"I've put you in the spare room." Mom said to me. "We're decorating your room, and with the house being so full the only other bed was Der…the spare room."
I nodded. Both of us knew she was going to say 'Derek's room'. And in some ways it still was, I suppose; just not when I visited. When I visited, it was the spare room. As if I wasn't supposed to know about its former owner.
I wondered, briefly, if it had been the other way around would she have said the same to Derek?
"Thanks Mom. I can take it from here, I know your hip will hurt if you try and make it up the stairs."
Mom nodded. "Thanks Case. I'll let you get settled and then we can catch up." I smiled at her. Despite every thing, she was still my mom and I loved her.
I took the stairs, carrying my small suitcase and vanity box. I knew what 'catching up' meant. It meant I was going to get grilled about my love life – in detail.
Nora had three adult daughters and despite being the eldest, I was the only one not in a relationship.
Oh the pressure!
I climbed the familiar staircase. It had been about four months since my last visit to the McDonald-Venturi residence. I thought that sentence through and immediately thought of my friend Angela. She was a Catholic and she had told me that when she went to confession she had to repeat a standard formula.
My mouth turned up into a small, wry smile as I adapted the formula to my own circumstance.
"Bless me Father for I have sinned. It's been about four months since my last confession and these are my sins…I fell in love with my step-brother."
I could joke about it these days and chuckling, I reached the landing and turned the corner, past the games cupboard. For a moment, I was transported back eighteen years to the sound of a whispered conversation between my young siblings.
"My client would like yours to understand the terms." I heard Lizzie say. "There's a 'Be Nice' clause, Edwin."
I smiled. Edwin was a successful businessman, now. And Lizzie…she was still trying to make the world a better place. She was seeing some guy who was big at Greenpeace …but at least she and Ed were still talking.
If I was going to my room I would have passed the bathroom and Marti's room and turned left before Lizzie's room. But I wasn't. I was turning left even earlier. Tonight I would lie in the bed that he had lain in. In the bed, we had once kissed on; on the bed where it had all ended.
It wasn't the exact bed. This all happened fifteen years ago and George and Nora had replaced the bed and its mattress more than seven years ago. But it was still the same room. As I pushed open the door with my foot, I gasped, realising little had changed.
And I was transported back fifteen years.
"Hey you never knock on my door so why should I knock on yours?"
"Seriously, Casey? Are we going to argue like fifteen year olds again?"
I had smirked. "Knowing us…yeah."
The bane of my existence smiled.
Then he had held out his hand and I had taken it, aware that we weren't fifteen anymore and the animosity between was an act – being realistic, it had always been an act.
He pulled me to him, and I let his hands settle on my waist.
"I wasted so much time, Casey." He said, pressing his head into my stomach. "I should never have ignored you."
And I had smiled. "You aren't ignoring me now." I replied with a smile.
"No princess, I guess not." He smirked. "Last night was unbelievable! I am so looking forward to repeating it, as often as I possibly can."
I had laughed and he had pulled me backwards onto his bed.
"I love you Casey McDonald. I will always love you."
"Good." I leant over him, watching as his eyebrows pulled into a frown.
"Say it, Spacey. Or I'll announce at dinner tonight what you and I did to each other last night in the dorm."
I grinned. "I dare you."
He rolled me over onto my back and pressed his body against me. "Say it, princess."
I smiled. "I love you, Derek. I have always loved you. I will always love you."
And then we had kissed, long and hard, and in a way that made me curse vacation time and wish we were back at Queens, in my room, making love. Like last night.
I sat on the bed and wiped the tears from my cheeks.
If only I had known.
I awoke the following morning to the sound of a baby crying, and leapt out of bed, knowing what it was. Marti and Simon were here and so was Polly, their daughter.
I showered and dressed quickly and then charged down the stairs.
"Smarti!" I shouted, unconsciously adopting Derek's form of address for his favourite sibling.
"Smasey!" Marti replied and then I was wrapped in the young woman's arms, her face in my hair whispering. "God! I've missed you, Casey."
We pulled apart and she noted the tears in my eyes.
"How are you doing?" she asked. It was pointed. But now was not the time to talk.
"I'm fine. We'll talk later, hun." I murmured.
Marti nodded and I transferred my attention to Simon, Marti's boyfriend and their little girl, Polly who, in three days time, would turn one. Her birthday was the reason we were all here.
We breakfasted on pancakes and eggs and Simon had us rolling around in stitches over his latest anecdotes. Simon was a local doctor, and five years older than Marti. They had met when she slipped and fell in a nightclub. He always joked that he fell harder than she did that night.
They were completely devoted to each other, and Simon had proposed twenty times. But each time he was realistic. He knew she would say no.
Marti had told him a few years ago when it was obvious that they were in it for the long haul that she wouldn't marry him. She wouldn't marry anyone until she could guarantee that all her family would come to her wedding; together.
And that included Derek.
Even Simon was starting to understand that he might never get a wedding ring on her finger.
Lizzie and Edwin arrived later on, separately. Lizzie's boyfriend, Trash wasn't able to make it this vacation, so she had come alone. Edwin too, the workaholic that he was hadn't a partner with him. It was the first time in many years that they had attended one of these family get-together things as singletons.
I wondered if Lizzie and Edwin had commented on it to each other in one of their regular phone calls. I watched them carefully, and saw Edwin, unwittingly slipping into the 'boyfriend' role for my younger sister. He held doors open for her, helped her off with her coat and took her bags upstairs.
A strange twisted jealousy hit me. They had lost something the way I had. It just hadn't ruined their lives the way it had, for me.
We laughed and joked as a family and it felt almost like a complete family, especially when Robbie returned from his date and the youngest Venturi kissed his baby niece.
I watched my fifteen year old half-brother with pride. He had grown so well.
I remembered his arrival and the resulting disruption and I remembered Derek's joy that the 'balance' of the sexes in our house had been restored.
We'd had a few arguments about that.
I was close to Robbie. He phoned me sometimes when George and Nora got too heavy with him; he had a more restricted life than Derek and Edwin had at the same age.
Like Marti's refusal to marry. Robbie's rigid family rules were all my fault.
Mine and Derek's.
It didn't help that he looked like Derek at fifteen.
That killed me. The same deep brown eyes, the same smirk.
After breakfast, Mom and George announced they were taking Polly to the park to feed the ducks. Edwin and Simon took their coffees to the back porch to discuss the economy and I found myself cornered by my two sisters.
I thought of Marti as my full sister now. She had been in my life far longer than the short period of time that I had existed without her. She had grown and matured in her teens, and although she still had the odd odd moment, as an adult she had become one of my closest friends, and a confident.
She needed to be. She was a link to the insanity that was my past.
And we shared a love for the same person.
Hers of course was a sisterly affection. The sort Mom and George had wanted me to feel. But I never could.
We had shared so much together through our pre-Venturi days, that even though our paths crossed less frequently now, I could always pick up our friendship within seconds.
I was freshening up in the spare room when they pounced; Marti leading the way.
"God! I wish I had your figure, Case! Every time I see you I live in hope that you've run to seed. No baby bulge for you."
Then she thought about what she had said. "Sorry, Case. I didn't mean…"
I grinned at her. "Marti. I've known you far too long to take offence at that. So stop fretting. My lack of baby bulge is down to my criminally poor love life, so therefore entirely my own fault."
Lizzie came into the room. "I know a great orthodontist if you are looking for a blind date."
"A blind date or bridge work?" I retorted. Marti laughed.
"Give up, Liz. She won't do it. Casey's love life has always been a mystery to us mere mortals." Marti settled beside me on the bed. "This room has so many memories. I wonder at Nora putting you in here."
I shrugged. "Where else would she put me? The walls are wet in my room. I don't mind it in here. It's cathartic."
Lizzie laughed. "I never thought I'd hear you say that about Derek's bedroom. You used to wash your hands pointedly every time you emerged from it when you were Robbie's age."
We all smiled at the memory. I turned to Marti and raised an eyebrow.
Marti picked at the comforter. "And what?" although she knew.
"How is he?" I tried to still my shaking hands.
"He's Derek, Casey. Little changes."
I rolled my eyes and flopped back onto the bed. "When did you last see him?"
"Last week. He came over to give Polly her birthday present before the hockey tour. And to apologise again." Marti shuffled up so that Lizzie could join us on the bed. "I told him it wasn't a problem that he would miss her birthday, at least she had seen him then. I didn't tell him that you were coming instead…I think he sort of assumes that if he isn't coming, then you do."
"I'm sorry Marti." I apologised for the thousandth time.
"Don't Casey. I don't blame either of you. It just makes me sad that my daughter will never see two of the most important people in my life in the same room."
Lizzie leaned back on her elbows. "Let me guess. Simon proposed again?"
Marti grinned. "Of course. And before you ask, the answer was still no."
Lizzie caught Marti's eye. "Does he ask about Casey?"
Marti glanced at me, but she needn't have worried. I knew the answer.
"No. He never does."