“I hate cooked carrots.”
“Are you serious? That’s the big secret? That’s what you were waiting all day to tell me?” Cassandra crossed her arms over her chest, and glared at Valerie.
"Nah. I wanted to tell you something bigger, but I thought that a nice icebreaker could work to my benefit." Valerie fidgeted with one of the loose strings in her gloves. They were handmade, and looked the part. So many of the seams looked wrong, and the length wasn't even on the cuffs of both of the gloves. Valerie felt a stab of pride, seeing as these were the first gloves she'd ever made.
"So, what do you want to talk about?" Cassandra leaned against the balcony overlooking the city. It looked incredible. The lights were still up from the celebration of the Day of the Dead, so each building could be seen even from a mansion in the middle of nowhere. That could have been one of the reasons Valerie hated it up here so much. She wanted to be down there, experiencing life around other people, not stuffed up somewhere in the mountains. The pine trees around the house rustled in the wind, and Valerie welcomed the chill.
"I figured, since we're at my house, I would give you a secret about how I feel about my family."
"Let me guess. You absolutely adore them. You wish the best upon them, and you want to live with them in this house forever." Cassandra's voice was thick with sarcasm, and Valerie could feel it oozing out of her.
"Something like that." There was a pause.
"I hate them. I mean, I genuinely despise them. And it's not because they're like, terrible parents, or anything like that. They just... Don't accept me. And that's hard to live with. When I first came out, my parents acted like they were cool with it, but... They weren't. I started dressing in a more masculine way, and I got an undercut-," Cassandra interrupted her.
"You had an undercut?" Her voice was incredulous. "In this good Christian household? Unbelievable."
Valerie cracked a smile as Cassandra shook her head in feigned disgust. She could feel her throat closing up, and her eyes stung with tears. "Yeah. I got a pride flag and I started getting into politics. Do you know how hard it is to get into politics when your dad thinks that his point of view is automatically better then yours? Do you know how hard it is to think that I should be able to get married to who I want when my parents are so wrapped up in their religion? Do you know how hard it is to feel like I should get out of this situation, because they aren't really doing anything wrong?"
Cassandra held out her arms, and Valerie fell into them, long repressed tears finally coming out. As she cried, Cassandra stroked her hair and whispered soothing nothings into the top of Valerie's head.
"I'm sorry." Valerie sobbed, curling into Cassandra's arms. Cassandra shook her head, Letting her know that she wasn’t to blame.
Valerie choked on tears for a good while before she felt ready to talk.
“I’m sorry. You probably didn’t need to know all of that. I wish I could have done something then, like I’m able to now, but I can’t. I can’t do anything right now. I mean, if I go on the quest, they’ll be furious. But if I stay here, then I’ll be miserable until I’m able to move out of the house, which won’t be anytime soon. I shouldn’t have put this all on you. I’m sorry”
Cassandra finally spoke for real. “I have no idea what that must have been like. I am so o glad you told me. I don’t even know what to say right now. Thank you for trusting me with this information. Are you doing okay now? I mean, obviously you’re not, but like, are you hurt now? I mean you probably aren’t doing very well at the moment, but are you physically hurt? Do you need me to go get Kai? Do you’re probably going through a terrible mental health time right now, so do you want to go watch a movie together or something?”
Valerie gave a half chuckle and shook her head, breathing in Cassandra’s sweet smell of vanilla. “I’m good, I’ve just never told anyone about that before. I wasn’t expecting you to react this way, honestly. I thought I would get rejected. Again.”
Cassandra kept petting Valerie’s hair, and Valerie shivered against Cassandra’s side. “I’m sorry.”
“What are you sorry for?” Valerie asked, looking up at Cassandra’s warm blue eyes.
“I’m sorry that you didn’t feel safe enough to bring this to me sooner. I am always more than willing to help you out if you’re struggling with something like this. I’d like to think of myself as a pretty good person to talk to when people are in trouble. Do you want to go get ice cream or something? I like giving whoever I’m talking to a treat after they’ve shared something of this magnitude. You know? And, if you want… We could consider it a date.”
Valerie laughed, as Cassandra gently wiped her tears away. “Do your dates often share deep seated personal trauma before their dates?”
Cassandra laughed uncomfortably. “I’ve never actually been on
a date before. My mom doesn't think that you should date until you’re like, twenty-seven. Which I’m not.”
Valerie stood up and brushed off her jeans uncomfortably. “Yeah, well. Screw parents, you know? Let’s go. We can go to the botanical gardens afterward. Oh! And we could go roller-blading or something. I mean, I can’t skate, but you look like you can skate really well.”
Cassandra grinned and stood up, adjusting her shirt a little. “We can go buy rings at the thrift store or something."
“You like thrifting for jewelry? I always have trouble finding stuff that fits me. I mean, that’s not hard to believe. Look at me.”
Cassandra laughed nervously, and she held out her hand. “May I?”
Valerie took it. “You may.”
Years later, Cassandra stood in the same place several years later. Valerie's parents stood in front of her. Their expressions were filled with anxiety and the need for reassurance. All they wanted to hear was that their daughter would think about them while being held by the enemy. How could she tell them that their daughter well and truly disliked them? How could she tell them that for all the years she'd known Valerie, she'd never expressed a desire to be a part of their church? How could she tell them that Valerie wanted nothing to do with them as an adult? How could she tell them that Valerie had taken Cassandra's last name to remove any association with Mr. and Mrs. Kline? How could she tell them that she was their daughter in law?
"Of course she loves you. She talks about you often. I'm sure she's praying for you." The lie tasted like iron as it forced itself out of her mouth. Mrs. Kline looked relieved, and Cassandra could see tears building at her eyes. Mr. Kline nodded.
"She sent a letter that she was getting married soon. What's her husband's name? I'm sure you went to her wedding. She did not invite us. She does this thing where she sends us annual letters about what's going on in her life, but she doesn't invite us to anything." Mr. Kline examined her face, and Cassandra remembered that Valerie had once told her that he could tell when people were lying.
"She married my brother. Castell Boravitch. They're both very happy. Well... they were." Cassandra prayed that Peter, who was her actual brother, wouldn't take offense at this. Mr. Kline nodded, and Mrs. Kline wiped her eyes with the back of her hand.