I do not own LWD. Dear reviewers, your comments were much appreciated. People who don't review but like the story– thank you guys too.
Chapter 2 - Creaking Stair Thrills
I think you know who I am, but perhaps I should tell you anyway, because people these days tend to have short memories and full schedules. They watch so many films, read so many junk magazines, catch the tail-end of so many pieces of news. Nothing is ever particularly serious or lasting, unless it relates directly to them - like those of us who don't really understand the global economic downturn until someone tells us we no longer own our house.
I don't mean this as a direct insult to you; I'm just not myself at the moment, so if you think this dry-eyed, lack-lustre creature curled up on top of the quilt is me, Casey McDonald, then you'd be mistaken. And of course, if anyone is mistaken, the real Casey usually makes a point of telling them so.
I used to do that to Derek. Repeatedly, in fact. Especially in the days before we stopped pretending we detested each other. Ah! But I'm totally getting ahead of myself. In order for you to make sense of my story, you need to know about the awful lengths to which we used to drive each other and, indeed, everyone around us.
There is no escaping the fact that Derek and I were like – I was planning to say chalk and cheese but that's just too clichéd. If someone had created us, then the audience would have laughed their heads off, because most of the time we were such an unlikely and troublesome pair. Sardonic. Self-centred. Competitive. Insecure. Hooked on the thrill of accusations and retribution – often forgetting our souls and our surroundings, or the consequences. So, yes, Tom and Jerry might be more appropriate. Or Montagues and Capulets more dramatic. And in the end, although we did not die or kill each other, perhaps other doomed romantic pairings do spring to mind.
Looking back on us then, I feel we were unpleasant children setting everyone a bad example. You know what I'm talking about! The food fights; the shampoo throwing; the insults, tantrums and sulks. The occasions on which we hurt not just the possessions but, far worse, the feelings of others in our mad dash to remain at the centre of each other's universe.
If things turned out all right in the end on any particular occasion, nothing got burnt or broken – well that was pure luck, usually. And don't tell me that the past is the past – because if that were true then why would I be lying here twelve years later in this state of unstoppable turmoil over a visit from Derek and his preppy English wife? Because the past is never the past, I tell you. Never. And the present is all about unravelling or forgetting what happened and what might have been.
After they left, and I'd managed to crawl onto my bed, I just lay there. I thought I'd heard her say 'Isn't she just a spiffing creature!' to Derek as I bolted the door. But my state of stunned paranoia might have meant I was imagining things.
I had nothing important to get up for in the morning. All my students were still on summer break; even my colleagues had taken time off to spend with their families or friends or resident goldfish. I'd been alone all week in the beautiful old departmental room in the English and Literatures building, working on a new book, and I had no inclination to work any harder. And anyway, as I told you, sleep denied me that night. So I allowed thoughts to drift around my mind – especially thoughts about my stepbrother, and the times we'd spent together over the years: salty thoughts that made me thirst for something water was never going to quench; fiery thoughts that burnt a hole in my head.
Time used to feel so infinite (sometimes frustratingly so) and elastic (some moments seemed to last for hours or days passed in a blink) in that house, with him, with the diverting cocoon of our family's love holding us in place; but it was just a deceptive trick of the mind. Irrevocably things moved on.
A chance meeting on the stairs at midnight: summer of our graduation year, 2008. It had lasted – well maybe less than three minutes. But phew. Just flicking over the memory with attempted casualness (like an actress dusting her face with powder one last time after the make-up artist has gone) makes my cheeks burn, my heart stammer. With rage, you're thinking? With frustration? Because yes, that's what I said at the time, at least to myself.
I'd been studying late into the night for one of my very last tests. I was almost eighteen, and very sure of my priorities. Derek had turned eighteen already and was equally sure of his. Which was why, although we were both taking the test the following morning, he had been sitting up watching reruns on television – although I didn't know this at the time, or I wouldn't have exited my room and padded down to the kitchen in my shorts and vest with my hair all dishevelled and pen marks at the corners of my mouth.
Silvery shafts of moonlight from the bathroom window illuminated the top of the staircase. But the lower half was in total darkness. I was going down, trying not to make any noise. Two of our stairs creaked so loud that mom was always on at George to get someone in to fix them. I didn't want to disturb anyone. Derek was coming up the stairs, strangely perhaps for him, trying to be quiet in an effort (he told me later) not to wake mad Casey before her BIG EXAM and cause BIG TROUBLE. Stepping to the side at the exact same moment, in an effort to avoid the noisiest stair, we met, midway down. I, of course, almost lost my balance and fell over. I almost screamed. But the soft thunk of my body against his and his against the wall, and the fact that he caught my wrists – well, that kind of stabilised me and made all the air leave my body at the same time; so there was nothing left to scream with.
'Studying hasn't improved your balance, has it, Case?'
'I didn't know you were up. I need to get a drink.' Instantly I could feel every part of my body as if some invisible force was heating my blood from the inside. Derek-electric, that's what I'd become. I steadied myself with a hand on his arm.
'Now I'm gonna' need t' take a bath.' He indicated that I had touched him, but still made no move to push me away (if this were a normal day, or anyone was watching, I would have been at the bottom of the stairs in an ungainly heap by this point). His skin was cool against my palm.
'What were you doing down there so late, right before the exam?'
'Just catching up with The Daily Show.'
'Oh, Casey the magnificent intellectual doesn't know what that is? I won't tell you then.' He was whispering and laughing at the same time.
'If you watch it, I'm sure it's not worth watching!' I was whispering too. I didn't have to try not to laugh. Nothing about my feelings was remotely amusing. For some unknown reason, instead of feeling annoyed or irritable, I was excited and nervous.
There was plenty of room on the stairs and my eyes had adjusted to the darkness. I could see him clearly, in the glow from something downstairs, his eyes shining even more than normal. Incredibly attractive was an understatement, when applied to him; but then I'd have taped my mouth shut before I let him know that. He was still holding one of my wrists and obviously that meant he could feel my absurdly panicked pulse. Duh.
Then he brought one arm up and around me so I didn't move away (I really, really wasn't intending to move away from him then, but I guess he didn't know me so well). He was leaning against the wall. I was resting against him so that my cheek was touching his chest (now I knew what that hammering was). He whispered something into the top of my head, and I murmured 'what?' so he couldn't hear me. And it sure felt like there was something powerful holding us there together like that.
And that was it. No kissing; and not much talking really. It was as if, leaning against each other on the staircase in the silvery dark, I at least could touch beneath the shirt and skin, to the bones beneath: and there all I felt was the perfection of someone who was my equal, not my enemy. And since I'd never really expected my soul – let alone my body – to be this at ease with Derek, I was, for once in my life, quite speechless.
And then, lightly, tenderly, Derek detached us from each other, saying in a voice closer to shaky than I'd heard in a long time, 'Ew, Casey, stop drooling all over my shirt and get a hold of yourself. You've got a test tomorrow!' and darting up the stairs like the cocky super villain he always tried to be.
I would have stood on those stairs all night, in his arms; and most probably would have flunked my test, had he not gone then, at that precise instant.
And now, over a decade later, I would cry, if I could, with longing just for this one memory. But my body refuses. My eyes are like sandpaper.
Then, just as exhaustion looms over a very bright warm Montreal morning, another memory – still sweeter and more delicious than that last – sweeps in from the following summer, threatening to overwhelm me completely. Picture it: a misjudged and typically McDonald-Venturi camping trip, a caravan too small to hold more than five, a fight which left me and Derek locked out and then alone in a tent together for a single night… This is really something that I try reasonably hard not to think about most of the time, but I'm not doing a very good job at the moment. And then my doorbell rings.
My doorbell? Who on earth? It's only eight in the morning. On a Thursday, towards the end of vacation time. Why would anyone…? I drag myself wearily up off the bed and go to answer it, still wearing last night's jeans and an oddly uncrumpled shirt.
There's Derek's wife, whom I'd just spent the whole night telling myself I'd never ever have to see again.
She breezes into my hallway, and then into my living room, drops her tiny red purse onto my couch and says in her terrifyingly crisp manner, 'Time to get freshened up, Casey. Derek told me if I needed a girlfriend, you'd be the one! And he said you'd take me shopping downtown today, and maybe to lunch if I didn't bore you.' She laughs. Well, actually it is more of a simper.
Derek told her she bored me? He volunteered Dr. Casey McDonald's precious time to aid his wife's shopping spree? My eyebrows rise steeply at this information, but she just pushes right on, 'And he also said that you probably wouldn't appreciate a visit from me, because you'd be all blue and weepy about something you thought you'd lost. But I told him I could fix that with a strong cup of tea. So, you go get yourself spruced up.'
Before I have time to process any of these most unwelcome and humiliating revelations, this vision of bright red silk and leather-booted horsiness, who - unbearably, incredibly - seems to be my new step-sister-in-law, is in my kitchen and has the kettle on.
Memories of all sorts recede into the darkest corners of my high-ceilinged flat, where they will stalk me, I'm sure, on another lonesome night. For now, I drag myself into the bathroom and strip to my underwear before slamming the door and finally bursting into tears. I am in for a very, very long day.
Next chapter: the shopping expedition extraordinaire (tragi-comic in the extreme) and possibly, if you want it badly enough... the camping trip memory. But the update might not be for a while: too much on at work; so, apologies in advance.