“I can’t take it anymore!” I yell to my parents, interrupting their shouting match. They both turned to me, stunned. I’ve been enduring this for weeks, their arguments getting more frequent and more heated everyday.
Tears are shining in my eyes as they face me. “Stop fighting all the time,” I shout. “I can’t even do my homework with the two of you screaming all the time. I can’t live like this anymore.”
“Don’t you dare talk to me like that,” my father snarls. “Go to your room.”
“No!” I shout. I’ve had enough, enough of their screaming and pointless fighting.
Without bothering to grab a jacket, I tear through the door and run to my spot beside the river. The only place were I’m safe.
It’s a cold September night, and it doesn’t take long until I’m shivering. But I’m not getting back in there.
I text Jake. What are you doing?
He doesn’t reply right away. It’s Gary’s birthday. Why?
Gary is his guy best friend. Jake had told me he was going out tonight, but I had forgotten. I can’t tell him to come back for me. So I just tell him to enjoy himself and cast my phone aside.
I’m freezing, but I cast off my unlaced sneakers and dip my feet into the icy water anyways. I wince at the pain — sharp and stabbing at first—, then welcome the numbness as my feet gradually lose their feeling. I can’t stay like this for too long, but for now, the numbness dulls the pain.
My parents have never gotten along, for as long as I can remember. It all started when they tried to conceive. They desperately wanted a boy, but all they got was me. I’ve known all my life that I was a disappointment to them. That’s why I prefer spending my time at Jake’s house. At least there I don’t feel like my very existence is bothering them.
I tilt my head back and glance at the stars. Try as I might, I can only find the great bear. I need Jake to find Cassiopeia. I need Jake to find myself.
I listen to the wind whistle through the trees, the sounds of the night comforting me. We moved away from the city when I was six and I instantly fell in love with the open spaces, with the rushing river and the forests crawling with life.
I miss Jake. I miss him every time we’re away. I’ve never felt that way with anyone. With just one look, he’ll understand what I’m thinking about. One smile from him is enough to brighten up my day. I never tire of hanging out with him, even if we’re just hanging out on his couch, playing scrabble with his brothers. Lately I’ve been wondering if we should cross that final threshold. But every time I’m about to, my fear holds me back.
As if by magic, Jake is standing there, at the top of the hill. The wind ruffles his hair as his face creases with worry. “Is everything all right?”
“Of course,” I nod, feeling oddly numb all over. “Why wouldn’t it be?”
“When you texted me, I thought — “ he climbs down the hill, coming closer. “Cassie, what the hell are you doing? You’re going to get hypothermia!”
I pull my feet out of the water self-consciously, my body responding strangely to my commands. “It’s fine.” I tell him.
He bounds down until he’s next to me, pulling off his jacket even as he moves. “Put this on,” he tells me. “Cassie, your lips are blue!”
“What about you? Aren’t you… aren’t you going to be cold?” My lips are numb, making it hard to speak.
Jake glares at me. “Don’t worry about me.” Without a word, he slips his jacket around my shoulders and pulls me easily onto his lap. Whoah.
I don’t protest this time, snuggling closer into his chest. His arms close around me, rubbing my back, sending my blood flowing through my frozen limbs.
“Why are you even out here?” He asks. “It’s freezing tonight.”
I can’t meet his eyes. I suddenly feel so tired. “They were arguing again. I couldn’t stand it anymore. They never stop yelling, Jake. They never stop.”
The tears start rolling down my face before I can control them. Jake says nothing, because there’s nothing to say. He holds me tight against him, letting me know he’s there.
“Why did you come back?” I ask him. “I didn’t want to ruin your evening.”
Jake cups my chin, forcing me to look at him. His green eyes are burning with a slow intensity. “I’ll always come back for you, Cassie. I’ll always be here for you.”
“I’ll miss you so much when you’re away.” I whisper, fresh tears pooling in my eyes.
He nods. “Me too, Cassie.” Then his gaze changes, speculating. “But we have one more year together before that. A year is a long time. What do you want to do with that year, Cassie?”
Instinctively, my eyes flicker to his lips. He laughs, and I feel myself blushing.
“I was hoping you would say that.”
Slowly, ever so slowly, he slides his warm hand to the nape of my neck, where my pulse is accelerating furiously. My eyes widen as he comes closer, then close as I greet his kiss. His lips are soft against mine, and I never want him to pull away.
I shift on his lap so I’m facing him and deepen the kiss, amazed by the sensations flaring up in my body. It was never like this when I kissed Ben — never.
We’re both breathing hard when we pull apart.
“Whoah,” I say.
“Whoah,” he agrees. A spark lights up in his green eyes. “That was a long time coming.”
I bite my lip. “What if this is a mistake, Jake? What if it messes up our friendship?”
He presses his palms on either side of my cheeks, his words reaching into me, ringing true to my very soul. “It can never be a mistake for us to be together.” He says softly.
My heart leaps in my chest, my sadness lifting. I’m elated.
I tilt up my head to the sky, Jake’s steady heartbeat strumming in my ear, and I see her. Cassiopeia. My namesake.
I send her my silent thanks. Thanks for watching over me. Thanks for bringing me to Jake.
Thanks for taking me home.