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Last resort, p.18
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       Last Resort, p.18

           Jill Sanders
 
Cassey loved talking about her family. Not only were they her favorite people, but they were her favorite subject as well.

  As they walked along the beach, the cool salt wind hitting their faces, she told him story after story about how her brothers had convinced her of such things as the existence of aliens and ghosts, and even that the tooth fairy stole all your teeth if you didn’t put your lost tooth under the pillow.

  When she was small, she’d been tossed about by her brothers in the pool or when she’d gone surfing with Cole, as her brothers learned that trying new tricks was easier with a small girl. Cole usually instigated tossing her around. He practiced his surf moves with her on his shoulders until he was pleased with his moves. She would get tired of being tossed about in the waves, and he’d had to rescue her a dozen or so times when he’d pushed it past her energy limits.

  Once, when she’d gotten into a fight at school with a few other girls, Marcus had taken her to his judo classes and forced her to learn some basic moves. Roman had taught her how to punch like a pro and, after a particular incident in the girls’ locker room, the girls had never picked on her again.

  He laughed at all of her stories as he held her hand, sending heat traveling up her arm and into her chest. She’d never really talked about her family to a man she was seeing before. Actually, some of the men she’d dated in the past had been friends of her brothers. Two of them had been best friends with Roman, who had set her up. It was funny; Roman was always trying to set her up, but had never really dated anyone that she could remember.

  His brothers had always given him grief about it, but Cassey knew why he didn’t date. He’d told her he’d already found the woman he wanted to grow old with, and he was just waiting for her to discover it was him she wanted to spend the rest of her life with.

  As a young teenager, she’d sighed and imagined a beautiful woman who’d won her brother’s heart doing some heroic deed. But the girl was blinded and couldn’t see what a wonderful man she had right in front of her face. To this day, she still didn’t know who that girl was or if Roman felt the same way about her still.

  “So, tell me why you fought with your father tonight,” she asked once they were back in his car, traveling back towards Surf Breeze.

  He glanced over at her, looking a little surprised. “Actually, it was about you.”

  It was her turn to look surprised. “Me?”

  He nodded. “Yes. My father isn’t happy with the lack of progress I’m having persuading you to sell your place.”

  She glanced out the window and wished she hadn’t asked. “I didn’t mean to…”

  “Hey.” He took up her hand and waited until she looked back his direction. “It’s okay. If it wasn’t this tonight, it would have been something else. Honestly, I’m thinking of quitting.”

  “Quitting? Can you quit your family?”

  He laughed. “I don’t know, but I’m thinking of trying.” She smiled at him and chuckled a little.

  “I suppose you can quit your family. I quit my first family, my father and stepmother, when I was seven. Of course I had the help of my guardian angel.”

  He glanced over at her. “What?”

  She smiled. “Lilly, the social worker who saved my life and brought me to the Graytons.”

  “You were seven?” he asked.

  “Yes,” she nodded, looking out the window, remembering that night so many years ago. “Until I was seven, I’d only left my house about three times. Each time, I had to hide in the truck so no one would see how bad of shape I was in. I spent most of my time locked in the cellar or in a closet because they kept catching me sneaking food. It wasn’t so bad until my father married again. At least I think they were married.” She closed her eyes, trying to remember, but she’d blocked a lot of her childhood memories out. “Kimberly, my stepmother, was left in charge of me a lot during the day. She liked to sit on the couch and watch television, and small children tend to make a lot of noise. So, I stayed locked in the basement from the time my father left before sunrise until he returned home after dark.”

  “How terrible.” He flexed his fingers on hers.

  She looked over at him. “Then I came to the Graytons and found my real family. I remember the first few months I felt guilty for being allowed all different kinds of food. Lilly had given me my first Coke that night.” she smiled. “I guess you can say the addiction started then.”

  He smiled. “Well, I haven’t even met the Graytons and I like them already.”

  “You would. They would like you as well. They are always looking to take in people like us.” She realized what she’d said too late.

  “People like us?” he asked.

  She nodded a little. “I guess so. You know…” She shrugged her shoulders and looked out the window. “My parents may have abused me physically, but from the sound of it, yours have neglected you. Neglect is a form of abuse, too.”

  He thought about it. “I suppose you’re right. Funny, I think I could have handled it a lot better had they tossed me around a little. You know, my father never really yelled at me until after Calvin was gone.”

  “He probably misses him a lot. I can’t imagine what it’s like losing someone so close to you.”

  “You can’t? From what you said, your sister took off at seventeen and hasn’t been back. Isn’t that a lot like losing her?”

  She thought about it and then shook her head. “No. I know Marissa is out there somewhere. She chose to leave us; Calvin didn’t get a choice.”

  “I suppose you’re right. But I would think it would hurt just the same. The emptiness, the place they used to fill.” He squeezed her hand a little. “Have you ever thought about looking for her?”

  She shrugged her shoulders and looked out the window. It was too dark to see anything, but she’d driving this road enough to know what was out there. Trees, homes, an occasional glimpse of the shoreline. Marissa was out there somewhere, probably close enough to reach out and touch if she’d tried.

  “I looked once, shortly after she left,” she whispered.

  “And?”

  “She doesn’t want to be found. If she did, she would have left some clues for me.”

  “What kind of clues?”

  She turned and looked at him. “Why are you so interested?”

  He shrugged his shoulder and dropped her hand to maneuver around a sharp turn. “It’s a mystery.” He smiled at her when the road straightened out. “I like solving mysteries.”

  She tilted her head a little, looking at him across the dark car. “We always talked about what we wanted to do when we grew up. I was determined from the tender age of eleven to open my own bar and grill.” She chuckled. “Marissa had other ideas. She wanted to buy old houses and fix them up. She was always helping Marcus and Roman out when they worked around the house we grew up in. The three of them made a really great team. She kept stacks of newspaper clippings in a box; she’d cut home listings out and dream about fixing the places up. After she left, I drove by every house she’d ever looked at.” The sadness still overwhelmed her sometimes. “She always talked about a place overlooking Dolphin Bay, being close to Spring Haven. I know she’s somewhere close, but until she wants to be found, she is going to stay hidden.”

  “Any idea why she left?”

  “Yes and no. I know it had nothing to do with me or the Graytons. She had a big fight with Roman the day before she left, but I don’t think it had anything to do with that, either. She’d started going out with some boy. Tommy, I think, was his name. Roman didn’t like Tommy. He thought he was bad news, and he was right. I didn’t even like the guy. That last night, when we talked, I told her my thoughts. She sounded so sad, like I’d hurt her somehow.” She hadn’t realized she was crying, until a tear slipped down her cheek. She wiped it away quickly, before Luke could see it. Turning her head back towards the window, she shrugged. “Her note said she wanted to discover who she was on her own. That she loved us all and that we shouldn’t wor
ry.”

  “It sounds like she just wanted her independence. Maybe she’s living her dream?”

  “She was always worrying that she was going to turn out like her mother. Her mother had gotten pregnant with her in her teens. She drank and did drugs and never really took care of Marissa. She thought that the condition was hereditary. I asked her whether, if her condition, as she liked to call it, was hereditary, I was destined to have a kid and lock them away. She said, no, because it was my father who had done that to me.” Cassey shook her head. “She claimed that the bad genes were passed on from mother to daughter, and that I had lucked out because my mother had died when I was young, so I didn’t know how I would turn out. We were so naive.”

  He chuckled. “Kids think all sorts of things. I thought that my father was the smartest man on earth.”

  They drove up and parked next to her back door. She looked at the back of her place and sighed. “I just wish Marissa was here, so she could see that I’ve fulfilled my dream.”

  He reached over and took her hand. “She’d be proud of what you’ve built for yourself here.”

  Cassey smiled and nodded. It was too hard to say anything since there was a lump in her throat just thinking about it. She’d never talked to anyone about Marissa like this before, even her brothers. She wondered why she had chosen Luke to open up to about it all.

 
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