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Finding Paradise

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At first, there was darkness. Milky darkness and an aching sensation on his limbs, one that he got accustomed to in his long old age. If he knew how his body would suffer, perhaps he would not have agreed to play professional hockey so readily.

That came and went, the money, the fame and the thrill. Now he was old and wary, and certainly dying.

He has been sick for a while, he was not sure what exactly he had, his daughter always made sure to protect him from it, to allow him to enjoy his days without the concern they would end soon.

He always thought it to be rather stupid, but he did not fight her. Kay was his treasure, his only child, and did not like to deny her wishes, and she was extremely mean-spirited, and he was old, tired and did not want to discuss it, however politely.

One moment, he could hear the soft crying of his daughter on his side, her warm hands on his ever-cold ones, and then he was here, without knowing way or reason, floating on the empty space.

His eyes seem to close, but when he opens them again, he was not on the void any longer. He was on the hallway of his childhood house, on the doorstep of his old bedroom.

It was really there, the ridiculous red-and-green décor his mother insisted on upon purchasing the house and that his stepmother never had the resources, despite the deep-seeded professional desire, to change it. There were numerous toys, mostly Marti’s, scattered through the hallways, and there was that smell of man in the air.

The other doors in the hallway were closed shut, and the staircase was dark and uninviting. The house seemed noisy enough to feel homely and normal, but he could not distinguish what was the source of the sound, like a recording on a videogame or TV show.

Suddenly, the door across his, adorned with the ballet shoes and painted pink opened, and light flooded the shadowy hallway.

Now, he might be a little old, his memory was not what it was, and it has been a long time, but he is certain the room across his was Marti’s room, and that he shared a wall with the owner of that poster.

It was all very strange, but he just played along with it. What could happen? He was dying either way.

A silhouette appeared on the light as it dimmed. It was a girl with long hair and toned legs, and a pair of blue eyes that could illuminate the darkest nights. Eyes he would recognize anywhere.

She was so young. Exactly like she was when they were fifteen years old, when she moved to that very room. She even wore one of those garish outfits girls liked in 2005. Decades ago, revisiting one of his photo albums, he wondered why he ever liked seeing a girl wearing those stupid prints and hairy miniskirts.

Yet, she was very beautiful. Back on these early days, while she was waning off her child wardrobe, everything was pink and innocent, and while he mocked mercilessly, he found himself rather liking it. Perhaps because he is now old and wise and paid for his sins in the form of a very attractive daughter, or because it is so intrinsically her that he finds it hard to hate.

His throat itches. He could not speak for days, due to a tube, but now he found himself with that ability again, even if his voice broke as he says: “Ca-Casey?”

“Hey, Derek.” She smiles at him. “Long time no see.”

“Ninety years.” He echoes. “You look so young.”

She laughs. “Can’t say the same for you. Time has not been kind to you.”

“That’s where you go wrong, princess.” He smirks jovially, in spite of his lack of teeth. “I’m still a babe magnet.”

“I’m certain you are.” She deadpanned.

“So, what brings you to this neck of the woods? Came to bring me to the afterlife? To finally drag me to Hell, as you promised time and time again when we were kids?”

Casey giggles sadly. “No. I’m not really here, Der. I’m just a figment of your imagination. Your brain reacting to the lack of oxygen.”

“Gee, Case, such a downer.” He said, twisting his nose. “I know I’m kicking the bucket. No need to remind me of that.”

“Well, you’re just talking to yourself. That’s kind of your fault.” She points out. “That’s the reason why I’m wearing such a short skirt, I would guess. Still a pig at heart, huh, Derek?”

He laughed. “Why change? I’m still perfect.”

“I see.” She haughtily, clearly unconvinced. “Though, I got to say, I’m impressed you retained so many science facts.”

“Yeah. Twelve years of homework help tends to do that to a man.” Derek responded, remembering all the nights with his daughter.

“Kay. I know.” The girl points out. “She seems a lovely woman.”

“Just like her namesake.” He says, looking forlorn and earnest.

“After me? Really?” She smiles.

“Yeah. Cassandra would be too hard to explain, so I worked out the best I could manage. Told my ex-wife it was after the Florida Keys.”

The sound of laughter echoed through the house, as they express derision for the woman together.

“She’s never been the sharpest tool in the shed. Where do you manage to find these women, Der?”

“Well, the one I wanted was unavailable, so I had to make do. Not like she could ever get replaced."

“I died, Derek.” Her blue eyes close firmly. “I wasn’t unavailable, I was dead.”

“Pot-ay-to, po-ta-to.” He shrugged.

Not that much, and he knew it. Derek did not like to remember how she died, or that she died at all. Shortly before it happened, he thought he could not feel any worse, that being away from her was the greatest punishment he could ever suffer.

Yet, he would very well never see her again, never talk or smell her perfume, he would forget all about it, he would gladly give her away to another man, to a career away from him, if only she was alive and well and happy.

It happened when the summer before they were set to go to college. They were staying with Felicia, Casey’s grandmother, and he was happy to be there, he was savouring the familial love and planning how to woo his stepsister in the Fall.

He treated those vacations like a bachelor party, like the send-off to carefree, manwhore Derek, and a warm-up for dedicated, committed Derek. He thought it was all on his pocket, and that he should just cockily bash on the glory.

The thing was, he forgot to tell Casey that. When she started to hang out with that Jesse dude, he became wary, but refused to take his head out of his ass for five seconds to do something about it.

He dug his heels and insisted on his behaviour like a petulant child, and the petulance only increased as she went away and away from him, and ever closer to Jesse. Unbeknownst to him, it was the very same petulance that drove her away, that always did drive her away.

As the season ended, his plans and hopes fell apart when Casey announced she would not be attending college in the fall, but rather work as a dancer in a Broadway show with freakin’ Jesse of all people.

The night before she was due to left for the US, they fought, hard. She cried. He kissed her. She said it was much too late, that she made her decision. That she could not trust someone who could only realize they cared for her under the threat of losing her.

Derek left her room and did not go with the family to the airport in the morning to say goodbye. She was to board a plane bound to New York, to meet with Jesse, to live out her dream.

The plane had a malfunction on the turbine. It exploded in the air as it was passing above an open field near Kingston of all places. There were, of course, no survivors.

When his father told him what happened… It was not a pretty sight. Especially due to the fact Jesse was still alive, having been in the US since the week prior. He wanted to murder him.

Came fall, he immersed himself 110% in his studies and in his game, to drown out the pain and the grief. Fortunately, he found that this level of dedication was extremely conductive to good results, and by his Senior year, not only he had a glowing degree in Law, he was also disputed fiercely in the hockey draft.

One day of carelessness, he hooked up with some gold-digging bimbo who got pregnant in a one-night stand. That led to a quick marriage and a bitter divorce, in such an occasion she admitted to have nipped the condom. Nonetheless, he was glad to have had Kay, to no regard of her parentage.

“I really missed you, Case.” He admitted, quietly. “I spent my whole life missing you and regretting all the times I could’ve had you and blown away.”

“Der…” She said, softly.

“No, I mean it. You were right, I was afraid of losing you, and that made me talk to you that night, but, God, how much I wanted you before.” He was certain that, had been this happening in the material world, he would be crying. “You were right to tell me no, you really deserved better than that, to be with someone who wasn’t afraid of being with you, of his own emotions. I just wish you wouldn’t have died because of it.”

“It’s not your fault, Derek. You know that, right?”

The old man scoffed. “’m not so sure of that.”

“I didn’t mean or want for you to be unhappy. I loved you, I wanted the best for you. I wanted you to live a full life, and, came this moment, for you to tell me all the happy moments you had, for me to feel the joy that overflowed your whole life.”

“Well, you should’ve stayed, then.” He broodingly said. “God, Casey, I would’ve loved you so much.”

“Derek, I…” She breathed out. “I just wanted to have more time.”

She looked pointedly at her side. A dark void was consuming the beloved hallway of his childhood.

“It’s time, eh?” He laughed, self-deprecatingly. “How is it?”

“Just like falling asleep.” She responded, softly.

“Then I hope I dream of you. Lucky me, I had a lifetime of practice.”

Derek gave her a half-smirk and walked to the darkness.

A faint beep sound could be heard in the distance.