Chapter 1: The Divide
I wish you were a stranger I could disengage - Over My Head, The Fray
"They always side with him! It's insane! 'What Derek wants, Derek gets'," Casey mocked. Turning on her heel, she shook her head disbelievingly, "And you know what? It's true. He gets what he wants. I don't understand it,I can't live like this. Derek and I fight over the stupidest things - he does the stupidest things actually. And I think we're driving our parents crazy. He's driving me crazy."
Casey stopped her pacing, breathing hard and glaring at the wall of her guidance counselor's office. Paul waited a few moments for her to cool. Of her own volition, she dropped defeated into the chair.
"I thought that after two years, we'd finally find some kind of compromise but nothing's changed. Nothing's gotten any better. He still treats me like I'm a threat to his position in the family and, frankly, I'm sick of it," Casey lamented. "In fact, I think it's gotten worse."
"Casey, you still haven't told me what exactly Derek actually did this time. Maybe if-"
"That's the thing: I can't even remember what he did this morning. All I know is that it ticked me off. I'm tired of living my life on the defensive. It's self-destructive, you know."
"Actually, Casey, if you really think about it, from what you've told me, Derek's not always at fault. You must admit you kind of have a tendency to make things … well, about Derek. Sometimes, you're the one who pulls Derek into the picture," Paul said.
Casey's eyes flashed, "What?"
"What I mean," he said slowly, "is that there are times when you are the aggressor. You remember that Feminist manifesto when you were fifteen? That's a perfect example. You did invade Derek's space. You made him take down his posters and stop playing his favourite video game - which subsequently became your favorite game, I might add - in his own room. You've always told me that you consider your room your private sanctuary and that you want people to learn to respect that-"
"And Derek still hasn't,' Casey interjected.
Paul continued as though she hadn't spoken, "But have you extended the same courtesy?"
Casey looked nothing less than scandalized. "Of course I have! I've never-"
"If Derek insisted that you take down every poster of every boy you have in your room, would you?"
Paul smirked at the silence. In the two years he'd been dealing with Casey MacDonald, he'd managed to render her speechless only a handful of times.
"If he had a logical reason, I might consider it," she answered. "But he most likely wouldn't and then it's my room. He doesn't have to come into it. Actually, that would make things a lot easier. But it's my space. He can't tell me what to do with it."
"Ah-ha. Do you hear yourself? You're being… to be frank, you're being rather hypocritical, Casey."
"Derek's the hypocrite," she countered automatically. "He's -" She stopped herself at the look on Paul's face.
"Oh my God, I do make everything about Derek. What is wrong with me?"
"Nothing most girls don't experience at least twice in their adolescent lives. I've seen it hundreds of times."
"It being what?"
"A suppressed crush."
Casey shot out of the chair like she'd been bitten. "What?"
"It's true. Most teenagers who like someone they don't want to like usually antagonize the unwitting object of their affections in desperate attempts to make themselves see the worst in that person and thus break away from unwanted desires."
"Paul! Do you remember who you're talking to? This is me! Casey!" she practically shrieked. Taking a deep breath, she turned appalled eyes on him. "Derek is my stepbrother. I can't like my stepbrother. That's… that's against the law, isn't it? No. No, no, no. I don't like Derek. I think I just have an overload of Derek in my system. Everywhere I go, Derek is there. I need to get away."
"I agree," Casey looked surprised. Paul hardly ever honestly agreed with her. "You need to distance yourself from the situation and look at it objectively. Summer vacation is coming up, right? Why don't you go somewhere? You must have relatives who aren't related to Derek too."
"I've only got my cousin Vicky and she… well, when I coordinated her mother's wedding, Derek did the wedding video and Vicky."
Paul's eyebrows shot up. "He slept with your cousin?"
"No! They wound up making out. As usual."
"You don't have any other family? No grandparents or- ?"
"I could ask my Dad," she said quickly. Obviously uncomfortable, she clarified, "He lives in Florida. In the States. He's been asking Lizzie and me to visit him for the past year. Lizzie isn't too into it since she doesn't really remember him much but I've… I've kind of wanted to but I don't want to hurt Mom and George's feelings, you know? But if you're suggesting it…"
"Casey, I'm not telling you do anything that would ruin your family dynamic, I'm just saying you might need a break. To put things back into perspective."
"I know. I'll talk to Mom about it later. But I'm going to be late for my Media Studies class. I'll see you later, Paul."
"Have a nice weekend, Casey."
Today had been the first time Casey had ever mentioned her father. At seventeen, she seemed to have come to terms with whatever it was that broke her family apart. And it was obvious that she still cared for her biological father. Now all she had to come to terms with was her feelings for her stepbrother.
Paul shook his head, amazed that a girl with so much insight into the world around her had never noticed what was going on inside her own house. Paul had only met Derek earlier in the year (because Derek had chosen Paul's computer science class as an elective) and the boy was everything Casey had described. However, after talking to Derek for a while about his life in general (Paul found it surprisingly easy to get the boy to open up and attributed this to counselor-student confidentiality), things in the MacDonald-Venturi household became a lot easier to understand.
Paul just hoped this time apart helped to MacDonald-Venturis to understand those things themselves.
Dinner at the MacDonald-Venturi home was strange because Casey was really quiet for the majority of it. It wasn't until dessert and Derek's barb about her unfortunate archery experience in gym that she finally spoke.
"So, Klutzilla, I heard you almost took out Coach's eye in gym class today," Derek said. "Physical injury to students too Little League for you now?"
Casey rolled her eyes at him and turned to her mother. She didn't really want to look at George while she said what she had to. She'd spent much of her afternoon pondering Paul's advice about getting away to clear her head and decided that he was probably right. She was too close to the situation at home to really understand the problem. Maybe if she got away, she could really get a handle on what it was between herself and her stepbrother that led to their explosive arguments. It couldn't still be about dominance in the family. They'd been in the same house for two years and their parents had very clearly demonstrated that neither of them had the final say - no matter what either of them thought. So why couldn't they get along?
Casey wanted to get it out of the way this summer. Next year was her final year of high school and she would be prepping to write her A-levels so she simply could not afford to spend most of her time in petty fights with Derek the Caveman. Besides, her dad was a psychologist. He'd probably be great help when it came to analyzing the situation. Better than Paul at least. A crush on Derek? Yeah, right.
She took a deep breath (she'd been doing that a lot today, she noted) and began. "Mom, I want to visit Dad."
Sound at the table screeched to a halt. Nora swallowed a gulp of water, "I'm sorry, Casey, what did you say?"
"I said I want to visit Dad this summer. In Florida," Nora's expression altered and Casey knew what was coming. Before her mother could say anything, Casey plowed onward, her eyes fixed on her mother's wedding ring. "He's been asking Lizzie and me to visit him for months now. I talked to him online earlier today and he said it'd be ok. He's really excited about it. He said he'd pay the airfare and everything."
"Um… Casey, is there any particular reason why you have this sudden urge to visit your father?" Nora asked.
"Well, it's…" Casey looked at George who sat listening intently. She felt a pang of guilt and explained, "It's nothing to do with you or with you, George, you've been awesome. Or the kids. It's…"
She bit her lip. How could she explain this?
"Look, it's just me, ok? I need a break before exams. From everything." She took a bite of her salad and waited. Lizzie, Edwin and Marti went back to eating, seeing that there was nothing they could do or say about anything. Casey hadn't looked at Derek yet and didn't intend to.
A few tense moments later, in which Casey's eyes refused to stray from her plate, George spoke. "How long?"
Casey glanced up, "A month. The first of July to the first of August."
"And you're sure you want to do this, Casey? You haven't seen your father in over five years," Nora questioned.
"I'm sure, Mom."
Nora looked at George and sighed. "Then I guess that's that. I'll call Ben tomorrow."
Casey beamed at both adults. "Thank you so much!"
"Can I be excused?" Derek's voice was unexpectedly harsh. "I've got a date with Sandra. I don't want to be late."
George waved him away, "Go ahead. And be home by 11:30."
Derek nodded and rose from the table. As he picked up his plate, he looked directly at Casey. "Hope you have fun in the States, Case."
"Are you sure you have everything?" Nora asked for what Casey assumed to be the one hundredth time. "Passport?" Nod. "Ticket?" Nod. "Money?" Nod. "School play video?" N - uh, no.
"Don't you think you should take it? It was your first big production. I think your father would like to see it," Nora said, picking up her purse.
"I'll be fine, Mom. Marti, can you bring me the video of last year's school play, please? The one in the yellow case marked 'Casey'." They watched Marti until she was out of sight then Nora turned back to Casey.
"Listen, Casey, if you want to come back before your ticket expires, just call me and we'll pay. Get in a taxi, get to the airport and you'll be on a plane, I promise. I want you to take care of yourself, ok? Your father can be a bit absent minded so if there's anything you don't like the feel of, you tell him. He probably won't notice unless you say something. You know how guys are."
"I know, Mom. I live with three, remember?"
Nora smiled. "I'm sorry George and I can't take you to the airport. You said goodbye to him, right?"
Casey nodded. George had been really nice about everything, telling her to call home often and not worry her mother. She could sense that he would be worried too. Not to mention the fact that George had actually hugged her. "Yeah, I did."
"Good. Derek will drive you to the airport. He's promised to stay until you're done checking in. Don't fight with him. Please?"
Nora pulled Casey into a hug. "Take care, honey, I love you."
"I love you too, Mom."
"Did you mean this one, Casey?" Marti hollered down the stairs. At the top, she held a burnt DVD in her hand. Casey nodded, shutting the door. "Yep. Can you toss it in my handbag please? It's on my bed."
"Is this everything?"
Casey spun on her heel and found herself almost nose to nose with her stepbrother. She blinked and took a step back, inexplicably breathless. "Yeah. I'm just gonna go get my purse."
Derek shrugged, picking up her single suitcase. She watched him walk out the door with his car keys jingling in his left hand and then turned and tripped on the stairs. Jeez, what was wrong with her? Seriously. She knew she was acting strangely. She'd been avoiding Derek like the plague from the evening she'd made her announcement. She had no explanation for it; she just didn't want to face him. Why she couldn't look at him of all people was beyond her. It wasn't as though she felt she owed him - or anyone apart from her mother and George - an explanation for her actions. Lizzie hadn't questioned her. Edwin and Marti hadn't questioned her. What made her so afraid to look at Derek?
She sighed, closing her bedroom door. It was his apathy. Derek was everything but apathetic when it came to her. Sympathetic and empathetic not included, he at least always had something to say. In truth, she could count on one hand the number of things he'd said to her since telling her to have fun in the States. She had no idea why it bothered her. She should have been happy for the peace and quiet. Shaking her head, she got into Derek's SUV, trying hard not to think of all the other girls who had probably done the same thing much more flirtatiously, and they began the long, silent drive to the airport.
It had to have been the longest half hour of her life. Derek had played some relentless German rock CD all the way. At one point, she found herself enjoying the music and had forced herself not to smile and to not notice the smirk on Derek's face as she fingered the case. Good music aside, however, Casey had never met a bigger pink elephant. It took everything out of her to breathe evenly. She practically leapt out of the vehicle once Derek put it in park.
Much to her surprise, Derek kept his word and didn't just drop her off at the gate. He was nice enough to haul her hefty suitcase to the check in counter for her. Then they heard it:
"…to Miami, Florida has been delayed. Passengers are requested to contact desk staff for further information."
Casey crossed her arms. "Great. Just freaking great."
She appalled herself at being nearly elated at it but, for the first time in weeks, she heard Derek laugh.
She accepted the cup with a mumbled thank you while keeping her eyes fixed on the display screen. The counter clerk told her it was a two hour delay; she'd been waiting for about hour and a half. She listened as Derek settled himself into a comfortable position on the rigid plastic chair, trying to think of a way to say something - anything - to him. The silence was killing her. They were never quiet around each other, they never shared comfortable silences and any awkward pauses in their conversations were brushed off with well-timed teasing. This hush was almost suffocating in its intensity. Really, why was it such a crime to visit her father? What did it matter to Derek anyway? Shouldn't he be jumping for joy at the thought of having the run of the house? Of having no one to battle him for dominance in the family for a whole month? Casey admitted readily that that was a large part of the appeal of the trip. She would have an entire month without battling for every bit of influence, every inch of say. It was almost a dream come true.
Yet, there was a part of her that already missed it. But she refused to think about that now. Not while she was still on Canadian soil. Not when she still so close to the situation and, most importantly, not while she was still so close to Derek. Close enough for the toes of their shoes to be touching under the table.
She looked away and sipped at her tea. Yuck, store tea. "You go first."
Derek shifted slightly. "Ok. Why are you really leaving, Casey?"
She looked up at him. He wasn't looking at her. Possibly, he hadn't looked at her in nearly a month. In a way, it made it easier to answer the question. There was something about the way Derek looked at her when they spoke, when they fought, when he thought she wasn't looking, that made it harder to force words out of her throat. Again, she reasoned it away as being too close to the situation, too perpetually on the verge of tears.
"I need a break. To clear my head."
"Clear your head?" he asked, glancing at her only briefly. "I don't believe you. That's what you fed to our parents but I don't believe you at all."
"Oh, and you know me so well, you can make that deduction?" she countered, offended at basically being called a liar.
"I know when you're lying, Casey. You're way too obvious." And you've probably gotten better at reading me, haven't you, Derek? Something about that thought pissed her off to no end.
"I'll have you know, Derek Venturi, that I was not lying," she retorted hotly, "I do need a break. I need a break from you! I need to get away from you and your arrogance and conceit and self-centeredness. And from your obsessive need to always get what you want. You've finally won, Derek. You've run me out of the house."
She exhaled sharply. "Yes."
"Good. Your flight is boarding." And, indeed, he was right. Feeling distinctly unsatisfied about the progression of their one-sided argument (Casey had the distinct impression she'd lost), she gathered her things and stood up.
What was she supposed to do? Hug him like she'd hugged everyone else? Everyone else weren't the reasons she was leaving. But, something said, it would be rude not to hug him since he'd seen her hug everyone else. But their relationship - or whatever it was - wasn't physical beyond irritating gestures and the odd wrestling match. She had no idea this much could pass through her mind in so little time. She bit her lip, fidgeting on the spot.
"So, I guess I'll-" Casey never finished her sentence. Derek placed his hands on her shoulders, leaned forward and kissed her cheek. It was the most fraternal gesture he'd ever made toward her. She had no idea why it felt like it broke her heart.
"Have fun in the States, Case. Don't do anything I wouldn't do." He smirked at her and she rolled her eyes. She couldn't help the slight smile that snuck onto her lips. She asked, "Don't you mean don't do anything you would do?"
He thought for a minute then shrugged. "That too."
She shook her head, eyes on the ground. "Bye, Derek."
"See ya, Casey."
She turned once she was cleared and glanced back. She didn't expect to see anyone. Derek waiting with her for two hours was a miracle in itself. He wouldn't stay any longer than he absolutely needed to. But there he was, watching her, with his hands buried deep in his pockets and no expression on his face. When she looked at him, he waved slightly. She reciprocated out of sheer shock. But she smiled. After she turned away, so did he.
Author's Note: I realize that most people assume that Casey's father is dead. Assuming (because I haven't seen all the episodes) that there has been no canon mention of what actually happened to him, I've decided to ship him off to Florida for plot purposes.
Thanks for reading!