“Quick, hide!” Casey whispered, on the verge of a full blown panic attack. She hurried to get dressed.
“Where?” Derek demanded, grabbing his shirt off the floor, and pulling it over his head. “Under the bed?”
“I don’t care. You’re shirt is on backwards!”
“Shit!” He pulled it off again.
“Casey,” Nora called from the other side of the door. “Is there someone in there with you?”
“Um,” Casey called back. “I don’t know!”
“You don’t know?” Nora questioned, skeptically.
“You don’t KNOW?” Derek whispered, incredulous, then tripped over his jeans as he tried to pull them on, hitting the floor with a tremendous thud.
“Casey what’s going on in there?”
“Nothing! Just dropped something.” She turned on Derek. “Get up!”
“I’m fine, thanks for asking.”
“I can come back!” Nora offered.
“No!” Casey called, making her bed with military precision.
“NO!?” Derek repeated, incredulous.
“It’s only Derek!” Casey said through the door.
“Oh!” Nora sounded pleasantly surprised.
“WHY WOULD YOU SAY THAT?” Derek hissed emphatically.
“Follow my lead!” Casey finger combed her hair, gave Derek a once over for approval, then opened the door.
“Hi mom!” Casey smiled like sunshine, like she hadn’t just been on the verge of full freak out a moment ago.
“Casey!” Nora hugged her daughter. “And Derek! What are you doing here?”
“Ummmm,” Derek scratched his head, the panic of a deer on the highway in his eyes.
“Spring fling was last night, and someone had a little too much to drink,” Casey covered quickly.
“Yeah,” Derek phoned in a laugh, but he was glaring at Casey.
“I couldn’t exactly let him walk home in his condition. So I let him crash on the floor here.”
“I don’t believe it,” Nora crossed her arms over her chest, and for a moment, Casey thought the ruse was up.
“You two are actually getting along!?”
“Oh,” Casey laughed, relieved. “Well-”
“You’re such a good sister,” Nora hugged Casey.
“I wouldn’t go that far,” Derek said behind Nora’s back.
“Yeah, well,” Casey went on. “I couldn’t let him drink and...walk.”
“No,” Derek piped in sarcastically.
Nora opened her arms to Derek. “And you - let’s not tell your father about this. Although, God knows he did worse in his day.”
“I don’t doubt it,” Derek accepted the hug, then mouthed over Nora’s shoulder. “What the fuck are they doing here?”
“Speaking of George, he and Edwin are heading to your dorm! You better go meet them.”
“They are?” Derek jerked his head back in surprise.
“Yeah, what are you all doing here?” Casey pressed.
“Derek’s hockey finals! You know this. We talked about it on the phone yesterday. The boys are going to the hockey game, you and I are going to have a girls day on campus?”
“Oh my god. I can’t believe I forgot you were coming.”
“Me neither,” Derek said through gritted teeth.
“I’m a little surprised you were so reckless last night, Derek. With the last game of the season today.”
“Believe it or not, drinking and skating is not the worst combination. I’ll catch you ladies later.”
He grabbed his jacket off the back of the chair and left the room.
“I should’ve prepared!” Casey told her mother. “I should’ve had brunch reservations, or a tour planned! I should’ve prepared fun facts about the statue of John Mowat!”
“It’s ok, Casey. I’m just glad to see you had some fun last night after the stress of midterms.”
“Yeah,” Casey smiled, as Nora fixed a strand of her hair. “And I am glad to see you. I missed you so much.” She hugged her mom again. “Where are Lizzie and Marti?”
“Marti’s spending the weekend with her mother, and Lizzie is over at her friend Sophie’s house. She’s been quiet lately. I thought maybe she missed you, but I don’t know, I think there’s something going on she’s not telling me about. You were never that secretive at her age. Hell, you’re not secretive now.”
“Maybe it’s a boy?” Casey rushed the words out. “You know, at that age, girls can be really secretive...about boys.”
“Maybe.” Nora pulled out her visitor’s pamphlet. “I read that some of the teachers give lectures on Sundays. I thought maybe we could go to one or two while the boys are at Derek’s hockey game. Have a little girl time, just us.”
“Sounds perfect,” Casey beamed, more than grateful to spend the day away from the Venturi men.
“I was thinking we could start with your Ethics and Values class. Professor Clifford sounds really interesting!”
“He’s not!” Casey said quickly, as if plugged into a wall socket. “He’s really boring. You would hate him.”
“It’s just a squirrel, dad,” Derek implored, losing patience. “Do you have to take pictures of everything?” But George would not be deterred.
“Just one more. I need to capture as much of your campus as I can for the Venturi-McDonald end of year scrapbook.”
“You’re scrapbooking now. Great. I swear if I come home, and my room has been turned into an arts and crafts center-”
“What about her?” Edwin nudged Derek conspiratorially, and nodded towards a red head walking past them on the sidewalk.
“No,” Derek rolled his eyes.
“How about her?” Edwin indicated her dark haired friend and wiggled his eyebrows.
“No. Now will you stop?”
“Come on! You said you were playing the field. I wanna see your conquests!”
It was clear Edwin had discovered the concept of sex during the past year, and thought about nothing else, an idea that set Derek’s teeth on edge. Edwin wanted to live vicariously through Derek’s hook ups, wanted to hear every detail.
“Tell me, what sites do you use? For the free stuff. Or do you even still watch porn with all these sorority babes everywhere -”
“I’m not discussing this with you, Ed. Now or ever,” Derek shut him down as George returned.
“Shall we head to the stadium?” George suggested, as though he had just come up with the idea.
“Yes please!” Derek threw his hands up.
But no sooner than they had started across the quad, then Derek heard his name called.
“Hey buddy!” It was Kevin, apparently still drunk from last night. He threw an arm around Derek’s shoulders. “The brothers and I were just coming to watch you and Sammy play!” He extended his free hand to George, then to Edwin.
“I’m Kevin Feinberg. Alpha Delta Omega President, and Derek’s big bro.”
“Edwin Venturi,” Edwin shook Kevin’s hand like he was at a networking event. “Derek’s little bro.”
“Cool, what's up man? You guys here for the game?”
“Wouldn’t miss it!” George answered.
“And I bet you’re dying to meet Derek’s new girlfriend.”
Derek elbowed Kevin in the ribs, but not soon enough.
“Girlfriend?” George’s eyes widened. “You didn’t tell us you have a girlfriend.”
“It’s pretty recent,” Derek attempted.
“The brothers were gonna give him grief for getting locked in freshman year, but she’s cute, so we’ll let it slide.”
“Shall we go?” Derek interjected. “I don’t want to be late. Catch ya later, Kev.”
He hurried away. Maybe if he walked quickly enough, there wouldn’t be time for follow up questions.
“So who’s the lucky lady?” George asked, voice oozing with sap .
“Yeah, is she hot?” Edwin piped in.
“Edwin,” George chastised him. “Be respectful. Derek, will you slow down? I’m not in shape to keep up with you. Tell us all about your girlfriend!”
“I’d rather not. We JUST started dating. Not exactly ready to introduce her to the folks yet.”
“Can you at least tell us her name?”
“And her bra size,” Edwin said.
“Edwin, final warning.”
“Come on dad, what happened to boys will be boys?”
“I never taught you that. Do you think I taught you that?”
“Her name is Stacey,” Derek said in a meager effort to shut them up.
It was the first thing after McDonald that had come to mind. As the words hit the air, Derek immediately wanted to dig himself a hole and disappear into it.
“Burger King?” His dad repeated as if he couldn’t possibly have heard correctly. But there was no going back now.
“Yeah, it’s hyphenated. Her mom’s last name is Burger. Her Dad’s is...King. She’s heard all the jokes already.”
Derek found himself thanking God as they reached the campus rink.
“I gotta hit the locker room! See you after the game!” He hurried inside before he could be bombarded by further questions.
Casey packed her day with Nora full of lectures, restaurants, and long walks to ensure they wouldn’t have time to swing by Derek’s hockey game. She was sure he wouldn’t mind, no matter how well he played. In fact, he’d probably play better without having to worry about her sitting between George and Nora, pretending like nothing was going on. By the time the McDonalds met back up with the Venturi’s, it was in the parking lot. Casey and Derek made exhausted, anxious eyes at each other. The day couldn’t end soon enough.
“Well this was so fun,” Casey hugged both George and Nora. “Come back soon.”
“Limit your time on the internet,” Derek whispered to Edwin. “At least, limit it to the free sites.”
“And we’ll see you guys next weekend!” Nora said as she withdrew from the hug.
“You will?” Casey felt herself smile, but her teeth were glue in her mouth.
“You will?” Derek repeated, keeping his cool way less than Casey.
“Well, you guys did promise to come home for Marti’s birthday,” George reminded them. “Oh, don’t tell me you can’t come. She’ll be so disappointed.”
“That’s right, we did promise,” Casey said demonstratively, trying to remind Derek.
“I guess we did,” he agreed. “Casey can drive us up after classes on Friday.”
“Perfect. We’ll make all your favorites,” Nora beamed.
“And Derek, feel free to bring Stacey Burger-King if she’s free.”
“Stacey?” Nora asked innocently.
“Burger King?” Casey flung daggers at Derek with her eyes.
“Derek’s new girlfriend,” George said. “Have you met her yet, Casey?”
“Yes! As a matter of fact. She’s lovely. Unfortunately named, but great personality.”
“Well, we’d love to meet her,” Nora said. “Just let me know if I need to prepare the futon.”
Hugs were passed around once more. Then George, Nora, and Edwin got in the car and drove away. Derek and Casey watched them go, waving with fake smiles plastered on their faces. The moment their car lights disappeared from view, they both deflated like blow up dolls turned to pincushions.
“I need a drink. And a nap,” Derek sighed.
“And a kick to the head apparently. What the hell is wrong with you?”
“What did I do?”
“STACEY BURGER KING?”
“Well, back in the closet,” Casey said, heaving her suitcase into the trunk of the car she and Derek shared on campus. “It was nice while it lasted.”
Emily and Sam had been in stitches all week over the thought of Casey and Derek returning home, pretending they hadn’t been fucking nonstop for a month.
“HOW on EARTH are you going to pull this off?” Emily broke up her laughter long enough to speak.
“They won’t,” Sam answered simply.
“Thanks for the vote of confidence, buddy,” Derek said, loading his own suitcase into the trunk.
“Fifty bucks says they don’t make it through breakfast tomorrow,” Sam nudged Emily.
“You're on. I say they don’t make it through dinner tonight.”
“I say this with love,” Casey told them. “But fuck you guys.”
“Aw, we love you too, Case!” Emily said.
“Hey - here’s a solution,” Derek interjected, turning to Casey. “I don’t go. You go! I’ll stay here. Where it’s safe.”
“Oh, and leave me to field questions about Stacey Burger-King? No thank you.”
This once again sent Emily and Sam into stitches.
“I’m never gonna live that down, am I,” Derek sighed, defeated. Casey slammed the trunk closed.
“You couldn’t come up with a better name? Literally any other name! You’re supposed to be the good liar here!”
“I’m not good under pressure. You know I’m a shitty test taker.”
“Yeah, that’s why you cheat!”
“Good. Keep the bickering going all the way back to London. Get in the swing of things,” Emily said, then turned to Sam. “And you get your money ready.” Casey’s shoulders sagged as she hugged Emily goodbye.
“Come with us,” she whined.
“You’ll be back before you know it.”
“No we won’t,” she groaned.
They got in the car, waved to Sam and Emily one final time, then drove down the winding path out of the campus parking garage.
“Now is probably a good time to set some ground rules,” Casey said, all business, as they hit the highway.
“I knew this was coming,” Derek sighed. “Let me guess, no making out in front of George and Nora?”
“That’s a good one!” she said in all seriousness. “That can be rule number one.”
“Oh my god,” he rolled his eyes, and put his feet up on the dash. “Just wake me when we get there.”
“Rule number two,” Casey plowed forward. “We resume our usual contempt for each other. You know, arguing over the remote, yelling about the toilet seat, bickering over the last piece of cake. The norm. You have to pretend that I annoy you - that you can’t stand me.”
“I have a feeling that won’t be hard this weekend,” he muttered under his breath.
“Are you listening to me? They’ll know something’s up if we aren’t fighting like usual. We already got away with the whole ‘you were too drunk to walk home’ thing. My mom’s not stupid - just blind, apparently - so I doubt we’ll get away with it a second time.”
“Yeah, thank god Nora doesn’t know her way around campus, otherwise she’d figure out that the party was actually closer to my dorm than yours.”
“Exactly. No more close calls. And speaking of close calls, rule number three, nothing coupley. Don’t look at me too long, don’t call me any pet names-”
“But Snuggles!” he gasped, feigning indignation.
“Der-ek! Be serious. No pet names, and definitely do not touch me in any way that could be construed as romantic. Or sexual. In fact, don’t touch me at all.”
“Ok, then can we at least pull over and have a quickie? You know, get it out of our systems before the weekend at the nunnery?”
Casey glared at the road for a moment, then put on her blinker.
They arrived as the table was being set for dinner.
“You’re here!” Nora greeted them at the door, throwing her arms up and around them. “Finally! Edwin! George! Come help them with their bags.”
“Hey bro, good to have you home,” Edwin bounded down the stairs.
“Good to be home, Ed.” Derek and Edwin hugged quickly. “Now go get my suitcase.”
“I don’t really do that anymore,” Edwin said, exuding an air of cool. “You know, now that I’m the man of the house.”
“What does that make me?” George walked in from the kitchen, wearing a flowery pink apron.
“Point? Proven,” Edwin said, satisfied, and sat himself down in Derek’s chair.
“There is nothing emasculating about cooking, Edwin,” George scolded. “Or wearing the color pink,” He hugged Derek. “Great to see you guys! Casey.”
“Hi George,” Casey hugged her step father. “You’re cooking? I thought when you said you’d make all our favorites, you meant we’d just order out.”
“And let you kids miss out on a home cooked meal? After all that dining hall food? No way!”
“Great,” Casey feigned enthusiasm. Derek leaned down to Edwin.
“You may be the man of the house nine months out of the year, but don’t forget, summer break is coming and I’ll be back. In that chair, as a matter of fact. So go. Get. My. Suitcase.”
“Yes sir,” Edwin scrambled out of the chair and out the front door.
“Oh, and get Casey’s while you’re at it!”
“Where are the girls?” Casey asked Nora.
“Lizzie! Marti! Get down here!” Nora called. Marti came bouncing down the stairs, wearing a pink princess costume, complete with a crown.
“Smerek!” she yelled.
“Smarti! Happy birthday!” Derek picked up his baby sister and swung her around.
“I missed you!” she giggled gleefully.
“I missed YOU! Hardly recognize you, you’re so old now.”
“I’m only nine.”
“Yeah right. You look nineteen. I think maybe Casey and I should take you back to college with us!”
“Casey!” Lizzie came down the stairs next and ran to her sister, hugging her tight.
“Liz! Oh my god, your hair!” Lizzie had chopped it into jagged angles, and dyed it purple, with blonde streaks running through it like beams of light.
“Do you like it?”
“I love it! You look like a rockstar.”
“Thanks! God, I missed you.”
Once Casey had hugged Marti, and Lizzie had hugged Derek, Nora beckoned them to the table.
“Come on, kids! Dinners ready!”
Edwin blundered in through the doorway, heaving Derek’s suitcase, and set it by the stairs.
“And Casey’s suitcase?” Derek demanded.
“I thought you were kidding…” Edwin arched his eyebrows in confusion.
“Why would I kid?”
“Because you - never care about Casey’s stuff.”
“Oh, well, I drove so,” Casey covered, too loud, and too cheerful. “I made Derek promise to bring the stuff in.”
“Exactly,” Derek jumped gratefully onto her save. “Plus I’d never miss a chance to order you around.”
“Ed, go get Casey’s stuff,” George said dismissively. “They’ve been driving for hours. Please, sit guys! I’ll go get the mac and cheese.” He and Nora disappeared into the kitchen.
“Remember. Bicker,” Casey whispered to Derek.
“Like an old married couple,” he whispered back.
“Mac and Cheese is my favorite!” Marti pulled Derek’s hand. “Is it yours, Smerek?”
“Well, it is the only thing Dad knows how to cook,” Derek and Marti sat at the table, side by side.
Casey began to follow them, until Lizzie touched her arm.
“Casey, can we talk later? Just us two?”
“What’s up?” She read the troubled expression on Lizzie’s face. “Should I be worried?”
“No - it’s just...there’s something going on. It’s obvious, and a little awkward. I want to get it out in the open with you.”
Casey’s stomach sank to her feet. How did Lizzie know? I mean, she certainly knew her better than anyone, but how could she tell from one interaction that she was in love with Derek?
“Ok!” Casey nodded. “I’m pretty tired tonight, but we’ll definitely find time.”
Lizzie looked a bit hesitant. “Ok.”
Edwin made it inside with Casey’s suitcase, and threw an arm around both of his stepsisters.
“Let's eat!” he declared.
They joined the rest of the family at the table as George and Nora presented the dinner.
How weird it was to slip back into old patterns as new people, a bit like trying on shoes that had been outgrown long ago. Casey couldn’t keep her eyes from meeting Derek’s across the table, almost as if her gaze had been trained to find his in any room. She had never sat in that spot before knowing what Derek looked like underneath his clothes. He caught her staring, and widened his eyes emphatically, reminding her to look away. She bit her lip, and looked at her plate.
“And this semester was harder than last, Casey?” George said around a mouthful.
“Oh for sure.”
“Well, I hope your professors don’t ride you too hard. With the homework.”
Derek choked on the giant gulp of soda in his mouth. He started coughing and Casey glared at him. Edwin slapped him on the back.
“No, not too hard,” Casey said, anxiety beginning to simmer.
“At least, they’re not riding her anymore,” Derek piped in. “You know, cause midterms are over.” From the look on his face, Casey knew he couldn’t help himself. She hoped her look would kill.
“Well, you could learn something from Casey,” George told Derek. “If your grades this semester are anything like last, maybe you’re the one who needs to be ridden hard.”
This time, it was Casey who choked on her soda.
“Oh my god, do you guys have a swallowing problem?” Lizzie joked.
“Definitely not,” Derek answered, and pressed his lips together, eyes trained on Casey for a moment too long.
“Ow!” Edwin yelped. “Who kicked me!”
“Sorry, foot slipped,” Casey said.
“Honey, you’ve hardly touched your plate,” Nora noticed. “You’re not sick are you?”
“No, I’m perfectly fine! Just taking my time. Enjoying the meal!” She looked down at her plate, and muttered: “Making it last.”
“By the way, Derek,” Edwin said, and Casey was relieved at the subject shift. “Guess who I ran into at the mall yesterday.”
Casey’s relief had been premature. The name of Derek’s ex ramped her anxiety even higher. Derek was well aware of this, and pretended to be fixated on his plate.
“Oh, really? How’s she doing?”
“She’s great! I told her you were coming into town this weekend, and she wants to see you. Maybe she can come to Marti’s party tomorrow!”
“Yeah!” Marti cheered. “I love Sally!”
“Ahh, well, that’s probably not the best idea, Smarti,” Derek kept his gaze averted from Casey as he chuckled nervously.
“Why not? Sally’s the best thing that ever happened to you!” Edwin exclaimed.
“Edwin, Derek has a girlfriend, remember?” George reminded him gently. “Stacey?”
“Oh, that’s right! I wanna hear about her,” Lizzie said, excitedly.
“Is she pretty?” Marti asked.
“Probably not prettier than Sally,” Edwin scoffed. “I mean, Sally’s a ten!”
“Edwin,” Nora warned.
“We shouldn’t compare the two,” Casey interjected, again too cheerfully. “They’re both bright, lovely young women with promising futures. I hope.”
“Yeah, we shouldn’t compare them,” Derek agreed. “Although - Stacey is prettier. In my opinion.”
This made Casey smile. She extended her foot towards Derek under the table, and attempted to rub his leg.
“Who’s tickling me?” Marti laughed.
“Oops, sorry Marti, just stretching,” Casey blushed. Her under the table aim was terrible.
“It sounds like you really like this girl, Derek,” George said, impressed. “See, this is why you go away for college. You’re never gonna meet the love of your life sitting at home all day on the couch.”
“Guess not,” Derek side smiled.
“What about your love life, Casey? There was a mystery guy for a while,” Nora folded her hands under her chin, and examined her daughter, blinking rapidly.
“How did you-”
“Oh, I think I know when my daughter is keeping a secret relationship from me.”
“It wasn't a secret,” Casey said. “Just nothing to write home about. Not serious.”
“Well, don’t fret. You’re still young. One day, you’ll find yourself a man like George Venturi and fall head over heels in love.” Nora beamed as she took George’s hand.
“Is it really hot in here?” Casey breathed.
“Not really,” Lizzie stood up. “But I can open a window.”
“Yes please,” Casey started to fan herself.
“Are you sure you’re not sick, Casey?” Nora asked again. “You’re all flushed!”
“I’m fine. It was just a long drive.”
“Yeah, and I can only imagine it felt longer, with the two of you stuck together alone,” Lizzie said, taking her seat once more. “You still fighting much?”
“I ignore him. When I can,” Casey shrugged, then chugged her soda, as if it could stop the interrogation.
“That must be hard,” George said. “Campus is smaller than I thought. You two have gotta be on top of each other all the time.”
Both Casey and Derek choked, simultaneously, on their drinks. Their mutual coughing halted the conversation.
“You guys alright?” George questioned.
“Yeah. Casey’s right - it’s just really hot in here,” Derek said, beads of sweat visible on his forehead. Dinner couldn’t last forever. Aside from Casey’s full plate, everyone else was finished.
“Let’s have cake!” Marti suggested.
Casey and Derek’s deflated eyes met. This night was never going to end.
“We just need to time our sips better,” Casey said, digging into a tough stain on Nora’s plate with a scrub brush. They had offered to do the dishes, insisting over the protests from Nora and George that they shouldn’t be treated like guests. Anything for a minute alone.
“God, it’s like a verbal minefield!” Derek leaned against the counter at her side, his back to the sink, an unused towel in his hands.
“Yeah, this is why families shouldn’t keep secrets!” Casey hissed.
“And probably why families shouldn’t bone either.”
“Well, we have years of therapy ahead of us to unpack that one.”
“Maybe while you’re home, you should give Paul a call. Ask him for advice on dating your step brother.”
“He’d probably have me committed.” She set the plate on the drying rack, then noticed the pile accumulating there, untouched by Derek .
“Der-erk! You’re supposed to DRY the dishes!”
“Sorry, jeeze, I’m just taking a minute.”
Casey looked over her shoulder, turned the faucet up to its full strength, then lowered her voice. “No, I’m sorry this is so tough on you.”
“Don’t apologize, we’re in this together. And we’re gonna be fine. We’ll be back on campus before you know it.”
“They’re going to have to find out eventually, though.”
“I know but, for the love of god, not this weekend.”
“You’re right. We just need a game plan. And a public place so the screaming is minimal. And maybe a getaway car nearby.”
“With the keys in the ignition.”
For a brief moment, Casey let herself lean her head on Derek’s shoulder. It was so hard to be this close and not touch him. She picked her head up just in time. George walked into the kitchen.
“Wait a minute,” George said. He was staring at them, perplexed.
“What is it?” Casey laughed nervously, shutting the faucet off.
“You two offered to do the dishes together. After driving together all day. After eight months on campus and in classes together. Are you actually getting along?”
The nervous laughter from both Casey and Derek intensified.
“Can’t stand him.”
“She’s the worst.”
“We just - made an...agreement-”
“To behave! For Marti’s birthday. This weekend is about her.”
“Yeah! And we’re trying to be, um, what’s the word, Case?”
“Yes. More mature.”
“Well done, you two,” George winked. “Keep up the good work. I can tell I won’t be cleaning oatmeal out of my hair this weekend. Thank God. And come out into the living room already! Marti has been practicing a dance all week, just to show you two!”
He left the kitchen. Casey and Derek gave themselves a moment to laugh genuinely.
“Well, Emily already lost the bet. Dinner is over.”
“Now we just gotta make sure Sam loses.” Derek turned the faucet back on, and sloshed Casey with a fist full of water, soaking her top through.
“DER-EK! WHY?” she shouted, full of actual, authentic rage.
“So you’d react like that. Loud enough for everyone to hear,” he smirked. “And so I could see your tits through your shirt, but that’s just an added bonus.”
He strutted out of the kitchen, bristling his hair with his hand as he went. She had to hand it to him. He was good.
Lizzie caught Casey in the bathroom as she brushed her teeth.
“We’re the last two up. Can we talk now?”
Casey spit in the sink. “I’m exhausted, Liz. Can we put a pin in it for tomorrow?”
Lizzie started to wring her hands. “It’s just - really important.”
“I know, and I swear tomorrow you will have my full, undivided attention, ok? I’m here for you.” She put her toothbrush in it’s travel case, then hugged her sister. “I love you.”
“Love you too,” Lizzie said, but Casey could tell she was disappointed. She wanted to hear Lizzie out, but needed the privacy and sanctity of her bed more than anything - after the day she’d had. She and Derek had gotten away with it, despite the multiple close calls. They were in the clear - until tomorrow. Breakfast, the party, clean up, dinner, and maybe a movie. Then just Sunday breakfast to get through before they could drive back to Queens, and be themselves once more. She closed herself in her room, assuming sleep would come the moment her head hit the pillow. But she writhed around her sheets, punching her pillow into different shapes, adjusting and readjusting the blankets over and over again. It was no use. She missed Derek’s body in her bed, curling up into his heat, feeling his breath on her ear, getting tangled in his limbs. She was too anxious, and being in her old room - remembering the nights of worrying about high school science projects, promposals, and cheerleading tryouts, wasn’t helping.
Her door crept open. She scrambled up against her head board.
“Der-ek! You scared the shit out of me!”
“I’ll make it up to you,” he said, closing the door softly behind him. “Move over.”
“No way! Lizzie and Marti are just a wall away!”
“We’ll keep it down, I promise. I know how to make you come quietly, Case.” He sat on her bed and kissed her. God, how good it felt to kiss him freely. His lips, sweet as sugar, fit into her mouth as if they’d been made with her mind. His hands slipped up her tank top, and beneath her bra, cupping her breasts in his hands, caressing them.
“Fine,” she whispered, mercilessly turned on. “We fuck real fast, then you go back to your room. Deal?”
“No one will ever know I was here.”
Casey lifted Derek’s t-shirt over his head, and he took off her tank top. She met his eyes, and for a moment held him there, as if freezing him in time.
“What?” he asked, eager to keep kissing.
“I just - can you believe this?” she indicated the room around them, the room she had fought tooth and nail for so many years ago. Then she motioned back to him. “Cause I can’t!”
But his eyes had never left her and the tenderness she had come to love in his expression was back, sitting softly on his features.
“I do,” he said, simply. “Believe it, that is. I think we were inevitable.”
She kissed him deeply, slid her hand beneath the waistband of his pajama pants, stroking his erection. She wanted it inside her already.
“Casey, I really need to talk to you, I-”
Derek scrambled off her, and toppled off the bed. But it was too late. Lizzie was already screaming in shock.
“Lizzie!” Casey yelled, covering her bra with her comforter. She hadn’t even heard the door open.
“What’s happening? What’s going on?” Edwin ran down the attic stairs, looking as if he had just been electrocuted. And behind him, shouts of:
“Is there a burglar?”
George and Nora were up the stairs in a flash, a baseball bat prepped in George’s hand, ready to swing.
“Oh my god,” Lizzie was covering her eyes. Edwin, George and Nora took in the full weight of the picture in front of them.
“No way,” Edwin said.
“Were you two? What were you - Derek? Casey?” George attempted to navigate the shock verbally, but couldn’t find the right words.
“Casey? Derek?” Nora was all anger. “Were you doing what I think you were doing?”
“Well, we hadn’t quite got to that part yet,” Derek answered through his teeth. Casey couldn’t believe he had the wherewithal to respond at all. She wasn’t sure she’d ever speak again.
“You’re cheating on Stacey Burger-King with Casey?” Edwin shouted in disbelief. Then the realization dawned on him. “Oh. There is no Stacey Burger- King. Got it. Wow, that really wasn’t clever.”
“Well, it made it past you,” Derek fired back.
“Why are you all awake?” Marti wandered into the hall from her room, clutching her stuffed monkey.
“Go back to bed, Marti,” Nora said. “Now.”
“It’s my birthday! I should be invited to the party.”
“Not a negotiation, Marti,” George had joined Nora in anger.
“Mom, I-” Casey finally located her voice.
“Both of you, get dressed. Meet us in the living room.”
“Lizzie and Edwin, back to bed,” George attempted.
“No way!” They protested in unison.
“This affects them too, George,” Nora said. “They deserve an explanation.”
Casey had never heard her mother so angry before. As she and Derek dressed in silence, it occurred to Casey that it wasn’t the anger that was unfamiliar in her mother’s voice. It was the hurt. She hadn’t heard hurt like that since Nora told her that her father had asked for a divorce.
Five minutes later, Casey and Derek sat on the couch, side by side. Edwin had claimed the chair, and Lizzie sat on the stairs, head in her hands. It was clear that the two family members left standing, and occasionally pacing, were conducting this meeting.
“How long,” Nora didn’t even bother to phrase it like a question. Casey looked at Derek, her eyes heavy.
“About a month now?”
“So. You didn’t jump at the chance the second you left our roof. You waited eight months at least.”
“You don’t intend to actually use that thing, do you dad?” Derek nervously pointed to the baseball bat, still clutched in George’s hand.
“I don’t know what I intend to do. Maybe.”
“I won’t lie and say we never discussed the possibility of this happening,” Nora went on. “Especially before we got married. Your father, Casey, warned me about this the second he met Derek. Said Derek reminded him too much of himself.”
“We’ll let Freud unpack that one later,” Derek scoffed to Casey.
“Don’t joke around right now, Derek, I swear,” Nora replied, firmly. “I thought I knew you both better! I never thought you’d dare - and under our roof.” Nora was practically in tears.
“Mom!” Casey tried, her heart cut in two.
“Please, this is ridiculous,” Derek sighed.
“Hey!” George shouted. “You’re in no position, mister!”
“Casey and I are step siblings. We’re not related! We didn’t even grow up together!” Derek’s words echoed against the framed family photos. He held the attention of the room now. For a moment, Casey worried he didn’t know what to do with the attention. But he was only trying to find the right words to continue. He shrugged, biting his lip.
“Fuck it, this isn’t how I wanted to say this, but might as well. I love Casey. I do. She’s my endgame. Really hope I’m lucky enough to keep her through college, and maybe even marry her one day. Can you blame me dad? You fell in love with her mother. While my mother was barely out the door, lest we forget. I know you thought we didn’t know, you fudged the timeline well enough, but I know you met Nora before the divorce.”
“You did?” Casey demanded of her mother. Then she turned on Derek, her mind processing his speech in reverse. “And you do?”
“Yeah,” he shrugged, his expression going soft. But George had been fully enraged. “I did not cheat on your mother Derek! Nora and I met when divorce proceedings were ending. And don’t try to make this about me. This is about the both of you disrespecting our family!”
“Oh God,” Edwin muttered in horror from the chair. “Does this mean I have to date Lizzie now? Cause I might hurl.”
At that, Derek, Casey, Nora, and George began laying into one another, yelling as if they didn’t have neighbors. It took Lizzie’s high pitched voice from the stairs to silence them.
“Hey! Hey! Will you shut up and - I’m gay!”
The family plunged into silence.
“Sweetheart, you’re what?” Nora questioned. But Lizzie was looking at Casey.
“This is what I wanted to tell you, Casey. I wanted to tell you first so you could help me find a way to tell mom and George. But since everyone’s love life is up for discussion tonight, why not throw mine into the mix. I’m gay. Always have been. Just didn’t really have the tools to describe it until I met Sophie.”
“Sophie is...your girlfriend?” Nora asked.
“Yeah. Does anyone have a problem with that?”
“Lizzie, no,” Casey stood and took Lizzie into her arms, hugging her close. “I think it’s great. Who and how you love is just another amazing part of you.” Casey turned on Nora and George. “Right?”
“Of course, Lizzie,” Nora said.
“We love you as you are,” George added.
“Thanks,” Lizzie nodded, then stepped out in front of Casey. “So can you cut Casey and Derek some slack? They fell in love, so what, they’re both adults. They met when they were fifteen - my age - both of them had already dated other people. Derek was already sexually active!”
“YOU WERE?” George shouted.
“Thanks a lot, Lizzie,” Derek groaned. “And how do you even know that?”
“Sophie’s older sister is Lauren McNally. Kendra’s friend?”
“Ah,” Derek acknowledged.
“But that’s not the point!” Lizzie exclaimed. “The point is, we should be happy for them! I mean Derek dropped the L WORD. He said he wanted MARRY HER one day.”
“I said maybe,” Derek threw his hands up.
“That’s enormous for Derek,” Lizzie went on. “Just let them be happy. I’m sure they feel weird enough as it is.” She turned to Casey. “Sorry I screamed and ruined your secret. I was just surprised.”
“It’s ok, Liz. And she’s right. We do feel weird about it. The last thing we want is to hurt the family. It’s been killing us. Keeping it a secret, worrying you would react - exactly how you did react. Please know we did not make the decision to date lightly. And we wouldn’t be together if we weren’t serious about each other. We respect and love you all so much.”
“What she said,” Derek shrugged. The room was silent for a moment, the appeals of Casey and Lizzie still hanging in the air.
“Let’s all just - go to bed,” Nora said, hands outstretched as if she were pumping the breaks. “In separate rooms! And talk more about this in the morning. Ok?”
All agreed, and shuffled towards the stairs. Casey caught Derek’s hand and squeezed it.
“I love you too,” she mouthed.
“I know,” he mouthed back, grinning devilishly.
As the family climbed the staircase, they found Marti, waiting at the top of the stairs, leaning her head against the railing.
“Nora?” she said in her tiny, sleepy voice. “After my party, can we throw Derek and Casey a wedding?”
Casey didn’t sleep at all, and assumed the rest of the family didn’t either. Before coming down to breakfast, she prepared herself as if for a job interview - tasteful makeup applied, hair in a perfect ponytail, high collared dress. She found Derek sitting at the top of the stairs.
“There you are,” he sighed, standing in relief. “Was killing time till you showed. No way am I facing the firing squad alone.”
“I don’t blame you.” They stole a quick kiss, out of comfort more than desire, then headed down the stairs.
Pink streamers had been hung. The table had been set for a Princess tea party. Lizzie and Edwin were on the couch.
“Hey” Lizzie leapt up and ran to her sister. “Mom said Sophie could come to the party. So you both will get to meet her!”
“I can’t wait!” Casey smiled.
“If she’s half as cool as you are, Lizzie, I’m sure we’ll get along,” Derek said, pocketing his hands in his jeans.
Edwin joined them at the foot of the stairs. “So Derek,” he pulled his brother aside. “If you’re all in love with Casey now, do you mind if I go after Sally? I mean, she’s fair game, right?”
Derek patted Edwin on the shoulder. “Knock yourself out, Ed. Literally. Anything to retroact the brain damage you must have for even thinking Sally would go out with a high schooler.”
“Well, what about Kendra then?”
Derek sighed. “I’m not even going to answer that.”
Nora and George emerged from the kitchen. Both were expressionless, their body language uncomfortable.
“Edwin? Lizzie? Would you go help Marti frost her cupcakes in the kitchen? We need to speak to Derek and Casey alone.”
Lizzie gave Casey a reluctant parting look, then she and Edwin did as they were told.
“Look, last night, tensions were high,” Nora said. “We may have - overreacted - a little bit. Out of shock.”
“I mean, we thought you hated each other,” George said. From the red around his eyes, he hadn’t slept at all, and his hair seemed to have turned a shade whiter overnight.
“So did I,” Derek shrugged.
“I get it, trust me, I do. My stomach has been in knots for weeks,” Casey agreed.
“But,” Nora went on. “It is legal, although maybe a little frowned upon. I was up googling all last night. And it’s not as if you too were raised together. You were young when we married, but you both were always mature - well, at least Casey was - anyway, the point is, I know my daughter doesn’t enter into any relationship lightly. You are out from under my roof, and I have to trust your judgement. I DO trust your judgement, and support whoever you love.”
“And I know my son,” George interjected. “I know he has never said he loves anyone. He barely says he loves me! So - it’s clear this is real for you both.”
“It is,” Derek’s voice was sturdy.
“What scared me the most,” Nora said. “Was the idea that our family would fall apart. It’s already felt so changed, not having either of you home. I worry about losing you. But I realized that families take different shapes at different times. God knows, ours has more than once. When your father left, and it was just us girls. Then when I met George, we morphed into a different, blobbier shape. No matter what shape our family takes, it’s still our family. As long as we’re together. Besides, it would be hypocritical for me to judge a McDonald woman falling in love with a Venturi man,” Nora teased.
“And vice versa,” George laughed.
“So?” Casey pressed.
“So you have our approval,” Nora said. “As long as you keep it PG in the house. G around Marti, ok?”
“Deal!” Casey threw her arms around Nora’s neck and embraced her.
“Ah come here, ya lovebirds,” George said, and pulled all three of them in. In an instant, Lizzie, Edwin and Marti - who had apparently been listening the whole time - ran into the living room and joined the family hug. In the McDonald-Venturi clump, Casey felt Derek pull at her ponytail affectionately, signaling his relief that all was well. And she knew. Their family had changed shape - she and Derek had gone from enemies, to step siblings, to rivals, to lovers. They would likely change shape again as their lives altered - as additions were made to the family, marriage certificates signed, babies born, and new beginnings had. But Nora was right. No matter what shape they took, they would always be a family.
When Sunday afternoon rolled around, Casey actually found herself sad to leave. The family stood out in the driveway to see them off. Edwin struggled singlehandedly to load their suitcases into the car, much to Derek’s entertainment.
“So nice to meet you Sophie,” Casey hugged her sister’s girlfriend, a tan skinned, bespectacled fifteen year old with long braids and an infectious laugh. “You be good to my sister!”
Sophie hugged Casey back. “How could anyone not be?” she laughed. Then Casey turned to hug Lizzie. Derek was hugging Marti goodbye on the other side of the driveway.
“Thanks for coming to my party, Smerek!”
“Aw, you know I’d never miss a Smarti Venturi throwdown!”
“Don’t be strangers,” Nora said as she hugged Casey goodbye.
“Of course not. We’ll be home for summer before you know it.”
“Maybe you could come back for Derek’s birthday, end of May?” George suggested. “Of course, we will be padlocking your doors at night.”
“What?!” Casey and Derek said in simultaneous horror.
“Just kidding,” George laughed.
Derek turned to say goodbye to his brother, who leaned in close.
“You really wanna marry Casey?” he whispered.
“Not for a long long LONG time. But why not? Keep the McDonald-Venturi legacy going.”
Edwin shuddered. “Thank god Lizzie’s a lesbian, cause dating our step sister is just too weird for me.”
Derek laughed genuinely. “You know, you don’t have to follow in my footsteps in EVERYTHING, Edwin. You can be your own man. You already are.”
“Thanks bro,” Edwin said, touched.
“Now,” Derek went right back to business. “When I come back this summer, if I find the indents on my chair are even a little out of place-?”
They said their final goodbyes, then backed out of the driveway.
“You weren’t actually kidding about that padlock, were you?” Nora said, a smile frozen on her face as she waved to the car.
“Not a chance,” George replied. “And one on Derek’s window too. He knows how to shimmy down the drain pipe.”
Derek had volunteered to drive this time, and Casey snuggled down in the passenger seat, ready for a well deserved nap.
“So that went well,” she yawned.
“Please. We are never talking about this weekend ever again. I’m also thinking we stay on campus this summer. Lawn parties, day drinking, no clothes-”
“Der-ek. No way. I want to come home. Besides, the more we’re around, the more our family gets used to us as a couple.”
“You’re right. Although I’m pretty sure Dad wasn’t kidding about the whole padlock thing.”
“Who cares? You know how to shimmy down the drain pipe.”
“True. Plus, I know where he keeps the bolt cutters.” They settled into silence, letting the thrum of the tires and the view of their old neighborhood fill the empty air space.
“It is nice though,” Derek said thoughtfully.
“Being together out in the open. Keeping it secret all this time was exhausting.”
“I think I’ve handled the last month perfectly,” Casey teased. “No neurosis, no panic attacks - just pure cool.” Derek rolled his eyes hard.
Casey paused, mulling over what Derek had just said. “Keeping it secret all this time?”
He looked at her knowingly. “I said what I said.”
She felt the edges of her heart melt, and set her hand on Derek’s knee. Beaming, she looked out the windshield at the sunlit road ahead.