“Yes, it’s going to be a small get together, a potluck!” Vanessa explained as she danced around the kitchen, grabbing at random bags of ingredients. “I’m making an pie, you can start by peeling those apples.” She handed Zyra a peeler, not leaving any time for a ‘but.’
“How many people is small?” Zyra asked after she washed up and started working on mauling a pile of granny smith apples. Zyra didn’t trust that their definition of small was the same, granted that she hadn’t had much social exposure since before her explosive breakup with Natalie.
“It’s just going to be a couple of Anson’s and mine close friends, like thirty?”
Yeah, that was not Zyra’s definition of small.
“What’s the occasion?” Zyra mumbled, hoping that Vanessa couldn’t hear the hesitancy in her voice. But, just the thought of thirty people surrounding her was enough to make her stomach twist.
“Just for funsies!” Vanessa turned to Zyra and placed a flour-covered hand on her shoulder. A small white cloud puffed up and ticked her nostrils, causing her to do a weird shudder while she tried to stop something between a sneeze and a cough. “If it’s too much for you, it would be more than okay for you to sit it out.”
Zyra’s heart lit up at the mere suggestion, and she almost shouted an ‘oh thank the lord,’ but a little nudge at the back of her messed up brain told her to shut up and stop being such a baby. Hiding in her brother’s basement after his wife—A woman Zyra had never met before—worked so hard to convince her brother to let Zyra live with them as she picked the pieces of her life back up. All Anson saw was an alcoholic who ran face-first into controlling relationships. Godsend Vanessa saw a chance for redemption. Anson was still quite stiff when talking with Zyra, but still, she didn’t blame him. Disappearing for five years, then suddenly coming crying at his doorstep does something to trust.
“No, it’s okay, it sounds like fun.” Vanessa turned to a giddy child at a candy store and went right in for a hug, sufficiently covering Zyra in enough white powder to make her look like a crack addict. “Now, get into hyperdrive with those apples, my apple pies are always high in demand!”
Thirty is a lot of people.
Voices swirled, louder than the ones inside her own head. There was talk of accounts, new hires, promotions, demotions, rumored affairs, new couples, sexual assault reports, new policies, business, business, business. Zyra had taken her first step and wanted nothing more than to retreat. The basement door was right there. She could still run and hide like the baby Natalie always said she was.
Natalie is not here anymore. Natalie can’t put those words into her head anymore. Zyra was not a baby. She marched over to a woman standing by the drink counter with confidence that faded the mere moment Zyra opened her mouth.
“Hi.” The woman looked up from her phone, a face that clearly had hold of a steady makeup hand and higher than drugstore quality products. She looked like a goddess compared to what Zyra saw in the mirror. Dimples formed on her cheeks as she smiled a smile you greeted an old friend with.
“You must be Zyra, Anson’s little sister?” Zyra nodded, her throat all of a sudden too dry to speak. She reached out for a glass of some red liquid, a fancy type of juice that Zyra couldn’t pronounce. Her mind was more at ease when she noticed a lack of liquor at the table. Natalie always stocked up on her favorite rum, then berated her when she found Zyra drunk in the tub. “I’m Cassandra, Vanessa’s assisstant. She told me about you, it’s nice to finally meet.”
Her hands were smooth, and her aura smelled of vanilla. Zyra thought she got over a crush at first sight back in middle school, but the goddess in front of her proved that wrong. Zyra held the shake just until it became awkward. “You look beautiful.”
That was wayyyyyy too forward.
“Aww, thank you. You're not too bad yourself.” Cassandra winked. Reverse abort, the mission still going successful. “So, what is it that you do?” Oh no. Back to abort.
“I’m in between things right now, working at the gas station at the moment.” Cassandra still held her wondrous smile, something Natalie would have never. “I am taking night classes though, bookkeeping.”
“Vanessa mentioned that, I hope that’s going well for you. Bookkeeping can open lots of doors, it's where I started. I loved that class.”
“Me too! Some of the stuff is hard to get but it’s a work in progress.” Cassandra waved to the free loveseat, and Zyra tried to still her racing heart as she took a seat next to Cassandra. The two of them were so close, knees almost touching. It tasted so much like a junior high dance, butterflies from almost holding hands in the back of the gymnasium.
“I would love to help you study, show you a couple of inside tips and tricks. Get you on top of that class, but I doubt you need much of my help for that. How about we get coffee sunday afternoon, my treat?”
“I’d love that.” It was agreed upon with another shake of her silky smooth hands. The whole warmness of the situation felt so foreign, something of a dream that Natalie said she would never ever find again.
By the time the party had come to a close, Zyra had a new number on her phone and a feeling of hope in her heart. Cassandra said her goodbye with a hug, one Zyra hoped she hadn’t held onto for too long. Zyra helped carry armfuls of dishes as Vanessa recalled conversations, listing off multiple names that Zyra would forget within the minute. Anson came up behind Vanessa while she was washing dishes and kissed her cheek, a scene right out of a romantic cliche.
“I saw you talking with Cassandra by youself,” Anson commented, tasking himself with drying dishes. “You two seemed to hit it off.”
“Yeah,” Zyra mumbled, fumbling with a dirty napkin that founds its way into her hands. “She was nice.” Anson reached out a slightly damp hand onto her arm and gave it a light squeeze. He hadn’t done that in years. Zyra met his eyes and swear she could feel the comfort take hold of her soul.
“I’m so proud of you.”