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My name is Cassandra Wilthrop, and I live a perfectly ordinary life. I was born and raised by two addicts. Really, I was raised by my sister, Mack. Mackenzie Wilthrop, the most intelligent mind you’ll ever meet. Currently she’s working as an RN at the local hospital, saving lives by day and babysitting her little sister by night. A real life superhero.
I don’t really have time to be a superhero because I have a physics test this morning. While my sister’s out saving the world, I’ll be doing my calculus homework. And trying to stomach this cafeteria food.
“Do you think their strategy is to make the food so awful that no one will ever want lunch again, so they can get rid of it and leave more time for standardized tests?” That’s my best friend, Ken. The funny one. He never fails to make me laugh.
“A conspiracy,” I laugh. “Stop complaining and eat your tuna surprise.”
“What do you think the surprise is?”
“Probably that pony you had when you were seven.” He thinks it over and then pushes his tray away.
Maria and Carlos Wilthrop, my loving and caring parents. Most days I come home from school either to find them sprawled out on the front lawn, passed out on the sofa, or nowhere to be seen at all. Days when Mack works late, I spend the night at Ken’s. Because even though he only has one parent, she’s better than both of mine combined.
They weren’t always like this. It started after we lost Charlotte. She was barely a teenager when she was killed in a car accident caused by a drunk driver. After years of trying to obtain justice for my sister, I guess my parents decided that it wasn’t worth it anymore, it wasn’t worth trying for. Then my parents became the exact thing that they hated most. The thing that took my sister from me. The thing that valued a fix more than human life. I don’t blame them as much as I blame myself, though. I was supposed to be sitting in the seat that crushed little Charlie. I made her switch with me because we were fighting and I just wanted to do something to make her angry.
I wanted her angry, not dead.
Today I came home to find a note from Mack.
“Mom and Dad on another bender. Pizza’s in the fridge and you know my number if you need me. Don’t answer the door for strangers and all that. And I left an extra Mace for you. No, you cannot use it on Ken and yes, one spray is all you need. I’ll be home soon and I have something important I need to tell you. I love you, Cassie. -Mack”
I wonder what’s so important that she couldn’t just shoot me a text or write it on this note.
I throw a slice of pizza on a plate and shove it in the microwave when I hear the front door open and then shut.
“You want some pizza or some water, Dad?” I yell from the kitchen. “Might help with the hangover that you’re undoubtedly having.”
No one answers my call.
“Mom?” I yell again. Still no answer.
I can hear the floorboards creaking as someone is making their way closer to the kitchen.
“Who’s there?” I call out.
I open the kitchen drawer and pull out the extra Mace that Mack left for me. I go to round the corner, ready to fire. Someone’s in the dining room.
I make my way there slowly, pepper spray in hand. I flip on the light and put my finger on the spray.
“No, don’t shoot!” Ken screams as I suddenly realize that the intruder in my house is actually just my best friend with no common decency as to knock.
“You scared the heck out of me!” I scream at him and punch him in the shoulder.
“Ditto,” he breathlessly replies with his hand over his accelerating heart.
“Why didn’t you knock?” I berate him.
“I rang the doorbell,” he explains.
“The doorbell doesn’t work, that thing’s like a thousand years old, ” I squint at him.
“How was I supposed to know that!”
“I yelled three times to see who was here.”
“Oh, I had headphones in. I thought I heard someone yelling but then I thought it was just this playlist Andie made for me.”
Andie is Ken’s little sister. She was Charlie’s best friend.
“First of all,” Ken refocuses, “if I really was a murderer waltzing into your house, your weapon of choice would be pepper spray? Pepper spray. You’re in a kitchen, everything in here is sharp. You have a whole rack of knives right over there, and you picked up the pepper spray.”
“So,” I ignore him, “no one answered the door, therefore you decided to just welcome yourself in? What if a crazy person was in here?”
“They were, and they tried to pepper spray me,” he laughs as I swat him on the arm. He sees Mack’s note and turns to me with apologetic eyes. “Need a place to crash tonight?”
“No,” I breathe. “Mack will be home soon. She says she has something important to tell me. But thanks. You know, anytime you wanna stay here…,” I smile.
“You know what, that’s okay,” he grins back as he pulls open the refrigerator door and frowns. “Cass, there is nothing in here. What is this? Animal food?”
“Yes, and it’s expired,” I smile back at him.
“This is unacceptable. You’re coming to my house. Right now,” he grabs my arm.
“Kenny, I can’t. Mack wants me to wait for her,” I resist. What was taking her so long anyway?
“Mack will be here tomorrow. If you don’t eat something other than frozen pizza and expired mayonnaise, you might not be.”
“Cassandra Elizabeth, we are having quality snack-time bonding right now. Mack will not be happy if you die of starvation on my watch.”
“Fine,” I roll my eyes. “But you’re bringing me right back here after.”
“Cross my heart,” he swears.
The thing is, I never went home that night. And neither did Mack.
“Remember when we were kids and Mom and Dad used to take us to that ice cream shop on Main?” Mack asks me.
“Yeah,” I laugh, remembering. “I do.”
“Every time Mom had a good day at work or Dad got to the best score on his golf team,” she reminisces. “We always had something to celebrate.”
“I miss those days. When we were a family,” I frown.
“I’ll always be your family, Cassie.”
I open my eyes and realize that it’s 9 AM and that I am late for school.
I’m laying on my couch wondering where I am and how I got there when I see a note on the coffee table written in Ken’s messy boy-script.
“You knocked out on my living room floor last night. You drooled on the carpet, and you owe me dry cleaning by the way. I took you home at 1 AM, so I’ll make sure to cover for you when you oversleep tomorrow. If anyone asks, you have mono.” -Kenny
I throw the note to the side, stretch, and stand up. I suddenly realize that I am in my living room. And I don’t remember anything from last night, everything’s fuzzy. I’m deliberating why Mack didn’t wake me up to take me to school like she always does. But Mack always does what she’s supposed to. She deserves a day to sleep in. Being an involuntary replacement mother is exhausting. Guess I’ll be driving myself this morning.
The only problem is I go to grab the keys and they aren’t there. I look for the yellow smiley face keychain and it’s not where it always is, where Mack always puts it.
“Maybe she got in late and just absentmindedly threw the keys somewhere before crashing,” I think to myself. “Or maybe she handed me the keys and it’s just another thing I can’t remember.” I run upstairs to Mack’s room to ask her myself. I push open her wooden bedroom door. I hear her fans whooshing when it’s the middle of winter. Mack can never sleep in complete silence. I open the door and realize the room is empty. The bed is still made, it looks like it hasn’t been slept in in days. “Mack?” I shout.
I step in the room and notice that Mack’s bag is still gone, and so are her shoes.
It’s like she was never even here.
I catch a glance at the clock and realize that I am incredibly late. If I leave now I might catch the end of third period.
I throw on a gray Harvard sweatshirt and blue jeans and tie my Converse before running out the door while throwing my hair in a bun. I pull out my phone to call an Uber because you can’t drive a car with no car keys.
You also can’t drive a car that’s missing from the driveway.
I run outside and stop as I realize that the car that Mack and I share is gone. Our gold Nissan is nowhere to be seen.
Did she ever even come home last night?
My thoughts are cut short as my Uber pulls up and I jump into the backseat.
“Maybe she got done late and just stayed at a friends. Everything’s fine, why am I freaking out?”
“Do you ever think about Charlotte?” I ask Mack.
“All the time,” she replies. “She was family.”
“It’s like one day she was here and the next she wasn’t.”
“I know that you blame yourself,” she looks into my eyes. “I think it’s a sister thing. I blame myself too.”
“I failed to protect my sister. But I will never fail you, Cass. I promise. I’ll always be here to protect you.”
I’m suddenly shaken awake as the car hits a bump and I arrive at Lincoln Prep. I try again to recall one thing that I did last night after I got to Ken’s and I entirely draw a blank. I reach into my emergency cash that Mack always shoves into my backpack.
“That’s okay,” the man who drove me here reaches out his hand to stop me. “This one’s on me.” He looks at me almost as if he feels….sorry for me?
“Oh,” I put the cash back into my bag and get out of the car. “Thank you.”
“I’m really sorry that this happened to you,” he sadly declares as he restarts his car.
“What happened to me?” I ask. But then he’s gone, driving away. I roll my eyes and think, “He must know my parents. They probably take Ubers everywhere they go since they were invented for people like them.”
I saunter through the pane glass door and wait to be buzzed in. Why can’t I remember anything?
An older lady is reading a book with a soft smile when I arrive at her desk. She looks up to greet me and all of a sudden her face drops.
“Hi,” I smile at her. “I’m–”
“Cassandra Wilthrop,” she gapes at me, her mouth falling open slightly.
“Yeah,” I reply, weary. “I–”
“You shouldn’t be here, sweetheart” she warns. “But since you are the office would like to see you.” She starts to write me a pass, and suddenly looks up. “I’m so sorry.”
“Sorry about what?” I start to ask as the buzzer sounds and the doors unlock. She slides the pass under her window and disappears. I take it and step through the doors slowly as I ponder why everyone’s acting so eerie towards me today.
I make my way through the halls which are surprisingly crowded since everyone should be in the middle of fourth period by now. It looks like everyone in the grade is out here. Everyone appears to be standing in front of the giant flatscreen in the middle of the eleventh grade wing. I try to get a good look at what everybody seems to be fussing over. Normally, the TV is used to watch the morning announcements, but today it seems to hold something much different. It looks like they’re watching the news. Why do a bunch of high schoolers care about the weather forecast?
I catch a ton of stares as I make my way closer to the sleek black TV. I set my bag on one of the benches and spot a much needed familiar friendly face.
“Ken,” I grabbed his hand and held it as he turned around.
“Cass..,” he looks somber, like he’s in a daze.
My face goes white. “What’s wrong?”
Then all I hear is Channel 6 and the female news reporter’s hard voice.
“24-year old Mackenzie Anne Wilthrop was found dead last night after a late night coffee run gone wrong.”