Well, here is my humble offering for the gal who puts this whole Flash Fic thing together, Allie (Moonlit-Jeannie), who requested such an adorable story that I couldn't turn it down. My sincerest apologies for my lateness (it's hereditary) and I hope you enjoy it, dear.
I own nothing. Not even the plot! Which is Allie's! Well, most of it.
"Tell me again why we have to do this?"
Casey rolled her eyes. "Because it's your brother's graduation ceremony – "
"Not a graduation. He's moving from the first grade to the second grade," Derek replied sourly. "That's not celebrating an accomplishment, that's celebrating…walking to the other wing of the school every day."
"Aw, is somebody still bitter about being held back?" Casey made a pouty face at him. "It's okay, Derek. None of us will tease you. Much."
Derek grabbed her duffel bag with a scowl. "That was all Mrs. Potter's fault. Who could concentrate when she wore a miniskirt every single day?"
"You…" Casey shook her head, blinking. "You scare me."
He grinned, tossing the bag in the trunk of his car and slamming it shut. "What? I bring light into your life."
"Right, that's one word for it." Casey bit her lip and studied the post-it she was holding, crammed full of scribblings that spread over every inch of the paper. "Okay, I think we have everything."
"Probably we have everything," Derek agreed. "Except the living room couch, that is. And possibly the fridge. You don't wanna load that up, too, do you? Some snacks for the drive?"
"Ha ha." Casey folded up the note and stuck it in her back pocket, leaning down to the driveway to pick up her purse. "I'm driving right?"
"Uh, dream on." Derek stuck his tongue out and whipped out the keys, jangling them at her.
"What?" Casey's hand flew to her pocket and her mouth dropped open. "You took the keys from my pocket?"
"You stole the keys. You pickpocketed me, all to get the keys." Casey glared at him. "I could press charges, maybe."
"Maybe not." Derek gave her a little push with his knee, brushing past her to unlock the driver's side. "My car. I'm driving, and it was pure generosity on my part, letting you delude yourself into thinking that you were gonna drive."
Casey heaved a great sigh. "I can totally drive," she whined. "I don't know why you won't let me."
"The last time you drove my car, you ran it into a fence," Derek said. "From that moment on, you were permanently resigned to passenger status."
Casey slid into the front seat, throwing her purse to the floor petulantly. "That was a wire fence, okay? It didn't even dent your precious car."
"Tell that to my paint job," Derek replied. Turning the engine on and shifting into gear, Derek started to slowly pull out of the driveway, grinning to himself when he saw Casey still pouting, arms crossed. "Come on," he prodded. "I'll let you control the radio."
"Mostly. No 107.5 though, please. I can only take a certain amount of Ashlee Simpson in one day." He grimaced. "And keep in mind that six hours is a long freaking drive. Please be gentle with me."
Casey bounced a little in satisfaction, leaning forward to fiddle with the radio dials. Derek caught a whiff of her perfume as she bent over to flip through the stations and he stiffened in his seat, tightening his grip on the steering wheel. "How about 100.3? That's pretty neutral, right?"
Casey leaned back in her seat, music drifting quietly through the speakers. "So what's the deal?"
"What do you mean?"
Casey rolled her eyes. "Come on. Why don't you wanna go home? It's not like you have anything big planned."
"How do you know?"
Casey scoffed. "Please. When you're not at work, you're at home with me. Or was it someone else who was begging me to cook him dinner last night?"
Derek grinned sheepishly. "It's not my fault that you make it impossible to resist your culinary wiles."
"Me and my culinary wiles wanna know why you're so reluctant about going home," Casey replied pointedly, not dropping the subject.
Derek's eyes skittered away, focusing intently on the road. "I don't know, I'm just not in the mood, I guess," he said finally, after a long pause. "It's been awhile since we've had everyone together in one house, and I can't say I'm excited about being crammed into one house with seven other people."
"Well, that comes with the territory," Casey replied. "I, for one, am excited. I haven't seen Lizzie in almost a year, and I swear, RJ gets more adorable with every passing second."
Derek frowned slightly. "Yeah." He was quiet for a moment before speaking up again. "Yeah, I guess it'll be nice to see Marti."
"That's the spirit," Casey said encouragingly.
"Right." The pair fell into comfortable silence, and after a minute, Casey reached over and turned up the music, an old jazz tune filling the car.
It wasn't that he didn't love his family, really, he did. Edwin had just graduated from the University of Toronto with a degree in physics and engineering and was heading off to graduate school in the spring, and Lizzie had just started a brand new job teaching elementary school in London. Marti was a blazing handful at fifteen, taking after her big brother and trying her best to be as difficult as possible as much as possible – Derek couldn't be prouder.
And then there was RJ.
The newest addition to the Venturi-McDonald clan came as a surprise in Derek and Casey's senior year of high school. Nora's announcement that she was pregnant received nothing but dismay and shock at first, especially considering she and George had waited until well into the sixth month to tell everyone. They were surprisingly good at keeping secrets, it turned out. Derek had almost been impressed.
It did not, however, take away the sick feeling in his stomach whenever he looked at Nora's ever-widening middle, nor the uncomfortable jitters whenever anyone started the baby talk. His last semester of high school had been a lesson in endurance, with everyone he knew constantly coming up and asking him about his soon-to-be littlest brother, then constant preparations to deal with when he got home.
For the longest time, he couldn't put his finger on why exactly it was that the idea of another child between Nora and his father nearly had him breaking out in hives. He didn't have any problems with Nora, honestly. She was quirky and fun and a wonderful stepmother to all of the Venturi children, all the while still keeping a certain boundary, not trying to encroach onto Abby's territory too much. She also did wonders for his father, and Derek knew that his father had never been happier than since he married Nora.
No, it was something else, something that hit him finally one day towards the end of Nora's pregnancy, in the midst of the Great Name Debate. Nora and George had made the mistake of allowing their children to help decide the name of the new baby, something that (of course) turned out horribly. There were three main factions of opinion – the Casey/Lizzie duo going after the name Riley Matthew, the George/Nora/Edwin team going for Jordan Cole…or Oscar, ("it's original!" Edwin had declared) and finally Derek and Marti campaigning passionately for Clark Kent. Derek still didn't know why nobody had agreed with him and Smarti on that one – who wouldn't want that name?
The fight had raged on right up until the moment that Nora went into labor, and even after the baby had actually been born. A desperate compromise had finally been reached (mediated by two of the attending nurses at the hospital) and Riley Jordan Venturi became the newest addition to the already bursting-at-the-seams family, nicknamed RJ for short.
It was one of those evenings filled with the strong arguments between the Riley and Jordan camps, respectively, that Derek had finally realized just where his aversion to all-things-baby came from. Casey had just returned from her dance class and was still dressed in her leotard and cover skirt, her hair pulled back in a messy bun. She'd borrowed his jacket after hers had gotten soaked from the cool April rain outside, and though the large leather coat had absolutely dwarfed her, she'd wrapped up in it snugly as she sat on the couch, trying to warm herself up while still managing to dissect Edwin's argument on the merits of the name Oscar.
It wasn't really like in the movies, really. There wasn't a halo of light around her head or anything. Derek had just collapsed into his armchair, eyeing the jacket she was wearing slightly resentfully, still slightly bitter over having to part with it. He'd noticed her legs, slim and sleek in the black tights she'd been wearing, and her hair, which had been practically falling out of its clip and damp and frizzy with the rain and humidity. He'd watched her argue passionately, noticing how her face flushed slightly and her eyes widened when she grew angry or intense about something. All of these things were things he'd noticed before; in fact it'd become a regular occurrence for these sights to help Derek get through the monotony of his day. But there was something about that moment, that particular one, when it all just caught up to him and he finally clicked the pieces together.
It wasn't RJ that he resented, it was what RJ represented. His half-brother, and Casey's half-brother as well. While before RJ, it'd been about two separate families coexisting, after it was all about the two merging into one, permanently. Before, he and Casey had experienced their fair share of Clueless and Lost jokes, but after, the only way they were ever referred to was as 'Derek's sister,' and 'Casey's brother,' respectively, and the even the idea of him and Casey starting to do more than simply tolerate each other suddenly seemed a thousand percent more wrong.
It was torture for Derek. Coming to the realization of his feelings for Casey way too late, he had no choice but to keep them hidden, feeling both ashamed and guilty for being simply unable to be happy about the arrival of his new brother. He'd barely made it through the last few months at home, dealing with the baby at every turn and with Casey everywhere else. He'd avoided as much contact with both as possible, resolving to move out and get over his insane feelings as soon as possible.
That all changed, however, about halfway through his first semester at the University of Ottawa. Casey had showed up out of the blue, wearing a sheepish grin and hauling a truck full of her belongings behind her.
"I transferred here, isn't it great?" She'd bounced around his apartment, snooping and adjusting and moving things to her own pleasure while Derek had stood shell-shocked in the doorway. "And I know it's a lot to ask, but I talked to Student Affairs, and the only housing they can offer me is in one of the theme houses." She'd made a face, scrunching up her nose. "The Sports Administration theme house. And so I'd just be so grateful if you'd let me crash here for the rest of the year – I'd help out with cleaning and the rent and I'll totally leave you alone – you won't even know I'm here! Please?"
Derek had blinked at her stupidly for a few minutes before agreeing. What else could he have done?
And really, it'd all snowballed downhill from there. He and Casey quickly fell into a routine over the course of the semester, and when both of them received summer jobs on campus, they'd stayed in the modest apartment instead of returning home for the summer. Derek had vowed to either move out or kick her out by the next school year, but 'just for the summer' had turned into 'just sophomore year,' then 'just junior year,' and by the time graduation rolled around, Derek had just succumbed to his fate.
It was every cliché that any two-bit Hollywood screenwriter could ever think of. He was stuck in a deadlock, unable to act on his feelings for way too many reasons (the ever-present RJ, growing into an excitable and energetic little boy back in London being a huge one), but unable to stop wanting her – or wanting to be around her – either. He wasn't particularly happy that his life had turned into a Meg Cabot novel, but after almost seven years of living with Casey (plus three years with her in London), she was a habit he couldn't bring himself to quit.
Derek glanced over at the subject of his frustration and realized she'd fallen asleep, head propped against the window and legs curled up beneath her. The early morning light made the highlights in her hair shine, which she had recently added just a few weeks earlier. Streaks of red and blonde merged together with her natural brown, bringing out the angles of her face and making her seem less put together and more unpredictable, even wilder, than before – Derek couldn't get enough of looking at her. She'd mentioned something about doing it for a part, but Derek could tell that she'd wanted to do it for a long time.
He wasn't exactly sure why she still continued to stay at the apartment with him, really. Three years had passed since they'd both graduated and Casey, having finished her degree in performing arts, was now working for a theatre in Ottawa as a choreographer and dancer, putting on both theatre and dance productions with a troupe of other professional dancers and actors. She'd had better offers, however, with bigger theatres and troupes located in other places in Canada and even some in the US – but for some indeterminable reason, she'd stayed in Ottawa with Derek, carrying on the same as she had in college, only with later nights and longer days.
He'd thought about the possibility of her feeling the same way, and couldn't decide either way. There were signs that she did, but for every signal she gave him, there was another signal that gave the opposite impression. Derek knew very well that while Casey could be oblivious, most of it was self-inflicted, and she could be incredibly observant when she wanted to be. She could've noticed his little Freudian slips and other signals of his true feelings, or she could be in denial, both were equally possible. He couldn't figure out where her head was, and had finally decided that it didn't matter either way. If she did feel the same, she was probably holding back for the same reasons he was, and if she didn't, then – he wasn't gonna let her in on it.
How would she react anyway, he wondered. Every situation he imagined involved tears and lots of questions and moving out, three things Derek desperately wanted to avoid at any cost. He knew on some level that they couldn't hold out much longer in the weird stalemate they were in, but at the same time he couldn't bear any thought of it changing. It was almost comfortable, in a disturbing way. He was closer to her than anyone else in the entire world, but still separate from her in a very important way.
Derek blinked, moving his gaze to the passenger's seat once again. She shifted slightly in her sleep, uncomfortable in the cramped seat, and groaned a little under her breath. Derek felt a pang of want, a stabbing sensation in his gut that he'd long gotten used to, and he firmly turned back to the road, setting his jaw. Close enough to be around her, to soak up her presence, to keep an eye on her, but still far away.
He heard Casey make another soft sound and he sighed. So very far away.
The drive from Ottawa to London was a familiar one that Derek had driven many times, throughout school and the few years afterward. It was long, though, and while the distance from home was what Derek had needed – and still did, in some ways – there was nothing that was more unbearable than six hours in a car with Casey. In love with her or not, it just wasn't worth it.
"No, no! Not that one, not that one!" Casey jumped, shaking her head frantically and pushing at his arm.
Derek jerked the wheel to the left, avoiding the off-ramp at the last second and pissing off the driver behind him. "What the hell?"
"We can't stop at that rest stop" Casey said, as if this were obvious. "That's the stop where I got molested by that homeless guy last Christmas."
Derek took an even breath, eyes narrowing. "First of all, he did not molest you. He propositioned you. There is a difference." She opened her mouth but he cut her off. "And how do you know that was the stop?"
"Because it had the blue roof instead of the brown roof," Casey said. "I remember. That was it, and I will never stop there again."
"Casey – there must be hundreds of rest stops on this highway. There's no way you can remember which one it was specifically."
"I can too!" was Casey's incredibly mature reply.
"And furthermore, that guy is probably long gone, in jail or…at some other rest stop, by now."
"You don't know that," Casey said. "And we already passed it anyway. Argument over."
"You can't just declare that it's over," Derek protested. "I haven't finished dissecting your crazy yet."
"I can too declare it," Casey said. "In fact, let's make it a new Rigid Rule – Casey gets to declare the end of arguments. Period."
"You can't make that a Rigid Rule!" Derek protested. "It has to be unanimous among the occupants of Apartment 6B, and 50 percent of the occupants think that it's a stupid idea for a Rigid Rule."
"The point of Rigid Rules is to keep you in line, so the 50 percent that consists of you don't get a say," Casey said haughtily. "Rule number – what are we on, anyway? Thirty something?"
"We passed forty with your 'no fireworks in the apartment' rule," Derek said. "And this is unfair. At least make it even. Either of us can declare the end to a fight at any time."
"That so defeats the point of me being in charge," Casey said.
"You can't have a say in the Rigid Rules! They are my rules and unflinchingly rigid!"
"Wait, wait – I declare this argument over!" Casey snapped her mouth shut. "Hey, it works."
Casey rolled her eyes. "It does seem like a good idea," she said. "Fine. I will concede on this point only. But don't get comfortable with making all the decisions, mister."
"I won't," Derek replied, rolling his eyes. "God forbid you listen to me about anything."
"If I took your advice, I'd be working at a strip club right now," Casey said.
"Jeez, a guy makes one stripper joke and it gets held against him for years," Derek complained.
"You said it at my graduation party!" Casey said. "My music theory professor never looked at me the same way."
"Such a loss." Derek jerked his chin to the side of the road. "Here's another stop. Is this one okay, or were you traumatized here, too?"
"Smart asses go to hell, you know," was Casey's prim reply.
Derek snorted and swerved onto the off ramp, pulling into the small rest stop. "Should I let you go out there alone? Those two eighth graders over there look pretty shifty."
Casey slanted her eyes at him. "I can handle eighth graders. Just be lucky that they're not a few years older, because grade ten is my cut off. Grade twelve if they're female."
"I'll keep it in mind." Derek sighed, waving a hand at Casey to shoo her off. "Go, go. You're gonna take an hour and a half anyway, I might as well call home while you're off doing who knows what."
"Ass." Casey stuck out her tongue. "Just for that, I'm not bringing you back any Cheez-Its. The Cheez-Its train is gone, buddy."
"You're cold as ice, baby." Derek watched as she tried to exit the car while glaring at him overdramatically at the same time and tripped over the cement curb for her efforts. He laughed and leaned over the seat. "For a dancer, you're super uncoordinated, you know!"
"None of my Cheez-Its either! No Cheez-Its at all!"
Derek shook his head, laughing to himself as he watched her run into a harried-looking mother, nearly toppling the poor woman over. Hopeless.
Pulling his cell phone from the charger on the dashboard, Derek stepped out of the car to stretch his legs a little. He dialed the home number of the house in London and leaned back against the car, shivering a little in the cool breeze.
"…that down. Put it down or no ice cream! Now! Hello?"
"Derek? Oh, hi. RJ! No. No! Naughty!"
Derek rolled his eyes. "Is this a bad time?"
"No, no, RJ's just being a little…heh, ornery. RJ, for God's sake – "
"Hookay, I just wanted to let you guys know that we're more than halfway there. We're on Route 401 now – it shouldn't be more than another couple of hours."
"Oh, that's just – Riley Jordan, you cut that out right now!"
"Moooom!" Derek could barely hear RJ in the background.
"I'll let you go," Derek said shortly.
"Oh no, no!" Nora stopped him. "Marti wanted to talk to you, hold on. MARTI!" Derek winced, bringing the phone away from his ear. "MARTI, DEREK'S ON THE PHONE! She'll be right there, Derek."
"Yeah. Great." Derek sighed, keeping an eye out for Casey while waiting for his sister to come on the line.
"Close, but no dice."
"Derek!" Marti sounded irritated. "What do you want?"
"Uh, nice to talk to you too, sis. You asked for me, remember?"
"No, I asked for Casey." Marti sighed. "Could you just put her on, please?"
"She's in the rest stop right now." Marti gave another long, mournful sigh. "Jeez, Smarti, let me in on the crisis. Something I can help with instead?"
There was a long silence. "…no."
"What do you mean, 'no'?" Derek scoffed. "Come on."
"There's nothing," Marti lied unconvincingly. "Really. When's Casey gonna get back?"
"Before the end of time. Probably." Derek laughed a little. "Marti, come on. It's me. Obviously you wanted to talk to one of us. What's going on?"
"…you promise you won't laugh?"
"I swear on Wayne Gretzky's uniform."
"I'm serious, Derek. One whiff of a chuckle, a giggle, a scoff, a guffaw, and I will never speak to you again," Marti declared.
"Fine. No laughing, I swear to God."
"…okay." Marti took a deep breath. "I…I don't know what to wear because Cassie told me to wear my blue dress with the black sash around the middle but I don't know if that's too fancy or not because I don't really know where we're going yet and Nora told me to wear the white skirt with the black top because that's more casual, but I kinda want to wear the white top with black polka dots because it makes my neck look really thin but Cassie says that it the skirt makes my calves look deformed and the top doesn't really work without it – "
"Whoa. Whoa. Slow down. What?"
Marti sighed in irritation. "I don't know what to wear!"
Derek blinked, searching desperately for Casey. "Oh. Okay, well…take me through your choices again?"
"Der – ek!"
"Smarti, I'm sure you'll look great in anything you'll wear." He spotted Casey walking his way with an armful of junk food and motioned to her frantically. "Really. Where are you going anyway?"
"A date," Marti said casually.
"A – " Derek choked on air. "A what?!"
"You said you wouldn't laugh!"
"I'm not laughing, I'm having a heart attack!"
"Derek, come on, I'm fifteen now. That's practically grown up." Derek choked on air again. "It's just with Dimi, anyway. I've been waiting for him to ask me out practically forever and he finally did, only I found out later that Cassie and Greg were coming too, so it totally didn't count as a real date, since it was in a group and all. And I've been dropping hints and he finally asked me out on a real date, except he's being a jerk and not telling me where we're going, so I have no idea what to wear!"
Derek's mouth opened and closed stupidly. "You…a date?"
"Yes, Derek. We've covered that."
Casey came up beside Derek and threw her armful of snack bags in the front seat, looking at him quizzically. "Where's the fire?"
"You – you can't – Dimi?!" Derek sputtered incoherently. "Smarti!"
Casey frowned, grabbing for the phone. "Gimme the cell phone, Crazy."
"She's – she can't – " Derek waved his arms incoherently. "I – she – fifteen! Fifteen, Casey!"
"Okay." Casey wrestled the phone away from Derek, bringing it to her ear. "Hey, who's this and why is Derek freaking?"
"I am – I'm not freaking!"
"Oh hey, Smarti!" Casey held up a hand, silencing him. "Uh huh. Yeah. Uh huh."
"She's – she's going on a date!" Derek cried, pointing at the phone. "Don't listen to her, Casey, she's fifteen. Obviously we can't trust her judgment."
Casey glared at him, making a slashing motion with her throat. "Yeah? Yeah, I'd go with the skirt/polka dot combo, too." Derek gave a dismayed moan and she smacked him, glaring. "She said what? Please. If Cassie's anything like her big sister, she has the fashion sense of a horse. …yeah. No, you totally should. You look like Audrey Hepburn in that thing!"
Casey covered the mouthpiece of the phone with one hand, glaring. "I'm talking," she hissed. Then, back into the phone, she gave a short giggle. "Yeah, he's totally freaking out."
"I am not freaking!"
"…uh huh. Who?" Casey broke into a grin. "Emily's Dimi? Really? Oh, that's so cute!"
"Yeah." Casey frowned, holding up another hand to silence Derek. "Yeah. Oh, totally. Okay." She laughed again. "Alright, good luck. See you soon."
"Let me talk to her." Casey dodged out of the way as Derek went for the phone. "Casey! Case, I'm serious."
"Yeah. Okay, gotta go Marti, bye!" She flipped the phone closed, giggling as she dodged out of Derek's reach again. "You're such a mama bear."
"A date!? Already?" Derek sputtered, flailing his arms wildly. "A date. That's…she's way too young for a date, right? I mean…a date? With a boy?"
Casey rolled her eyes, tossing his cell phone back to him. "Buck up, Venturi. What were you doing when you were fifteen?"
Derek froze in horror and Casey laughed, climbing back into the car. "That's – out of context! So out of context!"
"Come on, let's just get home already. You can freak out while you drive."
"Derek!" Marti bounced down the stairs happily, hair in curlers and encased in a long robe.
"I can't believe you're going on a date."
Marti instantly froze, face falling into a glare. "Do not even go there. Do you have any idea how long Dad's lecture was?"
Derek dropped the bags he was carrying and scowled at his little sister. "Do you know how disgusting guys are? I mean seriously? I can't stand being around myself sometimes."
Casey pushed in behind him, rolling her eyes. "Don't listen to him, I think it's adorable you're dating Dimi." She pulled Marti into a full-on girly hug, bouncing and squealing and all.
"I'm not…dating him, I'm just dating him, as in singular." Marti pulled away, blushing. "Curly hair, yes or no? Don't say no."
"You'll look gorgeous." Casey ran an affectionate hand down Marti's mess of hair, caught up in the large curling irons. "No worries."
"Not too gorgeous," Derek cut in. "I think you should just go like this. Guys dig the bathroom-chic look."
"Shut up, Derek," Marti said casually, jumping over to hug him around the middle. "Dork."
"Hush up, you. You know the chess club is the way to go. Don't be fooled, they are quite smooth beneath all the plaid."
"Exactly what I was saying." George appeared at the top of the stairs, a towel-clad RJ around his hip. "Hey, guys. RJ, say hello to Derek and Casey."
Casey giggled. "Lollipop back, RJ."
"No, I want a lollipop," RJ corrected her. "Duh."
George chuckled wearily. "Trust me, it's the only way to get him in the bathtub that doesn't involve corporal punishment."
"Nora just bought some, they're in the kitchen," Marti said.
George descended the rest of the stairs, hitching RJ higher on his hip. "Thanks. Remember – long skirt, high neckline. Right?"
Marti rolled her eyes and turned to run upstairs. "Whatever, Dad."
George reached over to hug Casey. "That's code for 'of course, Father, I would never doubt you in a million years.'"
Casey chuckled and hugged him back. "I believe you George. Don't I, RJ?" She reached over and tickled RJ, who wiggled away, giggling.
Derek gave his dad a half hug, reaching over to take RJ from his arms afterwards. "Hey. RJ, have you been getting into trouble?"
RJ threw his arms around Derek's neck and squeezed. At seven years old, RJ was already growing tall and lanky, with light brown hair that fell around his ears in shaggy waves. "Hey, Derek, guess what Mommy's getting for my birthday."
"A rocket ship?" RJ shook his head. "A baseball field? A jet engine?"
RJ giggled and shook his head. "A bike!"
George's head whipped around, eyes widening. "How did you – I mean, RJ, that's silly! Why would we get you a bike?" He laughed nervously.
"Because I'm awesome?" RJ said. "Lemme down, I gotta get dressed."
Derek vaulted him onto the stairs, laughing when RJ let his towel fall to the ground as he ran up to his room. "Yeah, good to be home."
"Damn it, Nora's gonna kill me if she finds out that he knows about the bike." George shook his kid. "That little runt." A crash came from upstairs and George jerked. "Crap."
"Uh, George?" Casey pointed to the top of the stairs, where an empty jewelry box came rolling into view.
"RJ, YOU LITTLE CREEP!"
"Double crap. Uh, you guys are staying in the basement, right? Lizzie and Edwin are in the kitchen – " George rushed upstairs, waving his arms. "Marti, RJ, separate!"
"Home sweet home," Derek quipped. "Remind me why we're here. Again."
"Graduation. Brother. Family…obligations." Casey pushed at Derek's arm as RJ peeked into view at the top of the stairs, a fistful of Marti's jewelry in his hands. "Uh, vacate premises. Now, now."
Derek kicked at the bags and left them on the floor gladly, leading the way into the kitchen. "Boy am I glad to be home – disasters and all!"
"Don't sound too enthusiastic, bro, you might give us the wrong idea." Edwin popped his head out of the kitchen and winced. "By the way, you didn't happen to bring almond extract home with you?"
Derek swiveled to look at Casey, who shrugged. "What're you looking at me for? I didn't pack any."
"You packed everything else, you didn't get a bottle mixed in?" Casey rolled her eyes and bumped his shoulder with hers.
Edwin winced. "This isn't gonna be good. Uh, Liz?" He retreated back into the kitchen. "No almond extract."
"Well Edwin, that's going to be a problem, so why don't you go and GET SOME FOR ME!?"
Derek laughed a little. "Wow. Let's…not go in there."
Casey ignored him, striding forward into the kitchen. "Liz?"
Lizzie looked up from a mixing bowl, face and clothes streaked with flour. "What?" she snapped. "Do you have almond extract?"
"Uh…no," Casey said, taken aback.
"Then why are you in here?!" Lizzie went back to stirring forcefully, muttering beneath her breath.
"She's making the pie bars for the PTA that Nora was supposed to make," Edwin said helpfully. "Big presentation at work, guilt trip, three cartons of eggs – it hasn't been pretty."
"Oh, can I – "
Derek grabbed Casey's arm and pulled her back towards him. "Pick some up at the store!" he said. "You make a list, and Casey and I will go shopping." He pulled Casey aside, glaring at her. "Have I taught you nothing? Don't offer to help – never offer to help!"
"You just did," she replied, eyebrows furrowed.
"Yeah, why don't you go and get the stuff that Edwin was supposed to get earlier and flaked out on?"
"My car had a flat," Edwin complained. "And look! I'm helping you! Washing the pans – "
"DON'T TOUCH THOSE!"
"This the list? Okay, great." Derek grabbed a small notebook with lists of items scratched and erased out multiple times. "We'll be back!"
"Just try and breathe, Liz, we'll be back soon – " Casey was cut off as Derek grabbed her wrist, pulling her towards the back door.
"Don't tell me what – EDWIN!"
Derek slammed the door shut on the last half of Lizzie's tirade. "Welcome home to us."
"I don't remember there being that much yelling, really," Casey said. "A lot more falling down."
"There was yelling," Derek said. "You don't remember yelling? I remember yelling – that's practically all I remember."
"Well, between you and me, yeah," Casey said. "That's like – our style, or something. But with everyone else."
"Everyone grew up, therefore their vocal chords grew louder as well." Derek threw a package of marshmallows in the cart.
"Derek we don't need marshmallows." Casey squinted at the list. "I don't think."
"Casey, when in doubt, we always need marshmallows."
Rolling her eyes, she pushed the cart down the aisle, track of the list in her hand. "We have flour, we have almond extract, we have a new rolling pin and…an icepack for Edwin." Casey rolled her eyes. "Lollipops for RJ, marshmallows, pfft…" she trailed off, realizing Derek's attention was caught somewhere else. "Hey, Scrappy. At least pretend to care about what I'm saying, eh?"
"Look who it is," Derek said, voice evilly gleeful.
Casey swiveled her head in the direction Derek was pointing and balked slightly. "Oh my God, what happened to Emily's dad?"
"It's called getting fat," Derek said. "But look who's with him."
Casey turned to see Dimi leaning against a display of Cheerios behind his father, arms crossed and face creased into a teenaged scowl. "Oh. Oh, Derek, no. No way."
"Come on, let's go…say hi."
"No!" Casey grabbed his arm, digging her nails into his skin. "Marti's really excited about this date, okay? We're not going to mess it up for her."
"I'm not going to mess anything up," Derek replied, affronted. "I'm just going to go say hello to an old family friend and maybe talk about my background in hitting things with a really huge stick." He smirked. "If I can hit a hockey puck while balancing on two metal blades on frozen water, I sure as hell can aim for his face while standing still on solid ground."
"Derek Venturi, you leave that kid alone. Your dad may be a lawyer but that can only get you out of so much trouble."
"You're so uptight," Derek complained. "I only want to wish him luck on his date."
"Whoops, too late now." Casey turned to see Gerry Davis heading their way with a friendly smile on his face, Dimi trailing after him.
Casey glared at Derek out of the corner of her eye. "If you love your sister, you'll break out your nice guy muscles."
"But it's been so long since I've used them," Derek muttered. "Hey, Mr. Davis!"
"Derek, Casey," Gerry greeted genially. "How's the haps?"
Dimi rolled his eyes. "Haps, Dad?"
"The haps are wonderful, my friend," Derek replied grandly. "And yourself?"
"We're doing well," Gerry replied. "As long as we can find the…taco seasoning?" Gerry squinted at a post-it in his hand. "Apparently it's an essential ingredient."
"It's by the canned goods," Casey said helpfully. "It comes in these little packets, by the taco shells and refried beans and stuff."
"Ah." Gerry frowned and craned his neck to look in the direction Casey was pointed. "Dimi, you were supposed to look down that aisle."
"Must've slipped my mind," Dimi replied flatly, eyes rolling heavenward.
Derek's smile was frozen in place. "So, Dimi, how've you been? The last time I saw you, you were eating mud pies in my backyard."
Dimi shrugged. "Fine."
Derek raised an eyebrow and Casey grabbed his forearm. "You're taking Marti out tonight, right? That's so adorable," she cooed.
Dimi shrugged, face blank. "Yeah." Gerry frowned at him.
Derek scoffed quietly beneath his breath and Casey squeezed his arm tighter. "Well…cool." She plastered on a bright smile. "How's Emily?"
Gerry brightened. "She's pregnant."
Casey immediately squealed. "No way! How far along is she?"
"A couple months. Sheldon won't let her out of his sight." Gerry chuckled. "Not that she's complaining much. They're heading back for Easter – Linda's bouncing off the walls."
"Maybe I could come back to see her," Casey said, turning to Derek hopefully. "We could come back then, right? I haven't seen her in so long…I hate that we've lost touch."
"She asks about you sometimes," Gerry said. "You should call her."
"Oh, I should." Casey smiled, eyes sparkling. "I can't believe she's pregnant. That's so wonderful. Congratulations, Mr. Davis."
Gerry beamed. "Thank you, Casey. And please, I think you can call me Gerry."
Dimi gave a little half-sigh, half-huff, turning away slightly. Derek eyed him suspiciously. "So, Dimi, where are you and Marti going tonight?"
Gerry nudged him, looking at him sternly. "Didn't you get tickets to that horror movie that opens tonight?"
Dimi shrugged again. "Yeah, but then Cassie told me that Marti thinks horror movies are the downfall of humanity."
"Downfall of feminism, actually," Casey corrected. "So what are you going to do now?"
Dimi shuffled his feet slightly, looking down at the floor. "Bowwwng," he mumbled.
"Say what?" Derek asked loudly. Casey nudged him.
"Bowling," Dimi said.
"Oh!" Casey clapped her hands. "That's sounds so fun! Marti's great at bowling."
"Yeah, she only dropped the ball on my foot a couple times," Derek added. "A couple more on my dad's, but whatever."
Gerry shrugged. "Dimi and Marti, on a date. Who knew?" He chuckled. "Remember when they were fighting space aliens and getting married every Thursday afternoon?"
"Those were the days," Derek drawled.
Casey's cell phone buzzed on her hip and she looked down suddenly, frowning. "It's a text from Liz," she said. "'Edwin useless, bring…donuts?'" she read. "What?"
"Sounds serious," Gerry said.
Casey rolled her eyes. "We better get back home. It was nice seeing you guys."
"Yeah," Derek piped up. "And Dimi – " Casey grabbed his arm and dug her nails into his skin, anticipating the threat before it came. Derek cringed, rolling his eyes. "…have fun tonight."
Derek opened his mouth to reply, frowning, when Casey mercilessly dug her nails into his forearm once again. "Bye guys, nice seeing you, okay see ya – "
"Ouch." Derek tore his arm away from her grip. "Easy with the claws."
"You're such a Neanderthal."
"You act like I was gonna jump on the kid." Casey gave him a look. "I was not going to jump on him! Maybe pretend to, but – "
"She's not nine anymore, and you're not exactly the pinnacle of innocence when it comes to dating etiquette," Casey said pointedly. "Don't you think that this is a little hypocritical, coming from you?"
"Of course it is," Derek said unashamedly. "Big brother rights. It renders the hypocrite thing null and void." Casey made a soft sound of disgust. "Hey. They're going bowling. How many alleys do we have in town?" He grinned. "One."
"No." Casey blanched. "No. No way in hell." Derek made a pleading face at her, sticking out his lower lip. "No, Derek! You can go if you want, but there's no way I'm coming with you. Not even happening."
"This is such a bad idea."
Derek nudged her. "Don't be so pessimistic," he chided. "We'll just stay over here and keep an eye on them." He nudged her into a chair, sitting across from her at the small table in the dining area of the bowling alley. "Hey, look. They have nachos."
Casey crossed her arms, slumping in the seat. "I feel dirty," she said sourly. "I'm gonna get sick just by stepping foot in this dump."
"Don't be such a snob, Case." Derek waved the menu at her. "I'll buy you some fish sticks."
"No thanks. I prefer not to get food poisoning."
Derek jerked his chin slightly, slumping down in his seat. "Look. They're here."
Casey immediately ducked down, hiding behind her menu. "This is so stupid. She's gonna see us."
"Not if you stop acting like a spaz." He kicked her shin. "Sit up and pretend you're normal, you freak."
She scowled and straightened up, flipping through the menu primly. "Jerk."
"Love you too, Princess." Derek watched out of the corner of his eye and Dimi and Marti walked nonchalantly through the bowling alley, stopping at the main counter to pay and pick out shoes. "Look at him – he just touched her shoulder! What gives him the right to think he can touch her shoulder?!"
"Stop overreacting," Casey said. "He's barely touching – what the hell, what's he doing with his arm?!"
Derek flicked a sugar sachet across the table and glowered. "I should go over there and kick his skinny little ass."
"You will do no such thing. I'm not up for bailing you out of the lockup tonight." Casey sighed. "He better watch his hands, though."
The pair watched as Dimi and Marti retrieved their shoes and walked down to a lane, talking and smiling the whole time. Derek watched Marti throw her head back in an exaggerated laugh and groaned. "Oh, Marti, not the hyena-laugh."
"She only does that when she's trying to laugh at something that isn't funny," Casey said. "Which means Dimi isn't funny. That's a good sign. Right?"
"I guess," Derek replied dully. "Ugh. I think he ordered for her."
"Ooh. Bad move." A woman walked in front of Casey's sightline and she craned her neck, trying to catch sight of Dimi and Marti again.
"What can I get you guys?"
Both Derek and Casey jumped slightly, looking up at the waitress that had appeared at the table. "Large nachos," Derek immediately said. "Extra jalapeños."
Casey rolled her eyes. "Just a diet Coke, please."
"Anything to drink for you?" The waitress raised one eyebrow and grinned at Derek invitingly. "You'll need something with all those jalapeños. They can get you pretty…hot."
Derek smirked. "I'll have a diet Coke too."
"Coming right up."
The waitress sashayed away, skirt swinging. Derek smiled whimsically after her, turning to look at Casey, who huffed. "Manwhore."
"It's not my fault I'm so pretty." Derek turned his head to look over at Marti and Dimi again. "Ooh, they're not even talking. Awkward. Yesss."
"You seem very interested in the ruin of Marti's love life."
"She's too young to have a love life," Derek said, scowling. "And none of that hypocrite stuff. It's different when it's my little sister and you know it."
Casey shrugged. "Okay, so maybe I'm not too excited about her dating, either. But it was bound to happen sooner or later." Derek merely frowned. "Come on. She's fifteen. And it's Dimi, come on. She's known him since she was three. Better him than some strange kid she just met."
"Besides, she's too much like you. Chances are that she'll be the player, not the played."
"That's what I'm afraid of," Derek grumbled. "I'd rather she not turn out like me, thanks."
"What's wrong with you?" Casey smirked. "Beyond the obvious."
"It's just not what I want for her, okay?" he said impatiently. "Contrary to what you might believe, I don't particularly enjoy going from girl to girl every week."
Casey paused, looking vaguely surprised. "You…don't?"
"No." He sighed, trying to find the best way to explain it to her while still…not giving her the whole story. "It's like – like I'm stuck inside a house all day, and I'm hideously bored and I'd like leave and get outside and do something, but every time I open the door, it starts to snow." He shrugged. "And better to be inside, bored and dry, then outside, cold and…" alone.
"Wow." Casey bit her lip. "That's…Derek, I didn't know you felt like that."
He shifted, suddenly viciously uncomfortable with the piercing gaze she was pinning him with. "Yeah, well. Not a rut I want Marti to fall into."
"Uh, speaking of Marti…" Casey trailed off, looking over his shoulder with trepidation.
"What? They're not kissing are they – " Derek stopped abruptly as he turned around and saw his sister standing behind him, arms crossed, foot tapping anxiously, and a storm brewing on her face. "Oh. Uh, hey Smarti. What's up?"
"What is wrong with you?" Marti hissed, not having it. "Making me miserable at home isn't enough, you have to follow me around, too?"
"Hey, we were enjoying a nice dinner before you came over and interrupted us," Derek said indignantly. "Where's that waitress with our nachos, anyway?"
"Yeah, right." Marti shook her head, fuming. "You are such a jerk. I can't believe that you would do something so…so overbearing! You hate it when Dad or Nora butt into your life, what makes you think you can do the same to me?!"
"Because I'm your brother," Derek said, abandoning his ruse. "I just wanted to keep an eye out for you."
"You – you stupid, stupid – ugh!" Marti reached out as if to grab his neck, then pulled herself back, visibly trying to calm down.
"Marti, honey, we'll leave, okay?" Casey piped up, flinching back as Marti turned the full force of her glare on her stepsister, accompanied by a sharp kick from Derek. "Or, uh, not. We'll just stay over here. Okay? You go have your date, and Derek and I will chill out with our, uh, nachos."
Marti huffed, glaring venomously at both of them. "If you screw this up for me, I will never forgive you." Casey winced. "Just…stay over here. And if you so much as step one toe in our direction, I'll shave off all your hair while you're sleeping." Turning on her heels, she flounced off angrily, leaving Derek and Casey blinking after her.
"That was…scarily specific," Derek said.
"Yeah," Casey said glumly. "I told you this was a bad idea."
"Nope, cuz look." He pointed to Marti, who was slamming around angrily, while Dimi watched on, looking slightly freaked out. "No kissing."
Casey rolled her eyes. "Congratulations."
"Come on, Case," Derek whined. "We can't actually bowl anything because Dimi will see us. What else are we gonna do?"
"I am not playing pinball with you," Casey said firmly. "You always win. And you make fun of me."
"Okay, we don't have to play pinball, then," Derek said. "Ooh, look, they have one of those race car games."
"I wasn't aware that you were twelve years old," Casey said disdainfully. "I can't say I'm surprised, however."
"Come on." Derek tugged at her arm. "I'll give you the rest of my jalapeños."
"What a perk," Casey drawled.
"Oh, fine. I guess I'll just go find that waitress then – "
"Ugh! Fine." Casey pulled him out of his chair and he grinned. For whatever reason she got jealous, it was always fun to exploit.
"Okay, you go first. Since I'm a gentleman and all."
"If you were a gentleman, you'd pay for the game," Casey said.
Derek snorted. "Let's not go overboard."
Casey rolled her eyes and dug some change out of her pocket. "I don't even know why I'm doing this. I hate video games."
"No, you just pretend you hate video games, while in reality you can kick ass at them," Derek corrected. "I'll never forget the first time you beat Edwin at Babe Raider. It was…inspiring." He wiped away a fake tear.
"Ha ha." Casey climbed into the fake seat, clicking a few buttons to start up the game. "Aren't we here to keep an eye on Marti?"
"They're bowling," Derek said, without even having to look. "And I think she's getting annoyed with him. He keeps correcting her math."
Casey winced. "Her math is horrible." She squeaked, turning the fake wheel wildly.
"He doesn't need to tell her that. The kid has no sense of flattery whatsoever." He snorted as Casey drove her virtual car into a fence. "Okay, so maybe you don't kick ass as much as you…get your ass kicked."
"Shut up." She frowned and leaned forward intently, hair falling over her shoulder. Gritting her teeth, she managed to maneuver her car back onto the road, bypassing a few of the other virtual racers. "Ha! Maybe I won't come in last."
"Fat chance." She was tearing at her bottom lip with her teeth, and cleared his throat, trying valiantly not to stare. "You know, the gas is there for a reason."
Casey grumbled and hit at the pedals with her feet. "I'm flooring it," she complained. "Stupid game. It's probably making me lose on purpose."
"Yes, it's the game's fault."
Casey let out a yell of frustration as the game ended, her final score popping up on the screen. "Tenth! Tenth place my ass."
"Scooch, Spacey. Let me show you how it's done."
She huffed and climbed out of the game, letting him sit down in her place. "Like you could do better."
"I can do better," he said, inserting a dollar bill into the machine. "Watch the master."
"You're all talk," she taunted. "I've been in a car with you multiple times. You drive like a grandma."
"Oh, no you didn't." Derek stomped on the gas pedal, grinning as his car quickly surpassed the other racers. "What was it that you were saying?"
"So you're in the lead, for now," Casey said, leaning down. "Think you can keep it, superstar?"
He shivered as her hair fell onto his shoulder, the skin of her neck tantalizingly close. "Watch me," he threw back, significantly less confidently.
"Right." She leaned in closer and Derek's jaw clenched. Laughing softly, she suddenly blew into his ear, causing him to shudder and jerk back from her abruptly. She pulled back, laughing. "Who crashed into the fence now?"
He looked at her sharply, every extremity shaking. "Uh, right." He pulled his car back onto the road, noticing all the other virtual cars surpassing him on the track. "Dirty trick, McDonald. Very low."
"I learned from the best."
"Of course." He laughed bitterly and pulled across the finish line, twelfth. Last place. Symbolism sucked.
"What was it that you said?" Casey asked innocently. "I got my ass kicked?"
"You cheated," Derek said. "I'm pretty sure that violates a Rigid Rule."
"You can't use the Rigid Rules against me," Casey said. "They're mine."
Derek climbed out of the game, raising an eyebrow. "You can only trap me with those for so long," he said.
"Oh yeah?" Casey rolled her eyes. "Try me."
Derek realized belatedly how close they were standing and took a step back. "Uh…I mean, I'm onto your game." He shook his head, trying to gain back his blasted-to-pieces composure. "You may fool everyone else, but I know how manipulative you really are."
"What can I say? You bring it out in me." She grinned. "Like I don't do the same to you."
"You wanna talk about what you bring out in me?"
Casey stood up straight, moving closer to him once again. "Like I don't already know. You're not exactly the subtlest, Derek." She smirked. "In fact, you're pretty transparent."
His face darkened. "Transparent, huh?" He pursed his lips, feeling her comment hit the nerve, intended or not. "Pot, meet kettle."
A flicker of something passed across her face quickly, instantly spurring in Derek an urge to drag her somewhere private so he could force her to tell her everything she was thinking. It was an urge he felt quite often.
Her gaze suddenly focused over his shoulder, however, and her face went blank. "Derek, look."
Derek turned to see Marti striding towards them, a strange look on her face. "What? We didn't do anything – we were here the whole time!" Marti ignored him and walked up to Derek intently, burying her face in his chest. "Smarti?" The girl's shoulders started to shake and Derek immediately brought his arms up around her, concern welling in his chest. "Hey, hey. What's wrong?"
"I hate him," Marti cried.
"What? What'd he do?" Derek's immediate reaction was to find Dimi and shove him into a locker, but a stern glance from Casey quelled that pretty quickly. "What happened?"
"He – " Marti broke off and shook her head, wiping the tears from her face. "Nothing, really. He's just a jerk."
Derek looked around for the kid and saw him in the lane that he'd shared with Marti, angrily lacing up his shoes. As he stood up straight Derek noticed that he was soaking wet and snorted. "Did you dump your drink on him?"
"Yes," Marti said petulantly.
"Atta girl," he praised.
Casey shook her head, moving closer to rub Marti's arm. "Do you wanna talk about it?"
Marti shrugged, mascara running down her cheeks. "We fight all the time," she said. "It's like…our thing, but for some reason I thought…" she looked up at Derek wistfully. "That it'd work like that, you know? That he'd be, like, my Casey."
Derek froze and saw Casey do the same out of the corner of his eye. "What?"
"You know, how you guys snipe at each other all the time, because that's your screwed up way of showing affection," Marti said. She buried her face in Derek's chest again, voice muffled into his shirt. "I kinda thought that me and Dimi…stupid me."
Derek brought shaking hands to his sister's shoulders, shrugging and mouthing 'I dunno' at Casey over her head. "You're not stupid," he soothed. Casey was staring at him and he shifted, feeling incredibly trapped. "Hey, Case, why don't you go get the car?"
Casey continued to stare at him. "I need the keys," she finally said, quietly.
He dug them out of his pocket and tossed them to her, avoiding her gaze. "Thanks," he mumbled as she brushed past him. She didn't reply.
"Sorry," Marti mumbled. "I didn't mean to make it awkward."
"Why haven't you told her yet?" Marti pulled back. "You told me you were gonna tell her."
"It's complicated," Derek replied. "Anyway, we're talking about your pathetic love life right now, not mine."
She huffed. "I'm such an idiot."
"No. No, you're not."
"Some first date." She glared over her shoulder, watching Dimi stride past them and out of the door, not sparing them a glance. "I feel cheated."
"If it makes you feel any better, I didn't have the greatest first date, either."
"Really." Derek shook his head. "One of Dad's lawyer friends had a daughter my age, we went out for ice cream, she was allergic and didn't tell me…" he winced. "You can imagine."
"Well, okay. You win." Marti smiled a little. "You should tell Casey how you feel."
"Damn, you're persistent."
"I thought she knew! Otherwise I wouldn't have said that about fighting and affection."
"It's nothing, Smarti."
She glared at him. "Not nothing. You're being an idiot."
"It's complicated," Derek said firmly. "When did this turn into something about me?"
"What, the world doesn't revolve around you?" Marti replied. "Whoops. There goes your belief system."
"That belief system was shaken a long time ago, sister," Derek replied. "Nice try."
Marti sighed. "You're an idiot," she said, "because you're wasting time, not telling her. And because you're way too protective of me, and followed me here and acted like an idiot…" she trailed off and blushed. "Thanks for that, by the way."
"Anytime." He squeezed her shoulder. "Look, Casey and I – "
"Are stupid for each other? Yeah, I know."
He glared at her. "Related," he stressed. "It'd be like you and Lizzie making out." Marti screwed up her face, confused. "Or, uh…maybe Edwin and Lizzie making out would've been a better comparison."
She sighed. "Idiot," she sang.
"Who's butting in now?"
"I'm your sister," she said, recalling his earlier defense. "And the fact that you're an idiot is something I'm pretty sure everyone knows by now."
"Thanks, Marti," Derek said dully. "This was a really inspiring conversation. I'm glad we had it."
"What a day." Casey collapsed onto the small couch that made up the 'living room' in the small, basement room. "Do you think Marti's gonna be okay?"
"Considering that she called Cassie and started playing Seven Degrees of Kevin Bacon the minute we hit the door? I think she'll be fine." Derek dropped his jacket on the bed and sat next to Casey, propping his legs up on the edge of the dresser. "Didn't I tell you Dimi was bad news?"
"Yes, Derek," Casey said obediently.
"So I was right?"
"Thank you." He stole a glance at her. "And I didn't get my ass kicked at that game?"
She smirked. "Yes, Derek."
They grew quiet, listening to the small noises from upstairs as the rest of their family moved around, readying for bed. "Derek?"
Casey turned to him. "What did Marti mean, when she said she was hoping Dimi would be 'her Casey?'"
Derek sighed, his hope that she would avoid the subject slipping away. "Uh, you heard her. She thinks that what we have actually passes as a functional relationship."
Casey frowned. "But we're not in a relationship," she said.
Ouch. "Uh, no, we're not. Thanks for enlightening me."
"You don't need to snap."
Derek sighed. "I'm wiped," he said. "You want me to take the couch, or what?"
Casey crossed her arms across her chest, looking down at the ground. "No, we can share the bed. We've done it before."
Yeah, lying next to Casey all night, in a bed, dressed in sleepwear. Fun. Not agonizing at all. "I'll take the couch."
"You don't have to," Casey insisted. "I said we could share."
"I think it would be more comfortable if I just slept on the couch." She scowled. "Come on, I'm trying to be a gentleman here."
"Right. A gentleman," she spat. Rising from the couch, she moved to her duffel bag, pulling clothes out of it and discarding them on the floor angrily.
"Okay. You wanna let me in on why you're pissed off all of a sudden?"
"I'm sorry, are my mixed signals annoying you?" she asked furiously, throwing a pair of jeans at him. "Too bad."
"My mixed signals?" he repeated incredulously. "What are you talking about?"
She threw the clothes she was holding to the floor, bringing her hands to her face. "Nothing," she said after a moment, voice thick. "Just…nothing."
"No, not nothing." He launched across the room and grabbed her wrist. "Look at me." She twisted away from him and he pulled her back roughly. "Look at me."
"You're hurting my arm," she said dully. He let go of it instantly, taking a step back. "It's nothing, okay? Let's just go to bed."
"So we're playing it like that?" Derek said angrily. "Should we make another Rigid Rule?"
"Just…shut up, Derek," Casey said tiredly.
"No," he spat. "No, you don't get to do that to me. Not with this."
"It's what you've been doing to me!"
"What do you expect me to do?" He glared at her venomously. "You never brought it up, so I never brought it up – and you're all over the place anyway so how was I supposed to know where your head was at?"
"I – " she shook her head, eyes brimming with tears. "I'm sorry, okay?"
"Don't be sorry." Defeat crept up on him and he slumped. "Casey, I…"
"What do we do?" she asked.
He stepped back, and then forward again, fighting to keep from touching her. "I – I don't know."
She looked down at her feet, wiping her face agitatedly. "Okay. Well – okay." She raised her face and let out a short breath. "Um," she started, then finished her sentence by lunging at him suddenly.
He caught her by the waist, already kissing her before stumbling backwards onto the couch, Casey's weight feeling comfortable and natural on his lap. He tore at her clothes urgently, wanting to feel her skin, and broke away from the kiss to let her pull her shirt over her head, tossing it somewhere in the vicinity of the stairs.
"You don't think I'm cold, do you?" she asked anxiously. "I mean…snow…and – "
"You're not the snow," he reassured, pushing her down into the couch cushions on her back. "Stupid metaphor anyway."
"Not that stupid," she said, legs encircling his waist. "It was surprisingly eloquent, especially coming from you," she teased.
"You're so sexy when you're insulting me." He laughed suddenly, feeling something lightweight, almost like happiness. "Be gentle. I've never been with a…dancer before."
She giggled and started working at his belt, sending shivers up his spine. "I've never been with a hockey player, so I guess we're even."
"Not the same." He groaned, leaning his forehead on her bare shoulder momentarily. "I love you."
"Love you too." She kissed his ear. "Idiot."
He huffed and snapped her bra strap, making her squirm away slightly, laughing breathlessly. "Stuck up."
She tugged his shirt up over his head, grinning. "Derek. Shut up." She pulled him down into a kiss and he melted into it, happy to oblige.
"Andrea Thompson!" Scattered clapping echoed through the auditorium and Derek shifted in his seat, rolling his eyes. "Andrea is a wonderful addition to the class, and has made great strides in her spelling tests this year. I'm sure she'll be just as bright and engaging in second grade as she was in first. Congratulations to Andrea!"
"What is this, a beauty pageant?" he whispered to Casey, seated beside him. "I feel like we should be bidding on them or something."
Casey bit down a laugh and elbowed him. Marti did no such thing, and giggled loudly, drawing the attention of Nora and George in the row in front of them. "Sorry," she stage-whispered.
"This is boring," Derek complained.
Casey sighed. "It's almost over," she offered.
"Steven Trent! Steven is such a rascal at recess – look out, grade two hall monitors!"
Derek groaned. "Torture."
"We're almost to V," she said. "Just sit tight."
"Have I told you how gorgeous you look this morning?" Casey glared at him. "What?"
"Our parents are right there," she hissed. "And Marti's right beside you."
"I didn't hear anything," Marti offered. Casey groaned.
Derek snaked his hand up her knee. "Relax."
She shifted away in her seat, trying to escape his grasp. He grinned and trailed his hand up her side, deliberately hitting all her sensitive spots. "I'm sorry, does that…tickle?"
"Derek – stop," she gasped, trying to keep her laughter contained. "I mean it."
"Stop what?" He pressed his hand, cold from the air conditioning in the auditorium, to her neck and she squealed, drawing the attention of several people around them, including Nora and George.
"Derek, Casey!" Nora hissed, glaring. Derek withdrew his hand from Casey's neck and tried to look innocent.
"Your fault," Casey mumbled out of the corner of her mouth.
"Not my fault you're skittish," he replied.
"Ugh. You're such a – "
"RJ Venturi!" RJ trudged across the stage to the podium, rolling his eyes and looking visibly annoyed. "RJ is a…creative thinker with a wonderful imagination." Derek snorted with laughter. "I'm sure he'll be a great addition to his grade two class. Congratulations, RJ."
RJ took the certificate from the teacher and immediately shoved it in his pocket, turning back to rejoin the others on the stands. "Venturi to the core," Derek murmured. "Can we leave now?"
"Would you guys shut up?" George said, turning around. He was immediately shushed by another mother next to him.
"Let's sneak out," Marti said. "We could probably still catch that noon showing of Harry Potter."
"I am not going to see Harry Potter," Derek said. "How about you go see it, and Casey and I go home and pack for a little bit?"
"Is that a euphemism for something dirty?" Marti whispered.
"Marti!" Casey hissed.
"That is none of your business," Derek said. "And yes."
"Shelly Winters! Shelly's simply wonderful at reading out loud…"
"Hey," Derek said, leaning over to Casey. "I dare you to say the dirtiest thing you can think of. Right now."
"I'll do it."
"Don't – " He rested his chin on her shoulder, whispering into her ear. "Derek! Oh my God."
He pulled away, grinning at the violent blush spreading across her cheeks. "You look hot. Maybe you need some air?"
"You're such a pig," she said shakily.
He grinned in triumph. "Sorry, did I embarrass you?"
"Thank you to all our wonderful graduates, and all their friends and family who joined us today. Please feel free to partake of the refreshments that are provided in the gym. Let's give a round of applause to the class of 2016!"
Derek immediately stood up. "All right, cool. Let's blow this joint."
Casey tugged on his hand. "Would you chill out?"
He sighed, waiting with arms crossed for Casey to gather her coat and purse. "Could you move any slower?"
"It could be worse. It could take me seven years to come to my senses and stop screwing around"
"Ouch." He winced. "Too early for jokes, dear."
She shrugged carelessly. "Sorry."
"Can we go?" Marti said impatiently. "I'm gonna see Harry Potter today if it kills me."
"Well, that's what I've been saying." Derek waved at Nora and George on the other side of the seats, pointing in the direction of the gym vaguely. "C'mon, we'll go talk to RJ real quick and then get outta here."
Casey shuffled down the aisle of seats, dodging people's legs awkwardly. "We can't bail on RJ," she said. "Mom and George promised him a treat if he sat still through this thing, remember?"
"Okay, we'll take him to Harry Potter with us," Derek said. "He and Marti can watch the movie while you and I make out."
"Jeez, Derek." Casey rolled her eyes.
"What? It's what you're supposed to do at a movie theatre."
Casey pulled him along by his wrist, shaking her head. "Pig."
"Can you guys go for ten minutes without acting sickening?"
"No," Derek said shortly. They walked into the gym, dodging parents cooing and fawning over their kids. "Oh look, muffins!"
"You have the attention span of a five-year-old," Casey said.
"Not necessarily a bad thing." Derek snagged a muffin and waved it in front of her face. "Chocolate chiiiip," he drawled.
"Not playing fair." She scowled and grabbed it from his hand.
"DEREK! CASEY!" RJ came barreling through the crowd and attached himself to Derek's leg, Nora and George following close behind. "Mom wants me to do the journal thing again!"
"Nora, you can't possibly expect this child to do homework over the summer," Derek said, swinging RJ up into his arms. "It's cruel and unusual punishment."
"I think it's a good idea," Casey said haughtily. "It'll help improve your writing skills, RJ, and when you're older you can look back and remember all the things you did this summer."
RJ frowned. "Can't you do it for me?"
"Well, that's stupid."
Nora sighed. "RJ, don't say that word."
"Why? Marti says it all the time."
George snorted. "Marti isn't supposed to say it either."
"Stupid isn't a curse," Marti complained. "There are way worse things I could be saying – "
"Don't go there," George interrupted.
Derek looked over at Casey, who was watching RJ wiggle around in his arms with a strange expression on her face. "Case?"
She jerked out of her reverie. "Huh? What?"
He sighed, giving her a look, knowing exactly what was running through her mind. "We going to see Harry Potter or what?"
Marti jumped around on her heels. "Yes! Finally."
"We have to wait for Edwin and Lizzie," Nora said. "They were on the other side of the auditorium."
"If we don't go now, we'll miss the previews," Marti said.
"Isn't Harry Potter rated R?" George said, frowning. "I mean, it is about a war, right? He kills Voldemort?"
"I don't know what's scarier, that you didn't know it was rated R already, or that you actually know Voldemort's name," Marti said.
"I watched the other movies," George said defensively.
"I don't want RJ going to see an R-rated movie," Nora said firmly.
RJ gave a loud groan. "I want to go with Derek and Casey!"
Derek looked over at Casey, who'd grown strangely quiet. He moved RJ to his hip and shrugged, going for nonchalant. "That's okay. Case and I will take RJ home, you guys go see the movie. I'm sure Ed and Liz will want to go with you."
"Are you sure?" Nora asked, brow furrowed. "I don't want to stick you guys with babysitting."
"Nah, it's fine. We could use some play time with Riley Jordan here." Derek ruffled RJ's hair, laughing as he scowled and immediately tried to smooth it down.
"If you're sure," George said. "Then thanks."
Marti gave them a look. "Behave," she said cheerily. Derek made a face at her. "What? It's a valid piece of advice."
Derek glanced over at Casey, his grin falling when he saw her face turned away from him, body language closed off. "Thanks a lot, Marti."
Derek glanced over at Casey, sitting in the front seat with her legs folded up beneath her. "Case?"
He hesitated. "Are you all right?"
She turned to look at him briefly, before turning back to stare out the window at the highway. "Yeah, I'm fine."
He paused, feeling vaguely wary, as if stepping onto a shaky bridge. "You, uh, were right. It was nice to see everyone again," he said. "RJ's always a blast."
Silence fell and Derek grappled for something to say, desperately not wanting to let it become awkward. "Did you have fun?" He immediately winced. Lame.
Casey shrugged. "Sure."
He sighed. "You're not making this very easy on me."
"Sorry," she said dully.
"Okay, what's your issue?"
"What do you mean?"
"You haven't said a word since we left London," Derek pointed out. "You haven't even mentioned your show tomorrow night that I know you think I forgot about."
"I…didn't think you forgot," Casey said, blushing. "I thought you left your planner at home, which had the reminder that I gave you in it."
"I didn't forget," Derek said firmly. "And you're avoiding the subject."
She sighed. "I'm just a little overwhelmed right now, okay? A lot's happened these past couple days."
"You mean a lot happened last night," Derek corrected. Casey's blush deepened and she turned her head away. He felt a creeping sense of dread rising in his throat and he shifted in his seat uncomfortably. "Look, I'm sorry about today, during the ceremony thing – I know I was being annoying – "
"It's okay," she said quickly.
He frowned. "Okay," he replied slowly. "Did I move too fast?" She didn't reply, hunching down deeper into her seat. "Did I…hurt you?"
"No!" She looked over at him, startled.
"I just think we…jumped the gun a little," she said carefully. "We didn't really talk, we just…acted."
"Is that a bad thing?" Casey shrugged. "You're gonna have to give me more than that."
"Can we postpone this conversation until we get home, please?" Casey pleaded.
"No," Derek snapped. "Would you please just tell me what you're thinking? You owe me that much."
"I don't owe you anything," she said sharply.
Derek blew out a soft breath, recoiling. "Fine."
"I didn't mean it like that."
She grunted in frustration. "I just think that we should take some time to – to think this through."
"Seven years wasn't enough?" She shook her head, face turned away. "This is about RJ, isn't it?"
"You were fine until he came running up to us back at the school," Derek pointed out. Casey shifted in her seat uneasily. "Look, I know it's weird. Trust me, I know."
He slammed his hand on the wheel, exhaling angrily. "Well, where do you want to go from here, Case? You can't just – you can't do this."
"Derek, let's talk about this later."
"Later my ass – "
"Derek, you're gonna get us killed," Casey snapped. "Slow down."
He growled under his breath and jerked onto an off-ramp, pulling into a rest stop. Turning the engine off, he laid his forehead against the steering wheel, trying to find the shreds of his composure. "Sorry," he said finally.
"I didn't mean – I didn't mean it like that," Casey said. "I do owe you something. An explanation, at least."
"Explanation," Derek repeated dully. "It hasn't even been twenty-four hours yet and you're already dumping me?"
"Dumping you?" she asked, surprised. "I'm not…dumping you."
"What are you doing, Casey?"
She bit her lip, raising one hand to her forehead. "I don't know." Her eyes slid shut against the afternoon light pouring in through the window, mouth pursing. "This is so…complicated. There's so many things to consider, so many things that could happen, and…I'm just scared, okay?"
"Okay." He sighed. "We – we don't have to…"
"What, you think we can go back to like it was before?" Casey shook her head. "I don't want that. And like we could do it anyway."
"Then what?" he asked. "What do we do?" She shook her head, leaning back against the window. The sun highlighted her hair, making it seem almost as if there was a halo around her head, like some relic from an ancient oil painting. "Come here."
She immediately obliged, leaning awkwardly across the seat to give him a sideways hug, arms clenching around his neck. She laughed, throat a little choked. "I'm sorry I'm such a mess. I didn't mean to make you think – "
"It's okay." He managed to smooth his hand beneath her hair, laying his palm on the back of her neck. "We'll work it out."
"Good, because I love you." She nipped at his neck. "And it took us long enough."
He craned his neck to kiss her, indulging for a few precious seconds before pulling away. "Love you too, crazy girl." He nudged her back into her own seat gently. "Okay, now?"
"More or less."
"Good." He smiled and turned the car back on. "Let's go home."
Okay, so Allie's actual request was thus: Marti's first non-group date. Starring overprotective, embarrassing Derek and Derek's sidekick and hired helper, Super Spy Casey. Obviously, I deviated from it a bit. But I hope you liked it, Allie, and again – I apologize for being late. I just couldn't – stop – writing. Damn muse.