“No,” I said softly, as the camera switched angles to focus on the first guest, a huge black woman in a brightly printed pantsuit. I lit a cigarette and drew in hard, my vision spinning for a second. “Whatever. I have got to get out of this crappy job. It's about to kill me.” Corinna glanced at the TV. “What's this?”
“Lamont Whipper,” I said. “Oh, I hate that show,” she moaned, picking up the remote. “It's like white trash on parade. Do you mind if I change”
“Wait,” I said quickly, as the camera shot back to Lamont, who was now asking a thin blond woman in a Harley-?Davidson T-?shirt her opinion. “Just one second.” And there was Cass again, this time scribbling something on her clipboard while a guy in headphones leaned down to whisper something in her ear. Then she smiled, shaking her head, and I thought of my mother sitting at home, her chair pulled up to the screen, smiling back. “Caitlin,” Corinna said. She was watching my face. “What is it?” Now, on-?screen, Cass glanced back up, brushing her bangs out of her face with the back of her hand. “That's my sister,” I said quietly. “Where?”
“Right there. Against the wall, in the brown,” I said as Cass hugged the clipboard against her chest. “Oh, man, really?” Corinna said, leaning in closer to study the screen. “Look at that. Wow. You never even said you had a sister.” That was strange. Cass had always been such a big part of what I was, but I hadn't mentioned hernot even once. I wondered what she would think if she really could look through the TV and see me sitting there stoned, not recognizing the girl beside me or the place I was or even, maybe, me. I thought of the other Cassandra, the one she'd been named for, the girl who could see her own future. And I wondered if this futureLamont Whipper and Adam and New York and leaving us behind was the one she'd seen for herself. Or for me. “It's so weird,” Corinna was saying, still watching the screen. “She looks just like you. She could be you, you know?” The camera cut away quickly, as the woman in the bright pantsuit responded to some comment from the audience. When they went back to Lamont, Cass was gone. “I know,” I told Corinna, and for once I was the only one who knew how untrue it really was. “I know.”
I knew how much Rogerson hated to wait. The only time I'd ever seen him lose his temper was when Dave was set to meet us at his house and showed up thirty minutes late. Rogerson was punctual to the second. So I left Corinna's at four-?thirty-?five, which gave me ten minutes to get across town to my house to meet him. I was sitting at the light by the high school, nervously watching the clock, when I saw Rina a few cars ahead of me. She'd cut the one class we had together, in fifth period, but it was just like her to skip school but show up for cheerleading practice. Rina, for all her bad judgment, was surprisingly dependable. Watching her, even from three cars back, I could tell something was wrong. She was smoking and kept fiddling with her radio, reaching up every few seconds to wipe her eyes with her shirtsleeve or run her fingers through her hair. Every once in a while she'd start singing along with the radio, slamming her hand on the steering wheel to emphasize one chorus or line, and then her shoulders would start shaking. It was clear. Rina was driving and crying. After every crisis, breakup or blowout, the first thing Rina did was bolt to her car. She'd crank up the stereo and start on her standard loopout past the high school into the country, across the highway to Topper Lake, where she'd park at one of the overlooks and feel tortured for a while. Then she'd circle through a few of her old neighborhoods, drive by her second stepdad's house to curse his front yard, and go home. It wasn't really about where she went, in my opinion: It was the motion she liked, which prevented just about everyone from seeing her being weak. I, however, had spend endless nights riding shotgun, listening to one of her many mix tapes of lost love/done me wrong/screw you songs and watching scenery rush by, her hiccuping sobs just barely audible under the music and the sound of the wind coming through my window. Now, I knew I was barely going to make it to meet Rogerson on time as it was. Rina hadn't seen me, and from the looks of things she'd already done the country and was headed out to the lake. But as I watched her punch in the car cigarette lighter with a jab of her hand, then wipe her eyes, I just couldn't go home. When the light finally changed I managed to pull up beside her after dodging around an elderly woman in a Cutlass with a handicapped sticker, who promptly flipped me off. “Rina!” I shouted, but the radio was up loudsomething sad and gooeyand she didn't hear me. I hit the horn, twice, startling the minivan with a Pro-?Choice sticker in front of me, which quickly changed lanes. We kept cruising neck and neck, with Rina full-?out bawling now, singing along with the radio, tears running down her face, completely oblivious to both me and the speed limit. i reached under my seat and searched around until I came up with an empty plastic Coke bottle, which I then hurled at her windshield. She jerked back from the wheel as it bounced off, then whipped her head around, eyes wide, and finally saw me. “Shit!” she screamed, rutting the automatic window control to open the one nearest me. “What the hell you are doing?”
“Pull over,” I yelled back. There was a Quik Zip coming up on the left. She shot me an evil look, hit her turn signal, and took a wide arc into the parking lot, coming to an abrupt stop in front of a pay phone. I pulled up behind her. “You could have killed me,” she snapped, slamming her door as she got out. She was wearing a fuzzy sweater, black skirt, and tights, her hair tumbling over her shoulders. A group of public works guys, all in bright orange vests, hollered at her as they drove past, circling the gas pumps. “I was worried about you,” I said. “What happened?” She sighed, crossing her arms over her chest and leaning back against her car. “It's all,” she began, dramatically, “over.”
It was four-?fifty; I was officially late. And Rina always took her time explaining herself. “Is this about Bill?” I asked. She nodded, drawing out a piece of hair and twisting it around her finger. “Last night,” she began, “I went to meet Jeff at the Yogurt Paradise at the mall during his break to discuss our relationship.“ ”Right,“ I said, trying to move her along. I could just see Roger-?son sitting in front of my house. ”And we did just talkfor the most part. But then at the end, you know, things got a little physical“ ”At the Yogurt Paradise?“ I said. ”We were just kissing,“ she snapped. ”God. But, as luck would of course have it, Bill just happened to be walking by on his way to the cafeteria and saw us.“ ”Yikes.“ ”Oh, it gets better. He was with his entire family, Caitlin,“ she said in a low voice, as tears filled her eyes again. She looked down at her hands, picking at a pinky nail. ”It was his Granny Nunell's birthday. She's, like, ninety. I met her a few weeks ago and she loved me. But you should have seen the look she shot me last night. The woman has a walker, but she meant me harm. No doubt about it.“ ”Ouch,“ I said, trying to be subtle in taking a glance at my watch: five minutes had passed. ”So I'm just busted,“ she said, wiping her eyes. ”I mean, there's his aunt Camille, and his mom and dad, his Gran-?Gran“ ”Gran-?Gran?“ ”and Bill, who is just staring at me, and I'm sitting there with Jeff's hand on my leg. He didn't even say anything. He just walked away. It was awful. Terrible.“ She crossed her arms again, tossing her hair out of her face, Jeff-?style. ”So of course I can't face him at school today. But I figure I can't miss the squad meeting, so I sneak in the back door.“ ”I missed it,“ I told her. ”No kidding. And as your friend,“ she added, changing tacks to become all business, ”I should tell you that you need to be watching your back. There was a vote today, and everyone but me was in favor of a confrontation about your level of serious commitment to the school and the squad.“ ”Oh, God,” I said. A cheerleading intervention. Just what I needed. And now, it was five after five. But Rogerson would understand. He knew about the ceremony. We could buy the present tomorrow. “So anyway,” Rina said, flicking her wrist as she switched gears again, “Bill was waiting for me after the meeting.“ ”What did he say?“ ”What could he say?“ she wailed. ”He asked for his ring back.“ She put her hand on her throat, where the silver chain now hung empty, kinked a little bit from where the ring had been. ”He gave me back my pictures and that shirt I gave him for his birthday. And then ...“ And she stopped, waving her hand in front of her face, unable to continue. I waited. By now, I knew Rogerson was leaving my house, gunning up the street, wondering where I was. I could feel a slow burn starting in my stomach. ”. . . then,“ she began again, catching her breath, ”he told me he was disappointed in me. Which was, like, the worst. I mean, call me a bitch, or even a slut, that I can handle, you know? But to say that... that was just mean.“ She crossed her arms over her chest, looking down at her feet, eyes closed. It was starting to get dark, the lights of the Quik Zip bright and warm behind her. I walked over and put my arm around her shoulder, leaning my head against hers. ”He wasn't right for you anyway,“ I told her, like I had so many times before. ”He was too“ ”good,“ she finished for me, and laughed, still crying a little bit. ”Good men just don't suit me.“ ”That's right,“ I said, brushing her hair out of her face. ”That's exactly right.” I stayed there with her for a while longer, letting her cry and saying all those best friend thingsYou'll be okay, Don't worry, I'm here, Let it out, Screw himwhile the Quik Zip bustled with people pumping gas and rushing home, the smell of hot dogs wafting out each time the door was pushed open, mixing with the strangely warm December breeze. But all the while, my mind was on Rogerson, seeing him in my mind driving across town, angry and wondering why I, too, had somehow let him down.