"So, how have you been?" Chloe asked, draping a napkin over her lap as she and Cassie sat down to lunch.
"I've been alright. How about you?"
"Fine," she answered quickly before turning a skeptical eye to Cassandra. "Are you really sure you're alright? You seem like you've had something on your mnd lately. James has noticed it too. I thought maybe you'd like to talk."
Cassie sighed. "I have had something on my mind," she admitted. "You know how I've been getting those bad vibes about the new house? I found out why I've had a bad feeling about it . . .Reese, Blaine's ex is moving there."
"Really? How do you know that?"
"I met her fiance and daughter when they were looking at the new house the other day. I can't believe they're planning to move in right next door to us."
"Ooh," Chloe grimaced. "I can't say I'd be thrilled to be neighbor's with one of James' exes, but it sounds like she's moved on and started a family of her own so it doesn't seem like she would be a threat to you at all." When Cassie looked doubtful, Chloe asked, "You don't think so?"
"I'm not sure what to think . . ."
"Oh come on, even if she was after Blaine, you know your husband is one of the most devoted, trustworthy family men I know. He would never do anything to hurt you or your family."
"I know," Cassie said, her stomach twisting with guilt.
"Then what is it?" Chloe said. She could tell there was more that Cassie was holding back. "What's really bothering you?"
Cassie desperately wanted someone to confide in, but if she couldn't bring herself to tell her husband everything, then she couldn't tell anyone else either. She had intended to tell him the full truth when he came home that afternoon, but the look on his face when she mentioned Reese made her feel sick to her stomach and her nerves took over. When he asked how old Reese's daughter was she fudged the age slightly, saying she was slightly younger than she knew she must be. She couldn't admit that to Chloe now, because if she did, she knew she'd have to tell Blaine the truth.
"I lied to him," she confided. "Reese called the house once before and I deleted the message before he could hear it."
"What did she say on the message?"
"Nothing much, just that she wanted to talk with him."
"Surely she must have known you were going to be neighbors and wanted to say hello before the move. I'm sure it was all totally innocent."
"I know. I just paniced and hit the button without thinking and . . . I feel terrible about lying to him."
"Then why don't you tell him what happened? I'm sure he won't be too upset about it."
"You don't think so?"
Chloe shook her head. "Over something minor like that, I wouldn't think so."
Cassie frowned, wishing her lies had only stayed so small.
"Or you could just forget about it and play it off as an accident. I wouldn't worry about it too much if I were you. The phone call, the move, the little white lie, are probably not as big of a deal as you're making it out to be. I'm sure it will all work out fine." <> Cassie hoped she was right.
"Hi," Reese replied, a hint of relief in her tone. His voice was so friendly and familiar. It hadn't changed since the last time she'd spoken to him all those years ago. She couldn't believe she had backed out from calling him so many times over the years. Then she remembered why, she wasn't sure where to start. "I'm sorry to call you at work. I'm not interrupting am I?"
"No, it's perfect timing. I just got back from lunch."
"Good, I was hoping you would be. I tried to call your home phone first. I left a message there a few weeks ago, but I never heard back from you."
"I didn't get it. I'm sorry. I guess it must have gotten deleted by accident."
"Sure," Reese agreed, but she had her doubts that it was totally an accident.
"I heard you're moving to Arrendale Heights," Blaine spoke up. "Cassie told me all about meeting your family when they were checking out the house next door."
"Yes, we might be. I kind of wanted to talk to you about it before we made our final decision, make sure you're okay with it . . . with everything . . ."
"Yeah, sure I am," he replied. "Listen, what happened was a long time ago and when we broke up I hoped we'd still be friends. I'd still like for all of us to be friends."
"Are you sure you still feel that way?" Reese asked.
"Of course. Nothing could change that." He hesitated, wondering if he was treading too far. "I don't know the circumstances exactly, but if you were alone, if you needed me, even if just as a friend, I wish you would have called me. You could have let me know what was going on. I would have been there."
There was silence on Reese's end of the line as she tried to hold her emotions in check. "Then you do already know . . . about Natalie . . . Cassie really did tell you?"
"Yeah . . . I have to admit, I was really shocked . . . at first. Maybe I still am a little bit."
"I'm so sorry I didn't tell you at the time, or anytime after that," Reese said quietly. "I started to so many times, but you were already with Cassie, then you got married and had a family of your own . . ." she trailed off for a moment. "Don't you think we should get together, talk about this in person instead of over the phone?"
"No, it's alright. There's no explanation necessary," he replied. "Look, we went our separate ways and we have our own families now. What happened was in the past. When we see each other again let's just put the past behind us and start fresh."
"Oh, okay," Reese said slowly, mulling over his words. His reaction wasn't at all what she was expecting and she found herself at a loss for words.
"Great," Blaine replied. "I'll see you around." As he hung up the phone, Blaine looked up at the picture of his family on the corner of his desk. James was right, there was no point in dwelling on past relationships his main concern and his first priority was his family.
What started as just lunch plans turned into an extended lunch break followed by a session of retail therapy. Since Chloe was her own boss and business was slow at the moment and she was married to Cassie's boss, it was easy enough to take the rest of the day off. Besides Chloe reasoned that a day off to clear her mind would probably help Cassie be more efficient at her job the next day and if they took a little time to browse for decorating and design ideas, she might gain a little creative inspiration for the next event she was hired to coordinate.
Cassie only protested when Chloe suggested dropping her off at her house and picking up her kids from school for her, but when Chloe insisted, she gave in and let Chloe take her back to her house. She was surprised when a familiar car pulled into her driveway as she walked up to her house.
"Mom, what are you doing here?"
"I thought you might need me," Serena said as she unbuckled her seatbelt and got out of the car. "Something is going on, isn't it?"
"Yes, but it's nothing you need to worry about," Cassie said, trying to keep her tone light and hopefully keep her mother out of her business.
Serena eyed her daughter sharply, searching for a clue. "It's something to do with Blaine."
Cassie hesitated. After lunch with Chloe she was tired of talking about her problems and even if she hadn't been, her mother was not the one she wanted to confide in.
Cassandra's relationship with her mother over the years had been an unusual one. Serena had been away for much of Cassandra's life, sent to psychiatric wards first by Cassie's father, mostly to get her out of his way, and later because of the revenge Serena had inflicted on him for stealing away so many years she could have spent with her daughters.
For years, Cassie wanted nothing more than to have her mother back in her life, but when it finally happened, she came to realize that having Serena in her life might not be the best situation. For the benefit of her marriage and her family, she decided to keep a little distance between herself and her mother. She eventually found a balance between having her mother overly involved in her life and not in her life at all. It was a better situation for everyone involved, including Serena.
"You could save me the trouble of trying to figure it out on my own and just tell me," Serena said bluntly.
"I just found out that Blaine's ex, Reese, is moving in next door . . ."
Serena gasped, "With his child."
"What?" Cassie said, surprised. Then she whispered, "How did you know?"
"I always knew . . . I saw Reese just before she left town and she was definitely with child . . . why do you think I told you to get pregnant right away if you wanted to keep him? If he had found out . . ."
Cassie cut her off, not wanting to hear what she was going to say next. "Why didn't you tell me?"
"I didn't want to put you in that position. It was better that you didn't know."
"Unbelievable," Cassie muttered, yet somehow that kind of reasoning by her mother was not totally shocking.
"You know what you need to do now . . ."
"No, I don't even want to know what you're thinking. Just forget about this. Don't say anything to anyone about this, please."
"I think that would be for the best," Serena agreed.
As Cassie and Serena talked, Jolene walked past with her charges. Vanessa Varner had invited the Arrendale children over for an afterschool playdate and Jolene over for coffee and a chat. The children were eager to spend sometime with their friends and Jolene was eager to get to know some of the other people in the neighborhood.
As they walked past Cassie's house, Jolene caught sight of Serena. She knew her.
"Come on, Lance," she called back, trying to get the straggler to catch up, so they could hurry past before Serena took notice of her and recognized her too.
As soon as Jolene and the children walked up to the house, Vanessa and her children came outside to greet them.
"Hi, you must be Jolene. It's so nice to meet you. I'm Vanessa."
"It's nice to meet you too. Thanks for inviting us over."
"No problem. Lawrence's kids and mine are all really close. He's like a nephew to me, so I imagine we'll be in touch a lot," Vanessa said. "I just wanted to meet you and let you know that the kids are welcome over here anytime and so are you."
"Thank you so much," Jolene smiled. "I'd love to get to know people in the neighborhood better . . . it would help me with my job, knowing who the other parents are and who the children might be playing with. I was just wondering, who lives in the house next door?"
"Oh, that's Cassie and Blaine's house, the Kitteridges. They have a boy and a girl, close in age to Lance."
"Is there another woman that lives there? I saw two women talking outside just now. I thought about saying hello, but I didn't know if I should."
Vanessa turned around and looked into the neighbor's yard, just in time to see Cassie and Serena walk up to the house. "Oh, that's Cassie's mother, Serena. No, she doesn't live here. I'm little surprised to see her. She doesn't visit that often," Vanessa said thoughtfully.
"Oh," Jolene replied. "I was just curious."
"So, how are you all getting along?" Vanessa asked, changing the subject.
"Really well. I think we're going to get along fine. Arthur has been really helpful and I think Lorna is warming up to me."
"And Lance?" Vanessa asked quietly.
Jolene rolled her eyes, "I'm sure he'll come around eventually."
"If he doesn't, don't take it personally. He took losing their mother the hardest," she whispered, making sure the children couldn't overhear what they were saying.
"I heard about what happened to Mrs. Arrendale. It's so tragic . . . was it really just a freak accident?"
Vanessa nodded. "As far as anyone knows. It was dark when the accident happened and she was alone . . . there really wasn't any reason to suspect it was anything but an accident. It really was just a terrible freak thing."
"And this happened, what, about five years ago?"
Again, Vanessa nodded. "It's hard to believe it's been that long. It doesn't seem like it. I know to Lawrence, especially, it seems just like yesterday . . . Believe me, I know how hard it is to lose a loved one, especially when there's a doubt in your mind that they're really gone."
"Does he really have doubts after all this time? Is there reason to?"
"I don't think there is, but I think he does," Vanessa said and decided it was time to change the subject. "Why don't you come inside and sit down? Would you like something to drink?"
"Actually, if you don't mind keeping an eye on the children on your own for a little while, I might run back to the house and try to get a few things done before dinner and homework time. Can I take a raincheck?"
"Ok," Vanessa said, surprised at the sudden change of plans. "When do you want them back home?"
"I can come back to pick them up," Jolene offered. "Say in a half an hour?"
When Vanessa agreed, Jolene hurried back towards the Arrendale's house. When she glanced back, she was relieved to see that Vanessa was herding the children inside for a snack. Instead of heading straight towards the house, she started towards the Kitteridge's house. Her timing was perfect. She got there just as Serena was backing her car out of the driveway. Cassie had already gone back inside. She flagged Serena down and hurried towards the driver's side window as soon as the car had stopped.
"Hi, I think I know you," she said. "Do you remember me?"
Serena studied her a moment, narrowing her eyes as she searched the young woman's face. "Yes, I do."
"Can you do me a favor? If it comes up, please don't tell anyone where you know me from. Can you just pretend we've never met before?"
Serena stared at her, again with that penetrating, searching look. Finally she nodded. "I won't say a word."