It starts with a pebble at her windowsill.
Well, actually, it starts with a handful of pebbles hitting the wall outside her window, but it's pretty much the same thing.
And it continues when she draws her curtains and slides her window open.
"What are you doing here?" Her voice is raspy, trying to shout down to the man on ground level, while not waking up her sisters and best friend, sleeping soundly across the room. "It's after midnight. You should be sleeping!"
Taking a step backward to see her clearly, leaning out her window, he shrugs his shoulders. "You should be sleeping, too. But you're not."
Her shoulders tighten, and she glares at him. "I'm not tired."
"Neither am I."
She knows what is about to happen. She's known for weeks. Months, even. It isn't a surprise to her. What surprises her is what she says next.
And just like that, he rolls his eyes with such embellishment, she can see him do it from her position, two storeys up. And he opens his hand and raises it in her direction. "Come on, Case. This is the last time you can do something stupid and crazy like this."
She bites her lip. "It's not that simple." It's true. It's not simple. They both know it, and they've been trying to pretend that it is.
"Loosen up. I know you've probably been lying awake worrying your little ass off, and if you don't get your mind off everything, you're going to look like shit tomorrow morning."
She knows he's right. He always is when it comes to her. But she's not completely sold until he says, "Live a little dangerously."
So she inhales deeply, and glares at him. Those words always work on her, and he knows it. And it pisses her off that he uses that exact phrase just to get on her nerves. "Fine. Give me a minute."
She turns around, and surveys Lizzie and Marti and Emily, making sure they are deep into their REM cycles. When she's certain none of them will stir, she changes quickly into jeans and an old sweatshirt, and then crosses over to the window again.
"Catch," she says, tossing her jacket and a pair of sneakers out the window.
And those are the events leading up to Casey McDonald sneaking out of her window, and crawling down the trellis, on the eve of her wedding.
It starts with his smirk when she touches the ground, and it continues as she pulls a twig out of her hair, tossing it in his face.
"I can't believe you talked me into this."
But he shakes his head. "I didn't talk you into it. You wanted to come."
Again, he's right. And she frowns. She hates it when he's right, and lately, he's been right all the time. Everything he says is true, and when did he become so intuitive?
"What are we supposed to do now?"
"We run," he answers. And that's when he grabs her hand, and tugs her along the lawn, through a bed of flowers, and even though she still has no shoes on, they start running down a dirt path, toward the lake.
And she's laughing. Warm, energetic laughter. It's been a long time since she's done that. And it vaguely crosses her mind that he's always the one who causes it. She's always the happiest when she's with him.
Her toes are in the water, and she's dancing. She's dancing in the moonlight, and smiling, and living dangerously.
And he's watching. He's watching as her hair sways across her back, brushing the surface of the water as she leans down and dips her manicured hands into the lake, splashing the water in his direction. And he starts laughing, too. Because this is all he's ever wanted: to see her happy.
"I want it to be like this forever," she sighs, spinning around, and falling onto the sand, looking up at the stars.
And when she looks over at him, and he's sitting down beside her, she frowns again. Because it can't. Even when she tries - tries holding on to moments like this - they always disappear. She digs her hand in the sand, and watches it fall through her fingers.
"I'm getting married, Derek," she whispers, and when she shivers, he unfolds her jacket and drapes it over her shoulders.
"I know you are."
He chuckles. "I seem to recall that's his name."
And she turns her head to look at him. How can he laugh at that? How can he sit in the sand beside her and laugh at her fiance?
"What am I doing, Derek?"
His eyebrows narrow over his eyes, and she wants to cry. She wants to cry because his eyes are perfect, and no matter how hard she tries convincing herself, she knows that Alex's are not.
Derek leans back onto his elbows. "You're watching the stars with me."
"No. I'm getting married. Tomorrow morning."
"Just stop worrying about it."
"I can't stop. I don't know how."
He rubs a hand over his face and sighs. "Just breathe. And look at the stars."
She takes a moment to look at him, laying back on the beach, beside her. Her toes dig into the sand, and she releases the tension in her shoulders. And she leans back until her back is against the sand, and rests her head beside his.
"Do you know any constellations?" he breathes, his arms lifting until his hands are behind his head.
"Yeah," she answers, and lifts her hand up. "That's Ursa Minor." And she traces her hands across the sky. "That's Perseus, and that's Cassiopeia." Her hand lingers in the air, and when she glances at Derek, she realizes he's not even looking up. "What?" she asks, and her hand falls.
He shrugs - as well as he can shrug while laying on the ground with his hands behind his head. "What other constellations?"
But she shakes her head. "Orion, but that's only visible in the winter. Other than that, I don't know."
Then, his arm lifts. "That one is Pegasus," he whispers, and her shoulders tighten.
"You know constellations?" It's not the right time for her to learn something like this about him. Any time but now.
He smiles. "And that one is Andromeda."
She sits up and turns to him. "When did you learn constellations?"
But he ignores her and goes on. "And that one is Aquarius, and that one's... Medusa..."
And instantly, her head cocks, and her jaw tightens and she scowls at him. "You're unbelievable," she says bitterly, but can't hold her smile from showing. "Medusa isn't a constellation. You're just saying random things."
His laughter cuts through the night air as he clutches his stomach. She takes one of her shoes, sitting between them, and bashes him across the chest.
"You're so gullible," he manages to wheeze before she continues to attack him with her limbs, making sure he can't squirm away.
"You're such a jerk," she retorts. Because she doesn't need him to be such a child at such a momentous occasion in her life. She needs him to be soft and caring.
And after a few moments of wrestling, and fighting, Derek pauses beneath her and looks at her. "Get off of me. You're crushing my spleen."
She scoffs. "You don't even know where your spleen is."
"You're still crushing something," he adds, and pushes her away, and brushes off some of the sand that has accumulated in his hair. And when he sits up, and digs his hand into his pocket, he pulls out his sunglasses - well, the remains of his sunglasses.
And Casey smirks. "I didn't like those glasses on you, anyway."
He shakes his head, smiling, and tosses them to the side.
She lays back down, and lets out a long breath. She does that a lot these days - sighing for no reason. She knows what they mean. They're usually loaded with lots of thoughts and feelings, and memories. But she never acts on them.
"What's going to happen to us?" Her voice falters. When he doesn't respond, she props herself onto her elbow and notices his eyes are closed. "Derek?"
He inaudibly groans, and peels one eye open. "We'll still be us."
She was afraid of that.
"But... I'm going to be married. I'm going to have a husband."
This time, he sighs. He's been doing it a lot, too. "Yeah, you'll have a husband, and a brother."
The words pain her. They hit her right in the heart, and she can feel the blood rushing from her head. "What?"
"Look, Case," he says, meeting her gaze, and mirroring her position, propping onto his own elbow. "We can't keep pretending. We can't just pretend that we're something that we're not. We're siblings. This is it. This is what makes us siblings. You're getting married. You're going to have a husband, and I'm going to be your brother."
"You're not my brother."
"Yes, I am. I have to be."
He has to be, otherwise, things could go awry. And this is what she's been afraid of. She's been more scared of this moment happening than anything else. And now her worst nightmare is coming true.
"Well, I'm not your sister."
"Yeah, you are."
"You're the one who told me I wasn't."
"But I'm telling you now. We're siblings. Just being siblings. It's easier that way."
She closes her eyes. Easier. No, it's harder this way. She hates having to come to this conclusion. She wants to yell, scream, do something.
"I... I'll be your sister." When she says it, she lays back down, and pulls her jacket close to her body. "If it's what you want."
For the first time, she hears the crickets, and frogs, and even a loon on the lake.
"Alex is a good guy," Derek says, shifting uncomfortably. "I'm happy for you."
Derek is happy. She's glad the moon isn't full, because she wants to hide her face from him. He's her 'happy brother'. And she's falling apart with negative emotions.
"Have you decided where you're going to live?" he asks, cutting her thoughts with the question.
"Yeah," she answers, but doesn't divulge.
"Toronto. It's where his father's company is, and where his family lives, anyway." His family. Alex's family. She is becoming a part of his family. It's not the family she wants. She wants her own family, full of step-siblings, and stepbrothers, and crawling down trellises in the middle of the night.
Derek nods. "That's lucky for us, then."
"Yeah. We'll get you for all the holidays. Because if you live close to his family, then you have to come visit us on holidays. It's only fair. We won't see you as much."
"What makes you think I'll want to come home for the holidays?"
He inhales. "Well, it won't be home. Your home will be Toronto. We'll just be family."
"Hey," she sits up, changing the subject, because she's slipping further into depression the longer they speak. "Let's steal a canoe and go to the middle of the lake."
His eyebrow raises. "It's the middle of the night. Isn't that dangerous?"
She shrugs. "What is it you always say about living dangerously?"
She has him there, and he rolls his eyes. "I have a better idea," he says, and the tone of his voice worries her. Nothing good can come from a conniving Derek. She learned that the hard way.
He leans closer, and smirks. "Let's go skinny dipping."
And her jaw drops, and she smacks him right across the head. "Not with you! You're my brother!"
He laughs. "I knew I could get you to say it."
Her jaw tightens, and she shoves him back into the sand. "Shut up."
"Not in a million years, Princess."
They don't have that long.
It continues with laughter and talking, and dozing off in the sand just as the sun is coming over the horizon.
It starts with a hand jerking her awake.
It continues when her eyes open, and once the sleep is cleared from her vision, she shoots into a sitting position.
"Oh my God, we fell asleep," she shouts, and when she does, Derek brings a finger to his lips to warn her to be quiet.
His head jerks to the side, gesturing to the Lodge in the distance.
"I think Nora is looking for you," he says.
Her head snaps forward and she panics. "What do I say? What if they think-"
"Sh, Case, it's okay. It's still early. I doubt anyone else is up. Just sneak back into your room and pretend you took an early morning walk."
Breathing laboriously, she nods. "Right." And then she smiles appreciatively at him. "Thank you, Derek."
"I'm going to miss this. You and me getting into trouble."
"Hey," he says, and places a hand on her shoulder. "This won't stop for you. You're going to get into all kinds of mischief with Alex. And it will be better with him."
She wants to argue. She wants to tell him that no, she won't have this much fun with Alex, because she reserves nights like the one they just shared for him, and him alone. She won't get into mischief with Alex, because she only does that with Derek, and that will never change.
She pulls on her shoes, and tugs at her jacket before standing up. "Are you coming?" she asks when he makes no move to follow.
His hair bounces as he shakes his head. "No. I think I'll stay here and look out for the Blue Heron."
And so it continues when she starts walking up the path, toward her Grandmother's lodge, looking behind her the entire time.
It starts with a curling iron, and it continues with blue sparkly eye shadow.
She doesn't know why she wears it anymore. She used to think it was flirty and cute, but now she wears it when she needs to feel young again. Because lately, she's been feeling old. Older than she really is. It's like she's fifty, trapped in a twenty-four-year-old body.
Lizzie helps her into her dress, and Marti laces it up in the back. It takes Emily's strength to tie the laces, while Nora is pinning her hair.
She looks in the mirror. And her eyebrows scrunch in confusion.
"Why am I not smiling?" she mutters, and the women around her grin and ask for her to repeat herself, because her voice is too low to hear.
"What time is it?" she says instead, turning around and kicking her train behind her.
It's a long dress. Longer than she ever planned. And it makes her want to scream. She wants to scream, because she feels like a toilet roll, and it's bulky and full of lace, and she wonders where her simple wedding dress - the one she had dreamed about with the illusion neckline and satin skirt - has ended up. Another girl somewhere in the world is wearing her dress, and she's stuck in this seamstress's nightmare.
"Almost ten," Marti supplies, twirling in her own pale yellow bridesmaid dress. At least that's something Casey can be happy about - a beautiful array of bridesmaids. All her favourite girls, in gorgeous dresses, standing beside her as she takes the biggest plunge into the coldest water of her life.
She bites her lip, and walks to the window. When she pushes the curtain aside, her hand brushes over a pebble sitting on the windowsill.
"Can I have a minute?" she wonders, turning to her girls, and trying to plaster a smile onto her lips.
"Sure, honey," Nora says, and ushers everyone out of the room, but stays with her daughter. "Cold feet?" she asks, not yet leaving.
Shrugging, Casey sighs. "Maybe. I don't know."
Sitting down on the bed, Nora taps the space beside her, inviting Casey to divulge in a mother-daughter pep talk.
"You know," she starts as Casey sits down, her dress inflating around her. They laugh sadly as they pat the fabric flat. "I almost didn't marry George."
"What?" Casey's eyes widen, and she leans forward.
Laughing, Nora nods. "I was walking down the aisle, with full intentions of shouting 'objection', but when I saw you, so proud and supportive, I changed my mind."
"Really. I thought I was making the biggest mistake of my life, forcing my little girls into a house with strangers, but little did I know - did we all know - that it would be the best decision I would ever make."
Casey's hands clasp in her lap. "I love our family, Mom."
"I know you do. And that's why you don't have to be afraid of getting married, Casey. It can be daunting, but it's worth it. It's worth sharing your life with others."
Sharing. Would she be able to continue sharing once she had a husband?
"I don't want to lose what I have now."
Nora squeezes her hand. "You won't."
But Casey can't seem to see it. She can't see how she can keep her old life, while trying to adapt to the new. It's almost impossible for her to even imagine it, and she has a very vivid imagination.
"You still want that moment alone?" Nora asks, and Casey nods. "Okay. I'm going to go check on the groom. See when we can start heading over to the lodge."
And just like that, Casey is all alone. It's not a new feeling. She always feels alone, even while surrounded with people.
There's one exception, though. He's always the exception.
Except, not this time.
She stands back up, and stops before the mirror. She doesn't cry, because she's strong. If she was weak, she would fall to the floor and water-stain her dress.
But she's strong-Casey, now. Years of hardwork turned her into this. Years of lying awake, not crying when all she wanted to do was run away and sob into his arms. She used to do that, at the beginning. Before she realized it could never work out. Before she met Alex, she would run to him.
It's all she wants to do now. All she wants to do is run.
When she looks out her window, she can see people arriving. She sees her Grandma busily double-checking with the wedding-planner. She sees her in-laws-to-be arriving in a sports car. She sees all her old college friends making their way from an old cabin, up to the Lodge. And she sees Derek.
She sees him as he's walking up a dirt path, sand still in his hair. He's been at the private beach all morning.
And she clenches her jaw.
She knows what's about to happen. She's known for weeks. Months, even.
She waits until she's certain all the wedding guests are out of sight, inside the lodge. And when she's certain no one is still walking in the woods, she hikes up her skirt and pushes the curtains to the side.
And those are the events leading up to Casey McDonald sneaking out of her window, and crawling down the trellis, on the day of her wedding.
It starts when George checks his watch, and it continues when he makes eye contact with Alex.
"What's taking so long?" Alex whispers, tapping his toes nervously, and adjusting his collar.
"I don't know. Wait here. I'm going to go check-"
It continues when Nora makes her way down the aisle quickly, a terribly manufactured smile plastered on her face. When she reaches the front, nodding to all the guests waiting patiently in their seats, she leans into her husband and whispers, "Casey is gone."
"What?" he responds, with more volume than intended.
Alex steps toward them, and joins the huddle. "What's going on?"
Nora tries to act reassuringly. "Nothing. We're still getting ready. Everything is fine."
"Where is Casey?"
"She's fine." Nora grabs George's arm and tugs him down the aisle, and when they make it into the coat room, she puts her hands over her face and shakes her head.
"How long has she been gone?"
"Not long. Only ten or fifteen minutes. The girls and I have been looking everywhere."
That's when the door opens, and Derek walks in. "What's wrong?" he demands, not letting go of the door.
George sighs. "Casey is missing."
And Derek swallows.
"I know where she is," he grumbles, and it continues as he runs a hand over his hair. This is the last thing he wants to deal with today.
It starts when she hears footsteps on the path behind her.
"What do you think you're doing?" he says angrily, stopping beside her, arms crossed over his chest, glaring down at her.
It continues as she blows a curl out of her eyes. "I'm going canoeing."
He scoffs. "Not in that dress, you aren't."
"Get away from me. I can do what I want."
Grabbing the paddle from her hand, Derek pushes her away from the dock, and shakes his head. "If that dress gets wet, you'll drown."
"Maybe I want to drown. Ever think of that?"
She's completely lost it. It was going to happen sometime. She just didn't think it would be so soon.
"Casey, stop it. You're getting married."
She's strong-Casey, now, so she can't cry. The tears pool in her eyes, but they don't fall. They just cloud her vision until she can't see anymore.
Derek puts his hands on her shoulders, and squeezes her, hard. "Casey, snap out of it."
But she flails and thrashes against him. "I'm not getting married!" she yells at him, and rips off her veil.
"I can't do this!"
He holds her firmly and shakes her body, lightly. "Yes, you can. I know you. Casey McDonald can do anything she puts her mind to."
Her body goes limp, and she almost falls into his arms. "I can't get married."
He breathes heavily. "You have to get married, Casey," he says softly. "Don't do this to Alex."
But she only shakes her head against his arms.
"Alex is a great guy," he reminds her. "You deserve someone as great as him."
But she crosses her arms and huffs. "No, I don't. I'm a terrible human being, and Alex deserves someone who can give him what I can't."
"And what would that be?"
She blinks back the tears in her eyes. "Love."
Because no matter how hard she tries, she can't bring herself to loving him. She's spent years trying. She's spent years pretending.
"Don't be silly. Of course you love him."
She looks at Derek. Really looks at him. "I don't."
"You love Alex. We all love Alex. Even I love Alex."
"Then you marry him," she shoots, and pokes him in the chest in anger.
Smirking, Derek shrugs. "I would. But I don't think Alex would be into exploring his sexuality with me."
And he does it. He gets her to laugh.
She smiles, and nods. "Yeah, I don't think he'd be into it." Because they both know Alex is straight, through and through.
And just like that, she's breathing again. Oxygen is clearing her mind, because Derek always seems to bring her clarity. Even in her darkest moments, Derek is always there. He's always there to pull her out, to lend a hand. To keep her from getting in a canoe and drowning.
"Why are you here?" she finally asks, and slumps onto the ground. She doesn't even care that she's getting her dress all dirty. She kneels by the water, and he kneels beside her. "You should be at my wedding."
"I was at your wedding. But you weren't. So I left."
"To find me?"
He leans his head toward her. "I always find you."
And as they look over the water, watching the ducks swim past and the dragonflies dart over the reeds, Derek asks, "why don't you want to get married?"
She looks into his eyes. "Because you're the one who found me."
He bites his lip, but shakes his head. "No, Casey."
"Don't make this about me."
"It's always about you."
And he stands again, and he's getting angry. "Don't make me the reason you don't want to get married."
She stands, too, and follows him along the shore. "Why not?"
He stops abruptly and spins to face her. "Because you'll hate me for it. You'll hate me for the rest of your life. I'll be the one you blame when you think about him - when you think about what you could have with him." His chest inflates with air. "Don't do that to me."
She's strong-Casey. "I wouldn't hate you."
"Yes, you would."
"I could never hate you."
He closes his eyes. "Yes, you could."
"I'll make you hate me, if that's what it will take for you to marry him."
She wants her jaw to drop. She wants it to fall open in disgust, but it only tightens, and clenches, and her teeth ache as they grind together. "You wouldn't be able to."
He shakes his head. "You'll hate me, Casey. I'm sure of it."
But she stomps her foot. "I can't hate someone I love."
She watches his eyes. She watches his pupils. She knows what it means when they dilate, and her jaw loosens when the brown of his eyes nearly disappears.
"You don't love me," he whispers.
"Yes, I do."
"No, you don't."
"Would you stop telling me what I do and don't feel?" Her speech is heated, and her heart is pounding with anger. "I love you, Derek. And there's nothing you can do to change that."
He turns away. He faces the water, and scrubs his face with his hands, and lets out an irritated shout.
"Be quiet," she demands, but he shakes his head.
"Everyone will hear you."
"No, why didn't you say something? Why did you wait until now to say something?" He's angry, too, and he's not afraid to show it.
"Because I was scared."
His feet dig into the sand beneath him. "So you led Alex on? You strung him along? You knew all along you didn't want to marry him, but you went along with it, anyway."
She's strong-Casey. But somehow, tears start falling. "I thought I could love him."
"You're the most self-centred person I've ever met, you know that?"
"I didn't mean to hurt anyone."
"It's too late for that."
"And you strung me along, too. You got my hopes up, and then you crushed them when you got scared. You don't know the effect you have on a man's heart, Casey. You don't know how much pain I've gone through. And now you're going to do it to him, too."
Her hands ball into fists against the veil in her hands, and Derek takes it from her grip before she tears it apart.
"You're hurting him, Casey." His voice is soft this time, but he's still upset.
Her head shakes. Her shoulders fall, and she lifts a hand to her eyes. "I didn't mean to."
It's not enough. She's not enough. She'll never be enough. For Derek, for Alex, for anyone. She will always fall short.
Because she's just human.
"I'm sorry, Derek."
But he shakes his head, and unfolds the wrinkles in her veil, and fastens it back into her hair. "I'm not the one you need to apologize to."
"Alex," she nods.
"And your one-hundred-and-fifty guests who drove all the way out here for you to get cold feet."
"It's not cold feet. I'm still not getting married."
"Yeah, you are."
And she looks up at him. "I can't lie to him anymore. I can't spend the rest of my life lying to him."
So he sighs. "You are getting married today, Casey." He fixes her hair, and brushes off some of the sand on her skirt. "You're not getting married this morning. But you will be getting married."
Her eyebrows furl, and she squints at him. And her toes dig into the sand beneath her.
He only shrugs, and walks away. "Everyone's waiting for you, Case. I suggest you go back to the Lodge and ruin everyone's day."
It continues when she listens to Derek, and marches up the dirt path, dragging her muddy train behind her.
It starts when she enters the Lodge, and it continues when she shakes her head at Emily, holding out her bouquet to her.
She brushes past her father, and swings open a door to the ceremony. All heads turn to her, and more than one set of eyes look confused.
She inhales, and dips down the aisle, not smiling. She's not scowling, either. She's just... Staring. She's staring at Alex, and she's staring at the minister, and she's staring at George, who knows exactly what is going on.
And when she makes it to the front, she cries a little, because even though she's strong, crying isn't necessarily a sign of weakness.
"Casey?" Alex swallows, but he doesn't need her to answer. He already knows what is about to happen. He tried to fool himself into thinking it wasn't inevitable, but all along, he's known. He hasn't just known for weeks, or months, even. He's known from the beginning.
And as she takes his hand, he nods. And she nods back, and then they turn to their guests.
And she announces that she is, in fact, not getting married.
And Alex doesn't even get angry. Because he's already been angry. He's past anger, and onto acceptance. He accepted it a long time ago.
And there is an uproar, and confusion, and lots of talking and shouting.
So she tugs on Alex's hand, and they duck out the side door, and as soon as they are outside, they embrace. She holds onto him tightly, and he reciprocates immediately.
Crying is not a sign of weakness. Because they are both strong, and they are both crying.
"I'm so, so sorry," she sobs.
But he shakes his head and stills hers with a hand against her cheek.
"It's okay, Casey. You did the right thing."
And she sniffles, and wipes her cheeks, and nods. "I didn't mean to hurt you."
He nods. "I know."
"Do you hate me?"
She hates herself. She hates that she doesn't love him, and she hates that she loves Derek. She doesn't want it to be this way. She doesn't want to be unconventional.
"Do you hate him?"
Alex rubs his nose momentarily. "I thought I could. For a while, I tried to. I even tried to be like him, for you. But I just can't. No one can replace him, Casey."
Derek was right. Alex is a good guy. Everyone loves Alex. Derek even loves Alex.
She can't understand why she doesn't.
"So this is it," she mutters, and exhales. She hasn't even realized she has been holding her breath this entire time.
"This is it," he agrees.
And they kiss. One last time, they kiss, and she smiles, and when he pulls away, he smiles, too.
"Don't worry about me," he says. "I'm already over it."
She tries to believe him. But she's too smart for her own good.
"I'm still sorry," she responds, and turns away.
And it continues, as she disappears behind the trees, and walks back to her Grandmother's cabin.
It starts when Lizzie breaks open the door, and it continues when Marti rushes in behind her, waving a bundle of flowers in her face.
"We're disappointed!" Marti exclaims, and puts her hands on her hips.
Lizzie nods. "Very disappointed!"
Emily enters a few seconds later, and reprimands the two girls, and sits beside her best friend.
"It's for the best," she says, and glares at Casey's little sisters.
Casey smiles sadly and nods, because even though she never loved him, she is grieving the loss of him. He was special to her. And he'll always hold a special place in her heart.
"You wanna talk about it?" Emily asks gently, putting a hand on Casey's.
And Casey nods. "I just didn't love him."
And Marti stomps her foot, and sighs heavily. "I call bull shit!" she says pointedly.
Casey laughs and laughs, and wipes happy tears from her eyes. "I'm not lying."
And then Marti slumps beside her, and rips a few flowers from her bouquet, presenting them to Casey's nose.
"Smell these?" she demands. "This is the smell of disappointment."
"Why are you so disappointed I'm not marrying Alex?"
"Because I love him, that's why. He is awesome. He is amazing. And he is filthy rich."
"I didn't know you were so materialistic."
Marti slumps backward onto the bed. "I'm usually not. But when your big sister is supposed to be marrying a millionaire's philanthropic, generous, all around nice son, I can get pretty materialistic. Think of all the cool presents you could have given me."
They all laugh. There is not much that differentiates Marti from her oldest brother, other than ten years and gender.
"You'd rather I marry Alex even though I don't love him just so you can get expensive presents?"
"I guess the acorn doesn't fall far from the tree," Casey mutters, because she can remember a certain other Venturi that had said the same thing to her years ago.
But it's all different now.
Lizzie takes a spot on the bed, too, and heaves a breathy whimper.
"And why are you so disappointed, Lizard?" Casey inquires, tapping Lizzie's knee.
She shrugs. "He's a philanthropist. Do I have to have another reason?"
And so it continues, the four girls lounging on the bed, laughing and crying, and looking up ways to get mud out of wedding trains so they can resell the dress to a boutique.
And life tends to repeat itself.
Because it all starts with a pebble at her windowsill.
Well, actually, it starts with a handful of pebbles hitting the wall outside her window, but it's pretty much the same thing.
And it continues when she draws her curtains and slides her window open.
This time she's smiling, and he's smiling, too, and she's holding back a giggle, because she's actually excited.
"Catch," she says, and carefully drops a suitcase out the window, and watches him struggle to catch it in his arms. She packed light, so he easily grabs it in the air and places it beside him.
She looks back at the room. Marti and Lizzie and Emily are all sleeping. She swears they are all smiling in their dreams.
"Wait," she whispers down to him, and then slides onto her bed, and pulls out a notebook from her side table. She scribbles a few words over a random page, and tears it out, and places it neatly over her pillow.
It's a simple note.
It only has four words on it.
She surveys the room one last time, and sighs. And she rolls her eyes when she hears, "are you coming or what?" wafting up from the window.
Looking back out the window, she breathes in the cool night air. It's refreshing. She's been waiting for the weight to be lifted off her chest, and now that it is gone, she feels almost lightheaded.
She looks down to him and nods. "Yeah. I'll be right down."
Those are the events leading up to Casey McDonald sneaking out her window, and climbing down the trellis, on the night of her elopement.
It starts when Lizzie wakes first.
It continues when she discovers the note.
No one else in the cabin can sleep through her squeals and shouts and laughing. Because she's laughing. She's laughing loudly, and snorting, and still squealing.
She passes the note to Marti, and she joins in. Emily is next, and they all dance and shout.
When Nora and George break the door open, they wipe the sleep from their eyes, and Edwin comes running up the stairs, too.
And they all take turns reading the note.
George is quiet, and Nora lifts a hand to her mouth, and Edwin's knees buckle.
But they all laugh, too. And all the events of the day prior, the weeks prior, the months and years prior, make perfect sense.
Because they've been waiting for this note. A note that says it all.
And this is how it continues:
"I eloped with Derek."