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April, 2006

“Are you and Lizzie going to leave when Dad and Nora are done fighting?”

Casey frowned down at her, shifting on her seat at the edge of Marti’s bed, surrounded by all of the little girl’s stuffed animals.

“What? No, sweetie, we’re not going anywhere, this is our home,” She reassured, blue eyes sparkling kindly.

Marti felt her lower lip start to tremble, and tried to control the sudden urge to cry. “But what if they get a… divorce?” She asked, tentatively.

She couldn’t remember a lot from when her mom still lived at their house, but she remembered the shouting, and crawling under Smerek’s blankets to block the noise out. Nora and dad weren’t screaming like that now, but they had locked themselves down in their basement bedroom, and it was getting scarier the longer they took to come out.

Casey smiled at her and brought the covers up, tucking them safely under Marti’s chin. “They are not going to get a divorce, Marti. It’s just a fight.”

“Why do they have to fight?”

“It’s just something that grownup couples do sometimes, when they have a disagreement,” Casey explained in a low voice, “It’s normal.”

“Like you and Smerek?” Marti asked.

Casey’s cheeks colored the deep red that Derek loved to tease, and it immediately lifted Marti’s spirits too. “Not quite like me and Derek.”

Marti giggled a little at Casey’s discomfort, but then remembered the reason she was upset to begin with, and got sad all over again. “What if they do get a divorce? You’d leave with your mom, right?”

“They won’t,” Casey insisted.

“But what it they do?” Marti pressed, stubbornly.

Casey paused for a second, focusing her frowning gaze on Marti’s purple bedside lamp. Marti liked that Casey wasn’t good at lying, because she could always go to her to ask the questions that other adults would be better at avoiding. It was obvious that Casey knew that if Nora left, then she and Lizzie would be going with her.

“I wouldn’t leave you.” Casey looked back at her, her eyes gentle and sincere, “I’ll always be there for you when you need me. I would come to see you.”

“Why?” Marti had to ask, because Casey hadn’t always seemed very happy about living with Marti and her brothers.

“Because I love you, munchkin,” Casey said, touching Marti’s nose with her finger.

Marti startled a little, because that word, ‘love’, she wasn’t used to people throwing it around that freely. The only people that had ever said they loved Marti were her dad… and her mom. And it still wasn’t enough for her mom to show up more often. Marti pushed that thought away like a fly, and focused on what Casey had said instead.

“You do?”

Casey shrugged, like it was the simplest thing in the world. “Yeah, I love all of you.”

“Even Derek?”

Casey’s smile fell from her face and she looked away again. And that was bad, and scary, because if love was the only thing that would ensure that Casey and Lizzie wouldn’t leave her like her mommy did, then Casey not loving Derek was bad, bad, bad. Was not loving one of them enough to drive her away? Was that why Marti’s mom didn’t come to visit more often? Because she didn’t love her dad?

Casey looked at Marti again, her honest eyes looked sad, and Marti felt her bottom lip all but jut out of its own volition. That was so annoying when it happened, she didn’t want to cry. She wasn’t a baby anymore.

But then Casey leaned in closer to Marti, wiping away a rebel tear that had slipped out. “Of course. Of course I love him.”

Casey had looked away when she said it, quietly. And Marti knew that generally, avoiding eye contact screamed ‘lie’. But this time, she understood that it whispered ‘secret’.

And Marti was going to keep that secret for Casey, because she did, she did love Derek.

Just not the in the way she loved Marti.

 

---

 

June, 2009

“Truman? You set her up with Truman?”

Sam watched reproachfully as Derek rolled his eyes and took a sip from his punch, which had already been properly spiked by the time they were able to lose Emily and get the drinks.

“What’s the big deal?”

Sam raised his eyebrows at him, “Uh, he cheated on her?”

Derek grimaced a little, but shrugged his shoulders. “It’s just a date to prom, dude. They are not like, getting married.”

“But, what if they get back together?”

Derek paused; his cup frozen halfway towards his mouth. “She wouldn’t.”

Sam eyed Truman and Casey, dancing very close together in a corner of the gym. “Wouldn’t she?”

Derek followed his line of sight, eyes setting on the couple with a frown on his face. He looked thoughtful for a minute before shaking his head and turning back towards Sam. “Why the sudden interest, Sammy?” He asked with a teasing smile, just a little too tight. “I thought you were done with that.”

Sam took a sharp intake of breath, and couldn’t help but get a little angry, because not this a-fucking-gain. “It’s not about that.” He spat out, throwing a warning glare towards his friend, “It’s about common decency.”

Derek stared back at him blankly. Sam sighed, wondering, not for the first or the last time, about the inner workings of his best friend’s head.

“Look, if they do get back together and the douchebag hurts her again? Then sorry dude, but it’s on you,” Sam said, taking a gulp of his own drink.

Derek blinked, the look on his face morphing into something completely different. “She won’t. She –“ He cut himself off, eyes travelling again towards that corner of the gym, where Casey and Truman were getting closer.

Sam’s eyes widened a fraction in surprise when he saw the set of Derek’s jaw. His friend proceeded to set the cup back on the table and take a decisive step in Casey’s direction… Only to stop in his tracks when Emily materialized in front of him, blocking his way.

“Hey you,” she said, flirtatiously, “I was wondering where you had run off to.”

“Not too far, obviously,” Derek said. Sam elbowed him on the ribs, discreetly.

“Let’s go dance,” Emily started dragging Derek towards the dance floor. And Sam watched as he trailed behind her, his eyes never leaving Casey. Until she kissed Truman, that is, then Derek’s eyes stayed decidedly away from her for the rest of the night.

For all that Derek knew about how to get what he wanted, Sam wondered when his friend would actually learn.

 

---

 

July, 2010

Being away from Casey was hard. Lizzie was used to always having her sister there with her, and everything she had learnt about survival in the Venturi household, she had learnt with Casey. Granted, it was easier now living there than it was at first, Edwin had become her best friend, and Marti looked up to her as a big sister now, but it still was nice when Casey came home from college. Lizzie got to be the little sister again.

It was very hot that day, and Lizzie and Casey had decided to have a McDonald sister’s day for themselves. They were getting back home from the mall, and were about to enter the house when a voice called from the sidewalk.

“Casey?”

A girl about Casey’s age was walking towards them, and Casey’s eyes widened in recognition. “Tasha? What are you doing here?”

The other girl jogged up to them, looking sweaty and tired. She hugged Casey and gave Lizzie a smile. “My grandparents live in London, I’m visiting.”

“Oh… That’s great,” Casey said, laughing nervously, “Tasha, this is my sister Lizzie. Liz, this is Tasha, a friend from Queens.”

As Tasha and Lizzie shook hands, Lizzie eyed Casey, who was acting weirdly and twitchy.

“So, Tasha, were you just out on a walk, or…?”

“I was, actually, but then I got lost.” The girl laughed awkwardly, “I’ve been walking around looking for their house for like an hour.” She grimaced. Well, that explained all the sweatiness.

Casey perked up. “Oh, if you remember the address I can drive you there.”

Tasha smiled gratefully, “Really? That would be great!”

“Let me just get my keys.” Casey then proceeded to quickly enter the house, shutting the door behind her.

Both Lizzie and Tasha blinked at the closed door. It was definitely weird for Casey to forget her manners like that; she was always so welcoming and excited to be a good host. Lizzie turned to Tasha with an awkward smile, “You look thirsty, would you like to come in for a drink?”

“If it’s not too much trouble,” Tasha said, awkward too.

Lizzie went into the kitchen and grabbed a glass of water for Casey’s friend, and then paused when she came back out to the living room. Tasha was looking at the pictures lining the staircase wall, a frown on her face.

“Is that…” She cocked her head to the side, assessing one of the photographs. “…Derek Venturi?” She asked, confusion written all over her face.

Lizzie looked at her weirdly, “Uh, yeah.”

Tasha’s frown deepened, “Why is he in all these pictures?”

Okay, that was definitely a weird question. Didn’t Casey and Derek’s friends know they lived together?

“Because… this is his house?” Lizzie said, warily.

“What?” Tasha looked very confused.

Before Lizzie could ask what was wrong, Casey came hurrying back down the stairs.

“I’ve got the keys – “

She cut herself off when she saw Tasha and Lizzie’s confused faces. Casey’s gaze travelled to the pictures on the wall and her eyes widened.

Tasha pointed at a picture of Derek, “Casey, what the hell – “

“Oh, Lizzie, thanks for the water, you’re the best!” Casey cut Tasha off and practically leapt the last of the stairs, grabbing Tasha’s arm and snatching the glass cup out of Lizzie’s hand, sending water flying everywhere.

She started dragging an astonished Tasha out of their house, leaving a trail of water on the floor in their wake. After the front door slammed shut, Lizzie just stood there, trying to figure out what the hell had just happened.

She jumped when Derek’s voice came from behind her, “What are you doing standing there?”

“Uh,” was all she could say.

“Oops, boring. Nevermind.” Derek ruffled her hair as he walked past her towards the staircase. Lizzie just stood there. “What’s with all this water?”

 

---

 

October, 2011

Emily knocked on the door again. “Come on Case, people need to use the bathroom.” She looked at the small line of people that had formed in front of the bathroom since the last time she had told them to fuck off. “I’m sure there’s at least two other bathrooms in this house, get lost!” she hissed at them.

She looked back towards the door and shuffled closer to it, “Casey… Just talk to me,” she pleaded. She could hear Casey’s sobs from inside. “What did he do?”

They were at a house party in London that some kid that used to go to their high school had thrown. It wasn’t exactly Casey’s scene, but since they were both visiting home at the same time, they decided to come. And everything had been totally fine, till Derek showed up with Sam. Then, Casey started acting weird, saying that she wanted to leave, but Emily had convinced her to stay.

She had been gone for two minutes to get drinks and by the time she came back, Casey had disappeared. Emily looked through the entire house (it was a big ass house) and knocked on every single door till she found this bathroom.

“Leave me alone, Em. I’ll come out, just give me a minute,” Casey yelled from the other side of the door, voice all watery.

“I heard there was some drama queen denying everyone use of the bathroom, I must say I am not surprised to find you here.”

Emily turned around to see Derek leaning against the wall beside her. She narrowed her eyes at him, “You. What the hell did you do now?”

Really, she didn’t have any proof that Derek was the cause of this, but it was always him, always.

Derek seemed indignant, “What? I didn’t do shit –“ He cut himself off, frowning. “Wait. She said this was about me?”

Emily crossed her arms, eyeing her ex with disdain, “She didn’t have to say anything, it’s always about you, isn’t it?”

Derek ignored the jab, and gestured for her to move away from the door. Emily hated how he could just ignore every little thing about her, it was always about Casey. It had been like that all through high school and the short period of time that they dated. Emily stayed put. “No, Derek, you’ll just make it worse.”

“Come on, let me try.”

They stared each other down for a few seconds before Emily sighed and moved away, recognizing the determination in his eyes.

Derek knocked on the door, “Case?”

They both flinched away when Casey banged on the door from inside, “Go away!”

“Case come on, let me in.”

Derek and Emily stared at the door, but Casey stayed silent. When it seemed safe that she wouldn’t pound on it again, Derek leaned back towards the door and said, in a very gentle tone that Emily had never heard him use, “Please?”

Emily startled in surprise at the sound of the door unlocking. Without a word or a glance back at her, Derek opened the door and got inside the bathroom. Emily barely caught a glimpse of Casey’s tear stained face before the door closed on her face again. It seemed like a metaphor of some kind.

She raised her eyebrows when she heard the door being locked again. What was it with them and getting locked inside bathrooms during parties?

“Em! Have you seen Derek?”

Emily turned to see Sam and pointed towards the bathroom with her thumb, “In there with Casey.”

Sam frowned, “What happened?”

“I have no idea. I won’t pretend to understand them,” she said, and maybe Sam heard a little of the disdain in her voice, because he looked at her sympathetically.

He grabbed her hand, “Well then, let’s go give them some space while they figure it out.”

Emily stared at him blankly and Sam sighed, “Come on,” he said, dragging her back towards the party.

 

---

 

January, 2012

The day Lizzie finally got it, it was the day of Aunt Fiona’s third wedding. She was sitting at their family’s assigned table, a sprained ankle keeping her stuck with watching Simon duty. She and her little brother both laughed as they watched Derek and Casey on the dance floor.

Casey was wearing a mildly annoyed face, while Derek was grinning maniacally while he yanked her around like a yoyo, spinning her and dipping her wildly and carelessly, but never actually dropping her.

Lizzie shook her head and turned back towards Simon and the little game they were playing, using their fingers as goal nets and little crumbled pieces of napkins as soccer balls. They continued to play as the song changed to ‘Everybody Loves Somebody’ by Dean Martin, and Lizzie smiled. She remembered when she was little and her father would play it, spinning both Casey and Lizzie around, letting them stand on his feet. Both her and her sister loved that song.

Nora and George passed by their table, dancing and grinning at each other. They both looked every bit as in love now as they did the day of their own wedding. Lizzie smiled at them and George winked back at her, making her laugh. When they moved aside, Lizzie caught sight of Casey and Derek again, and the smile froze on her face.

They were still dancing, but far closer and calmer than they were before. Derek had one hand around her waist and Casey had placed hers on his shoulder, their remaining hands clasped. They were quietly talking, laughing, probably joking around. Derek dipped her slowly, never breaking eye contact.

As Lizzie watched them, there was something weird she couldn’t quite put her finger on. Until Simon spoke up, all childlike wonder and curiosity. “Casey and Derek dance like mom and dad do.”

And just like that, everything clicked. Suddenly every interaction, and all the weirdness, and the vibe around them made sense and just –

“Oh,” she said, out loud, unable to help herself. It was as if a blindfold had been taken off her eyes and she could finally see what was so obviously right in front of her. Simon looked at her weirdly.

“Are you okay?”

She smiled weakly back at him, ruffling his hair. “Yeah kiddo, everything alright.”

Lizzie looked back up at them; Derek’s hand on her sister’s waist lower than any brother would ever put it, and Casey looking around briefly before resting her head gingerly against his shoulder.

Oh.

Now it all made sense.

 

---

 

March, 2013

There came a week in which George went on a business trip to Toronto. He was supposed to stay overnight at a hotel, but Nora called him sometime after midnight to inform him that Simon was very sick. She had reassured him that she was fine, but seeing as Edwin and Lizzie were both away in college and Marti was staying with Abby for the week, Nora was alone in the house.

He decided to go back to London that same night and help his wife with their child, so he packed his things and got in his car to start the trip back home.

George hadn’t even been able to make it out of the city before his car broke down. He had enough battery left on his phone to call for the towing service, but by the time the tow got there, it was officially dead.

Derek had moved to Toronto shortly after graduating college, and seeing as George wasn’t going anywhere that night, he asked the driver that came for his car if he could kindly lend him his phone so that he could call his son.

He dialed the number with numb, cold fingers and restlessly waited for Derek to pick up.

“Hello?” A sleepy, feminine voice picked up after some moments. George pulled the phone away from his ear and looked at it in confusion for a few seconds before realizing that it was, in fact, highly probable for his son to have a woman over at this hour.

“Um, hi. Is this Derek’s phone?” He asked, politely. Maybe he dialed the number wrong.

“Yes, who is this?” She said, sounding more clear and awake now. George’s brain froze, recognizing the voice.

Casey?” He asked, incredulously. What on earth was Casey doing with Derek’s phone at 2 am on a Thursday?

A few seconds passed, and Casey didn’t say anything. George felt a familiar sort of uneasiness start to set in, wild thoughts running through his head. He couldn’t exactly say that he understood Derek and Casey’s relationship. It honestly baffled him how two people that claimed to hate each other so much were still finding ways to be in each other’s lives. He had been genuinely surprised when they had both decided to move to Toronto after college, weren’t they always whining about wanting to get away from each other? And then that vacation, a few months ago. They had travelled to Cancun with Sam and Emily, just like that. As if they were friends, which they weren’t. None of their relationship made any sense unless they were –

His thoughts were cut off when his son’s voice came into the line.

“Hello? Who is this?” Derek said, his voice raspy with sleep.

“Derek.”

“Dad? Why are you calling me from an unknown number?”

“Derek,” George said again, and then asked, almost afraid of the answer, “Why are you with Casey right now?”

He was greeted with heavy silence again, and he felt his breath catch in his throat. Oh, no. Before he could think of anything else to say, Derek’s annoyed response came.

“What the fuck are you talking about, dad?”

George ran a hand down his face, heart pounding with dread. “Casey answered your phone.”

“No, she didn’t,” Derek denied immediately, “That wasn’t Casey dad, what are you on?”

“It… Sounded just like her, son,” George said, skeptically.

“Ew, dad. Please.” Derek sounded disturbed by the suggestion, even a little scared, clearly anticipating where his father’s thoughts had gone to.

Relief washed over George instantly, thank god.

“Oh, my bad,” he said, chuckling nervously.

“What’s going on, anyway?” Derek asked, sounding way calmer than before. George decided to ignore these last few moments of insanity and move on.

“My car’s getting towed. I need a lift,” he said, sheepishly. “And a place to stay for the night.”

Derek sighed, and George could hear shuffling in the background. “You can sleep on my couch. Where are you?”

He told him the address, “Please, hurry up Derek. It’s really cold.”

“Uh, sure…” Derek sounded kind of nervous again, “Let me just, drop… Crystal off and then I’ll be right there.”

George pulled his coat around him more snuggly, “You can bring her here, I don’t care, just hurry.”

He could hear Derek having a quiet discussion with the woman, his son’s hand clearly covering the mouthpiece of the phone, but he didn’t catch any of the words. “No, no. I have to take her home,” Derek said into the phone.

“Okay,” George said, sighing heavily. So that Crystal woman was definitely not a girlfriend, at least not one his son would introduce to him. As he hanged up and waited, he wondered if Derek was ever going to settle down for real. Then, he remembered Nora, alone with a sick Simon back home, and all thoughts of the mystery woman left his mind.

 

---

 

January, 2014

Claire was a simple woman, if she saw something she liked, she went for it. And Derek Venturi… Oh boy, did she like what she saw.

She met him at a bar, in Toronto. He was just the finest piece of man Claire had ever set eyes on. He was so damn attractive, and a perfect gentleman. He was smart, sharp, and successful, and, always a bonus, he was great in bed. Like, the best.

They had only been dating for a few months, but Claire just knew it. She was completely in love. Derek was the man for her, she could actually see herself living with him, and marrying him, and having his children. Or maybe they could just travel the world, she didn’t care, she just wanted him.

He was a family man. He talked about his siblings a lot. She knew Marti was his favorite (and how cute was that, that he loved his little sister so much?). She knew all about Edwin and Lizzie, who were both in college. He also told her everything there was to know about Simon and George and Nora. He even told her about his mother, Abby, who was apparently a sore subject.

Derek didn’t talk much about Casey, but Claire just assumed they weren’t very close. After all, they lived in the same city and Claire had never even met the woman.

She practically had to beg Derek to come meet her parents, who had obviously loved him instantly. Derek was just so good with people; he always said the right thing, enchanting everyone in sight, almost like a performer. He had a gift, and even if he was set on directing as a career, Claire knew he could have been successful in anything he tried. He could have been an actor, a rockstar, or even a hockey player. Because of course, he was good at hockey, he had played in college.

He was just the whole package.

Claire was very excited to meet his family, this crazy people he talked about so much. After some more begging (Claire was very persuasive), she convinced him to take her to a family dinner in London. He grabbed his phone and she watched over his shoulder as he texted his family’s group chat, saying that he would be bringing his girlfriend (she always felt a thrill when he called her that) to London with him.

Claire was pleased to see every member of the family reply enthusiastically. Well, everyone except for Casey. She just left the message on read. Claire noticed that Derek seemed more crestfallen after the whole ordeal, and she felt sorry that his sister couldn’t see what a great guy her brother was.

But Claire did, she saw every bit of him for what it was: wonderful. And she was going to make him happy, no matter what.

 

---

 

Nora never quite understood the inner workings of Casey and Derek. They fought, less now than before, but still teased each other very often. They were certainly antagonistic most of the time. And there was this weird… tension, around them, that Nora always did her best to ignore.

But the way they were acting right now? It was decidedly strange.

Derek had brought his girlfriend home; a serious girlfriend, the first one since high school, if Nora’s memory wasn’t failing. It was a big deal. Claire was… nice. She was decidedly beautiful, outspoken and smart. She reminded Nora more of Kendra than of Sally, which wasn’t disappointing, per se, but maybe an indication about how it was going to end.

And Casey… well, she was seriously freaking Nora out. She was acting all civil like, saying very little, and being very polite. She was barely acknowledging Derek or Claire, but when she did, it was as if she was talking to her boss, or a customer.

And Derek was… ignoring her too? Nora couldn’t decide, he certainly wasn’t antagonizing her, but at least he didn’t talk to her as if she was a stranger.

It was almost a relief when Casey offered to go grab the desert and Derek went after her. Soon after that, they could all hear a quiet fight coming from the kitchen. That was good, right? Fighting was normal. Conversation kept going around the table, all trying their best to ignore Derek and Casey’s muffled voices.

Claire cleared her throat, “Are they always like that?”

“Worse,” Edwin said, smiling conspiratorially. Marti just snorted in a ‘you have no idea’ kind of way, and Lizzie just smiled awkwardly.

“Oh,” Claire said, frowning.

Just then, Derek and Casey came back from the kitchen, Derek looked composed, but Nora could tell that something was very wrong with Casey.

She tried to meet her daughter’s eyes, but Casey’s were looking down at her plate, and she remained silent as conversation flowed back and forth.

Claire launched into the story of how she met Derek and how he had apparently stolen her heart and completely swept her off her feet. She tried to listen to the story, but Nora couldn’t take her eyes away from her daughter, who looked like she was spiraling into that place she went when her panic attacks hit. Nora was about to take her out of the room when Claire laughed loudly at something Derek said, kissing his cheek sweetly, and then –

“I’m moving to England,” Casey blurted.

Nora choked. The entire table fell silent as Lizzie clapped Nora’s back, but she just waved her away, baffled. “What?” she asked, tears in her eyes.

“It’s an exchange program within the law firm, and they thought I would be a great candidate,” Casey said, her voice small and wavy.

“You’re leaving?” Lizzie exclaimed.

Everyone at the table looked shocked, except Claire, who just looked confused. And Derek, who looked like he was staring holes into Casey’s head, furious. And seriously, what was up with them today?

Casey avoided Derek’s eyes, and looked at Nora. “Yes, I’m leaving. It’ll probably be just a year or so.”

And normally, Nora would have been more reluctant to just letting her go; she would be asking all sorts of questions and wanting to know every detail. But there was something in Casey’s eyes, some kind of deep sadness that Nora had never seen on her before, and she realized – she’s suffering. Her daughter wasn’t happy here, not right now. She needed to leave, and she needed her mother to understand. And so, she choked back her own sadness and plastered on a fake smile. There would be time for questions later.

“Oh, honey. That’s wonderful.”

The grateful smile on her daughter’s relieved face made it worth it.

 

---

 

May, 2015

Lizzie liked Claire. Really, she did, it’s just that sometimes she could be a little –

“Oh, I can just imagine how beautiful you and Marti will look in pink for our wedding.”

Unbearable.

Okay, so Lizzie did not like her. Sue her. And she did not need to stand here and listen to her talk about her hypothetical wedding.

Derek was not going to propose.

Right?

Casey was coming back next week, she had told Lizzie the previous night over Skype. And it had been more than a year since she left, so Casey was probably a totally different person and completely over Derek. Hell, Lizzie didn’t even know if there was anything to actually get over.

Still, it would be better if Casey didn’t have to come back only to find out that Derek was engaged.

Claire left the kitchen when somewhere along her whole rant about flowers or whatever she realized she hadn’t seen her precious Derek in over an hour, so obviously she had to go check up on him.

Lizzie turned to Marti, who seemed just as bored as she felt, picking at her chipped black nail polish. “So, how delusional is Claire for thinking Derek is actually going to propose any time soon?”

Marti cringed, “I think he’s been looking at rings.”

Lizzie’s heart stopped, “What?”

The teenage girl shrugged, “He seems… happy.”

“I guess?” Lizzie said, “But Claire? Don’t you think she’s a little –“

Lizzie cut herself off as Derek entered the kitchen, no Claire trailing behind him, thankfully. He went straight for the fridge, and Lizzie followed him with her eyes, wheels turning inside her head. He didn’t look any different than the last time she had seen him, he didn’t look like someone who was about to propose, or thinking about proposing, or buying rings or –

“Casey is coming home next week,” she blurted out, like a crazy person.

Derek straightened up so suddenly that he hit his head against the top of the fridge. Marti turned to look at her through narrowed eyes, like she knew exactly what Lizzie was doing, even if Lizzie herself didn’t have the slightest idea of what she was doing.

She honestly had good intentions. Of course she did. Even if she didn’t plan ahead, even if it just slipped out. She wanted Casey and Derek to be happy, it didn’t matter if they were… together or not. What happened in the next few days was not her fault. There was no way she could have predicted Derek would actually break up with Claire.

There was no way she could have predicted that Casey would not come back alone.

Oh god, oh god. Was all Lizzie could think about when Casey walked through the front door, a man trailing close behind her. Everyone’s jaws dropped, and Derek actually tensed up beside her, and she felt so freaking guilty, even if this was definitely not her fault.

His name was Zachary. He was tall, and blonde, and British, and he looked like everything that Casey had ever wanted, and Lizzie couldn’t even look at Derek… Or at Marti, because she looked like she was about to kill Lizzie any minute now.

Lizzie watched horrified as Derek stiffly shook Zachary’s (“Please, call me Zach”) hand. As Casey hugged everyone, innocently unaware of the tension (“Where’s Claire?”). And as Derek left for Toronto earlier than expected (“Something came up at work”).

When she said what she said in the kitchen, she couldn’t have predicted that Derek would stop coming to London almost completely, especially not at the same time as Casey. Or that Marti wouldn’t speak to her for a month straight, without needing to explain why, Lizzie knew the reason, even if no one talked about it.

She couldn’t have predicted any part of what would happen in the next couple of years.

It wasn’t her fault.

 

---

 

June, 2015

Zachary was convinced that Casey McDonald was the love of his life.

He met her at a coffee house in London, His London, not hers. He had fallen in love almost instantly. She was everything he had ever looked for in a woman – extremely beautiful and intelligent, artistic, passionate and driven. He had asked her out, and they had dated for almost her entire time working in England, enjoying each other’s company and making the best out of it.

There were so many little things he loved about her. Her sweetness and fierceness, how much she loved literature and art, her passion for dancing and how much she believed in people. She was just so lovely, with her brilliant blue eyes and soft brown hair, and her long, creamy legs that went on for days.

A fact that surprised him about her, considering her conservative personality, was one he discovered the first time they had been intimate. She had this tiny tattoo, between her breasts, over her heart. Black, delicate lines that formed what he thought was called a tribal. It felt like a secret, a private part of her that only Zachary got to see, when they were alone, when it felt like they were the only two people in the entire world. He absolutely adored that tattoo. He felt like it was so special; Casey made him feel like he was the only man she had eyes for.

Zachary dreaded the day she had to go back to Canada; he couldn’t imagine ever letting her go after falling so irrevocably for her. Even his parents loved her. So when she voiced her idea of going back home when summer came, he immediately jumped with the suggestion of going with her.

She had been surprised, at first. She had looked uneasy and he was scared that she wanted to end it, that their time together had just run its course for her. But eventually, she said that she would be delighted if he went with her and stayed at least over the summer.

Zach was so happy; everything in his life was exactly like he wanted it to be. They went to Canada together and he met her enormous, insane family and he thought that they were an unusual group of people, but they were the family of the woman he planned to spend the rest of his life with, so he really couldn’t complain. Everything was perfect.

That is, until he met Derek Venturi.

Casey had mentioned him a few times. Less than any other member of her family, though. He had chalked it up to the fact that she had told him that they didn’t get along well. He had thought it was kind of a shame that she had a brother her age and they didn’t have much of a connection.

But he had been wrong, because if there was a problem with Casey and Derek, it wasn’t about a lack of connection. There was this intensity around them, an open hostility at all times that just baffled Zachary.

Derek had been nice enough to him though, even if he didn’t pay much attention to him. Zach thought he was actually a pretty cool guy, except for the fact that he was an absolute prick to his girlfriend. Zach hadn’t really seen much of him during that summer, the guy lived in Toronto and didn’t come back home to London very often.

On a particularly hot Saturday afternoon, George invited him to a men gathering at the McDonald-Venturi residence. There was Edwin and George, the Davis neighbors, and surprisingly enough, Derek.

They were all in the backyard, drinking beer and eating hamburgers that George had grilled in the barbeque.

“Hey Zach, pass me a beer,” Derek called, taking his shirt off over his head.

“Sure, mate.” Zachary reached into the cooler next to him and took out a beer, handing it to Derek with an easy smile, his eyes taking in his newly shirtless state and –

And he froze, the bottle held in between both their hands. Derek raised his eyebrows and Zachary frowned, because that almost looked like…

Derek followed his line of sight down to the intricate black lines of the tattoo on his chest, over his heart. Their eyes met.

And suddenly, all of Zachary’s confusion around the other man was gone, because Derek’s lips turned up into a decidedly malicious grin, an eyebrow rising knowingly.

He snatched the beer out of Zach’s hand, whose grip had slackened due to shock.

“Thanks, mate,” Derek drawled, and then he went to join Edwin, chuckling lowly to himself. Zachary just blinked, left wondering what the hell just happened.

Later that night, back in the apartment he and Casey had rented in London while she sorted out her coming back to her job in Toronto, Zach couldn’t stop the thoughts running through his head. Suddenly all the tension around Casey and Derek didn’t seem all that strange, and he couldn’t help but ask her about it.

“Casey.” She looked up from her laptop and smiled at him, and he had to ignore the pang he felt in his heart. “What’s the matter with you and Derek?”

The smile instantly fell from her lips and she frowned. “What are you talking about?” Her voice wavered.

And that look of fear she gave him was the only confirmation he needed to know that his suspicions were true. And maybe he should have walked away right then, packed his stuff and gone back to England. Done his life with someone less complicated.

But he was so in love with her, and she was good at it, at loving him back, when Derek was not around. He figured one day they would go back to England together, he would make sure of that, and they wouldn’t ever have to worry about Derek again.

Zachary would ask a lot of questions about her actions around Derek in the future, because a guy needed reassurance, but he would never, ever find the courage to ask her about the tattoo.

It wasn’t their little secret anymore. It never was.

 

---

 

January, 2016

She loved Casey, but Marti was his brother’s sister. When it came to pick sides, her heart would always pick Derek first, and then hear someone else’s side of the story. It was just that in this case, she just couldn’t sympathize with Casey at all.

Yes, Derek was being an asshole, but could anyone blame him? He had broken up with Claire the second he found out Casey was coming back, and then she did this to him. It was unfair. She just kept flaunting Zachary in front of Derek’s face and Marti hated it. She hated that her brother stayed all the time in Toronto now, only coming to London if he knew Casey and Zach wouldn’t also be there. And even if he used work as an excuse, Marti knew better.

Even if he wouldn’t admit it, Marti knew better. She knew he was hurting. Even if no one talked about it, everyone walked on eggshells around him. Everyone just knew.

And Casey acted absolutely fucking oblivious and Marti just hated it. She hated her, a little. Just for a few months.

One of the few occasions in which Derek came over to London at the same time as Casey during that period of time, it was for Nora’s birthday. George asked for ice, and Derek offered himself to go buy some. Marti jumped at the opportunity to spend time with her brother.

They both climbed on his car, and on the way back from the store, Casey asked through the family’s group chat if someone could go pick her and Zachary up from the mall and take them to the house. Marti was going to ignore it, she was, but then her dad called her, and it was impossible to get out of it. She looked apprehensively at her brother, but Derek just told her to stop being weird. She didn’t press the subject; it was not something they talked about.

They picked them up. Zach got in first, saying hello politely and squeezing Derek on the shoulder as a greeting.

“Haven’t seen you in a while mate, how’s it going?”

Derek’s grip on the steering wheel tightened slightly, but he smiled easily. “Hey, man.”

Casey got in and said hello a little breathlessly, cheeks pink from the cold. Derek didn’t spare her a glance, just muttered, “Hey, Space Case.”

They drove in silence for a while, and then a song came on the radio. Marti saw Derek’s entire body tense up. She didn’t know the song, but it seemed like her brother obviously did.

“Marti, could you please change the station?” Casey’s small voice came from the backseat. She sounded strained, maybe a little pained, but Marti only frowned a little before complying.

Derek’s hand stopped Marti’s midair, just before she reached the console. “I like this song,” he said, voice serious.

“Derek,” Casey deadpanned.

Their eyes met in the rearview mirror. Marti witnessed yet another one of Derek and Casey’s famous stare downs. But this one felt different. The usual intensity came charged with something else she couldn’t quite place. It made her feel very uncomfortable. Casey looked away first and Derek turned the volume up. Marti frowned.

It was a sad song. Marti didn’t know her brother liked sad songs. His brow was furrowed, and his hands were gripping the steering wheel very hard, his knuckles white. She looked over the side mirror towards Casey, who was staring out her window, biting down hard on her bottom lip. Zackary seemed unaware of the tension in the car.

The moment felt kind of surreal, and Marti felt an oppressive weight inside her chest, like angst. She watched in horrified fascination as a lonely tear slid down Casey’s cheek and how she quickly wiped it away. Marti averted her eyes, uncomfortable at the sight. She looked over at her brother instead, just in time to catch Derek’s eyes snapping away from the rearview mirror and back towards the road. He shook his head and abruptly changed the radio station.

It felt like the car exhaled with relief and the tension slipped away. Marti looked back towards Casey. She didn’t give any sign of acknowledging that Derek had changed the station. She just looked exhausted, and much older than Marti had ever seen her. She looked… sad.

A memory came to her, unbidden. Casey carrying her up the stairs of their house, tucking her in, telling her she loved her, whispering she loved Derek. Sharing it with her, afraid to say it out loud because of how terribly Marti’s brother used to treat her.

And it was at that moment that Marti forgave her, because now she wasn’t the heartless woman who had broken her brother’s heart. She was Casey, her sister, and she looked every bit as broken hearted too.

Marti sometimes had to remind herself of this, but her brother could be an asshole too.

 

---

 

July, 2016

Sam didn’t even like karaoke, least of all in the middle of the summer, with how hot it was. It was like a thousand degrees inside the bar, and his beer had gotten warm almost instantly.

He hadn’t hanged out with both Derek and Casey at the same time in a little over two years. And he certainly hadn’t missed this. It was like being back in high school all over again, and Derek had been an ass to Casey the whole night. He hadn’t acted that insufferable way in years, especially not after Cancun. Emily was there too, and she and Sam kept exchanging worried glances at every jab Derek took at Casey.

Casey had been back in Canada for a year now, and it was the first time they had gone out together as a group since she came back. Her boyfriend had flown back to England to see his parents, but he was apparently coming back tomorrow. Sam had never met the guy, but he had heard good things about him. Not from Derek, obviously, but he wouldn’t ask him about it.

Casey was disconcertingly not responding to Derek’s attitude, and Sam couldn’t help but wonder why Derek was acting that way. Sam knew his best friend, even after years of not living in the same city anymore. He knew when he was purposefully picking a fight.

Casey’s attitude was also sort of unsettling, because she always fought back. She never held anything back when it came to Derek, that entire pacifist aura just went out the window when she was around him. But she kept on smiling the entire night, even when some of the comments clearly went too far, and Sam was scared for when Casey actually exploded. He kept shooting Derek murderous looks to get him to stop, but his friend just shrugged back at him.

The woman that went around the tables signing people up to sing was walking past their table (they had all refused to sing three times already), when Casey stopped her. “Oh, I want to sing.”

Derek rolled his eyes, “Great, Klutzilla just can’t leave it well enough alone for just one night.”

Casey ignored him, and when she was called up to stage Emily accompanied her excitedly towards the front of the bar. Sam and Derek stayed behind at their table, but both of them turned their full attention to the stage.

“This is the lovely Casey McDonald,” the announcer said. A lot of the male population of the bar straightened up in their seats at the sight of Casey coming onto the stage, she just had that effect on people, not only because she was beautiful, but also for the way she carried herself. She was an attractive and confident woman. Derek sunk lower in his seat. “She’ll sing for us a love ballad.”

God, could she be any lamer?” Derek groaned.

The bar clapped as she came on the stage and the first few notes of the song came on. Sam frowned; he knew the song, although he couldn’t for the life of him remember the name. It was kind of on the sad side of the spectrum, a total contrast to the uppity pop and country songs everyone had been singing before Casey.

“Geez, Case. Way to bring down the mood,” Sam muttered. He turned to look towards Derek, expecting him to roll his eyes at Casey’s ways, but his entire demeanor had changed.

Sam startled. Derek was sitting there, absolutely seething, his eyes fixed on Casey and shooting daggers at her. Casey’s eyes were also set on him, as she sang sweetly to the lyrics of the song.

“Fucking bitch,” Derek muttered darkly, under his breath.

Sam’s eyes grew wide at the force of the insult, “Whoa, D? Are you –“

Derek pushed abruptly away from the table, getting to his feet in a hurry and booking it out towards the exit. Sam got up dumbly, ready to follow after him. Whatever that song meant to Derek, it was obviously the retaliation Sam had been expecting from Casey the whole night.

And boy, was it effective.

Sam pushed his way out of the bar, coming out onto the street and looking around until he spotted Derek, fast walking down the street, furiously.

“Derek!”

The other man just kept on walking, undeterred. Sam picked up speed trying to catch up with him.

“DEREK!” he shouted, “Dude, come on! Come back!”

When he saw that his friend was definitely not going to slow down, Sam broke into a run until he reached him, grabbing the back of his shirt and pushing him roughly into an alley and up against the wall.

“Dude, what the fuck is wrong with you!?” Sam shook him, out of breath. And then, he immediately let go at the sight of Derek’s eyes, brimming with tears. “D,” he whispered, shocked.

“She’s going to marry him, Sammy,” Derek choked out, desperately. “She’s going to fucking marry him.”

Sam watched in wonderment as a single tear rolled down Derek’s cheek and he roughly wiped it away. He only remembered ever seeing Derek cry twice, back when his parents got divorced, and then never again. Derek just didn’t do tears. It was disturbing.

And Sam didn’t even need to ask who his friend was talking about. Derek had stopped bullshiting Sam years ago, but it was still striking to have him actually talk about it. The subject of Casey was untouchable, a silent agreement between them. It was there, but never to be referenced.

“What? He proposed?” Sam asked, incredulous.

Derek shook his head, violently kicking the ground with his shoe. “No, but he will. Next Saturday, at family dinner. The bastard asked me for my opinion on the fucking ring, that fucking son of a bitch, keeps screwing with me on purpose.”

Sam startled at that, “What? You’re saying he knows? About you and…”

Of course he knows, he may be a human waste of space, but he’s not a complete fucking moron,” Derek spat.

Sam was so surprised that Derek didn’t even try denying anything, that he was just out there spilling his guts to him. But he couldn’t let it show, any harsh reaction could have scared Derek away, so he just went along with it. “Maybe she’ll say no.”

Derek collapsed back against the wall, looking up at the night sky. “She’ll say yes, Sammy. She has to. She will never find anyone else crazy enough to marry her.”

And honestly, only Derek could find a way to insult Casey while professing his despair regarding her marrying someone else. “Wow, dude,” Sam deadpanned.

Derek shook his head again, a hint of desperation in his movements. “No, no, I mean it, man. We’re damaged goods, both of us. We fucking destroyed each other. No one will be insane enough to marry either of us. They’ve all eventually gotten tired of our shit and left us. This is her only chance.”

Sam frowned at the admission, because he was pretty sure that Claire would have married him if he had asked, which only meant that Derek was the one who didn’t want to marry someone else. So Sam was going to ask this, knowing that there were high chances that Derek was going to tell him to go fuck himself, and bury this conversation deeply underground, and then never touch the subject again.

“Would you?” Sam asked, quietly.

Derek narrowed his eyes at him, “Would I what?”

“Would you marry her?”

Derek pushed himself off the wall and started inching away from Sam, obviously retreating. “Shut up, Sam.”

Sam grabbed his arm, denying him his escape. “No, D. I mean it. Look at yourself man, you’re a fucking mess. You have to wake up and do something before you lose her.”

“I already fucking lost her!” Derek shouted, wrenching his arm out of Sam’s hold. “We tried a thousand times, we don’t fucking work!”

Sam reeled back away from him, shocked. “Derek, listen –“

“She will never consider trying again, not after everything that –“ Derek shook his head, “It’s over. She’ll just marry that fucking asshole and move to goddamn England and have a bunch of snotty brats, and I’ll watch from here, okay? I’ve made my peace with it, so just stay out of it.”

Sam stepped towards him again, trying to catch his eyes, but he could tell he had already lost him. “You’ll regret this, D.”

Derek laughed humorlessly and started walking away from him, “Yeah well, I’ll just add this to the list then.”

And then he was gone.

 

---

 

Edwin balanced two burgers in one hand and a beer in the other while he tried to make his way through the crowd of people in the backyard of their family house in London. It was a rare weekend where the whole family had come together, and so George and Nora organized a barbeque with some of the neighbors on Friday night.

He spotted his little sister sitting by herself on a windowsill, her gaze fixed somewhere in the distance and a look of concentration on her face.

“Marti, what are you doing?” He asked as he approached her, taking a bite of one of the burgers in the process.

“I’m trying to read Zachary’s lips,” Marti hissed. Her hands were gripping the edge of the windowsill and she was bent forward, long earrings swinging from side to side.

Ed raised an eyebrow, “You read lips?”

She scoffed, “Not really, but I need to know what the bastard is saying to Derek.”

Edwin’s interest was suddenly picked, years of listening behind doors or spying from under beds waking up inside of him. He took a seat beside Marti, who scooted over to give him space, her eyes never breaking away from where their oldest brother was chatting with Casey’s boyfriend.

He noticed that Derek’s posture would look casual to a normal outsider, but Edwin could see the way his jaw was slightly clenched and his hand was gripping a beer bottle in a death grip. Zack was entirely relaxed, though, and looked like his normal, pompous self.

“What did I miss?” he asked, eagerly. He set his food down beside him and Marti scrunched up her nose in disgust, Lizzie had turned her into vegetarian years ago.

“I have no idea, this dude talks with his fucking mouth closed, and his stupid British accent is not helping,” Marti grumbled.

Edwin eyed her skeptically, “I thought all women loved British accents.”

Marti shook her head, and muttered quietly, ensuring only Ed would hear. “Not when they belong to the asshole who’s stealing away the love of my brother’s life.”

Edwin sucked in a sharp breath. He had never talked about this with anyone else before, not so openly. He had shared some secretive glances with Lizzie regarding the subject, but it was pretty taboo even for them. Marti looked over at him and rolled her eyes impatiently.

“You’re not expecting me to believe you have no idea what I’m talking about,” She deadpanned.

Ed sighed and took a deliberate gulp of his drink. “No. I just… I didn’t think you knew.”

Please.” Marti scoffed again, “They are so in fucking love it’s painful.”

He flinched, just a little, still not used to talking about it. Still not used to this being more than just speculation, something he would only wonder about in passing.

“Did…” Edwin began, clearing his throat, unsure. “Did Derek ever… talk to you about it?”

He didn’t want to sound jealous. He absolutely adored his brother and sister, but sometimes he felt like Marti and Derek had this connection that everyone else was an outsider from. It kind of hurt, if he was being completely honest, because they were his full blooded siblings, the three of them used to be a team, the original Venturi kids, and he couldn’t help but feel left out.

He caught sight of Lizzie talking to Casey off on one side. It was like Liz could feel his gaze, because she immediately looked up and caught his eyes, rolling her blue ones discretely at whatever Casey was blabbering on about. Edwin relaxed. He too had meaningful connections of his own that no one else was privy to.

Still, it was a relief when Marti shook her head, “Never been able to get anything out of him regarding this. I think it – Holy shit, he said ‘Casey’! The bastard said ‘Casey’!”

Edwin snapped his gaze back to Derek and Zachary. Derek looked… positively murderous now. His shoulders were tense and his free hand was tightened into a fist.

“Um, should we do something?” Edwin muttered to Marti, but she had her eyes narrowed at the scene before them, trying to catch what they were saying.

“Zach’s saying… ‘After tomorrow’…’only one’…. ‘forever’. Huh, what the fuck does that –“

Derek punched Zachary right on the mouth. The man staggered back briefly, but then lunged back at Derek, all of his normally composed persona thrown out the window. Oh shit.

Ed and Marti both jumped to their feet, and Edwin started rushing towards the fight. His father got there first, grabbing Derek from the back of his shirt and pulling him back roughly.

“What the hell are you doing!?” George shouted.

Derek struggled against him, ready to lunge back at Zachary, who was currently examining his hand stained by the blood coming from his nose.

Edwin made a move towards him, suddenly feeling a rage he had never felt before towards the other man, ready to take over for his brother and deck the shit out of him, but before he could reach Zach, Casey was there, and suddenly the world was ten times scarier.

“What in the fuck, do you think you’re doing!?” she shrieked, regarding both men as if they were scum of the earth.

Derek looked defiantly back at her, while Zachary took a step back, bewildered.

“Babe, I don’t even know what came over him – “

“What were you thinking!?” Casey interrupted him, “Are you stupid!? Can you not use words like normal people!?”

Zachary held up his hands in surrender, “Casey, I’m sorry, it wasn’t my fault – “

“Stop! I don’t want any excuses!”

“While this is all very fun, I would go to my own mother if I wanted to be scolded, Case, so save it.” Derek roughly pulled away from George’s grip, which had slackened when Casey had exploded, and snatched his car keys from a table. “I’m out of here.”

Casey’s face, which was already red with fury turned magenta, and really, it was so fucking scary, Ed was actually shocked at Derek’s ability to fake nonchalance.

“Where do you think you’re going!? I’m not done with you!!!” She yelled.

Derek snorted, giving her a significant look, “Oh, but I am. I’m done.”

Excuse me?”

Derek turned around and started walking towards the house, people shying away from him wearing the same, bewildered expression. Casey started after him.

“Casey, love –“ Zachary grabbed her arm.

She wrenched her arm out of his grasp violently, and Zach’s eyebrows furrowed, obviously hurt. “Stay!” Casey hissed at him, furiously. “Derek!”

She continued screaming his name while she tried to catch up to him, and as she entered the house. The backdoor slammed behind her. Everyone stood there kind of awkwardly, and Casey’s shouting could still be heard.

“DE-REK!” her scream, raw and full of anguish cut through the night like the sharpest of knives. Edwin’s heart fell to his stomach. Marti and Lizzie appeared beside him, their faces also furrowed in a flinch.

The backyard was dead silent as his father muttered, quietly. “You should put some ice on that face, Zach.”

Later that night, as Edwin was making his way upstairs towards his old attic room, he could hear a hushed discussion coming from Casey’s room. Derek’s was empty. He had gone back to Toronto, even if they were all supposed to stay for family dinner the next day. Nobody was going to call him over, even if George had tried.

Ed hesitated at the foot of the stairs, but curiosity won over decency, and he sneaked up to Casey’s door quietly.

Zach was talking hurriedly, “I’m sorry, Casey. I don’t know why I said that to him, you know how he puts me on edge –“

Casey cut him off, furiously. “I don’t care. You don’t say shit to Derek, you hear me? Never again. Leave him alone.”

Edwin pressed himself closer to the door to catch Zach’s quiet, “I’m sorry, I promise it will never happen again.” He sounded so sincere, and maybe he was, but Edwin couldn’t help but scowl at the closed door.

Casey sighed audibly, “Fine, let’s go to bed. I’m exhausted.”

Ed’s feet felt like lead as he carried them up the last flight of stairs.

 

---

 

There is a video, lost somewhere deep in the McDonald-Venturi household archives. It should have been deleted the moment it was shot, and maybe it was, but neither George nor Nora were very good with technology, and they couldn’t ask Derek to do something about it, for obvious reasons.

If anyone was to ever watch it (and God knows Marti has looked for it), the opening shot would be of Nora, standing in the kitchen, smiling happily at the camera. They would be able to see Marti and Edwin in the background, washing the dishes, muttering amongst themselves.

“Hey there,” Nora would say, “Today is July 31st, 2016 and we have all the family gathered –“

Not, the whole family,” Marti would be heard snapping in the background.

Nora’s smile would falter for just a second, but then she’d grin again, “Of course, we are missing Derek, but I’m sure he’d be so happy to be here with us on this special night.”

Marti scoffs loudly, and if one looked closely, they would be able to see Edwin elbowing her, but Nora is still the main focus of the shot.

“So here are Marti and Edwin,” she’d say, pointedly. The camera would focus on them and Marti would grimace and Edwin would smile tightly, “Oh and here comes Lizzie.” the camera shifts again, to the kitchen entrance, to catch Lizzie sauntering in, looking just a little fidgety.

“Oh, hi,” she’d smile. And then hastily move out of the frame, reluctant to appear in the video for longer than necessary, just like her other siblings.

The camera pans back to Nora again, “Simon, Casey and Zach are in the living room, why don’t we go and say hi to them.” She winks to the camera and smiles like she has a secret. Then, the frame moves to the living room, where Casey and Zachary are sitting on the couch and Simon is on the floor, playing with some toys.

“What are you guys doing?” Casey would ask, a confused frown on her face. Next to her, Zachary would be smiling widely, his nose and cheek a little bruised. His hand would discreetly go into his pants pocket.

The shot would focus on the couple on the couch, and Marti, Lizzie and Edwin would hurry behind the camera, making sure they are out of the shot.

“Casey,” Zach would say, catching the clueless young woman’s attention. Her entire expression slackens while her mouth drops open as the man kneels on the floor in front of her. “You are the most wonderful woman on this entire planet, and it would make me the happiest man if you would agree to spend the rest of our days together. Casey, will you marry me?” He’d hold open a black velvet box, an engagement ring, too extravagant, the diamond too big, not delicate enough, shining from inside.

Even the video would be able to capture how the entire room held its breath, and then would come Casey’s response, as if on autopilot:

“No.”

Quiet gasps would echo throughout the room, and even Casey’d take both her hands to her mouth, as if she could not believe what just came out of it, so insensitively. “Oh my god, I’m sorry, I meant no. I mean, I – no.” She’d shake her head, aghast, “Just… no?”

“What?” Zach’s hurt voice would whisper.

“I’m so sorry, Zach, I’m sorry. I can’t. My answer is no.”

“Holy crap.” Marti’s voice would be heard from behind the camera, followed by Edwin’s loud “Oh fuck.” and Lizzie’s most quiet “Shit.”

“George, turn that off,” Nora’s voice would hiss.

The frame would shake with the fumbles of a man trying to turn the camera off, but the voices in the background could still be heard.

Zachary’s and his pained, “Why?”

Casey’s and her sorrowful, “I just can’t.”

Zachary’s angry “It’s Derek, isn’t it?”

George’s desperate, “Shit, how the hell – “

Casey’s horrified, “I – what? No, Zach – “

Nora’s insistent and high pitched, “George, for the love of god, turn that off!“

Zachary’s quiet, “You’re still in love with him, aren’t you?”

Marti’s admittedly excited, “Oh fuck, this is really happening.”

George’s pitiful, “I’m – trying.”

Casey’s watery, “I – please…”

Zach’s furious, “I can’t fucking believe it. Did you sleep with him again? Is that what – “

Casey’s shrieking, “Oh my god, Zachary – “

Edwin’s angered, “Hey, don’t speak to her like that.”

Lizzie’s accusing, “What is wrong with you?”

Nora’s exasperated, “Give me that!”

And then the screen would turn black as the video abruptly ends.

 

---

 

Emily assessed the damage with a critical eye, trying to come up with the best course of action. Casey was lying on her couch, tears still striking down her face, which indicated that she needed ice cream. But on the other hand, she was not curled into a fetal position – she was more sprawled and defeated, which totally indicated that she needed tequila. So Emily decided to go with both.

Casey eyed both the bottle and the ice cream placed on the coffee table in front of her, like she was unsure of which one she wanted too. After another moment of pondering, she made to grab for the bottle. Emily snatched it out of her reach before her fingers could touch it.

“Oh my god, what happened!?” Emily shrieked, wide eyed. Casey hated tequila; Emily only put it there to see how bad the situation was.

Casey burst into tears again, and Emily handed her the bottle with a frown on her face. Casey grabbed it and hugged it to her chest. “Za-Zachary p-proposed.”

Emily startled, “He did?”

Casey nodded.

“You said no?”

Another nod.

Emily braced herself before asking, “…Derek?”

Another round of tears.

“Oh, baby.” Emily rounded the couch and sat beside the teary woman, wrapping her arms around her. “Okay you can have one shot, but after that, only ice cream.”

After each of them had a shot (because Emily could not handle this conversation while completely sober), Casey told her about the whole scandal back at the McDonald-Venturi house, and all the horrible accusations Zach had made and how she couldn’t possibly ever face her family again. Emily had allowed her a couple more shots during her whole rant, because it was terrible and, knowing Casey, probably scarring.

“Case, if you want my honest opinion, you totally made the right choice. He’s an asshole if he was so butthurt about being rejected that he would hurt and humiliate you like that in front of your family,” Emily assured her, furious.

Casey shook her head, speaking through a mouthful of ice cream. “He’s not an asshole. He just had enough of me not being able to be what he wants.”

“That is not your fault, Casey.”

“It is. It’s me, I’m broken, I’m all wrong,” Casey sobbed.

“You are not broken,” Emily soothed, rubbing her back. “You’re just… in love with someone else.”

Casey wrenched away from her, “I am not in love with someone else,” She growled.

Emily would have laughed if she wasn’t so goddamn tired of Casey denying this for years. She had admitted that she and Derek had a history, but she was never willing to talk to Emily about it. And she had moved to England to avoid her feelings, and it obviously hadn’t worked if she was rejecting proposals from her supposed ‘dream man’.

“Cut the crap Case, we both know it’s true, you don’t need to be ashamed of this.”

“You know, for someone who was just bashing Zachary, you do sound a lot like him right now,” Casey snapped.

“Maybe, but I am not judging you, I’m trying to help you.”

“And I am telling you you’re wrong!”

“Okay, so you’re not in love with Derek,” Emily said, “What about the Cancun tattoos? What can you tell me about those?”

Casey’s eyebrows rose in disbelief, “What does that have to do with anything?”

“Casey, you two have fucking matching tattoos over your hearts, are you kidding me?” Emily exclaimed, matching Casey’s outrage.

Casey’s face flushed, “They are so not matching tattoos!” She cried, scandalized. “They are different, we just happened to get them at the same time!”

Emily did burst into laughter then, shocked at the ridiculousness of her friend’s argument. “They are each a half of the same tribal!”

“It was a bet! You know that!” Casey sputtered.

“It was the stupidest fucking game of chicken in the entire world,” Emily drawled, rubbing her temples. “And you both said you were going to get them covered up the second we came back to Canada.”

“I just didn’t have the time – “

“It’s been three years Casey!”

“Okay, so what?” Casey shouted, “What if I’m in love with Derek? He’s not the reason I said no to Zach. Not entirely.”

“Then why did you say no?” Emily asked, ignoring the thrill of satisfaction she got from hearing the admittance.

Still worked up, Casey continued shouting. “Because I don’t love him! I don’t, okay? Not enough, not in the way I should. I sat there, and took one second of contemplating living a life of just settling, of going for the next best thing when I already know what the real deal feels like, and I hated it. I couldn’t even wrap my head around it, I just said no.” She fell back against the pillows of the couch, defeated. “I thought it didn’t matter, and that he was the only chance I could get to be somewhat content in life. But it’s not enough, I deserve the real thing! I want the real thing.”

Emily rested her hand on Casey’s knee, comfortingly. “And do you honestly think someone else is going to come along? Are you going to waste your life waiting for something you have already found?”

“Em,” Casey whined.

Emily ignored her, and continued on, mercilessly. “Do you love him? Derek?”

No hesitation, just tiredness. “Yes.”

“Then do something. Before it’s too late. He loves you too, you know he does. Stop wasting time.”

“Should I just drive to Toronto right now?” Casey drawled, laughing in disbelief.

Emily laughed a little too, “Nope, you should go to sleep. It’s 2 am and you’re drunk.”

“You’re right,” She grimaced, “He’ll probably just tell me to go fuck myself, anyway.”

“Somehow, I doubt it,” Emily said.

Casey nodded, “No more wasting time. Got it.”

 

---

 

Edwin and Marti had almost kicked the door down by the time Derek opened it, looking like total trash and a murderous expression on his face.

“What. The. Fuck,” He growled, “It’s 4 am. You know, even if you’re grown now, I could still beat you up.”

Marti pushed past him into the apartment, “Such harsh treatment, Smerek, after we bothered to come all this way.”

Why did you come all this way?”

“It’s Casey,” Edwin said, entering the apartment too, and keeping a wide distance between himself and his brother, because Derek wouldn’t physically hurt Marti, but he wasn’t so safe.

Derek tensed up for just a second, and then rolled his eyes. “So, is the happy couple engaged yet?”

Edwin clapped him on the shoulder, grinning despite the warning look his brother shot him. “Nope, they are officially broken up, though.”

Derek stared at him dumbly, “What? Why?”

Marti scoffed, “Take a wild fucking guess, bro.”

Derek fell back onto the couch as if his knees had given out on him, his face in his hands, “Holy shit, Case,” He whispered to himself. Then, he looked back up at them,
incredulous, “Really?”

“Yup,” Edwin said.

“She just… said no?” Derek asked, still looking shocked.

“She sure did,” chirped Marti, “And then Zach accused her of being-in-love-slash-sleeping-with-you, right in front of dad and Nora. It wasn’t pretty.”

Derek looked horrified, “Wait, what?”

“I think it’s on camera.” Marti grinned evilly.

What?”

“Yeah, we all know already, Smerek. Try to keep up.”

Their older brother just shook his head, looking lost. “Where is she? She wouldn’t just stay at the house after that.”

Ed shrugged, “She ran off after the whole thing. We were hoping you would know where she could be.”

Derek ran a hand through his hair, and took just a second to reply, “In London? Probably at Emily’s.”

Marti sat on the couch next to him, “So, you’re sober, right? Because Ed’s a little tired to drive you all the way back to London right now.”

Derek raised his eyebrows at her, still looking like he was trying to process all this information. “Why the hell would I go to London?”

Edwin and Marti both stared at him blankly.

“What the fuck are you two looking at me like that for?”

“He’s kidding, right?” Marti asked Edwin.

“I hope he is, he’s usually not this stupid,” Ed replied.

“Maybe he is drunk.”

“Yeah, hey D, how much did you have to drink during your whole pity party?”

“I have no idea what the hell you’re talking about,” Derek deadpanned, resting his head back against the back of the couch.

Marti scoffed, “Are you saying you’re not going to go and profess your undying love for Casey and marry her and have her babies?”

Derek crossed his arms, snorting. “Not my style.”

Edwin frowned, “Derek, are you joking?”

“Nope,” He said, popping the ‘p’.

“But you love her!” Marti threw her hands up in the air.

“So?” Derek drawled, looking up at the ceiling as if it was the most interesting thing in the entire world.

“She loves you!” Marti exclaimed.

Derek didn’t respond, but Edwin noticed that his lips tugged downwards. He sat on the coffee table, facing his brother.

“She loves you, D,” Ed insisted, trying to knock some sense into him, “You have to know that.”

Derek sighed heavily and snapped his eyes back towards his brother’s. “That’s not the problem. I know she does.”

“Then, what?”

“We don’t work.”

Marti rubbed her temples, “It’s like talking to a wall. A really dumb wall.”

Derek ignored her, eyes still locked with Ed’s. “She won’t take me back… especially not after last night. She made a mistake saying no to Zach.”

“Smerek, I swear to god!”

Edwin put a hand on Marti’s knee, silencing her. He held Derek’s gaze, defiantly. “What are you afraid of?”

Derek rolled his eyes, “I’m not afraid.”

Edwin pushed on, undeterred. He raised his eyebrows, “Is it rejection?” Derek narrowed his eyes at him, “Whoa, D. Grow a fucking pair.”

“Who the fuck do you think you’re talking to, kid?” Derek hissed, dangerously leaning towards Ed.

“I’m an adult, and I’m talking to my dumbass big brother, who’s acting like a petty child, letting the love of his life slip away, again. You know, like a coward,” Edwin hissed back, silently praying for his life as Marti watched on, wide eyed.

Miraculously, Derek’s eyes melted into something softer, and then Edwin lowered his voice, putting all the meaning he could into his next words: “Time’s ticking, D.”

In the end, Edwin and Marti high fived as Derek ran out the door.

 

---

 

September, 2016

It all culminated on a family dinner. Derek and Casey disappeared for the entire month of August, and Lizzie, Edwin and Marti took advantage of their absence to easy George and Nora on the idea of them becoming an official couple.

Neither parent was surprised; they both had their suspicions after so many years, and after the whole debacle with Zachary’s failed proposal it just simply was impossible to deny. Still, it was weird, to talk about it as a reality and not speculation.

When Derek and Casey finally reappeared, suspiciously tanned, but decidedly happy, they were all ready to be hit with the news: they were getting married next month. Of course they were. Marti had been worried that they had eloped, and Derek admitted that they had actually thought about it, because they just wanted to get it done and over with, no more time to be wasted.

But they both knew that Nora would hate not being part of her daughter’s big day, and honestly, Marti would have probably killed them in their sleep. So with the little time that they had, they organized a small ceremony – just the family, Sam and Emily.

In the end, no one really knew the story behind Derek and Casey’s relationship. If they all gathered their suspicions, they could maybe map up periods in which they were obviously together and periods in which they were most definitely not. But in reality, all that mattered was the present and the future.

Maybe one day, they’ll get the full story.

 

“I know that I am nothing new
There’s so much more than me and you
But brother, how we must atone
Before we turn to stone”

Ingrid Michaelson – Turn to Stone