Chapter 12 - Cassidy
Cass managed to avoid the cheer-losers throughout the day leading up to forth period. For Cassidy – and Jessie – it was a study hall period, which was held in the library.
Cass took her time getting to the library, to ensure that Jessie would be there. She walked in, searching for Jessie. Spotting him in a far corner, at a small desk, she walked over and sat down across from him.
He looked up, annoyed that someone was bothering him, saw it was Cass and smiled. “Hey,” he said.
The butterflies in her stomach started their panicked attempt to flee. “Hey yourself,” she managed.
Jessie went back to his textbook, not worried that Cassidy would bother him. Which, of course she did a few minutes later after working up the courage.
Gemma would never let her hear the end of it if she didn’t so this.
“Hey Jessie,” she said, and he looked up from his book. With her, he wasn’t annoyed and smiled at her.
She felt the heat rise to her cheeks, then got self-conscious that the scar on her cheek would be standing out. ’Um,” she started, biting her bottom lip. “I wanted to ask you something.”
He smiled indulgently, waiting for her to continue.
She finally got the hint and said, “Oh, um, I was wondering… um, like if you didn’t, um…” Cass blew out her breath.
“Just ask whatever it is Cassidy,” he said.
“Fine. If you don’t have a date for the prom already, would you go with me?” She felt herself blush again.
Jessie reached across the small desk and took one of her hands in his. “That’s really sweet of you Cassidy. I like you, I really do,” he said.
Cass had a sinking feeling that she’d just made a fool of herself.
“And because I like you, and you’ve always been nice to me, I’m going to be honest with you. I like you, but just not in that way.”
“Oh,” was all she could say.
“Clearly you’re hurt, but I don’t think you understand. You’re thinking that I just want to be friends, of I see you like a sister, right?” She slowly nodded. “What I’m actually saying, is that I don’t see you as a girlfriend, but as a girlfriend. As in, we like the same type.”
Understanding lit Cass’s eyes and Jessie added, “That’s right beautiful, I’m gay, but I’d rather you didn’t go announcing that to the school. You know I’ve dated girls and it’s because this place is so small that I can’t just really come out. It would make life too hard. But you’re a very nice girl and I don’t want to lead you on. You deserve the truth. I hope you’re okay with that.”
Cass just sat there speechless. How could she not know? She wanted to be hurt because she was rejected, but she couldn’t bring herself to it.
Other feelings came up: disappointment, self-pity, self-doubt. “Oh. I…”
Jessie shook his head and let go of her hand. “I’m sorry if I made you uncomfortable. That wasn’t my intention.”
“No. No, you didn’t,” she said, now shaking her head. “You… you just caught me off guard, that’s all. I was expecting more of a yes or not, not that.” She laughed, but it came out fake sounding.
“Well,” he said with a smile. “You still got your no; it just wasn’t for the reason you expected. Not that it helps, but if I was straight, I would have definitely said yes. And I’ll tell you this, you should feel privileged. Very few people know the truth about me. Most of my ex-girlfriends don’t even know.”
“Oh. Um, thanks for being honest. I won’t tell anyone, I promise. I won’t bother you anymore, I’ll let you study now,” she said getting up.
“You don’t have…” Jessie started, “… to go,” but she was already gone.
Cass moved across the library to a secluded table so she could be alone. This day turned out to be a disaster. She was never going to listen to Gemma again.
Cass dug out her statistics book to do math problems to get her mind off of everything. The bell rang and she slowly picked up her stuff, not really wanting to run into Jessie.
She made her way to the cafeteria, grabbing a salad, a yogurt, and a bottle of water. What she really wanted was a greasy cheeseburger, fries, some cheesecake, and a soda, but going down that path would lead her to other problems, and she had a enough at the moment.
Cass walked out of the cafeteria and headed towards a secluded table that she usually sat at when she wanted to be alone.
As she neared, she saw that there was already someone sitting there.
It was a normal sized picnic table, and there was plenty of room, and since she couldn’t identify the person sitting there, she decided to sit at the opposite end.
“Not into lunch, eh?” the person at the other end said.
Cass looked up. The other person scooted down the bench, stopping across from Cass. She wasn’t really in the mood for company, but she didn’t want to be rude.
The person had black hair that hung just below the ears and had features that weren’t quite masculine or feminine. Or maybe it was too much of both.
He or she looked to be about the same age and wore baggy black clothing.
Cassady hadn’t said anything, so the other person continued. “Please don’t tell me you’re one of those girls who obsessed with her weight. You have a great figure and don’t need to lose weight.”
When Cass still didn’t reply the other person said, “I’m Jaden Clark. I’m a new student here.” A hand was held out and Cass looked at it dumbly.
As with the face, Cass thought the hand wasn’t to big or small, had long fingers, with nails clean and trimmed, but with no polish.
When Cass made no move to shake, Jaden pulled the hand back and said, “So you’re one of those too, huh. God this school sucks.”
Cass shook her head. “Huh? Wait, what? One of what? No! I don’t think so, although I’m confused and have no idea what we are talking about.”
Jaden stopped moving away and Cass said, “Look, so far I’ve had a really terrible day. I didn’t mean to take it out on you. My name is Cassidy Gray. Cass to my friends. And just ignore the other idiots in the school. This is the south. Most are snobs, or inbred, some are both. All you have to do is to look at the cheer-losers.”
Jaden smiled and asked, “What category do you fall in?”
Cass smiled back. “Um, other. I’m not rich, not inbred, and by no means normal. I’d say special, but then another category might get offended. Right now, I fall in the depressed category.”
Cass hadn’t meant to say all of that, but it all just came out. She watched as Jaden’s plucked eyebrow went up.
“That makes two of us then. So, what to tell a stranger why your day has been so bad?”
Cass wasn’t sure. She felt like she had to tell someone, so who better than someone who didn’t know anyone involved, but on the other hand, she didn’t know Jaden so she wasn’t sure she could trust Jaden.
“I don’t know,” Cass said hesitantly.
“Okay, well I’m here if you want. I don’t know anyone to gossip to and I’ve got problems of my own. So, I just figured we both might want to have someone to talk to.”
Cass thought about it, then said, “It started today with the cheer-losers making comments about my appearance.” Unconsciously, she raised her hand to her cheek. “Then I finally ask someone out to the prom because no one asked me, and I find out the guy I like it gay. Sometimes it feels like the whole world is against me.”
“Well, I can’t see why no one has asked you out. It’s the boys who are losing out on that one. I’m sorry that the guy you like it gay. That’s not you’re doing, but don’t take it personally. It sounds like you didn’t know, and he was nice enough to tell you and not just turn you down. I imagine that it was probably pretty hard for him, not to mention pretty trusting.”
“Yeah, he said not many people know,” Cass said.
‘’As for your so-called cheer-losers, that’s jealously in my eyes. You’re pretty, you’ve got a rockin’ body, and as far as I can tell, you have a great personality. You probably weren’t aware, but when you told me that, your hand went to your scar on your cheek, so I’m assuming that’s what they were talking about.
“That’s a bully move. Because it’s an issue with you, they can attack you with it and you give them the reaction they want.
“My advice it to take a real good look in the mirror. That little scar is nothing. It doesn’t take away from your looks. If anything, to me, it enhances them. Because it’s an anomaly, they eye might be drawn to it, but if the person is really looking, the scar gets lost in those pretty cheekbones of yours. And from there, if they don’t see those gorgeous blue eyes, then they really aren’t looking.
“So, take a step back and embrace it. Think of it as an arrow that says, Start here to find the real me.”
Cass looked down, embarrassed. “If I didn’t know better, I’d think you were hitting on me.”
Jaden laughed, pitched like a girl but slightly deeper. “Not today I’m not. As me again tomorrow and the answer might be different.”
Cass was confused. “Huh?”
“Man, you truly are a nice person, aren’t you? Maybe a little naïve as well.”
“I’m not inbred, but I do live in the swamp if that’s what you’re getting at. Are you like punking me or something?” Cass asked defensively.
“Calm down,” Jayden said, reaching across the table again and taking Cass’s hand. “The fact that you live in a swamp is quite intriguing, but no, I’m not punking you. I meant that as a compliment actually. I’m used to this, but I’ve seen you struggling with whether I am a boy or girl. So, I’ll give you the answer to the question you haven’t asked.
“This is the part I referred to about me talking to someone. The answer is… yes. I consider myself gender fluid. So, I go pretty much day by day, and how I feel in the morning is how I feel throughout the day.
“So, today, I identify as a female. Tomorrow, maybe a boy, at which point I might hit on you,” Jaden said with a grin.
“So, you’re gay too?”
“No,” Jaden quickly said. “When I’m a girl, I like boys and when I’m a boy, I like girls. It sounds confusing, but it’s really not. The only difference is that some gender fluid people want to be called them or they and to my, I’m just one person. So, if in doubt, just ask and I’ll tell you if it’s he or she for the day.”
“Oh. Um, okay,” Cass replied, not so much confused, but, well, confused.
“See,” Jaden said, “I’m not normal either.”
That, of course, wasn’t exactly what Cass was referring to, but around that area, that wasn’t normal. Jaden was right. “Okay, well if I forget, don’t take it personal. Remind me, and in time I’ll get it right.”
“And see, that’s what I was referring to. That person who makes you up. I drop a bombshell on you that you’ve never run into, and might not ever run into again, and you just accept it. You don’t judge me. Thank you,” Jaden said.
“No problem. I’m probably the last person who should judge people anyway,” Cass told her.
Jaden looked over Cass’s should and said, “Expecting someone? A cute guy is headed this way. Your gay friend coming to make sure you’re okay?”
Cassidy looked over her shoulder and saw Robbie Joss coming towards them.
“Well, I’ll give you some privacy,” Jaden said.
“No, it’s not him. No need to leave.”
Robbie arrived and sat down next to Cass, looking between the girls.
Jaden didn’t leave, so Cass said, “Robbie Joss, this is Jaden Clark, a new student here.”
“Hey,” he said, distracted. He glanced at Jaden and then at Cassidy, clearly expecting something.
Privacy, Cass thought. She wasn’t going to ask Jaden to leave since she had just asked her to stay. Instead, she said, “You look like you need to say something.”
“I, um,” he stumbled, looking at Jaden.
“Just say it. I’ve had a bad day Robbie, I’m not really in a good mood.”
“Oh,” he said, kind of deflating, which normally would have been hard since he was one of the star running backs of the football team. “Yeah. I kind of heard about Beryl.”
He paused, looking at Jaden again before continuing. “And Jessie.”
With that, Cass was mortified and turned red. Did Jessie tell him he rejected her or…?
He cleared his throat, then continued. “I can’t really do anything about Beryl, so I’m sorry for that. You don’t deserve it. About the Jessie thing…” Again, he paused, looking at Jaden as if unsure what to say.
Cass knew the girl wasn’t stupid, so she said, “Don’t worry. Jaden has her own secrets, and I’ve already told her without mentioning his name, but now that you have, it doesn’t take much to put two and two together. So just say what you have to say.”
“Oh. Okay. Well, it was kind of obvious that you liked Jessie. So, I had to wait until you asked him to know how to deal with this. I mean, I wasn’t sure if he’d say no and tell you…why or say yes and take you. So, once you finally asked and he told you what he did, then he told me.”
He stopped and Cass waited, then finally said, “Annnnd?”
“Oh. Um, so I wanted to…” He stopped again, taking a big breath.
“Robbie, please don’t feel pity for me. It’s okay. It really is. I’m not taking it personally, thanks to Jaden, so he doesn’t have to worry. I won’t say anything.”
Robbie looked totally deflated now, and Jaden reached across the table and took a hand from each one. “You two aren’t listening to each other. Continue, Robbie.”
“Oh. Um, now that Jessie said no, I wanted to know if you’d go to the prom with me?”
“Robbie, I’m not a pity case,” Cass said.
“Cassidy, thing about it. It’s kind of late to get a prom date, isn’t it?” Jaden asked.
“Yeah. Forget about Jessie. I like you Cass. I would have asked sooner if I didn’t know you liked Jessie. But it wasn’t my place to tell you about him. Plus, you would have turned me down since you wanted to ask him.
“If you stop and think about it, you know that I could have a date by now. Several of them. But it wouldn’t have been the person I wanted to take. That’s you. So, I know that you feel Jessie took your heart and stomped on it, but I’m asking you to give me a chance and don’t stomp on my heart. I know I should have asked you a long time ago but… I was afraid you’d say no.”
Cass looked from him to Jaden.
“See, things have a way of working out,” Jaden said.
Cass looked back to Robbie. He let go of Jaden’s hand and started to raise his hand and paused, trying to decide if he should continue. Robbie made up his mind and continued, putting his hand on her cheek. His thumb rubbed over her scar.
“As for Beryl, ignore her. You’re way prettier than she is. She’s just jealous of you, and she can’t have Jessie or me. We’ve both turned her down. I did because I liked someone, who liked someone else. If it’s too early to move on, I’ll understand.”
Cass was fully aware that he hadn’t removed his hand from her face; his thumb continuing to stroke her skin and scar. She was also aware of both the butterflies returning in a vengeance, as well as Jaden watching her for an answer.
Cass made up her mind and put her hand over his, and said, “Since it’s not a pity date, then yes, I’ll go with you to the prom.”
“Really?” he asked surprised.
“Oh. Oh! Great. I’ll talk to you later about colors and whatnot.” He jumped up and began to leave, then stopped and turned back.
“Nice to meet you Jaden,” he said before heading off again.
“Well, I’d say your day got better, didn’t it?” Jaden asked.
“I guess so,” Cass replied. “So, are you going to the prom?”
“Doubtful. Being new, I don’t know anyone, and I doubt that I’d be able to find a date. And even if I did, that day might mess everything up if I picked the wrong gender to ask. Not to mention that I don’t see this school too accepting of someone like me.”
“To hell with them. Who cares if they don’t like it. You can come with us.”
“I don’t want to be a third wheel,” Jaden said.
“You won’t. Possibly a fifth wheel, and if that’s the case, I’ll drag along my younger, um, sister. She’s fourteen, but so what. We can all hang out. Worse case, it ends up being the five or six of us being wallflowers. At least we can say we went.”
“You have a sister?”
“Well, no. Not really. Technically two. Gemma, who’s seventeen, goes here with us. Myra, my younger sister, is home schooled, so she’ll probably want to come anyways since she won’t actually get to go to a prom. Even though she’s only fourteen, she’ll probably finish school in maybe two years. Less, if she gets her way.”
Jaden looked over Cass’s shoulder again. “Is your sister, um, what’s the proper term here in the south. African American? Colored? Black?”
Cass glanced over her shoulder. Gemma was headed towards them.
“What’s up, home girl?” Gemma called.
Cass put a hand over her eyes and shook her head. “Way to make a first impression ghetto girl,” Cass said to her.
“Quit being so stuck up, white girl,” Gemma said, putting an arm around Cass as she sat down next to her.
“Gemma, Jaden. Jaden, Gemma. Gemma, Jaden would like to know how you identify yourself. African-American, Colored or Black?”
Gem looked at Jaden. “Um, well, that overshadows my urban introduction. Let’s break this down, my honky friends. Am I African American? I guess technically, however, I believe the current understanding is that originally, we all originate from the African continent. Sooo, mabbie, but no.
“Colored? Aren’t we all colored? You two are kinda tanned pink. So, aren’t we all colored in some form? Except for albinos… and Myra. But even they are white – literally – which is a color. Sooo, again, technically yes, but no.
“Am I black?” she asked, looking at her free arm. “If you’ve looked at a crayon or a sharpie, that one is pretty obvious. I’m more of a latte or mocha. So, to answer white girl’s question, I think I identify with… human. Good enough?”
“Um, sorry. I really wasn’t trying to offend you. Just the opposite. I know what it’s like to be discriminated against,” Jaden said.
Gemma raised an eyebrow. “Did you get kicked out of Macy’s because you weren’t dressed up enough?”
Gemma laughed and Jaden joined her.
“No, I don’t make an issue of it, and I can’t really hide it, so I’ll just tell you. I’m gender fluid.”
Cass went on to tell her what Jaden had already told her.
When Cass was done, Gem said, “Oh. Okay, cool.”
Jaden’s mouth opened and hung there.
“Better close that or you’ll attract flies,” Gem said.
“Wait, all you have to say is okay, cool?” Jaden asked.
“You want me to say more? Do I need to say more? You’re okay with it, why shouldn’t I be? Who am I to hate on you?”
“Wow, you two really are a surprise. Most people aren’t this understanding.”
“Well, most of the crackers here won’t be, so don’t be too surprised. Actually, most of the south is pretty intolerant, no matter race, but ignore them all,” Gemma said. “Now that all that is out of the way, spill my sister from another mother. What did Jessie say?”
Cass groaned and put her hands to her face. Jaden answered for her.
“There’s good news and bad. The bad news is that Jessie said no. The reason doesn’t matter, but it’s not Cass. The good news is that some cute boy named Robbie asked her and she said yes. And depending on your outlook, she asked me to join you guys. If you’re okay with that. And she suggested taking your younger sister along as well.”
“What the hell?” Gemma said, practically standing.
Jaden held up her hands, at which point Gemma looked at Cass and said, “Jaden I have no problem with, but Myra? What are you thinking?”
Jaden looked at Cass and Gemma.
“Gem, sit. Hear me out. First, did your date agree?”
“Yes,” Gemma said tersely.
“Okay, so you and I are going with dates. Jaden is invited, but being new and, um, different, probably won’t have a date. Myra is home schooled, and won’t get to go to a prom, and we only have two left, so if not this one, then next year, or not at all.
“I know you have issues, but do they go far enough to let her miss out on something like this? Like Jaden, it’s unlikely she’ll get a date. Unless some forty-year-old cyber-stalker asks her. In which care, we’d have to kill him.
“So do you dislike her enough to not include her?”
Gemma growled at Cass, then let out a breath. “No, but won’t she, uh, stand out?”
“We’ll figure something out. And for brownie points, you get to tell her. We’ll go together, all six of us, and have a good time, even if it’s just with the six of us. Good?”
“Good. But you have to get your man to clear it, not me. Nuh-uh.”
“Fine. So, Jaden, you said before that you were interested in the swamp, so if you ever want to come over, you’re welcome,” Cass told her.
“Cass, won’t Myra be an issue?” Gem asked.
“If Myra is going to come to prom, Jaden will have to meet her at some point, right?”
“I guess.” To Jaden Gemma said, “Just know, Myra is… different. She’s got this… thing. A condition. It’s not contagious or anything, it just makes her look different. I really hope she doesn’t get hurt at prom. People around here can be mean.”
“Aww, you do care,” Cass said.
“Shut up white girl. If you tell her, I’ll deny it all,” Gem told her.
Jaden swapped phone numbers with both girls and the bell rang to announce that it was ten minutes until class.
Cass took her water, put her unopened yogurt in her backpack and tossed the mostly uneaten salad in the trash and the three girls went to class.