Staring at the ringing phone, Casey set he chin on folded hands, comfortable in her bed, certain of who the caller was, and utterly uninterested in picking up the receiver. She listened to music playing in the background of whatever movie was on the TV downstairs. The house was so quiet, besides this ringing phone, that Casey was able to listen to a muffled version of the film, using her own imagination for the visuals.

"Sara?" she heard Derek's voice say. "Hey, what's up?"

Casey wondered if he ever dropped the pretense, the pick-up lines, the smiles he used when lying to try to get a date with a girl. After all, she couldn't help but see those smiles as lies in themselves, and that irked her. Why did Derek feel the need to treat girls and dating like some kind of game? She knew what the goal was-how could she not? What Casey really wanted to know, was if Derek planned on continuing this game for years, or if he had ever thought about dropping it for a simpler [possibly more challenging, in his case] way of life? On and off, Casey pursued that particular alternative, which was to focus on everything but dating, and to see what qualities in a person seemed to matter to her the most. Derek's lifestyle seemed so…foolish and vapid to her; so short-term. Then again, guys Casey had dated looked at relationships in the short-term as well.

Hearing Derek on the phone with a lot of different girls (and so often) didn't upset Casey-it really didn't. It just didn't make her feel good, and in fact, she often had these moments of contemplation, where things in her room were so quiet, that occasionally, Lizzie would stop in the doorway to send her a curious look, probably wondering if Casey was crying. Derek would show up sometimes, too, on his way down the hall. He would make a snide remark or ask if she had carpal tunnel from too much studying, when really, she had been thinking and thinking and thinking instead. At this point, whenever Casey was quiet, no one else seemed to like it, but she felt lucky that there had yet to be an 'Are you sure you're okay' conversation.

Today, as Derek made his way onto the good side of this Sara girl with the bland act of small talk, Casey watched the light rain outside her window slither silently down the glass, like countless little worms scooting toward the sill. Casey wanted so badly to be in a relationship with someone who might like to have her snuggled against them during dismal-looking days like this one, quietly watching TV or sleeping or...one of her favorites, talking. She had yet to be with someone who really felt comfortable with her, and vice versa. Was Derek at all capable of relaxed, affectionate pockets of togetherness with a girl? Would he ever gently run his hands along a girl's bare back in the glow from the streetlight and fuzzy humidity in the air? Did he know how to make a girl feel important and sensual, not just pursued as a sexual conquest? Casey had no clue as to whether or not Derek looked at a girl's appealing features with any depth beyond "hot". The thought made her want to shove away any visual images that gave her, and just walk out on them. Sometimes, she literally acted on that, like yesterday, when she surprised Derek, Lizzie, and Edwin by leaving the couch in the middle of a zombie movie, retreating to her room only to lie in almost the exact same position she occupied now. Suddenly picturing Derek with empty hands, eyes that weren't smoldering, and slight remnants of a girl's sparkly lip balm on his normally bare mouth easily ruined Casey's ready speech about zombies not being "badass" and "necessary", as Edwin had described them.

"Yeah, yeah," Casey heard Derek saying into the phone, "I know what you mean. That's a good point, too, but hey…um…mind if I call you tomorrow?" Pause, then, "Yeah. Of course! How could I not?"

Casey swallowed and burrowed her face into her pillow, eyes closed, as she tried to listen only to the rain.

She tried to think of the cute boys in her grade whom she hadn't met. It was just…hard to dream up half-decent flirting scenarios right now. She was tired, and that kind of fun could wait…and wait…as long as she wanted it to.

"Okay. 'Bye." Derek said, and hung up the phone, leaving Casey to wonder what he'd do now, in the faux seclusion of his own bedroom, as she lay here with too many thoughts. Sometimes Casey felt like a pathetic voyeur for listening in on pieces of Derek's phone conversations, even if what she heard was only his half. She doubted that he, being as frustrating and arrogant and snarky as he was, ever had little dreams that played out like camera frames, as she often did nowadays. Bitterly, Casey was willing to bet that he didn't have those dreams and on-and-off ponder, for the rest of the day, what their relentless symbolic images could have meant. Just last night, she had thought of rust and leather and the image of her own hands digging through the soil of a lush green lawn, then burying a word beneath it. That word, as she rarely allowed herself to remember, was 'brother'.

The phone rang again, and was picked up quickly.

"Hello? Danielle, hey, I was just thinking of you."

As those words made their way through Casey's bedroom wall, she nuzzled her face deeper into the pillow, trying to shut off her own brain. All dreams of chocolate chips and floods and an open doorway to an empty room really needed to just go away.

She imagined Derek's chuckle staining her wallpaper…then decided a lobotomy was in order.

"Of course you're a good kisser," he was saying. "That talent can't go to waste."

Yes, Casey thought, definitely a lobotomy.