Geeze, is she ever gonna get tired of this?” Sophie said, wrapping her arms around her shivering body.
Ronnie shook his head. “Doesn’t look like it,” he said as they watched Cassandra race passed them yet again. “She’s kinda good.”
This was a slight understatement. For the third hour out on the ice in the blistering cold, Cassandra tirelessly twirled and spun in tight circles until you’d think she’d be too dizzy to stand. She shot forward so fast down the entire length of the rink as if the devil himself were after her. Then she’d gracefully weave in and out of slower skaters then skate backwards while everyone stared in astonishment. She even did a couple of small, but nicely executed jumps.
“She looks like a woman possessed or something,” Sophie said, sounding worried.
“She looks like an ice angel,” Simon said, wistfully.
“Oh, brother…” Sophie said, rolling her eyes. “Don’t ya think maybe we should tell her to stop this? It’s freezing! She might get sick.”
“It is getting real cold now that the sun’s gone,” Ronnie said. “I’d hate to see her get sick on top of everything else that’s happened to her.”
“Fine, if you’re so cold you two can go on back to the apartment,” Simon snapped, annoyed because he was also getting rather cold, but not willing to admit it. “I’m not going to be the one to stop her fun.”
“I’m just saying, okay, maybe she is having fun, but there are other ways for her to chase away her demons without her catching pneumonia,” Sophie said.
“Why do you say she’s chasing demons?” Ronnie asked.
“Isn’t it obvious? She just found out her father isn't her father and her brother is. Believe me, that's a major demon producer,” Sophie said. “I wasn’t kidding when I said she looks possessed. I’m worried about her. This isn’t normal, not for her.”
“How about a hot chocolate?” Ronnie suggested.
“I’d love one!” Sophie said.
“I meant for Cassie,” Ronnie said.
“Good idea,” Sophie said, standing up and rubbing her gloved hands together. “Let’s get some for all of us. She’ll have to come off the ice to drink it. Then she’ll realize how cold she really is.”
Simon was surprised to find this tactic actually worked, but he was dismayed to find Sophie had been right about the other thing; Cassandra getting sick.
Everything had been fine -- at least they thought so-- during late dinner at a nice, yet casual place where Cassandra barely touched her soup and sat staring off into space absently nibbling on crackers while the others chowed down like starving orphans. Cassandra could not get warm enough even with Simon’s coat wrapped around her over her own coat and she complained about a sore throat and started sneezing.
With every sneeze Simon wanted to kick himself and by the time they were back at the apartment Cassandra was shivering, aching all over, coughing and feeling about as miserable as you could get.
“This is my fault,” Simon said. “I should not have let you stay outside for so long.”
“I wanted to be out there, Simon. I needed to be out there,” Cassandra said, before blowing her nose for the tenth time in as many minutes. “It was good to feel free… like I haven’t felt in…forever.”
“Still…it was too long in this brutal cold,” he said. “Go take a hot bath before you go to bed. I need to go out for a few minutes, but I’ll be back soon.”
“Out this late? Where you going?” she asked.
“I need to get you something for this cold,” he said. “Make the water as hot as you can stand it, okay? And stay there until the water gets cold. I should be back before you’re done.”
“I’m surprised your dad doesn’t have some cold medicine in the apartment. Everybody else in the world does during winter,” Cassandra said, shaking her fuzzy head just before sneezing three times in a row.
“Not the stuff I’m getting for you which I guarantee will make you feel tons better by tomorrow,” he said, leading her into his father’s private bathroom with the deep bathtub and strong whirling jets. “Put a couple of drops of this in the water and turn on the jets after you get in.”
“What is that stuff?” she said, dropping her over-sized pocketbook near the tub’s edge.
“Eucalyptus, peppermint and some other stuff… it’ll help clear you up,” he said, handing her a tiny amber bottle.
She suddenly smiled holding the bottle, aptly named Breathe. “Are you officially my doctor now?” she said with a giggle. “Or should I call you a witch doctor, VooDoo guy?”
“You can decide that after your bath,” he said, placing a clean towel and a thick terrycloth bathrobe on the ledge behind the tub before turning on the hot water. “I’ll get Ron to fix up my room for you while I’m gone, to change the sheets and stuff, make room in the closet for your things. I don’t keep too much here anymore, but...”
“You don’t have to do that, Simon. I don’t want to kick you out of your own room,” she insisted. “I’m fine sleeping on the sofa or wherever.”
“If you’re going to be living here with Ron, for however long that may be, you may as well have your own room all to yourself starting tonight,” Simon said, backing out of the now steamy bathroom. “I’ll be back soon. Get in the tub and relax.”
She smiled as the door closed over and clicked shut. Then her smile faltered and vanished with another string of earth shattering sneezes. Her head ached, her nose felt raw from all the tissues she’d used on it, she was so very tired and chilled to the bone. She sighed, wiped her nose with the back of her hand, removed her clothing and gratefully hopped into the tub.
She added a few drops of the oil as instructed and just as she started to relax her cell phone rang. She grumbled and had been about to get out to answer it, then she thought better of it.
It was probably Frankie, after all, and she certainly did NOT want to ruin her nice bath time by being yelled at. She could call him later… maybe tomorrow. If she felt a twinge of guilt she’d try to drown it in the tub. Maybe send a text later? Why should she? She did not care if he worried. He hadn’t cared enough for all her life to tell her the truth, so why should she feel a bit guilty?
The phone kept ringing.
“Damn it!” she muttered, reaching for her pocket book.
She nearly fell out of the tub to get hold of her purse, then dripping water everywhere she grabbed the cell. Instead of answering it, however, she turned it off. Then she slipped back into the warm water. She felt better
“Doesn’t seem fair,” Sophie mumbled to herself.
“What?” Ronnie said.
“This,” she replied.
He made a face. “You don’t have to help with the sheets if you don’t want. I can do it myself.”
“No, Dummy. I don’t care about that. It’s just…Cassie’s now got a great place to live in the City and she doesn’t have a job to start or school to attend or anything like I do,” she said, slipping the sheet onto the corner of Simon’s bed. “I’m the one that really needs a place!”
Ronnie laughed. “I’m sure you can find a nice place, too,” he said, tugging the corner of the fitted sheet so hard that the opposite end slipped out of Sophie’s grip. “Sorry about that.”
“Anyway, I wonder what she’ll do all day long?” Sophie said, slipping the last corner of the fitted sheet onto the bed. "Her time as always spent taking care of her...whatever Mr. Belarosa is now and doing the books for Frankie. She has nothing to do now."
“She can now do whatever she wants,” he said, unfolding the top sheet and shaking it out flat.
“What will you do?” she asked, stuffing a plump pillow into a snug fitting case.
“Work. I start in a few days,” he replied.
“What will you do before that?”
“Uh…I dunno,” Ronnie said, wondering why she wanted to know, but not enough to actually ask. “Show Cassie around town, I guess.”
“Like where?” Sophie asked, propping two plump pillows against the head board.
“Nearest bodega, drugstore, library, museums…stuff like that so she doesn’t get bored…or lost,” he said, tossing the comforter onto the bed and smoothing it out.
“Guess she can cook for you,” she said.
“Only if she wants to,” Ronnie said. “Not gonna make her.”
“She’s Italian, of course she’ll want to!” Sophie said and they both laughed.
“Hey, just realized…she’s only half Italian. What if the Polish half doesn’t like to cook?” Ronnie said, laughing at his own joke.
“I don’t see that being a problem,” Sophie replied. “She’s been raised full out Italian. Cooking is in her blood.”
"Yeah, but who knows? Maybe she'll go to school or get a job," Ronnie said. "It's NYC...the possibilities are endless."
"Tell me about it," Sophie said, then she gasped. "Oh, shoot!"
"What's wrong now?" Ronnie asked.
"I just thought of something!" she said miserably.
"Thinking is that painful for ya, huh?" he said smirking. "Joking! Just joking!"
"No, stupid! I forgot my Christmas present," she snapped.
"Big deal. You're going back tomorrow,” he said dismissively.
“I mean the one you got for me...it's on your dad's desk, remember?”
“Yeah, like I said, no big deal. It’ll be there when you get back,” he assured her.
“But what if your brothers get to it?” she said, her eyes horrified at the possibilities for disaster. “They could think it’s a toy and…”
He rolled his eyes. “They won’t go in Dad’s office. They know to stay out,” he said.
“Did you always listen to your parents when they told you not to do something?” she asked.
He frowned. He most certainly had NOT.
“Maybe you should get Georgiana to put it away, like under your bed in your room,” she said. “Just to make sure. I’m scared what could happen if they think it’s a toy or something.”
Ronnie nodded pulling out his cell phone. “Good idea. She knows not to play with it, but the boys…not so much,” he muttered as he swiftly tapped out a message to his little sister. “There…done. She’s on it. She’s such a great kid. Love her!”
Sophie stared at him.
“What?” he said. “Am I being funny again?”
She shook her head.
“Then what?” he said.
“Were you serious, Ronnie, when you said I could call you anytime... And we could go shooting?” she asked.
“Wouldn'tve said it if I didn't mean it,” he said.
She stared at him again.
“What??? Say it already!” he snapped.
She smiled sadly. “I just...I really like you Ronnie. You're so nice to ...you're nice to everybody.”
“You say it like it's a bad thing,” he retorted gruffly in a feeble attempt to hide his embarrassment.
She shook her head. “No, it’s never a bad thing...unless you let people take advantage of you.”
He made a weird face. “You think you're taking advantage of me?” he asked.
“Me? No,” she said
“Then who? Not Cassie I hope,” he said.
She shrugged. “Maybe.”
“She needs our help, Sophie. I won't turn my back on her.”
“And that's why you're a great guy,” she replied with a sigh. “I almost wish I was the one in trouble so you would...you know...”
“Are you kidding me?” he said.
“It's just… everybody’s eager to help Cassie and I don't know where I'm going. I have an internship, but I don’t know what I’m supposed to do and I got no place to live.”
“You are incredible,” he said. “Cassie just had her world blown apart and you're worried about getting an apartment and what you have to do at the cushy job that just landed on your lap??? And that you think it's the same thing as finding out your mother might not be dead?
“Okay, okay! So I'm being petty and selfish...it's who I am,” she said.
He stared at her, a curious expression suddenly appearing on his face.
“Stop looking at me like that!” she said, nearly in tears.
“No, that’s not it,” he said softly.
“Not what?” she said.
“You're not being selfish or petty. You're scared,” he said.
“What? Scared? You’re crazy!” she said, turning her back on him.
“Yeah, you are. I can see it so clear now. You're still a small town kid--as much as you don't want to be, you feel like one and you're afraid nothing you do will change that.”
“Since when are you a mind reader?” she snapped.
He chuckled. “Simon must be rubbing off on me I guess. Sophie, it's not a big deal living in the City,” he said. “Whatever you need, if you have any questions, I’m here to help you, just like I’m here to help Cassie with her problems. Okay?”
She stared at him, a spark of hope in her eyes.
“Okay?” he said repeated.
She shrugged. “Sometimes I kinda wish you were my brother. Then maybe Mom would let me stay here with you and Cassie,” she said. “Better go see if Cassie needs anything.”
Ronnie sank onto the bed after she left, weak with relief. “Thank God for that then,” he muttered to himself. “If you think I’d want you around here prancing around in skimpy clothes, driving me crazy and…even if you were my sister…oh, hell no!”
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