by Jessica Bailey
The knock came at the most inopportune time.
Cassie paused. The whir of her mixer ploughing through the ingredients for a velvet cake was difficult to hear over. The rain pouring buckets outside certainly didn’t help. But then her buzzer sounded, and she hurriedly turned off the mixer and wiped her hands on her apron. A quick glance at the microwave revealed it was nearly nine thirty at night. She wasn’t expecting anyone.
If it had been a friend, they would have texted, called. Or maybe it was one of her friends, and this was some sort of emergency. This belief was increased when the buzzer came again, an impatient trill through her house, three in a row. She cursed and threw off her apron before running to the foyer.
She didn’t think to check the peephole before she opened the door. She should have, because upon opening it, she saw a dripping wet Benjamin Summers on her stoop, breathing heavy like he’d run from his car across the lawn. Probably had.
Cassie started to close the door, but Ben stuck his foot inside to block it. Her heart was pounding fast. She hadn’t seen Ben in three years, and she had been just fine with that. They hadn’t parted on good terms. She thought she’d made it clear she never wanted to lay eyes on him ever again.
“I don’t have anything to say to you!” she said, bracing herself against the door.
“That’s not true, and we both know it,” he replied rather calmly, given the circumstances. “Look, Cass, just let me in. I only want to talk.”
“Well, I don’t—”
He pushed, and she gasped as she scrambled back, his strength overpowering hers. He closed the door behind him and straightened to his full height of over six feet, dragging his fingers through his dark curls. Eyes as blue and as turbulent as the ocean took her in: messy hair, flour on her cheek, a ratty shirt she’d had since high school but couldn’t bear to get rid of, and pajama shorts. Neon pink ones with cheery suns sewn into them.
God, he looked good. Better than good.
And that was the problem.
“You left,” she said, unable to hide the tremble to her voice. She hated herself for it. She didn’t want to be weak. “Okay? You got in a cab, said, ‘Hey, Cassie, I’m so sorry it didn’t work out,’ and then I never saw you again!”
“I mean, I texted you! I said I never want to see you again! And notice I never tried to get a hold of you again after that!” Her voice was rising a bit hysterically, and she swallowed it back. She took a deep, measured breath—gathered her thoughts. She could do this. “Now what the hell do you want?”
Once upon a time, Ben had been her best friend. Her best friend. They’d grown up together in a traditional, unoriginal way. Their parents were also best friends, and they’d had babies around the same time, and so Ben and Cassie had, of course, been tied at the hip since the cradle. In high school, they began dating. They were never going to be prom king and queen, but they did all right.
They’d had plans—they’d followed through with those plans. Moving to New York, college, Ben a painter, Cassie a baker. She wouldn’t have ever called it a love to withstand the ages, but damn it, they’d had something. And then he’d gone and ruined it by up and abandoning her out of the blue, with barely a good-bye. The only reason she’d gotten one at all was because she’d come home early and found him packing.
He glanced around. “Nice place.”
Since he wasn’t leaving, Cassie—Cassandra Isobel Michaels—growled, threw her hands up, and stomped back into the kitchen, the hardwood creaking under her feet. She shook her head as she switched her mixer on and returned to work. She had a wedding tomorrow, and she’d be at her shop, should have been at her shop, but a repairman had taken most of the afternoon to fix her air conditioner.
“At least one of us got what we wanted,” he said as he slid onto a stool at the island. “How’s the business?”
Cassie ignored him. Her tongue was glued to the roof of her mouth, so she thought that was best. Besides, she didn’t trust herself. Something nasty was bound to come out, and she prided herself on the fact that she was a civil person. Usually. She didn’t avoid confrontation—she just ensured it never came to that.
“Come on,” he coaxed. “You can’t ignore me forever.”
Oh, but I can, she thought. I can ignore you for an eternity, after what you put me through…
“This is good,” he said, and she turned to find him sampling a bowl with leftover batter. It was enough to make her swat him on the hand.
“Get out of that,” she said, taking the bowl and putting it on the counter by the sink. She flipped the mixer off and set about to pouring the cake into the prepped pans.
“But it’s delicious,” he protested.
Once she had the pans in the oven and it was closed, she put her hands on her hips, blew her bangs out of her eyes, and focused on her ex-fiancé. It was apparent he was never going to leave. She could ignore the problem no longer.
“What is it?” she said. “Out with it. I’m busy. I have a thousand things to do tonight to get ready for tomorrow, and I’m already behind. If you could just—”
“I had cancer.”
Her world tilted slightly. Confusion tangled in her thoughts, and she might have opened her mouth a few times. Wait, what? Cancer. What did he…? Was he implying…?
“It was a brain tumor.” The conversational note had dropped from his voice, and he held her eyes. “I was terminal.”
“I—” There was a hard lump in Cassie’s chest, making it difficult to breathe. “I don’t understand. When did this happen?”
“Before I left,” he answered. “It was why I—”
She put up her hands to stop him, and this time he obliged. That was good. That tilt had started to spin, and she had to sit down. She wound up doing so on the floor, her back up against the cabinets. This was a lot of information to process. She didn’t even know where to begin with the grenade he’d just handed her. Cancer. Brain tumor. Terminal.
“Before you left,” she whispered to herself.
“I didn’t want you to have to… deal with that,” he went on. “I didn’t want you to have to take care of me, look after me. I didn’t want you to feel helpless—I didn’t want to feel like a burden.”
“I have to clean up the water you trailed in,” she muttered, pushing herself to her feet. She waited until the world righted itself and then went to the pantry to grab a towel. She retraced their steps with single-minded determination, wiping up all of the mud. She had to process. She had to calm down. She had to do anything but blow up at him again. That wasn’t constructive behavior.
“Cassie,” he said to her back, having followed her. “Come on—”
“No!” she shrieked, abandoning the towel to whirl on him. He backed up a step, not having expected it. “No! No. You don’t get to do that.” She pointed her finger at him. “You don’t get to throw my life upside down, and then come back and tell me something like you had cancer! What do you mean, you didn’t want me there? It should have been my choice!” Great, now tears were blurring her vision.
“Cassie,” he said soothingly, grabbing her arms.
“No!” she yelled again and wrenched free of his grasp. She dragged her hand over her eyes and nose with a sniffle. “That was so selfish of you.”
“Selfish?” He drew away again.
“I’m a grown woman,” she said in a low, fervent voice.
“I know that,” he sighed.
“I can make my own decisions.”
“I know that, too.”
“THEN WHY DID YOU THINK IT WAS OKAY TO ABANDON ME?!”
“BECAUSE I’M A GROWN MAN, AND I DIDN’T WANT YOU TO SEE ME LIKE THAT!”
They both breathed heavily at one another after their outburst.
“I didn’t want you to see me like that,” he reiterated in a more soothing tone.
“Get out.” They were the first words to choke free.
She grabbed him, shoved him outside, and slammed the door after him, locking it for good measure.
She had so many burning questions.
But not now. No, right now she needed to be by herself.
And figure out what the hell to tell her husband.
Category: Fiction, Short Story, SNHU Creative Writing, SNHU online creative writing, SNHU Student