I know, I missed last week altogether. It wasn't intentional, I did have a Christmas Cassie partly written. But I went away and couldn't get it finished in time before I left.
So, instead, this week I have a New Years Cassie special. Today is part one and on Thursday will be part 2. Enjoy, and Happy New Year to you all!
Oh, and as a by the way, I've had some new, 5 star reviews on Letters. As always I'm thrilled and humbled that people read and liked my book so thank you to all of you who have read it, and to those who have left a review.
It was early in the morning, the flying foxes had finished their squabbling for position in the trees behind my house and all was still. Outside, the earth took a deep breath before the dawn chorus broke the silence and the new day began.
Inside, it was organized chaos in my kitchen. I stared around, not knowing where to start.
“Why did I think this was a good idea?” Nobody answered my question, there was nobody else there. I checked my list, which even though I had started this ridiculous process last night, was still full of unchecked boxes. I took a sip of coffee and tried to calm my nerves.
“Mum? Is something wrong?”
Mark stood at the kitchen door, his blonde hair on end and his blue eyes clouded with sleep.
“No Mark, I’m just getting organized for the party.”
“Isn’t the party tonight? Why are you starting now?”
“I just want to be sure everything is ready. You go back to bed.”
Mark shrugged, his expression one that said he didn’t understand my madness but wasn’t going to argue. Going to the sink he poured himself a glass of water, downed it, and shuffled out of the kitchen, lifting one hand in salute as he left the room.
I stared at my list, wondering if I was as crazy as he thought. Probably. I still don’t know what possessed me to throw this party. At the time, sitting at Saffron’s kitchen table and debating with her what to do for New Year’s Eve, it seemed like a great idea.
“You cooked Christmas lunch Saffie, it’s only fair that I do New Years. And after all, I do have a professional kitchen in my house.”
She had shrugged and agreed, and we spent an enjoyable time choosing what to have and who to invite. At some point after that it snowballed a little. Not that there were a lot of people coming, it was more who was coming than how many. I had, in a moment of total insanity, invited Nathan and Lucy, along with Lucy’s daughter Susie. Nathan accepted for them all without hesitation and so now I was up at dawn preparing for a party where my past, present, and possible future were going to collide.
Pulling my thoughts back to now I again consulted my list. I was mentally checking the contents of my pantry when a knock pulled me from my thoughts. Who would be at my door at 5:00 in the morning? The dogs weren’t barking, but were nosing excitedly at the base of the door, which gave me all the information I needed.
“You fell out of bed, or you smelled my coffee?”
As I expected, it was Matt, Barney panting at his side. As soon as I opened the door Barney barreled in to greet Pebbles and BamBam. I opened the door wider.
“Well at least you have better manners than your dog, come in.”
Matt stepped forward, offering me a deep red rose as he did so. “A rose for a rose.”
I snorted derisively at his corny words, but took the rose and sniffed it.
“This is one of mine isn’t it?” I mock glared at him and Matt grinned back, unabashed to be caught out.
“Yours are the best roses in the street. I smell coffee, is there any left?”
I sighed, opened the side door for all three dogs to go out, and followed Matt into the kitchen. He was already pouring himself a coffee. I refreshed mine, put the rose into water, and sat back at the table. Matt was studying my list of things to do.
“You’ve started preparations so early? The party’s tonight right?”
“Yes of course, I just wanted to be sure everything is ready.”
Matt gave me his intense policeman stare which, as always, had me shifting uncomfortably in my seat.
“What’s going on Cassie? Why are you stressed?”
I attempted to prevaricate. “Nothing, really. I just like to be prepared, you know that.”
He kept on staring at me, a trick he had employed before and which always worked even though I knew he was doing it. I fidgeted, sipped my coffee, drew circles on the table with my finger and then cracked.
“Ok, ok, I invited Nathan.”
Matt’s eyebrows shot up and his mouth dropped open. “You did what? Why?”
“I invited Lucy and Susie too.”
I attempted, and failed, a nonchalant shrug. “I don’t know, I guess I thought new year, new start.”
Matt said nothing, just waited.
“Ok.” I caught myself pleating the edges of my tablecloth and forced my fingers to still. “I saw Nathan the other day, and he wanted us to start again, as friends.” Seeing Matt’s face darken I tacked on, “For the sake of the kids. He said they would be happier if we were friends.”
Matt’s face did not lighten. “And you believed this?”
“Well it is reasonable. The kids would probably be happier if Nathan and I were friendly. And now he and Lucy are engaged they will be seeing more of Susie. So if we are friends it will be easier all round.”
“You really believe this?”
“I’d like to believe it. We’ve been divorced for a long time now. Surely we can be friends, or at least civil.”
“Cassie, it all sounds reasonable. But you know Nathan is not like other people. You can’t expect reasonable from him, he’s unpredictable.”
I gazed down at my coffee. Matt had just cut to the heart of my anxiety. Nathan, with his disorders – particularly the narcissistic personality disorder – could not be predicted. Reasonable is not something he has ever been unless it is about something that does not affect him. This, clearly, would affect him and so his reasoning was bound to be, at the very least, in some way geared to benefit him.
I looked up at Matt who was gazing at me with such compassion that I could feel tears welling. “I just wanted to believe that we could be friends. He’s been the bogey man for so long Matt. I wanted to believe he doesn’t have an agenda this time.”
“What does your gut tell you?”
I sighed, a sigh that pushed the tears out of the corners of my eyes. “He has an agenda. It’s not just so the kids will be happier. It never is.”
“No, it never is. Cassie, I understand why you want to do this. I’m not sure what put the idea into your head mind you, but I understand.” He reached forward, captured my hand in his, wiped away the tears with his other hand. “Cassie, I can’t forget what he did to you, I’m sure you can’t either. Sometimes, well sometimes it’s best to let the past stay there.”
I had missed out the part where Nathan had phoned several times wanting to meet up for coffee. Up until now there was always a plausible excuse to say no. But, thinking back to our last conversation where I ended up inviting them to the party, I realized that Nathan had manipulated me into issuing the invitation.
I looked at Matt’s worried face, down to our linked hands and back up to his face again. “Well, it’s done now. I’m sure Nathan will behave at the party.”
Matt did not look convinced. “I hope so, I’ll be watching him.”
“He will know that, he won’t try anything in front of you, or in front of Lucy.”
“He knows I’m coming right?”
I thought about it. “He would surely know, you’re my friend.”
“You didn’t tell him?”
“No, he didn’t seem interested in knowing who else was coming.” And wasn’t that typical Nathan. Determined to get his own way, not really interested in anyone not directly connected to that.
I half smiled at Matt. “It’ll be ok, there’s safety in numbers right? And I’m probably making a mountain out of a molehill anyway.”
“Maybe so.” Taking a sip of his coffee Nathan changed the subject. “Is Andrew still coming?”
“Yes, this is his first outing since he shut himself away.”
“He didn’t exactly shut himself away Cassie.”
“No, but you know what I mean.”
Matt smiled, a gentle smile that lit up his eyes and showcased the dimple in his left cheek. I felt a tingle run along my nerve endings. He was so handsome when he smiled like that, and he was the kindest man I knew.
“Cassie? Where did you go just then?”
Jolted, I stared at him. I was horrified to realise that I had started to weave a fantasy about him – while he was still there. A blush swept up my face, so fast I failed to take my usual evasive tactics.
“You’re blushing! What were you thinking?”
Matt smirked. “You were thinking of something, and now you’re blushing. Was it something to do with me?”
I attempted a derisive snort. “As if, how big is your ego! Anyway, why are you here so early?”
Matt’s smirk widened. “You’re changing the subject, so it is something to do with me.” He winked, which made me smile despite my embarrassment.
“You’re the one evading the subject, why are you here at dawn?”
“Well, I was taking Barney for an early walk. It’s still a bit uncomfortable sleeping so I was awake anyway. And I saw your light on, and wondered if everything was ok here, and decided to check. Also, I hoped you would have coffee.”
I was more touched than he could know. Those few words encompassed Matt. Even though it was a minor thing it underlined his character. He thought of others, was caring in a way that Nathan could never understand. I squeezed the hand that was still holding mine, grateful to have this man in my life.
Matt squeezed back, his expression quizzical. “What did I do?”
“You were just being you.”
He drank the rest of his coffee, unlaced our hands and stood up.
“I’d better get going, I have work this morning.”
“You’re still coming though right?”
“Wild horses wouldn’t keep me away.”
I got up to walk him to the front door, where Matt surprised me by taking my face in his hands. I froze at the contact, staring up into gentle brown eyes.
“Don’t stress about tonight Cass. Everyone who’s coming here is coming for your company, not your hostess skills. And anyone else doesn’t matter.”
He leaned in and pressed a gentle kiss on my forehead, pulled back a little way and stared into my eyes. Hypnotized, I stared back. Something was happening, it was like there was a thread binding us closer. Matt’s eyes became more intent, his stare focused. I realized that he was going to kiss me and my heart raced in fear, or excitement, or something. I didn’t know but my whole body was tingling. He leaned in closer, his eyes focused on mine, his lips tantalizingly close.
His voice was little more than a whisper. I had no voice, I just stared. I wanted him to hurry up and kiss me, and my hands reacted to the thought. I reached up, putting my hands on the back of his head. And that’s when it happened.
Cyclone Barney that is.
Barney had run to us, hitting Matt on the back of his legs. Matt stumbled forward, standing on my toes. Both of us glared at the canine mood spoiler.
Barney smiled up at us, tongue lolling out of his mouth, eyes shining with happiness.
“I should go anyway.”
“And I should get on with party preparations.”
Snapping his fingers at Barney Matt strode down the path. Before opening the gate he turned back to me.
“Hold that thought ok?”
I smiled but, flustered, had no words. Matt grinned, and left. I went back into the kitchen and picked up my list. Tonight was either going to be magical or horrible. I guessed I’d have to wait to see which way it went.