“Really,” I said, picking up the envelope he'd been doodling on. It was just half a face, sketchily drawn. I turned it over and was startled to see something in Cass's writing: her name, doodled in blue, signed with a flourish, as if she'd been sitting in this same chair some other morning, eating scrambled tofu, just like me. ”Just being free, out on the road, the world wide open...“ He leaned closer to me, but I was still looking at Cass's name, suddenly so sad I felt like I couldn't breathe. It seemed impossible that Cass had been planning to change her life completely while none of us even noticed; even when she doodled on that envelope, it could have been on her mind. .. anything possible,” Stewart was saying. “Anything at all.” I blinked, and swallowed over the lump in my throat. I wanted to keep that envelope and hold it close to me, like it was suddenly all I had left of her, some sort of living part pulsing in my hand. “Caitlin?” Boo said, coming over and bending down beside me. “What is it?” She leaned down and saw the envelope, catching her breath. “Oh, honey,” she said, and even before she wrapped her arms around me I was already leaning in, tucking my head against her shoulder as she held me, as I knew she'd held Cass, in this same chair, at this same table, in this same light, on other mornings, not like this. When I walked up to our sliding glass door, the phone was ringing. No one seemed to be around, so I picked it up. “Hello?” There was a silence, with just a bit of buzzing. “Hello?” My father appeared in the doorway, out of breath: He'd been outside, in the garage. “Who is it?” I shook my head.
“I don't* He was immediately beside me, pulling the receiver out of my hand. ”Cassandra? Is that you?“ ”Jack?“ my mother said from their bedroom. I could hear her moving, coming closer, and then she appeared in the hallway, clutching a tissue, one hand over her mouth. ”I dozed off. Is it“ ”Cassandra, listen to me. You have to come home. We're not mad at you, but you have to come home.“ His voice was shaking. ”Let me talk to her,“ my mother said, coming closer, but he shook his head, holding out one hand to keep her there. ”Tell her we love her!“ my mother said, and I couldn't stand the way her voice sounded, unsure and wavering. I slipped around them both and into my room, slowly picking up my own phone. On the line, no one was speaking. ”Cassandra,“ my father said finally. ”Talk to me.“ Silence. I pictured her standing in a phone booth by a highway, cars whizzing by. A place I'd never seen, a world I didn't know. Then, suddenly, I heard her voice. ”Daddy,“ she began, and I heard my father take in a breath, quickly, as if he'd been punched in the stomach. ”I'm okay. I'm happy. But I'm not coming home.”
“Where are you?” he demanded. “Let me talk to her!” my mother shrieked in the background. She could have gone into my father's office and picked up the extension there, but I knew she wasn't thinking of that, couldn't even move from that spot in the hallway where she was standing. “Cassandra!”
“Don't worry about me,” Cass said. “I'm”
“No,” my father said. “You must come home.”
“This is what I want,” she said. “You have to respect that.”
“You're only eighteen,” my father told her. “This is ridiculous, you can't possibly know”
“Daddy,” she said, and I realized suddenly I was crying, again, the receiver wet against my face. “I'm sorry. I love you. Please tell Mom not to worry.”
“No,” my father said, firm. “We are not”
“Caitlin?” she said suddenly. “I know you're there. I can hear you.”
“What is she saying?” my mother kept asking, now close to the receiver. “Where is she?”
“Margaret, just hold on,” my father told her. “Yes,” I whispered back to Cass. “I'm here.”
“Don't cry, okay?” she said. The line crackled, and I thought of her tackling me that night, her breath against my neck, laughing in my ear. “I love you. I'm sorry about your birthday.”
“It's nothing,” I said. There was a voice outside her end, a yell, and another buzz on the line. “Is that him?” my father demanded. “Is he there?”
“I have to go,” she said. “Please don't worry, okay?”
“Dammit, Cassandra,” my father said. “Don't you hang up this phone!”
“Good-?bye,” she said softly, as my father's voice dropped away. “Good-?bye.”
“Cassandra!” my mother wailed into the phone, all the anger and fear of the last twenty-?four hours bursting across the line. “Please” Click. And she was gone.
By the time I started school two days later, we hadn't heard from Cass again. The first call had come from somewhere in New Jersey, but beyond that there was a whole world that could have swallowed her up.
I still didn't have anything I thought worthy of being entered in my journal. I was waiting for something that was meaningful, real, a night when I saw Cass and she spoke to me. But instead my dreams were as dull as my everyday life, consisting mostly of me walking around the mall or school, looking for some undetermined thing that i could never find, while faces blurred in front of me. I woke up tired and frustrated, and felt like I never got any real sleep at all.
My mother kept Cass's bedroom door shut, with all of her Yale stuff piled up on the bed, waiting for her. I was the only one who ever went in there, and when I did the air always smelled stale and strange, pent up like the sorrow my mother carried in her shoulders, her heart, and her face. She was taking it the hardest. My mother had spent the last eighteen years just as involved in Cass's activities as Cass herself was.
She sewed sequin after sequin on ballet costumes, made Rice Krispies Treats by the panful for soccer team bake sales, and chaperoned Debate Club bus trips. She knew Cass's playing stats, SAT scores, and GPA by heart. She'd been prepared to be just as involved long-?distance. A copy of Cass's Yale schedule was already taped to our refrigerator, my mother a member of the Parents' Organization, plane tickets pre-?bought for Parents' Weekend in October. But now, in claiming her own life, Cass had taken part of my mother's as well. I got my license, finally, and without comment was given the keys to Cass's car. It was due to be mine anyway, since she couldn't have taken it to Yale, but it still felt strange.
I put all her tapes and the Mardi Gras beads she'd hung on the rearview mirror into a box and stuck it in the corner of the garage, under a patio chair and some flowerpots. It seemed like I couldn't do anything without thinking about her: The scar over my eye was always the first thing I noticed in the mirror's reflection now. As for my father, he threw himself into his work. With a new semester, he was now busy with a class of incoming freshmen, a set of demonstrations over a controversial speaker, and a group of football players who had started a brawl at a local dance bar.