Swaying slightly as she was gently buffed from side to side by sweat-slicked bodies, Casey felt the beat of the music thrumming through her body. The temperature on the dance floor was unbearably hot, and the ice-cold vodka and coke in her hand was doing nothing to cool her down or quench her thirst. Desperate to move from the packed floor to somewhere a little more spacious, Casey held her drink above her head and shimmied her way past several drunk couples and exuberant dance moves to shelter against the wall. She had no idea where her friends were. The three of them had come to the club together, but dispersed as soon as they were inside, Jen to the ladies room to fix her make-up, Sara being escorted to the dance floor, and Casey heading straight to the bar. That was at least forty-five minutes ago. If this were any other night, Casey knew she would be having what most people would call a 'classic freak-out episode.' But, Casey pondered as she leant her head back against the wall, hardly anything about this night could be classed as normal.
For one thing, it was a Thursday night, and she had class in the morning. The normal Casey ('The sane Casey', she thought) would never have even thought about going out partying if she had a lecture the next day. Hell, she had even set her own curfew during her years at high school! And the second thing? She was drunk. And not just funny, giggly, 'I'm going to tell everyone how much I love them' drunk either. Looking down at the drink in her hand, she tried to remember just how many she'd had. Three? Plus a few tequila shots and about a glass of wine with the girls back in their residence. For her, it was unheard of to get this drunk. She was a keener, a grade-grubber who, as a certain someone was constantly reminding her, didn't know how to 'live dangerously'. She scoffed, lifted her glass to her lips and threw back the last remnants of alcohol which remained. Well that person was most definitely wrong. She was out at a club. She was drunk. And she was having fun, right? That's what college students did. So what if she felt a little nauseous? What did it matter that her feet were aching, her head was throbbing, and she was pretty certain she was close to tears? Closing her eyes, Casey leaned back, and let the icy air from the conditioning unit above her revitalise her senses. What had even happened to get her into this mess?
Sara jumped at the loud thump that originated from the phone table beside her head. Lazing on the couch, she lowered her magazine and turned her face toward the sound. Woe betide anyone who interrupted her weekly ritual of gossip magazines, chips, and diet coke, even her roommates. Glaring at the person she found standing there, she uttered in a low, dangerous voice, "Do you mind?"
Casey grinned a triumphant smile. "Let's go out tonight."
Giving her an incredulous look, Sara sighed, picked up her magazine and continued to rifle through the pages. "Riiight. Going out on a Thursday night? You have class in the morning, what is this, invasion of the body snatchers?" Her eyes flicked to the right, and spied the bottle of tequila Casey had slammed on the table dangerously close to her head. Eyes narrowing, Sara threw her another suspicious look. "Where did you get that?"
"It doesn't matter." Casey dismissed Sara's question as she crept around the couch. "All that matters is…" She shook the bottle tantalisingly under Sara's nose "…It gets you really, really drunk."
"Okay, then leave it in my room and I'll have it later. Hey, I have a quiz tomorrow, maybe I'll knock back a few shots beforehand for some courage, huh? Help stimulate a few brain cells?"
"Actually it's scientifically proven that drinking alcohol in large quantities over a long period of time destroys your brain cells rather than stimulating them," Casey retorted. "And under usual circumstances I would advise against that idea, but on this occasion I think a night out is exactly what we need. Especially after the day I've had," she muttered, looking down and playing with the hem of her shirt. "And besides, I've already completed the next two essays due in for the course, finished the reading for my extra credit assignment and organised and typed up my lecture notes, so I figure I can have a night off."
"Mmmmmhmmm." Sara nodded, and continued to read about the tangled love lives of the Hollywood A-listers. To the untrained observer it may seem that she hadn't paid attention to anything that Casey had just said. But that wasn't true. She'd heard, she just decided not to comment on it. Especially on the part about Casey having a bad day. Because Sara was certain she knew why. It can't have been about college work, because Casey was always on top of her work. And it can't have been her family back on London, because they'd spoken on the phone the night before and everything seemed fine. She'd bet a million dollars Casey's bad day was a result of something else. Or more specifically, someone else. Sara mentally rolled her eyes. She just didn't understand those two. Unaware that he had even existed until two months into the start of university, both Sara and Jen had been surprised when he followed her through the door one day and was introduced as her brother ("Step-brother," he corrected). Ever since then he had been spending more and more time at theirs, watching hockey on their T.V. and eating their potato chips, which Sara thought unusual, considering how much they both claimed to detest each-other. He and Casey constantly bickered, ("They're like an old married couple", Jen once whispered to Sara) fighting over the remote, arguing over him skipping classes ("Already?!" Casey shrieked, "We've only been here three months, how could you?") and over her apparent inability to let loose and have fun ("Fun? I have fun! Last night, in fact, we went pottery painting, didn't we Jen?")
Sara watched Casey out of the corner of her eye as she pottered around in the kitchen, cleaning and putting away groceries. It wouldn't be the first time one of their bickering sessions had developed into a full-blown argument, (Casey had even frozen him out a month ago, refusing to see him or answer his calls or messages, for whatever reason Sara was unsure of) but recently the atmosphere between the two of them had developed into one of palpable tension. Sara had no idea what had happened, but something had changed. Coming home from class a week ago, Sara and Jen were putting their key in the lock when they heard noises coming from inside. Harsh, urgent whispers and then raised voices, two people in the middle of a hushed argument. Upon opening the door, the girls found the two of them on opposite sides of the living room, his eyes glaring at her and face twisted into a frown, and her looking down at her feet, close to tears. Jen, ever the oblivious one, walked straight in and dumped her purse on the table.
"Urgh, I have had the worst day ever." She threw herself down on the couch and propped her legs on the coffee table, flinging her arms around for emphasis while she talked, "I totally flunked my assignment proposal, then I had an argument with Ryan, and topping it all off I have to work tonight. Why does my life suck?" She looked around at them all, as if expecting an answer. "Seriously, any takers?"
"Maybe you did something terrible in a past life? You know, karma and all that?" Sara answered, moving from the doorway in to the kitchen. Catching Casey's eye as she passed, she filled the kettle with water while Casey furtively wiped her eyes. "What are you guys up to?"
"Nothing. I was just leaving." Taking one last glance at Casey, he went to step over Jen's outstretched legs and started heading towards the door.
"No, no, no, no! You have to stay," Jen cried, sitting up on the couch. "We were going to watch a movie, and we were thinking you could join us. And we were going to order a pizza," Jen added in a sing-song voice, giving him a winning smile. "So you should stay. Right?" She looked pleadingly at Sara and Casey. "Right?"
He shuffled his feet awkwardly. "I really can't. I have to go, I've got a date." He looked directly at Casey, his mouth set into a hard line. Jen sighed dramatically, throwing her arm across her face and leaning back against the couch, but Sara watched the exchange between the others with interest. At the mention of his date, Casey's eyes widened, her gaze becoming hard. She stared at him for a few seconds, the tension between the two becoming almost unbearable, before looking down at her feet again and saying quietly, "Well…don't stay out too late. You have class in the morning."
Scowling, he threw out his reply, "Gee, thanks for the advice, mom." Walking across the room, Sara barely made out his next words, "You can keep it to yourself next time", before he walked through the door and slammed it behind him.
A few seconds of complete silence followed. Jen was still lying on the couch, and Sara was staring at Casey who was, in turn, staring at the floor. Jesus, what had happened now? Sara started towards Casey, holding out her arm. "Casey…" She was interrupted, however, when Casey took a deep breath and looked up, clapping her hands together, a forced smile on her face that didn't quite reach her eyes. "Right. Anyone for pizza?"
Gazing across the crowd, Casey searched for Sara and Jen. How could she have been so stupid? Now she was drunk and alone, the worst position for her to be in. Wasn't this just the kind of situation her mom and George had warned her about before she had left for Queens? And at the time, she was so sure it would never happen to her. Clasping her hand to her throbbing head, Casey knew this was the perfect end to a perfect week. All she had wanted to do was go out with her friends, have a good time, and forget about him. She might even have met someone else? God knows, she spent all hours in the library, and that wasn't really the best environment for meeting many potential boyfriends. But in her misery she had drank too much, and she knew tomorrow morning she would be paying dearly for her mistake. Pushing herself away from the wall, she gingerly walked around the edge of the dance floor, keeping her eyes peeled for a flash of Jen's gold dress or Sara's bright red hair. Walking up the few steps which led towards the bar and seating area, Casey looked up. The crowd parted in front of her, and her heart stopped.
It was him. Surrounded by people, of course, and a good fifteen feet away, but she could feel the panic rising in her chest, and her breath quicken. He couldn't see her like this, she would die. She scanned her surroundings for a suitable place to hide, finding nowhere. He had turned around now, and was facing half-towards her, talking to one of his buddies, smiling and laughing. Oh god, she had to get out of his eye line. Walking as quickly as she could without drawing attention to herself, she hit the wall and turned away, her back facing him. Cursing her back luck, Casey swore under her breath. She couldn't believe he was here. What was he doing? The panic and sense of dread that had so overwhelmed her was suddenly replaced by a brief flash of anger. This was supposed to be her night. Her night to go out, and forget about everything, because she just didn't care anymore. And him being here had completely thrown her off kilter, plunged her into a hurricane of emotions she didn't have the strength or courage to deal with. She knew what had been going on between the two of them within the past few weeks, she wasn't stupid. Of course, nothing had actually happened. Neither of them would dare to take it that far, to say it out loud. But she could tell, from the way he looked at her, and the things he said to her, and the bursts of jealousy that would rise in her chest whenever he went out on dates with other girls. She was pretty sure Sara knew something was going on, but thank God for small mercies, she kept her comments to herself.
And then this morning she'd gone to his room. She hadn't seen him since Sara and Jen had walked in on their argument, and things had been left more than a little frosty between them. She couldn't understand what was wrong with her. A life without him was what she had always wanted, but his absence had left an ache in her stomach that just refused to budge. Wracking her brain to find a justifiable reason to go over, she'd finally had a light-bulb moment, remembering he had borrowed some of her lecture notes a while ago. It was the perfect excuse; she would go over and demand to have them back, and that would get them talking again. She'd rushed to his residence, knocked on the door, and was just fixing her hair when his roommate answered.
Yawning and rubbing his eyes as he shuffled across the room, Kyle wondered who on earth could be knocking so purposefully on their door this early in the morning. He glanced at the clock on the wall, 11:05. Well, not exactly the crack of dawn, but he wasn't used to getting up before midday after a night out. The knocking on the door became louder and more insistent, and Kyle winced as his headache kicked up a notch. Throwing open the door, he could not conceal his surprise at who was standing there.
"Casey!" Kyle gave her a quick smile, before glancing around to a room down the hall. The troubled look on his face went un-noticed by Casey, who pushed past him into the living room. " Errrrr….what are you doing here?"
"Well good morning to you too!" Casey held up a paper bag, her face breaking into a dazzling smile. "I bought you a muffin for breakfast, bran, not chocolate, and a banana and raspberry smoothie. It'll be one of your five a day!" Looking around at the messy room, Casey wrinkled her nose and uttered under her breath, "Wow, you guys really need to get a cleaner in here."
Kyle gave a nervous laugh and scratched his head, giving another fleeting look to the room down the hallway. "Yeah, I know right?" He gestured towards the bag in Casey's hand. "Thanks for the muffin."
"Oh, you're welcome," replied Casey, "I just had to stop by to get a few lecture notes." She started walking down the hallway to the first door, when Kyle hurriedly called out to her, "You know, Case, I don't actually think he's awake yet, maybe it would be better for you to come back later?"
Completely oblivious to the worry in his voice, Casey raised a fist to knock on the door. "Kyle, we lived with each-other for four years! I've seen him first thing in the morning before, it's not a big deal."
She waited. Leaning closer to the door she could hear the bed squeak, and someone fumbling around inside, opening and closing drawers. A few seconds later he opened the door, swearing under his breath.
"Casey!" His eyes widened in surprise when he saw it was her, and he pulled his door closed so only his face was showing through the gap. "What are you doing here?"
"Well, I came over to get my notes you borrowed, remember? That is, unless you've lost them?"
He gave her a look, and raised an eyebrow. "Of course I haven't lost them? What do you take me for, Case?"
Rolling her eyes, Casey replied, "I'd rather not answer that, I might hurt your feelings. Not that you have any, because that would actually make you a decent human being," she added. He grinned at her, a smile that made her go weak at the knees, and clutched his hand dramatically to his chest. "You wound me with your accusations, Klutzilla, you really do."
"Yeah, you'll get over it. Do you want to get me those notes?"
"Uhhh, yeah sure, hang on." He turned around and retreated back into his room, closing the door in her face. Casey frowned, annoyed at being made to wait outside. Sure, he didn't like anyone in his bedroom back in London, but she had never paid attention, and just waltzed in and out whenever she pleased. After waiting another few minutes, she knocked on the door again and yelled, "For your sake you better not have lost them!" No answer. What was he doing in there? She hesitated, then grabbed the knob, and pushed open the door.
"What are you doing…" She stopped mid-sentence. There he was, standing in the middle of his room, her lecture notes clutched in his hand. But he wasn't alone. In front of him stood a girl, clothed only in her underwear. Casey gasped, and all three of them just stood there. It was like time was going only a tenth of the speed it should be, like it was standing still. They both turned to look at her, the disruption to their conversation, him with a shocked expression and her with mild curiosity. She was beautiful, Casey thought. Blonde hair, green eyes, almost a Sally look-a-like, exactly the type of girl he always went for. Casey just stood there, mouth open. Later on it occurred to her that she must have looked incredibly stupid, just standing, slack-jawed and staring. But at that moment in time, she didn't quite know what to do. The nameless girl was the first to recover from Casey's intrusion.
"Oh my gosh, I am so sorry! Let me get some clothes on." She turned around and picked up one of his shirts from the floor, pulling it over her head. Casey could do nothing but silently stare as the girl carried on chatting. "I can't believe this, I am so embarrassed! I mean, I never normally do this." She gave a small, embarrassed laugh.
Trying her best to sound cool, calm, and unaffected by the whole situation, Casey finally found her voice box. "That's okay." Only the voice that came out didn't sound like her own. It was crackly, and hitched. Casey cleared her throat, looking down at the ground. "I was just leaving anyway." She started towards the door.
"Wait! I'm Lauren. And you must be Casey, right? The sister? I've heard so much about you!"
"Step-sister." He said it so quietly she almost thought she had made it up. Casey stopped and turned to look at them both, Lauren giving her a genuine smile. She looked nice, Casey thought. She couldn't blame her for this. She was just a girl, who met a guy she liked, and they spent the night together. Casey had been naïve to think that these kind of things never happened. She was at university now, and he was a red-blooded male like any other guy. She had once called him a 'man-whore' back in high school, and deep down she hadn't really expected him to change. But now it was here, and it was staring her in the face.
"I'm sorry Lauren, I can't stay. I'll see you around maybe." It wasn't a question. Casey didn't want to see her again, didn't ever want to be reminded of this moment as long as she lived. The lecture notes completely forgotten, Casey retreated through the door and pulled it shut behind her. She stood there for a few seconds before she realised Kyle was still in the living room, and he was watching her.
Refusing to let him finish, Casey sped through the hallway towards the front door, talking over him. "Well, I'd best be off. I'll see you around Kyle."
She was halfway home before the tears started to fall.
Nervously wringing her hands, Casey peered across to the bar where he was standing with his friends. She had to find a way out of here, and fast. Unfortunately the only way to exit the club was to walk directly past him. Quickly glancing around, Casey silently cursed Sara and Jen. If only they were here, she would be able to crouch down and use them as a shield as they made their way past the bar and out of the club. Manoeuvring herself further into the shadows, Casey spared another glance across to the bar. He was facing her now, beer in hand, talking animatedly to the crowd. He was probably telling a joke, or some hugely entertaining ('Exaggerated'she thought) story. That was him to a T, always the entertainer, the centre of attention. He leant back, one elbow propping him up on the bar, looking so relaxed, she noticed, the very opposite of how she felt. What happened this morning obviously hadn't had that much of an effect on him, unlike her, who hadn't been able to think of anything else all day. It was like it had been burned into her memory, the vision of him standing there with a half-naked girl, a girl who wasn't her.
A sudden movement caught her eye. A flash of blonde, and a pair of delicate arms snaked around his waist, pulling him close. He turned to look behind him, and Casey watched with mounting horror as a familiar face appeared over his shoulder. It was her, Lauren. Her bright eyes gazed up at him as he pulled her into a hug. Jealousy ripped through Casey's chest as she watched their arms enveloping each other, their friends forgotten. After the hug was over (she felt as though it had lasted for several hours, when in reality it can have been no longer than a few seconds), he kept his arm around her shoulders, and they both turned to face their friends again, his eyes searching through the crowd for a few moments. His eyes met with Casey's, and her heart skipped a beat. He had seen her.
But no. His eyes moved away from hers, and slid across the crowd to land back on Lauren. Casey breathed a sigh of relief, and her heart slowed down from it's increased pace. While a part of her was glad he hadn't noticed her standing there, the rest of her was filled with a mixture of sadness and disappointment. He hadlooked at her, but had not seen her; to him she was just another nameless, faceless girl. He had looked right through her, as if she were invisible. Did she really mean that little to him? Or had she just been imagining it all, every hint, every suggestion, every possible clue that pointed to him having 'not so brotherly' feelings towards her? Looking at him now, it was likely that she had done just that. Him and Lauren looked like a picture-perfect couple, with their arms around each other and identical grins on their faces, laughing with the crowd. Suddenly, he pulled her towards him again, leaned down, and kissed her on the head. Casey's stomach dropped. She felt sick. It was such a gesture of intimacy and affection that she felt as though she'd been slapped in the face. He just didn't do intimacy and affection. At least, not with her, she reminded herself. He'd never put his arm around her, or kissed her on the head; in fact he deliberately went out of his way so that he didn't have to hug her at all. She always insisted that they would eventually get their 'feel-good family moment', but they never did. Now she knew why. He just didn't want to. She felt tears prick the corners of her eyes.
Unable to watch them any longer, Casey looked away. She prayed that she would feel better in the morning, that all this would pale in significance to the massive hangover she would be nurturing. Turning to place her empty glass on the ledge next to her, she suddenly heard someone call, "Casey!"
She whipped around, stumbling a little. It was Jen and Sara, shoving their way through the crowd to get to where she was standing. Sara got to her first, grabbing her arm and yelling in her ear, "Where the hell have you been? We've been looking for you!"
"I'm here! I'm right here!" Casey shouted over the music. Her words were slurred slightly, and Sara questioned, "How much have you had to drink, Casey?
Casey shrugged. "A few." She hesitated. "I don't know."
Sara sighed, and rolled her eyes, while Jen gave Casey a concerned look. "Are you okay?" Casey's silence prompted her to peer closer into her face. "Have you been crying?"
Casey didn't need to answer. A roar of laughter came from across the room, and turning their heads to locate the source of the noise, both Jen and Sara realised the cause of Casey's misery. Sharing a look, both girls turned back to Casey, sympathetic looks on their faces.
"Oh Casey…" Jen reached for her, and throwing her arms around the girl, whispered soothingly in her ear, "It's going to be okay."
Casey gulped, holding back more tears that threatened to spill down her face, while Sara concealed a look of surprise. Who knew, Jen obviously wasn't as ignorant of recent events as she had previously thought. Putting their arms around her, both girls guided Casey towards the exit, shielding her from external view as they passed the bar, and out through the door.
It was bitterly cold outside the club. Casey shivered, and wrapped her arms around herself. "I'll call for a cab," Jen said, as she pulled her cell phone from her purse, and wandered off along the street. Casey turned to face Sara, who eyed her with concern.
"Are you okay?"
Casey sniffed. "He was there with Lauren." He voice quivered, as the alcohol took control of her brain, and she sputtered, "He loves her."
Sara didn't even know who Lauren was. But she had seen the beautiful girl with the blonde hair whose arms were wrapped around Casey's step-brother. Sighing, she pulled her into a hug, and whispered, "Oh Casey….I'm so sorry."
Casey barely heard her apology. She could feel the alcohol churning in her stomach, the pounding in her head, and the blood rushing in her ears. She was so confused. Was it even possible to feel so alive, and so dead at the same time? Maybe tomorrow she would wake up and find out that this had been nothing but a bad dream? She doubted it. Tomorrow's hangover would act as a deadly reminder of tonight's events. Feeling a sudden rush in her stomach, Casey pushed away from Sara. Hesitating for a few seconds, she leaned to the side, and vomited over the sidewalk.
A/N: Well, this idea came to me and just wouldn't budge until I wrote it down. I know the ending's a little sad, but I couldn't leave it any other way. Anyway, like it? Hate it? Please review :)
Must also say a big thank you for the lovely reviews for 'Between Two Lungs', they really made my day. Thank you!