If you are thinking that Derek and I indulged in a little marital bliss upstairs while the rest of the family (excluding Marti) waited downstairs, you're wrong. I called a halt to my spouse's wandering hands and made him hand over the panties so that I could get dressed.
He did, however, throw himself onto the bed and watch in an unnerving way. And he smirked.
"That's creepy, Derek."
"I know. But, oh so much fun!" he said, hands behind his head. I rolled my eyes, but this 'being together' thing was still so new for both of us that I was pleased by his attention.
When I was finally dressed, he stood up and slipped his arms around my waist.
"I'm going down to say hi to my niece. See you in a minute?" I nodded and he kissed my neck. "I love you."
I smiled. "I love you too."
Derek opened the door to our room and disappeared. Seconds later, Marti arrived and slammed the door.
"How could you?!" She shouted at me. Bemused, I frowned at her.
"How could I what?"
She looked really upset.
"Play along with Derek and his stupid fucking pranks!"
"On second thoughts, can it, McDonald!" She said. "I'm so hurt right now."
"Marti. What prank?"
My step-sister sobbed. "Walking around calling each other "husband" and "wife". Joking about underwear. Pretending you're in love."
I chuckled. "Who was joking? Derek really stole my panties. My drawers are empty. Go look."
She crossed my room and opened the drawer I put my underwear in when I stayed here. The drawer was empty. She walked back to the bed looking deflated.
"You know." She started sadly as she sat down. "I'm pleased you two are friends again, but this was a prank too far."
I went to sit next to her.
"Marti. It's not a prank." I said as soberly as I could. "Derek and I got married two weeks ago. I really am Casey Venturi. Look!" I waved my ring finger in front of her face. "There's a marriage certificate too."
She stared at me. "How?"
I explained about my mission of mercy (charging across New York in an evening dress to rescue Derek from some unexplained disaster). I told her how he had surprised me with the marriage licence and how we had got married."
"Just like that?" She said in awe. I nodded and then shrugged.
"Well, it wasn't quite plain-sailing. We got outside moments later, now husband and wife and totally freaked. It took a half hour conversation in a local diner to work out that we hadn't made a huge mistake."
Marti was quiet. When she finally spoke, I got the feeling I was still in trouble.
"You got married without me there." She said quietly.
I took her hand. "Because, honey, with Derek and I, timing is everything. If I had said "No…wait…Marti's not here", Derek would have convinced himself that I didn't want him and it might have taken another fifteen years to get back to the same place. This was us getting our act together, Smarts."
After a while, even Marti saw the logic in that. She smiled.
"What about Edwin and Liz?"
"I think they want to tell you about that themselves, but basically Edwin came to see me the morning after we got married. Once he realised that it left the way clear for him and Liz he ran off to see her."
"Oh! I caught them kissing downstairs when I came in." She was amused.
"We caught them rolling around in the snow. Those two have no respect for the no PDA rule." I complained.
"Yup…You're Derek's wife!" Marti announced, grinning. "Come on. I want to tell Simon."
And she stood up and bounced to the door as if she was six again.
I followed Marti out onto the landing and down the stairs. Halfway down we realised something was going on. Marti and I stopped. The living room was full of family and they were all looking at us.
Closest to us were Simon and Polly. The little girl was dressed in a beautiful little purple dress, her hair brushed until it shone and she was wearing a plastic tiara that looked suspiciously like one of the ones Marti herself used to wear. Polly, who could say only a few words held out a little wrapped parcel and toddled towards her mother. Marti stepped towards her to take the parcel.
"Mommy…marry…Daddy." She stuttered, word perfect.
Marti gasped and stared at Simon. Then her fingers tore at the little parcel in her hands, ripping the paper off and revealing a little velvet box. From behind her, I watched as she opened it and revealed the beautiful diamond ring.
The entire room held its breath.
Marti looked at the ring, at her daughter and then finally at Simon.
"You asshole." She said, laughing suddenly.
Simon was at her side in an instant, holding her and kissing her, his face full of joy and Marti giggled as tears fell down her cheeks. The rest of the room followed with the tears. (Ha! Yes, even the Venturi men suddenly developed itchy eyes.)
"Mommy?" A confused little girl said, and Simon caught Polly up in his arms and into the hug with his new fiancée.
I squeezed past them and my husband met me at the bottom of the stairs.
"Now that was a proper proposal." I said, pointedly.
Derek laughed and wound his arms around me.
Simon turned to the rest of us. "I always knew she would never turn down Polly."
"So why didn't you roll her out before?" Marti asked, grinning.
"Because I knew you didn't want me to, until the time was right."
Marti frowned. "And what made this year the right time? I know you planned it, because that's a new dress Polly is wearing. But I didn't know about Casey and Derek or Liz and Ed until we got here."
Simon smiled. "I had help." He admitted nodding towards Derek who looked a bit sheepish.
My husband sighed. "I phoned Simon and told him to make an effort this year because you would say 'yes'."
"You knew!" Marti said accusingly, smacking Simon playfully. He laughed.
"Not exactly. I suspected. It was a couple of weeks ago and Derek was a bit giggly."
"I was not giggly." Derek protested. "It was the day after we got married. I was distracted."
"That was your secret phone call!" I said, remembering Derek having a whispered phone call while I was pretending to have a post-sex nap. I had assumed he was talking to Benny.
He had giggled.
"You definitely giggled, D."
Everyone laughed. Derek sulked.
There was a pop from the kitchen and then the chinking of glasses as George emerged with a large tray of champagne flutes and an open bottle of fizz. (and two glasses with just orange juice in them…I love that man!).
"How about we make this a champagne breakfast?" He suggested. "Seeing as we have four fantastic pieces of news to celebrate."
"Four?" I asked.
George beamed. "Nora's pregnant again."
"Only kidding!" My step-father said with one of his characteristic laughs.
"Georgie!" Mom protested.
"George!" Me, Lizzie, Simon and Aunt Madge reprimanded.
"Dad!" Derek, Edwin, Marti and Robbie chorused.
Then all of us giggling, we passed around the champagne glasses and toasted three very happy couples.
Christmas Eve Night
Polly was in bed and sound asleep. We could hear her regular breathing through the baby monitor. Robbie had retired to his room, no doubt to update his Facebook page with something about his "weird, dysfunctional" family.
The rest of us were flopped in the living room, groaning still over the weight of food we had consumed a couple of hours earlier.
Mom sat up.
"So come on you six. I want to hear it all, how it started." She said.
We all moaned. Derek nudged Edwin with his foot.
"Go on, Ed."
Edwin shook his head. "I only know less than half of it. It's you or Casey that needs to tell it."
Derek looked at me.
"You're up, Babe."
I shook my head too. "Der-ek."
"Come on. You're the literary genius."
"You're the one with the published work." I retorted.
He kissed my cheek. "Yeah, sweetheart, which you edited."
They were all staring at me.
"Okay. But if I do this, I have to tell it as though I am writing…okay?"
"Sure." Mom said.
I sighed and settled back against Derek's chest to tell the story.
""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."…"
"You are going to have a wedding though, aren't you?" Marti asked me later, when everything was much quieter and we were standing at the window looking out at the falling snow.
"I'll make a pact with you. You marry Simon as soon as possible, and Derek and I will have a wedding." I replied.
"How about you renew your wedding vows at our wedding and we share the reception?" She suggested.
My breath caught.
"Oh Marti. That's a lovely idea. Do you think Simon would go for it?"
"Frankly, Casey, if I said I wanted to get married in the middle of the frozen food aisle at Wal-Mart Simon would back me wholeheartedly."
We laughed because we both knew she was right.
"What about Ed and Liz?" She asked.
"They'll get there. But, I think it is a bit soon for them to be contemplating marriage. They are still in the rabbit phase."
"Rabbit phase?" Marti asked, innocently.
I looked at her meaningfully.
"Oh." We smiled again.
"Marti. I am grateful, you know, for the pushing. Derek and I might have got there in the end, but the thought of the wrath of Marti helped us get there sooner. We might have left it too late to have a family if we had let nature take its course."
"Family???" She said, smiling.
"We're trying. I'll keep you posted."
"I love you, Casey." Marti said suddenly. "Sisters should say that more often."
"I love you too, Marti." And I slipped an arm around her shoulders and we carried on watching the snow fall.
"Happy?" I asked Edwin when I managed to get him to myself for a few moments the next day.
"Yes actually I am. I've finally found a reliable date."
"Oh?" I asked, amused.
"Yeah. My last one was appalling. She once turned me down to go marry the love of her life…Women!"
"Thanks Casey. For getting me through the wilderness years."
"You took the words right out of my mouth, bro."
"It was fun though, eh?" he asked.
"Yes Ed. It was."
"You've only ever been a sister to me, and that's all I will ever see you as, but there were moments, hun where I got what Derek saw in you."
Tears welled in my eyes. "Lizzie is a lucky woman, Ed."
"Everyone should have a sister like you."
"Sister-in-law, Ed. We're not acknowledging the step-relationship, remember?"
"Will you marry her?" I asked softly.
"Waiting for the right moment. It may take a year or so though."
"Look after him." Edwin said.
"Look after her." I replied.
And then no more words were spoken, because no more words existed.