There's a moment where he's standing at the car and the funeral seems like a distant memory. He has Marti's hand and the car keys are gripped tight between his fingers. Casey isn't there; she has no idea what he's thinking. Mart is tired, she's rubbing her eyes and asking him what they're doing, where they're going and he has no answers, not really. The reply he does have is only going to upset her. So instead, he buckles her into her seat and he climbs up front and turns the ignition. He doesn't know where they're going, he knows Casey would have it planned down to the very last letter, but she's not coming with. And so he takes one last look at his childhood home, silently says goodbye and pulls out of the driveway. And as he goes, he feels the last bit of heart he has left crack and crumble.
Derek woke up in a sweat, his head throbbing and his body drenched in sweat.
"Wha's wrong?" came the sleepy concern from the girl lying next to him. She sat up, her dark hair in disarray and one of her hands reached his shaking shoulder. "Nightmare?"
He swallowed tightly. Was it? He was planning to leave, wasn't he? That was his big master plan to keep Marti from suffering through Abby. So shouldn't it be a relief to dream of the future? To know that he could, and would, be able to take her away as planned?
"Hey?" she murmured and then she was hugging him, her hand stroking his back to calm him down. He closed his eyes tight, it was too hard to be this close and not question himself and all of his decisions of late.
She smelled good, felt even better, and he wanted nothing more than to wrap his arms around her and never let go. But the uncertainty of what was going to happen stopped him and all he could do was lean back, taking her with him until they were both sprawled back on the bed. It didn't take her long to fall back asleep, but this time she was cuddled up to him and he couldn't help himself from stroking her arm as it laid across his chest. He wondered if in the future, he'd ever not regret leaving her behind.
There's a three day period that goes by in a blur. One minute he's lying in bed with Casey, holding on to her as long as he possibly could, and the next he's explaining what a wake was to Marti. She was still confused in the end, but he told himself there was really nothing more to be said. The funeral felt never-ending; it seemed to drag on, filled with sadness that only choked him. He eyed the exit like a life-preserver, wanting to run for it, escape and never look back. But Casey sat on one side, holding his hand tightly, and Marti on the other, inching herself into his lap with every blubbery sigh coming from the person next to her.
He watched as people rose to say something nice, as children and adults shared their memories of Lizzie and Edwin, Nora and his dad. He remembered how Casey's hand tightened the longer the funeral went on, until he could no longer feel his own but couldn't manage to care. He rested his cheek against her head, inhaled the sweetness of her hair, and waited for it to be over. There were blown up pictures of his family within reach but staring at them, these unmoving images left him empty inside. He shook hands with strangers and distant family members, nodding his head mechanically at their condolences, but all he wanted was for the day to end.
There was a gathering at the house afterwards. He sat with a paper plate on his knee, filled with food he never touched. Marti never left his side. She did, however, pick food off his plate when hers was empty, rather than desert him to get another helping. Casey walked around as host, hugging those that ran at her with open arms, taking the pity and the sorrow like a pro. But he could see her mask cracking, watched her lips twitch and the way her eyes turned toward the stairs, wanting to get away.
He gave it an hour, put up with all the nameless faces and the pats on his shoulder. And then, when he couldn't put up with it anymore, he snuck into the kitchen where Casey was preparing more hors d'oeuvres. He grabbed her hand, ignoring her protest and the three of them, with Marti hiked up on his hip, fled into the backyard. Casey tapped her foot impatiently, waiting for an explanation, and instead of admitting how claustrophobic he was feeling and knew she was too, he gathered up a snowball and tossed it at her.
Ten minutes was spared for them to have a snowball fight. Ten minutes of chasing each other around in a yard that used to be filled with the laughter of their family. He heard Marti's shrieks, her giggles and he picked her up and tossed her in the air. He felt his chest lighten for those few moments. He watched as Casey's cheeks rosied with the cold and stopped himself from cupping her face and warming her. He and Marti waged war on Casey until his little sister deflected to make a girls team against him. And in the end, when they were lying in the snow, making angels and breathing heavily, he hoped his dad and his brother, his step-sister and the mother he wished he'd had all along, was staring down with pride.
It was all over too quick when somebody came looking and dragged them back into the mix. But for just a moment, he'd seen Casey smile and he's played with his Smarti, and the weight had fallen from their shoulders.
In the week to follow there were lawyers and wills and bills to deal with. People kept phoning, bringing over casseroles and telling them that whatever they needed, somebody was always there to help. Being George, he hadn't updated his will since shortly after he and Nora married. So there was no reassurance behind the idea that maybe, perhaps, by some chance, it would all come together easily and he'd get Marti. He was warned that Abby would fight and he would likely lose, but he refused to back down. He was Derek Venturi afterall, he always got what he wanted.
Packing Marti's things seemed easier that he'd thought. Especially since she was doing it all for him. He should get in the middle and tell her to get clothes other than what she used to dress-up, but instead he sat on the floor next to a large suitcase, watching pink and purple articles fly messily inside.
"Which one's prettier? The blue or the yellow?" she asked, holding up two ridiculous looking dresses that seemed to be half plastic and half taffeta.
She nodded. "Me too!" she exclaimed, tossing them both inside the suitcase before tapping her chin. "Okay… now I have to get all my crowns…" She started digging inside the mess that was her closet while he simply sighed to himself. His packing had taken all of fifteen minutes; clothes, one pair of shoes, toothbrush and toothpaste, a brush, his leather jacket and his CD's. There. Done.
He tossed it in the trunk and the glared moodily inside. Unfortunately, he didn't think kidnapping Casey would go over well in the long-run. She'd forced herself back to work, despite being told she should take some time off, and when she wasn't at the bridal shop she was researching adoption. He gave up on telling her it was pointless. They were spending most nights at her apartment, with Marti taking up the space between them, and so he enjoyed what time he had left with her. He couldn't fall asleep until he was sure both of them were.
Every morning, he woke up and he just… he stared at her. She was beautiful. Always had been. Even in those awkward years of pigtail braids and braces she'd had an adorable factor. Sometimes when he woke up, Marti was already in the living room enjoying cartoons, so it was just him and her and he could imagine… He could think of a future where he woke up with her there in his arms and this was all behind them, finally.
He came out of his thoughts abruptly. "Yeah?"
"What d'you think Casey will bring?" she wondered, bringing out a pile of over-sized, discolored high heels to pack.
He cleared his throat painfully. "Dunno. Same stuff as you, I guess."
She nodded brightly.
Her eyes widened. "D'you think she'll let me get Bucket right away?"
Sighing, he ran a hand over his face. "I don't know. We'll see."
He'd been fielding questions like that for awhile now. Every other minute, she was wondering about Casey; what Casey would do or like or want when they moved. He didn't know how to tell her she wasn't coming. That Casey wasn't going to a part of the future for them. He could already see that she wouldn't take it well; that she'd yell and scream and beg him to go back and get her. And he couldn't deny that he already wanted to, badly.
Casey was currently fitting a very finicky bride in a dress she would call ten shades of horrific, but her bride-to-be was in love with the monstrosity. She did her best to hide her scowl, which wasn't really hard since she'd been wearing a pathetically lame smile for what felt like forever.
"Are you absolutely sure you don't want to try something else on?" she offered hopefully. "I have an amazing off-white dress that was just sent over from—"
"Are you kidding? This is it! My dress!" she gushed over a wad of gum she'd been neurotically chewing that past three hours.
Casey nodded jerkily. "Right, of course, I'll just—"
A knock at the door interrupted her and she turned appreciatively before the tick of her eye could be noticed.
"Casey? There's someone here to see you. They're waiting in the lobby," her assistant Lisa informed her.
Nodding over a confused frown, Casey excused herself before leaving the room and making her way out to see her guest. She rather expected Derek to appear, maybe even hoped for it. A nice lunch away with just him and Marti was just what she needed. She sometimes thought maybe taking those offered days off would be better. She could go back to the short time in between all this chaos when it was just her and her two favorite people. Where Marti would whine about vegetables and Derek would let her do all the disciplining. However, when she stepped through the elegant arch overhanging the hallway, she stopped short.
"Abby?" Her eyes widened at the woman before her and she felt her insides harden.
Stepping forward primly, Abby scrutinized her head to toe. "We need to talk," she said plainly.
Somehow, Casey got the feeling 'talk' really meant they were going to have a very public, very loud, fight…
"How come we have to go now…?" Marti whined from the backseat. "Casey isn't done work until the big hand is on the fiiiive!"
Derek frowned. "You remember when I told you that mom wanted you to live with her?"
"Mmhmm." She nodded, wrinkling her nose with distaste.
"Well, she still does, and… Look, Smarti… there's a really good chance that she's gonna win and you'll have to move in with her." He licked his lips nervously as he turned the key in the ignition.
Marti gaped. "No! I don't wanna!" She kicked her legs in imitation of the on-coming temper-tantrum.
"I know." He stared downward. "I don't want you to either. So… So we're gonna go away, all right? Just like I promised. And we won't have to worry about mom taking you. It'll just be me and you, okay?" He swallowed tightly, clenching his teeth.
"And Casey too," she exclaimed happily.
He didn't reply.
He grunted, backing out of the driveway, refusing to look back at her.
"Smerek? Casey's coming too, right?" she asked, her excitement diminishing quickly.
"Casey… She can't… She's gotta…" He shook his head. "Casey's just gotta stay here, okay. She's… She's got a life here and… and-"
"No!" she yelled. "No, no, no! Uh uh!" Unbuckling herself, she sat forward quickly and started beating on his shoulder with her fists in frustration. "We lost daddy and Nora and Ed and Lizzie and I- I- No!" she cried, shaking her head. "I want Casey!" she sobbed, falling back to her seat and pulling her knees up to her chest. "Y-You promised! You said!"
Tears burned his eyes while he struggled for control. The car drove slowly down the street he'd grown up on, passing house after house he'd seen so many times he could still name all the people who lived there. There was Mr. Norris, who always complained that Derek was playing in his garden, picking all the flowers. He denied it, of course, even if he had been doing that, giving them to the cute girl who just moved in. Mr, and Mrs. Cartwright, the couple with no kids and four cats. Widow Jane, the lady that always smiled at him sadly when he rode by on his bike. Old Mr. Walker that was always saying his kids were coming to visit, even though they never did, and fixed the old car he'd had for decades instead of buying a new one. Mrs. Sampson who said to call her Trudy because she wasn't really all that old, even if she had more wrinkles that he'd ever seen before. The twins, whose parents he never met, but he'd been sure to get close to the cute girls in his junior year, learning just how different they really were, underneath their shirts at least. One of them stuffed while the other definitely didn't need to.
He smiled lightly at the memories, glanced morosely at Ms. Mavis as she watered her lawn, muttering to herself like usual. All the while, his childhood home disappeared in the rearview mirror. He turned right and headed toward the highway. Given enough time, they could disappear somewhere in the states. Nobody would know they were missing for awhile yet. Casey would keep quiet, knowing that this was a one-time chance and while she'd miss them, she wouldn't give them up.
He tried to block out Marti's hysterical sobbing but it only managed to make the ball of pain in his throat thicken. He used the sleeve of his shirt to wipe at the tears on his face, cleared his throat and continued forward. She'd stop crying eventually, she'd thank him in the future, she would understand. He hoped.