“Tampa, you’re killing me. You really are.” Cassandra muttered as she spotted the rather steep angle of the entry into the car park behind the 1950s-themed restaurant.
So much for slipping quietly in through the back. Even still, the main entrance was only slightly less sharp of an incline, but thankfully it lacked the bumper crunching dip from the cement slabbed street. When it rained any decent amount during the summer, cars often stalled half way onto Dale Mabry because of misjudging how deep the pool of standing water was at the exit.
“Piove sempre sul bagnato.” The brutish Aston Martin lumbered along in first gear taking a very long and graceful angle up into the parking area as its owner measured her luck against the looming cold front building off in the distance. Most of the local news stations had their models predicting the twenty degree drop in temperature from the seventies down to the fifties to arrive sometime tomorrow morning. Sandra had a feeling that the storms would instead arrive in the middle of the night.
The car weighing over four thousand pounds dragging itself up from the boulevard was forced to stop suddenly because of a couple of straggling teenagers who were too consumed by whatever was on their phones to notice their surroundings. The woman cursed their generation spitefully in the language of her grandparents. “Coliogni. Dai cazzo!” Thankfully none of them heard a word as she had kept her self in seclusion with the windows up.
The Vantage V600 LeMans was now posed in what looked like its own impersonation of King Kong trying to climb a skyscraper. Thank the heavens for those massive brakes. There was still a tricky part coming though.
Despite successfully avoiding scraping the front facia, she was now in a rather tight spot with an idiot Corvette driver nearly kissing her rear bumper. Looking thoughtfully down at her choice of footwear, a pair of black peep-toe sling backs with a dainty flower at the ankle, those grey eyes moved back and forth between the gas and brake pedal before acknowledging the clutch. As amusing in the moment as it would have been for the fat ass of the twenty year old grand tourer to roll back and squash the relatively flimsy Corvette, she wasn’t interested in dealing with some Chevy-bro with too much hair gel and a mediocre local car culture YouTube channel. Most people in his age group didn’t even drive a manual these days. Could she really be mad if he didn’t know about the roll-back rule when coming to a stop behind certain vehicles?
That was the new element of car meets and shows that Cassandra still couldn’t warm up to: the vlogger. Photographers were fine. Usually, they silently went about their work requiring her only to be somewhat cognisant of where she was standing for a short amount of time. This new age of YouTube and streaming meant that anyone walking around had the ability to broadcast their own obnoxious chat show right from their palm. If the red light was on, there was no going back or undoing what was captured. Of course, not every content creator was an annoying little prig like the impatient entitled asshole behind her in the Chevrolet. But still, the feeling of having to keep her head on a swivel just to make sure her privacy was respected added no small amount of dread when it came to public outings.
To her left was a row of Japanese and Korean cars neatly reversed at an angle. They were as much variety in quality as there was in aesthetic. Some looked like driving time capsules transplanted direct from the showroom floor while others squatted low with extreme camber and stretched tires. Raised, lowered, bagged, static. Engine swapped, turbo, or twin turbo. Primer only, with patina, House of Kolor coated, or wrapped in elaborately designed graphics. They also had the most diverse group of owners. Some were teenagers with their first fixer-upper turbo hoopties and others were pushing forty and finally able to get their hands on the legendary models they raced in video games as kids.
Directly in front of her running on the short south side of the lot was a much smaller collection of German cars, mostly Volkswagen and Audi that looked more cohesive as a group. Quite a few sported the same club’s window decal. These were not built for style as much as they were for speed. Boxy, polished, tight suspensions, and limo tint were the prerequisites. They always looked clean and magazine ready.
Cassandra had spent a good portion of her twenties and thirties with a German obsession having acquired a handful of her favourites over the years: a BMW 850CSi that she needed to finish, an exceptional mid 90s M5 sedan she was hoping to trade for a wagon, a mid 2000s V10 powered M6 coupe fitted with a full AC Schnitzer package, and a Kleemann tuned Mercedes Benz CL65 AMG also from the same time period. Her Alpine White M6 Gran Coupe with the optional Competition Package still functioned as her daily driver and preferred road trip vehicle. It likely had more mileage on it than all the previous models combined.
Startled from her focus by an unexpected shout of the Chevy’s horn, she shot up two fingers in the rear view. Fortunately, depending on how one looked at the situation, the hips of the Aston were so wide and high, it was unlikely the Corvette driver could even see the gesture. Sandra was still waiting for a break in the foot traffic before trying to successfully pull all the way into the car park. Just as long as she didn’t stall or hit somebody, she’d count it as a win. And if the stupid git’s Corvette got roughed up on the nose? Mannaggia a lui.
Some of those hanging around and catching up with their mates had already become curious as the big bodied two door painted in a lava red remained stationary at the entrance. Naturally after the jerk off behind her decided to lay on the horn, everybody and their mother stopped to look at what the commotion was. Cassandra never thought she would ever forget the feel of the car or the proper touch needed to pilot it, but she had. Turns out more time had passed since she had last driven it than she initially remembered. There were a couple graceless moments earlier during her trek north to the car show her niece had twisted her arm about attending. Luckily enough, no-one was around in her section of the Hyde Park neighbourhood to witness them. Well, save for a few bored house cats and the secret-keeping moss-covered willow trees. If an Aston stalls at a stop sign and no-one’s round to see it, did it really stall?
Tilting her foot so that it bridged itself between the brake and accelerator, Cassandra took a breath before finally doing the awkward dance of coming from neutral with just enough oomph to make it over the top edge completely without mowing anyone down or rolling backward. A couple scattered claps as the six hundred horsepower eight cylinder snarled in the Chevrolet’s face. After her sigh of relief, the familiar ominous chattering of the Aston Martin’s twin superchargers began to taunt the bone stock-looking Corvette still stuck behind her.
The wall of American cars on the east side of the lot knew what those sounds were. And as the eleven inch wide tires rolled on, the Chevrolet driver grew more frustrated at the V600 LeMans coupe’s lazy pace. Mustangs, a Mercury Cyclone, Challengers, Chargers, Camaros, Monte Carlos, Trans Ams, Corvettes, an AMX or two, one by one she passed by. This was where the money was. No Trailer Queens here, not with those tubbed out bodies and meaty rear tires that dwarfed the Aston’s sizeable rubber footprint. A couple of them might have even had twice the power the V600 was known for. The flashing of the Corvette’s high beams in her rear view mirror caught her attention and she sighed. What a spoilt bell-end. Nevertheless, the Aston with its impressive track roamed directly down the center of the lane denying the Chevrolet enough room on either side to pass by.
Spotting Kandy walking back her way with a milkshake and a bag full of greasy food, Sandra let the V600 roll in neutral to close the gap between them. The lightly smoked window disappeared into the thick driver’s door letting a bony hand emerge to flag the girl over. It was nice to see the twenty-one year old back in her familiar form after the rather stressful lunch. Those wild curls streaked with pink and purple clearly for the Valentine’s festivities was pulled up in a high ponytail full of sass. Her hip hugging baggy jeans and a cropped top rounded off with matching high-tops trainers was her usual funky and comfortable style. Kandajha always looked like she had some upbeat song playing through every step she took. The girl had a way of keeping Cassandra young even though she and her other aunt were likely equally responsible for all the grey hair that kept showing up.
“I kinda thought you had forgotten.” Easing up to the Aston, the promising young singer with golden skin and neon lipstick squatted down beside the car before taking a sip of her orange milkshake.
“Got a rather bit distracted with the Riviera.” Cassandra smirked and then gave a quick glance to her rearview at the Corvette driver, “Probably should have stayed home if this tosser is any indication of what it’s going to be like tonight. Where’s your hotelier-in-training?”
Kandy waved off the guy dismissing his aggravation before she gave Cassandra a half-hearted shrug, “I guess it just wasn’t his scene.” The truth probably was that she hadn’t even asked him, but that was a conversation for another time. “Shay’s dudes saved you a spot in the back.”
Looking over to Kandy, her gaze narrowed on the logo plastered across her chest. “The Gators? Really?”
“What?!” The girl stood up and straightened the short halter-cut hoodie with the University of Florida’s blue and orange logo. “I like the colours. Here, have a burger.” With that, she had juggled the items in her arms enough to pull out a poorly wrapped cheeseburger and plopped it into her aunt’s hand of protest.
Just as she was about to go into a rant of how they were a Miami family (Sandra had received her BA from the University of Miami and Kandy had been both born and raised in Miami for most of her childhood), Kandy ambushed her with the food. Panicking a bit, Cassandra inverted her hand to avoid the grease from dripping down and collecting in her palm.
“Kandy!” The girl was already trotting half way down the lot as Cassandra frantically looked for a rubbish bin. Another tap of the horn from behind and she very nearly spun around and threw it at the Corvette. No doubt she would’ve been popped for littering and…
“Fucking hell.” Keeping her arm extending uncomfortably outside the car with the leaking food, she managed to shift into first and carefully pulled the Aston Martin around to the back row hidden behind the restaurant. Oh, how she longed for the butter smooth steering of any of the Cadillacs, Lincolns, or other land yachts she had driven in her life. But there was absolutely no way in hell she was going to allow all that saturated fat and cholesterol contaminate the well cared for Parchment leather and dark crimson piping of the incredibly rare V600 she was currently piloting.
All the big boys who needed the extra space always loped to the back: a mid to late 50s satin black Chevy Sedan Delivery, a bright white 90s Caprice wagon with an Impala SS front clip, a blue and white Shelby Durango, a burgundy Magnum R/T sitting on twenty six inch wheels, a bagged Excursion, and that one black and white CTS-V estate.
Sandra sighed to herself as she stopped to stare at the blacked out grill of the Cadillac. “Kandy, you silly girl, what have you done?”
Though she hadn’t paid attention much to the different clubs and shops represented at the shows over the years, she did recognize certain cars. The fingers of her right hand unwrapped just enough from the top of the steering wheel for her to give a polite wave to the group of older gentlemen wearing the same black and white shirts. There was one space left and Cassandra was determined to back the large and in charge Aston Martin in between the kerb and the Cadillac. This was definitely the forty and over stretch of parking, which she didn’t mind at all as it probably meant she’d get some quiet time to take a closer look at the V-series wagon. Managing to avoid its owner was going to be a struggle though. Could she have picked a flashier vehicle? With its fire engine red paint and measuring as long as a Kia Sorento SUV, the Aston was probably the least subtle vehicle there save for the Magnum that sported a full custom interior with lighting and fibreglass housings for the insane sound system installed.
A voice called out to her, “Here.” Seconds later she saw a tattooed and rather muscular forearm extend into view offering her a wad of blue Scott towels that had been ripped fresh from a roll.
Without hesitation, her fingers grabbed the clean highly absorbent towels and left the Good Samaritan with the burger in his empty hand, much in the same way Kandy had. Thoroughly wiping and then wrapping the material around her contaminated hand, Cassandra relaxed as she was now able to get better leverage on the steering wheel.
The owner of the CTS-V had been watching the shenanigans at least from the time the Aston had lurched up into the lot. He knew the car well and also its driver. Stuck with the cursed burger, he smirked to himself and went back to leaning against his front passenger door observing. Sporting a black and white Doherity Automotive t-shirt, khaki cargo pants, and a pair of Adidas slides that had seen better days, the forty-five year old mechanic carefully wrapped the food in a few additional layers of towels before leaning to the side to toss the roll through the open passenger window of his car. Having seemingly staunched the flow of grease, he patiently waited for her to finish parking the vehicle.
With the parking brake engaged, Cassandra remained behind the wheel for a moment or two just listening to the engine as it settled down. Her eyes focused on the photo that was propped up against the gauge cluster, which was the same photo Kandy had brought her yesterday. It still struck her just how young they were. In the corner, she spotted one set of stacked headlamps wrapped in chrome. Throughout community college and university, she had decided to drive her father’s 1968 Kashmir Ivory Cadillac Coupe de Ville that he had left behind in the garage of the Miami home she had inherited from him. In fact, the car’s pale yellow paint would serve as the inspiration for the colour of her home she’d eventually buy in South Tampa after graduating law school. At the time the picture was taken, owning the car she was sitting in was a ridiculous goal that wouldn’t even be thought up for another three years. And now, she was on the verge of selling the house and moving the Aston back into storage for an extended period of time.
When her left hand that was still wrapped in the paper towels affectionately passed over the center of the steering wheel, she suddenly remembered the man with the roll of Scotts. Switching off the ignition, the heavy metal door was pushed open allowing her to swivel out and stand. As solid and weighty as a Cadillac from the sixties, the driver’s door shut and latched. No soft-close actuated doors here.
There he was, the Cadillac Owner. Not on the other side of the lot, not a few cars down chatting with his mates, but right fucking here next to her. There wasn’t going to be any artful evasion or disappearing into a workaholic fuelled oblivion on her phone. A sigh. Cassandra just hadn’t prepared for this. She wasn’t ready to talk to him. She didn’t even know how she felt about seeing him. All she could feel was a rush rolling through her that vibrated somewhere between anxiety and excitement, which she’d play off to herself as just too much coffee.
“Nice to see you.” A perfunctory smile appeared for just a few seconds before dissolving back into what was an unreadable, though pretty mask.
Syrus wasn’t sure what type of reaction he was expecting from her, but whatever it was this wasn’t quite it. A nod from him, “Glad you came out.”
The first thing she noticed was the shorter cut of his hair, but the beard was slightly longer and thicker. This was a man who visited his barber like clock work. Thinking back over the last few years, Cassandra could only remember seeing him clean shaven intermittently. He was rather handsome with or without the facial hair. She finally looked up and caught him staring at her with those hazel eyes, which seemed greener than before. He teased her with that sly grin of his and all she could do was sigh and let a tiny smile slip through.
“Thanks very much.” Now unwrapping her hand, she gestured to him with the used towels, “I think I forgot to say that earlier.”
He was in the midst of cutting the burger in half with a serrated butterfly knife and once done, part of it was offered back to her in exchange for the towels she had, “Grease is a bitch.”
“Indeed.” Puzzled by this very odd currency the paper product now seemed to have become, Cassandra was left standing there with half of her burger as he went off toward the nearest rubbish bin cleaning his knife.
The moment Syrus turned his back, Cassandra put her face in her hand and sighed. As much as she wanted to become masochistic and replay over and over just how awkward she was with him, the amount of cringe likely to come along with it effectively dissuaded her from doing so. The tension was slowly building in her shoulders and it almost triggered her instinct to run. Just get in the car and get the hell out of there. What was overruling that urge was the part of her that really wanted to see him, hear his voice, step into that invisible field of whatever it was between them that made her feel so good.
As Syrus walked past a few of the Corvettes to dispose of the trash, Sandra’s gaze veered off to the idiot that had sent her blood pressure up more than it should’ve been. A tall, lanky motherfucker with slicked back hair and a problematic sense of style (as evidenced by the long overcoat that somehow was too short in the sleeves) was already talking to a camera on a stick. The kid, who couldn’t have been more than twenty, reminded her of that drug addled rapper who cheated on that really talented and artistic pop singer, the one who painted during a lot of her televised performances. What was his name again? Sandra thought to herself. Kandy had introduced her to his music, in which he seemed quite often to boast about stealing girlfriends and wives.
“Get a load of G-Eazy over there.” The mechanic gestured with a thumb over his shoulder toward the very person she had been glaring at.
Cassandra had to laugh when he mentioned the name of the rapper she was thinking about. Syrus smiled to himself as her mood seemed to lift. He hadn’t been entirely sure he’d ever get to see that again considering how distracted she had seemed upon arrival.
“You shoulda just rolled back on his ass. Your car coulda taken the hit. Plus, I know somebody who would do your work for free.”
“You know somebody, eh?” The tilt in her mouth gave away the grin she was working to keep hidden.
Another nod, “Yep. I know somebody ‘bout it.”
“I’ll keep that in mind for next time.”
And just like that, the artificial Stepford Wife wrapping peeled away under the brightness of Cassandra’s true smile. There she was, the girl who had often showed up with more power under the hood and grease on her clothes than most of the cats hard parked around them. As good as Cassandra looked in those designer suits with the short skirts and colour coordinated lace lingerie underneath, Syrus was just as happy to see her in a t-shirt and jeans.
Rabbiting her nose in displeasure, Sandra was anticipating some amount of awkwardness to creep in. He seemed to be at the show on his own, but that was hardly conclusive of anything. And just as she was about to try and figure out if it would make it more comfortable for her if he actually had a girlfriend with him than not, the Aston-driving attorney turned her attention to the CTS-V estate. There was no point in going down that path, she reasoned.
Walking along the length of the supercharged wagon, she felt her stomach grumble. A palm came to rest over her abdomen as the aroma of the grilled meat, melted cheese, and smoked bacon finally began tempting her.
“How you been doin’?” Syrus followed her for a few feet and then stopped to try and find that balance of giving her space whilst keeping her involved in the conversation.
Cassandra fell into the familiar script she always defaulted to when forced to make small talk, “Busy.” Another flash of a well polished and detached smile before glancing over to him and the Doherity Automotive logo on his shirt, “How are things at the garage? Shay staying out of trouble?”
Syrus watched as the moxie and light-heartedness in her disappeared just as quickly as it had surfaced. While it didn’t completely deter him, he was beginning to see that this wasn’t going to be quick and easy.
“Same shit, different day. Shay’s likin’ not comin’ in as much.” He shrugged his shoulders and seemed a bit melancholy over the signs that his boss was on his way to retirement. “More time to get laid. He says the cane is like catnip for them chicks with the Daddy Issues.”
Shay Doherity was a charming gentleman from Derry, Northern Ireland pushing sixty. He was a separatist who was full of as much rock n roll debauchery as he was sentimentalism. The man with the scarred forearms and neck had saved Sandra’s hide more than once in the time they had known each other. For that, he earned the family discount whenever one of his associates ran afoul of the Feds. In spite of the fact that he knew she was a Herts girl, Shay always made it a point to tease her about how Americanized she had become over the years. After all, there was nothing more American than a booze-fuelled rager through Las Vegas on New Years Eve, which was how they originally met.
Cassandra smirked to herself and shook her head, “Still a cad by the sound of it. More like Granddad though these days, yea?” She heard him chuckle and then pointed at him, “Don’t tell Shay I said that.”
Looking at her, he placed his hand over his heart, “Your secret is safe with me.” Syrus then took a healthy bite out of what apparently now seemed to be his half of the burger.
There it was – that feeling when she heard him speak with that thick Southern Georgia accent. As much as she wanted to stay emotionally inaccessible from him, Syrus had this disarming way about him. Whether he was making Cassandra laugh by being a sarcastic smart ass or out and out flirting with her, her focus and determination on keeping up that ice queen exterior inevitably melted. It was just so easy to fall into that comfortable rhythm with him of banter and teasing one another.
Cassandra watched him and squinted at the bite. “Somehow offering me paper towels translates into eating half of my food then?”
With a clean napkin folded into a proper square, he wiped at his mouth before grinning back at her, “Yep.” It was almost like he was daring her with the coy tilt of his smile and playful glint in his eye. Daring her to do what exactly was the big question.
“Maybe I didn’t want you to eat all of it ‘cause I was plannin’ on askin’ you out.” Another big chomping bite from him as she was in the midst of taking her hair down out of the lopsided, half secured ponytail. “I think it’s Valentine’s Day or some shit.”
Standing facing the line of windows the tinted Cadillac wagon offered her, Cassandra went about try to comb her shoulder blade length layers over into something a bit more polished or at least less haggish. Further handicapped by the burger held in the other hand, she was just going to have to deal with all of it being down. A huff and tease out of her side swept fringe meant this was as good as it was going to get in the hair styling department.
Inspecting her Tampa Bay Rays t-shirt that looked faded in blotches from an all-afternoon sanding session with the Buick, Cassandra suddenly became decidely self conscious of her appearance. At least the dried smears of reddish filler on her denim shorts added a colourful bit of pizazz. When Kandy had called, she quite literally just put on a pair of shoes and hopped in the car having completely forgotten about the show she had agreed to attend. Futilely, she was now trying to casually fan her shirt to get some of the dust and debris off the dark material, which in turn kicked up a little cloud like that one Peanuts character.
He waited for his statement to register some kind of reaction, but it already had. The nervousness that it had triggered slid right under his radar as she had busied herself with tidying up her appearance. His head tilted off to one side as he watched her primp and adjust. No claret red lipstick that she often wore, which he liked so much. There came a bit of disappointment with that as he realized he wouldn’t be afforded an opportunity to smea–
“What if I’m married now?” Her voice pulled his head out of the clouds as she tipped her chin off to a sharp angle to gently rub away a small smear of the auto body putty that had somehow gotten on her throat.
“You aren’t.” He answered rather matter of factly while crinkling up the now empty burger wrapper.
Coming over to her side, he reached out to polish the recently added metal badging denoting the installation of a Hennessey upgrade package that was reputed to bring the Cadillac up to seven hundred horsepower. Before he repocketed the microfibre cloth, she couldn’t help but notice his hands. With the tell-tale scars and nicks here and there that came along with being a full time mechanic, Cassandra knew he always did considerable work himself on his projects. Though the impulse was there to slip her hand up under his palm, her arms remained at her sides.
The sleeve of his shirt inched up a bit higher on his right arm exposing more of the tattoo inked along the contours of his muscles, “What is that?”
“You damn well know what this is.” He pinched at the material and tugged it over the top of his shoulder to show her the rest of the American white Ibis proudly bearing the orange and green U of the University of Miami.
A smirk and sigh from her. “Seems like a lifetime ago, no?”
“Just a couple of kids back then.”
“Not the right timing?”
“Not the right timing.”
“Someone was on Santa’s good list this past year.” She gestured coolly to the badging. “That’s a hundred more horsepower than I’ve got.”
“Wanna race?” Syrus leaned in just a little closer and Sandra could hear the grin that was spreading across his somewhat angular face as he spoke from a position slightly behind her.
“I was always your prize at the finish line, remember?”
Her eyes dropped from the window to avoid seeing his reflection and instead slid over to check just how close he was standing in her periphery. A provocative perk of her brow followed the coy half smile that he had teased out of her. A curious tilt of her head as she came round to face him with an arm folded over her stomach. Her leg slanted so that its connected heel could tap pensively whilst she stood between the two muscle cars.
“You said ‘maybe’.” With that, she peeled back part of the wrapper on her half taking a small bite as she waited for him to elaborate.
Rocking back and forth from his toes to his heels again, he gave her a shrug, “You haven’t been around for a while so I wasn’t sure you’d show.”
She took another strategic bite hoping to minimize the melted mess of a sandwich. His car was one of many that she knew along with a good third of the others gathered at the show. Dinner with the family at Zo and Cicero’s often bled into a few hours down the way on State Route 54 at one of the big shopping centre car parks that regularly served as the weekly meetup spot. It was a younger crowd, but with enough older relatives to keep the riff raff away. Plus some of the parents worked for the Sheriff’s Department, which always helped to keep a lid on things. But he was right, their family traditions had started to fall away following Zo’s death. It was too difficult trying to eat dinner in her kitchen. Though Kandy had moved back from Sandra’s house recently, she had decided to live in the pool house and rarely, if ever, stepped foot in the main home. Understandable considering most times the young twenty-something was the only one on the property save for the occasional member of the cleaning or maintenance staff. Other than checking in on her and the property, there had been no real motivation for Cassandra to make the long trip from South Tampa up to Pasco County.
“How did you know I might be here tonight then?” Slipping past him, she now took a seat against the V600’s front bumper and went back to eating the burger.
Giving her room to relocate, he stepped back to the front of their cars, “My nephew and your…”
“Kandy hang out.”
“Friends or?” Cassandra was now watching him intently, whilst steadily working on her food, having full on regretted skipping breakfast.
“Nah, he’s got a girl. They just chill.” He smirked and looked right back at her not at all shy about eye-contact. The Cadillac Owner was very much vested in this conversation with her.
A slight narrowing of her eyes as they slid over the length of the JDM row seeking out her very precocious niece. “Which one?”
Taking advantage of the opportunity, Syrus came right around to sit next to her. He looked off in the same direction with her and pointed toward the middle of the lineup, “The one by the charcoal STI. That’s Warren.”
It was hard to miss, sitting reasonably low on a pair of deep dish colour-matched wheels. There didn’t seem to be any serious body modifications to the second generation Subaru. Though it was a face-lifted model, it was the second iteration with the Hawkeye design. Talking to Kandy and sipping on a soda was an exceptionally tall young man. Though slim in his build, he looked strong and capable.
“Kandy talks about him a lot.” The sound of his nephew’s name reminded her of the handful of occasions when Kandy had brought them up. She winced thinking about how much she had missed out on recently. “Where does he get the ginger from?” A thoughtful perk of the brow as she turned to look up at the lighter golden brown of the man to her left.
“Warren’s my brother’s kid. He had red hair. Didn’t seem to have the best of luck in the genetic lottery when it came to his health either.” His palm unconsciously passed over the top of his scalp ruffling some parts of his hair. “I keep an eye on him while he’s down here at school. Mom stays up in the panhandle.”
“That bird you were with is a redhead. Is that your thing, redheads?”
“Y’all are rare.” Syrus snickered a bit bypassing the part about the other woman, “You used to have some pretty red hair too,” He picked up the curved ends of a nearby section and waved it a little for emphasis.
“I’m not one, remember?”
“I dunno, it looked pretty legit last I saw you. You could pass.”
The mix of gold, copper, and red shades he mentioned was her personal preference. It warmed up her skin and matched whatever happiness was living inside at that particular time. Like most anything, it required a lot of upkeep that Sandra just wasn’t interested in doing any longer. Plus, the harsh contrast of her naturally dark hair against her complexion and light coloured eyes worked to strengthen the grim aesthetic she actively cultivated for professional reasons.
“You always seem to be falling in love with a redhead.”
Feeling her eyes settle on him, he tilted his head to meet her gaze whilst his hands remained folded in his lap. The buzz of the car meet continued to swirl around the two with the silence between them serving as a rather charming bridge. Cassandra eventually reached over just enough to lightly squeeze his forearm. Without skipping a beat, he gave her hand an appreciative pet. Neither one moved away from the other. In fact, as she crossed her legs and settled into a more comfortable sitting position, he noticed her thumb was drifting back and forth over his skin with the lightest of touches while she looked out over the show.
Sitting together, both of them had definitely felt the atmosphere evolve into something else, the magnetism, and even gravity itself had changed. They seemed to just slip into a natural and relaxed closeness. His smile was lovely and most importantly it was genuine. There was nothing fake about his laugh or how he looked at her. Existing in a time when people lived to leave the best impression or foster an artificial image for social acceptance, it was such a relief to see that what was behind a person’s eyes matched the expressions that were displayed to her. And as tempting as it was to lean in just a little bit closer to get a better look at those hazel eyes of his, Cassandra ate the last of her burger instead.
Syrus clocked the moment they were having and chuckled to himself when she went back to her food. Once she finished, he offered her another napkin that he seemingly kept in stock in a back pocket. There she was, sitting right there. Had that been the time for him to lean over like in the movies? He didn’t like his odds in that situation and decided to keep to a more conservative strategy. He wanted to make sure that she would remember what it felt like to be in a situation that had levity and a playfulness.
“Are you still undecided then?” Her mouth tilted off to one side happily accepting the folded towel to wipe up her hands and carefully clean around her lips – lips devoid of their usual dark liner and matte lipstick. Maybe she had unconsciously accepted and applied Kandy’s advice after all.
“Last time you were out at the show in Pasco, I was gonna come talk to you. But you wound up leavin’ before I could. I knew you guys had been havin’ a hell of a time with things.” A little shrug and squeeze of her hand before he interlaced their fingers together. “You were showin’ up with Kandy, but I could see shit wasn’t right. Figured the universe was tryin’ to tell me somethin’.”
As much as Sandra liked to keep what went on inside her head and heart to herself, she knew she wasn’t terribly good at concealing it around certain people. Oh, how she hated feeling stuck in the quicksand of her emotions unable to dig her way out of them. Most people had so much going on in their lives that they rarely noticed what was happening in front of them. But he noticed. He saw her. She had her baggage and he had his. She was determined to not let thoughts of the past pull her off track from the future, which may or may not be sitting right next to her.
“That obvious?” A brow perk.
Another half shrug from him, “Watch somebody long enough and you’ll see past whatever mask they got on that day. We may not be who we were back then, but I still know you enough to know when I’m seein’ you and when I’m not.”
This was definitely a real situation with another human being who had actual feelings. She wasn’t in her office or at home playing out the what-if game should she decide to go out to a bar or some place where other people socialized. He was right here saying some really lovely things and inevitably she was going to have to make a choice. He had threatened her with a good time, but there was still that small voice casting doubt that he’d come through on asking her properly. Plus there was the matter of his somewhat scrubbed recollection of their last meeting. The intervening years hadn’t been a cakewalk for him either, which was a factor she never forgot.
“And when we find ourselves in a situation where you don’t want me to see you as clearly as you are showing me now, what’s that going to look like?”
“That won’t happen.”
The lawyer came out swinging and Syrus was quick to answer. Too quick to answer even. A hand rubbed forward across his scalp ruffling the pattern of his short hair. He knew this had been one of those answers that he could lose Cassandra on and that only piled on the pressure. When he caught her shaking her head at his response, he doubled down on it.
“I’m always gonna be up front with you.”
“I mean, when shit gets awkward or turns messy, I’m not a real fan of all that.”
“I understand why you pick up those birds. You like it simple. Easy.” A shrug.
He smirked. “They have nothin’ to do with you.”
Listening to his response, she couldn’t help but feel a familiar thread running through it. Swallowing gingerly, Cassandra lightly pulled at the neck of her t-shirt as she looked out over the various cars and people milling about. There was a lot in his answer that she had dealt with before. It had been a code that translated into withdrawing and isolation. Maybe she was taking this too serious and too far. Maybe this was just for some fun and familiarity.
It had felt so good being around Syrus. Being flirty again lifted her mood despite the stresses of work and family that she was still fielding. Cassandra still felt what she had felt each time they walked by each other despite all the time that had passed. The way they had looked at each other then and now still was fuelled by a nearly irresistible attraction with each other. Cassandra desperately wanted to chase the high that their chemistry triggered in her. But the fear of being that Fool who happily skipped over the edge only to wind up falling off a cliff was making her question her judgement. Maybe it was all in her head.
“People and feelings are inherently messy.” Her posture stiffened as she slid off the car to a standing position and held up her hand as if to stop him right there dead in his tracks. “I’m not really into dealing with an emotionally anorexic –”
“Avoidant asshole?” He chimed in with a thick coating of sarcasm dripping from each syllable.
The moment the words left his mouth, she closed her eyes. His tone had sharpened up like a scythe. That was not how she really felt about the man who she had met so young and loved throughout most of her life. But more and more it felt like a lifetime ago that she had watched him walk into those dark isolated woods. Time stops for nobody and nothing. Two very different people were having this conversation despite the fact her lens for filtering every word, action, and expression was still clouded by the past. But every second she spent talking to him, being with him, her hold on that lens loosened. Perhaps in the right moment it would slip from her grasp completely.
Despite that potential change in her approach, those walls of hers were thrown up so quick, Syrus felt like he had gotten knocked back on his ass. This was not how he imagined this was going to go. Again, he washed his palms over his scalp and face ending with the smoothing down of his facial hair.
“Kandy has a big mouth.”
“She gets it from somewhere. She also said you said you didn’t know me.”
“It’s been a long time, Sy. You may think I’m the same, but I’m not. I’m really not. I doubt you are either.” With that, she plopped her empty half of the burger wrapper into one of his hands and drifted away from him back to the Caddie.
Another pass of her eyes over it and she noticed the pair of For Sale signs taped in the rear panel windows of the cargo area. Cars were always a safe subject for them. If they couldn’t talk about anything else, they could at least default to cars. Syrus looked down at the rubbish he held in his hands before sighing and turning to watch her walk away.
“Why are you selling it?” As she made her away around to the driver’s side, Cassandra eventually looked up from the car’s body to lock eyes with Syrus who was still sitting on the front of the Aston.
Standing from the British coupe, he spotted a rubbish bin situated much closer behind the wagons than the one he had originally used. Dumping the trash as he passed by, Syrus was pulling out his phone and unlocking the screen. Coming up to her, the device was handed over displaying a listing for a 1969 Mustang Mach 1 that had seen better days, but was numbers matching and had stayed within the original owner’s family. Reading through it, Sandra started walking around to the front of the CTS-V to rest her hips back against the hood. Syrus followed and came to a stop with his arms folded across his chest now standing directly in front of her. He patiently waited for her to finish swiping through the photos before accepting the phone back.
A shrug. “Wagons aren’t very popular. The guy said he’d take the Caddie and the Lightning in a trade or cash on top.”
“You finished the truck?”
“What colour did you finally decide on?”
“The one you liked so much.”
“Really?” She smiled up at him almost like a shy school girl who had just been asked to the prom, “Can I see it?”
Syrus laughed a little bit to himself and just a few taps later he was offering Cassandra the phone again. That smile of hers blossomed completely as she worked her way through the photos of the dark True Blue Ford SVT Lightning. By the size of the rear tires and the reinforcement welded in, it was pretty clear what his intentions were for the supercharged short bed pickup truck.
“Any wiggle room with the Mustang guy on the cash asking price?”
“He knows he’s got somethin’, but probably not really what it is. Still, better than some of the ridiculous shit I’ve been seein’ because of those stupid auction shows.”
“If you take the bottles out of it, I’ll buy the Caddie off you. Cash.”
His hands lifted to his face and began rubbing his jaw through his beard. She saw the apprehension and she smirked now sitting back properly on the hood of the supercharged Cadillac as opposed to just leaning against the grill. Syrus gave her a rather disapproving look over her choice of place to rest her denim clad rear end, but Cassandra ignored it.
“Look, you’re going to flat out regret giving away the truck. I know you. I know that the minute the Mustang is parked in front, you’re going to be upset the truck isn’t right next to it. Plus, I need a new car.”
Her assessment about his feelings for the truck wasn’t far off, but he really wanted that Mustang. “BMW givin’ your trouble?”
“No, no. I need something with the cargo room.” Cassandra cleared her throat gently and glanced over to where she last saw Kandy hanging out. “I’ve decided to list the house with the estate agent.”
That was not a statement Syrus ever expected to hear out of her mouth. In fact, he stood there in silence with his hands in his pockets staring at her as she stared at his phone. The lack of response made her shift uneasily on the hood.
“I’ve been there for quite a long while. Hasn’t really been all that great of an experience. I’m thinking about finding some land somewhere with a cozy little house on it.”
“You’re givin’ up the law practice?”
Finally, she looked up at him with those cloudy grey eyes. In them was a weariness he hadn’t ever seen before. “I can’t do it any more.”
“Are you leaving or are you staying local?”
Turning her attention back down to his phone, Cassandra shook her head. “I don’t know. I probably won’t go far because of Kandy and Angie. But far enough to get a fresh st–” She had been swiping through the rest of the photos of the truck whilst answering him, but had flipped to one photo too far.
Frozen there, she was staring at a photo taken on New Year’s of a redhead. Quite pretty and clearly having a good time at some house party. Her hand hovered over the screen until the phone suddenly went black from timing out. The sudden halting in her words caught his attention. When she offered the darkened phone back to him, Cassandra kept her eyes fixed to the patch of asphalt in between them. He immediately unlocked the phone again and saw the photo of the girl.
“If you just email me the address of where I can send the truck to pick up the Cadillac,” Syrus looked up at Cassandra as she began to speak. There she sat, her legs crossed with her hands folded on her knees. Posture as perfect as the synthetic smile she had slipped on when he wasn’t looking. The lightness in her tone made her voice far more convincing than the simulated nonchalant disposition he was seeing. Had they been on the phone rather than face to face, he doubted he’d ever know something was wrong. “I’ll messenger over the cash to you beforehand so that you can take out the nitrous system.”
As she slid off the hood and stood closer to him, there was a brief drop in her expression that let him catch a glimpse of what was circulating beneath her polished surface. And just like that the expression was put back in place, “It was really nice seeing you. Congratulations on finishing the truck.”
Anyone who didn’t know Cassandra or wasn’t paying close enough attention would have likely described her as being polite. There was no sarcasm or rude undercurrent to how she spoke to him. While he had seen her disconnect like that before, it hadn’t ever been that up close and personal. As she began walking back to the Aston, he reached out and took hold of her wrist gently to stop her.
“I’m better on my own.”
This was a familiar refrain. And now here Cassandra was, standing in between the Cadillac and the Aston Martin at a crossroads. If she snatched her arm away and kept on walking, she’d be out of there in no more than three minutes. The entrance ramp to I275 was a half mile away and in less than ten minutes total those superchargers would be whirring and the speedometer climbing as she left him and the hurt behind. Or she could show him what she felt instead of concealing and burying it all.
“That was always the problem with us, yea? We’d never do shit differently?”
Turning around, Cassandra pulled her wrist free from his grasp and walked right up to him pointing her finger in his face. “You are fucking a facsimile of me.”
With his arms over his chest, Syrus tilted his head back and turned it slightly to put distance between him and the rather sharp looking acrylic nail aimed at his nose. His jaw tightened, but he remained silent. Though she was heated, Cassandra kept her volume low enough to not attract any attention from those nearby.
“You are fucking that bird, yea?” With her hands on her hips, she waited expectantly for an answer or at least some kind of acknowledgement from him, “Not yet? I bet you really want to though. She giving you the time of day still?”
His shoulders and arms flexed in their crossed posed after the last question, but he still refused to respond. The absence of an answer was enough to send her walking down the length of the Cadillac away from the show. Right as she passed by the rear passenger door, she slammed the side of her balled up fist into the wagon’s body panel leaving behind a very shallow impression.
This was enough to jolt him out of his statue like state and jog after her. “Don’t you fuck around with my car. I don’t care how long we’ve known each oth–”
The moment he rounded the rear of the Cadillac, Cassandra was right there pushing him up against the wagon’s hatch. It startled him enough to be caught off balance and wind up leaning into the car. Without a single moment of hesitation, her arms folded behind his neck as she leaned into him, torso to torso against the seven hundred horsepower Cadillac. There was no wiggle room for avoidance by either one of them as they stood nose to nose, eye to eye. Tilting her head to the side, she slid that same accusatory pointer finger tenderly over his lower lip whilst her other hand slipped up the back of his neck into the roots of his hair to trace against his scalp. When the shiver she engineered skipped down his spine, Cassandra smiled and leaned even closer opting to rest her forearms on the car’s roofline on either side of Syrus’s head.
“You know that I can make you forget about her. I can get under your skin and in your head again.”
Feeling the full weight of her body on his, Syrus brought his hands down to her hips for a possessive squeeze before settling onto the back pockets of those very short denim shorts she had on. He could smell the delicate magnolia and jasmine fragrance of her hair and the soft beachy scent of the cocoa butter moisturiser she used after lounging out by the pool.
“How you gonna do all that, hmm?” His eyes slid shut as he rested the base of his skull against his car.
A flirty little sigh brought her in as close as she could get to his ear, “Remember that time when…”
In torturous detail, she took her time and answered his question all whilst nuzzling the joint of his jaw. Each time her lips grazed against his cheek, Syrus groped her hourglass figure’s voluptuous curves in retaliation. Cassandra could certainly feel the effect she was having. She gave him a few extra breaths to finish whatever had been replaying in his head before drawing back a little and lightly patting his chest.
“She may look like me, have the same interests as me, drive the base trim model of a car I always wanted to buy, and even have a birthday within a week or two of mine…”
Syrus opened his eyes and looked at her. He was greeted with a rather toothy grin that wasn’t all that unlike her younger sister, Anzhelina’s. That certainly got his attention, but it wasn’t long before her nails made another trip down to the back of his neck.
“But she will never be able to touch you,” There came an unexpected twist in her fingers that seized a good bit of his hair eliciting a throaty growl from him.
He saw her eyes drift closed and her weight shift back into him the instant she heard him respond to the light pull at his scalp. She was as neck deep in this as he was. Hopefully neither one of them was going to drown. A gentle clearing of her throat and those grey eyes were fresh and sharp with focus again.
She continued, “or love you, or know you like I do.” Stepping to the side with her arms wrapped around his neck again, she turned to now put her back up against the Cadillac. A sigh and her hands came to rest on his chest. “When you show up, I want it to be because you want to be here, you’re choosing to be here. Not because I’ve…”
Happily obliging her, he followed her lead though this time he planted his palms up on the curved glass of the wagon’s rear hatch. Listening to her trail off, Syrus knew what she was talking about. There was one other thing she wanted to say. But in that moment all she could do was gaze at him with that relaxed content smile. It was the same smile he saw every morning that he woke her up in the bright sunny yellow house with white trim that she was going to sell. If ever there was a time to kiss her, this was it. Eventually the expression faded along with the glow of all that had come with it.
After a giving him a bit of time, the corners of her lips perked for a weak smile that was short lived. Cassandra lightly patted his flanks and he stood back from the car giving her the room she needed to stand up. Straightening her hair and clothes a bit, she took one last look at her reflection in the Cadillac before finally having the courage to say the last thing on her mind.
“I know you know what it’s like to see the love of your life choose to chase after emptiness and destruction.” Gingerly she swallowed down the lump in her throat enough to speak in an unaffected tone. “Maybe try for a blonde Prius owner next time? As a kindness?” She had already set off walking back to her car before he could get even the first syllable of her name spoken.
“Sandy,” He called out to her and she turned around whilst pulling the key set out of her front pocket. “You can’t piece me back together.”
With a hand on one of the Aston Martin’s wide hips, Cassandra looked over to Syrus who was next to the Cadillac. Her nails lightly tapped against the flawless paint of the V600 as she considered something. They fundamentally disagreed on his last point. Maybe it made her a romantic idealist to believe that the two of them walking in the same direction could be stronger and more successful together than apart. Maybe he was the realist who was firmly rooted in the real world by accepting that how things were were how things were. There was no room for change. For their own individual reasons, they both were living in complicated circumstances and responsibilities that came with them. Nevertheless, dozens of little details over the years made what was between them feel so fated, so destined to happen. But time never seemed to want to cooperate with them. Maybe the timing wasn’t the important part, but rather the decision to come back to each other.
As she returned to him once more, Syrus had absolutely no idea what to expect from her. A couple inches closer and his brows went up curiously. She didn’t look like she was going to knee him in the balls, which brought him little comfort. An elegant hand with slender fingers snuck around behind his neck to bring him in for a tender kiss. How long had it been since their last? Half a decade?
That’s all it was originally meant to be: short and sweet. But very nearly the instant their mouths met, the power behind it took root and burst into an avalanche of emotion. With her arms around his shoulders and his hands in her hair, time seemed like it had slowed nearly to a stop. None of this was spurred by lust, but rather was powered by all the things that had needed to be said. Somehow, words always fell flat and failed to communicate the depth and richness of what was felt.
As much as she was tempted to let it continue, Cassandra sighed and began to pull back a little. Though he followed her lead, Syrus still held her close to him and waited. In truth, she was rather grateful that he was letting her lean against him as she felt a little light-headed. “When you’re ready to live again,” One final little kiss to his lips and she smiled up at him. “call me.”
Cassandra was finally able to step back from him and when she did she gave a light tug to the hem of his shirt. His hands immediately went to the top of his head as he stared at her trying to process everything that happened. He wanted dinner and she wanted every part of him. Deciding not to watch her leave, he instead turned his attention to the sharp little dent she had left him in one of the door panels.
“Oh, you remember that little house you showed me ages ago?”
Thinking about it for a moment, he eventually looked over to see her standing behind the Aston’s door ready to get in. “When I was workin’ construction on the gulf?” That was one hell of a curve ball.
“I really did like it.” Clearing her throat, she took a breath and looked away from him to refocus on the building traffic. “I was just scared.”
He frowned slightly.
“Email me the details of when and where to pick her up.” A nod to the Cadillac.
And with that she eased down into the driver’s seat and shut the door blocking out the rest of the world. The familiar bark and growl of the five point three litre eight cylinder as it fired up pulled at him for a moment, but he resisted and kept focused on examining the door. Hearing the parking brake disengage and the transmission shift, Syrus moved out of Cassandra’s way giving her room to pull out into the queue of cars that was leaving the meet. Halfway through polishing away their prints on the hood, he glanced over his shoulder to see those circular red lights disappear into traffic.