12 years before The Wake...
Cassandra hated begging. But she would beg for this man. There was nothing she wouldn’t do to make Marcus see her, really see her and her heart.
They were standing in the hall by the restrooms at The Celtic Heart, at the end of a long night of drinking ale. Their six friends- the rest of the group that always seemed to be together- were scattered at the darts, the bar, the pool table. Living out their own dramas of unrequited love and jealousy.
But all Cassandra could think of was that Marcus had just kissed her for the first time. Right after she said, “Happy Birthday, baby,” her words soft and private. He had leaned over and let his lips meet hers, giving in to what they both wanted at last.
“Don’t pull away,” she said as he did just that.
“I shouldn’t have.”
Too long they had danced around this. Because he was dating Melissa, because they were just supposed to be friends, because Andrew loved her and no one wanted to hurt Andrew. But Cassandra couldn’t stop her need for this man. Marcus was who she wanted for herself- the rest of them be damned.
Too many times she put them all first, tried to keep them all together, to make these college friendships last a lifetime. But now she needed to think of herself. She needed Marcus to kiss her again, to slide his arms around her and pull her close, to take her away from this crowded bar and home to his bed.
“Melissa...” he started, his dark eyes meeting hers.
“Tell me that you love her more than me. Can you say that?” Cassandra watched his eyes, seeing how dark they were with desire. “I didn’t think so.”
Marcus took a step back, adjusted his clothes, and slipped back into the role he played instead of living. The script that made him seem the perfect boyfriend, the loyal friend, the one with the bright political future. Only Cassandra knew that without alcohol he couldn’t even fall to sleep at night.
While his girlfriend Melissa had some kind of otherworldly ability to not see the truth about him. Especially if that truth didn’t suit her unblemished image of her first love.
“Don’t go there, Cassie.” He gave her a sad smile. “I’m going to get another drink. Want one?”
When she didn’t answer Marcus shrugged and headed for the bar without her.
Peter danced with Cecily but his eyes and mind stayed on his friends. He watched as Melissa and Andrew sat in a booth, their heads leaned closer together, obviously sharing secrets. Her eyes were clouded with warring emotions that he could see even from across the room.
This group clung so tight to each other they were destroying the very thing they claimed to be fighting to protect: their friendships.
Peter figured they had spotted Marcus and Cassandra in that lip lock, bodies pressed desperately close to each other, as everything they kept under the surface for months finally came to life. All his friends thought they kept their desire hidden and their envy unspoken but Peter saw it all.
“You’re daydreaming again,” Cecily scolded.
It wasn’t the first time she begged him to get out of his own head and come back to her. But in his mind was the only place he could be with Cassandra. Where she loved him and didn’t fawn after that over privileged trust fund brat Marcus.
“Just thinking about you,” Peter lied to his girlfriend.
During the next song, Cassandra rushed from the bar with tears in her eyes. Peter counted to five and then, just as he thought would happen, Andrew was headed out the door after her. Melissa stalked over to her best friend, not her lover, Jake and started ranting. It wasn’t long till he was out the door after Cassandra too.
Peter seethed inwardly. Soon it would be his turn to be the one Cassandra turned to... or else....
Twenty minutes later, Cassandra was sobbing in the passenger seat of a borrowed Jaguar.
“Cassie, sweetie, come on. Stop,” Jake encouraged her. But her shoulders kept shaking, seemingly in rhythm with the rain that slapped against the windshield. “He’s not worth all this.”
Cassandra straightened, her tear stained face turned toward him. “I only wanted Marcus to love me. Why won’t he?”
Jake had no answer for her. He couldn’t even make sense of his own life, let alone the messy ones his friends led. He dug around his mind for some sooting lines that wouldn’t sound like a cliche.
Cassandra cried, “I don’t want to live without Marcus anymore!”
His head jerked to the side, in time to see the wild and broken look that flashed in her eyes. Then the tires started to slide and before he could refocus on the road they were in a spin out.
The Jag spun, tossing them, the past, and the future around like a kaleidoscope, leaving everything in a different place as they smashed into the utility pole.
At the bar, Tina showed up late as usual. She spotted Melissa sitting in their normal booth.
“Where’s everyone else? I missed all the fun?” Tina asked
“Fun?” Melissa laughed, the sound hollow and bitter. “They all took off a while ago. Cecily got a cab after fighting with Peter for not paying her enough attention again.”
Tina laughed as she sat down. “Nothing new about that. I can’t believe they got engaged when they can’t go a week without having a row.”
Melissa took another long drink of her ale.
“I hate that I missed Marcus birthday but I got stuck late at the lab again. I swear I am dropping out of the pre-med program. It just drains me to spend every second of the day studying or working.” Tina noticed the far away look in her friend’s eye. “What did Marcus do to you this time?”
Melissa met her eyes. “Nothing. Everything is fine. He’s the perfect boyfriend, you know that.”
Tina could tell her smiled was fake and that something must have gone down here tonight. Her curious mind would not stop mulling over the possibilities until she could figure out a way to get one of her friends to spill the truth. Tina decided to ask Cassandra. She was never any good, unlike the rest of them, at keeping secrets.
Marcus knew he shouldn’t be driving.
No matter how drunk he ever got he couldn’t quiet that part of his brain that sounded like his father’s booming voice, “Don’t embarrass the family with a scandal! This country won’t elect you if you give them any little reason to see how incompetent you truly are.”
But keeping up appearances was wearing him down. So whenever he found the chance he threw back as many drinks as he could, long before tonight when he turned the legal drinking age of twenty-one. Because when he was drunk he could not think so hard, try so hard, or feel so much.
The rain grew more intense, making it hard to see the deserted country road he was flying down. But instead of easing off the gas pedal he pressed down harder. Jake borrowed his car when this old Caddy wouldn’t turn over. Marcus fiddled under the hood and got it going a little while later. He sped out of the parking lot determined to meet Cassandra at her place and talk more about them.
Marcus told himself he didn’t plan to sleep with her. But that was just a lie to make it okay to go over there. Once they were alone, he knew, this would be their night. That kiss earlier hadn’t been enough to quell the heat in either of them.
He slammed on the brakes when he spotted the Jag in the ditch, its front end crushed against a metal pole. Jerking onto the side street, he parked the Cadillac and then took off in a run toward his friends. His feet slid over the wet pavement , bringing him to his knees, but he scurried onto both feet again.
Jake lay in the grass on his back. Marcus bent and felt for a pulse, it was strong beneath his fingers. He moved to the car, finding the door pulled open already, and saw Cassandra in the driver’s seat. Her eyes were open but there was no life in them.
Marcus took her in his arms, his body wracked by sobs, “Cassie, hey, Cass...baby...no.. come back.....please...Oh my God...no...Cassandra...”
Peter sped threw the downtown city streets at full speed, moving as far and fast away from that country road as he could. His breaths came in gasps, his hands shook.
Why was she moaning Marcus’ name? the angry thought repeated in Peter’s head over and over.
Only covering her mouth and nose, ever so gently, had been enough to make Cassandra stop.
She had looked so pretty.
The police found Marcus still holding her. They had their doubts about his version of the events. Especially when they went to look for Jake’s Cadillac and found it gone, stolen if Marcus was to be believed.
The official story was Cassandra was driving when the car spun out. Jake couldn't remember anything to say otherwise. Marcus refused to speak to any of his friends again after that. He folded into himself and all but disappeared. Wandering around Europe in the years that followed, he did his best to forget the way her eyes looked when he found her, the way her lips tasted earlier that night.
The group fell to pieces, leaving each person searching on their own for a version of the truth, looking for a way to live as a survivor when Cassandra was gone.
But that was the thing. Everyone knew there was more to the story about what happened out there that night but no one could prove or disprove what it was....
By Sara Pufahl
This story is my version of a prequel to The Wake.
To read the story that inspired it check out the first five entries on this blog.
The Accident is dedicated to my fellow Brand New Aspiring Writers member Salmah for coming up with the idea to have each of the four writers of The Wake write down their ideas about what happened the night Cassandra died.