Casey closes her cell phone just as she hears a noise by the door. Derek's leaning against it, two grocery bags in his hand.
She smiles. "Hi! Did you get marshmallows?"
He shrugs, the corner of his mouth tilting upward. The bags are set on her desk, he sheds his skateboard shoes, and heads her way. It makes a pleasant, jittery feeling start in her chest.
"Are we telling the family?"
She blinks, the jitters gone. "Derek…" He's staring back expectantly. "Before you left, you said you were going grocery shopping."
"Grocery shopping means bringing home beer, marshmallows and a bag of grapes?"
"Tell the family we're together and I'll make a grocery list." Derek says with one eyebrow up. He's challenging her.
She tugs on one of the belt loops of her jeans.
"One you'd follow, buying everything on it?"
Casey expects him to nod, but he smirks instead.
"It's one phone call, Case. I think you're afraid."
"You sound insecure." She replies, keeping her voice a little gentle, a little friendly-avoiding full-on retort territory.
"We had to talk about this sometime. I don't want it to go the way it did last time."
She steps close to him. "I don't, either."
"It'd be weird, sure, but…" he runs his hand through his hair. "I guarantee it wouldn't be painful…like….if someone in the family got angry…thought this was wrong. That wouldn't happen. You could just call Lizzie and work it into the conversation. It's not worth getting nervous about."
"You don't think anyone will look at us as if we're drunk or something? I mean, this is a complete turn-around."
Derek shrugs. "Are you cool with letting them know?"
One of her hands curls around the side of her neck, the other on the armrest of the couch.
"I, um…" she bites her lip. "Let's wait, but…"
His face tilts downward. She reads it as disappointment.
"We can…I don't mind if we tell them," she insists. "I just…it doesn't have to happen today, right? Let's take our time with it, so that it isn't random or at an inappropriate time. Until then, we can adjust to the new roles we're playing in each other's lives."
He blinks. "Uh-huh."
"Yes. You'll be less of a jerk and we'll kiss a lot, so long as you don't try to make me sit through any of the Terminator movies."
"You noticed my little movie shelf."
She mimes puking and he swiftly advances, his arms cinch around her waist, squeezing until she admits defeat with a squeaking noise. His arms slip down to rest comfortably at her hips and she tilts her face back for a kiss, only to be met with his lips at her temple.
"Hey!" she bats his shoulder with her well-manicured fingers. "Where's the romance you've promised me?"
He smirks. "Did I promise anything? Besides, the Terminator movies are not bad."
She pauses, eyes darting side-to-side, mouth in a little 'O'. "Well…you signed up for something that requires specific romantic gestures. Don't act surprised."
He kisses her cheekbone. "I'm telling Edwin today. We don't have to treat this dating situation as if it's a negative, dramatic thing, 'cause…I can't see anyone looking at it that way." He squeezes her elbow. "Now we've each done too much talking."
"Very true!" she replies with a light, teasing smile. "You deserve to know, though, that I came over here just for the marshmallows."
He groans, she pulls away from him, retrieves the bag of sugary cylinders from the kitchenette and and hurries back to the couch. When they're again settled and the TV is on, she turns to face him. She swallows, reminding herself of such moments in movies.
"I get a little…apprehensive, maybe, when I think of your usual way with girls, and the fact that we used to argue so much, on top of the, um…Sally thing…" Derek stops tracing her hip with his fingers. "Then the night at the motel; I mean, that was a big deal, Derek, and you know it! Later, of course, you gave me an out. I took it. Remember? When I was looking down at the baby and-"
He sighs. "Casey."
Suddenly, she's feeling a lot more certain when his mouth presses against hers, roughly, firmly, and soon, his hand is shoved underneath the cotton of her top, up her stomach and rib cage. Her mouth opens a bit, and her back tenses in anticipation; Derek takes full advantage of it with his lips and tongue. That's when he surprises her again, his fingers splaying right beneath her breast, never touching it. Casey turns her face, inhaling deeply, trying to ignore Derek's surprise at her rejection of another kiss. He moves on, pressing his mouth against her neck, thus bringing his upper body intimately close to hers. She wants to say something to him-a question or something to chastise his quick hand and demanding mouth. Not long ago, it would have been her greatest desire to spit out an insult when he got close, but right now, all that comes up now is a breathy, very feminine (embarrassing) sound and her foggy brain's demand for more.
"I need you to face what we have." Derek rasps in a half-whisper.
She exhales noisily, still unable to think of what to say. His body is warming hers, and she remembers how solid his abdominal muscles are. It makes her wish that she and Derek were at opposite ends of the couch or room, instead of tempting each other so much. His hand slides down her torso and traces along her waistband before disappearing from her senses, leaving the ghost of his touch to haunt her instead.
"I wanted to be sure," she whispers. "There are…big reasons to say no."
She feels Derek's breath at the base of her neck.
"'No' to what?" he asks quietly.
She inhales through her mouth. "I can think of reasons to say no to there ever being an 'us'."
"Are you afraid?"
She scoffs, and tries to do so quietly. This dorm room really needs to be repainted. There's an unattractive (but light) smudge around the light switch from years of hands groping to find it, and in one corner, the white of the ceiling has blatantly moved down over pale green. That white paint infringes harmlessly, whereas almost anything else in life taints what it overlaps…at least in Casey's mind. She's afraid to turn her head.
"This could be something great." He says quietly. "Call me when you've told the family."
She blinks at him, taking in the wise words of a very self-protective guy.
Of course Derek isn't known for opening up, but here he is, expressing his intention for legitimacy as she enjoys the nearness of his body and voice. He stands from the couch and crosses the room to his attractively worn-looking jacket. She hears her own voice in her head now, insisting that she wrap herself around him and get kissing started again. It's a relief to feel that way and not be at all confused or concerned anymore.
"Lizzie, hi; Are you free to talk?" Casey asks, trying not to feel nervous.
"I am if you're free to listen to the best news since 'There are no longer any fan fiction writers poorly ripping off Band of Brothers'."
Casey blinks. It's been a long time since she spoke with Lizzie for more than a minute. "Don't tell me there aren't any more hospital boats."
In London, Ontario, Lizzie laughs. "That's just in the one story. University is treating you well if you're maintaining that sarcasm. Do you still like your school?"
Casey found herself nodding enthusiastically. "I do! I do. What about you?"
"Oh come on. School's dumb over here; boring. There's a really cute guy in one of my classes, but…I've seen him try to play a couple of sports, and...Forget it."
"He's just eye candy?"
"How are your grades? Are you studying a lot? And Edwin-"
"Yes, everything's cool on the grades front, okay?"
"'Front'? I…" Casey gets distracted by her Florence and the Machine albums being in suspicious disarray on the CD rack.
"I'm reading more now. Right now it's Louise Rennison. So did you call about something significant, something big?"
"It's a boy thing."
This isn't the first time that the oldest McDonald sister has had a difficult time thinking of how to broach a subject with the other, even though last time, the former had flashcards.
"You don't sound upset," Lizzie says. "That's good already."
"Well, you're right, nothing's wrong, but um…you had news. Shouldn't we cover that first?"
Casey refrains from letting out the nervous attempt at a chuckle that's in her throat.
Her sister sighs. "My grades are really good, Casey. As in…you'd be proud and trying to hug me right now."
"That is so awesome!" Casey squeals and, amused that much more by imagining Lizzie's grimace at the sound, she adds, "You waited this long to tell me?"
"A ninety in English, three classes in the eighties, and a one-hundred. Guess which one."
Both girls know there's no need. That hundred is in P.E.
"This is exciting! Congratulations. I knew you could do it. All it takes is hard work."
"Yeah, great, thanks, hurray."
"Was the sarcasm necessary?"
"I have to take things back to your news. Who's the guy and what stage has this reached?"
"Well, last week, we didn't see each other for, like…I don't know, five days? And when we met up again, he had bought marshmallows and a flower for me!"
Liz chuckles. "What kind of flower? What color is it?"
"Purple. It's a tulip. Liz, I'm…I'm worried about what you're going to think of who he is, because…because I think you might be really surprised, and I don't want you to be upset."
Her sister chuckles again. "Are you dating a mobster or a drug addict?"
Casey glances out the window, at students passing by, some wearing beanies, some smoking cigarettes, some fixing their hair-all of them talking.
"Of course not, Liz; you know I wouldn't. What do you mean by that?"
"I'm joking because I don't get what could be so scary."
"Possibly scary…or…well, it was scary for me, but now I can't help but think it's just weird. I don't want it to be a huge shock that makes you feel nauseous-"
"You don't have to tell me now if it makes you that uncomfortable."
Casey takes a deep breath, adjusting the 'C' pendant on a silver chain around her neck. "No, I think now is the time, Liz, because…I think that maybe you…should ease Mom into the idea."
"Ease her into the fact?"
The story's protagonist clears her throat. "Yes." Then she opens her mouth to explain.
Over the phone, he makes her solve a riddle about his location.
When they're face-to-face and his friend Dave or Patrick (or is it Jason?) walks away, Casey takes in Derek's appearance. He's wearing a jacket that that she and Nora picked out together two years ago, and a surprisingly simple and not embarrassing necklace Marti made for him when he and Casey and been in London to meet their baby brother.
Upon deciding to use an uncharacteristically direct approach to a boy, Casey steps closer to Derek and says, "I thought that maybe your ultimatum in London meant you were sick of trying."
After one blink, his hands go from his pockets to her hipbones.
"I have to fight a little more than I thought I'd have to. It's always been like that when one of us has wanted something from the other," he tells her. "I had to try again after that basketball game, but…"
"It had to wait."
"Yeah, and I was really pissed off about that, but after a while," Derek paused to swallow. "You fainted because of that keener breakdown."
"Casey rolls her eyes. "I was sick."
"You were sick because of a refusal to take care of yourself."
She wants to kiss him.
"It made more sense that I nurse you back to health instead of-"
"Oh, come on-"
"-Lyra the Impossible, and it gave me the chance to see how much you look like that little demon girl in The Ring when you're ill."
Casey rolls her eyes again, smiling this time, because when does Derek normally use the word 'ill'?
She gently pinches his side. He smiles in the way that says 'Watch me score big right now'; time to steel herself up.
"You're the only one I want," he says. "and you've been dying to make out with me."
She groans, he chuckles and allows himself to be pushed.
They claim a nearby bench, where she kisses him until her lungs protest.
"You're crazy about me." She says.
The sun is, like, winking at them through the clouds and Derek's looking really good today-relaxed and sporting perfect hair. She curls her fingers in it, sliding her torso against his, going in for the ultimate fireworks kiss.
He pulls his head back a little, the sweet newness of her enthusiasm fresh in his mind, and he tells her, "You're the one who can't get over my bad boy appeal."
"Ew, I've seen you in your sister's make-up after another night of babysitting."
He lightly pinches her side and this time, attempts a distraction via his teeth on her earlobe. Casey tilts her head dramatically as an obstruction and almost giggles.
"I have no idea," he whispers. "What," then a soft kiss to the corner of her mouth, "you're talking about."
She shifts just millimeters away and gently wraps her left hand around his fleece-clad arm.
"We're going to have an adventure now, aren't we?" she says, a soft smile on her lips and a never-before-seen tenderness in her eyes.
His eyebrows rise. "Will it be complete with swashbuckling?"
She sighs and rubs his arm. "I spoke to Lizzie. Please come see me after your class today."
Derek's entire torso changes the message it wants to send, shoulders shifting, as if his body is sighing. His gaze is now warm and excited. "I guess I can tear myself away from notes about the Great War and Roaring 20's for you."
"I'll make you dinner?" she offers.
He answers this time with a smirk and a kiss. This is a beginning, and it's a warm, yummy new place.
"Yes. Um…" She keeps telling herself that this is a defining moment. "Lizzie…I'm seeing Derek."
After another pause, she hears, "I…You're kidding. Is this really…happening?"
"Should I repeat what I just said?"
"Y-yes, but let me try to grasp it first: You and Derek don't just tolerate each other and get along, but…you don't always fight? I…I'm still trying to imagine you two kissing and not pulling childish pranks on one another."