“Sweetie, Cassandra’s dead. You know that. She died when you were both sixteen. Why don’t you come home and rest, I’m worried about you.”
I sighed as I remembered the conversation, but I didn’t have enough emotional energy to go back over the fight. I looked up at the sky instead, and I savored sweet spring’s bliss as the open horse and carriage ride through the woods guided me home. A smile graced my face with the overcast sun’s rays, and I glanced at the woman sitting next to me. I hadn’t seen her since we were younger, but yet, there she was at my side with too little to say.
I looked at her fully as she watched the path before us. She didn’t speak or do much of anything, save for fondling the brown strap around her shoulders. Her art supplies were the most important things in her life, and I knew she had to bring them with her, even if it was just a short visit. Maybe shorter than that, as I had no idea how my family would receive her. She was special, after all. Special in a way no one else was. I still had a difficult time believing she was real.
I slipped my hand into hers and smiled widely, and she looked at me with an odd gaze. There wasn’t much emotion behind it, but a small smile finally formed. It didn’t reach her gray eyes.
My heart skipped a beat. I loved her so much and always had, and it was unreal to have her back. “We’re almost there. Do you remember everyone?”
She went into thought for a minute before nodding slowly and smiling again. Good. She was waking up more and more it seemed. Her old personality began to shine through the closer we came to our destination.
It was only a matter of time before we arrived at my family’s modest home in the woods. A large tree out front had the three of them occupied, and I watched as my older brother jumped down after grabbing an apple. He was the first to spot the carriage and he stood as if taken aback, hands on his hips.
“Huh, why a carriage?” He seemed impressed.
I jumped to the ground with a bit of pride. I wasn’t a rich person by far, but I had enough money to save up for a bit of fun from time to time. Besides, today was a special one by complete chance.
Before I could say anything, my father approached us and wiped the sweat from his tanned brow. “That’s real nice — really cool!”
I chuckled. “Well, it’s a special occasion.” I looked back to see my friend still in her seat, patiently observing nature in waiting.
My mother wiped dirt from her hands. Gardening again. “Don’t tell me… you’re getting married? When were you going to tell us you had a fiancée?”
“You assume I’d marry a woman by default,” I teased. “You know I’m pansexual.”
My mother rolled her eyes and mumbled, ‘whatever’ before approaching one of the horses. I followed her and continued to my friend’s door, which I opened and gestured for her to jump down. She looked down at me as if she were a living doll and slid from the seat into my arms. I helped her brace for the impact and paused with her still in my arms. I looked into her eyes and a powerful sadness overwhelmed me. Was she just a doll? The real her was certainly in there somewhere, I had seen it.
She still had her beautiful and frizzy long brown hair, freckles dotting her pale nose and cheeks, and the same mannerisms for the most part. Her eyes were no longer green but had turned to a pale gray instead, but perhaps her eyes had always been gray-flecked hazel and my memory was just foggy. She was very attached to her notebooks and pencils, which was confirmation enough that she had a grasp on what life meant to her. As it always had.
My heart sunk. I missed her laugh, though. Her energy. Her kind nature. Now, she seemed nearly robotic and catatonic at times, but she was still the same person I knew and loved. She had to be. There were obvious signs she still had yet to come around.
I took her hand and led her over to my family, who stood patiently together as I gave the wave for the driver to head off. When the horses walked past us and we crept closer, a deafening silence fell over the clearing.
A raven cawed in the distance.
My mother was the first to speak up with reddening eyes. “Who is this?”
“You know, I think,” I said as I stepped before her and nodded to my friend.
My father’s emotions were set in stone. I could tell he was frightened by the way his voice shook subtly. “That isn’t possible. Is this her sister?”
I shook my head and looked to my friend once more, hoping she would speak at last. We’d had a brief conversation the day before and she’d seemed happy then, but ever since, she’d just become practically mute. I still hadn’t pieced it together in my head either, to be honest. A big part of me didn’t want to. She was who she was and she was there, regardless of whatever force brought her to me. I was at least glad to know it wasn’t a hallucination — if my parents’ reactions were any indication.
After a moment of silence, a familiar voice that warmed my heart spoke up. “Nope, it’s me. Cassandra.”
©2021 Shane Blackheart
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