‘Don’t be daft, babe. You were just being funny! Damn. I’m sorry, Isabella, I shouldn’t have said anything.’
You idiot, she berated herself. Bad enough being responsible for their break-up in the first place: now you have to take the mickey out of the poor girl? It was different for Isabella.
For a start, Cassie was over Ranjit. Well, the rational part of her definitely was, in any case. Whereas Isabella wasn’t even starting to get over Jake. And Isabella hadn’t broken up Ranjit and Cassie; they’d managed that fine all by themselves. Isabella’s romance with Jake, on the other hand, had been sacrificed to Cassie’s new life amongst the Few. For Cassie’s needs. For Cassie’s sake. She didn’t have any right to compare their situations; it was her who’d caused Isabella’s.
‘I’m really, really sorry. Truly.’
‘No, Cassie, it’s OK,’ Isabella said, squeezing her friend’s hand. With a visible effort, she brightened and knelt down by the stereo. ‘We’ll put the music back on, yes? Exorcise the pair of them!’
‘Not a bad idea,’ muttered Cassie.
‘Good!’ Isabella got up and bounced on to her bed as music exploded into the room again.
‘UGH, CHANGE IT! THIS GUY’S TERRIBLE!’ screamed Cassie. ‘I’M NOT IN THE MOOD FOR DISCO DANCING!’
Isabella grabbed her arm and dragged her up, trampolining, limbs flailing, forcing Cassie to join in or be bounced off the bed.
‘OH, YOU WILL BE!’
Hell, if you couldn’t beat ’em … and Isabella was right. Why should they be miserable for the sake of two feckless boys? It was good to see her friend smiling, in any case. Laughing, Cassie bounced on her backside, then back up again. They were shrieking and laughing to outdo the music when Cassie heard another voice. It seemed no decibel level could drown this one out.
Yes, my dear, laugh! We’ve nothing to be sad about! We’re going to conquer the world, Cassandra, just you and me. We don’t need him, we don’t need anyone else! Laugh!
Ranjit really had thrown a spanner in the works of her head. It was almost twenty-four hours later, and Cassie was still feeling a bit put out about his declarations. She had to get back on track, rededicate herself to Project New Cassie, New Attitude. Leaning over the marble basin in her bathroom, she filled it to the brim with cold water and dunked her head in. Gasping with the chill, she forced herself to submerge her face completely. She would get him out of her mind, even if she had to wash him out.
From under water she heard her familiar ringtone, and groaning, she flung up her head in a shower of droplets.
‘Hello?’ she yelped. The phone was slippery in her wet hand, and she almost dropped it, then grabbed it and pressed it to her ear again.
‘Cassie? It’s me, Patrick.’
She gasped. ‘Patrick! You’re here!’
‘Yes.’ He sounded worried for a moment, as though despite their conversations and Cassie’s agreeing for him to come, she may have changed her mind. ‘You didn’t forget my plane came in today …?’ he said, attempting a quick laugh.
‘No! No, of course I didn’t forget,’ Cassie lied. And that was one more thing to blame Ranjit for, she thought grimly. ‘I was just, uh, washing my hair.’
‘Great. Well, that means you’ll be fit to be seen at least, eh? Come and have dinner with me this evening? Meet you here at the hotel?’
‘I dunno.’ She grinned widely. ‘Hmm. How much are you willing to spend?’
‘I’m willing to spend a fiver, maybe.’
‘Wow, the whole year’s salary, eh?’ she said with a laugh.
‘Ha ha,’ Patrick replied sarcastically, though she could hear his smile as he relaxed. ‘It’s really good to hear your voice, Cassie. I can’t wait to see you. I mean, presuming that was a yes, right?’
Cassie chuckled again. ‘See you at seven?’
‘Hey, Cassie.’ He opened his arms and grinned.
‘Who are you again?’ Cassie furrowed her brow, then smiled back and hugged him fiercely. ‘I missed you. God knows why, since I’ve no idea who you are, but I did.’ She was surprised at just how good it was to see Patrick again at last, and she felt nervous butterflies mixed with a warm, relieved glow.
The hotel was quite sleek and modern, and could have been anywhere in the world. It was a bit soulless, but who cared? Patrick was there, with his brilliant blue eyes and the laughter lines crinkling around them, just like always. He’d made an effort to smarten up, and his blue shirt actually had a collar, but he still looked as if he was religiously opposed to ironing.
‘Listen,’ she said, suddenly self-conscious again. ‘Before we go in, I just wanted to say, uh, I’m sorry for cutting you off for a while there.’ She gave him a rueful look.
‘Oh, God, don’t apologise. It was my fault, Cassie.’ He hugged her again. ‘I had no idea that … that all this would happen to you. You know that, right?’
She walked alongside him to the restaurant, keeping her arm linked through his. ‘I know. I was still a bit pissed off with you, though. Couldn’t help it.’
‘It’s OK. You were right to be angry.’ He rubbed his forehead wearily. ‘I knew what the Academy was about, but I was promised that no scholarship kid ever became Few. Nobody ever had. It was such a strict rule, I could never have imagined …’