Chapter 3: An Excavation
How many days disappear as you look in the mirror, so how do you choose? - Absolutely (Story of a Girl), Nine Days
"Yes?" Ben looked up at the tentative face of his daughter. She shifted in the doorway, toeing the edge of the carpet and obviously awaiting a signal to enter his study. He took off his glasses and set aside the case file he'd been working on. Facing her completely, he said, "Come in, Cassandra. What can I do for you?"
She took two steps into the room and stopped. "Are you busy?"
He shook his head.
"I - I was hoping we could talk. About my stepbrother. Last week when you asked me I said that I didn't want to talk about it but… I was doing some… thinking… and I do want to talk about it. But you have to promise me something."
Casey met her father's eyes squarely. "Don't be biased toward me. Tell me what you really think. Don't try to rationalize things in my favor. I need to know if I'm the one at fault."
Ben sat back, surprised by her request. Most of his clients were really looking for validation rather than actual evaluation. But then again, Casey wasn't one of his clients. She was his daughter, his Cassandra. He smiled proudly. "Ok. Would you care to explain why?"
Casey finally sat down. "My guidance counselor, Paul, had this ridiculous idea about me and Derek and I want to know if that's how it really looks to an outsider. Because it can't. It just can't."
"Would you like to start then?" Ben asked. Casey wanted impartiality and that was what she was going to get. It was one of the perks of being family.
"Yeah," Casey replied, "My problem is called Derek Venturi and I've had it up to here with him!"
Derek rolled his eyes, knowing that Edwin usually wanted something (and had the means to get it) when he used that tone. Leaning his head backward, he groaned, "What?"
Edwin leaned against the doorframe, still aware that to enter the room was to enter the beast's lair and that was a sort of suicide the younger Venturi brother wasn't prepared to partake of quite yet. But he was at the door and he was feeling daring. "So, did you realize that it's Friday night?"
Derek stared at him. This was what he came here to say? That it was Friday? What the hell was this kid on? "Yes, I know that, Edwin. Do you have a point?"
Edwin stared right back, his gaze blank. Then, just as abruptly as he'd arrived, he straightened and said, "Nope. Not really. See ya," and was gone. Derek frowned at his doorway for a moment then shook his head, hooked his earphones back in place, and continued what he'd been doing.
Ben blinked, honestly amazed by the amount of pent up hostility his daughter had for this 'Derek Venturi'. Could the boy actually be that bad? Well, to tell the truth, so far he hadn't gotten a single bit of information on Derek. Only on what he'd made Casey do. The greater part of Casey's initial rant had mostly sounded like, "And then there was that time he - ugh! So, of course, I etc, etc, etc."
It pained Ben to think it but, being impartial, he realized that his little Cassandra had become ridiculously self-absorbed. So he stopped her halfway and told her it was time for lunch. That was how he found himself sitting in Ruby Tuesday under a faux Tiffany lamp in the middle of the day, asking his daughter to start at the beginning.
"What do you mean, 'start at the beginning'?" she asked.
"What was your first impression of Derek? How did you two meet? What did he say? What did you think of him?" Ben clarified. "What did meeting him make you feel? Tell me how it happened."
"In it's entirety. Leave nothing out."
Casey bit her lip. She remembered exactly what her first impression of Derek had been and, honestly, she wasn't keen on telling her father that. Maybe she could just skim over that part? Apparently not, because her father was already telling her that she had nothing to be worried about. Say anything. She sighed.
"Derek and I first met at the rehearsal dinner the night before the wedding. We ran across each other before we were officially introduced. I had no idea who he was at the time and he didn't have a clue who I was," she began. "I was in the lobby of the hotel waiting on Mom and Lizzie - they were in the bathroom. The next thing I knew, there was this guy standing right beside me and when I looked up I thought… well, I thought he was the hottest guy I'd ever seen. We talked for a while and he did the strangest thing: he asked me about art."
Ben's eyebrow rose. Judging by Casey's penchant for using the word 'caveman' to describe Derek, it was indeed rather odd to hear of him discussing art. Intrigued, he gestured for her to continue.
"Well, now that I think about it, it isn't really that strange. I mean, when we first moved in, they had this painting of a landscape hanging above the fireplace. Mom and I eventually got rid of it; it was…dreary. But when we first took it down, Derek was screaming about where had we put his art? It never really registered to me before." She paused, frowning at her oversight, "Anyways, before we finally got it banished to… you know, I have no idea where it went. Anyhow, I Googled it and it turned out it was a replica of some sort of masterpiece."
She took a bite, thinking for a minute. "As I was saying though, I was looking at this Picasso print they had hanging in the lobby: Woman Ironing to be exact, and he just… materialized next to me and asked, 'You like?' so I looked at it then at him and then told him Picasso wasn't my style."
And there was something in the way that she said it, even there at their table, that told Ben exactly what she'd meant. It was hardly any father's dream to realize that his little girl was capable of being in any way suggestive toward the opposite sex yet Ben, who already understood that he didn't have much control over his daughters' life, was quite glad to see that his Cassandra hadn't thrown herself at Derek, no matter how "hot" she'd thought he was.
"Then he told me that I didn't look like a Picasso girl (which came back to bite him in the butt, he found out that I actually am an abstract art girl; I just prefer more modern abstract art). So I asked him if he liked the picture and then he said - and this is what really confuses me because he was just way too… real when he answered me - he said, and I quote, 'Nah. Vermeer and Van Gough are more my style.' I was thinking, Guys like this exist? For real? Then he told me I looked like a Kinkade girl. Who the hell is Kinkade anyway?"
Ben was amused. "He's right. You probably are a Kinkade girl. I've never thought of it before. That was quite insightful of him for a first meeting."
Casey scoffed. "The way he was checking me out I'm not surprised he-"
She stopped abruptly, blushing. She decided she had better stop where she was before she said anything else along that line. Derek hadn't made a secret of looking her up and down in those first moments of their acquaintance. He'd looked at her the same way she's seen him look at all the prettiest girls in their school. And while in some smothered part of her heart she was smiling at the epiphany, the thought of nearly having been one of Derek's many conquests made her unimaginable angry.
"So we flirted." Casey's lips twisted in a way Ben had never seen before. It was an odd mixture of fond reminiscence and self-loathing. "A lot."
She paused and stared out the window. Suddenly, she shook her head and, still not looking at her father, she continued in a much harsher tone, "He was too smooth. And genuine but I've seen him work girls before; he must've been really bored to go all out like he did that night. Anyway, I almost gave him my phone number."
"What happened?" Ben asked, intrigued by the way his daughter's social life worked. Casey hardly talked about boys. Occasionally, as an aside, she would mention whoever she was dating at the time when she sent him her monthly emails but otherwise Ben had no idea what kind of people - especially of the male persuasion - his daughter preferred. Whether she knew it or not (and whether he wanted to admit it or not) it appeared very obvious to Ben that Cassandra had a 'thing' for this boy. Whatever that 'thing' might be.
"Mom and George found us and were so glad we'd met. That was when I realized I'd been flirting with my stepbrother. I spent the rest of the night avoiding him."
"Well, I tried. We were all sitting at the same table so it was kind of hard. But in a way that was a good thing because suddenly it was like everything that was wrong with him was highlighted in icky florescent green. You'd be amazed how much you can find out is wrong with a person in three hours," she stated.
Ben nodded pensively. They sat for a while listening to the customer around them, not saying anything, each lost in their own thoughts. Then Ben spoke up: "Correct me if I'm wrong, Cassandra, but based on what you just told me, wouldn't you agree that your initial feelings toward Derek were those of attraction and potential romantic interest?"
Casey choked on her salad.
Lizzie sat up when Edwin walked into the room. She saved her game and turned to face him. "So what's the verdict?"
"Well," he replied, plopping down on the foot of her bed, "it's Friday night and Derek is sitting in front of his computer after I reminded him that it is, as I said before, Friday night."
"During summer vacation," Lizzie added after a moment's thought.
"During summer vacation," Edwin agreed. Scratching the back of his head, he said, "I don't get it. First Casey decides she's had enough and takes off to the States and now Derek is a homebody? Why didn't anyone tell me that the world shifted off it's axis? Nothing in this house makes sense anymore."
Lizzie sighed and sat beside him. "When has anything in this house ever made sense, Edwin?"
"True, true. But this is off the scale, Liz. What do you think happened?" he asked.
Lizzie shrugged, at a loss for an answer. "I don't know. Maybe they finally figured it out?"
"I think Derek's worried about that DVD," Edwin offered, "Did you ever find out what was on it?"
He groaned as Lizzie shook her head. "So what you're telling me is that we - we - have no idea what's going on?"
"Well that's just great. Any suggestions on how to find out?"
Lizzie smirked. "Of course."
Casey paced back and forth in front of the bathroom mirror, stopping every once in a while to stare at her reflection, shake her head and repeat the process. She'd been doing this for nearly twenty minutes. The one good thing about being at her father's place was that she had a bathroom all to herself. It was a luxury she'd never experienced before. Even prior to the merger with the Venturi household she'd always had to share a bathroom with Lizzie. She had never had one completely to herself and she liked it.
In fact, she liked a lot of things about life with her father. There was no one to fight with for the best seat at the dinner table, no one to fight with over the last clean glass/plate/cup left in the cupboard, no one to fight with for the fluffiest towel, no one to fight with for space in the bathroom (again, another perk of having a bathroom all to oneself), and no one to fight with for legroom on the couch. Heck, there wasn't even a fight over the remote because her father hardly watched TV during the day and he had a TV in his bedroom for after he went to bed. It was heaven. But, if she were truly honest with herself, Casey would realize that she missed the fighting. It was part of what made her life as vibrant as it was. And, for once, Casey was being honest with herself.
Since her father had basically accused her of the same thing Paul had earlier in the year, she'd been thinking, really thinking, about her life with Derek. Could it be that she really was attracted to the caveman? When she looked at it in retrospect, it was all very plausible:
She hadn't wanted to go to the stupid rehearsal dinner and had wanted less to meet her new stepsiblings. When Nora had told her that one of the boys was her age and that she would like him, Casey had expected a nerdy, bookish, socially inept geek who had read as many books as she had. At least she would have conversation, she had thought. Then Derek waltzed in oozing confidence and charm and he was so different from anything Casey had come to anticipate that she hadn't even considered the possibility that he might be one of her stepsiblings. Not to mention, he didn't look that much like George. That night Derek had worn his black pants, a black blazer and a green formal shirt and he had looked… well, Casey supposed there was no other word for it, gorgeous.
There, that wasn't so hard.
Actually, what scared Casey most was how easy it had been to admit that Derek had been (and still was) extremely good-looking. The more she thought about it, the more discovered she had never not given Derek credit for his looks. He was the one always ragging on her about her clothes.
"'You know it's not Halloween, right?'" she mimicked. His favourite barb. Sighing, she asked the walls, "Why does he have to be such a jerk?"
Leaning her weight on the counter, she looked her reflection in the eye. "Why do you care?"
Bored feet drifted past Casey's unoccupied bedroom and onward down the hall. Marti stopped halfway past Derek's room having noticed that his door was ajar and there was sound, however distorted, pouring faintly through the gap. Curious, she tiptoed over to it and peered inside. Derek was there staring intently at the computer screen.
"What are you doing, Smerek?"
He jumped visibly, swiftly clicking at something. When he realized it was Marti, he smiled and breathed again. He allowed her to clamber up onto his lap before hitting the play button once more. Marti settled into a more comfortable position, accustomed to this sort of thing. She often sat with Derek when he was editing (mainly because she found it fun to watch the family and because it was one way for Derek to avoid playing dress-up). She'd seen this footage before, she realized. In fact, she'd seen it quite a number of times.
Studying her brother's face, she couldn't help but notice how hard he was concentrating. After all, he hadn't even said anything to her. He kept his eyes fixed on the screen. He wasn't stopping and replaying anything either. He was just…looking. Which was odd, because Derek didn't waste time like this with his movies. But as Marti continued to watch, even in her six-year-old world, understood that there was one common element in everything she was watching. And that was probably why Derek wasn't actually doing any editing.
"You really miss Casey, don't you, Derek?"
His face snapped toward her and he stared at her for a moment before sitting back and nodding. Smiling oddly - Marti didn't know quite how to describe it - he replied, "Yeah, I guess I do. Do you?"
Marti nodded vigorously. "I don't have anyone to dance with in the kitchen anymore. And everything is so quiet. You guys fight really loud, you know."
Derek chuckled. "I know we do."
Marti frowned, pondering an inconsistency in her reality. Confused, she asked, "Derek, do you like Casey?"
Derek's eye went wide. "What do you mean?"
"You guys were always fighting before she went away so I guessed you didn't like each other then. Do you like her now?"
"Hmm," Derek sighed, obviously thinking of a way to answer her without being too confusing or complex. Then he looked at her with his 'serious face'. "If I tell you something, Marti, do promise to keep it secret? Totally, totally secret?"
Marti nodded eagerly. No one else in the house really told her their secrets. Derek was the only one who really trusted her enough. Casey had told a few but those hadn't stayed secret for very long anyway so Marti supposed they didn't really count. "I promise, Smerek."
"Ok. The truth is: I've always liked Casey. From the first day we met her. You remember that?"
"Mm-hmm. You saw her first. You guys spent a long time talking by that picture."
He smiled. "Yes, we did. And I thought she was very nice then."
"And very pretty too!" she exclaimed, remembering Derek's initial comment on seeing their stepsister. "You said she was…gorgus."
"Gorgeous," he corrected.
She cocked her head to the side and questioned, "So why do you two fight so much?"
"Because… that's how we talk to each other. Sometimes I want to tell her something, but I can't put her on my lap and tell her like this, so we try to talk and then we start arguing."
Marti looked at him suspiciously, unable to comprehend this twisted teenager logic. "Is this like the time you told me cows quack, Smerek?"
Laughing, Derek answered, "No, it isn't. Things between me and Casey are a little more complicated than quacking cows. Honestly, Smarti, I don't know how I feel about Casey anymore. Since she left it's been really weird because I'm glad that I don't have to fight with her anymore but at the same time…" His arms tightened around Marti's torso, pulling her in for a closer hug, "I miss her so much it hurts, Marti."
Marti's eyes were the size of saucers as she struggled to turn in his grasp and face him. She was far too young to understand what Derek was going through. Far too young to even imagine it. But Derek was her favourite brother and he was, apparently, in pain. "It hurts? Where?"
"Here," her said. He took her small hand and placed it over his heart. "It hurts my heart."
"Derek!" Nora called rushing up the stairs. "Derek, where are you?"
She got to his door and threw it open, not particularly concerned about his privacy at that point. She hurried over to his desk and stared at him appraisingly.
"Are you ok?" she asked, concern saturating her breathless voice, "Marti told me your chest is hurting you. Is it hurting you now? Are you dizzy? Can you breath properly? Why didn't you call one of us?"
Derek blinked, amazed by how quickly Nora could speak and caught completely off-guard by her questions.
"I'm sorry, Nora, what are you talking about?"
She looked at him incredulously. "Your heart! I walked through the door and Marti tells me you've got chest pains. Are you ok? Do you want to go to the hospital? Did you get hit at hockey practice or did this just start by itself?"
It took a moment for Derek to remember when he'd told Marti he had chest pains. And then it hit him. All he wanted to do was go through the floor. He was torn between utter humiliation and anger at Marti for not keeping his secret. She'd never failed him before.
From behind Nora, her guilty little head peaked out. He lunged. "Smarti! I thought I told you to keep that secret!"
Refusing to back down, she shouted back, "Dad told me not to keep those kinds of secrets! You're sick!"
"I'm not sick, Smarti. I didn't mean it like that!"
It never registered that he was, in fact, quarreling with a six-year-old. It also did not occur to him at that point that she had probably thought he was in danger. He hadn't qualified his aching heart statement and he should have noticed the very worried look on her face when she left his room.
Marti had had enough. "You said that you miss Casey so much your heart hurts! If it hurts, you need to get it fixed, Derek! Dad said to always tell if someone is in pain and I did!"
She turned to Nora and asked, "That's good, right?"
Nora, who had been staring at Derek since the mention of Casey blinked out of her haze and smiled at Marti. "Of course it is. It's exactly the right thing to do. Why don't you go wait in the kitchen and I'll come get you some ice-cream for doing such a good job, ok?"
Derek watched Marti leave with dread. When the sound of her footsteps were no longer audible, he glanced at Nora, who was looking straight at him once again.
Derek squirmed. It was one thing to tell your father that you might just love the girl in the room next door. It was a completely separate ballgame to have to face the mother of that girl, knowing fully well that she was very aware of your reputation.
Scratching the back of his head, Derek tried to play it cool and brush off the suffocating awkwardness with his usual non-chalance; "You know, Nora, Marti-"
"Is waiting for her ice-cream and I think that Smerek needs to go apologize to his concerned little sister while I get changed."
She grinned at him that way she always had and left. He stared after her, surprised and more than a little confused. Derek knew who he would need to speak to in order to sort out Nora's reaction to her new knowledge of his attachment to her daughter but since his father wouldn't be home for at least another hour, he ought to go get Marti that ice-cream.
Why do you care? The question repeated in her head over and over. Really, why did she care about Derek? And that was where all the actual trouble laid. No matter how much she tried to deny it, Casey had realized that she did care about Derek. At the very least, she cared about his opinion. Perhaps, that was even scarier. He wasn't her peer at all. Not in the any of the ways that weren't made school reports. They were not what anyone with eyes, ears or emotions would call friends. But she cared about what Derek did, what Derek said, what Derek thought and even what Derek felt.
Staring at the other cars on the interstate, Casey decided that yes, that was the essence of her problem. She wanted too much to impress people. She knew she went out of her way to be the best. Everyone she had met prior to joining the Venturi family had conceded this in one way or the other until she'd met Derek "The Derek" Venturi, who just so happened to think that he was the best and that the things at which Casey excelled were meaningless.
Content with her self-manufactured explanation, she smiled. Ben glanced at her then.
"What are you thinking about?"
"Derek," she replied.
"With a smile?" he questioned. "Should I take this as a sign of some sort?"
"Well, I think I've figured out why Derek bothers me so much," she said. "He doesn't appreciate me. I mean, he doesn't think that the things I do are important and therefore he doesn't think that I'm really good anything since I don't do the things he does. That's why he gets to me. Because he doesn't give me credit for being good at things when I deserve it while I do admit that he is good at some things I'll probably never do."
"Charming girls onto the couch?" she suggested, a smile tugging at her lips. "Seriously, he plays sports much better than I could ever dream of."
"That's it?" he asked, pulling up in front of the posh house at which they were attending a party, "He plays sports?"
Casey shrugged, hand on the door latch. "Do you expect me to give anymore?"
Author's Note: I had some internet problems, that's why this chapter has taken so long. It's about 1000 words longer than usual so I hope that makes up for time. Also,I know that some of this sounds like filler, but it isn't. I don't write anything that doesn't have a purpose. Finally, I'd like to thank the readers for all the wonderful reviews I've gotten so far. They're really encouraging.