Author: Lisa Burstein
Release Date: 7/1/14
Genre: Embrace (Contemporary)
Author Website: http://www.lisaburstein.com/
Author Blog: http://lisabursteinauthor.wordpress.com/
Author Twitter: https://twitter.com/LisaBurstein
Author Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LisaBursteinAuthor
Author Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5430977.Lisa_Burstein
Lisa Burstein is a tea seller by day and a writer by night. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from the Inland Northwest Center for Writers at Eastern Washington University. She is the author of Pretty Amy, The Next Forever, Dear Cassie and Sneaking Candy. She lives in Portland, Oregon with her very patient husband, a neurotic dog and two cats.
One weekend together could change everything…
When her friend called to tell her about the funeral, Cassie wanted to say no. She had enough to handle with her own hollow existence. But she knew she should pay her respects to her old camp counselor…as long as her ex, Ben, wouldn’t be there.
Except Ben is there. Still gorgeous, still angry, and still able to penetrate her defenses with one intense stare. All the reasons they left each other in a flurry of heartache start to fall away over one long, snowy weekend.
But tough Cassie can’t truly open up to Ben when she knows confessing her secrets will leave her raw, defenseless. And the possibility of forever might not be enough to gamble on all the impossibilities of now.
Goodreads Book Link: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18499688-the-possibility-of-us?ac=1
Amazon Buy Link: http://amzn.to/1nb8tbY
Barnes & Noble Buy Link: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-possibility-of-us-lisa-burstein/1119702444?ean=9781622667215
2 Believe in Love or Dwell in Possibility Pendants (US only) and two $15 Amazon gift cards
“Ben better not be there,” I said, wiping away the condensation that had built up on the window of Laura’s black Range Rover. The snowbanks whizzing past us on the side of the road were so white and flawless from the storm the night before, it made me shiver. I also could have been shivering because it was the first time I had been out of my brother’s apartment in months, other than working in the kitchen at the Veteran’s Association Medical Center downtown.
“What am I, your ex-boyfriend’s keeper?” Laura asked. She seemed more confident than she had been when we met at Turning Pines Wilderness Camp for Troubled Teens this past summer—calmer, less afraid—but that could have been because she was driving a car bigger than a damn elephant rumbling down the highway like a tank.
“No,” I said, preparing for one of my patented snarky comebacks, “you’re a fucking—” But I stopped. What happened with Ben hadn’t been Laura’s fault.
“You’re ‘a fucking ex-boyfriend keeper,’” she pressed.
I felt my skin turn as white as the snow. It hadn’t been her fault, but that didn’t mean she needed to be a dick about it.
She turned to look at me, her mouth tight. It was obvious she wished she were mute again as soon as she saw my face.
Voluntary silence had been her issue at Turning Pines, but it was clear she had gotten over it. At least when she wasn’t saying something that made it look like her tongue wanted to fly out of her mouth so she could slap her words back in there.
But I knew being mute was what she used to cover up her real issue—diagnosed as kleptomania. Of course, her psychologist parents had attributed her silence to that, as well. They had told her she was “stealing her words.”
I’d been sent to Turning Pines as part of my probation for a drug arrest, for drugs that weren’t even mine. Of course, I did steal them. Maybe I was more like Laura than I even knew.
My real issue had been something only she and my brother knew about. A word I couldn’t even utter until after I’d spent thirty days at Turning Pines. I guess I’d covered it up with swearing and anger. My new issue had started once I met Ben.
Clearly, I was covering that up in much the same way.
“Sorry,” Laura said, staring straight ahead. Her sun-lightened blond hair was up in a bun. The severe bangs she’d had at camp had grown out, and her hair was slicked back as tight as a ballerina’s, her green fleece zipped up like a turtleneck.
Before, when Laura had been mute, when she communicated only with looks and a notepad, she had reminded me of a turtle.
Now she reminded me of a bitchy turtle.
I never should have let her convince me to come.
Two days ago, Laura had inserted herself back into the life I’d managed to carve out after Turning Pines, after Ben: subletting my brother’s apartment, working at the VA for the people who were lucky enough—or unlucky enough, depending on your perspective—not to be deployed again like he was.
As usual, I’d woken up and clicked into Facebook on my phone, ready to do my daily Internet-stalking of the people I’d spent thirty days with at good old TP—seriously, TP. It wasn’t until I’d left Turning Pines that I realized what the first two letters had been an abbreviation for. Hindsight really was fucking twenty-twenty.
It was the end of January. A whole new cold year had started. It had been six fucking months since then, and I wasn’t legally a minor anymore, but I guess I still felt like one, still frozen as the girl I was at seventeen.
As an adult now, I should have known who I was, who I wanted to become. But since leaving Turning Pines, I had lost Ben, turned eighteen, and was filling up my brother’s empty bed while he was fighting in Afghanistan.
Even with my job, it wasn’t much to Facebook-brag about.
I’d clicked into my news feed and started scrolling. Not like I could count on anyone saying on Facebook how they were really doing, but I wanted to make sure no one was doing better than I was. Pretty messed up, considering everyone I went to camp with was majorly fucked up and deserved to do better.
Well, except for Ben. He wasn’t fucked up at all. He’d been sent to Turning Pines because he was taking the fall for something his older brother had done, which might have made him codependent, but Laura was the one with the psychologist parents, not me.
The thing was even I deserved to do better. The life I’d carved out for myself was definitely not everything I wanted my life to be. Not yet.
That was what Turning Pines was supposed to have taught us: how to live without our vices, our demons, our unhealthy ways of coping with the shit of life, whatever they were. Some were easier to leave behind, like Laura’s. Some were harder to leave behind, like mine.
A chat box had come up from Troyer, Laura, once she noticed me online. I still thought of her by her last name sometimes. Still thought of everyone from Turning Pines that way, because, like the military-grade place it was supposed to be, it was how we had referred to each other.
Except, of course, Ben and me.
Go look at Rawe’s page, her message read.
Rawe, Fanny had been my counselor—the woman who’d made my life hell for thirty days, and then made me understand my life didn’t have to be hell anymore. I didn’t check her page much because she was always posting things about God. Not that I had anything against God, but it definitely felt like he had something against me.
Don’t want to, I wrote back.
Do it, Cassie, Laura wrote.
Surprisingly, I listened to her. I actually cared what she thought about me, even though I could give two shits about everyone else.
I clicked over to my friends and searched for Fanny Rawe—her real name and, honestly, probably the reason she worked at a place that used last names only.
But Rawe’s page wasn’t hers anymore. It was a tribute page, because she had died.
She had been killed in a car accident that week, noted in a post on her wall from a youngish-looking woman with the last name Rawe, too. Probably her sister.
I couldn’t even imagine having to post something like that on my brother’s Facebook wall—to turn his account into a tribute page. It was something I worried about every minute since he’d been deployed again, but I also knew if he were safe here with me, he would have forced me out of his apartment by now.
I read on. The page also included the date and time of her funeral and a place to send donations and flowers. I started at the beginning and read the whole post again. Not because I didn’t believe it, but because I couldn’t believe it. My stomach was empty, hollow, as cold as the wind whipping through the snowbanks outside the windows of my brother’s shitty apartment. Rawe and I had our issues, but I never would have wished her dead.
I guess, unlike me, some people had gone on living the lives they wanted after Turning Pines. Living enough to die.
You going? Laura wrote.
Where? I replied like the total smart-ass I was. At least with Laura I could act like a smart-ass, even if I couldn’t usually get away with it.
Funny, she wrote. Actually, not funny at all.
I hadn’t checked anyone else’s pages yet, but my guess was no one from Turning Pines was doing worse that day than Rawe.
Why would I go? I typed.
Why wouldn’t you?
There were a lot of reasons. Even though I shuffled through that part of my life constantly while I lay in my brother’s bed at night trying to sleep, it wasn’t like I wanted to be around all those people again—especially one person.
I’ll pick you up. And don’t even tell me you’re busy, she wrote. You can DVR Jerry Springer for two days.
I sighed. Fucking Troyer.
I’d tried to deny how much I missed Ben, missed everyone from Turning Pines, but Laura could tell. She was no dummy. It was part of the reason I loved her so much.
“Ben wasn’t ever my boyfriend,” I said now, turning to look at Laura in the driver’s seat. I stared at the edges of her profile, her chin and nose as pointy as candy corn.
That was a lie. He had been, but now Ben was the guy whose heart I broke and who had broken mine.
Who had broken me.
Unfortunately, I’d learned the hard way that people who are broken can’t do anything but keep breaking when it comes to their hearts.
I guess he had, too.
“Really?” she asked, squinting from the reflection off the snow. “What was he, then?”
“A fucking illusion.”
She sighed and shook her head. “You’re so dramatic.”
I knew it sounded that way, but that was how everything seemed when it came to Ben and me. When we’d been together in California for the two stolen months we spent after camp, we were playing the roles of people who believed they could last. We even looked like real Californians, Ben in his neon board shorts and me in my cutoffs and tank top. But our perfect outfits were some of the only clothes we owned.
I can remember holding hands as we walked along the boardwalk in Santa Cruz, our fingers laced up tight like my hiking boots. The sun was just setting over the giant Ferris wheel, making huge spiderweb shadows and spindles of light fall over everything, including Ben’s brown eyes, which brightened like amber.
It was the beginning of fall and getting colder each day that passed. The smell of popcorn and fried carnival food was so strong it seemed to cling to our skin.
I sniffed the wrist of the hand not holding tight to Ben; salt and butter and the unmistakable smell of browned oil wafted up. My mouth watered uncontrollably. We hadn’t eaten since the night before.
“Maybe if it gets really bad, we can eat my arm,” I said.
He lifted our clasped hands to his lips, kissed mine lightly, then bit each one of my fingers, the perfect combination of gentle and rough.
My throat thickened thinking of those lips grazing mine; my abdomen quivered, craving it.
“I call the thumb.” He touched his lips to the soft underside of it. “I’ve heard it’s the most nutritious part.”
“Really?” I laughed as his tongue darted out and tickled my skin, gliding down the palm of my hand, toying with me. Only Ben could get a giggle out of me with a move like that.
He nodded. “Think about it. We couldn’t do anything without our thumbs. They’re valuable, like the lobster of human body parts.”
“Then I want my thumb,” I said.
He smirked and circled his mouth around it, his wavy brown hair falling in his eyes. “Not giving it back,” he said, sucking on it gently, sliding it in and out of his mouth.
Having his lips on me was always calming, like they were glue and I was something damaged they put back together. I let him linger there, squinting my eyes at the falling sun, wondering how cold it would be on the beach that night; if our bonfire could keep us warm enough.
“I think I want both thumbs,” he said, grabbing for my other hand greedily.
“What the fuck am I going to eat?” I asked, laughing again like a stupid girl in love, because, with Ben, I was. I played my part perfectly, and I never had to tell him his lines.
We walked past a surf shop, boards stacked against the window like the huge petals of a flower—he loves me, he loves me not.
“Hey, they’re hiring,” he said, pointing at it with both our hands.
“There’s no way I’m saying fucking dude and gnarly all day.”
“Do you have a better idea that doesn’t involve thumb cannibalism?” He was joking, but it was the start of a much more serious and painful conversation.
I didn’t and neither did he. Without a permanent address, we had no way to get jobs, anyway. We were running out of money and out of time. The only thing we weren’t running out of was a whole lot of fooling ourselves.
As it got colder, we had to make a decision about what to do with the rest of our lives. But forever was a very long time, and neither of us had been ready to follow the other. It was one thing to be on neutral ground. It was another to decide to be in someone’s life, in a city and a state different from yours. Ben couldn’t move to New York with me, and I couldn’t move to Maine with him.
We’d fought about it. Both said in our own ways I don’t understand why you can’t just come with me.
Even though we knew exactly why; we were ready to go home. I missed my brother, and I guess Ben missed his. We probably also missed knowing exactly what we could expect from each day, when we would wake up, when we would sleep, what we would eat and where. Life at home might have been boring, but at least it was dependable.
I called Ben “shitty” and he called me “stubborn” and then we never called each other again. It made me wonder if this last shove, this last rejection, had pushed us both too far.
And maybe I also knew if I went to Maine, or if Ben came back with me, it would all fall apart eventually. Forget seeing a glass half-empty when it came to relationships. I shattered the fucking thing against the wall.
We’d also never said the L word to each other. If fuck was my go-to, the L word was my run-from. Just like everything it represented had been until I’d found Ben, until he’d found me.
It was again, now that I’d lost him.
“Without Jerry Springer, I need to get my drama somewhere,” I said, coming back to the car with Laura. Anyone would have told you vegging-out at my brother’s apartment was my true escape, but—nothing new—I wasn’t listening to anyone.
“I doubt he’ll be there anyway,” Laura said, her hands tight on the steering wheel. “Rawe was ourcounselor, not his.”
“You’d better hope you’re right,” I said, playing with the lock on the door—clicking it over and over, my hands needing to do something to get my mind to stop. Because as much as I said I didn’t want to see him, I couldn’t help but hope he might be there.
I had no idea what the fuck I would do if he were. It had been almost three months of radio-silence and I wasn’t looking forward to figuring out how to keep it up in person if he did decide to show.
I caught a glimpse of my reflection in the window as I continued clicking the lock. My face looked thin, my brown eyes numb. I’d seemingly aged years in the snow globe I’d made of my brother’s apartment that winter. I’d trapped myself securely inside. It was just like Laura to come along and shake the shit out of it.
It was just like me to let her.
“Seriously, Cassie, keep doing that and we’ll be going to a different funeral.”
“Whose?” I smirked. “Yours?”
“Only if I don’t kill you first.”
I sighed. “I’m not allowed to smoke in here. What else am I supposed to do?”
“I can’t believe you still smoke,” Laura scoffed.
“I can’t believe you still give a shit.”
Laura didn’t have to be friends with me anymore. She had survived Turning Pines and started college. She had a whole new life she was living two hours away at the University of Rochester, but I understood she felt responsible for me, like I felt responsible for her.
“We can stop in Springfield,” Laura acquiesced.
“Only three hours to go,” I replied sarcastically. “I guess even your fancy school hasn’t taught you the definition of chain-smoker.” I stopped clicking the lock, but I hugged myself tight. It was what I did now instead of punching myself in the stomach. The thing I’d done to punish myself for my real issue.
Even Rawe would have to admit that was progress, even if what had happened with Ben, what was still happening with Ben, was probably its own brand of self-harm.
Laura looked at me; her white-blue eyes were the color of ice. “Are you seriously okay?”
“I’m on my way to a funeral with my best friend,” I said, staring out the window. “Why wouldn’t I be fucking okay?”
My brother Drew’s usual crazy rock-star-spiked hair was matted down in a red winter hat. He had insisted on driving my car. It was the only way I could get him to agree to come with me.
Plus, he owed me, even though I tried as much as possible not to think about that.
“You sure you don’t just want to go to Boston for the weekend or something instead? I have a box’s worth of condoms burning a hole in my pocket,” he said, smiling his Drew smile: a combo of burned-out skater and I could kick your ass.
I glared at him. My eyes seared, eyes I knew were the same exact shade of brown as his. I didn’t need to tell him no. He understood he owed me, too, even though he tried his hardest not to think about that, either. I’d taken the rap for his whole car-stealing thing, because I was younger.
The only reason Drew wasn’t in a jail cell right now was me. The only reason I even ended up at Turning Pines was him.
The only reason we were going to this funeral at all was because I’d been to Turning Pines.
We had to take care of each other. When our father died ten years ago, my mother had said we each needed to “be there for the other one.” Drew did his best, but I was usually the one looking out for him. My maturity was my blessing and my curse.
“You brought condoms to a funeral?” I asked. I couldn’t help but smile. Drew might have been a pervert, but he was nothing if not hilariously consistent.
“I bring them with me everywhere, but if we’re still going to a funeral, then yes, I did.”
“We’re still going,” I said, crossing my arms over my chest.
“Fine, we’ll head to Auburn, Massachusetts, to watch some woman get buried. Who’s ever even heard of that place?” he huffed.
“Who’s ever even heard of where we’re from?”
“Well, when some dude I don’t know drives four hours to attend my funeral, I guess that guy finally will.”
Drew wasn’t usually such an asshole, but he really didn’t like paying back my favor. Mostly because I think he knew he’d be paying it back for the rest of his life.
“I’ll be sure to tell everyone about your funeral,” I said, stifling a laugh, “don’t worry about that.”
“You sure know how to show a guy a good time, Ben.” He shook his head and shifted my Camaro into the next gear. I bought it with the money my father had left in his will for when I graduated high school. It was the only thing I owned in the world.
“A woman died.”
“Yeah, but we’re still alive.” He jutted his chin out toward the windshield. “Until we die of boredom in Auburn.”
I guess I was still alive physically, but mentally I wasn’t so sure. Most days it didn’t feel like I was anything at all. When the person you care about is out of reach, it makes it hard to give a shit about anything. Makes it impossible to think that who you want to be matters when there’s no one around you matter to.
I reclined the leather seat back and closed my eyes, focusing on the thunder of the engine, thewhop, whop, whop of the wipers flinging snowflakes off the windshield.
Don’t say no, the first text had said. It was from Laura, the best friend of the girl who left me flat—though Cassie would probably tell a different story.
Laura had been trying to get us back together for months now. I always said no, mostly because Cassie was never the one sending the texts. If she really wanted to see me, she would have texted me herself.
Not that I had made an effort to contact her. I’d wanted to plenty of times, but I guess I wanted Cassie to be the one to break down first. I’d been the one to climb over her barbed-wire walls when we first got together at Turning Pines. The least she could do was send me a stupid text and say she was sorry for being stupid.
Let me respond that I was, too.
But I guess we really hadn’t ever been together. That was the whole problem. Neither of us could make the commitment to go with the other one.
I guess even thirty days at Turning Pines hadn’t cured us of our trust issues.
Living in limbo together for the two months afterward had been a sort of fragile perfection—sleeping on the beach in California, scraping together enough for a motel room before that. But when the money ran out and we had to decide what to do next, it made it too real.
It killed us. We had been like a smoldering fire, but we’d tried to add too much wood too quickly. That was the only thing I learned at Turning Pines: don’t play with fire.
Not that I’d been sent there to learn anything. Maybe I’d needed to. Maybe if I would have actually listened, as we suffered through wilderness boot camp training, to the crap they spewed out at us day after day about accepting our faults, being brave enough to find our place in the world, strong enough to live our lives healthfully, I might have been with Cassie right now.
Today is different how? I’d texted back, because today wasn’t different. I was living with my brother, playing drums in a wedding band, and drinking a beer at noon. That was how all my days were after Cassie. That was how they would stay without her.
Rawe died, Laura wrote.
I didn’t reply at first, my thumb hovering over the keyboard on my phone.
How do you respond to something like that?
Why do I have to?
Why do I ever answer Laura’s texts?
Because I’d met this motley crew six months ago, and we were now somehow forever connected? Even though Cassie and I were further apart than ever, the fire we had been now cracked black coals. I took a long slug off my beer.
That’s too bad, I always liked Rawe, I texted. It was true. I had. She was always fair, and she actually seemed like she cared about other people. That meant something to me, because there were so many people in the world who it was clear did not.
So come and pay your respects, Laura wrote.
I know what you’re trying to do, and it won’t work, I texted back quickly.
Cassie’s going to the funeral and so are you, she wrote. Put on your big-boy pants and deal with it.
That was Laura; she didn’t take any bullshit. I understood it was part of the reason Cassie liked her so much. Cassie could dish out her share. She could dish out seconds and thirds and still have leftovers. Her favorite word was “fuck” and she knew how to use it.
I also understood Laura was right. If Cassie could put aside what had happened between us to go to Rawe’s funeral, I could, too. I guess I was just surprised that Cassie was actually able to.
“I can’t believe we had to cancel working the Schickler wedding for a funeral for someone I don’t even know. You’re damn lucky we found someone to cover for us,” Drew said, reminding me I was in the car with him and not on my couch with a beer. It really made me want to be on my couch with a beer.
“You know me,” I said, scratching my forehead under my gray knit cap, “and I know her, so that should be enough.”
“It is, Ben,” he said. “It’s just you’ve never even mentioned this person, and now we’re driving four hours through the snow to go to her funeral. I can’t help but think there’s another reason.”
“Seriously?” he asked, cocking his head.
“So Cassie’s going to be there. So what? It’s not why I’m going,” I said fast, fast enough I almost believed it.
“I’m not putting your heart back together again this time, Romeo,” Drew said, his mouth tight.
Drew was a pervert and an asshole, but he was also my brother and he had the same speech in his head my mother had given me ten years ago. He’d been my shoulder-to-not-cry-on after I got back to Maine, after Cassie. He kept me upright when all I wanted to do was fall.
Of course, Cassie didn’t know about our unspoken pact or about my father. I never explained why I felt like I had to go back to Maine. I wondered if it would have mattered.
“That’s fine,” I replied, breathing out hard enough to fog up the windshield. “There’s no heart left to put back together anyway.”
“Exactly,” he said, his voice rising, “that’s exactly what I mean. You better inoculate yourself from whatever vagina-voodoo this chick has over you, because I’m not dealing with it.”
I understood not wanting to have to deal with that again. I didn’t want to, either.
“You know, we never even slept together.” I turned to him.
We hadn’t. I’d wanted to. I mean, I’d really wanted to, especially when I was next to her in that motel room bed. Her brown hair wild and unwieldy as tree roots against the pillow in the moonlit room, but she’d said no. She wasn’t ready. I should have seen that as the warning sign it was. Not that her pushing me away for the whole thirty days we were at Turning Pines wasn’t enough of one.
I’d also never told her I loved her. I wondered if that was what she’d been waiting for, if secretly maybe I had been waiting for the same thing from her.
“That means her vagina has even more control over you,” he said with certainty.
“Can we please stop talking about her vagina?” I mumbled, tapping my fingers on my jeaned legs, hearing the sound of nothing but snare drum in my head.
“If you can stop thinking about it,” he retorted.
“You’re the one with a value pack of condoms in your suitcase.”
“Hey, I admit my shortcomings. I celebrate them.” He smiled.
“I’m not thinking about it,” I said.
“But you are thinking about her?” He flicked his eyes off the road for a moment so they met mine. “Right?”
“No,” I lied.
“That would be a first, brother,” he said, turning up the radio.
I never really talked about Cassie anymore, but I guess not talking about any other girls let my brother know all he needed to. Truthfully, I had no idea what would happen when I saw her, if I would even feel the same.
That scared me more than anything.
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