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Cassidy Lane: first chapter

“WHERE ARE YOU? I’m dying here.”

Cassidy sat down on the bed, cell phone pressed to one ear, and pulled her knees up against her chest. “Do I have to go? I’m sort of having second thoughts.”

“Stop it. If you don’t get down here, and soon, I’m going to murder you. I’m talking cold-blooded murder. Probably a stabbing.”

Cassidy couldn’t help but smile. “Were you this demanding in high school? I don’t remember this side of you from when you were attaching shoulder pads to your bra straps. Do you still have those?”

Patti let out a little gasp. “We must never speak of those again, do you hear me? Now stop stalling. You promised I wouldn’t have to go to this reunion without you.”

“I’m still in my bathrobe.”

“So, get dressed.”

“My hair’s still wet.”

“So dry it.”

“I have a weird little scrape on my nose.”

“So cover it up.”

“I don’t have anything to wear.”

“You’re lying. I was with you when you bought your dress at Bloomingdale’s a couple of months ago, remember? You were in town for the Fourth of July weekend. We had lunch at Pluto’s afterward, and you took approximately nine hours deciding between a grilled chicken sandwich and a salad with grilled chicken. I almost shot you.”

Cassidy balled her free hand into a fist. “Damn your encyclopedic memory. How many people are there?”

“There are about fifteen of us so far, plus some slippery guy named Trent who no one remembers. I think he might be in the witness protection program.”

“Only fifteen? Why did you get there so early?”

“I didn’t get here early. I got here on time.”

“I will never understand your obsession with punctuality.”

“I will never understand your obsession with marshmallows. Now stop stalling and get down here.”

Cassidy sighed, and the truth came out with her breath. “What if everyone is married with kids, Patti? I don’t want to be the only single person there.”

“Stop it. I bet lots of people from our class are single.”

“You’re not.”

“So? I’m just one person. Besides, anyone can find a husband and pop out a few kids. You’ve been off writing books, which, believe me, is way more exciting than wiping butts. I bet someone here will ask you for an autograph before the night is over.”

“Yeah, right.”

“Want to bet? Connie Thatcher already asked me if you were coming.”

Cassidy winced. “Oh no, not filterless Connie Thatcher.”

“Yes, the one and only, and for better or for worse, she hasn’t changed a lick. She even has the same unfortunate hairstyle. I’ll bet she’ll ask for your John Hancock.”

“She always said the most mortifying things. Remember that time in driver’s ed, when she asked me in front of the entire class if I could lend her one of the tampons she’d spotted poking out of my backpack?”

“Oh my God, I was so embarrassed for you when she did that.”

“You were embarrassed for me? Try being me in that situation.”

“Well, she’s here in all her awkward inappropriateness, so be prepared. Jimmy Hanson’s here too, although I imagine he goes by Jim now that we’re pushing forty. Didn’t you ask him to a Sadie Hawkins dance and he said no?”

Cassidy leaned her head against the headboard. “You’re hardly making a strong case for my attendance tonight. Is anyone there not related to one of my humiliating high-school incidents?”

“Get down here and find out for yourself. You flew all the way across the country to come to this, and I’m not letting you bail on me now.”

Cassidy ran her fingers through her damp hair and glanced out of the bedroom door down the hall, where she saw the soft glow of the flat-screen TV reflected in the glass French doors leading to the den. “It’s sort of fun being at my parents’ house. I feel like I’m seventeen again, even though I’m in the guest room now. Maybe I’ll just skip the reunion and hang out here with Mom and Dad. All we’re missing is my brother and actual videos on MTV, and it would be like the last twenty years never happened.”

“Have I been stuttering? Get your butt down here or your life will end tonight.”

Cassidy swung her legs onto the hardwood floor. “OK, OK, I’m coming. And for the record, I don’t think we would have been friends in high school if you were this mean then.”

“I’m not mean, I’m assertive. You’re the writer. You really should know your adjectives.”

“Believe me, I’m thinking of some adjectives right now. You’d better have a glass of wine waiting for me when I get there.”

“You know I will. Unless you want a Bartles and Jaymes wine cooler; Exotic Berry flavor, perhaps? That was your signature drink in high school, at least the handful of times I remember you actually drinking back then.”

“Only if you have on your signature pair of purple acid wash GUESS? overalls when you hand it to me. See you soon.”

Cassidy hung up the phone and stood up, then cinched her robe around her waist and walked into the guest bathroom. She studied her reflection in the mirror as she ran a comb through her hair. Dark and a bit wavy, it never seemed to grow more than an inch or two past her shoulders. She leaned in close to examine her fair skin and gently touched the scrape on her nose with her index finger, then traced the faint lines around the corners of her green eyes. The lines crinkled into tiny ridges when she smiled now, and sometimes even when she didn’t.

A rush of insecurity hit her with a force that startled her.

And surprised her.

Do I really have crow’s-feet?

Does that mean I’m old?

Do I look old?

Do I look as insecure as I feel?

Why am I so insecure?

Have I done enough with my life?

Will the popular girls still make me feel like they know something I don’t?

More importantly, why do I still care?

She stared at the mirror for a few moments, then closed her eyes and did her best to push the negative thoughts from her mind. She dried her hair and put on some makeup, then returned to the bedroom and opened the closet. Inside hung the burgundy dress she’d bought to wear tonight. With a fitted waist and cap sleeves, it was simple and classy and grown-up—she’d never been able to stand busy patterns of any kind on her clothes. She put in on, then set her hands on her hips and tilted her head in thought. Patti had assured her the style and color looked flattering on her five-six frame, but now Cassidy wasn’t so sure. She turned to one side and studied her profile.

Do I look hippy?

Is my belly poofing out?

She’d stayed pretty slender and fit all these years, but even so, this was one of those times she wished she had the superhuman figure of a supermodel. She faced the mirror straight on and nibbled on her thumbnail.

Is it cute enough?

Does it make me look stiff?

Will anyone care?

Almost without realizing what she was doing, she suddenly held out a hand as if greeting an old classmate, then forced a smile and spoke in a loud voice she barely recognized. “It’s great to see you! Can you believe it’s been twenty years?”

Cassidy blinked. Where had that impromptu rehearsal come from? She had to laugh. She was clearly overthinking this, and she hadn’t even left the house yet.

“Angel, are you OK?” A female voice called from the den.

Cassidy hollered back. “I’m fine, Mom. Just talking myself into going to this thing.”

“It’ll be easier once you have some wine in you. Trust me.”

Cassidy chuckled. “Thanks, Mom. You’re always a fountain of practical advice.”

She gazed back at her reflection. The nervous figure in the mirror looked nothing like the happy, confident, independent woman Cassidy was used to greeting every morning.

She frowned at herself.

Just yesterday you were fine. Yesterday!

Cassidy Lane had five published novels under her belt, one of which had recently become a best seller. After years of struggle, she finally had a steadily growing fan base that allowed her to write full-time. She lived in Manhattan, traveled—within reason—where and when she felt like it, got paid to basically make up stories, and rarely had to wake up early if she didn’t want to. It had been a lot of work to get here, but she was now quietly living a life most people could only dream about.

The woman facing her now, however, still felt like the smart girl no one had asked to the prom.


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