Cassie. Cassie for Cassiopeia.
Ben always knew who she was- who wouldn’t? He supposed he was cliched that way- the popular high school jock who could have anyone but only notices the girl in the background. Cassie for Cassiopeia was quiet; whilst their classmates were all loud and rowdy, always wanting to be the center of attention, Cassie seemed to be content just standing in the sidelines. Whilst everyone fought for popularity, for friends who were there more as trophies rather than life long buddies, Cassie was always standing there with her best friend, Lizbeth, and they looked like they had fun. Whenever Ben would look over, Cassie would be laughing, shaking her head at something Lizbeth said. He was always too far away to hear or to make out the words Cassie’s lips formed, but he could always guess. Oh my god Lizbeth, no! I’m not going to listen to this, bye! Another laugh. Ben liked Cassie’s laugh.
That night at the party was one of the few times Ben had actually talked to Cassie, though. She was cute and awkward and everything Ben thought she would be and Ben tried to work out the courage to ask her out. Phone cases weren’t exactly a smooth way to flirt (Spiderman phone case? That is the best you can do, Parish?). He would’ve done it too, but then Sissy called and Sissy was always Ben’s first priority. When Ben came back after hanging up on Sissy, Cassie was gone. I’ll have tomorrow, he’d thought, it’s not like she’s going anywhere.
But then the world ended. The world ended and with it ended any shred of resemblance to normal life. Suddenly, that cute girl with a polka dotted phone case took a back seat as Ben’s thoughts were consumed by the losses he was surrounded by, by the need to just survive until the next day- knowing he wouldn’t, trying to ignore the fact that she was probably dead too, just like the rest of the world. Sometimes, whilst he was laying in bed in his dorm, he wondered how life would have been if the world hadn’t ended, if Ben Parish had not become Zombie. He imagines awkward first dates and flustered smiles as he reaches for her hand in the dark of a movie theatre. He imagines quick goodbye kisses when he drops her off to her classes, followed by long hello kisses as they reunite during lunch, their friends throwing bits of food at them and telling them to get a room because they are that couple. And for a moment he almost feels like Ben Parish again. When Nugget’s soft cries in his sleep reawaken Zombie, he is almost sad to let Ben Parish go.
But he is Zombie, a living corpse who managed to buy time even after the world ended, fully aware that his clock is ticking down to the moment he can kill those goddamn aliens who took the world away from him, who made Ben Parish into Zombie, who lost his shot with the cute girl from chemistry because he was naïve enough to assume that the world would always be a never ending, steady concept.
But then there she is, Cassie for Cassiopeia, stealing his gun from him in one swift movement and barking orders and suddenly he can hardly control the words floating out of his mouth. She’s here, Cassie, and Ben begs her to remember, begs her to remember the person he scarcely remembers himself. I know who you are, she says, and Ben feels like he can exhale a breath he has been holding for a very long time.
But then she is kissing that guy and Ben feels the last glimmer of hope disappear, along with the tiny grasp of the Ben he coould have been. But Nugget is Sam and Sam is her brother and Ben can’t help but appreciate the irony: the relic from his whole life being the one and the same as the purpose of his new. Life is just so fucking clever sometimes.
And as they sit there, Cassie for Cassiopeia and Ben for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, looking for the stars in the daylight Ben can see a glim of the Cassie he never got to know, and the Cassie he wishes he gets to know.