"Stop staring at me!"
Ronnie swiftly pulled his eyes back onto the road.
"One more time," Sophie said, her teeth clenched so tightly she looked like a bad ventriloquist. "I'm not gonna ruin their big, fricken day! I will put on a happy face once we get back to Catalpa Valley and I'll tell them I'm eternally happy for them, okay? And if you look at me one more time with those kicked-once-too-often-puppy-dog eyes I will smack you upside the head so hard you won't wake up til next week!"
Oh, yeah, that was reassuring! Yes, Ronnie had been glancing anxiously at her the whole ride out of the city because he just didn't know when she'd explode and he was certain she would. She sat there riding shotgun with her arms folded over her chest, scowling and seething with so much anger it was palpable. Well, guess she just did explode, so maybe now he could relax a bit, but still, he didn't believe her for a second!
Why, oh why had he opened up his big mouth? He never should have said he wanted to go to his dad and Violet's engagement party and Simon—who, by the way, got out of this car ride from hell because Sophie refused to allow him to drive her home. She was furious with him for calling her rightfully out on her selfishness. Blast him! Simon should just have allowed her to stay back and none of this would have happened.
As it was, however, Ronnie was sitting next to a volcano ready to erupt at any moment. He didn't want Sophie making a scene at the party, making Violet call things off and ruining his father's big day, but he was so sure she would. If that didn't make for the worst, most uncomfortable and anxious car ride, he certainly didn't know what would.
He turned on the radio and tried to make conversation. "So, um…when do you start work?" he asked tentatively.
"Don't know," she snapped.
Okay, forget about talking. He played with the radio looking for something that wasn't ancient and was good enough to listen to. If he heard 'Havana-ooh-la-la' one more time he'd want to drive off a bridge. He discovered it was rather difficult to program the radio stations he like while driving as he didn’t quite understand how to do it.
"Let me do that," Sophie said, slapping his hand away from the radio. She proceeded to program several stations-- without asking Ronnie if he liked them-- into the panel and left it on the best song she could find. After a while she even started singing along with it.
"Music really does sooth the savage beast," he muttered under his breath, after she sang along to three songs in a row.
"I heard that," she said.
"How do you know about satellite radios when you don't have a car of your own?" he asked.
"Rance has a Porche with one," she said.
Of course he did. Ronnie could feel himself grinding his back teeth at the mention of Mr. Richie Rich. "So, any plans on getting your band back together or forming a new one?" he asked.
She sighed. "I don't see how. The guys have scattered like crows, and Rance is so into learning everything he can of his dad's business that he won't have time for anything else. It's so depressing," she said.
Ronnie was instantly sorry he brought it up. "So…where do you think you'll look for an apartment? They're horribly expensive in Manhattan. You might have to go to Brooklyn or Queens or even Staten Island to find something you can afford and in a nice neighborhood."
"When can you take me shooting?" she suddenly asked.
"I mean… you got me the gun, so I gotta learn how to use it properly, right?"
"And I gotta practice so I'm good," she said.
"Yeah…" he said, wary.
"You said you would," she said, glaring at him.
"Yeah, sure. I'll have to see when I start work and when you have off and… you know, when our schedules allow it," he said.
"I'm definitely bringing that with me and I gotta pack my clothes and…" she went on listing in her head all she had to do for the move to Victor's apartment. "Which of the rooms do you think I can have at your dad's apartment?"
"Don't you think you should wait until you ask your mom and my dad to see if it's okay with them first?" Ronnie suggested.
She gave him an evil looking grin. "Oh, believe me, it'll be okay," she said, and she turned back to singing.
Ronnie wasn't sure about this at all.
"Okay, so here is a bunch of our favorite take out places," Simon said, flipping through the menus.
"Simon…" Cassandra said.
"There's Mexican, Chinese," he proceeded, placing the menus down on the counter as he went. "Best Thai food here."
"This place has great soups and salads," he continued. "The diner's good for comfort food."
"Great Poke here, if you're into that stuff," he went on.
"What?" he said, shocked.
"Simon, have you seen the fridge and pantry?" Cassandra asked, exasperated.
"No. What about them?"
"I have," she said, going to the pantry door and opening it. "There's enough food in there to feed a family of four for a month, maybe two!"
"Simon, Ronnie's gonna be back tonight, at the latest tomorrow," she said. "I think I can manage until then…without getting take-out."
"But you're not well and…"
"Simon, I feel tons better now," she said, smiling indulgently. "I'm planning on vegging out on the sofa with a bag of chips and binge-watch whatever I find interesting. I will be fine alone. I actually think I'll like it for a change."
Simon nodded, though he wasn't convinced. He dropped the menus on the counter, placed his arms around her and held her for a long moment. "Guess I gotta go. Ronnie's got a half hour head start," he said.
She laughed and pushed out of his arms. "Tell your dad and Mrs. Bennett I'm so happy for them," she said.
"I better not, lest your broth…I mean, your family come around looking for you and…you know," he said.
"Oh, yeah," she said, frowning.
"Can you do something for me?" he asked.
"Call your dad," Simon said, holding his hand up before she could argue. "Please, it would be the adult thing to do and you do want them to see you as an adult, right?"
She grumbled and conceded the fact with a reluctant nod.
"Please, do it sooner than later," he said, running his hand over her soft cheek. "I'm sure by now they are frantic and that's not fair to them."
"And where should I tell them I am?" she said.
"You don't have to say where, just that you are safe and that you need time to think," Simon said. "Maybe think about which university you'd like to attend?"
She smiled. "Good idea."
"Okay, I'll leave you to your binge TV watching," he said. "Have another cup of Uncle Mac's Cure-all some time today, okay?"
She pushed him out the door when he still didn't seem like he wanted to leave, and she leaned on the closed door for a while just looking around this gorgeous luxury apartment. This literally was the first time she was ever truly alone although nobody is really alone in this huge city.
She felt thrilled, exhilarated and, if truth be told, a bit frightened…no, nervous was the better word. She had nothing to fear here, on the twentieth floor in a modern building with a big doorman at the front entrance and good, hopefully decent people for neighbors, most of whom probably kept to themselves and never bothered anybody.
Yes, Cassandra would be fine. Of course, she wasn't so sure of that being true after she talked to her brother/father.
She sighed, went to her room, grabbed her phone and made the call.
"My God, Cassandra! I thought you were dead! Where are you? I've been worried sick!"
Frankie did indeed sound frantic, just as Simon had said. A tiny bit of guilt tried to catch hold, but she pushed it down.
"Well, Frankie, I'm obviously not dead, so you can stop calling," she said, softly.
"Are you there?" he screamed into the phone.
"Of course I am," she said irritably, looking at her phone to see if there were enough bars. "Can't you hear me?"
"Now I can. Where are you? You hafta come home, Cassandra," he said.
"Right, well, I have other plans," she said.
"Where are you? I'm coming to get you," he said.
"Don't think so," she said. "I'm enjoying my freedom far too much to give it up so soon."
"Cassandra, be sensible. Papa is having a fit! He's sick as a dog and he's gotten worse since he found out you were gone," Frankie said. "You need to come home before he dies."
"Know what I discovered, Frankie?" Cassandra said, casually. "Papa only seems to be near death when I want to go somewhere. He gets instantly deathly ill every time I'm more than two steps away from him."
"What are ya talking about? He's got cancer. He's on his last leg," Frankie said.
"He eats like a pig, drinks like a fish, barks orders like a drill sergeant, can stay up half the night when he's got company to entertain and somebody willing to play dominos with. He's full of energy and is perfectly capable of doing all sorts of things just as long as his little slave is there to be pushed around, neglected and abused."
"Abused? Oh, come off it!"
"You think it's perfectly all right for him to yell at me night and day and order me around and prevent me from having friends and going anywhere, not even college?"
"You know that's just how he is," Frankie said. "He's old-fashioned and old and in pain and not long for this world. We have to make allowances."
"Do WE? Really?" she said, bitterly. "Seems to me only I have to. You get out of doing everything and he's not even my father. He's yours!"
"I have a club to run. I work, Cassandra," Frankie said.
"And I don't work my ass off taking care of Papa and working for you in the office?"
"Yes, you do but…"
"Papa can get Aunt Rosa to clip his toenails from now on."
"Cassandra, listen to me…"
"No, it's your turn to listen to me. I'm done with that shit. Papa can drop dead now, cuz I ain't coming back."
Cassandra heard the gasp at the other end of the line and had a moment's thought she might have gone too far, but she was fueled by years and years of resentment.
"I know you don't mean that. You're mad at me. Cassandra, I'm sorry," Frankie said, changing tact. "I'm sorry for everything we've put you through and…"
"Yes, you are sorry. You certainly are a sorry excuse for a father," she said. "I called just to tell you I'm fine, I'm safe and…"
"Where the hell are you!"
"That is my little secret," she said. "I will text you every night so you don’t worry. But other than that do not bother me, do not call me, nothing, or I won't even do that for you. Got me?"
"Cassandra…I love you."
She could hear the emotion in his voice, but too little too late. "Yeah, sure you do. Good bye."
Only as she put the phone down did she notice her heart had been beating super fast, but now that it was over she couldn't help feeling empowered...just like Wonder Woman.
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