the lips and three days later, they were sitting in the parking lot outside of the Greek restaurant Tyler had suggested.
“You ready for this?” she spoke aloud, asking herself more than him.
“Absolutely,” he replied, hoping he sounded more convincing than he felt. When Cassie had first mentioned her mother, he had offered to come along before fully processing what he was saying and now that he was here, he wasn’t entirely sure it was the right decision. All he knew was that he wanted to make Cassie happy, and if that meant sitting through a dinner with her mother, then so be it.
Nodding, she pushed open the passenger side door and swung her feet to the ground and he followed suit, walking around the side of his car and grabbing her hand to lace their fingers together as they walked towards the front of the restaurant. She appreciated the thought behind the gesture because she was sure he was attempting to calm her nerves, but the truth was that he was being beyond perfect and it was kinda freaking her out.
If he had showed some sort of nerves, it probably would have made her feel better because at least then she would know they were on the same page. But instead he seemed extremely calm and was acting as though he had done this a million times, despite the fact that she was one hundred percent sure he’d never done this ever.
Tyler was just trying not to show any vulnerability. He wanted to be strong for Cassie, to prove to her that he could be good at this whole boyfriend thing, not realizing that his strength was causing more problems for her than it was solving.
Still, she appreciated the effort, so she squeezed his hand as they stepped through the front door and her gaze scanned over the tables in the restaurant, knowing her mother was already there because she had spotted a familiar grey sedan outside. Lynette Lackey sat at a four person table near the back of the restaurant, looking intently over the wine selection, her gray hair pulled neatly back into a ponytail at the top of her neck.
“We’re meeting someone,” Cassie smiled sweetly at the hostess when they were asked how many people were in their party, tugging Tyler towards her mother’s table, figuring she might as well get this evening over with as quickly as possible. Stretching her lips into a friendly smile as they approached, she tried not to sound too nervous as she greeted her mother. “Hey, mom.”
Lynette looked up, her expression softening at the sight of her daughter as she rose from the table to pull Cassie into a loose hug before turning to Tyler, a light smile on her lips. “And you must be Cassandra’s boyfriend. Lovely to meet you.”
It was the first time someone else had referred to Tyler as Cassie’s boyfriend and he had to admit that he liked the way it sounded.
“Tyler,” he grinned as he shook her hand. “Nice to meet you too.”
If Cassie was being completely honest, the entire situation was a bit surreal. Of course, she wondered what it would be like to be Tyler’s girlfriend, but now that she actually was, she didn’t know what to feel. She thought she would be ecstatic, but instead, she was terrified beyond belief. Plus, the fact that she’d never been in a relationship serious enough that it warranted meeting the parents was upping her nerves. And thought that this was that serious was only adding to her fear because technically speaking, she and Tyler had only been exclusive for about a week.
“So do the two of you go to school together?” Lynette asked once they had taken their seats and placed their orders with the waiter.
The question was strange, because Cassie never really shared details of her personal life with her mother, mostly because she had never gotten the sense that her mother was all that interested. Although neither of her parents had ever said so, Cassie was pretty certain that her birth had just been a desperate attempt for them to save their marriage. It didn’t work, of course, seeing as they’d still ended up getting divorced a few years later, leaving Cassie wondering why they’d ever gotten married in the first place.
She supposed it was because they thought it was what they were supposed to do. They were friends and they reached an age where society impressed upon them that it was time to get married, so they did just that, only to discover that they were better off just being friends. The divorce itself wasn’t messy in the slightest, in fact, Cassie’s parents were still good friends, but it bothered Cassie that their relationship after the divorce was not at all different than their relationship during their marriage. They cared for and respected each other, but they didn’t love each other, not the way that Tyler’s parents did, and Cassie often wondered if growing up in an environment that lacked that sort of romantic love was the reason she became so easily attached to people.
“No, actually,” Cassie shook her head, smoothing out her linen napkin over the skirt of her dress. “Tyler is Jessamine’s brother. You remember my roommate?”
“Of course,” Lynette nodded. “I can’t believe I didn’t see the family resemblance before. How is your sister?”
“Fantastic,” Tyler grinned, “She’s just enjoying college.”
“And you. Are you enjoying college?”
Tyler’s eyebrows shot up in surprise as he realized that Cassie had told her mother very little about him. Shooting him an apologetic look, Cassie responded before he could get a word out. “Tyler’s actually in his last year of high school. He’s looking at colleges right now.”
Seeing as their relationship was still so new, they hadn’t talked about what would happen when Tyler graduated. Doing long distance would be easy enough while he was still living at home, but he wasn’t considering the college she attended, which meant that there would be a point when they were going to different schools and neither of them would have the luxury of free time to drive out for visits. Still, Cassie knew she was jumping the gun and that this wasn’t a problem which needed to be solved right away, so they would cross that bridge when they came to it.
Nodding, Tyler smiled softly in response. “I’m hoping to get a swimming scholarship.”
“Oh, you’re a swimmer?” Lynette’s expression brightened. “How fantastic.”
“He’s very good,” Cassie agreed proudly, reaching out under the table to squeeze his knee. “He’s training for the Olympics.”
“That is amazing,” Lynette smiled in awe, directing the conversation towards how he was led down that path.
It was pretty amazing, Cassie thought as she watched Tyler and her mother engage in conversation, how easily it all seemed to come. Tyler had affected her strongly since the moment they met, but she was thinking he was always meant to have some sort of place in her life.
She was falling for him; she was pretty sure she had been since the day she walked into her apartment to find him sleeping on her couch. And as much as she knew that it was always going to end up this way on her end, she was starting to wonder if this was a good idea.
Declaring that he wanted to be exclusive was a huge step for Tyler and she understood that and she couldn’t be more thrilled that he thought she was worth that kind of commitment. But falling for him meant that Cassie was thinking about their future and she wasn’t sure Tyler was at that stage yet. It wasn’t his fault, they were still young, after all, but Cassie knew that if she gave her heart to Tyler fully and he broke it, she would end up completely shattered.
Which was why she needed some advice. Under normal circumstances, she would have gone to Jessamine, but considering the conflict she was having was about Jessamine’s brother, Cassie went to someone she knew wouldn’t judge her for her inner turmoil.
After Tyler kissed her goodnight outside her door and told her that he was so glad they had done this, he turned in for the night, having to get up at the crack of dawn the next day for swim training. Cassie was secretly grateful that his grueling schedule meant he’d be out about thirty seconds after his head hit the pillow and that Jessamine was still out to dinner with her parents. So she waited until she was sure he was fast asleep and grabbed the spare keys to Jessamine’s car, which she had been shown the location of in case she ever needed it, and exited quietly through the front door.
Twenty minutes later, she was sitting on Kira and Jamie’s couch with her fingers wrapped around a mug of tea as listened to Kira convince her boyfriend that what was about to happen was a girl on girl conversation. Jamie had no idea what that meant, but he respected Kira’s need for privacy with her friends, so he took the opportunity to go for a jog, bidding Cassie goodbye after kissing Kira firmly on the lips.
“So,” Kira said, plopping down on the couch beside Cassie and crossing her legs beneath her. “What’s going on?”
Cassie wasn’t entirely sure where to begin, so she just blurted out the underlying issue. “I’m falling in love with Tyler.”
Kira’s eyebrows shot up in surprise and her first instinct was to grin widely, mostly because this wasn’t new information, until she saw the furrow in Cassie’s brow. “I take it that’s a problem?”
“I don’t know,” Cassie admitted. “I mean, I’ve felt something for him since the moment we met, and I was so happy when we finally seemed to be on the same page, but now I’m starting to think that we didn’t really think it through. We just sort of jumped in without giving any thought to how it would all play out.”
“I think you’re gonna have to explain a little more,” Kira said, not completely following what was going on.
The trouble was that Cassie had no idea how to explain the knots in her stomach either. She took a deep breath in and exhaled slowly as she attempted to figure out what she was trying to say. “What if things don’t work out with us? There’s so much that could go wrong. Like, tonight, when we were at dinner, I was listening to him tell my mom about all of his plans and-”
“Wait a second,” Kira interrupted, unsure she’d heard correctly. “He met your mother?”
“Yeah,” she winced. “It wasn’t like I asked him to. I just sort of mentioned that I was getting dinner with her and he said he would come along.”
“Cassie,” Kira laughed, a bit in awe. Seeing as she and Jamie had known each other since they were in diapers, meeting the parents had never been a big relationship milestone for them, but it was for everyone else, especially Tyler. “This is a guy who literally dumped the only other girlfriend he’s ever had because she wanted him to meet her parents, so the fact that he volunteered to go meet one of yours means that he’s all in.”
“I know,” Cassie assured the older girl. “I don’t doubt his commitment to me, but that kind of makes it worse. Because if this ends badly, then both of us are going to end up wounded.”
“Why are you so sure it’s gonna end badly?” Kira shrugged, genuinely curious because she never would have pegged Cassie as a pessimistic person.
“Maybe I’m just being cynical,” Cassie sighed. “I just can’t stop thinking about how much we’re going to have to overcome. He’s graduating soon and we’re going to be at different universities and then I’m graduating and who even knows where I’m going to end up working.”
“But that’s all a long way off,” Kira furrowed her brow in confusion. “You can’t do anything about it right now, so why are you stressing about it?”
“Because,” Cassie inhaled sharply. “If we call it quits now, then maybe we have a chance of staying friends. The longer we wait, the more invested we get in each other and the more we’re going to end up hating each other when it’s all over.”
What was saddest about that statement was that there was a time where Kira would have had exactly the same point of view. But that was before she’d realized that being with Jamie was worth any pain she could possibly go through and she hoped that one day, Cassie would see that Tyler was worth it too.
“Look, I get it,” Kira reached out to lay her fingers comfortingly over Cassie’s wrist. “I studied abroad for a couple years after Jamie and I first started dating and I broke up with him, because that was my thought process too. I was afraid the distance would make us end up resenting each other and I figured being heartbroken and getting to still have him in my life was better than not having him in my life at all.”
“But you still ended up together,” Cassie pointed out.
“Yeah,” Kira laughed quietly and shrugged. “If I was more of a romantic, I might say it was destiny. All I really know is that two years away didn’t change how I felt about Jamie.”
Cassie tilted her head to the side as she processed this information. “Are you saying that if you had to do it over, you wouldn’t have ended things?”
Parting her lips, Kira thought for a moment before shaking her head. “I think I still would have broken up with him. I don’t think I would have become the person I am today if we’d stayed together, so in that sense I’m glad it happened, but I also don’t think I would have ever been happy just being friends with him.”
All of this made sense, but it still left Cassie at a crossroads in her relationship with Tyler. “So what should I do?”
Smiling softly, Kira squeezed Cassie’s wrist comfortingly. “I can’t tell you that, babe. I know the future is terrifying and you don’t want to get hurt, but the truth is that no matter what you choose to do, there’s going to be bumps in the road. You just have to decide whether being with Tyler outweighs anything bad that could possibly happen.”
That was a lot to think about.
Understanding the struggle, Kira moved her hand upwards to pull Cassie into a hug. “Do you want to crash on the couch tonight? I’ll let Jessa know that you’re here.”
Not particularly up for driving, Cassie nodded, suddenly feeling extremely exhausted. Kira kissed the top of her head before pushing herself from the couch to go find a blanket and pillow while Cassie stretched out on the couch, hoping that maybe her dreams would tell her what to do.