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He debated tossing them out the car window, but he had already wasted a good chunk of his pay check on the suckers. There was no way he was throwing out hard earned money like that.

But they were also making his nose itch, and he already sneezed twice, which had sent him veering into oncoming traffic very eloquently.

And it wasn't like he had previous environmental allergies before. He had gone seventeen years of his life without being bothered by nature, so he was starting to think he wasn't allergic to the flowers. No, he was probably allergic to the person he was giving them to. He was having a reaction to doing something nice for her.

He sneezed once more, and scowled at the bundle on his passenger seat, lifting his sleeve to his nose, and sniffling. What had he even been thinking? Getting flowers for Casey? He must have been out of his mind.

But then again, he was going out of his mind already. She hadn't stopped crying for days, and if someone didn't do something to cheer her up, he was going to start crying, too - crying because he hadn't had a full night of sleep since the beginning of the week, and if he failed another class, he was going to have to repeat grade eleven. So, as you can see, this strange act of kindness was purely selfish. He just needed her to forget her woes for more than ten seconds so he could fall asleep without hearing her bawling on the other side of his bedroom wall.

It wasn't even like Casey had gotten dumped. No, she had done the dumping, so Derek couldn't really figure out why she was being so emotional about it. Sure, Max had been a pretty good boyfriend, but he wasn't worth eight boxes of tissues and twenty-eight diary pages. (Don't ask how he knows). She was (typically) overreacting. Clearly.

When he pulled into the driveway, Derek paused, wringing the steering wheel in his fists for a few minutes. Did he really want to follow through with this? What if somebody saw him with the flowers, and made fun of him? Or worse. What if they thought he had feelings for Casey and was trying to make a move, now that she was single?

He cringed and shivered at the thought, because he so wasn't ready for the public humiliation that would occur if he made a move on Casey while still in high school. If that were ever to happen, he wanted to be far, far away - preferably in a different country - where nobody knew him or her, or that they were, in a strange sense, related.

Not that he had thought about moving in on her. No, it definitely did not dominate his thoughts, especially not late at night when the house was asleep and he could hear her moving around in her room, finishing up schoolwork. (I'm being facetious, obviously).

But even if it did cross his mind from time to time, it's not like he was available to do so. He had a girlfriend, and he wasn't about to cheat on her with Casey. He didn't want to do that to Sally. For the first time in his life, he was finally in a great relationship where he felt secure and actually respected. And he respected Sally, too.

So no. Derek was not interested in Casey. Not at all. He just needed her to quit the waterworks so he could get on with his life and not feel so terrible every time he heard her wallowing.

Snatching the paper-wrapped bundle from it's place beside him, he opened the car door and slammed it angrily. The weight of the bouquet seemed to pull his arm downward, threatening to fall to the ground as he made his way into the house.

He poked his nose in first, and when he determined that no one else was home yet and the coast was clear, he entered the building and kicked off his shoes, and shrugged off his jacket. He didn't even care that his precious leather jacket fell to the floor; he ran through the kitchen and up the stairs before anyone came in the door and caught him with the incriminating evidence in his hand.

As soon as his door was shut, he tossed the package onto his bed, as if the thing burned him, and he ended up sneezing again. God, he was just like Casey, and it made him want to vomit. She had developed an allergy to Max, and now he was developing an allergy to her. He was honestly going mental.

His arms crossed against his chest, and he stared down at the foreign entity sitting on his bed, considering what to do with it. He had barely done this before - the whole 'buying flowers for a girl' thing. It had never been his style, especially on a date, so he had no clue how to approach the action of handing them off to a sad stepsister.

Did he leave them as is and just toss them her way as he passed her in the hall? Or did he set them up in a vase with that weird little packet of plant food and leave it in her room for her to discover later? Or there was always the option of knocking on her door and offering them to her in a sweet, kindly manner, but that thought scared him more than repeating eleventh grade.

So he pushed them to the side for a while and sat on his bed in a huff. Why had he done this to himself? There surely had to have been better ways to cheer Casey up without actually doing something nice for her. Like skipping his usual insults during dinner and going straight to teasing. Or waiting for her sick Lifetime movie to finish before changing the channel to ESPN. Something, anything, to not make it obvious that he actually noticed her, and was concerned.

He heard the front door to the house open and close, and guessed that it was probably her coming home from school. It could have been Lizzie and Ed, but he only heard one set of footsteps ascending the stairs, so it was likely the person he was trying to avoid the most.

Her door shut, and that's when Derek got up off his bed and snatched the flowers from beside him and paced the room, trying to muster the courage. Maybe it would be easier if he prepared something to say. But nothing particularly great was coming to his mind. It all sounded so sickening and sweet, it made him want to hurl.

The front door opened again, and he heard Lizzie and Edwin's voices wafting up the stairs. He cursed, because his only opportunity to give the flowers to Casey while no one was around had just vanished, and there was no way in hell he was letting any of them know he didn't hate her.

So he snatched an old hockey trophy that had become a catch-all from his shelf and dumped its contents onto his desk. Silently, he crept to the bathroom and filled it with water before sneaking back to his room and placed it neatly on his desk, and plopped the flowers into it so they wouldn't die while he worked up the courage to just hand them off.

At dinner, he couldn't bring himself to look at Casey. Come to think of it, he barely lifted his eyes from his plate at all, and even though everyone was poking and prodding him because of his silence, he didn't perk up. And when Casey mentioned Max again, Derek sneezed and excused himself from the table and locked himself in his room.

He debated giving up on the flowers and just giving them to Sally instead, but he couldn't bring himself to doing it. They weren't meant for her, and Sally hadn't crossed his mind once while buying them, and it felt minorly like betrayal to both girls if he changed the intended recipient. No matter how he looked at them, they were Casey's flowers, and nothing was going to change that.

It was just awkward for him. Everyone would think something was up if he gave only Casey flowers. And that realization gave him a great idea. He didn't have to give just Casey flowers. He could dilute the sweetness by spreading around his generosity. There were three other women in the house that certainly deserved flowers more than Casey did. He could break up the bundle. At least that way they would still be in the house - not with Sally.

He smiled when he came to the conclusion and unwrapped the bouquet from its paper casing, and arrayed them on his desk. The four separate bundles he created were quite small now, but it was better than one big one for the girl he supposedly despised. It was better this way.

While the rest of the family was still eating, he got to work as quietly as he could. He went to Lizzie's room first and positioned the little cluster on her desk, because he knew she usually did her homework after dinner. In Marti's room, he snuck them into her pillow fort, knowing fair well that she would go there to play when her chores were finished.

He hesitated before entering Casey's room. He could back out now, because it wouldn't be completely unreasonable for him to be kind to everyone else in the house and forget about her. Honestly, it would actually be expected that he leave Casey out of his kindness. But he was doing the whole thing for her in the first place, and it didn't make sense that he chicken out.

Her room was more disorderly than it usually was. Her laundry basket was overflowing, and her bed wasn't fully made, which was seriously unlike Casey. And that's when Derek knew she needed the flowers more than ever, just so she could pull herself together.

He pulled her bed covers into order, and then placed the little bouquet over her pillow. He hadn't done it for Lizzie or Marti, but he jotted down a short note and tucked it under the stems. It was curt, and a way for him to throw in some sarcasm.

You're honestly the ugliest crier I have ever seen. Stop it.

He nodded. That was good. That way she wouldn't get the idea that he was making peace or something. Because he wasn't.

The last bouquet was for Nora, but he couldn't really traipse down to the dining room and hand it to her out of nowhere. So he waited until he heard the dinner table being cleared, and then made his way down the stairs, hiding the flowers skillfully against his side, tucked into his shirt. He made sure everyone was preoccupied before he snuck to the basement stairs and raced down. His work was quick, and once he tossed the flowers on Nora's dresser, he booked it back to the main floor where he was home-free. His operation was complete, and his only job now was to deny everything profusely until he was blue in the face.

It took a while before anything happened, and he stayed as still as he could, staring at the television when Lizzie first brought it up. He tried not to look interested in the commotion as she came bounding down the stairs with the flowers in her hand.

"What are these from?" she announced, getting everyone's attention. Derek looked briefly backward at her so it wasn't obvious that he already knew what she was talking about, and feigned disinterest.

"Who gave me flowers?" she questioned, eyeing everyone suspiciously, but unable to hide her smile.

Casey stood from the couch - where she had previously been sniffling in self-pity - and went to her sister. "Flowers?" she repeated, and put her hands on her hips. "Aw, that's so cute!"

They looked around, and started to investigate. "Edwin, did you do this?"

"Why would I get you flowers?" he answered in confusion.

Their next stop was George in the kitchen, and Derek craned to hear what they were saying.

"George, do you know anything about these flowers?"

"What flowers?"

"I found them on my desk," Lizzie explained.

"Hey, those are nice," George reacted. "Who gave you those?"

"Someone in this house," Casey explained.

"Well, it wasn't me," he explained, which led the two girls to Nora, and when she denied knowing anything about it, they landed at Marti, who was still finishing clearing the table from dinner.

Like a last resort, they approached Derek, but he ignored them and scowled when they obscured his view from the hockey game on TV.

"Get out of my way," he demanded, trying to push them to the side as he snapped his chair into a sitting position.

Casey's hands were on her hips. "Did you give Liz these flowers?" she interrogated, sounding vaguely doubtful.

He scoffed loudly. "Me? Please. I don't do flowers," he lied, and cranked up the volume, trying to pretend he wasn't interested in the conversation.

It was nearly ten minutes later before Nora excused herself to the basement, but came right back up with a bundle of flowers in her hands.

"I have some, too," she announced, which piqued everyone's interest.

"What?" Casey said loudly, and pushed herself up from the dining table.

Nora's smile was wide. "Georgie, you did this, didn't you?"

Derek was nearly squirming, and had to resist the urge to run up to his room to get away from it all.

"Don't look at me," he said. "Although I would like to take the credit, I can't."

"Hey!" Marti shouted. "I want flowers!" she pouted.

That's when Casey scrunched her eyebrows and said, "maye you do have some. If both Mom and Lizzie have them."

And Marti went scurrying up the stairs.

"Maybe you have some, too, Casey," Nora suggested, and Derek tried not to watch as realization spread across her eyes. He especially stopped himself from smirking when she bolted up the stairs to check her own room.

His plan seemed to be working, because she didn't look at all forlorn - occupied with the mystery of it all. As much as Derek kind of wanted to own up to it all by himself, he knew he would be ratted out by Casey sooner than later, with his note. He kicked his chair down, and sat up as he heard both Marti and Casey clambering down the stairs gleefully.

He pushed himself up and joined the rest of his confused family members, and when he looked at Casey, something weird happened.

She made immediate eye contact with him, and at first he thought she was going to present the note for everyone to see, but she only smiled knowingly at him briefly, before presenting her own flowers to the group.

His eyebrows raised considerably when she didn't say a thing, and timidly looked down.

Save for Casey, they all looked at George, as if he were the only available candidate, but he only laughed and reinforced the crazy notion that he didn't do it.

That led everyone to turn to Derek. He almost owned up to it, but when Casey bit back her smile and looked straight into his eyes, he bit his tongue and shrugged his shoulders in exaggeration.

"You're all barking up the wrong tree," he denied. He couldn't actually explain why he didn't own up to it. It was something in Casey's eyes that confused him - the fact that she stayed silent, and her shy smile. It was almost as if she wanted this little secret with him. Lord knows they didn't have many to share.

"You're the only one who would deny something like this," Lizzie decided to add, which forced him to start a whole new slew of excuses.

"I don't give flowers," he scoffed, and shuddered. "Especially to Casey." He made sure to say her name like a curse. "It wasn't me."

Their suspicious expressions converted into agreement. "That's true."

Derek looked at Casey again, who was burying her nose into the white and yellow petals. To everyone else, she appeared to be smelling them, but Derek recognized that she was hiding her knowing grin.

Why wasn't she saying anything?

"Well, whoever it was," Nora said definitively. "It was very sweet. Thank you."

"Yeah, thanks!" Marti exclaimed, and they all filed into the kitchen, filling cups and vases, and returning to their respective rooms.

It wasn't often when Derek's heart felt very full, but this was a rare moment that he admitted felt pretty good. Amongst all of his more reckless behaviour, it was nice every once in a while to tap into something more heartfelt.

He didn't bother watching the rest of the game, since it wasn't any teams he care about, and retired to his room for the evening. As soon as his door closed, it opened again, and Casey slipped in behind him.

"Whoa, I didn't invite you," he threatened, but she shot him an unimpressed glare. It only lasted a moment, though, because it was quickly replaced with that same timid smile she was sporting on the stair landing.

They locked eyes, and at first Derek thought she was going to cry or something, but instead she said, "I honestly don't think I will ever understand you."

His hands reached down into his pockets. "And why is that?"

"You act like you don't care, but you're actually this sweet, caring, lovable guy."

His hands shot up in defense. "Whoa, whoa, whoa!" he interjected. "I am not sweet."

She smirked. "So you admit to being caring and loveable?"

Inhaling, his shoulders lifted. "Caring is debatable. But I fully accept loveable." He laced his words with innuendo, and basked in her grimace. "And I can say the same thing about you."

Her eyes narrowed. "What?"

He realized how that sounded, and quickly had to remedy her shock. "How I will never understand you, either."

She seemed to exhale, relieved. "Oh."

"Yeah. Why didn't you rat me out?"

She only shrugged, and pushed her lips to the side, thoughtfully. "I don't know."

"Are you embarrassed?"

"No," she assured. "It wasn't my place to say."

Oh. That was all. For a minute there, Derek thought it could have been something more.

Silence engulfed the room, and Derek had to admit, it was getting pretty awkward. He wanted to say something more - do something more - but froze when Casey began to rush forward with her arms outstretched.

She didn't give him a choice. It was so quick, and so sudden, that he didn't have enough time to refuse or run for dear life. Before he could react, her arms were around him, squeezing with a weird sort of force.

There was a reason he has avoided this - avoided hugging Casey. And it had everything to do with the fact that he didn't hate it. No, he didn't hate hugging her, and he quickly realized that ages ago - when they awkwardly embraced at their parents wedding. He felt something strange inside of him, and knew that if it became a regular occurrence, things would get messy in the McDonald-Venturi household. That's why he always ran when she tried to put her arms around him, in case she realized she really liked it, too.

It had proved to be a great test of self control, having her in the next bedroom, and little moments like these popped up every so often. He usually let them slide past, but she just kept on hugging him, and if she didn't let go soon, he was going to lose it.

"Uh, Case?"

She nodded against his chest.

"Let go of me."

And she shook her head. "No. I want to savour this moment."

Okay, that wasn't going to work. "I'm serious, let go of me," he fought, and began wrenching himself from her grip.

But she fought back. "Succumb, Derek!" She scolded, and hugged tighter. "Hug me back, or so help me, I will ugly cry all over this place and then march down stairs and tell everyone you got the flowers for me."

Maybe he would have preferred if she did that. But in the moment, he couldn't see how one hug would hurt. So he relaxed, and wrapped his arms around her, too.

He didn't know where to put his hands. Honestly, he wanted nothing more than to just wrap her up completely, pull her as close as possible, and just hold her forever, letting his hands land wherever they wanted. But that, obviously, wasn't an option.

So he kind of let them dangle purposeless, which, in turn, made the whole situation more awkward than if he had just pushed her away and called it a day.

She scrunched up her nose and looked at him, straining to make eye contact since she was so close. "You know, you can put your hands on me. It's not like I'm gonna punch you."

He began feeling slightly faint - probably because he hadn't taken a breath for a while now. So, inhaling deeply, he rested his hands on her back.

When he did, she squeezed tighter, and smiled into his chest. He allowed himself the satisfaction of a smile, too, but only because she couldn't see his face.

The reciprocated hug only lasted a few seconds, but it felt hours long. When she released him, he wheezed and panted, his body so strained that he might as well have just run a marathon. It had been taxing on both his mind and body, and he was ready to fall right over.

"Thank you," she said, her hand gripping his arm.

He leaned into her hand for a moment. "For the hug, or the flowers?"

"Both," she smiled, and then stepped away from him, leaving him cold and dazed. "I'm feeling much better."

His hand absently shot to his neck, and he rubbed out a knot that was forming. "Just... Stop crying over him," he added.

"I will."

"He wasn't worth it, anyway."

A flash of fight glazed across her face, but she ultimately nodded. "Maybe."

"And he sure as hell didn't deserve you."

"What makes you say that?"

Derek rubbed his neck again. That hug really took a toll. "He took you for granted. He got used to you."

Casey bit her bottom lip, and looked at the ground. "He did, didn't he," she agreed.

There was one thing for sure - one thing he was leaving unsaid. No matter how long he knew Casey, or how many times she hugged him, he would never get used to her. He hoped he never would, anyway. She was too special to take for granted.

"Thanks again," she stammered, and let herself out.

Derek stood there, his eyes lingering on the door, in case she decided to come back. He mildly hoped she would, but he scrunched his nose. What would he do if she did?

He knew she wouldn't, but the thought arrested his mind for a moment. He'd probably turn her away. Did he have any other choice?

He fell asleep quickly that evening. There was no crying to keep him up.


Fin.