Well, this is it folks. For this story, anyway.
I took a lot of suggestions from reviews, which I hadn't expected to get, actually, but since I did, I figured I'd use them—they only improved the story! I'm sure you recognized which bits are from your ideas. So thank you so much for that.
Kudos to anyone who can tell me the three songs I used as my chapter titles.
And THANKS FOR READING!
Disclaimer: So all that wishing on alligators and stars and other stuff for sixteen chapters didn't work. Guess I'll have to try harder next time. But for now, nothing is mine.
Chapter 17: Amen for N-Y-C…
FIVE YEARS LATER:
"Case, if you don't hurry up we'll miss our dinner reservations!" Derek called, willing his girlfriend to get a move on. She was currently holed up in the bathroom, trying to freshen up from a long day of tourism. They were staying at the Palace, a ridiculously opulent yet incredibly romantic hotel on the Upper East Side.
This trip to New York had been an impromptu one; Dennis had suggested they stay with him for the weekend when he had been up for their college graduation the week before. When they got to his apartment, he surprised them with the key to a room at the Palace Hotel.
After a whirlwind day with Dennis at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, lunch at Sardi's, and a trip to the Top of the Rock at Rockefeller Center, Casey and Derek were venturing into Little Italy for a romantic dinner. They had been coming to New York together once a year since that fateful first trip, and each time they had had wonderful adventures. But Derek was determined to make this trip, and this night, special.
He slipped the ring box into his pocket; his plan was to tie it to her glass of wine with a white ribbon. He knew she would be surprised; they had discussed marriage, sure, but not in any serious way that would make her think he'd wanted to propose for almost two months now.
"Case!" he called again, and this time she emerged, looking stunning. But Derek wouldn't have expected anything less. "Mon Amour," he greeted, offering his arm and wiggling his eyebrows.
She giggled. "We're going to Little Italy, not Little France!" But she took his arm anyway.
"Oh, right, uh, 'Mi amor'?" he asked sheepishly.
"Close enough," she grinned, and they hailed a cab for Mulberry Street.
The restaurant they had picked was Casa Bella Ristorante, a quaint yet fancy place, whose menu looked pronounceable. Derek had had the foresight to look up their menu online, which had pictures of the dishes, so he wouldn't be making a fool of himself tonight.
Derek was about to go over to the waiter, to order the wine and discuss his special request, when a commotion on the other side of the room startled him. He and Casey looked over, and saw a man on bended knee holding out a ring to his sobbing girlfriend. She hugged him tightly, and Casey's eyes welled up.
"Oh, Derek, isn't that so romantic?" she cried, wiping her eyes with her napkin.
"Perfect," Derek grunted, and luckily she didn't catch the sarcasm in his voice. How could he propose now? He'd look like an idiot. So the ring stayed in his pocket.
They enjoyed their meal, and Derek tried to push all thoughts of his failed proposal out of his head. But it wasn't that easy, especially since Casey was busy speculating about the newly engaged couple's wedding.
As they left the restaurant, Derek had a bolt of inspiration. A nice romantic carriage ride through Central Park ought to do it. He grabbed Casey's hand and led her in the direction of a cab, whistling it down as he went.
"What are you doing?" Casey asked, wondering why he was dragging her along the street. "What's the hurry?"
"We have to get to Central Park before it gets dark," he said breathlessly, almost pushing her into the cab.
Casey knew better than to question Derek when he was that determined, and she figured he must have something up his sleeve.
They finally made it to the park and Derek pulled the nearest driver aside. He hurriedly explained what he wanted to do and the driver nodded in understanding.
He walked over to Casey and bowed, leading her to the carriage.
Casey began smiling as soon as she sat down, and Derek could tell this had been a good idea.
"Ooh, Derek, this is so sweet. We haven't been in one of these in so long!"
"I know. I figured you'd like it."
"I do," she smiled, kissing him lightly.
Those two words sent shivers down Derek's spine, and he subconsciously placed his hand over the box.
Curled up together listening to the clip-clop of the horse's hooves, Derek figured it was now or never. He slowly pulled the ring out of his pocket, but before it came into view, Casey let out a shriek.
"Ew, oh, ew!" she wailed, bringing her hand up to her hair and pulling it away covered in bird excrement.
Derek groaned, and put the ring back. So much for Plan B.
The driver stopped and turned to see what had happened. "Oh, sorry miss," he apologized. "But it's good luck, supposedly."
Derek snorted. "Yeah, some luck." He dug a tissue out of Casey's purse and began wiping her hair, as she shuddered in disgust.
When Derek had cleaned her up as best he could, she grabbed his arm and pointed some distance away from the carriage. "Look, Der, a vendor. Let's see if he has a bottle of water."
Derek sighed. "You're done the carriage ride, aren't you?"
"Yes," she said apologetically. "I just won't be able to enjoy it now."
He called to the driver that they were going to get out, and paid him for the twenty minutes they had been riding. Then he and Casey headed to the vendor, who gave them a bottle of water and some napkins.
Casey leaned against a nearby wall with a sigh. "Well, we could just walk around for a bit," she suggested.
Derek was about to agree, but then he realized where they were. The wall she was leaning against was the entrance to the Zoo, underneath the Delacorte Clock. He couldn't believe it. This was the very spot she had caught him with Annie all those years ago, although that had been on the other side of the wall.
He realized then that it really was now or never.
Derek got down on one knee in front of Casey, and she eyed him apprehensively. "What are you doing?"
"Plan C," he told her, and grinned, taking the ring box out of his pocket. Her breath caught in her throat when she saw it, and he stared directly into her clearly shocked eyes.
"Casey, the first time we came here we were fighting on and off. That was kind of what we did best back then. That day when I deserted you for some random girl, and you got insanely jealous—" he paused to gauge her reaction; she was smirking, having recognized where they were. "I realized how much I cared about you, and that I wanted you to be the only girl in my life—"
"Besides Marti," they said in unison, and she giggled, though he could see she was on the verge of tears.
"Don't cry now, please, let me finish. I love you, Casey, and I know I'm going to be with you forever anyway, why not have a license and a big party to prove it?" He winked.
She sniffled, but held back her tears. He took a deep breath.
"Will you marry me?"
"Duh," she said with a laugh, pulling him off of his knee and into a hug.
"No, I just said that for kicks. Yes, really. I love you, too, Derek."
He wrapped his arms around her again, but pulled back after a second to slip the ring onto her finger.
She admired it in the twilight, and she looked so happy, Derek couldn't help but kiss her.
There might be no place like home, but for Casey and Derek, there was no place like New York City.