Cassandra bounces in her seat like she’s half her fourteen years, staring at the airport gate. Bizarrely enough, Ariadne’s plane is on time; Cassandra didn’t think that ever happened. It doesn’t make it much easier to sit quietly and search the crowd row-by-row for that particular slim frame and tousled brown hair, especially not after almost a year.
Eventually she spots her sister several feet away, looking similarly lost; Cassandra bolts to her feet and shouts “ARI!” It gets her a furious glare from her mother, but she doesn’t care, and besides, it works. Ariadne hears her and waves back, and it’s only her mother’s lightning-quick grab that stops Cassandra from running straight to her. As it is, she pulls free just in time to get herself half-crushed in a sweeping hug.
“Good to see you again, Cassie,” Ariadne laughs, and somehow squeezes even tighter before letting go. She glances over her sister’s shoulder. “Hey, Mom. Hey, Tim.”
“Good to see you again, honey,” Dad says. “That your bag?”
“No, Dad,” Cassandra says, rolling her eyes, “she stole it. She just got addicted to stealing in Paris and she can’t quite kick the habit.”
Ariadne’s laugh turns into a cough, and Mom steps a little bit closer to her before Ariadne waves her off. “I’m fine, sorry. Don’t worry.” She bends down to take the bag – it is a new one, red-and-black plaid and fancy-looking. Cassandra snatches the handle before Ariadne can get to it, grinning, and Ariadne throws up her hands with a grin. It’s a longstanding tradition that nobody carries their own bags home from the airport.
The drive home is an hour and a half of being their family as Cassandra defines it: her dad twisted around in his seat to tell criminally awful puns, her mother’s perfectly lipsticked smiles measured but genuine in the rearview mirror, Ariadne and Cassandra rolling their eyes at each other in perfect synchronization. Ariadne is wearing eye makeup, which is new, as are the neckerchiefs (which she’s mentioned) and the treasure-trove of bracelets jangling on her right wrist. Cassandra wonders vaguely where she picked those up, whether they were a present from someone or a discovery in some dusty thrift shop or something else altogether. Then Dad cracks another joke and Ariadne groans “Oh, Tim,” and it’s Cassandra’s sisterly duty to agree that yes, that one was truly horrible and he ought to be locked up for telling it, so she never does mention the bracelets.
Dinner is Dad’s steak and potatoes, which Ariadne calls the ‘Tim special’, and Mom’s chocolate cake with strawberries for dessert. They break out the good china, of course, and Ariadne runs a finger along the bright gilt edge of the plates with an odd smile that Cassandra can’t quite describe. She tells them (through a mouthful) that the food is the best thing she’s tasted in months, which makes Dad beam with pride.
“Well,” he demurs, “I’d imagine almost anything would taste good after university food.”
“Oh, I’ve been eating all right,” Ariadne says. “It’s just home.”
They get distracted by the truly glorious meal for a few bites before Cassandra asks “How’s Nina?”
“Nina?” Ariadne swallows. “Nina is, um, she’s fine. We haven’t actually ended up talking too much lately, but –”
“But you’re roommates,” Mom says, frowning delicately over the edge of her glass. “You haven’t had a fight or anything, have you?” Mom believes deeply in the sanctity of friendships begun by sharing a dorm room; all of her old roommates are honorary aunts now.
“No, we haven’t fought, we’ve just both been so busy lately. I’ve been working on all kinds of projects outside of school –”
“How come?” Cassandra asks, bracing her elbows on the table to listen.
“Uhm.” She takes another bite of steak. “Just, you know, for practice. It’s important to do.”
“What have you designed?”
“A lot of things. Um, a hotel, a hospital, a couple of mansions, a fancy restaurant, a museum – oh my God, what is that?”
Cassandra glances around. “Oh, it’s just my phone. Sorry.” She reaches for her purse and then stops, because Ariadne looks seriously deranged. Eyes wide, one finger gripping tight on the edge of her chair, the other one digging in her pocket for something – “Are you okay?” Cassandra asks, frowning.
“Am I – yeah. Yeah, I’m fine. I’m sorry. It’s just, the music startled me, it sounded strange. It’s nothing.” She laughs, brittle and cracked-sounding. “Just jittery, I guess.”
Cassandra has, of course, spread her stuff all over the room that she and Ariadne used to share. She doesn’t quite have it straightened up by the time Ariadne shuffles in, but luckily the older girl just laughs and chucks her bag on her own bed.
“I just need to have enough room to actually sleep by the time I get out of the shower, okay?” she says, rummaging through her bag. “I’m not going to unpack until the morning, I need to sleep.”
“Fair enough,” Cassandra said, blushing. After Ariadne leaves, Cassandra notices that she’s left her phone sitting open in the middle of the bed. She debates for approximately three seconds, mostly for the sake of appearances, and then grabs it and leans back to snoop.
The wallpaper startles her. One prim-looking man in a nice vest is bent over a table, apparently arguing with a laughing guy in a hideous mustard shirt, while a curly-haired guy in glasses watches with a grin over the top of a newspaper. All of them look like they’re at least thirty, and the room doesn’t look anything like the pictures of the college that Ariadne sent home. The strangeness means that Cassandra goes straight for the pictures folder, instead of the texts or the recent calls. (She has mostly given up on any shame about snooping like this.)
The first few photos make sense. There’s a lot of pictures of Nina and Marie and Danielle; Cassandra knows them, sort of, from pictures and stories and the occasional Skype chat. Ariadne’s in a lot of the pictures too, and they’re pretty much what they were the last time Cassandra did this, various combinations of the four of them with their arms around each other, pulling silly faces and toasting the camera, all titled with places and dates. Cassandra is just wondering if maybe the wallpaper was a movie screenshot or something when she finds another picture of one of those guys. It’s Mustard, not actually wearing the color but definitely recognizable; he’s standing in front of a chalkboard, glancing over his shoulder in surprise. Probably Ariadne pulling a candid camera moment; she does that. The next picture is Prim, leaning back in a chair and trying to look disapproving; then it’s Curly presenting the camera with a giant grin and a thumbs-up.
There’s a couple more pictures of the girls after that, but there’s more and more of the three strangers. Ariadne and Prim standing arm in arm in front of an unfamiliar storefront, labeled finallyshegetshimtopose.jpg; Curly bent over some kind of lab equipment with a ‘Kick Me’ sign on his back (victoryatlast.jpg); Prim and an Asian man who looks to be almost fifty, both bent over a game of chess (epicbattlecommences.jpg); Prim and Mustard asleep in the back of a car, Prim’s head on Mustard’s shoulder (BLACKMAIL.jpg), Mustard and Curly at an unfamiliar beach throwing water at each other (yeswereinthirdgrade.jpg). Normally Cassandra would be laughing at them, but all she can think is who are these people? And more importantly, well – she knows Ariadne doesn’t tell her everything. Not when she’s so much older. But –
“Cassie, what are you doing?”
Cassandra glances up, wincing. Ariadne seems to have gotten out of the shower faster than she thought. “Um…” Normally she’d say ‘looking through your phone’ and grin as insolently as she could, but she just says, “Nothing.”
“Could I get a little respect for my –” Ariadne stops and rubs her forehead, sighing. “You know what, whatever, just don’t text anyone and put it back on my nightstand when you’re done looking, okay?” She stumbles over to the bed and collapses into it with a hollow thump. “And turn the light out soon.”
Cassandra glances through another few pictures, but they don’t really register. Ariadne is at least letting her look; that counts as not hiding anything huge, right? Right?
All the same, it might make everything simpler if she doesn’t ask about these people.