Her boss, Monsieur Jean Charbon, was waiting for her when Casey entered her office. She hastily made her way behind her desk dropping her bag to the floor.
"Pardon, Monsieur. I didn't think I was late, but I guess I was, seeing as you're here, in my office, and now I-"
Jean Charbon cut her off mid-ramble. "Mademoiselle Casey? You were not late. Quite the contrary, you are parfaitement à l'heure."
Casey looked at her watch. He was right. It was eight o'clock on the dot. She sighed, "I'm sorry, I haven't been having the best of mornings."
"Non, non. I understand complètement."
M. Charbon spoke with a heavy French accent. He was originally from Québec and the company hired him to appease the many French speaking people of Montréal in need of lawyers. He was a man of about 50 years of age, white hair mingling with coarse black hair. A charismatic speaker, his voice was calm and warm. Jean, his face was aged, but always held a benevolent smile, much like that of a loving father. Charbon treated Casey with kindness and fairness, as he did with all other employees under his watch. It did not go unnoticed to him that Casey was particularly pale today- in fact, he noted her skin was tinted with a green shade. She looked sickly.
"Tell me, Casey, are you feeling alright today? You look- pardon me saying- awful."
Casey sank into her chair. Thoughts of the Derek look-a-like outside crossed her mind once more. She had gotten over these issues of seeing Derek when he wasn't really there before. Her psychologists explained it as a mild hallucination, a figment of her wishful imagination. She had always felt that he would be tangible if she could just reach out and touch him- feel his soft skin on his face, or the rough calluses of his hands. But he always vanished an instant before she could reach him. Was this really just another instance of wishful thinking? Her heart gave a slight skip at the prospect of seeing him again.
"Yes… yes, of course I'm fine. I'm fine." She had been saying those two words a lot lately, but despite the repetition, it didn't make the lie reality. She wasn't "fine". She hadn't been "fine" for over nine years.
"Casey, perhaps, it would be best if you headed home for the day. You look as though you could use some rest."
"Really, I'm okay," she weakly protested.
"No, I insist upon it, Mam'selle . You have put more hours into your work than any other intern here. You should not feel guilty about taking a sick day."
Casey just nodded her head, eyes staring straight ahead, blank and devoid of any emotion. "I suppose that might be best."
"There's a girl. Now leave, merci beaucoup, before I call security," he added teasingly with a small smile and a wave of his hand. Charbon made his way out of the office and Casey obediently followed him out and locked the door behind her.
Charbon was about to make his way towards the elevators when Casey suddenly realized, "Monsieur, why were you in my office this morning? Was there anything you needed me to do?"
He chuckled quietly to himself and placed his hands upon his rather round stomach. "There was nothing. I merely wished to inform you, that you have earned a small promotion, but I think we will save the conversation for another day, non? Felicitations, Casey!"
Casey was disappointed in herself. By being so affected by a mere look-a-like, she had lost her chance at a promotion-okay, so perhaps she hadn't, but it had given Charbon another whole day to reconsider giving it to her. She had shown such weakness. Surely that wasn't what her boss was looking for in an employee. She shook her head again. She shouldn't have taken that sick day. She wasn't even sick! Casey was just…confused and agitated that someone could even resemble him. After all, there wasn't even a remote possibility that after nine years he would just show up at her doorstep, and decide to forgive her.
She unlocked her apartment door, dropped her bag on the ground and flopped onto her couch, not even bothering to take off her shoes. Letting out a deep sigh of resignation, she wondered what she should do with the rest of the day off.
"Not think of Derek, for one." She snorted at the thought. "That'll be easy."
Distraction was a necessity and Casey had plenty of options. There was the TV or the massive bookcase that took up most of the wall space. Yes, a book was just what she needed, Casey decided. With a book she could get lost in a fantasy world, where the heroine didn't suffer (much) and (almost) always got her happy ending. She perused her choices at great length before settling on a well-worn copy of Jane Austen's Emma, which was one of her favorite books. Emma's and Mr. Knightley's banter was just too good to resist. After brewing a strong cup of earl grey tea and changing into her comfiest yoga pants, she was ready to curl up on the couch and forget.
After reading a few chapters into the book, she had to put it back down. The parallels between Emma's loneliness and her own were too great.
Restless, she stood up once more and slipped on some shoes and her coat and walked out the door. And then she walked. She walked for over an hour, just wandering through the unfamiliar streets and alleys of Montréal. Occasionally she would stop to look in the window of a store, but for the most part she let her thoughts consume her mind. Eventually, Casey realized it was almost time for lunch. Ducking into a deli she got herself a small sandwich, tomato, mozzarella and pesto Panini, her usual. Déjà vu hit her hard.
Two months had passed since Casey and Derek had arrived at Queens, and in that short time span they had seen each other twice: The day they were moving in and one time when they ran into each other at a local deli called Yats.
"You know what's weird?" Casey had asked him, while they were waiting in line.
"What's that, Case?"
"I think I actually kind of missed you. I was ecstatic to get rid of you at first, but now, I feel like there's something missing-"
Derek just grinned and avoided her eye, looking down at his feet.
"Don't mock me Derek!" Casey gave him a not-exactly-civil punch in the shoulder.
"Ow! Did I say anything?"
"No, but you were thinking it. I could tell. There was that glint in your eye."
Derek laughed and his grin became wolfish, "A glint? Really, princess. I think you need your glasses checked."
"I don't have glasses!"
"Maybe you should get some then."
"My eyes are twenty-twenty."
"Chill princess. I'm just teasing you. But I know what you mean."
"That there's something that's missing."
"Oh yeah. I know, right? Wait, really?" She looked at him in disbelief, but Derek just smiled back at her, giving her a little nudge.
"Pay attention Space-Case. It's your turn to order."
"Oh, tomato, mozzarella, and pesto Panini please."
She remembered that day so clearly. It was late October, and everyone had finally started getting settled in for the long winter that was still to come. She just wanted to grab a quick lunch and there he had been, same leather jacket and jeans, same confident smirk plastered on his face, the one she simultaneously despised and yet found she missed seeing. They ended up sitting at Yats for the next two hours catching up, sans the immaturity that previously had permeated all their conversations (well, for the most part anyways- Derek couldn't resist teasing her occasionally). That day they had decided to meet at least bi-monthly at Yats, and bi-monthly became weekly and things took off from there. It was the beginning of the rekindling of their friendship. She smiled fondly at the memory. Where did all the good days go? "Flushed down the toilet, and then flushed twice more for good measures." Casey paused and then reprimanded her self for her incessant negativity.
By the time she had gotten back to her apartment, it was already getting dark. Casey had spent the entire afternoon wandering and window-shopping for over-priced things she really didn't need or want. When the autumn wind started picking up again, all Casey wanted was to be back in her warm apartment with a glass of wine in her hand. Her head had started to clear away all the dangerous thoughts of Derek drama, and began to fill with thoughts of the promotion that would be awaiting her in the morning. She smiled. Yes, everything would be fine if she just took one day at a time.
As she was pouring her wine she heard a knock on the door. Looking through the peep hole, she recognized that it was Ryan, nervously wringing his hands. She smiled and opened the door.
"Two visits in one day. Ryan, I'm flattered."
He usual kind smile didn't meet his lips. Instead, she noticed, he was frowning. "Where've you been, Casey. We were supposed to meet for lunch today, like every Tuesday, but you never showed. I tried calling you, but your cell was off. Is everything alright?"
Casey felt like smacking herself. She had totally forgotten. "I'm so sorry Ryan! I'm an awful friend. Seriously, I 'm sorry. I was just- distracted today. It's not like me at all to miss important things like that."
"I know it's not Case, that's why I'm worried about you. Are you feeling alright?" He took her gently by the shoulders and brought her towards him a little. His dark brown eyes looked into her blue ones with warm concern.
She gave a large exhale. "Sometimes it's hard to say. Look, I'm sorry-"
"You've mentioned that." Ryan gave a small smile.
" And I mean it. Let me make it up to you. Join me for wine. Right now."
"I think that might be acceptable as a means for compensation. Though I don't know if it will cover the deeply traumatizing experience of not being able to contact an MIA friend."
"Come inside goofball. And close the door behind you."
Finally getting settled on the couch with their wine, the two friends fell into light conversation about the day.
"So, Casey," Ryan started in a much quieter tone.
"I'm sorry. I really don't mean to pry, but are you sure there's nothing you want to tell me about. Nothing about 'him'?"
Casey suddenly found the flute of her wineglass very interesting. She took another sip before finding the courage to answer him.
"I though I saw- no. Never mind. Ryan, I really want to tell you everything, I wish I could. But, it's just too hard for me. I hope you understand."
Ryan sighed in resignation. "Of course I understand, Casey. Some things are meant to be kept secret. But just remember, some secrets eat you alive. If you ever want to talk- Just know I'm here for you, Case."
"I know you are Ryan. And I really appreciate you putting up with my bull."
"It's my pleasure."
They smiled at each other in mutual understanding, completely silent other than the occasional sipping at their wine. The calm silence was interrupted by yet another knock at the door. Casey excused herself and got up to answer it. She wondered who it might be. She didn't know many people in Montréal other than Ryan and the people she worked with. It was too late for a delivery.
She looked through the peephole but couldn't recognize who it was. The persons back was turned towards the door and the person was wearing a beanie. Cautiously she opened the door and the person spun around. She gasped in shock at the sight of the familiar face and slammed the door shut again.
"It can't be," she whispered to herself in disbelief.
A/N: Hate to leave it on a cliffhanger but... it can't be helped. Anyways I would like to thank my new beta cherrynuts! As well as my reviewers, hopefully you guys are still with me. I know it's been a while, but life get's in the way of writing, unfortunately.
Please review! Reviews are good for the soul- I want to know what you think. Was it awful, dull? Did you love it so far, are you intrigued? Drop a line in a review and I will be ever so happy. Next chapter it gets exciting!