Trigger warning: mention of suicide
The first time Cassie met Lin, the latter girl was wearing a fitted pink jumpsuit, layered with a baby blue bomber jacket that was patterned all over with obnoxiously adorable illustrations of pugs and rainbows. In Lin's long black hair were citrus orange streaks that glowed stupendously whenever she and her high pigtails moved ever so slightly.
Cassie hated her.
Partially because she felt that she, being Marcus's new girlfriend, simply had to; but mostly because she knew that anyone looking at the two of them would like Lin better, and she wouldn't be able to blame them. So she would hate her instead in a silent act of protest against this inevitable fate.
Cassie knew that it wasn't fair, but Lin just occupied too many slots in Marcus's life. Childhood friend. First Love. Ex. And current best friend.
And not only that, Lin was also his neighbor; her bedroom window aligning with his in the cul-de-sac that selfishly cornered them in a little world of their own.
She was his bandmate too, her on the trombone and him on the clarinet. Their band coach jumped on any chance to duet them; and after attending just one rehearsal, Cassie could see why.
Her and Marcus partook in Model UN together on Thursdays; while Cassie, a nihilist without a real real grasp on Nihilism, was still going around gabbing about how all humans were inherently rotten and all one can do was just hope that total extinction would come sooner rather than later.
To top it all off, Lin and Marcus's parents were also very close friends, something about meeting at an archeology seminar in Greece before realizing that they had been neighbors back in Maine for eight years now.
This meant joined camping trips where the starry sky could make lovers out of anyone, frequent dinners where Lin and Marcus could no doubt bond over the lame jokes their parents made after just one glass of wine, and it meant extended funeral invitations where it would be more than appropriate for either one of them to reach out for the other's hand.
The biggest insult was that Lin didn't have to beg for any of these slots that she occupied in Marcus's life; whereas Cassie had to strategically bump into him in the school hallways seven times before he would finally say, "Hey, isn't your name Clarissa? I think we have History together."
And she would retort, "How can we have history together if you don't even know my name?" She would then chuckle; in a manner both self-conscious and flirty, a balance which she knew she struck well. And then she would smile, showing off her asymmetrical dimples; and she would extend her hand and say, "I'm Cassie, and you are?"
He would ask her out fourteen days later, and on their third date he would admit that he had spent nine of these days strategizing with Lin about the perfect method of asking Cassie out; only to settle on simply biking to her house with an extra helmet and inviting her for a waffles brunch at Eve's Diner.
They would date for two years before she would have to attend his funeral.
Before she would find herself wondering why her arm was around Lin's shoulder, why Lin's head was on hers, why they seemed to fit like puzzle pieces that way, and why it somehow made perfect sense that Lin had chosen Cassie's arms over her parents' restlessly inviting ones.
They spent senior year intertwined.
Lin, who had previously been fairly loved and popular became aloof after receiving that call at 2 in the afternoon that informed her that Marcus had passed away in an apparent suicide, and that he had left no note behind; but instead of withdrawing into herself, Lin withdrew into Cassie.
Lin would wait for the other girl outside of her classes after having memorized her schedule with no discernable effort. She would show up to school wearing some of Cassie's band shirts because she had spent the previous night curled up on Cassie's bed, who had graciously offered to sleep on the floor but still elevated her hand to be within Lin's reach. And the few lunches Lin did eat, she ate with Cassie, outside of the cafeteria, on that one abandoned bench that the graduating class of stoners used to reign over.
Everyone who cared enough to observe the two -after that customary two-week period of gossip and fixation on Marcus's death and those it affected had passed- would be completely perplexed by the nature of this sudden bond between Cassie and Lin.
Mostly because the two girls rarely talked to each other, despite spending so much time together, despite Cassie acting like her sole purpose on earth was to protect Lin at all costs, and despite Lin seeming to have molded herself so seamlessly into Cassie.
They didn't seem like friends and they definitely weren't lovers, if anything, they gave off the aura of two estranged siblings coming together at Thanksgiving just for everyone else's sake.
Lin chose to go to a university near home, she told everyone that it was because her father and mother didn't want to part with their only child just yet, but when Cassie prodded her about it, Lin said it was because she wasn't ready to leave Marcus behind yet. And after that, they again fell into their padded silence.
Cassie chose to take a gap year and work with her dad at his motorbike repair shop; and despite being in the prime location Lin wanted to be in -the very town in which Marcus breathed, walked, and bled- Cassie found ways of completely blotting out his memory from the various scenes around her.
She wouldn't think of him awkwardly reaching for her hand and her wiping hers off of the ketchup that stained it, before giving it to him to hold in Eve's Diner, instead she would urge herself to think only about that time she watched a nervous kid vomit her strawberry smoothie on the town mayor's shoes inside the retro-themed diner.
She wouldn't think about him kissing her for the first time at the drive-in theater and how that initial contact, tentative and sweet, had reaffirmed what she already knew, that she was already madly and irrevocably in love with him; instead, whenever Cassie would walk by that plot, she would opt to think about the jerk who had asked her out to watch Night of the Living Dead there in the 9th grade after stealing his cousin's car, just to try and feel her up on the cracked leather seats, four minutes into the movie.
She would remember kneeing him in the balls and she would, at least, feel a little jolt of pleasure at that.
Moreover, Cassie refused to think of Marcus in her room; with his head on top of her ribcage and his falling tears failing to puncture her skin but still leaving an imprint there, both over her heart and deep inside it.
She wouldn't think of him talking about the black beast cornering him inside his own head, how he felt the beast was conspiring to push him out of himself entirely. She wouldn't think of her heart beating ferociously in these moments as if it belonged to a much larger animal, as if it could pretend that it did, as she wrapped all her limbs around him just to pin him down to the love he still had on the ground.
Cassie didn't think of him in her room, it was imperative that she didn't. She didn't think of him in her room but her pillow sheets did, even after several, violent washes; her sheets remembered him well; almost as if to spite her.
Cassie slept on the floor while her sheets fumed clouds of vanilla-scented fabric softener and musk.
It was 2 am when Lin called Cassie asking her if she could drive up to her college dorm. Cassie was in the throes of the first deep sleep she had gotten in months, but without a second's beat she said, "Yes, of course, I'll be there."
She found Lin sitting cross-legged in the parking lot in front of her dorm. Lin was covered from head to toe in layers of monochromatic gray, but at least her hair was again in those high pigtails, lopsided and un-streaked, but Cassie still took it as a good sign.
Lin lifted her hand in a small salute, and Cassie mirrored her. They didn't embrace and they didn't have to. They both thawed upon simply seeing each other.
They drove in silence. Lin had given Cassie the location to what she called "the best spot in this crowded purgatory" and when they got there, Cassie understood why.
They stopped at a quiet hill that overlooked the town's landscape, now comfortably darkened by the late night, with just a few lights that still flickered on here and there.
They laid on top of the front hood of the car, still blanketed by silence. Lin's sandals rhythmically tapped Cassie's Vans as she shook her feet back and forth like an anxious pendulum.
A long time trickled by before Lin finally interrupted it. "Thank you." She said.
"Don't mention it." Cassie replied.
"You don't even know what I'm thanking you for!" Lin said in the highest, most animated pitch Cassie had heard her use in years.
Under different circumstances, Cassie might've smiled. "I think I might know why."
"Still," Lin began, dropping down an octave or two. "I think I want to say it."
Cassie closed her eyes and waited.
"Being around you has been like being around him, in a way. And I really needed that, because all the time that I had counted on having with him was cut off." Lin's voice shook but she pushed through. "I could never tell you this back then, because I worried that you might misunderstand, but I thought I would spend the rest of my life with him."
I would have misunderstood, Cassie thought, I misunderstood so much back then.
Instead, she said, "I know." Her own voice was shaking now.
"You know…he didn't once tell me what he was going through. And since he passed all I've been asking myself is 'why?' and believe me I came up with a lot of reasons why. Like, maybe I was too bubbly. Too smiley. Too preoccupied. Too...too fucking bright, all the damn time; and for what? Why was I-"
"Lin," Cassie grasped Lin's wrist, and the other girl broke down, almost instantaneously. "It's not your fault. It's not on you, what happened. It's not on anyone, despite how awful it is, there's unfortunately no one to blame for it."
Their fingers intertwined with no conscious effort, and they curled up again into the silence that has become so safe and familiar to them.
"You know, I was always a little bit jealous of you, Cass." Lin said, moments later, through quieter sobs.
Cassie noted that she wasn't as bothered as she thought she might be with Lin's use of Marcus's nickname for her. Even though it reminded her of Marcus saying it a thousand times, in a thousand of different tones, across a thousand memories that now all filtered across her mind's eye like an unsolicited View-Master.
She realized that she felt safer remembering Marcus with Lin than with the sheets in her room. And that realization propelled her into another, and then another.
She became aware of the fact that ever since the funeral, she hadn't once talked about Marcus with anyone else besides Lin. And she realized that while she had blocked out all possible reminders of him, she couldn't seem to block out the largest, living reminder. She couldn't block Lin out of her life.
And with the abruptness of an ocean wave, Cassie became hyper-cognizant of the fact that she could no longer envision her life without Lin in it. And she didn't want to either.
"I was a lot bit jealous of you, Lin" She said.
Lin laughed. And following suit, a hearty laughter bubbled out of Cassie, surprising them both, and triggering even more laughter. By the time the sound of their laughter had abated, giving way the sounds of crickets chirping in the distance again, both girls were in tears; and their intertwined arms were now interlocked at the elbows too.
Lin rested her head on Cassie's shoulder, and it all clicked neatly into place, like the last two puzzle pieces in a difficult set; and like it did a year and a half ago on the saddest day of both of their lives.
Cassie gazed at the dead stars blazing on overhead, she felt her heartbeat synchronizing with Lin's, and she wondered if Marcus could have somehow known that when he would leave them he would be leaving them safe in each other’s company.