Authors: Maria Murnane
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Text copyright © 2014 Maria Murnane
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
Published by Lake Union Publishing, Seattle
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To Tami and Peggy (aka The Besties),
for always laughing
with me and not at me
“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
, 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
“So, get dressed.”
“My hair’s still
“So dry it.”
“I have a
weird little scrape on my nose.”
“So cover it
“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.”
“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
more exciting than wiping butts. I bet someone here will ask you for an autograph before the night is over.”
“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
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
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
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
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
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 the bedroom door and 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
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
Does that mean
Do I look
Do I look
as insecure as I feel?
Why am I
Have I done
enough with my life?
Will the popular
girls still make me feel like they know something I don’t?
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 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
Is my belly
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
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
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
Just yesterday you
were fine. Yesterday!
Cassidy Lane had
five published novels under her belt, one of which had recently become a bestseller. 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.
“Cassidy Lane, how
nice to see you! We missed you at the last reunion.” A short, plump woman seated at the registration table checked Cassidy’s name off the list and held up a crisp white name tag.
Cassidy smiled and
pushed a loose strand of hair out of her eyes. “I can’t remember where I was for that one, but Patti Bramble told me it was fun.”
The woman winked
at her. “You were probably off on some book tour.”
Cassidy smiled again,
this time a bit awkwardly, as she pinned on the name tag and hoped it wasn’t too obvious that she had absolutely no idea who this woman was. The registration table was outside the restaurant, and she peeked through the windows to see if she recognized anyone. Thank God Patti was already here.
The woman tapped
the shoulder of the man sitting next to her. “Honey, Cassidy’s that author I told you about, remember?”
He nodded. “Ah,
yes, the famous New York writer. Crystal said you were coming tonight. It’s a pleasure to meet you.” He held out his hand. “I’m Stanley Bryant.”
her name. Cassidy remembered her now, a cheerleader. She’d been Crystal Hightower back in high school
Wow, she looks really different.
Cassidy shook Stanley’s hand and smiled politely. “It’s nice to meet you too. And while I’m flattered by the description, I’m hardly famous. Believe me.”
Crystal waved a
hand dismissively. “Nonsense, you’re famous to
. I’ve read all your novels. I just love a good romance.” She turned to Stanley. “Isn’t that true, babe? Don’t I just love her books?”
He held up
his hands. “It’s true. She’s a big fan. You must be living quite the life out there in the Big Apple.”
Cassidy felt her
If you only knew
. Everyone assumed the life of a published author was all glitz and glamour, especially when they found out she lived in New York City. Maybe other writers lived opulently, but she certainly didn’t, and even if that were her style, she would never have been able to afford such a life in Manhattan. The truth was that while she did attend some high-profile events and got dressed up for a photo shoot now and then, those occasions were few and far between. She spent most of her days in her apartment, quietly working alone at her desk, usually dressed in jeans, sometimes even in sweatpants or pajamas.