"We should start a band," Cassie says. Cass rolls her head over on Steph's stomach to look at the other girl.
"No way," Cissie replies. "My mother would love that too much." Cissie is a musical prodigy and her thwarted mother keeps pushing her into it even though she prefers science.
They're sprawled out on Cass's bed, the four of them, relaxing after their first week of senior year.
Steph giggles. "I can't even play anything and I'd join."
The other three girls all turn at various angles and look at Cass. The music playing on the stereo segues from The Outsiders to Lady Shiva while Cass considers it.
"That sounds awesome," she answers, and Steph grins and Cassie pumps a fist in the air.
"Maybe we can ask Kon's cousin Kara to join us. She's a drummer. You guys would like her," Cassie suggests.
They're also not sure who will sing, since Cissie refuses. Cass doesn't want to do it. Steph's no good at it. Cassie volunteers until they can find someone else.
In one of those small world things, Steph's ex-boyfriend is dating Cassie's ex-boyfriend. "I guess that explains why the sex never worked out with me and Tim," Steph had said when they realized.
"Really?" Cassie had replied. "That always made it hotter with Kon. We could share all of each other's fantasies." Apparently his name is really Conner but he goes by Kon because he thinks it's more punk rock or something.
Cass loves playing her guitar the same way she loves aikido. She's always preferred physical expression to words. It's simpler, easier, more honest, and much more fun. She can say what she wants to with her guitar, and it sounds beautiful, and other people pick up the feeling and even start to dance to it.
They moved around a lot when Cass was a kid and according to her dad she didn't start talking right until she was older. Or rather, she started speaking German once they left there for Japan, Japanese in India, and Hindi and Tamil in the US, all before the age of five, when she finally settled on English and then forgot the rest.
Cass doesn't live with her dad anymore. He's in jail for the next few years for driving drunk and injuring people. So she's staying with their next-door neighbor in the apartment complex, Babs, who is really good at computers and runs a software company, and her girlfriend, Dinah, a florist. Most weekends their friend Helena stays over, too. She teaches at a Catholic elementary school and she always arrives on her motorcycle wearing tight leather and Cass doesn't think the school is aware of any of it. Babs calls them a family of choice.
She's not living with her mother because Cass doesn't know who her mother is. Dad never talks about her. Cass stopped asking long ago.
In a lot of ways, Cass doesn't know who she is herself. People sometimes ask her where she's from, and she can't say, and then some of the rude ones ask where she's really from, and she can't say that either. Her dad is white. Most of her friends and the kids at school are white. Cass is "Asian" but she doesn't know more than that, just that she's not Japanese or Indian. People try to guess and they don't all guess the same thing. She always feels a little bit on the outside.
In other ways, she knows who she is. She knows who she is when she's kissing Steph. She knows who she is when she's practicing her aikido forms. She knows who she is when she's making music.
Those times, those times she knows exactly who she is, and that she's happy.
At school on Monday, Cassie comes charging down the hallway dragging another girl behind her.
"Guys, this is Anita. She totally saved my life."
"I just gave you a tampon," Anita demurs. She's tall and dark and gorgeous with really long reddish-brown hair.
"Same thing." Cassie waves a hand dismissively. "The point is, she can sing. She just moved here from New Orleans and she can sing great."
"I play the piano, too," Anita adds.
Steph claps her hands. "You should totally join our band!"
Their first rehearsal goes pretty well, all things considered. Kara turns out to be yet another blonde, even taller than Anita. Cass is maybe starting to feel a little short. Kara bangs her drums really hard but with good rhythm. Anita's voice is low and smoky and utterly hypnotic and she's great on the keyboards. Cassie still only knows about four chords but at least she can play them fast. Steph has dug up a tambourine and happily dances in the background. It takes a while for them to get into sync but eventually they do. It feels great.
Anita has a few songs she's written about racism, and Cassie has picked out some poems by Sappho that she wants to use as lyrics. Cissie helps them write music for those.
Cassie suggests they name the band Young Justice. Because that's what they stand for, right? Everyone else thinks it's a little heavy-handed but no one has any better suggestions so they go with that for now.
Anita wants to perform with the stage name Empress and that starts a chain reaction. Cassie becomes Wonder Girl, Kara dubs herself Supergirl, Steph is Spoiler. Cass changes into Batgirl. She's always liked those little creatures; like her, they don't belong in any simple category, and they use their songs to navigate.
Cass cuts her hair even shorter, still leaving long bangs that fall in her face, just like the cover of Lady Shiva's latest album, and puts on way too much eyeliner. Everyone ooohs and ahhhs over how much she looks like the famous glam rocker. Even the girl at school who never talks to anyone and always hides in her huge brown coat tells Cass in a quiet voice that she looks pretty. She disappears down the hall in a whirl of fabric after those three words.
Young Justice has their first concert shortly afterward. Cass's friend Brenda is having an open mic night at her cafe and she promises Cass a half-hour of primetime in the middle of the event, even giving them special billing on the flyers.
Cass isn't sure that they're good enough yet, but Cassie says that just gives them authenticity.
Tim arrives as they're setting up their instruments. He pulls his hoodie down off his face and gives a little bow. He and Cass and Steph all train under the same sensei. He's followed by a taller guy wearing a leather jacket and a whole handful of studded belts, with dark hair curling over his forehead, who grins at Kara and Cassie and is introduced as Kon. He turns a flirty leer on Cass and Anita, the ones he hasn't met before, as their names are mentioned. Anita simpers back at him. Cass just stares, unimpressed.
"I think she's immune to my charms," Kon stage-whispers to Cassie and that's when Cass starts to like him.
Another boy in a kilt and a fishnet shirt zips up to them. His nails are painted bright red and his eyes are honey-brown, glowing almost golden in the light.
"Ciss! Cass!" he exclaims. Cass blinks and leans back and he throws his arms around Cissie and Cassie.
They hug back hard. Then Cassie says, "Actually, we have a system. That's Cass. I'm Cassie."
"Cassie! Cissie!" he repeats happily and squeezes them again. "Kara! Steph!" He hugs them, too. "You should be around more." Then he stands in front of Cass with his arms spread wide. "Other Cass! Can I hug you, too? Is that okay?"
Cass nods hesitantly and finds herself wrapped up in warm arms that tighten around her for a moment, close and comfortable, and he pulls away just before it gets to be too much. He moves on to Anita, then manages to insinuate himself between Tim and Kon and drape over both of them. "Right!" he adds. "I'm Bart!"
Brenda comes over to tell them they're on. "Break a leg!" Cissie and Bart chorus as the band climbs onto the stage.
Sometimes the audience blurs into a faceless mass and Cass almost forgets they're there, losing herself in the music, and other times individuals pop into focus and she feels a sudden connection to them. There's two kids near the back, a black guy with blond hair and a white girl with red hair, leaning into each other and swaying slightly to the music. For a few moments Cass feels like her guitar is creating gravity for them as they lean closer and closer and their fingers mesh together and they smile.
Kon is whispering in Tim's ear and licking his throat and finally manages to coax Tim away from the wall and out onto the floor, where ironically Tim is a smooth dancer and Kon thrashes around looking silly.
There's another guy in the front row in a thin white t-shirt, dancing with wild abandon, the cloth sweat-damp and sticking to him. As he spins around Cass sees a tattoo of a scarab between his shoulderblades. He turns back around and catches her eye and grins. Then he's moshing with Bart, who seems to be everywhere in the room, constantly in motion, arms flailing, the most frenetic dancer there is. Cissie smashes into the two of them a moment later.
Brenda is beside the stage, waving her arms and mouthing encouragement up at Cass, gesturing at the crowd.
These people are moving, they're moving to the music, the music that Cass and her friends are making. It's amazing, it's wow, it's like magic. Cass sways across the little stage, stands back to back with Cassie, shakes her hair at Kara, bumps hips with a shimmying Steph, points her guitar at Anita and laughs. The notes are like tight sparkling cords running between them, binding them together. The air in the room is warm and vibrating.
At the end of the set the room breaks into applause. Cissie jumps on stage and kisses Cassie, and Steph whoops and grabs Cass and Cass forgets her discomfort of PDAs and kisses Steph back. There are even more cheers.
She feels alive and perfect.