Bartering Lines

Disclaimer: I do not own Life With Derek, or Ryan Adams (though he is on my Christmas List). Blame his painfully fantastic lyrics for this piece.


Casey is twenty-one today. You're both home for fall break and Nora throws a party and invites dozens of people from your high school that you, arguably the most popular guy in your graduating class, don't even remember, let alone Casey. She spends the entire evening at your side, mostly, munching on chips constantly as a preemptive move to ward off uncomfortable conversation. When someone does catch her, though, you make faces at her behind their backs and watch her try not to laugh.

After the crowd is gone, Nora stands with her arms full of empty paper cups and plates. "It was a horrible party, wasn't it?"

"No!" Casey cries. You snort. "Well, okay. It wasn't horrible, it was just. Not my style."

Nora rolls her eyes to heaven and sighs. "I'm never gonna get the hang of this."

Nora's saved the gift-giving for just the family, thankfully. She and Marti lead Casey into the kitchen where the packages have been piled up, wrapped in ridiculously garish wrapping paper. Marti plops a paper crown on Casey's head and sits her in the 'throne,' aka the barstool at the counter.

She's surrounded by color, eyes sparkling with laughter and face shining with a slight sheen of sweat so that when she turns her head, her cheekbone seems to reflect the light. She gives a small giggle every time she gets a new gift shoved in her face.

Most of the gifts are clothes. Casey's taste is pretty straightforward and it's the easiest thing to get for her. Lizzie gives her a pair of delicate spiral earrings that Casey squeals over and immediately puts on. They dangle by her jaw.

When she opens your gift, her lips turn up at the corners for a brief second before she suppresses it. "A book?"

You shrug. "Journal," you correct. Something flickers in her face and she cracks open the cover, flipping through the blank, cream coloured pages. "I figured – she talks so much, why not get her a place to put it all?"

She runs her fingertips over the leather-bound cover and narrows her eyes. "You just want to steal it and read all my most embarrassing moments, don't you?" But there's a hint of amusement in her eyes.

"You caught me. Too much work to find the one you already have."

She shakes her head, ducking her chin into her chest. She doesn't already have one and you already know this.

"That's adorable," Nora says, smiling. "Nice to see your pranks are getting lazier, Derek."

"Not lazier. Just more communal."

"That's one way of putting it." Casey's expression is a gleaming shield once more, eyes skittering across your face and down to the floor, never connecting. She sets the journal aside and changes the subject.


When she was sixteen and you were seventeen, you bought her a necklace. It was a chunky silver chain with hunks of gemstone set in-between the links. Completely and totally not Casey's style at all, but for some reason it reminded you of her. You ripped off the price tag with your teeth and tossed it in Casey's toiletry case.

The next morning, you watched her find it. She looked confused at first, but then her face cleared and her head snapped around to look at you so quickly that you were surprised that you didn't hear the crack.

She raised one slender eyebrow and slipped the jewelry into her pocket. The next you saw it on her was at Prom. It matched her dress.


It's graduation day. You and Casey both went to the same university, and everyone and their mother is there. You can't catch a real glimpse of her when she isn't surrounded by distant relatives, so you hang back. Thankfully your father was a little less trigger-happy on the whole family thing, so besides Dad and Nora and the kids, there's your mother and not much else.

It's only after the ceremony that you get to be face-to-face with her. Her hair is falling out of its clip and you want to run your hands through it and ruin what is left of her bun.

"Come on. A little closer, Derek, she doesn't bite." Nora's got a camera in each hand and a dangerous look on her face. "You're family! Hug your sister."

You wince visibly and Casey recoils. "I don't stink, jackass." She wraps a tight hand around your arm and pulls you in.

"Stepsister," you correct futilely as Nora snaps the picture. The flash is so bright you get stars in your eyes.

"Come on, Derek. Get a little closer." Even Abby has gotten into the spirit and is now urging you closer with a manicured hand. "Give us a break."

You look over at her and slowly wrap your arm around her waist, rolling your eyes for affect. Casey stiffens beneath your hand.

"See! That's adorable!" Nora and Abby grin at each other and compare pictures as Casey wrenches away from you as if on fire. The look on her face is like a kick to the gut.

"Thanks, sis," you say, for absolutely no good reason at all.

"No problem," she snarls.


There were pictures of you and Casey all over Edwin's digital camera. He'd gone through a photography class in his sophomore year of high school and had picked you two as his subjects for his final project. Dozens of shots of you and Casey doing things like washing dishes, reading, working on the computer and other completely useless things populated his camera's memory.

But there were also pictures of you together that Edwin had caught when neither of you were looking. Fighting, talking, laughing…fighting. Mostly fighting.

The one that earned Edwin his A was of you in Casey's room, up late after some party or another that you'd both been at. You'd been angry about something stupid, and the shot caught you towering over her as she sat in her desk chair. She was completely dwarfed by your height advantage, yet still managed to look up at you as if you were a piece of gum stuck to her heel.

You delete that picture off of Edwin's camera and feign ignorance when he asks you about it.


There's a film school in Burbank. You get accepted and your first thought is to call Casey. Your second thought is about how much of a pussy you are.

Nora has "family functions" now that you and Casey have both graduated. You tell them at all at the very first one.

"Grad school?" George blurts incredulously, then winces.

"It's a scholarship. Two years, full ride. You won't have to pay for any of it."

"What about room and board?" Nora asks. "I mean, does it even have dorms, or will you need an apartment? I mean…Burbank, California – what are the prices even like out there?"

"I've got some money saved up," you say simply. You're staring at Marti because you really, really don't want to look at Casey. "You know I'll come back to visit right?" Casey is glaring you. You can feel her gaze.

Marti nods and shrugs. "Whatever."

Well, then. "Thanks, sis. I'll miss you too."

Edwin shakes his head. Glaring. She's glaring at you. "Figures. I'm stuck in high school and you're off to be a movie star."

"Movie director," you correct. She's still glaring at you. "You've only got one year left anyway, Ed. Have faith." He smirks and rolls her eyes.

Nora laughs and opens her mouth to say something, but Casey slams away from the table, napkin falling from her lap. The front door slams and a few moments later you see her headlights in the window.

"She's just upset," Nora says. "She'll get over it. Guess she cares about you more than you thought, huh?"

"Uh huh." You throw your fork aside, suddenly not hungry.


She has a birthmark on her right shin that's shaped like a star if you squint. You caught her tracing it with a red pen one Sunday afternoon during your senior year of high school.


She grinned and finished her creation, sticking out her leg for your perusal. "The next Van Gogh!" she declared.

"I think he did actually start out with body art," you quipped, quelling the urge to grab her ankle. "The painting came later."

"Your turn." She grabbed your forearm and squinted at it. "Let's see here…" she drew lines on your skin in red, connecting imaginary dots on your arm. "There you go."

You turned your arm around to examine it and discovered that she'd drawn a pitchfork on your skin. "Is that supposed to imply something?"

She shrugged. "I draw what the spirit moves me."

"And this moves you?" You traced the star on her leg.


Time froze and you couldn't figure out what you were feeling. Then the door opened and Casey jumped up, retreating to her room as your family filed inside.


You stop by her apartment about a week before you leave. She hasn't been answering your phone calls and you hate yourself for not wanting it to end like this.

She opens the door, face dimming when she sees who it is. "Oh, it's you."

"Don't jump out of your skin in excitement."

"What do you want, Derek?" she asks impatiently.

What a loaded question. "I want to talk to you."

"I'm busy."

You shove your foot in-between the door and the frame before she can close it. "Let me in."


"Excuse me." You're stronger than she is and easily capable of shoving your way in, but you don't, for a reason you can't discern. "You were the one that stormed out the other night."

"You're the one moving to California," she spits.

"What do you care?" you snap. "Let me in."

"No! And I care a lot!"


She huffs. "What does it matter now?"

Your voice quiets. "It matters a lot."

She leans her forehead against the doorframe, eyes falling shut. "Please, Derek."

Please what? "Case, let me in."

"No." You realize that she's crying and feel like a complete heel. "Just go. Okay? Call me when you get there."

"Casey." There are so many things you'd like to say, but words were never your strong point.

She wipes her face and looks up at you as if you've just killed her cat. "I want you to be happy," she accuses. "Go to California, Derek."

You can't tell if she's lying or not. You can't tell how she's feeling at all, really. This is not new. "Okay."

She nods and shuts the door.


Halfway through your first semester in college, Casey appeared at your door. You were surprised because although you attend the same school, she was studying theatre and English while you were in business and marketing. The campus was big enough so that you almost never ran into each other.

But she showed up at your dorm room, inviting herself in. She knew the combination to your lock, which – well, you really didn't want to know how she got ahold of that.

"I think I'm pregnant," she announced, and you spat out your mouthful of Diet Coke. Your roommate wisely chose that time to head for the library.


"Noel," she said miserably. "He came up for a visit, and, well."

You swallowed your own saliva, praying to whoever was listening that you wouldn't throw up until after she was gone. "Have you taken a test?"


"Well, come on, then."

You took her to the drugstore and bought the damn thing after she refused to leave the car. She didn't want to do it at the dorm, so you took her back home. It was the middle of the day, so the house was empty, and you lay down on her old, bare bed while she was in the bathroom. You stared at the ceiling and yelled at yourself in your head.

"Okay." She flounced into the room, hair and collar wet from where she'd splashed her face with water. "It says five to ten minutes, and it's been three and a half." She sat beside you and brought her knees to her chest, resting her chin on her knee. You wished you could say something, but the only words that come to mind wouldn't be appreciated by present company.

"Okay," you said after a bit, checking your watch. "Go ahead."

Every muscle in her body was tense, and she bit her lip violently as she turned it over. "It's negative," she said, and you let out the breath you'd been holding. "Thank God."

"Yeah." You swallowed the lump in your throat.

She collapsed next to you, head falling next to your shoulder. You lay in silence for a long time, and you thought that she was asleep until she said something. "Thanks," and you could barely hear her, but you told her that she was welcome anyway.


California is strange, and it feels too bright and too harsh, like standing beneath a bare light bulb for too long. School is distracting, but you still can't stop checking your email too much and when a slim brunette crosses your line of vision you instinctually follow her with your eyes, and it's all a little too much to handle.

You take up surfing and get a tan and you never date anyone who isn't a blonde. You hang out with unemployed rich college dropouts who never leave the beach for more than two hours at a time and there isn't a conversation where you don't speak about your "vision." You feel wholly and completely unoriginal, but at least you know what to expect.

Your twenty-third birthday creeps up on you, and before you know it Nora is calling and talking about a family vacation to come and see your "neck of the woods." She mentions Casey taking time off of grad school to join in and your hands start to shake.

"How's she doing?" you ask casually, and Nora snorts.

"You know Casey. Using every spare moment to work herself into the ground. We all worry about her." Nora sighs. "That's why I think this could be good for her. Some sun and relaxation. Promise me you won't bug her too much?"

"Won't be a problem," you say, fighting the urge to laugh, because you know it will sound too bitter.

They arrive on a rainy day, the first sign of anything but cloudless skies since you'd arrived. You think it's an omen.

Your father has a big case, and Lizzie has soccer camp and Edwin is…Edwin, so it's Nora, Marti and Casey that you greet at the airport. Marti latches onto your hand and clamps down like a vice, so you hug Casey one-armed, cheek brushing against her neck. You think you feel her shiver, but you're probably wrong. She's wearing dark clothes with Jackie O sunglasses and looking so prim and neat that you want to throw her into something on principle.

"You look good," she compliments. "Healthy."

She looks fucking gorgeous. "You too."

You take them to all the touristy places, but by noon Marti's feet are dragging and Nora keeps calling you "Georgie," so you take them to your apartment, letting them fall into their jet-lag stupor in the spare bedroom. Casey is wide awake, though, and pours herself a cup of cold coffee without asking permission.

"So what's it like out here?" she asks. "You having fun? Living the Hollywood lifestyle?"

"A regular Colin Ferrell," you reply.

She sits next to you at the table, her bare knees brushing the side of your leg. "Have you found what you're looking for?" she asks quietly.

"I'm not sure yet." She hasn't taken her sunglasses off, even though they're inside. "I'll let you know."


Casey is a horribly messy drunk. She sings loudly and off-key, she blurts inappropriate things and gropes anyone within reach, male or female. You discovered this at a party in your junior year of college, shortly after Casey's break up with whatever that guy was, you forgot his name.

"Men are unnecessary," she spat, arm flying dramatically and nearly beaming you in the temple. "God. Why the human race is not unisexual is unbelievable."

"Is 'unisexual' even a word?"

"What? Why…" she frowned. "Don't interrupt me!"

"Sorry." You wondered if this was going to be a safe conversation to have while you were driving.

"Stupid Devon. Stupid boys." She paused and looked down at herself. "Am I pretty?"

You nearly choked on air. "What?"

"I'm not pretty. That's what it's about." She looked up at you, wounded.

"That's ridiculous," you said, rolling your eyes.

"You don't think I'm pretty."

"That…is beside the point."


"What did this guy do to you, anyway?"

"I wouldn't sleep with him, so he dumped me," she said bluntly. Your stomach clenched. "It's because I'm not pretty."

"No, it's because you're not easy. There's a difference."

"You'd like me better if I were easy, wouldn't you?" She let her head fall back against her seat, eyes drooping. "You'd like me, period. If I were easy."

"You don't need to be easy for me to like you," you said, not thinking clearly about what you were saying. You looked over at her quickly to catch her reaction, but her eyes were closed.


The thing about parties in California is that it's all about preparation. You call this person who knows this person who was roommates with that person's girlfriend in college who might be having a thing at their place in Brentwood and if you were lucky they could maybe mention you the day before and get you directions, you know, if you wanted.

Casey seems to find all of this highly amusing. "I know what you are," she accuses. "You're one of those Hollywood types now, aren't you? Have you dated any heiresses lately? Flashed the paparazzi?"

"No." You'd like to joke around with her, but it's really not an option when there's just enough solemnity in her words to make you uneasy. "You're the one who wanted somewhere to go; now we have somewhere to go."

She purses her lips and says nothing.

The party is typical and boring, alike to a million others that you've attended since you moved here. There's a huge television on the back wall of whoever's house it is, playing music videos by hip-hop artists, surrounded by women gyrating and faceless lackeys, all trying to look cooler than everyone else. The party seems to be trying to imitate this, because everywhere you look you want to wince.

You sneak a look at Casey, who looks vaguely horrified. You laugh and lean down to her ear, "welcome to California."

"Let's get out of here," she shouts, and you are only too happy to oblige.

You drive her to your beach, even though it's nighttime and the gates are closed and locked, preventing drunk teenagers from drowning themselves on the city's dime. "I come here to surf," you tell her, parking the car. "It's a beautiful place in the daytime."

She looks out beyond the parking lot and the streetlights, watching the dim outline of the ocean. She cracks the window and the sounds of the waves invade the car, filling the silence.

"I really hate you sometimes, you know," she says, out of the blue. Then she laughs and presses her cheek to the glass of her window. "I'm seeing this guy…"

You hate the way your shoulders tense up. "Boyfriend guy?"

She laughs again. "No, a therapist guy."


"He reminds me of Paul a little – do you remember Paul?"

The guy that used to wince, turn tail and run at the sight of you, that would sigh in weariness and roll his eyes whenever he was forced to interact with you? Yeah, you remember the poor guy. Vaguely. You think he might have retired early. "Uh huh."

"Anyway, Mom sent me to him. She thinks I'm stressed out." She swallows and traces a line in the fog that her breath has made on the window. "I went in with this list of stuff I wanted to talk about, and I was all set to make him think I was just another stressed out grad student, but then I got in there and he asked me what was wrong, and all I could talk about was you."

You flinch. "Yeah?"

"Yeah. I told him everything I thought of, everything." You wonder what 'everything' means, and if she is going to let you in on this information. "He thinks I need time apart from you. He thinks that you being here in California is a good thing."

"Because I'm the bane of your existence?" you snap, stung.

"No, because you don't feel the same way," she says on a sigh.

What? "What?"

"Please don't patronize me, Derek."

It's like a strong gust of wind, or an ocean wave against your back, and you grab her arm, pulling her around so she's looking at you. Her eyes skitter away and stare at the dashboard. No. No. "No. Look at me."

She bites her lip and turns her chin up slightly, mouth set and stubborn. She's so – and you just –

"Please don't say anything," she whispers, and you never thought it was possible to want someone this much.

"Fine with me." There's this pushing, pulling feeling again, and there's nothing in the world to do except kiss her. She clutches your shoulders and sighs into your mouth and…damn.

She scrambles over into your lap and grabs at you like a madwoman, and it'd be funny if you weren't grabbing back. She tilts her head back, hair falling from its clip and lips bruised. She says your name in a voice she's never used in your presence before, and you wonder what the hell took you so long.


There was a necklace you bought for her birthday, a delicate snowflake on a chain that you saw in a small store that Marti had dragged you into. The saleslady told you that it'd been an heirloom, a handcrafted piece for someone's wedding day, the bride and groom both long gone and the exact story lost, faded into someone's family legend. You didn't even blink at the price, just slapped down your credit card.

Later you thought of Casey's face when she'd open it, how she'd scrunch up her features and look at you like you were insane. How she'd thank you distantly, and throw it to the bottom of her drawer, never to be thought of again.

On your way to her party, you stopped at a Borders and bought her a blank journal instead. The snowflake stayed in its packaging in your glove compartment.


You haven't had sex in a car since you were eighteen years old, and you don't remember it being much fun. But nothing with Casey is anything like you expect and somehow it fits together in a very strange way.

After you both find your breath again, you drive back to your apartment and sneak past the guest room where Marti and Nora are asleep. She presses her face into your back and giggles, ruffling your collar and you've never really heard her actually giggle before, neither would you ever have thought that it would be insanely hot, and you really can't help yourself. It all seems like a really great dream that you want to hold onto, so you drag her into your room and make love to her again, letting her bite your shoulder to keep from waking up her mother and stepsister.

"Are you going to tell your therapist guy about this?" you ask her afterwards, when she's laying pressed up against you, sweaty and more mussed than you've ever seen her. It's delicious.

She giggles, playing with your hands idly. "Maybe. Depends."

"Depends on what?"

"On whether or not he's telling my mother everything I say."

You pause. "Whoops."

She smiles and moves on top of you, hair tickling your collarbone. "Yeah. Whoops."


When Max dumped Casey, it was much worse than anything that had ever happened with Sam. There were no tears, no long diatribes to every available family member on how worthless boys were and how much she regretted ever meeting him. There were only closed doors and deafening silence.

Casey never told you, or anyone, what exactly had happened, but judging by the way Max walked down the halls with the new girl on the cheerleading squad, it wasn't too hard to figure out. She winced whenever anyone said his name, and the first day back to school she came home in tears.

You went to your regular evening hockey practice and came home with a black eye. Casey simply rolled her eyes at first, but when Max didn't show up for school the next day she walked straight up to you during your study period, slugged you in the shoulder and then hugged you. You laughed it off but you never teased her about it, either.


Their little vacation thing ends way quicker than you ever thought it would, and before you know it you're back in the airport, feeling decidedly shitty while Nora and Casey try and prepare for a Marti-filled three hour flight.

When Nora is preoccupied with Marti's lunch however, Casey drags you off into a nearby restroom, wrapping her arms and legs around you before you can blink. You push her into a stall and thank God for empty bathrooms.

She's got her hands beneath your shirt and her hands are cold when it slips out of your mouth without you really noticing until after the words are already spoken. "Stay. Stay with me."

"I can't." She sounds pained, and that's something at least.

"Then I'll come back with you."

"You can't do that either." She clutches your waist and squeezes hard. "Grad school, scholarship, ring a bell?"

"I hate it here," you say, and you didn't realize that was true until you said it. "I don't care."

"I care. It's your dream, Derek." You say nothing, leaning your forehead on her shoulder. "We'll call, and visit…"

"Not the same."

She sighs and lets her head fall back against the stall. "We'll work it out."

You could choose not to believe her, but it's kind of hard not to.


You lost your virginity to Sally Reynolds, and you knew it was a mistake even while it was happening. Sally was brash and stubborn and incredibly uptight, and though her hair was blonde and she was taller and thinner, she was still way too alike to your stepsister for you to pretend otherwise.

You kind of woke up afterward and felt sort of sick, and the feeling multiplied when you saw Casey's number flash on your cell phone. You didn't want to think about anything; all you'd wanted was a moment to just simply feel and nothing else, but apparently that was too much to ask.

You snuck out of Sally's house before she woke up, and you weren't particularly surprised when she never called you again – but you couldn't quite bring yourself to care, either.


Everything drags out into an endless expanse of grey until most of the time, you can't tell if you are awake or asleep. What few classes that you were really interested in lose all their appeal, and you spend most of your time on the beach, surfing until your skin is caked with salt and your eyes sting so badly that you can barely keep them open.

Casey calls at night, she says, because of the time difference. Never mind that she's actually ahead of you, so midnight to you is more like two am to her, but you don't mention it.

She talks about things that mean nothing to you; people you don't know, classes that are over your head, books you will never read. It's her voice, her mind, her presence you crave and you don't mind if she rambles on for twenty minutes about something you will never really understand, as long as she remembers and knows that it's you she's talking to.

Three weeks is as long as you last, and you make up an excuse to fly back to Canada to see her. You spend the entire time in her apartment and by the time she pushes you out the door ("I know you have classes Derek, you didn't think you were fooling me, did you?") neither of you had remembered to even tell anyone you were in town.

Everything seems duller, now that you've had a taste. The world has melted away into a dull knife that rubs at your skin incessantly, leaving you raw and used up.

"Let me come home," you beg. "This is ridiculous."

"Derek…" she sighs in the way you instantly recognize, because it's the same sound she makes whenever you bring this up, which is a lot. "You know why. I don't want to be that girl, the girl that makes you give up what you want just because she can't handle a little distance."

"Is it just because you don't want me there?" you accuse. "Maybe this is more comfy for you, me all the way out here."

"Now you're being ridiculous."

"So you admit that this is ridiculous?"

You can fight just as intensely over the phone. Neither of you have lost that, yet.

Then, one day, she stops calling. You leave dozens of inappropriate messages on her cell phone until you get the 'beep' that says her mailbox is full, meaning she hasn't been getting them. You bother every member of your family until Nora and Lizzie won't take your calls either, and you smash every piece of glass in your apartment one night in a half-drunk rage.

You don't think she's in trouble or anything – anything serious, anyway. You know that someone would call you if she'd been kidnapped or something – which means she's either worked herself into a finals-induced stupor or she's ignoring you. You hate that you're wishing for the former.

You can't sleep, you can't eat without feeling sick. It occurs to you to find some semblance of self-respect, but you're feeling way too pathetic to do anything but brood and mope.

You leave a final message on the machine for her apartment, trying not to say your name in case Lizzie or somebody would happen to hear it. It's the last leap you need to take, the desperate, last-ditch effort.

"I love you, do you know that? I'm in love with you, and I hate this. Tell me what I did, and I promise I'll fix it. Call me."

You hang up and promptly pass out.


Casey's always been horrible about your birthdays; she almost always forgets to get you something, and when she does buy you a present, she seems to mistake you for a thirteen-year-old girl. You still have that Harry Potter board game she got you once somewhere.

But for your twentieth birthday, she cooked you dinner instead. She sneaked into your apartment and spent all day in the kitchen, so when you returned from class and work the entire place smelled like your mother's house on Thanksgiving.

"What are you doing?"

She jumped and gave a little scream, brandishing a soup ladle. "You're not supposed to be home until six."

"Boss left me off early. Are those sweet potatoes?"

She blushed and you squelched the urge to touch her cheek to see if it'd be warmer than the rest of her face. "I called your mom, she gave me a list of all your favorite recipes," she said. "I hope this is okay."

She looked hopeful and you let your grin show. "My mom doesn't know I like chocolate chip pancakes," you said, spotting a plate of them next to the platter of Cornish chicken. "She has this idea that I eat healthy stuff."

"Well, that one might've been my idea," she said. "I've got those crab cakes you like, too, though I had to order out for them. I wasn't even going to attempt it. And the key lime pie is in the fridge."

"This looks like a potluck or something," you said, more touched than you could ever – or ever would – let her know.

"Do you like it?" She smiled sheepishly, fidgeting. "Happy birthday?" She said it uncertainly, like a question.

"I like it," you confirmed, unable to stop yourself from brushing her damp bangs off her forehead. "Thank you."

She beamed at you and you could practically feel your heart thumping.


She calls you back – fucking finally – and she's sobbing.

"I'm such an idiot, I'm so sorry, I can't believe I did that, I should have – oh, Derek, seriously, I don't know how anyone puts up with me when I do this, I can't even manage a simple – "

"Stop, stop." You're hung over and you forgot to close the curtains last night so the stupid sun is shining in your face. "Slow down."

"I love you too," she sputters. "Oh God, I love you so much."

"Case," you say, rising to your feet clumsily. "What's going on?"

"I'm pregnant," she says, and you fall back onto your couch. Damn, I knew we forgot something, you think. "I might have freaked out a little, because I might have thought that you might break up with me…" she trails off guiltily.

"You are an idiot," you manage.

"I'm sorry," she says miserably. "I'm so sorry."

"You're pregnant?" you repeat, because that's finally sinking in. "Like, a baby. You and me, and a baby."

"Yes." You hear some rustling and she sniffs. "Either that, or I need a new doctor."

You're silent for a very long moment, closing your eyes and allowing yourself to imagine it. You hear her making little sounds on the other end of the line, knowing what she's thinking and what she's worrying about without having to ask. "Casey," you say slowly, after letting her suffer for an appropriate amount of time. "Can I move back home now?"

She laughs and it turns into a sob. "Would you, please?"

You finally let yourself smile. "I'd be happy to."


You stopped trying to label her around your senior year of high school. No more 'that's my keener stepsister,' or 'Emily's best friend,' or even 'she's kind of my friend, maybe, I guess.' Simply Casey, nothing else.

In the summer before both of you left for college, Casey took a dance class at a studio on the edge of town. Her car had broken down, and so it was up to you to drive her to and from every Thursday night. You bitched about it a little, but Marti had just discovered High School Musical so really any time out of the house was a relief. You'd spend the time while she was in class usually sitting in your car, listening to your iPod or flipping through magazines.

One night, you came in to watch. Your iPod was dead, and…well, why not? You sat in the back and watched her dance, her body twisting and bending in ways that made your mouth water.

A woman walked up to you at one point, a soft smile on her face. "Your girlfriend?" she asked.

Something kept you from denying it. "Yeah," you replied.

"That's sweet," she said, shaking her head. Her face was distant and you knew she was probably thinking of when she'd had a boy waiting for her classes to finish. "Good luck."

You turned back to look at Casey, who was watching you intently. When she saw you looking at her, she quickly turned away, blushing. "Thanks."


"Why can't we just use your place?"

"Because my place is too small," Casey says.

"Case – "She glares at you and the hormones have been really kicking in lately, so you back off. "So, where is this property again?"

She relaxes slightly, drumming her fingers on the window. "It's up ahead, just keep driving until you see the real estate sign."

She hums under her breath when she's relaxed. You can recognize all the songs from every Broadway musical made since 1984, and you can only thank God that she never sings the words, so you couldn't sing along. Your manliness can take only so much.

She's humming something from an opera now, a low, mournful melody that wraps around you like a smoky blanket. She reaches for your hand and places it on her stomach. You can feel the outline of the baby through her skin and your breath catches slightly.

"David," you say.

"Cora," she replies, and you scrunch your nose. "Yeah, too grandma-y."

"Yeah, and a boy named Cora would be a terrible thing to do to a child."

She rolls her eyes. "Stop deluding yourself. It's so a girl."

"Whatever you say, Case."

She smiles and starts humming again, tracing the veins in your hand. You shiver slightly and move so that you're holding her knee.

The property she wants is on the outskirts of Toronto, a small piece of land close to the city, but too far out to be in the suburbs. It's a blank field right now, but in about six months there will be a small line of houses and a neighborhood park.

You park near a bulldozer and Casey gets out with effort, the weight of her stomach slowing her down. Her hair whips around her neck in the wind and she scowls, pulling it back into one hand. "So?" She spreads her arm in a sweeping gesture, Vanna White with the answer to the puzzle. "What do you think?"

You come up behind her and take her hair in your hand, smoothing it beneath the collar of her shirt for her. Her snowflake necklace glints in the sunlight, lying delicately against her skin. "I think it's a field."

"It is now," she says. "But do you like it? Once there's houses and stuff on it, I mean – could you see us living here?"

You tilt your head and fight the urge to laugh. You could see yourself anywhere, as long as she's there with you. "Sure," you say. "Whatever you want, baby."

"Cool." She smiles, content, and leans back into your chest.

You bury your face in her neck. "Yeah," you reply. "Cool."


the end.

Happy Thanksgiving, all you silly Americans.