Tap. Tap. Tap.

The rhythmic tapping kept me focused on what I was reading.

The end of my pencil repeatedly hit the table.

It had always worked before. But not today. Today I was distracted.

I checked my watch.

She'd be checking her luggage right about now.

I resumed tapping even though my eyes were no longer on my chemistry notes.

My father had left not too long ago to pick her up from the airport.

Dropping the pencil onto the table, I stood and began pacing.

What would she say when she saw me?

I jerked my fingers through my hair and caught sight of myself in the stainless steel refrigerator.

My eyes were bloodshot and now my hair was standing on end. My eyes were wide and wild. The bags under my eyes were worse than usual, due to the fact that I'd had no sleep last night.

Once I'd heard of Casey's arrival, my stomach nor my body would rest.

I felt jittery and nauseated, just thinking about her. I sat back down at the kitchen table and put my head in my hands.

Would she still hate me? Even after almost a year?

I tried to apologize but she didn't let me.

All through her freshman year of college, I called and called.

Every time her number changed, I called Emily and begged her to reveal it.

Sometimes she complied, but often, I ended up calling the college and leaving messages. Some were jumbled and nervous. Some were mainly silence, broken every now and then by a few words. Some were drunk and angry.

Some were sad and pleading. But every single one held the same meaning behind my words...I miss you...

Now here I was. Almost a year from my mistake.

And I still didn't know what to do. I contemplated hurriedly writing a note of apology-but dismissed it as the cowards way out.

I thought about hiding out in my room all winter, but dismissed that as impractical. Why should I have to hide? It was my house too...

Just as I reconsidered the note of apology, the door opened.

I jumped up from our kitchen table and stood. Frozen.

Casey shivered and shook snow from her hair. "It's gotten cold out pretty fast."

On a last minute decision, I spun around and ducked into the kitchen to hide.

I heard my father mumble a reply.

"Kids! Your sister's here!" He called.

I groaned. The thoughts I was having of her certainly weren't very sisterly.

I stepped back into the dining room, half hidden by a plant.

Our dog, Lucky, was going berserk at the sight of company.

I leaned my head against one wall and watched my gorgeous step-sister.

"Casey!" Marti squealed and flew down the stairs and into her arms.

Casey grinned and hugged her tightly. "You've gotten so big! I've missed you..."

"You missed my birthday." Marti's eyebrows drew down.

Casey laughed out loud.

I found myself grinning at the sound of her laugh.

"Casey." Lizzie bounded down the stairs, she hugged Casey as well, then stepped aside so Nora could hug her.

When they pulled away, Casey looked around. "I love what you guys have done with the place!"

She turned in a semi-circle.

On her turn back around, she caught sight of me watching her.

Suddenly, it was as if all the oxygen was sucked from the room.

I felt like I was drowning in the Arctic, and baking in the Sahara all at once.

"Casey." I whispered, knowing she couldn't hear me.

"Derek?" She asked, her eyebrows raised.

My body ached when she called my name. I swear if my knees could buckle, they just did.

"Wh-what are you doing here?" She demanded.

I shrugged. My mouth was dry. It was sweltering inside.

"Christmas." I managed.

Her eyes narrowed as she took a few steps toward me.

"What are you really doing here?"

I shrugged again.

"You're supposed to be in California." She said.

"And you're supposed to be in Ontario." I shrugged. "Gotta take a break for Christmas."

She deposited her carry-on onto the couch and continued walking toward me.

"Really? Cause it looks like all your stuff is here."

I mentally kicked myself as I looked around.

She had me. It did look like I lived here.

"Why aren't you in California, Derek? Tell me the truth."

I shrugged and jammed my hands into my pockets. "I dropped out."

"You what?" She demanded, loudly. "I worked my butt off to help you get into that college! Why would you do that?"

"Because it's my life. Not yours, Casey." I responded.

She clucked her tongue and lowered her voice. "You know you wanted in to that college."

I swallowed and looked over her shoulder at my father.

He was too busy watching the scene unfold to pay attention to me.

I turned my attention back to Casey.

"Didn't you?" She demanded.

My mind began working on overdrive to remember her question.

'It's so hard to concentrate on her words when she's looking so sexy right now.' I thought.

I quickly steered away from that thought as I remembered our parents were only a few feet away.

I closed my eyes. "Yes. I did."

"Then why drop out?"

I took a step toward her, eyes open again.

She took a step backward. "Huh? Why would you?"

I let out a low groan. "Casey..."

"Don't." She whispered.

I felt my stomach drop as she uttered that single word.

She turned and gathered up her luggage. Giving the reassuring smile to our parents, she went upstairs and slammed the door.

My father walked into the kitchen and took his scarf off, hanging it on a hook on the wall. "What was all that about?"

I swallowed. "It's nothing."

"Derek?" He asked, raising an eyebrow.

I sighed and turned my back to him.

"Look dad, it's nothing. She's just...she's just probably upset that I squandered my talent by dropping out, okay?" I turned to leave when he grabbed my upper arm.

"Wait." He commanded.

I sighed and looked at my step-mother. "Nora, will you tell him to drop it?"

Nora's eyebrows raised. "Derek, will you try to keep in mind that Casey's my daughter? And that I'd like to know what's going on as well?"

I groaned. "Fine. You guys talk, I'm out of here."

"Wait one minute, Derek. We didn't say that we were done with you." My father interjected.

I sighed and sat back down at the table. "Fine. Talk away then."

My dad sat down at the head of the table, beside me.

Nora sat down across from me.

"What's going on with you guys? You guys were really close before you both left for college. And now, it seems like you guys are strangers. Like you hate each other again." Nora seemed puzzled by this behavior.

I resisted the urge to say, 'We're just two teenagers that seem to find each other extremely attractive. So when we're around each other, there's this intense, hot attraction and sexual tension in the air.'

Instead, I opted for. "I guess we grew apart."

When my dad gave me the look, I followed it up with this:

"Look guys. We just tutored each other, okay? I was having a difficult time in biology, she was tanking in history. We formed a mutual understanding during that time and put our differences away long enough to study together. A truce even. But once the tutoring ended, so did the truce."

"So you guys are back to fighting like two immature children?" My father demanded.

"Umm..." I struggled for the right word. "Yeah? I guess..."

"That's comforting." He replied sarcastically.

I shrugged and stood. Grabbing my notebooks and text-books, I dumped them into my backpack. "I've got a monster paper that's due at the beginning of the year. I've got to get it done."

My dad opened his mouth, but Nora cut him off. "Ok. We'll get you guys when it's time for dinner."

I trudged up the stairs.

Passing by Casey's room, I saw that the door was wide open.

She was unpacking her suitcases.

She looked up into the mirror and saw me staring at her.

Dropping whatever it is she had in her hands, she crossed her arms and glared at the mirror.

"What do you want Derek?"

I leaned my body against the doorframe. "Nothing. Can't a guy watch his ex unpack?"

She whirled around, tears in her eyes. "Damn you Venturi. Don't you *ever* call me that."

I stood up off the door frame. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to offend you. I just-"

"Right. Of course you didn't mean to offend me. Just like you didn't mean to hurt me that night in your room."

Her words stung. "Casey, you know that I wasn't trying to hurt you then. You had me so-"

Casey grabbed a pillow off the end of her bed and threw it toward me.

I side-stepped it and stepped closer into her room.

"Casey, I'm sorry. I never meant to hurt you. I just-"

"Just get out!" She threw something else at me that collided with my chest. "Get out, Derek!"

When I didn't move, she dropped whatever she had readied to throw at me.

Instead, she walked toward me and slammed her hands into my chest.

"Just get out!" She hissed, pounding her fists into my chest.

"Please. Let me explain." I began.

When I was finally far enough from her doorframe, she slammed her door.

I stood outside her door for a few minutes. "Let me in, Case. Please."

She didn't even respond...