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I swear I didn't mean to eavesdrop. I mean, yeah, I saw Casey and Emily talking in the booth closest to us when we sat down, but it's not like I was the one who chose to sit at the counter.  Ever since Ralph got his bartending licence, he's been insisting on sitting at the bar. . . even when there's no alcohol being served. Thing is. . . I would have sworn that Em saw the two of us sit down, but she kept getting louder and louder like she wanted us to hear. And trust me, this was not a conversation that was meant to be overheard. I tried my best to ignore them, but Emily made that really impossible.

"Seriously, give me one good reason why you aren't together?" she said so loudly, I think they could hear her in Hamilton.

"Emily, this. . . It's too weird for me!" Casey objected, more than a little freaked out. For once, we were in total agreement.


"Well," Casey said, as delicately as she could. "You and Derek used to date for one thing."

"Oh, please. For, like, a minute. It barely counts. I think we both just wanted to have a date for graduation. It wasn't even a relationship. It's was. . . convenient!"

"So maybe this was the same thing," Casey countered. She was barely keeping it together, but I'm not sure Emily noticed. And I totally gave up pretending I wasn't listening.

"Don't even try to give me that! He's miserable. YOU'RE miserable. You know what would fix that?!"

"Emily! PLEASE!" And Casey just crumpled. I nearly hopped up from my seat, but what could I do?

"Oh, Casey, sorry. I didn't mean to make you upset." She sounded sincere, but you never can tell with Emily.

"I know. It's just. . . I'm still not comfortable with what happened, " Casey sighed.

"What did happen? One moment it looks like you and Derek might actually be on to something. And then... BAM! It's over! And I was still waiting for it start! I just want to know what went wrong." Yeah, you and me both, Emily. Maybe Casey will actually tell you.

"Mom found out, Em. That's what went wrong." Shit. I didn't know that.

"She didn't take it so well?"

"She took it the complete and opposite of well. Totally freaked."

"But why?" I have to admit I forgave Emily for everything in that moment because she sounded so perplexed. "I mean, Derek's Derek, but she knows he's a good guy deep down."

"Emily, I'm 19 and want to date my stepbrother. The law of averages say that we're in for some really uncomfortable family get-togethers after it all goes to hell."

"I think you two could handle it. And maybe you wouldn't break up at all."

"Yeah, I think that from where Mom was coming from that would have been worse. Then, I'd be 19 and wanting to throw my life away on my first serious, adult relationship."

"What did Derek say?" Emily asked and then narrowed her eyes when Casey didn't answer. "Case, you didn't just freeze Derek out without a word."

"What was I supposed to tell him? 'Hey, Derek, I really, really like you, but for the sake of my mom's peace of mind, do you think we can hold off actually hooking up until I can prove that I can stand on my own two feet as a productive member of society? I know that would normally take five or six years, at least. But, hey! You know me! Super Keener Extraordinaire! You'll probably only have to wait three or four.' Is that what I'm supposed to say?"

"Yes, that's exactly what you should say." It took me a second to realize that it wasn't Emily's voice that spoken. It was mine. (And that I had left my seat to stand right next to her too. I'm not sure when that happened.) Casey spun around in her seat to stare up at me and the look on her face. . . Oh, well. I didn't really need that last shred of pride, I guess. So I keep talking. "It's not like I was planning on doing much of anything for the next five years other than pining after you. I mean, after six you're on your own. You can't expect the ladies of the world to wait forever. It's not fair. But until then, I'm all yours."

"Der-rek!" Casey whined. Music to my ears. She smacked my shoulder when I smirked at her, but then she yanked me down into the booth next to her and wrapped her arms around me.

"Seriously, Case. You kind of ruined me for anyone else," I admitted. "I'm yours whether you want me or not. So, just accept you're stuck with me, okay?" Ralph (and Sam after Ralph tells him) will probably give me grief about being such a sap tomorrow, but I couldn't care less right now. I got my girlfriend back. Speaking of Ralph. . .

"Wow, Emily! That happened just like you said it would!"

"Shhh! Not so loud, Ralph!"

So this was a plot, huh? Remind me to thank them after I kick both their asses.