Christmas Day this year meant endless rounds of driving McDonald family to the airport and long goodbyes. I was supposed to make everyone a fancy French toast breakfast, but I begged off because I felt sick (and confused, and heartbroken, and angry, and embarrassed, and like I wanted nothing more than to fly to Vancouver to find out what the hell Derek had meant with that gift, with his absence, with all the things that he had said and done with me before either.
But I wasn't going to fly to Vancouver and track him down. (Especially not when I had the example of my half-crazed cousin pining away for him – begging Marti for her framed autographed picture back.)
"No, I'm serious Marti. I can handle it…"
"Well…I don't know…Nora said not to even let you see…"
"I SAID, I CAN HANDLE IT. NOW GIVE ME THE PICTURE!"
It looked like Vicky was on her way back to mental hospital for another "little rest" (as Aunt Fiona put it). See, Derek, this is what you do to women…you make them totally, completely, never-endingly crazy!
I mean, that was it. Right? Right?
He had driven my cousin into a mental institution; he had stripped Sally down to her selfish, scheming core; he turned my best-friend into a shameless slut and her gentle geeky boyfriend into a …potential party-brawler…(and yes, I know that technically Sheldon wasn't a wronged woman but I was on a roll! I felt certain I could eventually link Derek to world hunger and the melting of the polar ice-caps.)
Well! I wasn't going to join the list of people that Derek Venturi destroyed!
I let myself have that one day of pathetic grieving: clutching the silk Shakespeare scarf to my chest, sniffling into my pillow…reliving the tender moments between us in all those semi-public places we'd had sex over the past week. How romantic? They all seemed a little sordid (maybe even uncharacteristically whorish on my part – my stepbrother had turned me into a whore!) thrown into the new stark light of Derek's apparent complete indifference.
It was a really long and difficult day. But it came to an end, eventually… and, like the resolved and mature person that I am, I managed to get out of bed and resume my productive and normal life.
I was showered and dressed. I had made my bed. Not a tear track or a tremble to prove that anything unusual had happened to me this Winter break. Nope. Nothing.
As a matter of fact – I launched right into dusting and polishing and generally restoring the house to a lovely pre-Family Reunion order. Okay so maybe an even better than pre-Family Reunion Christmas order. Which makes me helpful and useful and a valuable member of my household (what used to be my household). But the point being…
If Derek was to talk to anyone here, he would see that his little stunt of leaving me – using me, and causing me to fall in love with him, and making me a bunch of empty promises for example (but not limited to) :"I'll take care of it. Don't worry" and "I could take care of you – be different with you," plus getting me a Christmas gift even though I was not his designated Secret Santa partner, a gift that was obviously chosen with my interests and preferences in mind – What was that supposed to be anyway? Some kind of payment for all the good times I had shown him over the break? Maybe flying to Vancouver and beating him to a …no then I really would be like all the other good time-showing partners on that never-ending list of …(deep breath) – Where was I?
The point being …that no one would be able to say that any of this had affected me in the least little bit.
Ha. So there!
I was just packing up the last of the ornaments when the rest of my family got up. George was scratching his head and my mom was yawning. Marti flounced down the stairs in her pilfered Christmas finery. Edwin and Lizzie trudged along behind her.
"Casey, honey, what are you doing?" My mom was talking to me in a soft and fearful voice reminiscent of Aunt Fiona. More specifically, reminiscent of Aunt Fiona as she pried Vicky's fingers off Marti's doorknob when Marti wouldn't relinquish Derek's picture.
"I'm putting away the Christmas decorations, Mom. Duh!"
"But it's five in the morning," (Now George sounded suspiciously reminiscent of Aunt Fiona).
"Gosh, already? Time sure does fly when you're having fun!" I ripped packing tape across the ornament box to seal it. "You know Mom, it is going to be so much easier to decorate next year because I color coded and labeled all the decorations for you when I packed them up." I held up my green plastic label maker for her to see. "I even numbered the ornaments and included a brief description of each so you'll know exactly what and how many are in each box."
"Casey, there are …like twenty boxes here!" Lizzie sputtered.
"Twenty-one" I corrected her. Everyone was looking at me (like I was crazy or something!) I'm not crazy; I'm efficient!
At any rate, even if they don't understand me, I know my family and I know their weaknesses and blind-spots: "Oh and I made coffee and cinnamon rolls …and waffles…and bacon…and a quiche…it's all in the oven keeping warm."
Everyone looked at each other before shrugging. "Sounds good to me," said Edwin and they all shuffled into the kitchen.
"So…" George was leaning back in his chair after having third helpings of all the breakfast foods I had made. My mother was watching him with a disgusted expression. "Your cholesterol, Georgie!" He pretended not to hear her.
"So, tonight is the big game against the Oilers!" George announced. "This ought to be a rough one for Derek – they have that vendetta against him from the last game."
Derek had gotten charged with an (albeit pretty darn rough) body check. And (in typical Derek fashion) had massively retaliated for it: first tripping the other player (minor penalty),
then stabbing him with his stick (spearing – major penalty),
then, finally, knocking the guy into the boards (which, because it came after the other stuff was a misconduct penalty),
and punching him (which should have been a game-misconduct penalty ejecting Derek from the game and forcing him to change and go home – and actually WAS a game-misconduct penalty, except that Derek didn't leave the ice – not before knocking "the man who dared to charge him" to the ice and punching him AGAIN).
Oh and let me just mention that charging with an (albeit pretty darn rough) body check…is practically the only way Derek gets the puck every time he takes it… so …really…the massive retaliation tactic was not only irrational rage but hypocritical rage on Derek's part.
No wonder the Oiler's have a vendetta against him.
And …come to think of it…there is a lot of vendetta against Derek going around. I could name at least one person listening to George fret about his son's wellbeing in that night's game against the Oilers who ALSO had a bit of a vendetta against Derek...
Oh, I was fully intending to watch that game, with popcorn even. (This was going to be better than stripping the kitchen floor and resealing it …better than alphabetizing the canned goods in the pantry…better than dusting the garage!!!!)
Bring on the vendetta!!!!!
However…. by the second period my glee over watching Derek get beaten into the ice had changed into something more like stomach-twisting disgust and horror.
He got knocked to the ice, speared, checked, hit, kicked enough to make any wronged woman feel happy, but he also did enough dirty stuff of his own to make me…his …stepsister…friend?...someone who cares about him even though he TOTALLY DOESN'T DESERVE EVEN ONE SECOND OF HER CONCERN…ummm….concerned.
There was no Sally at home for him (the entire nation was up to date on that, thanks to the tabloid-like entertainment "news" show right before the game) and he was the one who had ditched me so it couldn't be that either, but something had made Derek a crazed animal for this game tonight.
I kept thinking back on all the things he had told me about hockey and his reputation. But I kept coming back to this, "I pretty much assume everyone wants to do something to me and I don't really mind it anymore…"
Hadn't he told me that before Sally's brothers had shown up to kick his ass from here to Vancouver for breaking things off with their sister? Yes he had!
So it wasn't anything about a vendetta making him act like an angry…insane…out of control…son of a bitch with a …death wish…
Death wish? ??
Hadn't I accused him of deliberately trying to hurt himself in hockey? Hadn't I brought up to him that he was taking all these crazy risks with a half-conscious plan to sustain an injury just bad enough that he would never play again? Yes I had.
(He hadn't denied it either. )
Oh my God!!!!!!
Suddenly I lunged closer to the screen while George and Edwin were yelling at me to "Quit blocking the television!"
My hands were so tight in their fists that my knuckles were white and my nails cut into the skin of my palms. He was trying to get hurt!!!!
My teeth gnawed at my bottom lip.
I was frozen that way for a few minutes before something George said cut through my terror. "You're worried about him, aren't you Casey?"
I couldn't even deny it – I was too afraid of what Derek was doing on the ice that night.
I just nodded.
Maybe this would be better – if George knew I was upset …then I could tell him my suspicions about what Derek was doing (and why – underneath my fear I knew the reason he would be trying to hurt himself in this game – to be with me ).
"Well, you don't need to worry like that Casey. Derek was always the best skater any coach had ever seen – once a figure skating instructor even tried to persuade him to switch over." George chuckled, "Well you can imagine Derek's reaction to that…"
"But what about all the …"
"He takes a lot of risks." George interrupted me. "But he can…because he's such a phenomenal skater. Besides which – see that big guy to his left – Krawski? He was pretty much signed just to protect Derek – all hockey teams do this to their star players. Derek is too expensive and valuable. Don't worry…your brother couldn't get hurt …even if he tried!"
Your brother couldn't get hurt?? "Stepbrother," I automatically corrected.
Not even if he tried? Not even if was trying right now? Not even if he had been trying since the beginning of the season? And what was the other feeling I was having besides relief – Oh good. Derek is a phenomenal skater. He can't get hurt …even if he tries…
Was I actually disappointed? I am a terrible person!
So he wasn't trying to get hurt -- he'd given up this plan as his excuse to leave Vancouver and professional hockey …but he was definitely trying something. Just like before all this mess, I was still the only one who could see the difference between Derek playing like an arrogant jerk and Derek playing like a desperate arrogant jerk.
What are you up to?
All the moments we had shared, his promises and the gift : I just couldn't help believing that this was connected to me and to us. Then there was his natural propensity for scheming and …trouble….
Wait a second…
I'd been staring at George during all my musing – watching his face as he watched his son live out all his dreams as a professional hockey player. George looked pretty happy, pretty smug. "Oh Derek! Cross-checking is only going to get you another…"
I could hear the ref's whistle from the television behind me. George's face flashed with a moment of exasperation…then his eyes grew round and he sucked in a breath…"What is he doing?" George choked out.
I turned around just in time to see my stepbrother sail across the ice in that lightening-fast and uncannily accurate way of his – he was going straight for the ref who had blown the whistle at him.
My hands came up to hide my eyes so I only saw the next part through my fingers.
Derek had ripped his gloves off along the way and reared back a fist. He took the ref down with one hard punch to the side of his head and the ref stayed on the ice until they carried him away.
Derek's professional hockey career was over.
So you know the rest…I mean… unless you'd been living under a rock or something…you had to know…
How Derek refused to apologize and how the ref (claiming not to remember the incident) still stuck to his decision not to press charges.
Then there was the big legal hurdle while Vancouver mulled over charging him independent of the referee's memory.
And, of course, the Cannucks made a big show of dropping Derek (effectively repackaging themselves as a more family-friendly team to support! ).
Finally, there was a last wave of press when the NHL banned Derek Venturi for life – the first person to get such a ban since Billy Coutu in 1927. (Impressive?)
Incidentally, Billy Coutu was also banned for attacking a ref. Interesting.
Especially, interesting since this was a topic on which Derek wrote a paper during his senior year (which was -- let me use that incidentally word again here – the only year that he wrote papers – in preparation for college admittance although he went right into pro-sports without even attending college).
So this was a piece of history he was familiar with. Interesting.
And, although he shared this distinction with Billy Coutu, I will bet that their situations differ radically in all kinds of ways.
Let me list them:
1. Derek grew up with the ref he hit as the ref was (in fact!) Mr. Papadopolus! His first hockey coach!
2. The son of the injured ref mysteriously arrived at the family home of the attacking player immediately after the dramatic and abrupt conclusion of the second period – meaning that he was in the car and on his way exactly 13.5 minutes before the attack occurred. Which is odd—as if the arrival were almost….timed.
3. The injured ref seemed quite jovial and alert talking to the stepsister of the attacking player (and even invited her over to watch hockey on his brand new large flat screen television if and when the "doctors let her out" again) just moments after leaving the ice while waiting for the ambulance to arrive. At which point, he once again appeared unconscious and had a sudden case of amnesia.
4. This "amnesia" caused him to doubt the attack occurred or desire to press legal charges – even though his attack was broadcast across the nation and had hundreds of thousands of witnesses (even more if you count YouTube viewings.
5. The lawyer representing the attacking player – although no charges were ever filed – had an awful lot to do "cleaning things up," and settling contract reimbursements for the Cannucks, and he had to do them for free.
However, although he was never paid a cent (because Derek no longer had a cent), it still became a rather valuable father/son reckoning.
6. The attacking player had already been admitted and de-waitlisted for a spring semester and University of Toronto in film studies – allowing him to slide neatly into a more anonymous (yet fulfilling) life as a college student.
Poor Billy Coutu. I bet he never had any of these silver-lining events happening under the surface and out of the spotlight when he was banned for life.
And then there was the reunion between the attacking player and his stepsister. Well, that part wasn't on the news or anything so I guess I should tell you …
I wasn't happy with him: He could have gotten hurt – trying to get a penalty at exactly that time and place in the game. Or Ralph's dad could have been hurt – no matter how hard he claimed his head was.
( And, really, bribing someone with a flat screen television to play dead…well…play knocked out is just unconscionable.)
Still, the first thing I said when I looked into his feverishly triumphant eyes was something along the lines of …
"Are you alright?" my voice trailed off a little at the end because – he looked more than just alright. He looked the way his team members (and his father – although I would never describe this for him – not now) had looked every time he won a game.
"Duh. Of course I'm alright." Same cockily dismissive toss of his head, same wild hair flying off his face for a second before falling right back in messy curls over one eye. "Except for the part where I had to track down where you live in the middle of the night."
I had returned to Toronto .
I had a week of Winter Break left so I knew that I had the apartment to myself for a while. Besides, the initial wake of Derek's spectacular dethroning from the world of professional sports made hanging around home extremely uncomfortable.
Derek was walking around the apartment – studying the pictures and touching the knick-knacks.
"I didn't mean to freak you out. Ralph said he thought you were going to pass out when he first walked in the house. He said you looked worse than my dad." He quit examining the place and turned to face me, exasperated. "Jeez, Case. I thought I explained things to you. I told you that you needed to be tough…"
"That was what that talk was about?!" I spat back at him. "You thought you were explaining some diabolical scheme to get thrown out of professional hockey?" I was standing and facing him, hands on hips, angry. He was slouching over me, smirking with narrowed eyes. This felt familiar – grounding.
At last, I felt like I was breathing again, able to think and in control of my world.
"Hello? Spacey? You were standing right there when Ralph's dad and I came up with the one sure-fire way to get me out of the Cannucks, my dad off my back, my popularity gone…"
"I was not standing right there, Derek. I was in the car! And I would have never let you go through with something this…"
"Hey. It wasn't like you were coming up with anything better…" Derek rubbed at his neck and flushed. He adopted the arrogant bravado that usually meant he was embarrassed. "And, maybe you weren't standing right there, but what the hell would I have been talking about in the car if I wasn't talking about…"
"I thought you were breaking up with me!" I was trying for my own arrogant bravado…and failing miserably…that one day I had allowed myself of pathetic grieving, scarf clutching and sniffling was suddenly very, very close. Especially the sniffling.
Damn! I hate the way my tears always give me away – they ruin all my moments of arrogant bravado!
Derek 's mouth had dropped open. "You thought I was…." He couldn't even manage a non-arrogant bravado. "Casey, are you completely insane?" He gripped my arms and gave me a hard shake. "You are the one person who always knows what I am thinking…even when I don't know what I am thinking and …" he dropped his hands from my arms waved away whatever he was going to say.
"Listen Case," and now he was nervous…looking right into my eyes like I was suddenly this enigma to him. "All my stuff is in my car outside. All of it. And when I say my car – I'm talking about The Prince. Do you get it, Case? You aren't getting a hockey star. You aren't getting a fancy penthouse, or a maid, or a little sport's car to be seen in with me. You aren't getting Hockey's Bad Boy. You just get me."
I was crying now. What the hell, Derek had seen me pathetic before. He'd seen me in all the ways that I come. "I don't care about all that stuff."
He sighed like he had doubted it for a minute. Like me, I guess…I'd doubted him – when I thought he had left and treated me like I was just another girl. I could never be just another girl for him.
I put my palm against his slightly flushed cheek. He watched me with that hopeful little boy face he could do so well. His long lashes fluttering closed for just a moment at my touch.
My hand found its way down the smooth skin of his throat to his chest and then I reached up with the other hand and started to undo the buttons on his rumpled oxford.
Derek's confident smirk returned. His long arms circled my waist and drew me flush against him. His mouth went to my collarbone and I nestled my face into the unruly soft curls that he was always shaking out of his way.
There wasn't much else I needed to ask him or he needed to ask me.
I think we'd both thought we had million questions for the other until we finally connected in this very fundamental way – then we realized we hadn't needed to ask each other anything after all.
His skin was sliding against mine and his mouth was hot and constantly moving; pressed against my neck and then nuzzling against my breast as he found the clasp to my bra and could finally pull my nipple between his lips -- finally, finally, finally.
Then he traced wet kisses down my stomach until his hot, searching mouth was between my legs and I couldn't even think.
We both tried to make the sex last as long as we could stand it. I would feel him start to shake and then we would both hold still -- joined but paused and panting into each others' mouths – letting what had been building to ease back for a few minutes, just so we could make it build again…. and again. …and again…
It didn't feel like some trick he had learned all those nights I listened in on him ,when he lived in the room next door to mine. It felt real – like something he only wanted with me. The last couple of these pauses we were both chuckling a little in our gasps – we couldn't hold off forever. This one round of lovemaking had to end eventually. ..
When he finally let go we were both exhausted. We'd never made it to the bed because neither of us had the energy to get there.
So we were still on the living room rug – and I really want to apologize for that …again.
I've never been able to sleep without clothes on … thank god for that I guess! But walking in on my naked step-brother-boyfriend…
I mean, I know you said that you didn't mind at all…
No, no…I really want to apologize – you've just been so nice about it.
And all that inconsiderate boyish behavior you have put up with!
With the way he sometimes lounges around shirtless… and he put that chin-up bar in our doorway so you are practically forced to watch him workout …
Well you are sweet to say it isn't any kind of problem at all for you. You are just a saint, really!
And Derek and I both are grateful that it was okay with you about his moving in here for second semester. I just wanted to set the record straight for you …since you have been living with a dethroned hockey star (dethroned from Hockey's Bad Boy – who knew there was anything lower?? ) and then the step-sibling part of things (some people really have a problem with that part – which is just silly).
And covering for us with our family at first…
But I just have this one more tiny little favor to ask… Ummm…if you were done watching Derek doing chin-ups that is…
See, it's been only one semester that we've been a couple but…it's been so much longer that we've been …well…the most important part of each other's lives I guess you could say.
And now he and I are getting a place together and (call me old fashioned) …or as our siblings put it "suddenly uncool and boring"…or like our friends said "insane but probably doing to right thing"…
Or, like George and my mom, you could call us "too young and impulsive" – and how well do you know me? Have I ever, ever done anything impulsive? (Aside from everything I have ever done with Derek that is…)
…but I wanted to be married and living together…
It would be a summer wedding – kind of short notice…not a big deal really…not fancy…
But you've rooted for us from the beginning – we could both tell.
And, as someone who has always believed in us…
(What was it you said – Obvious and undeniable chemistry? Clear devotion and near obsessive preoccupation with each other? Perfectly opposite yet complimentary personalities? -- Actually I think you said all of these and even more I can't recall right at this moment.)
"Case! Just ask her already! It isn't that big of a deal…she's practically bouncing up and down waiting to say yes…"
Would you want to be in it? Not exactly a bridesmaid -- more like a witness – someone who's watched us together and listened and always accepted. Well, we talked it over and we both decided that you should be a part of it – our coming together legally, formally, openly – you know…something…canon.
If you would like to…if you would…
LWD – LWD – LWD – LWD – LWD -- LWD