Burning Ashes (Sequel to Willow House)

Cassie Brooks has a heart rendering decision to make, between Ash and Liam. Who will she choose?


7. Friend and Foe.




I hoped to god Becky hadn’t got the wrong idea out of helping me. She didn’t think I wanted her to flirt with Ash and make him leave me out of the question... Did she? Because that’s what she was doing. She was sat really close to him, close enough to be laid across his lap. And she seemed to keep nudging him, touching him. I made me even angrier. I felt Liam sit down beside me. He nodded over to Becky and Ash; obviously he’d noticed it too. “What’s with them?” He linked his hand through mine and I stared at it like it was some sort of poison. “Dunno.” I spat the word through gritted teeth at my spiteful mood. I knew what was up, but it was unexplainable to Liam. I didn’t want him to know I had any feelings for Ash either. It would be too obvious if I told him how Becky was flirting with him, it’d be too obvious I was jealous. I stared at the two of them all drama, I was off task and preoccupied by the flirting pair. Ash didn’t have anything for Becky did he? Because if he did, then why did he let me sleep with him last night? I couldn’t wait to interrogate him in English. This was different for me; I wasn’t usually the one to look forward to English with him. 


We sat at our usual table in the corner at the back; Ash always seemed very close to me in English and today was no exception. “You always been close to Becky?” I just came out and said it because I couldn’t stand it any longer. He looked over at me, confused. “Eh? Well, not really. She’s very friendly though.” 

“Too friendly.” I muttered. 


“Nothing.” I shrugged it off and didn’t look at him. I laid my palms down flat on the table. Admiring my shocking nails. I looked over to where Becky sat and I found here staring over at Ash. I gawked at her until she saw me. She shot thumbs up my way and I pretended to slit my throat with my finger. I shook my head at her, but she acted like she didn’t understand me. Ash followed my gaze, and she waved when he noticed her. “Are you jealous?” He turned to me, his mouth dropped and his eyes widened. “You are, aren’t you!?” I slapped his leg.

“No I am not!” 

“Shh!” Miss shh’ed us from the front. I mimed an apology and went back to Ash.

“Oh you are.”

“No, I’m not. Ash, give up.” He moved a little away from me. 

“Okay. Becky’s a nice girl. Don’t hurt her Cassie, else I’ll hurt you.” What the actual fuck? What the hell is he on about? He’ll hurt me if I hurt her? I’m not going to hurt her, why would I hurt her!?

“What? Why would I hurt Becky?” I let my left eyebrow rise at his accusations.

“Because you’re jealous of our friendship. Well I’m sorry, if I’m not allowed friends then maybe...” Maybe? “Maybe I shouldn’t have anything to do with you, if it concerns you that much.” No! Don’t say that Ash! What’s happening in my life? I can’t stand any more drama!




Oh no. What have I done? I just said I don’t want anything to do with Cassie Brooks! Oh man, no! You idiot! That’s Cassie you’re talking to! Now she thinks I like Becky. Becky Coral. I didn’t like Becky! But come to mention it, she had suddenly started getting closer to me. We’d flirted maybe a little in science but that was it! Nothing more! I like Cassie. End of story. I had to make this right. “Cassie, I didn’t mean it. I just...” She seemed a little hurt at my words, but still, she covered it well. Not well enough. I could read this girl like a book. I tried to grab her hand, but she just pushed me away. She was angry, but upset; I could almost see the tears prickling at her eyes. She hid her face in her hands. “Cassie please. I don’t like Becky. Honest.” It wasn’t very convincing, but still, worth a try. She pulled up. No tears on her face, yet she wiped at her eyes ferociously. “Sure sure, whatever you say. Not like your lying or anything. Just spend a night with one girl and with another the next, y’know what? You should bring Becky back to the home. She’d love that.” Her words cut deep into me. But I had to be strong. Shame is about being strong; sometimes you forget to keep it up...




No protesting and lying from Ash mattered. I know what I saw, my eyes are the truth. As soon as the bell rang, I ran from the classroom, not bothered that the teacher shouted after me. I speed walked my way home. Home, I keep using that word. But it’s not home is it? It’s Willow. I walked back to Willow. As soon as I was in, I stomped up the stairs. Dumping my bags and my body in my room. My... No longer cold room! One upside of this measly day, my window was refitted. I bet it was that reinforced stuff as well. I smiled and sighed, burying my face in my duvets. “Erm, hello?” I shot up. Someone was in my room. There stood a girl my age. Please not another Becky. “Hi?” I stood up, wishing I could collapse on my bed. “My names Natalie and I think you’re in my room.” I felt my eyebrows furrow. 

“Nah, Nat, this is my room.” She smiled a little shy and started fiddling with her jumper.

“Nat. I like that! But, erm, they said the one no one used anymore. I guessed this one. Its, erm, kinda bare.” I can understand why she thought mine. She must be the girl taking up Molly’s new place. 

“Yeah, it is. Your room’s next door, I think. But...” I grabbed her wrist as she turned on her heels. “I don’t think you wanna stay in there.” I decided I’d help this girl. I had had no help really, other than maybe a little off of Ash, so I knew what it was like. “Then where do I go erm...” I rolled my eyes. 

“The names Cassie and you can stay with me if you like, Nat.” I added her nickname to my words. I think she liked the idea of having one. I knew I would have. “Really?” Her eyes lit up, like a child. But she was sixteen. Maybe this shy outlook was just a facade. “Sure, why not? Here, give me that.” I grabbed her sleeping gear and laid it out beside my bed. “Know anybody other than me yet?” It was a stupid question seen as they were all probably taking forever to get back. I had made two friends today, and I didn’t feel like losing Natalie. “No, not really. You seem nice enough, is everyone else like you?” A more confident Nat was coming through here. I was right, just a facade. 


“I wish!” that made her chuckle. An awkward chuckle, but it was a start. “Well, life round Willow’s hard, it is in all homes right? Don’t worry, if you want to hold onto your story, do it. I’d try and keep it to those you trust. When the stories get out... Things happen.” I remembered how Liam had reacted to my story. She smiled. “Thanks. Friends?” She held out her hand. I winked at her. “Girlfriends.” She laughed, loose and free. This was better. “Well, they should pop round my door one by one; I’ll introduce em as they appear.” An urge inside me wanted to spill my guts to this Natalie about my situation. Maybe this time I’d get it right. “Alright partner.” She played a western twang with her voice and I couldn’t help but laugh at the comical way it niggled at me. “Strange. I’m not really the people person. Ash is better at that.” As if by coincidence that was the first person to arrive. “Someone say my name?” Nat looked him up and down. Not checking him out, assessing him. Nat reminded me of myself. That’s a good sign of friendship with me. “This is Ash. Monumental dick, full time arsehole.” I glared at him. “This is Nat. Hurt her, I hurt you.” I used the line he had said to me. “Well, can’t argue with that, wait, that’s my line!” I wish he’d stop trying to play it cool with me. I hated the guy at this moment in time. Not truly, but I could try. “Now get out.” He walked backwards towards the door. 

“Nice to meet you Nat.”

“Out.”  I pointed to the door. He left without another word. Good. 

“Bundle of fun he seems. Thanks for introducing me as Nat, think I’m gunna keep that nickname.” She held her hand out to me. I high fived it as Liam stumbled in. 

“Window fixed?” He looked over at the glass. 

“Yep.” I smoothed the last crease in Nat’s bed set. 

“Who’s this then?” He came close to me but I sat down next to Nat to avoid any contact.

“This is Nat, my roomie; think she’s taking Molly’s old place.” He nodded. 

“Hey Nat, any friend of Cassie’s is a friend of mine. Any trouble, you tell me babe yeah?” I cringed at the ‘babe’ but smiled through it. “I’ll tell you. We don’t keep anything from each other Nat. Being my roomie, I look out for you. I know what it’s like to feel alone.” She nodded in agreement. 

“We all do.” Liam said grimly. And we did. We were all alone in this place, no matter how many people we were around. I knew just what Nat was going through, in many ways, luckily, I was here for her. She got the warm welcome I never got and she didn’t have a psycho Molly to contend with. I decided to tour Nat around Willow, taking her into every room. Meeting and greeting anyone I missed. Teresa seemed less protective over Corey, but that misty glare made me retreat as soon as customs were pushed aside. Nat seemed pretty happy about seeing Charley, she swept him into her arms the instant she saw him. “You’re good with kids?” Charley reached for me and Nat passed him over. 

“Kinda. I used to have a little brother. I raised him more or less all by myself. Mum and dad had no time for him. You get used to being in charge when there’s no one to relieve you of your duty.” I know I should let her hold onto her story. But she could trust me. And if I knew she could trust me with her story, then I could trust her with my situation. “Where’s your brother now then?” I said it softly, not to offend her. She looked to the floor as Charley wrapped his arms around her legs, only reaching her knees with his curly blonde hair. “Another home. They separated us. Anyone will pick him up; he’s cute and young, less history to deal with. And they said it’s harder to foster siblings. I let him go so he could have his best chance.” I placed my hand on her shoulder and squeezed.  

“You did the right thing.” 

“I know. I just... Miss him sometimes.” I watched Charley bound off towards the kitchen and I lead Nat back upstairs. Should I tell her now, or later?


“You trust me right?” Natalie piped up as I closed the door to my, I mean, our room. I turned up the heating and pulled my blazer, which I was still wearing, tight around my body. What I would give for an Ash right now. No! Don’t do it! Your mad with him, remember? Oh yeah. “Sure I do. And you me right?” She nodded. “I feel like you want to tell me something. You’ve been waiting all afternoon haven’t you? Since the moment you found me in your room?” She was good. I may have underestimated Nat a little. “Well, yeah.” I admitted it and rubbed the back of my neck, feeling a little awkward. She laughed. 

“I seem to have that affect on people. One minute I’m meeting them, next minute their spilling their guts out to me.” I bit my lips. 

“Don’t you mind?” She shook her head. 

“Why would I? I feel accepted when people share secrets with me. Feel part of something. Plus I’m not too bad at helping!” She stood up and grabbed my hands. “I have a feeling you need to sit down to explain this one.” Man. She’s like a psychic. I swear she’s reading my thoughts. But I didn’t complain, it made it easier on me anyway. So I began the story. This time, I left nothing out, and I didn’t express extra things. I told the honest truth. I hope this girl is really what she seems.


 Like Becky had, Nat listened through my long and maybe in parts, dull, story of my irrevocable love triangle that had me in a state of affair. But unlike Becky, she didn’t make assumptions, she didn’t make rash actions, and most of all, she actually listened and understood my situation. “Hmm. Yeah, sticky one.” Her lip pushed to one side. “But, put it this way, if you truly loved Liam, you would never have started to love Ash.” She was right, of course. “But by the looks of things,-” she referred to earlier “-you and Liam are somewhat ‘together’?” I nodded. 

“I think so. I sound so horrible Nat! I sound like some dirty whore! I hate it! Why can’t I do something it sort it? I planned on choosing, but it was just so hard! So I threw myself out of a window and the idiots brought me back to life!” She hid a smile.

“I don’t think you died Cassie.” 

“You know what I mean.” 

“Your gunna have to choose. You can’t lead them on forever.” I cringed.

“See? I’m disgusted with myself!” She hugged me as I found myself actually crying. 

“Shh, look. It wasn’t really your fault was it?” I tended to blame everything on myself so I just nodded in response. I heard the click of the door being opened and I jumped out of Nat’s arms to find a mirror and occupy myself with ridding myself of my black tear stains. I shouldn’t wear makeup, because all I do is cry it off. It felt awkward, what with Nat knowing my situation, when she was in my room when Ash entered. I felt on show, like I had either something to prove, or to cover everything up.


Ash nodded at Nat and she crossed her arms over her chest, swung her leg over the other and stared. Eyebrows raised. Waiting. Ash rubbed his jaw, something he’d been doing a lot lately, and came over to me, only just missing my ‘has-been’ stains.  “Yeah? What do you want?” He looked down at his palms, conjuring up his words. I sighed, a loud, deep sigh. And Nat raised one of her already highly arched eyebrows up at me. I looked over at her, with an expression of what to do now. She shrugged. “W-w-well?” It was a stutter of a word. I looked him in the eyes as he came back to reality, and waited some sort of argument, but I got something else instead. He stepped forward and caught me in an outright kiss. In front of Nat. Oh no. 

“Hey! You can’t do that!” Nat grabbed Ash’s arm and pulled him back and I stumbled. He shrugged her off and caught me. “Erm, since when do you decide what can and can’t do?” Ash turned to Nat. 

“Ash!” I tugged on his sleeve. “Make up your mind!” 

“Yeah, make up your mind, leading people on isn’t nice, is it Ash?” Nat could be really spiteful and mean when she wanted to be, but I saw that shy scared little new girl under all that. Was she confronting Ash for me? “Natalie, just, leave him. Ash is just... Ash.” I winked at her and then sent her the ‘abort mission’ look.  “Oh, oh, I’m just ‘Ash’” He made the quotes signs with his fingers. I smiled. I couldn’t help it! He just makes me happy. “Yeah, you are. But, I don’t want to talk to you.” He made an over dramatic hurt expression, and fell to his knees. “No, oh, no! Cassie no! Please talk to me again.” He basically begged. I know he was faking but it was still funny. Nat was in laughing fits on my bed. He winked up at me, and whilst Nat wasn’t looking, came to his feet and kissed my forehead. “Forgive me?” I shook my head. 


“Ha! Denied.” Ash grumbled. 

“I’ll talk to you when she isn’t around, it’s easier then.” Nat sat up. 

“What? Because you can walk all over her when I’m not here? You can force her to do stuff she doesn’t want to do? Just wondering...” Nat held her place. I sent her a wide eyed look. She smiled at me. Ash turned out and stormed out. “Nat!” I came to the bed where she sat. 


“Never do that again. Ever.” She shrugged. 

“Sorry.” That was it. She just went back to being my shy friend. 


I plodded down stairs to the kitchen for tea with Nat on my heels. “Where do I sit?” She whispered it to me. Back to shy and scared again. I pointed at Molly’s old seat, but I don’t think she got the idea. She sneaked into Liam’s seat next to me, just before he sat down. “Hey. Nat? That’s my seat.” She looked up at him. “Sorry, not anymore.” I felt my eyes widen even further. Wish she’d make up her mind too. Liam looked at me. I just shrugged as he took Molly’s old seat. We all chomped on through tea time in silence, no one really spoke. A cough maybe, sniffles, just the usual. No conversation made, and I felt put on the spot every single time Liam or Ash looked at me. By the time most of the food had been devoured, I just wanted to go to bed. But Mark held us back, well, Teresa, me, Liam, Ash and Nat by ‘us’. Charley and Corey left the kitchen and Mark sat down. “As you know, being in your last year in school, you’ll have your school Prom.” Oh great. “And so, I’ve got your allowances here, your saved up monies. You can have as much of that as you need for your formal dress.” Really? 

“When is Prom?”

“Too soon.” Liam grumbled. “We’ll be off to the halfway house soon... Right?” Mark nodded. 

“I can try and get you transferred together, all of you to the same house. But I’m no miracle worker.”

“No, you’re a social worker.” I honestly couldn’t resist. Mark smiled.

“You got that right, now, your money.” He emptied out a bag full of cash. It looked like some bank robbery scene. He shared the money out between us, according to what we wanted and what we needed, and on our allowance balance. “There. Natalie, you sure you want to go? You haven’t attended a day at that school yet.” She sat up and nodded with great enthusiasm. 

“Yes! Yes! Any chance I get to wear a nice dress, I’ll take it!” I rolled my eyes at her. She caught me doing it and tapped my arm. Mark coughed to gain attention again. “You are all going to go and get your outfits this weekend. If you don’t go then, you don’t go at all. Am I clear?” Everyone nodded, so I joined in. Prom. Choice making day. I noted it in my head as; ‘The day of reckoning’. I’m doomed.

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