It was hard to forgive him but, despite all that had happened, over the holidays Cassie had been willing herself to do just that. He was her link to the past, the closest thing to family she’d ever known. She missed him, damn it. The problem was, she didn’t know where to start. She’d cut him off dead last term, telling him that she never wanted to see him again. That was why she hadn’t been able to return to Cranlake Crescent for the Easter holidays: she hadn’t known if she could face seeing Patrick. So when Isabella had extended her holiday invitation, Cassie had nearly bitten her hand off.
Bitten the hand that fed her …
No. She’d jumped at the chance. That was a better way of putting it. And sailing the Mediterranean on board Isabella’s father’s luxury yacht, from one exotic ancient port to another, was certainly no penance. Still, seeing Isabella with her family, so close and loving, had pierced her in a vulnerable spot. She needed to reconcile with what passed for her own family, she realised. She needed Patrick.
Cassie tugged her phone from her pocket. Biting her lip, she scrolled down to his name. Go on, she thought. No time like the present. Just a quick text. Nothing too effusive …
Taking a deep breath, she thumbed a few buttons.
Hey. Howz it going?
She pressed send before she could think twice, then shoved the phone back in her pocket. After what felt like for ever, but was probably only about seven or eight minutes, it vibrated and bleeped. Nervously, she checked the reply.
From: Patrick Malone
Cassie. So happy to hear from u. Are you ok? We all miss u.
Cassie smiled sadly. She could tell he was still a little wary, and she wasn’t surprised. She hadn’t exactly given him much reason to hope she’d be in touch again any time soon. She quickly ran her fingers over the buttons.
I miss you guys too. Sorry I’ve been out of touch.
Another brief pause, then her phone vibrated again.
I understand. Cassie, cld I come 2 see u? No pressure, but I have a few days off due. Can I come out there?
She couldn’t help her grin as she texted back.
Yes! I’d like that. Email me with details. X
God, it would be good to make up …
Cassie’s grin was still in place as she glanced up towards the sun deck where Isabella’s mother was already sunbathing, engrossed in a paperback. Although they weren’t her family, the Carusos were the kindest, most generous people she could have hoped to meet. Well, they would be: Isabella must have got her nature from somewhere. Despite the stealth that was necessary so she could feed on Isabella – and she felt terrible about deceiving her friend’s parents – Cassie had felt at home from day one, and she was going to miss them. She was going to miss the sea, and the long idle days, and the Mistral Dancer itself.
But still. Istanbul!
She didn’t know where to look as she gazed towards the land looming towards them – at the fine villas and mosques and the little villages on the Asian shore, or at the magnificent domes and minarets against the blue European sky on the other side. She was almost tempted simply to dive off the boat and swim ashore, so eager was she to investigate the ancient city. And she could do it. She wasn’t about to drown, not with the power of the spirit inside her, not now that she’d finally settled into a pattern of regular feedings over the holidays.
Thanks to Isabella, Cassie’s spirit hadn’t gone hungry. She had stopped trying to deny Estelle’s needs, in contrast with her denial at the start of the previous term. Well, all except Estelle’s biggest request – to allow the divided parts of her spirit to reunite inside Cassie, as they had done momentarily during that horrible night last term …
Cassie shook the memory free from her mind. She wasn’t going to think about all that now. Things had finally settled down – even Estelle seemed to have accepted Cassie’s adamant refusal to let her be ‘whole’. For now at least, she seemed content with the way things were. With a surreptitious glance at Isabella, Cassie felt a surge of gratitude and affection. Where would she be without Isabella’s generous offer, of her own free and spontaneous will, to be Cassie’s life-source? It didn’t bear thinking about.
And yet here was Isabella looking so miserable, lost without her Jake. Their passionate, fleeting romance had ended with Isabella’s agreement to allow Cassie to feed on her against her boyfriend’s understandably adamant wishes. How had the three friends ended up like this? Cassie thought she might burst into tears herself if she didn’t lighten the mood. She exhaled deeply.
‘So … Do you think the shopping’s any good?’ she said, smiling at her friend.
Isabella shook herself, pushing her windblown hair out of her face, the edges of her mouth turning up ever so slightly. ‘Well, I have been thinking about it a little, I must admit. We could get the Grand Bazaar out of the way early, yes? Because we must be touristy for a little while.’ Her smile broadened; she was making an effort, Cassie realised with a surge of affection. ‘And then – the boutiques! The galleries! The wonderful designers!’
‘The maths lessons …’ Cassie wagged a finger at her, and they both giggled.
‘Oh, those too, I suppose.’ Isabella linked an arm through Cassie’s. ‘We’ll try to make it good, won’t we?’
‘Course we will. We’re going to have a brilliant term!’
‘Yes. Even if it has to be without him.’ A shadow of gloom crossed Isabella’s face once more. ‘Oh, Cassie, I’m sorry to be such a misery mutts. I can’t help it.’