I stopped short. My dog barked at her. Cassiopeia simply patted the side of her leg twice and Jack Russell ran over, licking her hands while she enthusiastically petted him. What a guard dog.
“What are you doing here?” I asked, remaining where I stood.
She studied me before glancing at the duffel bag in my hand. “Are you going somewhere?”
Instead of replying, I whistled for Jack Russell, noting how reluctantly he left her side to come back to me.
“Why haven’t I heard from you?” Cassiopeia asked.
“Shouldn’t you be at work?”
“Shouldn’t you?” she countered.
I headed toward my car, which was parked against the curb a few feet away from her. “Look,” I said, opening the passenger door and urging my dog inside, “I need to get going. I’ll talk to you later.” Which, of course, I had no intention of doing.
Before I realized it, Cassiopeia was standing before me, peering into my eyes, her breath on my face, so, so close. I gazed at her and felt every ounce of my bravado falling to pieces. I muttered something unintelligible, probably “God” or “help.” I wasn’t sure. She then pointed toward her collar. I looked at the collar and shook my head, confused as to what I was looking for.
“Closer,” she mouthed.
Leaning even closer—the movement caused the side of my head to brush against her earlobe and yes, my heartbeat was now fully out of commission—I examined her collar once again. A tiny, nearly microscopic gold pin. It was affixed to the fabric on her collar. I looked back at her.
“Pull,” she mouthed and then pointed at herself.
I obeyed and placed the pin in the palm of her hand. She carefully set it on the ground and then crushed it with her foot, rendering the pin into a shimmering pile of gold pieces.
“It was a microphone,” Cassiopeia said. With that, she got into in the passenger side of my car. My dog situated himself on her lap and lovingly gazed up at her. Traitor.
The two-hour trip to Palm Springs was silent as far as she and I were concerned. Cassiopeia was far more interested in entertaining Jack Russell than saying anything to me. Eventually, I pulled into the parking lot of the Pebble Brook Hotel and Golf Resort. Moments later, the car’s engine now off, we sat in silence.
“Let’s get a few things out of the way first,” she finally said. “I liked you from the moment I met you. You’re funny, smart, a great listener, and I like your face.”
A smile tugged at my lips. I remained stoic, however, looking straight ahead of me and not at her. That would change, however.
“Can you please look at me, Elliott?”
The question and the sincere way in which she asked me: I knew that staying away from her would never work. (Adding to the fact that she was already sitting in my car.) I belonged to her. I had belonged to Cassiopeia Benson from the moment we met, even if that wasn’t her real name. I turned to face her. “Always,” I said. “I will always look at you.”
Cassiopeia gazed at me for a long while, not speaking. She then moved closer toward me. “Thank you, ” she said. “Zachary Jupiter is my father.”