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Wild Youth

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It’s not that she was disappointed. She wasn’t! It’s just that after eight years together, she’d expected him to pop the question eventually. As in: much earlier. Like, maybe, if she was going wild, during a super romantic dinner at that restaurant she’d been eyeing for months after buying her flowers. Well, he was dressed for the occasion. As it turned out though, Jesse had actually just wanted to celebrate her graduating from pre-med (with honours!).

 

Seriously, she wasn’t disappointed when he didn’t get up from his chair out of the blue to kneel in front of her. And by the time dessert came around, she hadn’t expected to find a ring into her cake. Well, not actually. It wasn’t Jesse’s style anyway.

 

So if she wasn’t exactly bouncing around at the end of the night, it didn’t have anything to do with disappointment. She was tired! She’d just spent months killing herself for finals and burying herself in homework while looking up auditions and practicing for shows to work in during the summer. And okay. Maybe she was a little disappointed. But not enough tell Jesse, though. He probably wouldn’t notice if she just didn’t mention it.

 

“You’re unusually quiet,” he said through her rationalizations.

 

Damn it.

 

“I’m just tired,” Casey said.

 

Jesse quirked an eyebrow. “You know how you get whenever we go out. It’s all about the ambiance and décor and how refined the servers are and I can’t shut you up.”

 

Casey rolled her eyes but blushed a little. She wasn’t that bad.

 

“Something’s bugging you,” Jesse continued, a small smile showing on his lips. “I can tell. So spill.”

 

She knew there was no way she could lie her way out of it. Not only was she the world’s worst liar ever, but Jesse had grown to learn how to read her very well and he could always tell when she was lying. But there had to be a way she could go around it?

 

“I just… wasn’t expecting you to spend so much on this dinner, I mean, we both know our budget’s kind of tight this month,” Casey tried to smile, “you didn’t have to do all this.”

 

Jesse wouldn’t have any of it.

 

“You’re worried about money?”

 

“I care about our well being!”

 

“Really?”

 

“Really!”

 

“So you’re not like… disappointed?”

 

Casey froze in her step. Thankfully, they’d arrived at a stop light so it allowed her sudden halt to seem natural.

 

“Disappointed?!” She tried to play dumb. “W-why would I be disappointed?” she sputtered, then huffed, trying to sound like that was the most ridiculous idea she had ever heard.

 

Jesse chuckled.

 

“Listen,” he said softly. “I know you’re waiting for me to propose.” Casey’s eyes grew wide. “And you know I’m thinking about it. I just think there’s a lot going on right now, and I’m not sure I’m totally ready yet.”

 

She didn’t think there was anything she could say to this. Had she been that obvious? It’s not like they had talked about it! She’d never even said any word related in any way to marriage or wedding or proposition around him! After she was quiet for a few seconds, Jesse continued.

 

“You understand, right?”

 

“O-of course!” she managed through her surprise. She tried to shake her head to clear her head. “I would never pressure you into anything you didn’t want to do!”

 

Jesse grinned. “Yeah, you would.”

 

Casey pouted.

 

“It’s okay!” Jesse put his hands up in a reassuring gesture as the light turned green. He started across the street and put his hands back in his pockets. “You know I like that about you. You know what you want and you’re not afraid of letting me know. That’s how a good relationship works.”

 

She couldn’t help but sigh softly. She’d worked hard on taming that part of her personality. She knew that she could be a bit much sometimes and she didn’t want to push Jesse away by being… well, pushy. But he always let her know when she was overstepping and it made her feel more confident when he told her that it was okay. Because she knew he truly meant it. She smiled softly. “So what gave me away? I haven’t actually said anything about this.”

 

“You don’t have to outright say it to give me hints that you want something,” Jesse reached out and wrapped an arm around her shoulder to pull her close. “It’s like, whenever we go to the grocery store, you always end up picking up the Bride Today magazines while we wait in line, or you slow down just a little when we walk in front of a jewellery shop.”

 

Casey felt her blush creep back on her face. She wasn’t really embarrassed that she hadn’t noticed doing these things. She was more touched that he had. It never ceased to amaze her how attentive and thoughtful Jesse was. He was usually the quiet type. But she‘d figured out that it only meant that he took more care in observing and analyzing his surroundings. He was incredibly aware, so why she didn’t think he would notice, she didn’t know. Still, the attention melted her insides. She let her head fall on his shoulder.

 

“Plus, like I said, I’m thinking about it,” Jesse said. “Just be patient with me?”

 

Casey looked up at him from her resting spot and smiled. “Take as long as you need.”

 

He returned her smile and dipped his head to kiss her softly. “Thanks. So does that mean I didn’t completely ruin your night by not living up to expectations?” She scowled, letting him know she was onto his teasing. He laughed.

 

“I’m sorry I didn’t say anything. Tonight was lovely. Thank you.”

 

“You’re welcome.”

 

As they neared their apartment building, Casey’s phone beeped. She got a text. She ignored it for the time being and pulled out her keys. It beeped again. And again.

 

Jesse held the door open for her. “Is that Derek again?” he said incredulously, laughing. “Love the dude, but he texts like a fifteen year old girl.”

 

“I don’t know,” Casey said, looking down at her purse. She frowned. “He doesn’t text me that much!”

 

Another beep.

 

Jesse laughed again. “Yeah, right.”

 

She unlocked the door to their apartment, still frowning. If Derek was texting her so many times in a row, it must be important. Or he found some memes about her last name again. She relaxed, just now realizing that she’d gotten tense. Yeah, that sounded more like Derek.

 

As she hung her coat, her phone beeped once more.

 

“You should probably check it. Could be important,” Jesse said softly, squeezing her shoulder as he headed towards the living room. She followed him as she pulled out her phone. It was Lizzie.

 

[ YOU WILL NOT BELIEVE WHAT MARTI DID THIS TIME ]

 

[ GEORGE IS PISSED ]

 

[ SHE’S MOVING TO CALIFORNIA ]

[ SHE SIGNED UP FOR A COVEN CASEY WE NEED TO DO SOMETHING ]

 

[ The intervention is next week-end. ]

 

What?!

 

Casey looked up at Jesse, eyes wide, uncomprehending. “It’s Lizzie. I should call her.”

 

Jesse nodded and gently touched her arm as she passed by, heading towards their bedroom to call Lizzie. She felt like this could be a long conversation. Lizzie picked up right away.

 

“I CANNOT BELIEVE HER!” Lizzie’s voice boomed in her ear. Casey winced slightly.

 

“Lizzie, what is going on?”

 

Lizzie sighed and seemed to calm down as her voice came back at a more normal volume. “Marti decided that the best way to choose a University was at random,” she started, irony dripping as she emphasized every word in an aggravating manner. “So her first – and only – choice of university turns out to be a catholic school in California, to actually study catholic religion and THE WAYS OF GOD!!” Lizzie yelled the last words.

 

Casey pulled the phone away from her ear before answering. “You said something about a coven?”

 

“It might as well be!”

 

Well, this wasn’t ideal, but…

 

“If that’s what she wants to do, Liz…” Casey tried weakly.

 

“Casey!” Lizzie whined. “You can’t tell me you approve of Marti ruining all her potential by going to school to study religion! She’s not even catholic! She’s atheist!”

 

It did sound odd. Especially since Marti had never cared about religion at all. Without mentioning that the last time she had seen her, last month for Casey’s birthday, Marti had told her how excited she was about hearing back from her university. She’d assumed Marti had applied to an art school. Why choose to study something she had no interest in when she had so much talent? Then again, choosing a university at random did sound like something only Marti would do.

 

Unawares, Lizzie just kept going. “What about her painting?! Have you seen what she’s been painting lately?! She’s gotten so good! Why would she just do this! It’s not that she’s moving to California! It’s that she couldn’t care less about religion! This is ridiculous! Even Derek is pissed!”

 

That made Casey pause.

 

“Derek is pissed at Marti?” she asked.

 

“Did you hear a word I just said?!” Casey had no doubt that Lizzie was flailing her arms and that her angry face was the same purple as her hair.

 

It was true that Casey didn’t understand Marti’s choice. But the girl often did things that Casey didn’t understand, so she’d gotten used to it. Plus, ever since she herself had made a rash and crazy decision after high school, one that she could never regret, she couldn’t get herself to be angry when her sister was doing the same thing she did… well, not exactly the same thing, since dancing had been Casey’s passion practically since she was born, but… maybe Marti had reasons for choosing that path? And since she wasn’t angry, she couldn’t imagine that Derek, of all people, would be angry at Marti for her life choice.

 

“Yes, I did, Lizzie,” Casey sighed softly. “And I know that it’s odd, but maybe Marti has her reasons. She never said anything at all when she was applying to university?”

 

Casey could practically hear Lizzie’s frown when she answered. “Of course she didn’t say anything or I would understand. I can’t believe you’re not more upset than this! What happened to your ‘make good and rational decisions’ speech?”

 

Okay, yes, she had advised her sisters to think about their choices carefully, but she hadn’t exactly been preaching. That was old Casey. New Casey respected people’s choices even if they didn’t make sense to her. She would rather they follow their hearts.

 

“I didn’t mean that she shouldn’t do what she feels is good for her.”

 

“How is joining a coven good for her!”

 

“You said it wasn’t a coven!” Casey pointed out.

 

“I know, I said-“ Lizzie cut off and Casey heard her muffled sounds on the other end of the line as if she had covered her phone so that Casey couldn’t hear. She barely heard her own name and some cursing before another voice came back into the phone.

 

“Hi, Casey!” chirped Marti, as if nothing was amiss. “They’re all over reacting,” she dismissed.

 

Casey walked to the bed and sat down. She couldn’t help but smile. “Are you sure? Since when are you into religion?”

 

Marti didn’t miss a beat. “It just came to me. Like a revelation.”

 

“A revelation?”

 

“I work in mysterious ways.”

 

“Isn’t that supposed to be God?”

 

“I am not God, Casey, but I am touched that you would think so.”

 

“Marti, give me back my phone,” she heard Lizzie say in the background.

 

“Anyways, it will all be clear to you one day,” Marti said sagely, as if repeating some wise saying. “Are you coming to my intervention next week-end? Derek will be there.”

 

Casey ignored the weird jolt of electricity that shot through her and focused on the other thing that had her confused.

 

“You know about the fam’s intervention?” Casey wondered.

 

“I know about everything.” That made Casey gulp unexplainably.

 

“And you’re not upset?”

 

“Casey, I’m used to all of you guys overreacting. And you really think that anyone could make me change my mind once it’s made up?”

 

“Right,” Casey smiled, then remembered her plans for next week-end. “But oh! I can’t be there, we have rehearsals on Saturday!”

 

“Caseyyyyyy” Marti whined.

 

“Marti, seriously, give me my phone!” Lizzie’s voice sounded louder this time. She heard Marti struggle, probably holding on the phone for dear life.

 

“I’ll give you a pass this time, but you better be there for my birthday in two months!”

 

“Of course I’ll be there!”

 

“Golden!” Marti rushed in between her struggling, “I’ll text you! Bye!”

 

“God, that brat,” Lizzie sighed, having obviously gotten her phone back.

 

“She’ll be okay, Lizzie.”

 

“So you’re not coming this week-end?”

 

“I wish I could, Liz, but it’s one of our final rehearsals before we start performing in front of people and it’s really important.”

 

“It’s okay.” Lizzie’s voice seemed subdued. “You know, she didn’t even talk about it with Dimi.”

 

“Dimi doesn’t know?” Casey frowned. That seemed unlikely. Marti and Dimi shared everything, down to the last tiny piece of cake. And clothes.

 

“Well, now he does,” Lizzie sighed again.

 

Casey had kept herself from asking, but she couldn’t keep it in anymore. “So what does Derek say about all of this?”

 

“Actually Casey, I gotta go. Edwin is waiting for me to go to the movies and he’ll kill me if we’re late and get shitty places again. Just call Der and ask him, anyways.”

 

“Okay, have fun. Keep me posted on the intervention?”

 

“Sure thing! Love you!”

 

Casey hung up and stared at her phone, feeling sad for some reason. She wished she could be there with her family, in the middle of the mess, and make sense of everything. Everyone was really upset, and she could see why, but Marti seemed confident in her decision. After all, they had been upset when Casey ditched university to go dancing in New York too, and that had turned out okay. But… something about the way Marti just deflected her questions seemed off, if not outright suspicious. Marti was the best liar in the family, probably even better than Derek, so it was usually hard to call her bluff. Yet, the way she answered seemed practiced, like she had been prepared to cover up.

 

Casey shook her head. There was no point in being suspicious. It was just a choice in university. A weird one, sure, but who was she to judge?

 

She texted Derek anyway, just to know what he was thinking. The thought of calling made her feel uneasy for some reason. Sure, as Jesse had pointed out, they texted a lot, but she didn’t call him. Actually, now that she thought of it, she hadn’t heard his voice in months. He hadn’t made it to her birthday party in April so that would make it… last year. She hadn’t seen Derek since Christmas. Casey frowned at the thought. She hadn’t noticed. She’d been so busy with school and comfortable in texting him that she didn’t realize it had been six months since they’d interacted directly. Why would she? Why did that make her feel sad?

 

She shook her head and looked at her text.

 

[ I just heard about Marti. How are you taking it? ]

 

She sent the text before getting up and heading out of the bedroom. She found Jesse in the kitchen, washing yesterday’s dishes.

 

“So?” he asked simply.

 

“They’re freaking out because Marti is joining a coven in California.”

 

“What?!” Jesse dropped the sponge and turned to face her, eyes incredulous.

 

Casey laughed. “She just decided to study Catholicism at university.”

 

Jesse’s eyebrows shot up to his hairline. “Your sister is weird.”

 

“Don’t I know it,” Casey said. She walked up to him and wrapped her arms around his waist, resting her head on his chest. His arms came around her and held her tight. She sighed, enjoying the comfort.

 

“And you’re okay with this?” he asked tentatively.

 

“Why does everyone think I should be freaking out, right now? Do I really freak out for every little thing?”

 

Jesse chuckled, but didn’t antagonize her. “Well, this isn’t a little thing.”

 

“I know, but what can I do? It’s not like she’s even rebelling, it’s a religious school. What’s the worst thing that can happen to her? She’ll start believing in God? She’ll become a better person and pray every night?” She shrugged.

 

“They could make her dye her hair back,” Jesse said, taking on a horrified tone. Casey laughed. They’d tried for years to convince Marti to stop dying her hair a different color every month. At least Lizzie had stuck with purple.

 

“I don’t think even the higher powers could make Marti do that.”

 

Jesse laughed, then kissed her temple. “I know it’s not the worst thing she could do. It’s just out of character, no? wasn’t she supposed to become the next Michelangelo?”

 

“You know Michelangelo painted chapels ceilings, right?” Casey said, looking up at him, then her eyes shot wide. “Do you think Marti wants to paint chapels ceilings?”

 

Jesse shrugged. “Maybe just the local church. I’ve been to your brother’s baptism, and I have to say, the place needs a paint job.”

 

She slapped his shoulder. “Stop teasing, I’m trying to make sense out of all this. I don’t get it. She doesn’t have to spend three years at university studying a religion just to paint something in a church!” she flailed her arms, disengaging from Jesse and pacing around the kitchen.

 

“Maybe she wants it to be accurate,” he offered. She turned to scowl at him. Her phone beeped. She sighed and picked it up. Derek had answered her text.

 

[ I’m fine. Marti isn’t. Did she fall on her head while I was away? I thought I was the one with the dangerous hobby. ]

 

Casey laughed softly. She looked up at Jesse. “Somehow I don’t think that’s the case.”

 

She wandered into the living room and crashed into the couch.

 

[ You’ve always had something loose, we just hoped that getting hit on the head with a stick would put it back in place. ]

 

[ Nice. Like you’re one to talk, Spacey. ]

 

[ It doesn’t count, you’re the only one calling me that. ]

 

Casey stopped halfway into a smile and frowned. She was getting carried away with the teasing again.

 

[ But I was talking about Marti. ]

 

[ So was I, but you started making it about me. As most things are. ]

 

She rolled her eyes. Time to put the conversation back on track.

 

[ You don’t think she’s making a good decision? ]

 

[ She’s an atheist. ]

 

She could imagine the deadpan look on his face.

 

[ Maybe she wants to paint chapels ceilings? ]

 

[ Huh? ]

 

[ Nothing. Just. Maybe she has a reason? Maybe she wants to turn a new leaf? ]

 

[ I thought we were talking about Marti. ]

 

[ I am. ]

 

[ So… you’re not freaking out? ]

 

[ Why does everybody think I should be freaking out??!?!? ]

 

[ Cuz it’s what you do best. :) ]

 

[ Not anymore. ]

 

[ You will always freak out. And when you don’t, it’s probably a sign of the apocalypse. So I’m getting worried right now. ]

 

[ Derek. It’s not the apocalypse. I just think we should hear her out. ]

 

[ Oh, I did hear her out. She picked a school at random and said it was like a revelation. Can you believe her? ]

 

[ She said the same thing to me. ]

 

[ That little brat. ]

 

[ I don’t buy it. She’s either hiding or planning something. ]

 

[ What makes you think that? ]

 

[ She’s my sister. ]

 

Oh. Right.

 

If someone knew about intricate plans and deception, it would have to be Derek. And as Marti was his own flesh and blood, she was just as skilled at it as he was.

 

Casey often had to remind herself of that, because she was so caught up in thinking of Marti as her sister, that she kind of forgot she was Derek’s too. Well, she didn’t actually forget, but she definitely overlooked the fact as much as she could. They already shared one half-brother, she didn’t need more connecting her to Derek. As much as she considered Marti and Edwin as family, Derek just… didn’t quite fit in that category, no matter her claims to the contrary. Of course, she still cared about him! They had learned to get along over the years. Okay they weren’t getting along, but they could be civil with each other... Or at least they weren’t at each other’s throats all the time, so that was something, right? She might not think of him as her brother, but… they were some kind of… friends?

 

Her phone beeped and she turned her attention back to her texts.

 

[ I know when she’s up to something. ]

 

[ So? What is it? ]

 

[ I don’t know but we’ll figure it out Saturday. ]

 

[ I wish I could be there. ]

 

[ You’re not coming? ]

 

Was he… disappointed? No, she shook herself, he’s probably relieved. The tone of his text was neutral so she couldn’t tell, he was probably just asking. But maybe… maybe he’d realized he hadn’t seen her in six months too?

 

[ I can’t. Rehearsals. ]

 

[ Oh right, your show. The premiere is in June, right?]

 

[ Yeah. ]

 

She looked up to see Jesse leaning over the couch to read her texts, she fought the urge to hide her phone from view. They did this to each other all the time, he didn’t mean anything by it. She knew he got along with Derek and he trusted her, so she didn’t have anything to feel guilty about.

 

“Derek thinks Marti is up to something,” she told him, covering her uneasiness.

 

“Well, she is a Venturi,” Jesse chuckled. “Tell Derek I said hi,” he said, pushing himself from the couch.

 

She quirked an eyebrow at him. “Don’t you text him all the time?”

 

“It’s been a while,” he shrugged. She watched him walk to the bathroom and close the door behind him before returning to her phone.

 

[ Jesse says hi. ]

 

[ Hi back. I gotta go. Talk to you later? ]

 

Casey smiled.

 

[ Later. ]

 

She looked at the time. 9:25 pm. She tucked her phone in her pocket and fell on her side with a tired sigh; She barely made it past nine these days. She wiggled on the couch so that she was lying on her back and her head was resting on the cushion, closing her eyes. She tuned in on the sounds of Jesse’s shower, listening to the droplets fall and crash over skin, sometimes hearing the creak of his feet sliding on wet porcelain. She let all the tension of the day and the last few months drain from her. Aside from a little family drama, everything was going great.

 

She’d finally finished university and was going to start med school in the fall. After pushing herself for five years, Casey was glad that was over and she was finally back on track. As exhausting as it was, she felt medicine was her calling. And just thinking of what she could accomplish, lives that she could save, it was a rush that even dancing couldn’t match. She couldn’t deny that she was very ambitious, and she wanted nothing more than to succeed in the best, most satisfyingly demanding field she could handle. She took pride and joy in learning and pushing herself farther academically. Being a neurologist had been her dream job since she was fifteen (and watched Grey’s Anatomy). Even though she’d been a little sidetracked after high school, she had always wanted to go back to her initial plan. After all, she knew she could only have a career in dancing for so long. Plus, even though she loved dancing, she’d realized that wasn’t really what she wanted to do her whole life.

 

She had enjoyed being in a few shows over the years. Her second year in New York, she and Jesse had been noticed and signed a contract with a company that wanted them as their power couple. It was an incredible experience, being the front and center of a successful show, it was a step short from fame. It was exhilarating. But when Jesse had gotten hurt and couldn’t dance on his leg anymore, it took them both a while to get over it.

 

Dancing without him just didn’t give her the same thrill. So she’d started evening classes at university for the first year, still doing shows until she had enough money on the side to cover studying full time. Jesse had picked up a job at the pub down the street. Surprisingly, he seemed to really enjoy it. He was now the oldest employee and he’d been made manager, so it suited him well. He always said that all his experience in customer service had to serve him somehow. He was better. And after their discussion tonight, Casey couldn’t help but think that they were definitely in a good place.

 

As for the Marti situation, that would be handled in due time.

 


 

Holding the brown bag in between her teeth, Casey tried balancing the coffee tray in her hand precariously while reaching for her phone in her pocket. She looked at the screen to find that she had just received a text from Derek. She groaned and headed for a table. It wasn’t even a phone call, why hadn’t she just waited to put her things down to answer it? She regretted changing her ringtone so bad.

 

She sat down and put her things on the table securely. She set her phone on vibrate before swiping it open to read the message.

 

[ She’s not budging. -_- ]

 

Right, Marti’s intervention. That was today. She’d almost forgotten. Today had been hectic. Their show was premiering in two weeks, and they still had a lot of touch ups to make to the costumes and the male lead playing with Casey kept forgetting his lines. Rehearsal was running late today, as they usually finished before dinner, so Casey had been sent on a coffee run. At this point, they wouldn’t be done until late at night.

 

She was surprised to hear back from Derek before Lizzie. But Casey supposed Lizzie was still seething from their failed attempt to text her just yet.

 

[ Is it weird that it makes me feel better? ]

 

She couldn’t help it. If Marti was dead set on her decision, it had to mean that she was making a good one. Even if it turned out that she didn’t like it, she could always sign up for something else next year, but she would have tried and learned from the experience. Marti was entitled to make her own mistakes, after all.

 

[ I guess if she’s so sure…]

 

Casey stared at her phone. She hadn’t expected Derek to get it. But then again, she knew he also wanted nothing more than Marti to be happy.

 

[ But I still think it reeks of cover up. ]

 

She snorted.

 

[ You would know something about that. ]

 

[ Are we going there again? I thought we had already established that I am evil. ]

 

Casey smirked.

 

[ It bears repeating. ]

 

She was so focused on her phone that she barely noticed when someone crashed into her chair, laughing. The person apologized quickly, but Casey barely gave a nod to acknowledge them.

 

[ And here I thought I could change. ]

 

She vaguely thought she heard someone call her name, but this was New York, there were a lot of people named Casey, so she brushed it off.

 

[ You never change, Der. You will probably always be evil. And an emotional 12 year old. ]

 

[ I don’t even get a chance at redemption? ]

 

[ Pfft. What are you? A batman villain? ]

 

Someone put a hand on her upper arm. “Casey?!”

 

Wait.

 

She recognized that voice. She hadn’t heard it in nine years, but she would recognize it anywhere. She looked up to find a gorgeous blonde grinning widely down at her. “Sally?!” she said, eyes widening.

 

“Oh my God!” Sally exclaimed, outstretching her arms, obviously waiting for Casey to hug her. Casey readily obliged.

 

“What are you doing here?!” Casey said excitedly as she squeezed Sally tightly. God, she couldn’t believe she would run into her so randomly, in New York City, of all places. “Last I heard from you, you were graduating and taking a job in Vancouver!”

 

Sally gave her one last squeeze before putting her hands on Casey’s shoulders and pushing her at a distance so she could look at her face. “Well, I got a job offer I couldn’t refuse. I just moved to New York last week. What about you?”

 

“I’ve been living here for the last… eight years?” Casey laughed. “I can’t believe I ran into you on your first week here.” She felt her phone vibrate in her hand.

 

“Me neither!” Sally said, then turned to the blonde man next to her. “Casey, this is my brother, David. He’s been helping me unpack and I was buying him coffee before he leaves me tonight.” She pouted at him.

 

David was tall. He had broad shoulders and his whole body seemed well muscled. Just by looking at him, one could tell that he was either an athlete, or he worked out a lot. Casey seemed to remember Sally mentioning once that one of her brothers was into rock climbing? Or maybe all of them were? That memory was so far away.

 

Although he was kind of physically imposing, he gave off a friendly vibe. He smiled widely and offered his hand out. “You’re Derek’s sister, right?” David said.

 

“Step-sister,” Casey said automatically as she shook his hand. She noticed that he had a very nice smile, his eyes were kind and his features were smooth, if a little roughed up by the facial hair. He was as beautiful as Sally was. It must run in the family, Casey thought. She smiled. “You know Derek?” she asked, a little stupidly.

 

“Of course,” David laughed. “He was the love of her life,” he pointed his thumb towards Sally, “I’ll never forget all those nights of crying before she left for Vancouver.” Casey ignored the way her stomach twisted on itself.

 

Sally gasped and slapped her brother on the shoulder. “Stop embarrassing me, David!” She looked at him with wide eyes and inclined her head towards Casey, trying to communicate something that Casey couldn’t quite understand. David just snickered.

 

As Sally turned back to Casey, she seemed to notice that her hand was still on Casey’s shoulder, so she let it drop. Casey hadn’t noticed it was still there. “Sorry about that, he likes to bring up old shit.”

 

“Don’t worry, I know how much Derek meant to you back then,” Casey offered.

 

“Still,” Sally brushed her bangs off her forehead, “I’m over it.” She gave her brother a meaningful look.

 

Casey took that moment to look at her phone and read Derek’s last text.

 

[ Well, I’ve got my evil laugh down now. I’ve been practicing. ]

 

She chuckled and looked up at Sally. She didn’t feel like talking about him right now. Especially since, if she was reading things correctly, Derek seemed like a sore subject between Sally and David.

 

“Actually, I’ve got to go. I’m working at a theatre and I’m bringing coffee.” She pointed at the coffee cups on the table. “You don’t want to get between actors and their caffeine, believe me.”

 

Sally laughed, “Oh I wouldn’t dare. Well, it was nice to see you. Maybe we could get together sometime and catch up?” she smiled hopefully. As if Casey could deny Sally anything when she smiled like that.

 

“Of course!” She meant it. She had been so fond of Sally in high school. Seeing her now, she felt like she’d missed her all this time without realizing it. “I want to hear everything.” She picked up her stuff and took a couple of steps towards the door before turning around. “Wait, do you want my number?” she said, as an afterthought.

 

After they exchanged numbers, Sally hugged her one last time, almost making Casey spill coffee on herself, and then Casey headed out of the coffee shop, shouting one last “Nice to meet you, David!” over her shoulder.

 

“Likewise,” he waved. Casey smiled, and let the door close behind her. She walked quickly, she was getting late. She was sure to hear a few complaints about cold coffee from the crew, but she didn’t really care. She was still overwhelmed by her meeting with Sally. What were the chances?

 

When she got to the theatre, she was jumped by a bunch of caffeine deprived actors. As they all got back to work, Casey pushed aside all other thoughts, focusing on her lines to ensure that they wouldn’t have to stretch rehearsal later than necessary. So it was only later at night, as she settled in an empty bed, waiting on Jesse, that she thought to check her phone.

 

Other than Derek’s unanswered text, she had three new messages.

 

The one from Jesse read: “One of my guys didn’t show up. I’ll have to cover, so don’t wait up. He is so fired.”

 

Casey sighed. Oh well, so much for waiting on him tonight. Next, she read Lizzie’s text.

 

[ So we couldn’t convince Marti to change her mind. I’m a little disappointed that she won’t see reason. But I guess I just have to respect her choice now. ]

 

She smiled softly and answered.

 

[ I know it’s difficult but we all have to. Don’t worry, she’ll be fine. It’s probably just a phase. ]

 

Lizzie didn’t answer. She was probably sleeping at this hour.

 

Casey moved on to her next message. She had a voicemail from Sally, asking about a convenient time to meet up. Casey figured it was too late to call back, so she wrote her a text with her schedule for next week. Sally didn’t answer either.

 

So she went back to her thread with Derek, biting her lip as she read his last message. She didn’t really know what to say next, but she didn’t want the conversation to end. She instantly felt ridiculous for it, so she put her phone down and turned on her side, intent on sleeping.

 

Sleep wouldn’t come.

 

She picked up her phone again, considered her text for a minute, then hit send.

 

[ I saw Sally today. ]

 

He didn’t reply instantly. She was just about to put her phone down again when it vibrated in her hand.

 

[ Yeah, she told me. ]

 

Casey frowned. She wasn’t aware that they were still talking.

 

[ Oh. ]

 

[ Just because we broke up doesn’t mean we don’t keep in touch. ]

 

She hadn’t said anything! How did he still get in her head when he was hours away?!

 

[ I know that. ]

 

She answered a little defensively, but she figured it probably didn’t show in a text. If he noticed, he didn’t mention it. Just moved on.

 

[ She said she was happy to have a friend in NYC. She doesn’t know anyone there. ]

 

Casey felt her heart tightening a little at the thought of Sally being alone in a new city. She remembered how grateful she had been for Jesse when she’d moved, because it was easy to get lost and overwhelmed in such a big city. She hadn’t even thought of it. Casey instantly decided to make sure Sally knew she was there for her and that she was not alone.

 

[ She’ll always have me! ]

 

[ Good to know. So I don’t have to worry about you two. ]

 

[ Why would you worry about me? ]

 

[ You’re alone too. ]

 

Casey stared. He was worried about her. She never would have expected that from Derek. She didn’t know how to react to getting such an honest answer from him, no matter how unfounded his worries were, since she was not alone.

 

[ I have Jesse. ]

 

[ It’s not the same. ]

 

[ He’s really supportive. ]

 

[ I didn’t say he wasn’t. ]

 

Then what did he mean? Did he think Jesse was not enough for her? She didn’t get an answer though. Before she could ask, he’d changed the subject.

 

[ I think the fam is coming around to Marti’s decision. ]

 

She decided to go along, like the coward that she was.

 

[ And let me guess, you aren’t? ]

 

[ It just doesn’t make sense. ]

 

[ You have to let it go. ]

 

[ I can’t hold it back anymore. ]

 

[ Did you just? ]

 

[ What? Simon had a phase. ]

 

Casey laughed. She relaxed against the tension that had been building over another almost argument with Derek. She could argue with him some other time. This was nice.

 

[ Sure, blame it on Simon. ]

 

[ It’s a really good movie, okay! ]

 

She laughed again. Even though he tried to cover it with sarcasm, Derek was just another stupid dork.

 

[ Dork. ]

 

[ Can supervillains be dorks? ]

 

[ I wouldn’t have thought so, but there you are. ]

 

[ I’m pretty sure my level of evil should cancel that shit out. ]

 

[ If you’re not a dork, then what are you doing on a Saturday night texting with your sister? ]

 

She knew it didn’t really make sense, but she couldn’t resist setting the trap, hoping he would walk right in it.

 

[ I’m not texting Marti right now. ]

 

Close enough.

 

[ I’m giving her the silent treatment. ]

 

[ Nerd. ]

 

[ What’s with all the name calling? ]

 

[ They’re terms of endearment. ]

 

She’d sent the text before she could realize what she was saying.

 

[ Really? ]

 

[ I meant it ironically! ]

 

There really was no way she could save face against something like this.

 

[ Am I not your DEAR brother? ]

 

[ Did you pass your phone to Simon now? ]

 

He didn’t reply right away, and she felt the emptiness of his next text like a heavy, uncomfortable silence, the knowledge that she’d consciously walked into the trap he’d set in retaliation for hers weighing heavy on her heart.

 

[ Pretty sure Simon is off to bed at this hour. ]

 

[ And speaking of that, shouldn’t you be too? ]

 

For some unspeakable reason, Casey felt bold tonight. She wanted to see how far she could push it.

 

[ I already am. ]

 

She looked at the tiny bubbles indicating that he was typing, but then he stopped, and the bubbles disappeared. He wrote something and erased it again. She felt a tiny pang of victory in her gut. Even with a text, she’d rendered him speechless. Anticipation was rising within her as she waited for his next text.

 

[ I guess I’ll let you sleep now, then. ]

 

Noooooo. She’d pushed too far. She knew it. Her anticipation turned into guilt. Why had she thought this was a good idea, again? She’d probably just succeeded in making it awkward now. As opposed to… what? What was she trying to accomplish? She really shouldn’t have been flir- talking! with Derek like this.

 

She let her phone fall on the blanket while she rubbed her face with both hands before picking it up again.

 

[ Yeah, I’m kind of beat. Goodnight, Derek. ]

 

She knew, deep down, that he had probably expected her to say that she wasn’t tired. And she really didn’t want to stop, but she must have been tired, surely, because there was no way that she had done what she had done while she was in her right mind.

 

Derek didn’t answer. He must have felt it too.

 

Casey put her phone on her nightstand for good, and settled in bed, closing her eyes and feeling her heart pounding in her ears. She allowed herself to freak out over her behaviour for a minute. Then, she took a deep breath, and shoved this whole conversation to the back of her mind, where all her other embarrassing slip ups lied. She was not going to think of it again.

Chapter Text

Sunday evening, Casey invited Sally to meet up at Blackstone’s for a drink. She thought she could use the occasion to introduce Sally to Jesse while he worked and show her a little bit of their every day life. She really wanted Sally to feel like she belonged.

 

“Relax, she said she would be there, didn’t she?”

 

Casey looked up at Jesse across the bar. “I’m not worried that she won’t show up. Sally wouldn’t stand me up like that!”

 

“Why are you nervous, then?” Jesse asked.

 

“I’m not!”

 

He gave a pointed look at her hands where she’d been tapping her fingers in agitation. She forced herself to relax as she leaned against the bar.

 

“I just hope she’ll like it here and feel at home like I do,” she sighed.

 

Jesse gave her a knowing smile. “You know she likes you. Even if she hates me, or my bar, she’ll still want to hang out with you,” he said softly. He threw the towel he was holding on his shoulder and put down an empty glass in front of her. Sometimes he looked like a complete cliché. “How about a drink to calm your nerves, miss?”

 

Casey laughed. “Okay. The usual, please, sir.”

 

He mixed her rum and coke expertly, then gave it to her with a wink. She rolled her eyes at him and took a sip. She felt the warmth of the alcohol descend into her body soothingly and gave Jesse a grateful smile.

 

“I guess it’s normal for you to be nervous about making a new friend,” Jesse said, rubbing the back of his neck. “Even if you’ve known each other before. You’re not used to it anymore.”

 

Casey looked up from her drink with a frown. “What do you mean?”

 

“Just… You haven’t had a lot of friends since you moved to New York.”

 

“I have friends!”

 

“I know! I’m not…” he sighed. “Forget it.”

 

Her frown deepened. This conversation sounded familiar somehow. It sounded a lot like another conversation that she never had.

 

“You think I’m scared of making friends?”

 

“No, that’s not it,” Jesse smiled. He got closer and leaned on the other side of the bar so he could take her hand in his. “Look, I know you’re doing well on your own. You still talk to your old friends and you’ve been too busy to think about meeting new people. And I know you love me, but I can’t be everything for you all the time. So I just think it’s good that Sally showed up. It could be nice for you to have someone else to hang out with. Especially when I’m working late in the evenings. You could go and do girl stuff with Sally.”

 

She tilted her head. Was that what Derek had meant when he said that she was alone? That she didn’t have friends? It was never a problem before… With Jesse there for emotional support, and Emily and her family just a phone call away, she’d never needed more. Especially with her busy schedule with school and theatre. Most of her free time was spent sleeping or doing chores at home. But, she guessed that it could be nice to have Sally around and have someone to go out for lunch with; Jesse usually slept in late in the afternoon to make up for his late nights.

 

If she was honest with herself, it did make her a little nervous to think of it that way. Because then, what if she had all those expectations, and Sally didn’t want to hang out with her, or didn’t have the time, and Casey would still be left alone?

 

She felt Jesse squeeze her hand. Her thoughts must have echoed on her face. “It’ll be okay. She loves you,” he said, reassuringly.

 

She smiled at him. “Thank you.”

 

“She should be here any minute now,” he said, looking up at the clock on the wall behind him.

 

Casey looked at the time on her phone for good measure. Two minutes until six. She took a bigger sip of her drink to drown out the nervous butterflies in her stomach. She looked over her shoulder to survey the door. No tall blonde in sight. She looked back in front of her to find Jesse had his back to her, he was texting. She tried to look around him but his phone was just out of sight.

 

A few seconds later, her phone chimed. It was Derek.

 

[ It’s going to be fine! Just breathe, Space Case! ]

 

Casey gaped at the text, then looked up at Jesse in shock.

 

“Have you and Derek been texting about this?!” she almost shrieked.

 

Jesse rubbed the back of his neck, smiling sheepishly. “He mentioned it-”

 

“When?!” Casey interrupted

 

“This morning…”

 

“I thought you said you guys didn’t text anymore,” she said almost accusingly.

 

“We caught up!”

 

“Ugh! That infuriating little-“

 

“Can I take a wild guess here and say this is about a certain step-brother that we both know?”

 

Casey jumped at Sally’s voice behind her. She turned around and gave a dejected sigh. “The one and only.”

 

“What did he do this time?” Sally asked.

 

“Oh, nothing, just meddling in my personal stuff and ruining my life. The usual.”

 

Jesse chuckled at her dramatics and extended his arm over the bar towards Sally. “Hello. I’m Jesse. The boyfriend.”

 

Sally grinned and shook his hand. “Hi, Jesse. I’m Sally.”

 

“I know, I heard a little bit about you,” he said, smirking at Casey. She buried her face in her hands. Why were these boys bent on making her life so difficult?

 

“Oh boy, do I need to call my lawyer?” Sally joked.

 

“I don’t think so,” Jesse laughed. “How about you girls go find a booth and I’ll bring the menu over. Sally, do you want a drink? On the house.”

 

“Ooh, I’ll have a gin and tonic, please!” Sally said, quirking up. Casey wrinkled her nose at the mention of the drink. She could never get used to the bitter taste of club soda. When Sally turned towards her expectantly, Casey smiled and got up from her stool. Sally grabbed her wrist and lead her towards the back of the pub. “I’m so happy to see you! You have no idea how anxious I was about being by myself in the big city!”

 

“I get it, it was the same thing for me when I first moved here,” Casey said.

 

Sally sat down and looked up at Casey as she sat down in front of her. “You know, it didn’t click yesterday, but Derek did mention that you’d moved to NYC, a few years ago. I guess I just wasn’t expecting to meet you here after all this time.”

 

“Didn’t you tell him that you were moving here?” Casey asked, curious.

 

Sally looked sheepish and shrugged, “It was kind of a last minute decision. I told my brothers, and that’s about it.”

 

“You said something about a job, right?”

 

“Yes. I met a guy back in Vancouver during an art exposition I was hosting and he gave me his card, said that he liked my eye and that he would like to offer me a job. Turns out he’s got a gallery here that’s gaining in popularity and he’s ready to pay me big time to organize his next shows,” Sally shrugged. “It’s more about layout and creating a mood than getting visibility for my art, but it’s a great opportunity.”

 

“Sally, that is great! What’s it called?”

 

“Um, James Zweller’s Gallery?”

 

“I know the place!” Casey exclaimed. “It’s a couple of blocks from the theatre I work at. I’ve been a couple of times before the tickets became out of price. What are the chances?!”

 

“Ladies,” Jesse interrupted, bearing menus and Sally’s drink.

 

“Oh, thank you!” Sally accepted the drink with a bright smile. Her eyes sparkled as she looked back at Casey and Casey was struck by how beautiful Sally was. She’d always known, but she never really stopped to think about it. The way her face lit up, with her contagious smile, looking at her felt like a breath of fresh air.

 

Casey caught herself staring and looked down at her menu. Jesse left to attend other customers and she felt Sally’s gaze back on her. She frowned down at the menu she knew by heart, embarrassed by how hard she’d been staring.

 

“You know, I’m not really surprised,” Sally said finally.

 

“You’re not?” Casey looked up.

 

“I mean, you’ve always been interested in art and culture, you must have been to a lot of places since you moved here.”

 

“Oh, yeah!” Casey didn’t know why she was relieved. Because if Sally hadn’t been talking about art, what could she have been talking about? “I love discovering new galleries! There’s only so many times you want to go to the Met, even when they change their expositions every few months.”

 

“You’ll have to show me some of your favourites!”

 

“Yeah, of course! You know, personally, I think the most simple ones are more interesting than the ones that are all flashy with light shows and everything, because it’s like, you get one peaceful moment with a painting and you get to really feel the meaning behind it.”

 

Sally regarded her thoughtfully. “I like the way you think. I’ve always thought a show should allow a piece to speak for itself.”

 

“Exactly!”

 

“I really want you to come to my first show, this summer, and tell me what you think.”

 

“Definitely!”

 

“Okay, enough about me, now what about you?” Sally sat up and slammed her hands on the table, like she was bracing herself for the best story ever, giving Casey her full attention. “What have you been up to?”

 

“Well, I just finished my bachelor’s degree in pre-med,” she saw Sally’s eyes widen, and she continued. “But this summer, I’m working in a play to save money for med school in the fall.”

 

“Casey, you’re going to med school? So you still want to become a neurologist?” Sally asked.

 

Casey started, surprised. “You remembered?”

 

“Of course, I remember, Casey. This is important information about you, and any good friend should remember these things.

 

Casey smiled. She remembered why she had loved Sally so much before. She had never thought of them as such good friends though, just casual acquaintances who got along because Sally was dating Casey’s brother. But Sally had always been so easy to get along with. She’d wanted to know Casey right away, even before she and Derek were a thing. She’d listened to Casey when she broke up with Max and included her in her activities with Derek. Maybe their sort of friendship had been more important to Sally than Casey had thought. Her heart swelled, cheeks warming up.

 

“That’s so sweet,” Casey said softly. That was all she could think to say through her speechlessness.

 

Sally smiled warmly and tilted her head. “It’s just basic friend stuff, and we’re friends, right?”

 

For some reason, Casey thought she heard some uncertainty in Sally’s voice and she rushed to soothe it. “Yes!” she practically yelled. “We are!” She grinned. She felt a little bit like back when she was eight years old and she made a new friend, it always felt like the most wonderful thing in the world. Even now, at twenty-six, it seemed, the feeling didn’t change. Maybe she was more out of practice than she’d liked to think. Damn these stupid boys for being right.

 

“Okay, now tell me more about Jesse. You guys have been together for eight years?!”

 

They kept talking and catching up for a few hours. Jesse only came by a few times to bring the food they ordered and refill their drinks. By the end of the night, they were a mess of girly giggling as they remembered things from high school and stories from Smelly Nelly’s.

 

“.. and I told him ‘No Way!’” Sally was saying, trying to hold in her laughter long enough to tell her story. “He wanted me to wear a name tag that said ‘Riley’! My name is not Riley! He had better get me one with my name on it or I was out of there!”

 

“I can’t believe he tried to make you wear that nametag too! I had to wear it the whole time I worked there!” Casey pouted. Even if she’d worked up the nerve to refuse and demand her own nametag, she knew that Andrew would have just let her walk out the door.

 

“I was lucky he wasn’t in charge anymore, Derek agreed with me.”

 

“Of course he did. He wanted to get in your pants!” Casey said, maybe she was a little drunk.

 

Sally laughed. “He did, didn’t he?”

 

Casey’s phone beeped and she picked it off the table to check her messages. Derek. It was like he had sensed that they were talking about him.

 

[ So? How’s it going? ]

 

She huffed, like he cared.

 

[ We’re not talking about you and it’s great. ]

 

She just wanted to rub it in his face, honestly.

 

[ I didn’t think you would… but it’s funny that you say that you’re not… hmm. ]

 

[ Does your ego ever take a break? ]

 

“Is that Derek?” Sally asked eagerly. Like she was happy that he existed at all. Ugh.

 

“Yes,” Casey said dismissively, setting her phone down. “But he’s not going to distract us from our night of fun! This is a girls only space” She gestured at the table.

 

Sally giggled. “It’s okay, I know you guys are close.”

 

Casey sputtered. “Close? We are… We are NOT close.”

 

“Oh,” Sally smiled knowingly, “are you still doing that thing where you pretend that you hate each other?”

 

“We do!” Casey insisted, trying very hard to keep her mind from going back to their conversation from last night. “We are… we hate each other!”

 

“So… if you hate each other, why are you texting all the time?”

 

Ouch. She didn’t come here to be called out. She didn’t need Sally pulling receipts on her tonight, not even one day after she’d developed an instantaneous disease that controlled her brain into thinking flirting with Derek had been a good idea.

 

“We don’t text all the time,” Casey denied weakly. Her phone buzzed.

 

“What is he saying?” Sally tried to grab her phone, but Casey reacted fast enough to snatch it out before she could get to it.

 

“Nothing!” She read his text.

 

[ It’s so easy when you’re doing all the work for me. ]

 

“He thinks we’re talking about him,” Casey said in an incredulous tone. He had some nerve!

 

“But we are talking about him.”

 

“He doesn’t need to know that!” She waved her hand around and replied quickly.

 

[ Shhhh. You’re distracting me. There’s more important stuff than you to talk about. ]

 

“You know, he’s been very supportive of us meeting up,” Sally pointed out. “The least we could do is show appreciation.”

 

Casey sighed. She forgot that Sally actually cared about Derek and his feelings. She still wasn’t sure that they existed, but Sally insisted on treating him like a human being, and not the demon that he was. She was so naïve. Casey shook her head.

 

“Sally. Derek doesn’t do anything without a reason. Showing appreciation is the LAST thing we should do, especially before we figure out what he’s getting out of this.”

 

He texted again and Casey deigned reading his message.

 

[ I know it’s hard for you to think of other things when I’m around ;) ]

 

Casey sputtered and her brain stopped working. Her state of shock gave Sally the opportunity to pluck the phone from her hands. She giggled as she said “Well then, let’s find out what he’s up to!” She wrote down something and waited, giving Casey a sly look.

 

“What did you say?!” Casey cried when she came back to herself. Oh no, this wasn’t good. What if Sally read their conversation and realized that something wrong was going on. This could ruin everything. Their friendship. Her relationship with Jesse. She would bring shame on her family. This was terrible!

 

Sally interrupted her downward spiral of shame. “Nothing. I just asked him if he wanted to see a picture of us kissing.”

 

“WHAT?!” Casey yelled, ignoring the way the room fell silent after her irruption. From the corner of her eye she thought she saw Jesse shaking his head. After a few seconds, the other patrons started talking again and she turned back to Sally, who was looking at her with wide eyes. “What?” she repeated, quieter this time, almost whispering.

 

“I was just kidding,” Sally said carefully and held Casey’s phone back. She read back instantly.

 

[ Are you sure you didn’t plan this whole thing, D? ]

 

[ Sadly, my control does not extend to chance meetings in coffee shops. ]

 

That was it. A harmless message. Casey sighed in relief.

 

When she looked up again, Sally looked uncomfortable. “Sorry. I shouldn’t have taken your phone like that,” she said apologetically.

 

Casey immediately regretted her outburst. “Oh no, no. I so overreacted. You know how I get with Derek. I wouldn’t trust him with a ball of yarn.” She tried to laugh but it sounded awkward to her own ears.

 

“I didn’t realize he made you feel that way.”

 

“He doesn’t,” Casey started denying, but her voice broke and she had to whisper the rest of her sentence, “… make me feel anything.”

 

A weird moment stretched between them. They seemed to come to an understanding, comprehension settling in Sally’s eyes. Although, what they had agreed to, Casey didn’t know. She wasn’t sure she wanted to know. At that point all she could think was that she had had too much to drink.

 

“Well,” Sally said softly, waving at Casey’s phone “it looks like he didn’t have anything to do with us running into each other.”

 

Casey could only look down at her phone. The screen was dark.

 

“Maybe…” Sally continued, “maybe it was just meant to be?”

 

Casey’s head shot up again. Sally smiled, looking for all the world like she genuinely thought that fate had brought them back together, but wary of Casey having another outburst if she said the wrong thing. Looking into Sally’s bright green eyes, Casey let go of all of her tension and returned her smile.

 

“Maybe.”

 

 


 

 

Casey looked at her phone. It had been two days since she’d met with Sally. She hadn’t texted Derek since. She hadn’t replied to his last message on Sunday, or the last three he’d sent her since.

 

I know you guys are close, resonated in her head.

 

The thing was, they really weren’t. They just sent words out, out of boredom, just to check up on each other because after all, they were family. Their parents were married. They shared a brother. A blood brother. A brother who had both his and her genes, whom they were both related to, and that just had to make them family, right? So it made sense that they’d keep in touch. But they were not close. And they didn’t text all the time.

 

Or at least, they didn’t have to. She didn’t have to answer his texts if she didn’t want to. It’s not like he actually cared if she did, anyways. He was just messaging her out of polite courtesy to their familial bond. They were family.

 

Maybe if she repeated it long enough, she would eventually believe it.

 

“What did he do this time?” Jesse came up behind her.

 

“Who?” she asked, startled.

 

“Derek.”

 

“He didn’t do anything,” she denied, clutching her phone to her chest.

 

“You’ve been staring at your phone hardcore for twenty minutes,” Jesse said, crossing his arms over his chest and giving her his no nonsense look.

 

“It doesn’t have anything to do with Derek,” Casey insisted. “I was just… thinking about getting a new phone.”

 

“This one’s new. You got it last year.”

 

“It has defects, it bugs all the time.”

 

“You never said anything about your phone bugging all the time,”

 

“I don’t have to tell you everything,” Casey said, defensively.

 

“And now you’re getting defensive like you always do when you and Derek are having an argument,” Jesse sighed.

 

“Not everything has to do with Derek.”

 

“Hate to say it, because he really doesn’t need me to stroke his ego, but yeah… it usually does.”

 

“This is ridiculous! I’m not upset at Derek, and I am not arguing with you because everything is fine and Derek didn’t do anything!”

 

Jesse put his hands up in surrender. “Okay… so you want a new phone?”

 

“Yes!”

 

And that’s how she ended up at the phone stand, looking at phones, pretending that she wanted a new one, while Jesse talked with the clerk about better plans. Casey groaned inwardly. If she had been alone, she could have just faked it and said she didn’t find a phone that she liked better. But she knew that if she tried it now, Jesse would be looking at each cell phone with her, going through pros and cons lists, because he had the endless patience of a saint.

 

She watched him interact with the clerk, making sure that he was still deep in conversation, then fished her phone out of her pocket. She read Derek’s last messages for what felt like the thousandth time.

 

[ Holy shit I just found a gray hair :O ]

 

[ Does this mean I’m a wise old man, now? ]

 

[ I remember when I was your age, kid. Good times. ]

 

That was it. No teasing. No innuendos. How did he get away with sending her such casual texts? They didn’t have any hidden meaning, they were completely harmless. Then why did they make her feel all weird inside?

 

On a normal day, she would have answered right away without over thinking it. But with the clarity of hindsight, she realized that he had no purpose for sending her those texts. That was the scariest thought of all. Because if he didn’t have a reason… then… he just sent them because… he wanted to? He just wanted to text her? Talk to her?

 

And they were just such normal texts too. Like the kind of text that you send to someone that you just share those kinds of things with, whom you share everything with, down to the tiniest gray hair. They weren’t even the first of their kind. As she went back through their older conversations, she found that they were merely the latest of many, and she had never, ever, realized that it was happening.

 

She couldn’t believe it. This whole time, they’d pretended, but under it all, had they… been close? Close enough to share normal every day stuff with each other for no purpose whatsoever? Just because.

 

What did it mean about their relationship if that was true? Could she really keep up the pretence that they did it just because it was expected of them as brother and sister, when she didn’t even share those things with Lizzie? Was it just the kind of friendship that she had developed with him? But then, if it was only friendship, she wouldn’t have been so daring with the texts she sent him.

 

This was driving her crazy. She was obsessing over a couple of texts! They were just simple harmless texts! No double meaning. It didn’t have to mean anything at all. She had to stop over thinking this. She probably just couldn’t read his tone well enough. It’s not like they actually talked. She was probably missing something that was lost in written communication. That had to be it.

 

He doesn’t… make me feel anything.

 

He doesn’t make me feel anything.

 

She was sure that when she saw him in person, it would all be clear to her. She would find him as irritating as ever, and she wouldn’t doubt that their relationship was merely mutual tolerance. In the meantime, she would just have to stop the confusing texting. There was no point in complicating her life.

 

She shook her head and shoved her phone back in her pocket. She marched back to the stand, determined to forget about this whole thing. Jesse was still talking with the clerk when she returned at his side. He turned to her.

 

“I just found out that I could change my payment plan and save 25 bucks a month!” he said victoriously. “It was worth coming with you today. Did you find something that you liked?”

 

Casey didn’t answer right away. Her silence stretched long enough for Jesse to sigh and hang his head in loving exasperation. “You never needed a new phone, did you?”

 

She had the decency to look embarrassed as she shrugged.

 

 


 

 

As she had decided to ignore Derek, it only stood to reason that, in true Derek fashion, he wouldn’t let her. His next text came two days later.

 

[ THIS IS A FAMILY EMERGENCY CALL ME ]

 

Now, knowing Derek, one might think that she shouldn’t call him, that it was just a ruse. But Casey didn’t mess with family emergencies. She wouldn’t take the chance to ignore an emergency text just because it came from her obnoxious and opportunistic step-brother. Plus… he wasn’t fifteen anymore, he’d matured since then, right?

 

So she called.

 

He picked up.

 

“Do you think I should dye my hair again?”

 

His voice filled her ear in the most unbothered voice Casey had ever heard coming from him, and he was usually pretty nonchalant by nature, so she knew, she just knew, that he did it on purpose and he knew what he was doing. She felt her jaw tighten as she narrowed her eyes at the empty wall.

 

“DE-REK!” she hissed between clenched teeth.

 

“I swear, it’s a life or death situation.” She could practically hear the smirk forming on his face as he let go of his collected mask.

 

“Derek, you can’t just claim a family emergency to get me to call you,” she seethed.

 

“Aw, come on. You’ve been ignoring me almost all week. Can’t blame a guy for trying,” he answered calmly.

 

“Maybe I’ve been ignoring you for a reason,” she huffed.

 

“And I’m sure it’s a very good reason too…”

 

“I don’t want to talk to you!” she almost exploded.

 

“Why?” he asked, his voice unconcerned, she could tell, in a calculated way.

 

“Because…”

 

The question made her pause, though. Why didn’t she? Well, she knew why, but she couldn’t just tell him. She couldn’t tell him that the almost domesticity of their texts confused her, that she was freaking out over the fact that they had been flirting, even though, it seemed, he hadn’t noticed any of it. Or maybe he thought his behaviour was normal and she was imagining everything. She tried to recover quickly.

 

“Because I never want to talk to you,” she said, sounding weak to her ears.

 

“But what if I want to talk to you?” he said, just a tiny bit softer than normal.

 

That’s when she realized. She was talking to him. She was hearing his voice, for the first time since Christmas. If the thought wasn’t unnerving enough (was it the anticipation?), he just had to use that gravelly tone to his voice, the one that’d always made her extremities tingle (and then want to throw up when she realized her inappropriate reaction to him.)

 

And she was faced with the fact that he did, indeed, make her feel something.

 

She suddenly felt helpless. She didn’t know what to do about this. Was she supposed to ignore it until it went away? But what if it didn’t? What if, for a minute, she could be honest with herself and admit that this wasn’t new, that this had been going on for the better part of twelve years, and all it had done was grow with time, like neglected vines, slowly wrapping around her until she couldn’t move, couldn’t breathe. What if there was no way out of it? What if the quiet longing became something more, something more tangible that she couldn’t ignore anymore?

 

Her vision blurred. She couldn’t remember how to breathe. How could she let this happen? How could she do this to Jesse? To their family? She couldn’t keep this up. She had to cut through those suffocating vines.

 

“I can’t…”

 

“Case?”

 

She frowned at the carpet.

 

“Um…” she tried.

 

She focused on breathing.

 

“Casey?”

 

“I can’t talk to you right now.”

 

“What?”

 

“I’m… at rehearsal, I can’t talk right now,” she shot in the dark.

 

He didn’t seem convinced. “O…kay?”

 

She didn’t know what else to say. So she just breathed, until she couldn’t take the silence anymore, and hung up.

 

She tightened her grip on her phone, her pulse jumping with the angry rush of blood through her veins. Her heart was beating out of sync.

 

She blinked.

 

What now?

Chapter Text

Derek didn’t text her after that. And she didn’t text him either, obviously, because she definitely over reacted and this was the most embarrassing moment of her life. But it was also like a slap in the face, waking her up and forcing her to acknowledge all of her sins, and she felt so guilty, like she had no business feeling the way she did. And how could she do this to Jesse, of all people, the one guy who never blinked an eye in the face of all her… Caseyness.

 

She needed to tell him. She had to, because even if it cut them both into tiny pieces, she owed him that, at least, to tell him the truth.

 

She wanted to tell him. She really did. And she was going to. In fact, she had tried multiple times. But every time, his phone rang like it knew something. And he always had to pick up, because it was always work and he was the only manager in charge, and her resolve faltered with each failed attempt.

 

It didn’t help her feel less guilty when she had lunch with Sally, and Sally would ask her what was wrong, because she could obviously tell that something was bothering her. Thankfully, Casey could brush it off by saying that she was nervous about the play, which was approaching so fast, it was only one week away! She felt like she was going to vibrate out of her skin.

 

“You know what you need?” Sally said helpfully.

 

“A lobotomy?” Casey muttered.

 

“No,” Sally chastised. “You need a girls night!”

 

Casey perked up at the idea. “That’s such a great idea!”

 

“I know! You should come to my place after work tonight!”

 

“That sounds great!”

 

“Ooooh and then we can make face masks, and watch rom coms,” Sally started enumerating, Casey’s smile grew wider in anticipation, “and talk about boys!”

 

“Oh! Are there some possible suitors in your life?” Casey asked excitedly.

 

Sally faltered a little bit, “well not really…”

 

“Oh.”

 

“But there’s tons of boys to talk about!”

 

“Sure,” Casey said, unsure.

 

“There’s Jesse!”

 

“I mean yes but… we talk about him all the time.”

 

“That guy from your play, the lead actor!”

 

“I don’t… really have anything to say about him? Except that he keeps forgetting his lines and it’s exasperating.”

 

“Or Derek!” Sally offered, as if anything about Derek was interesting or relevant.

 

Casey made a disgusted face. “Derek?”

 

“Uh-huh!” Sally said, unphased.

 

“You want to talk about Derek?”

 

“Don’t you?” Sally asked, eyes curious and also… a little unsure… maybe sad? Casey remembered last week, and he was the love of her life, and I’m over it now, and how it seemed like maybe Sally still had feelings for Derek and Casey couldn’t deny Sally anything, even if it made her uncomfortable, because her feelings really weren’t relevant if her friend was in pain. So if Sally wanted to talk about Derek, then Casey would have to suck it up.

 

“If you want to, sure.” Casey smiled.

 

Sally narrowed her eyes thoughtfully at her, as if she was analyzing her response. She pursed her lips, but then seemed to ultimately accept it and nodded. “Then it’s decided! Girls night!”

 

An apprehensive yay echoed in Casey’s mind. Why did it seem like the harder she tried to avoid Derek, the harder he was to avoid?

 

 


 

 

“I swear, I’m this close to just giving up on relationships altogether,” Sally declared as she pulled her hair up in a bun, kind of like Casey’s. They were already halfway through their second bottle of wine.

 

Sally had offered Casey a change of clothes the second she’d stepped into her apartment, and they had dived right into a bottle of wine, putting on a romantic movie that they had both seen a thousand times as they chatted casually.

 

By the end of the movie, they’d finished their first bottle and they were splayed on the couch comfortably, in their tanks and shorts, their legs sort of tangling together in the middle. Casey thought this was nice. It’d been a while since she’d spent time with a girl friend. She still talked with Emily, but distance prevented them from having these kinds of nights. It was nice, being close like this, the casual proximity, skin touching, sharing warmth as they let the alcohol dull their feelings and aching hearts.

 

Sally had started talking about her ex. Some guy who’d lead her on, or something. Casey wasn’t sure, actually. Sally had been kind of vague about the actual story. But in the end, Sally had been disappointed.

 

“Aw, come on, don’t say that. I’m sure you’ll find the one, eventually,” Casey said, reaching out to pat Sally’s thigh.

 

“I thought I had,” Sally sighed. Something told Casey that Sally wasn’t talking about her ex, although she couldn’t be sure why.

 

“The one isn’t always the one we think,” Casey ventured, just pushing words out of her mouth at this point. She felt kind of numb.

 

“I guess you would know,” Sally said, seeming to accept Casey’s superior knowledge on the subject. Casey frowned. She wasn’t sure she understood.

 

“I would know?” Casey repeated quizzically. Sally shifted. As she moved, Casey’s hand fell from her leg.

 

“Oh, just, you know. You and Jesse are getting kinda serious,” Sally rushed. She couldn’t see her face, as she was currently staring at the ceiling, but something in Sally’s tone made Casey think she was backtracking.

 

“We’ve been together for eight years, of course we’re serious,” she said calmly.

 

She wasn’t really offended by what Sally said. If it had been coming from anyone else, she might have been, because, hello, eight years, that’s not just kinda serious. But it didn’t have anything malicious to it. In fact, Casey knew that Sally had just said that because she was covering and scrambling with her words. Also, Casey’s brain was too mushy to take offence.

 

“And you’ve never… had doubts?” Sally asked.

 

“Doubts?”

 

“In eight years, you’ve never doubted that he was the one for you?”

 

“I…”

 

Casey tried focusing on the ceiling, but it was just a huge grey blur. Or maybe that’s just what the ceiling looked like? There wasn’t much to focus on there. So she sat up on her elbows and looked over at Sally at the other end of the couch. Sally was looking at her, her head propped up on the arm of the couch, an arm behind her neck and the other one resting on her stomach.

 

“No… I don’t think so…”

 

Something flashed in Sally’s eyes. Was it pain? Pity? It was just as confusing as the small smile she was giving her.

 

“That must be nice,” Sally said. They were silent for a while, then she continued. “The last guys I’ve been with… it was like… I knew it wouldn’t last. For some reason. And it wasn’t really a problem,” she frowned, “it didn’t really bother me. But I just knew. They wouldn’t be the ones I’d settle down with. And I was okay with that.”

 

Casey nodded. It sort of made sense? She figured, you couldn’t expect all of your relationships to be the be all end all. It made her kind of sad though, that Sally hadn’t experienced the certainty that she had felt with Jesse. But really, she’d just sort of never thought about it. Never second guessed it. Until recently. Until…

 

“Until I saw Derek again,” Sally said. Casey was pulled out of her thoughts, the way Sally’s words echoed them too perfectly making her kind of uncomfortable. Her heart jumped.

 

“You saw Derek?”

 

“This winter,” Sally whined, then sighed. “And it was…” she trailed off.

 

She sat up abruptly, untangling her legs from Casey’s and reaching for the bottle of wine to fill up her glass. She offered to fill Casey’s, but Casey said she was fine. Sally fell back into the couch, putting her legs up on the coffee table. She had really long legs, Casey realized. Sally was taller than her, she knew that, but she’d never focused on the length of her legs. They looked strong, stronger than they should be if all someone did with her day was painting. Although Sally’s whole family seemed to be into sports, so she probably at least went to the gym or something. “It was just so easy, you know,” Sally said, taking Casey out of her thoughts again. The wine was really going to her head.

 

“Being together again,” Sally continued, “it came so naturally. Like we never really forgot how. And it doesn’t have to be complicated at all.”

 

Casey couldn’t relate to this at all. Not when it came to Derek, anyway. Easy. Uncomplicated. That was so wildly not the kind of relationship that she had with him. She snorted. “Now that must be nice,” she said, almost too bitterly.

 

“I know,” Sally drawled, “Derek and emotional maturity don’t really add up in your head, but. He’s really grown up. Plus, it never really seemed to matter, when he was with me, we could always meet halfway.”

 

Was it weird? Casey wondered. That the girl in front of her obviously had feelings for Derek too, and she was okay with it? Like they weren’t competing for him, just accepting the space where they both belonged in his life. She wasn’t jealous that Sally had something that Casey could never dare to dream of having with him. Well, not exactly. She didn’t resent Sally, at least. But maybe she wished she could… have something different, better… easier, with him. And she couldn’t quite convince herself that all she wanted was that same brother/sister bond that he seemed to have developed with Lizzie, but never with her.

 

“You’re right,” Casey sighed. “It really doesn’t add up in my head. He could never meet me halfway. It’s always about pushing, or pulling, about who’s on top, but it’s never fair or equal or easy. Why can’t he be that way with me?” and as she realized that she was ranting and probably saying things she shouldn’t be saying, she rushed to amend it, “I mean – not like -“

 

“Are you?” Sally interrupted.

 

Casey paused. She shifted, sitting up as well and tucking her legs underneath herself as she wrapped her arms around her middle. “Am I what?”

 

“That way with him?” Sally said, meeting her eyes as she reached out, brushing her fingertips against Casey’s knee.

 

“It’s not like he makes it easy,” Casey defended weakly. He was always bugging her, pranking her, making her life harder than it should be. From the very first time they’d met, he had made it about hostility and deception. He’d tried to push her out of his house, ridiculed her at school and just been generally mean and rude towards her. That was the root of their relationship, he’d pushed her away, made it so the gap between them was impossible to bridge.

 

Although… that wasn’t completely fair, was it? She hadn’t wanted to be there just as much as he hadn’t wanted her there. They had come to understand, quite quickly, that their personalities wouldn’t mesh, that they were too different to get along, and yet…

 

And yet they had. On occasion, they had gotten along. Shared a few moments of complicity that they could always pretend was nothing more than working together only in the pursuit of similar goals. Even though they both knew it was much, much more.

 

She thought about their texting. How it had been so easy to talk to him through those walls of text that she hadn’t realized she had been constantly doing it. And maybe, it wasn’t as hard as she pretended it was, as complicated as she made it out to be.

 

Was she making it so? Did she make this so difficult? Was she the one that put the wall between them? She had to admit that he hadn’t been quite antagonizing her lately as he used to, but that didn’t really mean anything. It was just texts. After all, they hadn’t actually seen each other in months, she reminded herself. What would it be like, to see him next time, now that she had these new thoughts and confusing feelings towards him? Would she make it even harder for him to reach her?

 

Was she… could she be that way with him? Relaxed. Easy going. Joking around. Not suspicious of everything he said or did. The way she could be with Jesse.

 

Oh, right. Jesse.

 

She remembered about Jesse, and flushed, embarrassed that she had indulged in thinking about Derek that way, because, oh hey Casey remember your boyfriend???

 

“Of course, he doesn’t make it easy,” Sally reassured, apparently taking her flushing as guilt. Which it was. But, just, a whole different kind of guilt. “Derek is… well, he’s Derek. And you’re Casey. I wouldn’t have you, or him, any other way. You guys have that constant back and forth thing. It’s your thing. He pulls, you push. You pull, he pushes. That’s how it works. Sometimes. Sometimes it works, Casey. It can be easy if you let it be.” She was looking at her with such an open expression, so certain, so determined to make her understand. “And just think,” she continued softly, “when it doesn’t work, maybe… could it be that when he’s pushing, and you should be pulling, that you’re pushing back instead?”

 

Casey looked down, unable to meet Sally’s eyes. Her gaze fell on the fingers brushing down her calf. The touch was so light she barely felt it, unlike the guilt in her gut, twisting as a new realization hit her. That she and Derek could be in sync. But it was always a game of chance, a lucky (or unlucky) turn of events, that they had forgotten their childish rivalry in order to work perfectly together. Or maybe… maybe it was just instinct. Maybe they had always known how, falling into that synchronicity naturally, until one of them noticed and had to break it up, because there would be implications and then… then they couldn’t pretend anymore. And that would be a disaster.

 

“I don’t think that I should,” Casey admitted in a whisper. “What if… what if I stop pushing back and, and something happens and…”

 

“We’re all scared, Casey. Maybe Derek is scared too.”

 

Casey snorted louder at that. Sally giggled.

 

“I swear!” Sally said, her defence kind of losing credibility as she tried to suppress her laughter. “There’s a reason he’s so emotionally repressed. He’s scared!”

 

“You must be drunk,” Casey said, reaching for Sally’s glass and holding it far away from her. “There’s no other reason for your delusions. I am cutting you off.”

 

Sally continued laughing. “I am not,” she hiccupped, “not that drunk!”

 

Casey raised an eyebrow at her but Sally ignored it.

 

“And it’s true! It’s because of his whole mommy issues,” Sally pressed on, gesturing incoherently like that gave weight to her argument. All it did was make her knock over Casey’s half finished glass on the table, and spill wine everywhere. Casey shrieked and jumped up and, in her drunken haze, spilled Sally’s glass that she was holding all over herself.

 

The shocked silence lasted about ten seconds. Then they were both laughing. Sally covered her mouth with both hands, eyes filling with tears, as she tried to contain herself. Casey fell back on the couch in indignation, shoulders shaking as she giggled. The ridiculousness of the moment had shattered all previous seriousness, and Casey felt kind of comforted by that. Because she wasn’t sure she was ready to deal with all of it.

 

“O-okay,” Sally said, taking deep breaths as she tried to sober up, “okay. I’ll clean this up. You can go find a change of clothes in my room.” She pushed herself up determinedly and headed towards the kitchen.

 

Casey watched her go then looked back at the mess. She sighed and shook her head. She hadn’t been that clumsy in years! And this was not even her fault! She really shouldn’t feel embarrassed about it. She quelled her need to apologize and got up, deciding that wine stains really weren’t a relevant fashion statement. So she went to Sally’s room and changed.

 

She ended up picking an old beaten up band t-shirt that probably belonged to an ex or something because it was way too big to be Sally’s, but was perfectly comfy for sleep. It was long enough that she didn’t need to put pants underneath it. It wasn’t like she had anyone to impress at this point. She held the stained clothes in her hands, trying to decide if she should attempt to dabble with bleach in her state or just let it be.

 

“Oh, don’t worry, I’ll take care of this later,” Sally said, saving Casey from herself and a potential bleach poisoning, as she came back from the kitchen. She took the clothes from her and threw them into the laundry room, opening the door just a tiny crack so that Casey could barely see a few mounting piles of dirty clothes behind the door. “I’m behind on laundry anyway,” she assured hurriedly. Casey thought she sounded nervous, but brushed it off. After all, Casey felt that way when she had people over and had fallen behind on chores too. She didn’t want to embarrass Sally.

 

“Thanks,” Casey said gratefully, returning Sally’s wide smile. It got awkward after a few seconds, so she looked around the room, drumming her fingers on her thighs. She noticed Sally had finished cleaning up the mess in the living room.

 

“I can’t believe you chose that shirt,” Sally said, bringing Casey’s attention back to her, “it’s one of my favourites for sleeping too.”

 

Casey looked down, as if noticing for the first time that she was even wearing a shirt, even though she’d put it on only a few minutes ago. “Oh, it just looked comfortable,” she said. She squinted at it. It seemed familiar now that she was paying attention.

 

“It is. It’s comforting too. Still smells like him.”

 

Still smells like… She picked up the collar and sniffed it. It was a comforting smell. It was mostly cologne, a scent that she had gotten used to over the years and kind of associated with home. Suddenly she was sixteen years old again. A soft “Oh” escaped her mouth as she let go of the collar.

 

“It looks good on you,” Sally offered, still smiling.

 

Casey shuffled her feet awkwardly, and she realized that they were still standing in front of the closed laundry room door. “Do you, um, want to watch another movie?” Casey asked, gesturing to the living room as she made a bee line for the couch, having found the courage to move again.

 

She sat on a damp spot and pushed herself farther into the corner, putting her legs up beside her as she resumed her earlier position. Her hands balled into the shirt, the soft fabric burning the skin of her palms.

 

This was Derek’s shirt. She had picked Derek’s shirt. She really, really tried to convince herself that it was just a coincidence, or a cosmic joke, maybe, that it wasn’t a slip from her subconscious. She suddenly felt sick, kind of light headed, her tight hold on the shirt the only thing grounding her.

 

Sally flopped down on the couch next to her. “Casey?”

 

Her head was swimming, juggling memories of late nights in a dark kitchen, subtle touches, and meaningful glances. She remembered one time, when they’d been standing so close that she could smell him, and he’d smelled just like the shirt she was wearing right now. That smell was wrapping around her like a warm blanket. It felt so nice it made her shiver.

 

A body pressed against her side, and Sally was wrapping herself around her, the smell of wine and peach scented shampoo mixing with that of Derek’s cologne, and it was an oddly perfect mix, overwhelmingly so, and she shivered again. “It’s okay,” Sally said, tightening her arms around Casey. And she realized, as her whole body trembled, that she hadn’t been shivering at all. Her eyes were blurry, her cheeks felt damp, and all of her senses were dulled until all she could feel was the warmth of Sally’s embrace, and the smell of peaches and old spice.

 

 


 

 

Casey woke up with a sharp pain in her neck. She tried to shake it off, but she was unable to move. There was a heavy weight on top of her, not quite crushing her, but keeping her from moving her limbs. She opened her sore eyes slowly, blinking against the sunlight streaming through the half-closed curtains. She felt a pressure against her temples that could only be from a hangover and she groaned against the pain, really wishing that she could get to a glass of water right now. She shifted, and the weight on top of her stirred, humming softly, a warm breath blowing against the side of her neck.

 

She looked down, and all she could see was long blonde hair splayed over her chest, as Sally’s face was buried into the crook of her neck. Sally had her arms wrapped around her waist and their legs tangled together. They’d fallen asleep some time after Sally had calmed her down, whispering soothing words into Casey’s ear as she sobbed.

 

Her heart squeezed, her head pounded. She couldn’t make sense out of everything that happened. She couldn’t understand why Sally had held her as she’d cried her heart out about a guy, like it was nothing, like it was simply the normal thing to do, when they both felt the same way about him, and everything was so fucked up.

 

A swell of affection surged within her for the woman in her arms. A woman who was so warm that she could do nothing but comfort a crying friend whom she should loathe, simply on principle, because she’d probably betrayed her somehow, by feeling the way she did. But Sally didn’t. Casey knew, with certitude, that Sally still loved her and somehow understood. Everything. And she felt warm inside, knowing that.

 

Her fingers found their way into Sally’s hair, brushing them gently out of her face. Sally only buried her head deeper into Casey’s neck, probably hiding from the soft light in the room. Sally’s mouth was at her ear as she whispered, “hey sleepyhead.”

 

Casey giggled. “Hey, you too.”

 

Sally groaned and rubbed her face into the couch cushion. “What time is it?” her voice came out raspy.

 

“I don’t know. I would tell you, but I can’t reach my phone,” she pushed her arm out towards the coffee table, where her phone rested, ineffectively.

 

Sally looked up, her face scrunched up with sleep and pouted at the unreachable cell phone. “Why is it so far away?” she whined.

 

“It wouldn’t be if I could move,” Casey teased.

 

She laughed as Sally looked down at her quizzically and watched as her face slowly lit up in understanding. “Oh,” Sally breathed, and pushed herself up in a sitting position on Casey’s legs.

 

Casey pulled her feet out from under Sally and picked up her phone. She yawned, rubbing her eyes, as she checked the screen in her hand. She had a couple of texts from Jesse asking how the night was going. “It’s almost ten,” she said. She looked over at Sally and smirked. Sally’s hair was a ruffled mess, sticking every which way, her shirt was riding up a little, and she looked completely sleep deprived. “Nice bed head,” she laughed.

 

Sally’s hand came up to rub down her face dejectedly. She groaned but said nothing.

 

“Wow, someone’s not a morning person,” Casey sing-songed.

 

“I’m really not,” Sally laughed, and hung her head.

 

“Awww,” Casey cooed, reaching out to rub Sally’s back soothingly. “Would it make it better if I made you some pancakes for breakfast?”

 

Sally looked up, “God, yes! Please!”

 

So they had breakfast, and it was mostly quiet and pleasant. They just made small talk, talking about the weather and pancake recipes, as Sally woke up more fully, then switched to topics like work and art and life in New York City. Casey couldn’t express how grateful she was that Sally didn’t bring up last night’s breakdown.

 

She couldn’t explain it. It was probably the last couple of weeks of tension finally bursting out. But she really didn’t want to mull it over right now.

 

“Your apartment is nice,” Casey offered as she took her empty dishes to the sink and started scrubbing. It was small, but cute. It was a two bedroom apartment, one of them Sally used as her studio for painting. The entrance was in the living room, from which you could see the kitchen in the open top of the wall between the two rooms. The bathroom was big enough to fit one person, but everything seemed new, from the floorboards to the sink to the kitchen cabinets. It looked expensive.

 

“Thanks,” Sally answered, “I guess it’s nice to finally have a job that allows me to afford an apartment that isn’t crumbling down,” she laughed.

 

“Your last place was that bad, huh?”

 

Sally shrugged. “Life of a struggling artist,” she explained. She joined Casey at the sink and helped drying the now clean dishes. “Thanks for breakfast.”

 

“You’re welcome,” Casey smiled up at Sally. “And, um. Thanks. For last night.”

 

“Don’t mention it,” Sally said with a knowing smile.

 

“Do you want some help with the laundry? I feel so bad for ruining your clothes.”

 

“No, it’s fine!” Sally said abruptly, then amended. “There’s a lot, it’s kinda been piling up, you don’t have to help.”

 

“Are you sure?” Casey said, frowning. “I don’t mind, I shared a house with Derek, I’m used to old laundry piling up.”

 

“No, really,” Sally insisted, “it’s just my thing. I like doing it myself. Don’t worry about it.”

 

“Okay,” Casey said, letting it go. She finished washing and gave the last mug to Sally to dry and put away.

 

Then Sally’s phone rang.

 

Casey looked over and saw the name on the screen before Sally picked up. “Hey, you!” she gushed into the phone. Casey looked away. She’d avoided Derek so far. Of course he’d show up into her day somehow. “Delayed?” Sally said sadly, the smile gone from her voice. “No, I understand,” she sighed.

 

Unable to just stand there and listen to their conversation, Casey decided to leave the kitchen and find something to do with herself. She could start with getting dressed, she thought, as she looked down at her bare legs.

 

When she came back, now wearing her own clothes and feeling a lot less naked, Sally had hung up and was putting away the rest of the clean dishes.

 

“Oh,” Sally said as she put a mug back in its place, “so I know it’s your opening night next week-end, and you’re probably super busy, but there’s this evening at the gallery on Wednesday night, kind of a soirée, meet the artist kind of thing.” She was leaning on the counter, wringing her hands nervously. “And I was wondering if you would like to come with me?”

 

“You’re inviting me?” Casey said dumbly. She hadn’t expected this, but ultimately, she was grateful to be avoiding the other subject once again.

 

“Uh-huh!” Sally nodded.

 

Casey blinked. “Yeah! Of course, I’d love to go!”

 

“Oooh! Awesome!” Sally hopped into place and hugged Casey quickly. “I’m so glad you said yes. There will be like, tons of famous artists and critics and I was just so nervous to go on my own.”

 

“It’s… It’ll be an honour,” Casey said, eyes wide. She would be meeting famous artists, possibly artists that she admired, this was a huge opportunity. She wasn’t really looking into netting influential people anymore, since she had quit dancing and gotten into med school, but making connexions never hurt. Sally grinned.

 

“I’ll get to give you a tour of the gallery. Maybe even have a peek at the exposition I’m working on,” she started ranting, clearly excited. “I helped out with organizing the soirée, and I found these fancy string lights that really set the mood, I think you’ll really like it!”

 

“I can’t wait!” Casey said just as excitedly.

 

 


 

 

 

“So it’s a date?” Jesse said as he entered the bedroom. Casey stopped in the middle of putting on eye shadow and glared at his reflection in the mirror.

 

“She invited me because she didn’t want to go alone. We’re going as friends,” she informed him.

 

He grinned and took off the towel from around his waist, throwing it on the bed. Casey didn’t look away. She’d gotten used to his lack of modesty. He just liked walking around naked, and she really couldn’t find a reason to complain. He looked good. “And you’re dressing up just for a friend? You don’t put all that effort for me anymore. Should I be worried?”

 

She knew he was teasing, but she couldn’t help the way her shoulders tensed slightly. She covered by raising an eyebrow and saying, “Maybe.”

 

He laughed. “I’ll keep an eye out for Sally, then. Although she didn’t strike me as a home wrecker.”

 

“Beware the nice ones,” she smirked, looking back at her own reflection to finish up her make up.

 

“It’s a shame I have to train the new guy tonight. I’d come with you just to make sure she doesn’t try anything.”

 

“If it makes you feel better, we were planning on coming back for a drink afterwards,” she said, smiling as she looked at Jesse’s reflection again. He had jeans on and was putting on deodorant.

 

He met her eyes and smiled. “Then I might be able to get off early to join you.”

 

“That would be nice. I think Sally likes you.”

 

“Oh, so it’s a threesome she wants, then,” he said, his smile turning into a smirk as his eyes sparkled devilishly.

 

“Down, boy.”

 

“I’m just saying, I’m down.”

 

“Of course you are.”

 

He sat on the bed and lifted one of his legs up, wincing as he flexed.

 

“Does that still hurt?” Casey asked, concerned.

 

“Not usually. I kind of missed a step when I came up from the cellar yesterday.”

 

Casey turned around instantly. “Are you okay?”

 

Jesse looked at her from the corner of his eye, with an exasperated but fond expression. “Yes, I’m okay. I didn’t fall or anything. I’m just a little sore.”

 

She made her way to the bed and pulled herself up on her knees beside him. She put a hand on his cheek to turn his face towards her. Leaning on his shoulder with her other hand, she leaned down to press her lips against his temple. “Take care of yourself, okay?” she said softly, her voice barely above a whisper. “I don’t want to repeat last time.”

 

“Me neither,” he said, putting both of his hands over hers and threading their fingers. He looked right into her eyes. “I’m fine.”

 

She believed him. He wouldn’t lie if he wasn’t.

 

“Okay,” she said, leaning down to kiss him. She pulled back and let her hands fall into her lap. “You didn’t tell me you hired a new guy.”

 

“It was kind of a spur of the moment thing,” he said, shrugging. “I had to fire Rick, because the guy didn’t show up for half of his shifts. And the boss is still on vacation, so I have to take care of everything. I have my hands full as it is, so with one less employee…”

 

“I get it. I’m glad you hired someone instead of overworking yourself,” Casey said fondly.

 

“I’m too old for that, to be honest,” Jesse said, getting up and grabbing a shirt. “I’ll leave that to the young and restless.”

 

“Didn’t you used to be one?” Casey asked.

 

“Used to,” Jesse pointed out. “Now I’m nothing but a wrinkly old man,” he joked, pulling on the hem of his tight-fitted shirt. He looked nothing like a wrinkly old man.

 

“I’ll make sure to write that on your birthday cake. Right next to the big three oh.”

 

“It’s a long way till December. By then you’ll have plenty of chances to tease me with how old I’m getting.”

 

“I’ll be on the look out for those gray hairs,” she grinned.

 

Jesse laughed and caught her as she was about to crawl off the bed, wrapping his arms around her waist. “Good luck with that,” he said and slapped her ass gently. She squealed.

 

“Oh, it’ll be easier than you think,” she said, shoving her hands into his thick hair. “Your hair’s getting pretty long. Soon you’ll need a hair tie to keep them out of your face.”

 

His hand joined hers into his hair as he assessed the situation. “That’s kind of what I’m going for, to be honest.”

 

“You’re really going to do the whole huge beard, ponytail, hipster thing?” Casey asked skeptically.

 

He moved his hand to his beard self-consciously. “You really think my beard is getting huge?”

 

“I think it’s just right,” she said, and brushed her nose over his, before whispering, “and you’d look hot with a ponytail.”

 

He laughed.

 

 


 

 

 

Later, Casey met up with Sally at Blackstone’s, because it was closer to the gallery than Sally’s apartment, then they walked to the gallery together. As they reached the building, Sally grabbed her hand and lead her through the throng crowding the entrance.

 

As she followed her, Casey noticed the back of Sally’s dress. It was a simple green cocktail dress, the front with a high neckline, but sagging low at the back, falling just in the middle of her waist. The top was linked from side to side with a delicate silver chain that dangled on her bare back. It looked sophisticated and just a little bit daring.

 

They reached the main room, and Sally took Casey around the room, introducing her to all the important people with ease.

 

“Casey,” Sally said, presenting her to a tall man wearing a derby hat and sunglasses. Inside. At night. “This is the genius behind this whole thing, and also my boss, James Zweller.”

 

Oh. Of course he was Sally’s boss.

 

“A pleasure to meet you,” Casey said, offering her hand. Mr. Zweller shook it, a little too hard.

 

“Likewise,” he said, simply.

 

Then Sally gestured to the woman standing next to him, she had dark hair and pale skin. “And this is Jane Marsh, famous photographer and Mr. Zweller’s partner.”

 

Casey went to shake her hand. Jane went for a flute of champagne as a server passed by. “A pleasure,” she said, stiffly. Casey let her hand fall and brushed some invisible lint from her dress.

 

As if she wasn’t aware of how awkward this meeting was, Sally said, “Oh, I’ll be right back, Casey, there’s someone I need to see about something,” and left.

 

Casey kept her face neutral, trying not to show her horror at being left alone in such uncomfortable company. She looked back at Jane and Mr. Zweller, smiling politely.

 

“What do you think of the décor, Casey,” Mr. Zweller asked. It was odd, the way he said it, like he wasn’t really expecting her to answer or have an opinion of her own. “Jane here organized everything. I told her I could find someone else to do it, but she insisted on it being perfect.”

 

“It looks great,” Casey said, swallowing hard, like she wasn’t sure that was the right thing to say. She was starting to understand why Sally had been nervous at the thought of being here alone. She kind of resented being shoved under the bus, though, but she would deal with that later. She pointed at the ceiling. “I really like these string lights, they really bring the whole thing together,” she said, kind of daringly. She was here for Sally after all, and she was damned if she was going to let her friend’s hard work go unnoticed.

 

“They really do, don’t they,” Jane said, surprisingly. Casey smiled. And then, she said, “when I saw them, I knew it would be just the touch I was missing.” Casey’s smile faded.

 

“Jane has a good eye,” Mr. Zweller said. “Just like Sally does, I could tell right away, your friend is very talented. I’m looking forward to seeing what she can do.” Casey saw Jane tense up beside him.

 

“I’m sure she will blow you away,” Casey said proudly. She was relieved that, even though he looked like a complete douche, at least Sally’s boss seemed to have faith in her talent. Which, Casey suspected, Jane wasn’t pleased about. Casey had no idea why.

 

Then nobody said anything, and Casey felt her smile freeze on her face.

 

Sally came back a couple minutes later, interrupting the most uncomfortable silence of Casey’s life. “Sorry,” she said, looking around at the three of them. “I just saw Eve as she was leaving and I had to see her to confirm that her pieces will be ready on time.” The two partners only nodded.

 

Turning to Casey, Sally continued, “Eve is the artist whose work I’m showcasing. She’s really talented, I wish I could have introduced you, but she was in a hurry.”

 

“It’s okay,” Casey said, still smiling stiffly. She was hoping that Sally would pick up on her discomfort and take her away, like, right now.

 

Thankfully, Sally saw someone else across the room and dragged her away, after excusing herself once more.

 

Casey let out her breath. Sally noticed. “They’re something, aren’t they?” she said, hooking her elbow into Casey’s.

 

“Why did you leave me alone with them?” Casey whined.

 

“I’m sorry, I really had to talk to Eve. She’s like, so busy she never answers her phone.”

 

Casey sighed and looked at Sally, smiling sheepishly. “Of course, It’s your work. You don’t have to apologize. They just put me really on edge.”

 

“I know,” Sally said, patting Casey’s arm, “I promise I won’t be leaving you from now on.” Casey smiled gratefully.

 

“Did you know that Jane is taking credit for your work?” Casey asked. She couldn’t help it. She’d been too put out by the situation to say anything to Sally’s boss, but it seemed like a betrayal towards her friend if she didn’t say anything at all.

 

Sally’s grip on her arm tightened slightly as she tensed. “Don’t worry about it,” she said, taking a deep breath as her gaze travelled around the room. “I’m handling her.”

 

Casey nodded. At least Sally knew about it. From the looks of it, that was even more stuff to stress over, and Casey thought it was unfair that Sally had to deal with all of it. But it wasn’t her place to say anything.

 

She was introduced to a few more (pleasant) people, and she found that she was enjoying herself after a while. And a couple of glasses of champagne.

 

They came across one of Sally’s teacher from university, who seemed delighted to meet her there. “I knew you were bound to do great things,” the woman said, openly gushing, “I’m always happy to see that old students of mine are doing good for themselves.”

 

“I’m flattered you even remember me, Mrs. King,” Sally said, grinning at the gorgeous older woman.

 

“Nonsense!” Mrs. King exclaimed, “I always remember my best students.”

 

Sally blushed as she giggled, and Casey was taken aback by the sight. She had barely ever seen Sally blush like this. She might have caught a glimpse of that expression on Sally years ago, usually around a certain step-brother who must not be named, but otherwise, Sally was always so composed and sure of herself. Pink was a nice color on her, Casey decided. It was clear that Sally was delighted that a professor she admired thought so highly of her, and Casey was so happy for her that she couldn’t help but grin.

 

“Are you and your girlfriend staying in the city?” Mrs. King asked, looking between the two of them with an expectant smile.

 

Casey was taken aback by the question. “We don’t – we’re not,” she sputtered.

 

Sally hid her mouth as she snickered at Casey’s discomposure. “I just moved here a couple of weeks ago,” she redirected.

 

Seeming to notice their reaction to the insinuation, Mrs. King only smiled and moved on from the topic, “And how are you liking the city, dear? Is it treating you well?”

 

“It’s… um, it’s a lot to take in,” Sally laughed, “but I’m getting the hang of it. Plus, I have some great friends here to help me feel at home,” She said, and looked at Casey with a grateful smile.

 

“I’m glad to hear it,” Mrs. King said. “I wasn’t so lucky when I was your age and trying to make it big in New York City. Don’t take these things for granted, girls, believe me, the people who are there for us during those hard times are the most precious ones.”

 

Casey returned Sally’s smile. She was really glad that she could be there for her. “We won’t.”

 

“Well, it was lovely meeting you, darlings,” Mrs. King said again, “but the night isn’t getting any younger and I have a flight to catch early tomorrow morning. I must start saying my goodbyes.”

 

“Of course, thank you so much for your time, Mrs. King,” Sally said.

 

“Oh lord, you say that like we just had a business meeting,” Mrs. King put her hand on her heart, her long fingernails were painted yellow, matching her dress and complimenting her dark skin. She was regal in her appearance as much as she was in her speech. “Please, it was just as much a pleasure for me. You take care, now.” She bid farewell and walked away.

 

Sally stared a little then shook her head and looked down at Casey. “That woman was my favourite professor at university. She always carried that great aura around with her. It’s like you feel more important just by being around her.”

 

“I see what you mean,” Casey said thoughtfully. Mrs. King was a confident woman, but it looked like she took care in spreading that around, boosting people up and making them feel good about themselves. Casey could see why Sally adored her.

 

They were silent for a moment, just enjoying each other’s company as they looked around the room and listened to the music changing from aggressive dub step to some dance remix of a popular song.

 

“You know what I’d like to do?” Sally turned towards Casey abruptly. “I’d like to dance!” She took her hand and pulled her to the center of the room where people were dancing. Casey laughed and let herself be dragged away, swaying easily to the even beat. Sally turned around and took both of Casey’s hands, linking their fingers together as she moved her hips from side to side, grinning. She opened her arms wide as she turned on herself, pulling Casey in with her and they ended up in face to face again, at arms length. Then she pulled her in again, their chest bumped, and she pushed her arms out once more. They laughed and Casey let Sally lead her into her dance, indulging her friend in her good mood. It was Sally’s night after all.

 

After a few songs, they were ecstatic, breathless. They were still laughing, high on the adrenaline of dancing, when Sally took Casey’s hand once more to lead her away from the dance floor. They left the main room and stepped into a dark hallway with multiple doors behind which Casey assumed were working offices. Sally opened one that lead to a staircase. “Come on,” she said, “I want to show you what I’ve been working on.”

 

They climbed to the next floor and walked down another long corridor. Sally opened a door to the left and entered a dark room. Casey couldn’t see anything, there weren’t any windows. She felt strangely safe, comforted by Sally’s hold on her hand. She could tell that they were walking along a wall as Sally felt for what she assumed was the light switch. When she found it, she flicked it and the lights turned on. It took a second for Casey’s eyes to get used to it.

 

Then Sally’s hand left hers as she stepped into the room, looking around, admiring her work, before turning around towards Casey arms stretching outwards, gesturing at the whole room. “So? What do you think?”

 

Casey forced herself to look away from Sally and looked around. The room was round with two large pillars in the middle. Big canvas were hanging on the walls, holding larger than life renditions of photographs, each of them illuminated in just the right way by their own spotlight. The artist’s main subjects were people, or bits of people. A strand of hair blowing in the wind, a hand reaching out for another, legs tangling with each other. Sally had taken advantage of the room’s shape to arrange the photographs in a sequence, Casey noticed as she walked around the room. They told a story.

 

Casey’s heart swelled as she looked at the pictures, the photographer’s reverence to her subject obvious in the way the pictures were taken, as if even that small part of a person, the corner of their lips, the crook of their elbow, was so important that she worshipped it. The angles were just right, somehow giving feeling, emotion to a simple limb. The way this person’s legs were crossed expressing sensuality, and that hand, waiting, open, was desperate for touch, and the side of a neck, exposed, shoulder relaxed, asking to be kissed.

 

Casey blushed, kind of feeling like she was intruding on something, but also unable to look away. It felt like she was having an intimate moment with someone she loved, taking her time and paying attention to all their tender spots and pieces. It felt like lovemaking.

 

When she reached the last picture, she closed her eyes, her head spinning in the most delightful way. She wasn’t sure if she was still high from dancing with Sally earlier, or if the pictures were just that powerful that they affected her that way. Maybe it was a mix of both.

 

She opened her eyes again and found Sally still standing in the middle of the room, in between the two pillars. There were soft curtains drawn around them. Deep purples, thin satin, sparkling as they wrapped around the pillars almost erotically. Casey had never experienced something like this. She breathed deeply. The room even smelled like freshly cut roses.

 

“It’s…” Casey breathed, walking slowly towards Sally as she took in the whole effect of the room, peeking at a random picture of someone’s mouth. She looked back at Sally’s mouth. “Beautiful.”

 

Sally’s mouth stretched into a wide smile, causing crinkles to form at the corners, pink lips revealing white teeth.

 

Casey’s heart was pounding away as she got closer to Sally. Then, she could feel her breath on her face, gentle fingers brush against her cheek, a forehead resting against hers. “I’m so glad you came with me tonight,” Sally whispered.

 

She still smelled like wine and peaches.

 

“Me too,” Casey whispered back. She closed her eyes, letting the moment wrap around her. For that moment, it was just her and Sally in a dark room as nothing else existed around them, stretching indefinitely. It lasted forever.

 

And it didn’t last long enough.

 

Soon, too soon, the breath that was warming her face went away as Sally pulled back, slowly, but still too fast, and the moment dissolved, piece by piece. And Casey was left standing in front of Sally, feeling fuller and emptier than she had ever felt.

 

“I’m glad you like it,” Sally said, her eyes searching Casey’s, like she’d felt it too and was looking for the same feelings to show on Casey’s face. They must have been, surely, she must have seen it.

 

“It’s amazing, Sally,” Casey said, truthfully.

 

Then Sally stopped searching. If she found what she’d been looking for, Casey couldn’t tell. Sally just kept smiling and gently took her hand. “Let’s go.”

 

They left the room and the moment. Casey suddenly wished she’d brought a jacket.

 

 


 

 

 

They went back to Blackstone’s afterwards. Jesse was leaning against the counter, back turned to the whole room and talking to another guy, about Jesse’s height, who looked taken in by what he was saying. Jesse patted him on the arm, squeezing a little in what seemed like a reassuring gesture, then turned back around, still talking, to wipe the counter with the towel he seemed to always have on his shoulder.

 

He looked up, noticed Casey staring at him and smiled. She felt her cheeks burn and smiled back as she passed by, following Sally into their (now usual) booth.

 

“You know what we need?” Sally said as she plopped down into her seat.

 

This sounded familiar to Casey, and she opened her mouth to respond, when Sally interrupted, holding up her finger.

 

“Still not a lobotomy,” she said imperiously. “Shots!”

 

Casey laughed.

 

“Tons of shots!” Sally continued, her voice high enough to alert Jesse over at the bar. She waved him over. The place was empty, as it usually was on a Wednesday night, except for a couple of regulars. “It’s Casey’s opening this week-end. She needs to relax and she needs it now!” Sally declared. “First round on me!”

 

Jesse chuckled. “That sounds like a great idea. She’s been on edge for the last two weeks.” He gave her a pointed look. Casey shrunk in her seat.

 

“I’m not stressed out right now!” she whined indignantly.

 

“We need a good reason for drinking, Casey, take one for the team!” Sally said. “You’ll join us, won’t you, Jesse?

 

“It’s your lucky day, I’m off in a few minutes. I’ll make sure the new guy can handle it and come back with a few shots. Be right back.”

 

Jesse went back to the bar and Sally gave Casey a satisfied grin. Casey blushed and held back from arguing because even if she wasn’t exactly stressed out about her show right now, she still really, really needed a drink tonight.

 

So Jesse came back.

 

And they got shitfaced.

 

After a few rounds, Casey could officially say that she had never been this drunk in the middle of the week.

 

The new bartender came by with some new drinks.

 

“So Casey, this is Gustavo, our new guy. Isn’t he just fucking gorgeous?” Jesse said. Casey suspected that he was at least just as drunk as she felt.

 

“Yes. You said the same thing the last three times you introduced him,” Casey said.

 

“Uh, you know, “ Gustavo hesitated. “Gus is fine,” he said, rubbing the back of his neck.

 

“I’m serious. Have you ever seen a man this beautiful?” Jesse pressed, turning towards Sally, who shook her head enthusiastically.

 

Casey saw Gus smile discreetly, and, was that a blush? Now that was too fucking cute.

 

“You’re too fucking cute,” Casey told Gus.

 

He chuckled and put her drink down in front of her. “Are you sure you guys can handle another round? You all seem pretty hammered already,” Gus said. Casey noticed for the first time that he had a faint Spanish accent.

 

“Nonsense!” Sally shouted. “We’re celebrating!”

 

“Celebrating?” Gus lifted an eyebrow. “I thought you were helping Casey get over her Play Jitters?”

 

“And it worked!” Jesse chanted.

 

“So we’re celebrating!” Sally chanted back, grinning.

 

Casey suddenly felt sick. “Now that you mention it, I think it’s coming back.” She whined, holding her stomach in case all of its content decided to just burst out.

 

“See what you just did?” Jesse said to Gus in a fake disappointed voice. “Now, kid, I don’t pay you to talk. Get back to work.”

 

“You’re not even the one who pays me,” Gus deadpanned.

 

“I’m the boss! I hired you!” Jesse shouted, outraged.

 

“Because you were understaffed.”

 

“No,” Jesse ground out. “I hired you because you’re gorgeous. Now go fetch me another drink.”

 

Gus rolled his eyes and headed back towards the bar.

 

“He really is pretty,” Sally said, resting her chin on her fist thoughtfully. “Is he taken? Did you call dibs on him, Jesse?”

 

Jesse laughed and stretched his arm around Casey’s shoulders. “If you haven’t noticed, I’m already taken.”

 

Sally perked up. “That means he’s fair game!” She said, plucking a cherry in her mouth. Where did she get a cherry? Whose drink was this?

 

“I think he’s gay,” Jesse supplied.

 

“Is that why you’re all over him?” Casey teased.

 

Jesse looked down at her. “I’ll be all over you,” he said in a deep rumbling voice.

 

“Is that so?” Casey quirked her eyebrow.

 

“Maybe later,” he whispered, bending down to catch her lips. She melted into the kiss. He smelled really good.

 

“Okay. Guys. I’m still here.” Sally interrupted.

 

Casey pushed away from Jesse half-heartedly. “Sorry,” she mumbled.

 

“Well, I feel left out,” Sally pouted in her direction.

 

“We can settle this very easily,” Jesse said. Casey frowned at him. “I don’t mind sharing,” he explained, smirking.

 

Her eyebrows shot up. Oh really…

 

“Just like that? Out of the kindness of your heart?” she asked, knowingly. That was such a typical guy move. He probably wouldn’t be able to handle it if she decided to go through with it.

 

“I admit, it’s a little bit selfish on my part,” Jesse said, and put his hand over his heart.

 

“I really don’t mind,” Sally interjected. She had an eyebrow quirked towards Casey in challenge. The look she gave her reminded Casey of someone else. And she couldn’t resist the challenge in that look.

 

Casey leaned on her elbows over the table. “I bet you don’t.”

 

“You really need to make up for being so rude to me,” Sally said, mirroring Casey’s position over the table and bringing their faces closer.

 

And Casey just… went for it. She pushed herself the rest of the way until her mouth was on Sally’s, her nose bumping into Sally’s cheek with the force of her attack. Sally pressed back and Casey barely registered some whistling coming from the back of the pub before it was over and Sally pulled back, slowly, meeting her eyes. Sally’s green eyes were sparkling and Casey realized that they matched her dress.

 

“Wow,” Jesse breathed. “I didn’t think you would actually do it.”

 

Casey sat up straight. “I’m not a chicken,” she stated proudly.

 

Jesse laughed. “A real champ!”

 

Sally laughed and held up her glass, “To Casey!”

 

“To Casey,” Jesse answered, holding his glass up towards Sally’s.

 

Sally gave Casey a meaningful look, “A real champ,” she said.

 

Casey rolled her eyes for effect then clinked her glass with everyone else’s. They all drank, and Casey gulped down the rest of her glass.

 

“Attagirl!” Jesse whistled.

 

“Ooooh, let’s take a selfie!” Sally exclaimed, taking out her phone and leaning towards the middle of the table. Casey and Jesse joined in, smiling at the camera. Casey knew that she must have looked trashed.

 

Sally sat down, and started typing. “Hashtag: Casey’s a champ!” she said.

 

Casey groaned, “Is that going on instagram?”

 

“I’m just snapchatting it to Derek!”

 

Casey’s eyes grew wide, “Wait!” she protested weakly, as Jesse took his phone out, saying “Oh yeah, I should send one too!” She was whisked into another picture, her smile a thousand times more fake this time. Jesse showed it to her before typing “You’re missing out, bro,” into the picture, then hitting send.

 

“Awww,” Sally cooed on the other side of the table. She was looking at her phone. “They’re watching a movie.”

 

“Who?” Casey wasn’t sure what was going on anymore.

 

“Oh wait, I’ll replay that,” she said, then handed her phone over to Casey. Casey replayed the snap. Derek had sent a picture of him, wearing his ridiculously big glasses, and Vicki, bundled up under… were they sharing a blanket? Was Derek watching a movie and sharing a blanket with Vicki? Was her life real right now?

 

Over the picture, he’d written, “Movie night. What’s up?”

 

Jesse laughed beside her. “Look,” he said, and Casey looked up as he leaned over the table to show his phone to Sally, who narrowed her eyes at the picture, apparently having trouble reading the small text, then laughed. Casey never got to see that picture. Jesse held his phone over his head and snapped a picture of himself, throwing a peace sign, typed something up, then put his phone down. Casey looked down at the black screen of Sally’s phone, realizing that she should probably hand it back now.

 

“You know Vicki?” Casey asked Sally as she let go of the phone.

 

 

The last Casey had heard from Vicki, about a year ago, she’d followed her boyfriend, a guy she had just met, to Los Angeles. Casey had tried to tell her that it was irresponsible, but Vicki wouldn’t hear any of it. They had argued, and Vicki went anyway. Casey had no idea how that had worked out.

 

“Oh, yeah,” Sally nodded, “she was with the team in Vancouver this winter. I think she met up with Derek when he was playing in Los Angeles and then she tagged along.”

 

“That sounds like Vicki,” Jesse laughed.

 

“So, what, they just hang out, now?” Casey said. She didn’t know what she sounded like. If she sounded angry or bitter, nobody said anything about it.

 

“You… haven’t been checking his instagram, have you?” Sally said, disbelieving.

 

“I’ve been busy,” Casey defended, but took out her phone anyway. Yes, okay. She’d been avoiding him on all social media. Even before the realizations ™, she’d found that she couldn’t stand to look at pictures of him, just moving on with his life and doing things. Without her. She had allowed herself to not think about it any further.

 

“Even I saw his insta stories,” Jesse said, as if he wasn’t an absolute gossip hound.

 

“I have better things to do than stalk my stupid step-brother on social media!” Casey exclaimed, as she clicked on the icon for instagram on her phone, proceeding to stalk said step-brother on said social media.

 

The last picture he’d posted was a couple of days ago, it showed musicians according their instruments in a crowded living room. She didn’t recognize any of them, but she assumed they were the members of Derek’s band. He’d told her about his band, she remembered at least that. It was captioned with “A little rusty…” She figured they hadn’t been able to practice during hockey season.

 

Casey scrolled through aesthetic shots of beer mugs, coffee cups and empty ice rinks, rolling her eyes internally at how predictable he was. She only paid attention to the pictures Vicki was in.

 

They had coffee just last week; they were both smiling, only half of Derek’s face showing as he took the picture from behind him to show the table with coffees and plates with half-eaten cakes. Vicki was crouched over the table, looking up at the camera through large black sunglasses, throwing up a peace sign. The caption read: “Don’t be mistaken. She’s eating BOTH of these cakes. I’m just here to witness.”

 

There were a few selfies, pictures with the family from the intervention two weeks ago.

 

At the end of April, he’d posted a shot of Vicki laughing. She was standing in a kitchen, trying to twist the cap off of a bottle of wine. “This is not a twist off,” the caption said. Vicki had commented underneath. “Welcome back, big D!”

 

Before that, he’d been jumping from plane to plane, travelling across Canada and the States as he played against different teams every week. Casey saw pictures that she remembered him taking at Christmas. There was even a picture of her, but she kept scrolling, until she found the very first picture with Vicki, captioned “Lost & found. @VicToria” It was back in November, he’d even set the location to Los Angeles. Derek was smiling genially, the hand not holding his phone was pointing its thumb at Vicki, as she hugged him, arms tight around his neck, eyes closed and face scrunched up in a pleased smile.

 

Casey couldn’t help the feeling of betrayal. He hadn’t said anything to her about Vicki. Not even at Christmas. And he knew what had happened between them, he knew that she was worried about her cousin, lost in Los Angeles somewhere with a guy that she didn’t think was trustworthy.

 

He also knew that Casey and Vicki didn’t get along. He’d known back when they’d organized her aunt’s wedding at their house, and he’d known when Vicki kissed Truman at that party. He knew, and he was supposed to take her side, he was her – step-brother.

 

“Casey?” Jesse’s voice sounded, pulling Casey’s glare away from her phone. “Do you want another drink?”

 

He was leaning back casually, his arm stretched across the seat behind her head. He looked completely unaware of her internal struggles. Casey had been so focused on stalking Derek’s instagram that she hadn’t noticed Jesse and Sally had just carried on their conversation, oblivious to her outrage, like she hadn’t just learned that her step-brother had been fraternizing with her enemy behind her back.

 

“No, thanks,” she said, then looked back down at the wall of images on her phone screen. She had no idea what was going on in his life anymore. Nothing more than what he told her about here and there anyway, which she was realizing now, was virtually nothing. All these thoughts she’d had about them sharing every little personal details of their life, they weren’t true, just delusions. She didn’t know the names of the guys in his band. She didn’t know how much time he spent with Vicki. She didn’t even know where he lived. Those were important, basic stuff to know about someone you’re supposed to be close with. As she realized that she really didn’t know anything about Derek at all, she thought that she should be relieved, because she’d been worried over nothing this whole time, but she wasn’t.

 

It hurt.

 

“Yeah, I’m getting tired too,” Sally was saying. “I should probably head back home. Casey, are we still having lunch tomorrow?”

 

“Sure,” Casey answered distantly. She didn’t look up but heard Sally shuffling with her things, dropping her bill into her purse, and the crunching of the seat as she got up.

 

Sally kissed them both on the cheek, kind of sloppily, before waving them goodbye.

 

Jesse’s hand on her shoulder made Casey look up from her phone again. He pulled her at his side and kissed her temple. “Wanna go home?”

 

Casey sighed and turned her phone off. She nodded. She just wanted to sleep now.

Chapter Text

It was only the next morning, after she had thrown up, swallowed half a bottle of Tylenols and showered, that Casey started freaking out about The Kiss.

 

It wasn’t so much that she’d kissed a girl (and she liked it). It was that she had kissed Sally, her step-brother’s ex-girlfriend (was that weird?), the closest thing she had to a best friend in NYC, and also the girl she had shared a moment with, earlier that night, when they were at the gallery and Casey had been so overwhelmed that she had almost kissed Sally. And then she’d gotten drunk and actually kissed her.

 

It had been quick, barely a kiss at any rate, just the brush of lips over hers.

 

Sally’s lips.

 

Casey swallowed against her desert dry throat.

 

It wasn’t like the kiss had meant anything. They’d just done it for fun. Jesse had been there. They were all drunk. It was just a thing that happened, probably building up from all that anticipation and lingering feelings from the gallery.

 

From the moment.

 

When she’d watched pictures on a wall and felt like she had been stripped naked and caressed, and had looked at Sally, at Sally’s mouth, and all she’d wanted was to kiss her. She’d wanted to. Their foreheads had touched and that moment, it had meant something.

 

And she couldn’t quite think of the two events as separate. They had kissed, on a whim sure, but only after they’d spent an evening together, letting the tension build, leading up to the inevitable. The events completed each other, like two separate scenes of a movie, each containing important information to understand the other. Or a sequence of pictures that doesn’t make sense when you look at them at random, but in the right order… they mean something.

 

But the kiss itself, when it happened. Didn’t.

 

She hadn’t even felt anything when she kissed her. Sally was her friend. It wasn’t like that between them.

 

They cared about each other and they could talk about anything, but that didn’t make it anything more than friendship. And friends sometimes kissed when they were drunk and excited.

 

Really, they were just good friends.

 

 


 

 

 

As it was, Casey had been really busy the whole week. It was all about opening night on Saturday. Final rehearsals, going over the lines that, cough, some people, had most trouble remembering, or running around to find props at the last minute. So after her initial, very brief freak out over The Kiss, she didn’t have the time to obsess over it. She spent the next three days having panic attacks about Saturday night’s representation instead!

 

It wasn’t exactly a disaster. There were only normal, usual set backs that could be expected during a play. Technicalities, like missing set items, actors with stage fright, or actors forgetting their lines.

 

Mostly, Casey could handle it. It was just that… Casey wasn’t even in charge of this whole thing, so why did she end up having to do everything herself?

 

In the end, it worked out, because keeping busy kept her from freaking out over other things, and it kept her from stressing over her own performance. She couldn’t be freaking out when half of the other actors were throwing up all over the place.

 

She was helping out the other leading actress when Jesse met her backstage before the show.

 

“You’ve got it, Sylvia,” Casey said as she rubbed the girl’s back soothingly. She was answered by the sound of Sylvia heaving and retching into her bucket.

 

“Is it a bad moment?” Jesse said as he approached. Casey’s head snapped up at the sound of his voice. He was carrying a large bouquet of mixed flowers. She got up excitedly, leaving Sylvia behind to deal with herself.

 

“No!” Casey said, jumping up and down. “Are these for me?” she grinned up at him.

 

“They’re for the lead actress,” Jesse said, looking around a if he was looking for someone. “You haven’t seen her around, have you?”

 

Casey giggled and took the bouquet in her arms, pressing her face into it to smell the flowers. It smelled nice. Freshly cut. It was soothing. She always liked the smell of flowers, it was just like fresh air, something pure that cleared her head and grounded her.

 

“It’s from all of us,” Jesse said, putting his hands in the pockets of his jeans.

 

“Thank you.” She beamed. “I’m glad you could come.”

 

Jesse shrugged. “I’m the boss, I decide when I get the night off.”

 

Casey looked behind him, expecting to see Sally. “Did Sally get here already?”

 

“Yeah, we all came together,” Jesse said, his head nodding towards the curtain, indicating the theatre beyond, “They’re finding us good places to sit.”

 

Casey frowned. “They?”

 

Jesse paused. “Sally and Derek.”

 

Casey’s heart somersaulted in her chest, followed by a triple backflip, and landed dramatically into her throat, like, meters from it’s original starting point.

 

“De-“ Casey took a deep, calming breath. “DEREK IS HERE?!” she shrieked.

 

Jesse leaned down to pick up her bouquet from the floor. “You didn’t know he was going to be here?” he asked, puzzled.

 

“You knew?! Since when?!”

 

“He… told me last week.” Jesse said tentatively, then brushed his hair out of his face. “You didn’t know?”

 

“Why didn’t you tell me?!”

 

“I thought he already told you,” Jesse shrugged, like it was obvious.

 

“Oh my god,” Casey started hyperventilating.

 

“Casey? It’s just Derek.” Jesse said, putting a reassuring hand on her shoulder.

 

“JUST DEREK?!” She exploded. Just…

 

Just Derek.

 

He was here. In the theatre. To watch her play.

 

It was getting hard to breathe.

 

“Woah, Casey, Casey,” Jesse let go of the flowers and lead her to a chair, making her sit down. “Breathe. In and out, like this” he breathed in and out, showing her how it’s done, and she focused on imitating him, evening her breath until she didn’t see the black spots in her vision anymore. “You’ve got it, Casey.”

 

He rubbed his hands up and down her arms soothingly a she kept breathing. He let a minute pass, then asked, “Are you okay?”

 

Casey nodded.

 

“We’re all here to cheer you on,” he said, like that was supposed to make her feel better.

 

Derek was here.

 

She hadn’t talked to him directly in over a week. She’d avoided him for over a week. And the whole time she’d been freaking out about the reason why she avoided him. Until she found out that she had been freaking out for nothing, and proceeded to not freak out about it, because she didn’t have the time.

 

But he was here.

 

She would probably have to see him after the show. Face to face. With their last conversation hanging between them.

 

Why did he have to do this to her right before her show?

 

She let her head fall into her hands.

 

“You’ll do fine, Casey, you’re always great,” Jesse said again.

 

Oh sweet Jesse, who, somehow, thought she was freaking out about her performance. It was killing her.

 

“I know,” she sighed, and looked up at him again.

 

“Okay,” Jesse looked at his watch, “I should let you get ready. Do you need anything?”

 

She shook her head. “Thanks.”

 

He took her face into his hands and kissed her forehead. “Break a leg.”

 

She smiled at him as he turned around and left backstage.

 

Okay. Casey took a deep breath. There wasn’t time to freak out anymore. First, the show had to go on, and then she could worry about how to deal with Derek.

 

Later.

 

 


 

 

 

The show went well, everything going smoothly. Everyone remembered their lines on time and, she thought, they’d put on a great performance. She’d let go of herself for a while, put her energy into acting, and went with the flow. By the end of the play, she’d let the adrenaline wash over her, and she bowed proudly at the clapping audience, before the curtains closed.

 

She was vibrating.

 

Backstage, everyone shared her excitement, high fiving and congratulating and hugging each other. She headed back to her changing room and looked at herself in the mirror. Her face was red. It was a revitalizing blush, creeping from deep down her neckline and splashing all over her face. She couldn’t catch her breath, but she was okay. She couldn’t stop smiling as she wiped away her make up and changed back into her own clothes.

 

When she was done, she checked her phone. Jesse had texted to congratulate her and telling her to meet them outside. The hallways were too jammed to reach her backstage.

 

As the cool night air reached her face, it was like an awakening. She was still high on all the excitement, but the cold shocked her out of her little Play Bubble, and every bit of her woke up to the outside world. She was now ready to face the whole world.

 

She spotted Jesse and grinned at him. He grinned back and opened his arms wide, ready to catch her. She raced to him right away, jumping into his arms, and he spun her around. “You were amazing!” he laughed.

 

Casey just laughed back. It was cathartic. Like she’d finally let go of everything that had been wounding her up into a giant ball of stress and negative emotion. She felt light. She felt amazing.

 

Jesse put her back down on the ground, and then Sally was on her, crushing her into an intense hug. She let it happen.

 

“Casey! You were so good!” Sally squealed, “The whole crowd was cheering, everyone loved it!” Casey giggled, resting her head on Sally’s shoulder as she tightened her arms around her.

 

“Yeah, it wasn’t so bad,” another voice said from behind Sally. Casey opened her eyes and saw him. He had his hands in the pockets of his jeans, standing straight and tall, as he looked down at her, smiling softly, eyes genuine.

 

He approached when Sally let go of her, and he surprised her by leaning down to kiss her cheek lightly. She felt his hand at the small of her back. “Congrats, Space Case,” he whispered in her ear. And she closed her eyes for a second. Just breathed him in. He still smelled of the same cologne.

 

Then he pulled back, and she was looking up at him again. “Derek,” she said evenly. It wasn’t so much an acknowledgment as it was her way of asserting to herself that it was him, that he was there, more than anything else.

 

And here’s the weird thing: time didn’t stop. The world kept moving, and it was okay.

 

Jesse wrapped his arm around her shoulder and exchanged pleasantries with Derek, Sally kept gushing with her about the play, and soon they all headed to the pub to celebrate the aftermath with a few cast members who tagged along.

 

 


 

 

The room was loud, people were yelling on top of each other and the music. They’d pushed two tables together to fit everyone. Derek had offered the first couple of rounds, and afterwards they just kept calling Gustavo over for drinks non-stop.

 

“You know, I’ve probably served enough drinks here to give all of you alcohol poisoning,” Gus said under his breath.

 

“What?” Jesse yelled. Casey laughed.

 

Gus just shook his head and went back to the counter with a new round of orders.

 

“I think he likes us,” Jesse told Casey conspiringly.

 

“You keep thinking that,” she said.

 

She heard Derek’s hyena laugh at the other end of the table and looked over. He was slapping his knee, laughing hysterically at something Xavier, the director, was saying. She guessed it was nice that he was blending in so well.

 

Next to him, Sally was deep in conversation with Sylvia. She had that glint in her eye that meant she was passionate about the topic. They were probably talking about the double meaning of the dialogue or something. Sally hadn’t stopped talking about it on their way over.

 

Casey was sitting next to Jesse at one end of the table, in front of Felix, the male lead, and Joanne, one of the extras. Joanne was very good on stage, but she was very shy outside of the theatre. She had barely said a word since they got to the pub.

 

“Say, Felix,” Jesse said, “that was quite the monologue. How did you manage to remember all of it?”

 

Casey slapped his thigh under the table. She almost regretted telling him about Felix’s problem with lines during rehearsals. After all, he’d performed brilliantly tonight. Felix didn’t seem to pick up on Jesse’s teasing, however.

 

“It’s all about technique,” Felix said, pointing his index finger upward, “and discipline,” he finished, raising a second finger in illustration. Casey raised an eyebrow skeptically.

 

“Oh really,” Jesse deadpanned, “tell me more.”

 

Casey could tell that Jesse was making fun of Felix again, and she didn’t think it was fair, considering that the guy had really turned it around. But she didn’t feel like stopping him either. Felix did tend to show off and be overall unpleasant when they ended up hanging out outside of the theatre. So she let Jesse have his fun. Felix wouldn’t notice anyway, too busy boasting off about his technique to pick up on Jesse’s sarcasm, as per usual.

 

She heard Derek laugh again and tried to tune in on his conversation with Xavier. She couldn’t make out what the director was saying, he was generally soft-spoken, so trying to hear him over all the noise was in vain. Derek, though, was as loud as ever.

 

“That is so like her,” he said as his laughter subsided.

 

Like who? Were they talking about her?

 

“She used to do this all the time in high school.”

 

They were talking about her! Derek was getting some embarrassing stories from Xavier, she could just tell, and he would use it against her, like he always did. Ugh. Typical.

 

He looked up and caught her glaring. He smirked.

 

“Hey, Case!” he shouted over the din. “Wanna hear a good story?”

 

She narrowed her eyes at him. She was fuming.

 

“I was just going to tell Xavier here about the time you were almost sued for butt damage!”

 

“De-rek! Don’t you think you’re getting a little old for such juvenile behaviour?” she warned. She vaguely noticed that the whole table’s attention was on them now.

 

“Oh, big words!” he drawled.

 

“I swear, Derek, you better not…”

 

“SO, as I was saying,” Derek said, turning towards Xavier, the snickering traitor, “It was Casey’s first day at school and – gyaah!”

 

He’d barely managed to avoid the bread roll flying at his face. He looked back at her incredulously. “Really, Case?”

 

“I told you,” she said menacingly as she pushed herself up to her feet, “you better stop talking right now, or I swear! You will be the one with butt damage!”

 

“Oh, you think you scare me,” he said, then his smirk grew into a leer, “Klutzilla.”

 

She lunged at him.

 

She didn’t care that there was a table between them or that she was knocking over glasses. She was going to get to him, and make him pay!

 

She had almost reached him when she was held back, strong arms wrapping around her waist and lifting her off the table. “This is not over!” she yelled at Derek as Jesse carried her away. He just laughed at her. “Oh, you – you jerk!” she struggled to free herself but Jesse held on and dragged her out of the bar.

 

He put her down outside the door. She went for his left side.

 

“Woah, no no no,” he said as he caught her again, “not fair, you know that’s my bad side.” She groaned and stopped resisting.

 

“Casey,” he sighed, more exasperated than usual, “what the hell?”

 

“He’s just so irritating!”

 

“Yeah, and that means you had to jump on the table and break everything?”

 

Casey huffed and crossed her arms.

 

“Don’t you think it was a bit much?” he asked, holding his thumb and index finger close together.

 

She sighed and dropped her arms. “Maybe…”

 

“Uh-huh,” Jesse said in his best scolding tone. She hated it when he treated her like a child. “You know, I should ban you from the bar for this.”

 

“Jesse,” Casey whined.

 

“But I won’t,” he said, holding his hands up to calm her outburst. “I won’t ban you. If you apologize.”

 

She shifted and looked down at her shoes. “Sorry…”

 

“To Derek.”

 

“What?” her head snapped up again, “Apologize to Derek?”

 

“It’s really not necessary,” Derek said. They both turned towards him. He cleared his throat. “Can I, uh… speak with Casey?”

 

“I dunno,” Jesse said, looking at Casey again. “Am I gonna have to break up another fight, or can I trust you to behave?”

 

“I’ll behave,” Casey said, indignantly.

 

“Okay. Are you feeling ready to go home?” Jesse asked. She nodded. “What do you say if Derek walks you now?”

 

She didn’t say anything and looked at the ground again.

 

“Derek?”

 

“Uh, sure.”

 

“Alright. I’m gonna get your purse, Casey. I’ll be right back.”

 

Jesse patted Derek’s shoulder on his way to the door, then disappeared inside.

 

“I hate it when he treats me like a child,” Casey muttered.

 

“Have you tried not acting like one?” Derek offered.

 

She sighed and looked up at him. “Did you come out here to fight again?”

 

“No,” he agreed. “I, uh…” he started awkwardly, rubbing the back of his neck. “I’m sorry… for acting like a jerk.” He let his hands fall into his pockets as he looked everywhere but at her.

 

“Sally made you come and apologize, didn’t she?”

 

“Yeah…”

 

“It’s fine. I… might have overreacted.”

 

Derek laughed. “Might have?”

 

“I thought you didn’t want to fight again,” Casey snapped.

 

“I don’t,” he assured her slowly, “But, uh, that was pretty wild.”

 

Casey crossed her arms and looked away.

 

Derek took a step towards her, and stopped when Jesse came back out, holding her purse.

 

“Are you gonna be okay?” he asked as he handed it to her.

 

“Yes,” she said, and pulled her bag over her shoulder, “Thanks for not banning me from the bar.”

 

Jesse chuckled. Casey pouted. “You know I wouldn’t have.” She kept pouting. “Come here,” he said, pulling her in with one arm. She wrapped her arms around him, accepting the comforting hug. She didn’t like feeling like he was disappointed in her. Even if she deserved it.

 

She caught Derek’s eye over Jesse’s shoulder and he looked away, rolling back on his heels.

 

Jesse let her go. “Now just go home and relax, okay? You did great tonight.”

 

“Thanks,” Casey smiled.

 

Turning to Derek, Jesse warned, “Now, I don’t want to hear that you got Casey into some funny business on your way home, D.”

 

“You got it, bro,” Derek smirked.

 

“You know you’ve got your up-to-something face on, right?”

 

Derek chuckled. “I promise, I’ll behave myself.”

 

“Right,” Jesse said. “I’ll see you later, Case.” Then he got back into the bar again.

 

“So,” Casey said, “what funny business are you planning on getting us into?”

 

Derek grinned. “Well, I was thinking,” he started, rubbing his hands together, “maybe we could rob a bank?” Casey giggled. “Have we tried that already?”

 

She pushed his shoulder. “Dumbass,” she said, and started walking. He fell into step with her easily.

 

“Again, with the name calling,” he sighed dramatically. Her heart did a tiny jump as it recognized the conversation he was referring to.

 

“You deserve it,” she teased, going with the answer she should have given last time.

 

“Maybe,” he shrugged.

 

They walked in silence for a few blocks. It was kind of comfortable, even with all the things they weren’t saying hanging between them heavily.

 

Then Casey spoke. “So, you and Vicki have been hanging out, huh?” she said, forcing her voice to sound even.

 

Derek looked over at her. “Yeah,” was all he said.

 

“It’s funny, because I thought she was still in L.A,” she pushed. She didn’t know what she was trying to get out of him. An explanation? An apology? She wasn’t really looking for anything, she just wanted, needed, to hear him say it.

 

“She moved back to Toronto earlier this year,” he said.

 

Casey couldn’t tell if he was avoiding the subject on purpose or if he was just giving her the answers he thought she wanted, but she had to quell the frustration that was mounting within her, because really, she had no good reason to be upset about this. At least, no reason that she wanted to say out loud.

 

“Sally said that she met her,” she said as casually as she could muster, “she was with you in Vancouver, right?”

 

He eyed her suspiciously. Damn it. “Is there something you want to ask me?”

 

“No,” she said defensively, “I was just making conversation.”

 

“It sounded like there was something you wanted to know.”

 

“No,” she denied again. He eyed her skeptically. She sighed. “I just…”

 

“We’re good friends,” he supplied after she’d trailed off.

 

“Friends?” Casey asked. Her voice wavered and she hated it.

 

“Yeah,” he shrugged, unhelpfully. How could he be so aloof about this? Shouldn’t he know that she would hate the thought of them being together? Was he avoiding the subject to protect her feelings or did he just not want to deal with how inconsiderate he’d been?

 

“You’re friends with Vicki?” she questioned.

 

“Yes,” he snapped, obviously getting annoyed with her, “I am friends with Vicki.”

 

“Right,” she said abruptly. She huffed and straightened her purse on her shoulder. “It’s fine, it’s not like you’d even go there again.”

 

Derek didn’t say anything. His silence made her look up at him curiously. He was just staring ahead.

 

“Do you?” she demanded.

 

“Not really,” he said, looking uncomfortable.

 

“Not really? What does that mean?”

 

Derek stopped walking and turned towards her, eyes hard. “Is this an interrogation?”

 

“You wanted me to tell you what’s on my mind,” Casey snapped.

 

“That didn’t mean prying into my private life.”

 

“I thought you said you were just friends.”

 

“We are.”

 

“But you sleep with her.”

 

“Sometimes.”

 

Casey reeled back, feeling like she’d been slapped in the face. She’d had a feeling, but it was something else to hear him say it. She almost regretted pushing the subject.

 

“Is that why you didn’t tell me?” she whispered, suddenly breathless. She blinked fast against the tears that threatened to fall. She wasn’t going to cry.

 

Derek sighed and his voice softened. “I didn’t tell you because I knew you wouldn’t understand.”

 

“What is there to understand, exactly?”

 

Derek groaned, rubbing his forehead like he was getting a headache. “You’re being so difficult.”

 

I’m being difficult?” Casey asked incredulously. He was the one who asked to know what was bothering her, then refused to be forthcoming with his answers!

 

“Yes. Vicki and I are friends. Just let it go,” Derek said, and started walking again.

 

Casey followed, staying quiet for a moment to let the tension dissipate.

 

“You know why I don’t trust Vicki,” she said softly, when they’d calmed down. They were getting close to her place.

 

Derek looked at her, inspecting her face, her clothes. She forced herself not to squirm. He was silent long enough that she thought he wouldn’t say anything. Then he said, just as softly, “I know.”

 

Did he?

 

It was her turn to scrutinize him, analyzing every soft line of his face. Sure, his jaw was more defined now and he’d put on a little weight and muscle with training, but he still had the same delicate features and smooth skin that made him look sweet. Casey knew better, of course, but she couldn’t ignore the way her heart pressed into her chest as she looked at him. Even though his expression was closed off, she saw a flicker of affection in his eyes. A soft light that carried a tiny twinge of guilt and gentle concern with it. He didn’t look away, like he wanted her to see or understand.

 

Yes, he knew.

 

She tried to smile but it made her eyes sting so she dropped her gaze to the ground, slowing down as they neared her building. “Thanks for walking me home.”

 

“Don’t mention it.” He stopped in front of her door.

 

“Do you want to come up? For coffee?” she asked nervously. The thought of being alone with him inside was putting her on edge, but she didn’t want to leave their conversation like this either. They always talked so much but never really said anything.

 

“I should go back,” he said, looking apologetic. “I told Sally I’d go back with her.”

 

“Oh.”

 

Derek sighed. Did he hear the cracking sound in her chest as well?

 

“Is there… something else? On your mind?” he asked gently, openly, like a peace offering.

 

She knew she had to take it while she could. “Are you and Sally…”

 

“Sometimes.”

 

Casey nodded, looking at her hands fidgeting with her keys. “You’re right,” she said. “I don’t understand.”

 

“You don’t need to.”

 

“I want to.”

 

Derek looked back the way they came from, then pushed a hand into his hair. “Look, I’ll, uh… I’m going to be in New York all summer.” That made her look up again. “I didn’t tell you because… well, because you’ve been avoiding me for two weeks.”

 

“You’re staying?”

 

“The band,” he shrugged. “We scheduled a few shows in New York over the summer.”

 

“That’s great.”

 

“Yeah,” he put his hands back in his pockets. “So… I’ll see you, alright?”

 

She nodded, and he nodded back. “Night,” he waved, then turned back.

 

She watched him walk away, watched the tight set of his shoulders under his leather jacket, until he was far enough that she couldn’t see him anymore. Then she turned and went inside.

Chapter Text

Her next shows that week were also a success. Thankfully, being so busy meant that she didn’t see as much of Derek as she had dreaded (nope, she wouldn’t say hoped, because that would be inaccurate and ridiculous.) She also didn’t see much of Sally either, which admittedly saddened her a little. But they were both busy, she figured. And it really couldn’t have anything to do with that stupid auburn haired boy that they both knew… could it?

 

She went a whole week without seeing him.

 

Then one evening, she came home, and there he was, sitting on a stool at the island, wearing that stupid beanie on his head, without a care in the world, while chatting with Jesse who was cooking.

 

He looked up at her from behind those stupid big glasses and smiled that stupid smile and she knew, that her days of peace were over.

 

“What did you do?” she asked evenly.

 

Derek put a hand to his chest and patented an insulted face as he said, “is that any way to greet your dear brother into your home, Case?”

 

“I swear to God, Derek, if you did something…” she warned.

 

Jesse turned around from the stove to face them. “He’s been with me the whole time,” he assured.

 

Derek smiled innocently.

 

“Are you sure you were able to see him the whole time?” Casey insisted, “You didn’t even go to the bathroom? You didn’t take your eyes off him for a second?”

 

“Casey, what damage could he do in one second?”

 

She took on a grave tone, “a lot.”

 

“I’m just here because Jesse invited me over for dinner,” Derek said, putting his hands up in front of him in a warning off gesture. “It was a last minute thing, I wouldn’t have had the time to prepare a prank in so little time,” he tried to convince her. His tone was mocking her.

 

They were so going to regret having him over.

 

“Fine,” she said, narrowing her eyes at him. She swore to herself that she wouldn’t let him out of her sight that night. Derek just rubbed his stubble with a satisfied smile on his face.

 

Oh, they would regret this so much. She was going to regret this.

 

 


 

 

 

The evening was actually surprisingly pleasant. While Derek still insulted her any chance he got, it was kind of tame. Just like… friendly teasing? Pretty much the same kind of insults he traded with Jesse all night.

 

And what was up with that, anyways? Since when were they such good pals? How had she never noticed how great her boyfriend was getting along with her step-brother?

 

It wasn’t that Jesse wasn’t a friendly guy; He could actually make friends very easily. But Derek wasn’t friendly. He was more like an insufferable jerk to everyone he met. He even insulted all of her ex-boyfriends on the grounds that they were going out with her and yet, he had never once said anything bad about Jesse, aside from the occasional jab at his masculinity for dancing ballet. He seemed to genuinely like and want to spend time with Jesse. Like they were friends or something.

 

“So what does Liz and Ed’s place look like?” Jesse asked Derek.

 

Oh, that’s right! She forgot to ask about that. And Lizzie had been so excited to tell Casey about that apartment they found when she told her about it a couple months ago. Casey would have to call Lizzie later.

 

“Surprisingly nice, considering how cheap it is,” Derek said, taking a sip of his beer.

 

“I bet they were excited to finally move out of your parent’s house, right?” Jesse said.

 

“You’re right. It was about time too. I was starting to think they would stay there forever like leeches.”

 

“De-rek,” Casey scolded lightly. “It was smart for them to stay at home while they were still in school.”

 

“We didn’t,” Derek said.

 

“It was different. We didn’t go to a university close enough to stay at home.”

 

“Well, I went to university,” Derek drawled. “You, on the other hand…” Casey rolled her eyes. “Anyways, I know it was a good thing for them,” he continued. “I’m just saying it’s about time they went and enjoyed the real world.”

 

“They’re moving with Edwin’s girlfriend, right?” Jesse asked, subtly moving the conversation away from an argument. Casey knew he’d learned to do that quickly, after a few family gatherings.

 

“Yeah,” Derek answered, moving on easily.

 

“What’s she like?” Casey asked, curious. She hadn’t met Claudia, she’d only heard about her when she was over at the house. And Lizzie had barely said anything about her, just mentioned that she was moving in with them. “Does she get along with Liz?”

 

“Well, yeah,” Derek said, like It was obvious. “You really think Liz would move in with somebody she didn’t like?”

 

“It could have just been about saving money,” she said defensively, winding up for an argument. Derek just shrugged.

 

“There is that,” he admitted. “But they’re actually really close. It’s kinda weird.”

 

“Weird?” Casey asked.

 

“Being best friends with your brother’s girlfriend?” Derek answered dubiously.

 

“I always got along with Sally,” Casey said.

 

“Yeah,” Derek said, and took another sip of his beer. “That was weird too.”

 

Jesse chuckled. “Speaking of Sally,” he interrupted their bickering. “Haven’t seen her around since Casey’s show. How is she?”

 

Derek frowned. “I haven’t seen her either. She just texted to say she was busy with work.”

 

That surprised Casey. She had just assumed that they had been together the whole time. But then again, she knew how the saying went about assuming.

 

“But I thought she was hanging out with you,” Derek said, pointing at her.

 

“Me? Why?” Casey said, startled.

 

“Isn’t she your new bestie?”

 

“Well, yeah, kind of. But we’re not together…” Casey said, then added quickly, “all the time.”

 

Something in Derek’s expression made it seem like he knew more than he should. Could he tell that she had kissed Sally? Had Sally told him?

 

“Has she been texting you?” Jesse asked Casey, holding his beer up to his mouth.

 

“Yeah. But just that she was busy with work, too,” she shrugged. “It’s alright, we all get caught up with work sometimes. Like I was busy with rehearsals last month.”

 

“Not everybody is an overachiever like you,” Derek said, pointing his fork at her.

 

“Maybe she’s just excited about the work she’s doing at the gallery. She couldn’t wait to show me what she was working on when we went to her party last week.”

 

“Oh so she took you,” Derek said casually.

 

“Yeah. So?” Casey said.

 

“Well she didn’t mention it,” Derek shrugged. “It’s cool that you went, though. She tried to downplay it, but I know she was disappointed that I couldn’t go with her.”

 

“You were supposed to go with her?”

 

“Yeah, but I had to stay to help Liz and Ed move out that day because the apartment wasn’t ready when it was supposed to,” Derek said, obviously still annoyed.

 

It kind of hurt Casey a little. She knew that it was kind of irrational, because Sally really liked Casey and she wasn’t just a replacement to her. But she couldn’t help but wonder if Sally would have preferred it if Derek had been with her. He would have easily handled her boss and put Jane back in her place when Casey couldn’t. And maybe Sally and Derek would have had a moment too, in that room, when she showed him the exposition she had laid out.

 

“Anyways,” Derek continued, “it’s better that she took you. You know how I hate those artsy fartsy stuff.”

 

Casey rolled her eyes.

 

Jesse chuckled. “Coming from the guy with the hipster beanie on at the table,” he said, snatching the hat from Derek’s head, revealing his messy mop of hair sticking every which way.

 

Derek laughed and snatched his hat back. “Coming from the guy with the long hair and huge beard.”

 

“You really think my beard is getting huge?” Jesse patted his beard self-consciously. Casey snickered.

 

“Meh,” Derek shrugged. “Goes with the hair.”

 

“Well, I think it looks very nice,” Casey said with a sweet smile, which Jesse returned.

 

Derek gagged audibly. “Please, I’m trying to eat.”

 

Casey gave him a deadpan look. “Oh come on, haven’t you gotten over your whole fear of emotions by now?”

 

“Yeah… I just like to enjoy my meals without nauseating displays.”

 

“Ugh, will you ever grow up?”

 

“Children, please,” Jesse said calmly.

 

“He started it,” Casey muttered, pouting.

 

Derek was unphased. He took another huge bite of mashed potatoes and raised his eyebrows in her direction.

 

“Maybe we should invite Sally over next time,” Jesse suggested. “If only to help me deal with you two.”

 

Casey chose to ignore his last comment. “That’s actually a great idea! She must be feeling lonely if she didn’t see anyone this whole week.”

 

“I have to agree,” Derek said seriously, pushing his glasses up his nose. Casey stared. “What?”

 

“You agree with something I said?” Casey asked.

 

Derek sighed. “I know what happens when Sally gets like this, and if she’s super stressed out, it could be bad. Even worse than you. You’re somehow still functional, even with all your weird issues,” he said, gesturing in her general direction, “but Sally like this…” he trailed off, and took another bite of his meal, and finished his sentence through his mouthful, “she could use some friends to distract her.”

 

“You guys should text her and see what she’s doing next week-end, then,” Jesse said.

 

“Right,” Derek said, still chewing, and took his phone out. “I’ve got a gig on Saturday,” he said, typing away. “It’s late, so you should be done with your show, Case. If you guys would like to come, I could introduce you to the band.”

 

“Sounds good,” Jesse said.

 

“Aren’t you working Saturday?” Casey asked.

 

“Boss, remember?” he smirked.

 

Derek chuckled. “Always knew you were smart, Jess.”

 

“You know I hate it when you call me that, right?” Jesse said in exasperation, like he’d done it a hundred times before. It was the first time Casey heard about this.

 

“What, you don’t like nicknames?”

 

“Isn’t my name short enough?”

 

“It’s got the same amount of letters as mine and you still call me Der.”

 

“Mine is only one syllable. And you like being called Der.”

 

“You call me D.”

 

“Again, you like being called D.”

 

“What about J.?”

 

Jesse winced.

 

“Come on! We could be D. and J.”

 

“Yeah… that’s not…”

 

“Really?”

 

Casey just watched as the conversation devolved into Derek trying to find nicknames for Jesse, forcing herself not to laugh in solidarity with her boyfriend. This was nice.

 

She couldn’t quite put her finger on when it became so easy to talk with Derek. Yes, she’d been freaking out about a couple of texts just a few weeks ago, but this was different. Because they didn’t have the security of written words, it was just them and Jesse and dinner, and it was pleasant. And she thought that maybe they could do this friends thing, after all.

 

 


 

 

 

It was only the next morning, as she was putting on her deodorant and felt her armpits getting disgustingly greasy, that she truly regretted letting her guard down.

 

Because Derek had…

 

She looked down at the stick in her hands with horror.

 

… replaced her deodorant with butter?!?!

 

“Huh,” Jesse said, sniffing her as he came past her in the bedroom. “You smell like popcorn.”

 

She screamed.

 

 


 

 

 

Casey came back from the theatre early that evening, carrying the groceries up the stairs. She’d complained at Jesse about finding an apartment that wasn’t on the fourth floor next time, but really, she kind of enjoyed the exercise. It kept her in shape since she didn’t have the time to work out or dance as much as she used to. Maybe she should ask Sally if she’d like to go jogging in the mornings or something.

 

She succeeded in unlocking the door without dropping the heavy bags in her arms and headed straight for the kitchen. Jesse was already there, washing the dishes like usual. She didn’t tell him enough how much she appreciated that he’d taken on more chores in the apartment this year because she just didn’t have the time.

 

He took a bag from her quickly and set it on the counter. “You should have told me that you were getting groceries, I would have at least helped you carry some up the stairs,” he said, starting to take things out.

 

“It’s fine,” Casey said. “I can handle it. Plus, I wouldn’t have had to struggle with the door if you didn’t lock it while you’re still in.”

 

“You know I don’t trust the guys that live next door,” Jesse said. He took out a pack of vegan sausages from the bag and turned it over in his hands, his face scrunching up in disgust.

 

“I know, I know,” Casey said, and snatched the pack of sausages from his hands. “That’s not for you.”

 

Jesse laughed. “Thank God.”

 

“Although I could have fed them to you in retaliation for inviting Derek over without telling me, yesterday,” she teased as she opened the fridge. “Hand me the cold stuff?”

 

Jesse sighed. “I knew you’d bring that up sooner or later,” he said, handing her the carton of milk.

 

“It’s just…”

 

“I know, he’s always up to something.”

 

“It’s not that,” Casey said, then reconsidered, “okay, it’s mostly about that. But you know I can’t stand being in the same room with him. A little notice would have been nice.”

 

Jesse scourged through the second bag and took out the eggs and cheese slices. “Didn’t you have fun?”

 

“I did before I found out he decided I should change my deodorant,” she muttered.

 

Jesse’s hands came out of the bag empty and he put them in his pockets. “I like Derek,” he stated.

 

“I know you do,” Casey sighed and pushed away from the fridge, closing the door. She looked away from him. She heard him shuffle closer to her.

 

“Plus, he’s family. You’re kind of stuck with him for life, Case,” he said. They’d already had this discussion a million times over. He’d tell her that after all this time, it was about time they set aside their differences and tried to get along. She’d tell him that it just wasn’t how she and Derek worked. And it never went anywhere.

 

“That’s why I’ll have you there to keep me from murdering him, right?” she tried. She looked at him with a soft smile. She saw him recoil almost imperceptibly before he turned back towards the sink. He didn’t say anything.

 

Casey winced as she realized that she’d just hinted at them spending the rest of their life together. She’d been super good at not pressuring him so far. She hadn’t said a word since the last time they’d discussed it.

 

She went to reassure him. “I’m not saying-“

 

“It’s okay,” Jesse interrupted. He had both of his hands in hot water again. He didn’t look up at her, but his expression was a little… guilty? Did he feel bad for taking his time with such a huge decision? Did he think that she was getting tired of waiting for him to make up his mind?

 

He didn’t say anything else. And she didn’t really know what to say next.

 

“You call Lizzie yet?” he said after a while.

 

Casey startled a little as she realized that she hadn’t, the guilt overpowering her confusion over Jesse’s change of subject. She supposed they could have this conversation again another time. She did tell him to take as much time as he needed after all.

 

“Right. I should probably do that.” She smiled and left the kitchen. She called up Lizzie as she headed towards the bedroom.

  

“Who is this?” Lizzie asked when she picked up.

 

“Really funny,” Casey deadpanned.

 

Lizzie laughed. “I was expecting your call earlier.”

 

“I’m sorry, Liz. I’ve just got so much on my mind,” Casey whined. She was feeling horrible for not calling earlier. Especially since she’d gotten so good about not making everything about herself over the years.

 

“It’s okay. I figured you’d be distracted,” Lizzie said. Casey could practically hear the sly smile on her sister’s face.

 

“But tell me everything!” Casey said enthusiastically and let herself fall on the bed. “How is it? Do you guys get along? Is there enough hot water for everyone? Do you have enough money for groceries?”

 

“Okay, Casey, chills,” Lizzie chuckled. “I’ll tell you everything. And before you start worrying, we’re not starving.”

 

“Good,” Casey nodded up at the ceiling. She relaxed a little. She couldn’t help but be worried about Lizzie now that she was on her own for the first time. She remembered her first days in her apartment in New York, and she knew it could get hard sometimes. But Lizzie wasn’t alone and she was smart. Casey knew she didn’t have to worry.

 

“So there is enough hot water for everyone,” Lizzie explained. “The rooms are big, so we’re not walking on each other’s feet all the time. Claudia is awesome, and obviously I can handle Edwin. Mostly, it’s just so cool to see something we’ve been talking about for years come true.”

 

“You and Edwin had planned on moving in together for years?”

 

“Well, yeah. Why do you sound surprised?”

 

“I just thought the arrangement was about saving money.”

 

“I mean, we did think about all the upsides of it, but that was always the plan.”

 

“I guess I never realized you guys were so close.”

 

“I mean yeah, he’s annoying, but Edwin’s my best friend.”

 

It wasn’t surprising, but it felt odd to hear. Maybe it was just because she couldn’t quite relate to the feeling. When it came to her step-brothers. Plural.

 

“So is he pranking you yet?” Lizzie asked.

 

“Who?”

 

“Derek. He kept telling us he had tons of new material he couldn’t wait to try out.”

 

That rat. She should have known he had something planned. He’d been acting way too pleased with himself to be innocent.

 

“You want to know what he did to my deodorant?”

 

Lizzie groaned. “Not the butter? He got that idea from Edwin, who got it from a Buzzfeed article and had to test it on me.”

 

“These two just enable each other, don’t they?”

 

“Yeah. At least it got Derek to help out with the boxes.”

 

“I still can’t believe he actually helped.”

 

“I know. I guess he was really proud of Edwin or something.”

 

“Who’s proud of Edwin?” She heard Edwin ask behind Lizzie.

 

“Derek.”

 

Edwin burst out laughing. “Good one, Liz.”

 

Casey smirked.

 

“Is that Casey?” Edwin asked. “Hey Casey!” He shouted.

 

“Ugh! Edwin!” Lizzie yelled back, and Casey heard the telltale rustling of Lizzie shoving Edwin away violently. “You’re so annoying,” she said, at a normal volume this time.

 

Casey couldn’t help the smile on her face. This felt so familiar, it was almost nostalgic. She kind of missed the old days in a crowded house. It was loud and obnoxious and exactly what she pictured when she thought of home.

 

“You guys are adorable,” Casey said.

 

“You mean when we fight like you and Derek?” Lizzie chuckled.

 

“Derek and I don’t fight like that and you know it. It’s more like World War Three than friendly bickering.”

 

“You sure about that?”

 

Casey thought back to their dinner once again. Even though she’d felt tense, winding up for a fight, Derek had never once tried to push her over. Instead, he’d kept the conversation going, even agreed with her. Even when they had gotten close to arguing -she had gotten close to arguing- she had to admit there hadn’t been any venom to it. It had been kind of fun. She remembered thinking that they could be friends that night.

 

Of course he had ruined everything by pranking her, forget everything she’d thought about them getting along like adults.

 

“It’s… it’s different,” was all she found to say.

 

“You’re probably right,” Lizzie said cryptically. Not one ounce of teasing, Just truthful. Like there was a vibe, Casey couldn’t tell why, and Lizzie could know. Know exactly what she’d meant by different. And that was just a little bit scary.

 

“Liz, do you…” Casey said. She looked up at the door, towards the kitchen where Jesse was, and trailed off.

 

“Do I what?”

 

“Nothing. I was just wondering… who got the bigger room?”

 

‘It’s Edwin and Claudia,” Lizzie said knowingly, letting her take the out. “Cuz they’re two, you know.”

 

“That makes sense,” Casey said.

 

She sighed.

 

She wasn’t even ready to admit any of this to herself, let alone having an honest discussion with one of their siblings, while her boyfriend was at hearing range.

 

 


 

 

 

The rest of her week was mostly… uneventful. Theatre work was getting to be just more of the same, and without her new friend to keep her busy in her downtime, Casey found that time was stretching out and the week-end felt like it was months away. She ended up at the bar most evenings, reading in a corner, while Jesse tended the bar.

 

Friday evening was busy, and the noise was keeping her from concentrating on her book, so she’d switched to browsing apps on her phone, checking in on social media. She had a few comments on the picture of her dressing room that she posted on Instagram that day. Lizzie was impressed with how much space there was, joking about it being bigger than her and Edwin’s apartment. It made Casey laugh.

 

She noticed that Vicki had left a like on the picture and frowned. She couldn’t remember the last time she or Vicki had liked something from each other. They were mostly friends with each other out of courtesy and barely ever interacted, especially since Vicki had left for L.A..

 

Curiosity got the better of her, and she clicked on the link that lead to Vicki’s profile. It wasn’t exactly what she’d been expecting.

 

As it turned out, Vicki looked like a pretty cool person on social media. There were standard pictures of food (a lot of cheese?), selfies with girlfriends; some that Casey recognized from private school, and videos of Vicki singing. And she posted a lot, too. Casey noticed that the last dozen pictures had all been posted in the past week.

 

It was when she got past the pictures of the last week that Casey realized that stalking her cousin’s account had been a mistake. Because…

 

She hadn’t expected there to be so many pictures of Derek. There weren’t as many as to look obsessive or anything. It was just that, contrary to the very few and mostly casual pictures she had previously seen on Derek’s account, the ones on Vicki’s were much more telling of the kind of relationship the two of them had.

 

They were close.

 

Not even in a suggestive way. And that made it kind of worse, somehow? Because it was one thing to think that Derek liked to hang out with Vicki because she put out. But it was another to think that he actually liked her, as a person, like she had a great personality or something.

 

There were mostly pictures of Vicki and Derek hanging out, dressed up to go out clubbing, clinking their glasses of wine together(Derek drinks wine???), with obnoxious captions like “he looks almost as good as me, don’t you think?” or “@realDVent truly GETS me”. Like what was there to get?

 

Casey was fuming by the time she got to the videos. Videos of Derek driving while Vicki filmed them, singing along to a song playing on the radio. Casey didn’t dare turning the volume on, knowing that if she heard the songs, she would hate them forever.

 

Derek didn’t even like singing.

 

It was like he was a completely different guy around Vicki. A guy who drank wine and sang to corny songs (because they just had to be corny, she could feel it). She got that sense again, that she didn’t know him at all anymore. And what hurt the most was seeing it like this, him, having a little window into the person he’d become, and knowing that she had no part in that. While Vicki brought that out of him and got to see it every day.

 

Vicki got to be his friend. To see Derek in a completely different light than Casey had ever seen him. Than he would let her see him.

 

A glass was set abruptly on the table in front of her, making her jump. She looked up to see Gustavo, the new guy, looking at her with a genuine smile while pushing the glass in front of her. “You look like you could use some liquid comfort,” he said.

 

She looked down at the glass and her vision was a little blurry. She wiped at her eyes. Thank god she hadn’t been crying. “Thanks,” she sniffed, picking up the glass. She took a sip and felt the alcohol burn down her throat. It was scotch.

 

Gustavo looked over the bar where Jesse was chatting with customers, making sure that he had everything under control, and sat down in the booth in front of her. “I know we don’t know each other very well, but… you look like you need to talk.”

 

Casey was a little taken aback by his thoughtfulness. He didn’t strike her as a malicious person, but all she had seen from him had been sarcastic remarks and exasperation. She supposed there had to be something more to him than just that.

 

She shook her head. “It’s okay,” she said with a small smile.

 

He returned the smile timidly. “Is it your brother again?” he asked, pointing at her phone. Casey’s smile dropped as she looked down at the black screen. She set it aside and took another sip of her scotch.

 

“He’s not my brother.”

 

“Oh? I thought…” Gustavo said, looking confused.

 

“He’s my step-brother,” Casey filled in. Because the step made all the difference.

 

“Okay…” he said slowly, assessing. “And what did he do this time? It seems like he likes to bug you.”

 

Casey snorted. “That’s one way of putting it.”

 

“Is he always like that?”

 

“Worse,” she muttered.

 

Gustavo shook his head as he leaned back in his seat. “You shouldn’t let him get to you like that,” he said gently, like he wasn’t blaming her for losing her calm, but genuinely concerned about her well being.

 

That was a change. She’d gotten used to people telling her that she was overreacting over the years. It felt nice to see that someone didn’t think she was crazy. Of course, he didn’t know her or Derek very well. But then again, he’d probably seen her jump on that table in her rage the other night, so he could have drawn completely different conclusions from that alone.

 

“It’s harder than it looks,” she said, slumping in her seat and bravely taking a bigger sip of her drink. It burned her tongue but it settled really well in her stomach. She signed in contentment.

 

“Yeah,” Gustavo said, “I have a brother, too. And he was always calling me names, trying to get a rise out of me, and my family always took his side when I told him off.”

 

Casey chuckled. She could relate to that. In high school, she’d so often felt like it was unfair that Derek could get away with anything, and she still got yelled at for defending herself.

 

“Of course, mine used to beat me up and call me a fag, but…” Gustavo laughed, “I can still relate.”

 

“That’s horrible!” Casey gasped.

 

“Nah,” Gustavo shrugged, “he’s just my brother. He didn’t know any better. Plus, he’s calmed down over the years.''

 

Casey still felt like it was outrageous, that Gustavo’s brother would rough him up for being who he was. But she had seen her fair share of violence between siblings, and most often than not, it was just joking around. Gustavo seemed to take it well, so she didn’t press the issue.

 

“Yeah. Well, it’s different with Derek. I mean, he used to just annoy me for fun,” she said, “but now… I think we just don’t know how to interact with each other otherwise.”

 

It was true. If she didn’t treat him the way she did, then how could she behave around him? How was she supposed to be nice to him, and see him being nice to her, when the sight of his smile made her insides melt. The antipathy was the only way to keep that safe distance between them, keeping them from making what would be the biggest mistake of their lives.

 

But she couldn’t really explain that to Gustavo.

 

“I get the feeling that there’s more to it,” Gustavo said, pseudo suspiciously.

 

Casey laughed. “There might be.”

 

“I suppose I shouldn’t be asking either.”

 

“Well, now, you wouldn’t want to pry, would you?”

 

He smiled mischievously. “Actually, I would,” Gustavo said, then let the smile drop, looking more serious, “but I should go back to work.”

 

“I won’t keep you longer, then. Thanks for the talk,” Casey smiled softly.

 

“You’re welcome,” he said, pushing himself up and walking away.

 

Casey smiled softly, watching Gus walk away an joining Jesse behind the bar. Jesse immediately started shouting orders at him, acting like a tyrant. Gus rolled his eyes and disappeared behind the bar. Jesse looked in Casey’s direction then, pointing in the direction Gustavo had disappeared in with a ‘’can you believe him?’’ face. Casey chuckled. It seemed like Jesse had found a good work partner, which was very welcome since his last couple of employees had been completely unreliable. Maybe it would allow him to slack off a bit. He’d taken on a lot since the owner left on extended vacation.

 

Casey sighed.

 

She looked down at her phone again, knowing the page that would welcome her when she unlocked the screen. It was probably the alcohol exacerbating her annoyance, but she just couldn’t stand to pick up her phone.

 

Why did everything always have to come down to Derek?

 

Why did he even have to come to New York and make it all about him over again?

 

She would ignore it for as long as she could, that was for sure, but deep down -deep deep deep deep down!- she knew that she would have to face it and do something about it sooner or later.

Chapter Text

"Sally!" Casey squealed as she squeezed Sally into a tight hug, dragging her through the doorway. "I'm so glad you could come!"

 

Sally squeezed back, letting out a little sigh. "Me too," she said, and pulled away, smiling softly. She looked tired, Casey noticed.

 

"So everyone's gathering here before the gig?" Sally asked, looking over Casey's shoulder, eyes finding Jesse and Derek lounging on the couch.

 

Casey nodded.

 

"Band's gonna be here soon. I texted them the address," Derek supplied from his spot.

 

"Are you sure they won't get lost this time?" Sally teased as she made her way to the sofa, removing her jacket. Derek laughed.

 

"Jay's not allowed to drive the van anymore," Derek explained as he allowed Sally to curl up next to him, resting his arm on the back of the couch behind her head.

 

Casey sat on the arm rest at Jesse’s side. "Didn't you text them about an hour ago? They should be here by now," she said, ignoring the tinge in her stomach at feeling left out of a joke.

 

"Yeah... Jay's not driving but I'm not trusting Ping's geography skills either. My best guess is they'll circle around the block a couple of times before they get it right."

 

"Parking's a mess around here, too" Jesse shimmed in. "We shouldn't wait around for them if we wanna order pizza and get to the show on time."

 

Derek shrugged. "You know it's fashionable for rock stars to arrive late, it'll just make the anticipation better."

 

"Rock stars?" Casey questioned, raising one eyebrow.

 

Derek smirked in answer then took a swig of the beer he was holding. Casey rolled her eyes, he was such a child.

 

"Do any of the guys even have a license?" Sally asked.

 

"You know what, I don't think so," Derek laughed.

 

Jesse got up and stood in front of them. "Okay, I'm ordering. Who wants what?"

 

Casey opened her mouth to speak but Derek cut in. "Vegetarian for the princess", he said mockingly. Casey glared at him. "Meat lovers for me and the guys."

 

"I like Hawaiian," Sally mentioned. Derek and Casey scrunched their noses in disgust.

 

"You too?" Jesse exclaimed, clapping his hands together in excitement. "I'm always the only one."

 

"It's just not natural," Derek told Sally.

 

"Really not," Casey agreed.

 

Sally rolled her eyes and looked up at Jesse. "Finally they agree on something?" She offered.

 

"I guess so," Jesse laughed and turned around, fishing his phone out of his pocket as he walked away to order.

 

"You're wrong, you know," Derek pointed out, lounging back on the couch, his arm hanging loosely over the back of the couch. "Casey and I actually agree on a lot of things."

 

"Like what?" Sally said just as Casey said "no we don't!".

 

"Like I'm the greatest, most amazing and talented hockey player on the planet," Derek said.

 

Casey snorted.

 

"That's not an opinion, Derek," Sally said, smiling up at him teasingly, "it's just a fact."

 

Derek smiled winningly back at her. Casey pointedly ignored the fact that her breath caught in her throat at the sight.

 

"Well Evolution is a fact and yet people don't agree with it," Derek said, poking Sally's shoulder.

 

"He has a point," Casey said reluctantly.

 

Derek looked up at her. "See, she agrees with me."

 

"That didn't count!" Casey argued.

 

"I'm not even gone five minutes..." Jesse sighed, falling back on the couch next to Casey.

 

Sally laughed. "At least you didn't know them back in high school. It was so much worse."

 

"I count my blessings," Jesse agreed. "So what about the guys. They text you yet, Der?"

 

Derek fished his phone out of his jacket. "Nope," he said, swiping his thumb over the screen. His brows scrunched together as he typed away on his phone, probably asking his mates where the hell they were.

 

"So, Sally. Been a while," Jesse said. "How's it going at the gallery?" He asked.

 

"Oh fine," Sally said. "Just busy. James put me in charge of approaching new artists for our next show, so I've just been travelling around the city trying to convince artists that exposing in a gallery isn’t  ‘common’ and ‘overdone’,"

 

"How's that going?" Derek asked.

 

Sally sighed and rubbed a hand over her face.

 

“You’re preparing a new show, though,” Casey offered. “That’s exciting!”

 

“It would be if I had any say in it,” Sally said. “I had an idea to do something completely new for Zweller, but Jane is in charge and whatever she says goes,” Sally shrugged. “I’m her bitch.”

 

“Well that sucks,” Jesse said. He looked at Casey and wrapped his arm around her waist, squeezing her against his side.  “If you decide you need a break, we’re looking to hire at the pub.”

 

“Really?” Casey looked down, curious. “Didn’t you just hire Gus?”

 

“Yeah, but we kind of need to diversify our staff. We’re all dudes.”

 

“How progressive, J,” Derek drawled sarcastically.

 

“I guess there’s a bit of that,” Jesse admitted. “But also a hot girl tends to bring in more of a crowd.”

 

“Then Sally definitely qualifies,” Derek smirked, tugging her against her side and kissing her cheek.

 

Sally laughed it off, pushing him away playfully. “That’s nice, but I’m not ready to give up just yet,” she said. “I’m going to suck it up and show her that she can’t get to me.”

 

“But she does,” Derek said softly, frowning.

 

Sally shrugged.

 

They looked at each other meaningfully, a silent conversation, like they’ve been here many times, Derek’s eyes revealing some worry. He pulled her back towards him to press another kiss to her temple, gently this time. Sally’s eyes met Casey’s then, and she smiled softly, inviting Casey in the brief intimate moment.

 

“You know,” Jesse cut in, “I know some people who could get rid of her for you.”

 

Casey’s eyes grew wide as she gaped at Jesse. Derek laughed.

 

“I might take you up on it,” Sally said, almost seriously.

 

“The hit or the job?” Derek quipped.

 

“Both,” Sally sighed and pouted.

 

“I’m sure she’ll back up once she realizes what a badass you are,” Casey said.

 

“Thanks, Casey.”

 

Derek’s phone started ringing. “Oh shit, it’s Jay,” he said, and picked up. “Sup bro? Where the hell are you? Downstairs? Wait a sec,” Derek looked over at Jesse, “Can you buzz ‘em up?”

 

Jesse nodded and stood up to get to the buzzer beside the door.

 

“There. You better have the beer, dude,” Derek said as he hung up, then got up. “About time.”

 

About half an hour later, musicians were littering Casey’s living room, sitting down on the floor and leaning on various pieces of furniture, as they drank beer and ate pizza, making conversation with Jesse and Sally, while Casey was watching from the kitchen counter as she put away empty boxes.

 

She noticed Jay, the singer, a lanky guy with Kurt Cobain hair, flirting with Sally in a corner. Sally was joking it off, but Casey’s eyes wandered to Derek, wondering what he thought of this. To her surprise, he wasn’t paying attention to them at all, laughing at something Jesse said.

 

On the couch, Dylan, the drummer, was favoring the pizza box to normal conversation, eating like a famished dog. But at least he wasn’t dropping anything on the upholstery, so she wasn’t going to say anything. Next to him on the ground, the bass player was looking through her bookcase, seemingly engrossed in the philosophy section. Ping, his name was. He was obviously the brain of the gang. They’d exchanged a few words about her play when they were introduced. She was surprised that any one of them even knew about it.

 

They were nice, Casey thought. Friendly and polite, nobody yelling or trashing her things. She guessed that years of cleaning up after Derek’s parties had created some kind of expectations. Yet, here they were, Derek’s friends keeping to themselves and moving around the room, making polite conversation.

 

It was nice, meeting Derek’s band mates. She’d shook hands with all of them as Derek had made the introductions, learned all of their names and made small talk.

 

It was fine.

 

Not that she’d really anticipated a disaster, either. She knew Derek had grown up a lot since their teenage years and he probably wouldn’t allow their get together to turn into a rave or something. But still.

 

It was nice.

 

“You’re pissed.”

 

Casey jumped slightly at Derek standing in front of her, realizing that she’d been staring at nothing, kind of lost into her denial.

 

“What?” she asked.

 

“You’re pissed,” Derek repeated.

 

“I’m not,” Casey denied. She really wasn’t.

 

Derek stared.

 

“I’m not pissed ,” Casey insisted.

 

He raised a disbelieving eyebrow, it disappeared behind the shaggy hair falling in front of his face. “Then what are you?”

 

“I’m… piqued ,” she said flatly. It didn’t sound convincing to her own ears.

 

Derek rolled his eyes. “What are you piqued about?”

 

Casey sighed. She knew there was something bugging her, but she wasn’t even able to admit it to herself, let alone putting it into words. “It’s…” Casey stopped, mulling over her words.

 

What was she bothered about? Derek’s band taking over her living room? That he seemed so close to them, yet she hadn’t known anything about them until a few days ago? That he was so close to Sally? Or that… he just seemed so far away from her ?

 

Casey looked down. “Forget it, Derek,” she said.

 

Derek frowned, obviously taken aback that she didn’t seize the opportunity to pick up a fight with him. “Really?” he insisted, walking around the island to get closer to her. “You don’t want to yell at me for something or other? Throw some dirty dishes at me? What did the guys do? Come on. You must be aching to tell me.”

 

She looked up at him as he stopped right in front of her, looking down at her seriously.

 

“The guys are great,” she said softly.

 

“None of them offended your delicate sensibilities?”

 

“They didn’t do anything…” she insisted, getting frustrated by his persistence.

 

“Then what is it?” He said, finally using his no nonsense voice. The one that made her feel like he was talking to Marti, and she totally would yell at him for treating her like a child if she didn’t feel like one.

 

Derek stared at her.

 

Casey let out a small groan. “Okay!” she let out, “Okay, I’ll tell you,” she said, and looked away at the crumbs she had yet to wash from the counter. She turned around, setting herself to the task to distract her nerves. “I’m pissed at you.”

 

“Ah, here it comes,” he said, sounding almost satisfied.

 

“You didn’t do anything… it’s just… I guess it bugs me.”

 

“Huh?” he said, actually confused.

 

“It bugs me that you didn’t do anything,” Casey shrugged, concentrating on the task of pushing crumbs into a single pile.

 

“About what?”

 

“About us.”

 

It just automatically came out. Casey felt her heartbeat quicken, bile rising up to her throat. But Derek was silent.

 

Her skin was starting to heat up. The more seconds passed, the hotter she felt. Her breathing got deeper and she was starting to regret saying anything, so badly. She couldn’t believe she said it, put it out there. And the longer it was staying unacknowledged, the harder it was to breathe. She could barely hear the music from the living room. Her hearing was concentrated only on Derek behind her, and his breathing, which, at least had hitched a bit, at least as much as hers, but he still wasn’t saying anything, until –

 

“And that was… solely on me, was it?”

 

Casey frowned and turned her head to meet his eyes. He wasn’t ignoring or denying anything, calling her crazy or laughing at how ridiculous she was being. Just plain old calling her out on complaining about it when… really, she hadn’t done anything about it either. Just buried it so deep it took her all this time to figure it out. She didn’t know what to say. But Derek did.

 

“You know, if you want something, you can’t just expect it to fall into your lap without at least a little work,” he said. Her face must have fallen, because he seemed to reconsider what he said, finally looking away and shoving his hand into his hair. “… How was I supposed to know?” he said quietly.

 

Casey’s eyes stung. She was stunned into silence. She wasn’t expecting him to admit, if indirectly, simply by not denying it, what had obviously been stirring between them. There was something, something she had never been able to name, that she didn’t want to name. And it had kept nagging at her, for years, knowing, or thinking , that she was imagining it, that she would never know if he felt it too, but hoping that he did.

 

And here they were. In her kitchen, in her New York apartment that she shared with her boyfriend of eight years. The thought of Jesse suddenly made her feel guilty all over again. She blinked against hot tears, letting one of them escape in the process.

 

Derek noticed. He didn’t say anything about her crying, but his stance softened. He looked at her and his eyes reflected the same struggle. She could tell he was hurt, probably that it had taken her so long to bring it up. That she’d done everything to avoid it this whole time.

 

He took a deep breath, looking like he wanted to put an end to this moment, very badly. “To me it looked like you were about to get engaged to someone else,” he said, finally, pointedly, as if reminding her that, hey, haven’t you been nagging Jesse about proposing for the last few months? and yet here you are, being selfish and wanting everything for yourself.

 

Derek turned to leave, and Casey tried to make herself say something. “Sorry…” was all she could muster. Derek nodded and she followed his movements as he walked back into the living room. Merely a few seconds later, he was back to mingling and cracking jokes as if nothing had just happened.

 

It felt like the ground had fallen underneath her feet.

 

 


 

 

Casey tried to ignore Derek the best she could after this, succeeding pretty much up until the point where they all had to leave for the show. Derek stopped in front of her and dropped something in her hands. She looked down. They were car keys.

 

‘’I’ll be driving the guys’ van. You can take Jesse and Sally in my car,’’ he said, making eye contact briefly before setting his gaze firmly on the keys in her hand.

 

Casey looked down at the keys, then back up at him. The only times he had ever let her drive his car - their car - was when she’d used violence or threats to convince him. She took this as a peace offering. After all, there was no reason for them to get childish about the whole thing.

 

Derek was looking at her expectantly. ‘’Sure, Okay,’’ she said.

 

Derek nodded then followed the group out the door.

 

In the safety of Derek’s (new? was this leather?) car (it definitely smelled like new car), Casey relaxed. Her moment of peace lasted about 2.5 seconds, because as soon as she engaged in the street, Jesse was on her case.

 

‘’I saw you crying in the kitchen, earlier. Did Derek say something?’’ Jesse asked.

 

Sally pushed herself forward between the seats, frowning. ‘’Derek did something?’’ she asked, worriedly.

 

Just when Casey thought she could pretend she didn’t completely break all the rules by talking about it, now she had to explain it. Obviously, now was not the time. She couldn’t start making things right by Jesse just yet.

 

‘’Oh, it’s nothing,’’ Casey tried, smiling weakly. She internally cursed Derek for causing her trouble, even when he wasn’t here.

 

‘’Case’’ Jesse chuckled softly, ‘’Nothing is ever ‘nothing’ with you,’’ he said, and returned her smile in kind. ‘’and Derek may be a jerk, but he doesn’t usually make you cry.’’

 

Jesse frowned, worried.

 

Casey met Sally’s eyes in the rearview mirror, her green eyes reflected Jesse’s worry, but there was something else. A bit of sadness, like she was disappointed, maybe? Casey really didn’t know how to interpret Sally’s expressions these days. But she knew for sure, that they were both expecting an explanation.

 

She sighed.

 

‘’I don’t want to talk about it now, please?‘’ she said, sending Jesse a pleading look.

 

He nodded slowly, understanding. ‘’Of course,’’ he said, rubbing her thigh comfortingly. ‘’Later.’’

 

Casey relaxed her hands on the steering wheel, smiling gratefully. ‘’Thanks,’’ she said.

 

She looked back in the mirror towards Sally again, finding her looking down at her cellphone, typing away, her eyebrows furrowed and lips in a thin line. She looked back out front towards the road, still following the band’s (creepy) black van, and could see the outline of Derek picking up his phone while holding the wheel with one hand. Casey held back a groan; Of course Derek would be recklessly looking at his phone while driving.

 

When Sally scoffed in the back seat, it occurred to Casey that she might get cornered again about what happened in the kitchen. She took a deep breath and squeezed the steering wheel. She would concentrate on the road and ignore her friend and boyfriend giving her the sad eyes.

 

 


 

 

 

Casey’s drink appeared on the table in front of her just as the stage lit up upon a couple of guys according their instruments. Jay came up to the microphone, warming up his voice and making the audience laugh. She spotted Derek to the singer’s left, starting to strum a few notes on his guitar.

 

She hadn’t heard him play guitar since that first Christmas back home after she moved to New York. It sounded good now, flowing more nicely than it did when he was playing in high school. He had a small smile on his face while he absent-mindedly listened to Jay warm up the crowd. She couldn’t help the smile that formed on her face by looking at him like this. She could tell he was enjoying this.

 

The first song picked up and Derek bit his lip softly, completely immersed in his music. It was so fascinating to watch Derek in action that she almost forgot to listen.

 

She felt a tickle up her arm and turned to look up at Sally standing next to her, arm brushing against hers. Sally was looking up at Derek adoringly. Casey suspected it looked a lot like her own expression.

 

As if feeling Casey’s eyes on her, Sally looked down at her, smile still in place, and wrapped their arms together, leaning into their embrace. Casey’s smile broadened at the gesture and she put her head on Sally’s shoulder, her eyes making their way across the table until they fell on Jesse. He was smirking at her.

 

‘’They’re not so bad, I guess,’’ Jesse said, as casually as one could while yelling over the noise of a rock band. ‘’For a band called Ice Zombies ,’’ he chuckled.

 

‘’Who knew Derek could actually write good songs?’’ Sally quipped.

 

Casey frowned. ‘’Derek wrote this?’’ she asked, incredulously. Derek didn’t write songs. He barely knew the whole alphabet.

 

‘’Yeah, Derek and Ping write the songs together,’’ Sally supplied.

 

‘’How do you not know these things?’’ Jesse said incredulously, munching on some nachos.

 

‘’Like Derek ever tells me anything,’’ she said, rolling her eyes. She had to quell the frustration rising inside of her in favor of paying attention to the words of the song.

 

I said I would never regret anything

Then again I’ve always been good at lying

 

It was a ballad, the melody strong but the words sorrowful. There was a sensitivity to it that she’d never really known Derek could have. But what it felt like, it was completely Derek. The reluctant admission of heartbreak, of having a heart to begin with.

 

Can’t shake this feeling it was meant to be

But when they ask me I say it was never anything at all

 

Casey felt Sally’s fingers tangle with hers, as they started rocking from side to side gently. When she looked up she could see Sally’s lips forming some of the words. She’d heard the song before. Enough to know the words to it. Sally squeezed her hand, giving or seeking comfort, Casey couldn’t tell. But Sally was smiling again and she leaned slowly to whisper in Casey’s ear.

 

‘’He wrote this song about you, you know.’’

 

She looked up at Sally to search her eyes, trying to put the words back together because they didn’t make any sense in the order she spoke them. Sally was still smiling, and it made Casey’s stomach twist. And just like that, Casey was right back in her kitchen, watching Derek tell her that she’d been the one to walk away.

 

Casey reached for her drink to calm her nerves. She didn’t mean to spill it all over the table and right into Jesse’s nachos, but well, that’s just the type of thing that happens to her all the time. Jesse looked at her hopelessly, trying to salvage what he could of his snack. All Casey could think to do was apologize, eyes wide, before rushing to the washroom. She needed a minute.

 

Thankfully, she found an empty stall where she locked herself in and flung herself on the toilet and sat down tensely. She knew she was probably overreacting, really. What was so bad, that Derek had been writing songs about pining for her or that Sally seemed to know and be one hundred percent behind the whole thing? Casey had no idea how she felt in all of this.

 

She was more confused than ever. With Sally and Derek around, her heart’s been acting like a yo-yo, jumping every which way. It turned out that thing in her chest was an aficionado of the art, because it would do flips and tricks, up and down and all around. Until, well... the thread just ended up all tangled. And how was she supposed to untangle this???

 

It was days like these that she really missed Emily. She would listen to her, and help her break everything down so that Casey could really see the core of the problem. She was always good at talking her down.

 

Casey took a deep breath and look down at her phone in her lap. Maybe she could call her… Even if it’d been over a year since they last talked, and it was late on a Saturday, surely she would pick up to talk to her. Biting her lip, Casey picked it up and dialed Emily’s number.

 

While it rang, she felt the little ball in her stomach loosen just a little bit, knowing that if she could talk to Emily, her best friend would make everything better.

 

‘’Casey?’’ Emily picked up right away. Relief flooded all over Casey.

 

‘’Hi, Em!’’ she exclaimed.

 

‘’Casey!’’ Emily repeated excitedly. ‘’How are you?’’

 

‘’Well... I am having a kind of crisis, but how are you?’’

 

Emily chuckled, ‘’I’m great. Tell me all about that crisis.’’

 

Casey brought her palm to her face in shame. ‘’Oh my god, is it completely inconsiderate of me to be calling you about my problems when we haven’t talked in almost two years? Tell me all about you!’’

 

Emily laughed. ‘’Casey,’’ she said affectionately. ‘’It could have been ten years, and I’d still pick up the phone to talk you through a crisis. So tell me. What’s going on?’’

 

‘’Thank you, Em. It’s kind of a long story…’’

 

Ten minutes later, she’d gone through the events of the last few weeks so fast that when she stopped she had to catch her breath.

 

‘’Wow…’’ Emily said. ‘’So you still have a crush on Derek?’’

 

‘’Em!’’ Casey yelled, offended. ‘’What do you mean still ?’’

 

‘’You know what I mean.’’

 

‘’No I don’t!’’

 

‘’Anyway, you’ve been with Jesse for so long, I thought you’d finally moved on,’’ Emily continued, ignoring Casey’s indignation.

 

‘’ Finally ?’’

 

‘’But it makes sense, you know. I don’t think Derek is over you either.’’

 

‘’Over me?’’

 

‘’Casey, that’s what you’re calling about, right? For me to tell you that you’re not crazy? It was always there, you two have just been in denial because you couldn’t admit your feelings for each other.’’

 

‘’Oh my god…’’

 

‘’Case… I know you love Jesse, and he’s a great guy… but you’re not happy.’’

 

Casey bit her lip, was she happy?

 

‘’Maybe it’s time you take a risk,’’ Emily said.

 

‘’What about… what about Sally?’’ Casey asked.

 

‘’Can’t say I saw that one coming, but… it sounds like she likes you too.’’

 

‘’But I don’t like girls! I’m not a…’’ Casey stopped, lowering her voice. ‘’I’m not a lesbian,’’ she whispered.

 

‘’Maybe it’s just Sally.’’

 

Casey sighed. ‘’She’s Derek’s ex. Isn’t that weird?’’

 

‘’What in this whole situation isn’t weird, Case?’’

 

‘’You have a point.’’

 

‘’I’m just saying, talk to them.’’

 

‘’Both of them?’’

 

‘’Maybe not at the same time, but yes. Figure out exactly where you stand.’’

 

‘’You’re right.’’

 

‘’I’m always right.’’

 

‘’How can I have feelings for both of them?’’

 

‘’Ever heard of polyamory?’’

 

‘’I guess, I just… never believed it was real.’’

 

‘’I’ll take the risk and be cheesy here, Casey: The heart wants what it wants.’’

 

‘’Ok, I get it,’’ Casey rolled her eyes.

 

‘’Crisis averted?’’

 

‘’Not nearly,’’ Casey laughed.

 

‘’You’ll figure it out, Case. But don’t you have a concert to get back to?’’

 

‘’What about you, though?’’

 

‘’Hey, we can always catch up later. You’re not gonna ditch me for another two years, are you?’’

 

‘’No, I don’t think so.’’ Casey smiled.

 

‘’Then I’m good.’’

 

‘’Thanks, Em.’’

 

Just as she hung up, she heard the door creak open.

 

‘’Casey?’’ Sally’s voice resonated in the room.

 

‘’Hey, Sally,’’ Casey said as she came out of her stall, putting her cellphone back in her pocket.

 

‘’Are you okay?’’ Sally asked, her worried look from earlier back on her face.

 

‘’I’m fine,’’ Casey answered, smiling awkwardly. ‘’I didn’t mean to make a scene, I just had to clean up.’’

 

‘’I didn’t mean to freak you out,’’ Sally said apologetically.

 

Casey shook her head. ‘’No, no, you didn’t,’’ she lied. Badly.

 

Sally rushed closer to Casey, picking up her hands. ‘’Casey, I shouldn’t have said that to you.’’

 

Casey looked down. ‘’You didn’t say anything wrong, Sal.’’

 

‘’Really?’’ Sally wondered, trying to catch her eyes, ‘’Because you’ve been hiding in the bathroom for like twenty minutes,’’ Sally chuckled awkwardly.

 

‘’Has it really been twenty minutes?’’ Casey said, horrified. Sally nodded. ‘’This is embarrassing,’’ Casey whined.

 

‘’Can we forget I said anything?’’ Sally pleaded.

 

Casey smiled. ‘’I don’t want to, Sally.’’ She took a deep breath. ‘’I think it’s time I face this thing head on.’’

 

Sally, eyes lit up and her lips formed a tentative smile. ‘’Are you sure?’’

 

Casey nodded, ‘’I think so.’’

 

Sally brought Casey into a tight hug. ‘’I just want you guys to be happy.’’

 

‘’What about you?’’

 

Sally squeezed. ‘’I’m already happy.’’

 

Casey relaxed in Sally’s arms and inhaled her hair’s peachy scent. It was soothing. It felt like they belonged like this.

 

‘’Do you think I can show my face outside again?’’

 

Sally laughed and let her go. ‘’You’ll be fine, come on.’’

 

 


 

 

At the end of their set, the band got off the stage and gathered around their table, ordering enough drinks for a hundred people. Casey was handed shot after shot, and downed them all, letting the numbness take over. When Sally dragged her on the dance floor, joining everyone else, Casey just forgot about everything.

 

She forgot the words to the song, forgot about what happened in the kitchen, forgot who she was supposed to love and be with and anything that wasn’t happening right in that moment. She let her eyes drift and meet Derek’s, dancing apart, but finding each other for a minute, until Jesse spun her around, and all she could see was a blur, and she laughed.

 

‘’Are you going?’’ Jesse asked her, over the music.

 

‘’What?’’ Casey yelled.

 

‘’Are you going?’’ Jesse repeated.

 

‘’Where?’’

 

‘’At Jay’s beach house, with Sally and the band.’’

 

‘’Oh, I- I don’t know.’’ This was the first time she heard of any of this. ‘’Are you going?’’

 

‘’I can’t, I told Gus I’d come back to close and clean up.’’

 

‘’Oh.’’

 

‘’You should go, have some fun!’’

 

‘’I don’t know, it’s our last week at the theatre...’’ Casey hesitated.

 

‘’You don’t have rehearsals until two days, Case.’’

 

‘’What if it takes me two days to recover from a hangover?’’

 

‘’You worry too much. You should go.’’

 

‘’Yes! Casey, come!’’ Sally said, appearing at her shoulder. ‘’I can’t be the only girl there.’’

 

Casey laughed. ‘’I guess I should come... for the sake of sisterhood!’’

 

 


 

 

They were all bunched up into the band’s van (which, even from the inside, was still creepy), the possibility of splitting into two cars taken away by the fact that they only had one designated driver.

 

‘’So we’re all sleeping over there tonight because there’s no way I’m not getting wasted at a beach house’’ Derek complained.

 

‘’I could drive,’’ Jay volunteered, lifting his arm in the air. He was sprawled over the passenger seat, kind of hanging from the side, his long blonde hair falling over his face.

 

‘’Yeah, that’s not happening,’’ Derek said finally. ‘’You’re not allowed to be in possession of any set of car keys as long as I’m around to stop you.’’

 

‘’Man…’’ Jay whined.

 

‘’Dude, last time I let you drive, we crashed into a lamp post.’’

 

‘’It was in the middle of the road!’’

 

‘’No, it wasn’t, you were high as shit.’’

 

Ping sat up behind Jay’s seat at that ‘’Wait, he was wasted that time? Why did you let him drive?’’

 

‘’I didn’t know until they made him blow in the thing!’’

 

Jay just laughed, like he was really proud of that one.

 

‘’Man,’’ Ping said seriously, ‘’You’re a danger to society.’’

 

‘’Yeah, well, at least my parents are rich enough to bail me out.’’

 

‘’You do realize what you just said makes you sound like a sheltered asshole, right?’’ Derek pointed out.

 

‘’You do realize that I could ban you from my parent’s beach house forever, right?’’

 

‘’Dude, you can’t do that! Where am I supposed to bring chicks to impress them.’’

 

‘’Really, Derek?’’ Sally said from her spot at the back of the van. Casey lay her head on her shoulder and felt Sally’s fingers playing in her hair.

 

‘’What’s up, baby?’’ Derek said, winking at Sally in the rearview mirror. Casey could feel Sally rolling her eyes.

 

‘’We’re not some babes you can just impress, Derek,’’ Sally said sternly.

 

‘’Wait til you see my beach house,’’ Jay piped up.

 

Casey was honestly feeling too drowsy to comment on the sexism of it all. Hell, she’d been too tired to reprimand Jay on his reckless driving.

 

‘’Casey? Got nothing to say about this?’’ Derek chimed, obviously surprised that she was staying silent about the whole thing.

 

Casey tried to summon a logical answer, but all that came out was a grunt. She huffed and figured that was a good enough answer.

 

‘’Wow, you sure you’re up for this?’’ Derek laughed.

 

‘’She’ll be fine,’’ Sally said, wrapping her arm around Casey protectively. ‘’We’ll get her a couple of beers and she’ll be right back to partying with us.’’

 

Casey was fine with this. She lifted her thumb up in the air to indicate her approval. Derek just shook his head. She could see him trying to read her face in the rearview mirror, but he never caught her eyes.

 

‘’You know, Sals, if I’d said what you just said, you’d be yelling at me right now,’’ Jay said.

 

‘’He’s not wrong,’’ Derek agreed.

 

‘’It’s different,’’ Sally defended.

 

‘’Right, cuz you’re a girl so you couldn’t possibly take advantage of another girl?’’ Derek said.

 

‘’Ugh.’’ Casey forced herself to sit up, grumbling. in her struggle, she kicked Dylan who looked like he was passed out in the middle of the van floor. ‘’Nobody is taking advantage of me. Cut it out.’’

 

‘’She speaks!’’ Derek exclaimed.

 

‘’I’m fine,’’ Casey spat.

 

‘’That’s good because we’re here and if you fall asleep then you might somehow wake up in the pool,’’ Derek smirked as he parked in between high bushes.

 

‘’If you throw me in the pool, I’ll shave your head while you sleep,’’ Casey quipped distractedly as she peaked at the house through the window.

 

The property was quite private. The house couldn’t be seen from the street until turning into the driveway. It wasn’t a huge villa, but it looked quite expensive all the same. It looked brand new.

 

‘’Okay, you two, nobody will be thrown in the pool and nobody’s head will be shaved, understood?’’ Sally scolded.

 

When the car stopped completely, Ping jumped out, opening the side door, and offered his hand up to help the girls out. Casey wobbled on her legs when they hit the ground, but she ultimately found her balance.

 

‘’What about him?’’ Casey asked, looking back at Dylan who was doing to be left abandoned by his peers.

 

‘’You snooze, you lose!’’ Jay said, appearing between her and Sally, and brought his arms around their shoulders, leading them towards the house. Casey felt somewhat uncomfortable, but didn’t say anything as she was glad for the extra support her wobbly legs couldn’t provide on their own.

 

She caught sight of Derek smirking, dragging behind them. He lifted his eyebrows at her suggestively and she merely showed her repulsion with a frown before turning back to look where she was going.

 

They entered a huge open space, with ceiling high windows opening up the view towards the back of the house, looking over the beach. Jay walked through the middle of the room, in between the couches and pointed towards the left. ‘’The bar’s over there,’’ he said, then turned completely towards the right ‘’And up those stairs are the guest rooms,’’ he added. ‘’First come, first serve.’’

 

Casey nodded, lifting her head up to look around the high walls, inspecting the ceilings lit up with spot lights that made her squint. As her hand came up to cover her eyes, the light dimmed down and she turned her head to find Derek turning the switch, smiling at her knowingly. She turned away, feeling her cheeks warm up.

 

Casey turned and followed Sally as she moved towards the bar. Sally picked up three glasses and turned when she felt Casey at her side. ‘’How are you doing?’’ she asked nicely.

 

‘’I’m fine, just got a bit sleepy,’’ Casey reassured.

 

‘’Think a drink could help?’’ Sally handed her a glass, filled with what looked like gin and tonic.

 

Casey scrunched her nose. ‘’I don’t know about this ,’’ she said, pointing at the glass, then she spotted a lonely opened beer on the corner of the bar. ‘’But I think this should do,’’ she said, picking it up and bringing it to her mouth.

 

‘’Excuse me,’’ the cocky voice came from behind her. A finger poked her upper arm. ‘’That’s mine.’’

 

Casey turned towards Derek, finding him pointing at the beer in her hand. She lifted an eyebrow at him. ‘’You relinquished all rights to this beer when you abandoned it. I have it now, I’ll take good care of it.’’

 

Derek inhaled deeply, straightening up. ‘’I did not abandon my beer. I simply put it down while I moved to another task, fully intending on returning to it.’’

 

‘’Well… I call dibs!’’

 

Derek sighed. ‘’Fine. You keep the beer. But you better hold onto it, because it might spill.’’

 

Casey frowned. ‘’Wha-’’

 

She didn’t have time to react before he’d picked her up on his shoulder. ‘’De-rek!’’ She yelled, holding her beer up safely as he walked her towards the back door. ‘’What are you doing?!’’

 

‘’To the pool!’’ he announced.

 

‘’Put me down, De-rek!’’ she screeched. Jay politely took the beer off her hands and gave her a thumbs up before Derek dragged her outside.

 

‘’Last chance to make it right, Case!’’ Derek said. ‘’I’ll let you go if you finally admit that I am the awesomest, most handsome guy in the universe.’’

 

‘’You’re drunk!’’ Casey cried. ‘’I will admit to nothing!’’

 

‘’Are you sure this is your final answer?’’

 

‘’Derek,’’ she said, taking a deep breath. ‘’Put. Me. Down.’’

 

‘’Hmmm… Wrong answer!’’ he declared as he dropped her unceremoniously. Casey uttered a final, desperate, cry of De-rek! before she fell into the cold water, inhaling some through her nose in her surprise.

 

She brought herself back to the surface, gasping for air, as she coughed the water out of her lungs. ‘’De-’’ she tried in between fits. ‘’-rek,’’ she finished weakly. She caught her breath after a minute and glared up at him through her tear filled eyes. ‘’I almost drowned, you jerk!’’

 

Derek rolled his eyes. ‘’Calm down, Princess . You’re overreacting.’’

 

‘’Watch out!’’ Casey heard right before a body jumped into the water behind her, forming waves that splashed over her face. ‘’Woohoo!’’ Jay shouted as he erupted to the surface.

 

Casey rubbed the water from her eyes to turn her glare back on Derek. ‘’I am not - overreacting!’’ she cried, and pushed her arms forward to splash water up at Derek’s legs. He took a step back, receiving barely a couple of drops. He looked down at his feet, then lifted an eyebrow at her in amusement. What a... a jerk !

 

‘’Aw, come on, Case.’’ Derek said, walking back a few more steps. He pushed his shoes off his feet and stepped out of his pants. His t-shirt followed quickly, falling into the pile at his feet. ‘’Loosen up!’’ he yelled, as he dashed back towards the pool and jumped in right next to her. This resulting in her face getting splashed. Again.

 

When he came back up, Casey took the opportunity to surprise him and pushed his head down under the water. She felt him struggle underneath her and smirked. That would teach him. She knew he could hold his breath, so she jumped on his shoulders, using her full weight to keep him under the water. What she didn’t take into account was that gravity didn’t work the same way into the water (blame it on the alcohol), so Derek now had the weight advantage. She felt his hands grab her thighs as he pushed himself back on his feet. She flailed around to keep from falling backwards, but found that his hands were holding her tightly in place. She ended up balancing herself on his head, gripping his wet hair.

 

‘’Ouch, Space Case, be careful with the hair!’’ Derek cried.

 

Casey huffed. ‘’You’re the one who almost drowned me, I think it deserves retaliation!’’

 

‘’Excuse me! You tried to drown me just now. I think that’s enough retaliation.’’

 

‘’Oh shut up, you big baby,’’ she said, and pulled on his hair playfully.

 

‘’Ok, that’s it,’’ he said and released her, causing her to fall back into the water in her surprise.

 

‘’God, you’re intolerable!’’ she yelled and splashed water in his face. He sputtered.

 

‘’And you’re insane!’’

 

‘’And what am I?’’ Sally’s voice broke their staredown. They both turned towards her to find that she was sitting on the edge of the pool. Where did she get a bikini? Her were legs dipping in the water as she held out a drink to each of them. Derek accepted his after Casey gratefully took hers, and took hold of Sally’s waist, pulling her down towards him, making Sally squeal.

 

‘’ You are a ray of sunshine,’’ Derek said fondly before kissing her cheek. Sally giggled. Casey turned her head, feeling oddly left out.

 

‘’Now, Derek, why can’t you say nice things like that to Casey?’’ Sally chastised him.

 

‘’Because he’s a jerk!’’ Casey said instantly.

 

‘’No, because if I said it, it would be a lie.’’

 

Casey huffed. ‘’Aren’t you the self proclaimed Lord of the Lies, Derek?’’ she said, gritting her teeth.

 

Derek considered this. ‘’I guess you’re right…’’ Derek paused, then smirked at Casey. ‘’You know, your hair looks nice all wet like this.’’

 

‘’Ugh, whatever,’’ Casey said and walked herself out of the water, grumbling. Why couldn’t he just be nice to her, just once?

 

As she stood next to the pool, she looked down at her wet clothes. Too bad she didn’t have anything to change. ‘’Jay, is there a drying machine in there?’’

 

‘’Yeah, in the downstairs bathroom. There’s towels, too.’’

 

‘’Thanks.’’

 

Casey saw Sally’s face fall as she walked away, then turn a glare towards Derek. Casey scoffed. As if any part of Derek could actually be considerate towards her. It just wasn’t in his DNA.

 

In the washroom, Casey found the towels and picked one up, drying her hair, before putting it away to remove her clothes. She stopped at her underwear, wondering if she should dry them too or just keep them on. She would feel weird walking around with just the towel covering her, but she also didn’t want to have to put her shorts back on over wet panties.

 

Sighing, we went to remove her underwear when a knock on the door stopped her. She looked up to find Derek in the doorway, eyes wide like a deer caught in the headlights. She yelped, and covered herself with the towel. ‘’What do you want?!?’’

 

‘’I, uh....’’

 

He paused for a second, obviously trying (and failing) not to stare at her. He licked his lips, then finally dragged his eyes from her legs to her face. ‘’I had some clothes lying around. You could wear it, if you want,’’ he said, extending his arm holding a pair of pajama shorts and his Metallica t-shirt. Casey stared at it. ‘’It’s clean,’’ Derek offered.

 

She dragged her eyes back up to his, ignoring the drops of water rolling down his chest. ‘’Ok,’’ she said and smiled softly.

 

‘’Ok,’’ he said, returning the smile, a bit awkward. ‘’Take it.’’

 

‘Oh, yeah,’’ Casey shook her head and took the shirt from him, and looked back down at her feet. ‘’Thanks,’’ she told the floor.

 

She saw him move from the corner of her eye. He got really close all of a sudden. His body was leaning against her side and she was about to say something when he pulled back with another towel, and started to use it to dry his hair. He nodded politely and turned around. He stopped, and came back to face her.

 

‘’You know, for what it’s worth…’’ he said, ‘’Your hair does look nice like this. It’s kind of hot.’’ He shrugged.

 

Casey felt the blush on her cheeks return. He’d never used the word hot, or any of its synonyms, to describe her or any part of her anatomy. She couldn’t help the small laugh. It was totally awkward and she didn’t know why, but she couldn’t stop it.

 

Derek smiled, chuckling himself. ‘’Okay, alright, I’ve embarrassed myself. Now we’re even.’’

 

Casey shook her head. ‘’We’ll never be even, Derek,’’ she teased.

 

She saw his shoulder slump just slightly. ‘’I guess I do have a lot to make up for.’’

 

He said it casually, but she could tell that he was asking for a confirmation. And he wasn’t talking about the pranking. She couldn’t hold his gaze.

 

‘’No you don’t,’’ Casey sighed.

 

‘’Don’t I?’’ he asked, she felt his breath on her cheek. He’d gotten closer somehow, hovering over her. Their toes were practically touching.

 

Casey shrugged. ‘’You were right.’’

 

He brought his hand up to the side of her face, tucking a loose strand of wet hair behind her ear, then it came to rest against the side of her neck. It was cold and it made her shiver. She felt his breath get closer, his face approaching hers slowly, tentatively. His lips stopped barely an inch from hers, and her heart stopped for a second. She wanted this, wanted to kiss him, so badly she had to put her arm up to lean on his chest to keep from falling forward. Their lips grazed, just a whisper of a touch, yet it tickled, she felt her face go numb.

 

As she closed her eyes, she saw Jesse’s face in her mind and it snapped her right out of the moment. She pushed lightly against his chest, putting more distance between them and looked up at his face, guiltily. ‘’Sorry…’’ she whispered. ‘’I can’t…’’

 

His hand dropped back at his side and he nodded. ‘’Jesse,’’ he acknowledged, and she let out a small sigh of relief that he understood.

 

‘’Yeah…’’

 

‘’Yeah…’’ he repeated, then brought his hand up to rub the back of his neck. ‘’Well, you can keep the shirt.’’

 

She looked back at the forgotten t-shirt in her hand. ‘’Yeah, okay,’’ she said lamely.

 

They both nodded. As Derek turned to walk away, Casey blurted the first thought that came to her.

 

‘’Did you really write that song about me?’’

 

Derek stopped short, turning towards her once again. He dropped his arm, letting the towel dingle at his side. ‘’Which one?’’

 

She just kind of stood there for a minute, processing his words. She shook her head. ‘’How many are there?’’ she asked, curious.

 

Derek shrugged. ‘’Five or six.’’

 

‘’Oh,’’ Casey said, the air leaving her lungs for the hundredth time today. It occurred to her that the alcohol mixed with the lack of oxygen was probably going to have a serious impact on her brain.

 

Derek shuffled his feet, as if kicking away the awkwardness in the room. ’I’ll, uh… get back outside. The guys want to play a drinking game,’’ he said. ‘’You coming?’’

 

Casey nodded, ‘’Yeah.’’

 

Then Derek left, leaving Casey to wonder what the hell had just happened . Or, well, what almost happened. They had been so close to kissing. This made it kind of hard to deny that something was happening between them, and easier to finally accept that maybe he did feel the same way.

 

Though that was kind of the hardest part. Knowing that he felt the same way meant that something had to be done about it, and god did she not know where to start. She knew that talking to Jesse was the first step, but how was she supposed to break this to him, look in his eyes and break his heart, throw away everything they have built together. She loved him so much, and yet, her heart wanted more. It wanted someone else. She felt guilty, and selfish.

 

Shivering, Casey realized that she was still wrapped in the towel, so she slipped on Derek’s pajamas, the smell of his body spray attacking her nose as she put on the shirt, then started a cycle to dry her clothes.

 

She squared her shoulders, and headed back outside, determined to drink herself into oblivion.

Chapter Text

Casey was deep in thought when she heard the door being unlocked. She looked up from the spot on the floor she’d been staring at and took her hand away from her mouth as she saw Jesse enter. She’d finally stopped biting her nails, of course almost kissing Derek would send her back into an anxiety spiral.

 

She had to quiet down all thoughts of last night, that dreadful game of Truth or Dare and way too much alcohol, in favour of concentrating on the task at hand. She had to be honest with Jesse. This had gone on way too long.

 

‘’Hey,’’ Casey called out as Jesse approached the living room.

 

‘’Hey,’’ he said over his shoulder as he hung up his coat.

 

She could feel the words trying to burst out of her in a messy confession as Jesse took his time to make his way to the couch, eyes looking down.

 

‘’Case, we need to-’’ Jesse started.

 

‘’I have something to tell you!’’ Casey blurted on top of him.

 

‘’-talk.’’ Jesse finished. He looked up finally and raised an eyebrow. ‘’You too?’’

 

Casey nodded forcefully. ‘’I need to go first.’’

 

Jesse considered this for a second before conceding. He went to sit on the couch, motioning for her to go on.

 

‘’I, uh…’’ she drifted off. How could she even put this into words. I realised that I’m madly in love with my step-brother seemed too absurd to say out loud. I like Derek . I almost kissed Derek . Oh God .

 

Jesse sighed. ‘’Look,’’ he started, before she interrupted him again.

 

‘’It’s about last night.’’

 

‘’Last night?’’ he questioned. He had this worried look on his face, like he was anticipating what she had to say. It just made it more difficult.

 

‘’Yes, last night.’’ Casey confirmed. She was stalling, she knew that. But this was a life changing moment. Probably the stupidest decision of her life. It was breaking her heart.

 

‘’It’s me. Me and…’’ she drifted off, unable to say his name out loud. The one time she should be yelling out his name with the force of thunder, and she couldn’t. She almost hated him for a minute.

 

Something seemed to dawn in Jesse’s eyes, like he figured it out. ‘’Did you kiss Derek?’’

 

Casey felt the rush of tears build up at the words. Her eyes went wide, letting a few drops escape. ‘’How… How did you… I mean, I didn’t.’’ She shook her head. ‘’No. I didn’t kiss him.’’

 

‘’But you wanted to,’’ Jesse said, finishing the unsaid part of her thought.

 

She looked down. ‘’Yeah…’’ she whispered, ashamed. Of course Jesse couldn’t have been that blind. He’d know that every jab and punch that her and Derek traded meant more than meets the eye. He’d loved her still, knowing that she hoarded such a secret. She felt terrible .

 

Next to her, Jesse sighed. ‘’Wow… this is…’’

 

Casey frowned. He sounded… relieved? She had to look up to see his face. He was looking at her with wide eyes and the smallest hint of a smile. That wasn’t right.

 

‘’I, uh…’’ he explained. ‘’I kissed Gus.’’

 

‘’Oh!’’ was all Casey found to say as she straightened up in discomfort. This was unexpected. Had she missed out on something? Had she been too engrossed into her own little head drama that she completely missed the signs? Jesse was… ‘’Are you…’’

 

‘’I don’t think so,’’ Jesse finished for her. Casey sighed, relieved that he understood her question. ‘’I mean, I never thought about it. I’ve never liked a guy before. And I’m pretty sure I still like girls.’’

 

She nodded. Ok. This did not happen the way she’d anticipated it. She wondered if she should be upset that he’d basically cheated on her. She felt that she should, and she would be under normal circumstances. But she wasn’t. Even though she hadn’t kissed Derek, she didn’t think she’d been any better. Not with the feelings and texting and almost kissing . She had the feeling that Jesse was as taken aback by the situation as she was.

 

‘’I’m sorry,’’ he said.

 

‘’Me too,’’ she urged, ‘’I don’t know what came over me, I don’t understand it…’’

 

Jesse laughed and Casey frowned again, offended.

 

‘’Come on, Case,’’ he said. ‘’You and Derek? It was frickin’ written in the stars or whatever.’’

 

‘’What?’’ she scoffed. That’s not how she would have described her relationship with Derek. Written in the stars implied that it was meant to be. How could it be when they shared a family, a real brother that belonged to both of them. It seemed impossible.

 

‘’It’s been a long time coming.’’ Jesse stated calmly, like he was trying to soothe her. That’s not what she wanted to hear, though, obviously.

 

‘’A long time?’’ she squeaked. ‘’What does that mean?’’ She got up, getting agitated. ‘’How are you just sitting there saying that like you’ve always known about this?’’

 

‘’Because I have.’’

 

‘’And that’s it? You’ve just been pretending this whole time?’’

 

Jesse frowned, getting up to meet her eye level. ‘’What do you mean, pretending?’’

 

Casey huffed. ‘’Maybe you thought it would be easier,’’ she shrugged, ‘’If I like someone else then you don’t have to worry about things getting real.’’

 

As her voice cracked, Casey realised she was practically shouting. She pressed her lips together while she breathed in deep. She didn’t want to yell at Jesse, it sounded ridiculous even to her own ears. But she just needed to know.

 

Jesse pressed both hands to his face. ‘’This is about not getting engaged, isn’t it? You think I kept putting it off to mess with you?’’

 

‘’How can I not?’’ Casey shrugged.

 

‘’Casey, you’re not just a beard to me.’’ Jesse insisted as he let his arms fall back to his sides.

 

‘’Then why keep up with this? With me?’’ As if she’d never stopped crying, she felt the warm flow on her cheeks starting over.

 

‘’Fuck, Case,’’ he let out as he let himself fall back on the couch. ‘’I love you, you know that.’’

 

‘’Then why didn’t you want to get engaged?’’

 

‘’Look, it wasn’t about you,’’ he placated calmly. ‘’Not everything is about you.’’

 

Casey wiped at her cheeks. ‘’Right.’’

 

‘’I don’t know what’s going on either,’’ Jesse pressed.

 

She took a deep breath and sat down next to him. ‘’So what now? Do you like him?’’

 

Jesse frowned as he thought about his answer. For some reason, this was the answer she dreaded the most. It would mean that it was over. Really over. The thought of breaking up with Jesse was tearing her insides up. It was like eight years down the drain. Nothing to show for all the work they’d put into their relationship.

 

‘’Yeah, I think so.’’

 

Casey felt the blow as expected, but she pushed on. ‘’Ok... What does that mean for us?’’

 

‘’I don’t know,’’ Jesse said sadly. ‘’What about Derek?’’

 

She licked her lips and looked down. ‘’I don’t know,’’ she echoed.

 

‘’Yeah,’’ Jesse sighed and reached out to wrap his arm around Casey’s shoulder. ‘’Maybe we should take this one step at a time. I know I’m not ready to just dump all this and move on,’’ he said gesturing around at their apartment, but she knew he meant their whole relationship.

 

She felt the little smile creep on her lips as she brushed the remnants of her tears away. Maybe things would turn out okay. ‘’I guess we both have things to figure out,’’ she said, leaning her head on his shoulder.

 

‘’Don’t we ever,’’ he chuckled. She laughed along, thinking she’d miss him if she never saw him again.

 

‘’Can I stay here a while?’’ she asked.

 

‘’De quoi tu parles?* I’m not kicking you out,’’ he replied in mild outrage.

 

‘’Your French is showing,’’ Casey smirked as she looked up at him.

 

‘’I can’t help it when you ask me stupid questions like that.’’ She smiled wider at that.

 

‘’Thank you.’’

 

Jesse kissed her temple. ‘’You’re welcome.’’

 

 


 

 

 

The night before…

 

‘‘Whooo! Casey’s back!’’ Jay shouted animatedly. He seemed way advanced in his drinking already.

 

As Casey made her way back to the group, she noticed Dylan had found his way as well, probably waking up inside the van while she was changing. She sat at the empty spot between Sally and Ping. They had arranged chairs and benches in a circle around a makeshift fire pit in a coffee can. Casey thought that couldn’t be safe, especially since the porch was made out of wood, but she dismissed the thought, living dangerously stuck in her mind.

 

She glanced around as she sat down in the empty chair, thankful that they’d left one for her. Derek was next to Sally on her left and the other band members over her right. They all had that goofy face that boys have when they’re drunk.

 

‘’Truth or Dare, Casey!’’ Jay continued. She turned to him, eyes wide. She was so not in the mood for this type of game. She looked over at Sally pleadingly but only received an urging smile in return.

 

‘’Come on, Space Case, take the stick out,’’ Derek said, after her moment of hesitation.

 

Glowering, Casey turned to Derek. Did he have to be so annoying already, only minutes after they’d had a moment ? ‘’Truth,’’ she said between gritted teeth. Derek rolled his eyes.

 

Jay snickered. ‘’Okay, Casey, tell us what you really thought about the band tonight.’’

 

‘’Don’t let her off easy, Jay!’’ Derek whined. In response, Sally slapped his knee lightly, jumping to Casey’s defense. ‘’Leave her alone, will you?’’ she said, to which Derek groaned.

 

Ignoring Derek, Casey concentrated on Jay to answer truthfully. ‘’I really thought you guys were awesome. Surprisingly,’’ she added as an afterthought.

 

‘’Wow,’’ Dylan uttered from his upside down position on the bench next to Ping. ‘’Aren’t you supposed to be supportive of your family, or something?’’ Ping slapped his forehead in exasperation, muttering something about Dylan being an idiot.

 

Casey glanced over at Derek quickly to see his reaction, he was just smirking, unaffected. She guessed it wasn’t the time to argue about their family status. ‘’Well, if you’d heard Derek’s band in high school, you would be surprised too,’’ she settled on saying, which made everyone laugh. She even heard Derek snicker.

 

Dylan turned himself around into a normal seating position, reaching into the pocket of his shirt. ‘’How bad was he?’’ he asked as he pulled out his joint and lit it up.

 

‘’Pretty bad,’’ Casey answered, right as Derek leaned over to snag the joint from Dylan’s hand. ‘’Pretty badass, you mean,’’ Derek said. Sitting back in his chair, he took a long draw out of the joint, training his eyes on Casey.

 

‘’Let’s say he’s come a long way when it comes to songwriting,’’ Sally cut in. Derek rolled his eyes as he exhaled the smoke. Casey watched his lips shaping around the next drag, his chest lifting up as he inhaled. She had to remind herself that smoking was not sexy. It was kind of hard to remember while watching him do it.

 

‘’Well, that answers my question,’’ Jay said, breaking Casey out of her thoughts. Nobody seemed to have noticed that she’d zoned out. ‘’Who’ll be your victim?’’

 

She tapped her finger against her chin, pretending to consider her options. ‘’Hmm… Sally,’’ her eyes stopped on her favourite blonde friend and she smiled. ‘’Truth or dare?’’

 

‘’Dare!’’ Sally replied automatically, smiling back at Casey. ‘’Ooh, mixing it up,’’ Derek uttered at her side, poking Sally’s collarbone for attention. He passed her the joint.

 

‘’I dare you…’’ Casey started, looking around for something to have Sally do. Don’t think too hard , she reminded herself. ‘’... to kiss everyone here.’’ To which the boys cheered while Derek laughed his ass off. Casey beamed at Sally, proud that she came up with something fun. 

 

Sally glared playfully at her. ‘’Alright, you got it.’’ 

 

She got up and went for Jay first. Sally pressed her lips to his gently, hands on his shoulders. He received the kiss gratefully, smiling a bit dazedly when she pulled back. Derek laughed and Casey was surprised again that he didn’t seem a tiny bit jealous. When Jay was flirting with Sally earlier, she figured that it didn’t mean anything to either of them, it was just playful. But a kiss had to hold more meaning, right? She could remember Derek freaking out over Sally even talking to some guy back in high school. This new carelessness of his was mystifying. Sally left the joint with Jay before moving to her right.

 

Next was Dylan, whose kiss was short lived after he tried to slip Sally the tongue. ‘’Down, boy,’’ Sally said as she moved to Ping. To Casey’s surprise, he seemed apprehensive, a bit disgusted at the idea, turning his head to the side a bit. Sally grinned and pecked his cheek softly.

 

‘’That’s cheating,’’ Dylan protested. He was promptly punched in the shoulder by Ping. ‘’Shut the fuck up, Dylan!’’

 

Casey giggled at their antics. She felt a weight press on both arms of her chair and looked up to find Sally peering into her eyes. Sally was smiling down at her saucily, her hair falling down like a curtain around them. Oh right. Everyone here kind of included Casey too, didn’t it? Casey licked her lips. She should have mentally prepared for this.

 

Sally leaned down until her face was a mere inch in front of hers. ‘’Hey there,’’ Sally said.

 

‘’He-’’ Casey’s response was cut off by Sally’s lips on hers. Casey’s lips tingled at the touch, spreading goosebumps throughout her body. Sally pressed on hard, her mouth opening just a fraction above Casey’s. Casey felt compelled to do the same. As her lips separated, Sally’s tongue reached out for hers. She barely registered the drunk boys cheering them on in the background. All she was aware of right now was Sally’s warm body, the press of her tongue and the little moan she made when she went deeper. 

 

Casey’s thoughts were swimming in butter. She wasn’t even drunk, yet it felt like it. She was at the same time dazed and excited, pushing herself forward to meet Sally with more ardor. When Sally pulled away again, Casey was breathless. She met Sally’s green eyes and smiled shyly, feeling the blush hot on her face.

 

‘’Holy shit!’’ one of the guys was shouting, she honestly could not tell whom. It did bring her out of the moment, though. As her eyes refocused, they went straight to Derek. He was looking at her too, the smallest hint of a smile on his face. But his gaze, though, it was piercing and dark, illuminated by a glint of lust that made her shiver. The faint smile turned into a full on smirk as he noticed her discomfort.

 

Sally’s body falling on Derek’s lap obstructed their view shortly, making his eyes disconnect with hers to fall on Sally. ‘’What about me?’’ Derek asked the girl sitting in his lap. Sally grinned and wrapped her arms around his shoulders to bring their faces together. Derek’s eyes fell on Casey’s briefly before closing to give himself fully to the kiss.

 

There was a strange feeling at the pit of Casey’s stomach. Strange, but not completely unpleasant. As she watched Derek and Sally share a moment together, there was a pull on her heart, a jolt of delight and.. yearning , which she didn’t quite understand.

 

 


 

 

‘’How did it happen?’’ Casey asked softly. They were lying on the bed, facing each other, close without actually touching.

 

‘’It was completely unexpected,’’ Jesse said. ‘’He’s cool and really fun, but I didn’t really think about it before it happened. It was just like, we’re standing there joking around one second and the next he’s kissing me, and I kind of liked it.’’

 

‘’You didn’t know you liked him before he kissed you?’’ Casey asked, surprised. She thought this kind of thing was a process, that you developed feelings up until the first kiss.

 

‘’Well, I knew I liked him as a person, not that I liked him liked him,’’ Jesse answered. ‘’I just know I need to explore this now.’’ It was odd to be having this conversation with Jesse. It felt a bit like she was back in high school with Emily, talking about boys. Except now she was hearing about her ( ex ) boyfriend’s crush on another guy.

 

Casey laughed. ‘’This is surreal,’’ she said as she flipped onto her back to consider the ceiling. ‘’How are we here?’’

 

‘’I have no fucking clue,’’ Jesse laughed back.

 

Casey felt her smile fading as she observed the white painted ceiling. The last eight years of her life had been hectic, sure, but full of love. Sharing her life with Jesse, she had felt his full support the whole way. He’d lifted her up so many times when she was down, helped her come down from her panic attacks. They’d built something together that she didn’t want to let go of. It was hard to believe that it could end just like that. What did it mean, that it was so easy?

 

She felt something on her cheeks and realised Jesse was brushing her tear with his thumb. ‘’I’m so sorry,’’ she said.

 

‘’It’s okay,’’ Jesse said.

 

The sob came before she could feel it and it felt like her ribcage was being ripped apart. ‘’I’ve been so ho-horrible,’’ she cried.

 

‘’What are you talking about?’’ Jesse asked calmly.

 

‘’I-I should have to-old you that I-’’ she broke off. She couldn’t say it yet. It hurt too much.

 

‘’You didn’t have to tell me,’’ he reassured. ‘’It’s always been about Derek.’’

 

‘’Did I-’’ sob, ‘’push you away?’’

 

‘’Hell no,’’ he surged forward to embrace her and pressed his forehead against hers. ‘’I knew we were right for each other this whole time, Casey. We were right for each other during that time.’’

 

‘’I-If you’re not the one, then who is?’’ she asked, quieting her heart beat. She tried to smile but it didn’t get through.

 

‘’I think you know the answer to that,’’ Jesse answered and kissed her forehead before sitting back on his knees. ‘’You’ll always be the One. I just think maybe there can be more than one One, at different times.’’

 

Casey nodded as she looked up at him. More than one. That sounded too good to be true. She’d always been such a believer in textbook True Love, which never came in multiples. Except, when she pictured giving a shot at something with Derek, she could see Sally there too, entwining her hand along with theirs.

 

She took a long shivering breath before lifting herself up to sit in front of him, hugging her legs to her body. ‘’Where do we go from here?’’

 

‘’I don’t know,’’ Jesse said and took her hand. ‘’As far as we’re concerned, I’ll always want you in my life. I hope you feel the same.’’

 

‘’I do,’’ she answered, sniffing. She looked at their hands together and wondered how she’d live without this. ‘’Can it really be that easy?’’

 

‘’Yes,’’ he said. There was no doubt in his voice. It seemed so simple when he was here like this, holding her hand, telling her it’ll be okay. 

 

She knew, though, that no matter how her and Jesse ended, she still had a lot of heartbreak ahead. A shot at romance with Derek could not be as easy as this.

 

 


 

 

The night before…

 

‘’De-rek!’’ Casey yelped as his beer spilled on the ground, missing her chest by a fraction. His hyena laugh did nothing to soothe her anger. ‘’Hey, don’t blame me!’’ Derek defended, ‘’Jay’s the one that dared me to do a handstand while drinking beer.’’

 

‘’Hey,’’ Jay interjected.

 

‘’You didn’t have to do it near me!’’ Casey insisted.

 

‘’Well excuse me , Princess .’’

 

‘’Ugh! Stop calling me that,’’ Casey grumbled.

 

‘’Come on, Princess, Truth or Dare,’’ Derek continued, ignoring her whining.

 

‘’Truth,’’ she said grumpily, crossing her arms over her chest.

 

‘’Boring.’’ Casey looked up just in time to see Derek roll his eyes at her.

 

‘’What?’’ she asked defensively.

 

‘’You’re predictable,’’ he stated, falling back in his chair lazily. A cigarette had found his lips somehow. She would have to berate him about all the smoking later on.

 

‘’ I’m predictable?’’ she asked, offended. ‘’Aren’t you tired of being a complete cliché? You pick dare every time because you can’t be honest to save your life.’’

 

‘’Fine, deal,’’ he said, waving his hand dismissively.

 

‘’Pardon?’’

 

‘’I’ll tell the truth, if you pick dare,’’ he smirked unabashedly. He knew she wouldn’t pass that up.

 

‘’ Fine . Dare. Hit me,’’ she challenged.

 

‘’Why, Casey,’’ Derek said, rubbing his hands evilly. ‘’Why don’t you finish my beer?’’ he said and held it out towards her. She reached out to grab it. ‘’That’s it?’’ she asked, unimpressed.

 

He pulled the bottle away as she went to take it. ‘’Chug it,’’ he said, and pressed the beer in her hand. Oh God, it was practically full. She’d get sick, she knew it. Last time she tried chugging, at eighteen , she’d thrown up halfway through the drink. She looked at the beer in aprehension.

 

‘’Can’t back out now,’’ Derek teased.

 

‘’You can do it, Casey,’’ Ping said encouragingly.

 

‘’Casey, Casey, Casey!’’ Jay began chanting, followed by Dylan. Sally imitated them, giggling as she clapped her hands.

 

‘’How can you resist all that friendly peer pressure, Case?’’ Derek gloated.

 

‘’Oh, shut up,’’ Casey said and brought the bottle to her lips. As she chugged, the chanting of her name continued. She forced the lukewarm liquid down her throat. It was cheap beer, too. No way was she getting out of this one alive. Ugh.

 

Derek was standing back up next to her. He was laughing, seemingly impressed by her feat. It didn’t take much for such a simple mind, she thought vaguely. She almost choked at some point, beer dripping from the corners of her mouth. Less than half left.

 

‘’Come on, Case,’’ Derek cheered, ‘’You’re almost there!’’

 

She trained her eye on the liquid left in the bottle until the last drop disappeared. She threw her head back to let the last of it down. The bottle now empty, she came up for air, a burp escaping her mouth. She clamped her free hand over her mouth.

 

‘’Attagirl!’’ Derek encouraged, happily.

 

‘’That was badass as hell,’’ Dylan said. Casey blushed.

 

Surprisingly, she didn’t feel sick. She put the bottle down at her feet and looked back up as Derek sat back down. ‘’Shoot,’’ he said, gesturing in a give it to me kind of way.

 

‘’Huh?’’ Casey asked, perplexed.

 

‘’You held your end of the bargain, I pick truth,’’ Derek answered.

 

‘’Oh!’’ Casey said, practically gasping as another burp made its way up. ‘’Oh my god…’’

 

‘’Gotta love a woman who can burp like a man,’’ Derek stated.

 

Her heart skipped at his choice of the word love but thought better of it. She knew not to get excited. This was Derek, after all.

 

‘’Ok, big guy,’’ Casey started. ‘’Let’s see if you can take it.’’

 

What could she ask him, though? She didn’t want to quizz him about what they meant to each other, not surrounded by their friends like this. She knew personal questions were better left for another time. But it needed to be juicy; She did not sacrifice her liver for nothing.

 

After a few seconds of consideration, she went for it.

 

‘’How many times have you been in love?’’ she asked softly, keeping eye contact. She wasn’t sure what his definition of love even was. If he knew that he could feel it at all.

 

Derek seemed taken aback by her question, like he never expected her to ask something like that. He considered her for a second before looking at Sally. Sally responded with a warm smile and taking his hand. ‘’I uh....’’ he drifted off, frowning. Casey noticed that his thumb brushed the side of Sally’s hand. He took a noticeably deep breath before charging on and meeting her eyes once more. ‘’Twice,’’ he said headily. ‘’I’ve been in love twice.’’

 

He didn’t stutter.

 

Once again, he’d said the word without hesitation. Maybe he was drunk? Casey didn’t know what it was about it that made her feel delighted, but it was like a spark. Hell-no-feelings Derek, talking about love, in so little words, was alluring. She thought he could see it in her eyes because he stared back, an eyebrow lifted knowingly. It was taunting, daring her to do something about it.

 

She really, really wished that she could.

 

 


 

 

 

Casey pulled the phone away from her ear. She’d forgotten how loud her high school best friend’s shriek was.

 

‘’He said that?!’’ Emily squealed from her end of the line. ‘’Do you know how many songs they have? Five or six is a lot !’’

 

‘’I guess so,’’ Casey said, biting her lip. Sure she’d accepted that Derek probably reciprocated her feelings. But she didn’t know what those feelings were. If it was even meant to last. They were probably going to crash and burn within hours . She couldn’t allow herself to get excited over every little thing. Not unless it was spelled out and concrete. For the sake of her heart and their family, she had to.

 

‘’Casey, this is huge. What are you gonna do?’’ Emily said.

 

‘That’s the problem, isn’t?’’ Casey whined and flopped down on her bed dejectedly. ‘’ What should I do, Em?’’

 

‘’I don’t care what you do, but you have to do something !’’ Emily insisted.

 

‘’Well, Jesse and I just sort of broke up, so… that’s something,’’ Casey said sadly.

 

‘’Oh… wait, where is he?’’

 

‘’Working.’’

 

‘’How did it go?’’ Emily asked tentatively.

 

‘’Surprisingly easy,’’ Casey said. ‘’Turns out he’s having an identity crisis too.’’

 

‘’Um, what?’’

 

‘’While I was out drinking and not kissing Derek, he was out serving drinks and kissing his new employee.’’

 

‘’WHAT?!’’ Emily screeched. ‘’He cheated on you with some barmaid?’’

 

‘’No,’’ Casey clarified, ‘’The new bartender’s a guy.’’

 

‘’Holy crap! Jesse’s gay?’’

 

‘’Maybe? I don’t know. He says he still likes girls.’’

 

‘’Wow.’’

 

‘’Yeah, wow.’’ Casey sighed. She looked down at her bitten fingernails. There was nothing left of them.

 

‘’How do you feel about it?’’ Emily asked.

 

‘’Sad, but… relieved?’’ Casey questioned, unsure how she felt at the moment. ‘’I was mostly worried about breaking his heart into a million pieces.’’

 

‘’Right, like you’ve never done that before,’’ Emily said.

 

‘’That’s my point, Em. I didn’t want to do that to Jesse. He’s my friend.’’

 

‘’So you’ve broken up for good?’’

 

‘’Yeah.’’

 

‘’Wow.’’

 

‘’Yeah.’’

 

There was a short silence during which Casey could only hear Emily’s soft breathing. She could tell that her friend was looking for what to say.

 

‘’So what are you gonna do about Derek and Sally?’’ Emily finally asked.

 

‘’Do I have to figure it out now?’’ Casey answered in a whine, turning around on her stomach. She fought the urge to hide her face in the pillow.

 

‘’You’ll have to sooner or later, Case.’’

 

‘’I’ll take later,’’ Casey pouted.

 

Emily laughed and went silent again. It felt like she was holding back from saying something, which made Casey curious.

 

‘’Five or six songs?’’ Emily questioned, breaking the silence once more. ‘’Really?’’

 

‘’That’s what he said.’’

 

‘’Did you check their spotify account? They have like 15 songs. That means almost half of his songs are about you.’’

 

Casey bit her lip.

 

‘’What does it even mean?’’

 

‘’It means you’re on his mind.’’

 

‘’Do you really think we have a real shot at this? It’s me and Derek.’’

 

‘’I know you do,’’ Emily said in her most even tone. ‘’Casey, you’ve been all over each other since high school. It’s not that hard to see.’’

 

‘’Just because there’s attraction doesn’t mean we can make a relationship work,’’ Casey pointed out.

 

‘’You said yourself that he’s matured, right?’’

 

‘’Yeah, he has… he actually said the word love . Without stammering. You should have seen the look in his eyes, it was…’’

 

‘’Yeah, I know that look,’’ Emily sighed dreamily.

 

Something clenched inside Casey’s stomach, suddenly feeling guilty about bringing Emily into this. She was Derek’s ex, after all. She’d had a crush on him for years before they dated. This couldn’t be easy, to hear about his new romance. How did their lives become so tangled up?

 

‘’Aw, Em. It this weird?’’ Casey asked.

 

‘’No, no. It’s fine,’’ Emily rushed. ‘’I just have fond memories of that look. And he’s a great kisser.’’

 

‘’That’s what everyone says.’’

 

‘’But you know I’m so over him, right?’’

 

‘’I guess,’’ Casey said, unconvinced. The last thing she wanted was to make her friend uncomfortable now that they had started talking again.

 

‘’Okay, I wanted to keep this news for later, because you’re obviously close to a breakdown here but I just can’t hold it in anymore,’’ Emily said seriously.

 

‘’What?’’ Casey asked worriedly.

 

‘’I’m marrying Sheldon!’’

 

Casey sat up on her bed, eyes wide. ‘’Oh my God, Em!’’

 

‘’I know!’’

 

‘’I didn’t even know you guys got back together!’’

 

‘’I know!’’

 

‘’I need to know these things!’’

 

‘’I know!’’

 

‘’Oh my god!’’ They both squealed together for a solid minute, before moving on.

 

‘’That’s amazing, Em,’’ Casey said earnestly.

 

‘’Thanks, Case,’’ Emily sniffed.

 

‘’How’d he do it?’’

 

‘’He almost killed me when I choked on the ring he put in my cheesecake.’’

 

‘’Awwwwww.’’

 

‘’Yeah… I know.’’

 

‘’Since when?’’

 

‘’We actually got back together last month?’’ Emily said shyly. ‘’It was so sudden, but… right , you know?’’ 

 

She didn’t know. Casey never did anything without thinking it over a million times. But she refrained from commenting. ‘’I’m so happy for you.’’

 

‘’Thank you. Now that you know this, I’ll need you to get your shit together, Girl,’’ Emily continued seriously, ‘’because it’s in September and the three of you will be invited.’’

 

‘’Fuck…’’

 

‘’You’re welcome.’’

 

Casey frowned ‘’For what?’’

 

‘’For giving you an excuse to get him out on a date.’’ She could tell Emily was smiling from miles away.

 

‘’Thanks, Em,’’ Casey laughed.

 

‘’I’m the best!’’

 

 


 

 The night before...

 

‘’Go. Go. Go. Go.’’

 

Casey took down her fifth shot, asking herself why she got roped into this. She looked over at Sally who was on her sixth shot already.

 

The boys were around them cheering them on as Casey and Sally faced off to determine who could finish their ten shots first. Casey’s head was spinning already. She thanked the gods her boyfriend worked at a bar so she’d had to build up her tolerance.

 

Her hand gripped onto her sixth shot, barely swallowing before reaching for the seventh, eager to get the edge on Sally. She thought she must reek of alcohol, as Jack Daniels dripped from her mouth and down her neck. She downed her ninth shot right as Sally reached for her tenth and barely missed finishing first by a hair.

 

‘’Whoo!’’ Sally shouted, lifting her arms up proudly, declared champion.

 

‘’That was hot,’’ Dylan said from the side.

 

‘’You say that to everything,’’ Ping deadpanned.

 

‘’Just when it’s hot,’’ Dylan argued. To which Ping facepalmed.

 

Jay came back from who knows where, breaking between the other guys to bring each girl a glass of water. Sally smiled gratefully. ‘’Oh my god, thank you,’’ she moaned before drowning in the glass.

 

Casey looked at her own glass and decided to take a sip to hydrate her intoxicated body. At this point, it felt like she was moving in slow motion. Her limbs were numb and all tingly. She took two sips of water, appreciating the feeling of the cold liquid down her throat. She felt the effect of the water de-hardening her limbs as it cleared out the alcohol. She felt it all the way down. As her attention focused on her lower body, she realized that… she had to pee . So bad.

 

‘’Better luck next time, Case,’’ Derek said and clapped her back. It was soft but she felt every single finger curve around her shoulder blade, the warmth of his skin heating up hers through the layer of his shirt. She was wearing his t-shirt.

 

She stood up on shaky legs, suddenly it seemed, since everyone seemed to reach towards her in surprise trying to stabilize her. She was not falling, she did not need help. ‘’I’m fiiiine,’’ she complained, pushing all the grabby hands away. There were too many hands on her right now. ‘’Need to pee,’’ she mumbled as she headed back towards the house. She didn’t trip once, which she felt really proud of.

 

Inside, she squinted against the bright lights, which made it harder to see where she was going. She had to follow the wall until she reached the corridor. She faltered as the room seemed to bend sideways, her vision distorted. She could hear the ticking of a clock somewhere behind her.

 

Casey finally reached the washroom and closed the door behind her. She fell onto the seat and realized as she pushed down her shorts that she didn’t have underwear on. Why didn’t she have underwear? She was wearing Derek’s pajamas without any underwear? Dear lord. And why didn’t she turn on the light? She couldn’t find toilet paper anywhere. She floundered in the dark for a solid five minutes before she finally found it, behind her on top of the tank.

 

She washed her hands, quickly rinsing off her sticky neck, and opened the unlocked door, walking right - into Derek. She stopped herself with her hands on his chest. He caught her shoulders.

 

‘’Are you okay?’’ he asked, a small smile at the corner of his mouth.

 

Casey looked down at her hands where they rested on his chest. He was so warm and solid underneath her palms. ‘’Yes, of course,’’ she dismissed weakly.

 

‘’You are trashed,’’ he grinned.

 

‘’Yeah, well, so are you,’’ Casey blamed.

 

Derek laughed at that. ‘’A little bit. But less than you are.’’

 

‘’Nuh uh,’’ she contradicted just for the hell of it.

 

‘’We should put you to bed.”

 

‘’I can put myself to bed, thank you,’’ she said, moving past him. He let her go but she could tell he was behind her as she put herself to work up the stairs. She gripped the railing hard and forced herself to move forward briskly, lest she gave Derek the impression that she was incompetent. She looked back at him in defiance and saw him snicker.

 

He followed her to the bedroom of her choice, she picked the first one she could find, honestly not feeling difficult in that moment. He leaned against the door frame as she observed the bed in front of her. A nicely made queen sized bed. The bedspread looked soft and inviting. She climbed up sideways and spread herself out, face squished on the cotton lining. This was heaven. 

 

She thought she might have blacked out for a while when she came back to, feeling hot like a boiler. She wiggled on her back and gripped the hem of her t-shirt. She needed to take it off. ‘’Too hot,’’ she grumbled to herself as she pulled the shirt above her head.

 

‘’Woah,’’ she heard the voice and a bang towards the door. She jumped up in surprise.

 

‘’Derek?’’ she asked the shadow in the door frame. In the dim light of the hallway, she could tell he had his back to her.

 

‘’Forgot I was here already?’’ Derek chuckled.

 

She looked down at her topless form. She forgot her underwear in the dryer. ‘’You can look,’’ she said without any input from her brain. She forced her rational thoughts away.

 

‘’You don’t know what you’re saying,’’ Derek informed over his shoulder.

 

‘’Probably,’’ she admitted.

 

‘’How about you get under the blankets and I’ll come in.’’

 

She complied right way, hopeful at the promise of something . Maybe he’ll stay, she thought. She pulled the thin blanket up underneath her chin. It was nice and cool. Derek dared a glance back towards her when her shuffling stopped. Realizing she was now covered, he turned and came up to the bed.

 

‘’How are you feeling?’’ he asked softly.

 

‘’Like I just destroyed my liver,’’ Casey grumbled.

 

‘’That, you did,’’ he agreed. ‘’Congrats, McDonald,’’ Derek continued, sitting down on the side of the bed. ‘’Now you’re a real human like the rest of us.’’

 

His tone was so soft it took all the bite out of the insult. It made her feel good in a way that she wasn’t sure how to describe. Like something melting. Though as nice as the banter would be, she didn’t feel like pretending. 

 

‘’I’ll break up with Jesse, you know,’’ Casey said, braver from all the liquor. ‘’I don’t know when, but I will.’’

 

‘’Why would you do that?’’ he asked dismissively, like he didn’t believe she would.

 

‘’You know why,’’ she insisted, trying to sit up. When the sheet on top of her almost fell, Derek turned his head away so fast she almost heard a snap.

 

‘’You can’t even say it,’’ he challenged, staring at the doorway.

 

Casey’s head fell back against the pillow, too heavy to stay up. ‘’Because of you.’’

 

‘’What did I do?’’ He was pushing her, so sure that she wouldn’t actually say it, that she wouldn’t go through with it. If he thought she would back down now, he had another thing coming. She swallowed hard before speaking.

 

‘’I want you,’’ she said quietly.

 

His head snapped back towards her. She could make out the frown on his brow and the glint of his eyes peering at her, searching her face for some sign of deception.

 

‘’I want you too,’’ Derek finally admitted. Casey smiled.

 

‘’You’re like chocolate cravings,’’ she said as she turned to her side and wrapped the blanket tighter around herself.

 

‘’Am I now?’’

 

‘’It’s like wanting something so bad, even when you know it’s not good for you.’’

 

She saw Derek’s head fall. ‘’Right,’’ he said thoughtfully.

 

Oh no. He probably thought she meant he wasn’t good enough for her, which totally wasn’t what she meant at all .

 

He got up.

 

‘’Wait, I didn’t mean-’’ she hurried, trying to grab his arm.

 

‘’I know what you meant,’’ he said, avoiding her touch.

 

‘’You don’t,’’ she insisted. He needed to know he was good enough. More than good enough.

 

‘’You need to sleep this off,’’ he dismissed as he turned towards the door.

 

‘’Please,’’ she begged.

 

He stopped. He probably heard the ache in her voice. She wondered if his heart felt constricted like hers.

 

Coming back towards the bed, Derek leaned down and kissed the corner of her mouth. ‘’I know what you meant,’’ he said. Casey caught his cheek and looked into his eyes. She saw it there, he knew.

 

He didn’t move his face away, his breath was tickling her lips. He smelled good, remnants of cologne, of beer and smoke. ‘’You could stay,’’ she whispered, intoxicated by his closeness.

 

Derek directed his face downwards, nuzzling her neck. ‘’I still have some drinking to do,’’ he said, nose buried in her hair. After a few breaths, he stood back up. ‘’I’ll send Sally to see you.’’

 

Casey bit back her disappointment, knowing that he had resolved to be strong for both their sakes.

 

‘’I love Sally,’’ she told his retreating back.

 

‘’Me too,’’ he said, closing the door behind him.

 

 


 

 

Later that night, Casey was distracting herself in bed by scrolling her Facebook feed on the couch, after her evening snack. Her mom had posted pictures of Simon at dinner, with spaghetti sauce all over his face. It was adorable. She reacted with a heart.

 

At this moment, she really missed her family. It felt like she didn’t make the time to see them as much as she used to. With that in mind, she hadn’t texted them in a long time either. While having a heartfelt talk with her mom was what she needed the most right now, she just couldn’t bring herself to tell her about everything, scared that she would disappoint her somehow. Instead, she decided on the next best thing, opened her messenger app and pulled up her conversation with Lizzie.

 

[ I miss you, Liz. ]

 

As soon as she sent out her message, Lizzie saw it.

 

[ Miss you too, sis ]

 

[ How are you surviving the visit from hell? ]

 

Lizzie’s reply made Casey chuckle. Was there a better way to describe the experience of having Derek in New York for a few weeks? Still, she had to play dumb a little or it would be too obvious.

 

[ You mean Derek? ]

 

[ Who else? ]

 

[ It’s complicated. ]

 

Which was the truth. Casey wasn’t sure if bringing the subject out in the open was a good idea. Especially to her family. What would they think? And honestly, she felt like there was just so much going on in her life right now, she wanted to hear about them and lay back for a change.

 

[ Is that your new Facebook status? ]

 

[ I really don’t want to talk about Derek right now. How are YOU? ]

 

[ I’m good. Prepping for Marti’s bday in a few weeks. ]

 

[ I thought she didn’t want a surprise party? ]

 

[ Is it really a surprise if she coerced us in planning it for her? ]

 

[ Wow. ]

 

Unsurprisingly, Marti got all her bad habits from her bigger brother. Like making everyone do things for her. At least she hoped she was doing her own homework. Speaking of...

 

[ Any news on the school front? ]

 

[ We’ve stopped approaching the subject. George is still mad, though. He stopped buying chips. ]

 

Casey laughed and picked up her plate from the coffee table to bring it into the kitchen. She could totally do the walking and typing thing.

 

[ Marti must be going crazy. ]

 

[ You bet. ]

 

[ What about you and Edwin? ]

 

[ Edwin’s still in his honeymoon phase, but it looks good on him. ]

 

[ I’ve been stressing a bit about what I’ll do once I finish University. ]

 

[ You still have a year to figure it out. ]

 

[ I know, but I still think I should have a plan. ]

 

Reading Lizzie’s texts reminded her of how she used to be in high school. She used to want everything planned out to the letter, everything needed to work out as intended. Although she still had some lingering perfectionistic tendencies, she’d definitely figured out with time that things never happened exactly the way you planned them.

 

[ You sound like me, now. ]

 

[ You’ve always given me good advice. ]

 

[ I’m glad. ]

 

Casey smiled. She put the plate in the sink and reached for the sponge.

 

[ What about you? You have got to have something else to talk about besides Derek. ]

 

Did she? Casey sighed and dropped the sponge, turning around to lean against the counter.

 

[ I do. ]

 

[ Jesse and I broke up. ]

 

[ YOU’RE TELLING ME NOW? ON FACEBOOK? ]

 

[ WHEN? WHY? HOW? ]

 

[ I didn’t want to bring the mood down. ]

 

[ Come on! Tell me the deets! Are you okay? ]

 

[ I’m okay. ]

 

[ We broke up earlier today. ]

 

[ Why? ]

 

[ It’s complicated. ]

 

[ Oh. ]

 

[ OH! ]

 

[ Are you serious? ]

 

Casey frowned, wondering what conclusion her sister came to.

 

[ We both realized we had things to deal with on our own. ]

 

[ I could have told you that. ]

 

[ Ha. Ha. ]

 

[ Seriously, though. Are you gonna be alright? ]

 

[ Yes. It went well, actually. Nothing broken. ]

 

[ Wow. I can’t wrap my head around it. ]

 

[ I can’t quite yet either. ]

 

[ So we’re not gonna see Jesse anymore? ]

 

[ I don’t know. We’re on good terms, so we’ll have to see. ]

 

[ And Derek? ]

 

Casey’s heart skipped a beat.

 

[ Don’t tell me it’s complicated. ]

 

Just how much did Lizzie know? Although Casey conceded that she wasn’t the most subtle person ever, it seemed like a stretch to think that everyone knew about her feelings for Derek before she did. The idea did make her anxious, but it also alleviated some weight. Maybe if nobody said anything it meant that they accepted it on some level, which would make for a lot less explaining to do.

 

[ I don’t know yet. ]

 

[ I thought you guys were gonna pretend forever. ]

 

Sighing, Casey decided she really didn’t want to know how Lizzie found out.

 

[ It was tempting. ]

 

[ How are you gonna break it to mom and George? ]

 

[ We’re not there yet. ]

 

[ At all. ]

 

[ Do you think they know? ]

 

Even with her newfound acceptance, It was still unsettling to think that their parents might know. She could just imagine their crestfallen faces, all hopes of a happy blended family being crushed. And then there was Simon .

 

[ Nah. They’re still clueless. ]

 

Casey sighed in relief.

 

[ Can you please not tell anyone? ]

 

[ I won’t, but I can’t promise Marti won’t figure it out. ]

 

[ I’ll deal with Marti. ]

 

[ So, wow. It’s for real? ]

 

[ I guess so. ]

 

[ We sort of talked. ]

 

[ You did? ]

 

She rolled her eyes, before admitting:

 

[ I was drunk. ]

 

[ That sounds right. ]

 

[ Why am I talking to you again? ]

 

[ Because you missed me? ]

 

[ That’s right. Well, I don’t miss you anymore. ]

 

[ Good. I have to go. ]

 

Casey pouted. She hadn’t gotten close to enough sister time.

 

[ Where? ]

 

[ Edwin made a mess and I have to go fix it, as usual. ]

 

That sounded about right.

 

[ Good luck! ]

 

[ Take care, Casey. I love you. <3 ]

 

[ I love you too! ]

 

 


 

 

That morning…

 

When Casey woke up, she was groggy and her head hurt like hell. She tried opening her eyes only to be discouraged by the harsh light coming through the windows. Obviously, she had been too drunk the night before to close the curtains. She was able to crack one eye open to check the time on her phone. It was almost noon.

 

She rolled around, grunting. She couldn’t muster the energy to get up for aspirin. As she turned completely on her side, her face met with something soft and sweet smelling. She rubbed her cheek in it. She forced her eyelids open to find that she was nuzzling with blond hair. She’d fallen asleep next to Sally. Smiling, she scooted closer, inhaling the peachy smell of her hair and relishing in the warmth coming off of her. At this moment, this was the most comfortable spot in the world.

 

Sadly, her brain wouldn’t give up the loud thumping against her skull, and she had to drag herself out of bed to get in search of anything to alleviate the pain. As she sat up, she was outraged to find that she was bare chest. Rummaging around the room, she found the shirt Derek had lent her last night and pulled it over her head, blushing as she looked back at Sally, still sound asleep.

 

After a trip to the washroom and armed with Aspirin, she made her way downstairs for a glass of water.

 

The sun was shining bright through the large windows of the living room. Everyone was still asleep, making the place so quiet, it was almost peaceful. She grabbed water and downed the whole glass with the pills. Pressing her forehead to the window above the sink, she exhaled softly and basked in the warm rays of the sun as she observed the leaves of the trees dance to the soft summer wind. In the corner of her eye, she caught sight of a body sprawled in a pool chair. Squinting, she realized it was Derek, passed out cold, bare chested in the high noon sunlight. Through the pounding of her head, she thought she should probably wake him up before he got sunburnt, so she moved to the the patio door and made her way to him, holding her hand up over her eyes.

 

She pushed his shoulder hard. No response.

 

‘’Derek,’’ she grunted, pushing at his chest. He didn’t stir. Casey rolled her eyes. 

 

She considered him for a minute, before she opted to give him a soft but firm slap in the face. ‘’De-rek! Wake. Up!’’

 

‘’The fuck,’’ Derek grumbled, as he jolted awake. ‘’Did you just slap me?’’

 

‘’You weren’t waking up.’’

 

‘’Gee, thanks,’’ Derek said as he turned away to his side, ignoring her.

 

Casey sighed loudly. ‘’I’m not leaving you here to get sunburnt, come on,’’ she said, grabbing his forearm and proceeding to pull him out of the chair. For some reason, he didn’t resist and let her drag him inside.

 

She didn’t really think about where she was going to drop him, but the couches were both already taken, so she moved on up the stairs. She was just too tired to make an executive decision like checking out the other bedrooms, since she already knew there was some space left in the pretty large bed she’d woken into. Really, you couldn’t blame her for dragging him to her bed, and pushing him to the middle next to Sally before taking the empty spot for herself. It was just the only logical idea her brain could muster under the circumstances.

 

She was surprised, though, when instead of turning around and cuddling with Sally like she’d expected him to do, he wrapped his arm around her middle and buried his face in the back of her neck. It seemed like it would be too much trouble to complain, so she let it go, effectively falling asleep again right as her head relaxed against the pillow.

 

 


 

 

 

[ So... ]

 

Casey observed Derek’s text apprehensively. The three little dots at the bottom indicated that he wasn’t done typing, so she waited.

 

She waited while the bubbles disappeared and reappeared three times, literally at the edge of her seat - on the side of the bed. She was about to start her nightly routine when she received his text. She was quite surprised that he was already texting her, or at all. That made her curious to find out what he had to say.

 

Then came his text.

 

[ What’s up? ]

 

That’s it? Five minutes of anxiously waiting for his insight and all he had to say was what’s up ? She closed her eyes against the disappointment and sighed. So much for Derek being a mature adult. She typed her answer quickly before getting up and moving towards the bathroom to wash her face.

 

[ Not much. ]

 

Non-committal answer. She wasn’t even going to ask how he was. She could play the game too.

 

[ Cool. ]

 

Ugh, he was so infuriating. She rinsed her face and decided to be the better person.

 

[ Did you want something? ]

 

[ I guess I thought we could talk. ]

 

Oh. Right. Talking. Maybe she wasn’t going to be the better person after all. She pulled on her pajama shorts as she typed.

 

[ About what? ]

 

[ Stuff. ]

 

[ Stuff? ]

 

[ Yeah. ]

 

[ Like what? ]

 

[ Are you doing this on purpose? ]

 

[ Are you? ]

 

[ About the party. ]

 

Okay, maybe she couldn’t avoid it forever. She sighed and let herself fall on the bed.

 

[ Right. ]

 

[ Look I made the first step here, can’t you do the thing you always do? ]

 

[ And that would be? ]

 

[ Talking about feelings and shit. ]

 

[ You really want to have this conversation by text? ]

 

Now that Derek brought it up, she realised she was so not ready for this conversation right now. Having just broken up with Jesse, it felt too soon to jump right into this gigantic monster that was her and Derek’s... thing .

 

[ Want me to call? ]

 

[ No. ]

 

She never answered a text so fast in her life.

 

[ Then I guess text will have to do. ]

 

[ Shouldn’t we talk in person? ]

 

[ Right. ]

 

[ When? ]

 

[ IDK. ]

 

[ Are you stalling? ]

 

Sighing once more, she had to admit that she was. She had no time to freak out over this. First, figuring out what to do about her living situation, then about Jesse. There was also her show this week, which she had completely forgotten about. She just couldn’t be distracted.

 

[ Look, it’s just not the right time. ]

 

[ Because of Jesse? ]

 

[ Because of my show. ]

 

[ Right. Grand Finale. Got it. ]

 

[ After? ]

 

[ Do I have a choice? ]

 

[ Not really…  ]

 

[ After your last show, then. ]

 

[ Thank you. ]

 

Part of her felt bad for brushing him off. She had to admit that it was kind of great how he’d made the first step, especially considering that, well, he was Derek . She just needed some time to herself right now, settle into this new not being with Jesse situation. It would be better when she also didn’t have to stress about performing on stage.

 

[ What are you doing? ]

 

[ Just resting in bed. ]

 

[ Sorry, I meant what are you wearing? ]

 

[ Ew. Gross, Derek! ]

 

She couldn’t help but laugh. Of course he’d move on to flirting. That might just be his default setting. It felt oddly familiar, like they did this all the time. Maybe they did. Sweet as it was, though, it was just too soon.

 

[ Come on. ]

 

[ Derek... ]

 

[ That is indeed my name. ]

 

[ What are you doing? ]

 

[ Trying to find out what you’re wearing. ]

 

[ I can’t do this right now. ]

 

[ Really... ]

 

[ This is such a mess. ]

 

[ I like messy. ]

 

[ You know I can’t stand it. ]

 

[ I know. ]

 

[ Jesse and I broke up. ]

 

[ Oh. Shit. ]

 

[ Is that not a good thing? ]

 

[ For me it is. How’d he take it? ]

 

[ With a newfound homosexuality. ]

 

[ Pardon? ]

 

Casey smirked, imagining his dumbfounded face.

 

[ Turns out he likes Gus. ]

 

[ The new guy at Blackstones? ]

 

[ Yup. ]

 

[ Damn. Go Jesse. ]

 

[ You’re not surprised? ]

 

[ Gustavo’s hot. ]

 

[ He must be if even you think so. ]

 

[ You think I can’t tell when a guy is hot? ]

 

[ Well you’re probably the straightest guy I know, so... ]

 

[ Oh right. You skipped college. ]

 

[ What does that mean? ]

 

[ I’m down with guys. ]

 

She almost dropped her phone. How did she not know this?

 

[ Seriously? ]

 

[ I’ll tell you all about my trip to homo-land another day. ]

 

[ Wow. ]

 

[ I know, I’m full of surprises. ]

 

[ That’s an understatement. ]

 

[ You know what babe, I’ll take that as a compliment. ]

 

Casey’s eyes almost bugged out.

 

[ Let’s not with ‘’babe’’? ]

 

[ Too soon? ]

 

[ Too demeaning. ]

 

[ You can’t see it but I’m rolling my eyes rn. ]

 

[ No pet names. ]

 

[ You’re so boring. ]

 

[ Then why are you talking to me? ]

 

[ Just cuz you’re boring doesn’t mean you’re not hot. ]

 

She rolled her eyes. Considering who she was talking to, she couldn’t decide if it was the sweetest or lamest confession ever.

 

[ Gee. Thanks. ]

 

[ Always thought so. ]

 

She took a sharp intake of breath, surprised at his candid comment. Always was a long time. Always meant really complicated.

 

[ What’s with you and being so genuine all of a sudden? ]

 

[ Um. I’m not a child anymore? ]

 

[ It’s weird. ]

 

[ Deal with it. ]

 

Groaning, she moved her gaze to the top right of her screen to check the time, indicating 12:35am. She needed to rest.

 

[ Gosh you’re annoying. ]

 

[ Thanks babe! :D ]

 

Casey rolled her eyes and decided that she’d had enough for today.

 

[ Bye now. ]

 

[ Night babe! ]

 

[ Ugh. ]

 

As she put her phone away, she couldn’t help the smile growing on her face.

Chapter Text

‘’It was amazing, I wish you could have seen it,’’ Casey sighed happily into the phone as she dabbed at the remnants of makeup on her face. The last representation could not have gone better, surpassing the success of any other ones this summer. The crowd stood up and clapped for what felt like twenty minutes. She couldn’t feel more blissful at this moment. ‘’I’m really glad you called.’’

 

There was a soft knock at her door and she turned to find Derek leaning in the doorway. She gestured for him to come in and went back to her phone conversation. ‘’I love you too,’’ she said, smiling at Derek’s raised eyebrow. ‘’Bye, Dad.’’

 

Derek noticeably relaxed as he entered her changing room and approached her. ‘’How’s good old Dennis?’’ he asked easily.

 

‘’He’s fine. He just called me from Tokyo to ask about the show,’’ she said.

 

‘’Do I take it that he hasn’t come to see you at all?’’ he asked in his apologetic tone, sitting on the chair behind her. She smiled back at him in the mirror.

 

‘’You know how it is,’’ she said. ‘’He’s always busy, out on a business trip or other,’’ she shrugged.

 

Derek crossed his arms over his chest and frowned. ‘’If that’s so… how come you’re so chipper? Where are the tears?’’ he teased gently, obviously trying to avoid a scene but still too curious not to ask.

 

‘’I’m over it, Derek,’’ she said easily. It was true. When she’d moved to New York, she had thought that it might bring her and Dennis closer together. When it didn’t, she was faced with the reality that work came first to him. He still called at least once a month and he got better at sending presents for the important things, so she’d accepted that this was as good as it was gonna get. ‘’It’s how my dad is, and he’ll never change.’’

 

He squinted, observing her facial expression for a trace of a lie. She remained calm and resolute, though she couldn’t help her lips quirking up at the sides. She liked that he worried, liked that protective side of him that she hadn’t realized had been there before.

 

‘’I’m not going to cry, Derek,’’ she chuckled and put down her tissue so she could turn around to look at him properly, one leg tucked underneath herself on her stool.

 

Though his hair was a picture of organized chaos, he was dressed pretty snappily, with a clean cut black dinner jacket, unbuttoned on top of a blue-gray button down shirt. His pants and shoes even matched his outfit, and she found herself really flattered that he’d made the effort to look nice to come see her tonight.

 

‘’You look nice,’’ she said.

 

He jerked back, sitting up straighter at the compliment. It striked her that he looked nervous, unsure what to brace himself for. She realized that he’d probably taken her literally when she’d said they would talk after her show.

 

‘’Thanks,’’ he drawled lazily, nonchalance to cover his nerves. He looked down at her outfit and smirked. ‘’You too.’’

 

Casey rolled her eyes, looking down at herself. She hadn’t finished changing back into her own clothes, but had removed her big fluffy dress first when she’d exited the stage, which left her in her long suit undergarment. From the back, it looked like any form fitting leotard, but at the front, it was obvious how sheer the tissue was. 

 

‘’What, can’t handle a bit of cleavage?’’ she returned the smirk, turning back around to unpin her hair, letting her curls fall down on her shoulders.

 

‘’Well, can’t say it’s encouraging me to be on my best behaviour,’’ he said tauntingly. She smiled to herself, cheeks turning red as she wondered when he’d decided it was okay to flirt with her so openly now. She liked it, though, she liked it a lot . It just seemed like things had changed drastically at some point, and she wasn’t able to tell when.

 

‘’When are you ever on your best behaviour?’’ she taunted back. Confusing as it was, it felt great, like things were finally starting to make sense. This liberating feeling, mixed with the excitement from her successful show was setting her ablaze.

 

‘’I can be when it’s important,’’ he said, his eyes meeting hers in the mirror. His gaze was eager but he was holding back, waiting for her to set the pace. She turned again to face him and took a deep breath. She watched as he straightened again in anticipation, eyes focused and licking his lips and… she was just so tired of waiting.

 

Her body lurched forward, jumping on him and grabbing at him like a mad woman, until she was straddling and kissing him feverishly. Her mouth crashed on his hungrily, and he caught her, hands frozen on her hips, caught off guard by her sudden attack. She was holding herself against his face, stubble rough against her palms, as she pushed her mouth on his, pressed on persistently, dead set on removing any distance or crack between their bodies. She pressed her body down on him, savouring the feeling of his warm, solid muscles pressed against hers.

 

He seemed to snap out of it after a minute and responded, as intensely as she was. His mouth covered hers in a scorching kiss that made her knees week. Thank god he was holding her to him or she would have fallen off the chair. His hands roamed over her back, pulling her against his chest to deepen the kiss. She moaned as he devoured her mouth. She tried to pull back slightly to breathe, but her panting only allowed his tongue better access and suddenly they were making out hardcore, lips smacking, teeth grinding.

 

His hips lifted up ever so slightly but the sensation was so good that a whine escaped from deep down her throat. He seemed to like it as he responded with a growl of his own. His hands suddenly wandering down to grab her backside firmly as he lifted himself up. It would have been kind of impressive if he’d been able to pull it off without stumbling. Their mouths never detached, though, which was something in itself, as he deposited her urgently on the stool at her station. He pushed her backwards and her lower back rested against the side of the desk, kind of uncomfortably, but she forgot about it quickly when his hand came to rest between her breasts, caressing down the front of her body until it reached her thigh. Goosebumps followed after his fingertips. She couldn’t breathe.

 

Her head fell backwards and her mouth was suddenly free. The back of her head fell on top of the desk and she found herself in a weird angle, half sitting, half lying down, as Derek trailed wet kisses urgently down her neck. She shuddered.

 

‘’Oh my god…’’ she muttered. She was going to implode. His mouth was all over her skin, his hands touching everywhere it could, lingering on some sensitive places before moving on again, in the most gratifying teasing possible. Except where she needed it the most. There was an urgent, urgent need between her legs that could just not be ignored anymore, after waiting… how long? How long had she been waiting for this?

 

‘’Fuck, Case…’’ he groaned, mouth returning to hers. His arm wrapped around her waist and lifted her back up to him. She responded by wrapping her arms around his neck, and her legs around his hips when he pulled her up and off the stool. She didn’t quite see as much as she heard him kick the stool out of his way, sending it flying to the ground in a loud crash that he completely ignored in favour of setting her down once more, on top of the station this time. She kept her legs wrapped tightly around him as he pressed on, moving his hips forward and increasing the pressure of their pelvises together. She could feel his urgency too, his hardness pressing against her barely covered middle with insistence.

 

It was breathtaking, her head filled with nothing but: finally . Her body wanted more, so much more and then… Derek pushed himself away. She was suddenly alone and cold and about to fall off the desk until she recovered and caught herself on the sides. She looked up at him quizzically. ‘’What…’’ she panted, asking his, also panting, form. He’d moved about a feet away from her, but it felt like so much farther.

 

‘’Sorry, um…’’ he started and rubbed his hands over his face. ‘’I think we should, uh…’’ he frowned, seemingly surprised at what he was about to say, ‘’slow down.’’

 

She stared, eyebrows shooting to her hairline. What did he mean, slow down? Hadn’t she been patient enough? ‘’Are you serious?’’ she asked incredulously.

 

His eyes were trained on her mouth, which she was sure was just as red and kiss bruised as his, and he sighed heavily before looking down, one hand on the back of his neck. ‘’Yeah.’’

 

She swallowed with difficulty, regaining control of her breathing. ‘’Okay…’’ she said, slowly sliding off the desk to stand at her regular height as she looked up at him, keeping her feelings off her face as much as she could. She was disappointed, to say the least. Her imagination had been way ahead of them a few moments ago, picturing all the things he could have been doing to her in their position, instead of talking .

 

Head still angled down, Derek looked up at her through his lashes. She’s not sure what he saw on her face, but he bit his lip and groaned, muttering ‘’fuck,’’ under his breath. He grumbled and started pacing back and forth between her and the door, until he stopped in front of her again. She’d scrunched up her face at this point, confused by his behaviour. ‘’This is not how I wanted this to go,’’ he finally explained.

 

Casey bit her lip and shrugged, ‘’So?’’

 

He sighed. ‘’Don’t you think we should talk it out, think it through, before…’’ he drifted off.

 

‘’Who are you and what have you done with Derek Venturi?’’

 

‘’I’m serious,’’ he pressed. ‘’We could go about it the easy way and not talk. Believe me, I really don’t want to,’’ he said.

 

‘’Then-’’

 

‘’But,’’ he continued, ‘’it’s just bound to get complicated. You’ll go along with it for a while and then it’s gonna be all ‘’ what are your thoughts Derek ’’, ‘’ what about the future Derek ’’, or even ’’ it’s all your fault De-rek!’ ’. ‘’

 

Casey scoffed, ‘’Excuse me?’’

 

‘’I’m just saying I’d like to get it out of the way so we both know exactly what we’re getting into.’’

 

She blinked. That was… actually… a good idea. Sighing, she moved towards the chair he’d vacated and sat down, back straight and legs crossed primly. ‘’What are your thoughts, Derek?’’ she challenged.

 

He groaned, ‘’I didn’t mean those questions specifically.’’ He went to pick up the stool he’d thrown across the room and set it back down in its spot in front of her mirror. He sat and rubbed a hand over his face. ‘’My thoughts are,’’ he grumbled, ‘’that I- I want you…’’ he continued slowly, ‘’but I don’t know if I can be or give you what you want.’’

 

She watched his leg shaking anxiously, the only sign that he was more nervous about having this discussion than he let on. His face was closed off, not angry or anything, just passive as he waited for her input.

 

‘’You’re saying I’m difficult?’’

 

‘’I didn’t say that…’’ he emphasized.

 

‘’It’s what you meant,’’ she shot back.

 

‘’ No , I meant that we should be clear on what we both want out of this,’’ he said, growing obviously annoyed.

 

Casey huffed. He was annoyed? Why did he have to act so cryptic. ‘’Then why can’t you just say what you mean?’’

 

‘’I don’t know, it’s how I am,’’ Derek said sharply.

 

‘’What do you want out of this?’’ she sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose.

 

‘’You and me... I don’t know.’’

 

‘’Helpful.’’

 

Derek glared and crossed his arms defensively. ‘’What about you then?’’ he asked.

 

‘’I-I don’t know,’’ she admitted, looking down. Derek sighed and got up off the stool, resuming his pacing across the room.

 

‘’Look, I’m not boyfriend material right now,’’ Derek said.

 

‘’Are you ever?’’ Casey muttered, still looking at her feet. She didn’t know where this was going, where he was going. It just felt like he was walking around the issue. It was driving her crazy.

 

Derek stopped short in front of her, hands on his hips. ‘’That’s not fair.’’

 

She looked up at him, standing tall and looking down at her seriously. She shrugged. ‘’So you don’t want a serious relationship. Why are we even talking about it then?’’ she said, and pushed her hair back over her shoulder.

 

‘’I didn’t say I don’t want a relationship, I said I’m not in a good place to be in a relationship.’’

 

‘’Right.’’ she said, and nodded impatiently. ‘’So... what?’’

 

‘’Well I guess now it’s out there for you to tell me if there’s a way you can fit that in your life.’’

 

‘’Fit what, a casual relationship with my philandering step-brother, take it or leave it?’’

 

He shrugged, ‘’Pretty much.’’

 

She snickered bitterly. ‘’You came all the way here to tell me that?’’

 

‘’I came all the way here because I care,’’ he said. His shoulders slumped and he threw his arms up in surrender, retreating to the corner of the room.

 

‘’Obviously not enough,’’ she muttered.

 

Derek spun back around, brow furrowed in angry confusion. ‘’Excuse me?’’

 

‘’You’re standing here basically telling me that you can’t commit because you want to keep fucking other people, how am I supposed to take that?’’

 

He hissed softly, tongue caught between his teeth as he digested her question. He looked pretty offended by it, if she was being honest, which, well, tough .

 

‘’You know,’’ he started slowly, ‘’you ask me to say what I really mean, but it seems to me you’ll just hear whatever you want to hear anyway.’’

 

She crossed her arms over her chest. ‘’Please, explain to me, what am I not understanding?’’

 

‘’You know what, wait a minute,’’ he wagged his finger as he came closer. ‘’You’re getting all upset at me right now over what I said but you didn’t tell me where you stand on this. Is that what you want? You want to be my girlfriend? Or are you just happy to be pissed at me.’’

 

‘’I don’t... ‘’ she said, shaking her head.

 

‘’You don’t know?’’ Derek finished for her.

 

She didn’t know what she wanted from him. What she did know was that they’d been in denial for years , and it was a part of herself that she had only just opened up to exploring. The idea of being with Derek, in any way, was thrilling, but at the end of the day, he was still her step-brother. It was complicated. He was right, they couldn’t just rush right into something that could very well burn them both, nevermind what it could do to their family if (when) it all went down to hell. 

 

One other thing she knew though, was that if there was a chance that she could have him, she needed to know that she wasn’t just one of many girls he was keeping on a roster. It meant more to her than that, and if they were getting involved, knowing all the risks, he must know that was non-negotiable.

 

‘’I don’t want to sleep with other people,’’ she said firmly. She looked up at him, her lips a thin line, as she waited his response.

 

He just shook his head and shrugged. ‘’Okay,’’ he said, like it was the simplest thing in the world.

 

‘’Okay?’’ she asked dubiously. Hadn’t he just said that he didn’t want to give up doing just that?

 

‘’Yeah,’’ he repeated slowly, eyes wide like she was stupid. ‘’This whole thing, it’s not about ‘ fucking other people ’ as you put it. It’s about me, and what I’m able to give. I can’t promise that I’ll be what you need from me or-or from a person. I can, however, abstain from pursuing other options, until we know what this is,’’ he gestured towards her. ‘’God knows you’re enough to deal with without adding other people to the mix,’’ he added under his breath.

 

She stared as she processed what he’d just said. She had assumed that he didn’t want to commit to just one person, but he really just didn’t want to get her hopes up. Which was somewhat sweet. Ignoring the final insult and focusing on the progress they’d just made, she nodded. ‘’Okay,’’ she said. ‘’Until… until we figure it out?’’

 

He nodded agreeably, getting back into motion, walking towards her once again. ‘’Something else?’’

 

She shook her head. ‘’Not now,’’ she said, allowing a small smile. She felt a bit silly at the way she’d jumped to conclusions, even if he hadn’t made it easy either.

 

‘’See, that was easy. We barely argued,’’ he said winningly. She chuckled.  

 

Placing his arms on both sides of the chair, Derek leaned down slowly. Casey looked up at him and stopped his face by placing a hand over his mouth. He didn’t move, but lifted an eyebrow inquiringly.

 

‘’Can I get a recap, just to make sure we’re clear?’’ she asked.

 

He looked pointedly at her hand on his face and she promptly removed it, blushing.

 

‘’The way I see it, your Facebook status just changed from single to complicated ,’’ he said, his voice almost a whisper.

 

‘’So not single but not in a relationship?’’ she clarified, for good measure.

 

‘’Somewhere in between,’’ he allowed, tilting his face as he looked down at her mouth, just an inch away.

 

‘’And no philandering?’’ 

 

‘’Yeah... I don’t know what that means.’’

 

She sighed. ‘’No sleeping around, Derek.’’

 

He chuckled. ‘’No worries, Case. If I’m gonna fuck someone, it’s gonna be you.’’

 

‘’Ugh, you’re disgusting,’’ she said, pushing him away. He laughed, grabbing her wrist to deposit it back on the arm of the chair, and leaned down to press a soft kiss against her mouth. She relaxed, giving in.

 

‘’Just uh…’’ Derek said, pulling away slightly, ‘’one thing.’’

 

‘’What is it?’’ Casey said, panting already. She wouldn’t tell him, for fear of inflating his ego, but kissing him was.. intoxicating.

 

‘’About Sally…’’ he said, drifting off.

 

‘’What about Sally?’’ she frowned.

 

His shoulders squared as he continued tentatively. ‘’How does she fit in?’’

 

Biting her lip, Casey thought about what Sally meant to her. She knew that her feelings were similar to how she felt about Derek, without the healthy dose of wanting to kill him on a regular basis. But was it romantic? And was it weird? That she had feelings for his sort of girlfriend, too? She didn’t quite understand how she could cram two people into a single relationship, it just seemed too muddy.

 

Though as much as she couldn’t picture Derek with other women without developing an urge to murder , she didn’t feel that way about Sally. There just wasn’t a threat there. Casey trusted that Sally knew and respected how Casey felt just as much. She couldn’t picture herself trying to keep them from each other, so she shrugged. ‘’I guess I don’t mind if you keep seeing her.’’

 

Derek, though, didn’t seem on the same page. ‘’Well that’s nice, Case, but…’’ he said, frowning curiously. ‘’I meant with both of us.’’

 

‘’I trust Sally, Derek. She’s my friend,’’ she reassured.

 

He pulled further away hesitantly to observe her face, unconvinced, eyebrow raised apprehensively like he was waiting for her to catch on to something. After she’d returned his stare blankly for a minute, her eyes obviously expressing that she thought he was acting crazy, he retreated.

 

‘’Oh,’’ he said.

 

‘’What?’’

 

‘’You know what,’’ he continued quickly, placing his shit-eating smirk back on his face, ‘’I think I’ll let both of you have that discussion.’’

 

Casey shook her head, rolling her eyes. He didn’t need to worry about her regarding this. ‘’She doesn’t need my permission to go out with you.’’

 

He nodded, diving back in for a kiss. ‘’Nope, sure doesn’t.’’

 

 


 

 

 

‘’You guys do know you don’t have to get drunk whenever something happens, right?’’ Gustavo said as he put down the drinks on the table. Casey reached for her glass immediately, everyone following suit. She looked across at Jesse, who was downing his beer at lightning speed, then at Derek sitting to her left in the booth, sipping at his whiskey, eyes darting at every exits like he was about to bolt right out of there.

 

‘’We kind of need it,’’ Casey sighed.

 

Jesse put his now empty bottle on the table. ‘’Just bring us another round, please?’’

 

Gus rolled his eyes and returned to the bar to tend to other customers. There was a bit of tension in the air for a while after he left, leaving Casey alone with Derek and Jesse who looked like they wanted to be anywhere but here. Jesse stared at her almost expectantly, like she was supposed to start conversation. Next to her, Derek was useless, restlessly shaking his knees, arm propped up on the back of the seat.

 

‘’Gus is nice,’’ she said tentatively.

 

Jesse nodded, ‘’Yeah…,’’ he said, then reconsidered, ‘’sort of.’’

 

Casey chuckled nervously, racking her brain for something to say. Why had they decided to do this again? It’s not like there was any resentment between them. It was just… awkward.

 

‘’Derek thinks he’s hot.’’

 

‘’I am,’’ Derek responded absent-mindedly. She slapped his thigh disapprovingly. ‘’He said Gus is attractive,’’ she amended.

 

Derek’s eyes lazily panned across the table to observe Jesse, who smirked knowingly. ‘’Derek, I think we need some boundaries,’’ Jesse said.

 

Derek rolled his eyes, ‘’I don’t just jump anything attractive with two legs.’’

 

‘’There’s what you say ,’’ Casey teased, ‘’and there’s what you do .’’

 

He groaned, but did not attempt to defend himself, simply dropping his head in his hands disgruntledly. Casey smirked in satisfaction.

 

‘’So…’’ Jesse said. She looked at him encouragingly but he drifted off and stopped. Her shoulders slumped.

 

‘’Is this weird?’’ she asked.

 

‘’Yeah,’’ both boys answered at the same time.

 

‘’But why? You guys get along, it shouldn’t be this awkward.’’

 

Jesse scratched his forehead, frowning, ‘’I guess not.’’

 

‘’Do you really need me to recap the last two weeks for you?’’ Derek said, head now turned towards her as it leaned on his hand, elbow propped up on the table.

 

‘’Our breakup was mutual,’’ Casey said, gesturing towards Jesse. ‘’And we…’’ she gestured between herself and Derek, ‘’We talked, sort of.’’

 

‘’It’s only been one week,’’ Jesse muttered.

 

‘’Your point?’’ Derek asked.

 

‘’Well, I think you guys need to talk,’’ she crossed her arms decidedly.

 

‘’Talk about what?’’ he said, eyes growing wide with horror.

 

‘’About your feelings. Let each other know that there’s no bitterness, or anger about what happened.’’

 

Jesse and Derek exchanged a dubious look. Then Derek’s eyes snapped away towards the door and he practically jumped out of his seat, grinning widely. ‘’Hey! There’s Sally!’’

 

Casey rolled her eyes at his obvious change of subject, but let it go. Sally’s appearance already lifted some of the discomfort.

 

‘’Hey guys!’’ Sally chirped and hugged Casey. ‘’Congrats! How did it go?’’ she asked, releasing her and motioning for Jesse to scoot over. She sat down happily.

 

‘’It was great, we even got a standing ovation,’’ Casey said.

 

‘’Really? I’m so proud of you!’’ Sally exclaimed sincerely.

 

‘’What about you?’’ Casey asked. She knew Sally hadn’t been able to come to her last representation tonight because of work.

 

‘’I’m fine,’’ Sally said quickly, ‘’I’d really rather talk about you guys,’’ she added turning inquiringly towards Jesse.

 

‘’I’m alright,’’ he shrugged.

 

When he didn’t continue, Sally turned away, smile still in place, somewhat frozen suspiciously. ‘’Ok… Derek?’’ she looked at the boy in question hopefully.

 

‘’I, uh…’’ he gave Casey a quick look before answering. ‘’I’m just great.’’

 

The silence that followed threatened to make Sally’s smile falter. She kept looking between the three of them expectantly and was just about to start talking again when Gus reappeared.

 

‘’Here’s your other round,’’ he said flatly.

 

‘’Thank god,’’ Sally muttered and grabbed Derek’s drink from under his reaching hand. ‘’Hey,’’ he objected weakly.

 

Sally downed the drink in record time and sighed, dropping the glass down on the table before wiping her mouth with the back of her hand. Jesse quirked his eyebrow at her, new bottle of beer paused halfway towards his lips. Maybe she wasn’t just fine, Casey thought.

 

Gus took the now empty glass and turned to Sally, ‘’The usual for you?’’

 

‘’You know you’re an angel, don’t you?’’ she answered, looking up and pouting at him sweetly.

 

‘’I live to serve alcohol for deeply damaged people to drown their problems in,’’ Gus declared sarcastically. Casey pouted and sunk lower in her seat. Derek elbowed her, snickering.

 

Sally watched him thoughtfully before nodding decidedly. ‘’You need to sit and have a drink with us.’’

 

Gus leaned down as if to answer privately. ‘’Can’t drink on the job, sorry,’’ he said, his tone and face expressing clearly that he wasn’t sorry. 

 

‘’Does anyone else work here?’’ Sally segued, looking around curiously for a possibly elusive waiter.

 

‘’There is,’’ Gus answered, ‘’they’re just conveniently not here when you are.’’

 

‘’You’re invited to my next sleepover,’’ Sally decided, out of nowhere.

 

‘’Hooray,’’ he said, turning and taking off, leaving Casey a bit confused about the conversation that just took place in front of her.

 

Derek took the returning silence as an opportunity to chip in. ‘’I was gonna drink that.’’

 

‘’I needed it more than you,’’ Sally said.

 

‘’I thought you said you were doing fine,’’ Derek retorted, eyes narrowed in defiance.

 

Sally groaned and slumped in her seat, looking pretty much the same picture of defeat as Casey, which made Casey frown with concern. ‘’I don’t know if I can take much more of this job.’’

 

‘’There’s still a spot available here if you really can’t,’’ Jesse said off-handedly.

 

‘’When can I start?’’ Sally pouted.

 

‘’Wednesday if you can mix a good margarita,’’ Jesse said, laughing.

 

‘’Incidentally, I can,’’ Sally said, quirking up.

 

‘’You’re hired.’’

 

‘’Wait a minute,’’ Casey said, jumping up straight in her seat. ‘’Sally, you can’t quit!’’

 

‘’Why not?’’ Sally said morosely. ‘’I can’t do it anymore, Casey.’’

 

‘’But, it’s your dream job.’’

 

‘’Not really. Besides getting my foot in the art community, it didn’t leave me any time to work on my personal projects, which is the actual dream. At least now I have contacts.’’

 

‘’Contacts are

 all you need,’’ Derek agreed, interrupting Casey’s next objection. She decided to let it go for now, but she would so have to speak to Derek about this.

 

‘’Are you still coming to help me with that thing tomorrow?’’ Sally asked Derek cryptically.

 

‘’Of course,’’ he said.

 

‘’What thing?’’ Casey asked.

 

‘’I’m just moving some things around my apartment,’’ Sally said, shrugging it off.

 

‘’Oh, spring cleaning?’’ Casey grinned, suddenly excited. She loved cleaning!

 

‘’It’s the middle of summer,’’ Derek deadpanned.

 

‘’Yeah, kind of,’’ Sally answered, pressing her lips together as she looked around anxiously.

 

‘’Can I help?’’ Casey pressed. ‘’I’d love to help!’’

 

‘’Um…’’ Sally faltered, her eyes looking panicky, until she grabbed onto something. ‘’It’s not necessary! I don’t have that much to do,’’ she assured nervously. ‘’I just need Derek’s strong man arms.’’

 

‘’Derek? Strong?’’ Casey asked, doubtfully.

 

‘’Ahum,’’ Derek coughed pointedly.

 

‘’Come on, he obviously works out,’’ Jesse pitched in, gesturing towards Derek’s arms.

 

‘’Thank you, Jesse,’’ Derek said, looking at the guy across from him, and winked.

 

Casey looked between them. ‘’What were we saying earlier about boundaries?’’

 

‘’Aaaand, your third round,’’ Gus cut in, exasperated, practically dropping the cabaret on the table for them to pick up their glasses themselves.

 

‘’You have a great customer service attitude,’’ Jesse said evenly.

 

‘’Just tell me how many till you’re drunk,’’ Gus said.

 

‘’Like… six?’’

 

‘’Coming up,’’ Gus said, and left.

 

‘’Do you think we’re developing a drinking problem as a coping mechanism?’’ Jesse asked, addressing the table at large.

 

‘’Nah,’’ Derek dismissed.

 

‘’N-no?’’ Casey squeaked, unconvinced.

 

‘’Pfft,’’ Sally scoffed.

 

‘’Ok,’’ Jesse nodded, returning to his beer. ‘’Just checking.’’

 

 


 

 

 

[ You need to talk to Sally. ]

 

[ Why? ]

 

[ We can’t let her quit her job at the gallery, Derek. ]

 

[ Why not? ]

 

[ DEREK! ]

 

[ CASEY ]

 

[ You’re really going to let her work at a bar? ]

 

[ What’s wrong with that? ]

 

[ How is she going to grow as a person in that job? ]

 

[ You know Jesse works there right. ]

 

[ It’s different for him, he practically owns the place. ]

 

[ Sally’s miserable at the gallery. ]

 

[ She could find something else in her field. ]

 

[ I think she’s old enough to make her own decisions, Case. ]

 

[ I just care about her. ]

 

[ So do I. ]

 

[ Fine. ]

 

[ Don’t go sulking now. ]

 

[ I am not. ]

 

[ Puh-lease. ]

 

[ I’m not sulking. ]

 

[ You’re making up a plan to keep Sally from quitting aren’t you. ]

 

[ No! ]

 

 


 

 

 

She had a plan.

 

She would get Sally one on one, talk some sense into her and make her see reason.

 

With that goal in sight, Casey found herself pacing in front of Sally’s door that morning, intending to confront her as soon as possible. She checked her phone: 9:38am. She sighed and knocked on the door again. She’d decided to come early knowing there was no way Derek would be up already. She needed to get Sally alone before his bad influence got to her. Of course, Sally might be asleep, but Casey knew Sally was generally up at this time, so she decided to take the chance.

 

Footsteps coming closer indicated that she’d figured right. The door opened on a confused looking Derek. Casey froze.

 

‘’What are you doing here?’’ they asked simultaneously.

 

Derek rolled his eyes, ‘’I’m here to help Sally with her stuff, I was invited. You, on the other hand…’’

 

‘’I didn’t think you’d be up that early,’’ Casey blamed.

 

He narrowed his eyes at her, ‘’Is this an ambush?’’

 

‘’No,’’ she said primly.

 

Derek sighed. ‘’Just come in.’’

 

‘’Who is it?’’ Sally called out from the laundry room.

 

‘’Just Casey,’’ Derek answered, stretching as he yawned, his shirt riding up slightly. Casey felt the flush on her face and averted her eyes.

 

‘’Casey!’’ Sally ran out into the living room to greet her with a hug. ‘’I wasn’t expecting you today.’’

 

‘’I just thought we could talk?’’ Casey said hesitantly. Realizing that she’d imposed herself on Sally when she wasn’t expecting it, Casey was feeling less confident about her plan. She didn’t have a right to barge in here and tell Sally what to do, no matter how big a mistake she thought Sally was going to make. She wasn’t her… girlfriend, or anything.

 

Sally visibly tensed and looked over at Derek, who sighed. ‘’We’re kinda busy,’’ he said noncommittally, rubbing the back of his neck.

 

‘’Well I can help out and we can talk?’’ she asked Sally pleadingly.

 

Sally and Derek shared a glance, he looked at her patiently. Sally took a deep breath and nodded. ‘’Okay,’’ she said.

 

‘’Great!’’ Casey bounced. ‘’What are we doing?’’

 

‘’Laundry,’’ Derek said.

 

Casey frowned. ‘’Derek’s doing laundry?’’

 

Sally bit her bottom lip before taking Casey’s hand to drag her towards the laundry room. At the doorway, Casey craned her neck to peer inside and gasped.

 

There were about six laundry baskets filled to the brim in the middle of the room. Surrounding them, piles of dirty clothes mounting from the floor - wait where was the floor? - on top of the laundering machine and… coming out of the cupboard? Eyes wide, Casey regarded what seemed like months upon months of discarded clothes. In a corner, she saw the green dress that Sally wore at that soirée she’d invited Casey to. On top of the middle hamper, what Sally was wearing last night. She’d never seen anything like it. Even Derek couldn’t produce this amount of dirty laundry in high school.

 

‘’We’re starting early,’’ Derek said behind her. Casey turned her head to catch his eyes and he kept her gaze meaningfully. This was the reason Sally had to quit her job, Casey realized.

 

Sally kept looking at the ground, blushing. Casey wanted to cry.

 

‘’Okay…’’ she said, nodding slowly. ‘’Okay, we can take care of this.’’

 

‘’I know it’s a lot…’’ Sally trailed off.

 

‘’No! No, it’s nothing,’’ Casey smiled softly. ‘’I’m just surprised you asked Derek to help, as he’s never done laundry in his life.’’

 

Sally giggled, ‘’I didn’t want to bother anyone else.’’

 

‘’Because she knows bothering me is like a national sport at this point,’’ Derek teased.

 

‘’Oh shut up, you weren’t complaining when I asked,’’ Sally said, approaching him and grabbing the front of his shirt, leaning forward to brush her lips on his. Derek let her peck him, but shot Casey an apologetic look after, licking his lips worriedly.

 

‘’It’s fine,’’ she muttered.

 

‘’Case,’’ he started, but she turned back towards the laundry room.

 

‘’Let’s get started!’’

 

 


 

 

 

Doing Sally’s laundry, after the initial sorting and grouping, turned into a Netflix and Chill day to pass the time in between loads. Casey sat on the couch leaning into Sally, with Derek sitting on the floor at their feet. Casey smirked to herself, picturing Derek on his knees, actually kissing their feet. 

 

She bit her lip and brushed her toes on the back of his neck just to bug him. He caught her foot and tickled her in retaliation. She tried to contain her giggles without success.

 

‘’Stop,’’ she cried.

 

‘’It’s your punishment, take it with integrity,’’ he said, doubling up on the tickling. She squealed and tried to swat at him.

 

‘’Sally!’’ she squeaked between giggles, ‘’Help me!’’

 

Sally laughed and disengaged her foot from Derek’s hold.

 

‘’Traitor!’’ he shouted. ‘’You know what we do to traitors!’’ He grabbed Sally’s foot and gave it the same treatment.

 

‘’Derek!’’ Sally screamed, but Derek did not let up, pulling on her leg so her higher body fell backwards, rendering her unable to hit him. ‘’Oh, that’s it!’’ she said before pushing herself up and throwing herself forward to tackle him on the ground. Casey giggled.

 

Sally climbed on top of Derek, somewhat stalling his movements. She turned to Casey. ‘’We need to team up on this one,’’ she said, pressing Derek’s wrist to the ground at his sides as he squirmed underneath her. ‘’Come on Casey!’’

 

‘’No,’’ Derek said, ‘’No no no no. Don’t you dare!’’

 

Casey smirked, wiggling her fingers in the air threateningly, as she got on all fours on the ground. ‘’Casey…’’ Derek warned uselessly. Her fingers found the exposed skin where his shirt riled up, brushing gently at first, eliciting a small giggle as Derek’s hip jerked up at the contact. ‘’Case… you don’t have to do this.’’

 

‘’Oh yes she does,’’ Sally said, and Casey went to town on Derek’s stomach, tickling like there was no tomorrow as Derek laughed and jerked erratically. Sally was keeping him as still as possible, but he was pretty strong and managed to slap Casey’s hand away a couple of times.

 

By the time the washing machine beeped, indicating the end of the cycle, Derek had tears in his eyes and was crying uncle. ‘’I’ll go get it,’’ he said, jerking up and practically running to the laundry room. Casey chuckled and lied down on her back, panting softly. Sally, who was grinning cheerfully, laid her head on Casey’s stomach, catching her own breath.

 

‘’I’m glad you guys talked,’’ Sally said conversationally.

 

Casey’s fingers made their way into Sally’s hair. ‘’Me too.’’

 

They stayed that way for a bit, with Casey playing in Sally’s hair. It was peaceful, but something was nagging at Casey.

 

‘’Sally?’’ she asked softly.

 

‘’Hm?’’ Sally answered dreamily, her eyes still closed.

 

‘’Can I ask… what.... how…’’

 

‘’The clothes?’’

 

‘’Yeah.’’

 

‘’It’s, um, my thing,’’ Sally hesitated. ‘’When I get all… crazy-like.’’

 

Casey had an idea what that meant. She had her own coping mechanisms when she was stressed out. Though she had never succumbed to procrastination, she knew what it felt like when it seemed like things were getting out of control.

 

‘’I didn’t realize your job was affecting you that much,’’ she admitted. She’d heard Sally say that she was tired and anxious, but it had never occurred to her that it was actually that serious. She might have been too caught up with her daily Derek freak outs to even give it much thought. That was weighing heavily on her.

 

‘’I think I may have been downplaying it,’’ Sally said.

 

‘’Derek noticed,’’ Casey pointed out. If Derek had noticed, how hadn’t she ?

 

‘’He’s seen me like that before. He found me crying over the laundry basket once, kind of scarred him,’’ Sally laughed.

 

‘’I’m sorry,’’ Casey whispered sadly.

 

Sally turned on her stomach, frowning. ‘’Sorry for what?’’

 

‘’I haven’t been a good friend,’’ Casey sniffed, eyes darting up to avoid the forming tears from spilling out.

 

Sally reached out to caress Casey’s cheek. ‘’That’s not true.’’

 

‘’I came here to convince you not to quit,’’ Casey argued, ‘’I had no idea how bad it was.’’

 

‘’Casey, you couldn’t have known. I should have told you,’’ Sally said, adjusting herself so she was lying on her side next to Casey, holding her head up in her hand to look down at her. ‘’I’m glad you came.’’

 

Casey smiled, looking at Sally’s open features. Her eyes were such a shiny green. As she let her eyes drift down Sally’s face, she spotted a stray strand of hair stuck to her glossy lips. She reached out to brush it off.

 

‘’Don’t stop on my account,’’ Derek interrupted. Casey looked up to watch him pass by with a pile of folded clothes, heading towards the bedroom.

 

‘De-rek!’’ she complained for no reason other than he existed. She caught sight of his eye roll before he disappeared in the bedroom.

 

 


 

 

 

Later that evening, after eating almost two large pizzas between them, they decided to attack the pile of clean clothes stacking up on Sally’s bed. It was getting dark outside, and though they had made a lot of progress, there was still a while to go.

 

Casey suggested they fold everything as they went, putting away what Sally would still wear, and organize the rest in three piles: what was to be given away, sold on Ebay (Sally had some expensive tastes in clothing), and what was beyond repair and belonged to the trash.

 

Since Derek’s folding skills were appalling, Casey redirected him to the laundry room, putting him on rotation duty ( remove dry clothes from the dryer to replace them with the wet clothes, then start a new load, De-rek! ).

 

‘’So…’’ Sally started, as they were halfway through the new batch that Derek had dropped unceremoniously on the bed before getting back to the laundry room. ‘’Derek said you guys decided to be exclusive?’’

 

‘’More or less,’’ Casey frowned, turning the shirt in her hand inside out in an attempt to understand how it worked. ‘’ We’re not together… we’re just not together with other people either,’’ she paused, dropping her hands and letting the shirt hand at her feet. ‘’Does that make sense?’’

 

Sally nodded. ‘’It does. I’m sorry about… kissing him earlier.’’

 

‘’Oh, no,’’ Casey shook her head. ‘’That’s okay. It’s you.’’

 

‘’I’m not complaining,’’ Sally said, uncertain, ‘’but... ‘’

 

‘’I think he’s still in love with you,’’ Casey said, meeting Sally’s green eyes. She’d meant it when she told Derek that she was okay with them. She could tell that what they had was meaningful, and that felt just as important as her own feelings.

 

Sally smiled. ‘’I think he’s also in love with you.’’

 

‘’With me? No way,’’ Casey laughed, ‘’That’s not… It’s not what this is.’’

 

‘’Casey, it’s pretty obvious,’’ Sally said.

 

‘’I know there’s something ,’’ Casey said, returning to the puzzling shirt in her hands. ‘’And I know that he wants to find out as much as I do, but… love is something else.’’

 

Of course she knew there was attraction, chemistry… feelings. She liked Derek. She might even say that her heart would beat faster when he was in the room. But was it really love? Love meant devotion , commitment, putting one’s needs above our own. She didn’t think this was something she could have with Derek. They were just so used to butting heads, they could never compromise.

 

Sally put her hand on Casey’s shoulder, rubbing gently. ‘’You’ll figure it out.’’

 

Casey leaned into the touch. ‘’I don’t want whatever it is that Derek and I do to get in the way of what you have with him.’’

 

Sally shrugged, ‘’We can share him.’’

 

‘’You can share a person?’’

 

‘’Sort of, yeah. As long as he’s okay with it.’’

 

‘’I’m okay with it,’’ Derek said, entering the room with a new batch of clean and dry clothes.

 

‘’Eavesdropping much?’’ Sally quipped.

 

‘’Just heard the part where you agreed to joint custody of, well, me ,’’ Derek said pointedly, fishing a pair of pants from the pile and wrapping it on itself, in what seemed to be an attempt at folding. Casey stared at it in horror before ripping it from his hands to rectify the damage he had done.

 

‘’Told you not to touch anything…’’ Casey grumbled. Derek ignored her.

 

‘’What do you think of that?’’ Sally asked.

 

‘’You know what I think,’’ he shrugged and leaned back against the wall, putting his hands in his pockets for lack of something to do with them.

 

‘’I don’t,’’ Casey said.

 

‘’Ever heard of polyamory ?’’

 

Casey stared, remembering how Emily had thrown the word at her last week. She had heard of it, people at school had been discussing a range alternative lifestyles. At the time, she had thought it unrealistic that such types of relationships could work. If the idea of polyamory was that you could love multiple partners, that meant feelings were involved, and feelings weren’t so predictable. Even when all partners consented to it, there would just have to be jealousy at some point. At least, that’s what she used to believe.

 

‘’I’m surprised you know what that means,’’ Casey said.

 

‘’I identify as such,’’ Derek said easily.

 

Though she still wasn’t sure how she felt about the concept, if she would be able to apply it for herself, the way she felt about Derek and Sally was clear enough to her. Casey nodded. ‘’Okay,’’ she said.

 

Derek gawked. ‘’I’m surprised you’re okay with it,’’ he laughed, ‘’after you made such a fuss about my ‘philandering’.’’

 

Casey shrugged, ‘’It’s Sally. It’s not the same.’’

 

‘’I would take that at face value if I were you,’’ Sally said, interrupting Derek’s comeback.

 

‘’You’re saying that because you don’t want to lose custody?’’ Derek joked.

 

‘’I expect your butt in this bed every other week,’’ Sally grinned.

 

‘’Count on it,’’ Derek smirked. ‘’What about…’’ he said, pointing between Casey and Sally.

 

Frowning, Casey looked at Sally, who was glaring at him. ‘’I think we’re just fine, Derek,’’ Sally said pointedly. Derek’s eyes widened in understanding and he nodded quickly. ‘’Right,’’ he said.

 

‘’Am I missing something?’’ Casey asked.

 

Derek laughed, earning a sock thrown at his face. He glared at Sally, who smiled sweetly and shrugged.

 

 


 

 

 

‘’And that’s the last of it,’’ Derek sighed, dropping the pile of clothes on the bed before letting himself fall next to it. ‘’I need a nap.’’

 

‘’It’s 1am, Derek.’’ Casey chastised, setting to separate types of clothing as Sally finished putting away the previous folded piles.

 

‘’And I need to be up at 6am to catch my flight,’’ Derek said. ‘’That means: a nap.’’

 

‘’Where are you going?’’ Casey frowned. He hadn’t said anything about a trip.

 

‘’Spending the week with the fam,’’ Derek answered casually, ‘’since it’s Marti’s birthday next week-end. I’m leaving my car at Jay’s.’’

 

‘’Why didn’t you tell me?’’ Casey accused, why was he planning to spend the week with their family without her?

 

‘’I don’t know…’’ Derek shrugged dismissively. ‘’We haven’t exactly been telling each other everything.’’

 

Casey pouted. He had a point.

 

‘’Maybe I would have liked to go,’’ she complained.

 

‘’I can get you a ticket,’’ he retorted, like he was speaking to a really slow person.

 

‘’In five hours?’’ she scoffed.

 

‘’You’re up for it?’’

 

‘’I don’t have anything else to do, don’t I?’’

 

‘’You could be cheering me on at the bar on Wednesday,’’ Sally joked, reappearing next to the bed.

 

‘’You’re right! I should be there for you,’’ Casey exclaimed, berating herself for neglecting her friend once again.

 

‘’I was kidding, Casey,’’ Sally chuckled, lounging on the bed lazily in the opposite direction of Derek, her feet resting next to his head. ‘’You should go see your family.’’

 

‘’But I don’t want to leave you on your own…’’

 

‘’I won’t be on my own, Jesse and Gus promised to take care of me.’’

 

‘’I’m sure of that,’’ Derek muttered. Sally swatted his face with her left foot playfully. Derek caught it with his teeth, making Sally squirm away from him, yelling ‘’ew!’’.

 

‘’So, Space Case?’’ Derek said, returning his attention to her. ‘’What do you say?’’

 

‘’Well, I haven’t seen them in a while…’’ Casey considered.

 

Derek groaned. ‘’It’s a yes or no answer, don’t need to overthink it.’’

 

‘’Yes,’’ she barked.

 

‘’Got it,’’ he said, swiping his phone open.

 

‘’Are you sure you’ll be okay without Derek and me?’’ Casey asked Sally, who had resumed her spot next to her, clearing out some of the outfits destined for the give away pile.

 

‘’I’ve been doing just fine up until now,’’ Sally pointed out, and frowned. ‘’Laundry non-considered.’’

 

 


 

 

 

Casey closed the door behind her and attached her seat belt. Derek joined in the seat next to her after putting her luggage in the trunk. ‘’Airport, please,’’ he told the taxi driver.

 

When the car started moving, Derek let his head fall back on the headrest and rubbed his eyes. ‘’Fuck, I’m so tired.’’

 

‘’Sleeping less than four hours will do that to you,’’ Casey said, slurping her coffee.

 

‘’That and also someone kept kicking me and hogging the covers,’’ Derek said pointedly.

 

‘’Sally doesn’t hog the covers,’’ she smirked. 

 

He rolled his eyes and rolled his shoulder back. ‘’What the hell did you put in that bag, anyways?’’

 

‘’School books,’’ she said.

 

‘’Um, what?’’

 

‘’I have to study so I’ll be ready when the semester starts this fall. I’m assuming there’ll be some downtime when we’re at home.’’

 

‘’You’re insane.’’

 

‘’I’m in med school , Derek. I can’t slack off.’’

 

‘’You can defend it however you want, but don’t expect to be able to find them while we’re staying there,’’ he said, taking out his vibrating cell phone from his back pocket.

 

‘’You can’t hide my books, De-rek!’’ Casey whisper-shouted, considerate of the poor innocent cab driver.

 

‘’That’s what you think,’’ he said, turning his attention to the lit up screen in his hand. ‘’It’s Marti’s birthday, I won’t let you ruin it with studying .’’

 

‘’It’s in a week!’’

 

‘’It’s Marti’s week,’’ he declared, typing on his phone.

 

Casey rolled her eyes and gave up. She would just have to hide her books herself before he got to them. She changed the subject. ‘’When are Edwin and Lizzie going to be there?’’

 

‘’Just on Friday, I think. Why?’’

 

‘’Just curious,’’ she shrugged.

 

Derek lifted his eyes from his phone to look at her. ‘’You told them?’’ he asked evenly.

 

‘’Just Lizzie, but…’’ Casey drifted off.

 

‘’Yeah, that means Edwin knows too,’’ he declared, otherwise he seemed unbothered.

 

‘’And possibly Marti,’’ she added.

 

‘’ That’s why she’s been texting me winking emojis,’’ Derek exclaimed, finally understanding his sister’s latest strange behaviour. Casey laughed and he turned his smile towards her. ‘’What’d Liz say?’’

 

‘’Not much. She didn’t seem surprised.’’

 

‘’Those damn kids,’’ Derek muttered. ‘’They probably have a bet riding on this or something.’’

 

‘’They wouldn’t?’’ Casey gasped, eyes widening as she considered how diabolical their siblings could be. In the end, she wasn’t left with much in their defense.

 

‘’Wouldn’t put it past them,’ he said, confirming her suspicions.

 

‘’Oh.’’

 

‘’At least I know they won’t tell Nora and George,’’ Derek continued reassuringly. ‘’Unless you have…’’

 

‘’No,’’ Casey said. ‘’I- I didn’t.’’

 

‘’Good. I mean… good? Right?’’ he asked uncertainly.

 

‘’Yeah,’’ she agreed, ‘’I don’t know where I would even begin to tell my mom about…’’

 

‘’Right. I’m just picturing my dad’s face if he found out,’’ Derek laughed anxiously.

 

‘’So we’re not telling them?’’ Casey asked.

 

‘’Not like there’s much to tell,’’ he said, then added, ‘’yet.’’

 

‘’Yeah… you’re right…’’

 

‘’Speaking of…’’

 

Casey looked up, frowning. Derek leaned forward and kissed her softly, his hand resting on her thigh. They hadn’t kissed since that evening two nights ago, and even then, they hadn’t kissed like this . It was almost chaste, their lips touching gently, savouring the moment instead of devouring. It was nice.

 

‘’What was that for?’’ she asked when he pulled back.

 

‘’Am I gonna have to fill out a request form when I want to kiss you?’’ he asked with a smirk.

 

‘’No,’’ she breathed.

 

‘’Then just because,’’ Derek said, shrugging. ‘’If you’re okay with that.’’

 

Casey smiled. ‘’Yeah, that’s okay.’’

Chapter Text

Casey strolled up the pathway leading to the door of her old house. She’d been here many times since she’d moved out, but every time it seemed like a place more and more foreign, like it wasn’t quite home anymore. She didn’t really like to think about it.

 

She stopped at the bottom of the stairs, waiting for Derek to make his way with his sports bag on one shoulder and her carry on lagging behind him. She bit her lip, contemplating the picture. ‘’Maybe I should take my bag,’’ she said, reaching for the handle.

 

Derek kept his hold on it solidly. ‘’What for?’’ he asked.

 

‘’It will be kind of weird if we go in there and you’re carrying my bags, won’t it?’’ Casey sighed. She made another grab for the handle, Derek moved his arm away.

 

‘’You think they’ll get suspicious if I’m carrying your bag?’’ He asked in astonishment.

 

She crossed her arms over her chest. ‘’You never do anything nice for me, Derek.’’

 

‘’Obviously,’’ Derek shook his hand holding the carry on to show it off, ‘’that’s not true.’’

 

‘’Well now you are,’’ Casey rolled her eyes.

 

‘’I’m pretty sure I’ve done nice things for you before,’’ he argued, like he was insulted or something, which was so unreasonable.

 

‘’Derek, can you not be so stubborn and just give me my bag.’’

 

‘’No,’’ he said and adjusted his bag over his shoulder. ‘’Because I can see where this is going. You want to go in and act like we’re fifteen again, to pretend like we haven’t grown up or god forbid started to like each other. And you know what? That’s what’s going to get us caught.’’

 

‘’And why?’’ Casey scoffed.

 

‘’Because you can’t lie for shit,’’ Derek sneered.

 

‘’De-rek!’’ She went to punch him on the arm.

 

Derek laughed, walking backwards to avoid the hit. ‘’I’m just saying, it’ll get too hard for you to resist my charms and you’ll end up jumping me in the middle of the living room. Wouldn’t want that, right?’’

 

Casey shook her head, trying to hide the smile growing on her face. He was such an idiot. ‘’Derek, you are so-’’

 

‘’Oh please, get a room,’’ Marti shot from the top of the stairs. Both Casey and Derek’s eyes boggled as their heads snapped towards her.

 

‘’Marti!’’ Derek snapped furiously.

 

‘’Oh shut up, dad and Nora are at work, the coast is clear.’’

 

Derek visibly relaxed, and Casey let out a relieved sigh. Derek gave her a pointed look as he passed in front of her to get inside. ‘’Always worrying over nothing.’’

 

‘’How was I supposed to know they weren’t here?’’

 

Marti turned around to give her a look . ‘’Um, it’s Monday?’’

 

Right, it was that normal time of day that normal people worked at. True. Yup . ‘’You’re so cute when you’re embarrassed,’’ Derek muttered in her ear as he walked over to Marti, letting the bags down so he could hug his little sister. ‘’How you doing, Smarti?’’

 

‘’Ugh, Derek . I’m eighteen in like five days.’’

 

‘’Wow,’’ he deadpanned, letting go of the shorter girl. Though Derek was still the tallest in the family, Marti was giving everyone else a run for their money. Casey had to look up to look into Marti’s eyes.

 

‘’It’s good to see you, Marti.’’ Casey smiled, holding her tight.

 

Marti smiled. ‘’George said Derek sleeps in the basement so I guess Casey can have Lizzie’s old room.’’

 

Derek made a show of grumbling as he went to drop his bag where they belonged. ‘’Banished to the basement. Suddenly, I feel wanted.’’

 

Casey laughed as she watched him go.

 

‘’So you finally fell for my brother, huh?’’ Marti said, interrupting Casey’s staring at Derek’s butt, as she dropped in the - why was that thing still here ? - chair next to the couch. Marti pushed the arms so the chair reclined and the legs sprung up. It made a creaking sound from hell .

 

‘’I did not fall ,’’ Casey denied, trying to sound offended.

 

‘’So you don’t think he’s handsome, charming, funny, amazing…’’

 

‘’Can we talk about this later?’’

 

‘’Yeah Marti,’’ Derek said, coming back from the basement. ‘’Don’t think we’re going to let you distract us from the real issue, here.’’

 

Marti looked up at her brother with the most innocent eyes she could muster. ‘’What do you mean, oh dear brother?’’

 

‘’I know you’re going to spill the beans on the school thing eventually. Maybe there’ll be a grand announcement on your birthday, huh? You don’t fool me. I wrote the book, sister.’’

 

Marti crossed her arms over her chest. ‘’Well it’s not my birthday yet, is it?’’

 

Derek jumped over the back of the couch to sit on the spot closest to Marti, pointing a threatening finger at her. ‘’I will find out the truth,’’ he dared. Marti shrugged casually.

 

Shaking her head, Casey moved up the stairs, grabbing her luggage on her way.

 

She entered Lizzie’s old room, surprised to find that it had already been repainted and redecorated in a neutral palette, effectively giving off the guestroom vibe. It was so impersonal. As she blinked, she could still picture the bright colors on the walls, the hamster wheel in one corner and the rain forest maquettes in the other.

 

Sighing, she sat down on the bed. She caught a lonely tear at the corner of her eye. She wasn’t exactly sad, it just felt like… things had changed, which obviously , they had, she just hadn’t   realized it until now. When she came home now, she was sleeping in a guest room, not her own room or sharing Lizzie’s room. In a way, it was kind of depressing.

 

She shook herself out of it, though, because if Derek caught her he’d definitely tease her about it, and quickly unpacked her things.

 

When she came back downstairs, Derek was in the kitchen, probably hunting for snacks and Marti was still lounging in the chair, watching TV, in a perfect copy picture of her brother at her age. It was disconcerting.

 

‘’Marti, where are the chips?’’ Derek shouted from the kitchen.

 

As Casey made her way to the couch, she heard Marti grumble under her breath, then louder, she answered. ‘’The chips are being held hostage, Derek, deal with it.’’

 

‘’Hostage?’’ Derek squeaked.

 

‘’Dad is still mad at me so he won’t let chips anywhere near the house.’’

 

Derek approached the living room slowly. ‘’You’re saying that I can’t have chips because of your shenanigans?’’ he said, outraged.

 

‘’You can’t stop me from living my life!’’ Marti shot dramatically.

 

‘’But what about the chips, Marti!’’

 

 


 

 

By the time George and Nora arrived, Derek had accepted his fate and decided to snack on crackers. He shot upright on the couch as soon as the door opened, having previously been lying in Casey’s lap to watch TV.

 

The house was instantly filled with the cries of a seven year old starved for the attention of his older siblings. ‘’Casey! Derek!’’

 

Simon jumped on the couch between Derek and Casey, wrapping his arms awkwardly around their necks. Derek fake coughed as if he was being strangled. ‘’Aaaargh, I will never surrender!’’ He squeaked, grabbing for the boy to pop him on his knee and tickling him until the little boy giggled helplessly.

 

‘’Casey!’’ Nora exclaimed. ‘’We weren’t expecting you to be here so early?’’ It was a question but she seemed pleasantly surprised. ‘’We didn’t prepare the guest room for you yet.’’

 

‘’It’s okay, mom, I’ll grab some new sheets later,’’ Casey shrugged.

 

‘’Aww, I’m so glad to see you,’’ Nora cooed, leaning into the couch to hug Casey. Casey hummed and closed her eyes, breathing in the nice mom smell. ‘’How’s Jesse?’’

 

Casey tensed, unsure of what she should tell her mother. ‘’He’s fine,’’ she said noncommittally as her mom released her.

 

‘’Derek,’’ Nora greeted, pecking his cheek. ‘’Why didn’t you tell us Casey was coming with you?’’

 

He shrugged, letting his brother drop to the floor so he could run away, only the spirit of a seven year old knew where. ‘’Thought you’d like the surprise.’’

 

Casey raised her eyebrow at him. ‘’More like he probably forgot.’’

 

‘’Which one is it, you’ll never know,’’ he said winningly, as he stretched his arms above his head before jumping to his feet. ‘’What are we having for dinner, Dad?’’

 

‘’Hello you too, Derek,’’ George drawled, welcoming his son in his embrace. Derek patted him on the back quickly and pulled away.

 

‘’Hey Dad,’’ he smirked, tongue in cheek. ‘’I really am starving though.’’

 

‘’Derek you just ate crackers,’’ Casey said, smiling as she rolled her eyes. Why was it that everything he did seemed cute now that they’d made out? Maybe Marti had been right.

 

In their circle around the room, Casey’s eyes caught her mom’s who was frowning down at her thoughtfully. She blushed, feeling like a deer caught in headlights. She smiled nervously and got up in an attempt to avoid Nora’s questioning gaze.

 

‘’Do you guys need help with dinner?’’ Casey tried to distract.

 

‘’Nah,’’ George said, walking to the phone. ‘’We were going to order Chinese.’’

 

‘’Hell yeah!’’ Derek drawled.

 

‘’Again?’’ Marti grumbled.

 

‘’I want Chinese!’’ Simon shouted as he came running down the stairs, back from who knows land.

 

‘’It’s five against one,’’ Derek teased, pushing Marti’s shoulder.

 

Marti groaned, pulling a face. ‘’Whatever.’’

 

 


 

 

Casey offered to help with the dishes after dinner. Marti had cleared the table and piled everything up carelessly in the sink. Casey rolled her eyes as she rinsed the plates from leftover rice and thai sauce.

 

‘’Just like her brother,’’ Casey muttered to herself.

 

A hand grabbed for a newly clean plate that she’d left in the drying rack and she turned to find Nora saddling next to her with the drying rag. ‘’Thanks,’’ she smiled at her mother.

 

Nora smiled back. ‘’So, you flew in with Derek?’’

 

‘’Yeah, since I’m done with work for the rest of the summer, I thought why not?’’

 

‘’That was a pretty last minute decision, no?’’

 

Casey shrugged, getting back to the dishes, trying to avoid her mother’s interrogation. She hadn’t done anything suspect since they’d arrived, Nora couldn’t be onto them just yet, could she?

 

‘’What did Jesse think?’’

 

Casey bit her lip. ‘’Actually… Jesse and I broke up.’’ She concentrated on a particularly stubborn stain.

 

‘’Really?’’ Nora seemed taken aback, but recovered quickly. ‘’Are you okay?’’ Though she was calm, her voice was full of concern and Casey just couldn’t ignore her mother anymore. She sighed and turned to look at her.

 

‘’I’m fine,’’ she said, ‘’it was kind of a mutual decision.’’

 

‘’When did it happen?’’

 

‘’Last week.’’

 

‘’Hmm…’’ Nora seemed thoughtful for a few seconds, then nodded and went back to drying the dishes, all traces of concerned mom gone. ‘’That’s interesting.’’

 

Casey frowned. ‘’Interesting how?’’

 

‘’Just that you decided to break up now,’’ Nora took the next clean plate from Casey’s hand.

 

‘’What’s so interesting about the timing?’’

 

Nora shrugged and pouted innocently, ‘’Not much, it’s just convenient that Derek was there to visit.’’

 

‘’The break up had nothing to do with Derek.’’

 

Nora smiled as she put last clean dishes in the cupboard. She looked up at Casey and cupped her cheek. ‘’I know, honey.’’

 

Casey watched, confused, as her mother headed back into the living room to pick up Simon for his bath. She caught Derek’s eye, he was laughing at something his dad said. He winked and her heart skipped a beat. Oh no .

 

 


 

 

Though Derek had tried to get her attention at every turn, Casey just hadn’t been able to allow herself to give him the time of day. She fled from his touch when he tried to grab her hand under the table or cornered her before bed. She just couldn’t do it, feeling like she was watched constantly after her conversation with her mother.

 

The third day, though, she had to start admitting to herself that she craved it a little bit, some touch, or interaction of any kind. They hadn’t agreed on this pseudo-relationship thing for a week yet and she was already missing him.

 

She wouldn’t dare visiting him in the basement though, knowing that things could easily get out of hand if she let them. She looked away from the book in her lap, which honestly she hadn’t been reading, and caught her reflection in the long mirror in the corner of the room.

 

She put her book down on the side table and got up, approaching the long mirror to observe her form. She was wearing a cute nightgown, something comfortable and light because they’d managed to arrive in London during the one freaking heat wave of the summer. Even in the soft light of the reading lamp she noticed that the thin fabric was sheer enough to see through. She bit her lip, thinking - out of nowhere - that it wasn’t quite sexy the way she wanted.

 

Her eyes drifted towards the drawers as she mentally check listed what she’d brought with her. She knew there was one pair of sexy underwear in there that she hadn’t been able to leave behind. It was completely normal for a woman to want to feel sexy from time to time, right? Even if she wasn’t going to show off to anyone, sometimes dressing up just felt nice.

 

Promising herself that she would not leave her room no matter what, she allowed herself to pick up the pink lacy underwear from the drawer. She took off her nightgown to pull it on, returning to the lengthy mirror for deeper scrutiny of her body.

 

She liked the way the bra pushed her breasts up perfectly, in a not so obvious way. She felt the high waist of the bottoms suited her shape very well, as it followed the curve of her hips, attracting further attention to it. She’d picked it out sometime around her birthday with no specific purpose, but knowing that it would drive any guy crazy if she wanted. Looking herself up and down, she thought it would be a waste if nobody got to see it.

 

With a devious thought on her mind, she reached for her phone next to her book and took a few full body selfies in the mirror, making sure the light was capturing everything just right. She wondered what Derek’s reaction would be when she sent out the picture, if he’d be surprised at how daring she’d decided to be or if he’d think it was funny, that she would do something like this. Maybe girls sent him risqué pictures all the time and it was just predictable to him.

 

No matter what his answer would be, she felt a really urgent need to do it, to tease him, to reach out and try to provoke some kind of reaction.

 

She hit send, opting out of adding any text, knowing that showing was better than telling. She waited for him to see the picture, lying back down on the bed, on top of the covers.

 

It wasn’t quite that late, she could still hear the tv from their parent’s bedroom, which used to be hers, as well as faint music from Marti’s, who’d somehow inherited Derek’s room after he’d moved out. Knowing that everyone else was still awake made it kind of more thrilling somehow, like they were sneaking behind everyone’s back.

 

His response came quick.

 

[ Fuck ]

 

Casey rolled her eyes.

 

[ That’s all you have to say? ]

 

[ I’m not sure if any response I have is appropriate. ]

 

[ Well obviously I’m expecting something. ]

 

[ Wanna come down here? ]

 

She bit her lip and remembered her promise to herself.

 

[ I can’t do that. ]

 

[ There’s no use in me arguing, is there? ]

 

She kind of wanted him to insist, because it felt nice to know that he wanted her. But feeling her resolve waver already, she had to cut it out before it was too late.

 

[ Nope. ]

 

[ So you’re just trying to tease me then. ]

 

[ Is it working? ]

 

[ Is it what you were trying to do? ]

 

[ Yes... ]

 

[ Then yes, it’s working. ]

 

[ Tell me more... ]

 

[ You’re playing dirty, I’m not sure I wanna bite. ]

 

[ Come on... ]

 

[ You’ve been icing me for like three days, Case. ]

 

She huffed, frustrated that he couldn’t just get it . He always had to push and he wasn’t letting her just try to sext him in peace, dammit.

 

[ You know we can’t get caught, Derek. ]

 

[ We wouldn’t get caught. ]

 

[ That’s the kind of attitude that gets people caught! ]

 

[ I want to respect that, Case, I’m just getting some mixed signals from you rn. ]

 

What mixed signals?

 

[ I’m not sending mixed signals. ]

 

[ You haven’t let me come near you since we got here and now I’m supposed to jump through the hoop? ]

 

[ It’s not a hoop. ]

 

Casey hesitated, pondering how much she wanted to reveal, before sending her next text.

 

[ I miss you... ]

 

She watched the phone for five minutes until she realized he wasn’t going to respond. She guessed she should have known he wasn’t going to let her get her way. It was just so typical of him. 

 

Dropping her phone, she turned on her side and buried her frown in the pillow. She breathed deeply, holding back the tears that were threatening to come because she’d exposed herself and been flatly rejected, and it was all her fault.

 

When she heard the soft knock on the door, she jumped to get under the blankets quickly so she didn’t look indecent in front of her mom, or worse, George . The door opened before she was halfway covered and she squealed softly, throwing the blanket over her head.

 

She heard the deep chuckle and the soft click of the door closing, and poked her head out. ‘’De-rek!’’ she whisper-shouted as he approached her bed. ‘’What are you doing?’’

 

He was going to give her a heart attack.

 

‘’Well, darling, I missed you too,’’ Derek said sarcastically, his tongue running over his teeth as he tried to pry the sheet from her grasp.

 

‘’Derek! Our parents are in the room next door! They’re still awake!’’

 

‘’You know I love to live dangerously,’’ He leaned down, capturing her mouth with his, silencing her next argument. She melted instantly. Her whole body relaxed as it leaned into him, seeking more proximity.

 

He took advantage of this to successfully grab the sheet away from her to reveal her body to him. ‘’Derek!’’

 

‘’Stop shouting, Case,’’ Derek whispered as he lied on top of her, pushing her legs apart with his knee, ‘’you’ll alert the parents. They’re right next door.’’

 

She pushed at his chest. ‘’You can’t just come in here and molest me.’’

 

‘’Really?’’ he said unconvinced, shifting his hips just so that her eyes fluttered shut a little. ‘’I thought that’s what the invitation was about.’’

 

‘’What invitation?’’ Casey asked, her voice breathier than she wanted to, her hands grabbing onto his back instinctively.

 

‘’That picture,’’ Derek said, leaning down to kiss her neck. ‘’It was right there. Full color, all skin and pink lace. It said: Fuck me, Derek!’’

 

Giggling, she pushed him off, and he rolled onto his side next to her this time. ‘’It did not say that and it will not happen here, in this bed, in between our parents and our brother’s bedrooms.’’

 

‘’You sure know how to kill a mood,’’ Derek complained, brushing his hand over her stomach.

 

‘’There is no mood, Derek. Go back to your room.’’

 

He pouted. ‘’I don’t want to.’’

 

‘’Too bad, you can’t always get what you want.’’

 

‘’That would be an incorrect statement,’’ Derek smirked, letting his hand wander lower, until he reached the band of her underwear.

 

The tips of his fingers tickled her skin and she had to hold in a joyful sigh. ‘’No, Der.’’

 

Derek sighed and pushed himself away. ‘’Fine.’’ He got off the bed and walked over to the door, delivering his parting words in a soft whisper. ‘’Just so you know, you’re a tease.’’

 

The door closed behind him, but she could still hear his voice on the other side. ‘’Hey, Smarts.’’

 

‘’Ew, gross,’’ Marti complained.

 

Casey closed her eyes in annoyance.

 

 


 

 

Friday morning, when George and Nora had left with Simon, Casey remained alone at the kitchen island, enjoying a quiet breakfast. Mornings had been hectic all week and she barely had time to herself between her mom, her little brother and the other , taller child vying for her attentions. It was a nice sunny day, sunlight peeking through the back window. It was a nice day to go read outside, she thought.

 

She really hadn’t been able to find her school books, which only left her with some novels she’d left behind back when she’d moved out. Romance, bodice rippers, all those things that didn’t help her sleep soundly at night as it left her feeling frustrated and unfulfilled. Gosh , she was horny.

 

As if he could smell it in the air, like the smell of bacon in the morning, Derek emerged from the basement, smirking when he saw her alone at the island.

 

‘’Good morning,’’ he said in a way that made good morning sound indecent, which really should not be allowed.

 

He was looking especially yummy that morning, his pajama bottoms hanging low on his hips, chest exposed, hair tousled and eyes drowsy with sleep. As he stopped in front of the sink to look outside, he laid both hands on the counter, giving her a nice view of his backside. The shape of his shoulders and back muscles were also pretty inviting. She licked her lips, picturing what his skin would taste like, while the sun reflected on tiny beads of sweat rolling down his skin.

 

Suddenly feeling ravenous, she went back to her toast, taking out a huge bite. She looked up after finishing her toast to find him looking at her expectantly. ‘’Hm?’’ she uttered.

 

‘’I said, too bad I didn’t bring my guitar, it’d be the perfect day to hang outside and strum out some new song,’’ Derek said conversationally.

 

Shaking herself out of her daze, she shrugged. ‘’You can still write the words,’’ she answered easily.

 

‘’Meh, it’s not the same without the music,’’ he said, scrunching his nose in disappointment before shrugging it off and moving to make himself breakfast.

 

‘’I was going to spend some time outside, reading,’’ Casey volunteered.

 

Derek stopped short as he put the cereal box down on the counter and frowned up at her cryptically.

 

Casey rolled her eyes. ‘’I did not find my study books. I had some novels lying around.’’

 

‘’That stuff about moth’s blood?’’

 

‘’No,’’ Casey laughed, ‘’just some romance novels.’’

 

‘’Uhuh,’’ Derek said pensively, as he poured the milk in his bowl. ‘’Since everyone’s out you might wanna skip the novels and enjoy some real life romance , no?’’ he said raising his eyebrows up at her suggestively.

 

Suppressing a shudder (the struggle was real), she got up and brought her plate to the sink, purposely brushing her side against his. ‘’Marti’s still here. She’s asleep,’’ she said pointedly.

 

‘’Exactly,’’ he said, turning around to grab her waist and pull her to him.

 

She stopped herself from bumping into him with her hands, coming up flat over his chest. His skin was burning hot, soft underneath her fingertips. She slowly lifted her gaze from his chest, watching his Adam's apple bob as he swallowed, until she met his. He was grinning victoriously, obviously aware of the effect he had on her.

 

His arms tightened around her waist, pressing her flush against him, and his face lowered towards hers. ‘’I was thinking about skipping the cereal,’’ he breathed, lips practically brushing against hers, ‘’I think I found something else I’d rather have for breakfast.’’

 

She pulled her face away before he could catch her mouth. ‘’Do any of your corny lines ever work?’’ she said, pretending she wasn’t quivering in anticipation.

 

His lips found her burning cheek. ‘’You tell me,’’ he whispered.

 

She bit her lip, eyes falling shut. She wanted to. She really, really wanted to. There was nothing she’d rather be doing than Derek fucking Venturi right then and there in their family’s kitchen. She’d been good all week, but it was getting harder to resist the more days went by. They’d really only just arrived to an understanding before they left New York, but hadn’t had the chance to really embrace it, to find out what it was all about. She was dying to know.

 

Yet there was that sensible voice in the back of her head that reminded her that this was the house their family lived in, their married parents and their little brother, and she felt kind of crummy even considering having sex with Derek in it. They may not be related, but from Simon’s perspective, it actually was the same difference, and that was just too hard to overlook when they were standing where the kid was having his breakfast in the morning.

 

She moved her head to meet his mouth in a gentle kiss. ‘’Truthfully, it is working,’’ she started. Derek smiled into another kiss. ‘’But,’’ she panted, between kisses. Derek paused. ‘’I-’’

 

As luck would have it, she was saved from finishing her thought when the front door burst open on Edwin and Lizzie barging in like they still owned the place. Casey’s shoulders relaxed a little.

 

‘’We come bearing gi- waaah!’’ Edwin yelled, eyes wide as saucers when he caught sight of them in the kitchen. Realizing the position they were in, Casey pushed Derek away from her.

 

Lizzie sighed and picked up the gift bags that Edwin had dropped. ‘’I warned you about this, Edwin,’’ Lizzie looked up and smiled brightly. ‘’Sorry guys, Edwin’s still emotionally twelve.’’

 

Casey chuckled and made her way to her sister. ‘’I think all Venturis stop maturing at twelve.’’

 

‘’I take offense to that,’’ Marti quipped from the top of the stairs.

 

‘’I think she meant the Venturi men,’’ Lizzie mended, grinning at her step-sister.

 

Marti grinned back and ran down the stairs, joining the girls in a group hug. ‘’I missed you, Lizzie!’’

 

Behind them Casey heard the boys sharing a fist bump. ‘’Should we take offense to that?’’ Derek asked.

 

As she turned, she saw Edwin shaking his head glumly. ‘’If I learned something by living with two girls, bro, is pick your battles.’’

 

Derek nodded in understanding and patted his brother’s shoulder. ‘’Words of wisdom, Ed.’’

 

‘’Speaking of,’’ Marti chimed in, looking around them pointedly, ‘’Where’s your better whole, Edwin?’’

 

‘’Ha. Ha.’’ Edwin deadpanned.

 

‘’She’ll be joining in later,’’ Lizzie offered. ‘’She’s going to lunch with her mom.’’

 

Casey looked at the clock. ‘’You guys are here early, we weren’t expecting you before noon.’’

 

‘’Yeah… we were bored,’’ Lizzie said, shrugging and moving towards the stairs. She got to the first step and turned around, frowning. ‘’Um. So where is everyone sleeping?’’

 

The five of them looked at each other in dismay, as they realized that their family had finally outgrown their house. Casey caught Derek’s eye and he smirked as a devious thought obviously occurred to him.

 

‘’Edwin and Claudia can take the guest room,’’ Derek said, wrapping his arm around Casey’s waist. ‘’Bed downstairs is big enough for two,’’ he fake-whispered into her ear.

 

‘’Ew,’’ Marti said, shaking her head, and turned to Lizzie. ‘’You and I can have a sleepover, sis!’’

 

‘’Like old times,’’ Lizzie nodded and left to drop her things.

 

‘’So, before I bring my girlfriend upstairs, did anything unholy happen in there?’’ Edwin asked, looking between Derek and Casey wearily.

 

‘’Edwin!’’ Casey gasped.

 

‘’Don’t worry, Ed,’’ Derek rolled his eyes, disentangling himself from Casey in order to take roots in the chair. ‘’Haven’t figured out the combination to the chastity belt.’’

 

‘’Excuse me?’’ Casey cried in outrage, rushing to slap him over the head.

 

‘’I don’t know Edwin, I’d burn the sheets if I were you,’’ Marti said.

 

Edwin hung his head and walked up the stairs.

 

‘’I’ll get my stuff down later, Ed!’’ Casey shouted after him, resigning herself to sitting on the couch.

 

She observed Derek, he was already engrossed in some sports highlights on television.

 

‘’Isn’t it suspicious if we sleep in the same bed, Derek?’’

 

‘’Casey, Casey, Casey,’’ Derek said in his annoying smug voice. He turned towards her with a sneaky smile. ‘’Nobody’s going to ask. So you don’t need to tell anyone.’’

 

‘’What do you mean nobody is going to ask?’’

 

‘’I swear to you, Casey, nobody will bring up the sleeping arrangements, and you won’t have any explaining to do.’’

 

‘’He’s probably right,’’ Marti came up next to Derek in the chair, shrugging.

 

‘’See?’’ Derek pointed at his sister, like she’d spoken some irrefutable truth.

 

Casey sighed and gave in. ‘’Fine.’’

 

Marti remained at Derek’s side, observing him calmly until he turned to look at her quizzically. ‘’Um?’’

 

‘’You’re in my chair,’’ Marti grinned.

 

‘’Excuse me?’’

 

‘’This is my chair now.’’

 

‘’Don’t you think inheriting my room, charms and good looks was enough?’’

 

‘’Nope. My chair.’’

 

Derek squinted at his sister, who grinned maniacally back at him. Probably deciding he couldn’t win against Marti in a fair fight, he withdrew, rising from the chair, and dropped right next to Casey, letting his arm fall over the back of the couch behind her head.

 

‘’I guess it’s much nicer here anyways,’’ Derek said, leaning in to nuzzle Casey’s neck. She rolled her eyes and rolled her shoulder to dislodge his head.

 

‘’When you’re done traumatizing the whole family,’’ Marti said conversationally, ‘’you could fetch me breakfast.’’

 

 


 

 

The dinner table was crowded and chaotic . With the arrival of Lizzie, Edwin, and then Claudia, there was barely any room to catch up without everyone talking over each other.

 

Claudia had arrived shortly after George and Nora, hugging the whole family like they were hers before reaching Casey. ‘’I feel like I know you already,’’ Claudia had said awkwardly, when she shook Casey’s hand and introduced herself.

 

Casey didn’t get to talk to her much after that, but she was a sweet girl, a bit awkward around the edge, so reasonably perfect for Edwin. She genuinely laughed at all his jokes, which was impressive, considering absolutely none of them were funny.

 

Casey tried to keep up with conversation, eventually giving up when she started feeling too out of the loop. She focused on her plate, resolving to catch up with everyone individually and ate up her unfrozen meatloaf, as she listened on the conversation distantly.

 

‘’... told Edwin we shouldn’t leave them there. Next thing you know, the oven’s catching on fire…’’

 

‘’... haven’t seen her in a while, so I look her up on Facebook …’’

 

‘’... really didn’t think it through… okay, who’s playing footsie with me?’’

 

The table jerked, sending a couple of dishes flying about and making Casey jump. She looked up, catching Derek in a coughing fit. Marti took pity on him and slapped him a couple of times on the back.

 

‘’Sorry, Liz,’’ Derek muttered, keeping his eyes on his plate.

 

Lizzie shrugged. ‘’So, anyway…’’

 

Casey narrowed her eyes in Derek’s direction, holding back a smile as she took in the slight blush on his cheeks. He’d been trying to play footsie with her…

 

Deciding that he was just too cute to deny, she let her own foot wander until she - hopefully - met his. He looked up quickly through his lashes, confirming that she had indeed placed her foot on top of his, and wiggled his toes into the arch of her foot in response. She bit her tongue to hold in her giggle.

 

She pushed her foot higher, brushing over his calf. He stopped her from going higher when she was about to reach the inside of his thigh by catching her ankle between his knees. He gave her a pointed look. ‘’Later,’’ he mouthed.

 

Feeling her own blush creeping up on her face, she looked back down at her plate. He didn’t let go of her ankle.

 

 


 

 

In the evening, dressed in her soft peach nightgown, she stood at the edge of the bed, eyes darting between Derek lying comfortably under the thin sheet and the slightly open window letting in the midnight air.

 

‘’Stop worrying, I’m not going to try anything. I’ll behave.’’

 

She licked her lips, meeting his eyes seriously. ‘’It’s not that…’’

 

He raised an eyebrow inquiringly, waiting for her to go on.

 

‘’Can I have the side farthest from the window?’’

 

Derek snickered and moved to the other side. ‘’You live in New York and sleep like a baby but you’re scared of a small window in the suburbs?’’

 

‘’It’s open,’’ she argued, pouting, as she crawled towards her side of the bed.

 

Derek chuckled and turned on his side to look at her. ‘’I’d say I’ll protect you but honestly I pity the poor fucker who dares coming through that window and has to face you.’’

 

‘’But you’re the guy, it’s your job,’’ she argued.

 

Derek looked at her curiously, tongue poking into his cheek. ‘’You are the most confusing feminist I have ever met,’’ he stated.

 

‘’I think a robber will be more scared of the professional hockey player than harmless little me,’’ she replied haughtily.

 

‘’Harmless,’’ Derek scoffed. ‘’Funny.’’

 

Casey frowned and smacked his arm. ‘’He could have a gun!’’

 

Derek blinked and pushed himself closer, brushing his hand up and down her arm. ‘’Tell you what, if some guy breaks in with a gun, I’ll protect you.’’

 

Casey smiled. ‘’Yeah?’’

 

‘’I’ll take the bullet if I have to,’’ Derek shrugged casually.

 

Her breath caught in her throat. He kept his face soft and calm but she couldn’t help the feeling that he’d said something big. Like he’d take a freaking bullet for her or something.

 

‘’That’s a serious commitment for a non-boyfriend,’’ Casey said softly.

 

‘’I’m not a conventional ‘non-boyfriend’, am I?’’ he finger quoted.

 

‘’No, you’re not,’’ she said, trying to read his expression. He held her gaze seriously, before sighing.

 

‘’Look, there are no rules,’’ Derek said. ‘’We make our own rules.’’

 

‘’And then break them?’’ Casey smirked.

 

‘’Now you’re getting it,’’ he said, grabbing the back of her head to pull her forward and press a kiss on her forehead. She let her head fall forward into his shoulder and they moved into each other, his arm wrapping tightly around her shoulder, and hers around his waist.

 

She breathed in his neck, the spicy scent of his cologne tickling her nose pleasantly. His embrace was warm and comforting, and it was the closest thing to home she’d felt in a long time. The thought scared her more than anything, knowing fully well that if she really gave into it, she was setting herself up for a hard fall.

 

‘’Maybe we should set some ground rules,’’ Casey said.

 

Derek groaned. ‘’You always take the things I say literally.’’

 

‘’I mean it though,’’ Casey said, pulling away to look him in the eye. ‘’What if this… what if it blows over?’’

 

‘’There’s a 50/50 chance it will happen,’’ Derek shrugged, seemingly oblivious to how distressing the statement was.

 

‘’And you think those are good odds?’’

 

‘’I’m just being realistic.’’

 

‘’Well,’’ Casey nodded slowly as she thought, ‘’I’d like to improve those odds.’’

 

‘’With ground rules?’’ Derek asked cautiously.

 

‘’Yes.’’

 

‘’Fine. But if I have to listen to this, I should at least be allowed to get some… sugar?’’

 

Casey rolled her eyes as he pulled her close to bury his face in her neck. ‘’You said you’d behave.’’

 

‘’I said I won’t try to undress and ravish you.’’

 

‘’Fine,’’ she sighed, more in pleasure than actual annoyance, but she wasn’t going to tell him that. ‘’First, I think there should be no PDA when we’re at home.’’

 

‘’You’ve already seen to that, darling,’’ he intoned, kissing down her collarbone.

 

‘’But making it a rule means you need to actually follow it, De-rek.’’

 

Derek lifted his head from her cleavage to stare at her in exasperation. ‘’I knew we were regressing to high school. First I can’t carry your bags, now I can’t touch or kiss you. What’s next?’’

 

‘’Second,’’ Casey resumed, ignoring his childish reasoning. ‘’We should check in with the other if there is going to be a potential new partner.’’

 

Derek frowned. ‘’Besides Sally, you mean?’’ She nodded. ‘’You planning on seeing other people?’’

 

‘’No,’’ Casey said.

 

‘’Then I thought we’d already taken care of that too,’’ Derek said with aggravation.

 

‘’There’s no harm in reiterating,’’ Casey said sharply.

 

‘’Except I’m getting bored.’’

 

‘’Third,’’ she continued, ‘’protection should always be used.’’

 

‘’Oh god,’’ Derek groaned, apparently over this discussion already.

 

‘’Fourth-’’

 

‘’Don’t I get to make up some rules?’’ he interrupted.

 

She looked at him apprehensively. ‘’Go on…’’

 

‘’No bottling shit up. If you’re not okay with something, you say it upfront.’’

 

Surprisingly, his suggestion was very helpful and considerate. She nodded slowly. ‘’That’s a good rule.’’

 

‘’And um…’’ Derek frowned, lips pressed together as he searched for his words. ‘’No ghosting,’’ he settled on.

 

‘’You think I’m going to ghost on you?’’ Casey asked, raising her eyebrow in confusion. Like it was something that she would ever do.

 

‘’You do tend to avoid me from time to time,’’ Derek informed calmly, ‘’you know, when the heat’s going up and you can’t handle it.’’

 

Remembering how she’d ignored him for days a couple of months ago, Casey realized that he was right. Her eyes dropped to his chin, suddenly feeling guilty. ‘’Sorry…’’

 

‘’It’s fine,’’ Derek dismissed, pecking the tip of her nose. ‘’We didn’t have ground rules then.’’

 

Casey smiled softly, for once appreciating the fact that he was the way he was, somewhat aloof, considerably detached, but never indifferent. ‘’Anything else?’’

 

‘’Not for now,’’ Derek shrugged. ‘’You?’’

 

‘’I think that’s it,’’ Casey said.

 

‘’I guess it wasn’t so bad,’’ Derek commented, returning his mouth to her chest and dropping lazy kisses over the tops of her breasts.

 

‘’I’m surprised we went through the whole thing without arguing,’’ Casey said, closing her eyes and letting her fingers loose into his hair.

 

‘’Is it too late to add another rule?’’ he asked, barely pausing to speak in between kisses. ‘’You should always come to bed with those sexy underwear like last time.’’

 

‘’I don’t sleep with that outfit on, Derek,’’ she chuckled.

 

‘’I didn’t say you’d still be wearing it by the time you go to sleep,’’ he said suggestively.

 

‘’Oh you think you’re so clever,’’ Casey chided.

 

‘’Oh but I am,’’ Derek affirmed, latching on her with his tongue. She moaned softly, enjoying the feeling of his warm mouth on her skin. 

 

His hands ran up her form, dragging the soft fabric of her gown up with them, until they cupped her breasts, and squeezed tight. She exhaled blissfully, his touch waking up her every nerve endings. She felt like something deep inside of her was being pulled to the surface, as she writhed underneath him, each stroke of his tongue, his fingers, working together beautifully to unravel her insides.

 

He was breaking her soul open, gently, excruciatingly, until she was left bare, exposed to him. A yielding, panting mess, left defenseless to his every whim. He could seriously hurt her like this, if he wanted to, he could break her down into pieces and leave without looking back. He could destroy her.

 

‘’You really think this is going to be a disaster?’’ Casey asked, breathless.

 

Derek faltered slightly, before making his way up her torso and her neck, stopping at her jaw. ‘’You know my main and only goal is to make my life as easy as possible right?’’ he asked, pausing to look at her seriously. His face was so close, his lips could be touching hers if he moved just a little... ‘’Do you really think I’d bother with something complicated if I didn’t think it was worth it?’’

 

There was a candid softness in his eyes, all traces of the master deceiver, trickster, player, gone. He met her vulnerability with sincerity.

 

‘’You think this is worth it?’’

 

‘’That’s what I said.’’

 

Yeah… if her heart was to ever be broken without repair, she knew it could only be by his doing.

 

‘’You make it hard you know?’’ Casey whispered.

 

‘’Hard to what?’’ Derek asked, brows furrowing anxiously.

 

His eyes were so deep and intense, she couldn’t look at them anymore, or she would drown. She hid her face into his neck, confiding into his skin. ‘’Not to fall for you.’’

 

His hand on her arm tensed, and she could feel against his chest his heartbeat increasing. ‘’Um…’’ he started awkwardly and stopped, swallowing hard. ‘’That’s... the Venturi charm... I guess?’’ he stumbled over his words. He was adorable.

 

‘’Shut up, Derek,’’ she snapped softly.

 

‘’Yeah, okay.’’

 

Finally wrapping her in his arms, he kissed the top of her head and stayed quiet. The soft whistle of the breeze coming from the window above eventually lulled them to sleep.