"D. It's Sam…Jesus Man! What can I say? Except I have a bottle of JD here that's yours if you wanna come round and drown yourself in it. I may even join you. Anyhow, giz a call."

Derek sighed. And so it began. He wondered how many more phone calls like that he was going to receive in the next week. His answer machine was flashing '3'. It would be false optimism to think that it would stay that low. It had been a while since he had seen Sam though. Maybe he'd call him back later. He could always ban the topic from their conversation.


"D. It's Ralphie. You know…from school…erm…why was I ringing again? Oh yeah…You wanna go for a drink…coz of…you know. Oh and Gran says to remind you that Cousin Virginia is still single. Don't smack me Amanda! She did. Yesterday when we heard the news…oh! Yeah. Maybe I should hang up or something…click!"

Derek snorted. Ralph never changed. And it appeared he was still under Amanda's thumb after all these years. He wondered briefly if she was pregnant yet. They had been trying for the four years since they got married. Ralph was blissfully happy and keen to have everyone else in the same state. He winced a bit at the thought of Cousin Virginia. He had met her once and couldn't decide if she was a virginal Virginia or a Ball-Gnasher Ginny. Either way, she didn't appeal.


"D. It's Ed. Shit! Nora just told me the news. That fucking sucks bro! Come down and stay with me and Ruth for a bit. You can have the east wing all to yourself. Oops gotta go, my secretary wants me. Call me."

Edwin. CEO of his own private equity company. He was worth more than Derek. That was saying something. On the face of it their relationship had matured past their adolescence. Underneath, Derek was still top dog. Edwin just had his own income source these days.


"Hi Derek." [honey smooth and seductive] "It's Annabelle. You poor baby…come get some lovin' from a woman who knows how to please you. You know my number."

Oh yeah! I know your number. You get me in your bedroom you'll handcuff me to the bed and I won't be able to leave for three weeks. Not a chance! Derek loved sex. Just not with Angry Annabelle. The whip marks had been difficult to explain away in the locker room.


"Hi Derek. It's Nora. I know we spoke yesterday honey. I just wanted to know that you were okay and coping. You can come home any time you like. It would be nice to have the company for Robbie. You know how much he misses you. Incidentally, we've had to change the house phone number again. The media got hold of the last one although my cell is the same. If you speak to Casey can you let her know? Speak to you soon."

Beep! Beep! Beep! You have no new messages.

Derek wondered how many messages he had missed when he pulled the telephone cable from the wall yesterday. He knew his agent had been fielding calls too. At the last count something in the region of 3,000 in the space of four hours. The phone company had had to lay on extra lines at short notice.

Ever since the story broke.

By the end of the day, he had heard from Marti, Emily, Lizzie, Kendra, Sally, and numerous other friends and the occasional ex-girlfriend.

He had heard from every single person he had ever known, and a couple of people who he had never known and was fairly sure he didn't want to know. There were just two people he hadn't heard from.

Chloe…and Casey. He didn't want to talk to the one, and he was fairly sure the same was true for the other, but they were both conspicuous by their absence.

Later that same day, when the constant beeping of his answer-phone was getting annoying in the extreme, he yanked the cable from the wall again. Then, taking a tub containing some sort of frozen food from the freezer, he decided it was time for dinner.

It wasn't until the rather amazing smell wafted out from the microwave that he actually bothered to look and see what was written on the plastic tub.

Chicken Casserole.

It was written in Casey's handwriting and it made Derek roll his eyes. It was a reminder of a time a hundred years ago – or maybe just twelve – when he had lived with a family – when he had lived with Casey. It reminded him of the first time he had tasted Casey's cooking.

He wasn't surprised that she had sneaked food into his freezer. His housekeeper was always moaning about her appearing suddenly while he was away with the team, spending a whole day cooking in his ridiculously elaborate, largely superfluous kitchen and then leaving, the kitchen once again immaculate and a range of new click and snap plastic tubs in the deep freeze.

It was unnecessary because Derek could afford to hire his own cook – and when it was necessary to entertain at home, did exactly that.

It was unnecessary because his housekeeper was always offering to rustle him some thing up.

But, strangely enough, Derek ate Casey's cooking frequently even if he hadn't seen her in more than two years.


When the contents of the tub were in an edible state, he poured the casserole into a large pasta bowl, buttered himself some bread for dipping and retired to his favourite spot in his home, his den. He loved the room because it reminded him of his old room back home. The walls were deep, dark green and covered in framed pictures from various points in his life and career. A large comfortable couch which was more like a bed than a sofa took up the centre of the room, and was oriented towards the large open fireplace which Rita the housekeeper kept laid ready with logs. The wide, white chimney breast was flat because Derek had his cable set up to project the television picture onto the wall. The resulting "screen" was bigger than any television on the market.

If Derek had his way, he'd spend all his time in this one room. Sometimes he wondered why he needed the rest of the epic building around him, with its eight bedrooms, five reception rooms, indoor pool and gym. (never mind the extensive grounds). This average sized room was where he was happy.

Well…most of the time.

It had been here that he had retired to yesterday after he had instructed his agent to release the statement to the press. It had been here that he had decided to retreat to in order to avoid the sordid details of the last few days. It had been here that he had decided to get drunk, play wii and pass out.

That had been the plan last night – and it worked. He had managed to blot out the whole fiasco from his mind.

He figured he could handle a repeat performance tonight and striking a match, tossed it into the kindling of the fireplace. The flames took hold immediately, and the room soon glowed with the warmth of a log fire.

Settling himself on the couch, with the steaming bowl of Casey food on his lap, he flicked the cable remote and the start up picture appeared on the wall. As the system booted, Derek took a mouthful of the casserole and sighed unwillingly. Casey was undoubtedly the best cook in the family. Her casseroles were the stuff of legend. And exactly the sort of comfort food he needed right now.

For a moment, he let his thoughts wander to his errant step-sister, wondering what she was doing and whether she was happy. He smiled slightly as he considered which poor sap had gotten himself involved with her, and then he frowned as he guessed how long it would be before she got her heart broken this time. He might not have seen Casey for two years, but she was still family and therefore he got the low-down on what was going on with her every time he went home.

Frankly, that hadn't been for a while, but when he had been home in the past, there was normally a story about Casey's latest "beau" or Casey's latest "ex".

Nora wanted to be a grandma and she was looking to Casey or Derek first to provide the necessary infant.

Shame they were both equally unhelpful in that area.


A glass with the dregs of Jack Daniels in it was on the table beside him, along with a half empty bottle of the same. Derek poured a generous measure and pondered what Casey would make of him butchering her casserole by eating it with strong spirits.

Two years since he last saw her, but she was never far away from his thoughts.


He finished the food, wiping around the dish with a lump of bread in a manner that would have had all the McDonald women hissing and dumped his plate on the same occasional table beside last night's empty pizza box, and this morning's cereal bowl.

Rita would throw a fit when he next let her in here, but that probably wouldn't be for the rest of the week, by which time his den would probably resemble something close to a microbiology lab with the sheer number of different microbial specimens present on Derek's plates.

That was before she even caught a look at him. Or rather a whiff of him. Derek hadn't had a shower for two days.

He might be a multi-millionaire but he had a right to a pity party the same as anyone else. Especially after…

He helped himself to more JD and settled in for the night.

Initially, it was CNN which woke him the following morning. Or rather, the insistent calling of his name.

"Mr Venturi. Do you have any comment? Can we have a photo Derek?"

He was disoriented and it took a while to realise that the photographer / paparazzi was on the projected image on the chimney breast rather than actually in his den. He blinked and watched again, courtesy of CNN, his own progress from the offices of his lawyers to his waiting car.

Shaking his head violently to clear the JD fog from his brain, he tried to focus on the ticker banner at the bottom of the screen.

Former Mrs Venturi claims "This is all a misunderstanding. We will be working this out."

Derek snorted. "In your fucking dreams, babe."

Awake now, and getting more aware by the moment, Derek tried to sit up on the large couch, only to find that he was covered in toffee popcorn and his clothes and skin were sticky.

"Ew!" He said, continuing his monologue. Staggering to the mirror in the corner of the room, he confirmed that he was, indeed, a disgusting mess and that his hair in particular looked crap. "Time for a shower, methinks."

But, before he could reach the bathroom, as he opened the den door and started to make for the back stairs, a delicious aroma assaulted his nose; breakfast-like smells. His stomach growled, and confused as to who on his staff had betrayed his "leave me alone" orders, he went to investigate the traitor in the kitchen.

As he grew closer, he realised there was music coming from the cavernous room and someone was singing.

The trespasser – and the term was definitely appropriate – must have bribed one of his security team, because it wasn't one of his staff, but an intruder of the familial kind, and he knew he should be irritated beyond belief. On reflection, however, he decided alarm calls like this he could handle.

The music was 'Lady Marmalade' – the Aguilera/P!nk version. It boomed from the little tinny DVD player he kept in the kitchen and echoed around the room. The lithe figure currently dancing in front of the stove as she fried eggs and sautéed potatoes was singing the lyrics at the top of her voice.

"Voulez vous couchez avec moi, ce soir?" she sang, punctuating the beat at the end of the line with a little jiggle of her hips.

Derek leaned against the door frame his arms folded across his chest and watched the oblivious girl before him.

The dancer's form was still there, despite the advance in age. She moved as easily now as she had when they had danced together. He remembered how it felt to twist and spin her body, and the feel of her hair in his hand. It was a memory of his teenage years that ran immediately into one from his twenties.

A memory which for both their sakes, he pushed to the far recesses of his mind and buried with thoughts of…anything else he could dreg up.

It had been two years, and she was still every bit as beautiful as he remembered her; more so, because his memories never could do her justice. He smiled as he watched her, grateful for the chance to observe her without a reaction.

But then she turned to get something from the oversized fridge in the corner, saw him and stopped.

"Derek." Quiet, calm.

"Casey." Eyebrow raised to enquire why she was there.

She looked down at her feet, then up again brightly.