FACT : He was the very last person she expected to see.
FACT : He was the very last person she expected to see.
Endless chatter streamed from the backseat of Regina’s car as the trio drove the tree-lined streets of an unfamiliar neighborhood. Stocky houses hurried past in a muted blur, but it was the languid effects of the sedatives not the speed they were traveling that explained Cassia’s inability to notice anything past Brendon’s animated gestures. His words rushed together with both great passion for the story he was telling as well as an attempt to ward away the awkwardness that had entered around the time he moved to the backseat. While his mind filled with questions, he fought them back down his throat and avoided speaking to Cassia directly at all. He only knew about her, what he had gathering briefly in a parking lot in Vegas and what he had been told. Neither of which forewarned an attempted abortion.
While Brendon’s uneasiness was easily hid behind his melodramatic expressions, and any explanation was tucked to sleep in Cassia’s drooping eyelids, Regina had certainly been unsettled by the scene outside the clinic. Even if the inquisitive worry couldn’t be seen through her opaque lenses, concern for the wellbeing of her best friend flashed across the pools of her eyes. That in itself spoke volumes of her. After all, the sky was dull, vacant seeming, apart from the cover of heavy grey. Such weather hardly warranted sunglasses, but a wall of designer frames seemed second nature to a California native, they were the only defense she knew how to use.
In attempt to show sympathy, she repeatedly hushed Brendon. Cassia stirred sleeplessly noticing without even opening her eyes that Regina still hung on his every phrase, poorly disguising how much she enjoyed hearing him speak. He was full of vigor, energy, an almost childlike enthusiasm and she was in love with him. (And from the way Brendon twisted a piece of her hair between his fingers as he popped his head between the two front seats to highlight an especially important part of his dialogue, it could be said that the feeling was mutual).
Cassia sailed on the borders of consciousness allowing herself to give into fatigue simply because the drive seemed to pass faster than it had when guilty anticipation had ripped up her insides. Only Brendon’s abrupt announcement of hunger really pulled at her attention enough to focus on the reality inside the vehicle. The scent of lavender from the air freshener hanging the review mirror mixed with cigarette smoke. Impatience tugged at the lips of her best friend. A thin layer of dust gathered in the corners of the vents on the dashboard. There was a quiet hum of a song from the radio beneath Brendon’s voice. By the time her world seemed real again, they were nearly home.
After Regina shot him a disapproving glare from the rearview mirror, Brendon sunk back into his seat, protest pulling his bottom lip into a pout. Her simple reply had worked the four previous times Brendon stated a firm “I’m hungry” but this time he crossed his arms across his chest and refused to continue the story he had started. If that weren’t punishment enough, this time he whined.
“Please?? Just a pizza. Or a soda and fries.” He pleaded like a child wanting “just 5 more minutes before bed, “A bag of chips. Anything?”
“It’s fine Reggie,” Cassia whispered to the window’s glass pane. Her life didn’t stop when she found out she was pregnant and it didn’t stop when she decided not to go through with the procedure, no solution would come from avoiding what her life had become. “I haven’t had a peanut butter milkshake in forever. There’s the diner right up here anyway.”
“Cassia,” Regina cooed, surprised to see her friend awake. Her voice was smooth and comforting, like the warm water of a bath surrounding your body and putting you at ease, “We’ll drop Brendon off; his friends are staying at the Beverly Hills Hotel on Sunset. They’ll entertain him and we’ll go home. We’ll shut off our phones and put on ‘The Notebook’ or something. Don’t you think we should have a girls’ night in?”
Cassia bit her lip, considering the offer. In hesitation, a glance into the backseat caught Brendon mumbling and almost silent, “But I love ‘The Notebook!” As Regina noticed his disappointment she shifted uncomfortably in her seat. Easing pressure onto the break as the car approached a red light she noted the diner just left of the intersection. A decision would have to be made before the light turned green. The small window of time didn’t give her much time for silent debate: was she trying to please her best friend or her boyfriend?
“He’s not typically not this annoying.” She assured Cassia, as if she would retract her approval of him without that explanation. In the backseat, Brendon was still pouting, his arms crossed deliberately across his chest. Without more explanation than the urgent phone call they had received from Cassia a few hours ago, he wasn’t going to simply surrender time with Regina.
“Let’s stop, Really.” Cassia announced the crimson light before us quickly turning a bright green, “Let the poor boy get some food. I don’t want to be the one to ruin your night.”
“Cassia, you could never ruin my night!” Regina hesitated. If she had found the words to approach the dainty situation on the drive they had just shared, maybe the unwilling misery could have been washed from the car long before this point. She still felt like they should be in mourning for Cassia.
“She said food! Let’s go!” Brendon cheered. With a simple shake to her head Regina complied. After the car had been pulled to a stop along the curb, Brendon nearly leaped from the backseat and performed something in the family of a skip down the sidewalk ahead of us.
“He’s quite the charmer, isn’t he?” Cassia joked grabbing Regina’s hand as they walked short steps along the curb. Despite finding a sense of pride in remembrance of her actions, she was afraid her intentions were still written across her face.
When the bell above the door announced the girls’ arrival Brendon had already been seated at a table in the middle of the restaurant. With his cell phone to one ear he directed someone “…just down Rodeo Drive” and impatiently pushed at the buttons the jukebox on their table. Even though a small coin slot named dimes as its favorite snack, the piece was meant only for decoration. Along with shiny red cushioned stools lined up at the counter and booths around the windows set to match with silver outlines, the diner held much of the same nostalgia to the 1950’s as a “Leave It To Beaver” episode. A young family occupied the nearest table. A little boy, no more than four was propped up on his knees to reach the straw of a tall strawberry milkshake. With a green balloon floating from the ribbon tied to his wrist, the boy looked content. The same effect could only be wished for Brendon, who now off the phone, tapped his fingertips on the table and skimmed the menu’s pages over and over again.
“You won’t get to meet them all just yet,” He whispered to Regina just after their order was set on the table. The restaurant’s quick service made up for the film on grease that appeared to coat the tables as well as the French fries. Cassia preoccupied herself with the single maraschino cherry perched on top of her shake’s whipped cream crowd as to not appear to be eavesdropping. Letting the words escape into Regina’s hair, Brendon explained, “It appears Ryan and Spencer disappeared to visit some friend from high school, whatever that means. But at least I convinced on of them to met us.”
After that they were silent again, Brendon stuffing handfuls of French fries into his mouth as Regina spun her spoon in circles through her sundae. The scene remained relatively unchanged (apart from the young couple and their little boy leaving a mess of ice cream on their table) until a chiming erupted from the door, announcing the arrival of a new customer. Brendon’s face lit up with excitement almost immediately. He waved one of his best friends over to the table, using a smile to invite him into the vacant chair.
Cassia turned to politely welcome the newcomer, attempting to make at least a sane impression on whichever of Brendon’s band mates hadn’t been catching up with his past. Her face filled with heat and panic as the man sat down chuckling with a good-natured and jovial, “If I knew this was a double date, I might have cleaned up some.”
Their eyes locked in alarm of what the other may say first. Jon was drawn to her just as he had been when he first spotted her across the room one night in Vegas. Now she was paler, but that was acceptable now that the last remnants of summer were burying themselves in passing weeks. He waited for the coy half smile to creep across her lips like it had when she hadn’t even bothered to scan the parking lot for her “missing” car; like it had the moment in the hotel room she revealed herself to him in a question about love. But that smirk never came because his face was everything she remembered (yet sober he looked different). Almost softer, almost warmer, but neither in a tangible sense.
Cassia chair shrieked as she back across the linoleum floor. Her stomach retched threatening to spill truth all over his shirt. The eyes of everyone in the restaurant followed her into the bathroom. After what was certainly a bout of cryptic explanation, revealing everything and nothing at all, Regina’s footsteps came to a hold just outside the bathroom stall Cassia had taken cover in. She had just rested her head against the door when Regina knocked. The door trembled against the latch Cassia had given great attention in locking behind her.
“Cassia, sweetheart, are you alright?” Regina’s question pleaded to be let in. She wanted to see her; she wanted to hug her. She didn’t know what had caused the abrupt trip to the bathroom, but she knew that Cassia needed her.
On the inside of the stale, Cassia flushed the contents of her stomach down the toilet and grabbed a few sheets of paper. She wiped at her eyes (puking always made her cry) and then her nose (which always runs when she cries) and opened the door. It was an action that finally allowed her to admit the truth to herself.
“I’m pregnant.” She cried, because any other explanation would have overwhelmed them.
“Cassia…how did this happen?” Regina asked wrapping her in a comfortable hug. While it might not have been the most eloquent or appropriate question, it was the only one that came to mind.
Unable to place the right emotion Cassia laughed, “Oh, you know, the usual way.” When Regina didn’t find the attempt at a joke as funny as Cassia could have hoped hormones took over and she began to pace, speaking so quickly her phrase came out with the release of a sob and she barely understood herself. “I’m just a girl who can’t handle her alcohol and slept with a guy I didn’t know the night the love of my life married my little sister.”
“Oh Cassia, Ethan was not the love of your life. And just for the hell of it, Logan wasn’t either.”
Regina’s statement triggered a new round of tears shared by both girls. Her statement was not a new idea. The girls had known in the back of their minds for longer than either would admit that Ethan was not her soul mate (and without ever discussing it, they both understood that Logan had been nothing more than a distraction). They cried because it was at that moment, in a sticky public restroom splashed with Cassia’s vomit they realized that their friendship was on the brink of change. That change wasn’t solely due to Cassia’s pregnancy either.
“Cassie, I’m just kind of glad you’re not bulimic, two weeks of sneaking to the bathroom to throw up had me worried.” Regina announced pulling her into another hug. Cassia gave into her embrace, allowing the tension building in her muscles to release. The most difficult part of her night would just begin after all. Deciding at the last second not to abort the child she was carrying out of wedlock was an easy feat considering upon leaving that restroom she would have to face the man she hadn’t seen since that child’s conception.
Regina, who had composed herself enough to put her friend’s comfort first, smiled deviously as she said “I think you made quite the impression on Brendon’s friend.” Her words held the same kind of youthful excitement as a rumor spreading through high school They left her lips as if it were someone’s darkest secret. If only she understood, “He kept asking if you were with me the night I met Bren in Vegas. I would definitely say he is…” The rest of her sentence was lost to the pounding that erupted on the other side of the door.
“Regina!” Brendon called in an elevated whisper, “Regina we need to talk!”
Not recognizing the weight in her boyfriend’s voice, Regina took Cassia hand to assure she didn’t spent the rest of her life in that bathroom and quickly opened the door. Brendon stood on the other side eyes wider than usual. His message wasn’t nearly as urgent now that Cassia was at Regina’s side. Jon had just mentioned the Cassia was “his” girl from Vegas. Brendon had connected that drunken night together and the hint of a pregnancy before Regina could consol Cassia back to their table. He felt it was a valuable piece of information, but couldn’t bear to crush the delicate balance that seemed to have established, even if he was the one walking a tightrope between the two sides.
When Brendon swallowed his urgent news, Regina’s eyes flitted across the restaurant, taking a quick assessment of the situation. She found Jon alone at the table meant for four. With his head was propped in his hands he looked defeated.
“I didn’t say anything.” Brendon replied to Regina’s quiet scolding. She covered his mouth capturing any realization that might spill from it accidentally. But, even muffled by Regina’s hand, Brendon’s words were clear enough to understand, “Cassia. He remembers you.”
Cassia’s breath hitched in her throat as a clatter erupted from the other side of the restaurant. A clumsy looking waiter collected the dishware that had fallen. Jon picked up his gaze to see the cause of the sudden noise. He felt too rejected for anything more excruciating. A girl he had barely known was too disgusted by his presence to even continue through dinner. And he thought he treated her with as much tenderness and respect as a one night stand allowed.
“It’d be rude to leave him just sitting there like that.” Cassia said finding courage in a deep breath. Brendon glanced at the girls nervously. Regina returned his gaze with a simple shrug of her shoulders that rippled more like a shiver. Their walk across the restaurant was graceless and slow. The girls followed Brendon in a single file line back to the table. Cassia felt she had an unfair advantage of two human shields while Jon sat looking utterly broken with nothing more than her half-empty peanut butter shake at his side.
“The tension in here is suffocating,” She spoke unsure if this blind faith was only going to hurt her in the end, “Why don’t we go for a walk.”
Jon lifted his head to reaffirm she was speaking to him. Noticing her timid half-smile this time meant to be more honest than seductive, he stood accepting her invitation. Protectively, Brendon stepped forward to accompany the pair. He had after all, inadvertently become the mediator of the night, a title that held too much responsibility for his liking. Regina pulled him back.
“You haven’t even eaten dessert yet,” She coaxed sliding the laminated picture of chocolate cake in his direction, “And I thought you said you were hungry!”
“They’re big kids.” Regina had to explain as Jon and Cassia put quick space between them. Jon opened the glass door, causing a chiming sound for a second time and held it open allowing Cassia to exit first. She nodded politely and looked back at Regina. Her eyes pleaded for a savior, a way out, but instead received encouragement.
Regina waved and mouthed, “Go” because Cassia was doing the right thing. And doing the right thing is what Cassia was good at.