And then she just stopped, in mid-?sentence, and as I turned around I saw her hand fly to her mouth, her face shocked. “Oh, my God,” she said in a low voice, coming closer and leaning into the TV, where we could still see Cass standing there, now jotting something on her clipboard and nodding as a big guy in headphones said something in her ear. On-?screen, the woman's sister was yelling, “If you'd treated him better he wouldn't have come looking for anything from me!“ This was rebutted by a long series of beeps, punctuated only by the audience making oooohhhhh noises. ”It's her,” my mother said, and on-?screen my sister smiled, laughing at something the guy next to her said, and hugged the clipboard back up to her chest. “Look at her. It's Cassandra.”
“I know,” I said. “Look at that,” she said softly, kneeling down in front of the TV, her face just inches from it. Cass brushed her hair out of her face again, twisting one strand around a finger, and my mother's face crumpled. “Oh, my God,” she said, and as I watched she reached out one hand and pressed it against the TV screen, running her own finger across Cass's face. Cass, unaware, half-?smiled. “Mom,” I said, and I was almost sorry now she'd seen it, she looked so pathetic crouched there, reaching out, with one of those hollow-?eyed dollsthe Sunday School Teacher, apple and Bible in handwatching from beside the magazine rack. Just then the sisters disappeared from the screen, as did Cass, replaced by Lamont Whippet's big face. “Coming up next: Judy and Tamara's older sister, who has a secret about one of their husbands to share with themand with us! Stay tuned!” A Doublemint commercial came on but my mother remained crouched there, hand on the screen, as if she could still see Cass in front of her, close enough to touch. “She's okay,” she said softly. I wasn't even sure she was talking to me. “She's alive.”
“Of course she is,” I said. “She's fine.”
She let her hand chop then, and sat back on her heels, wiping at her eyes. “I just am so glad ... she's okay. She's okay.” We sat there and watched the rest of the show, catching glimpses of Cass again and again, but never for as long. The third sister confessed to affairs with both husbands, which resulted in a full-?out brawl during which we got to see Adam, who bounded onstage to break things up. My mother seemed horrified by this kind of behavior that went against everything she believed inbut she kept her eyes glued to the set. I had a feeling the Lamont Whipper Show would now become regular viewing in our house. When my father came home, she told him everything. He nodded, looking tired, then went to his study and shut the door. My mother watched him go, then walked to the kitchen and picked up the phone, drawing out the list of numbers they'd called that first day Cass was gone and finding the one for the show. “Yes, I watched your program today,” she said in her best Junior League voice when someone answered, “and ... and what? Oh, yes, it was very good. Entertaining. But I'm trying to reach one of your staff members, and I was wondering ... oh, I understand. Of course. But could you give her a message, please? It's kind of important.” My father came out of his study, took off his reading glasses, and tucked them in his front pocket. I thought about all those Yale bulletins stuck in his study drawer, and how he must feel to know Cass was working at a trash talk show, fining up angry confrontations and shocking confessions. “Her name is Cassandra O'Koren,” my mother said, and now her voice didn't sound so strong. My father turned and watched her as she spoke, and I realized I was holding my breath. All I could see was my mother in front of the TV, one hand reaching out to touch Cass's face, any way the only wayshe could. “And please just tell her, would you, that her family loves and misses her, very much. Thank you.”
After my first night with him, I expected Rogerson to show up at another game, or a party, or even just drive past my house slowly enough to draw me to the window or outside. He didn't. First, I was surprised, then sad, then really, really pissed off. Rina said these phases were normal, even documented.
She shared endless Clark bars with me, seeing me through what she called The Cycle of Recovery. I had just cleared Letting Go and Moving On when I saw him again. The cheerleading squad was at the Senior Center for an event called Senior Days, which consisted of different community groups performing and teaching everything from ballroom dancing to lanyard making. We were on hand to do one of our dance routines, as well as fill in the gaps while other groups moved on and off the stage. It was ten in the morning and we'd had a big game the night before. I had a sore back from adjusting to my new position at the midpoint in the pyramid, Rina had a hangover, and Kelly Brandt and Chad had broken upagainabout seven hours earlier. Clearly, we were not at our best. “I think they hate us,” Rina whispered to me as we did our shimmy-?shake number to “My Girl,” with rows and rows of elderly people sitting in folding chairs in front of us. They were watching in a polite, if somewhat bored fashion: Some had their hands over their ears to block out our music. Kelly was sniffling, wiping her eyes during her handspring run, and Melinda Trudale had somehow missed our dance coach's advice to “tone things down a bit” and was doing her normal gyrating and hip-?snapping right up front, much to the horror of a frail woman with an oxygen tank in the front row who was trying to knit some booties. “I don't care,” I said to Rina, and this pretty much summed up everything I'd been feeling in the last week. I'd begun to wonder if I really had dreamed everything that had happened with Rogerson. That whole Friday before seemed unreal now. And it could have been, except for the fallout I was suffering for rejecting Mike Evans. Rina had only been upset with me for about five minutes, but Mike had been alternately glaring or sulking at me all week. Not that I cared that much, being that I was doing much of the same, feeling cheap and lost and unable to forget kissing Rogerson for all that time in his car, even as I tried to. We finished our number and got a pattering of polite applause as we ran off the stage, yelling and high-?kicking. A man with a beard, barefoot and carrying a pillow, took the stage after us. I could see Stewart and Boo in the back of the room. They were teaching an art workshop involving fruit and personal experience in another part of the building. My mother was there too, with the Junior League, assembling snacks and punch in the back kitchen. She'd been so preoccupied catching every airing of the Lamont Whipper Showwhich was on daily at eleven, three, and ten at night on various channelsshe hadn't even noticed anything different about me this last week. She'd only seen Cass on one more show, but still she sat through all the catfights and cussing, waiting for another glimpse. “Hello, everyone,” the man with the beard and pillow said softly into the microphone. “My name is Wade, and I want everyone to take a deep, cleansing breath, because for the next half hour, we're all going to get a little closer to ourselves.”