“Casey, open up.” Derek yelled through the thin dorm door. His voice betrayed irritation that he was having to go and check on her because the family was worried. Truth be told a literal thrill went through him at finally having an excuse to go and visit her (and therefore begin a ritual of pranks that would have them seeing each other on a regular basis). Honestly, though, isn’t she supposed to be the responsible one?
He continued the banging on the door even after he heard (finally) movement on the other side of the door.
Eventually the door swung away from his fist to reveal Casey standing in a dark dorm room. The blinds were closed and curtains pulled and all the lights were off. Casey stood in boy shorts and an oversized Queens sweater squinting out at Derek, facing the bright afternoon sun and looking like she’d just been woken up. “Derek?” Her expression twisted from surprise, confusion, and sleep as she ran her fingers through her bed head.
“Uh…” He replied, completely thrown. It was strange enough for Casey to be asleep in the middle of the day, even on a weekend, but what really took him by surprise was the purple bruise on her left cheek and the fading, obviously older, yellowed bruise over her eye.
“Derek?” She repeated, confusion fading. She sounded more awake now. As her brain caught up with the awake state her body was in, her face paled and her mouth made a little ‘o,’ the expression of horror on her face obvious as she realized what he would be seeing. Derek racked his mind for memories of the last few times they had seen each other. They’d passed one another in the quad or dining hall here and there, but always at a distance and he supposed she probably was using make-up but… how had he not noticed? And now that he was up close he realized there was more he should have noticed. There was the lack of spark in her eyes the usual fire dull and fizzling, and the way her skin sagged on her cheeks like she was losing weight she didn’t have to spare.
“I never thought I’d see the great Derek Venturi speechless,” she snapped, “Maybe I should mark the occasion on my calendar.” It sounded like the usual verbal spar but it lacked the force and passion behind their usual exchange. It was like she was reading the right lines from her script, but she delivered them without enthusiasm. Casey sighed, “Well, come on then.” She sounded tired as she turned leaving the door open for Derek to come inside. He shut the door behind him, closed in darkness for the moment.
A moment later the brunette turned on her desk lamp, but offered no other light. “Casey, what—“ she cut him off before he could finish, holding her hand up in a ‘stop’ gesture.
“This,” and she gestured to the whole of her face with a finger, “is not why you came. So,” she took a seat upon the futon and—gingerly, he noticed—tucked her legs beneath her, “What’s up?”
“Nora says she hasn’t heard from you in over a month. She’s worried and said it’s unlike you.” He rolled his eyes, keeping his tone light and exasperated like it was a pain having to do his familial (the word made him cringe) duty. Derek perched on the edge of her neatly organized desk, watching as she winced at her mother’s name.
“And you were asked to take time out of your busy schedule to check on the step-sister you haven’t spoken to all semester?” She sounded tired and pained and still he couldn’t help but notice how she, like him, made sure to include the word ‘step’. It was a little thing, but for some reason it always made him feel good inside.
He started to protest and argue that it went both way, shaking his head but Derek remembered the missed calls he forgot to return and the times she’d started toward him only to turn heel when someone (usually some girl from a class) demanded his attention.
She held up the hand again. “I know I sound bitter, but I’m not mad… not a whole lot, anyway. I expected it; that’s the way you wanted it when we came here.” She shrugged one shoulder and winced again. The back of his mind noticed how she pointed out that it was how he’d wanted it and not how they’d both wanted it. The front of his mind was focused on the fact that she was in obvious pain.
“Casey…” She shook her head, cutting him off once more.
“Really, I’m not mad.”
It was his turn to shake his head as he moved to sit beside her. Before she had a chance to protest, he grabbed her chin in his hand gently, but firmly, to tilt her head to him so he could examine the bruises.
Their faces were inches apart and he heard her breath catch making his questions freeze in his throat. They were both still as neither of them dared to move. “Case…” his voice came out in a hoarse whisper and she tilted her head, questioningly. The knock on the door broke the spell and they put the normal amount of physical space between them.
“Yo!” A male voice shouted through the door. Derek watched as Casey’s eyes widened and she sprung up from the futon, dragging Derek by his shirt. Before he realized what was happening she’d already shoved him in the small walk in closet, hissing a demand for him to be quiet. The knocking came again, more insistent.
Derek listened as he heard the door open cutting off the sound mid-knock. “Were you sleeping?” the voice accused and he heard Casey make a small un-Casey like noise in reply. There was the familiar sound of a body landing heavily on the cheap dorm bed as someone--he was assuming the male, Casey being too delicate and obviously in too much pain—tossed themselves onto it.
It finally dawned on Derek to wonder why he was hiding in Casey’s closet when some guy had shown up at her door… but she’d sounded so desperate and recalling the way her eyes had widened in fear so for once he didn’t want to deny her request.
There was some more quiet mumbled and then, rather harshly, “How long will it take you to cover all that up?” There was no concern, just irritation. Another mumbled sound replied to the question and this was followed by a loud huff of annoyance. “Fine, I’ll be back in an hour. Be ready when I get here.” More mumbled, more shuffling, and then the door slammed shut. It was another minute before Casey came and allowed Derek to exit the closet.
All the lights in the room were on now and Casey’s whole body was shaking. “I’ll call my mom tonight. Look, it’s a lot to ask but can you just say in my dorm until after I leave in a bit?”
The question Derek had been meaning to ask stopped on the tip of his tongue, “What?” Casey sighed and moved past him into the closet, fishing through her clothes.
“Stay here. After I leave, wait about five minutes then you can go.”
“Are you… hiding me from your boyfriend?” His confusion was evident and he watched as Casey flushed pink, whirling around to face him.
“Look, I panicked when I shoved you in the closet because the lights were off and we were alone…” she trailed off for a second, something else going through her mind before she continued, “At this point it would just look weird if he saw you leaving when he was just here and no one was in here. I’ll introduce you another time, okay? Please, Derek, can you just… please?” her eyes begged for his cooperation and her broken tone… it was so unlike Casey to ask anything of him, especially in such a manner.
“Okay.” He acquiesced. There was no victory in her sigh of relief, nothing to indicate that she’d won by manipulating him into doing what she wanted. It was all just pure relief. The closet door closed, this time Casey the one on the inside, presumably changing clothes. He leaned on the door jam, calling through, “So, is he watching your dorm?” He had to force the ridiculous question out.
“He might be.” She replied, like it was the most natural thing in the world for her boyfriend to be standing outside her dorm waiting to see if she was hiding anything. Where had the Casey he’d known gone? When she next opened the door she was wearing a pair of dark, tight jeans and a long sleeved V-neck. She moved to the bathroom and Derek followed as she took out a bag with make-up, turning her face from the bruised image now ingrained in his brain. It amazed him a little, actually, the powers the cosmetics had.
Slowly she started to relax and finally Derek was able to ask the question, “Case, does he hit you?”
She’d been prepared for the question, he could tell. If he hadn’t been such a skilled liar and if he wasn’t so attuned to the woman before him he might have missed the tells; he might have missed the lie. There was the slight freeze of her hand that was applying lip gloss. There was the small downturn of her lips. And there was the slight flick of her eyes to the left as she answered.
Still, she made him proud and put on a good show. Snorting out a laugh, Casey rolled her eyes. “You know how clumsy I am.” She retorted before focusing on carefully applying the lip gloss and her lips together. She was leaving him to draw his own conclusions about what had happened without actually telling an outright lie.
Letting out a chuck and his own snort, “Yeah, I figured as much.” He shrugged one shoulder, “Had to check though,” pause, “Yanno, for Nora’s sake.” Affecting his careless attitude about what happens to her. Their eyes met in the mirror and he could see her relief that he didn’t seem to be pushing the subject.
The next time they saw each other was the following weekend in the bar of a restaurant. He was there, by chance, with a few team mates. He had a distinct feeling that had she known he would show up, she wouldn’t have been there. It wasn’t for lack of trying that it was a week from the day he’d hidden in her closet that he finally saw her again.
When he saw the familiar wave of hair he excused himself from his teammates as they got their table. Sneaking up behind her he poked her gently in the ribs. She jumped, as he’d known she would, and whirled to face him and hiding a wince of pain. Her ribs, too? He’d suspected, but… “Derek.” There was his name, familiarly broken in half. It drew his trademark smirk that only grew when he realized she didn’t look entirely displeased to see him. Perhaps she hadn’t been avoiding him after all.
“Spacey.” He greeted, lazily. A hand wrapped around Casey’s waist and he looked up from the hand to the male that had sidled up beside the thin brunette. The male was staring at him with well disguised hostility to which Derek returned the expression with a raised brow.
“Problem?” The stranger asked of Casey, not looking away from Derek who had noticed the way his grip tightened on Casey. His own eyes moved from the stranger to look at those pretty blue eyes, watching the fear register in her face.
She interrupted before he could say anything, “Greg, this is Derek.” Derek watched as understanding lit Greg’s blue eyes a similar shade to Casey’s. Not that he was so familiar with the exact shade of blue her eyes were (he’s as familiar as he could be without crossing anymore boundaries as his pranking and their bickering already did). He could practically read his mind as Greg relaxed: This was family (the word making him cringe internally). He was not a threat.
“The brother, right?” He clarified. His demeanor changed from the jealous boyfriend, to the boyfriend who wanted to charm the family into approving of him. Derek was more than familiar with the smile having used it a few times on his own.
“Step,” he and Casey corrected in unison.
“Derek, this is my boyfriend, Greg.” She continued with the introductions, sounding perfectly bubbly and happy. He didn’t miss the tightness around her eyes, however, and the wariness betrayed by the stiffness of her posture.
“I’ve heard a lot about you.” Greg grinned, seeming perfectly at ease now.
“Nothing good, I hope.” Derek grinned back, seeming just as genial. His stomach turned as Greg laughed. As much as he hated being nice to the bastard, he didn’t want to risk putting Casey in any physical harm by angering the guy.
The next time he saw her, it was once again at Nora’s bequest. “Can you please,” she was sounding exasperated, “just go check on her?” Nora pleaded.
“I just checked a week and a half ago.” Derek whined, not because he actually had any objection but because it was expected of him. And really, did Nora really expect Casey to call her every week? Nora, however, grew stern.
“I know you two don’t always get along, but I didn’t think you’d be cruel enough not to try and help her when she’s got a broken arm.” Derek made a rough choking sound sending him into a coughing fit. “Derek? Derek, are you alright?” Part of his mind recognized the concern and was actually really grateful for it.
“Yeah, yeah. I’m okay. Swallowed wrong. She broke her arm?” Nora made a sound that sounded like confirmation.
“You didn’t know?” She didn’t sound as angry with him now. His only response was a snort as he began the hunt for his shoes. “She tripped on the steps of her dorm building,” Nora explained sounding sympathetic. Derek froze, no longer listening.
Casey’s dorm was on the bottom floor. There were no stairs to her room. He could hit himself for leaving her in the hands of this guy since he’d found out about him. Images of her face filled his mind flooding him with his memory of the last few times he’d seen her.
Casey shoving him into her closet, eyes wide with fear.
A possessive hand on her waist.
The way Casey winced with every little movement.
The way she shook after her boyfriend had visited.
How thin Casey had become coupled with the lack of spark in her eyes.
It played in his head like a movie reel on fast forward, his free hand clenching into a fist. “I’ll check on her.” He muttered to Nora, cutting off whatever she’d been in the middle of saying and ending the call.
Once again he was pounding on Casey’s door. “Case!” He hollered, trying to check his anger. After all, it wasn’t she that he was angry with… even if she’d kept her broken arm to herself.
“Derek?” This time her confused voice came from behind him, although it also sounded a little amused; at his expense, naturally. He whirled around fist still half raised from knocking. Casey stood behind him, her backpack slung over one shoulder. Her good shoulder. She flinched away from him and he realized that it had become an instinct with her.
His anger evaporated in that moment and his face softened immediately. He lowered his arm, eyes focusing on the cast that covered her left arm.
“Derek?” She prompted again. The scene was so familiar to his first visit. One perfectly plucked brow rose up at him before she gestured at toward the door. Instead of moving out of the way Derek held out his hand, palm upturned. With a sigh she dropped her keys into his hand and he let them in.
Once inside, Derek watched as she went through her usual routine of coming home. Finally, she whirled around placing her hands on her hips. “Why are you just staring at me like that?” Her irritation was only mild, like she didn’t quite have the energy for her usual amount of frustration usually reserved for all things Derek.
“What happened to your wrist?” He asked, instead.
“I tripped on the stairs.” Her story practiced and precise; he’d taught her well.
His brows furrowed in concern that he didn’t normally let show, “Where?”
She blinked. The story she told Nora obviously wouldn’t work with him but she had no way of knowing if Nora had already told him her version of events. “Outside the dining hall, you know how slippery it gets over there.” Which was true, it often did get pretty slippery but they were also pretty good at salting it when it was wet or icy.
Derek nodded in agreement, “So why did you tell Nora it was the stairs at your dorm?” And before he’d even finished the question, he could see her brain working up an excuse.
“I was high on pain killers. I was saying a lot, all of it getting mixed up. Beside, I didn’t think it wise to give George the idea that there was a lawsuit happening. It was my fault.” There was the truth in the lies. Casey believed it was her fault that her arm was broken. Derek simply raised a brow at her, mimicking her earlier expression and she tossed her hands in the air. “What do you want, Derek? I hardly remember the conversation we had.” The brow stayed up. Casey huffed in irritation.
“Leave him.” Derek said without thinking, as he so often does when around Casey. His voice was soft, his tone pleading. Casey, instead of softening at the sincerity in his voice, stiffened with added tension. “Casey,” he started.
“Why,” She cut him off, the edge in her voice evidence, “Would I do that? I love him.” He recognized her steely gaze and her argumentative stance as she prepared to defend her love. Still, even that was a weak echo of her usual anger with him.
Instead of answering, Derek grabbed his step-sister (the step, ever important to remember even in these circumstances) by the good arm and dragged her into the bathroom with Casey protesting the short distance.
“Derek.” His name broken in half the way that tugs at his heart (as well as his lower half, if he’s being honest with himself… which he hardly ever is).
He turned the brunette toward the expansive mirror meant to be shared with a roommate. Without speaking he indicated the broken arm, the unusual amount of make-up layered onto her face, the way her ribs could be seen even against her shirt, the sallow appearance of her cheeks. He started to lift her shirt (a long time dream of his, since he’s being honest) to expose what he’d already suspected: more bruising along her ribcage and even on her stomach.
Casey tore herself away from him. “Get out.” She hissed. Her tone was cold and empty. “Get out!” she snarled tugging her shirt roughly down to cover her abdomen. He could see the tears brimming in her eyes; he caught the flash of anger and sadness in those watery blues as she was forced to confront a Casey she didn’t recognize. He was so intensely attuned to Casey and each of her expressions, each look her eyes expressed. This wasn’t a look he liked seeing on her. It was too close to being broken.
He hadn’t moved and she started shoving at him trying to get him toward the door. Instead of moving—no way she could make him budge if he didn’t want to be moved—he gathered Casey in his arms in an uncharacteristic display of affection as he just held her. The idea was something he vaguely recalled from his intro to psych class (yes, he actually paid attention… to the notes that he was copying down from someone else).
Normally this was not a course of action he would dare to take, but this was too serious too… too something he wasn’t even sure how to describe. It’s not that it was deep it was just… heavy. No, she needed this and he didn’t have it in him to pretend he cared about nothing and was frightened by tears. This he wanted to give her. This he could give her.
At first she resisted the hug, trying to shove off of him. Then she became limp and unresisting. Derek realized, with a pang in his chest, that this might be a common reaction for her; to simply go limp and passive until the unpleasantness was over. He hoped, with everything that he had, that this wasn’t the case. He almost let her go, just so he wouldn’t be another person forcing unwanted attention on her.
But then she leaned into him and he held her gently as if she might break in his arms. She began to shake and he knew she was crying.
This was never how he’d imagined holding her for the first time. It certainly wasn’t how he wanted his first (maybe only) time holding her to be, but he held on because she needed it and he wasn’t entirely as selfish as he led everyone to believe.
She was sobbing and now that she started it didn’t seem like she’d ever be able to stop. It sounded like she couldn’t get enough air in to release the next sob and he supposed this must be what hyperventilating sounded like; true, broken sobs. It was ugly crying, even if he couldn’t see her. Her sobs were only interrupted by attempts to catch her breath her uneven cries echoing in the tiled room.
It was the sound of a broken woman. His brave, fierce, independent, clever, strong Casey had been broken.
Derek tried soothing as best he knew how thanking Marti for the practice that comes with having a younger sister. He wasn’t sure how much time passed before her sobs started to slow and her breathing became more even. When it seemed like she was settling he let go of her with one arm and reached to the side of them into her shower, turning on the water and feeling it until it was warm. When it felt ready, he released Casey. “I’ll wait in there.” He indicated the direction of her room and she nodded. She looked so exhausted and he could feel his heart breaking for her.
While Casey showered, Derek thought about what had happened. It was the first time that he could recall not running from tears that didn’t belong to Marti. Then again, when it came to Casey the usual rules are never used. When she’d finished she disappeared into her closet before finally emerging into the bedroom. Her hair was wet hanging around her face, although it hung straight having just been brushed and dressed for bed.
Neither of them said anything about what had happened. Instead Casey asked if they could sit with the light off and he obliged. He wanted the darkness as much as she did, the yellowing bruises on her face just fed his anger.
They talked. She told him about her classes and he talked about hockey. She shared the contents of e-mails from Emily and he told her about a dumb stunt he’d witnessed at a party their first month at Queens. Eventually she grew silent and so did he. Then she was asleep and he lay on his back on her futon staring up into the dark. This night they had not been Derek and Casey, but just two people. It gave him a sense of what they might have been like if they’d met under different circumstances. They would challenge each other but they would also get along and just be able to talk. He would be there for her and her for him and they could be together. It made him realize just how good they could be together.
He fell asleep with those thoughts on his mind.
The next morning when he woke Casey was already gone. It was early in the morning and she must have gotten up even earlier just to get ready to leave her dorm looking presentable. Groggily Derek stumbled to his own dorm. Was it always this bright this early in the morning? It didn’t seem natural. He was halfway there when his stomach grumbled. Well, there was no way he’d be able to go back to sleep now. Deliberating for a moment he decided it was probably better to get dressed before appearing in the dining hall. He was serving his plate when he heard a familiar laugh. It was Casey’s fake laugh, the forced sound she made when pretending to be amused usually reserved for crushes and boyfriends she didn’t really want to be with but thought she did. Bleary brown eyes searched the mostly empty room until he saw the back of her brunette hair neatly pulled back.
Sitting across her was some guy he didn’t recognize and next to her was Greg, judging by the way his arm was wrapped around her waist. Once his plate was full Derek stomped over to the table, dropping into the empty seat next to the strange guy. All three of them looked up at him in surprise as he started shoveling food in his mouth.
“Derek, you’re up early.” Along with the question in voice he caught the false cheerfulness.
“Hungry.” He grumbled as an answer. Brown eyes flicked from Casey to
Greg Shit for Brains. Greg’s grip on his fork tightened to a little Derek noticed, but he smiled in Derek’s direction. He received a grunt for his efforts.
“Derek isn’t exactly a morning person,” she explained of her step-brother. The understatement of the year, he thought as he glowered at her. His glare had nothing to do with the early hour, either.
The tension was palpable, in his opinion, as his sudden presence sent the trio into silence interrupting their previous laughter. He was starting to feel like the interloper he was sure they perceived him to be. Except, he’s known Casey longer and he treated her with… a semblance of respect; he certainly didn’t beat her and would never dream of doing so. Sure, he pranked her but it was never out of malice, not anymore at least. At any rate, she was his and did not belong to these two jerks and he had the sudden urge to remind them of that fact, “I’m going to see the parents this weekend.” Brown eyes caught blue, “I suppose you can come with, if you wanted, since your mom would probably kill me if I didn’t at least offer.” He shrugged one shoulder before shoveling a mouthful of nice hot pancake into his mouth—seriously, was the breakfast always this good because he never managed to get up early enough to make it and when he did it was just the scraps of leftovers—as if couldn’t care less whether or not she came.
Of course, he did care. He cared a whole lot, but he wasn’t about to let her or her boyfriend know this. “Then maybe Nora will stop bugging me to check in on you if she got to see you in person.” Casey’s eyes flicked from him to Greg.
“Do we… have plans this weekend?” She asked tentatively and he knew that really she was asking for permission. Derek wondered if
Greg Shit for Brains could hear the carefully hidden tremor of hope in her voice. He turned to study Greg’s reaction wondering how he would cope with the idea of not being in control of Casey for a weekend. There was obviously some internal struggle before he was able to come to a decision. Probably a choice between keeping Casey close by or endearing himself to Casey’s family so that they like him but having to let Casey be out from under his thumb for a few days. He could tell, too, that the idea of not having Derek around anymore was appealing. He knew that it was common for those were abusive to isolate their partners from friends and family… He pays attention in class, alright.
Greg finally came to a decision, “No, no plans this weekend. Go, enjoy your family.” Vaguely Derek wondered if perhaps the fact that he agreed to let her go was a bad sign. Did it mean that he was confident in his hold over Casey? Shit for Brains leaned over to kiss Casey’s temple and whisper something in her ear. Derek watched the transformation as the relaxed posture that had appeared at the idea of seeing her family quickly turned back to tension as Greg spoke to her. She planted a fake smile as he did so, playing her role in the show.
“Pick me up Friday when you get out of class. By my dorm,” Casey told him, “I’m done by 12, I’m assuming you have no morning classes?” he shook his head and she nodded. “Good, I’ll be ready when you’re finished. Speaking of class, though, I’d better be going.” She rose, Greg getting up with her. As they made their egress, Derek noted how he carried her dishes along with his own and then her book bag as well. The picture perfect gentleman.
When Derek pulled up to Casey’s dorm that Friday, she was there ready and waiting as he knew she would. Shit for Brains was there too, and for a wild moment Derek was convinced that Greg had insisted on coming along. Then he realized that it was Casey’s bag slung over his shoulder and not his own. When he put the car into park, Greg tossed Casey’s bag into the back seat of the Prince and offered Derek a friendly greeting before shutting the door. He watched as the two embraced and he saw what looked like affection in Greg’s face. Maybe he actually cared for Casey even if he didn’t act like it.
Greg opened the door for Casey and Derek tightened his hands around the steering wheel in anger. This guy was so fake playing the role of the perfect boyfriend and treating Casey like shit when no one was around. Greg even waited until Casey was buckled in before closing the door for her (as if she couldn’t do it on her own) and telling Derek, “Take good care of my girl.” Derek didn’t both with a response.
Casey didn’t speak, just lay her head on the window and ignoring Derek’s attempts to provoke her into speaking to him. Out of the corner of his eye he watched as the tension slowly eased out of her the more they put distance between them and her boyfriend. She was dozing shortly after. He found himself wondering how much sleep she was getting, recalling his interruption of her midday nap.
What else has this guy done to her?
The family was surprised, but pleased to see them. Derek had planned the trip on a whim that morning in the dining hall and had failed to mention their arrival to either his dad or Nora. Which explains why they were greeted with chaos when Derek and Casey walked through the door; he was fairly certain they could be strangers robbing the place and no one would have taken any notice. Lizzie and Edwin were engaged in a heated debate over something he really couldn’t care less about, Nora was trying to calm a crying Simon, George was on the phone with a partner at his firm, and Marti was amusing herself with a notebook and pen.
They had already gone upstairs and deposited their bags in the newly designated guest rooms (Edwin had taken Derek’s room and Lizzie had taken Casey’s, their rooms were converted into the guest bedrooms and one soon to be a nursery) and returned downstairs before they were noticed. It was Lizzie who greeted her sister in surprise, “Casey!” and she hurtled into the older McDonald’s arms. Casey embraced Lizzie tightly and Derek caught sight of the genuine smile on her face that had been missing the last few times he’d seen her. There still was, he noticed, a wince of pain as she was squeezed by the high school female.
Marti was the next to notice and she looked up from her notebook, tossing it aside so that she might run into Derek’s arms. Everyone else soon followed and they were enveloped in hugs and questions about what they were doing there and how happy they all were to see them. Derek pretended he couldn’t stand all the physical love even though they all knew differently. Simon babbled happily in the chaos, at home in the confusion and noise. Casey cried happy tears and, Derek suspected, a little bit from the pain of the spontaneous group hug. “Alright, alright.” He eventually said, attempting to disentangle himself. “I let you all smother me enough.”
The group finally only disentangled when the doorbell rang and Nora announced that the college kids were just in time for dinner. And since it was always smart to order more than enough in this household, there was plenty for the two unexpected guests. There was for sure enough when Casey only grabbed one slice and only took a small nibble out of the slice. “You gonna finish that?” Edwin asked even as he reached across the table to grab the slice of pizza from her place. Of course no one had noticed that it was only her first slice and she’d barely touched it. Derek, however, beat him to the slice talking around his food about how older siblings and guests have priority. If she wasn’t going to eat it... Casey looked disgusted at the food on display in his both, but she said nothing.
In fact, Derek realized a tad belatedly, she hadn’t said a word since the initial greetings no matter how Derek had tried to provoke her. Even then, he wasn’t sure she’d said anything in greeting with all the noise.
It was strange to be sitting in the dining room they had shared all throughout high school, sitting across from Casey and yet not be bickering. He was tempted to throw food at her, honestly, but as the thought crossed his mind Casey was already excusing herself from the table. “That was odd…” Lizzie observed as she stared at the stairs Casey had disappeared up. Edwin nodded in agreement, mouth too full of pizza to make a verbal observation of his own.
“What?” George asked. Next to Derek, Marti sighed.
“Casey didn’t rise to the bait, not once.” Edwin explained when his mouth was finally empty.
“College has probably just matured her.” Nora, too busy fussing over Simon trying to get him to eat, had hardly noticed anything that had occurred at the dinner table. She made this conclusion rather absentmindedly. “She probably doesn’t see the need to rise to the bait anymore.”
This statement, of course, caused Derek to raise his head and announce with great indignation, “I’m always able to bring out Casey’s immature side. I’m great at it, in fact.” Nora was wrong. Casey lived for the challenge between them just like he did, he was sure of it. Well, she used to anyway.
“Derek has a point.”
“Yeah,” agreed Lizzie who looked very doubtful of her mother’s conclusion, “There are a few simple truths in this world: the sky is blue,”
“Earth is round,” Supplied Edwin.
“And Casey and Smerek always argue.” Finished Marti while Lizzie ticked off these ‘truths’ on her fingers. It was so smooth, almost like they’d practiced it. She narrowed her eyes in Derek’s direction, “What did you do?”
“What do you mean what did I do? I didn’t do anything.”
“Because, it’s always you.” The pointed look that punctuated this statement indicated that Lizzie was implying more than the statement warranted; he wasn’t willing to interpret that deeply into it. No way was he going to get his hopes up.
“But you know something.” It was Marti who had noticed the particular inflection on who, specifically, hadn’t done something. Derek, though, didn’t miss a beat and snorted.
“Growing up with me has made you too suspicious, Smarti.” He told her, “What would I know about what’s going on in Spacey’s life. Probably some weird keener thing.” With that he shoved the rest of Casey’s untouched pizza into his mouth and excused himself with a mouthful of cheese and meat.
Lizzie mirrored Casey’s look of disgust perfectly and Derek wasn’t so sure that it had been a conscious imitation.
He supposed he should have told everyone the truth about what was going on with Casey, but for some reason… Well, it wasn’t appropriate to talk about with their younger siblings, for one. It seemed like something he should talk privately about with his dad and Nora. But it wasn’t like they could do anything. Casey was being stubborn about this whole Greg thing and she’d really only him if it was something she decided to do. Nora couldn’t make her, even to protect her, and calling the police wouldn’t do any good if Casey wouldn’t be willing to press charges. At least, that’s what the TV always made it seem like.
No, there was no point in talking to the parental units at this point. It was just embarrass Casey and while normally he loved to do just that he never did it with malicious intent. Not anymore, at least.
Derek doesn’t bother knocking on Casey’s door, barging in like they were back in high school. The woman he sought was curled up on her bed in the fetal position and hugging a pillow to her chest. The lights were off and he hit the switch relieved to find her eyes dry. He was concerned, however, that she didn’t even yell at him for not knocking.
“Tired?” One brow rose. Casey shrugged one shoulder once she had dragged herself into a sitting position back against the wall. “You slept the whole way here.” She wouldn’t meet his eyes as she told him that she hadn’t been sleeping well. Derek flipped the light switch so that she was once more hidden in the darkness. Stepping inside he closed the door behind him and felt his way to her to sit next to her. “Can we talk honestly?” He asked. Yeah, yeah everyone can marvel over how he wanted to be the one to talk and to do so honestly. He was greeted with silence. “Spacey?” His voice was light and teasing.
“Sorry. I was just in shock. Derek Venturi wants to talk? Honestly?” It’s like she could read his mind. Suddenly there was a hand on his cheek and then his forehead. “Are you alright?” The feigned concern and the teasing gave him hope; it hadn’t been completely lacking in humor.
He caught her hand in his, treasuring that touch for a second before he moved it to her lap. “Don’t tell anyone, you’ll ruin my rep.” He heard her sigh.
“I’ll make a deal with you. I won’t ruin your rep if you keep whatever is said in this room tonight stays here; we never talk about it again.”
Casey hesitated, “… Yes.” He doubted if her relationship with Greg continued on the path it was on, that he wouldn’t bring this up again. But if he could make the promise and get some answers… maybe he could change her course.
“Vegas rules.” He agreed. They sat in almost companionable silence while he thought about where he wanted to start. “How long have you and Greg been together?”
Her tone betrayed relief and surprise, “Almost three months now.”
“How did you meet?”
“A mixer.” He felt her shift beside him and realized she was shrugging again. “It was some event at the beginning of the semester where everyone got to wander booths to learn about all the different clubs that were offered, sororities, fraternities, etc. Greg is part of a couple of different groups and he was out working some. We talked, we flirted. I figured he was just trying to get me to sign up for something but when I ran into him a few days later, he asked me out.”
It couldn’t have all been bad, then, right? Casey wouldn’t have started anything if it had begun nicely and Derek saw how Greg could act the perfect gentleman. “How long were things… good between you?”
Her hesitation was longer, “About a month.” She paused and Derek was about to ask something else when she continued. It was word vomit in every sense; it was like she needed to expel the ugly story from her system and it seemed just as draining on her as if she was bent over a toilet. “We saw each other every day, almost, from that first date. He was sweet, a gentleman. He asked before he kissed me the first time, he held my hand, made me laugh and feel beautiful. Then…” she trailed off and Derek waited, uncharacteristically patient. He sensed he would lose this moment of honesty if he pushed too hard and he could tell she was forming her words carefully. “I don’t party much, you know this. I’ve been to fa few parties here and there, of course, had a few drinks. I’m just not a fan of the crowded houses, everyone sweaty and squirming between groups of people just to get to another part of the room… Greg never minded when I didn’t feel like dealing with it and didn’t want to go just as I never minded that sometimes he wanted to go even if I didn’t. I understand it’s important to have some time apart, to enjoy things separate of the person you’re seeing… he came to my room after a party one night…” She trailed off again and then completely switched gears, “I had a roommate originally, did you know?”
Derek blinked in surprise at the sudden change of subject, but still he answered, “No.” He’d just assumed she’d always had her room to herself, the two twin beds pushed together to make one large bed. It was probably his own fault, having never visited her.
“Yeah, she left before classes began. Her mom got sick or something and she had to leave.” They sat in silence together. She was thinking her own thoughts and he was trying to make the connection between her lack of roommate and her story. He sincerely hoped that Casey wasn’t about to tell the story he thought was coming.
In a way, he was wrong about the direction of her tale. He was also very, very wrong.
“It wasn’t a big deal that he came by after a party at two in the morning. He sometimes did, saying he wanted a good night kiss.” Derek could hear the smile in her voice and his fists clenched. Sure there had been good parts, but she shouldn’t still think of him so fondly…
She was interrupted from continuing by a knock on the bedroom door. “Casey?” Lizzie’s worried voice came from the other side.
“I’m lying down with a migraine,” Casey called back, lying smoothly. The waiver in her voice was barely detectable.
“Oh.” The younger girl sounded disappointed, “Well, maybe if you’re feeling better in a bit… join us for a movie?” She sounded hopeful and Derek knew Casey wouldn’t disappoint.
“Of course.” There was so much love for her sister in those two words and Derek couldn’t fathom how someone could ever raise a hand toward someone so genuinely kind and trusting. Lizzie gave her thanks and promised to check on Casey later. The two sat in silence even after there were no more footsteps in the hallway. Derek finally had to prompt her into speaking with her name gently spoken. After that the word vomit was back and he could tell she wanted to get this part over with.
“He… he brought a friend over with him. Greg said that his room was too far and he wanted to spend the night, his friend could crash on the futon; it was suggested as if it were his room to offer, but they were both so drunk so I just relented figuring they would pass out fairly quickly and Greg and I could discuss it the next day. I barely knew him and had only met the friend once so I was really unsure but… they were just so hammered.”
He listened as Casey’s voice hardened. He was familiar with that tone; she’d used it with him when he’d crossed an invisible line with a prank and she was really truly mad at him and not just irritated. It wasn’t until after the story was over that he realized her voice had hardened looking for strength to tell this part of what happened next.
“Greg wanted to do more than sleep, though, as I let them both in. I wasn’t ready. It took months before me and Truman…” Derek saw red when he realized Truman had been her first but it quickly cooled, “And even then I hadn’t been ready and it never actually happened. But Greg, he hadn’t cared that I wasn’t ready. He didn’t care that his friend was awake and watching. He didn’t care that I said no and I continued to say no. He forced himself… He laughed when I cried and so did his friend. Then he thought it would be fun if his friend joined in; he thought it would be amusing if they shared and took turns. That was his word for it: Amusing… I won’t go into further detail, I’m sure you get the idea. I was beyond used and abused that night and when they had both been spent, they fell asleep on my bed leaving me in between them.”
The red haze had flared up suddenly in Derek’s vision and he wished Greg were in front of him now, he was ready to strangle the bastard. He would have killed him, he was quite sure. “His friend left in the morning. Greg stayed behind and I missed class. I cried and so did he, apologizing for everything. He begged my forgiveness made promises that it would never happen again. It was the alcohol, he wasn’t like that. I asked him to make his friend delete the video that he’d taken and he just sort of froze. ‘I love you, Casey.’ He said, ‘I don’t want you leaving me. I need you.’ I told him it was unforgiveable what he’d done.” Next to him, Casey had begun to tremble and Derek ached from forcing himself not to reach out and hold her.
“Of course, he didn’t see it that way.” Casey said wryly, “He pinned me down… I want tell you the threats he made or the way he repeated many of the previous night’s events… he altered between anger and pleading me not to leave him. I stayed, obviously but everything was different after that. He was controlling, abusive, demanding, possessive, and jealous except for when it delighted him to share me with his friend.” She sounded bitter and decidedly un-Casey like. “I learned quickly that it was just easier to give into what he wanted and it hurts less than trying to fight them off. It makes Greg happy, me doing what he likes and wants and I want him happy because he really can be so sweet…”
“Case…” His voice broke and the amount of emotion in Derek’s voice surprised even him. “Why didn’t you call me? I would have helped you, I wouldn’t have let it get this far.” They’d always had this unspoken agreement that despite their bickering they actually did care what happened to the other and they would be there for one another. He’d done that with Scott and been there when her dinner with her dad was ruined, called Nora when he knew Casey would need her and Casey had always done the same for him. Hadn’t she known that he would have helped her in this?
Casey, however, was silent.
With horror Derek thought back to the missed calls and Casey not coming to talk to him when someone else appeared beside him or when she realized he was walking with someone. He’d never been alone those times when Casey tried to approach him and eventually she just stopped trying. It had never stopped her before that he was talking to someone else; when she wanted to talk to him she went right up to him. He could remember her face, now, all those times she’d started to approach then turned and walked away. It suddenly felt like a knife had been stabbed into his stomach and twisted around. “You did try.” He realized, hoarsely Casey remained silent.
He could have saved her months of harm. He should have been there to protect her. Let me protect you now, he wanted to say. Leave him, he wanted to beg. Of course, though, he didn’t.
“It isn’t your fault, Derek.” She told him, coolly. “Beside, it’s calmed some.” She was defending Greg. “Once he realized I wasn’t intending on leaving him, Greg relaxed. Now he only acts out if I make him mad.” ‘Acts out’ like he’s a child—it was unbelievable.
In the darkness, Derek reached across and felt for the cast covered arm and lifted it, “That was my fault.” She explained snatching her arm back. There was something in her tone that told Derek she was done answering questions about her relationship; their time for honesty had come to an end.
That didn’t stop him from demanding answers, “How so?” she was saved from having to answer, however, by a soft knock on the bedroom door.
“I’m coming!” She responded quickly, scrambling off the bed. Just like that she was gone and Derek was the one left sitting alone in the dark.
The rest of the weekend passed uneventfully for the most part. Derek tried to corner Casey alone and she avoided him despite the fact that they were staying in the same house. When they did happen to be in the same room together, she made sure that they were never alone. Lizzie and Edwin both tried getting answers from their respective siblings and failed in doing so. They continued to fail in their mission even when they swapped targets.
Nora, too, tried not even realizing that her two high school students were attempting the same thing. Rather, it was her own mother’s intuition that caused her to seek out Casey and Derek individually. At least, that’s what she told him during their one-on-one but he believed it to be true. As hard as Casey tried to act normal, everyone could tell that there was something wrong.
His step-mother corned him late Saturday evening just as he’d finished putting together a Derek Supreme Sandwich—a fine mixture of most things he could find in the kitchen. He was in the middle of the first bite, the best part. He was vulnerable when she ambushed him so he can’t be held at fault for not being able to evade her.
“Derek?” he mumbled something that sounded like it might be an acknowledgement of her presence. She took it as permission to continue, “I’m worried about Casey, she just doesn’t seem like herself.” He froze in his chewing for a split second before he managed to start backing up, sandwich plate in hand.
“What are you telling me for?” He grumbled, not caring that his mouth was still full of an odd mixture of leftovers and bread.
“You see her more than I do.”
“I’ve hardly seen her all semester except for when you called me to check on her. I don’t know anything more than you do.” It wasn’t often he felt guilt, but lying to Nora about what was going on with Casey was already starting to eat at Derek’s conscience. He stared longingly at his sandwich concoction and, hoping it would end the conversation sooner, he turned his focus from the sandwich to Nora. “You’re probably right, about what you said last night. She’s mellowed out, no more neurosis.” He shrugged carelessly.
“It’s more,” She insisted, “She’s been sleeping so much, she’s hardly eating. All of her smiles this weekend have been pained or false or both. I’m worried that she’s depressed; this isn’t normal Casey behavior.”
“Well, shouldn’t you be talking to her about this, then?”
“I tried. She says she’s fine, but Derek she won’t leave her room unless she’s caked on make-up. Each day it’s more at one time than I’ve ever seen her wear combined in her lifetime.” Derek had to hand it to Nora. Even with a baby and the craziness that is the McDonald-Venturi household, she still hadn’t managed to miss that something was going on with Casey.
“I don’t know what to tell you.” Which was true, “Maybe college has changed her.” Which was also true and as close to the truth as Derek was willing to get.
“Mother’s intuition, Derek, is never wrong. I know there’s something that is happening with my daughter and I know you know more than you’re letting on.” She sighed and eyed him carefully, “Just promise me you will keep an eye out for her?”
Derek, sensing an end to the conversation, nodded with more enthusiasm than he felt. “Yeah, sure.” Then he and his sandwich escaped out of there. There was a part of him that felt he ought to have told Nora what was going on but how was he supposed to keep an eye on Casey and her boyfriend if Casey was mad at him for revealing her secrets. Because he was fairly certain that if Nora did know, it wouldn’t change Casey’s choices now.
Nora watched her daughter closely up until the time they left the following afternoon. Derek watched them both and Casey, aware that her mom had noticed something, upped her game and managed to avoid both her mom and Derek. He was actually rather impressed. She also tried harder, engaged more, likely so that her mom wouldn’t worry. He could see, though, that the effort to just try and appear normal was exhausting her and it chipped away at Derek’s heart just seeing her try so hard to pretend to be happy.
Before they left, Nora made him promise again that he would look out for Casey. A promise he made with complete sincerity.
This time Casey remained awake for the drive back to Queen’s. Derek, with a new strategy in mind, avoided any topic relating to Greg. He teased, they bickered, and they fought over the radio dial. The close they came to being on campus, though, the more the tension eased back into Casey’s shoulders. It was the reverse of when he’d watched her as they left school Friday afternoon.
In fact, they could have been on rewind, if not for the fact that the car was moving forward, because waiting for them right where Derek had left him, was Greg, waiting. When Shit for Brains had opened Casey’s car door, Derek leaned over to peer up at the Boyfriend from Hell. “Stay here all weekend, Greg?” Casey squeezed out from between them and grabbed her bag from the backseat.
Greg just laughed, “No, but when Casey text me that she was a few minutes away I was excited to see her, so I thought I would surprise her.” He leaned over and kissed Casey’s temple, Derek’s hands tightening on the steering wheel. This boy didn’t deserve to put his lips on Casey. “Your sister is something else, isn’t she?” He asked, admiringly. The object of his affection beamed up at him for the praise.
“Yeah, something.” Derek agreed, “Maybe an alien species?” He was pleased that Casey’s attention went from Greg to him as she threw him a withering glare. There was even a bit of fire behind it. She pulled another face at Derek when Greg—who seemed amused and delighted with this ‘sibling’ rivalry—transferred Casey’s bag to his own shoulder.
“Bye, Derek.” Greg started, but the prince was being put in park and Derek had climbed out to lean against the hood.
“Greg.” The older male stopped, “Casey tells me you have been dating almost three months now?”
Derek sighed, “I’m supposed to do my brotherly,” gag “Duty and try to scare you since there’s no father figure nearby, blah, blah.” He rolled his eyes as if this was just some big inconvenience. “But if you want to date Weirdo Klutzilla Casey, then whatever man. We can just skip the brother act and you should come to a hockey party sometime.” He very pointedly ignored Casey’s suspicious glance.
Greg grinned over at him, “Sure, sounds great.” And oh, Derek could promise that it would be great, just not so much for Greg. When the pair had turned away, Derek smirked and got back into his car.
Derek had a plan.
It wasn’t hard to persuade a few hockey members to throw a party at their shared house. In fact, they had won their next away game so there was even a reason for it. Derek made sure to extend an invitation to Greg, specifically who happily agreed to come.
When Greg arrived the party was in full swing: most of the attendants were drunk or well on their way to being inebriated. Derek had been watching for him so saw him the moment he walked through the door. Leaning over, he whispered to the nearest teammate and murmured the rumors he’d heard about this guy being a woman beater. Logan was all for getting the entire team to pummel him right then and there, but Derek insisted he had a better idea (after all, he didn’t want Casey knowing he had anything to do with this). Not to mention that if their coach caught any of them fighting, no matter how good the reason, they’d all be punished—although it certainly would be worth it to beat the shit of Greg.
Over the course of the night each member of the team—starters, bench warmers, water boy—offered Greg a shot or two. He was challenged to a few chugging contests. Derek remained sober throughout the night. The party wasn’t close to being over when it was obvious Greg wouldn’t remember anything for the rest of the night. Still, they continued to give him drinks and Greg’s ego wouldn’t let him refuse. They didn’t let up until he was on the verge of passing out.
Derek, Logan, and two other team members helped Greg into the Prince. Then they stripped him of all his clothes and left Shit for Brains passed out on the University President’s front lawn naked, his clothes strewn all around him. It wasn’t until later that Derek heard that he was woken up the next morning by the lawn sprinklers lying in a puddle of his own vomit as Dr. Arlberg threatened to call the police. He received many sanctions, too, regarding improper conduct.
After Greg had been dropped off, Derek went to visit Casey. He’d barely knocked on her door when she opened it. She must have been expecting her boyfriend because she definitely expected someone to knock and she certainly seemed surprised to see Derek standing there.
“Spacey.” He greeted, casually.
“Derek…” Her greeting was more suspicious and confused.
They both stood in silence, Casey wrapping her robe a little tighter around her. “Can I come in?” Derek finally prompted before stepping around Casey to do just that.” She looked around him out into the dark.
“Derek, I don’t think…”
He cut her off, “That’s a first. You think too much.”
Casey huffed, “It’s not a good idea for you to be here.” When Derek didn’t reply but instead flopped down onto the futon she shut the door. “Seriously, Derek, you need to leave.” There was an edge of hysteria in the demand warring with irritation for dominance in her voice.
“Greg isn’t coming.” Further complaints died on Casey’s lips.
It was such a normal occurrence for them. Casey would date some loser and he would get involved and ultimately the relationship would fail. Rather than helping her outright with the Problem he was resorting to their usual pattern. Why fix what isn’t broken? He’d been the support that she needed, but she needed this, too. “What… what did you do?” She eyed him suspiciously.
Derek smirked. “Hey, got any snacks?”
“Derek…” This time there was only irritation.
“He’s passed out drunk. Knocked out cold.” Casey looked like she wasn’t sure if she should be relieved or angry. Both emotions flickered across her face.
“Bottom drawer.” She pointed to her desk before disappearing into the closet which was turning into a changing room quite often. When she returned dressed in her shorts and oversized Queen’s shirt Derek was making faces at her low calorie chips—they tasted like cardboard.
They didn’t say anything else she just dragged out her laptop and put on a movie leaving the computer on her desk facing them. They had to sit rather close together in order for them both to see, but Derek didn’t mind so much. Nor did he mind when she fell asleep and slumped over onto his shoulder. He let her sleep for the length of the move before scooping up the fragile woman and tucking her into her bed. She hardly weighed anything anymore. As he began to straighten from laying her down, Casey’s arms tightened around his neck. “Shh, Casey. I’m not going anywhere.” Still, her grip didn’t loosen. With a sigh he lay beside her on top of the thick comforter. She released him and snuggled up against his chest.
He especially didn’t mind that.
Still, Derek had every intention of getting up and sleeping on the futon. Really, he did. He was just so damn comfortable and he couldn’t help but fall asleep soon after he’d climbed on the bed.
Waking up the next morning he felt warm and comfortable. The softness of someone in his arms felt perfect and right.
So why was he awake?
“Derek.” Oh, that’s why. The soft feminine voice beside him was whispering his name. He responded with a grumble. “Derek.” The voice sing-songed.
“Ungh.” He replied, oh so eloquently. He felt a gentle shove against his chest.
“I have to pee.” There was another shove from her and another groan from him but he let her go this time. The soft feminine form scrambled over him and into the bathroom. Derek just sighed and rolled over as he adjusted himself under the covers. He was seconds from drifting off again when he realized where he was: Casey’s dorm room. In her bed. Under her blankets—how had that happened? He was honestly surprised that he wasn’t woken up by castration.
And he’d been holding Casey in his sleep. Although that one could easily be explained away; it was easy enough to excuse. Still, he was prepared for Casey’s indignation but when she came out of the bathroom she went to her desk turned on the lamp and opened what looked like a textbook. He assumed she was going to study, then. Casey, it seemed, was leaving him to sleep because all of this was done fairly quietly.
When he next woke, Derek could hear the shower running. When he eventually found his phone the time showed that it was just past noon confirmed by the growl of his stomach. Figuring it would be nice of him to wait for Casey before heading to breakfast—all of his anatomy was still intact, after all. So, he used the time to prepare a little prank as part of his plan to strive for normalcy to get Casey back to the old Casey.
The water had just gone off when there was a knock at her door. Derek had just finished hiding all of the clothes in her drawers in different places around the room—it was a fairly mild prank, but he wasn’t sure how long she’d been in the shower to begin with—and when he opened the door, Greg was standing there soaking wet and looking like shit. Smelled like vomit, too. Derek thought he managed to hide his pleasure at this sight fairly well.
“Greg? There you are!” He said in equal parts mock horror and surprise. It was also said quite loud and cheerful. Greg squinted at him.
Derek was quite gleeful when Greg winced from both speaking and the loudness of his voice. “What happened to you?” Again, he spoke louder than was necessary. He did step aside to let the sopping Greg inside… and letting the door fall shut with a satisfying slam.
“Ugh. Not so loud.” He grumbled, “What happened last night?” Greg looked at the bed and then seemed to remember that he was soaking wet and just sighed with longing.
Derek just shook his head and squinted like he was trying to recall a drunken night. “I don’t know man, you got really drunk and then all of a sudden you were gone and we couldn’t find you. I looked around for you for a while and then I came here thinking this might be somewhere you would end up if not your room. Casey was worried sick when you didn’t show up.” He knocked on the bathroom door to alert her of the new arrival, “Case, your boyfriend is here.”
“I’ll be out in a minute.” A disembodied voice replied from the other side of the door, but Greg didn’t wait and just let himself into the bathroom.
As the door swung shut behind him, he could hear Greg grumble something about needing to borrow her shower and then Casey’s shocked response of, “Greg, what happened to you?”
“Later, babe. Shower.” The water came on and Derek was pretty sure he heard a thank you. When Casey emerged from the bathroom, he made sure that he was the picture of innocence.
“Your boyfriend really can’t handle his drinks, can he?” he asked with wide eyes.
Casey eyed him carefully and he thought he saw (maybe) a flicker of amusement cross her features before she fixed him with a disapproving glare. “I’m guessing you had nothing to do with that?”
“Of course I didn't. I certainly never offered him one drink and is it my fault that he accepted every cup that was handed to him at that party last night? You really ought to talk to him about drinking safety.” She continued to stare, “Listen, I had better get going. I gotta eat and your boyfriend in there is going to sleep and puke all day and I’m not sure I want to be here for that.” As if on cue, the sounds of retching could be heard from the shower. Casey made a face. “Definitely not staying for this.
Just as the door was shut behind him, Derek heard a very distinctive growl of “Derek.” And he smiled in satisfaction.
Derek “accidentally” bumped into Casey later on during the week; using her back to steady himself he asked, “How was your weekend?” Hoping she got the hint that he was really asking about her physical well-being.
She seemed to because she gave him a meaningful look, “Good.”
“Didn’t fall down anymore stairs?”
“Nope.” And she did seem in a better mood.
“Good. See ya later, Princess.” He took off in the same direction he’d come from.
He’d only gone a few feet when a frustrated “Derek!” burst from her lips and he cackled. She’d already discovered the sign on her back that labeled her ‘Klutzilla.’
It was going to be a good day.
It went on like this for about another two weeks until one Wednesday evening (it was actually really early Thursday morning, but since he hadn’t gone to bed yet…) his roommate tapped on his shoulder, Derek obliged and removed his headphones. “Um. There’s a crying girl at our door for you.” Derek looked confused and Kevin continued, “Like, make up running down her face. She looks a total mess. Crazy ex? Want me to tell her you’re busy?”
“Brunette with big blue eyes?” He’d get himself in trouble if he kept going.
His roommate nodded, “That’s the one.”
“Nah, let her in. She’s a friend from high school.” He wasn’t quite sure why he didn’t just go with the truth and just say she was his step-sister.
Probably because he wanted to avoid the reminder whenever possible.
Kevin arched a brow, “Your funeral.”
“She’s having a tough time. She’s not as crazy as she probably looks right now.” Not that he’d ever admit that to her. Derek had already gotten up to get the door at this point. Sure enough, it was Casey standing on the other side; smeared make up, tear streaked face, puffy eyes, bloody nose and all.
“What the fuck, Case?” he growled and ushered her inside.
“Language.” She admonished in a very Non-Casey nasal voice. “Help?” This new, weird, nasal voice pleaded, blue eyes still watering.
“Dude.” Kevin observed, helpfully.
“Hi, I’m Casey.” She offered, except it came out as ‘Hi, Ib Casey.’ And it was just so absurd how calm she sounded standing there dripping blood on their carpet and politely introducing herself to Derek’s roommate.
“Oh. Um. Hi.” Apparently Kevin found it absurd, too. There was an awkward pause and then he shifted, uncomfortably. “It looks like you’re having some kind of trouble so, uh, I’ll just… go.” Then he leaned over to Derek lowering his voice, “I’d get her out of here. You may be friends, but if her boyfriend finds out…”
He grabbed the back of Kevin’s shirt and pulled him back, “What exactly do you know about Greg?” Derek didn’t even bother trying to lower his voice… Kevin hadn’t been good at it anyway.
Kevin eyed Casey then looked back to Derek. “Nothing…” He hedged, as if piecing together that she was probably bleeding because of what he knew about Greg. Only a second went by before he cracked, “I’ve just heard rumors that he’s the jealous type and, well, that his girlfriends all seem to end up on the hospital while dating him. This all comes from my sister, anyway, you remember her? When I started here we passed by him and she said, ‘Stay away from any girl he’s with or you’ll only get her and yourself in trouble.” Kevin shrugged. “I made it my business to know which girl he was with so I could avoid that kind of trouble… for both our sakes. It took me a second and I had to look past the blood, but I realized I’d seen Casey with him.” He looked toward Casey, “You really should leave before he finds out you were here.”
Casey rolled her eyes, one hand still holding her nose. “He’s out with friends. I need someone to drive me to the E.R.” She eyed both guys then accusing them with her eyes as they let her stand there and continue to drop blood.
“What about your roommate?” Kevin squeaked.
“I don’t have one.” Casey turned to Derek, pleading.
“She doesn’t have to explain herself.” Derek snapped. He snatched up his jacket and shoved his arms into it and then grabbed one of his towels off the floor, offering it to Casey. If it wasn’t probably broken she probably would have wrinkled her nose at it. “It’s clean, I just haven’t put it away.” Casey continued to stare, “Just take it. Do you want a ride or not?”
She seemed to give in then and Kevin looked like he was going to protest, “He won’t care that she’s with me—I’m her step-brother.”
“Yeah, well, I’m not a fan of admitting we’re related in any way.” It came out harsher than he intended and he saw Casey flinch. She probably thought she knew the reason, but what she thought was probably better than the truth. Kevin at least, looked relieved.
When they were buckled into the car Casey turned in her seat, “Who did you tell him I was, then?” She sounded cross, but it could be the break.
Derek rolled her eyes, “I just said you were a friend from high school. I can’t believe Greg just left you like this.” The answering laugh that came from the passenger seat lacked any real mirth and was followed by a groan of pain.
“It hurts.” She whined.
“He’s going to turn you into an addict of pain killers.”
It was her turn to roll her eyes now, “I barely take them except sometimes in the evening. I’m fine.”
Of course, having to take someone to the emergency room at close to two in the morning is not ‘fine’ but he didn’t argue.
Her nose was, indeed, broken and Casey was mortified that she wouldn’t be able to hide this mishap with a few make up tricks. Derek liked the doctor that treated her. Dr. Adams had given Casey a skeptical look when she explained that it was a rogue baseball that had hit her in the face as she’d walked past the field. It wasn’t totally out of the question since the field had been lit up around that time but then she’d had to explain how she broke her arm and Derek watched as Dr. Adams’ frown deepened.
It was then that he’d asked Derek to leave, probably thinking that without Derek standing nearby maybe the patient would be a little more forthcoming, but she told him no, “He’s my step-brother, he can stay. He’ll probably be the one to update my mom, anyway.” Adams relaxed then and Derek realized that the doctor had thought that he was the one beating up Casey.
He could respect him for that.
“On the bright side,” Derek told her hours later as they drove back to the dorms, “The nose doesn’t take as long to heal.” Casey was busy staring at herself in the visor mirror. He had to admit she looked rather horrifying. “Really, I think it’s an improvement.” He tried lightening the mood.
She turned her glare from her reflection in the mirror toward him and he glanced over at her. The dark shadows under her eyes had turned to bruises. When her phone rang, she answered with a cheerful, “Hello?” and Derek could hear the answering voice on the other line.
“Casey, baby, where are you?” A slurred voice whined. Her expression soured.
“Derek took me to the hospital.” Except it was still coming out nasally.
“I’ll come pick you up.”
“No need, I’m on my way home.”
“I’ll see you when you get there.” And to Derek, he sounded properly remorseful, not that he believed it was true for a second.
When they were within feet of her door, Greg stepped out to meet them, scooping up Casey in his arms. She didn’t resist his touch. “I’m so sorry, baby.” He crooned into her ear. When he looked up and spotted Derek standing beside her, he straightened. “Thanks for taking her. I’ll take it from here.” It was a clear dismissal.
Again, there was no protest from the injured, “See you later, Derek.” She said, instead. She turned to look at him and then suddenly rushed forward to give him a hug.
He held her for a moment, “I’ll swing by to drop off your medication tomorrow.” He made sure that this information was loud enough to be heard by Greg. In his arms Casey sighed and then nodded before heading inside.
Greg stayed behind, “She tell you what happened?” He feigned concern, like he wasn’t sure what had happened.
“Something about a baseball,” Derek shrugged. “Honestly, when she talks I don’t really listen all that much.”
Greg nodded, “Well thanks for taking care of her.” They stood silently together for a moment and then Derek departed.
I haven't forgotten! Sorry for taking so long, but I have much of this story already written it's just the typing that is taking up a lot of time so please be patient with me!
When Christmas vacation finally arrived, Derek was over the moon. No class. No homework. Most importantly, there would be no Greg. So, when he started arranging plans with Casey for their drive home he was surprised when she calmly told him that she and Greg would be driving down together. He was also a little furious. “He wants to meet the family.” Casey explained, beaming like this was the best news she’d heard all week.
When she looked away Derek rolled his eyes, “Doesn’t he have his own family to visit?” They were studying together in her dorm, a habit he’d started in order to spend more time with her and keep an eye on her. Currently though, Casey was the one studying while he glowered at his textbook.
“Of course he does.” Her tone told him not to be so silly. “He’ll only be there for a week and a half then I’ll go visit him after the New Year.”
Naturally this ruined the rest of his break fantasy. She would be gone over the last part of the break and her boyfriend would be around for the first part, leaving limited time with Casey on her own. He’d hoped that some time apart would bring her to his senses.
Then again, maybe that’s exactly what Greg is afraid of. “Where is he staying, then?” She didn’t answer and when he looked up Casey was staring in his direction with a pleading look. “Absolutely not,” he continued when her plead transformed into a pout. “I won’t even share with Ed, what makes you think I want to share with a person I don’t even like?”
“Derek,” she whined.
“What will it take?”
The question made him laugh, “As much as I love having you owe me one, there’s some things I’m not willing to trade you. This is one of them. Have you even told Nora?” The guilty look on his face answered that question in the negative.
“I was getting around to it.”
“You have less than a week away. If I didn’t know better, I would think you were procrastinating on purpose. It’s almost like you don’t want him there.”
He recognized the defiant look in her eyes as she glared at him, “I’ll call her now.”
That phone call ended rather quickly. “Absolutely not,” Nora told her, talking over the cries of their baby brother.
“No, Casey. It’s just not feasible. We have half of George’s family coming in for the holidays; I just can’t accommodate another guest.”
“He’ll just ask me to come with him, instead.” Was that a threat that she wouldn’t spend Christmas with the family?
“Just tell him no. I’m sure if he really likes you, Casey, he’ll understand. Derek exchanged a look with his step-sister, highly doubting Greg to be the ‘understanding’ type.
“Mom.” Casey dragged out the word, whining.
“Look,” Nora sounded exhausted and suddenly frustrated, “You’ve been together three, maybe four, months? You can stand to spend Christmas break apart. You will be together again in the spring and have visits over the summer. It’s too early to be spending holidays together and you should be with your family. Everyone is so excited to see you both, so spending the holidays elsewhere is just out of the question and we don’t have the room for an additional guest. I love you Case, but that’s all I have to say about it. Now, I have to go.” Casey said her goodbye and love and then she was left listening to a dial tone.
Derek did not hide his triumphant expression; Greg would not be around for the break.
I know this one is very, very short (especially in comparison to the others) but it's mostly a transitional chapter and I'd already planned the next chapter and sooo.... I'm sorry. Hopefully will get the next one up soon.
Greg did not understand when Casey told him that he could not come home with her for their break and that she likely would not be joining him for any part of the break as well. Derek learned of her bruised ribs the day after it occurred but learned of the following apology the day it happened. Apparently he’d begged for forgiveness for losing his temper and that he’d just been so sad he wouldn’t get to see Casey over the break. She had apologized for not giving him what he wanted.
This wasn’t exactly the way Casey told the store, of course, but Derek was able to fill in the blanks when she claimed, “He didn’t really mean it,” and “It really was my fault; I didn’t try to convince mom enough.” She had gone from a broken Casey Shell to a broken Casey Shell filled with goo created by Greg. He did not recognize this Casey who didn’t stand up for herself.
He especially didn’t recognize this Casey who fought with Nora within days of their homecoming. It wasn’t like their fights from when she was in high school. There was no whining, pleading, or needling. There was yelling and there were angry tears, slamming doors. When this wasn’t happening, Casey was spending as much time as possible speaking to Greg in one way or another. They talked on the phone and over video chats and they texted constantly. When Nora mentioned something about Casey spending less time on the phone and the latter blew up at her mother, “You can’t control my life just because I’m home. Greg wants to talk to me and I want to talk to him!”
Nora blinked at the sudden rage that exploded from her daughter, “Casey,” Her voice remained calm, “I’m just saying you could spend a little time with your family.”
“He’ll worry about me if he doesn’t hear from me when he calls.” The brunette defended and already she’d begun to sob. Her mother looked at Casey in surprise. She was used to Casey acting overly dramatic but there was something about this new Casey that concerned Nora and she wasn’t quite sure how to handle this version of her daughter.
“Casey, honey, I’m sure he’s not going to panic just because you miss a phone call…” Nora held out her hand for the phone and Casey flinched from the woman who had raised Casey and never once raised a hand to her. Yet, Casey still took a step back from this gentle woman. It has been so ingrained in her to flinch away, to expect pain and punishment.
Nora waited patiently for Casey to hand over the phone and finally she did. It was thrust into her mother’s hand. In one movement the phone was passed and Casey had whirled around… only to find the rest of the family was staring at her and her mother; all except for Simon who was napping downstairs. Derek wasn’t surprised when his hands tightened into fists at the thought of what Greg had done to Casey.
She ran from the room with angry, fearful tears, filling her eyes. When Derek looked away from Casey he found his eyes on Nora who was staring back at him, thoughtfully.
After dinner, Derek tried to escape up the stairs but he was strapped by his dad’s You’re in Trouble voice. “Derek.” He froze, reluctantly. When he turned, Nora was handing Simon over to Lizzie.
“Upstairs,” she told the remaining children. Derek tried to follow them up, but his dad grabbed at the back of his shirt.
“Not you.” Lawyer Dad made an appearance. Derek groaned.
George pulled out a dining room chair away from the table and indicated Derek should sit. He did so eyeing his dad and then Nora carefully. They stood together and he was once again struck by how well they complimented one another. His dad stood with crossed arms and Nora held the offensive phone. They stared. He squirmed. They continued to stare. “Have I done something?”
“Have you, Derek.” George asked, distracted from their initial goal.
“You don’t sound so sure.” His father pushed. In Nora’s hands, the phone buzzed. She stared at it for a moment before hitting ignore.
“Greg. Again.” She told him. His hands clenched of their own volition. “He’s started leaving voicemails.” She was studying him closely.
Derek attempted to feign disinterest, “Oh?”
“We,” George took over this time, both of them united against Derek, “think that something is going on with Casey; that there is a reason she’s acting so odd other than normal growth and change that comes with going away to college.”
“We,” Nora began, “think that Greg has something to do with it and that you know something.” Her eyes were worried and they bore into Derek like she was trying to read all of his secrets. “This is serious, Derek. She was scared of me. She’s jumpy all the time; there are shadows under her eyes. I know she hasn’t been sleeping she’s hardly been eating. Derek, do you know something?” There was a fierceness in her question; the mama bear protecting her cub.
He shifted in his seat once more feeling uneasy, “I know that her dorm has no stairs. I know that she’s broken her nose, her arm; she’s shown up with new bruises regularly. I know that she is not acting as Casey normally does. I also know that if Casey does not get that phone back, there will be consequences for her that no one here would be okay with. I know that Casey is using all of her stubborn nature to defend and hold onto the cause of all her current problems rather than to do what she normally would, but I also know that no one is going to be able to force her to get rid of the problem. The infection has gotten so deep into her that she’s close to not knowing how to live without it and the more anyone tries to force her, the harder she’ll hold on. It’s a decision Casey needs to come to on her own.” A part of him felt so much lighter letting this out. He had gotten in over his head and it was nice to hand the problem over to some real adults.
The phone buzzed again.
Nora answered this time, which surprised Derek. She was shaking with anger, he realized. “Hello?” He shot his step-mother a warning look because she might do something in her anger that could ultimately punish Casey later.
On the other line Derek could hear Greg’s surprised voice, yet still measured and polite when he realized that it wasn’t Casey. “Hello? Who is this?”
“Casey’s mother,” she told him evenly. “With whom am I speaking?”
“Greg… Casey’s boyfriend,” Suddenly he’d turned the charm on. “It is such a pleasure to speak with you, ma’am.” Nora made a face and Derek was relieved to find someone who disliked Greg as well.
“I’m sorry Casey has been unavailable to answer her phone but I’ve had it in my possession for several hours now.” There was silence on the other end and Derek was starting to wonder what exactly Nora had heard in those voicemails. There was no doubt in his mind that she’d listened. He was also pretty sure that Greg was wondering if they’d been listened to as well. “She will speak with you, tomorrow, if she wishes.” Nora continued when it was clear Greg wasn’t sure what to say.
“Yes, of course.” His voice sounded strained now.
“Thank you, Greg.” Then she ended the call, still shaking.
After the phone conversation, Nora had sent Derek upstairs. He’d stood outside of Casey’s door for a moment, debating on whether or not he should go in but then he’d left her alone. He was still awake when he heard Nora’s soft knock. Figuring that she was going to visit her daughter… the creak of the bedroom door indicated that either Norma had let herself in or Casey had opened the door and invited her in.
He resisted the urge for exactly thirty seconds before he sneaked downstairs to eavesdrop.
“—I love him so much, mom. I know, I know he loves me, too.”
“Honey, I’ve been… worried about you. Your boyfriend left several… unpleasant voicemails on your ph—,”
“You listened to my voicemails?” Casey’s enraged voice rose from a whisper to a near shout. She quickly lowered her voice, “I can’t believe this… this invasion of my privacy!”
“Casey,” Nora’s voice was still soft and gentle, “What happened to your arm?”
“I already told you what happened?” Casey sounded surprised at the change of subjects.
“Tell me again.”
“I tripped on the stairs outside my dorm, why do you ask?” her whisper was now strained, anxious.
“Oh, Casey.” It was quiet and Derek assumed someone was crying because all he could hear was sniffling. “Casey, I know you really love this boy, but I think you should consider what you want out of life—beyond finishing school. Is this someone you want with you years from now? Is this the kind of person you would want Lizzie or Marti to date? Someone you would want to be a parent to your children?”
Maybe he should have told Nora about Greg sooner because she was making some valid points. Casey didn’t have an answer.
“It’s just… something you should think about, in general, when dating someone. Would you let the people you love be with a person just like this?”
“Okay.” Casey whispered. She sounded exhausted, but then again she sounded that way most days.
“I love you.”
“I love you, too.” There was a pause, “Hey, mom?”
“Can I have my phone back?” She sounded timid and small. Derek heard a tired sigh and decided it was time to head back to the attic.
He was halfway there when Nora’s voice came from behind him, “Derek?” There was no confusion, no surprise, like she’d known what he’d just been doing. He turned.
“I should have said something sooner,” He blurted in a whisper.
“I thought, maybe, I could help her.”
“I thought—wait, what?” How could she have possibly known his motives?
He could hear the smile in her voice, even if he couldn’t see her. “I know you’re not as careless as you act and I know you wouldn’t have kept something like this to yourself without doing something about it. You and Casey have a… complicated relationship, but I know you’d never let anything happen to her that you didn’t do yourself.” Was he that transparent? “I know, Derek.” Apparently he was.
The amount of emphasis she’d put on the word ‘know;’ he wished he could see her face. “Yeah, okay.” He mumbled, nervously.
“It’s… not ideal, but nothing to be done.”
“Umm, okay.” There was no way they are talking about what he thinks they’re talking about.
“Goodnight, Derek.” She left him standing on the stairs.
It was Christmas Eve when Derek proposed his plan. During that time Casey, as far as he could tell, was only speaking to Greg in the evenings. She still wasn’t eating or sleeping well, but Nora figured it would take time to get Casey back to normal. Just the fact that she didn’t answer her phone every time Greg called was an improvement.
It was also nice—even for the rest of the house—to hear a frustrated “Derek!” that morning when she realized he’d hidden all the soap and shampoo bottles from the bathroom.
In the kitchen, Nora smiled.
In his recliner, Derek smirked.
In the evening, though, Derek approached his parents completely serious. Simon was down for the night, Marti, too, was asleep. Lizzie and Edwin were studying and Case was upstairs with a book. Nora and his dad were snuggling on the couch watching some cheesy Christmas Time movie. “I think Casey and I should get an apartment for the next semester.” He started casually, during a commercial.
Nora reached for the remote and exchanged looks. His dad opened his mouth, but Derek rushed on, “I’ve thought about this a lot. The school does allow transfers out of the dorm—I’ve looked it up. It’s actually cheaper to live off campus. Also, Casey has no roommate, so she’s alone, often. Unless she’s with Greg, who doesn’t really let her make friends. And she’s… depressed, I think. I’ve only managed to get her to yell at me once since we’ve been home.”
“Derek, we’re not sure Casey should go back to school.”
“What?” He slowly let the recliner return to a full sitting position, “Casey not go to school?”
Nora looked almost apologetic, like she knew what it would feel like for him not to have Casey on campus. As if she knew he’d grown accustomed to their study sessions. “We just don’t think it’s the best place for her right now. She does seem depressed, maybe if she was away from Greg… the stress of school…”
“Have you talked with Casey about this, yet?” His parents shared another look, this time it belied guilt rather than confusion. “Aha!” he shouted.
“She’s not capable of making a rash decision,” Nora started.
Derek snorted, “Yes she is, she just needs to remember.”
“Are you sure you just aren’t using your sister’s situation to your own advantage to get your own place?” He really couldn’t blame his dad’s suspicions, but it still kind of stung that he thought Derek would stoop so low.
“Step,” He reminded, absently. The oh-so important four letter word, “I’m not.”
“Derek has always protected Casey.” Nora mentioned, gently. “Even if he’s denied it.” She added as he opened his mouth to protest.
“We fight and prank, but I don’t enjoy what Greg is doing to her.” He admitted, “I found an available two bedroom apartment where a bunch of other hockey players live. Between them and me, she’ll have people to protect her. She can continue school, and she needs tough love. Here she’ll just wallow in her misery.” Derek was not fond of the smile Nora was giving him. “Beside, what could help Casey out of a funk more than trying to force some responsibility into me?”
The two adults were considering it, he could tell. We’ve already been studying together so she’s a good influence on me and I can keep Greg away from her and keep an eye on Casey.” The conversation had taken a turn and he was sharing more than he’d intended.
“If,” His dad began, sternly, “If this were to happen, there would be rules, Derek.” He nodded. “Nora and I will talk it over and maybe discuss it with Casey.” Pause. “Maybe.”
It was good enough for him so he left the two parental figures to their cheesy movie.
When he knocked on Casey’s door it was cracked and so he let himself in. It had become a habit of his to come bother Casey before heading to bed. He somehow always managed to show up either before or after Greg’s call—he could always tell which it was based on the expression on Casey’s face—but he was never actually in the room when the boyfriend called.
That was, until tonight.
Casey was sitting upright, rigid on her bed. She held her cell phone in her hands; it was lit up and he could hear the soft buzz as it vibrated in her hands. The object of his affection was staring at the phone like it was going to attack her and he realized that she was trying to mentally prepare herself for the call.
Watery blue eyes looked up at him when he shut the door. “He’s mad.” Her whisper still sounded wounded and broken.
“Don’t answer.” Derek whispered back. They both turned their attention to the still vibrating phone.
“I can’t do this anymore. I can’t live like this anymore.” Finally, she was speaking some sense! “What kind of example am I setting for my sisters?” The buzzing stopped and she looked to Derek. She seemed so… lost and terrified.
Casey jumped when the phone started buzzing again. Seeing that she was about cave and answer, Derek snatched it from her hand and turned it off. “No,” He told her pointedly. “Day after tomorrow we’re getting your number changed.” Casey opened her mouth, “No arguing.” Tough love was starting now.”
Instead, Casey replied with, “Merry Christmas, D.”
Looking at the clock it was, indeed, 12am. “Merry Christmas, Princess.”
Aren't you all lucky
When Derek woke later that morning it was to the sound of pounding on the door and then Marti’s overtly cheerful voice, “Casey! Christmas! Wake up!” The sound of pounding across the hall followed as Marti moved to his old bedroom, too impatient to actually go inside and drag him down the stairs, she called “Edwin! Christmas! Wake up!” Lizzie was next and then he could hear the sound of Marti’s feet skipping down the hallway and jumping down the stairs.
Eyes heavy with sleep and confused, Derek sat up on his elbow. Casey was asleep beside him, his other arm still draped across her waist and their legs intertwined. They’d fallen asleep together (fully clothed, mind you) on top of Casey’s still made, if now wrinkled, bed. Very carefully he detangled himself from her legs and climbed off the bed trying not to wake Casey up. He listened for the two bedroom doors to open and two pairs of feet to head down the stairs before he exited the bedroom to go into the attic and change. By the time he’d come down to the living room everyone was gathered impatiently waiting, including Casey.
She’d changed, too; her hair was brushed and pulled back into one of those messy bun things. When she caught his eyes, she gave Derek a shy smile before turning away. He was surprised to find her awake before noon, for once, but since it was Christmas and there’d been a lot of excitement and yelling for people to come down, he didn’t allow himself to get hopeful. Yet.
This was Simon’s first Christmas and he sat in Lizzie’s lap ogling the festive lights. It was something him and Casey had spoken about the night before, Simon’s preference for Lizzie of all the siblings. He’d been sure that it was Edwin that Simon had the preference for and if not Edwin, then of course himself, but he was beginning to see that Casey was right. And, as if she’d been reading his mind, Casey followed his gaze to her sister and then caught his eyes and smirked.
It was his smirk.
No, not the smirk he so oft gave imitated on her lips. It was Casey’s smirk, but the one that belonged to him and him alone. It was the smirk she reserved for him when she was right or she’d pulled one over on him; the one she only ever flashed his way in this sick and twisted game of theirs.
He figured, then, that maybe he was the one who was sick and twisted if he got this excited over a small smile.
“Won’t last,” he mouthed and she rolled her eyes at his arrogance.
She was grinning, though, when she responded aloud, “Can’t win ‘em all, Venturi.”
It was his turn to smirk, but his oh-so-witty reply died on his lips when Nora interrupted, “I don’t know what you two are arguing about now,” because she could see the start of a classic Casey and Derek squabble, “but can we just skip to the presents?” She sounded exasperated as if them being home had been filled with the usual arguing, but he noted that she looked a bit pleased at the normalcy in their banter. He sent a wink toward his step-mother before turning his attention to present.
At the mention of presents the McDonald-Venturi clan looked delighted and since it was his year, George stepped up to play the role of ‘Santa’. In order to prevent the chaos of five (now six) children attacking the tree for presents they had a designated ‘Santa’ to pass them out to each individual. The first gift went to Nora from her husband, as was the way when it was his dad’s turn. “Thank you, Georgie.” She beamed at his dad before opening it. It was a pair of diamond studded earrings that went with the necklace he’d bought her for her birthday that year.
After that, the presents went in no particular order other than whichever one George managed to grab first. Casey received a new set of journals from Nora, a scrapbook with family photos decorated by Marti, a gift card to some clothing store from Edwin, a box set of novels of some author that Casey hadn’t read but Lizzie thought she might like, a recipe book from George, and a sloppy wet kiss on her cheek from Simon.
Derek realized he was paying too much attention to Casey’s gifts and returned to his own pile. His dad and Nora had gotten him a new video camera, Edwin had bought him some computer hockey game, Lizzie bought him the latest edition of Babe Raider, Marti gave him a gift basket of completely Derek approved snacks, and from Simon he received the same wet and sloppy case that he’d given to Casey.
As was tradition, Casey and Derek pretended that they had no gift for the other (although, Derek thought that with the way Casey’s semester had gone it might not be an act this year) and the idea that they might have even thought of buying the other something was appalling. Derek pretended to look embarrassed and searched his pockets and glanced around the room before pulling something off the shelf and tossing it to Casey earning a “Der ek !” Broken in half, just like old times. Of course everyone knew that they would exchange their presents later that night where no one could see how thoughtful Derek had been toward Casey or she toward him. The next morning they would have some new article of clothing, a new accessory, or some new gadget type thing that hadn’t been given the night before. It was just the way they did things.
His dad tried to reprimand him for the very last second gift (both him and Nora wanting to actually witness their children getting along) but Derek just shrugged, “I haven’t given her a gift in four years, why ruin expectations?” He looked severely wounded while Edwin and Lizzie exchanged looks.
“Derek is too much a neanderthal to have done anything worth deserving any present other than coal,” Casey sniped, but she was still smiling.
“A neanderthal, Case, that’s getting a little old dontcha think?”
“If the shoe fits,” she fired back, not missing a beat. Her retort, too, was punctuated with her tongue sticking out at him. Of course, he had earned a gift, but he wasn’t about to tell that whole story to their parents.
“There’s nothing wrong with being a little bad once in awhile,” he told her. A pillow hit him square in the face after he waggled his eyebrows at her and when he blinked up at her he swore he could see a spark of her usual fire.
Casey finished two pancakes that morning and Nora hugged Derek extra tight after breakfast. “Yeah, yeah,” he muttered, waving off her affection and squirming in the embrace. When she did let him go, Nora was laughing at his discomfort and it felt like some things were back to normal.
Later that night when everyone was playing with their new gifts Derek stole into Casey’s room. She was waiting for him, wearing a fresh set of pajamas. Flopping next to her on the bed he asked, “So, where’s my coal?”
“Derek…” Casey had started playing with the ends of her hair and avoiding his eyes, “I wasn’t actually able to get you something this year.” She looked down at him with a pained expression. For a moment he was surprised even though the thought had crossed his mind, even a little hurt. He studied Casey carefully and then she broke out into a smile, “I had you.”
“Pfft, no way.”
“Just for a moment, I had you,” She gloated, cheerfully. Derek shook his hand, “Admit it or no present,” She sing-songed.
He was not so willing to admit that he’d been pranked, however mildly, by Casey McDonald. “Then no present for you,” he countered. They narrowed their eyes at one another until they both cracked, laughing. “Alright, I believed you.” He rushed on through her triumphant ‘Ha!’ “But only for a second.”
She stuck her tongue out at him again. Alone or in front of their family, the action always caused goosebumps on his arm and he just wished he could lean forward and kiss the pretty brunette. Were it anyone else he’d have no problem plucking up the courage. Of course she has to go and interrupt his fantasy, “Present?”
“Yes,” she huffed, “Obviously if I’m asking.”
“It’s just nice to hear it.” He grinned at her, “Under your bed.”
“Touché,” Casey acknowledged. It had started out as Derek amusing himself at Casey’s expense and like all things between the two step-siblings, it had become a competition and another part of their odd tradition. They each would hide the gift somewhere in the house with the goal being to find it before they exchanged presents Christmas night. Last year Casey had found her present (waiting until she was with him to open it) taped to the bottom of the dining table. Derek hadn’t been able to find Casey’s gift hidden right under his nose. He’d taken a page from her book, this year.
His grin was merry, “You checked?”
“Second night here,” they exchanged a look before Casey knelt by the bed to pull out the slip wrapped box from beneath her bed. Then she left the room to retrieve his gift to Derek. “It was hiding with George’s law books,” She told him, smugly, when she’d returned.
The box she handed him was heavy and the size of a large book. He eyed it warily; usually Casey was pretty good at giving him gifts (surprisingly) but he was wondering if their brief time apart had changed something between them.
Casey, frustratingly enough, was in the lead in their Christmas Game. Two years prior they’d created a point system and applied it to all previous years. It was the double whammy last year (of her finding his gift and him not being able to find hers) that put her on top (an idea he’d visualized many times); this meant that she got to open her gift first.
She opened the wrapping carefully to reveal a navy blue box. Inside was a delicate silver charm bracelet with two charms already attached. On one side was a ballet shoe, her birthstone embedded at the ends of the “ribbon” bow. The other side of the bracelet held a little hockey stick. It took her a second but she found the engraving he’d managed to fit on the stick To represent my favorite hockey god.
“Der ek .” She admonished, but he heard the awe in her voice. The bracelet was one she’d admired the summer before. He’d bought it a few weeks later but had held on until he had charms to put on it. The ballet slipper and hockey stick had been purchased between then and now, spreading out his costs.
He helped her to put it on, “Don’t worry about the cost. I’ve been adding to it for a while.” She chewed at her bottom lip and he frowned. It was against his principle and an unspoken rule that he ever willingly admit to putting that much forethought into a present, but he’d belatedly added something to her gift on top of the bracelet and didn’t want her freaking out about the cost. “The box,” he nudged it and Casey peered inside pulling out a folded slip of paper.
The brunette read through it, twice by the looks of it, her lips turned down in confusion. “Self-defense,” he explained quietly.
“It says for two.”
“I thought we’d go together, so if you ever wanted to practice I’d be up to date… plus wouldn’t want you to be able to kick my ass.”
They both stared at the paper in Casey’s hands, “Thank you.” Her voice was soft, uncharacteristically (at least, directed toward him) gentle.
“You’re welcome, Princess.”
He waited a beat and then it was his turn to open his gift. To Derek’s immense relief, it was not the large heavy book that he’d feared, but a new laptop. It was newer than the one he was currently using and had plenty of memory for games and large files, like videos, “Case.”
“You’re welcome, D.”
The request did funny things to his stomach, things that his stomach should not do when thinking of Casey. This, too, broke the rules. “Princess, you’re going to pass out, soon. Don’t try and keep yourself awake.”
She shook her head and clarified, voice vulnerable, “For the night.” Another broken rule, but he wasn’t about to deny her request. Together they both climbed under the covers; Casey lay on her stomach with Derek’s arm under the neck, Casey’s arms wrapped around it hugging his arm. His free arm wrapped around her waist pulling her close.
It was Christmas, after all, and Derek lived for breaking the rules.
Finally got around to typing it up. Less angst, more fluff. Totally making up traditions here but it seemed so Casey and Derek.
True to his word Derek did take Casey to get a new number and then they kicked around the mall for a time. The mall was crowded, though, so they didn’t stay long. Instead, Casey bought him lunch. She was still flinching at sudden movements and overall a little jumpy and stuck close to Derek’s side. He stayed close to Casey, protective as always. From the outside, it could have looked like a date. They even managed to get along… sort of. There was plenty of banter but neither ended up truly mad at the other.
When they returned home, Nora and George were waiting for them, standing together. “Ed did it,” Derek responded automatically when he saw their unified front, ignoring the indignant ‘hey!’ from his brother on the kitchen. Really, it was just a reflex; he honestly hadn’t done anything (read: done much) to get in trouble.
“Nobody is in trouble,” Nor started just as his dad looked suspiciously at Derek, “What did Ed do?”
“Nothing!” Edwin lamented, still in the kitchen. George amended his question, “Derek, what did you do that you’re blaming Edwin for?”
“Nothing.” Derek held both of his hands up on defense, “It was just a reflex.”
“Mom,” Casey saved the situation by turning to Nora, “What’s up?” Clearly there was something .
His step-mom beamed at them both, “Our Christmas present to you both.” Derek and Casey exchanged a glance; they’d already been given gifts.
“Like, the kind we have to share?”
Casey glared at him and shoved his arm, “Derek doesn’t know how to share.”
“Correction, I know how to share, just not with Klutzilla.”
“Well,” and Nora and his dad exchanged a look, “Maybe helping you two to move into an apartment together isn’t such a good idea.”
Snorts of laughter followed this statement and Lizzie spoke up, “They’ll kill each other before they get unpacked.”
“Hey, we can cooperate!” Which was true, sort of.
“Yeah!” Casey quipped, “We can be adults about this.” She turned toward their parents, “Where is this coming from?” Derek shook his head, once, out of Casey’s line of sight. His parents weren’t dumb, but still the reason should not be revealed.
Nora was no fool, however, and had an answer prepared. “It’s cheaper living off campus, more so if you share the space. It will help you… well, Derek, learn the responsibility that comes with living in your own place so you won’t be completely unprepared for after college.”
“There are rules to this,” George warned, sensing the excitement from the two students.
The rules, it turned out, were mostly directed at Derek:
- There will be no parties.
- You will show extraordinary care toward the property.
- Any damage toward the apartment will come out of both Casey and Derek’s pockets, regardless of how the damage came to be.
- Nora and George will pay the rent, for the time being-likely through the semester,-so they get to approve of the apartment (and it’s why they get to make all these rules) but any extras (i.e. cable, internet, phone, etc.) will come from Casey and Derek’s pockets.
- Don’t kill each other.
- Remember that they are living closer to neighbors than they’re used to, so don’t get the cops called for their fighting.
- Don’t kill each other, please.
George summed this up by saying that they were adults now, so they needed to figure it out between themselves if any issues come up because him and Nora won’t be there to mediate at the dinner table anymore. If they want to have friends over or to throw parties (despite rule number one) it will be up for them to figure out, clean up, make sure no one leaves trying to drive drunk, etc. They won’t be checking in to see that they are taking care of their home. It was at this point that he reiterated that any costs that come up when they move out will be paid by Casey and Derek. Derek responded that living with a neat freak like Casey it would be unlikely that there would be any issues with the apartment when they left. Casey glared and told him that she wasn’t going to be cleaning up after him (which, she probably would since the money would come from her pocket as well) and his dad ignored him going on to remind them both of the fact that he and Nora won’t be paying their rent forever.
In reality, Derek had never planned on throwing a party in their apartment (those two words together also did funny things to his stomach). It would be too crowded and full of his own stuff. Not to mention the responsibility that comes with throwing a party is nowhere near as fun as just attending a party.
When his dad and Nora left them alone Casey turned to him and, naturally, she had her own rules for their apartment. “I don’t want to hear you and whatever flavor of the week you’re with, Derek. Find somewhere else to take care of… that.”
He couldn’t help but laugh, “You mean find somewhere else to have sex?” He shouldn’t enjoy the way her cheeks colored slightly pink, but he did.
“And you have to help out around the apartment,” she continued, forgetting that she’d already mentioned this, “I’m not going to be constantly cleaning up after you and I refuse to live in filth.”
“So you’re on board with this?” He’d been worried she might not want to move in with him.
Casey thought about it for a moment and then jerked her head in one quick affirmative motion, “Yes.” They both ignored the two teenagers still giggling in the kitchen.
“Good. But I have rules of my own, Case.” She arched a brow but let him continue, “When hockey is on, leave me alone, and don’t even think that you’re going to be watching the TV then--”
“Fine, but no replays of past games. Also, Derek, we don’t have a TV.”
He ignored her, “And Greg isn’t allowed over. Ever.”
With the intent of apartment hunting and moving Casey’s things in before Greg returned to campus, Casey and Derek returned to Kingston two weeks early with their parents and Simon in tow. The four of them knew it was not going to be an easy process, but it proved more painful than any of them had anticipated.
When Derek liked a place, Casey wasn’t fond of it.
The places that Casey liked, Derek could never see himself living in.
The ones their parents were fond of, Derek and Casey were agreement that it was an absolute no.
When Casey and Derek both agreed upon somewhere, it was out of their price range.
The one apartment the four of them had agreed upon was off the market by the time they’d inquired about it.
That night at dinner everyone was frustrated with the experience. No one had expected to find an apartment that day but the level of disagreement had frayed the nerves of all involved. They each went to their respective hotel rooms that night, irritated with one another and looking quite dejected. Naturally when Casey came knocking on his hotel room door at 7:30 in the morning, Derek wasn’t pleased. He tried ignoring it, but then she started yelling, “Derek. Open up.” he grabbed the ends of the pillows and shoved them to cover his ears but it only barely muffled her noise.
Finally he gave in and yanked the door open, “You’re going to wake the whole hall, Princess.”
“Well,” She hardly seemed to care as she slid past him into the room, laptop in hand, “You should have answered.
“I was sleeping. Something I’d like to get back to. Jeez, is this what living with you is going to be like?”
She gave him a pointed look, “You already know what living with me is like.” She shoved the laptop at him, glowering for just a second but for whatever reason she was in a good mood. “Too bad about your sleep, Derek. Hurry up and get dressed. I found the place and I don’t want it to go.” She flounced out of the room leaving him a bit dazed as the door shut behind her.
He sat at the little desk provided and browsed through the layout she’d picked. He was vaguely familiar with the complex, knowing a few people from the hockey team who lived there. It was a two bedroom, two bath (the latter being a real bonus), the living room was connected with the dining room but it was made up by the fact that there was an “office” room. It looked like another bedroom in his opinion, but he supposed it was a little small to act as a bedroom and it just had an archway instead of an actual door. He had to admit, the floor plan and pictures looked great, and it was in their price range.
Driving to the apartments everyone seemed a little hopeful, even Simon gurgled happily. “Dad said he’d help a little with furnishings, the things we can’t bring from home, anyway. The neighborhood isn’t the best but it is close to the school, has a lot of amenities,” here she reminded him of the dishwasher, again, “and two bathrooms!”
“It’s great,” he agreed “but I have to warn you, they don’t all look as good as the pictures.”
She waved a hand at him, “Oh, I know. But we can make it work. A rug here, some pictures. It will look great.” She looked over at him expectantly and he sighed letting his smile grow.
In reality, the apartment didn’t look as bad as some others that were known for housing college students. There were no beer stains on the carpet, for one, even though the carpet was kind of hideous (“A rug!” Casey remind him, when he made a face). And the wall paint was an ugly faded yellow. Casey and Nora eyed it with positivity, though. “It’s workable,” both women agreed. They couldn’t paint the wall so there wasn’t anything to be done with that, but Casey already had plans to shampoo the carpet and decorate the walls. He didn’t even try arguing with her. Their parents agreed, she was happy, he was satisfied with the place. And Casey was alive, she was engaging. The squeal and brief hug that followed when he agreed made the ugly wall paint worth it.
It took two days for them to move in and for Casey to completely unpack her things from her dorm (he took a little longer than that). She’d also rented a carpet shampoo machine and meticulously went over every inch of the carpet and when she was finished the carpet was two shades lighter (which is incredibly disgusting when you think about it) and so he was actually pretty thankful for the neurosis that is Casey McDonald. By the time he’d finished unpacking his stuff, his dad had come by with a rental truck and moved in their bedroom furniture and whatever else from their rooms that they hadn’t taken initially leaving Derek with more stuff to unpack. Nora, apparently, was very excited to redecorate the guest rooms.
With no real furniture, they used Casey’s futon (which would eventually go into the office if they ever got a real couch) as the living room couch and dined on folding dinner trays or at their respective desks. Derek bought a set of bedside tables from an ad in their building and put one in his room and offered Casey the other. He’d also found a bookshelf that had been put on the curb marked as “Free or Trash” and that went into the living room (covering up a large chunk of ugly yellow). Casey hung curtains and pictures and Derek was pleased to find that she took his tastes into consideration. They also bought huge rugs that could cover most of the carpet in each room.
By the time classes started Casey was eating better (not great and sometimes she’d still pick at dinner, but it an improvement), she was waking up at the crack of dawn again (something he wasn’t exactly thrilled about but she mostly left him alone), and they had officially moved into their apartment. It felt like home.
It felt even more like home when he walked through the door after practice to find Casey wrapped up in a blanket on the (new!) couch from Dennis, eyes red and puffy. First day of school and she was already crying, but then it wouldn’t be home without this.
Her face turned to look up at him as he locked the door. Her red eyes were wide and frightened and he felt white hot anger course through him. He could already tell that what improvements Casey had made were set back. “Greg?” and thankfully he was able to keep the anger out of his voice. Casey nodded. He sighed, “Five minutes, okay?” She nodded again, then he dropped off his hockey gear and hopped into the shower to clean himself of most of the sweat.
When he returned, Casey was in the kitchen mechanically going through the motions of dinner. “What happened?”
She didn’t look at him as she spoke, “He followed me from class to class wanting to know why I stopped answering his calls, what was my new number, why is none of my stuff in my dorm, where was I staying.” She tried to take a breath but it came out sounding a little strangled. “All day, Derek. Eventually I ran into someone from the hockey team and he walked me to the building--I guess he knows Greg.” She shrugged one shoulder.
“I’m scared,” she huffed and continued stirring whatever was the pot on the stove, “I don’t want to be looking over my shoulder every damn minute but I also don’t want to leave this school. I love it here.” Her shoulders slumped and Derek’s heart squeezed in his chest.
“I know, Princess. You’re doing good not giving him any more control. It will get easier. I’ll walk you to class tomorrow and when he see’s you’re not alone, he won’t bother you.” Not when he was so insistent on playing the good guy. The look that she gave him should have broken another rule. “You could consider pressing charges, getting a restraining order?”
“But you won’t.” It wasn’t a question. She shook her head and took the pot, now with water close to boiling over, to a strainer that was already waiting in the sink.
“Spaghetti.” She told him and his stomach answered with an audible grumble. “You know you can’t walk me to every class. Our schedules don’t line up.” She left the pasta there and moved back to the stove to add the sauce to the already browning meat.
“You know my schedule?” He teased.
“I helped you register, moron.” But her cheeks turned pink.
“Yeah, but you memorized it. But it doesn’t matter, just send me a copy of your schedule.” Then, deciding to wait for dinner to be ready in the living room, he grabbed the milk from the fridge, downed it in one gulp and left the carton on the counter before exiting.
“Der ek !”
Casey was right, though, he could not walk her to every class. He did walk her to campus in the morning (the two of them deciding to save money by conserving gas), and to class. He walked her from their shared media studies class to her next course above his. The times he could not escort her to class he found someone to do it, either someone from the hockey team or some other sports play he’d befriended first semester. She was hardly ever left alone when on campus. Ben, an upper classmen, had been the one to walk her home that first day had his roommate walk Casey home and, more often than not, when he wasn’t available she walked with Derek to practice and sat in the stands studying until practice was over.
If she minded being babysat, Casey never said anything. Surprisingly, she became quite close with the rest of the team after a few weeks of this new schedule. Coach even jokingly called her an honorary member of the team. As a thank you for putting up with her (her words, not his) she baked and cooked for the team. There were cookies, brownies, dinners, healthy snacks for after practice. There was soup for when a member was sick and she forced emergen-c and theraflu on them all when it looked like something was spreading on campus. Derek watched as she became a sort of Den Mother to the team and they became fiercely protective of her until she was always coming to practice instead of heading home. It was no longer a favor to Derek that they kept her company between classes.
She’d always complained about how easy it was for Derek to make friends everywhere he went and how she envied that fact but she failed to realize that she had her own ability to draw people in.
All of this to explain why it was such a dumb idea for Greg to come and bother Casey while she sat in the stand during practice. It was after their first game of the semester. It was a home game and also happened to be the first Queens game Casey had attended. It had been a blow out and the team had deemed “Mama Case” the lucky charm of the team.
They were running drills when they heard Coach’s angry voice bark out, “Lucky.” On the ice the team slowed; Coach was never mad with Casey, only playfully slow when she was passing out baked goods at the end of practice. “There a problem?” Derek’s eyes found Casey in her usual spot, but she wasn’t alone. Greg stood beside her, a hand on her shoulder which she kept trying to shrug off. Both of them looked up at the sound of Coach’s voice.
“No sir. Just trying to talk to my girlfriend here.” Greg answered, calm and polite. Casey sat ramrod straight, hands trembling.
“I wasn’t talking to you and it doesn’t look like she wants you talking to her.”
“She’s just upset with me.” Greg tried.
“You’re disrupting my practice and my team.” Greg opened his mouth to respond but Coach cut him off. “Leave my rink.” He hesitated, peering at Casey for approval, and she looked back nodding her head, once, firm. Greg tried grabbing Casey’s arm to bring him with her but she shook her head and Derek was so proud. “Now.” Coach barked.
Scowling Greg retreated. Casey met Derek’s eyes and he cocked his head to the side. She offered a faint smile and a nod to indicate that she was alright. Practice resumed and when Derek next looked up Casey had shifted down closer to the ice.
That should have been the end of it, but when Casey stepped out of the building--Derek and Michael right behind her--there was Greg, grabbing at Casey’s waist. “Stop avoiding me, Case. You have made your point, okay?”
‘Let go of me, Greg.” Her voice was calm but quiet.
“For fucks sake, I’m sick of this, babe.” He raised his hand as if to hit her and before Derek could move, Casey had stepped aside with a dancer's grace. When he lunged at her again she’d planted her left foot and let himself run the family jewels right into her raised right foot. As he doubled over in pain, Casey grabbed the side of his head with each hand and leaned close to his ear.
“Never lay a hand on me again.” She glanced over her shoulder where most of the team had now gathered, “I’m sure they’d have something to say about it.” Then she did something Derek never expected from his generally (with the exception of him) nonviolent step-sister. She raised his head some and then slammed it down in her knee as it came up. He was pretty sure he heard Greg’s nose break. Derek was actually impressed; she’d seemed so timid when they’d gone to their self-defense lessons, but he guessed she hadn’t actually felt afraid.
Greg staggered back, one hand cupped himself and the other clamped over his nose, “You bitch.” his now nasally voice snarked at her. Derek stepped forward, then.
“It was self-defense.” he argued, “There’s nothing you can do. Now, never talk--no, never even look at Casey again.”
“I recommend a transfer,” Michael spoke up. Greg backed away muttering something but Derek was no longer listening. Casey had thrown her arms around his neck and buried her face into his shoulder. It took him a second to remember how to breathe.
Then he did remember and he remembered something else, “Greg, phone.” He demanded in a falsely pleasant voice. Casey stiffened in his arms; she’d forgotten about the videos. Michael looked at Derek, confused, and he mouthed back, “Videos. Casey.” Understanding lit his teammates face.
“Hand it over,” Michael added and when it looked like Greg might just bolt, the team circled him. Grunting he tossed the phone to Michael who took out the memory chip, broke it in half and dropped it in his water bottle, tossing the phone to the side. Someone shoved Greg away and Casey let out a sob.
“This calls for a pizza celebration!” Someone called, causing Casey to giggle. She pulled away from Derek, wiping at her eyes.
“Yeah, yeah, Princess.” he played uncomfortable, “I’ll buy you pizza, come on.” So she, along with the majority of the team, crowded into the local mom-and-pop pizza shop and sitting there with her by his side laughing at something someone next to her had said, Derek could almost pretend they were two different people in completely different circumstances.
“Hey, Lucky.” Robbie called from his booth a few tables away. Casey had grown accustomed to this moniker fairly quickly and didn’t hesitate in meeting his eyes. “When did you become Anderson Silva?”
Her eyes slid to Derek’s and he laughed, “An MMA fighter and I was kind of wondering the same thing myself.”
She looked surprised, “Self-defense. You’ve been there, Der.”
He rolled his eyes, “Yes, but they never taught us that and you always look so… afraid to hit anyone.”
Now she looked rather smug, “I’ve been taking some additional lessons.”
“When do you have the time?” He blinked. She was always with someone, too…
“Between my time and the school paper and biology.” Robbie said something about not getting on her bad side and Derek offered her a silly grin.
Despite the fact that it was obvious Casey didn’t quite need physical protection, Casey was still often accompanied by a member of the hockey team between classes. She never seemed bothered by it, really, and continued coming to games and practices. For her birthday, the team presented her with a jersey that said ‘Lucky’ above the number ‘00’. And they threw her a party at a house belonging to one of the seniors on the team.
Derek gifted her with whipped cream in her underwear drawer and she chased him with a pillow and beat him with it. And when she went to go take a shower she grabbed a pair of his freshly clean boxers from his laundry basket and that made his mouth go dry.
His real gift was another charm for her bracelet, which she found in Derek’s wallet. When he went to give it to her, thinking he’d have one up on her, she dangled her wrist in front of her until he spotted the tiny quill already soldered on. So, it was his turn to chase her and he did, tickling her until she cried.
He was happy and she was doing better. So, it stood to reason that their good times would not last.
It started with a guy...
So, this kind of changed from what I'd originally planned when I first began the story but I'm just going to go with it and see what happens.
“We need a TV.” Derek grumped as he flopped onto their couch.
“Absolutely,” Agreed Casey from her spot leaning against the wall, a bowl of cereal in her hand. They both stared at the blank spot in the room where they’d agreed to put a TV should they ever get one.
“Me too, I never thought we’d agree.”
He shifted to grin at her and found her smiling back, “Neither did I.”
“It’s only because I’m tired of being your only source of entertainment.” She pulled a face at him and he smirked some more. It was true, the amount of pranks had increased resulting from many factors including his boredom, particularly since it was no Spring Break. He did manage to make sure he found somebody’s house to be at when there was a game on, but other than that… “You’re going to be late for work,” She told him, heading to the kitchen to abandon her bowl in the sink.
“I’ve got another fifteen minutes before I have to leave.”
“Derek, it’s five to one.”
“Oh shit.” Suddenly he was scrambling out the door and then running back inside for his forgotten keys. Casey was already standing there keys in hand holding them out. “Thanks.”
When he returned he was surprised to find the door unlocked. The surprises continued when he walked in to find Casey sitting on their couch, giggling with some strange guy also sitting on their couch. This threw him so that for a minute he didn’t notice the TV, all hooked up, in what had been the empty space this afternoon.
“Derek!” Casey beamed at him brightly while he was still trying to process, “This is David, David this is my roommate, Derek.” His stomach managed to do more funny flip flops when she didn’t introduce him as the step-brother.
David did that stupid head nod thing that guys who think they’re cool do when acknowledging the presence of another guy (and although he used to do it in high school, it was actually alright then, not now when you’re in college). Casey looked pleased. “Why are you in my apartment?”
“Derek,” Casey frowned, “Don’t be rude.
He corrected himself, “Sorry. Hello, pleased to meet you. What are you doing in my apartment?”
Casey looked like she was going to reprimand him further when David smiled in her direction, “Don’t worry about it, Case,” he was calling her Case already? “No guy likes walking into his home to find a strange guy there, especially when living with such a beautiful woman.”
It was so cheesy and ridiculous and just the kind of shit that Casey would eat up. She giggled, “No, Derek’s just my step-brother.” Just a step-brother. He felt his anger rising and he took a deep breath.
“Ahh, being over protective, then.” He grinned and turned his attention to Derek, who did not need placating mind you, “I just wanted to make sure my TV had found a good home.”
Now Casey’s beaming smile was directed at Derek and he relaxed, some, “I’ve been keeping an eye out for people in the area who might be selling a used TV. David was kind enough to help me set it up.” Her bright gaze was then redirected toward David and Derek kind of wanted to hit something. Preferably David.
“So kind,” He got out through clenched teeth. Of course, she noticed the tone if he was reading her disapproving glare correctly.
“I’d… better be going.” David said, shifting uncomfortably as he eyed the two faux-siblings. “Case, I’ll see you tomorrow?” She broke off from her glaring contest with Derek and turned to David.
“Of course.” The way she smiled at him made Derek nauseated. The way that David eyed her backside as she walked him the short feet to the door made him want to punch David in the throat. It also indicated that this was not going to end well; he could always tell when a guy wanted something that wasn’t quite dating and David certainly hadn’t been interested in Casey’s brain.
When Casey came back inside, goofy smile in place, he’d already spread himself on the couch. He’d planned on watching TV but then Casey pointed out what he’d already discovered, “We don’t have a cable box, yet.”
“Thank you, Captain Obvious.” He snarked. Her face blanked and he rolled his eyes, “Don’t worry I’m sure David picked up that you were interested. You were practically drooling.”
“I was not drooling.”
“You looked absolutely desperate.” The giddiness was now gone from her face, replaced with irritation, a look of hurt, and self-doubt. David got the bright eyes and happy smiles and he caused this . He cursed himself internally; Greg had destroyed all of what made Casey, Casey and he’d worked so hard to put her back together and here he was making it worse. He bagain again, in a softer tone, “I like the TV…” Realizing that she’d probably done it for him and here he was acting like an ass.
She offered him a tight lipped smile before flouncing off into her room. Casey was still mad at him later, though, because when she made dinner she made enough for one and Derek was stuck having to scavenge their fridge.
He worked earlier the next morning so he was not there while she got ready for her date or when she left, but he was there when Casey returned home. He’d been watching TV (Casey had apparently arranged for the cable box to come that day while he was at work, upping his f-f-feelings of guilt) when he realized they were outside the door. Fifteen minutes after that point he was close to finding an excuse to leave an apartment just so he could yank open the door.
Just to make sure she’s okay.
He’s not jealous.
Really, he’s not.
She came in on her own, though, and thankfully David was not invited inside. Derek glanced from the television to his step-sister who sat down beside him. She had another goofy smile on her face--a first kiss smile. Suddenly Derek really regret wishing to get a TV… well, really he just wished he’d gone and found it instead. “Have fun?” Bitterness creeping it’s way into the question.
She heard his tone, “There’s no reason to be upset because all your usual conquests are out of town for Spring Break.” It was their usual thing; he ruins her mood and she imply that he’s slept with half of Canada’ but he wasn’t in the mood.
“Casey, if I wanted to be on a date, I could find someone. And, in case you haven’t noticed, I haven’t been seeing anyone before spring break.” He could feel her eyes on him, studying him, but he refused to look back.
“So this… lack of dating, this is your choosing?”
He chose to ignore the skepticism. “Yupp.”
“Why?” The question was soft, Casey apparently curious. When he finally looked at her she was staring intently like the answer was important to her.
“There’s no challenge.” He’d decided, out of character, to go for honesty.
“You want someone challenging?” She nodded more to herself, he thought, “That makes sense.”
Derek felt his pulse quickened and he tried to keep the hope out of his voice as he asked, “It does?”
“Well, yeah. Kenda didn’t just give in to your ‘charms’ and she didn’t give you everything you wanted. Sally, she wasn’t into you at first and then when you were dating she didn’t just fall at your feet.” She seemed ignorant of his deflation. “They were your most serious relationships so it makes sense that you’d be tired of girls eager, ready, and willing.”
“Something like that,” he muttered flipping through the channels. “Shouldn’t you be writing in your diary or somthing now so you have memories to cry over later when it ends badly.”
Casey stiffened beside him, “What makes you think it will end badly?”
He probably shouldn’t have snorted and he probably shouldn’t have followed that up with laughter. He definitely shouldn’t have told her that all her relationships end badly and she’s the only common denominator.
She didn’t cook dinner that night, either.
Three weeks of dating. It was Casey’s third week dating David, not that he was counting (he was). He’d avoided Casey that first day and had apologized by making dinner for the both of them the next night. It was shit for an apology, and he knew that, but she also seemed to understand that from him it was actually meant as an apology, at least more so than if he’d said the words. The two of them are complicated, but she’s talking to him so he’s less miserable.
He comes home one Saturday evening from a date (date meaning he went to a bar had a few drinks and then hung out in a friend’s living room so he didn’t have to see Casey coming home from her real date) and Casey is there in the living room, wrapped in a bathrobe, clutching it around her waist and she’s shaking. David is standing a few feet away from her, looking like he’d just taken a step back with his shirt, pants, socks, and shoes in hand. “--out, get out!” Derek walked in on Casey snapping at her supposed boyfriend.
“Case,” He tried.
“Get out!” She shouted, a little louder this time. Derek could sense the air of hysteria surrounding her and David looked like he’s not sure what he did wrong. Derek’s stomach tightened and he stepped out of the doorway where he’d been standing.
“I believe she told you to leave,” He said quietly. Both of them looked up at Derek like they’d just realized he was there. David looked a little irritated and Casey just looked relieved.
“No one wants to be with someone who won’t put out, anyway.” David muttered and slid past Derek in just his boxers. Derek shoved the door to close before the guy had managed to step on the threshold. He turned to Casey and she was still shaking.
“Casey,” He tried.
“I do not want to hear it.” She snapped, “I already know what you’re going to say and I don’t want to hear it.” Then she turned on her heel and stomped to her bedroom, the door shutting behind her.
He debated, for a moment, before sitting on the other side of the door, head leaning against it, “I wasn’t going to say it.”
“You were thinking it.” He heard her muffled voice.
“Maybe, but I wasn’t going to say it, not now.” They were both silent and he sighed, “Do you want to talk about it?” Instead of an answer he just heard a broken sob. This time he didn’t debate, just stepped right into her room.
Casey was lying on her bed, fetal position, arms wrapped around her knees, and she was crying. “Case, Case, Case,” he soothed, loping over and gathering her in his arms. She cried in his laps and he wasn’t sure if he was doing the comforting thing right, but she didn’t yell at him.
“I didn’t want to.” She told him, finally, when the tears had subsided. He felt the blood in his veins boil. “He kept pushing, and pushing…” She chewed at her bottom lip and he wasn’t sure he wanted to hear what happened next. “So, I gave in… but when he started… touching me, I felt suffocated… I couldn’t breathe, I felt nauseated, and started shaking. I think… I think I was having a panic attack. I told him to stop but he didn’t listen.”
She took a breath and Derek hugged her a little tighter. If he spotted David again he was pretty sure he might break a few somethings. “I said it a little more firmly and he got pissy and tried…” Casey swallowed, “I shoved him away, threw his things at him and that’s around when you came.”
“Case…” She shrugged out of his grasp and looked at him.
“I thought I could handle… a relationship… but I wasn’t ready for that part… and that’s all he wanted… and maybe I’m ruined, for anyone.”
“You’re not ruined, Princess. You just need time to heal and if someone can’t understand that, their loss. You deserve better than that.”
“I don’t know,” she whispered.
“Case,” he took her chin gently and turned her face to him, “Not everyone will treat you that way, and guys that do aren’t worth your time.” He wanted her to see that he would treat her better, that he would always be there to pick up the pieces, but he couldn’t find the words. “Beside, if you can’t find someone who can handle your special brand of crazy, then you should know you can do better.”
She shoved at his arm, but she was smiling, “Derek, I’m pretty sure you’re the only one who knows how to handle my brand of crazy.” Finally, she was getting it, “When you find that challenge, she’ll be a very lucky girl.” And now he kind of wanted to shake her a little and kiss her a lot.
“Yeah,” he agreed, dully.
“Thank you,” she told him softly, “For being there.” God, was she trying to kill him?
“Yeah, well…” He rubbed at the back of his neck awkwardly and then she gave him a hug, throwing her arms around his neck. Definitely trying to kill him because with the way they were on her bed, she was practically in his lap and he’s not sure how little she’s not wearing under that robe. “Okay, Case, enough with the hugging.” He pried her arms away from his neck, as much as he wanted to pull her closer. “You’re going to be the death of me.”
This made her giggle and so he rolled his eyes, “If I didn’t know better, I’d think you’d want me dead.”
“Nah, not when I’m still winning.” She mimicked his smirk and then kicked him out so she could change.
They watched a movie together that night and Derek stopped faking dates to get away from her and David which created a new tradition between the two of them. Saturday night was movie night. Sometimes it was just the two of them or sometimes they had a few people over, oftentimes guys from the team and their girlfriends. Things were starting to turn to normal again. He pranked Casey, she yelled at him, they insulted each other, the status quo returned. She also started cooking for him, again, which really improved his mood.
By the time summer came around, he was working full time waiting tables and Casey was working full time at the local library as well as working as a research assistant to one of her professors.
Their schedule changed some since there were no longer hockey games and classes, but they still spent a great deal of time together and Derek was considering broaching the subject of… not feelings, not that, but just about how much he really wants to kiss Casey. He was throwing around ideas in his head about how to tell her, or show her, over his breakfast cereal.
“Jonathan asked me out.” She said, interrupting his thoughts.
He nearly choked on his cereal, “What?” Jonathan was a bookworm who showed up at the library often. He was usually there talking to Casey when Derek arrived to pick her up and Derek had been fairly certain that the guy swung the other way.
Casey shrugged, “Yeah. He asked if there was anything going on between me and you,” and the fact that she didn’t wrinkle her nose in disgust gave him a little hope.
“And you told him…”
“No, of course.” She arched an eyebrow as if to ask if there is something going on between them, but of course since he’s too chicken to say anything there technically wasn’t anything going on between them. “Then he asked me out.”
“Great,” he snapped, sarcastically. “Hope you have fun.”
“Derek,” He ignored her and got up from the table to dump his dishes in the sink.
“You know, Casey, for someone so incredibly smart you are also incredibly dumb.”
She bristled in her seat, expression changing from confused to angry, “I am not…”
He cut her off, “Obtuse, blind, oblivious, dense, imperceptive, slow on the uptake, thick. Pick your choice.
“Ooh, someone’s been reading their Big Boy thesaurus.” She snapped back, rising from her seat. “So glad you finally learned to read.”
“Yes, I can learn, you on the other hand are never going to learn how to look past your own goddamn nose and fucking see.” She opened her mouth to speak but he was already headed for the door, snatching up his wallet as he passed by it laying on the little table by the door. He slammed the door behind him only to realize he forgot his keys. He thought about going back in there to grab them but decided not to give her the satisfaction. Instead he called Michael and had him come pick him up, resolving to stay there for a few days.
The next day he was a little surprised to find that Casey hadn’t called him once to yell at him or to insist that he come home so that she could yell at him in person. The day after she still hadn’t called and wasn’t answering his calls and he was starting to feel a little bad about how he’d ran out of the house like that so, as a peace offering he stopped by the library during Casey’s lunch break with a peace offering.
“Derek, good to see you.” Amy, Casey’s manager, pounced as soon as he walked through the door. She didn’t wait for him to respond, “Where’s Casey?”
The blonde rolled her eyes, “Where’s Casey? I’ve been calling her all day and she hasn’t answered. Is she sick?”
“Casey isn’t here?”
“No.” Amy said, now talking to him like he’s slow, “She didn’t come in yesterday or this morning and hasn’t called, and honestly if I wasn’t so worried I would be a little pissed.” She arched a brow at Derek, expectantly.
“I don’t know where she is… I haven’t been able to get a hold of her.”
Now Amy actually did look worried and Derek turned on his heel running back toward Michael’s borrowed car. He probably (most definitely) broke a few speeding laws on his way to the apartment and the small bouquet of flowers he’d bought for Casey had fallen to the floorboards. It was very like Casey to ignore his calls if she was mad at him. It was not like her to miss work, despite them having a fight, and certainly not without calling, first.
When he got to their apartment building, their car was still parked where it had been when he’d left, and he found the apartment door unlocked. When he shut the door behind him he glanced around the room; the dishes were still in the sink, Casey’s breakfast half eaten was still on the kitchen table. “Casey!” He felt panic bubbling in his chest.
Then he heard voices coming from her bedroom and the panic subsided, replaced with anger. She was ignoring him and skipping work for some… some… tryst? Because the other voice he heard coming from the bedroom belonged to a male. He didn’t think about how it would make him feel to find her in there… with someone… he just stormed over there and threw open the door.
All the anger he’d felt and all the words he’d been ready to shout died out the second he stepped over the threshold and spied Casey.
So, I know I mentioned some triggers and warnings in the description and all that, but this chapter gets... uncomfortable and may contain triggers for some regarding rape, non-cons, and violence. Generally I've tried to be more... generic rather than going into detail, and here, too, I tried not to give in depth descriptions but it's worse than what's been in previous chapters. I really hope no one hates me after this, but it does get better toward the end. I'll only mark one line this chapter, so if you're uncomfortable with reading the beginning you can skip down to the better stuff below the break line.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Casey kept telling him that it wasn’t his fault, that no one could have seen this coming and he couldn’t be with her every second of the day, but he knew that if he hadn’t been so mad and hadn’t been hiding away at Michael’s house he would have at least found her sooner. If he had argued with her a little more or stayed a little longer or just told her how he felt, it could have been avoided.
Not long after he’d left there had been a knock on the front door. Casey had opened it up, expecting Derek coming back for his keys (“If I’d even just come back for those,” “Shut up, Derek.”). Instead, when she opened the door it was Greg. She hadn’t seen him since the beginning of the Spring semester outside the hockey rink, but not much had changed. He was drunk and belligerent. She’d tried shutting the door but she shoved it back at her so she ran for her phone instead, intending on calling the police. He’d caught Casey by the hair and yanked her back toward him and then there was something cold and hard pressing against her back--it was just a bottle, but she didn’t know that at the time--he had ordered her to the bedroom and shoved her in that direction, still holding onto her hair.
Greg had tied her to the bed frame, apparently despite his drunken state he’d come with a plan. Once she was secured he’d taken her laptop and, pointing a knife at her, demanded her password. When he finally logged in he stuck in a USB and told her how they were going to watch a ‘home movie’ together. Throwing everything off Casey’s night stand he placed the laptop on it and then, holding her head to the side he made her watch all the videos he had of the things that he and his friend had done to her, giving her a sharp poke anytime she tried closing her eyes.
While he forced her to watch, he acted out many of the scenes from the movie laughing when Casey had cried or when she sounded in pain. Then he reminded her about how she shouldn’t have left him, about how they weren’t done until he was done with her and how she had this coming and it was her own fault, really. He spent several hours there alternating between hurting her, talking to her, or… creating more home movies. When he left, he left her laptop plugged in and the video playing on a loop.
Derek had been gone all that day, all the next, and hadn’t found her until the following day after that. At that point, she’d passed out from exhaustion and she’d been asleep when he’d found her, tied to her bed and exposed. There was some blood, but from he could tell it didn’t look life threatening and he could see the rise and fall of her chest. He didn’t know all the details, but he knew who had been responsible and he’d called the police. When he tried, gently, to untie her, Casey had woken up hysterical. It’d taken him several minutes for her to calm down and realize that it was Derek, that she was safe. He got her to the nearest hospital where the police met him there, but by the time they arrived Casey had been sedated by the hospital staff. He did give them permission to go to the apartment and look around and before they left they told him that Greg had been picked hung over at his apartment.
It wasn’t until the police left that he called Nora; she left his dad with the kids and took a short flight arriving at the hospital by that evening. Casey was awake, but still sedated. The first time the medicine had started to wane off, Casey had freaked out; she’d been crying and yelling and thrashing at anyone who came near her. Except for Derek. She clung to him tightly and he held her, gently, ignoring the look of betrayal that came over her eyes when the nurse had stuck the needle in. When the police came by at the end of the week, Casey was able to give her statement but it was the only time she’d spoken to anyone other than Derek. They wouldn’t let him be in the room with her, so he didn’t hear her story until a few weeks later when they were finally back home in their apartment.
Nora had stayed the first two weeks but Casey couldn’t look at her; she felt so empty, broken, and used that she couldn’t stand to meet her mother’s eyes and have her know what had happened. Nora, for her part, tried but there wasn’t much she could do but be there. When Casey was starting to show improvement she’d gone back home and Casey had been a little relieved hating to have her mom see her that way.
Derek had slept at the hospital every night that Casey had been there. He went to work after the first week, but even that was hard. Because he hadn’t been back at the apartment except to grab a few necessities, it never crossed his mind to fix up Casey’s bedroom. When they returned several weeks later, Casey had gone straight for her room wanting to sleep. Derek had gone to work cleaning up the kitchen when he heard Casey let out a scream. Before he could make it to her bedroom she came running out of the room, laptop in hand. She grabbed the car keys and ran out the door. Derek, finally coming to his senses, followed after a beat and made it down the stairs in time to see her climb into the driver’s seat and back up over the laptop that she’d lain in the parking lot behind the car. Then she drove over it again, back again, and forward once more.
When she climbed out of the car and returned to where Derek stood, the broken pieces of her computer in her hands, she wouldn’t meet his eyes. He followed her into her room where she started throwing her sheets and blankets toward the doorway. It was the most feeling she’d shown since waking up, but somehow this was worse and he had to intervene. He held her in a hug, pinning her arms to her side, and held her until her breathing slowed and then, wordlessly, took her to his room. She started sleeping there, instead, curled up in a ball with her back pressed up against him every night. The day following the computer incident, Casey started going to therapy. A few weeks in and she finally told Derek all of what happened; he hadn’t asked (really not sure if he really wanted to know) when she volunteered the information, one night in the dark. He had held her hand and that’s how she fell asleep that night.
Near the end of the summer, overall, Casey had improved, some. She was still waking up in the middle of the night with nightmares but she wasn’t letting it dictate her life. She went to work, she ate, she went with Derek to visit home. She was less of a shell, until one day she’d rolled her eyes at Derek and called him an idiot. The next day she’d wrestled with him over the remote. She was on her way to normalcy. It was when the two were looking over course schedules, that they got the information: the date for Greg’s trial was set and Casey had already agreed to testify, along with another ex of Greg’s. She’d been reserved most of the day so Derek was a little surprised when she spoke up, “I never wanted to go on a date with Jonathan, you know.”
“What?” Because the last thing she’d said was she was thinking of taking psych; it took him a second to figure out what she was talking about, but she’d already continued.
“Jonathan, when he asked me out at the library, I told him no.”
“You… no?” She nodded her head, not looking at him. “Why?”
“I wasn’t interested.”
“Oh.” And he suddenly felt like the idiot that she’s always accusing him of being. “Why?” He asked, a little dumbly.
“Not my type.”
She met his eyes now, “I like a little more of a challenge.”
There's only going to be one more chapter after this, I think.
“You’re being a child.” Casey huffed at him, arms crossing over her chest. Derek leaned to the right a little to peer around her so he could stare at the TV instead. He wanted to laugh because for when she gives the silent treatment it’s perfectly normal but when he does it, he’s being a child. “Der ek ,” she groaned out doing things to his heart and body that no woman should be able to do.
When she stepped in his line of sight again his eyes snapped to hers where she was staring at him looking irritable, “Y’know, Case, you make a better window than a door.” She scrunched up her nose and then took a breath, presumably to yell at him some more, but he interrupted, “Don’t you have a date to get ready for?” He snapped and her eyes widened.
“Is that why you’re mad at me?”
Derek tossed his hands in the air, nearly letting go of the remote, Super-Keener-Casey finally uses her brain.”
Or so he thinks because then her brows are wrinkled in confusion and she asks, “Did we have plans tonight?” and Derek slumps down on the couch.
“I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; for someone so smart, you’re pretty dumb.”
“Well, then spell it out for me but stop sulking around the apartment and ignoring me.” She sat next to him and he could smell her shampoo. Stupid girls.
“Do you like this guy?” He asked, instead, watching her intently.
Casey just shrugged one shoulder, “He seems nice, I don’t know him very well…”
“You would want ‘nice’.” He muttered. Nice was always her type but then they never lasted because she didn’t need nice .
“Well, is that so wrong to want someone nice after what I went through last year?” She snapped back and he cringed a little. Fair enough, she had come a long way since the last summer, but how could the woman be so blind. “I am not blind,” she said irritably.
He hadn’t meant to say it out loud, but whatever. “Blind.” He enunciated heavily on the D. Casey just let out a frustrated grunt and threw her hands in the air.
“I don’t know what you want from me, Derek.”
“You.” He opted for the truth which was, apparently, not what Casey had been expecting.
“What did you say?”
He turned to face his step-sister fully, “I want you.”
She stared back at him, disbelief coloring her face. It wasn’t disgust, he realized with a jolt, but she didn’t believe him. “Lamest prank ever.” She said.
“Casey,” he tried.
“No, if you don’t want to tell me what you’re pissed about, fine, but you don’t have to be so…” she gesticulated wildly at him, “ugh!” And then before he knew it she had disappeared into her room. Maybe he hadn’t been entirely crazy to think that she might actually be into him, too, because she hadn’t been disturbed or disgusted… she just, hadn’t believed him. He was fairly certain, too, that had been hurt that had flashed across her face, too.
She still ended up going on her dumb date but she was home after about an hour and before he could even ask what she was doing home so early she’d breezed past him, “I don’t want to talk about it,” and vanished into her room again.
When she reemerged five minutes later and plopped down beside him on the couch she muttered, “He was boring… don’t laugh, it’s not funny.” He hadn’t meant to laugh, but she kind of deserved it.
“That’s what you get for dating ‘nice’ guys, Case.”
“So, what, I should be looking for the bad-boy player so I can get dumped in a few months but at least I got to have some fun.”
“You never used to be this sarcastic.”
“You’ve rubbed off on me.” She grunted.
He reached over and messed up her hair, “Happy to help.”
“Der ek !” but he thought he saw a hint of a smile on her face. “So, you’re not mad at me anymore?”
“Nah, not at the moment.”
“Excuse me, Derek.” Casey said sweetly, suddenly at his elbow. He looked away from the redhead that was currently trying to keep his attention and looked at Casey.
“Can I help you?” He was testing his theory, waiting to see if he could figure out if Casey was jealous before he tried confessing his (gag) feelings again. “I’m a little busy here,” he motioned to the redhead who, turns out, has an annoyingly high giggle. He watched as an imitation of his smirk ghosted across Casey’s features.
“Yes, extremely busy.” She deadpanned and turned to the redhead, “Hi, I’m Casey.” she stuck her hand out and shook the, now confused, girl’s hand.
“Amber,” she introduced herself looking between Casey and himself.
“This is Derek, I’m sure you’ve met. He’ll flirt with you for a week, two if he’s feeling generous, and then he’ll lose interest so let me save you two weeks and some heartbreak and recommend you find someone more worthwhile.”
“Sorry, didn’t know he had a girlfriend.” The girl muttered, turning away.
“What the hell, Case.”
“I’m saving you from yourself, Derek. That girl was vapid and I’ve been in class with her before, so have you I might add, and she’s not the brightest bulb in the box.” He opened his mouth and she held up a finger “What happened to wanting a challenge?”
He frowned at Case and instead asked, “Are you coming to practice tonight?”
She beamed, “Of course.” Because she hadn’t missed a practice except for that week last semester when she’d been sick with the flu.
“... so self-centered, inconsiderate,” Casey was glaring at him and they were toe to toe, circling each other in their living room.
“Hey, Pot.” She snarked back and she looked visibly affronted.
“I am neither self-centered nor inconsiderate.” She poked at his chest to make her point.
“Please, Case, if it doesn’t have to do with you then you couldn’t be bothered.”
“That’s not true. I’m always there for the team--do you think I don’t have better things to do then to bake them snacks? Because I do, but they enjoy it and I like doing nice things for them. Then there’s you,”
“Yes, you. I help you out all the time?”
“Why?” He snapped, pushing her.
“Because I love you, you idiot!” She yelled back. Then she realized what she had said and her eyes grew wide. “Fuckfuckfuckfuckfuck.” She muttered under her breath and Derek stood there, grinning. “I mean, you know like in the way that I love Edwin… or George… or… look, don’t be weird about it okay? It’s just a word, they’re just feelings. They don’t have to mean anything. I’m just… gonna… fuckfuck…”
He cut her off, “Casey?”
“Hmm?” She cocked her head at him, innocently.
“Shut up.” And then he closed the distance between them, sliding his hand behind her head and firmly guiding her to his lips. His other hand snaked around her waist and he felt her arms wrap around him.
When they broke apart she was panting a little, “Derek… we can’t…”
“Shut up,” he said again, and leaned in for another kiss. “I love you, too.” He murmured in her ear when they’d separated again, a moment later.
“Oh.” She whispered, weakly.
She was his challenge and he was hers, they go together like fire and gasoline but instead of imploding they make something beautiful; he had to sit through a lot of boyfriends to get to this moment where he could kiss her and they had both grown to a point where they knew each other well enough that they could last.
“I’ve loved you for a long time,” She admitted one evening, snuggling against him on the couch.
“Then why date all those idiots when this idiot was here all along. I thought I made it clear what I wanted.”
“You did… sort of, I thought I knew, but didn’t want to assume… beside, I needed to put the pieces back together, Derek. I felt broken and used and… I just needed to feel whole. And I realized, even if I wasn’t completely put back together, you were still there helping pick up the pieces of myself I’d lost along the way so it was just a matter of getting to the point where I felt whole enough to be me and independent before I could even entertain the idea of an us. If we’d gotten together any sooner, I don’t think… I don’t know how it would have been.”
In a rare moment of seriousness he leaned over and kissed the top of her head, “I’ll always help pick up the pieces,” he promised.
“I love you.”
“I love you, too.” He paused, “But I’m still not sleeping with you.”
Suddenly he was being accosted by one of the couch pillows as Casey beat him with it and he laughed, “Der ek !” It was music to his ears.