She soaked in the bath until the water was room temperature, deciding that the longer she could avoid the Copelands – or one Copeland in particular – the better. Though, she supposed it wouldn’t be entirely difficult, seeing as he seemed to be doing the same to her.
He had been different when he’d reemerged from the house, a few minutes after Caroline, avoiding Cassie’s eye contact and keeping his distance for the rest of the gathering. Cassie knew better than to try to confront him publicly, but she didn’t even get the chance to do so privately. Once the kids all dispersed to go get ready for the concert, she had slid into the backseat of Tyler’s car, hoping to catch his gaze a few times in the rearview mirror and maybe get a glimpse into his thought process, but he kept his eyes laser focused on the road. Even after they’d stepped into the Copeland house, he’d made a beeline for the stairs and locked himself in his bedroom before she could get a word out.
So she decided that avoidance could go both ways. It wasn’t a particularly mature response, but she didn’t know what else to do.
Apparently kissing him had been a terrible idea. She’d enjoyed it quite a bit in the moment: the way his fingers pressed into her skin and she could feel his eyelashes brushing against the tops of her cheeks and how he varied the pressure on her lips, going from soft and sweet to hard and rough and then back to long and passionate. And when her eyes had opened to meet his, she could have sworn she saw something there, some sort of spark of realization that indicated he felt the same way. Kissing Tyler had been everything she expected it to be: delicious and thrilling and leaving her wanting more.
And she did want more. Even after she returned to the gathering, she couldn’t wait to be alone with him again.
But apparently he didn’t feel the same way. She wondered what could have changed in such a short amount of time.
Curling her hands over the two edges of the tub, she lifted herself from the water, stepping onto the cold tile floor and reaching for the towel before she could start shivering. She wrapped the pink terry cloth around her frame before flattening her hands atop the white marble bathroom counter and staring at her reflection in the mirror.
This wasn’t a particularly new scenario. Cassie was the master of getting easily attached to people who didn’t return the feeling. She really should have learned better by now. It had happened before, and she was sure it would happen again, but it had never quite made her feel this way: as though every part of her body was aching.
Perhaps it was time she stopped giving her heart away so easily, she thought, standing up straight and reaching for her makeup bag. Perhaps the secret to not feeling lonely was not caring.
Tyler never pretended as though he had any idea what he was doing. More often than not, when it came to something that didn’t involve swimming, he was hopelessly clueless.
However, this time, he knew he had done something wrong. He shouldn’t have avoided Cassie after the kiss, he knew that, but he needed time to think about what Caroline had said.
What everyone had said, really. Because he’d heard this warning about seventy times since meeting Cassie and he hadn’t heeded it at all. He had wanted to kiss her because he was intrigued and he generally wanted to kiss all girls, but when it actually happened, he had been caught off guard. Perhaps it was the shock that caused him to practically devour her as he attempted to savor the taste of her lips.
In the end, Caroline was right, though. It wasn’t fair to Cassie for him to respond that way without knowing where it was going, especially when Jessamine was going to unknowingly end up in the middle of all of it.
The problem was that he still didn’t know what he wanted. He did know that he enjoyed kissing Cassie and would like many repeat performances. But what did that mean? Ever since his first attempt at having a girlfriend had gone horribly wrong, he’d steered clear of relationships in general. And he didn’t know whether or not Cassie wanted a relationship, but even sneaking around casually was going to end in heartache some way or another and he knew it.
Still, he had never been the kind to plan out emotional speeches in advance, so he decided that he just needed to be brave and knock on her door and talk it out before they had to leave for Piper’s concert. So, after running his fingers through his curls and adjusting the narrow black silk tie he was wearing over his black and white pin striped shirt, he did just that.
He waited a few seconds after she called out that she would be there in a minute before the door opened to reveal her wearing a fluffy purple robe and he had flashbacks to the previous weekend when he’d walked into her bedroom and watched her getting ready for the party. He couldn’t figure out why that weekend felt like a lifetime ago.
“Hey,” he breathed out, sticking his hands into the pockets of his black slacks and rocking back and forth in his dress shoes. He wasn’t normally a fan of dressing up to this extent, but this was a special occasion. “Can I come in?”
Without any buildup and considering the circumstances, those words were extremely inappropriate, but he didn’t want Jessamine to overhear any part of their conversation. He was surprised to find he didn’t need to provide an explanation, because she stepped to the side to allow him to enter.
Cassie was acting more out of shock than rationality, because considering all that had happened that day, she was surprised that Tyler was the one coming to her to talk. After closing the door, she pressed her back against it, flattening her palms as though that was the only way to keep herself upright.
“Did you need something?” she asked quietly, her heart racing as she anticipated all the possible responses to that question.
He tilted his head to the side and stared at her for a moment, his hands still stuck in his pockets. “Yeah, I just wanted to say I’m sorry.”
“For what?” Her voice came out just above a whisper, wondering what he was going to apologize for: kissing her or ignoring her afterwards.
“Earlier,” he began slowly, removing one hand from his pocket to gesture between the two of them. “When we…when you…”
He was struggling for words, not entirely sure how to phrase what he was thinking, but she assumed that the reason he was stumbling was because he didn’t know how to let her down easy, so she decided just to end his suffering.
“It’s alright, I get it,” she cut in, watching as he let out a sigh of relief. “You regret kissing me back, which is why you’ve been avoiding me ever since.”
There were many things Tyler felt about their current situation, but regret was definitely not one of them. His lips parted to correct her, but she was already speaking again before he could get a word out.
“It’s probably better this way, anyway.”
Those were the last words he was expecting her to say and he didn’t quite understand them. Because how could anything be better if there was less kissing involved?
“What do you mean?” he managed to get out after he gulped, feeling as though he’d just swam a ten lap sprint.
She chewed on her lower lip for a moment before responding. “Your sister asked me to spend my between term break here and I agreed.”
It had happened about two minutes after she’d left Tyler and Caroline in the hallway. Cassie had stretched out on the pool chair beside Jessamine and her roommate had turned to her and asked her if she had any plans for break. When Cassie replied no, other than splitting her time between her parents’ houses, Jessamine had offered their guest bedroom as a crash pad until school started again. Figuring that spending break with one of her best friends was much better than being miserable with either one of her parents, Cassie agreed. It wasn’t until Tyler started keeping his distance that she wondered if that had been the right decision, but by that time, it was too late to take it back.
It took Tyler a few moments to process her words. “So…you’re going to be living with us for a few weeks.”
“Yep,” Cassie nodded, finally finding the strength to push herself off the door and stand up straight. “So it’s good if we just establish that there’s nothing going on between us, because then Jessamine doesn’t have to find out and things between us won’t be weird, you know?”
She had thought a lot about what she would say to Tyler the next time they got a chance to talk privately, about how she wanted to clear up things between them. There was a part of her that wanted to throw her arms around his neck and kiss him breathless, but after seeing how he’d reacted to the first time they kissed, she had a feeling that road would only end in heartache. So this was the only other option: to end it before it could begin and possibly spare two lives in the process.
This wasn’t at all what Tyler wanted. In fact, it was practically the complete opposite of what he wanted. One kiss hadn’t been enough to quench his thirst for her and now she was saying they were never going to go there again. Surely, there had to be something he could say to change her mind.
Unfortunately, he had never been good with words, so before he could form a coherent speech in his head, she had reached back to pull open the door again and was waiting expectantly for him to leave.
“I have to finish getting ready,” she said, keeping her tone as emotionless as possible. “I’ll see you downstairs in a little bit.”
Her normally expressive face was stone cold and it chilled him to the core, so he obeyed her request and silently walked out, turning to try and say something again, but finding the door had been shut behind him.
The rest of the night was kind of a blur. Jessamine sat between them in the back seat of Justin’s Escalade on the way to the concert venue and there were plenty of people to act as buffers between them as they sat in the velvet audience chairs.
Generally speaking, Tyler was a great audience member because he wasn’t afraid to shout out his support, but his mind was a million miles away. Not even Lucy, the personification of sunshine could put a dent in his mood.
Perhaps it was because he didn’t know what he feeling. There were a million things he wanted to say to Cassie; like how he loved the taste of her lips and the way her body seemed to fit so perfectly against his and how he liked the way she laughed with her entire body and crinkled her eyes and sometimes even shed a tear and how she looked really pretty in her floaty mint green dress, sitting four seats away from him in the performance hall. He wanted to tell her that he had no idea where things between them were going, but he knew that he didn’t for one second regret kissing her back and that if she hadn’t done it first, he most certainly would have done it sooner or later.
He wanted to tell her all of that, but at the end of the night, he still couldn’t seem to find the words. So he watched her disappear into her room when they returned home from the Brewer house where family dinner was held and finally understood what it was like to feel completely lost. And as he lay in bed that night, staring at the ceiling, he couldn’t shake the feeling that letting her walk away would be the biggest mistake of his life.
For the second night in a row, he didn’t sleep at all. This time, it wasn’t heart racing excitement that kept him awake: it was knowing that he’d let Cassie down.
She hadn’t said those words specifically. In fact, it had been her idea not to allow their relationship to progress any further, but in his reaction to their first kiss, he’d somehow managed to completely mess things up before they even had a chance to get started.
Sighing, he turned on his side, reaching for his phone on the nightstand to check the time. It was just past two in the morning and it didn’t seem as though sleep was anywhere close to overcoming his body. It was a good thing that he didn’t have swim training on Sundays because he could already tell that come morning light, he would be exactly the opposite of energized and focused.
It was mind boggling, he thought, plopping back against his pillow and staring at the rotations of his ceiling fan once more, how one person could have such a vehement effect on another. He had known her just over a week – nine days, to be precise – yet he already felt as though he’d gone through more of an emotional roller coaster than he ever had in his entire relationship with Lindsay.
His eyelids fluttered closed, but immediately shot open again when he heard a sound coming from the hallway. He knew his sister could sleep through a hurricane, so the only person on the second floor of the house who could be making noise at this hour was Cassie. It was a long shot, he knew, but he was also achingly aware that he needed to talk things out with her, so he pushed back his bedcovers and swung his feet to the floor.
Reaching for a discarded hoodie, he zipped it up over his bare chest and tugged a pair of basketball shorts over his boxers before slowly opening his bedroom door to find the hallway empty. He surely would have heard her leave earlier if she was returning to her room, which meant the only way she could have gone was down.
Inhaling deeply, he descended the stairs, padding towards the kitchen to find that his theory was right. She stood with her back to him, slowly opening and closing cupboard doors, presumably in search of a glass.
“They’re in the cupboard to your right,” he said, sticking his hands into the pockets of his shorts.
She startled, turning her head over her shoulder, her heart rate quickening for multiple reasons, the surprise of finding she wasn’t alone pretty low down on the list. Lifting the corners of her lips into a small smile, she reached for the appropriate cupboard and pulled out a glass, closing the door slowly as to not cause a racket before turning towards the refrigerator to dispense some cold water.
“Thanks,” she whispered, pressing her glass against the dispenser and filling her glass. She raised it to her lips, taking a long sip before she spoke again. “What are you doing up? It’s late.”
It wasn’t until he was forced to speak that he realized he was holding his breath. “I can’t sleep.”
She knew the feeling. She had quite literally counted sheep until she realized it was not helping in the slightest. Despite believing everything she had said to Tyler and knowing that her decision to say things wouldn’t go any further had been the right one, she felt unsettled, as though things between them still weren’t resolved.
“Me neither,” she admitted, setting her glass on the island and resting her forearms on the granite countertop.
Tilting his head to the side, he stared at her. “How come?”
He knew what he hoped her answer would be: that she had been thinking about him and she knew that he was practically reading her mind, but she was tired and more than anything she just wanted to feel content, so she let out a frustrated sigh in response. “Can we not play games right now? I’m exhausted, Tyler. What do you want?”
“You,” he replied automatically, because the answer was so blatantly obvious. “I want you, Cassie.”
She blinked once, her exasperation only increasing. “You can’t keep saying things like that to me.”
“Why not?” he countered, recalling the last time he’s said a variation on those same words, in her apartment a week ago. He’d meant it then and he meant it now and he didn’t understand why she couldn’t seem to grasp his sincerity. “It’s the truth.”
Every particle in her body wanted to believe that was true, but his behavior over the past few hours had conveyed the opposite impression. Perhaps, now that they were alone and both had some time to think, she could get a reason behind his sudden shift in attitude. Her words came out soft and slightly shaky. “Is it? Because after I kissed you…”
He winced at the reminder, knowing they always would have had to have this conversation eventually. He supposed now was as good a time as any to do so. “I was a jerk, I know, and I’m sorry.”
“You were caught up in the moment,” Cassie offered an explanation. “And afterwards, you realized it was a huge mistake.”
“No!” His eyes widened in horror. She hadn’t given him the chance to set the record straight earlier and he was determined to do so now. “It wasn’t a mistake and I don’t regret kissing you back, not for a minute.”
The revelation that the feelings she had weren’t entirely one sided caused her to freeze and her fingers curled around the base of her glass as she asked the question that had been on her mind for hours. “Then what changed?”
Sighing, he twisted his torso slowly from side to side out of nervous habit. “Caroline. After you went back outside, she said some stuff to me that kind of freaked me out.”
Although Tyler generally tried to be as honest as possible, he wasn’t used to making himself vulnerable and he was absolutely terrified as to how the situation would unfold.
Cassie had wondered if Caroline had something to do with it; if she’d reiterated the warning Jessamine had apparently given her brother a week before about not breaking Cassie’s heart. Although Cassie appreciated everyone’s concern for her feelings, she didn’t think she needed to be protected. She was capable of taking care of herself and if her heart did end up broken it would be because she made the decision to give it to someone entirely on her own.
“What did she say?” she asked, genuinely curious.
“That if anything else was going to happen between us, then we need to realize that it affects more than just the two of us,” he replied slowly.
Cassie supposed she hadn’t thought about it that way. For once in her life, she’d acted completely on impulse and it had turned out to be disastrous. But Caroline was right; Cassie hadn’t been thinking about the big picture. Of course, Jessamine would be affected, but now that Cassie had officially been welcomed into the Flux family, the list of people she needed to include in her thought processes had become quite a bit longer.
Fingers curling around her glass, she lifted it to her mouth to finish the rest of her water before stepping towards the sink to rinse it out.
“She’s right,” Tyler heard her say as she placed the newly rinsed glass into the dishwasher. “We didn’t really think about anybody else.”
“Because this isn’t about anybody else,” he cut in, taking a step towards her when she walked around the side of the counter, stopping her when their bare toes were a few inches apart. “This about you and me, Cassie. Like I said, I want you. But all you have to do is tell me that there’s not even the smallest part of you that still wants me too and I’ll walk away.”
Admittedly, he had been terrified when Caroline had mentioned the implications of taking his relationship with Cassie further. He had been so excited that their relationship was progressing at all, that he hadn’t really taken into consideration how it would all play out. But the more he thought about it, the more he realized that what he felt was simple: he liked her. The consequences could be dealt with later.
She held her breath as she tilted her chin up so she could look into his eyes, wishing that she was a better liar. Because she knew that once she told the truth, nothing would be the same; once it was out there, they couldn’t turn back. She meant what she had told him; how it would be much less complicated if they both just moved on, especially now that she was spending her break in the Copeland house. But Cassie’s emotions were written all over her face and Tyler knew her answer even before she breathed it out.
“I can’t. It wouldn’t be true.”
The corners of his lips lifted into a smile as he took another step forward. “I know.”
And then he was kissing her. His hands were cupping her cheeks and his lips were pressing against hers and she could feel his mouth curving into a smile. She melted against him, her fingers curling around the soft cotton of his hoodie, clutching it in her fist as she returned the pressure and was reminded of how wonderful the experience of kissing Tyler had been the first time. At some point in their lives, everyone deserved to be kissed the way Tyler kissed her, Cassie thought; thoroughly and passionately, as though nothing mattered beyond the two of them and that exact moment.
Her eyelids stayed closed for a few moments when he pulled away, her breathing shallow as she attempted to remember how to form coherent thoughts. He appreciated her lack of words because his brain was also a bit fuzzy. He already wanted to kiss her again, but he also wanted to see how she would react to being the one caught off guard; to not being in control.
“Shit,” she sighed, bringing her fingers to massage her still tingling lips as she took a step backwards, hoping the distance would suppress some of the dizziness she felt from being so near him. “Shit, shit, shit.”
He had no idea why she was cursing, but he still found it fascinating that the words sounded so sweet coming from her lips. Tilting his head to the side, he stuck his hands in the pockets of his hoodie to keep from reaching out and pulling her against the length of his torso again, respecting her need for space. “What?”
When her gaze snapped back to his, her golden eyes were wide with confusion. “Where do we go from here, Tyler?”
His lips parted to suggest his bedroom before he realized that wasn’t what she meant. “I don’t know…”
His excitement to get to the physical part had completely clouded the rational part of his brain.
As much as she had been ecstatic to discover that her impulsiveness had not been in vain, there had been a reason she had told him that it was better if things didn’t go any further; because how the hell were they going to define their relationship now?
“I don’t wanna hide things from Jessamine,” Cassie said after few moments of tense silence. “I don’t like keeping secrets from her, especially now that your family is being so kind in letting me stay here over break. She doesn’t deserve to be lied to.”
“Then we don’t lie to her,” he shrugged. He had no problem being honest with his sister, despite knowing that he was going to get some sort of lecture about not breaking Cassie’s heart. “We tell her the truth about us.”
She blinked once, not expecting him to offer such a simple solution. “And what is the truth about us? What are we even doing? Hooking up? Making out occasionally until we get bored of each other and move on?”
Part of her thought process was being respectful of Jessamine, but there was a part of her that also wanted to know how he felt about what they were doing. She wasn’t asking him for anything in particular, and if it turned out that he just wanted to get physical every now and then, she could learn to be okay with that. She’d heard he was a bit of a commitmentphobe, after all, and they’d only known each other for a week, so it wasn’t as though she was going to expect him to change for a girl he barely knew.
But Cassie liked rules and she liked boundaries and she liked knowing where she stood, so she would accept whatever Tyler wanted, as long as he was clear.
“Is that what you think?” he asked, a bit hurt that she would think he was that shallow. Granted, he probably deserved it. “That I’m using you and I’ll just dispose of you as soon as something better comes along? I may be bad at relationships, but I’m not an asshole.”
Her lips parted in confusion. She hadn’t meant to insult him; she was just stating what she’d heard from his sister generally happened with girls he kissed. But in the process of trying to find some clarity, she’d somehow hurt his feelings and she didn’t know how to remedy that situation.
“I know that,” she whispered, wanting to comfort him, but knowing that she wouldn’t be satisfied with just a tiny bit of physical contact. “I don’t think you’re an asshole, Tyler. I just want to know what this is.”
Tyler knew very little about Cassie. He didn’t know what she studied in school or where she was from or her favorite type of food, but he did know that in the week since he met her, he’d thought about her at least five times a day and sometimes even at night.
And that had to mean something. You didn’t keep someone on your mind who didn’t hold some claim over your heart.
But Tyler was still terrified. He was only eighteen, after all, and just because he enjoyed kissing Cassie and would like to do much more of it didn’t mean that he thought they were going to fall in love and date happily ever after. He couldn’t change who he was or his fear of committed relationships and it wasn’t until he parted his lips to confess that he realized she wasn’t asking him to.
All she wanted was clarity: a spoken agreement as to what was happening between them, not a promise that he wouldn’t shatter her heart.
So he inhaled deeply and spoke quietly. “We’re seeing where it goes. Look, I have no idea where this is gonna go or what’s going to happen between us, but I know that I like you and I want to get to know you better and when we tell my sister, that’s what we can say.”
She appreciated his honesty and she could tell that was probably the best offer she was gonna get, so she tilted her head to the side and lifted the corners of her lips into a smile. “That we’re getting to know each other?”
A sense of relief washed over him as he felt the tension which had existed since their first meeting disappeared. Finally, it seemed as though they were on the same page.
“Yeah,” he stretched his lips into a smile, reaching out to grab her hips and pull her close. “And I think the means you should let me take you on a date when you come back for break.”
Her grin soon matched his. “I think I’d like that.”
“I think so too,” he whispered, leaning down to press his lips to hers.
He felt her laugh vibrate against his lips and he thought he’d never felt so completely content in his entire life as he wrapped his arms around her and held her as close as possible.
She melted against his body, her lips curved into a smile as she returned the pressure on his mouth. Taking it slow was probably the best way to go, anyway. It would give Jessamine time to get used to what was happening while Tyler and Cassie figured out what they meant to each other. And Cassie was quite looking forward to the exploration.
“I should go.”
The words didn’t sound at all convincing leaving her mouth, probably because about three seconds after they were spoken, his lips were pressed to hers once more. They had done very little talking since leaving the kitchen, a mutual decision with which she was quite happy.
After they decided that they would see where things go between them, Tyler had tugged her upstairs and into his bedroom and they’d fallen asleep almost immediately. With Cassie’s head on his chest and her arms hugging her close, they’d finally allowed their bodies rest to recover from what had been an emotionally taxing few days.
A few hours later, Cassie had woken and tilted her head back to see Tyler gazing down at her and before she could greet him, his lips were on top of hers. And that was how they spent the next few hours: wrapped in each other, hands exploring each other’s bodies over their clothes and sometimes slipping beneath the soft cotton of their sweatshirts, their legs tangled and their kisses slow and deep.
It wasn’t until the sun was illuminating the navy blue curtains in his window that Cassie realized she should probably make her exit.
“I’m serious,” she giggled, pushing him away and turning to lie on her back, creating distance so that her heartbeat could slow a bit and she could catch her breath and swatting his hand away when he reached across to try and pull her against the length of his torso once more. “The last thing we need is for one of your parents or your sister to come in and find me in your bed.”
He decided not mention that it wouldn’t be the first time his parents found a girl in his bed. Tyler was too happy to risk ruining it. His mind was filled with Cassie; how he could feel her smiling into their kisses and how when she laughed it reverberated through his entire body and how she was so close that he could count every freckle splattered across her face. As saddened as he was that the kissing was going to stop, he was enjoying the time they had together and didn’t want to scare her away, so he settled for propping himself up on his elbow and letting out a reluctant sigh. “One more kiss?”
Knowing that pressing her lips to his while she was still lying next to him wouldn’t be productive in the slightest, she laughed as she rolled off the bed, planting her hands on the edge of the mattress when she was standing and leaning down to give him a quick kiss before turning towards the door. “I’ll see you later.”
He extended his arm in an attempt to grab her and pull her back, but she was out of reach too quickly, so he laughed quietly as he lay back on the pillow, watching in awe as she slowly opened the door to check the hallway before slipping outside and blowing him a kiss as she disappeared. Sighing, he couldn’t wipe the grin off his face as he stared at his ceiling, thinking he couldn’t believe how much had changed in just a few hours.
Across the hall, Cassie was equally excited as she prepared to get ready for the day, too hyped up to go back to sleep. She showered until the water ran cold, singing to herself and just generally grinning from ear to ear, knowing that anyone who saw her would think she was insane. She didn’t particularly care, though. For as long as she could, she was going to enjoy being happy.
She was grinning as she skipped into the kitchen to find the entire Copeland family eating at the breakfast table, Jessamine looking bleary eyed at the early hour despite having already showered, and Tyler perking up as soon as Cassie entered the room. He watched her steadily from beneath his long eyelashes, holding back a smirk at the way her cheeks reddened at his stare and she quickly turned towards the kitchen to find the kettle and hide the fact that she was flustered.
It occurred to him that she looked completely natural in the kitchen; finding the tea bags and mugs and pouring hot water without even asking where anything was and he wondered how it was possible that he could know her for such a short amount of time and she could so seamlessly fit into his life.
“Good morning,” she said brightly once she had a cup of a tea and newly toasted waffle, sliding into the chair beside Justin, as far away from Tyler as possible, which he realized was probably a good thing because he’d never been particularly good at being subtle.
“Morning, Cassie,” Justin raised one eyebrow in surprised, unused to such energy from the young people in the house at the breakfast table. “You’re chipper. Did you sleep well?”
Cassie glanced briefly towards Tyler to find him smirking like there was no tomorrow and her cheeks heated at the memory of being curled against his body with her head resting on his chest as she nodded slowly. “Like a baby.”
“We’re excited that you’re staying with us over break,” Justin’s wife piped up, grabbing the syrup bottle from in front of her son and passing it down the table to Cassie, remembering how Jessamine had asked for permission for her roommate to stay over during family dinner the previous night. “I hope your parents don’t mind too much that we’re stealing you away.”
Hesitating for a moment as she popped open the top of the syrup bottle, but her voice held no trace of self-pity when she lifted one shoulder in a shrug and replied. “They’ll probably be relieved that they don’t have to figure out how to spend time with me while I travel back and forth between two houses.”
There was a moment of tense silence as the Copelands contemplated the absurdity of that statement. Because despite the fact that Tyler and Jessamine’s childhood had been far from normal, what with their father being in a world famous touring rock band, they had never lacked parental love. The years up until Jessamine started school were spent traveling with the band because their mother worked for the band’s management, but even after Justin’s wife had settled into a job that didn’t require so much travel so that the kids could go to school in one place, they had never been left to imagine whether or not their father loved them, because Justin made sure he was always connected to his family, no matter where he was in the world.
Tyler wanted nothing more than wrap Cassie in his arms and hold her until any sadness within her vanished, but knew better than express those emotions in front of his entire family, so he held back as Jessamine took his place in the comforting department by reaching out and squeezing Cassie’s shoulder and Justin broke the stiffness in the room by speaking. “Well, we’re more than happy to have you.”
Keeping her lips pressed together as she shot Justin a small smile, Cassie turned her attention to dousing her waffle with syrup as Jessamine steered the conversation into less awkward territory. Soon enough, the kitchen was filled with laughter as Justin recounted stories of the frustrating yet hilarious life of being on the road with young kids and Cassie couldn’t help but think that she’d never felt more at home in her life.
When their plates were clean and their mugs empty, they cleared the table and put away the dirty dishes in the dishwasher and Cassie expertly avoided making any physical contact with Tyler in fear that she might end up blushing profusely and hurried up the stairs to finish packing as soon as she could.
She had just finished fluffing the decorative pillow up against the headboard of the bed she’d hardly slept in the night before when she heard a knock on the door. Without looking up, she bid the person enter and when she turned around, was surprised to find Tyler stepping into the room, shutting the door behind him as he did.
“Hey,” she lifted her eyebrows, shuffling her feet to face him completely. “What’s going on?”
At some point, she knew they would have to say goodbye, which would be bittersweet, even if was only for a couple weeks, but she had assumed the farewell would take place closer to her actual departure. Though, now that she thought about it, privacy probably was the way to go.
But Tyler wasn’t there to say goodbye. Honestly, he had no idea why he was there, he just knew that his heart hurt a little when he saw the way her expression shifted at the mention of her parents and he wanted to make sure she was okay. So he didn’t say anything, just took two steps across the room, pressed her cheeks between his palms, and kissed her firmly on the lips.
She melted immediately against his chest, her fingers curling to clutch the front of his t-shirt into her fist, her eyes fluttering open slowly when he pulled away, leaving her feeling deliciously dizzy.
“What was that for?” she stammered out, not that she was complaining, but she had been caught off guard.
His palms were still cupping her face, his thumbs stroking her cheekbones as his concerned eyes scanned her expression. “I’m sorry about your parents.”
Blinking in confusion, her hands flattened against his chest as she wondered why her parents were on his mind when hers was completely clouded and hazy. “What do you mean?”
“I just want you to know,” he said softly, “that I’m here for things other than kissing.”
Still completely bewildered as to what was happening, she pushed herself away from his chest and stepped backwards until they were no longer touching, hoping that lessening their proximity would clear her mind. “And you thought the best way to show me that was to kiss me?”
He blinked as he realized how dramatic his actions had been, but in his defense, he didn’t really have much experience with these kinds of situations. Shoving his hands into the pockets of his basketball shorts and rocking back and forth on his bare toes, he shrugged. “Sorry, I don’t really know how to do this.”
“Do what?” she cleared her throat and reached down to grab her overnight duffel bag, setting atop the newly made bed and proceeding to check that all her belongings were present and accounted for. “You’re not my boyfriend, Tyler. I don’t need you to be emotionally supportive. We’re not at that point, you know? Where we tell each other the deep, serious stuff. It’s too early in…whatever this is.”
She didn’t want to refer to what they were doing as a relationship because that seemed too definite, too potentially heartbreaking, but the words that came out instead sounded a little harsh. Wincing at her word choice, she turned to face him once more, finding that he was struggling for what to say as well.
Although the bluntness of her response was a pang to his heart, he supposed he couldn’t blame her, because he was the one who said they would just figure it out as they went along. All he knew was that he wanted to be there for her and one way or another, he would prove to her that he could.
“Speaking of…whatever this is,” he veered the subject in a new direction. “We need to tell my sister.”
She sighed, knowing he was right. She had been so enveloped in her little bubble of happiness that she’d completely avoided thinking about Jessamine, but her roommate deserved to know the truth sooner rather than later. They needed to tell her before she and Cassie headed back to college.
“Okay,” she exhaled deeply once she’d ensured all of her clothes were inside and turning towards the bathroom to check if she’d left any toiletries. “But I think I should do it by myself. I feel like it’ll be better coming from me since she never specifically told me to stay away from you.”
“I wonder why that is,” Tyler replied, plopping down on the edge of the bed, his tone teasing. “She obviously shouldn’t trust you as much as she does.”
Cassie shrugged as she returned from the bathroom, her toothbrush and face wash in hand. “It’s not really a trust issue. She probably just didn’t think I’d be interested.”
Lifting his eyebrows in surprise, Tyler leaned back, resting on his flattened palms. Maybe he had just always assumed that because he loved all girls, all girls loved him as well, which in retrospect was a pretty egotistical attitude to have. Still, Tyler was well aware of his considerable physical attributes and often used his pretty face to his advantage, a fact his sister had rolled her eyes at more than once, so he found it interesting that Jessamine would think Cassie wouldn’t give him a second glance. “Why is that? Am I not your usual type?”
She decided not to mention that in order to have a type, there had to have been enough previous guys to establish a pattern.
“It’s not that,” she replied slowly, sticking her toothbrush and face wash into her bag and zipping it up. “She’s just never really seen me with anyone before, so she probably just thinks I’m not looking. Not that I am looking, but…you know what, can we talk about something other than my lack of a love life?”
His lips parted and he sat up straight, reaching out a hand in comfort, wanting to tell her that he could be everything she needed, but before he got the chance, his sister’s voice rang out from in the hallway.
Eyes wide with horror, Cassie pointed aggressively towards the bathroom and watched as Tyler jumped to his feet and scurried in the direction of her finger, closing the door behind him just as Cassie bid Jessamine enter.
“Hey,” Cassie greeted her, a bit breathless as Jessamine pushed open the door and stepped into the room. “What’s up?”
If Jessamine noticed that Cassie was decidedly uncomfortable, she didn’t mention it, finishing tying the ends of her hair into a long braid. “Do you mind if we head out soon? If we stay for lunch, my parents will undoubtedly convince me to stay for dinner as well and then we won’t get back to school until like midnight and I have so much to do before class tomorrow.”
“Sure,” Cassie smiled a little too brightly, doing her best not to glance towards the closed bathroom door. “Sounds good.”
“Cool,” Jessamine grinned, swinging her braid over her shoulder so it hung down her back. “So did you have fun this weekend? I’m sure meeting the entire family at once was kind of overwhelming.”
Nodding, Cassie exhaled deeply to slow her breathing, her muscles relaxing with each passing second. “Yeah, they’re great. They made me feel very welcome.”
“Great!” Jessamine flashed her roommate a smile, turning back towards the door. “Leave in fifteen minutes?”
“Sure,” Cassie agreed, and before she could stop herself, called out for Jessamine again. “Hey, Jessa? Can I talk to you about something?”
She knew that now wasn’t exactly the ideal time to have this conversation, but she wanted to tell Jessamine about her and Tyler before they hit the road and she knew that if she didn’t know, she’d never get up the nerve.
“Of course,” Jessamine replied, turning to face Cassie again, crossing her arms over the front of her floral maxi dress. “Everything alright?”
Inhaling quickly, Cassie nodded. “Yeah, it’s not a bad thing…at least, I don’t think it is, but you might, which is why I don’t really know how to say this.”
“If this is about you and my brother, I already know.”
It took Cassie about five seconds to comprehend Jessamine’s words and she ended up blinking rapidly and parting her lips in confusion when she responded. “You do?”
The sound of muffled cursing coming from the bathroom stalled Jessamine’s reply and she looked towards the closed door, her eyebrows pulling into a deep furrow. “Is Tyler in your bathroom?”
Knowing there was no point in lying, Tyler winced from behind the closed door before pulling it open and stepping into the room, shoving his hands into the pockets of his basketball shorts as he came to stand beside Cassie. “Hey, sis.”
“Wait, you knew?” Cassie broke the tension, completely befuddled by the entire situation.
“Well, yeah,” Jessamine laughed, not seeming concerned in the slightest. “I’m not blind. I can see the way you look at each other, plus Piper’s never been able to keep secrets from me.”
“Oh,” Tyler blinked, rocking forward on his bare toes. “And you’re okay with it?”
Shrugging, Jessamine dropped her arms, playing with the silver metal bracelets at her wrist. “I mean, you guys are adults and I figure you can make your own decisions. It’s not like you need my permission to do whatever it is you’re doing.”
The corners of Cassie’s lips lifted into a smile and she meant to thank her friend, but Jessamine continued speaking before she could. “That being said, just keep in mind that both of you mean a lot to me and to this family and the last thing any of us wants is for things to get awkward. So just, be careful, okay?”
He nodded, watching as Cassie stepped forward to embrace her friend, squeezing tightly and whispering, “Thanks,” into her ear.
“No worries,” Jessamine laughed, shooting her brother a glare, despite the fact that she was holding in a laugh as she squeezed Cassie back. “And remember what I said.”
He didn’t need to ask to know she was talking about his warning not to break Cassie’s heart, so he nodded again and didn’t say anything as she shifted her attention back to her roommate. Dropping her arms, Jessamine turned towards the door, calling out over her shoulder. “I’m gonna take my stuff downstairs and say goodbye to my parents. Meet you down there in ten?”
Cassie nodded as Jessamine disappeared into the hallway, turning back to Tyler with a look of complete wonder on her face. “Well, that didn’t go at all like I thought it would.”
“No,” Tyler let out a shaky laugh, reaching out to grab Cassie’s hips and pull her into his body, glad he could now do so while the door was open. “I’m glad it’s out there, though. So is this goodbye?”
“For now,” she replied, flattening her palms against his chest and standing on her tip toes as she tilted her chin upwards and pressed her lips to his.
He smiled into the kiss, his arms wrapping around her waist to hug her tight as he returned the pressure, already looking forward to the few weeks they’d get to spend together when she came back with Jessamine for break and the date that he’d promised her in the early hours of that morning.
It was amazing how much could change over the course of one day, he thought as he hugged his sister goodbye a few minutes later and watched as she and Cassie got into the car. He stood on the front steps of his house with his parents, waving goodbye, feeling an unfamiliar ache in his chest and wondering if it was possible, when all was said and done, that he would be the one with the shattered heart.