Excerpt: The Missing Butterfly

Prologue

“Sorry I’m late!” Cassidy stumbled to a halt in the middle of the room, barely avoiding face planting on the hardwood floor. He shoved back errant curls and attempted to look especially contrite and apologetic, with a side of puppy, please do not kick.

Bruce, Jake, and Eddie simply shared a roll of the eyes and went back to fiddling with their respective instruments.

“What kept you today, fearless leader?” Bruce asked, neglecting his bass just long enough to ask.

Cassidy tossed his messenger bag aside, then stripped off his tie and oxford, kicking off his fancy shoes before striding to the microphone. “My new advisor is a bit long-winded, but I’m just about all set for my classes. Mostly just financial aid stuff to take care of now, and I can start with the fall session. No manager will be screwing us over, baby!”

Jake snorted and rolled his eyes again. “We’ve got a long way to go before we have to worry about a manager, honey.”

“Sugar, with your fingers and my voice, it’s only a matter of weeks. Maybe months. Definitely not years. By the time I’m nineteen, Four Butterflies will be number one in the universe.”

“Stop getting ahead of yourself, dickhead, and warm up,” Eddie said, twirling his drumsticks in warning.

Cassidy rolled his eyes at them, but obediently paid attention to his microphone—and promptly started singing ‘I’m a Little Teacup’ in what Bruce called his ‘Girls Will Throw Panties’ voice. Bruce liked that voice, ’cause his favorite daydreams pertaining to rock and roll fame were the girls and the panties and the girls without panties.

Which was fine by Cassidy, he preferred his naked to be boy shaped.

Something struck the back of his head, and he bent to retrieve the crumpled paper, whipping around to throw it right back at Eddie, who looked too innocent to actually be innocent. “You’re a drummer. Hit the drums, not me.”

“Then sing a good song.”

“Fucking play then, for me, bay-bee,” he said, singing the last bit into the mike, batting his eyes and then immediately ducking an empty soda can. “Philistines,” he said loftily, then signaled, and they began to practice in earnest.

Cassidy sang for all he was worth, just like he did every time, all the time. He had a voice, damn it, and his band had talent, and they would rule the world someday. He knew it.

Until then, he was weeks away from business school, the boy at the coffee shop had totally been flirting, and if he did well his first semester his parents would help him buy a new car. He didn’t even mind going to see his sister in her doofy play in an hour.

Ack. Play.

But even as he started to call a halt, Bruce beat him to it—rather, Bruce’s cell phone beat them all to it.

“You’re supposed to turn that damned thing off during practice,” Taskmaster Eddie said, scowling at Bruce through electric-blue bangs.

Bruce only blew him a kiss. “Time to stop, anyway. I have a hot date, Cass has to go watch his lovely little sister be Snow White—”

“Jailbait, asshole,” Cassidy said. “If you ever touch my sister, I will kill you. After I make you eat your balls.”

Eddie cut them both off with a crash of cymbal and stood up. “Pop is probably going to be home soon, anyway. I need to get his supper started. You losers get lost and make certain you’re here tomorrow on time—” A pointed look at Cassidy. “Or else.”

“Who needs a manager with Edwin around, eh?”

“Call me that again, Jakey, and you’ll be eating your balls.”

Cassidy protested. “Hey! No stealing my threats.” He started to say more, but the sound of his own phone stopped him short. “Shit,” he swore, seeing his neighbor’s number come up. Interfering old busy body, she probably was calling ‘on behalf of his mother’ to see if he was on his way home to be there in time to go the play.

Raking back his curls, wiping sweat from his face with the sleeve of his t-shirt, he flipped the phone open and punched accept. “Hey, Ms. Snick—what, whoa, hold on—CALM DOWN. I can’t—what—”

As her words finally made sense, Cassidy’s face went ashen. He didn’t notice the way his friends abruptly fell silent and looked at him with concern—didn’t notice they were watching the pallor of his face, the way he was trembling. “Ms. Snickers—yeah, okay. I’m on my way. I-I-I’ll get Jakey to drive me, you just stay there with Lindsay and Denny.”

He closed his phone with a sharp snap and barely managed to shove it into the pocket of his fancy dress slacks. “J-j—”

Eddie abandoned his drums and came to him, gripping his arm. “Hey, man, what’s wrong?”

“D-dead,” Cassidy got out and tried to smile reassuringly, then realized how fucking stupid that was. “Car hit my parents. They’re dead. I, uh, gotta go. Can Jakey—”

He didn’t finish and didn’t really remember much after that, until he got home and his siblings were crying and his neighbor was crying and there were police and Lindsay was still dressed up as Snow White—

As he held his siblings and cried with them, struggling all the while to listen to what other people were telling him, all Cassidy could think was that he had no fucking clue what to do.

Chapter One

Secretly, Cassidy loved ties. He didn’t like the fancy clothes—business casual, his ass—because he was always going to spill something on them and then back to the damned dry cleaners they must go. But he liked ties.

Though, most of that might be because his sister, so earnest on his first birthday after their parents had died, had given him a tie so he’d ‘look even prettier at work’. He’d only waited tables, back then, but he’d worn that tie every single fucking day until nothing was left of it.

Now, he had a whole collection of them, courtesy of his brother and sister, and what was a man to do but like them, after so much trouble had been gone through to give them to him?

He adjusted the newest one, an Easter present, as he rode up the elevator, to day ninety-three of his new job. Having long since developed a sense of humor, his sister had purchased him a black silk tie featuring monkeys climbing and playing along lengths of rope. Office monkeys, she’d declared. Hahaha, he’d replied.

The elevator chimed, and he stepped off, swiped his card against the reader to unlock the doors to the seventh floor suite, and slipped inside.

It was always quiet at seven in the morning. He’d gotten special permission to work seven to four so he could take classes, something which the company promoted and approved of—and he would not have to pay for them, which meant his paychecks could still go to Lindsay and Denny. Lindsay would need whatever he could offer for grad school here soon, and Denny … well, he would pick the most expensive arts college in the world, wouldn’t he?

Cassidy shoved the thoughts away, determined not to worry about them for the moment. For now, Denny was working to save up his own money over the summer, and Lindsay needed nothing until the new term started. Everything was fine and covered. He could take it easy this morning.

Striding down to the break room, he put his lunch in the fridge, then started coffee brewing, flipping idly through random magazines as he waited for it to finish.

The sound of music cranked too loud through headphones made him jump, and he looked up to glare at whoever was disturbing his early morning peace—then hastily dropped his gaze back to the magazine, as he saw who it was, really really hoping his cheeks weren’t going red.

It so did not help that his Manager, on whom he did not have a crush, obviously had wicked taste in music. Though, he was going to go deaf if he kept cranking it that damned loud. Quelling an urge to do something stupid, like try to hold a conversation, Cassidy turned the page of the magazine which he really was not reading, wishing the stupid coffee would hurry up.

“Good Housekeeping?” a warm voice asked, full of amusement, and Cassidy only then realized that the music had stopped.

Cassidy jumped, jerked back, wincing as he heard a pained grunt that was the result of his elbow driving into his boss’s stomach.

It was, he realized, going to be one of those days.

“Sorry,” said Malcolm Osborne, Head Manager of Accounting for Amberton-Lord Entertainments, and the hottest thing Cassidy had seen since he’d tried—and failed hard—to date back when he was still a food service minion. Unlike Cassidy’s mop of stupid black corkscrews—which, thankfully, his hair was currently too short to reveal—Malcolm’s hair was smooth and straight and the softest of browns.

His eyes were the same soft, warm shade, and Cassidy had more than once caught himself thinking how Malcolm would look tousled and sleepy—

He coughed, and managed to mutter, “Sorry, boss.”

“My fault,” Malcolm said, smiling at him, looking faintly puzzled behind his glasses. “Didn’t mean to scare you. Just amused by your choice of magazine.”

Cassidy shrugged, and silently gave up looking at any and all magazines. God, did he have to pick up the girliest one in the room? “Not paying attention,” he muttered, then the coffee machine chimed, and he fled to it, fumbling his mug out of the cabinet.

Malcolm, curse him, followed and fumbled his own mug—and why did that require standing so close and damn it, he would be wearing the yummy cologne again.

Honestly, on mornings like this, he missed waiting tables something fierce.

“I rather like these quiet mornings,” Malcolm said. “Wish I could do it regularly like you.” He made a face. “Pitfalls of management, alas.” He smiled. Cassidy hated when he smiled. He went from handsome to pounce and why, oh, why, did Cassidy have to crush on his boss? It was hard enough being an office monkey, without struggling not to walk around, well, hard. “How are you doing, three months in, Cass?”

He hated when Malcolm called him that, too. The office girls had started it, and he’d tried to stop them, but there was no sense in telling a girl not to do something, he’d learned that raising Lindsay through her teenage years. Now everyone did it. Like they were his friends or something, even though they all ribbed him for being stuffy and straight-laced and too quiet and god, everything else.

Like they’d have really given this kind of job to the real him.

Pouring his coffee, he mumbled something about doing okay, then fled the break room and all but ran to the relative safety of his cubical. Once there, he turned on his computer and arranged his paperwork for the morning, then ignored all of it, unable to resist looking at the pamphlets and course guides for the business classes he would soon be taking. Hopefully.

After almost nine years after giving up school, giving up music, giving up … well, sometimes it had seemed like everything, though that wasn’t fair.

But, business classes. An actual degree. He’d never use it to manage his own band or start up his own label … but he’d have it, and that was something, even if he had no idea what he would do with it beyond keeping his new job. The job it was a bloody miracle he had, given he had no college education and had only learned all he knew because he’d had no fucking choice.

Ugh, better not to think about it. He was finally out of that hell hole, so it was best to erase it from his mind. He had a good job now, in a plush little cube farm for a posh party business—or whatever it was actually called—and he would do whatever necessary to keep it.

He looked over the list of courses, the ones he’d marked. Was it stupid to be so excited and happy over something so mundane? But, he really could not wait. The money had always gone to his siblings, the house, the car, to his parents’ remaining debts. Now, thanks to the new job, he could do this one stupid little thing for himself.

If only his poor old computer lasted and was up to the strain of online courses. He wasn’t so sure, not when it had been so bitchy about starting up that morning. Ah, well. He could just go to the library, if he had to, and eventually he’d have the money for a new computer. One step at a time.

Shoving the school stuff aside, he logged in and made himself get to work, immersing himself in numbers and checks and vendors. Around nine or so, the sounds of the office began to filter into his concentration, as those who started at eight settled down to really begin working.

He could hear Janice chatting a mile a minute at the reception desk with Jenny, her partner in crime. Steve’s keys clicking away at five hundred miles a second as he typed, the girls in receiving bitching about customers, the other three guys in the whole accounting department talking about some sports game—something about a fullback. That was football, right? Eh.

Then Annie turned up her radio, muting enough of the other noise that Cassidy was able to concentrate again. Try as he might, though, he was not able to resist singing along softly—very, very softly—with the radio.

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