Cass opens her eyes slightly, smiling at me as I tousle her hair.
“Morning,” she croaks. “Ugh. Morning voice, sorry.”
She rolls to her side, grabbing a glass of water from a stack of plastic storage containers that often double as a bedside table.
“No worries,” I say, smiling. “So what are you doing today?”
She stares at me, wrinkling her nose. It’s small, almost doll-like, and is studded with a dark grey ring.
“What do you mean?” she whispers.
“Well, it’s Christmas Eve,” I reply. Cass is sitting up now, drinking the water, so I take it as an opportunity to move behind her and coil my arms around her waist. A dark, spiraling tattoo of a mandala marks the majority of her thigh and I begin to trace it gently.
You’re way too gentle for me, Cass would often say after a night of what I thought was rough sex. Need you to be more aggressive.
And I have tried. I really have. But it just isn’t in my nature. Past lovers have often referred to me as a classic sad boy trope — and as much as I hate to admit it, there’s a lot of truth in that stereotype. I am too in my feelings to ever really hurt someone, even if I wanted to.
Cass turns to look at me, raising an eyebrow. “And?” she asks.
“And… what are you doing? Spending it with friends or family?” I reply.
She laughs. It’s not her typical laugh. She has a few basic ones. Her half-laugh — which is really more of a snort — that she makes when something is moderately funny. Then there’s her screechy laugh. That’s her real one, the one she makes when someone makes a deadpan comment that is so savage even the devil himself would probably be shocked. There’s also her trying-too-hard-to-play-it-off-cool laugh. That one usually follows a self-deprecating comment or a semi-serious rant.
I know her laughs. But I don’t know this one. This one is forced, choked out almost. Sounds like she’s in pain.
“I don’t have any of those,” she tells me, her face darkening. “You know that.”
I shake my head and rub her forearm with my palm. “That’s not true.”
Shaking her head, she stands up and goes to her closet to grab a sweater. Cass is lean. So thin that sometimes it worries me. I always try to make sure she has something to eat when she spends the night at my place. Or to prepare a good breakfast when I crash at hers.
“It isn’t,” I say again, grabbing around the floor for my pants. “Waffles or French Toast?”
Cass smiles, her blue eyes connecting with my brown ones. “Hmm.. waffles. And how would you know?”
“Because,” I say, nearly tripping as I pull on my Adidas sweats. “I know. You have to have friends and family. You have a brother, I know that.”
Cass pulls her dark hair into a ponytail. “He’s in North Dakota,” she says. “You know that.”
“So are you going there? Or is he coming here?” I ask.
She rolls her eyes at me and I walk towards her, half-ready to kiss her, but knowing I shouldn’t.
“It’s not like that. We don’t do family stuff,” she says. “What are you doing?”
“Hey, hey, hey. Don’t change the subject,” I say as I scoop her up. I put her over my shoulder, carrying her out of the room and into the kitchen.
I should have known better than to try and carry Cass. She hits my back repeatedly, kicking her legs and nearly getting both of us caught in the doorway.
“Fucking hate you,” she bellows into my neck. Her breath feels warm. It’s just about the only warm thing about her.
“You don’t,” I say in response. Eventually, I make my way down the hallway and into the tiny kitchen, placing her delicately on the tile floor. She stares up at me, her tiny 5’2″ frame buried in a giant purple sweater, her thin legs exposed and covered only by checkered pajama shorts.
Cass folds her arms and grabs a banana from the kitchen counter. “I definitely do. You didn’t answer my question.”
“My family is coming in from Toronto,” I reply, opening the cupboard. There’s only a little bit of waffle mix left — just enough for the two of us.
“Brr. They will probably love it here in Miami,” she says, going into the fridge to grab eggs and milk. “What time do they get in?”
I take the ingredients from her and place them on the counter. “Gonna go pick them up from the airport at three. You’re welcome to come.”
She turns away from me, covering her face with her oversized sleeves. I hear the choking-laugh sound again. It sounds painful.
“What?” I ask. “It would be great to have you there.”
Cass sits down at one of the bar stools next to the counter, feet dangling. “That’s hilarious.”
I cross my arms on my chest. “Why? They’d love to meet you. I’d love for you to meet them.”
“Meet a girl you’ve been sleeping with for four months?” she asks, snorting. Some of her hair has escaped her ponytail and is now falling into her eyes.
I walk over to her and plant a kiss on her forehead. “Um, five months actually.”
“You suck,” she groans. “I’m just gonna stay here.”
“Come on,” I say with a smile. “We’re having lasagna. Please?”
She looks up at me and for once, I can’t get a read on her face. Cass usually offers a neutral face, but I can always see a sliver of emotion show through her eyes.
This time I can’t.
“What are you thinking?” I ask, returning to the counter to mix the batter.
She sits on the stool, lips pursed.
“Fine,” she says. “I’ll go. But only for the lasagna.”
Samantha Savello is a fiction writer and standup comedian living in Boston. She recently graduated from Brown University, where she studied Hispanic Literature and Culture and wrote for the opinions section of the Brown Daily Herald.