Actions

Work Header

Stalking Casey || The Rewrite

Chapter Text



“Casey, I want you to be careful this weekend – oh, and here’s the number for the hotel we’ll be staying at if there’s any trouble at all, okay? Don’t hesitate to call us, and remember to – “

“Mom.” Casey interrupted Nora’s nervous ranting in the kitchen.

The house was in a frantic state as George, Marti, Lizzie, and Edwin rushed around gathering their belongings. Nora talking 90 miles a minute wasn’t making anything any better or less chaotic.

“Everything will be fine, trust me.” Casey reassured her mother, bringing a much more calm expression to her features.

“Yeah well, last time you told her that, the entire population of the high school showed up!” Edwin called from the living room.

Casey let out a quiet sigh. Always bad timing. As she shook her head slightly, and turned her gaze back onto her mother, she noticed Edwin’s statement had already caused that nervous look to return.

“But!...” Casey stated, taking her mother’s hand in her own as she guided her into the living room with her, “We’ve learned since then.” She then re-thought the statement, “Well, at least I have.”

An annoyed gaze came to Casey’s face as she recalled the night of the “party”, but before she could start fuming over it, she was shaken from her thoughts by her mother’s reply.

“I know that you have. I do trust you, Casey.” Nora stated, smiling at her daughter as she gave her hand a small squeeze. The two of them stepped towards the door.

“DEREK!!” George called as he bellowed into the front room from the office which was tucked into the back corner.

Casey stifled the urge to laugh. The man was a mess. He usually was.

He was dragging a suitcase in one hand, a briefcase in the other, and his hair looked so disheveled that Casey would have bet he’d forgotten to even run a comb through it at any point that day.

“What….?” Came the unenthused drone of a call from the teenage boy who dwelled upstairs.

“Get down here!” George called, taking only a short second to gaze over his shoulder towards the upstairs, before yanking his ailing and spiraling luggage behind him. Even though the suitcase was on wheels, it was proving quite a challenge for George to manage. He nicked the edge of the stairs and the contraption spun off kilter, also managing to hit a side table, which nearly knocked a vase to the floor in the process.

“Oh, honey…” Nora watched her husband attempt to regain control of the bag on wheels, whilst also trying to stabilize the vase. She released her daughter’s hand finally; and stepped forward to assist the man who still managed to completely confuse her sometimes over how he managed to get into the situations that he did.

The sound of footsteps came bumbling down the stairs, and Casey’s amusement over her stepfather’s escapades quickly started to slip away as her eyes lifted to the bane of her existence.

As much of a mess as George could be, her stepbrother, Derek, somehow managed to be even more so in her eyes. She grimaced at him slightly as he completed his descent – skipping the last 4 stairs as he hopped down to land at her side and bid their family members ado.

George had finally overcome his adversity, with the help of his always thoughtful wife, and he turned on Derek with a pointed finger, “No parties, no sleepovers, no random acts of idiocy, no…”

As quickly as George had begun his strict lecture, Derek had already slightly rolled his eyes with a bored expression on his face. He’d heard it all before, and so had Casey, who was matching that expression slightly as well.

Nora blinked towards her rambling partner, before cutting him off, as she extended a hand towards Casey, “Here’s some money while we’re gone. Use it for the things that you need. Please do not blow it or fight over it.”

“Mom, when have you ever known me to blow money?” Casey questioned, reaching out to take the money.

“You’re right.” Derek piped in, snatching the money from Nora’s hand before Casey could. He smirked towards her, as she rounded her head with a glare in his direction, “Better let me hang onto it.”

“Derek.” George said sternly, a warning gaze towards his son.

Derek sighed, and slapped the money into Casey’s hand, not wanting to bother with this argument right now.

Casey instantly sucked in a sharp bit of air, shaking her stinging hand slightly as Derek suppressed a laugh he really wanted to unleash on her for always being such a wimp. He noticed, however, that his father still held a glare towards him, so he dismissed the urge; really just wanting this whole debacle to end already.

Nora looked tentatively at both of them, a little bit of a nervous bob under both feet, “Are you sure you guys are going to be alright?” she reached out to take her daughter’s hand once more, “Because it’d really be no issue for you both to just come along, and…“

Derek sighed heavily, the sound pressing Nora’s newly started rant of worry to the background. She always did this before they left for any amount of time longer than a single night. How old did she think they were? Ten?

“Mom, really. It’s only for three days.” Casey assured, once again, trying her best to calm her mother, “Derek and I will be just fine.” She stated, before gazing towards him, “Right?”

Derek however, had completely lost interest in the conversation, and was currently studying Lizzie and Edwin, who were sitting on the couch. They were arguing over who had to sit in the middle seat in the back of the car – as Marti had already claimed one of the windows. They were now playing rock, paper, scissors.

Kids… Derek huffed, thinking to himself. Glad I never was one.

Casey rolled her eyes. Clearly Derek was going to be of no help. Typical. She turned to her mom again, this time offering a smile, “Anyways, you can’t not go. This is important for George.” She stated, squeezing her mother’s hand once more before releasing it and giving her a slight shrugging motion, “And I can’t leave. I have a date with Max tomorrow, and I don’t even want to think of how backed up on studying I’d get.”

Nora let out a breath that indicated she may have been holding it for the last few seconds while her daughter spoke. But her posture seemed to relax a little, as she gave Casey a slight nod, “Right.” A calmer expression came to her face as she smiled.

“Honey, we’re running behind as it is, let’s go.” George popped back into the conversation, tenderly nudging his wife’s arm as he resumed his fatherly, ringleader tone. “Lizzie, Edwin, Marti! Let’s move out!”

The three youngest evacuated their seats from the couch and shuffled towards the door. Lizzie stopped to hug Casey, wishing her the best of luck for her upcoming weekend with Derek; while Casey urged Lizzie not to have too much fun without her.

Edwin and Derek shared some sort of brotherly handshake, and Casey overheard the oldest boy of the two say something about bringing back the phone numbers of “any and all hot girls”, should he manage to see them.

“Yeah, you got it bro.” Edwin nodded, before slinging his bag over his arm and turning to head out the door.

“I’ll miss you Smerek.” Marti stated, her tone slightly pouty as she ran towards her older brother.

Derek swooped Marti up in his arms, embracing her, “And I’ll miss you, Smarti!” he exclaimed, bouncing her up and down in his arms a couple of times before placing her back on her feet. He knelt down in front of her, “But it’s only for three days.” He patted the top of her head, “You have to promise me you’ll have fun and not be sad, okay?”

Marti looked contemplative, so Derek raised an eyebrow and reached out to start poking her all over, and it didn’t take long for the young girl to burst into a fit of giggles, “Okay, okay, I promise!”

“That a girl…” Derek smiled, content as he ruffled her hair a bit more. He stood up, and spun her around to nudge her towards the open door, “Now go on, get out of here.”

As Marti scampered through the doorway, still giggling, Derek placed his hands on his hips and once more joined Casey at her side.

Casey, who had been watching the adorable Marti bounce out the doorway, lifted her eyes slightly, where her mother stood.

Nora lifted her hand gently, and with a smile gave a silent wave.

“Bye mom…” Casey stated, suddenly feeling a strange sadness welling up on her insides. Her eyes felt as though they were about to start burning.

“Bye.” Nora said quietly, as she turned on her heel and walked out of the door. She pulled it behind her, and the noise and chaos that had been so loud was gone, just like that.

“Love you…” Casey whispered under her breath, gazing at the closed door.

Derek turned his head to look at her. His arms folded, he blinked with disbelief as he leaned down to get a better look at his stepsister’s face; but he retracted just as quickly, “The hell’s wrong with you?”

“What?” Casey answered quickly, blinking her own eyes as she noted how heavy they seemed to feel. She turned to look at Derek, “What are you talking about?”

“You said “bye”, and now you look like you’re going to cry.” Derek stated, looking slightly uncomfortable as he held up a finger, “Please remember how I feel about that.” He dictated a little more firmly, taking notice of how thoughtful the girl seemed to become,

“Because if you don’t, this weekend is going to be ruined right out of the gate.”

When even Derek could point out something as strange as Casey saying “bye”, something was definitely amiss. And it was true. Casey never said “bye” to her mother. Anytime these business trips occurred for either her mom, or for George, she always said “see you in a few days”. Goodbyes had always felt way too permanent for her.

She brushed it off, however, and glared at Derek. Leave it up to him to be so attentive now, when she could have greatly used his backup earlier, trying to convince her mom that things were going to be fine. Still, she felt that ever so slight burn in her eyes as she took a breath, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” She narrowed a gaze at him, “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a phone call to make.”

She slid past him towards the kitchen, and he rolled his eyes as his body turned with her, “Oh yeah that’s right. The loser with the football jacket awaits.”

Casey, who had already been making a straight path for the kitchen counter, where the phone sat, spun around on her heel immediately. She pointed towards him, venom in her tone, “Max is not a loser!”

“Whatever you say, princess.” Derek quipped, tilting his head slightly, as he shrugged a bit, “Would you prefer I start calling him ‘dumbass’ instead?”

Casey scoffed. He was in an extra irritating mood already, and the rest of the family hadn’t even been gone a full five minutes. While insulting her boyfriend wasn’t a new tactical means of him getting under her skin whatsoever, nor was the “princess” tag, she still struggled to keep her blood from boiling whenever he did this kind of thing.

She wasn’t going to give into his games right now, however. So, without saying anything, only continuing to hold her glare, she grabbed the phone and pondered towards the stairs, making sure to shoulder check him on her way past. She took a deep breath.

Just keep going Casey. Don’t look back. That’s what he wants you to do. She told herself as she ascended the stairs.

Derek watched her miniature “tromping” all the way up, smirk on his face the entire time. It was never going to get old ruffling her feathers. Especially as it was the easiest, most high quality form of entertainment he had in his daily life.

Ah, yes. Life was good.



“Okay, Max. Yeah, I’ll see you tomorrow. Goodnight.” Casey felt the idiotic smile on her face as she hung up the phone.

It’d been well over an hour and she was both shocked and surprised that she hadn’t been interrupted a single time for the duration of it. What had Derek gotten himself distracted enough with that didn’t warrant a single barging in from him?

While she was thankful, and did feel it was a rather rare and fortunate occurrence; she couldn’t disregard it as not being strange.

No, “Casey, I’m hungry, let’s eat.” or, “Casey, you’ve been on there for a million hours, it’s my turn to use the phone.” or, “How can you stand listening to that droning voice for this long?”

There was always a reason for him to show up and disturb her when she was on the phone with Max.

She’d probably never understand why he always acted so obnoxious about the whole thing, but either way, at this point she’d convinced herself it was probably even worse that he hadn’t uttered so much as a peep or poked his head in.

Just what was he up to?

She stood up from the bed, ready to go downstairs and probably be all kinds of pissed off or furious over whatever shenanigans or endeavors her stepbrother had been up to, but a small “ding” emitted from her computer speakers, and she gazed over to notice that an IM had popped up on the screen.

Thinking it was probably Emily or Kendra, she decided she’d check it quickly first, but frowned upon gazing at the screen name.

CanusRufius

She didn’t know it.

Hi Casey.

She slowly pulled her computer chair out and sank into it. She was puzzled and curious at the same time, briefly scanning her brain for a list of possible people she may have given her messenger handle out to, as she scooted up and placed her fingers on the keyboard.

Hi!

She hesitated leaving it at this, but her curiosity was going to overcome her in a matter of seconds. With a small smile, anticipating who she was conversing with, she continued.

You’ll have to forgive my scatterbrain, but can you remind me who this is? Sometimes I can forget who I’ve told to send a message my way.

She lightly tapped her fingertips against the keys a couple of times.

Hm, yeah. Pretty popular these days, aren’t you?

Casey blinked towards the screen. She wasn’t sure if she should take that as some form of flattery or not. While she certainly had expanded her social circle since she started dating Max, she wouldn’t really think “popular” was a proper descriptive word for her.

Kendra, definitely. Derek, absolutely.

But not her.

I don’t know if that’s what I’d call it.

I like it when you wear your cheerleading uniform. You look really pretty in it.

Her expression filled with confusion, and a slight twinge of unease pinged into the pit of her stomach. She looked to contemplate a thought or two, before tilting her head slightly and placing her fingers on the keys again.

Wait…

Max?

This was certainly not his usual screen name; but she supposed it wasn’t out of the ordinary for anyone to have multiples. Perhaps he just hadn’t told her about this one before.

Or maybe it wasn’t Max at all.

It seemed this person knew her from school, however.

She waited and waited, and the silence was almost unsettling. She was about to attempt prompting them for their name again, but before she could, another “ding” rang through the speakers, causing her to jump slightly.

CanusRufius is offline.

Huh. She thought. That was strange.

Perhaps they had been too nervous to tell her their name. It had been an odd exchange, but probably nothing to make a big deal about. The cheerleading uniform comment had kind of made it seem like it must have been Max.

He'd probably been just trying to be sweet or something, seeing as he usually always made some sort of comment about that uniform every time he saw her in it.

Well, whatever.

The even more strange situation at the moment was still the fact that another ten minutes had gone by, and still no peep had been heard out of Derek. It was finally time to figure out what that was all about.

She stood from her chair, pushing the online encounter out of her mind, and turning on her heel to tread downstairs.

He was in his chair watching a movie of some kind. She walked up, shimmying her way in front of him to take her usual spot on the couch, beside his chair. Gazing over, she could see he was quite enthralled with the screen, “You’ve been quiet this evening.”

“So have you.” He answered back attentively, “It’s been pleasant.”

“Agreed…” Casey responded, trailing off as a quite whimsical sounding female scream emitted from the TV. She averted her eyes to the situation at hand going on in the fictional world of the movie, but it didn’t take long for her to scoff at the contents, “I can see why…” her tone dripped with sarcasm as she adjusted her sitting position, “But I’ll never understand how you can sit through these. They’re all the same.”

Derek snapped his eyes towards her, glaring as if she’d just violated a major law, “I beg to differ.”

“How?” Casey questioned in retort, motioning towards the TV with her hand, “It’s always some girl, running from some psycho who’s managed to kill all of her friends, her “hunk” boyfriend, and half of the police squad because they don’t know how to do their jobs.”

Derek rolled his eyes. For someone who couldn’t stand to watch movies like this, she sure had some passionate opinions about it. He turned slightly in his chair, “Casey, Casey, Casey…” he sighed. He still hadn’t decided if he were amused by her very short “analysis” or not. Nevertheless, as a fan of the genre, he wasn’t going to let her get away with slandering it so, “While your description can be considered pretty close to correct, it’s far too vague, and quite frankly, I’m offended at the injustice.” he stated, leaning in slightly as he pointed towards the screen, “You should attempt to read between the lines before offering such a shallow opinion.”

Casey rolled her eyes, feeling less than amused. How could one possibly read between any lines when it came to slasher films? Despite the plot line being continuously recycled, she still hated watching people die, real or not. But what kind of backstory was there ever to any of this, besides the fact that some unfortunate soul ended up crossing paths with either an unhinged or overly obsessed human being?

Derek noted that Casey was thinking about it, but she’d failed to respond to him. He fought the urge to smile. He hated it when he got “lost” in her. It happened more often than he’d ever admit.

Clearing his throat, he sat up a little straighter in his chair. “Let me help you out.” He started, pulling Casey out of her thought spiral. He motioned towards the TV, “For example, yes. This particular girl had watched her boyfriend and best friend die.” He explained, before adding, “But why?”

Casey frowned towards him, searching her brain for the easiest answer with a shrug. “I don’t know. Probably because the person is in love with her or something.”

Derek raised an eyebrow, “Is he in love with her though? Or does he hate her? Maybe he wants her to suffer.”

Casey opened her mouth to reply but failed to emit any words or sound at all. Derek smirked at her expression, “Maybe it isn’t even about her. Not really.” He continued on, “Maybe it’s about someone she knows, and she’s just in the way.”

Casey narrowed her eyes at him slightly, and shook her head just barely an inch, “It can’t be that deep.”

Derek blinked towards her, before relenting that point, “Alright, it’s not. At least not for this particular movie.” He stated, giving her a surprising surrender to that point of the argument. When he noticed her looking slightly proud, he kept going. No way was she off the hook. Even if the psycho was in love or obsessed 99% of the time. “But that’s hardly the main point.”

Casey gazed at him in disbelief. Did he really believe there were actual stories here? “There is no “main” point, Derek.” She argued, and watched as he frowned towards her, “This stuff is over glamorized, over exaggerated, and made up so that boys like…” she struggled for a second before flinging a hand towards him, “You.” She finally finished, before restarting the thought again, “Boys like you, can stare at topless women and get your kicks out of watching people our own age be the capable heroes as opposed to actual adults being smart enough to make any difference at all.”

Derek was silent for a moment, and Casey wasn’t sure if he was going to shoot off some smart remark about her not taking a breath between all of that, or just laugh in her face.

A second later, the laughter came.

And she knew it was coming, but it still annoyed her. She was never able to have a truly constructive conversation with him. Everything always ended this way. She was beginning to wonder if he thought there was any substance to her at all.

“Fine.” She stated simply, opening her palm and slapping it down on the arm of the couch before pushing herself up off of it.

Derek could see the pouty look on her face, and so despite all the joy he’d gotten out of her more fully developed analysis that she’d probably rehearsed in her head hundreds of times, he stood to stop her from storming off, like he knew she wanted to.

“Alright, okay, relax princess.” He whimsied, holding his hands up to stop her.

She huffed and folded her arms, and before she could snap at him for calling her “princess”, again, he cleared his throat once more.

“Just…clarify for me again…” Derek started once more, tapping a finger against his temple before once again motioning towards the TV, “You don’t think there’s anything about these types of movies that are realistic at all?”

Casey looked at him as if he’d lost the last brain cell she wasn’t even sure he’d had to begin with, as her arms dropped to her sides in disbelief, “Of course not.” She spat, holding up a hand towards the TV, “You can’t tell me you believe any of this crap could possibly happen.”

Derek shook his head slightly, “Remind me again why we call you the smart one?”

Casey pressed her lips together, irritated. “Ugh, just move Derek, you’re so annoying!” she snarked, extending her hands to push him to the side.

However, Derek extended his hands as well, to calm her once more, “Okay, okay, just one more thing Casey, because it would actually bother me to end on that note.” He stated, and though he held some amusement in his gaze, he had shifted over to a more thoughtful expression.

The palms of his hands gently rested on her arms, and though she was quite done discussing the subject with him, she would hear him out; for whatever unknown reason, she always did.

“Just…” Derek stated, and his tone had quieted slightly. It was somewhat calm, “Don’t ever assume that there aren’t real psychos out there.” He instructed, before looking contemplative, “I mean, sure, the writers of these scripts have over heightened everything for the effect of entertainment, but, there are human beings out there who hurt and harass other people. I know you’re not stupid enough to think that doesn’t exist…right?”

Casey stiffened slightly in his hold. Something about the way he was looking at her, the way his voice sounded…

Thoughts of her messenger encounter from earlier popped into her head. She’d decided earlier she was going to forget about it as quickly as it’d happened. It had only probably been Max.

Still.

“Why are you trembling?”

Casey snapped herself back out of her thoughts. Derek had deadpanned his tone towards her, and that’s when she looked down and realized she’d allowed his hands to linger against her for longer than she had probably meant to. She took a step back from him and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear, turning away ever so slightly.

She was a little flustered.

“I’m not.” She stated simply, fumbling a bit with her own thoughts, as Derek folded his arms across his chest. She turned to him once more, slightly defensive, “And I do know…you know…” she trailed off, and he raised an eyebrow. “About those people…” she looked at the TV again for a split second, “But…”

She paused once more. The girl on TV was climbing out of her bedroom window, she guessed. The power in the house was off.

“But what?”

She gazed at him once more, “But it doesn’t happen like this.” She stated, and upon seeing him narrow his eyes at her a bit, she felt slightly unsettled, “It doesn’t, right?”

“Actually, it does. This happens to people all the time.” Derek answered, stealing a glance at the TV, but averting them back to her almost immediately. “I mean, it doesn’t always resort to murder of course, but the stalking part, absolutely.” he paused for a second, before quipping, “It could even happen to you.” he reached out a finger and teasingly poked her in the ribs, and instantly she flinched away, turning and swatting at his hand.

She glowered at him as he flinched slightly, emitting a quiet chuckle in the process. “I knew you were just being a jerk. You think it’s funny? Trying to scare me?”

Derek tilted his head ever so subtly, stifling his already quiet chuckles of amusement, “Is that some kind of trick question?”

Casey turned away from him, disgusted. What a complete ass.

Derek did his best to choke down the last of his remaining chuckles towards her, as he folded his arms once more, and leaned his weight slightly in her direction, gazing once more at the TV, “I honestly don’t think you ever have to worry about anything like this, Spacey.” he gazed at her, “I mean, who on earth would ever want to stalk you?”

Casey’s hand flew to her eyes, and she rubbed them, agitated. She debated in her head whether to snap at him again or not. It was never worth it, though she was always compelled and drawn to retort to him anyway. She knew that one of the things he lived for was to torment and tease her. But, for the sake of her semi-stimulated mind over all that he had said so far, she just wanted to know for sure. “So is it real or not?” she questioned, her tone having lost most of its edge, though some quiet hints of it remained. She watched his curious eyes return to her, and she motioned to the TV once more, “The stalking.”

Derek frowned slightly, but his gaze drained of teasing intent, “It is. It does happen.”

“And why is that?” she then asked, prompting the conversation further once more, “Why can’t people just talk to each other? Why would they ever consider something like harrassment to be a better solution than a conversation?”

“Maybe there’s a reason to prevent said conversation.”

“Like?”

“Like the person has a partner. They can’t very well just confess that they love them or like them.” Derek explained, shrugging slightly, “And I mean, I can’t relate, but maybe they’re too insecure to try in the first place, regardless of the circumstance. Maybe they’re too afraid of rejection. There are a lot of reasons.”

Casey seemed to consider the information, though she still thought it sounded far too impossible for reality, “So then...is it like a secret admirer?”

“Hm, depends.” Derek tilted his head slightly as he gazed towards the ceiling, trying to decide on how to explain it, “Secret admirers are almost always harmless, but sometimes the situation can be just the right amount of complicated to drive them into a territory beyond that.”

Casey blinked towards him, equal amounts curious, equal amounts thoughtful, as his gaze met with hers. She narrowed her eyes slightly, “How do you know so much about this anyway?”

Derek looked at her pointedly, “Well besides the fact that I’ve probably seen just about every movie known to man about stalkers, I pay attention to the real world.” he stated, leaning towards her as he reached out a hand and patted her head, “Not just what they put in school books.” he then frowned slightly, as if to make an additional comment to himself, “Actually, I don’t think I’ve ever even read a full paragraph from a school book…”

Once again, his hand was quickly swatted away. If this conversation was going to go south again, then now was the time to cut it off. She didn’t know why she’d felt the need to pursue it as far as she did in the first place. Now she was just cranky and unsettled. “Whatever, let’s just...talk about anything else.” she stated, attempting to detour the situation. The entire air about the room right now felt stagnant and slightly miserable to her. “Are you hungry?”

Derek emitted a huff, “Another trick question?”

Casey rolled her eyes, “Fine. Any suggestions on dinner?”

“As long as it’s edible, I never care.” he quipped, before adding, “Which means you aren’t cooking.”

She huffed, “Didn’t want to anyway.” she murmured, her gaze shifting away from him. Especially not for you, ungrateful jerk.

“Looks like we’re going out then.” Derek decided, immediately heading over to the coat rack. He retrieved his jacket, before also grabbing her hoodie and launching it towards her, before reaching over and gripping the doorknob.

It smacked into her side, nestling on her shoulder as she snatched it and turned to him, “Well I can’t just walk out the door looking like this.”

Derek blinked towards her, a confused expression crossing his face as he shut the door he’d just opened a second ago, “Why not?”

She glanced down at herself, almost as if she were about to go into panic mode. “Derek. I don’t even have any makeup on.”

Derek tilted his head to one side, then the other, “For what it’s worth, it doesn’t really help anyway.”

Casey glared daggers, before stomping her foot, huffing, and storming off towards the stairs without another word towards him.

Derek gazed towards the ceiling as if to plead with any god above that would take mercy on him in that moment, “Well can you at least hurry up? I’m starving.” he called out after his furiously anxious stepsister, listening to her stomps all the way up the stairs. She didn’t answer him, and he supposed that was fair. The makeup comment was a bit of a low blow, though nothing out of the ordinary. She’d be fine in ten minutes, and he’d be fine once he got something in his stomach. He hadn’t realized he felt this hungry before. But since Casey had pointed it out, it was all he could think about.

You can imagine his level of irritation when 20 minutes later, they still hadn’t left. He stood outside her door, pounding a couple of times, “Holy shit, Casey!”

“Alright I’m coming!” Casey shouted back, “Just...one more minute!”

“You have exactly 30 seconds before I come in. I don’t care if you have clothes on or not.” he threatened from the other side.

Casey huffed. She hated it when Derek rushed her. In all reality she couldn’t blame him for being annoyed about it though. Makeup had turned into hair styling, and hair styling had turned into a change of clothes. Then she’d had to decide whether or not to wear a necklace.

In all honesty, she’d never been the type to consider so much in terms of vanity, but, since she’d started dating Max, her ways of thinking had been altered some. She was more aware of how she looked most of the time, and whether or not it would be impressive enough for him, and the social circle he entertained.

Which begged a bigger question of why she cared so much tonight, considering she was going out with Derek. Not Max.

Whatever, it didn’t matter at this point. Derek was going to break down her door any second and now she was just overthinking things. She slipped on a last second bracelet, and grabbed her jacket and purse from the end of her bed.

Just as her hand reached for her doorknob, however, her computer “dinged”. The sound was enough to freeze her in her tracks and pull her attention away from the ever looming threat of Derek’s invasion, and turn her gaze back to her computer.

Maybe this time it was Emily or Kendra?

She turned around and dropped her jacket and purse back onto her bed as she moved her chair and leaned onto her desk to look at the screen.

You took off the pink outfit? But it was perfect.

Casey felt that twinge of discomfort settle into the bottom of her stomach again as she gazed towards her laundry hamper, where she had discarded the pink ensemble she’d changed into after school that day for something a little more “Friday Night”. Her gaze darted for a second, before landing on her window, which was opened up to let the gentle cool of the fall breeze outside in. She loved fresh air during this time of year. The curtains were parted slightly, and they swayed with the gentle wind.

She stepped over to the window, taking note that she felt far more nervous than she thought as she allowed her gaze to linger out of it.

The neighborhood was quiet, and the evening lull had set in. Only the orange hue of the setting sun blanketed the landscaped street. She blinked a couple of times, her confidence settling back into her with each second she didn’t spot anything out of the ordinary.

Shaking her head slightly, she felt a bit annoyed. This had to be Max.

But why was he doing it? She was quickly failing to find anything cute or romantic about it. She leaned over at her computer desk once more, and lifted her hands to type another response.

Max, just call me if you want to talk. I don’t know how to play along with whatever this is that you’re doing.

She tapped her foot impatiently. She really didn’t have time to stand here, but she didn’t want to just snap at her boyfriend and leave him hanging either.

She wouldn’t have been able to wait even if she wanted to, however, because her bedroom door hurled open.

“Honestly Casey, do I need to drag you out of the house or something?” Derek snarked, advancing on her like a man on a mission as he reached out and snatched her hand in his, “I mean what does it take for you to move your ass?”

Casey managed to barely grab her jacket and purse from the corner of the bed as she was being pulled out by Derek’s iron grip. She huffed, “Well maybe if you didn’t have the attention span of a moth!”

“Blah, blah, blah…” Derek mocked, as he pulled his squabbling stepsister along behind him.

They continued to fire insults at one another all the way down the stairs, and out the front door of the house. Within moments, she’d completely forgotten about her computer once again.



A couple hours later, night had settled in, and they were walking back through the front door.

They’d actually had a pretty good time. It was strange, sometimes, the ways they managed to get along. Anyone under the red sun who’d had a chance to spend any amount of time with the two of them in the same room could testify to the fact that they were a complete disaster. But somehow that never held completely true when they were alone. Sure, they still squabbled with and insulted one another, but the entire aura about it was different.

Part of it probably had to do with the fact that they didn’t actually hate one another. Though they claimed otherwise to anyone and everyone who asked.

Derek, for one, felt obligated to demonstrate to Edwin a firm example of what stepsibling rivalry was really supposed to be like. You don’t make friends, you are enemies. They become a threat? You eliminate. Simple as that.

Casey, on the other hand, though systematically and regularly dabbling in dramatic situations for herself, always felt edgy when the house was full. It was a lot of noise, a lot of chaos, and overall a lot of added stress. Not that she’d trade any of them for the world, but there were seven of them. Seven wasn’t a small number when they were all crammed under one roof. Most days it made the big house feel incredibly small, and the energy was just so different.

“Really, Case, if I would have known you were going to choose pizza, we could have just ordered in and not had to waste the time going out.” Derek stated, opening up the front door and waiting for her to walk in.

She eyed him pensively, “Oh please, Derek. You had just as much fun in the arcade as you did stuffing your face.”

She floated past him, and he became almost trance-like as his nose caught the scent of her shampoo, leaving him slightly dazed and unresponsive for a few seconds.

He had heard her, however. So he took another few seconds to contemplate her words, mentally decide she was right, shrug slightly, and walk in the door. He wasn’t going to ever let her think she was right about anything, however, so he shut the door behind him, and let out a muffled, “Well, you’re wrong, but, whatever.”

Casey shuffled her jacket off her shoulders, and placed it on the coat hanger, but shot him a defiant but questioning gaze, “Then why did it take me forever to pry you away from the crane machine?”

Derek furrowed his brows, snapping his eyes into a glare towards her almost instantly as he skulked towards the coat hanger as well and began removing his jacket, “Well I didn’t hear you complaining about that when I gave you the pony with the horn I won out of it.”

Casey rolled her eyes, “I probably should have. You blew enough money on it.”

Derek pressed his lips together, fuming slightly, “Alright that’s it, where is he?” he questioned sternly, pointing a finger towards Casey’s purse.

She’d almost already clutched it a bit more defensively.

“If you can’t appreciate him, then just give him back.” Derek stated, holding out his hand and beckoning towards her with his fingers.

Casey retrieved the small stuffed pony - which was really actually a unicorn - out of her purse and held it close to her, “I do appreciate it! That’s not what I was saying, I…” she stroked the mane of the stuffed toy for a second before gazing upward into Derek’s eyes. She let out a sigh of defeat, “I like him a lot, Derek. Thank you.”

Derek huffed in response, but relented to her nonetheless once her appreciation was expressed. He felt semi-reassured that the argument had leaned in his favor. To be honest, he’d only given the toy to Casey in the first place so she’d shut up and stop peering over his shoulder while he’d been playing. At least that was what he was telling himself.

Crane machines took skill. They were rigged in a way so that you had to spend a ton of money to get one measly, rinky dink toy from them. But he’d managed it in under ten dollars and he was proud of that victory. He began heading up the stairs, and Casey filed up behind him, emitting a yawn as she trudged upward.

“I’m going to bed.” she stated, the hour of the night really sinking in after a long day at school, and then bidding the family farewell for their trip. “I have a date with Max tomorrow.”

“Pfft.” Derek huffed, shooting a fleeting gaze over his shoulder at her, “Yeah, you better get all the beauty sleep you can. Lord knows you need it.”

“Is that so?” Casey spat, and Derek heard her footsteps come to a halt.

He could almost feel the look she was giving him, and he smirked as he turned to gaze at her, “Do you really want me to say more?”

Her posture was huffy, and his gaze was challenging. He was peering down at her slightly, though he’d leaned down just a little to meet her eyes a bit better. The tension in the air between them was so thick, it could have been cut with a knife.

But Casey, for as much as she was always drawn to engage further with him, decided against it, settling for pushing past him and continuing her way up the stairs. She made it a couple of steps before turning to peer back at him, “Well just so you know, my secret admirer would disagree.”

Derek processed her words, but wasn’t quite sure he’d heard her right, “Did you just say your ‘secret admirer’?”

“I didn’t stutter.” Casey answered quickly, turning on her heel once more as she ascended the last four stairs.

Derek followed her, but he leapt the gap of remaining stairs as he rounded in front of her to stop her pursuit. “Wait…” he started, before pointing towards her, “You? A secret admirer?” he was almost laughing, and after he repeated the words to himself once again, he did.

Casey scowled towards him, but to be honest, she wasn’t exactly sure why she had said what she did. Was it really so hard for Derek to believe that someone could like her? I mean, she did have a boyfriend, which, coincidentally was probably the same person as this ‘admirer’, but that wasn’t the point. Derek hardly regarded Max as a functional human being as it was, and Casey felt it would serve Derek right to be wrong for once about her being so undesirable.

She rolled her eyes at the boy beside her, who was still laughing. “Whatever Derek. Laugh all you want, but I really do have one.” she snarked, moving around him now and continuing her trek to her bedroom door. She grasped the doorknob in her hand and snapped her head to glare at her stepbrother once more, who was now leaning over, grasping his knees like his ribs hurt. “And they told me I looked pretty today, too!”

She walked into her room at the sound of more laughter starting up from down the hall, and tossed her purse onto her bed. He was such a jerk.

Gathering her pajamas, she turned to make a beeline for the shower. The sooner she could make the water start drowning out the sounds of the obnoxious laughter of the one whom she shared a living space with, the better. Plus, she had better things to start thinking about, like her date with Max tomorrow.

As she was heading through the doorway, she walked right into the current object of her least affection, who’d had his interest sparked just enough to follow her after he recovered from his fit of laughter. “Wait, so…” Derek wasted no time in starting in on her once more, “You have a secret admirer, but you know who it is?”

“No you moron.” Casey answered back spitefully, “You do know what secret means, right?”

“Yeah, but you said they called you pretty today.” Derek responded, leaning against the door frame as he crossed his arms.

Casey looked annoyed and semi-confused at the same time, “So how does that equal me knowing who they are?” she pondered, before adding with a shrug, “It must be someone from school.”

Derek rotated his head in a dramatic circle, “Wow…” he emphasized, “This person sounds like they’re both blind and stupid.” he quirked, before adding, “But in all honesty, I’d probably rather you date them, than that lug of a boyfriend you have now.”

Casey narrowed her eyes, “Just what is your problem with Max anyway, Derek? All you ever do is insult and make fun of him.” she clutched her pajamas to her chest, but still had that huffy expression.

“Well, I mean it’s simple, really.” Derek responded, “I don’t like him. Never have.”

Casey was unsatisfied with this. It was one thing that Derek didn’t like him, but to berate and belittle him constantly? I mean, couldn’t he at least act like he was happy for her at all? “Well you know what Derek?” she snapped, leaning in a little more as she poked his chest with her finger, “Sometimes I don’t like you, either!”

Derek dropped his jaw in a dramatic display, placing one of his hands over his chest as if her finger had wounded him, which only earned him another scoff as she barreled past him.

The bathroom door slammed shut a few seconds later, and he smirked again. Yeah, he was an asshole. But he lived to dance this dance with Casey.

Secret admirer?

There was no way. She was probably just pissed off and still having lingering thoughts about their conversation earlier. The whole “stalker” thing. In all honesty, he probably shouldn’t have humored her to the extent that he had. The last thing he wanted was for her to be pacing and paranoid half the night in her room over it, but he supposed now he would have to lay in the bed he’d made for himself.

His eyes lingered over to where her computer was, and noticed that her messenger box was popped up on it.

He wasn’t one to snoop, but…

Well, yeah he was. Especially when it came to her.

He walked over to her computer without an ounce of guilt and slid into her computer chair, swiveling himself up to the desk to let his eyes rest on the screen.

CanusRufius? What the hell kind of name is that?

He took a minute to scan over the conversation that had been taking place. It was pretty brief and minimum, but Casey seemed to think this person was Max.

She was probably right, though this person claimed otherwise.

Would you be willing to play along if I told you this wasn’t Max?

She’d apparently received it earlier this evening, right before they’d left. So that’s what had been taking her so long.

Well, I mean, she probably really had used some of the time to get ready, but this must have been distracting her, if she’d been willing enough to respond. Her curiosity during their “stalker” conversation suddenly made sense as well. She hadn’t acted bothered by this all that much, honestly. But, he guessed, the moment she’d seemed to get lost in her thoughts and tremble in his grip had felt off.

Alright fine, I’ll play, but only if you do something for me first.

Derek sent the message away, hoping it sounded enough like Casey to warrant a response. She could be a negotiator when she wanted to be. But she was mostly submissive towards everyone but him. She cared so much and spent so much time considering how other people felt about things, perhaps that had sounded too demanding to pass.

However, his second guessing was silenced, when the messenger dinged.

What’s that?

Tell me your name?

This time, he definitely sounded passive enough. The question mark at the end had sold it. He smirked proudly. Not only could he potentially really have some fun with this, but he could possibly also figure out who this idiot was.

You looked like you were having fun with Derek tonight.

Derek’s eyes popped slightly wider as they scanned over the statement.

And here I always thought you hated him.

What the hell?
This person had been watching her?
Not only that, but they seemed to know who he was too.

He furrowed his brows, determined now to dig a little deeper to see what else he might possibly be able to get this person to reveal.

So we know each other well enough that you think I hate Derek, huh?

Derek sent the question away to the other side, before frowning towards himself as he reread what he’d typed. He quickly added another line.

I don’t actually hate him, by the way. He’s amazing.

There. That was better.
Even if it blew the top off his cover. No way was he going to let this person get away with insulting him.

I see the way you look at him. Like you’re annoyed. You don’t have to lie to me, Casey.

Derek was feeling a slight tinge of annoyance. Could someone really tell all of that just by the look in Casey’s eyes? Was this person really looking at her that closely?

And I mean sure, he lived to get under her skin, but...it wasn’t like she actually hated him, right?

Derek folded his arms and slumped back in the seat. Now he was just agitated. Who did this person think they were? Speaking as if they actually knew her... And watching her like this? He huffed and reached out for the keyboard again.

You think you know me that well? You think you know how things between me and Derek work?

I know everything I need to know about you.

Max. This had to be that colossal jackass. The longer this conversation had gone on, the more Derek agreed with Casey.

But why?

That was the real question.

He’d seen the movies. Boyfriends and their manipulation tactics. He knew the games; knew the means at which some particular breeds of male companions would go, all in an effort to draw the girl of their choosing closer to them. They’d start by absorbing all the time they could, which would then lead to isolation, further commitment, then worse.

But this idiot had another thing coming if he ever tried to take Casey out of his life.

Over his absolute dead body was the only way.

Derek couldn’t wait to cross paths with him tomorrow.

What’s the matter, Derek? You don’t look like you’re having much fun anymore.

The agitated bobbing up and down he hadn’t realized he’d been doing with his right leg ceased immediately as his eyes scanned the message on the screen.

He stared thoughtfully at it for a moment, before pushing himself out of the chair and confidently taking a couple of steps towards Casey’s bedroom window.

He didn’t bother looking outside; he wasn’t going to waste the effort to give this bastard the satisfaction of that. Instead he instantly slammed the window shut, and drew the curtains to a close.

He folded one arm across his midsection, while using his other hand to rub his eyes. He didn’t want to be truly worried. He didn’t feel like he actually needed to be. While he was thoroughly convinced that this was Max, possibly on something, getting his rocks off by trying to make Casey uncomfortable; he still didn’t like the idea that he was parked somewhere down their block or hiding around the corner of a house across the street just watching her like this.

It wasn’t okay on his watch, and he was tempted to jump back on Casey’s computer and lay all of his shit wide open right then and there.

Still, though he enjoyed dabbling in mind games from time to time - always with Casey - and even more so enjoyed any chance to cause friction in his stepsister’s relationship, it was going to be a far better solution not to give in to the asshole’s cheap attempt at some weekend amusement.

He’d get a chance to settle this tomorrow, face to face with the loser.

“Derek? What are you doing?” came Casey’s voice from the doorway, a tired drawl behind her tone as she dropped her evening clothes in the hamper and huffed, “I’m tired of looking at you for one day, get out.”

Derek hadn’t even been paying attention to the fact that the shower water had stopped running. Though he’d had every intention of doing so initially, lest Casey catch him on her computer, pretending to be her.

He gazed towards her. She did look spent, and he decided he didn’t want to attempt drawing any energy out of her that she really seemed like she didn’t have. He took a second to debate asking her what it was about him that she truly hated; if she even actually did.

But doing that would just mean her asshat of a boyfriend had gotten inside his head.
Which was probably his intention, and led back to the entire issue of not giving him the satisfaction.

So instead, Derek mumbled a goodnight, his gaze catching a glimpse of the pony from the crane machine earlier, which Casey had already placed on her vanity.

“Goodnight.” she replied warily, eyeing him as he trekked the few steps to her doorway.

He paused for a second, gazing over his shoulder ever so subtly however, to tell her one last thing. And though his voice held no sarcasm or teasing tone of any kind, it did drip with the hints of the firm dominance he always regarded towards her when he needed to drive home that he was being serious, “Keep your window closed.”

Chapter Text




He’d told himself repeatedly, he wasn’t going to let the bastard with the stupid screenname affect his sleep, or get the better of him.

So you can imagine his irritation when he rolled himself out of his bed after only sleeping for three hours. It was a Saturday, and he supposed he could nap as frequently as he wanted throughout the day, but that probably wasn’t going to be happening either.

He had plenty to be pissed about, like his stepsister’s quickly approaching date with the scum she called her boyfriend; and what pissed him off even more is how many hours she’d spent as the day carried on running and rushing around, looking cute, and getting ready to go out with the shit for brains.

On top of that, he’d also let what had been said about him bother him a little too much. He never usually cared too much about an outside opinion. He was quite aware of what was between him and Casey. The tension and the friction had been carefully preserved and protected by him since he’d met her.

Why? Because it brought something more to his life.

And people could say all they wanted - and they had - about how it was borderline, or straight out cruel, or hateful, or mean. But those people weren’t Casey, nor were they him; and they couldn’t speak for either of them. Therefore, people’s opinions about whatever they thought their relationship was didn’t mean fuck all in his head.

But, at the end of the day, the statement had been, “I see the way you look at him.” Like, this person had spotted it in her eyes, not heard her speak it into existence. There was a difference. He had no doubt Casey was very verbal to a number of people about how she felt about him on a regular basis. But seeing it in someone’s eyes, or their expression; those types of things usually bore the whole truth, unless acting was your profession.

At one point, he’d entertained the thought of calling Max himself and cancelling the date for her; possibly exchanging a few other choice words with the braindead jock; but he didn’t want to slip into that circle of hell in her eyes.

For whatever reason, what she thought of him meant a great deal. He didn’t understand why, but it was true. And he’d learned a while ago that not fighting that reality had made his life function slightly smoother. That didn’t mean he still didn’t want to bash his head against the wall some nights when he’d stayed up way too late thinking about her, but he’d molded that truth into a more manageable mental compartment.

What he didn’t understand was that it seemed Casey suspected Max had been the one giving her the go around on her messenger. She’d even stated she didn’t want to deal with it, yet, today she was acting just as hopelessly faint of heart as she ever could get over him. Maybe he’d read it wrong. It was difficult to read emotions through a line of typed out text, but, it’s not like the statement had been, “Oh Max, you’re so silly, playing these cute games” - which quite frankly, had it been, or anywhere near that, the sight might have made him puke - but rather like she just wasn’t interested in advancing the charade at all.

So was she or was she not annoyed about it?

“How do I look?” Casey’s voice stirred him from his thoughts.

He’d been sitting in his usual chair, facing the TV, but not really absorbing any of what was on. He was uncertain if he was more pissed that he’d spent half a Saturday buried in a mental hole of frustration, or that Casey had shuffled into her spot on the couch, looking like she did, for a date with a dumpster of a human being.

He shuffled ever so slightly, keeping his eyes focused on the screen of the TV before mumbling, “Like shit.”

She huffed a second later, “I figured you’d say that.” her voice held a bit of venom, but not much. His response hadn’t surprised her at all.

Derek tilted his head slightly, finally shifting his gaze to her.

In all fairness, he was highly attracted to her, but he could never pinpoint exactly why. Nor was he going to ever actually admit to it. He gazed away from her once more, and the two of them sat in a slightly charged silence for a couple of moments.

Casey could sense Derek was in one of his rare, thoughtful moods. They always made him the most cranky, and just sitting near to him could be intimidating.

She’d never been truly fearful of him, but knew he had a temper when pushed too far. The ins and outs of his personality after living with him for a while had been easy enough to figure out, but she still didn’t have much of a sense on where his triggers could always be.

Still, he was the one person she had never changed for, and she was fairly assured he’d never want her to, regardless of the intimidating aura that could surround him on any given day. She turned her head to him, “I noticed you decided to meddle around on my computer.”

Derek blinked towards the screen a couple of times.

Right…

He hadn’t really talked to her about that yet, and since she was bringing it up, he supposed this could be his way of letting out some of the frustrations that had been plaguing him thus far today.

“Yep.” he responded, a slight nod as he cocked his head to the side.

She was annoyed at the simplicity of his response as she narrowed her eyes at him, “Well I’d appreciate it if you’d stay out of my stuff, Derek!” she fired towards him, “How many times have I told you not to just…” she paused before flinging her hand in the air dramatically, “Meander around in my room and get into my things?”

It was true. These past few months, he’d had no regard for her personal space or privacy. He just waltzed right in whenever he felt like it, and she was becoming so used to it at this point, that she rarely called him out for it anymore, though it always irritated her beyond no end. Yelling at him for it didn’t ever seem to do any good.

Derek swung his head to give her a less than enthused gaze, before raising an eyebrow. A moment ago, a poised, chipper, and only mildly agitated Casey was sitting there. Now she was a scrunched up bundle of nerves who had a sharp gaze and tense aura. He leaned back slightly, adjusting his position. “You know, I’ve been debating on whether or not to give your boyfriend a black eye when he shows up.”

Casey’s jaw dropped slightly. It was possible her stepbrother was in just the right kind of mood to go through with such a thing, “I’d prefer if you just didn’t talk to him.”

“Yeah and I’d prefer you not go out with him at all.” Derek argued, now allowing some of his reserved agitation out. He lifted his hand and pointed towards the upstairs, “Not after pulling whatever the fuck that was last night.”

Casey, against her better judgement, reached over with both her hands and rested them on top of Derek’s arm, easing it back down gently, “Derek, this is my relationship.” she stated, her tone having lost it’s scolding edge from moments ago when she’d started the conversation, “I’ll deal with it, okay?” she lifted her hands off of his arm and shifted back to her seat more comfortably, “The solution isn’t always to just fight about everything.”

Derek scoffed in annoyance, “Yeah well, talking is more useless.” in a matter of seconds, that twinge of annoyance began boiling up hotter inside, and he snapped his head in her direction, “And why should I give a damn about what you want anyway?”

Casey’s eyes diverted to meet with his once more. Their gazes burned into each other’s for a moment, before Derek turned to face the TV again, his posture slumping subtly, and his tone shifting, though he hadn’t wanted it to, to reflect traces of bitterness within it, “You already hate me so what do I have to lose?”

Casey blinked, retracting ever so slightly to lean her back into the couch beside him as well. She struggled for a moment to really respond at all. She didn’t have the time to get into this with him right now, and to be honest, she was already feeling rather exhausted. Because there was always something to get into with Derek.

There was never a break. Never any peace.

It was a constant trek of arguments and indifferences.

She shook her head slightly, “Whatever. Just…” she felt her train of thought slipping away from her again so she rolled her eyes and threw her hands up slightly, her half frustrated, half tired stare burning into the TV, “Don’t ruin my night, or I really will hate you.”

She heard Derek’s huff of a response, and was thankful that at that exact moment, before her step-brother could start in with anything else, the doorbell rang.

She almost expected there to be a race to the front door.

But in the split second it’d taken her to jump to her feet and scamper towards it, there had been no being bumped to the side, no strong grip on her arm to yank her out of the way. Not even a single word uttered from the boy she’d left in the living room.

She stopped slow before answering the door, peering back in at him. He was still sitting in the chair, staring at the TV. Silent. Unmoving. Though, she could still see the glare in his eyes, and the tightness of his hands as they gripped his own arms from their folded position over his chest.

He was most certainly pissed.

And she felt bad for that.

But there was really nothing she could do about it right now.

She frowned, but turned to open the door.

“Hey!...” Max started, from where he stood on the other side of the door. He trailed off, his brows furrowing ever so slightly as he watched Casey’s frown slip away quickly and settle into the sweet, sociable, “you can approach me”, smile he was used to seeing on her.

“Hey there handsome.” Casey replied, her stance slightly bashful as she bobbed on her heel a couple of times.

He had been planning to ask her if everything was alright, but her tone and expression indicated she was just fine. So the prior thoughts that whatever was going on before he’d arrived hadn’t been so pleasant for her left his mind, and he gave her a smile back. “You look beautiful.”

Casey felt her cheeks warm ever so subtly, while in the meantime, Derek had to suppress the urge to vomit from his position on the couch.

“Thanks.” She extended a hand out towards him, and he wasted no time in taking it. Gazing over her shoulder, she felt the frown return to her face as her eyes rested on her step-brother, “See you later, Derek.”

“Hm.” Derek murmured, and without looking towards the door, he lifted his arm and gave her some kind of half-assed wave.

He felt her eyes linger for a second longer, and then, the object of his attention left through the front door.

That moment - that split second - it always made him feel miserable. The one where she would walk out the door. He should have been used to it by now, but for some reason, he wasn’t.

He sighed heavily and sank further into his seat, his left hand reaching over the arm of the chair and pulling the lever attached to the side of it as the panel below his feet flung upward. He gazed bemusedly at the clock on the wall, before mentally preparing for a boring evening alone.


“So...is everything alright at home?”

Casey blinked towards her boyfriend, who was shooting her a thoughtful, but curious gaze from the driver’s seat of the car. They’d just packed up their picnic dinner, and were preparing to head to the theater for an evening film, and she could tell something had been on Max’s mind - like he’d wanted to ask her something or talk to her about something the entire time. She gave him a bit of a smile, but her gaze went to rest on her hands, which were clasped and lying in her lap. “They’re fine, yeah.” she stated, pausing for a brief second, “Why do you ask?”

Max tilted his head slightly, “You’ve just seemed kind of distracted this evening is all.” he stated, turning the key in the ignition and waiting for the car to whirr to life. “Was wondering if Derek was giving you shit again.”

Casey felt her hands tightening around one another ever so slightly, and she felt a lump forming in her throat. She hated when Max brought Derek up, almost as much as she hated it when Derek brought Max up. She just never knew what to say. It was like being caught between a cobra and a mongoose most of the time. While Derek definitely had more issues with Max for whatever reason, her boyfriend also hated the way Derek could make her feel sometimes.

Granted, she’d vented to him on numerous occasions about some of her stressful nights at home, and so he was well aware that Derek could wind her up into emotional messes, and seemingly fairly easily as well.

She’d never even really attempted to tell him that while Derek could make her extremely miserable at times, he was also a very necessary part of her life.

But that’s probably because somewhere deep down, she felt he’d never be able to understand that.

She let out a slight exhale, pressing her lips together while gazing towards him, her hands unclasping as she used her left one to reach out for his right, which was resting on the gear shift. It was only after he allowed his free hand to be pulled into both of hers, once again resting in her lap, that she managed to address what’d been lingering in the back of her mind, “Max?”

“What?” he responded, his eyes on the road as he pulled into an intersection.

She gazed thoughtfully at his hand resting between both of hers, “You do know that I don’t actually hate him, right?”

Max managed to steal a slight gaze at her, and Casey felt as if his expression held a layer of disbelief towards her. “Not that you’ve ever really given me a reason to think that you don’t, but,” he started, turning his free hand now to grasp one of hers more firmly, “I get it. He’s your brother.”

Step brother.” Casey corrected, almost instantly.

That was one thing that both Derek and Casey were very adamant about. No one was ever allowed to misunderstand what relation they actually were.

Max was no stranger to the correction. He nodded slightly, knowingly, “Right, sorry.” he acknowledged, before continuing, “I guess it’d probably also be pretty out of character for you to truly hate anybody.”

Casey contemplated his words, but she didn’t necessarily disagree. While she could get frustrated and agitated at people from time to time - and Derek daily - hatred wasn’t an emotion she was familiar with at all. “I only bring it up because he saw your message on the computer.”

Max blinked towards her briefly, a ponder-some look on his face, but quickly diverted his eyes back to the road rather fast, as she continued with what she was saying.

Casey’s tone had lowered just a bit, into that reserved indifference she could sometimes have when she couldn’t make up her mind whether she was annoyed or not, “He didn’t actually say it bothered him, but I could tell.” she stated, before Max felt her fingers run over the top of his hand, “You already weren’t his favorite person, and that really didn’t help.”

“Oh? I wasn’t aware I was trying to get on his good side in the first place.” Max replied, in an almost teasing tone, but Casey had never found this ridiculous resentment between them to be any sort of funny at all.

And really, when it all came down to it, she knew Max would probably set aside his differences with Derek if it would give her any kind of peace of mind.

Derek on the other hand? He’d probably have to be killed first.

When Max heard her sigh, he gave her hand a slight squeeze. “Hey, relax, I’m sorry.” he said sincerely, gripping her hand and bobbing it a couple of times on her knee.

“Just, next time maybe call me, instead of sending me messages that Derek will definitely be able to access seeing as he has no respect for my privacy anymore.” she stated, taking a breath as if a weight had been lifted off of her. She smiled slightly, gazing at him, “Talk about out of character…” she paused for a second, now lifting her hand to poke his shoulder, “That was so strange, especially from you.”

Max shook his head subtly, as he pulled into the parking lot of the theater. The place was packed, and they’d both suspected it would be, seeing as it was a Saturday evening. “Well, seeing as I haven’t messaged you for months, I can’t even begin to remember what you’re talking about,” he started, pulling the keys out of the ignition, as he turned towards his girlfriend once more, leaning over the center console as he lifted her hand as if to cradle it. “But sure, I agree.”

He leaned in to kiss her, but she pulled back slightly as his words registered. She shook her head a bit, “Wait so, you weren’t on messenger yesterday?”

Max seemed to chuckle a little bit, and his expression almost seemed surprised that she was even suggesting such a thing, “Casey, I don’t even remember my username anymore.”

Casey blinked, studying his expression a bit, her hands resting on his forearms. Though he seemed to be semi-amused at the inclination, she felt like his tone resonated sincerity in what he was saying. She decided quickly she didn’t want to question him further about this. Nothing got under Max’s skin more than when his word was questioned. He’d grown up with an extended family member who had a knack for deception, and had sworn to never let the genetics of that particular branch of the tree poison him.

The one single time she’d seen Max extremely furious was when the football coach had doubted his defensive testimony over trashing a rival team’s locker room; as football players could be extremely rambunctious, especially when it came to “the big game”. He took a lot of pride in his position of quarterback, and wouldn’t do anything to jeopardize it; because one day he hoped to sail out of senior year on the back of a full scholarship, and the fact that the coach had questioned him at all had made him seriously consider quitting the team altogether.

“Casey?”

Casey hadn’t realized she’d been sliding down a thought spiral, but she’d made up her mind. Even if the whole thing still felt off. She blinked herself out of her daze, and smiled with a bit of a nod, “Okay, let’s go.” she stated, her hands leaving his arms as she turned to open up her door.

Max narrowed his eyes, as he watched her climb out, a few thoughts swirling in the back of his mind as well.


It was a little past 10 when Casey walked back through the front door at home. She slipped off her jacket and hung it, her eyes turning immediately at the sound of the TV, only to spot Derek as well, slumped still in the exact same spot and position as he had been when she’d left several hours earlier. She gave him a strange look, as he didn’t even bother looking up to acknowledge her.

She made her way to her spot on the couch and slid into it, turning slightly towards him as she perched her elbow on the arm of the couch. He still had that deep look of concentration in his eyes, though he didn’t look as upset as he had when she’d left. “Hello to you too, I guess.”

His head slowly turned to her, and he let out a yawn, looking rather tired, “Hello.” he stated simply, as he turned his head away once more.

“Really Derek? That’s all I get?” she questioned, pausing when he shrugged tiredly, before narrowing her eyes, “Have you even gotten up out of that chair since I left?”

“I mean, I got up to take a piss earlier.” Derek responded bemusedly, turning his eyes on her again, “Two, actually.”

Casey rolled her eyes. Typical.

She had been right about her initial consensus. His tone definitely indicated he wasn’t upset like earlier, however, she could still sense that he was being gruff towards her. Her eyes rested on him for a few moments, long after he’d already turned back to the TV, but he could always tell when she was doing this. When she let out a sigh, he rolled his eyes, “What?”

“Aren’t you even going to ask me how my evening was?” Casey replied with a question, her tone almost slightly pleading.

“Why would I do that?” Derek snarked, now deadpanning a stare at her, “I know that you know I don’t give a shit.”

Casey straightened her posture slightly, clearing her throat, “Well then, tell me about yours.”

Derek widened his eyes a bit - not in an exaggerated way - more of a slightly sarcastic way - as he lifted both his hands in the air and slapped them back down on the arms of the couch, “You’re looking at my evening.” he stated, his eyes glowering then once more. He slumped down and used his right hand to prop his head up, almost as if trying to block her from view as he sank his face onto his hand, “I know you know that, too.”

Casey was quickly becoming impatient with him. She knew he liked to punish her in all kinds of mental ways at any given time for any given thing. This time, however, there was an actual underlying problem that she probably should have made time to talk to him about earlier, even if it would have put a delay on her date night.

Derek did look mentally tired, and if he’d sat here all evening and tormented himself over the nonsense he’d read on her messenger; as much as it served him right for invading her privacy; she wanted to address it and get it out of the way, so that they could return to the more normal dysfunction they both felt more cozy in.

She sighed once more, and flopped her hands up and back down again, “Alright, Derek, maybe we should talk.”

Derek raised an eyebrow, giving her a sideways gaze, “I’d rather not.”

It was true. While they had all sorts of forms of communications, Derek rarely wanted to engage in anything that held any kind of “serious” context to it.

Casey shrugged sarcastically, “So what are you going to do then? Torture yourself all weekend?”

“Pfft.” Derek remarked with a huff, “You really think you’re in my head that much?”

Derek, of course, was bluffing. He would never admit it to the girl sitting next to him, nor to anyone else, that she did in fact, occupy a great deal of his thought capacity every day.

“You know, this is part of the reason you shouldn’t be dating such a pompous jackass in the first place.” Derek continued, his tone harrowing more with each second he wasted his breath talking about the one Casey claimed as her boyfriend, “His ego has rubbed off on you to the point where you think you’re that important and special.”

Casey’s jaw dropped slightly, but instead of firing back at him like she felt, she squeezed her eyes shut in frustration instead. This was part of the game, she knew it well. But she hadn’t started this conversation to argue with him. She’d simply wanted to clear up a mistruth she was certain Derek had been reeling over the majority of the day. She opened her eyes back up and sharpened them towards him, “Can we please leave Max out of this conversation for two seconds.” she stated more so than asked.

Derek turned on her quick, now mirroring her narrowed eyes and sharp gaze, “What the fuck for?” he spat venomously, sitting up straighter in his seat. Now he was ready for war, “He’s the whole reason why this day - no, the entirety of the school year has been such utter shit in the first place.”

Casey shook her head slightly, her expression one of disbelief, “That’s not true!” she argued, her voice heightened, “You know, you haven’t even bothered trying to be nice to him - “

Derek cut her off, only interested in her initial statement, as he was ready to lay all of her shit out into the open over the ridiculousness it had been, “It’s not true?? Really.” he folded his arms over the edge of his chair as he leaned into her, peering into her eyes as if he could see her soul. “So it’s not true that you spend more time at the school - at his games and practices; at cheerleading practice, and at pep rallies then you do with anyone here or any of your friends anymore?” he questioned, in a tone that held such conviction, Casey instantly felt guilty for it, “How many times have you hung out with Emily after school since you started dating him? How much time have you spent with Lizzie, or your mom?” Derek continued with his drilling, “You went from a handful of people that actually care about you, to a hundred friends who only give a shit that you suddenly have a social status. You spend more time in front of your mirror than you do on your homework, Casey.” he tilted his head to the side, “You wear shit that the majority population of the school know as “the slutty popular” girl look.” he emphasized, using air quotes with his hands, “But you wouldn’t know that, because all you care about is him.”

Casey felt blow after verbal blow hitting her like bricks. She felt her eyes starting to burn; but even if what he was saying held the truth, that didn’t mean she wanted to acknowledge it as such. Not because she was incapable of realizing mistakes when she made them, nor facing hard truths when she needed to; but because in the whirlwind that the school year had been for her so far, she’d barely felt like she’d been breathing, let alone take time to realize so many things could have changed.

And that was the keyword as well. “Could”.

Because she was talking to Derek here.

While she had no doubt she meant something real to him, just as he did to her, he always found ways to make her feel like the things she did or said were so much more harrowing and disastrous than they actually were. Perhaps she could get an outside perspective. Maybe she should ask Emily if she’d changed as much as Derek was sitting here implying.

But even if there were elements of truth to what he was saying, it didn’t mean it didn’t hurt.

And she hated the fact that he was so capable of doing this to her.

She felt defeated, and quite mentally winded by his statement, but she needed to see this conversation through. Even if he was the biggest jerk in her existence.

She wasn’t going to ever be able to convince him that Max wasn’t the only person she ever thought about, and so there was no point in her responding to his rant. She turned away from him slightly and sank further back into the couch with a sigh, “Well, I brought up the messages and he seemed like he didn’t know what I was talking about.” she murmured, shifting the subject. “Said he couldn’t even remember his username.”

Derek usually wouldn’t let her get away with changing the topic like that, but this time, he relented. Afterall, the entire reason why this day had gone so far south was because of the damn messages in the first place. Her personality changing since she’d started dating that dull lug of a human being was an issue - at least for him - but it hadn’t been something he’d actively been searching for a way to bring up. He’d only done so because he’d had the window of opportunity. He was definitely more interested in this messenger crap that had started yesterday afternoon. At least for now.

He raised an eyebrow as he turned towards her slightly, “Do you believe him?”

She mirrored his posture, “Why wouldn’t I?”

“Doesn’t it seem like bullshit that he can’t remember his username and you got messaged by someone with a username you’ve never seen before?” he shrugged slightly, turning and resting his folded arms over his chest, “He probably made a new one.”

Casey found herself narrowing her gaze at him once more, though her tone remained fairly reserved, “I think you just want an excuse to blame him.”

Derek sighed, “Don’t be stupid about this.”

“Well what if it’s not him though, Derek?”

“Well then it’s some other dumbass at school that I’m going to have to pound the shit out of on Monday.” Derek fired back, matter of factly, as he sarcastically made a gesture in the air with one of his arms, “I’m just trying to tell you not to ignore the blatant coincidence of it.”

“Fine!” she replied, but she hadn’t truly raised her voice towards him. It was more of a frustrated waving of a white flag tone, “I won’t.”

A few moments of silence fell between them, both of them reeling from various things. Their exchanges, the messages, and the bigger elephant that was still very present in the room.

Casey couldn’t help but feel this was just all way too heavy for two high school teenagers on a Saturday night when they had the house to themselves. In fact, that thought would often cross her mind. Why was everything so serious for her? She was a junior. She should be having fun.

Instead she was facing life as if she were an adult with more crises than a soap opera, and on the rare occasions when she thought about it in this context, it all seemed so ridiculous. She waited another few seconds before turning to her step brother once more, “Let’s play Scrabble.”

Derek rolled his eyes, even if at this point, it did sound slightly appealing. He’d been in his head all day about so many things, there was no doubt the board game would probably ease his suffering. Still, he didn’t bother looking at her, “No.”

“Oh, come on!” Casey nearly flung herself off the couch. However, she had only simply bounced her legs underneath her, now in a crouching position in the corner of the sofa as she reached over and placed her hands on the arm of Derek’s chair, “We haven’t played in so long!”

“And whose fault is that?” Derek questioned, side eyeing her now, but still looking as unamused as ever in expression.

Casey pressed her lips together, but Derek heard her hands sliding along the arm of the couch. They inched closer to him until they rested on his right bicep. “Please?”

Derek eyed the positioning of her hands warily. It pissed him off to no end that she could win him over in these stupid yet simple ways. He unfolded his arms and gripped the edges of his seat, deadpanning a gaze at her for only a split second. If he stared at her for too long, he’d get lost, and he didn’t want that right now. “For fuck’s sakes, Casey.” he snarked, before heaving himself up off of the chair.

Casey clapped a couple of times, looking up at him with excitement as she stood from the couch. She reached forward and grasped at his arm again, “Okay I’ll go get the game.”

“Whatever.” Derek remarked passively, turning to watch the girl scamper up the stairs.

It was kind of cute. The way that the smallest things could excite her. And it was in these moments that a glimmer of the old Casey sometimes still revealed herself. He found himself slightly smiling as he watched her disappear upstairs, before turning to the kitchen to retrieve something to drink before the game commenced.

Casey smiled to herself as she walked along the 2nd floor hallway. She’d decided to drop her purse off in her room before visiting the games closet, and her joy over playing a game of Scrabble with Derek was short-lived when she saw her computer screen flashing.

She sighed, staring at the screen as she walked in and tossed her purse on her bed, before making her way to the lit up rectangle of pixels. She knew it was too much to ask it to be Emily or Kendra, and sure enough, CanusRufius was the name that came into view the closer she got.

Figuring she had a few minutes before Derek would come look for her, she pulled out her chair and sat down to read it. She just needed to end this now. She didn’t want to go through a repeat of today, where the tension in the house was so thick it could be cut, and these messages had been the prime reason for it in the first place.

You call what you and that guy you call your boyfriend went on a date? Dinner on a blanket in a park hardly seems entertaining. I didn’t even see him offer you his jacket.

She closed her eyes and pressed her hand to her forehead, drooping it ever so slightly as she felt that twinge of uncomfortable nerves resonating somewhere within her stomach.

She didn’t know why she felt nervous, she just was.

This person, whoever it was, had clearly been watching her again, and the way they’d referred to Max?
It was all too familiar but with oddities.

While Derek rarely ever addressed Max as “Max”, he would never be so simplistic to just call him “that guy you call your boyfriend” either. No, there would have been far more insulting words used.

Please stop messaging me. It’s not funny.

Yet you laid on that blanket and laughed with the football guy for hours. Why should you get to have all the fun but not me?

What you’re doing is an invasion of privacy. Don’t you have anything better to do? It’s the weekend.

All the better to watch you during, my dear.

Casey blinked a few times, and the hair on her arms began to stand up. Where had she heard that before? It felt familiar, but she couldn’t quite place it. Her eyes rested on the screen, as she reread the sentence over and over again. Every time she read it, she felt more uncomfortable.

She rested her fingertips on the keyboard once more, but was suddenly conflicted with whether she should even continue responding at all. It didn’t seem to do any good.
Reading the line once more, she reached up and turned off the power to her monitor. She didn’t want to look at it anymore.

She took a few seconds to compose herself. Sitting in her dark, quiet bedroom, with only the glow of the street lamps outside filtering through her closed blinds, she heard the faint barks of the neighbor’s dog cutting through the silence.

Her eyes scanned over the dark bedroom, slowly adjusting as their gaze went from the window, to the bed, to the vanity, then the closet door. It was slightly cracked, but only darkness peered back at her from inside of it.

As she sat still, and focused, her eyes narrowing slightly more with each passing second, as if attempting to conquer the dark that lay within the crack of the closet door, her concentration faltered, and her imagination decided to have a go at her.

It was as if the closet itself had exhaled. Ever so subtly, ever so quietly. Just loud enough for her to hear.

She gripped the edge of her computer chair as she slowly turned herself. She’d never been the type to get carried away too far into her imagination. Sure, she could be dramatic about things. Sometimes she exaggerated. But she had always had a healthy dose of logic coursing through her veins.

She hadn’t been the type of little girl who grew up scared of the monster under her bed.

And maybe that was why she felt so crippled with such an uncomfortable sensation now. Because it was her first time experiencing it. She didn’t know how to make sense of it, to understand it.

She wasn’t going to start now. At 17. There was no excuse for it.

So she took a deep breath, and stood up from the chair, walking towards her closet door carefully.

Of course there was nothing on the other side of it.

Nothing real, anyway.

But her footsteps still felt heavy none-the-less.

As she drew closer, she couldn’t ignore the pounding of her heart, that seemed so loud it could wake the dead, and when she reached out and eased her closet door open a little wider, the creaking sound it made almost caused her to jump.

Now she just felt annoyed. She’d been asking George to fix her door for weeks, and yet he still hadn’t so much as even looked at it probably. She knew he was busy, but how hard and time consuming was it to fix a closet door?

Rolling her eyes, she reached forward now, confidently into the dark closet, and gripped the pull string dangling within it. She gave it a tug, and within milliseconds, it was illuminated.

And there was nothing there. She knew there wouldn’t be.

But she still felt as if she’d overcome something. Something she’d probably never figure out.

The door to her bedroom swung open with a start, noisy and unrestrained, with the sound as if it’d been kicked open - because it probably had.

She jumped slightly again, and glowered her gaze as Derek popped his head around the door.

“Are you serious?” Derek questioned her, holding out a hand as if to ask ‘what the hell’.

Casey sighed, nodding slightly, “I know, I know, I’m sorry.” she stated, trudging towards the door.

“I will never be able to make sense of this.” Derek snarked, turning on his heel to head back down the hallway, as she followed along after him. He turned on her, “You owe me. I literally had to move the table by myself because your slow ass was doing god knows what.”

Casey felt clever all of a sudden, though she knew she was probably going to get herself into an argument she couldn’t win. She smiled slightly as she gazed at him, “Gee, Derek.” she started in her teasing tone that already had him shooting her a warning glare, “I wasn’t aware that moving a rinky dink coffee table was such an undertaking for you.”

He glared at her, stopping at the edge of the games closet to watch as she opened up the door and walked inside to retrieve the game of Scrabble. He leaned against the door frame as she searched for it, knowing that if he left her to her own vices she’d find a way to spend a whole 30 minutes in there somehow.

But thankfully, it only took her a moment or so to locate the game.

“The parental units called while you were out today.” Derek stated, peeking into the door of the closet as he watched her fumbling to reach the elusive game which had been buried under a stack of others, on the top shelf. “Forgot to mention that earlier.”

“Oh!” Casey almost exclaimed, her tone perking up instantly at this news as she turned over her shoulder to look at him, “How are they? Are they having any fun yet?”

Derek huffed, “It’s business. How could they?” he watched Casey frown slightly and turn away from him once more, resuming her struggle to reach the game on the shelf. She managed to get her hand around the correct box, but there were four others on top of it. This was going to end up a disaster, and Derek began a mental battle over whether he should just stand back and enjoy it, or actually lend her a hand. He decided to think it over. “They did mention Edwin attempted to sneak out of the hotel, though.”

Casey once again snapped her head over her shoulder to gaze at him, though she kept her hand on the box, “What?”

“Yeah,” Derek continued, losing that inner battle with himself. She was probably going to hurt herself if he allowed this to continue, and though he wasn’t a whole lot taller than her, he was tall enough. He nodded as he stepped forward, “Apparently he was hungry, but it was after midnight and in his attempt to be sneaky he ran into a bellhop and caused him to not only drop all the luggage he was carrying, but fall down a flight of stairs.”

“Jesus, Derek.” Casey remarked, allowing herself to be moved to the side as Derek stepped in front of her. She frowned, “Is he okay?”

“Edwin is a Venturi. Of course he’s okay.” Derek replied, and Casey rolled her eyes as she watched him reach up with seeming ease and pull the game from the shelf, sliding it carefully so as not to spill the boxes on top of it.

“I meant the bellhop…” Casey replied with some reserved sarcasm.

Derek turned and shoved the Scrabble box into her hands before shrugging, “The hell should I know? I didn’t ask.”

He walked from the closet, Casey trailing behind him as she propped the box on her hip and they made their way towards the stairs, “Of course you didn’t.” she stated, before adding, “How much trouble did Edwin get in?”

“Well, they said they were going to ground him, but after Lizzie chewed him out they felt sorry for him.”

Casey smiled a bit. Just as Derek always felt proud for teaching Edwin to follow in his footsteps, it was nice to know that Lizzie seemed to follow somewhat in hers as well. The Venturi boys needed to be reminded, almost consistently it seemed, that they couldn’t just do whatever they felt all the time. They could both be such complete chaos sometimes.

Derek had noted the look on her face and huffed as they rounded the corner at the top of the stairs. “Just so you know, it’s complete bullshit that Edwin and I have to suffer for trying to have any kind of fun.” he scoffed, trudging downward, “The fact that you get your panties in a bunch if I even breath in the direction of what you deem as unfit behavior is enough to drive a person insane, and now you’ve polluted your sister as well.”

Casey’s mouth opened slightly, offended by his lack of ability to see it for what it actually was, and she glared towards him, “Excuse me?” she almost gasped, “You should both be thanking us. You’d be in so much more trouble all of the time if it weren’t for my panties!”

Derek raised an eyebrow, peeking at her from over his shoulder and wondering if she’d truly even realized what she’d said, all in an attempt to defend herself.

She huffed a couple of times, “Edwin avoided a grounding! If anything, he should be worshipping the ground Lizzie walks on right now.”

Derek tilted his head slightly, as they touched down on the bottom of the stairs, “Eh, I think he’d probably prefer the grounding.”

Casey scoffed towards him, but left it there as she followed Derek into the living room. He’d moved the coffee table out of the way so that they could sit on the floor and play in front of the couch. She grabbed a pillow from the couch to sit on and placed the box down as Derek sat down across from her.

All the better to watch you during, my dear.

The words flickered in her mind, almost like a poem. It felt and seemed so unsettling, and she shifted uncomfortably, as she frowned towards the game pieces that were being dumped into a pile on the middle of the game board.

Silently, she reached forward and began claiming some of the small wooden squares, but she could feel the uneasiness of the situation looming in her mind like there was some sort of dark cloud hovering just over her shoulder.

The sounds of the wooden pieces suddenly felt so far away, and in the sensation of it all, she could hear the quiet, shrill exhale that her closet had seemed to take earlier.

She didn’t realize Derek had been trying to get her attention. Nor did she realize she jumped slightly when he snapped his finger close to her ear.

She blinked a couple of times, looking over at him, now alert, “What?”

Derek narrowed his gaze slightly, “You alright?”

She could tell him what was on her mind. His question had felt genuine enough. But she’d already decided earlier to be done with all of this. She’d told whoever was on messenger to leave her alone, so what more could need to be discussed or done concerning it? It wasn’t worth the time spent arguing about it with Derek, even if it was still bothering her.

“I’m fine.” she responded, finally, before putting on a haughty expression, as she finished sorting the last of her wooden letters, “Prepare to lose at Scrabble, Venturi.”

Derek half grunted, half huffed in response to her. It was always amusing to him that she ever thought she could beat him at anything, and if it weren’t for her adorable attempt at having any kind of competitive spirit towards him, he wouldn’t have let her off so easy. Because he’d spent a lot of time looking at her. And there was still something bothering her. It was written all over her face.

She’d always been a terrible liar as well.

Nevertheless, the game began, and by the time it was over, the two of them had both secretly decided that they’d had a good time.

Derek pondered down the hallway to put the game back in the closet, and Casey watched him thoughtfully, standing at the doorway to her room.

She knew that if she wanted to salvage tomorrow, now was the moment she’d have to be upfront with Derek. She just didn’t know exactly what to say or how to say it. She’d never give him the satisfaction of knowing that he meant more than just a cog in her day that made it function, but she was also nothing like him in the mentality of letting something so cruel continue to be so bothersome to his inner being.

So, she waited, and as he drew near to her once more, heading for his bedroom as well, which was the next door over, she took in a breath. “Derek?”

“What?” he asked, continuing to walk past her, but stopping near his door as he turned his head to the side to look at her.

He looked so tired.

Casey seemed to fumble for a second, her hand pressing itself around the doorknob to her room as if it were going to be some form of support. God, why did this feel so hard? It wasn’t as if she were confessing she had feelings for him or something - she simply needed to let him know that what he’d read on messenger wasn’t true. So that maybe he could sleep better tonight. And her too.

Still, she had to be careful. If he felt as though not a single ounce of her resented him in any sense, his ego would grow to the size of the planet overnight. That absolutely could not happen. He was already far too full of himself for that.

“Um.” she started again, but upon making eye contact with him, and his expectant and slightly curious gaze peering back at her, along with a subtle head movement in her direction, as if he were attempting to urge what she was trying to say out of her, she suddenly felt something else in her stomach. Something else screaming at her to run while she could. She smiled ever so slightly, “Nothing, goodnight!” she attempted, giving him the briefest wave in history as she spun on her heel, hoping to make a quick retreat.

That didn’t work, however.

As she spun to shut the door, Derek reached up with a hand to halt it from going very far, and it didn’t take much strength for him to push it back open completely. “You’ve been acting ridiculous since Scrabble.” he stated, folding his arms and leaning against her door frame.

She shook her head slightly, “I haven’t…”

“Oh?” Derek questioned, his arms falling to his sides as he pretended to be amused suddenly with the structure of her doorway. He gazed upward for a second, before taking a step inside of her room, and Casey closed her eyes and took a step back from him.

They’d done this before.

Why is it that he was so capable of doing this kind of thing to her?

It was infuriating.

She held a hand up, as if that were going to stop him, but she knew he wouldn’t - unless she just decided to be up front altogether. “Alright fine, maybe I have.” she stated, and this did seem to get his attention a little better, “But that’s only because I don’t know how to tell you…”

Once again, he raised an eyebrow towards her, “Tell me what?”

She studied him for a second, hoping to gage whether or not he was going to continue backing her into a corner until he was satisfied. But he seemed to simply be interested in listening to her for now. So she sighed, slumping her shoulders very slightly. Whatever. She gazed at him, with a subtle shrug, “I don’t hate you, Derek.”

He blinked towards her, almost as if that was the last thing he expected to come out of her mouth. His very fleeting expression of slight relief and shock were over almost instantly, however, as he simply mumbled out an, “Okay.”

“I just…” Casey started again, clasping her hands together in front of her as she straightened out her posture a little bit again. “I wanted you to hear it from me.” she continued, then remembering that she didn’t need to go too far with it. She pointed towards him, “That doesn’t mean you don’t annoy me to the point I can’t see straight.”

Now Derek just looked pompous as her words continued to register the longer she kept the conversation going. He had tilted his head to the side, almost as if to indicate he wasn’t completely satisfied, but very well aware he’d won the war without even having to try at all.

Casey narrowed her eyes, “Sometimes I wish you’d just...go away for a while, so that I can breathe.” when he looked contemplative, her tone and gaze softened once again, “But…” she decided to finish strong, and even though she felt this situation, and whatever was between them was far more complicated than could be solved by this simple exchange, the point was this, “Hate is just...” she questioned again, and it felt even more strange now that she had repeated it for herself. She lifted her eyes to meet his once more, before shaking her head and giving him a reassuring type expression, “That word doesn’t fit into how I feel about you.”

Derek looked thoughtful, contemplative even, of her words. Normally he would challenge her to the highest degree, testing her every emotional limit for proof that what she said was true. It must have taken her a great deal of mental strength to say what she just had. Because even though she wasn’t as cold hearted as he could be - she still had her limits on just how far she was willing to go for him.

So he allowed himself to gaze at her for just a moment longer, and she looked almost nervous the longer he stood there. He finally pressed his lips together as well, offering her up a subtle smile, before turning on his heel and heading out the door. “Goodnight, Casey.” he called out to her.

A second later, she heard his door close, and she finally let out the breath she felt she’d been holding in for forever.

Chapter Text


The rest of the weekend had gone by all too quickly. Of course, there had only been one remaining day, but it had been peaceful and easy in comparison to the day prior. Derek had slept in pretty late, and Casey had managed to catch up on a lot of things at home; all the while never paying any attention to her computer at all.

Despite how refreshing the 2nd day of the weekend had been, however, they still both felt as if they’d missed out on something come Monday morning, when they both walked through the doors at school. It had just left so much more to be desired.

Casey had mentally decided to start fresh, regardless. Thoughts of what the weekend had entailed for her, and the boy who lived in the room next to her, weren’t going to continue bothering her the way they had been. She had fully embraced the idea that whoever had sent her those messages, would never be doing it again; because they had definitely just been someone from school, bored with nothing to do.

Besides, being paranoid and on the lookout in a sea full of students for anyone who might strike her as odd wasn’t going to be any kind of effective whatsoever. Casey had peculiar manners herself, and people who didn’t complete their homework on time were odd to her. There just wasn’t any point.

Derek however, had a completely different view on the matter. He had a full mental roster of names of people whom he was ready to threaten, should they so much as bother blinking more than once in the direction of his step-sister. Though obviously he knew he couldn’t very well shadow her the entire day. To think someone - though he still had that idiot jock in the forefront of his mind - had gotten such a kick over making her uncomfortable just wasn’t something that was okay with him.

But he had to be careful, and methodical with his tactics, because he had a reputation to protect.

Everyone knew he had a temper, and that if he was pissed off in just the right way, he had no qualms in confrontation; whether it be verbal or physical; but no one had truly seen him fly off the handle over Casey before, save for the “Klutzilla” phase; and Corey had gotten off easy.

He was so deep within his thoughts that as he made his way to his locker, the hustle and bustle of the school had pretty much phased into background noise. Not even so much as a “sup” was uttered to any of the people he passed by on his way there. Once arriving, he could hear Casey’s distinct voice from down the hall, talking to who he assumed was Emily or Kendra. He could pick her voice up out of anywhere, and he lingered a gaze over to where she stood. Thankfully, her locker wasn’t extremely far from his. It made it easier for him to keep an eye out for her, and she looked and seemed chipper enough.

“Hey man.”

Derek turned his gaze from the chattering girl down the hall, in the other direction, where his best friend was currently in the process of reaching out to wind the combination on his locker beside him.

“Sam.” Derek stated in reply, turning his attention back to the contents of his own locker. Which book did he need again? It was Monday, so… english? He shrugged slightly to himself, and grabbed his algebra book instead. It didn’t matter. He never paid that much attention to such things.

“How was your weekend?” Sam prompted, retrieving one of his notebooks as he shuffled his backpack off his shoulder and prepared to load it. “I know you said you and Casey were going to be home alone. Any good stories?”

Derek contemplated what exactly to fill his best friend in on. A lot had happened, but looking back now, it all just felt like a headache to even think about. Except for maybe the part where Casey had told him she didn’t hate him. That had certainly been a nice highlight. He gazed to his side, “It was actually pretty uneventful.” he told, deciding he wouldn’t be taking any notes in whatever classes he attended that day and opting to leave his single notebook in his locker. He closed the door and leaned his back against it, eyes still on Sam, though they really wanted to redirect elsewhere, “What about you?”

“Uneventful as well,” Sam started with a sigh, “Went out of town to my grandma’s.” he paused once more, shutting his locker door now as well as he zipped up his bag and slung it back over his shoulders, deadpanning a stare at the hockey captain next to him, “And yes, before you ask, the one with the farm.”

Derek smirked, and almost seemed to start quietly laughing. As he opened up his mouth to say something, however, Sam held up a hand.

“No, I did not churn any butter while I was there.” Sam interjected, slightly glaring, though it was all in some sense of sarcastic humor, “Or squeeze any cow tits.”

Derek simply nodded in response, but Sam could see he was holding back the incessant need to tease him somehow, so he decided to redirect the conversation entirely.

“Have you seen Ralph yet?” Sam’s eyes averted, scanning the hall briefly for any signs of the mentioned individual.

“Yeah, saw him on my way in.” Derek answered, his eyes narrowing slightly as they settled on the scene at Casey’s locker once more. A certain brown haired, jersey clad moron had now joined her side. Great. He huffed quietly, before blinking and turning completely toward his friend now, “Apparently he had conducted quite the orchestra on a row of lockers with his drumsticks,” he stated, recalling the brief image he’d managed to glance of his friend being surrounded by a few half-amused, half-bewildered students, and one very angry staff. He smirked slightly, “He’s definitely in the office right now.”

Sam shook his head slightly, but smiled as well, “Starting the week off strong, I guess.”

“As he does.” Derek replied, to the sound of the first bell ringing.

He and Sam shuffled into their first classroom, which, as it turned out, was geography - who knew - and took their seats. He exchanged a couple of greetings with some fellow classmates, and waited inevitably to hold back the urge to hurl when Casey walked through the door with her wax-figure of a boyfriend on her arm.

Luckily he could always count on Ralph for a good laugh, because as the pair and 1st place nominees for ‘cutest couple’ - unfortunately - were passing through the threshold of the classroom door, they were damn near mowed over by him in his attempt to make it into class before the tardy bell rang. He really couldn’t afford anymore trouble for one morning.

Casey gasped as she stumbled forward, probably only saved from face planting by Max’s strong arm of support next to her. She turned to glare at the offender, only to see that Ralph was hunched over, grasping his knees with his palms and seemingly catching his breath, as if he’d sprinted all the way there.

Ralph picked up his head, and when he was met with the harsher glare of the football team’s captain, he instantly held up both hands, “Sorry dude,” he then averted his eyes to Casey, “Sorry.”

Casey sighed. Derek’s friend was always a mess, “It’s fine, Ralph.”

She noted as her eyes gazed over the class that Derek was holding back the urge to completely lose his shit laughing, and she shot him a glare before sauntering over to her desk, which was unfortunately right in front of him.

It was so sad to her that besides Max, she didn’t share her first class of the day with any of the friends she had that would allow her any kind of peace of mind to concentrate. Emily, Kendra, or even Sheldon. While Kendra could definitely distract her, mostly by the constant tapping of her fingers on her cell phone’s keys as she’d spend the majority of class time texting or online shopping, it’s not like she directly would drag her into the fray. She and Emily would sometimes share a few whispers as well, but it was nothing like what would happen in this class.

She was surrounded by morons; i.e. the entire band of D-Rock; whom she almost constantly and consistently would have to snap at to leave herself and Max alone. Especially the lead guitarist.

However, despite all of that, she could usually salvage some form of active learning, because by now she’d become a sort of “pro” at keeping her mind focused on the school work, and not the idiot that sat behind her. Sam wasn't so bad on his own. But get him around Ralph and Derek and he turned into just another one of the rambunctious boys.

Still, as always, time passed as it should, and before Casey knew it, three classes had gone by and it was lunchtime.

She had an appointment with Paul, but always made the trek to her locker first, to drop off all of her things. She waved to a fellow classmate as she stopped at the tall, slender, metal compartment which held her things, and right as she opened the door, a piece of paper fluttered out and to the floor.

She smiled, filing her books into her locker before bending down to retrieve it.

Max often slipped her notes throughout the day, reminding her that she looked cute, or asking if she wanted to make plans; but as she unfolded the note and began to scan it over, the smile slowly began to disappear from her face. Her eyes adjusted to unease as her posture stiffened.

She read it over three times before lifting her eyes to gaze both directions down the close to desolate school hallway. The chatter of students in the lunchroom filtered in as background noise, but she still felt a bout of nerves settle into her stomach as she wrapped an arm around it.

Gazing at the note once more, she took a couple of shallow breaths and reached up to shut her locker door, before heading off down the hall.

Her appointment with Paul was much needed; but right now, there was only one person she wanted to see.

Derek sat with Sam and Ralph, laughing about one of the drummer's weekend experiences about being busted by his mom for being on a porn site when Casey flung her purse onto the table beside him. His laughter dissipated almost instantly as he turned his head to glance up at her. He was unamused at the expression on her face. Full on glare without even so much as a hello first, so he directed his gaze back down at the lunch tray in front of him, “What?”

Casey huffed, her body pumping full of nervous adrenaline as she folded her arms over her chest, her stare continuing to sharpen on her step-brother. “Derek, do you think this is funny?” she snapped, feeling zero patience as she watched him turn his eyes back up towards her again.

Derek shrugged slightly, “I mean, probably?” he then asked the bigger question however, because he was curious as to what could possibly have her so riled up only halfway through the day already, “But what exactly is it I’m supposed to be laughing at?”

Casey rolled her eyes as Sam watched with bewilderment, and Ralph’s gaze darted between the step-siblings while holding back the urge to laugh. The two of them were pure fire with one another and it was never not funny to him.

Casey slapped the piece of paper she’d received in her locker down onto the table, and he gave her a strange glance before scooting his tray to the side and picking it up to read it.

He scanned it over with his eyes, but appeared indifferent when he gazed back up at her. He could tell it’d made her feel uneasy, as she was tapping her foot and bobbing slightly in her stance.

He figured he’d better say something, anything to her, to help her feel a little bit more calm.

He sighed, scooting over on the bench and patting the spot beside him, motioning for her to sit down.

Sam watched the entire display with reserved amusement as he leaned up over the table slightly. What on earth would warrant Derek to invite his step-sister to sit with him at the lunch table? Casey looked conflicted over whether or not she wanted to sit down too, but after a few seconds, slid onto the bench beside Derek. “Dude, what’s going on?” he asked, gazing back and forth between the two of them.

“Yeah, don’t leave us in the dark, D.” Ralph piped in, mirroring Sam’s leaned up posture, as he too, had found this entire thing out of the ordinary already.

Derek shrugged, before sliding the piece of paper across the table.

Sam snatched it up almost instantly, unfolding it for himself while Ralph peered over his shoulder.

In the brief few seconds it took for them to read it for themselves; well; the brief 5 seconds for Ralph because when it came to reading anything, he could never be bothered; an argument also took place between Derek and Casey, solely with their eyes and expressions.

It was almost like an art, but they had perfected it.

Derek hadn’t even bothered asking permission from Casey if he could share it with the two across the table from them, it hadn’t seemed like that big of a deal, but maybe it made her uncomfortable enough that she hadn’t wanted them to see it.
And he could tell that discomfort was far outweighing her annoyance. As soon as she broke eye contact with him, her gaze began to wander out across the vast cafeteria. Derek hoped she at least felt a little better sitting next to him.

Derek grabbed his drink and took a sip before gazing back towards the two across the table with both eyebrows raised slightly, “So?”

“I don’t know man, I guess it’s strange.” Sam replied, folding the note back up and sliding it back in their direction. Casey turned her attention towards him as she retrieved it, and he peered over at her, “Do you recognize the handwriting?”

Casey shook her head slightly, tucking the note into her back pocket, “No…” she sighed, now clasping her hands together on top of the table as she straightened uncomfortably and turned her head to Derek again, lowering her tone to almost a whisper, as she leaned in slightly, “I thought this was only going to be a weekend prank.”

Derek could hear in her voice that she was trying to keep calm, but was mentally losing that grasp as he turned to her, “It’s probably nothing, Case.” he stated, calmly, “It’s a stupid note. Probably from your idiot boyfriend.” but he couldn’t help it, as he sat up straighter as well and peered out across the cafeteria. He swore to god when he found out who was pulling this shit…

Casey was shaking her head slightly, “This isn’t his -“

“Wait, what do you mean a “weekend prank”?” Sam questioned now, with more curiosity, his eyes landing on Casey once more.

Casey shifted uncomfortably, but before she could say anything, Ralph piped in.

“Hey, Casey,” he started, in a tone that was oddly serious, “Derek’s right, man. If it’s not your boy, this is just someone bored. Probably never been laid, and their handwriting is for shit...” he trailed off as he noted that what he said hadn’t seemed to help, and he straightened up and put on his more ‘Ralph’ like tone. “Not to mention they probably jerk off even more than I do.” he then contemplated his own words, and his jaw dropped slightly, looking confounded, “That’s impressive…

Derek blinked towards him incredulously, a twinge of confusion coming over his face, as Ralph had somehow managed to turn an attempt at comfort towards his step-sister into a conversation with himself.

When Ralph snapped himself out of it and noticed the expressions he was receiving from the entire table, he retracted slightly, “Sorry, just trying to lighten the mood.”

Sam shook his head slowly, but it’s direction was then turned to Casey, who was standing from the bench.

“No, Ralph, thanks for that.” Casey stated, attempting to deliver her words with sincerity towards the member of the band who never looked at life too seriously as she slung her purse over her shoulder and turned to walk away. “I need to go see Paul.”

“Casey, wait.” Derek said, grabbing a hold of her arm gently to halt her. He pulled her back a little closer as he lowered his tone once more. “You probably shouldn’t tell your shrink about this.”

Casey blinked towards him with slight confusion, “Why not? I tell him everything.”

Derek looked conflicted over how to respond as he shrugged just a bit, “Yeah, but this is different than one of your girly emotional problems.” he stated, watching as she narrowed her eyes at him. He could tell she wanted to argue, so for the sake of sparing the situation just for now, he quickly continued, “Right now this is still just a note.”

Casey’s look of discontentment only deepened towards him now, and he rolled his eyes as he pulled her back down now onto the bench completely, “Look, the point is not to blow this up into something it doesn’t need to be. Involving adults and other people can make situations messy…” he continued, narrowing his eyes at her, as he poked her arm with his finger, “And you’re a nightmare when you’re stressed out.”

Casey at this point felt annoyed over his irrational behavior, but he had a point about the stress. She hated it, and her days could be very awful for her and everyone else when it was at a heightened level. She flung her arms up slightly, “Okay so what do you want me to do about it then?”

“I don’t want you to do anything. I want you to let me handle it.” Derek responded simply, and the look of protest was on Casey’s face instantly.

She shook her head, “No, no,” she stood up from the bench again, “Absolutely not, Derek. I know all about how you like to solve problems.”

Derek sighed, but reached up to grab hold of her once more, “Look, if it makes you feel better, I won’t even ask anyone else about it.” he gazed towards Sam and Ralph across the table. “Not until I’ve had time to think about it.”

Upon looking at Casey, Ralph gave her a thumbs up.

Derek turned to her once more, “And no fighting.” he assured, before adding, “For now.” It was always safer to not make any promises.

Casey gazed downward for a moment at her lap, as if she was contemplating it. She sighed, but maybe Derek was right for now. It was just a note.

She gazed back towards him, “Fine, but…” she trailed off, leaning once more subtly in his direction, “Seriously Derek, don’t be stupid over all of this.” she ordered, knowing full well he probably wasn’t going to completely take her seriously, but maybe with a grain of salt, “Don’t start threatening people or getting into trouble, I mean it.”

Derek didn’t bother making eye contact with her. Again, he couldn’t guarantee anything. However, he knew he had to offer her something in return. “Yep, okay.” he stated, turning to passively gaze at her as he reached out and patted her on the side of her leg a couple of times, “Go see your shrink.”

Casey huffed towards him, narrowing her eyes, “He’s not a shrink.” she scoffed, as she turned to make her way out of the crowded cafeteria.

She felt bad, as she was leaving, seeing the confused looks on the faces of Emily, Max, Kendra, and Sheldon, who were chattering together at her usual table. She hadn’t had the chance to say hi to any of them - and they too knew she had sessions with Paul during lunch. She could only imagine the shock they felt seeing her now when they were under the impression they wouldn’t at all, and coming from Derek’s table no less.

But there was nothing she could do about that right now, so she simply waved towards them as she navigated the rest of the way out of the lunchroom.

As she paced herself down the hall towards the office, she couldn’t help but feel confused over whether she should be looking over her shoulder, or just letting the fact that she’d received the note roll off her shoulders, like Derek seemed to want her too.

She didn’t quite understand why he wanted her to keep it to herself for now, though she did get the part about him thinking she shouldn’t stress too much about it. She was grateful he seemed to want to help her with this. She knew nothing truly bad would happen with him around.

But then again, how could she assume anything bad would happen in the first place?

Why would she assume that?

Based only off of the nerves she felt around the situation?

Maybe. I mean, she was only human.

It was just a note. A...strange one, but a note none-the-less.

She shook it off mentally the best she could so that she could silently scan over the conversation she intended to have with Paul; the usual of course; juggling her busy schedule and channeling her stress, all the while keeping her sanity, and naturally, Derek and all that he entailed.

Her sessions were only ten to fifteen minutes usually, and it never seemed to make sense to her that she always had such a packed conversation primed to share with him and manage to get it all out everytime.

As she rounded the corner of the empty hallway, she impacted into something. She supposed that’s what happened when she walked with her head facing downward; a complication that usually always came when diving so deep into thought spirals that she forgot about most everything else around her.

“Oh my gosh, I’m sorry.” Casey instantly apologized, stumbling slightly as she felt a hand behind her shoulder. She lifted her eyes.

“It’s fine, Casey.” came the reply of Noel, as he gave her a slight pat on the arm.

They shared a glance for a moment, before Noel piped up again with a smile, “Guess you still live up to your old nickname sometimes, huh?” he prompted now in a slightly teasing manner as he bobbed on his heel a bit and leaned down a little to gaze at her.
He was a bit taller than she was, and he often did this when he’d run into her, “Klutzilla? Isn’t that it?”

“Oh…” Casey replied, averting her eyes as she felt a slight flush in her cheek. She let out a bit of a nervous laugh, “Yeah, thank goodness I’m not as bad as I…” she trailed off for a moment, frowning, as a strange thought plagued her, “Wait, that wasn’t funny, and...how did you know that? You weren’t even coming to this school when all of that was going on.”

Noel only deepened his smile towards her as he stood up straight once more, looking slightly bashful as well, “Sorry, I didn’t mean it like that…” he trailed off now, rubbing the back of his head with his hand as if embarrassed, “I just had heard…” he once again paused, and realized he was quickly losing out in this conversation by turning into a bumbling mess like some kind of lovestruck jackass. He sighed, before ceasing his befuddled and foolish act and gazing right at her again, all forms of nervous body movement having disappeared. He shrugged a bit, “I overheard someone talking about it in the hall once.” he aimed his gaze at his feet.

Casey attempted to return the smile. She felt a bit bad for him. There had always been something unresolved and unspoken between them, but there was no way to tell if it was ever going to see a solution. “Right, well…” she started, pointing past him slightly in an attempt to avoid any more awkwardness, “I should get going. I’m late.” she stated, moving beyond him as her slow footsteps turned into a quicker scurry in an instant.

Noel’s eyes followed her as she left, “Okay, see you around…” he called out after her, though he wasn’t sure she’d heard him. He watched her disappear around the doorway to the main office, before letting out a sigh, mentally kicking himself for acting like such an idiot, and turning to continue on to the lunchroom.


“I hope you don’t have any plans this evening.” Derek stated, as he walked into Casey’s room without knocking later that evening. “Because we both have some serious thinking to do.”

Casey blinked from where she laid on bed, her homework splayed out all over it, and watched as Derek pulled out her computer chair and sat down in it. He rolled up to the side of her bed as she moved into a sitting position. “You? Thinking?” she huffed slightly in an attempt to tease him, “Are you sure you want to risk straining yourself?” she quipped, as he sharpened a glare towards her, “I mean, I know how cranky you can get.”

Derek rolled his eyes, but frowned, “Yeah, how about you not try being a comedian.” he stated, clearly unamused at her witty attempt, “You sound even more senseless than when you’re trying to explain the angle of a circle.”

Casey tilted her head slightly, her eyes now narrowed as well, “Do you even know what you just said?”

“Don’t care.” Derek responded instantly, as he immediately reached up and shut the text book she’d been in the middle of reading.

“Hey!” Casey snapped, furrowing her brows as she reached forward to snatch the book before he could throw it off the bed completely. She glowered at him, “What’s this about anyway? Because Max always calls me after he gets out of practice, and that’s probably going to be any minute now.”

Derek tilted his head slightly in her direction, “Well you’ll have to ignore it. This is much more important.”

“What could be more important than Max?” Casey replied, before realizing that probably hadn’t been the smartest thing to say in front of Derek in particular.

He had narrowed his eyes at her, but there was some kind of amused expression playing on his features. He stared at her for a moment, hard, and it was only after she looked slightly uncomfortable that he continued, “You don’t want me to actually answer that, do you?”

“No.” Casey stated back, in a quieted tone.

From outside, they could hear their neighbor’s dog bark a couple of times.

To be honest, Derek had wanted to just laugh in her face over the ridiculousness of her prior statement. But seeing as he actually did have something important to talk to her about, he considered this encounter to be a business matter, not a circus, “We’re going to find your secret admirer.”

Casey frowned, slumping her posture slightly, “How are we supposed to do that?” she questioned, but even more confusing things came to mind, “How are we even sure this is what that is?” she shifted once more before continuing, “And even if it is, don’t they usually remain secret? Again, Derek, do you know what the word “secret” actually means? And - “

“Stop.” Derek halted her rant with just a slight raise of his voice. He sharpened his stare at her for a moment just to make sure she actually would stop, before easing his eyes and shifting in the chair, “At this point it doesn’t matter whether it is or isn’t, but it needs to stop, right?”

Casey sighed, seeming to contemplate this for a second, “I mean, yeah that’d be nice, but…” she paused again, thinking over what had happened that day at school. Online messaging had turned into a physical note, and so it was clear that what had happened wasn’t going to be limited to the weekend, but still...it just seemed kind of too much to waste the brain power pursuing something they weren’t even sure of, “You said yourself earlier that it’s not something to get stressed about. Why even bother with this?”

Derek pressed his lips together, scooting close enough that he could reach up and take both her shoulders, “Casey, Casey, Casey…” he whimsied gently, gazing into her, “I only said that because I didn’t want you to lose your shit in front of the entire cafeteria.” he then tilted his head into a shrug as his gaze averted somewhere to the side, “I mean, can you imagine what that would have looked like for my rep?”

Casey slumped her arms, the gentle grasp of his hands sliding away as it was now her turn to direct her gaze somewhere to the side. Derek and his stupid obsession with his reputation. Of course.

She should have known that even if on some level he was looking out for her too, he would always look out for himself first.

She shimmied her legs out from underneath her with a scoff as she moved into a crossed leg position, “It’s nice to know my discomfort is still only a side thought when it comes to your reputation, Derek.” she huffed, with a bit of subtle spite.

Derek widened his eyes a little bit, “That’s not true at all.” he retorted passively, as he spun in the computer chair to seemingly look for something on her desk, “Your discomfort is highly annoying to me, therefore it’s crucial I figure out how to make it stop so that I can think about more important things.” he retrieved a blank piece of paper from her printer feed and turned to her once more, shooting her a bit of a forced smile, “Hardly a side thought.”

Casey responded with a forced and unpleasant smile in return as he slapped the piece of paper down on top of the closed textbook in front of her. He retrieved her pencil from beside it and sat it down on the paper, “Okay, so, start making a list of everyone you know.”

Casey blinked towards him incredulously as he tilted himself back in the chair, folding his arms over his chest and propping his feet up on the corner of her bed.

After he failed to understand the gaze of disbelief and confusion on her face, and gestured towards her impatiently, she shook her head, “Are you kidding me, Derek?” she questioned boldly, her tone heightened over how he could treat this as a seemingly simple process, “Do you have any idea how long that would take?”

Derek gazed down at his watch, “Sorry, I wasn’t aware we didn’t have anything but time on our hands right now.” he tucked his arm back into his other, before adding, “And yeah, I’m well aware you’ve gained a decent social circle, but you’re still not that popular, princess.”

She decided to ignore his prior statement, seeing as what he’d said to her a couple days ago had still been on her mind quite a bit. The whole, “you’ve changed” rant, was definitely not something she wanted to get back into again, nor did she enjoy entertaining the fact that parts of it were true. She held out an arm, “What if it’s someone I don’t know?”

“Mm, it’s highly unlikely.” Derek responded, with a tone as if he just knew for a fact that was true. When she looked to argue again, he continued, “Just start with people you do know. If nothing comes out of it, then we can think bigger.”

She shook her head aimlessly a couple of times, before silently relenting and grabbing the pencil to start scribbling down names.

Derek watched her carefully. He obviously hadn’t been honest when he’d said her discomfort only annoyed him, and that was the reason for all of this. The truth was, he couldn’t wait to start trying to figure this out. If he had to beat everyone who ended up on the list senseless, he would, because ultimately, the fact that some shit for brains had made her uncomfortable at all with this nonsense to begin with warranted enough to be put on an actual hit list in his mind.

This was his Casey.

And at the end of it all, the person responsible for doing what they were doing was never going to forget it.

He’d make sure of it.

Little did he know, however, that they’d just begun a many hour long process. He’d only been giving her a sarcastic excuse, when he’d made the comment about having time on their hands; but they’d also been interrupted a couple of times.

One of those interruptions was a phone call from the parents.

George had gotten offered a great business deal that would boost his stats at the firm in many beneficial ways, but at the cost of his business trip having to be extended through the end of the next weekend as well. Nora of course, had been adamantly skeptical, arguing that she would happily come home if need be, but that would be a complicated process. George and Nora worked as a team to parent their hybridly diverse bundle of children, and if Nora came home with the kids, she’d be on her own with all five of them for an entire week.

Derek had reassured her it wasn’t that big of a deal, but it wasn’t until Casey had gotten on the phone and verbally confirmed that it would be okay as well that she agreed to it. To be honest, Casey hadn’t felt entirely comfortable being on the convincing side of the team in that conversation. She hated being away from her mom for such a prolonged period of time, but unlike Derek most days, could open up to the bigger picture that this was a great opportunity for not only George, but it would be beneficial to their family in the grander scheme of it all.

Nora had informed them that she’d wire some money, and had already taken care of calling the kids’ schools, but that she hoped the two of them could go by and pick up any make-up work they’d have waiting for them at the end of the week so they’d be able to start on it right away Sunday evening when they arrived home.

Though Derek himself thought it strange this arrangement had come up so suddenly, the benefit was that it gave him and Casey several more days of time to sort through this mess that had fallen on his step-sister’s shoulders.

Of course he’d still had to listen to Nora drone on and on about the various rules, “no parties, no skipping school, no this, no that…” and whatever other ridiculous excuse she could come up with to continue ranting into his ear.

It was during the part where she’d actually insinuated Derek would ever do something as reckless as going to a bar that his half-assed attempt at listening to her while staring at the ceiling as if praying to god to take him off the planet finally caused his eyes to widen and he whipped his head forward to pleadingly gaze at Casey. He covered the receiving end of the phone with his hand, “Okay, how the hell do I actually get out of this phone call?”

Casey simply shook her head slightly and offered him a shrug, but she couldn’t help but want to giggle at the look on his face.

Derek blinked towards her with a “thanks-for-nothing” scowl before devoting his focus back towards the voice coming over the phone, “You know what Nora? I - nooo, nope. You’re right.” he argued, and only hearing things coming from his end felt quite entertaining to Casey.

“Wait - who told you that?”

Derek narrowed his eyes, leaning into the phone, “Who??”

“I don’t even know anyone by that name, and I’m not familiar with that bar in particular,” he continued, now side gazing towards Casey, but didn’t actually make eye contact, “But have you heard of Hoppy’s?”

Casey frowned towards him, and she could tell by the tone in his voice that he was about to spin a story that wasn’t going to make her mom too happy.

“Yeah that’s the one. I have been there, you know.” he commented, now rocking in the chair slightly, “I was actually thinking about taking Casey with me after school tomorrow.”

Casey reached out and smacked his shoulder, but he ignored her, standing up from the chair as he idly walked towards one of her bedroom walls to gaze at the various dance themed posters and photos of her with Emily and Kendra.

“You know what you can get in abundance there even more so than the alcohol?”

Casey could just see the smirk on his face, even though he had his back turned.

“Big bikers with lots of sperm. And that’s - “

Derek instantly pulled the receiver away from his ear, not bothering to finish with his sentence, and Casey could hear her mom’s voice screaming from the other end. She might have even heard a curse word or two, which is something her mother rarely did.

“Holy shit, she might be worse than you.” Derek commented, still holding the phone away from his face, “I didn’t think it was possible.”

“Well you kind of deserve it.” Casey replied, now sharpening her gaze at him, “Where do you even come up with this crap?”

“Hey,” Derek began in defense of himself with a slight shrug, “It’s not my fault she’s this gullible.” he stated, before feeling suddenly offended as well, “And i’m the one who should be pissed off. What kind of person does she actually think I am if she believes I’d take you to a place like that? Let alone let some random biker get anywhere near your general vicinity?”

“I don’t know Derek, but you made this bed.” Casey replied, tilting her head to the side slightly as she directed her gaze back towards the list she was still in the process of constructing, “You have to lay in it.”

The 2nd interruption was when Derek decided he was going to call into work for the next couple days. Casey had tried to protest, but for once she was happy Derek didn’t really let her have a say in the situation.

“There’s no way I’m leaving you home by yourself right now.” he’d stated simply, shortly, and firmly. “And it’s not up for debate anyway.”

He’d walked from the room to make the phone call slightly more private, seeing as it was his boss and all, and Casey took this as a chance to go downstairs for a drink; feeling a warmth in her cheeks and a bit of a swirling in her stomach. She still didn’t understand what exactly it meant, and why it seemed to happen around Derek, but she never really had made time to think about it all that much. She supposed maybe he just always seemed to have a knack for catching her by surprise every now and then with some of the things he’d do or say.

Of course she’d protested when he said he was going to call in. But in all honesty, she didn’t want him to leave her right now either. Sitting alone in the house for four hours several different evenings?...the thought of it made her feel slightly unnerved.

And it wasn’t as if she’d never been home alone before, but things right now were different.

She hadn’t even thought about the fact that Derek had a few work shifts this week that would result in her isolation, but he had.

It was the little things like that sometimes.

As she made her way into the kitchen, she slipped her cell phone out of her back pocket. The sound of the neighbor’s dog was really the only thing she could hear amidst the silence of the house. Evening was settling in. It was eerily similar to those few moments she’d had in her room last night.

She gazed over to the window above the sink. The curtains were pulled closed.

In a way it made her feel so shut off from the outside.

Because if her mom were here, they’d definitely be open.

If her mom were here, this might not even be happening in the first place.

Resisting the urge to go down the rabbit hole of how much she missed her mom and sister, she finally gazed down at her phone. She’d texted Max earlier, when she’d slipped out to use the restroom, to let him know that she wouldn’t be able to meet up with him after he was finished with practice.

“Well, is something the matter? It’s not like you to cancel. We’ve never missed a hangout at the diner before.”

“Not really, I’m just working on something with Derek tonight. Feels like it might take a while. You should go on though. I’m sure the guys will still want you to be there, regardless if I come or not.”

He hadn’t responded again after that. He probably had felt pretty disappointed, seeing as he was right. She’d never missed out on one of the “diner hangouts” with the boys. She felt bad. Truly.

It’s not like she’d been lying, but she hadn’t exactly told him the truth, either. Or rather, she was just withholding. She really didn’t want to drag Max into what was going on. It felt like it might make things far more complicated than they had to be.

Another thing she’d noted Derek had probably been right about when he’d mentioned she shouldn’t talk to Paul about it.

And that’s probably why she hadn’t offered up much protest to him either, earlier that day when he’d strolled into her room to tell her they needed to do something, anything, about what was going on.

Because the sooner they could figure all of this out, the sooner it would be over with, and things could return to somewhat of a normalcy.

She hated thinking anything was out of hand in the first place. All she kept telling herself mentally were the things Derek had pointed out - “It’s just a note.”, and the more people that get involved, the more messy something can be.

But she had gotten the note. She had received those messages. So it wasn’t like there was nothing going on, either. It felt miserable, like being caught in a lull somewhere between ‘fine’ and ‘not fine’, and she didn’t like it a single bit.

She wasn’t supposed to let it upset her or stress her out, but it was still somewhat enough of an issue that it needed to be dealt with.

She took a breath, shaking her head as she exited her text message thread with Max and put her phone back into her pocket. As she did so, she felt the texture of the piece of paper she’d received earlier that day from her locker. Gazing down at the folded corner peeking out at her from the pocket, she slipped it out and unfolded it once more.

She gazed down at the bold, sharpie lettering.

See you soon, my dear.

Her initial thought had been that Derek was being a jerk, and trying to poke some fun with her. After all, he had been the only person at that time that knew about the messages she’d gotten over the computer. But as the day had continued, the part of that that hadn’t made sense was the inclusion of ‘my dear’.

Sure, he could have snuck in at any point and gotten on her computer again, just to see if anything had been happening. He could have read that other message - the one that had made her the most uncomfortable - the one that she knew from somewhere, but couldn’t quite put a finger on.

All the better to watch you during, my dear.

But she was almost certain that he wouldn’t have kept it to himself if he had. He would have wanted to ask her about it, or tease her over it, or rant because of it. He also probably would have started laughing at her the instant she’d confronted him about it in the lunchroom that day.

She refolded the note and slipped it back into her pocket alongside her phone again, before turning around towards the sink and bringing her hands to her face to rub her tired eyes. It wasn’t as though she were physically tired, she was just tired of thinking.
And now she had to decide whether or not she wanted water or green tea; while the barking of the neighbor’s dog continued to perforate the otherwise silent airwaves.

She pulled open the fridge door, just as she heard the sound of footsteps trudging down the stairs, and a few seconds later, she watched Derek slink into the room as if the events of the evening had winded the enthusiasm right out of his body.

“How was everything?” Casey questioned him, walking towards the kitchen island with her water bottle in hand as Derek brushed past her now to retrieve a drink of his own.

He shrugged as he pulled open the fridge door and peered down into it, “Eh, I managed to get off a couple nights, but that’s all I could swing.” He pulled a can of soda from the fridge before closing it and joining Casey at the island, “Which is fine because that’s all the time I’ll need anyway.”

“You think so?” Casey inquired, hopeful, as she watched him nod while taking a drink of his beverage at the same time.

“I’m still pretty certain it’s just some dumbass from school.” Derek replied, sitting the can down on the counter, though he kept his hand around it. He shrugged again slightly, “Like Ralph says,” he lifted his free hand and began holding up a finger for each point his friend had brought up earlier that day, “Never been laid, jacks off, and bored.”

Casey let out a sort of sad sounding “hm”, as she gazed up toward him, “When you put it that way, it seems kind of s-”

“Don’t feel sorry for the idiot.” Derek corrected, not even bothering to let her finish her sentence as he shot her a sideways glare. “They might be sad and bored, but that doesn’t make it okay for them to pull this kind of shit.”

“I know…” Casey then agreed quietly. It wasn’t that she necessarily felt sorry for this person. It was wrong - what they were doing. Invasion of privacy and the level of discomfort caused...absolutely it wasn’t okay. She just hated thinking of it from the perspective of it probably being another person, just like them, who lived their life through a completely different lens somehow. Whether it was their own fault or circumstantial, or whatnot.

The two of them fell quiet, and once more the wails of the barking dog pierced through the silence.

Derek huffed a bit, taking another sip of his soda, “Emily’s cat must be in heat again.” he noted, nudging her a bit with his elbow, “Remember last year? The strays were all over the damn place and that dog barked relentlessly without taking a breath.” he scowled then as follow up, the reminder of being woken up out of a sleep for many nights in a row plaguing his thoughts at the event.

Casey nodded. She remembered it well too. It had been quite a season. The dog would just bark and bark and bark. The stray cats were everywhere. All over the yards, the roofs. George and Edwin had attempted to run them off on several occasions, especially after George had walked out the front door and tripped over one on an unfortunate morning. Derek had caught wind of the action too, and, being quite fed up with the relentless howling, had decided to take matters into his own hands, right alongside his hockey stick.

He hadn’t hurt any of them directly, but the loud clashing against every object he could find had caused them to avoid their yard pretty well afterwards.

But...new year, new season, new cats.

“Welp!” Derek’s voice startled her out of her thoughts as he gazed down at his watch, “There’s more to do, and time isn’t stopping for us, so,” he paused, only to put a hand on her back and escort her around the kitchen island back towards the stairs, “Move your ass.”

Casey frowned, slightly irritated that he’d startled her, as she took her forced steps and she did everything in her power not to trip up the first few stairs, “What happened to us not having “anything but time”?” she questioned with a bit of a huff, trying to get out ahead of his impatient hand on her back.

She heard him scoff in response, “Yeah well if it were up to you, you’d probably still be in the kitchen staring at the wall for whatever reason.”

Casey rolled her eyes as she rounded the top of the stairs, “You’re the one that was on the phone with mom for almost a half hour.” she snarked in reply, trudging down the hallway, an offended looking Derek right on her heels.

“You’re blaming me for that?” he paused at the doorway to motion towards himself in an exaggerated manner before resuming his path back towards her computer chair.

“I still can’t believe you hung up on her.” Casey continued, sitting her bottle of water down on the floor beside the bed as she scooted back onto it. “Do you have any idea what it means to be respectful?”

“She wasn’t respecting me either,” Derek quipped, plopping down in the chair as he huddled towards the foot of her bed once more. He leaned up and peered towards her, “and that means it was a fair solution to a miserable problem.”

Her scowl deepened towards him as he shot her a brief smirk, before turning his gaze down towards the paper as he reached for it, “It’s finished, right?”

“I think so.” Casey responded, a bit dejectedly as she slumped down on her side.

Derek leaned back in the chair, propping his feet up on her bed again as he read over the list of names. He recognized several of them for himself. He was very well acquainted with members of the cheerleading squad, and unfortunately, knew many members of the football team as well. He doubted many of them would cross the dumbass captain of the team, however, by harassing his - he mentally gagged - “girlfriend”; though he supposed, you could never be too sure.

A few others were parts of academic clubs and such, but as his eyes began to scan over some more familiar names - names a little closer to home - he leaned forward, placing the list flat on the bed to try and get Casey’s insight into some of it.

Afterall, the point of making the list in the first place was to hopefully narrow things down. There was just no chance in hell some of these people would do it. And it definitely wasn’t a collective effort across all of them, so this discussion needed to be more thorough. It was important.

“Alright, we need to try and do that process thing…” he trailed off, still half looking at the list, but also semi-confusing himself as well. After a couple of seconds, he looked up at Casey, looking extremely lost almost as he searched for the term in his head. “It’s like that thing where you delete things off a list.”

Casey couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “Really, Derek?” she questioned with a bit of sarcasm and disbelief, “You know all about how to look for and find a person, but can’t remember the term “process of elimination”?”

“Ah!” Derek quipped, the moment the words had left her mouth as he snapped a finger, and pointed it at her, “Yeah, that’s the one.”

Casey rolled her eyes, a slight smile playing on her face as she shook her head slightly and leaned in a little more to look at the names she had written down.

“So…” Derek wasted no time diving right in, “Trevor…?” he mentioned the first name that had puzzled him slightly.

She could feel his eyes gazing at her as she leaned up to look at him, “Yeah, you remember Trevor, don’t you?”

“I do, but,” he hesitated slightly, “If my memory serves me correctly, he transferred over a year ago.”

Casey shrugged a bit, “And he really liked Emily.”

“So he’s probably in the clear.” Derek responded, leaning forward to take the pencil that still laid on Casey’s bed as he ran a line through the name. As he did so, he murmured, “He was too cool to resort to a mind game like this anyway.”

Casey seemed to beam a little bit, and a bright smile came to her face, “He was really cool, wasn’t he?”

Derek’s gaze immediately glowered as he turned his head towards her. What the fuck did she look so giddy for? He motioned towards her with the pencil, “What is this?” he questioned, motioning towards the entirety of her body up and down.

“What?” Casey asked in response, frowning, as she didn’t understand what was happening all of a sudden.

“This.” he motioned at her again, “This bouncing around you’re doing with your body.”

Casey glared towards him, “What are you talking about? I wasn’t bouncing around or doing anything.”

“You were.” Derek argued, his tone laced with annoyance before turning his glare back toward the list. “Does the name Trevor excite you that much?”

Casey blinked towards him. Wow.

She huffed, “I wasn’t - “ she cut herself off, feeling rather frustrated, “I was just agreeing with you, you said he was cool and - “

“He wasn’t that cool.” Derek interjected, and Casey was quickly reminded just who she was sitting here with as she slumped back down again.

A few seconds later, Derek chimed back in again, all previous annoyances of his tone seemingly having left, “Oh, Tinker. That’s a good one.” he paused a moment to think about it, “Even if he’s a nerd, and probably doesn’t know what it means to flirt, he’s definitely never been laid.”

Casey sighed heavily, her eyes gazing over his shoulder, “Derek I don’t think we should be narrowing our list down based on Ralph’s logic.” When Derek turned to look at her once more, she scrunched her shoulders up lightly, tucking her hands under her legs,
“And don’t you think that’s just a little bit mean?” she motioned towards the list with one hand, “I mean, you have no idea what he does outside of school.”

“Yeah. And I don’t care, either.” Derek responded, with a very decided tone, “His crush on you is extremely obvious.”

It was true. Tinker had always shown a fondness for his step-sister. And he was mentally kicking himself, in a way. Because the amount of times he’d caught the guy staring at her in the hallway should have warranted a confrontation of some kind, far earlier than now.

Still, it wasn’t as if he could just walk around and threaten everyone who allowed their eyes to linger on Casey. Whether he wanted to or not.

His gaze travelled down the list to the next name, and once he read it, he blinked a couple of times before looking over at her.

She was already looking at him as if she’d prepared a defense. She folded her hands together between her legs, looking bashful as she scrunched her shoulders up again in a hug, “I thought you’d be upset if I left you out…”

“Okay.” Derek replied, contemplating this as he leaned up from the bed and teetered in the computer chair, “That’s a fair assumption to make.”

While Derek could understand this, he was curious, and felt like this could be a good opportunity to really feel out the situation from her perspective. She may have put him on there for a stab at humor, sure. But if there was any part of her that’d put him on this list for any other reasons, he wanted to know. He folded his arms and raised an eyebrow, “Do you think I belong on here?”

She shook her head slightly, but didn’t make eye contact with him, “No.”

He tilted his head. She didn’t seem so sure. Narrowing his gaze at her, he could see she’d gotten seemingly a little bit nervous as she rubbed her hands over her knees a couple of times. “I’m not mad about it, I just want to know why I really ended up there.”

She turned her head now subtly to the side, her motions with her hands continuing. She didn’t really know what he wanted from her exactly. She sighed quietly, “You told me to put everyone I know on there.” she stated, her voice quieter.

“You’re full of shit.” came his reply, and in a very impatient and Derek like fashion, he reached forward with a flash of movement and grasped her hands to halt her nervous rubbing.

She jumped slightly when she felt her hands being seized, but this actually was a refreshingly normal scenario with him; and with so many abnormal things having taken place these past few days, she didn’t mind it so much.

The neighbor’s dog barks filtered through the airwaves as a small and short lived silence passed through the room.

“Alright, look at me.” Derek ordered, and even though she hesitated slightly, she found herself unable to resist slowly turning her head in his direction.

Once he had her eyes on him, he peered up at her with the most sincerity he could manage, “Just say it.”

Casey gathered in a breath, a couple seconds later, letting it back out. It’s not like she really had any doubts about him in the first place. This boy that she shared her life and living space with. She’d never once felt truly scared of him. His type of intimidation was completely different. He could make her nervous sometimes, make her tremble. But something else usually accompanied that semi-healthy fear. And whatever it was, didn’t make her feel bad. It made her feel...excited, almost. Desired. Important.

These were moments that belonged to her, moments that she kept to herself. Moments that almost made her feel like she could leap off the nearest building and possibly take flight.

She kept them safe with her, and they were for no one else’s eyes to see, or ears to hear about.

They meant something to her. They always would.

But here, now, with his expectant gaze upon her; she knew she was going to have to give him something to work with. And that initial first thought she’d had when that note had fluttered out of her locker today was at the forefront.

She gazed downward a little bit, and let out another breath, “At first I thought that maybe...you had written that note today.”

Derek blinked towards her a couple of times. Well, he kind of knew that already, as her accusing tone when she’d slapped it on the table in front of him during lunch had indicated as such. But maybe his passive nature towards the entire thing hadn’t been enough to truly ease her mind about it, “Do you still think that?”

She lifted her head to gaze at him once more, almost too quickly, as she shook her head, “No, I really don’t.” she argued, “Not even a little.”

It was Derek’s turn to let out a quiet sigh, as he finally released her hands and leaned back in the chair once more. He shrugged a little, “Are you sure? I mean, maybe it was me.”

Casey furrowed her brows, not quite understanding what he was going for here, but she shook her head again none the less, “No, it couldn’t have been. I know it wasn’t.” she looked at him once more, her gaze more sincere and sure the more the thought of it occupied her mind.

“How?”

“Because it didn’t sound like you, Derek.”

She felt a little bit upset. Not necessarily at him, but at herself. She looked towards him once more. He didn’t seem in the least bit bothered by any of this, still with just a simple thoughtful gaze peering back at her; but she suddenly felt like she just needed him to believe her somehow. She shuffled from the middle of the bed to the end of it, her knees knocking into his as she reached over and put one of her hands on his legs, “The more times I read it, the more I knew.” she stated, and noted that his gaze had lingered down to where her hand was resting, “Even if you know everything about how this would work, even if you drive me out of my head, even if you make me feel so bad sometimes,” she paused, catching his eyes as they lifted again, “I know that you wouldn’t do this to me.”

Derek had to stop himself from staring at her like this for much longer. Once again his kryptonite was threatening to fatally wound him. As she reached forward and took the pencil from his hand, he blinked himself out of his thoughts and straightened up in his chair as he cleared his throat. He could hear her scribbling on the paper, no doubt taking his name off the list as he composed himself back to the frame of mind he wanted to be. He believed her.

If anything, he supposed he felt slightly winded by her sincerity towards him in that moment. She really trusted him just that much.

She extended the pencil back towards him and he took it, leaning up once again to the list as he cleared his throat for the second time. His name had in fact been crossed out.

“Okay, so…” Derek started once more, his eyes now detouring down to the next name as he mentally whisked away the last remaining remnants of the prior situation, “Next we have Sheldon.”

Derek tapped the end of the pencil on the surface of the paper as Casey straightened her posture, “I know that one is far-fetched.” she stated, now placing a hand on her forehead stressfully as she leaned into it, “Most of these are.”

Derek shrugged slightly as he looked back towards the paper, “I don’t know, I mean, he did act like he had a thing for you for a while.” He then blinked up at her, as he lifted his hands for some air quotes, “That whole “rivalry” thing you guys had going on for a while might have excited him.”

“He’s very happy with Emily, Derek.” Casey retorted, a very certain tone about her, “And they are constantly together.” she reminded, holding up an arm, “When would he have ever had the time to send those messages? Or even drop that note in my locker without Emily knowing or being right there with him?”

“You’d be surprised.” Derek responded, though he definitely leaned more towards the side of innocence on this one as well.

Casey shook her head with a frown, “It doesn’t feel right.”

Derek nodded a bit, drawing a line through the name, “I agree, it doesn’t.”

With a slight adjustment of posture from both of them, they moved on, and Casey found herself blinking towards her step-brother a bit, when he hung his head slightly and began to laugh at the next name on the list.

“Jesus…” Derek rasped out with continued chuckling, and Casey couldn’t help but note how adorable he sounded when his voice would get slightly squeaky as he laughed while attempting to speak. “Holy shit…”

As Derek moved back a bit to stifle more laughter, Casey’s eyes moved to the list to find out which name had rendered Derek so overtaken with humor.

She only needed to see the first letter of the name to understand, before turning to him, “Should I have just not bothered?”

“No,” Derek answered immediately, holding up a hand towards her in a “stop” motion, before shaking his head, “He definitely should be on here, it’s just…” he tried, now curling his hand into a fist as he held it over his mouth lightly. He blinked towards her, maximum amusement still in his eyes, “Can you just picture him sitting at his computer trying to come up with those messages?”

Casey instantly felt herself giggling a bit as well, as the image crossed over into her mind. “He’s definitely more of a comedy than a...well, anything serious, really.”

Derek let out a few more huffs of laughter, before tilting his head to the side, “Oh man…whew.” he cleared his throat, and just like that, the chuckles had died down and his composure had mostly returned, “I needed a good laugh.” he nodded his head towards the paper, before continuing, “Well, I mean, you tell me,” he stated, looking towards her once more, “I’ve never been hit on by Ralph before, but you certainly have.”

Casey frowned a bit, her gaze tilting towards the ceiling as she attempted to recall any of the times Ralph had in fact hit on her, “I don’t really think I have actually - “

“Believe me, you have. He’s just really bad at it.” Derek interjected, before presenting the next question with curiosity, “Has anything he’s ever said made you feel uncomfortable?”

She was surprised when she needed a few seconds to ponder the possibility. It’s not like she truly interacted with him all that much, but he was around fairly often since he was one of Derek’s better friends. Sure he was loud, and his form of humor could be pretty borderline when it came to crude and inappropriate. But he’d never directly been that way with her, nor towards her, so she shook her head as she gazed back down at him. “It hasn’t.”

“Alright.” Derek answered, turning back and making a line through his friend’s name, before lowering his gaze to another one. “Hm…” he let out, furrowing his brows as he felt suddenly thoughtful once more.

Casey peered over his shoulder, and immediately felt a bit sad, “I’m sorry, Derek.”

Derek motioned outwards with one of his hands, “For what?”

“For putting Sam on the list.”

“Why? His name has made more sense so far than anyone’s.” Derek responded pointedly, even if he initially hadn’t liked seeing that name there.

Casey felt rather shaken by his statement, as she narrowed her gaze at him. “What? How?” she questioned, feeling really caught off guard by this, “We have actually dated, how could he possibly - “

“For exactly that reason.” Derek interrupted, attempting to hide the slight hints of bitterness in his voice as he was forced to acknowledge the glaring truth of it all. He peered over his shoulder at her. Her expression looked so beyond conflicted, so it prompted him to continue, “Where’s the confusion coming from?”

“Everywhere, Derek!” Casey argued, her tone now raising some as her arms began to reflectively animate with her emotions as well, “Sam is far too kind for this kind of thing - “ she cut herself off as she continued to defend, “Did you see the look on his face today when he read the note?”

He sat up straighter now, ready to fully engage into this with her. She wanted to push, he could find so many ways to push harder. “What does his kindness or expressions have to do with anything?” When he noticed her shaking her head slightly, he pressed one of his fingers onto the top of the bed, “Casey, this is someone who was actually going to physically fight me, his best friend, all for the sake of going on a date with you.”

“Because of the code!” Casey continued pressing, gazing at him incredulously and silently wondering which part of this wasn’t connecting with him, “Not because he just wanted to go on the date that bad!”

Derek once again, however, pointed out the blatant flaw in her side of this, “You’re missing the point,” he interjected, now directing his finger over her shoulder, and towards a random wall, “Those kinds of details do not matter.” he then pointed toward her, and as she opened her mouth to continue defending from her side, he was faster, “It doesn’t matter what you think he was fighting for that day, which by the way, you’re very wrong about; the only thing that matters is that he was willing to do it in the first place.”

Casey’s open mouth pulled itself shut, even if she was still having a really hard time listening to him speak what she felt was complete and utter nonsense. Sam had never been anything but a complete sweetheart for as long as she’d known him. During the time they were dating briefly, she’d never once sensed any kind of malicious intent, nor did she feel it was even possible he had a deceptive bone in his body.

However, Derek would not relent from his side.

“I’d known him for years before you came into the picture, and we’d never once fought about anything the way we fought about you.” Derek continued, pointing his gaze into her even more sharply now, willing her, daring her to argue with him again on the subject. “Just like that.” he lifted his hand and snapped his finger, “He was willing to give up years of friendship just to go out with you.”

Casey let out almost what sounded like a sob, but it was really rather a very pitiful sounding exhale as she let her eyes drop to her lap.

Derek once again sat forward in the chair, “Obviously I wasn’t willing to lose him as a friend.” he stated now, in a more sincere but calm tone, “But there were a couple of times I seriously had considered it.”

Casey found that she couldn’t really argue over something she hadn’t even been a part of. Derek had known Sam for much longer than she, and it probably had been really difficult for him; though she’d never understand why he’d felt so strongly about it in the first place. They’d never had that talk. Sure, there was the whole concept of it being strange to have any kind of sibling date someone you knew far better than they did.

But with as adamant as they were about people remembering they were not related by blood, the whole thing had seemed to really get under Derek’s skin, in such an intense way, that it didn’t seem possible for that concept to be the only reason he had hated the idea of it so much.

They’d never really talked about it, and Casey wasn’t sure that even if she asked him, he’d be fully up front with her about it. It seemed like it was still painful to him, somehow.

And at the end of it all, she was happy that Derek had chosen to remain friends with Sam.

“Fine…” Casey finally relented, in a quiet tone as she shuffled back into her previously slumped position, “Why though, do you think he makes the most sense?”

She was genuinely curious about what his answer was going to be. She had to keep mentally reminding herself that he knew what he was talking about when it came to this situation, so much more than she probably ever would.

While this wasn’t a movie, and not all movie logic could apply, there had to be a decent reason for why Derek would be so willing to suspect one of the best friends he’d ever had. Just considering him at all must have been feeling difficult for him, so she wanted to hear him out.

“Because there’s always a chance he could want you back.” Derek responded, almost too passively, and in a slightly off sounding demeanor as he gazed aimlessly toward the list of names. His tone also seemed quite tired, as if just this last couple of minutes had been one of the most grueling conversations he’d ever had, “But there’s a lot of complication behind a hunch like that, and I don’t feel like getting into it, so.” he picked up the pencil once more, “Don’t worry about it, I’ll figure something out.”

Casey pressed her lips together, frowning slightly. She wanted to reach up and give his shoulder a comforting squeeze, but decided against it. She could sense Derek really wanted to move on at this point, and she wasn’t going to deny him the right to do so.

“Holy shit, another great one.” Derek murmured, his eyes having just read over the next name, “How the fuck did I forget about Noel?”

Casey shifted with another slight motion of discomfort. He was another name she hadn’t necessarily wanted to write on this list. Like Sam, Noel was a sweetheart. But she didn’t know him quite as well; and even during a time when they were talking more on and off, he kept so much to himself that it was hard to really get a read on him.

“Another one for the crush alert, too.” Derek continued, almost wanting to circle the name entirely. He felt something in his bones about this one. He fit the profile really well, actually. Quiet, passive, questionable behavior, lurker, a bit on the anti-social side.

He heard Casey let out a huff of disbelief, “He does not have a crush on me.”

“Are you actually that fucking blind?” Derek retorted almost instantly, turning on her yet again. For the amount of time he was having to spend turning to look at her because he couldn’t actually believe some of the shit that was coming out of her mouth, he’d probably been getting a fairly decent workout.

Casey shook her head slightly, “According to you, Derek, I don’t know anyone on this list like I think I do.” she claimed, and only felt more annoyed when he tilted his head as if to agree with her, “Noel is…” she trailed off, realizing what she was about to say wasn’t exactly the truth.

She was going to say, "Noel is a very good friend."

But...she didn’t know if she could necessarily claim him as such anymore. They’d spent a lot of time talking during sophomore year. They would chat about meaningless things and banter about the most random topics. They’d even landed in the school play together, which had initially caught Casey by surprise. Someone as soft spoken as him hadn’t struck her as the type that would be comfortable standing up in front of a crowd. She realized that day, that maybe she didn’t know him quite as well as she’d thought, but it hadn’t really made her second guess who he was, either. She still happily talked with him during lunch, and in class. And he was a thoughtful person. Always willing to listen no matter what she’d rant about, and they shared a lot in common when it came to certain interests. Like poetry, and reading, other various forms of literature, and...well...things she never really made time for anymore. Including ever taking the time to have decent conversations with him.

She felt a bit sad once more as she sighed, “Well, he...was a very good friend.” she corrected, before shrugging a little, “I mean, it’s not like I don’t ever see or talk to him, but, I definitely don’t make much of an effort to catch up with him anymore.”

She blinked a couple of times, inhaling a sharp breath as she looked towards the ceiling, her eyes burning. She dropped her gaze back to the boy beside her again, “God, I’ve turned into a horrible person, haven’t I?”

“Casey.” Derek stated in a bit of a warning tone, as he slapped one of his hands over hers, and though he was trying to hold that dominant gaze on her, he could see the glistening in her eyes, and was doing everything he could not to allow his fight-or-flight reflexes kick in. “Don’t go there right now, I - “ he cut himself off, but his tone was still very oppressive on her, as he took in another breath, and shook his head, and basically did anything but make eye contact with her, “That is something you need to save for later, seriously.” he told, patting the top of her hand a couple times, “Not in front of me.”

“Alright, alright.” Casey let out, exasperated, as she mentally willed the threatening wave of tears to bide their time. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean…” she sighed heavily, shaking her head, “Nevermind.”

“Look, if you need a minute then whatever, but let me get out of the fucking room first.” Derek instructed, with a bit of firmness and warning held in his tone towards the last part.

He hated that he couldn’t comfort her the way she probably needed to be, but he just couldn’t do the tears thing. He never had been able to. Thankfully, he knew he didn’t need to explain that part to her. She was very well aware of it, and had never asked him to overextend himself in any of her vulnerable moments.

“I’m alright, Derek.” Casey responded, and she looked well enough to be composing herself, that he trusted she meant it.

He decided to lighten the tone a little bit, or at least attempt to, “Do you remember those flowers you got after the school play last year?”

Casey looked to be searching for the memory for a moment, before recollecting it, and tapping him on the arm, “Yeah, I do actually!” she exclaimed, remembering the beautiful bouquet that had been sitting in her dressing room after curtain call. “I can’t believe Max was so shy about that.” she shrugged a bit, “I mean, they were just flowers.”

Derek smirked a bit, shaking his head. “He wasn’t being shy, Casey. They weren’t from him.”

Casey blinked towards him, frowning a bit, “What then? Did you send them?”

“HA!” Derek exclaimed almost instantly. Just the idea of something like that coming out of him was hilarious. “As if I’d ever.” he commented, now poking her leg with his finger, “They were from Noel.”

“What?” it was now Casey’s turn to raise her voice a decibel as she stared at him with disbelief. She gave him a bit of a frown, “How could you possibly know that? There wasn’t a note, and Max and I were already dating, why would it be Noel?”

“Well,” Derek began, letting out a sigh as he sat up straighter once more, “There wasn’t a note when you got there, but I’d already read it by the time Noel took it off the flowers.” he admitted.

Of course he’d read the note. Her privacy didn’t matter an ounce to him even then, and especially surrounding anyone who was showing interest in her.

“It was so lame, too, something about enjoying spending time rehearsing with you, and getting to know you better, and some other bullshit.” he rambled, circling his hand in the air as if it were the most dismissive thing he’d ever wasted his time reading.

In all actuality, he remembered exactly what the note had said.

To Casey

The greatest and sweetest co-star I could have asked for.
Spending everyday after school rehearsing with you has been some of the most fun I’ve had in awhile.
I’ve enjoyed getting to know you better, and I hope that we can continue deepening that bond.

Yours, Noel

He felt his stomach turning a bit. Blech.

“I can’t believe you read my note, Derek!” Casey snapped at him, jarring him from his invasive, and quickly becoming irritated thoughts, as she slapped him across the forearm and folded her arms over her chest in a huffy manner. Her tone turned into a pout, “Why didn’t he leave it…”

Derek rubbed the spot on his arm where she’d slapped him, even though it hadn’t even come close to hurting. “Probably because he found out that you and jockstrap were an item.” he scoffed, glowering at her attempts to be huffy and puffy over something that happened a year ago, “Did he even know you were talking to the jackass? Cause he looked like he’d had a ton of bricks dropped on him when you walked backstage with your arm around his.”

“I don’t know…” Casey murmured in response, “I mean, we always had so much else to talk about, and my relationship isn’t something I typically feel compelled to discuss with any of my other guy friends, unless they’re on the football or cheerleading team…”

“So it probably stung,” Derek emphasized, “When you walked around that corner.”

Casey narrowed her eyes at him, “Are you trying to make me feel bad again?”

Derek shook his head, “Not at all, it just damns him with another good reason for his name to be here.” he finished, and leaned back over to gaze at the list once more, leaving Casey to continue frowning towards herself.

No wonder Noel had started acting so odd and awkward. He was an odd and awkward individual anyway, but she’d felt it’d magnified for a while there. Things made more sense now, even if she didn’t like it.

Such a sweet gesture he’d made towards her that night, and she’d never even known until now.

Her thoughts were once again jarred with an outburst of laughter from Derek.

This time, he threw his head back slightly, as if to aim his laughter at the ceiling, “Your fucking shrink!” he announced, and it was as if saying it out loud made it even more hilarious.

“Derek!” she spat, furrowing her brows at him, “I wish you would stop calling him that, he is not a shrink!”

Derek looked at her incredulously, but continued to huff out some laughter, “Well what the hell do you call him?”

“He’s a guidance counselor…” Casey corrected, her tone trailing off slightly as Derek once again, erupted into a loud blast of laughter. She huffed, annoyed, “And you know what? You’re the biggest reason why he’s such a necessary part of my school week!”

Derek was doing his best to recover, as he gestured towards her, “Okay, okay, princess. Chill.” he cleared his throat and coughed out a few more laughs before continuing, though his tone still held quite a hefty dose of amusement. He finally decided to just bring the textbook to his lap, list on top of it as he propped his feet up once more. He let out a bit of a humored sigh, before tilting his head in a slight nod, “Well, he does know a lot about you probably, I’ll give it that.”

Casey couldn’t argue with that. It wasn’t like she was constantly full disclosure with Paul, but he’d definitely been let in on a lot over the past couple years.

“Fucking hell…” Derek was still semi-chuckling as he rested his face on one of his hands and peered towards her again, “Is he married?”

Casey blinked towards him, “I don’t know.” she commented, wondering what kind of relevance, if any, this had to the current conversation.

“So he’s never mentioned any kids or family…” he listed, watching as her expression seemed to not be able to register a recollection of it, “Nothing at all, huh?”

“No, but what does any of that matter?” Casey pondered in response. It would be more strange...wouldn’t it, if he sat and talked about his family - if he had one - during their sessions. Wouldn’t he want to keep that kind of thing private? It wasn’t anyone else’s business.

“It matters a lot, actually.” Derek murmured in response, gazing back down at the list, “But I’m not going to bother explaining it to you right now, so, moving on.”

It did ping Derek as odd, that Paul had never even mentioned a child to Casey. It didn’t matter who you were or what you did for a living, there weren’t many parents in the world who could go for very long without gushing about a child, even if they just mentioned them passively. Casey had been seeing him every week now for the better part of 2 years, and if he had a kid, or even a partner, he would have mentioned it or tipped her off somehow.

He was having a bit of a complicated time, however, trying to fit Casey’s shrink into this picture. An adult sitting behind a screen sending strange messages to an underage student? Unfortunately, it was more sickeningly common than even Derek liked to acknowledge; but, this just didn’t feel the same. Dragging it out like this, slowly inflicting discomfort…

Still not unheard of, but just, even less common.

Most adults didn’t like to waste this kind of time. They were usually pretty quick to move things forward.

“Who the fuck is Steffan?” Derek snarked now, glaring towards her once more, “Is he one of the many morons in that stupid theater group you used to be a part of?”

“It wasn’t stupid.” Casey stated defensively, before her tone shifted, “But yes, he was.”

“Hm.” Derek huffed back as a reply. His eyes scanned a few more names, mostly a few he recognized back during the one day “Babe Raider” phase she’d gone through freshman year. He was 99% sure they weren’t important, but he’d be confronting them at some point none-the-less.

He blinked towards the list now, having reached the end of numerous names, before turning the page over, looking for something specific. When he didn’t find it there, he glared over towards her again, “Casey…” he trailed off, using his free hand to rub the center of his forehead almost stressfully, “Why the hell isn’t your dickhead boyfriend’s name here?”

“Because it’s not him.” she replied simply, hoping to god they weren’t about to go down this road again. Though she knew her response was going to be so far less than acceptable to Derek’s ears. She shrugged a bit, “I already told you he had no idea what I was talking about when I brought the messages up.”

“And I told you that he was probably full of shit.” Derek snapped back, flinging the paper onto the bed. He was just so over this. Her constant ignorant need to defend this trash fire of a human being at all costs.

“Derek!” she exclaimed, in a more pointed tone, “It is not, him!”

“Yeah?” he questioned, raising an eyebrow towards her with a sigh, though his voice remained slightly taunting, “You want to get into this again?”

“Why would my own boyfriend want to do this kind of thing??” she continued to argue, because she seriously failed to see the logic behind it, “It doesn’t make any kind of sense at all!” her tone flared with slight hints of anger.

Derek rocked in the chair a couple of times, waiting for her to finish her rant, completely unamused by her pathetic excuses to defend the douche bag.

“Look, I know you want it to be him,” Casey continued, her voice now feeling slightly pleading as her arms moved back and forth animatedly, “Truly, I do. It would make you nothing but ecstatic to be able to blame him for upsetting me, so that it gave me every good reason under the sun to break up with him, or for you to get your chance to punch him,” she carried on, and Derek wondered if she had even paused long enough to take a breath at any point, “But this is not him.” she shrugged, now looking over at him again, “It’s just not.”

Derek was sure she was finished, but he waited a moment longer, allowing her to sink back into a more stable sitting position before he started in on her, “You ever seen the movie Scream?”

Casey tilted her head subtly, “Of course not, you know I haven’t.”

“Okay. Have you ever been…” Derek trailed off, and his stomach felt a bit knotted once more. He tilted his head a couple of times in different angles. He really didn’t want to ask this next question, but he needed to. It was going to be an attempt to prove his next point, and it wasn’t the question itself that bothered him, it was the answer he might get in return that he dreaded. “Intimate…” he decided this word was a little gentler on his own ears, “with him?”

Casey turned her head once more, “Intimate...how? Like…” when her eyes landed on Derek again, his pierced back through her with a convicting gaze. Her jaw dropped open a bit, “Are you talking about, like, sex?”

Derek countered her with a wide nod, “Yeah, there you go.”

Casey gasped, and she was back up on her knees in an instant as she peered venomously back towards him once more, “Derek, that is none of your business!”

Ugh, god. Why was she like this? It drove him insane sometimes. He hung his head backwards over the chair, staring at the ceiling as he pressed the fingertips of his hands against one another. He hated it when she beat around the bush, and right now, as he continued to fight over the nausea in his stomach and the fury he felt at the many potential answers he could receive back, he was just not in the mood, “Fucking christ Casey, have you or not?” he spat angrily, whirling his head up to glare daggers at her. He flung his hand out to the side, “I’m not asking because I actually give a shit!” he bellowed towards her slightly retracting form, “I’m asking you because it does have some relevance here!” he boomed, now leaning forward to slam his fingertip onto the list, “You want to know why he belongs on this list, I’m trying to give you some of the reasons, so stop making it so fucking complicated!”

Silence fell between them all of a sudden, and Casey felt as if there was a distant ring in her ears from Derek’s sudden blow up towards her. She felt nervous about the question, sure, but as her eyes remained locked in his gaze, she could tell he seemed even more miserable about it. She supposed she should give him the answer he was seeking before his head exploded. He wasn’t going to like it, but it probably wasn’t the worst thing he could imagine either.

Her eyes gazed away from him, “We’ve done some…” she paused again, lingering there, and Derek felt as if pretty soon, he was going to be dragging a football player out of his residence, into his front yard, and all but murdering him for whatever activity Casey was about to say he’d engaged in with her.

Casey was feeling conflicted. She shouldn’t be feeling ashamed right? I mean, Max was her boyfriend, it was only natural for couples to slowly build into a physical relationship.

So why did she feel so guilty?

Why did she feel like she was somehow betraying the boy sitting next to her?

“Casey, seriously -”

“Okay! Okay, okay…” Casey interrupted, finally embracing the idea that it was just going to be better to spit it out at this point. She flapped her hands a couple of times as if she were shaking off her anxiety over this, before sighing, “We’ve done some above the waist stuff...but...nothing else.”

Derek halted the nervous bobbing of his leg he hadn’t even realized he’d been doing. He raised an eyebrow towards her, “Wait, that’s it?”

Casey sighed, but rubbed her hands up and down her legs a couple of times, a slight rosy tint on her cheeks, “Yes Derek. That’s it.”

He closed his eyes for a second, mentally thanking whatever god that was at work above, and letting out a relieved breath of air. He didn’t want to go into any kind of teasing or belittling speech about how “above the waist stuff” - as she’d put it - wasn’t that big of a deal. Acts of a sexual nature always meant a lot to the female side of the situation, and sex was something that took it’s toll each and every single time, physically and emotionally, whether they’d admit to it or not.

She looked like she wanted to die of humiliation, and he felt like if he offered any kind of response to the actual contents of what she’d done, he’d only make it worse. So, he decided to just proceed with the point of why it’d come up in the first place instead.

Still, there were going to be a lot of good comparisons to draw now with Sidney, the final girl of said movie, Scream.

“Well anyway, the movie is about a girl named Sidney, Case.” Derek restarted the conversation, gazing at Casey thoughtfully as she did seem to look slightly relieved that he hadn’t delved further into questions about her own activities. “And she has a boyfriend, too.”

Casey didn’t know why, but she felt suddenly very curious to know more about this movie character, Sidney.

Derek leaned back in the chair a bit, turning it subtly back and forth as he began to explain more to his step-sister, “She’s in high school, has a group of close friends, a loving father…just a normal girl like you.” he told, motioning towards her with one of his hands, “But she’s also got some PTSD, because a year prior, she’d found her mom dead, murdered, so…” he tilted his head, “A bit less like you.”

Casey frowned. It’s not like she didn’t know this character wasn’t going to have some horrible tragedy to her story. I mean, it was a horror movie. But still…

“Long story short, her boyfriend was limited to “above the waist stuff” too.” he informed, using air quotes on the phrase she had used a little bit earlier in the conversation. “And he went to some pretty incredible lengths to get her to give herself to him completely.” he continued, now tilting his head slightly as he peered towards the ceiling, “He acted like he would keep her safe and protect her, but in reality, he was the one scaring her into his own arms.”

Casey nodded slightly, indicating to Derek that she was still with him, but she felt the rest of the story probably only held a grim conclusion.

“Eventually, she did trust him enough to sleep with him.” Derek stated simply, before adding, “And then he tried to kill her, just like he had her mom.”

Casey blinked towards him, her eyes a bit wide, “Wait, he was the one who killed her mom??”

“Yeah.” Derek replied, nodding a bit, “And he waited patiently, an entire year, staying at her side, gaining her trust, comforting her through her trauma; all the while inflicting more and more on her so he could manipulate her into the space he wanted her in.”

“That’s terrible.” Casey commented in response.

“Yeah, and so the point is, sometimes you think you know someone; someone who has spent a lot of time with you, someone you think you can trust, who will never do anything to hurt you, would never manipulate you; particularly into doing something you’re not comfortable with; who claims to love you; and sometimes that turns out to be wrong.” Derek started again, and before Casey could run to the defense, he held up a hand to halt her, as he sat up straighter in the chair, “I’m not saying that he’s the one that did this, Casey, even though I know you’d like to think I just want to blame him for everything that goes wrong in life,” he glowered towards her, calling her exact thoughts out of her head before she could herself, “I’m just telling you to be smart. You have got to consider the reasons why it makes sense.”

Casey let out a complicated sounding huff, and he could tell she was struggling a bit with her words as she shook her head, “Okay, Derek, I will, but…” she let out an exhale as she gazed at him with her conflicted eyes, “I still think that using movie logic is completely useless. I mean, what are the chances of any of that being realistic? They can’t be that high.”

Derek gave her a bit of a half-nod, “Sure, that’s a fair point to make.” he stated with a shrug, “They probably aren’t.” he agreed, and watched as the tensity in her shoulders seemed to ease ever so subtly, before adding, “But the bigger picture is that there are still parts of it all, where the chances are.

Casey had thrown out all attempts to control her nervous anxious behavior out the window, as she used her hands to slide up and down her thighs. If she could focus on how the texture of her jeans felt underneath the palms of her hands, maybe she could feel that she was still somewhat grounded, and in control of something. She motioned towards the list a second later, feeling slightly pained, “Fine, put him on there.” she inhaled sharply, using her hand to rub the back of her neck as she aimed her gaze at the wall.

Derek raised an eyebrow. He couldn’t believe she could be this upset over the idea of her idiotic boyfriend’s name being written on a list. But it was affecting her. Heavily.

It pissed him off.

But.

Seeing as he highly doubted she wouldn’t be keeping in mind all that they had just discussed, because Casey wasn’t the type of person who could just let things go, he decided to do something else, “No.” he replied, crumpling the paper up in his hands before effortlessly tossing it into the trash can beside her desk, “There’s no point.”

Casey blinked towards him incredulously, half pointing towards the waste basket, “Derek! We just spent so long on that!”

Derek shrugged, “But at the end of the day, it’s just a list that's already served its purpose.” he informed, folding his arms across his chest and leaning back a little, “It’s up to us to figure out the rest.” he now scooted forward once more and pointed towards her, “Which means talking to these people, and being honest about how we feel those conversations went.” he ordered, “No making excuses, no defending them at any cost,” he continued, now spinning his hands in the air dramatically, “No letting our emotions get the best of us, or, rather, you; because I could care less…”

He trailed off and watched as his step-sister rolled her eyes. This wasn’t going to be something that was easy for her. Casey’s emotions are what fueled her most of the time.

“Every bad feeling, every strange sounding word. We have to tell each other.” Derek told, his eyes now holding a more serious stare, as he lifted his hand to rub her arm a bit. “If it’s going to work, you have to be unbiased.”

Somehow, the way he was rubbing her arm right now, felt more calming and relaxing to her unease and anxiety than she had been able to do for herself all evening.

The bottom line was that she hoped this was all just one big, stupid, blown-out-of-proportion dose of paranoia that had plagued the two of them somehow. Nothing would come of it. Nothing was that serious. It was all going to go away on its own.

But, on those small possible chances that Derek had been talking about, she had to be willing to keep that open mind, and be a team player. She wasn’t in this alone.

She took another gaze at him, only to find his eyes had left her face. They were directed downwards, towards her floor, and he was looking rather tired. They’d been at this for several hours.

And she wasn’t sure what powers at work compelled her to do what she did next. Nor what kind of magic Derek had within him to have calmed her almost completely enough that her nerves had returned to her. But as he let out a lazy yawn, she reached forward, and with her hand, brushed some of his bangs to the side.

She’d always wanted to do that.

Run her fingers through his hair.

Even though she hadn’t gotten to do it exactly the way she’d imagined, this was at least only a watered down version. Her focus followed her own hand, through his bangs, down to where she rested her palm on his shoulder.

She had caught his attention again. That was for sure.

As she lifted her gaze to meet his again, she offered up a simple, but powerfully sincere, “Thank you Derek.”

Derek wondered what the actual fuck was taking place here right now. He appreciated the sentiment, and had enjoyed the shit out of whatever the powers that be had done to influence her to do what she had with her hand.

But she had no idea the door she was opening.

It was bad enough that he had to look at her all the time, smell the scent of her shampoo, and look for any excuse he could to engage in harmless physical contact - well - mostly harmless, he still had to play the role of “step-brother” properly enough, and unfortunately for her that meant sometimes knocking her over or allowing her to trip and fall without catching her before she hit the ground; but yeah, most of it consisted of rib pokes, or sarcastic pats on the shoulder.

Now it felt like she was just inviting him in on an entirely new level of play.

One that he would normally be on top of in an instant, if not for the need to actually focus and dedicate his brain power to dealing with whatever jackhole was attempting to play mind games with her right now.

He had enough trouble focusing on anything constructive when she was around as it was.

So unfortunately, this...whatever this was…

It would have to wait.

He felt annoyed all over again.

“Derek…”

Casey’s voice wafted through his thoughts, as he blinked himself back into the real world. “Hm.”

Her hand had slid off of his shoulder, but now it was resting on his folded arms. She had a bit of a smile on her face. “Do you hear that?”

Derek turned his head slightly, a little bit of an amused look in his eyes as he focused on any and all sounds for a second, before gazing back towards her, “No, I don’t hear anything.”

“Exactly.” she responded, looking even happier now, in a way. “The dog isn’t barking anymore.” she stated, though he still didn’t understand why she seemed so happy about it, “Which means we might actually get to sleep tonight.”

Ah. Right.

Derek brushed her hand away as he stood up from the chair, “Or, it means he’s eating some fresh cashew kitty right now.”

Casey’s jaw dropped slightly, “Ew, Derek! Why would you say that? That’s awful!”

Derek shrugged, almost whimsically, as he headed for the door, “I’m just saying.”

A second later she heard the bathroom door close, and she scoffed in the direction he’d been in seconds ago, just as an almost too coincidental ding sounded from the doorbell.

She frowned, gazing at the clock. It was late, she supposed, but not terribly enough. Maybe it was Emily. It sure would be nice to see her, as she hadn’t really had much of a chance to talk to her today. They’d only exchanged a brief greeting before classes.

With that exciting thought in mind, she scampered out of her room and down the hallway towards the stairs. A little bit of girl time would probably work wonders for her right now.

She opened up the door with a smile, but was half-disappointed, half-curious to see their next door neighbor standing on the other side.

“Oh! Hi…” Casey greeted, the smile slowly slipping off of her face as a middle aged woman gazed back at her.

“Hello, dear.” the neighbor greeted, and Casey flinched slightly. That word. “Dear.” She was beginning to hate it. “I’m terribly sorry to bother you, but…” she trailed off as the sound of footsteps distracted both her and Casey.

Casey glanced over her shoulder to see a less than happy looking Derek walking towards her, and his glare at her sharpened as he nudged her out of the way slightly and he took the forefront at the door, “Hi.” he stated simply, making an effort to sound at least somewhat friendly, though he was really feeling rather pissed off, “What’s up?”

“Well,” the neighbor began once more, as she pulled her jacket a little tighter around her body, “I’m your neighbor from next door here…” she pointed to her left, and Derek peeked over at the property, but nodded. He knew who she was, but I guess it made sense that she’d still start with that. They’d never actually had a conversation before, not really, anyways. “I was just wondering if you’d maybe seen my dog running around. Have you been outside or anything?”

Well, Casey thought, that explained why the barking had stopped. Though she hadn’t noticed when it had.

“We haven’t been outside or anything.” Derek replied truthfully, noting the frown on the neighbor’s face deepening slightly, “Sorry.”

He felt Casey pushing into his side to move forward a little. Maybe he should let her handle this. She was much better at conversation anyway. He just couldn’t be bothered most of the time.

“But we’ll definitely keep an eye out for you.” Casey piped in, her hands moving Derek slightly to the side, so that she could get some more information. “How long has he been gone?”

“I’m not sure actually,” the neighbor responded, seemingly already more comfortable as she directed her attention towards Casey.

Derek rolled his eyes.

Females.

“He’s been barking like crazy all evening,” the lady continued, shaking her head slightly.

Casey nodded, “Yeah, we noticed that earlier.”

The woman now nodded as well, “I went up to my room about an hour ago to take a shower, and when I came back down to the back yard to get him, he wasn’t there anymore.” she informed, “I called for him a couple of times, figuring maybe he’d jumped the fence to the alley or something. There’s been some stray cats around.”

The neighbor gazed up at Derek, who only offered her a press lipped passive smile in return, as his eyes widened a little bit to let her know he was in fact, listening to what she had to say, before gazing back towards Casey, “He’s not really the type to do that, but I guess maybe he caught the trail on one of them and chased it a ways.”

Casey nodded once again, “Well, I’m sure he’ll be back soon, but like I said,” she shot a sideways look at Derek as she motioned between them with her hand, “We’ll keep our eyes out for him.”

“Thank you very much.” the neighbor offered, with another smile, “Have a good night.”

“You too.” Casey replied, motioning with a slight wave.

The neighbor had barely begun to trek back down the front steps of the house, when Casey felt a strong grip on her arm, and she was pulled backwards so fast, she thought for sure she was going to hit the floor. However, the same strong grip stabilized her as she watched him reach out with his free hand and swing the door shut.

“What??” Casey questioned, narrowing her eyes at him as she wrenched her arm out of his grip.

“Are you fucking stupid or something?” Derek immediately fired back, his voice raised as he pointed towards the door and didn’t bother giving her a chance to ask another question, “Two days ago someone online told you they could see you from somewhere outside, and you actually just ran down the stairs to answer the door by yourself??”

He was furious, and she supposed he had that right, but she truly honestly hadn’t been thinking about that. Maybe she was no better than some of the people from those horror movies.

She shook her head slightly, “Jesus, Derek, I’m sorry,” she apologized, watching him fold his arms over his chest intolerantly, “I thought it might have been Emily…”

She looked down towards the ground guiltily, and this drew out a heavy sigh from her step-brother.

“Look, I get that this is all new and strange for you, but for at least the next couple of days, you have to think a little more carefully about what you’re doing before you do it.” Derek instructed, pointing at the door again, “Something as simple and everyday like answering the front door could wind up being a big mistake.”

Casey nodded slightly, noting once again how much she hated this, and how much she hoped this was all just a big bunch of nothing at all.

As she heard Derek’s voice murmur out a slightly stressed but relieved, “Just...don’t do it again. Not without me anyway.” her gaze that was still aimed at the floor caught sight of something, that caused a smile to slowly form on her face.

She lifted her eyes to meet Derek’s.

“What?” he questioned, and as she averted her gaze towards the floor, so did he. He narrowed his eyes and scoffed at the piece of toilet paper stuck on the bottom of his shoe, before reaching down to remove it.

Casey had started giggling by the time he stood back up again.

“This is your fault.” he scowled towards her, with a bit of venom, “If I hadn’t heard you practically running down the hall to recklessly get to the door, I wouldn’t have almost killed myself trying to get down here as well.” he then reached up and dropped the piece of toilet paper over her head.

That had taken the smile right off her face.

He smirked as she instantly reached up to retrieve it, and while her arms were still in the air, he reached forward and poked her ribs, “Cashew kitty though, am I right?”

She huffed, flinching back from his touch against her ribs as she shot him a threatening glare, his form already retrieving back up the stairs.

“Jerk!” she called out after him, before tossing the piece of toilet paper into the trash can, and trudging up the stairs as well.

The bathroom door was shut again, and this time, she heard the shower running from inside. She grimaced towards the door before turning and walking into her own bedroom, fully planning on slamming her door loud enough that he would feel it through the walls, but her eyes were instantly drawn towards her computer, where a familiar “ping” was emitting from the speakers.

She hadn’t really been paying attention to her computer for the last couple of days. She just hadn’t felt she should.

Engaging with this...CanusRufius, or whatever, hadn’t done anything beneficial for her, and she doubted it would tonight.

Still, she found herself walking over to her computer anyway. It’s not like they were going to make her feel anymore uncomfortable than they already had.

Or maybe this time, it was actually just Emily.

She slowly pulled her computer seat over, as it had still been close to her bed, and sank into it. She reached up and turned on the monitor.

As the screen blurred into focus, her eyes landed on the message box that flickered in front of her.

Finally, some peace and quiet.

Casey held her breath for a moment, failing to connect the dots as she lifted her fingers to type something back.

What do you mean?

She waited with baited breath, and the swirling in her stomach confirmed to her that she should have followed her hunch, and shouldn’t have engaged at all.

Too late now.

That fucking dog. So annoying.

She felt a slight chill on her back as her eyes darted over to her window. The blinds were down, and the curtains were drawn.

She let out a sigh, before lifting her fingers to type again.

Look, just so you know, my step-brother is not happy about this, and neither am I. You still have a chance to avoid any trouble if you just tell me who you are. Either that or leave me alone.

She had known it was a long shot when she sent the message away, but she still found herself bobbing her leg in anticipation.

Trouble, huh?

He was taunting her, and she knew it, but before she could respond again, another message came through.

You didn’t like my note then?

Why would I?

Well what about the other one?

Casey frowned towards the screen.

What other one?

She blinked a couple of times before reaching towards her pocket. Had she missed something? Was there something on the back side? She thought she’d checked, but now she wasn’t sure. She pulled out the piece of paper and unfolded it, checking it both front and back.

Nothing had been missed.

What was this person talking about?

What are you talking about?

Did you not find it? I left it in your mailbox.

It was almost a natural reflex that Casey had turned to get up from her chair. But she stopped herself almost just as fast. That nervous twitch in her gut, and the sudden sound of the water running in the shower that she had forgotten about somehow, now flooded back to remind her to think before she acted.

She had to trust her gut. She had to trust Derek.

She gripped the back of her chair with her hand, and stared out into the hallway, before letting out a bit of a huff, and turning back towards her computer.

Nice try, but I won’t be going out there. You should just tell me what it says.

What’s the fun in that?

Casey rolled her eyes. What was with this person?

I’ve told you repeatedly, this isn’t funny to me, this isn’t fun.

I thought you wanted to know who I was.

Casey stared at the message quietly for a few seconds. What had they meant by that? Would whatever was in the mailbox tell her that somehow?

Why should I trust anything you say to me?

She tapped her fingertips along the top of her keyboard, her anxious behavior firing off with intensity as her legs began to bob up and down as well.

She waited, and waited, and waited. Several minutes had passed, and no response came. It was only her in the silence of her room, and the sound of the shower in the background. The way the sound waves blended, it almost felt like it might be raining outside; but Casey knew it wasn’t.

She felt a sudden need for urgency start to radiate into her mental state, her bones. She peered over her shoulder again.

She couldn’t do this. Not without Derek.

He would be so upset, so mad.

But something was telling her that if she didn’t go now, she might never get the chance again. She needed to know who this was. Her yearning for this truth was quickly becoming the bigger and stronger issue.

She turned to the computer once more.

Staring at the screen, she slapped her hand on the desk, frustrated, before standing up from the chair. In the hallway, she stopped outside of the bathroom door, leaning her head against it to listen in on the running water. It wasn’t as if this was going to do anything beneficial for her, but she found herself lingering for a moment, hoping she’d hear the water stop running, so that she could ask Derek to go with her.

It didn’t however, and it saddened her slightly. She’d thought about knocking, but instead turned to head towards the stairs.

She knew where Derek kept his hockey stick. It was his go to resolution for all things, as if it were some sort of legendary weapon. At the end of the day, it was just a stick, but as Casey pulled it out from behind the grandfather clock that sat near the door to George’s office, she somehow felt that it would keep anything and everything with ill intent from harming her.

She gripped it protectively in her hands as she reached for the doorknob that would grant her access to the autumny outdoor world. It was just a typical, chilly fall evening, and the street was lit up with a soft glow from the lamps that lined it.

This would be okay, it felt okay. She wasn’t in the dark, and the surrounding houses were close enough that she didn’t necessarily feel that isolated either.

It was just a trip to the mailbox and back.

She’d done it a hundred times before.

The only thing that felt dangerous to her right now, was the invasive chill of the fall breeze, leaving her wishing she’d have brought her jacket, which was hanging right at the front door on the coat rack.

She clutched the hockey stick a little closer now, listening to the sounds around her. It wasn’t much, just the rustling of leaves dancing across the ground with the breeze and a few chirping crickets. Her eyes scanned her left, where Emily’s house was lit up cozily for the night, though her best friend’s bedroom light wasn’t on. And it made sense, because Emily only really spent enough time at home to sleep and wake up these days.

Casey was happy for Emily. She’d found someone who truly loved to take care of her and stand by her side as a happy companion in Sheldon, and he’d become a decent friend to her as well.

Casey hoped that someday, she could have that too.

She’d made it to the mailbox now, and she was grateful she’d managed to distract herself somewhat, as paranoia and silence seemed all too easy to influence her ability to think cognitively these past couple of days.

She faced the decently sized metal box that stood on the wooden post, their address number printed neatly across the side of it. She felt as if the air had suddenly become heavier, but she dismissed it as her nerves once more.

She prayed silently that whatever this note said, whatever it was, she could return inside with happy news to tell her step-brother. That maybe this person really was giving themselves up, only having attempted getting one last laugh out of her uncomfortable trek to the mailbox.

She extended her hand upward towards the lever that kept the flap shut and clutched it in her hand, before closing her eyes and taking another breath.

She mentally told herself that she could do this. It was just a mailbox, and inside was just another note.

It only took a couple of times of whispering out, “You can do this, Casey”, before she felt her nerves harden enough, and with a fluid pull, she’d opened up the mailbox and peered inside.

She blinked, confused, turning her head slightly. She couldn’t really see anything. It just looked like a black lump or something.

As her eyes adjusted to the shadowy shade inside of the metal box, she realized there was something small and white sticking up from whatever this black blob was. Was it an article of clothing or something? This black thing?

She wasn’t sure, but the white object, which she assumed was a piece of paper - at least, it looked like one - was what she wanted to reach for.

She extended her hand inside, and she jumped slightly at the texture of the black lump as her hand brushed it. She quickly grabbed at the white paper, and withdrew her hand as if she’d been electrically shocked.

Staring inside at it for another moment, she then shifted her gaze downward. Propping the hockey stick against her shoulder, she unfolded the white piece of paper.

It looked like some kind of advertisement for...the zoo?

She blinked, her eyes darting to the side in frustration. What was this? Just another game? She should have never trusted that anything was going to be gained from this. She felt so stupid, and so tired.

Feeling a small burn behind her eyes, she let out a breath she didn’t know she’d been holding, leaning down and grasping her knees in the palms of her hands, the hockey stick tumbling down to the side of the curb as she did so. It felt as though her body had been winded, even though it hadn’t.

She took a couple more seconds to herself, straightening her posture as she peered back into the mailbox, at the inanimate black mass, before looking down at the note again.

There were a few arrows, and something had a circle around it, but to her it just looked like a square. She then noticed, however, that there seemed to be some kind of black lettering seeping through the center of the paper.

Turning the paper over, her eyes fell upon the scrawled out sentence in sharpie marker.

All the better to hear you now, my dear.

This handwriting was the same from the note she’d gotten at school, but it still didn’t feel familiar in the slightest sense, and now her stomach was turning and twisting so bad, that she was actually feeling a bit nauseous.

She gazed back into the mailbox once more, fearfully. She’d tried to convince herself it was an article of clothing or something. A hoodie, a shirt. However, with each fleeting second, she wasn’t sure anymore. The texture of whatever it was had felt off - strange.

With the way her mind had been playing tricks on her in the several instances of silence she’d found herself in over the past few days, she wondered if she could even trust in her own intuition in moments like these anymore.

She felt stuck once again, in that place between “fine” and “not fine”. Could she trust her gut? Or did she need to search the depths of her brain to find a moment of logic - to convince herself again of the same things she’d been telling herself all day. “This is just a stupid prank.” “It’s just a note.”

She was understanding more and more why those girls in the movies made those seemingly irrational decisions so often. It was so hard to just think when you were torn between things like logic and compulsion.

Another second passed, and she hesitantly reached back into the mailbox, slowly closing her fingers around the edge of the black lump.

No. It couldn’t be a shirt or something.

It still felt far too strange.

Almost like...fur or something. But maybe not.

She felt a warmth against her fingertips as she pulled whatever it was forward, but as it neared the opening of the mailbox, Casey retracted her hand once more, quickly, at the sight of a crimson trickle running down the side of her arm, and the lump fell to the ground with a splat, dark red flecks splattering the edges of her shoes and the curb underneath it.

Casey stared at the crimson, warm liquid on her fingertips, the streak that was still dripping off of her arm, and remembered the writing.

All the better to hear you now, my dear.

She looked down again at the black mass, her body trembling with fear and paranoia.

Her scream was heard all over the block.