Ding, ding, the shrill ringtone filled the quiet room. Mackenzie lay skewed across her couch, glasses still on, shrouded in the gray haze of the Netflix “Are you still watching?” screen. It was another Friday night spent alone, a half-empty bottle of Boone’s tilted sideways supported by various bags of chips.
Mack sat bolt upright at the sound of the second set of dings, her cheek bright red where it had been peeled from her arm. Cringing out of her stupor, her arm buzzing with numbness, she reached out towards the light. To her dismay, her phone lay just out of reach, just past an open, half-eaten, box of Oreos. Legs remaining on the couch, she spider crawled towards her phone, finally grasping the device.
Cass, a minute ago, HELLO?!?!
Cass, five minutes ago, Are you awake???
“Oh, my goodness, where’s the fire?” She said under her breath, already shooting back a reply.
Mack, now, WTH CASS, it’s 3 in the morning, of course I’m sleeping.
She had decided to play it off like she was irritated, though only mildly. This was a common occurrence, like Mack was OnDemand to Cassie, always available to talk, chill, or for an unfortunate trip to the mall. After over a decade, most times Mack found the behavior enduring, though due to the abrupt interruption of her slumber- now was not one of those times. Her contempt grew with every wave of the incoming text bubbles.
Cass, now, I’m sorry (cat emoji, crying emoji)
Mack, now, What’s up?
She needed to get to the point, having swapped the lumpy couch for her bed. Her eyes fluttered shut, chest whirling with sleep, Cass’s reply sure to wake her.
Cass, now, what are you doing tomorrow night?
Mack, now, (American flag emoji, statue of liberty emoji)
Cass, now, perfect, my place at 8?
Mack, now, k
Mack woke late that afternoon, her body creaking audibly as she made her way to the refrigerator. After her late night conversation, Mack rested fitfully, bright colorful dreams cascading through her mind. Sounds and scents overwhelmed her, sights sent her spinning into consciousness. She felt as though she hadn’t slept at all. Drinking directly from the carton of orange juice, Mac checked her messages, expecting at least one reminder from Cass of their plans this evening.
“Huh,” Mack tossed the OJ back in the fridge. Radio silence was unusual, but Instagram silence was unheard of. Cass had been off the social media grid all morning, much to her million followers and Mack’s surprise. This could be dire, Mack thought, tapping the green call button next to Cass’s name.
“Hey this is Cass, you know what to do,” beep, not a single ring, her phone must be off.
“Weird,” Mack threw her phone down beside her on the couch, grabbing a lighter. Mack flicked the lighter, scorching what was left in the glass bowl. Smoke filled her apartment, beams of light slicing through disheveled blinds, cutting the swirling mountain apart.
She leaned back on the couch, blonde hair fanning around her shoulders. Her head felt heavy as though the rest of her body might float away. She sat motionless, vivid images melting into one another, she didn’t know where reality ended and her dreams began. Ordinary scenes from her life transforming into something other worldly, usually startling, intense, jumping from building to building, the gap too far, falling, the ground coming close until it wasn’t. Until she soared, the adrenaline usually waking her, warm, glistening with a layer of sweat. But sometimes Mack was lucky, sometimes she could ignore the call to consciousness. Sometimes, she would fly between castle turrets, or bounce between rooftops, light as a feather. Braver in extraordinary circumstances than in ordinary life- Mack smiled, thinking of Cassie, her ordinary bravery.
“Speak of the devil…” Cassie’s picture flashed across the phone screen, Mack put the phone to her ear, “Yeah?”
“Charmer,” Cass criticized the lack of the more formal, hello.
“Hello,” Mack exaggerated, drawing out the word, relishing in Cass’s irritation.
“Have you eaten?” She interrupted Mack’s montage of various pitched hello’s.
Unfortunately, Mack’s stomach chose this very moment to prang terribly, aching for food. Hours had passed since she had sat down. She stood, looking at her phone for the time, already throwing clothes from one pile to the next, desperately searching for something to wear.
“No, I haven’t,” Mack mumbled into the phone.
“Get dressed- I’ll be there in twenty.” Cass started her car, her engine rumbling to life in the background.
“Where are we going?” Mack hated surprises.
“I think I know a place.” The line went quiet.
“Of course you do,” Mack growled to no one in particular, kicking a particularly large pile of laundry out of her path.
Dinner was quite the ordeal, Mack thought, watching raindrops shoot across the window. First of all, she had drank far too much, for she had been far too nervous sitting across from the most gorgeous girl. Friend or not, any one in her vicinity fell victim to her and her- Mack smashed the window button, sending rain pouring through, her hair dripping around her face as she tilted her head out the window.
The car swerved lightly, “What the hell Mack?”
Mack fell back into her seat, laughing while Cass cringed away from the rain, simultaneously rolling up the window.
“You’re drunk,” Cass declared.
“Sorry,” Mack pushed her wet hair back, “You look so funny when you’re angry.”
“My position stands, drunkie.” Cass poked at her, jabbing painfully at her side.
“I’m fine,” the rush of cold rain sobered Mack up quite a bit.
They jammed to a couple more songs, mostly making a mockery of artists’ divine vocal talent, but their dance moves worthy of awards. The girls laughed, running through the downpour through the door to Cassandra’s condo.
Though a rather familiar place to her, the condo stank of unfamiliarity, Cass’s boyfriend Jed had certainly already made his mark on the place, whether it was the skull of Bambi’s mom hung like a prize in the den, or the collection of shitty beer in the fridge. Jed stank sobered Mack completely, urging her out of the confines of this place. She swung open the door to the back deck, leaving it open behind her, plunging into a neon pink plastic lawn chair. The rain cascaded over the canopy, rivers poured, plunging towards the wooden railings, sending flecks of cold rain water, occasionally finding warm flesh.
Mack used her body to deter the rain, making quick work of rolling her joint. Lighting it as fast as she could, eager to smoke the Jed stank out of the area. She wondered vaguely where he was, concluding that if she was here, he obviously wasn’t. That was fine with her, though this was only the third time she had been here since he had moved in a month ago, each time he had mysteriously vanished, Cassie offering no explanation.
She had began rolling the second, the first being half gone by the time Cassie came hurtling through the sliding door, glasses of ice and a square bottle in tow.
“Excellent.” Mack exclaimed, handing over the joint, taking a glass.
They sat until the sun had set and it had stopped raining, laughing at stupid people on YouTube, smoking and drinking, laughing until their stomachs hurt. Hours had passed in minutes, intoxication landing the girls in another reality. Mack’s vision wavered as she stood, desperately in need of a bathroom. Cass clung to her, aiming for the kitchen, after having been instructed by Mack, that it was in fact, time for pizza.
Mack leaned into the wall of the hallway, aware of the faint beeps of the oven behind her, hoping her time away wouldn’t result in a small fire. Not being a guest, Mack made the longer trek to the master bathroom, where the white marble floor gleamed, obviously the nicest room in the house. She stared at the plethora of stars through the skylights, her bare feet warmed immediately by heated tiles, distracted momentarily until her bladder reminded her of why she was there.
The longer she stared at her reflection the more her features swam, Picasso like, around her face. The effect was nauseating, Mack turned on the faucet, running the ice cold water over her hands. Her hips dug into the counter, the cold marble steadying her uneven stance. Avoiding her reflection, Mack’s eyes flickered over the counter top, settling on a statue of Aphrodite. Mouth agape, she stared at the three foot high statue, not at all trying to hide her admiration for the beautiful goddess, her flowing gown coming to life through stone.
Mack had heard the door creak, but didn’t move, mesmerized.
A hand fell upon Mack’s shoulder, the contact shocking her back to reality. She turned, shying away from the touch, blush creeping over her cheeks. “Gorgeous,” Mack murmured, as though it were a valid explanation for her absence.
“Agreed,” Cass said, far too nonchalant, “Pizzas ready.”
They ate at the table rather than outside, the night had brought the cold air along with it. Between mouthfuls, they bickered over what movie to watch. By the time the pizza disappeared, they had decided on a recent flick, a satirical horror-comedy, called the Babysitter.
Both women carried armfuls of supplies to the basement, settling in in front of the largest TV in the dwelling. Cass dimmed the lights remotely, the movie starting up- just like the many others they had watched together. They caught each other’s eye more than once, sending each of them into a fit of giggles in turn.
“Shhh,” Cass urged, “this is serious,”
“Seriously corny maybe,” Mack laughed, lighting a joint without thinking. “Oh, shit,” she remembered too late, leaning across Cass intending to extinguish it in her melted ice glass.
“No,” Cassie said, wrapping her fingers around Mack’s wrist. “Don’t worry about it.”
Mack stared, perplexed at the lax of the strict “no smoking indoors” rule. Instead of providing explanation however, Cass simply took the joint from her stunned friend, turning her attention back towards the movie.
The movie took a turn for the horror, once the previously “innocent” babysitter plunged two knives simultaneously into a dude’s head. Both women shrieked in response, the already minute space between them completely eliminated.
Senses heightened, Mack became ultra aware of their closeness. The warmth between them was unsettling, tilting the scale that had been wavering on edge all evening. She remembered dinner, her paranoia translating into coy glances sent across the table. In the car, her thoughts spinning out of control, cold water deterring her hormones from blurring their friendship.
A gunshot rang out, Cass shrieking at the sudden outburst. Mack wore an expression of faux shock, clearly having not been paying attention to the movie. The expression turned to real shock, as Cassandra’s fingers, once gripped to Mack’s wrist in terror, slid down her hand, their fingers intertwining in an unusual show of affection.
Petrified, Mackenzie didn’t dare turn and face Cassandra, having been completely overwhelmed by this move, this move that had sent the scale flying, blurring that very, very, thin line.
Thoughts whirred around her head, moments turning into hours, one question staying in the forefront, Why? She had been out to Cass for months now, their subsequent falling out a thing of the distant past. Things remained the same, only her open gawking of attractive women irritating Cass to no end. They kept their closeness at bay, Mack thinking it was for her benefit, or at least whoever her latest conquest was. It was far too easy to be insecure around Cassandra, her beauty shadowing all others around her.
Shocks erupted up her arm, as Cass dragged her thumb across the back of Mack’s hand, making no show of mock interest in the film playing. Her dark eyes shifted from their blanket covered hands to the side of Mack’s face, unable to see where her best friend was staring. Was Mack’s hand quivering?
No, it wasn’t, Cass squeezed, forcing herself to be still. Mack’s chest fell, exhaling for the first time since the shot rang out. This was just too much- she pulled away, fleeing, what the hell was going on?
Mack locked the bathroom door behind her, running through the room into the connected closet. She flung herself into her favorite chair next to a window, pulling her knees to her chest. Her thoughts caught up with her, what in the hell had just happened?
Obviously Cassandra had just been scared, right? The problem was her reaction, she knew. From the moment their fingers intertwined she couldn’t breathe, reading so far into things. She stood too quickly, the chair knocking the window, and paced around the countertop in the center of the room.
Mack went round and round, slippery thoughts coming and going, failing to make sense of things. She walked and walked, while several floors below silent tears ran down Cassandra’s cheeks.
Several long minutes have passed, Cass remaining in the basement, while Mack had finally stopped walking. She leaned onto the countertop, her face in her hands and elbows digging into the hard granite. Her hands quaked and tears flooded her eyes, if she was over reacting, where was Cassie? Wouldn’t she have came running, concerned at the speed of her exit?
She would. Mack’s eyes flashed through the doorway, to the bathroom door. It stood dark and ominous, but also, to Mack’s horror, completely silent. Her focus caught something across the room, to the right of the open door way. She moved, mouth agape, remembering something from one of her previous visits.
“You literally look great in anything,” Mack sat in the chair, watching the wind blow the trees around outside. “We’re going to miss the movie you know.” Boredom ebbed away, Mack stood, preventing the numbness in her foot from spreading farther. She walked around the counter, eyeing random garments, wishing Cass would just pick something to wear already. A plaid shirt caught her attention, she reached for it, planning on indefinitely borrowing it. Mack eyed it suspiciously for it had been far too large to fit either of them. Her focus darted, frantic, at the adjacent things. Men’s clothing hung in the small section besides the doorway.
That was the day Mackenzie found out Jed had moved into Cassie’s condo. Now however, those same shelves that were filled with frustratingly cute men’s clothing- were bare. This sent Mackenzie into a tail spin. She spun in a circle, searching for his stuff, searching for an explanation. There wasn’t one, but there had to be one.
Mack ran back into the bathroom, yanking open the cabinet next to his sink. It was empty, no shitty cologne, beard trimmer, or toothbrush in sight. She noticed right away however, to her disgust, little brown beard hairs littering the sink. Mack began to feel light headed, splashing cold water on her face before retreating back to the chair in the closet.
What in the fuck was happening? Cassie had neglected to tell her that she and Jed broke up, Mack couldn’t fathom another reason all his stuff was gone. She thought back to dinner that evening, noticing the little things that indicated her friend was hiding something from her. But Mack remembered other things too- she knew she hadn’t imagined it, the incessant flirting throughout dinner, or even Cassie covertly opening the car door. It had been all so curious, though Mack had chalked it up to her friend being in an especially good mood. Unusual behavior for someone who’s boyfriend had just moved out, right? Or perhaps not, Cass had always been needy- maybe she simply needed her best friend. In which case, her reading so far into their hand holding was totally unacceptable. Maybe she was going to tell her about Jed, but before she could, Mack had bolted from the basement. Before Mack could muster up the courage to move from the closet, three loud knocks rang off of the bathroom door.
“Shit,” Mackenzie breathed, the lock twisting, allowing the door to swing open. She stepped back, Cassandra stood in the doorway, smaller than Mackenzie had ever seen her. Mack stayed still, unable to make a decision. A pitiful sound came from the doorway, summoning tears to Mack’s own eyes. She reached out for Cass, instinctively wrapping her arms around her sobbing friend. Her breathing slowed eventually, and she pulled away, staring uncertainly but directly into her eyes. Cassandra spoke, her voice never betraying her terror, “I think we should talk.”
They moved without speaking, stepping around each other while one retrieved glasses of ice while the other retrieved another bottle from atop the refrigerator. Cassandra and Mackenzie sat facing each other, the only evidence of rain being the puddles on the deck between them. Neither moved, neither spoke, neither of them looked away from the other. Cassandra’s jaw was clenched, her mouth a thin line, still as a statue. Mackenzie took a nervous drink, never breaking their stare. Cass looked, well, she looked terrifying, Mackenzie thought. Her face was dark, the purple bags under her eyes apparent in the moonlight. The silence scared Mack the most but, the expression she wore was almost equally unsettling. Not angry, but so… intense. There was no hurt there that she could see.
Mackenzie drank again, at her breaking point as far as awkward silences go, she cleared her throat.
“So I see Jed’s gone.” Mack spoke freely, alcohol as well as the cool air diminishing the panic ebbing away in her chest.
Annoyance flashed like lightening across Cassandra’s brooding face; if Mackenzie had blinked she would have missed it.
“Okay…” Mack dragged out the word, not sure what direction to go. “Did he decide to go to Clown College after all?”
“I threw him out today.” She was not amused.
Mackenzie celebrated the half win only after waiting for further explanation, “Oh, that’s interesting…” Mack connected, “is that why your phone was off?”
“It was sudden.” She said the words as though she didn’t mean them; like they were someone else’s entirely.
She gawked at Cassandra, leaning forward, amazed that other than annoyed, she had not displayed a single emotion thus far. How could that be?
Mackenzie emptied her glass, watching the ice swirl around as she set it on the table next to her. “Maybe…” she started, a thought taking shape into words, “maybe I’m not asking the right questions.”
She pulled her chair closer, until their knees were almost touching, the closeness familiar to them both. Cassie had not spoken and her eyes had not moved off of Mack. She was looking down now, for the neon pink lawn chair Mack was sitting on was quite a bit lower than her own.
Mackenzie pulled her eyes up, hands grasping her knees to steady herself. She tried to hold Cass’s unwavering gaze, but failed when asking, her voice quieter now, “Why am I here?”
There it was, the question hung in the air around them, palpable. It was the right question, Mackenzie knew as she watched Cassandra’s features transform. Her jaw relaxed, her mouth opening slightly. The moon light no longer sharpened her features into an intimidating scowl, but rather, made her glow, her face soft, warm. She didn’t smile, but she didn’t need to.
“Cass, we can’t spend all night staring at each other, you know?” Humor again.
Amusement filled Cassandra’s face, and though her voice was hard, she smiled when she said, “But that, my darling”, she drew out the words, covering Mack’s hand with her own, “is exactly why you are here.” She paused, allowing her words to sink in, but only for just a moment as she continued, “Well that and,” their eyes met, every question answered at the same moment. They moved in tandem, closing the remaining gap, kissing one another unhesitatingly.
Neither stopped for breath, there was nothing left to say. They spoke in a new language, hands running up arms, down backs, discovering new places, neither sure when Cassandra had joined Mackenzie on the neon pink lawn chair. This language was foreign except for the nods of permission as lips turned into bites on soft shoulders. Heavy breaths turned into moans, but the cold air sent shivers throughout, snapping the pair back to reality as the bitter wind nipped at their skin.
As they retreated into the house, Mackenzie stopped suddenly, pulling Cassandra back towards her. As if they had always belonged there, they wrapped their arms around each other, hugging fiercely; Mackenzie was sure that there was one more thing left to say, and so she turned, whispering into dark hair, “I love you Cass.”
In answer, she pulled back, their fingers intertwined, and stared shamelessly at Mackenzie and spoke without any uncertainty, “I love you too Mack, like I will never love anyone else in this world.”
Mackenzie grinned, pulling Cassandra with her, needing no direction to the bedroom. Where, if they had time, they might discuss how the hell this happened.