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Chapter 17: Anticipation

"Is this always the way it's gonna be?" Lizzie asked as she watched Casey flit around the bedroom in her bra and panties.

Casey barely looked up as she sorted through the mess of clothes on her bed. "What are you talking out?"

Lizzie snorted as she sat on her own bed. "You—freaking out about going out with a guy. Well, not any guy, Derek."

Casey's eyes jumped to her sister's. "Why do you say it like that?"

Lizzie rolled her eyes. "Because you really like him, duh!" At Casey's expression, Lizzie laughed and added, "Come on, Case, I haven't seen you this freaked out by a guy since you first met Sam. Before he got all douchy," she added with a lip curl.

Casey huffed and turned her back on her little sister. "Stop being so dramatic, Liz," she said as she held a blouse up to herself. "What do you think about this?"

Lizzie eyed the high collar white shirt. "Makes you look like a nun."

Casey scowled and threw the shirt down. "Arrrrgh! I have absolutely nothing to wear!"

Lizzie rose from the bed and approached the closet. "Now who's being a drama queen? Why don't you wear the outfit you wore when Derek came over here for dinner? He sure seemed to like that," she said wagging her eyebrows.

Casey flushed but shook her head. "I can't wear that! He's already seen that! See, this is why I don't like to do…this!" Casey said waving her arms around.

"Do what? Date? Have dinner with other humans, what?"

"Date, Liz. In case you haven't noticed, I'm not exactly a pro when it comes to men."

Lizzie huffed out a laugh as she continued to thumb through the clothes in the closet. "No one says you have to be a 'pro', Case. Besides, when you say pro, I think of Steph," she said giggling.

"Oh god, that's definitely not what I meant!" Case said as she sat down on her bed and watched Lizzie rifle through her clothing. "Please, tell me there's a killer outfit in there that I didn't know I owned."

"That's what I'm looking for right now."

Casey sighed and leaned back on her bed. She was exhausted, having spent almost all day on the bus from place to place pounding the frozen pavement looking for employment. Lizzie, having been suspended from school for a week, was exiled in the apartment with strict orders not to answer the door. Casey was initially a bit leery about leaving Lizzie alone while she went job hunting, fearing that Lizzie might sneak out, but after a heavy discussion the night before, Casey felt better about everything and decided to give her little sister the benefit of the doubt. Upon arriving home at around 4:00, she was relieved to find Lizzie right where she left her, in the bedroom listening to music. Strangely, there had been no sign of Steph for two days, which wasn't the first time she had gone MIA, but for some reason, this time felt different.

Casey blinked away the thought and lifted herself up on her elbows to check her sister's progress. "Find anything yet?"

Lizzie 'mmmm'-ed but said nothing as her head was buried in the closet. Casey smiled and lay back again, closing her eyes. Maybe she would catch a little catnap while waiting…

Derek was getting colder by the second as he struggled to open the back door while laden with grocery bags. After his third try at turning the knob, he gave up and rang the doorbell, knowing that at least Marti was home, based on the lights that were on upstairs.

He shifted from foot to foot while waiting. Kicking his boot against the door he shouted, "Marti, come on! Open the door!"

Minutes later the door swung open and he was face to face with his little sister, who was sporting a big smirk. "I'm sorry, but we're not in the market for a vacuum cleaner or any other crap you might be selling." She moved to shut the door in his face, but Derek was too quick and stuck his foot in the opening.

"Out of my way, shorty," he said as he shouldered past her.

Marti grumbled under her breath but did as he said, silently watching as Derek unloaded the bags onto the counter. "You don't usually do the shopping. What's up? Did Dad bribe you or something?"

Derek didn't acknowledge the jibe as he stripped off his jacket and toed off his boots. He ran a hand through his hair and felt the wetness there from the snow that was falling. If he played things right, he could start dinner and then run upstairs to take a hot shower while things were cooking. He'd have to have a little help, though.

"We're having guests for dinner tonight," he said as he took everything out of the bags and pulled out cookware.

Marti continued to watch with a raised eyebrow. "Guests? We never have guests. Who's coming over?"

Derek crossed the kitchen and turned on the broiler. "A friend of mine and her sister."

"A friend? Must be a pretty special friend for you to be doing the cooking."

Derek smiled as he took out the potatoes and started to wash them. "Well, I figure any friend of mine shouldn't have to be subjected to dad's cooking."

"Well, yeah," Marti agreed, "but that hasn't stopped you from inviting friends over before."

"That was different," Derek said as he started to peel the potatoes over the sink.

Marti came to stand next to her brother. "I don't think I've ever seen you peel potatoes before, Derek. In fact, I didn't even know you knew anything about anything in the kitchen."

Derek slanted a look at his sister. "Well, I guess you don't know everything," he said as he bumped his shoulder against hers. "Hey, can you do me a favor? After I get the potatoes and meat going, could you watch over things in here while I run upstairs for a quick shower? I'm freezing and I want to wash up a bit."

Marti's eyes widened. "Geez, Derek, you must really like this friend. Who is she? Tell me all about her."

Derek laughed at his sister's antics. "She's someone I met awhile ago."

Marti tapped her foot impatiently. "And?"

"And what?"

"And what? Is that it? Is that all you're gonna tell me? I mean, what's her name? Where did you meet her? And if this is a date, why is she bringing her sister? I mean, isn't it weird to bring your sister along on a date…"

"Marti, chill. Take a breath. Her name is Cassandra, but she likes to be called Casey. I met her on the street, actually," he said, thinking fast. He wasn't sure why he didn't want to tell Marti the truth, but he had a feeling that Casey would like it better if he kept that between the two of them.

Marti watched as Derek set aside the peeled potatoes and ran some water in a big pot. "OK, what about the sister? How old is she? How old is Casey? Gah, she's nothing like Kendra, is she? Cuz I don't think I could stand that."

Derek scowled at Kendra's name. "Smarti, did I ever cook dinner for Kendra?"

Marti thought for a second. "No."

Derek nodded in agreement. "Well, that tells you something right there."

"You really like this chick, huh?"

Derek smiled and met his sister's eyes. "Yeah, Smarti, I really like this chick."

Derek turned off the shower and stepped out into the steamy bathroom. Taking in a deep breath, he smiled as he grabbed a towel to dry himself. His stomach was jumping with excitement and he reached forward to run his hand through the condensation on the mirror. Staring at himself he said, "Derek, this is an important night. Don't screw it up."

After dressing in dark jeans, a white tee and dark green pullover, Derek headed downstairs to check on dinner. He heard his father and Marti talking before he saw them.

"So you don't know anything about her either?" Marti was saying.

The sound of the refrigerator opening then his father's voice: "Nope. Not a thing. He's being pretty secretive about it, which is nothing new. You know Derek isn't big on telling us what's going on with his personal life."

Derek stopped at the bottom of the stairs and continued eavesdropping.

"I know he's not, but this time's different, dad. Derek told me that he really likes this girl, and as you can see for yourself, he's doing the cooking himself." Derek could hear Marti laugh. "I guess he didn't want to have to rush her to the emergency room later tonight for food poisoning."

Derek could only imagine his father's face as he answered, "Marti, enough with the bad cooking jokes, alright? I do the best I can. If it's so bad, why don't you start doing it?"

There was silence and then, "Sorry dad. You know I'm just having fun with you. You usually just laugh those jokes off."

George sighed. "Yeah, sorry about that. I just had a crappy day at work."

Derek decided he had heard enough and entered the kitchen. "Crappy day, huh? What happened?"

George turned to look at him. "Nothing I want to talk about right now. Instead, I'd love for you to tell me what we're having for dinner, because it smells delicious!"

Derek smiled proudly. "We're having London broil, mashed potatoes, green beans, salad, and for the piece de resistance, chocolate cake."

His father's brows rose. "You baked a cake?"

Derek's lip curled. "No, I bought it, but I made everything else!" He opened the broiler and checked the meat. It looked about done. Glancing at his watch, he had just enough time to pick Casey and Lizzie up – if he left now.

"Hey Marti, can you whip up the salad for me? I have to leave now to pick up Casey and Lizzie if I'm gonna make it on time. Pleeeease?" He added when he noticed the expression on his sister's face.

Marti caved at her brother's puppy dog eyes. "Oh, alright. Go and get your girl. I'll have it ready by the time you get back."

Derek flashed her a big grin before crossing the room and kissing Marti on the top of the head. "Thanks, sis."

George looked on from his place in the doorway and smiled. No matter how hard times have been for them, he knew he was doing the best he could and the way his children interacted with each other proved it. Only the glaring absence of his middle child Edwin darkened his thoughts. If only he could get through to him and make Edwin realize what his distance was doing to them. George shook off the thought at the sound of Derek's voice aimed toward him.

"I'm sorry, were you talking to me?" he asked Derek.

Derek rolled his eyes. "Yeah, dad. I asked if you had heard from Ed today. I texted him earlier to ask if he would come to dinner, but I didn't hear back from him. I had really hoped that he would come around so he could meet Casey and Lizzie."

George continued to be surprised at his son's feelings for this mystery woman. "I haven't spoken to him today. Would you like me to try to call him?"

Derek shook his head. "Nah, I'll try to get ahold of him on my way to Casey's," he said as he pulled on his boots and jacket. "Is it still snowing out there?"

His father shook his head. "No, it's stopped, but be careful, the roads are still bad."

Derek nodded. "Will do. I'll be back soon. Do me a favor and drain the potatoes for me, will you? I'll mash them when I get back. Also, I put the broiler on warm, so it should be fine while I'm gone. Smarti, thanks again for doing the salad. Just don't add any onions or anything because I'm not sure they like them. Just lettuce, tomato and carrots. Anything else I can add when they get here."

George and Marti stood there with amused looks on their faces as they listened to Derek rattle out orders. When he was done, they looked at each other then saluted Derek as one. "Aye, aye, Captain!" George said, making Derek roll his eyes.

"Yeah, yeah…" he mumbled as he headed out into the night.

Derek knew he was courting trouble by trying to text while drive on the slick roads, but he had finally gotten ahold of his brother and he was loath to let the conversation drop.

Can't u chg ur plans and come home for dinnr?

Hasn't been hm for a long time

Derek scowled and furiously thumbed the keys while he kept one eye on the road. This is imprtnt. Plz?

There was nothing for a moment, then: nother time, ltr, which meant that Edwin was again blowing off the family to do god-knows-what with god-knows-who.

Derek swore and threw his phone down on the passenger seat. Both hands clenched on the wheel, he drove on thinking of how much his brother had changed in a few short months. Derek shook his head and knew that sooner rather than later, he would have to corner his brother and sit him down for a priority check. His dad had enough to worry about, this was something Derek felt he had to do himself – he only hoped he could get through to Edwin and talk some sense into him.

The doorbell rang just as Casey was putting the finishing touches on her makeup. She didn't usually wear much, but tonight she put in a little extra effort and painted her eyes a smoky grey color. She swiped the mascara wand along her lashes one last time before putting it away.

"How do I look?" she asked Lizzie, who was heading to the door.

"You look great, sis," Lizzie answered before opening the door. "Hey Der-" her voice cut off when she realized it wasn't Derek standing there, but Bob. Her expression soured. "What the hell do you want?"

Bob smirked cruelly. "Damn, Liz, the mouth on you. Didn't your momma ever teach you not to cuss?" At Lizzie's expression, Bob laughed. "Oh, that's right…"

"You bastard!" Lizzie screamed before lunging toward their slimy landlord.

"Lizzie!" Casey yelled running over and grabbing her sister from behind. "Stop it! He's not worth it!"

Casey pulled Lizzie off Bob, who continued snickering. "You McDonalds' need to work on your tempers."

"Fuck off, Bob," Casey said flatly before slamming the door in his face.

"Creep," Casey muttered as she and Lizzie looked at each other and tried to calm down. They were startled by a pounding on the door.

"You tell Steph I'm looking for her, got it? She knows what it's about!" Bob yelled through the cheap wood before silence fell over them.

The sisters held each other's gaze before Lizzie spoke. "I don't know what the hell that means, but I actually feel sorry for Steph."

Casey nodded but said nothing.

When the buzzer finally sounded, both Lizzie and Casey jumped. Lizzie got up and pushed the button. "Yes?"

"Lizzie? It's Derek."

Lizzie threw a smile over her shoulder at Casey. "Come on up," she said as she pushed the button that would open the main door.

Casey stood from her position on the couch and smoothed her hands on her thighs. A few minutes later, there was a soft knock on the door.

This time, Lizzie looked through the peephole before opening the door. "Just making sure," she said sheepishly to Casey as she turned the knob.

"Hi Derek, come in," Lizzie said politely, making Casey smile.

"Hi Lizzie, nice to see you again," Derek replied nodding at her.

Derek's eyes fell on Casey. "Wow," he breathed. "You look beautiful."

Casey blushed and looked down at herself. The outfit they had decided on wasn't much (or so Casey thought). She was wearing dark skinny jeans and a red silk fitted shirt. There were simple silver hoops in her ears and she had straightened her hair, making it shine in the low light.

She looked up and smiled brightly at him. "Thanks Derek, you look nice too," she said then mentally kicked herself. Couldn't she have come up with something better to say? Geez, she really was bad at this stuff.

'He's hot!' Lizzie mouthed at Casey behind Derek's back, making Casey giggle.

Derek turned around quickly. "What?" he asked with a half-smile on his face.

Lizzie adopted an innocent look on her face that made Casey laugh harder. "My sister thinks you're hot," she said as Lizzie protested, "Hey!"

Derek laughed and Casey could detect a faint flush on his neck, which made him even more adorable than usual. Casey moved toward Derek and put her arms around him. "It's nice to see you," she breathed against his neck, taking in his unique scent.

"You too," he said back, squeezing her a bit tighter.

The sound of a throat clearing had them moving apart suddenly. "So, are we going to eat or am I stuck watching you two make googly eyes at each other all night?"

Derek shifted uncomfortably. "Sure, let's go. Are you two ready?"

Casey smiled. "You bet," she said with more bravado than she felt.

"Is everything OK?" Derek asked as he slanted a look at Casey in the front seat.

"Yeah, why wouldn't it be?" Casey answered.

Derek's eyes dropped to Casey's leg, which was bouncing vigorously. "Uh, you look a little frazzled. Are you nervous about meeting my family?"

Casey forced her leg to stop jumping. "That obvious, huh?"

Lizzie laughed from the back seat.

Derek met Lizzie's eyes in the rearview mirror. "Case, I'll tell ya again, there's absolutely no need to be nervous about tonight. All we're gonna do is have a laid-back meal and then maybe watch a movie or something afterward. Sound good?"

Casey took a deep breath. "Yeah, that sounds great."

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