Love is a promise... a souvenir, once given never forgotten, never let it disappear. John Lennon

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No Matter What

No Matter What is available now from Amira Press


Tears ran down her cheeks. Cassandra was lying naked in bed
Restless, she turned away from him. Cassandra was tired of having a different man in her bed every week. She vowed that this would be the last time she took a man to her bed she did not love. She wanted a man who loved her. She needed someone who wanted to be with her for more than just her body. She craved what she once had with Brenden. Sadness overwhelmed her when she thought of how she threw away her relationship with him the only man she ever loved and the father of her child. When she thought of going back, fear paralyzed her. When she left, she had not even bothered to tell him she was pregnant with his child.

Shaking her head as if she could shake thoughts of the past away, she thought of the man beside her. Shame coursed through her body, God I don't even know his name. How sick is that? Unable to rest, she rose from the bed and began rooting through a pile of clothes on the floor. Her hand found the thin fabric she was searching for. Cassandra looked down at the faded black T-shirt with its bright pink letters that said, "Loved by an Angel" With shaking hands, she traced the letters as she remembered why Brenden gave her the shirt.

Cassandra had been fifteen years old when, during third period, she had snuck out of class and pulled the fire alarm just for kicks.Getting caught had not been in her plans, but as luck had it, her math teacher caught her in the act. Her punishment was a two-week suspension from school. The disappointed looks on the faces of the people she loved had been more than she could bear. Later that same day, Cassandra broke up with Brenden, telling him she was no good for him, and he deserved better than a girl with no direction in life. With tears in her eyes, she kissed his cheek before she walked away from him. Brenden was persistent. For two weeks, he tried everything to get her back: endless phone calls, flowers and notes, even baking her cookies.

Despite his efforts, Cassandra refused to allow herself to change her mind until the day he approached her at school. Cassandra turned and met his green eyes. They looked like little green oceans, swimming with tears the way they were. Cassandra could no longer stand to see him in pain and agreed to talk to him. When he gave her the T-shirt, she unfolded it and looked down at the words. Her breath caught in her throat and she felt weak. It had been so long since she had felt loved. His arms wrapped around her, and she felt safe for the first time since her parents had died. Cassandra had never forgotten his words, "So you'll always remember I love you." He had told her he cared about her before, but this was the first time he had said the words I love you. She cherished that memory.

Cassandra sighed as she slipped the T-shirt over her head. She glanced at the man in her bed, and tiptoed out of the room. She walked down the short hallway to the other bedroom in the small apartment. When she approached the bed, she looked down at Becca, her angelic three-year-old. Her blonde hair and green eyes were so like her father's. Hot tears rolled down her cheeks as she reached out and gently touched her daughter.

"Oh my angel, we've had a hard life I know. I haven't been able to give you all you deserve. I've had to leave you with a babysitter far too much, I've not spent the time I should've with you. I hope someday you'll forgive me. I've always loved you, but I was young when I had you. It's no excuse. I know I've been a terrible mother. You were born from such love, but I made bad choices. I hope I can be a mother you can be proud of from now on. I promise you from this point forward, life will be different."

Choking back a sob, she looked away from the innocent child that slept nearby. She studied several of Becca's drawings on the wall as she remembered her last night with Brenden. It had been prom night, and earlier that day, the doctor had confirmed her worst fear;she was two months pregnant. Brenden was the only one she had been with, so there was no doubt the child was his. There had been no doubt in her mind; Brenden would do the honorable thing, because he loved her. She had not wanted to ruin his life; she had not wanted to be the cause of his dreams falling apart. So she decided not to tell him. As she dressed for the prom, she knew, when it was over she would leave. Her overnight bag was packed, and since Brenden rented a hotel room for them, there would be no need for explanations.

That night Brenden had been so happy. Standing there in his tuxedo, he had looked more handsome than she could have imagined. After the dance, they made love. That night passion had burned hot between them. It was as if he sensed there would not be another day. When he slept, she gathered up her things, snuck out of the room, and disappeared with only what she had stuffed into her overnight bag. God how he must hate me now. I'm a fool to think I can make him understand why I did what I did.

Her eyes moved back to the sleeping child, whose even breathing never faltered. "For a long time now, I've known I did a terrible thing. I took away your right to know your daddy. I was so wrong!" Cassandra sobbed quietly "I promise, baby, I'm going to make it right." Her voice held a determined edge.

She knew her daughter did not hear her, but she vowed she would keep the promise. What she had to do would not be easy. She ran, and ran fast, from a life that terrified her. Now she would walk back and pick up the pieces. It would not be easy, but she knew things had to change.

She studied her child in the innocence of sleep, So sweet. She deserves so much better. Cassandra leaned over and kissed her daughter's forehead, whispered, "I love you"and was careful not to make a sound as she moved away from her and out the door. The apartment was small and smelled of alcohol and sex. She rolled her eyes at the loud music and laughter poured through the thin walls. She knew that yet another party was in progress next door. The offending sound increased her longing for the quiet peace of the small town she had grown up in. Cassandra studied the pictures on the wall. Sadness filled her as she moved toward the images. She touched the picture of her with the family who raised her. Oh how she had hurt them. A single teardrop fell as she looked at the picture of her daughter at the center of the trio of pictures. Becca had not even left the hospital when this picture was taken. The memory of Becca's birth made Cassandra smile. It was the brightest day she could remember of the past four years.

When her eyes rested on the third picture, her heart sank. It always did when she looked at him. His spiky blonde hair and ocean green eyes made him so handsome. The strong features of his face held a certain sensuality that she always adored. She pressed her lips to her fingers, then traced the outline of his mouth.

When she had left Indigo, she believed she was doing the right thing. Although she knew now that she had not, she always thought things had gone too far to turn back. She left because she did not want to be the town burden and was afraid to return because she did not want to be the town's biggest embarrassment.

So much time had passed. While she wanted to go back with all her heart, she did not know if it was possible to have what she once did in a town like Indigo. Would they welcome her or hate her? Taking a shaky breath, she realized she did not have a choice. There was no way she could keep subjecting Becca to this life. Her little girl deserved better.

Cassandra turned away from the pictures, moved to the window, and looked down to see a myriad of drunks and homeless people milling around in the alley below. Disgust welled up from deep within her. What was she thinking trying to raise a child like this? Faintly, she could see her own reflection in the dirty window. Long, honey blonde hair hung loose around her small shoulders. Her high cheekbones and heart shaped lips stood out in the reflection she saw. Remembering a time when she had felt beautiful, she ran her hands up and down the sides of her body. Although much the same as it had always been, her thin five-foot, four-inch frame appeared ugly to her now. Behind her, she saw the profile of the man she had been with coming out of her bedroom. His footsteps were heavy as he came up behind her.

"Hey, baby, where'd you go?" His voice was gruff.

Cassandra spun around and met the man's eyes. His lust was evident as he moved closer to her. She took a couple of steps back to avoid his touch.

"What's wrong, baby? Why don't you bring your cute little ass back to bed?"

Cassandra raised her chin a notch.

"You need to leave." The icy ring to her voice surprised even her.

"Come on baby" The gruffness in his voice irritated her.

"Leave, now!"

"You little bitch! You weren't screaming no a few hours ago." He snarled as he walked away. Cassandra heard his muttered curses just before the bathroom door slammed. The water whistled out of the pipes, drowning out the curses he continued to spew. She heard the bathroom door slam against the wall as he opened it and the heavy sound of boots as he stalked around, she assumed he was gathering up his belongings. When the front door slammed shut, she let out the breath she was holding and felt the tension ease out of her shoulders. She was grateful to be left alone.

Cassandra moved away from the window and looked around the apartment. The dingy flowered wallpaper and dirty tan carpet made her sick. She took the few steps necessary to enter her kitchen. Opening a cabinet, she pulled out a coffee mug. As she set the cup on the counter, a cockroach scurried from one end of the counter to the other. Taking a deep breath, she gathered her courage and determination and crossed the room. As she grabbed the phone, terrible regrets assaulted her. Taking a deep breath, she dialed the number of the one person she trusted in her life.

"Hello." the familiar voice of her best friend greeted her.

"Reese, it's me. I need help."

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