“I don’t know what Derek is hers, but don’t try to compete with him. He always has the upper hand.”
This is what Kristal tells Will after he’s gone to surprise Casey in her apartment to go on a date with her to apologize for some stupid thing he did, but doesn’t find her there, because she had gone somewhere with Derek. Like always.
“Who is that guy, anyway?” Will sighs. “It’s like… he’s always one step ahead of me.”
The girl in front of him merely shrugs. “I told you. Don’t see this as a competition. You’re going to lose. Just accept that and be happy with his leftovers,” she rambles.
“But…” he starts again, trying to reason with Casey’s roommate as much as he is reasoning with himself. “I’m her boyfriend.”
Kristal is not very impressed with that. Instead, she eyes her nails and scratches the old nail polish, like she doesn’t want to spare Will the time of day.
“Yeah, pal. Unless you’re secretly Derek, I’m afraid you’ll always come second in her list of priorities.”
“That is… unfair.”
“Like most things in life are.” She sighs, then stares at him with annoyance. “Listen, you’re kinda cool, but I don’t know where Casey is or when she’ll be back. So if you could just, you know, leave already. I’m busy.”
He frowns. “You’re not very nice.”
“And you’re not very smart.”
This is when Will sees the door to Casey’s apartment being unceremoniously slammed on his face, the bouquet he had bought for her as an apology for forgetting about their two-month anniversary still clutched to his chest like a shield.
He takes a deep breath, shakes his head and decides to just go home have an early night.
“I’m sorry, Will! I didn’t know you were coming over. I just had to give this book back to the library and I ran into Derek, so we ended up having coffee. Of course if I’d known you were coming to pick me up I’d have gone out with you!”
Will is tired. He tried to be a good boyfriend. He honestly did. He knew she had friends and he didn’t mind that her best friend was a guy, really. But Derek was… Strangely possessive of Casey, and it was grating on his nerves. He wasn’t a jealous guy by nature, and he wasn’t threatened by some guy who, even though was close to Casey, didn’t have the boyfriend status, like him.
He wouldn’t have had issues with the situation… if Casey actually treated him like her boyfriend, most of the time. As it was, he felt like the guy she took pity on and hung out with, out of compassion, while Derek was the guy she was actually seeing.
But he really liked her. And that hadn’t been her fault, he had showed up as a surprise (with an expensive and corny bouquet). He shakes his head, stays silent for a moment.
He’s almost giving in, when her phone rings. He doesn’t see the caller’s ID, but it doesn’t matter anyway, because the next second she picks it up, like he wasn’t even there.
“Derek, I’m busy.”
He waits for her to hang up. If she hangs up, he thinks, doesn’t complete the thought. Casey glances at him, she’ll hang up, has that set expression that tells him she’s going to hang up, and then… she frowns. “Der-ek!” Turning on her heels, she runs toward his front door, grabs her coat and leaves through the threshold.
“I don’t really see this as being dumped.” Will reasons to his fourth beer, perched on one of his elbows and dangling dangerously on the bar’s stool. The girl by his side chuckles meanly. Because that’s what she is. Mean.
“Of course not. For that to happen, you had to be her boyfriend in the first place.”
Kristal sat on the neighboring stool, slightly less drunk than him. His friends were somewhere around, he’s not sure where, and Casey’s roommate was making him company because apparently no one else wanted to listen to him talking about Casey, even though she was beautiful, smart and everything he had ever wanted. He wanted to introduce her to his mom, for God’s sake, after knowing her for like… two days. That had to be a record.
Drinking merrily from her own beer, Kristal nods her head to the horrible country music. He scowls. Will didn’t know when they became sort of friends, maybe after the third time they had stumbled on each other on those karaoke nights at the bar near campus or something, his mind gets really fuzzy when he tries to remember the details, and anyway, the important thing is that they talk sometimes when they’re drunk.
Like all the times before, he had no idea how he had come across Kristal tonight, but she was there and lending her ear – despite her protests and constant mockery of him.
“Hey! I was her boyfriend. I guess. Kind of. I mean, we made out pretty often. That has to count for something, right?”
There’s pity in her eyes when she looks at him. “If you say so.”
“Sure.” She concedes, like she’s trying to console him. It does nothing to help his mood.
“Why are you acting like it doesn’t?”
“Because I don’t go calling every guy I suck face with my boyfriend.” Kristal stresses. “And don’t get me wrong, Casey is fucking amazing, but girl has to sort her priorities. Every guy she goes out with ends up being her boyfriend. That’s not the behavior of someone who has their shit together.”
From what little he has learned about his friend, Will doesn’t think she can say anything about Casey. There were so many times when she had bitched about boys to him it seemed endless. Picking up his beer, he turns to her and salutes her. “Pot, meet kettle.”
She drinks and rolls her eyes. “Shut up. Just because I go out a lot doesn’t mean I consider them my boyfriends.”
“Sure. I mean, especially if you’re smooching every guy in sight. Polygamy is still illegal in this country, you’re aware of that, right?”
“Smooching? What are you, six?”
Will decides to ignore her. He’s drunk, he deserves to be forgiven. “Anyway. I don’t see it as being dumped because she called me later to apologize, and everyone knows that the first one to call after the break up is the one that got dumped.”
The excuse is feeble to his own ears, but what the hell. He’s about to order his fifth beer and his alcohol tolerance isn’t that great to begin with. He’s entitled to some level of denial to make himself feel better.
“Will, look.” Kristal tries, dropping the teasing for the first time that night and considering him seriously through her dark eyes. “I don’t know what to tell you. I guess you’re a bit too drunk for your own good and are just trying to make yourself feel better about all this shit. I don’t even know why the hell I’m talking to you. I don’t even know you that well. You’re clearly upset, so just find some girl to flirt, maybe kiss her on the bathroom stalls and then go home to wake up tomorrow and regret everything you did tonight.
They both sit there, Will looking at his finished drink and listening to Carrie Underwood, of all things, Kristal muttering quietly “carved my name into his leather seat” and beating her foot to the song, before he asks, without any consideration whatsoever about where his (lack of) thought process is leading him to (nowhere good).
“Wanna make out?“
“Why the hell not.” She answers, promptly following him to the back of the bar.
“Why are you the only guy who listens to me?” Casey asks Derek, breaking, for the first time ever, their sacred ritual of studying.
“I’m not.” Derek says, not even lifting his head to address her. “And I don’t.”
Not really expecting him to be collaborative in this conversation, Casey drops the pen she’d been using to take notes on a colorful page in her notebook. Incredibly, Derek studied nowadays, so she already expected him to tune her out, nothing out of the ordinary for College Derek to do.
“It’s like... why are you the only guy in my life who knows how to do the right thing to make me feel better? None of the guys I date ever do.”
Derek studies the textbook in front of him like it has the cure to cancer, concentrating hard on his read, instead of the keener trying to break his concentration, but Casey knows his attempts are futile. He’s never able to shut her out when she wants to vent.
“Yeah, well. I’m not your fucking boyfriend. And I know the right thing just so I never do it.”
Annoyed at his lack of attention, Casey’s eyes quickly sweep the desk, and she throws her pencil case at his head. Derek dodges, but the flying school supply still manages to catch his forearm with a hard noise. She smiles vindictively as he jumps in his place, petting the hit limb with a dramatic-ness not warranted by such a small object.
“Ouch! That hurt!”
He mirrors her and drops his marker on the page with anger, giving up on studying if Casey isn’t willing to stay quiet. She smirks.
“That’s what you get for being an ass.”
Derek rolls his eyes.
“Casey, I am trying to be a decent guy for a change. I’m lending you my precious ears so that you can mope about what’s-his-name to me, even though your high pitch probably breaks my tympanum every day since we were fifteen.”
“You’re not lending me your ears if you’re doing all the babbling! And don’t call him what’s-his-name. You know he’s called Will.”
“I mean,” he wonders vaguely, sarcasm dripping on every syllable. “Why bother learning it if you’re just going to replace him next week, anyway?”
“I won’t!” Casey slams the pen she’s holding on her notebook, probably more angry at him for poking her with the truth than for the comment itself. “I’m not one of those girls, Derek.”
“Those girls? I thought you were a feminist, miss Beauvoir?” He lifts his eyebrows. Casey scowls.
“I am!” She slumps down the chair again, letting it comfort her through this conversation. Maybe her dad could buy one of those if she begged enough, all of her earnings were already going to a car and her own seating was doing atrocious things for her back. “Ugh. Don’t twist my words. I mean” she looks pointedly his way. “One of those girls who are all over the place, that can’t keep a boyfriend, or that can’t be alone.”
“Uh... Okay, what are you doing, then? Taste-testing?”
“I can be alone.” Casey claims with her chin up, glancing at him from her nose.
Derek marks a sentence on his textbook, clearly unimpressed. With her record, she can’t really blame him. Casey’s dated an incredible total of 16 guys during her three years at college. (And one girl, but that had been a mistake, so it doesn’t really count. She had given it a try, but Liz is definitely the Proud Golden Lesbian of the family, no need to question the title from her part).
“I totally can!”
“Of course you can, Case.” Derek remarks, already completely absorbed by statistics. “And I can stop drinking so much coffee, but I prefer not to.”
Casey sighs. “Well, I guess you just summed it up.”
She looks at the page ahead, the words all scrambled on the pages. The textbook could have been written in mandarin, for all Casey could make of it. Bringing her legs near, she folds them underneath her and grabs the pen to continue studying too, even though her thoughts are scattered all over the place.
Deep in thought, Casey speaks, in a quiet voice.
“Am I that hard to get?”
Derek sighs dropping the open book to his knees and shutting it at last, in surrender. “No, Casey. You’re pretty easy to get. Just... you don’t really let any of your boyfriends know you, then you want them to guess why you’re upset.”
“I don’t think it’s unreasonable for the person I share everything with to know what I want.” Casey reasons.
“That’s the problem, princess.” Derek pierces her unflinchingly with deep brown eyes. “You say you want one thing, but you think you want another, when you really need a whole different shit and what you actually want is some whole other thing you never even admit you want in the first place.”
“I’m not like that.” She shakes her head, resolute. Then, thinking out loud, let’s out. “Am I?”
“Yes. Yes you are.” He declares, in that arrogant tone of his that leaves no room for questioning. “It’s really annoying.“
“I mean, I know I have high standards.” Derek scoffs. “But I’m not unreasonable! And I definitely am not as complicated as you peg me for. You are only being your sarcastic and hyperbolic self, as it is often common for you.”
“Wow.” Some of the papers around him crumble as he shifts to recline on the headboard, and she winces. Even if they’re not her notes, all study material should be treated with respect. “Casey using figures of speech to depreciate me? I must have hit a nerve.”
Casey looks down on him, refusing to be shaken by his words. “I am merely amused by your antics. Although, none of your foul slips of tongue are able to ruse me.”
“What are you going to do next? Quote Shakespeare? Come, on, Case, I’m waiting for the ‘there are more things in life than philosophy can’ blah blah blah.”
“There are more things in heaven and Earth, than are dreamt of in your philosophy!”
“I knew it was coming.”
“You misquoted it on purpose and I corrected your mistake!”
“Thank you for that, oh, Master of Theater and Culture.”
“I can’t believe I was actually about to accept life advise from a guy who can’t even quote Hamlet.” Casey scoffs, pacing again. “You failed first grade! How come did you get into University?”
“You. I thought this was pretty much established by now. And hockey.”
“Yes!” Her fist hits the air, in a very dramatic pose Casey firmly believes the moment deserves, which marks another of Derek’s losses, even if he’s staring at her like there’s a second head jutting from her shoulders. “That only shows my superior intellect and overall stance in life. So, I don’t have to listen to you. Thank you, Derek, for reminding me to never fall prey to your siren voice again.”
Derek points at her with the yellow marker, brows furrowed. “I think I should be offended, but you’re still using mythological beings to depreciate me, so I’m going to assume we both know I’m right, that you’re complicated as hell and that you just don’t want to admit it.”
Casey pretends she doesn’t listen and happily sits down the chair, ignoring Derek as he mutters about her craziness.
Casey barges into her roommate's room without so much as a knock to warn of her intrusion, a habit she had acquired while sharing a space with less civilized human beings and that still made an appearance from time to time, when she was distressed.
“Kristal, do you think I’m complicated?”
Her friend lies on the bed, dark hair splayed all over the red pillow. Kristal's room is a mixture between a satanic shrine and rat’s nest, a curious jumble of red walls, black curtains, beastly goat masks and every single one of her belongings thrown haphazardly on the floor, the combination of which never ceases to traumatize Casey every time she gets in there.
“Casey, please?” Comes a grunt from under the dark covers. “Can we do the freak out session later? I’m trying to sleep here.”
Casey crosses her arms. “You’re always sleeping.”
“Well, don’t disturb me.” A head breaks the surface, peaking a cheeky grin. “Good night!”
“It’s 4pm!” Casey flings her arms about her head, trying not to go open the blinds with every bit of restraint she possesses. The last time she had opened Kristal's curtains, things had not gone well. “Your only class today was 2pm and you slept the whole morning. How can you possibly want to sleep more?”
“What can I say? I’m tired, Casey.” She says it with a distinctively very chirpy voice. Casey rolls her eyes. “Now, sh. There’s a baby trying to sleep here.”
Unable to take any more of her friend's crap, Casey screams. “There’s no baby, Kristal!”
“I am the baby.”
Now, really, Kristal is just too much sometimes. Most of the times, actually. Thinking about it, when Derek and her get together, there’s probably nothing that can withstand their combined power of sarcasm and obnoxiousness. Casey hates them both. Still, she pleads.
“Can you sleep later? Please. I need to know this.”
Hair thrown in five different directions, Kristal finally sits. “If this is something Derek has put in your head again, I swear I will kill him myself, and there will be no calling dibs this time.”
Seeing as she won’t be immediately expelled, Casey assumes it’s okay to make herself comfortable and decides to sit on the bed too. “Derek may or may not have been involved. But I was thinking that maybe he was right? He said I never wanted what I said I wanted? And then I let people in the dark about who I am.”
“Well, of course he was right, Casey, you know you’re complicated, and there’s nothing wrong with that.” There’s that word again. The one she’s been trying to avoid. Casey winces. “It’s who you are, and people have to accept you, as hard as it is, sometimes.”
Maybe they're right, after all. Casey glances at the horrible red walls with all the weird, vaguely sexual paintings draped all over. A particularly suggestive shell gets her attention as she thinks. It would have been more to her tastes if it had resembled a bit more Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus, but the inspiration had clearly been Expressionism, an artistic movement she could never understand or appreciate (with all due respect to Picasso).
“Thanks, Kris,” Casey says after a while.
But Kristal doesn’t end the conversation, surprising Casey when she continues her rambling. “You’re almost annoying with how complicated you are. I can’t figure you out half the time. That’s why I text Derek so much, the guy is light-years ahead of any other human being on studying you, he knows you so much it’s freaky.”
“He doesn’t know me that much.” Casey mutters, frowning at the shell. “I mean, you know me just as well, right? Remember that time I was bitching to you about my grades and you made us a spa day? That was really nice.”
“Well, yeah.” Kristal covers her mouth, mid yawn. “Derek gave me the tip. And he told me not to let anything disturb us or you’d be even worse than before.”
Taken by a burst of nerves, Casey vigorously scratches her clavicle bone, until she can feel the skin burn raw beneath her nails. “What about that time we fought and you made me a playlist?”
“Derek. He always says that I have to do something big and stupid to earn your forgiveness. Rom-com style. He was never wrong, to this day.”
Casey is quiet for a long time, not knowing what to do with this sudden information, and choosing to scratch her pulse when the area around her neck is feeling too abused for a turn.
“By the way, I kind of made out with your ex last week. Sorry.”
Casey stops her motions, eyes wide. “You what? Kristal!”
The girl in question simply shrugs, immersing her body beneath the heavy blankets and disappearing from sight. “Yeah, well, already apologized, so I’m going back to sleep.”
Shrieking in outrage and fury, Casey scream futilely at her best friend for a couple of minutes. Kristal can’t be bothered and acts like there’s no one yelling like a banshee in the middle of the room, opting to return to her peaceful slumber instead.
“Well, things with Will didn’t work out, after all. I should have expected this, he talked so much about coaching, and no one who talks that much about mindset can be a good person.”
Casey’s companion stares at the floor, appearing to be extremely entertained by the sticky and filthy ground. He’s around her age, she assumes, and he hasn’t said a word to her (or anyone else, for that matter) in over twenty minutes, when Kristal and Derek ditched her to play beer pong on the basement.
They had dragged her out of the house and into a party to cheer her spirits, they said, even though Derek pretends not to know her half the time and Kristal kisses every boy in sight, leaving her totally alone on the kitchen to talk to a pothead.
“It’s so filthy, right? The floor.” She comments loudly over the music, desperately trying to make him talk. The boy remains resolutely silent by her side, eyes fixated on his shoe, where he keeps lifting his leg to feel the stickiness on his soles like it’s the most interesting thing on the planet. She sighs. “Some people say that I worry too much about cleaning, but this is just gross. Why can’t people just pour their drinks without spilling anything?”
She takes a sip of her beer absent-mindedly, unaffected by the evident lack of interest.
“You think it would be weird if I cleaned it?” The boy turns his eyes at her and she sees the redness of his eyes. He has a vaguely lost and relaxed expression on his face, and she has already told this total stranger all about her last (failed) relationship, so she thinks he doesn’t mind hearing. She’s also too drunk to care about what she says, at this point. “He says I should ask people before I go into ‘cleaning freak’ mode. I don’t even know what that means. He’s so full of bullshit.”
The beer tastes bitter in her tongue while she finishes, not the least used to it. She likes wine, but that wasn’t available at the time, so she had to make do with lesser choices. Derek says she’s too picky with her drinks, and that tonight was supposed to make her forget about her stupid ex, anyway, shut up and drink this, Case, pushing the bottle to her hand.
“You know what?” Casey asks, after a minute of pondering. “I’m going to clean this, can you ask people to go to the living room for twenty minutes? It won’t take long.”
“Hm, are you sure you don’t need to talk? To like, a shrink or something.” He finally asks, concerned.
“What?” She laughs, eyes wide. “Why do you say that? I feel absolutely fantastic. It isn’t weird to clean this filthy floor, no matter what he says, because he is always wrong.”
“Oh, this guy seems… to be in your head a lot. Are you sure you’re over him?”
Of all things she said the whole night, he just had to start paying attention on the Derek bit. She has talked about Will for ages, and he had ignored her like she hadn’t said anything.
“What, Derek?” Casey laughs shrilly as he stares at her like she’d just lost her mind. “That’s a good one. Derek wasn’t my boyfriend. And he isn’t on my mind a lot.” She pauses. “It’s just… he was saying this stuff about me.”
“I know what you mean.” He nods, in a slow flow. His curly brown hair gets in the way of his eyes, in that cute/annoying habit some guys have of making everything they do seem effortlessness and charming. The gesture reminds her of someone, but she can’t remember who. “I hate gossip. You were right to break up.”
Around them, the music gets even louder, if that’s possible, which just makes her mad at Kristal and Derek. Her friends are crap, she’s positively sure. This place is like her personal living hell, so full of people it’s like they’re sprouting from the ground, a horrible mess everywhere she looked and the air filled with so much smoke it felt she was in the middle of a bonfire.
“Gossip?” She asks. “Oh, no, he was saying it to my face. He says he knows me so well, but he doesn’t even bother to listen! He could at least pretend to care.”
“I know! What a senseless cad, right?” Casey continues, not giving him time to reply. “He was always like this and when I think he’s gotten better, bam!” The pothead jumps as her hand meets the kitchen island with a resounding bang. “I find out he’s still the same idiot I met at fifteen.”
He looks apprehensive at her, scared with her sudden outburst and screams in her face to be heard in the middle of the chaos. “Are you sure you don’t want to take that boyfriend back?”
“Derek is not my boyfriend!” She’s not shrieking. No one can prove that she was, anyway. “Haven’t you been paying any attention to what I was saying?”
“Uh, yeah, look, I gotta go… do…” he gestures vaguely somewhere behind him, green button down shirt already half-way turned from her. “Something else.”
“No! Please, stay!” Casey doesn’t mean to sound as frantic as she does, so she tries something else. “I mean, you’re my friend now. Do you think he’s right?”
Her friend gives a step back from her. “Well, I don’t think you should be cleaning floors just because they’re dirty either, so, yeah.”
“I don’t mean that. Do you think I’m complicated?”
“Ah, maybe?” Even though his reaction might be considered panic, by some, she knows better.
Casey lets her head fall and groans into her hands. “Which parallel universe are we living in?”
Just as she thought this night couldn’t get any worse, the devil himself appears as if summoned, a beer in hands, just in time to hear the last part of her conversation. Great. Just what she needed.
“You’re the one who’s been living in a parallel universe, Spacey. Let the poor guy go, he probably doesn’t need the emotional scarring you’re giving him.”
“Der-ek!” She hiccups to him. The stepbrother from hell stands beside her, smirking in her direction like the king of the freaking Universe even when he’s wearing a simple black t-shirt and jeans. He’s such a nightmare. “I was making a friend in here. Why do you have to get into everything I do?”
“Oh, dude, really, you should take your ex back, she can’t stop talking about you.”
Casey sputters and Derek raises a hand to scratch his eyebrow, cleaning his throat. “Not my ex, pal,” he says, in a rather undignified manner.
“Oh, really? That’s. Hm. You guys should really consider this. You look kinda cute together too.” The boy scans the room and shouts as he spots something to their left. “Hey, Hannah! HANNAH! Don’t you think they’d make a cute couple?”
A blonde girl smoking a joint near the stove glances at them appraisingly, her eyes drooping a little. Casey and Derek squirm. Derek scratches his eyebrow more vigorously and Casey might be hyperventilating.
“No! We wouldn’t.” There’s not a desperate note to her voice. “He’s like… like a brother to me! A very annoying, obnoxious and incredibly self-centered brother. But still. Practically family!”
The girl studies them, joint still in hand while Casey rambles. The acrid smell of the smoke makes her eyes water a little, and she wants to tell Hannah to put that thing away, but refrains.
“Oh, I see.” She says. “Yeah, definitely. So cute.” Casey is mortified. “Oh, you’re blushing, dear.” In fact, Casey could dig a hole right there on the tiles.
“This is a nightmare!” She turns to Derek. “This is all your fault!”
“My fault?” He answers, the indignation palpable from ten feet away. “You were the one who kept babbling about me to strangers!”
“I was venting my frustrations of your idiotic self to my new friend!”
“Oh, yeah, super cute.” Hannah interrupts. “Like, married for a thousand years, old couple type.”
Casey spots the nearest alcohol bottle and quickly grabs it. She doesn’t know what she did to deserve this divine punishment, but if God is sending her a message to stop bad-mouthing Derek so much, she thinks she has gotten it.
She almost chokes with the bitter taste, but still drinks it until the last drop. Derek follows her example and gives her a hard slap between the shoulder blades when she does choke. Maybe she deserves this, but this only makes her new friends coo.
“Please, kill me now,” groaned Casey, her forehead as one with the kitchen table, voice raucous from the heavy drinking done the prior night, as the harsh sunlight landed on her sensible eyes. Somewhere around, an indistinguishable shape made vague noises of… she couldn’t exactly interpret.
“Stop being so damn loud,” Kristal snapped as she lies on the living room’s floor protecting her pupils with her arms, the same position she had been in since waking up to drink water exactly 23 minutes before.
This time, Casey means it. It’s the last time she’ll ever put anything even remotely alcoholic near her mouth, no matter what Derek and Kristal force her to do or any excuse they give her for overindulging. Her body is a temple. (Most of the time, anyway).
With this is mind, she rehydrates, trying to get rid of the terrible headache as soon as possible. When the task is complete, she heads for the living room with two glasses of water. Casey hands one of them with a small pill to a grumbling Kristal, and addresses the form thrown on the couch, where Derek supposedly had spent the night. If that thing really turned out to be him.
“Get up, loser, we’re going to cure your hangover.”
The form grunts from under the blankets. Casey kicks him in the lack of free hands to slap him, earning in response a peek from light brown eyes. She stares at Derek, but knows that he’s useless this early and even more after partying, which means he’ll just feebly give in to any challenges she might set. Surely enough, after three seconds of the staring contest, Derek gives up and sits, extending his hand for the glass of water she deposits firmly onto his grasp.
“No Mean Girls references this early, Case,” he speaks as he drinks.
She mumbles something in return, seating beside him and remaining like this until the next time someone (not her, she had done her round) decides it’s time to be proactive and actually do something productive.
It’s a lost day for all of them.
Ballet is harder than people think. It’s not just looking pretty in a tutu while standing on the tips of your toes, even though many, many individuals deemed it a lesser sport for all the effortlessness it exudes. It’s something that deeply irritates Casey that people think that at all. It takes literal years for a ballerina to be able to get her pointe shoes, to strengthen your feet and legs enough to hold the whole weight of your body up.
And had she mentioned it was extremely hard? Because it was. Damn hard. And painful. Very painful, to the point where her toes got numb at the end of her trainings and all she wanted to do was collapse on the floor (which she will never, ever admit to doing, even under torture).
The repeating motions of the exercises calms her, though. It’s a daring sport (yes, a SPORT, Derek!), that demands not only great ability but also great memory. Casey loves it all, loses herself in the motions, takes the time of practice to exert her body every way she can, letting her mind think of nothing but the counting of her movements, repetitions from one to eight.
It’s therapeutic. She needs the brain rest.
It’s not like the party thing had bothered her much. Just a tiny little bit, but still, not enough to plague her every waking thought or anything. Casey now had designated time-frames for wondering and thinking, otherwise she’d be consumed by anxiety twenty-four/seven, and that was not something she did anymore.
But it just so happens that the hour after dance practice was a designated time to thinking about her life, and she badly needed to talk to her sister. Such coincidences weren’t to be taken lightly, and Casey planned to make full use of all her free time-slot.
She’s still wearing her coolant and tights when she calls Lizzie from the dressing room, dancers buzzing about minding their businesses around, her feet and calf still sore from the exercises.
“Hi, Liz! Are you busy right now?” Her bright tone makes one of her partners recoil and look at her like she has problems.
“Hi, Case.” Her sister sighs. “I was just finishing a project about world history.”
“How is it going?”
“Oh, I hate it.” There’s some noise on the other line, and Casey imagines Liz is spinning her study chair, something she did on occasion when she was bored. “I wish Mrs. Solano would stop trying to get me interested in her subject. Why can’t all subjects be biology?”
Though Casey understands Lizzie’s fascination with nature and its beings, they never held the same appeal to her. Human Sciences are much more interesting, in her opinion, so she readily makes a case for one of her pet subjects. “History is important! How can we go forward if we don’t learn from our mistakes?”
The dressing room is at its last minutes of speed. Some hurried dancers are putting on their shoes and others are donning t-shirts to hide their training clothes as they go home, non the wiser to the inner turmoil washing over her.
“Who’re you quoting now, Casey?”
“Have you ever opened a history book? Every single historian says that in the introductions!” she screeches, well on her way to a breakdown. “I can’t believe Derek poisoned your brain too. Now you’re probably going to say he is right too, because he’s whisked you to his side.”
Casey glumly watches the room around her getting empty, her class going home and the next one hastily leaving, not to be late lest they make Miss Harris angry.
“Hey! We’re part of the girl faction and the McDonald side. That comes before the athletic alliance at any day.”
“Athletic alliance?” Casey frowns. Her sister is so weird. Her whole family, and Marti especially, but Lizzie holds a special spot too. Actually, scratch that. Her sister is one of the least weirds, considering everyone else.
“You know. Edwin and I were trying to be a little like Emily and catalogued the relationships within our family. We figured it’s easier to gather data like that. Derek and I are in the athletic alliance. Maybe Robbie will be too, not sure. He doesn’t have a faction just yet.”
“That’s…” She doesn’t know what to say. “Interesting, I guess.”
“But you don’t want to talk about it right now. What is it, Case?”
One lonely dancer enters the dressing room quickly, making fast work of her clothes, replacing the jeans for the tights, sneakers for ballet shoes. Casey lets herself be momentarily distracted by the small gestures of her nameless companion before deciding she’s being too creepy and going back to her conversation.
“Oh, well. It’s just… Derek.”
Lizzie sounds more bored than anything. Casey hears typing. (Is her argument with Derek really so uninteresting that her sister would rather do her history project? This is just insulting). “What did he do this time?”
“It’s just…I think he may have been right about something. He said I was too complicated. It’s not true, is it?”
Definitely typing. Can’t Lizzie see Casey is having a mental breakdown? (No, it doesn’t matter that she has one of those every month, they’re still important and should be taken seriously!)
“You know it is, Casey, but that can’t have been all he said. You are. What else did he say?”
She sags, elbows resting on her knees, defeated.
“That none of my boyfriends ever knew me, because I never say what I want, which, in my defense, I shouldn’t even have to say! If I’m dating someone, it’s because they know me well enough to know what’s on my mind, right?”
Lizzie makes a non-comital noise on the background.
“Not always. I was dating this girl who didn’t even know that I don’t want to have a career on soccer. She thought I wanted to go pro?”
“What? Did she even listen to you? Everyone knows you want to be a biologist to save endangered species and habitats.”
“Yeah, well, we broke up after that. But, back to the point.” Lizzie sighs. “Derek may have a point, Casey. And you’re probably going crazy with this, but if you’re thinking so much about this is because it bothers you too.”
The faint notes of a piano reach her ears on the silence of the line. Chopin, she recognizes. Had grown up listening. If she stops for a minute, all the steps she’d learned in a small studio in Toronto come to her, carved in the walls of her memory, her teacher counting the steps as she prances the room, analyzing what could have been thirty clones of the same girl as they all plié as one in front of mirrors. It’s comforting. It’s almost all she knows.
“Yeah. Well, I guess.”
“Is that all?”
“Yeah.” She sighs tiredly. “Thanks for the talk.”
Chopin is her company as she dresses herself to go home, the music almost takes form in the dressing room.
During a break in her schedule, Casey decides to call the smartest member of her family.
“Hello, Marti! How have you been?”
“Yes, Casey, Derek is right. I’m busy.”
Expectantly, (because it’s Marti), the line disconnects as Casey stares baffled at the phone in her hands, waiting for a sign that her step sister didn’t just hang up on her out of the blue.
But then, Marti is Derek’s sister. Casey should have already known.
“There’s nothing wrong with being complicated.”
Is what she says when Derek opens the door of his apartment. Casey barges in without waiting for an invitation (she knows she probably won’t get one) and goes straight for the kitchen. He doesn’t protest to her invasion. After years, he has learned it’s easier to just let her get whatever she came here over with.
“Of course not. Remember ‘Inception’? That was fun, even if you had to explain it to me like, a thousand times.”
“Exactly my point.” Casey exclaims, beginning the process of fussing his kitchen and cleaning as she talks. “It’s okay that I’m hard to get, at first, because I have a lot more to offer when people get to know me. Dylan, for instance, thought I was crazy when we met, but now he likes me.”
Derek, relying solely on her to clean up his mess, like the useless cad that he is, opens up his fridge and rummages through the shelfs for a while, until he finds the least disgusting thing in there (something that might have resembled cake in a distant past) and starts devouring it. He asks, his back to her.
“He’s deeper than that, Derek. Can’t you see over the stereotype?” Casey faces him while washing his dishes. Or his roommates’ dishes. Whatever. They’re dirty, her eyes can’t take the sight of that huge train wrack that is this place.
“So, he’s your next boyfriend?”
The fork she’d been washing hits the sink with a strident clatter. “What? No! I’m off dating for a while.” Casey mutters distractedly, keeping the silverware to avoid more accidents. “I was just making a point. Anyway, you made me worry over nothing about being… complicated.”
Derek looks at her with disinterest from the island, eating and watching her clean everything around her without moving one single limb to help.
Opening a messy drawer, Casey scowls, trying to arrange it. Derek’s kitchen is always filthy, and it always seems dirtier than it is because of the whiteness of everything. Even though Casey is an adept of clear, light spaces, she thinks she would rather not know how much dirt there really is in here. It does nothing for her (fragile) mental health to see the white tiles greased and blackened by his latest attempt at cooking.
“If we’re talking about you then it’s different. You’re not complicated, you’re being studied by Nasa.”
Casey turns on her heals, in the middle of arranging his Tupperware and making her hair slap across her cheeks. “Der-ek! I’m trying to make a point here! Can you at least pretend to listen to the speech I made about accepting my complication as one of my inherent flaws?“
“A speech? Really?” Derek rolls his eyes for effect. “Why don’t you go ahead and kill me with that K-pop shit too while you’re at it.”
“It doesn’t end in emotional tears.” She tries, ignoring his jab at K-pop.
“Only in my plea for help, then.”
“Or you could clap!” He snorts. Honestly, he’s acting like she’s asking him to give up on booze again, but she thinks Derek could really be more supportive of her, it wouldn’t kill him or anything. “For once, because I’m growing and acknowledging my flaws?”
“Do you also want roses?” Casey pouts, but doesn’t say anything. “I thought not. Now that you admitted that you’re wrong, like you always are, you can leave.”
“Where are you going?” Casey butts in. It’s probably none of her business, but it’s not often that he ditches her for something else.
“Away from you?”
The eye roll comes like an instinct. “Very funny, Derek. Did they teach you the alphabet along with sarcasm?”
“Nope. So you finally admit that I was right, and that you’re too complicated for your own good?”
“Yes or no, Case?”
“Yes.” She looks like she has eaten a whole lemon in one go. “You were right.”
“Thank you! Now, you have to go. I’m gonna have sex tonight and you’re getting in the way.”
Casey makes a face over the image of a naked Derek that comes to her mind. Gross. She didn’t need to know what he was doing, she wouldn’t mind it if he just mentioned he’d have a date or something.
“Can’t you just say you have a date?”
“That’s not what this is.” Casey is amazed that he is able to say something like that without any changes in his expression. Maybe she’s too much of a prude. “Besides, you would’ve just asked me to see her pics if I said that.”
“I have to approve of her! I’m your sister.”
“Step-sister. And you never approve of anyone I see.”
She knows that’s not true. Sure, the girls he dates are completely wrong for him, almost none of them are compatible with his personality, but she is quick to think of something to prove him wrong. “I approved of Riley, she seemed nice.”
“The exact reason why I dumped her.”
“You are such an ass.”
“If you’re here when she comes I’m asking you to join us.” He arches his eyebrows at her in a dare. Casey is both mortified and scandalized, her cheeks burning in a hundred degrees Celsius.
“Der-ek! Oh my Gosh, you have no boundaries. Let me just say my speech, then!” But he is grabbing her shoulders and pushing her toward his door, her feet dragging on the floor.
“You either join or you…” Casey cuts him before he can finish the sentence, yelling to muffle his voice.
”Maturing is a slow and hard process that begins with acceptance for what we truly...”
Derek slams the door on her face.
Even though Casey opens her door with a pleasant expression, when her eyes settle on him, it quickly dissolves into a frown, no matter that Derek is holding in one of his hands the bags from her favorite healthy restaurant. It has been a week since she has talked to him, and the lack of constant reminders to wash his filthy clothes or do some assignment three weeks before the due date is how she expresses her anger.
He’d texted her to ask what was wrong, but went unanswered. Really, Spacey, it wasn’t the first time I dragged you out the door, is what he sent after his first attempt, still to no avail.
Though I still think you should reconsider seeing me naked, it’s quite a view. She knew he had sent it as a retaliation to being left on read for three days, but this was, expectedly, the thing that broke her and that probably clued him in to what she was really angry about. Casey texted him as soon as she left her class that day.
You are disgusting!
This is how Derek came to stand on her doorstep, on a Thursday night, after many hours of gruesome training. He can’t have her mad at him, because he needs her help to understand political science (or so he says).
“Are you still mad at me for saying that shit?” Casey ignores him, like she’s been doing all week. “Come on, Case, it was just a joke. I know you would never in a million years partake in a threesome.” Derek smiles, trying to win her.
“This isn’t funny, Derek!” Even though she’s screaming, she lets him in, which may or may not mean that she’s willing to forgive him. The door bangs behind his back, and she crosses her arms. He leaves the food on the table. “I’m your sister. You don’t make those types of jokes to your sister. Could you see yourself saying that to Marti, or Liz?”
He sighs and doesn’t say anything for a while, loudly dropping himself on her couch. She takes the time to open the bags and spot the pumpkin soufflé that she loves so much amongst the things he’d purchased. Her mouth waters and she decides maybe he doesn’t deserve her cold shoulder after all.
Derek breaks the silence that has settled as she eats. “Why not?”
“What?” She frowns, trying to swallow through a mouth full.
“Why can’t I make a joke about it?” Derek reformulates, opening his eyes. From where he is, lying down on the couch, his jaw tenses. “Case, honestly, we aren’t even real siblings.”
Casey puts the container down, looking at him with serious eyes. “Because. It’s wrong. And incestuous.” Derek needs this spelled out for him, so she’s more emphatic. “We have a brother, Derek, who is a son of your dad and my mom and that has the cutest laugh known to mankind.”
“It’s kinda weird, yeah.” He concedes. “But it isn’t incest. It was just some stupid shit I said, why are you so upset, anyway?”
“I don’t like it when you make those types of jokes.”
“There’s no reason for you to be upset!” He sits, taken by a sudden surge of energy that appears to have come out of nowhere.
“You are pushing this way too hard. If it’s just a bad punch-line you just had to apologize! I didn’t like it. Why can’t that be enough for you to stop pushing the subject?”
Running his fingers through his hair, Derek utters, frustrated. “This is so like you. There’s nothing wrong with the stupid joke. You’re turning this into something bigger than it is! Forget it, Case.“
The walls of her apartment seem to reverberate every single word they say, and amplify them until she’s sure they can be heard as clear as day from everyone passing by the sidewalk beneath. It’s always like this when they fight and she hates that the script of this particular talk has never been reenacted before, because she’s not really sure where it’ll lead.
“So this has to do with me? And my over-dramatic tendencies and nothing to do with the fact that you made a totally inappropriate and tasteless comment about us sleeping together! Twice! Now you’re asking me to forget it, like it was nothing!”
“I don’t want to sleep with you!” He yells, meanly for an answer.
Her chest constricts for an unknown and ignored reason, her throat tightening in the way that precedes tears. Casey is just glad that Kristal has decided to spend the night with one of her boy toys tonight. This isn’t a conversation she wants to have overheard, even if it’s by her best friend. “I don’t want to sleep with you either!”
“So, drop it!”
“Great, I will!”
A tense silence follows. Derek clenches then unclenches his jaw, in an almost imperceptible way, but she knows his ticks, where to look for his tells. She stands and heads to the kitchen, filling up a glass with water. It’s cold, to the point where her teeth hurt, and the feeling only worsens the knots on her throat.
Turning her back with the pretense of washing her glass, Casey opens the sink to let the gushing of the water disguise her as she takes time to close her eyes and exhale through her nose to calm herself, which helps ease the prickle in her eyes a little, before she hastily leaves for the living room again. Derek is still lounging on the couch, probably too tired to move, one arm draped over his eyes.
“Move over, jerk.” He pears at her from under his arm, but gives her some space so she can sit next to the messy locks of his hair. She deposits his share of food on his chest. “You’re still apologizing, right? I want to watch Jane the Virgin.”
Derek grunts an unintelligible reply but manages to sit and start devouring his cheese and leek quiche with an expression that is in the spectrum of loathe and disgust.
He really hates healthy food.
“Yeah, well, too bad.”
Afterwards, when they have finished their meal and the corny episode, she sees him roll his shoulders back and wince, turning his neck to the sides and pushing his arms over his head.
A rush of something she can’t quite describe overpowers her and makes all the anger she’d been holding against him ebb away, like it had never been there at all. Her voice leaves her softly as Casey speaks to the television.
“If you let me watch another episode I can massage your shoulders for you.”
“Yeah, whatever.” Derek answers to the screen.
It’s not an apology, the massage, but it kind of is, and she had only volunteered because he had come to see her even though he was so tired his eyes can’t stay open for more than three seconds.
Derek sits on the floor in front of her, between her legs, as her fingers trace the hard line of his shoulders. Like this, watching the way his chest rises and falls, the sight of it drawing her eyes like a lullaby while the knots under her hands disappear, it’s easy to simply forget the reason why she’s upset. He hisses when she squeezes a particularly hard one, and the sound makes something in the pit of her stomach clench.
He still wonders why he can’t joke, but she knows the line between them is blurred enough as it is, and it doesn’t need any innuendos to make things worse.
Casey’s mom calls right after she leaves the shower, that weekend.
“Aren’t you going to ask me if you think you’re complicated?”
Casey sighs, taking the wet towel off her head. “No, mom, I’ve already made peace with that. But thanks.”
“That’s always good to know, dear.”
The chill air of the room makes her skin tingle as she paces around, and she quickly grabs one of her neatly folded sweaters to warm her up before she speaks, somewhat detached. “Yeah, I guess.”
“Uh-oh. That doesn’t sound like someone who found inner peace. Are you sure you don’t want my input?”
“No, it’s not that. I have.” Casey flops down her desk chair. “It’s just… Derek and I are having this weird silent fight.”
“You and Derek always fight, Case, I thought this couldn’t bother you anymore.”
“Well, it’s not really a fight. We’re talking, or, arguing, normally, but still… I don’t know, mom.” Casey stares at the brightly colored wall ahead of her, losing herself in the post it with the dates of her tests. “We’re kind of ignoring it and pretending nothing happened. But things are… strangely calm? Like we’re avoiding the topic.”
The sound of a kids show reaches her end, and Nora asks Robbie to turn down the volume. There’s a faint noise of shuffling and she returns. “Case, whatever it is you guys are fighting about, don’t ignore it. I did this with your father when we were together. Not talking is worse than arguing. Communicate what you feel, dear, or he’ll never know.”
“It’s not that easy, mom.” She opens her agenda to look at what she has for the next week to distract herself, even if she already knows every single day by heart.
“Of course it is. But you have to stop being so proud and admit to him how you feel.”
Casey suddenly stops breathing, hands immobilized in the air. “What do you mean admit how I feel?”
There isn’t an immediate answer and Casey starts panicking, wondering if her mother knows, and how could she know and be okay with this? Screaming follows through the call, Marti and Lizzie’s voices. “Mom?”
“Sorry. You have to admit to him why you’re upset, Case”
“Yeah.” Casey gulps with a tone of guiltiness. “Really simple.”
“Really, Derek, you did great out there.” He stares at her as they walk down the corridor to the parking lot, the fluorescent light from above making him look even paler than he currently is. “I’m not kidding! All those amazing… slides. What about that thing you did to block the other guy? And you scored too! Like, a lot. It just wasn’t the best day for the team, in general. But you did great. More than great, actually.”
She turns his way, brightly, all smiles, but he is still as taciturn as the old lady who judged her bare legs on the street the other day. “Casey, shut up.”
“Derek, listen to me! You were incredible out there.” And he was. He was always amazing playing hockey, once she had actually gone to one of his games to watch him. There was something entrancing in the way he moves as he skates through the ice, powerful and graceful. Casey is mesmerized every time she sees it.
But tired and cranky from losing, Derek can take none of her praise. Even if she knows this, she thinks it never helps to kick him when he’s down (Derek is a very vindictive Scorpio, and he lives by the motto revenge is a plate best served cold).
Suddenly, his shoulders sag and he exhales, defeated, fixing her pleadingly. “Casey, please. Drop it.” She opens her mouth to retort, but the air is weird around them. She is reminded of their fight, how they had managed to let go of it without any major incidents, if only because they chose to walk on eggshells instead. There’s an echo of his voice in her ears it’s just a joke and it has the same cadence of when he says please.
Derek never says please but when they’re fighting.
They make a quiet line to the Prince, the cold wind freezing her cheeks for a while as he shuffles his pockets for the keys. The air inside the car is still cold, but less so than outside. The sound of the heater is a blessing to her ears.
“Do you wanna grab something to eat?” Derek asks, blowing into his hands and turning the engine to let it heat for a minute before they leave. “I was thinking of burgers.”
“Sure.” Casey nods. She pierces her lips, glancing at him from the corner of her eyes. “But I thought there was a party or something happening tonight?”
“Just some pizza and beer at Jackson’s.” He shrugs. “Not really in the mood.”
“Oh.” Looking through the window, she thinks about Derek’s hockey team. It’s composed basically by a mismatched bunch of rich-boys, scholarship kids, boisterous and noisy guys, and, all around, jerks who Casey hates. Derek likes them, though. For all of his judg-y attitude towards people in general, he is not someone who’s picky about his friends. He’s mostly good with people, at making them laugh and talk. He likes company, which is not something she can relate to. “I guess we could drop by, later, if you want. Isn’t it like a tradition or something? Reuniting after a game. We do it after recitals.”
He makes a face, driving carefully with all the snow on the roads. “I don’t really want to go. It’s going to be lame and depressing, anyway, which means that, for once, your company will be better than theirs.”
“Thanks.” She deadpans, before turning to him, her seatbelt stopping her movements for a second. Casey sees herself tangled in it, the scene so reminiscent of their high school days. Derek snorts from the driver’s seat, exclaiming an Oh, Klutzilla that she ignores. “But seriously, I think you should go. Just to say hi and curse the other team or whatever you guys do.”
“Yeah, I’ll think about it over burgers.” He says, smiling at her clumsiness.
“Der-ek! Seriously. You want to go. I know it, okay? The only thing that makes you more tolerable after losing is beer, so just go.”
He glares, then makes a turn left, on a street that has a clear sign with a crossed arrow, which makes her scream at him for making a forbidden turn, probably just to spite her.
“Yeah, yeah, I know. There’s no one here, though. And if I turn right on this street then we won’t have to go into that sketchy one near the diner. Anyway, I’m not in the mood for pizza, so I’m doing the eating part with you.”
Her pulse does a little fluttering thing about his insistence on going out with her and she fixes the bright neon signs around with an intent she doesn’t feel. “No, we should… you should go be with them. I don’t mind, really.”
They spend the rest of the ride in silence, eat greasy food in Derek’s favorite diner, and he manages not to be as cranky as he could have been. Casey mostly forgets about their fight, until she catches herself being absorbed by this little quirk he gets in his mouth when he’s amused by something funny that she said. She sobers up in the middle of laughing to some silly comment about their waitress hitting on Derek, something she does sometimes, when there’s a pretty girl around trying to flirt with him.
His mood catches on to hers, spotting the frozen panic she’s sporting and the horrible nonchalance she’s never learned to use.
Derek takes one of her fries. She doesn’t protest.
“Is it still not okay to joke about that?” He asks to her shoulder, as she watches the curve of his neck. Casey doesn’t give any outward sign that she heard him. His fingers drum the tabletop and he looks into her eyes. “I want you to come, Casey, but you have to say it’s okay.”
“I don’t know, Derek. Isn’t it like a team bonding activity?” She dodges.
“Girlfriends are allowed. So you could come, if you wanted.” His tone of voice has absolutely no intonation, like he was talking about the weather. The waitress passes their table for the 38th time, eyeing him the whole way to the neighboring table.
Even though Casey’s mostly joking about it, it’s somewhat bothersome that the waitress is so pretty. Just his type, really, all narrow waist, bouncy hair and a smile that makes the guy sitting in a table nearby drop the salt he’s holding when she flashes her teeth his way.
Casey’s eyes are on the tabletop.
“It’s still not okay.”
“Then I’m going for the beer part of this evening.”
When the waitress brings their bill, there’s a number hastily scribbled underneath the total, beside a smiling face and the name Hayley. Derek smirks toward the beautiful brunette as they leave. Casey goes ahead to the car, opens the door with the keys he’d deposited into her hands, waiting for him to finish his flirting.
He strides to the car and opens the door, ready to ask why the hell she’s sitting on his seat (so predictable, really, Derek).
“I’m taking you to Jackson’s and picking you up later so you don’t drink and drive.”
He groans, but gives her the directions anyway. So she drops him off and tries not to think that he probably gave their waitress that exact same location, just a few minutes ago.
A few hours later, when Casey’s almost dozing off watching some horrible gore horror movie with Kristal, her phone rings, a wasted Derek on the other end of the line asking for her to pick him up. She should rightfully complain, but she’d offered, so she gets into his car with a groan to meet him.
“How was the party.” She pries while he throws himself in the car seat beside her, trying to diffuse the earlier tension with some harmless talk.
His eyes are closed, head thrown carelessly on the seat behind him. His Adam’s apple bobs once as he swallows.
“So much better because you weren’t there.”
And it’s not like she expected him to answer any differently, because he’s Derek, and she’s Casey, and this is all they ever know how to act like, but, for the tiniest moment, she wishes they could say things without veiling the meaning of their words.
“If by better you actually mean unintelligent, dull and uneducated, then I guess you’re right.” She answers, but the sentence feels squeezed out of her. It’s like an autopilot, their hearts aren’t in it.
Late night city lights are endless, and they seem to be the only company all the way home.
“This show is so stupid.” Derek says from the floor, between munches of potato chips Casey had thrown at him to make him quiet.
But now she is too wrapped up in Jane and Michael to care what her idiot step brother has to say, so Kristal steps up. “Your life is stupid.”
Sometimes, Casey wonders what she’s done in her life to have two of the most sarcastic, self-centered and obnoxious people in the world as her best friends. Kristal and Derek are practically one and the same, only with the genders swapped.
They are also virtually perfect for each other.
She feels like the third wheel when she watches from the sidelines as they interact, Kristal reaches from the couch to the bag of chips in his lap. Derek bats her hand away and loudly complains, but she still steals some. Casey just watches the exchange, with that tight squeeze in her chest again, deep in thought.
Later that night, after Derek leaves, she finds Kristal brushing her teeth with the bathroom door open.
“I wouldn’t mind, you know.”
Her friend spits in the sink and turns, her mouth still covered in white goo. The sight is kind of disgusting “What? Me using your shampoo? Good, I couldn’t afford it this month.”
“No, Kris.” She breathes deep, smoothing the lump in her throat while the other girl washes her face. “You and Derek.”
Kristal’s head hits the bathroom cabinet as she doubles her body in a resonant laughter that lasts about one whole minute. “Oh, Case, you’ll kill me one day. Where the hell did you get this from?”
Casey doesn’t see this as funny. She’s trying to be a bigger person and give them her blessing and all. She should be canonized by the Church, she’s practically a saint at this point. “You guys match, is all. You’re so alike”
“That’s the reason why we would be terrible together.”
“No, look! You like the same things and behave almost the same way… It’s not that far-fetched.”
The raven haired is still smiling when she answers. “Casey, don’t you think it means more that we’re so alike and love you so damn much?”
Casey’s taken aback. “But I…”
“Casey. Think. It just means that people like us are drawn to people like you, because you are the only one that can put up with our shit. Crap, I kissed your ex, Case!”
“And that was really horrible of you! We had been broken up for like… Three days.”
“And you still forgave me. Now, what if I hooked up with Derek?”
“You hooked up with Will?”
“Not the point here.”
“Oh, my Gosh, you are a terrible friend.”
“And so is Derek. But you put up with us, because you are an amazing human being.”
The spot in the mirror next to the sink has a little imperfection near the corner, where it connects with the tiles. Casey can’t stop staring at it in fuming rage.
“Do you know why I never made a move on Derek and I did on WIll?”
She doesn’t answer.
“Because I could have never hurt you like that. You have a different guy getting into your life every month. None of them stay, but Derek. He means the world to you, and you’re so afraid of this thing between the two of you that you don’t ever let it go forward. There’s nothing stopping you from being happy but yourself, you know? He’s so into you it’s gross to just share a space with you two.”
“He doesn’t…” Casey tries at first, but she doesn’t know where to end this. “We don’t… you don’t know that.” Is what she settles for, because she has to know.
“You guys are having a major fight and he’s still always here. And that stupid show. Even I’m wrapped up in that and we both hate it. It’s sappy, but we watch it with you because you can’t handle the gore of Peaky Blinders.”
This is one of the sweetest things someone has ever done to her. Casey feels her heart wanting to explode right out of her, filled up with warmth. She wraps her friend in a hug.
“Oh, I wasn’t prepared for this.”
“Shut up and hug me.” Kris sighs, defeated, and returns the gesture, somewhat grudgingly. “Thanks for being such a good friend.”
Casey dries her eyes when they part. It’s horrible to be so sensitive when everyone around her has the emotional range of a rock.
“I mean it, Case. Derek and I are friends because of you. Just friends.”
“Okay.” It’s not like Kristal needs to reassure her, but it’s still good that she does it all the same.
The last call comes two days later, when Casey’s wrapped up in blankets, almost freezing with the cold as she tries to make sense of her own hand-writing. Night has fallen a few hours ago, the low temperature dropping more and more with the passage of time, making her ponder with increased seriousness the ups and downs of having a good mug of hot chocolate right now.
Debating internally over the sleepiness that will take over her versus the warmth the drink will bring while she drums her fingers on her desk, her phone rings, the caller on the screen taking her by surprise.
“Hey, Casey! How are you?”
“I’m good, thanks, Ed.” She refrains from asking why are you calling me, and, decides to go for a pleasant and nice how have you been.
“Terrific. I believe Liz has already told you about our new filing system for intelligence?”
“Yes, she did. It’s quite… interesting.”
“I’d say revolutionary, but I guess it hasn’t fallen into the taste of the masses yet.” Casey snorts. Edwin sometimes reminds her so much of his brother when he says things like that. It’s not in what he says, exactly, but the wording resounds on her ear in Derek’s tone. She smiles.
“I’ll be able to judge it better when I see it in person. From here, it just sounds creepy.”
“Sorry, information is confidential. Speaking of. It has come to my knowledge that you have been asking people if you’re complicated.”
Why does everyone in her family wants in on her business? They never know when to just let her be. Deciding that the need to make herself busy will be the only thing capable of helping her go through with this conversation, Casey stands, phone lodged precariously between her shoulder and ear, to make some calming chamomile tea. (No hot chocolate, Casey, it goes straight to your thighs).
“It has come correctly to your ears, Mr. Bond. But I don’t need to know anymore. I’ve already sorted it.”
“I made a file to help you!”
She hopes the sound of the pan hitting the stove is loud enough to dissuade him from pursuing that line of discussion and, hopefully, make him hang up. Not that she minds talking to Edwin, she likes him, but it’s all very weird.
The water can’t boil fast enough. Casey desperately needs her tea.
“Then you can show me when we visit for Christmas. But how’s that girlfriend of yours? Derek tells me she has you wrapped around her finger.” With some luck, he won’t notice her blatant subject-diversion.
“Exaggerations on his part. Now, if you want to take a look at that file, I have gathered evidence that may suggest Derek was right.”
The water is still stubbornly refusing to boil, for her dismay, so she walks around the kitchen, anxiously.
“Has Liz told you about our talk?” She says, angry. “I thought I could trust her! Sisterhood means nothing nowadays.”
“Yeah, well.” Ed cleans his throat. “About that. I wanted to call Sophie and you guys were in the line, so…”
“Sorry, sorry! But anyways, about the evidence. Though circumstantial, I believe you will find it very helpful. It was gathered with the data from your old boyfriends, and Emily helped us with the analysis. She says hi, by the way, and that she agrees with Derek too.”
No bubbles. Not even a single one to help her do her calming tea to calm her. She slumps down the kitchen chair, closing her eyes tiredly. This is the last time she will talk about this ‘complicated’ thing. She had already sorted everything out, and people were still saying things to her, which had only made her problems worse, somehow.
All those talks were doing nothing to help her fix the situation. All it was doing was create a sense that there was something decidedly wrong in her life, choices and thinking process. It was disconcerting.
“You’re just going to tell me anyways, right? Gosh, you are turning so much into Derek Okay, fine. Tell me. I know this will give me a headache. And I’m going to have a really serious talk with Emily later.”
“Do you mind if Lizzie helps? It’s on speaker.”
“Why am I not surprised?” Casey rolls her eyes. “Hi, Lizard.”
“Hey, Case! I didn’t tell him about our talk. The mole spied on us and heard it.”
Edwin clears his throat again. Not that there was a reason for him to be calling her attention. The tea wasn’t going to be ready in time to avoid the major anxiety attack her siblings were setting up.
“Exhibit A: Sam. The first boyfriend. Supposedly perfect on paper, but, at the end, was unable to provide you with what you needed, or, to support you when you fought with Derek. In general, cute, but nothing much. Also, was incapable of understanding you.”
This has barely started and she can already feel the headache. Lizzie continues.
“Exhibit B: Max. Jock, which has as a perk only the physical aspect of it.” At the background, Ed makes a retching sound. “Kind of had zero sensibility and, when he seemed to show signs of improvement, you mysteriously decided to dump him. Finally, exhibit C: Truman, also known as utter garbage.”
“We thought really hard to try and find his qualities, but came out empty-handed.”
“I think it was just a rebellious phase.”
“Anyway. His problem was that he didn’t know how to be a decent human being.”
“In conclusion?” She squeezes the crease between her eyebrows. These kids will give her premature wrinkles. The last thing she needs is a retelling of her Failed Relationships: Where it All Began by her younger siblings. The water has to have at least started to boil by now, so Casey heads to the oven to check on the pan. Fortunately, the bubbles are happily breaking to the surface of the pan.
Going through the motions, she throws the hot water into her mug. The mere existence of the beverage as it sits beside her on the table is enough to calm her for what’s to come.
Lizzie starts, cautiously.
“Casey. We love you. But don’t you think you self-sabotage yourself in relationships that are destined to fail? Sam was Derek’s friend, and you and Derek both used him like a tug-of-war. It wasn’t supposed to last. I don’t even have to mention the break up with Max when things were okay, do I? And you knew Truman was a scumbag from the start, and that he would probably mess up somehow at the end.”
“It’s not that you’re complicated. You just deliberately choose relationships that won’t last. You don’t give guys the chance to know you.”
Liz lets the words sink into her. Casey takes a large sip of her tea, even if it burns her tongue so much she guesses she might lose her palate for a couple of days.
“Wow. That presentation was impressive.” Casey tries to sound cheerful.
“Took a lot of planning and intel.” Ed says simply.
“We’re telling you this because we think there’s a reason for that. There’s already someone that gets you and you don’t want anyone else to.” Lizzie speaks, softly. “No one will judge you.”
“Yeah. It’s okay.” Ed comforts. “We’re cool with it, even if’s still kind of weird.” There’s a muffled yell of pain on the background.
“I’m not sure I know what you’re talking about.” Casey lies, biting her lip, mouth dry. “The presentation was a little too much, though, really. Also, it’d have been better to do it in person, with pictures, or a slide show!”
“Duly noted, sis.”
They hang up after that, and Casey speculates if it will be worth finishing the tea at all. She does, but there’s not much taste in the beverage, and she doesn’t think it’s because of the lost palate either.
After that, Casey hits big red denial button for two whole weeks. It’s hilariously easy to go on with her life and pretend like nothing had ever happened, to study in Derek’s room, rehearse like crazy for her Winter recital and to text Dylan to have flirty conversations that revolve around fruits, of all possible things. She doesn’t pretend to understand.
Her Dance Studio is reenacting one of her favorite recitals this year, and Casey gets the main role, which is as challenging and terrifying as it is grand and important, so it’s mostly simple to put her worries away in a tight box in her head to be studied on a later date.
At her presentation day, nerves frazzled, hair pulled tight back in her skull, Casey peeps from the stage at the growing crowd, dozens of people dressed for the harsh Canadian weather holed up in the theater’s armchairs. Derek sits on the third row to the stage left, looking out of place with his leather jacket and uninterested manner. He had only come because she’d nagged him so much it was embarrassing to even admit. (No one can prove that she’d gone on her knees and begged, the only supposed eyewitness is unreliable).
Casey dances Giselle to perfection, every move synched, the steps precise, hands gentle. Every time she’s on stage, she feels like the world could be hers to take, if she wished.
But when the night is done, curtains closed and applause still ringing clear on her ears, as Derek stands there poking fun at her and drying some invisible drool (you didn’t sleep, Derek, I saw your eyes open in all of the acts), there’s a feeling of inevitability that settles onto her, and she knows the time to escape has passed.
Then she obsessively ponders over everything every single person in her life has told her about herself these last couple of months.
First, she outlines her plan of action, which consists basically on reading a lot of Freud (how fitting, she thinks sarcastically) and Kristal’s books on psychology, to give herself a better insight of how her own mind works and a clue as to what is the correct approach to the situation she finds herself in. What Casey wants to figure out with this is, basically, as follows: a) which things people said about her are actually true; b) if some, or all of it, is true, is there a way to fix it; c) does it all really matter.
She pours herself over books, reads all different theories and authors, in the hopes of finding the answers, but studying proves, for once in her life, pointless. There are no light bulbs suddenly popping over her head to point out how to solve things or giving her a better understanding of herself and her problems.
Then, five consecutive days she spends locked in her bedroom, alone watching deep films that delve into the human nature, a bottle of wine for company. Casey is ready to tear her hair from her head after watching a very disturbing view on incest, which draws the final line on that route of research. People’s minds are recesses she does not want to delve into anymore, her own is quite enough.
Lastly, she decides to simply think over what was said, about what rings right and what resonates wrongly with how she views herself, and even what she wants to view as wrong but are actually just painful truths.
These are days of long, thoughtful showers and lying awake in her bed for hours at a time before sleep overcomes her, but, finally, she is surprised to admit that… all of those things are kind of true, in their own way. And, funny enough, the solution to every one of people’s insights over her complexity, her relationship problems (the self-sabotaging and the serial dating), her communication issues and the never admitting what she wants is, surprisingly… Derek.
So there are more days of painful self-realization that follow that breakthrough, the super awkwardness that settles into a room whenever Derek is around, making their non-admitted fight even worse than it was previously, and some more sleepless nights.
In fact, Derek is so bothered by her behavior that, a week before they are set to return home for Christmas, he bluntly asks her, as they sit together in her apartment to watch yet another episode of her favorite show.
“What the hell in wrong with you these days? Jesus, you’ve been giving me headaches just to be near you.” His foot nudges her from under the blanket they have been using to keep themselves warm. It’s not like they didn’t have a heater, but their bill was getting so expensive they couldn’t afford to let it turned on all the time.
Casey closes her hands over her lap. She sighs, defeated, letting her shoulders sag and her eyes wander to a spot near the television. “Seems like a lot of people have been saying painful truths to my face these last couple of months, so I have been thinking.” It’s not like she wants to stall, but Gosh, it’s hard to get it out of her chest. “I guess it’s okay for you to make those… jokes. To me.”
Derek looks at her from the corner of his eyes, from the other end of the couch. “Yeah, sure, Spacey. Don’t want you biting my head off again, so no, thanks.”
Casey turns her head to him. “Derek, I’m serious! It’s okay, I don’t mind.” That much. She’s trying, though!
They are staring down at the other, from over their noses. Derek smirks. “I’m just gonna believe it when I see you doing it.”
“Doing what, you?”
He laughs. It’s genuine, full and rich, not a mocking or faux one. It’s the laugh Casey could never hate, no matter how many times she’d tried through the years to bring herself to despise it. The sound is so ingrained in her being it feels like a part of her.
“Nice one, Case. Only,” he adds, a glint of mischief coming over his features, “if we were screwing, I’d definitely be the one doing you.”
It’s easier to do this than she thought, bantering with Derek over who would do the other better. She inclines her body forward, entranced by the look he’s giving her, a light teasing with a darker undertone that makes her pulse quicken. “In your dreams,” Casey mocks, the smirk on her lips just like his. “I’d do you so hard you wouldn’t even remember your name after I was done.”
“Oh, yeah?” He turns his whole body to her, voice dropping. She can see his chest rise and fall in a distinctive manner, the movement seeming to grow more pronounced the longer the moment drags on. “If I did you, the only thing you’d remember would be my name. For like, three hours straight.”
Casey’s mouth dries. “I doubt it.” He arches an eyebrow. “You don’t have the stamina for that.”
“Don’t I?” The sentence is, somehow, more suggestive than this whole conversation has been until that moment. “I could probably screw you a whole week and never get tired.”
Casey doesn’t know what to say to that. There’s a nagging in her brain, a buzz in her ears, a weird thrill that crawls through her skin, like an itch that needs to be scratched. All the possible answers that come to her mind make her blush just thinking about them. She could never admit them out loud.
She looks deep into his brown eyes, heart racing.
“If I did you, you wouldn’t ever want anybody else.”
Derek’s expression softens, mouth curving into the minimal hint of a smile. “You don’t have to screw me for that to be true,” he says, without missing a beat.
The words weight heavily between them and she concentrates hard on the couch beneath her arm, the leather old and worn, almost tearing at some points. Casey is quiet, mulling for a minute. She lowers her eyes, choosing to stare instead at the blue blanket that covers their legs from the biting cold, and addressing it in a low voice.
“You know what I’m trying to say here, right?”
“Kind of guessed it by where this conversation was going, yeah, Case.” The blanket shuffles when he adjusts his position, wiggling through the couch so that he is sitting beside her.
Still staring down, she murmurs. “I’m okay with more than just the jokes, just to be clear.”
“You mean you’re okay with me catcalling you when you walk through the hallways? Thought you were classier than that.”
“That is not what I meant and you know it” Casey clenches her jaw and closes her eyes. She is trying to set a moment! “Gosh, you’re so obnoxious, it makes me crazy.”
“You don’t need my help to be crazy. You got so much of it it makes up for everyone else. Kind of like my dick. It’s so big it makes up for other guys’ pitiful sizes.”
Her eyes roll at their own free will, as she gives up on trying to be romantic. Her back flops on the couch behind her as she speaks to the ceiling. “Six inches is just average, Derek.”
“It’s not six inches, thank you very much.”
“You know, saying your…” There’s an awkward pause in the flow of words while she tries to search for a term that doesn’t make her want to cover her face in embarrassment. “Thing is so big actually makes me think you got a complex with that.”
“For Christ’s sake, do you wanna check it?”
The ceiling appears more and more interesting as the seconds pass, but Casey breathes deeply, taking in all the courage she can gather before stating, off-handedly.
“I think it’s the only way to be absolutely sure.”
She can almost feel the way his eyes settle over her, like she’s being analyzed or studied. She hates it when he does that.
“Just to be clear, you’re saying you wanna fuck me?”
Her eyes snap back at him, and she finds him smirking at her, of all things, much closer than he’d been, almost too close. The yellow light from a nearby lamp plays tricks in his irises, making them spark like an ocean. It’s infuriating how handsome he manages to look while being so annoying.
“You just had to ruin the moment, didn’t you?”
Their hands are next to each other, fingers brushing slightly over all the blue that covers them. Casey lets the touch linger for a while, then, carefully, traces the patterns of his knuckles as she lets her head drop to his shoulder.
“That’s why you love me.”
“I never said that!”
“Yeah, just shut up, Case.”
And Derek lunges forward, trying to capture her lips into his, trying to breach what has always looked like an unbridgeable distance that sets them apart, that weird glint in his eyes and small curve on his mouth still firmly planted. He takes his time, hovering over her, almost too close, but too far. A shiver runs down her spine and her heart races. Casey opens her mouth to protest, but he cuts her, the phrase whispered against her softly parted lips. “I’m trying to kiss you so we don’t argue, can’t you go with it for once?”
The answer would have to be no, obviously, women have voices that are too often neglected by the male population, all that he’s doing is reproducing the domination patterns exerted by his sex when he shushes her. Casey frowns. He plants an insistent kiss on the corner of her lips, then down her jaw, near her neck, and he’s so incredibly irritating and adorably cute at the same time she doesn’t know what to do with him.
“I have thoughts that I need to express!” Casey gasps, struggling in vain against his touch. Her hands grip that amazingly tantalizing line of his shoulders over his black shirt, the same one that drew her gaze every time he turned away from her. Derek bites her ear. She almost moans. “My opinions are just as valid as yours.”
He pushes back, frustrated, one of his elbows supporting the weight of his (huge) head as he stares at her.
“Only in your head.”
“Then you can make up your own theory about Inception next time.” Casey offers, arms crossed against her chest. If it makes her breasts stand out even with all the clothes she’s wearing it doesn’t have to mean anything. His eyes flicker downward for a second. She smirks.
Derek sighs, then chooses to get closer again, lips curling, not three inches away from her, hand settling on the back of her head. “I’m sure we can compromise on some things,” he speaks quietly, staring at her mouth.
Casey allows herself to breathe the same air he is, for the first time in her life, and it’s almost a relief. Her breath runs away from her in heaps, like she’s running through a marathon, even though she’s absolutely still.
She puts her hand on his shoulder, leaning in. Derek clutches her tighter.
“Like how I’m totally about to screw you better than you’ll screw me.” She murmurs arrogantly.
“Now, this is something that I really wanna see, because all I hear is talk. Put your money where your mouth is, baby.”
“How about you put your mouth where the money is?”
Derek chuckles deep in his throat, until finally, nose to nose, Casey decides six years is enough of a foreplay for them and kisses him hungrily, like there’s nothing else that matters. His answer doesn’t disappoint in the least. He squeezes her hard, out of breath, nails grazing her scalp. She feels like she’s melting.
Casey brings her hand lower, touching the hard planes of his abdomen, touching every part of him she can, and he groans.
“MY DOOR IS OPEN, YOU IDIOTS!” Kristal yells suddenly, breaking them apart. “JUST GET A ROOM ALREADY! I swear to god, if I hear another bad innuendo or any other moan I will murder someone.”
“Will do, Kris!” Derek yells back. Casey giggles.
Don’t worry,” Casey says, bringing her nose to his collarbone to smell his scent. “She’s just cranky because she hasn’t had sex in two weeks.”
“HI, WILL! YES, I AM TOTALLY FREE RIGHT NOW. I’M GOING OVER TO YOUR PLACE. THANKS FOR THE BOOTY CALL.” There’s a little bit of fussing over the next room, noise of things being thrown around, Kristal cursing and, three seconds later, she emerges, big green bag in hands and a positively murderous glare in tow. She mouths you owe me, before barging out of the apartment in a furious haze.
“Now that that problem has been handled, how about you take care of another, bigger one I have?”
Casey grins, eyes shining. “Der-ek!” It’s more a reflex than anything else, though, and when he whisks her into his lap, hands in the small of her back and looking at her with a smile so big it could eat his whole face, she wonders how she ever thought being without him could have possibly made her happy.
And she’s still complicated as hell, and Derek’s still lazy and stubborn and all the things he’s always been, but, somehow, they make sense. Casey is good at complicating things, but he’s good at untangling all the knots she throws his way.