"If you are not too long, I will wait here for you all my life."
Part One: There will be time, there will be time
It happened so fast. By the time that Casey Macdonald had time to process what had happened, all four of them were gone. It was true that she had felt the tension, raw and undulating, building up for weeks. There was the silence, a short comment at dinner, a light turned out way before bedtime. But it still happened too fast. And nobody could have anticipated this.
Casey came home from Emily's house one night and the house was quiet. For one crazy moment, her heart stopped. She didn't hear Derek's loud music or Edwin's witty banter with Lizzie. The absence of Marti's incessant chirping nearly brought tears to her eyes. She knew the answers to all of her questions even before they were to be confirmed.
As she dropped her bag by the front door (a habit she had done away with once the Venturis moved in), Lizzie came down the stairs.
"They're gone," she told her big sister.
Casey paused, catching her breath, "What do you mean?"
"George and them, they left a few hours ago," Lizzie said, "Mom's been crying ever since."
Casey couldn't remember the last time she had seen her mother cry. She couldn't imagine what it would be like. That pesky muscle in her chest tightened, and Casey knew that once she saw her mother's tear-stained cheeks, her own tears would begin to fall. She took a deep breath.
"Do you know if they're coming back?" Casey asked.
Lizzie shrugged helplessly, "I hope so."
Casey saw the hurt in Lizzie's eyes. She and Edwin had become best friends. They got along. They could talk to and confide in each other. They were partners in crime. She put her arm around Lizzie, who buried her face against Casey's shirt. Her small frame shook for a moment as she cried as quietly as possible. Lizzie pulled away and wiped at her eyes with the back of her hand.
"At least you won't have to put up with Derek anymore," she said with a small hiccup.
Casey froze at the mention of his name. Lizzie was right. With George moving out, there would be no more pesky Derek there to bother her. He wouldn't be able to urinate on the toilet seat or use the last bit of toothpaste. There wouldn't be anymore dinnertime belching or beach volley playing on the television. She would now be able to study without the annoyance of loud music vibrating through the walls. Her life would be hers to lead now. No more deceptive, manipulative Derek. It should have made her ecstatic. She should have felt relieved. Instead, she felt something quite odd. She felt disappointed almost. Empty.
"Are you going to talk to her?" Lizzie asked tentatively, staring up at her big sister with wet eyes.
Casey bent down to wipe a tear from Lizzie's cheek, "Why don't you go up to my room for a minute and I'll be up as soon as I'm done talking to Mom?"
Lizzie nodded and turned to head up the stairs. Casey waited until she was out of sight before she grabbed the banister to steady herself. For some reason, she was finding it difficult to breathe. What was going on?
The thought of her mother, alone in her room and crying, jerked Casey back to reality. She had to go console her, figure out just what was going on. Usually Nora told her children everything, but when she and George started having problems a few weeks back, not a word had been said. Casey wasn't sure what to expect as she softly knocked on her mother's door.
There was a sniffle, then, "Come in."
Nora was sitting there on the edge of her bed. A small wastebasket full of tissues rested by her feet. Casey sat next to her mother and hugged her.
"Mom, are you okay?" she asked softly, "What's going on? Lizzie said that George left."
Nora's hands shook slightly as she folded and unfolded the crumpled tissue in her hand, "Oh, Casey. I don't know what's going on."
Casey's heart broke to hear her mother's voice so pitiful and unsure. Casey shouldn't be consoling her mother. It should be the other way around. She felt slightly dizzy. Her mother always had all the answers. What were they going to do now?
"Is this permanent?" Casey asked, "I mean, are they not coming back?"
"I don't know, sweetheart," Nora replied, "I just didn't think I could do it anymore."
The tears that Nora had fought so hard to hold back came sliding quickly down her cheeks. She was embarrassed that Casey had to see her this way. Casey embraced her mother once more until she regained her composure. Nora blew her nose into the tissue she had been holding and dropped it into the wastebasket at her feet.
"Mom, what's going on with you and George?" Casey asked, grabbing the tissue box from the bedside table and extending it to her mother.
"It's just not the same as when we met," Nora said, pulling a tissue out, "I mean, he seems so distant. And he works all of the time now. There's something wrong, but he won't open up."
"Do you think he..." Casey began, but drifted off, feeling slightly foolish that she was about to bring up the subject of infidelity.
Nora just sighed, reading her daughter's mind, "I don't think so. But I'm not sure. He's been very secretive."
"Maybe he just has a lot on his mind," Casey said, "I mean, I don't know. It can't be over just like that, can it?"
Nora wrapped a protective arm around Casey, "We'll have to see. Maybe we all just need some time apart," then she paused a moment, "I'm sure you're happy to get Derek out of the house for a while."
Casey mustered a smile, "I just want you to be happy."
Nora kissed her daughter on the cheek, "Thanks for the talk. I know it's a complete role reversal, but thank you. Do you want to round up Lizzie and we can go for pizza or something?"
"That would be great," Casey replied, kissing her mother's cheek.
She left her mother's room quietly and slipped upstairs. As she passed Derek's room, she got an empty feeling in her stomach. The door was slightly ajar, and the lights were off. It was completely silent. She would give anything to have Derek back.
For Mom's sake, she clarified to herself.
Because Derek coming back meant that George would be back, too. And her mother could finally be happy again. But it just wasn't like her stepfather to be acting this way. Her mother had used awkward words to describe his behavior: secretive and distant. That wasn't him at all.
Lizzie startled her out of her thoughts, "What did she say?"
Casey turned to see Lizzie standing a few feet away. She had been so lost in her own thoughts that she hadn't even heard her come out of her room.
"Everything's a little unsure right now, Lizzie," Casey admitted, "But Mom said that maybe after some time apart, things will go back to normal."
Lizzie nodded solemnly, "Is Mom okay?"
"She's hanging in there," Casey said, "She really needs us to be strong for her right now."
"I know," Lizzie said.
Casey reached down and gently tugged on a piece of Lizzie's hair, "Do you want to go get pizza with Mom?"
Lizzie nodded in response and Casey smiled down at her, "At least you'll be able to still see Edwin at school."
Lizzie's face brightened at the idea, "Tomorrow!"
Casey laughed as Lizzie ran downstairs. The thought crossed her mind that she would see Derek at school tomorrow as well. As much as she dreaded the thought, they needed to talk. Maybe they could exchange information that would bring light to the whole situation.
Whatever was going on, Casey wanted everything to go back to the way that it was. The four Venturis needed to come back home, where they belonged.
For Mom's sake, she quickly reminded herself as she headed downstairs.