take a chance and do it today
Derek first hears about it from Sam. Not Sam his friend Sam, but a girl named Sam, who he meets at a baseball game. She was sitting in the row behind him and Ralph, and she accidentally spilled her Coke all over Derek’s lap when she leaped up to scream profanities at the umpire. She has long red hair, is an obsessive Blue Jays fan, and is surprisingly content to be Derek’s distraction-girlfriend for a while.
“Why not, you’re cute,” she says, and shrugs.
They go out on a few dates, and it’s nice, but she’s a little too laid-back. Every time she doesn’t get mad at him for something stupid, he gets a little bit more freaked out, and usually gets home tenser than he was when he left, which is the opposite of his goal. It’s possible he’s become a little warped.
Still, she’s fun to hang out with, and fantastic in bed, so he sticks around for a little bit longer. He’d feel a little bad, maybe, but he has a feeling that her reasons aren’t all that different.
They’re lying in bed one afternoon, making fun of The Real World on her tiny, dorm room TV when a commercial for the TiMERs flashes across the screen, all fuzzy-edged shots of couples holding hands and smiling at each other in formal wear.
“Don’t wait – your destiny won’t,” says the TV.
“What the fuck,” says Derek.
“Oh my God, are they finally out?!” squeals Sam.
After a lengthy explanation, some Googling, and a suspiciously informative Wikipedia page, Derek is more disconcerted than he has ever been in his life.
“You’re not serious,” he says. “You actually want one?”
“You don’t?” Sam replies. She looks at him as if he’s just announced his desire to kill puppies. “I mean c’mon, a fool proof way to figure out the love of your life? Who wouldn’t want that?”
“Because it’s a scam?” Derek says incredulously. “Come on Sam, you don’t actually believe that these stupid things can really tell who your future husband is, or whatever.”
“It’s science,” Sam says pointedly, and gets up to put her pants on. The conversation is pretty much over after that.
your destiny is right around the corner
It’s the kind of thing that Casey lives for, and as much as Lizzie and Nora and Edwin and the rest of them are loathe to admit it, they’re all just as taken in. It’s time to finally admit it: Derek’s entire family is a bunch of romantic saps. It’s probably karma, or something.
“You are way too young to be this bitter,” Nora says critically. Derek ignores her. She’s obviously way too pregnant to have an opinion.
“It’s creepy,” he insists. “Think about it – a computer implanted in your wrist that dictates the rest of your life? No freakin’ thanks.”
“I have no problem with my life being dictated by a computer,” Edwin comments through a mouthful of mashed potatoes. Lizzie, next to him, shoots him a wary look.
“It doesn’t dictate your life,” Casey says defensively. She’s fidgeting in her seat, picking at her food. Derek frowns at her right hand, twisting nervously in the locks of her hair. “It just reveals your true destiny. It’s a miracle.”
“A miracle,” Derek repeats doubtfully.
“A miracle of science!” Edwin trumpets. “Imagine the possibilities of this – if there’s something in our DNA that spells out who we’re supposed to spend the rest of our life with, then what else is there that we just haven’t found yet? A career gene? A personality gene? And when someone does find their quote-unquote soul mate, then do those two people have similar genetic traits? Like, say, the same blood type? Or – “
“Take a breath, dude,” Liz interrupts.
“It is pretty interesting,” Nora says reluctantly. “I mean, kind of creepy, yes, but also, you know…”
“Nora,” Derek groans.
“What?” Nora squawks, looking defiant. “If it helps people be happy, what’s the problem?”
“I cannot even believe what I’m hearing,” Derek grouses.
“Why do you always have to be so cynical?” Casey snaps.
Derek narrows his eyes in her direction. “Why are you always so naïve?” he counters. “It’s a trick, Case, they obviously have some kind of beeper that reacts to some other random beeper, and it fools people into thinking they’ve found their true love, and meanwhile they’re charging two hundred bucks a pop for these stupid things.”
“They’ve been testing them for like, years and years though,” Lizzie says hesitantly. Derek looks at her sideways. “What? There was this documentary I watched – they’ve been doing case studies since the 60s…”
Derek shakes his head. “Jeez, Liz.”
“Well, maybe I want to get one,” Lizzie says hotly. “I mean, God forbid I actually want to believe in something or, I dunno, have hope. Sorry Derek, not all of us are soulless robots.”
“If you get one, I will never, ever let you drive my car,” Derek threatens. Lizzie sneers at him.
“Okay, okay, nobody’s getting one,” George says. Lizzie and Casey both make twin noises of dismay. “Hey! They’re expensive! And we don’t know enough about them. Sorry, girls.”
Lizzie grumbles and makes annoying teenager noises, but Casey just bites her lip and starts staring down her plate again. Derek feels something uneasy start to rumble in his gut.
“I never want to get one,” Marti announces, slamming her fork into her meat loaf decisively.
“What, you don’t want to meet your true love?” Nora says teasingly.
“True love is for losers,” Marti says. Derek bursts out laughing.
“You talk to Derek too much,” George says to her with a glare.
have you ever felt alone
There is nothing, Derek thinks, quite like being the only sane person in the entire world.
It starts with Ralph – of all people, Ralph.
“Whatever dude, you’re just jealous,” Ralph says, stroking the ugly gray plastic TiMER embedded in his wrist. “Three months! Can you believe it? Only three months?”
Derek just shakes his head in mute horror.
Then, it’s Derek’s roommate. The TA for his lit class. The cute girl who works at the coffee shop. His lab partner in Chem. Sooner or later, Derek can walk down the street and see the telltale slash of grey on the wrists of half the people he passes.
“Please don’t yell at me,” she says wearily, sagging against the doorjamb of his apartment, hair falling limply against her face and huge, black circles beneath her eyes. “Just let me in?”
Derek shakes his head and steps aside.
She shows him the damned thing while sucking down the hot chocolate he’d made for her, wrapped in the blanket from his bed and visibly trying not to cry. It’s just as bulky and ugly as Ralph’s, but a bit smaller, and the face is blank.
“I thought it was supposed to count down,” Derek says, puzzled.
“It is,” she says. “When it’s blank, it means your…you know…doesn’t have a TiMER yet.” She sniffles, once. “The lady who installed it says it’s normal, that not a lot of people have them yet…that I just have to be patient.”
Derek drops her wrist with a sigh. “Liz…why?”
She shakes her head. “I was curious, okay?” she says, a touch of defensiveness in her voice. “Plus, I meant what I said – it’s not bad to believe in something.”
Derek just shakes his head, at a loss for words.
“George just got so mad,” Lizzie continues. “And it’s not like I made him pay for it, I used my own money, so I don’t know what his problem is – “
“It’s not about money,” Derek can’t help but say.
“Well, sorry,” Lizzie says, curling into herself a little tighter. Derek feels a pang of something that he refuses to admit is guilt.
“Look,” he says. “He just – he cares about you. He doesn’t want you to…” Derek trails off, wanting to say, spend your entire life waiting for something that might never come, but it feels too harsh.
Lizzie doesn’t wait for him to finish. “You don’t know what it’s like,” she says, voice small. “For someone like me.”
“Someone like you?” Derek parrots, a bit stupidly.
“You know what I mean,” Lizzie says fiercely. “Don’t play dumb.”
Derek starts to feel a little sick. “Lizzie – “
“Don’t! Don’t.” Liz rubs her own arms, looking very small and young. “I don’t need you to – look, I just wanted to know, you know?” She looks at the TiMER sadly, tracing one fingernail over the edges. “I guess that was a bust.”
Derek sighs and slides one arm around her shoulder. She shudders a little, then rests her forehead against his collarbone carefully.
“What am I gonna do with you, kid,” he says.
“I don’t even know,” Lizzie replies tiredly.
you never know until you try
“Thanks for letting her stay,” Casey says. Her hair is pulled back into a messy ponytail and she’s wearing a sweatshirt that used to be his. Derek’s pulse jumps.
“Like I was gonna kick her out?” he replies quietly. Lizzie’s still asleep, and he’s not a complete asshole.
“Well, you aren’t exactly the biggest fan of TiMERs,” Casey says. “You probably agree with George, right?” She says his name like a curse. As if Casey would ever curse.
“You don’t?” Derek challenges gently. He can literally see the struggle in her face, as she makes the attempt to disagree with him, before capitulating to her sense of duty to the truth.
“She’s too young,” Casey says quietly. “I – you know, I saw this little girl at the mall the other day with one installed? She can’t have been more than six years old.”
“And I thought getting your baby’s ears pierced was inappropriate,” Derek sneers.
“Why do you hate them so much?” Casey asks, perching on the arm of his couch, balancing preciously with one leg tucked beneath the other. It has never failed to amaze Derek how she can be so comfortable in such contorted positions. “I mean, I agree, it’s weird for kids. Even teenagers, I mean – the pressure that Liz is going to be under, to find the one… but, you know, for people who are mature enough to handle it, maybe – “
“Are you trying to tell me you’re going to get one?” Derek asks.
Casey flushes. “I’m not discounting the possibility,” she says carefully.
Derek turns away. He hasn’t had nearly enough coffee yet this morning to be having this conversation. “And what exactly is it that you think it’s going to accomplish for you?”
Casey is silent.
“Wait, don’t tell me,” Derek continues. “You and Ben are going to get them together. Because you’re so very much in love. What a wonderful bonding opportunity.”
“Well, why not?” Casey says. “We’ve been dating for almost six months. And if we can know for sure, then…”
“Know?” Derek repeats. “Why do you have to know? I don’t need to know.”
“You mean you don’t want to know,” Casey says. “You’re scared.”
“No, you don’t fool me, Derek,” Casey says triumphantly. “You are so much more transparent than you think you are. It scares you, because you don’t want to feel like your life isn’t under your own control. And if you do get one, you’re scared that you won’t like what it tells you.”
Derek swallows thickly. “Goody for you, Case,” he says sarcastically. “You’re the queen of emotions. Have a trophy.”
“They’re not evil, you know,” is all Casey says. “They’re supposed to help.”
“I don’t need that kind of help,” Derek says viciously.
Casey sighs wearily. “I just…”
Casey shakes her head. There’s a streak of mascara beneath her right eye, and her fingernail polish is chipping, and as he watches she readjusts her position on the arm of the couch. He can see her muscles shift beneath her thin sweatpants.
“Some people just aren’t that great at being alone,” she finally says, sounding sad.
Derek shakes his head. “Since when are you alone,” he says, still angry. Then he stares her down until she flinches and looks away.
“You don’t get it,” she mumbles. “You just – you don’t get it.”
the right one is out there
The next time Derek sees Casey, there’s a TiMER sparkling on her wrist. He sees it flash with reflected light every time she brings her hand up to her face to brush her bangs away.
He sits in the corner of the room, surrounded by the familiar sights and sounds and smells of his family, and watches her wrist, feeling the visceral, tiny jolt of relief every time he catches sight of the blank face.
She catches his eye every so often, in the middle of a laugh or a sentence, and he can see it in her face, in the angle of her mouth, in the tilt of her head that says, what now, what now.
they’re waiting for you
“You think I should get one?” Edwin asks one day in the middle of a wrestling match, munching on potato chips and eyes glued to the television.
“No,” Derek says automatically.
“Casey and Liz have them,” Edwin replies.
“Do you have to do everything that Casey and Lizzie do?”
“But I don’t think Dad and Nora are going to get them,” Ed continues. “They seem fine the way they are.”
“Good for them,” Derek grumbles.
“It’d be an interesting experiment,” Edwin says thoughtfully. “My life would be benefit to science.”
“Edwin,” Derek says, and just his tone is enough to make Edwin look, something that hasn’t happened in a long while. “Don’t get one.”
Edwin regards him closely for a long moment, and then turns his head away.
“Okay,” he says, and grabs another handful of chips. Derek turns back to the TV in satisfaction.
all you have to do is look
Derek picks up a girl at a club, something he doesn’t normally do, but finals are coming up and Casey isn’t returning his texts, and anyway it’s been months, ever since he and Sam called it quits, and he needs a break.
Her name is Tessa, and she’s got awesome cornrows and long, dancer’s legs, and she shoves him up against the side of her car and proceeds to try to suck his lungs out through his mouth. He’s pretty okay with the situation.
“What’s the rush?” he huffs out on a laugh as she manhandles him through her door, practically panting in her haste to get him into the bedroom.
“No talking,” she says, and attacks his jeans with single-minded determination.
Derek scowls. “Whoa, just – hold on a second – “ He reaches out and takes her hands, and to his surprise, she instantly stops, pulling away and biting her lip.
“Sorry,” she says, and he takes a moment to admire the way her blush warms her dark skin. “I, uh.” She laughs a little. “This is gonna sound stupid.”
“It’s just, this is my last chance,” she says, a tinge of desperation to her voice. Derek feels a creeping sense of dread, and turns over her hand, already knowing what he’ll see. “Tomorrow,” she says. “I’m gonna meet them tomorrow.”
Derek takes a deep breath. “Ah,” he says.
“I’m sorry,” she says, sounding miserable.
“It’s okay. It’s…yeah, it’s okay.” Derek kisses her cheek, slides his hands up to her shoulders and grips hard. She sags into his chest. “I mean, I am a pretty good choice for your last wild oat.”
She laughs. It sounds a little hysterical to Derek.
“It’s okay,” he says again, and turns his head to press his mouth against her temple, just because.
it’s so easy
When Nora finally goes into labor, it’s almost a relief. She’s three weeks overdue. It’s been something way beyond painful.
Derek picks up Marti from school and swings by the hospital just in time to witness his father’s near mental breakdown. Pretty funny, although dumping the cup of ice cubes down his back had been a little overboard on Casey’s part, he has to say.
“You okay now, Pops?” Derek asks, and offers a fresh can of Diet Pepsi. “Done hyperventilating?”
“I think so,” George replies, pressing the soda can to his forehead.
Derek eyes him. “You didn’t do this with all of us, did you?”
“Oh please, this is nothing. When your mom when into labor with you, I drove my car into a light pole on my way to the hospital.”
Derek smirks, feeling a perverse sort of satisfaction.
“It’s like, a tradition,” George says, almost wistfully.
“I guess it never gets easier then, huh,” Derek says.
George reaches out and palms the back of Derek’s neck. His hand is cold and clammy but Derek slumps underneath it, just on pure instinct.
“Aw, you’re a smart kid,” George says. “I think you know the answer to that.”
your life starts now
The baby isn’t actually born until about four hours later, during which Derek and Casey take turns taking Marti on exploration walks around the hospital, and Lizzie drives back and forth between home and the hospital, bringing Nora things that she asks for.
“What could she possibly need her yoga mat for?” she asks morosely, before disappearing in a flash of blonde and purple teenage angst.
Derek and Marti are strolling through the tiny garden outside the east wing of the building, debating the pros and cons of trying to steal a wheelchair to play with, when he gets a text message from Casey.
t-minus twenty minutes, it says, and Derek huffs, swings Marti up by her waist, and books it back to the maternity wing.
Edwin’s fast asleep on the tiny couch in the waiting room, his feet on Casey’s lap, who herself looks like she’s about vibrate out of her skin. Derek sets Marti on the ground, who promptly knocks Edwin’s feet to the ground, like the brilliant, intuitive, magical child that she is.
“Come on,” Derek says. “Walk, pace, do something. Don’t just sit there and not breathe.”
“I’m fine,” Casey says, but jumps to her feet and starts pacing anyway.
“Casey, your eyes look funny,” Marti comments. One of the eyes in question twitches in response.
“What if something goes wrong?” Casey asks. “What if – “
“No,” Derek says, flopping down next to Edwin’s head and opening his arms for Marti to climb into his lap.
“But – “
“There’s a – “
Casey shoots him a crazed look, but falls blissfully silent.
It’s a tense few minutes, what with the Casey’s Crazy Eyes Show, but Derek secretly thinks it’s kind of worth it to see the comical look on her face when George comes out, a million-dollar grin on his face.
“It’s a boy,” he says, and Casey collapses into a chair, knees visibly knocking together.
“Oh, thank God,” she says, and George comes over and squeezes her shoulder, a fond look on his face.
“Someone wake Edwin up,” he says, “and you can come meet him.”
Derek unceremoniously shoves Edwin onto the floor. Marti giggles and Casey jumps out of her seat.
“Bwuh?” Edwin says. “What’d I miss?”
there’s no reason not to
“This is…” Casey says.
“I know,” Derek says emphatically.
The newly christened James Michael Venturi doesn’t reply, only presses his face deeper into the spot between Casey’s bicep and left breast. Personally, Derek doesn’t blame him.
“I’m a little freaked out right now,” Casey whispers.
“Just keep breathing,” Derek says sagely.
“He’s so…little. Was Lizzie this little when she was born? I don’t remember.”
“I’m sure that she wasn’t,” Derek says. “I’m sure this is the tiniest baby in the world. Oh my God, look at his hands.”
Casey looks up at him hopefully. “Want to hold him?”
“You’re going to have to eventually.”
“Willing to put that off for at least a few more hours, thanks.”
Casey shoots a hopeful look towards the door, where George has escaped to hunt down a water closet, and then towards the bed, where Nora is still passed out cold. Then she looks back down at James, who blinks up at her blandly. “Why did they leave us alone with him? I’m sure that wasn’t smart.”
“We’re adults now,” Derek reminds her. “Or something.”
Casey snorts. James makes a restless noise.
“Look, you just scared him.”
“I did not,” she hisses. “You’re the one who probably scared him. With…your face.”
Derek laughs, clapping a hand over his mouth to muffle the sound. Then he leans over and covers his entire face when it starts to turn a little panicky.
“Oh my God, you keep breathing,” he hears Casey say. “We can’t both be freaking out at the same time, there’s a baby in here.”
“Jesus Christ,” Derek says. “Casey, Jesus Christ.”
He can’t see her, but he hears her carefully scoot forward on her chair, until her knee is touching his. His head drops a little further down.
“I know,” she says, after a very long minute. If Derek moves his hand a little to the right, he can see her blank TiMER. “I know.”
knowing is better
“That’s so cool,” Sam says, cooing over the photos on Derek’s phone. Sam his friend, this time. Derek feels like he needs to clarify this. “He looks like Casey!”
Yeah. Derek’s noticed. “Poor kid,” he says, taking a pull of his beer. Sam shoots him a look.
“Whatever, man,” he says. “You know you’re totally a softie for kids. Don’t even pretend you’re not.”
“I am not,” Derek says, highly offended. “Take that back before I punch you in the face.”
“Marsh. Mallow,” Sam over-enunciates.
“Traitor,” Derek mutters.
“Well, I’m happy for your parents,” Sam says, tossing Derek’s cell phone back to him, narrowly avoiding beaming him in the nose. “He’s adorable.”
“Yes, yes, thank you, et cetera,” Derek says, waving a hand. “Can we just – like for two hours, seriously – not talk about my family?”
“Okay, let’s talk about friends,” Sam says, agreeable as always. “I guess you haven’t heard, considering.”
“About Ralph.” Sam gulps at his own beer, as if to fortify himself. “He timed out.”
Derek blinks. “And?”
“With his new math tutor.”
Derek still isn’t seeing the point of this. “And?”
“And his new math tutor’s a dude,” Sam says.
Derek’s mouth opens and closes once, then twice. “…oh.”
“Yeah, he’s kind of freaked out,” Sam says. “I mean, obviously.”
“Well.” Derek raises his eyebrows at the ceiling, turning it over in his head. “That’s. Uh.”
“I know,” Sam says. “Of all people…I mean, Ralph’s like the straightest guy I know.”
Derek turns to look at him incredulously. “Uh, okay,” he says slowly.
Sam frowns. “What?”
“Nothing.” Derek shakes his head, takes another long pull of beer. “Do they get along?”
“Uh, sure, yeah,” Sam says, sounding a little confused. “I mean, you know Ralph, everybody likes Ralph. When I talked to him he actually seemed kind of excited, in a weird way. Apparently they’re going to a football game this weekend.”
“Well, good for them,” Derek says.
Sam just raises one eyebrow at him.
“…I guess,” Derek finishes.
“Well, I mean I guess it isn’t the end of the world, or anything,” Sam says thoughtfully. “Who says your soul mate has to be someone you date? It could be like, a really good friend.”
Derek smirks, reaching over to pat Sam on the shoulder. “You’re so precious, Sammy,” he says. “Don’t ever change.”
love is always worth it
He runs into Casey on campus, at the student center one morning before his last final. He’s been avoiding home, and her, so of course he sees her at their huge university where they have literally no common classes, buildings or friends.
“Oh, hey,” she says, obviously distracted. She’s perched on one of the huge, overstuffed couches in the lounge, surrounded by notebooks and loose leafs of paper. There are three different pencils stuck in her bun. “What are you doing here? I thought you’d be gone by now.”
“I have a test in two hours,” he says lazily, and flops down next to her. Papers go flying, and he watches in amused satisfaction as she shrieks and flails around trying to catch them.
“You’re such a jerk,” she grumbles.
He grins at her. He’s just had three cups of coffee, Casey looks awesome, he’ll be on break by this afternoon and he’s got today’s test in the bag. It’s a good morning. “When are you done?”
“Oh, I finished yesterday,” she says. “I’m just trying to figure out what I messed up on this one test, it’s driving me crazy.”
Derek stares at her in vague revulsion. “Oh hell no.”
“Hell no, you’re taking me to breakfast.”
“No, no, no – no!” Casey squeals as he snaps her book shut. “You just lost my place!”
“You are going to lose your mind if you keep doing shit like this,” he replies. “Oh no wait, you probably already have. My bad.”
“I am not crazy,” Casey says, sounding offended. “I am analytical and left-brained and – don’t touch my backpack, Derek!”
“I’m not taking you to breakfast.”
They go to breakfast.
“Technically, since we both have meal plans, I am not taking you to breakfast,” Casey says. “Just for the record.”
Derek steals a piece of her bacon. “Whatever you say, Case.”
Casey just eyes him, a hint of a smile on her lips.
Derek side-eyes her and the hint turns into a full-blown, toothy Casey smile. Sometimes Derek wonders what Casey must’ve been like as a little kid – probably one of those little girls that flashed a grin and got anything she wanted.
As if that’s changed.
“What’s your test on?”
“It’s my English class,” Derek says. “An hour or so of bullshitting about Hemingway – piece of cake.”
“Derek, tell me you’re taking your classes seriously,” Casey says sternly. “This isn’t high school anymore, you can’t just – “
“Reeeeelax,” Derek drawls. “I got it, Case. Trust me.”
“Trust you,” Casey says, and scoffs. “Okay.”
“What, I’m not trustworthy?”
“Not in the slightest,” Casey says, and grins.
In-between bites, she reaches up and tucks a lock of hair behind her ear, and Derek catches sight of her TiMER, peeking out from beneath her sleeve. Feeling brave, he reaches out and snags it.
“So, still no countdown, huh?” he says, pulling her wrist over the table and pushing up her sleeve. Casey, for some indiscernible reason, lets him.
“Nope,” she says. If she’s sad or angry or wistful about this, it doesn’t show in her voice.
Derek traces his fingers around the plastic device, embedded in her wrist. He’s never seen one up close before; it feels unnatural somehow, the incongruence between cool plastic and blood-warmed skin. “Ben was a dud, then?”
“We broke up,” Casey says neutrally.
Derek looks up and stares. “You broke up? When?”
She shrugs. “A few weeks ago. I – I didn’t say anything, you know, because of the baby and everything.”
“Right,” Derek says doubtfully. “And you’re…fine with this?”
“Well, I wouldn’t say fine,” she says, and finally, a thread of emotion. “But – well yes, okay, we went to get TiMERs together, and his had a countdown and mine…well, obviously, didn’t.”
“So that’s why you broke up?” Derek says incredulously. “Because of the stupid TiMERs?”
“What would have been the point?” Casey says simply.
Derek’s fingers tighten on her wrist.
“That hurts,” she says, but doesn’t pull away.
“Are you seriously going to do this?” he asks. “Live like this, I mean.”
“Like what?” Casey says defensively. “I’m just – trying to be logical about this.”
“Logical?” Suddenly angry, Derek lets her wrist drop to the table. “Whatever this is, Casey, is the opposite of logical.”
Casey doesn’t reply, just presses two fingers to the bridge of her nose and frowns deeply.
“Okay look,” Derek attempts, holding back everything he wants to say, and instead, for once, going with what he should be saying. It’s like, emotional progress or something. “I’m not – I don’t understand it, okay. That’s abundantly clear. But you’re. You can’t.” Her hand drops to the table and her eyes open, and he feels like shaking her. “Are you really going to rearrange the rest of your life around a stupid little device that may never, ever turn on? Or even if it does, may not even work anyway? I mean, tell me you see how stupid this is.”
Casey just looks at him for a long moment before saying, “why don’t you get one?”
“Oh my God, we’re not going there again.”
“Just get one,” Casey implores. “Please? I’m asking you. Please.”
“Why not? It’s only a couple hundred bucks and it – at least you’d know – “
“Why do we have to do this?” Derek exclaims. A couple heads turn from tables nearby and he shakes his head in frustration. “Fuck, Casey, what do you want from me? Does it matter that much to you, what these dumb fucking computers say about me, about – about us – “
“Yes, okay, yes it matters,” Casey hisses, leaning in suddenly and eyes sparking with anger. “It matters because it’s proof, whether you admit it or not, and oh my God, excuse me if I’m a little insecure about the stability of this – this thing we have, and never talk about, and maybe you’re okay with the way things are but it’s been horrible for me – “
“Don’t,” Derek warns her, his hands shaking underneath the table. “Don’t even.”
“Why can’t you do this for me?” Casey demands. “I’m – I need to know. I just do. I’m sorry you don’t understand why, but I just – I need to.”
“Because,” Derek starts, and stops. Because what if it’s not me.
Casey shakes her head, tears glistening in the corners of her eyes. “I can’t keep doing this,” she says, voice thick. “Every time I see you, I – and now James, and – “ she shakes her head again, covering her mouth with one hand, and Derek just – aches to touch her.
He doesn’t. “I have to go,” he mutters instead. Casey closes her eyes and doesn’t reply. “Case, I – Casey.” She looks up and he makes direct eye contact. “I’ll call you.”
Her eyes narrow, then relax, and she looks away and nods. “Okay, just go,” she says, voice muffled by her hand.
When he walks away, his feet feel like lead.
it’ll all be worth it in the end
Derek walks into a TiMER store one day and stares at the displays for twenty minutes. He has to practically beat off the creepily cheery salespeople with a stick, but goddamn it, he reads every brochure and informational booklet they have.
By the time he’s finished, words swim in front of his eyes, little fragments that float across his sightline like flies in summertime. His head pounds and his hands feel dry and scratchy, like sandpaper. His clothes feel heavy on his body, his skin is itchy and sweaty.
Someone gives him a bottle of water, offers him a chair, and he blindly follows direction, eyes stuck to the unnaturally white walls, the matte grey and black displays, the catchphrases outlined in pale pink and blue, and he thinks, could I do this, could I live with myself if I do this, and in that moment, as always, he isn’t quite sure of the answer.
make an investment in your future
Derek is friends with his mother, has always been friends with his mother. This is sometimes a great thing, sometimes a mildly okay thing, and most times, an awkward thing.
Her perspective on the Casey situation, as she calls it, is a prime example of the awkward part. Well, she’s mostly right and okay, maybe she warned him that it would blow up in his face, like, a long time ago, but to be fair, she always thought that he would’ve sealed the deal by now. Clearly, she’s still overestimating his emotional intuition.
“Honey, don’t get one if you really don’t want one,” she says. He can hear some kind of echo on her end of the phone line; she’s in like, a jungle, or some other kind of bizarre place that only scientists go to willingly. Maybe an island somewhere, Derek’s long lost track of her itinerary.
“That’s not what I asked you,” he points out.
“Well, it’s what you’re really asking, isn’t it?”
Derek slams his forehead into the closest wall. Well, gently.
“Your decision over whether or not to get a TiMER should have nothing to do with Casey. It’s a personal thing, just for you; she shouldn’t try to pressure you into it.”
Derek feels an irrational sense of outrage on Casey’s behalf that is so strong it’s actually embarrassing. “What do you think of the TiMERs?” he asks as a redirect.
Abby is silent for a moment. “I think they’re interesting.”
“They are.” She huffs. “I mean, I’m a scientist, Derek, what do you think I think?”
“You got one, didn’t you?” Derek asks wearily.
“Well.” She sounds sheepish. “Apparently I’ve got another ten years to wait, if that makes you feel any better.”
“Yeah, not really.”
“What do you have against them?” Abby asks.
Derek is silent for a moment, considering. Abby is probably the only person in the world who can ask him this question and get him to consider it. “They’re creepy,” he says simply.
“Well, of course they’re a little creepy, science is really, really creepy,” Abby replies. “I was aiming for something a little more in-depth, babe.”
“I don’t need one,” Derek says reluctantly. “Not so I can know, because I’m not a scientist, or even so I can find the grand love of my life or whatever. And definitely not to fucking validate something that I already know exists.” He pauses for a second, gathering his thoughts. “All this soul mate, destiny crap, it’s all bullshit. If you want to make something work, you will – a TiMER isn’t going to do it for you.”
Abby doesn’t reply for a long moment, to the point where Derek is about to check if he’s lost the connection. Then, she says, “you’re a good person, Derek.”
“…uh, thanks?” Derek says, perplexed.
“You’re going to be a good partner, to Casey, or whoever else you choose,” Abby continues, as if he hasn’t spoken. “I don’t think you know that about yourself.”
Derek doesn’t say anything, a little too stunned to speak. He listens to her sigh, a million miles and yet, just a sound away.
“And I think – I know that whatever you decide will be the right thing to do. That’s the only thing I can tell you.”
“Really,” Derek says sardonically. “And here I thought you were just going to give me directions.”
“Me and my newfangled parenting techniques,” Abby replies jovially. “Making you think for yourself and such nonsense.”
Derek grins into his fist, feeling better and worse about the entire situation, all at once. “You really are no help at all.”
“Take it up with Human Resources,” she says.
find your other half
In the end, it’s not that one of them caves before the other, it’s more like they both get bored with the status quo and meet in neutral territory (as in, not their parents’ house), and then argue for a couple hours about whose idea it was.
“Hey, you called me,” he says.
“Because you left me a voicemail!”
“I butt-dialed you,” he says.
“Quit being passive-aggressive,” she replies, not about to be outdone. “You know you called me on purpose. And then mumbled something and hung up to try and get me to call you.”
“Wow,” Derek deadpans. “I sound like a real evil genius.”
“Whatever.” Casey strolls into his kitchen, absentmindedly tidying up as she goes. Derek watches her in amusement; he doesn’t even think she’s doing it consciously, is the funny thing. Sad, but funny. “Are you still going to be stubborn and unreasonable?”
“As long as you are,” Derek counters. Casey’s shoulders tighten, and she starts compulsively reorganizing his silverware drawer. “Are we going to have a conversation about this or just fight? Just let me know now so I can plan how drunk I’m going to get later.”
Casey whirls around, mouth pulled down disapprovingly. “I don’t want to fight with you.”
Derek starts laughing incredulously.
“I don’t! I – most of the time. Shut up.”
“God, you make me laugh,” Derek says, still gasping. “Not intentionally, but still.”
“Did you just compliment me?” Casey asks. She collapses back against the kitchen counter, looking a little stunned.
“Maybe.” Yes. “Look, I don’t wanna fight with you either. Not right now, anyway.”
“So, let’s not fight.” Casey crosses her arms across her chest, beneath her breasts. It does absolutely nothing to make Derek relax. “Let’s talk about it. Why don’t you want to get one?”
“You know my reasons why. I don’t need to rehash them all with you for the millionth time,” Derek says irritably. “That’s not what I meant.”
“Then what did you mean,” Casey replies.
“I meant,” Derek says, and takes a careful breath. “I meant, let’s talk about what we’re going to do.”
“Well, I want you to get one,” Casey says, chin stubbornly set. “And you obviously don’t want to, so I don’t see how – “
“So what, this is a deal breaker now?” Derek asks incredulously.
“What deal?” Casey asks. “We’ve kissed twice. We’re not exactly engaged.”
That one actually stings a little, because that one time, at his birthday party, it was totally meaningful, and it’s not like he doesn’t do boyfriend stuff for her all the ti – whatever.
“It’s logical,” Casey’s saying, oblivious as always. “If we – I mean, you have to admit that this situation is not ideal. Our family, and everything, and you can’t possibly be thinking that my mom and your dad will ever be okay with it.”
Actually, yeah, that was what he’d been thinking – not right away, of course, but maybe, after a while, once they’d proved –
“But this would be something real,” Casey says, leaning forward, eyes sparking like candle flames. “Something that would make them believe us, that would prove we’re not just acting like stupid kids.”
“We are stupid kids,” Derek says.
Casey sighs. “That doesn’t mean it’s wrong.” She pauses. “That we’re wrong.”
Derek scrubs one hand over his chin, feeling the beginnings of stubble, something he would’ve killed for a couple years ago. Now, like most adult things, he’s been discovering, it’s just annoying.
“It feels cheap,” he finally says, rather helplessly. “Why do you need this from me? Why can’t you just be – “ he stops, too afraid of revealing something he doesn’t want to reveal yet.
Casey’s eyes soften, and she gets this look on her face, like she can’t decide whether to punch him in the face or knit him a sweater. “It’s not cheap,” she says softly. “Derek, it’s.” She pauses, something in her expression shifting. “Oh, Derek, it’s not for me. Don’t you see? I don’t need it.”
“Really,” Derek says skeptically.
“Really really.” Casey pushes off the counter, and her jewelry clicks together audibly. Derek watches her earrings swing instead of her face, trying to avoid the dangerous tilt of her mouth. “It’s for everyone else. Just a formality. But me?” She shakes her head. “I don’t need a, what did you call it, stupid computer? To tell me what I already know.”
“And what’s that?” Derek asks, pushing the words out through a desert-dry throat.
“That it’s you,” Casey says, with clean and simple confidence. “I know it’s you. I’ve known since I was fifteen. I just didn’t understand it until. Well, until right now, I guess.”
Derek just stares at her, feeling the entire universe exploding in his chest.
She smiles at him, and he’s just now realized, she’s wearing makeup – lots of makeup, and her outfit is nice, and earrings and a long, tangled-up necklace that look expensive, like she made an effort, before she came here, to his apartment, to talk about their fucked up feelings for each other. That must be a big deal.
“And I’m – I’m sorry, for being pushy.” She frowns a little. “Apparently I need to work on that. But – but it would be so easy. And it would solve so many problems. It would be something that nobody could deny – nobody.” She takes a cautious step forward, reaching out one hand towards his chest, as if she’s trying to calm a frightened animal. Maybe she is. “But, if you don’t want to…I guess I have to accept that. I just…there’s no reason not to.”
Oh, there’s reason not to. There’s a pretty big fucking reason not to, and it’s a reason that Derek hasn’t totally acknowledged as his main reason until this very moment.
“If it’s not me,” he starts, and Casey immediately starts shaking her head. “No, no – if it’s not me? If we are just being stupid kids, and we don’t know what we’re getting into, what then? You’re going to dump me and go back out in search of Mr. Right?”
Casey looks as steely-eyed determined as he’s ever seen her. “It’s not a possibility,” she says, “because it is you.”
“Humor me,” he says flatly.
Casey bites her lip, face scrunching up painfully.
“Okay, let me fill in the blanks for you,” Derek says hollowly. “You’ll make an effort for a while, maybe even a long while. But sooner or later you’ll get a countdown, or time out with someone else, and wish me a teary goodbye on your way out to the sunset. Bad luck for me, great luck for your fairy tale sensibilities.”
Casey’s shaking her head harder, earrings hitting the side of her chin forcefully. “It’s not going to happen,” she says fiercely.
“It might happen, and that’s my fucking point, Case,” Derek says, frustrated. “You can’t look me in the eye and tell me that you can ignore it like I could. That you don’t believe in destiny and soul mates and all that bullshit. I know you do. I actually, God forbid, like that about you.” Casey sucks in a sharp breath at that and her eyes start to sparkle in a decidedly different sort of way. “I – Jesus, Casey, what you said before about how it’s been horrible for you lately? It hasn’t exactly been a picnic for me, either. We’ve been playing with fire for a really long time and it sucks. It just sucks, a lot. And it’s going to keep on sucking unless we do something about it.”
“Th-that’s what I’m saying,” Casey says wobbily. “This is something. Something that we could use to our advantage.”
“Or something that could ruin it,” Derek says on a sigh.
Casey presses the back of one hand to her eyes, padding at the corners, in a move he’s seen her do a million times. As always, instead of saving her mascara as is her intention, she smears it all down her cheekbone. Derek watches with the same sharp knife of affection, familiarity and want that he’s been feeling for years, a weapon that he’s been half-heartedly dodging now for what feels like forever. And the truth is, he’s tired – tired of pretending he doesn’t want her, that he wouldn’t do anything for her. That what he feels isn’t real, and powerful, and the most grown up thing about him.
“I’d take it out,” she says, after a long pause. Her voice is more composed but she isn’t, managing to look completely, artfully, beautifully rumpled in some magical Casey sort of way. “If that’s what happened. I would take it out and never think about it, ever again.”
Derek allows himself to smile at her. “No, you wouldn’t,” he says sadly. Casey’s gaze falters, then falls to the ground.
And so they stand in silence, partners in disaster.
what is life without love?
They feel brave enough to risk the entire night – though who or what they’re afraid of, Derek isn’t completely sure. Not their parents, who they don’t have to explain their nighttime whereabouts to anymore, and not their roommates, who are both home for Christmas like the rest of all the normal people. Maybe themselves. Probably themselves.
Casey lies all curled up next to him, her knees pressing into the tops of his thighs, both of her hands on his chest, right over his heart. Like she’s trying to keep all of his pieces together.
“Maybe I’m asking for too much,” she murmurs, hands clenching in the buttons of his shirt. “I don’t care. I want you to have faith. The kind of faith that I have. And I want to know what happened to you that made you so cynical.”
“Nothing happened,” he says dumbly, throwing the words out into the darkness. “I’m just more realistic than you are.”
“That’s one way of putting it,” Casey says, sounding fond and a little exasperated. “I still want to know.”
Derek would like to tell her, if only he knew himself.
“You know how I feel about you,” he says. It’s easier that he can’t see her. So much easier. “Right?”
“Yes,” Casey says confidently.
“Then.” He turns his head until his chin rests against the soft bundle of her hair. “Then can’t we just. I don’t know. Be okay with that?”
“I want more,” Casey says simply, and it’s possibly the truest thing she’s ever said to him. She always wants more, and so does he, and this is part of what makes them work. Or what would make them work.
“I – yeah. Okay.”
“I know it’s true,” Casey whispers fiercely, into the space beneath his chin, where his neck and jaw meet. “I know it’s true, I know you don’t have anything to worry about. I wish you could trust me but you don’t and I understand but Derek – oh, Derek, I know. I’ve always, always known.”
Casey, sweetheart, he wants to say, you’re crazy, stupid, naïve, amazing, the world doesn’t work like that, not for me, and the sooner you realize it the less hurt you’re going to be in the end, but God don’t ever stop trying. I love how you always try.
Instead, he slides an arm around her shoulder and squeezes tight, feels her melt into his sheets like she belongs, like they’re not two people who have absolutely no business sharing a bed together, like they’re not stupid kids in over their stupid, stupid heads.
“We’ll figure it out,” he says.