Chapter 1 - Cassie (One Year Ago)
“Cassie? Cassie? Are you still with me?”
I continued to gaze at the large tank full of colorful fish. There was something calming about just watching them swim around. A little yellow one with a blue stripe on his side kept darting rapidly across the tank. He was swimming with such intensity, it was as if his life depended on him making it from one side to the other and never stopping. I couldn’t take my eyes off him; probably because on some level I could relate to him. Don’t stop . . . just keep going and everything will be fine.
It’s when you have to stop and really take a good hard look at the fish tank you are swimming in . . .well, that is when shit gets real.
Despite the fact I didn’t want to deal with anything in my life, that’s exactly what I was supposed to be doing. I needed to stop swimming and trying to pretend everything was fine when clearly it wasn’t. I was not fine. Everything was about as far away from ‘fine’ as it could fucking get. My fish tank was cloudy and full of icky stuff I didn’t want to look at. I would’ve rather swam back and forth, pretending all the muck was not there. Problem was, the muck gets so thick, your best friend walks in on you sitting in the shower, soaking wet with all of your clothes on, sobbing uncontrollably while drinking out of a bottle of cheap wine while the water falls down on you. As the water swirled down the drain, so did any will or desire on my part to move forward with my life. It really was not a pretty picture, and far from one of my finer moments. I was glad it was Jenna who found me. I didn’t know where I would be without her, but I am pretty sure there is no fucking way it would be anything good. And that’s why, a week later, I was sitting in some damn shrink’s office.
“Cassie? We can sit here for the whole session in silence, but these sessions will work much better and you will get more out of them if you talk.”
I pulled my eyes away from the fish tank for a moment and looked at the therapist sitting in front of me. She was probably in her mid to late forties with dark brown hair pulled back into a low, tight ponytail. Her clothing was conservative; a white blouse tucked into a tan pencil skirt with nude-colored heels and minimal jewelry and makeup. It was the kind of look you expected from someone who was a grown-up professional and was a stark contrast to what I was wearing. I was just a few months shy of turning twenty-two and had on a leopard-print dress that hit me mid-thigh, black kneehigh boots, and an arm full of gold bracelets that clinked together when I moved. My bright red hair was piled on top of my head and I had on my signature bright red lipstick with my dark-framed cat-eye glasses. Even though my life was a shit show, I wasn’t going to look like my life was a shit show. Just keep moving and putting on a good picture for the rest of the world and everything will be fine. Just like my new, little, yellow fish buddy.
“If you don’t want people to watch the fish, you should probably take the fish tank out of your office,” I said glancing at the therapist before turning my attention back to the tank.
“What is it about the fish that draws you in?” she asked.
I rolled my eyes as I turned back to her. “Are you serious with that question?”
She looked surprised for a moment. I thought therapists weren’t supposed to be surprised by anything you told them. I smirked a little to myself having shocked her so quickly. Score one for Cassie.
“Why wouldn’t I be serious?”
I turned and looked her in the eye. “Do you always respond with a question?”
She didn’t miss a beat. “Do you always try to avoid answering questions?”
I looked at her and smiled. “What was your name again?”
“Miranda Price. You can call me Ms. Price.”
“If we are really going to do this, I am going to call you Miranda.”
She looked at me for a moment and scribbled something down in her notepad. “Why do you prefer to call me by my first name, Cassie?”
I shifted around in my seat. The chair was one of those that looked really nice but was seriously uncomfortable to sit in. The dark-brown upholstery was rough on the backs of my legs and the arms on the sides were way too high. I felt like I was being swallowed up by the chair. “Look, Miranda. This is the deal. I am not sure I want to be here, but I am willing to give this a try. Lately, Jenna has bailed me out of more situations than I care to admit. She is already helping me get back on track with school and it seems like I should do something to help with the rest of the big old flaming dumpster fire that seems to be my life.”
Miranda was writing on her notepad again. I wondered briefly what she was writing, but quickly decided I didn’t really care that much. Maybe next time I would bring a notepad and take notes about her. I chuckled a little at the thought of both of us sitting across from each other in Miranda’s boring beige and brown office taking notes about what the other person was doing.
“Do you find your situation funny?” Miranda asked in her smooth almost monotone voice.
“Not in the slightest,” I sat up straighter in the chair and crossed my legs. “Well, maybe there are funny parts, but the whole overall situation is not going to win an Academy Award for Best Comedy.”
Miranda raised her eyebrow. What kind of therapist raises her eyebrow at her client? If I had my notepad I would write that down. . . ‘therapist raised an eyebrow after the client made a joke. WTF?’ I tried to suppress a giggle. Miranda sighed. It was going great. Just great. If I decided to stick with the whole therapy thing, I knew I was going to quickly become Miranda’s favorite client. I could just feel it.
“What is it that you want to talk about today, Cassie?”
“Shouldn’t you have a list of topics or something?”
Miranda sighed. “That is not how therapy works.”
“Well then Miranda, this is going to be an experience for both of us.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“Stop trying to twist everything around. This isn’t going to work, Miranda, if we keep going round and round like this.” I gave her one of my best most rehearsed smiles. I had a lifetime of practice with the fake smiles and had it down to a motherfucking art by that point.
“Fine. Tell me about Jenna. Who is she to you?”
I paused for a moment. That was a really loaded question. “How much time do you have, Miranda? Jenna and I have been friends for a long time.”
“Try summing it up in one sentence.”
The words came flying out of my mouth before I had a chance to think them through. “Jenna is the one constant person in my life. She is my best friend and the only person who hasn’t left me.” That was actually two sentences but, fuck it, I had never really been one for following the rules. I was the kid who colored outside of the lines on purpose in elementary school and had never changed. In fact, I liked to just go ahead and draw my own lines.
There was a heavy silence hanging in the air and I started to think about what I had just said to Miranda. Honestly, I was a little shocked at myself for blurting it out and suddenly felt really exposed and uncomfortable. I shifted around in the chair again. “You need to get better chairs in here, Miranda. This one is about as comfortable as sitting in a laundry basket full of pinecones.”
The look on Miranda’s face went from one of deep concentration to one of mild annoyance. “Why are you trying to deflect and change the subject, Cassie?”
“You are good, Miranda. Very good.” I nodded at her like I approved of what she just said. Actually, I was kind of impressed she called me out on my bullshit, but I wasn’t going to actually say it. We were not at the ‘give each other compliments’ stage of our relationship. It took time to build up to that shit.
“Let’s circle back to your statement about Jenna.”
“We could talk about something else. For example, what made you pick beige with brown accents for your office décor? It is a very bold choice and great use of color.” I made a sweeping gesture across the room with one of my hands.
“Cassie . . .”
“Fine. You want to know about my childhood trauma or some shit like that?”
“Is that what you want to talk about?”
“Miranda . . . what did we discuss about twisting stuff around?”
“Are you intentionally trying to be difficult?” I could tell Miranda was starting to get flustered.
I laughed. “This? It all comes naturally, Miranda.”
Miranda started writing on her notepad again. “Tell me about your family,” she said without even looking up from her note-taking.
I could tell I had pushed Miranda’s buttons enough for one day so I decided to play along and answer her. “My brother and I are a little over a year apart in age. Our parents had one of those relationships that burned hot and bright in the beginning, but soon all that passion turned into two little kids and a whole lot of resentments. We mostly bounced around, living with assorted relatives and family friends growing up.”
Miranda leaned forward in her seat. It was like she was excited we were finally getting to the good stuff. “Do you have contact with your parents now?”
“Nope. I haven’t talked to my dad since sometime in high school. My brother and I couldn’t even track him down to invite him to our high school graduations.”
“What about your mom?”
“She left my brother and me long, long ago. She is now married to some guy with a fancy job. They have a house in the suburbs and she has a new family with kids in elementary school. She chooses to act like my brother and I don’t exist.”
“Who was the last relative that you lived with?” Miranda asked scribbling something in her notebook. I was really starting to hate that fucking notebook.
“My grandpa. He passed away my first year of college.”
Miranda didn’t even look up as she scribbled away on her notepad. “What is your relationship like with your brother?”
All the questions were starting to give me a headache. Jenna was the only person who knew any of that stuff about me and it felt weird having another person ask. I really didn’t like talking about any of it. . . I preferred to keep it all locked up tight and pretend it wasn’t there. Then again, that seemed to be part of what landed me in that fucking uncomfortable chair having that fucking uncomfortable conversation. I sighed. “We were close growing up, but lately we have drifted apart. He is married, has a job . . .I don’t talk to him much, but I guess he is doing his own thing.”
There was a pause in the conversation. The silence in the room grew uncomfortable and I started to shift around in the chair again. Miranda leaned back in her seat and looked at me as if she were trying to hold me in place with her steady gaze. “Tell me about the last person you feel left you.”
That was it. The big topic I had been avoiding. The one that led to the crazy crying in the shower. I am sure Miranda could sense my discomfort as she continued to look at me without breaking eye contact. Damn, she was good.
“I don’t feel he left me, he did leave me,” I finally answered, putting extra emphasis on the words ‘feel’ and ‘did’. Miranda needed to know just how messed up all my shit was.
Miranda’s gaze held steady. “Who, Cassie?”
I took a deep breath. I wasn’t sure I could even say his name without the damn tears starting. “Finn,” I whispered.
Miranda let his name hang heavy in the air for a moment before she finally said, “Tell me about Finn.”
I thought for a moment. Fuck, where do I even start in telling her about Finn? I leaned back in the world’s most uncomfortable chair. “Buckle up, Miranda because we are starting at the beginning and this ride is bumpy.”