Simon was just at the exit when the door opened, and in a flurry of new snowflakes Cassandra rushed in and shut the door firmly behind her. She stopped short when she saw him and for a moment all they did was stare at each other wordlessly.
She slowly pulled her hat off her head and shook her hair loose, which made him wonder if she did it to tease him. She must know by now how much he loved her wild curls.
“Hi,” she said in a shy low voice.
“Hi,” he said and after a moment's hesitation he added, “I didn't think you would come tonight.”
“I didn't think Papa would want me to, but he's sleeping now anyway and... um...Frankie needs his car if he's to get home tonight,” she said nervously. “Remember, I had it today so...my uncle dropped him off here earlier and...um...anyway, I have some work to do that I shoulda done last night and...um...”
Simon nodded understanding her even if she was rambling a bit. He wanted to hug her, to hold her close until she felt better, more at ease, or until he got enough of her—okay, that would take too long--but he couldn't be certain she would allow it; he still had no true gauge on her emotions.
“Is your father all right?” he said and instantly realized what a ridiculous thing that was to say and swiftly added, “I mean for the time being.”
She nodded and tried to smile; the effort only made her eyes reach flood stage. She blinked back the waterworks and stared up at Simon. “I owe you an explanation,” she whispered.
“No, you don't,” he said. “I understand.”
“How could you when even I don't?” she snapped, biting down on her lip to keep it from trembling.
He was silent for a minute waiting for her to regain her composure, then said, “You once told me I was insightful. Were you just trying to boost my ego or did you actually believe it?”
She almost smiled. “Thing is... I musta given you the wrong impression, like when we were talking at Sophie's while decorating the Christmas tree and I was complaining about... everything... about my fa ....my relatives and stuff.”
Simon shook his head but remained silent.
“I... I love my father, Simon,” she said. “Really I do.”
“Of course you do,” he said sternly. “No one would ever believe you don't.”
Gratitude, pure and simple, shone from her eyes. “But...but the things I said... I was just...I mean...”
Simon placed his hands on her shoulders. “Really, Cassandra, you don't have anything to explain to me. I understand... at least I think I do.”
“Then would you mind explaining it to me? Cuz I just don't... I don't understand anything,” she said.
Without warning she closed the distance between them and nestled against his chest. She sighed with relief when his arms closed around her. Simon, though surprised, would have been happy to stay like this for hours had they not been standing in the way of wintry blasts from the continually opening door and all the people coming and going jostling them around. So, they moved as one out of the way, still holding onto each other, her curly head tucked under his chin.
“Ah, Cassandra, all I can say and I know it's not very helpful or meaningful, is I'm sorry, extremely sorry for your situation,” he said, softly. “I just wish I could do something to help you.”
“You are,” she said into his chest. “Just being here helps. Just listening helps, cuz no one else does.”
They remained like this for several minutes until Simon broke the silence. “ I don't suppose we can stay in a dark corner forever.”
“You're right. I'm sorry,” Cassandra said. “Weren't you leaving? I didn't mean to stop you.”
“I didn't have a reason to stay...until now,” he replied. “You said you have work to do. I could sit with you while you do it...even help...perhaps.”
“You would do that for me?” she asked, looking up at him.
He just barely refrained from telling her he'd do anything for her--Was he turning into his father or what? “Yes,” he said. “If you like.”
She nodded. “I would. I should tell Frankie I'm here first.”
Simon followed her to the bar and watched as she went behind it to talk to her brother. He didn't imagine this would go well, not with her brother eying him suspiciously, but the music was too loud to hear what Frankie was actually saying and as Cassandra had her back to him he couldn't attempt to read her lips to see what she was saying.
So he waited, but he didn't have to wait for long. He heard his name and then his vision was obstructed by a large quantity of very tickle-ly, bright red hair.
“Hey, Cassandra, you came,” Frankie said, eyes narrowing as he looked up and spotted Simon, holding his sister's coat. “I see your boyfriend is still here. Assumed he left.”
“He's not my boyfriend,” she said wearily.
“Does he know that?” Frankie asked, tossing a towel over his shoulder.
“Let's try one more time ,” She said. “We're friends, Frankie. Can't I have friends?”
“You don't really think I'm falling for that, do you?” he said. “I see how he looks at you. That is not the look of a friend.”
“Come on, Frankie. I get enough guff from everybody else,” she said. “I don't need it from you, too.”
Frankie shook his head. “Sophie said there was trouble at home, that he said something to upset Pops. How's he doing?”
“Simon didn't do anything wrong,” Cassandra said, even though she had no idea what they had talked about. “Papa is fine... for now... resting. If you're gonna worry about anybody upsetting Papa, try Aunt Rosa. I swear she's gonna kill him even sooner then...God help me, but I hate her!”
“It's only for a little while, Cassandra. Christmas only lasts for so long. They'll be gone in a few days.”
“Not soon enough for me. Anyway,” she said, taking in a deep breath. “I have work to do, so, I'll be in the office. If you need me, come get me, okay?”
“Wait, is he going with you?” Frankie said, pointing his artificial hand at him.
“He offered to help and I can sure use it. I've got tons to do. Taxes are due soon, ya know, and we didn't make a deposit for two nights now.”
“All the more reason not to have your boyfriend in the office with all that money. How do you know you can trust him not to steal some or all of it?”
“Are you serious?” she said, propping her hands on her hips. “Does he even remotely look like he's planning on knocking over the head to steal a few hundred bucks?”
“What?” she said.
“Passed few nights it's been crazy busy. There's a lot more money back there than usual.”
“Yeah,” Frankie said, looking over his sister's head. “Don't look now but your boyfriend seems to be making friends....not very sexy friends, but still, female.”
Cassandra swung around in time to see a girl hugging Simon, but the look on his face gave her the impression he'd just as soon rather be anywhere else. She laughed and turned around again. “What? He's not allowed to have friends, even female friends?”
“Nah, not ever gonna convince me girls and guys can be just friends,” he said. “They're more than that...or at least she wants to be.”
She rolled her eyes. “You're such a neanderthal, Frankie.”
“I try!” he said, grinning.
“Anyway,” Cassandra said. “Don't worry about him. He's okay. I mean, you like Ronnie don't you? He's Simon's brother so, they're both fine, nice guys who have no need to kill, rape, rob or anything. So, I'll get to the expense reports and now we have to add Ronnie to payroll and...by the way, is he on the books or...what?”
“For now...not, but I may want him to be a permanent addition if he likes it here.”
“Not sure about that. He was telling his dad it was just until Candice comes back,” she said. “Pretty sure they want him to go back to school, so...doubt he'll stay long.”
Frankie sighed. “What a shame,” he muttered, watching Ronnie refuse to serve beer to someone who looked around thirteen years old.
The shout of his name didn't startle him as much as the arms wrapping around him uninvited. He didn't care for the wiry hair in his face, either. It was nothing like Cassandra's soft, touchable curls. It wasn't until the girl pulled away that he recognized her.
“Patricia...hi,” he said.
“Yeah, how ya doing, Simon? It's been so long!” she said, all bubbly.
“I'm well, thanks, Patricia,” he said, glancing briefly at the bar. “And ...how have you been?”
This was a big mistake, because she actually told him...in great detail.
“...and so, I decided not to go to Berkley after all. Michigan State was cool, I mean actually it was freezing but, you know, I would only burn in Cally!” she said playing with her wiry hair, indicating her pale, burn-prone skin. “So, I'm back home now and so are you! But you're in...uh...medical school, right? Ronnie told me. How cool is that, huh?”
“Well, I like it,” he replied, wishing she would just fade away. There was, after all, a reason they broke up several years ago.
“So...would you like to dance with me?” she said.
“Ah...well, I would but my girlfriend would likely kill me if I did,” he said, pointing to the bar. “You know how girls are.”
She turned in the direction he pointed and frowned. “Who's your...uh... the little curly headed girl talking to the bartender?”
“Yes, that's Cassandra and her brother, the bartender, is also the owner of this place,” Simon explained.
“Wow, didn't know,” she said, turning back with a wide smile. “Well, it was really great seeing you again. Maybe we can get together, you and um, your girlfriend and some of the guys from school.”
“Yes, that would be nice. I'll...”
“Here,” she said pulling her cell out of her pocket. “Give me your number and I'll call you.”
Simon so much would have rather not done that, but he figured he had no choice, and the only way to get rid of this annoying person was to tell her his number and hope that her phone would vanish along with it. He watched in agony as she excitedly punched the numbers in.
She giggled and hugged him again. “Catch ya later, Simon!” she said, and thankfully bounced away.
A moment later Cassandra came back to him and he couldn't help but look guilty. “She was an old friend, that's all,” he said, before she said anything.
“Um...okay,” Cassandra said, smiling. “You can hang out with her instead. It's gonna be boring with...”
“Exactly why I don't want to be with her...because she will be boring,” he said, glancing to the bar to make certain Frankie wasn't looking before slipping his arm around her waist and she led the way to the back office.
She laughed. “I got news for you, Simon,” she said.
“Your brother is not going to kill me today...he's waiting til after Christmas?” he said, opening the door for her.
“No, not that,” she said, turning the light switch on. “I'm not the jealous type.”
“Then you'd be the first girl I ever met who can honestly say that,” he said, closing the door behind them. “Thank God I found you first.”
He then grabbed her and kissed her soundly.
“Simon, I just spent the last ten minutes convincing Frankie this was NOT what we'd be doing in here,” she said.
“So...we've got another ten minutes before he comes to check on us,” he said, pulling her closer. “I'm okay with that.”
So was she oddly enough.
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