"Um, hi," the guy said at last, holding onto the towel like it was a lifeline. "This may be just a wild shot in the dark, but I'm guessing you're Lisa's roommate."
Dana blinked twice. "That would be a good guess." This would be one of those times where you weren't supposed to look, although how that would be managed was beyond her. When a half-naked, soaking wet, and oh yeah, pretty damned good-looking guy stepped out of your shower when all you were planning to do was brush your teeth—forget looking, the circumstances practically demanded that you stare. "I'm...really hoping you're not a burglar."
"No," the guy said quickly. "No, um...well, you can rest assured, if I was a burglar, which I'm not, I'd be a pretty bad one. What with sticking around the scene of a crime to take a shower."
"I don't know, most burglars aren't exactly known for their mental prowess, you know what I mean?" Dana quipped. It was actually a little comforting to know that she could be quippy with a half-naked stranger if need be. "Dana Whitaker," she said at last, because it seemed rather ridiculous to be quippy with a half-naked guy in her shower and not at least give him her name.
"Oh, I'm Casey, Casey McCall," Casey said, holding out a hand. Unfortunately—or fortunately—that made the towel, which was already precariously hanging onto his slim hips, slide down a couple of inches. Casey quickly snatched his hand back and readjusted the towel, flushing bright red.
"Tell you what," Dana said, amused—and, although she hated to admit it, fighting a faint little blush of her own. "Why don't we hold off on the handshake until you find some clothes. Or at least some pants."
"That...sounds like a plan."
"Excellent," Dana said brightly. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go find my roommate so I can interrogate her, and then I'm going to find another sink I can brush my teeth in."
The bathroom door opened, and Lisa came in. "Hey, Casey, be careful about—" Then she blinked, finally taking in the scene of her roommate in her bathroom with her half-naked....well, paramour was really the only word for it. "Dana."
"Hey, Lise," Dana said.
Casey, bless him, actually waved. Oh, Dana was going to like this guy already. Or at least be thoroughly amused by him. "Hey."
Lisa was actually flushing--which was rare for her. The girl was famous for never losing her cool, but then how someone could help losing her cool even a little given the situation was beyond Dana. "Um, Dana, this is Casey McCall, my date from last night. Casey, this is my roommate, Dana Whitaker."
"Oh, we've already met," Casey said wryly.
"And I can take it that last night went well?" Dana chirped.
"Oh, I'd say so." Lisa was past the flushing and now looked a little smug. Well, no wonder. She'd just managed to snag a hot guy, get laid, and get said hot guy in the shower so her roommate could both ogle and feel envy. Who wouldn't feel smug under the circumstances?
"So," Dana drawled out, sipping at her coffee.
Lisa didn't actually squirm, but she might have wriggled a little bit. "So. That was Casey."
"And Casey is..."
"My date from last night."
Dana waved a hand at her. "Come on, Lisa, I just walked in on a near-naked stranger in our bathroom, I'm going to need more details than that."
Lisa sighed, but Dana thought she could sense some of the smugness from before. No, not smugness...it was something different from that, something lighter. "His name's Casey McCall, he's a sophomore like us who's going into sports journalism. I met him in my study group for Shakespeare class. Is that all, or would you also like his rank and serial number?"
Despite the snippy tone—and Dana was used to it by this point, Lisa was usually more snippy than not—there was still this air of...suppressed happiness about Lisa right now. "Hey, I'm not the one with a new paramour showing up naked in our bathroom—"
"Paramour?" Lisa repeated. "I'm sorry, did we just land in some cheesy romance novel set in the Regency?"
The thing was, Dana didn't expect it to last. Lisa dated guys like her, trust-fund WASPs, cool and proper with just a soupcon of snideness to them. Guys who escorted their rich grandparents to the opera or the ballet to secure their inheritance, guys who turned into jackasses when they got drunk, guys who drove fancy sports cars and expected the girls they were dating to bend over to their every will. Dana knew the kind of guy Lisa dated; she'd been dragged onto a couple of blind double dates with her, and to be frank, Lisa dated assholes.
But, if she were also fair, Dana acknowledged that none of the guys lasted beyond one or two dates.
Casey McCall was an aberration. Not only did he remember her name the next time they met on campus—"Hey, Dana!"—he chatted with her freely the next time he stopped over to pick up Lisa for their second date. And even if he blinked when she offered a knowledgeable opinion on the Knicks, within a few minutes they were having a fun and easy discussion on every sport under the sun.
Casey McCall, to all appearances, was a genuinely sweet, dorky, earnest guy.
Finally, Dana broke down and asked. "What are you doing with this guy?"
Lisa blinked at him in surprise. "You don't like him?"
"No, I do like him, that's my point," Dana said. "I never like the guys you date—for crying out loud, he's not even a Republican!"
Lisa smiled—she'd been doing that a lot more lately—and said. "I know. That's why I like him."
"Casey, I think I've been very patient so far—"
"You've been very patient, Dana, and I appreciate it," Casey said as they carefully shuffled into the apartment. His voice sounded a little muffled, and Dana wondered fleetingly if he'd gotten pine needles in his mouth.
Considering that she still couldn't feel her toes thanks to the cold, Dana thought it was more than deserved. In fact, she was ready to start wishing that Casey ended up spitting out pine needles for a week.
"—and," she grunted as they finally got to the corner she and Casey had designated for the tree and finally, finally put it down, "—I think I deserve to know why we spent the entire day looking for the perfect Christmas tree to lug back here." She stretched and groaned; her back was going to be killing her come morning.
Casey shrugged. "Because it's Christmas, and getting a Christmas tree is what you do."
Dana looked at him. "Wrong. Try again."
Casey smiled a little, ruefully, and sat down on the arm of the couch. "Lisa and I were talking about Christmas a couple days ago, and—she said that her family never decorates the tree, that they always...hire somebody to do it." Dana had met Lisa's parents once, and she knew that Lisa came from money, a hell of a lot of it, so she had no trouble believing what Casey was telling her. "And—I don't know. I thought it'd be a good idea to give her one tree that she could decorate."
Dana looked at him, tilting her head slightly. "Casey."
"Yeah," Casey said, flushing a little bit. "It's stupid, I know, but—"
"No," Dana said slowly. "It's just..." she trailed off, because...because she knew of boys giving a girl candy, flowers, jewelry. She had no idea how this guy could make a pine tree into the sweetest, most romantic gesture she'd ever seen. "It's not stupid, it's...it's very sweet."
Casey grinned, and Dana noted, not for the first time, how that smile seemed to light up his face. "Thanks."
It didn't take long for Lisa to get back, and Dana forgot all about the back pain and the hours they'd spent combing through that tree lot for just the perfect one, because the look on Lisa's face was just amazing...this shy, thrilled, totally incredulous smile on her face. "What is this?"
Casey folded his arms, looking thoroughly pleased with himself, and Dana couldn't blame him. "It's your Christmas tree. I thought I'd take you and Dana out to go shopping for ornaments, if you have the time."
Lisa nodded slowly, still staring at it. "Yeah. Yeah, I have—Casey," she said, and rushed over to kiss him on the mouth. "It's perfect," she declared once she'd pulled away, and to Dana's surprise, came over to give Dana a hug, "Thank you."
The rest of the night was a good one, and they spent most of it making popcorn for the tree (and eating more of it than they should have), and putting up ornaments, and just generally having a good time.
And not for the first time, Dana thought how much she liked Casey, and liked Lisa with Casey.
She also liked being with Casey herself, but this was something Dana didn't really focus on.
It was almost worth coming to this party just to see the look on Casey's face when Cassie Markowitz walked by. He blinked for a moment, then said mildly, "You know, I never really pictured Ms. Claus with a skirt quite that short."
"Well, I should hope not," Dana shot back, then sighed. "God, I hate holiday-themed parties. Bet you anything there's mistletoe lurking around here, waiting for two unsuspecting, innocent victims to be caught in its web."
Casey blinked at her, but said, "You know, I don't think that's entirely how it's supposed to work."
"Well, that's how it does work," Dana grumbled. "And where's Lisa, anyway?"
Casey looked around. "Um…actually, I have no idea where my girlfriend is." They stepped through a doorway, and sure enough, Lisa was there, chatting with three other people and sipping a beer.
Before they can walk over though, some idiot—Dana knew him by sight, but had no idea what his name was, only that he was some drunken, beefy jerk of a frat boy—pointed at them and called out, "Mistletoe alert!"
Dana froze. "Casey, please do not tell me there is —"
Casey was looking up at the ceiling and saying faintly, "Nope, Dana, I can't tell you that."
Dana followed his gaze and groaned. "I told you. Lurking. And now we're the victims!"
She couldn't help but look at Lisa, who was watching them right back, any hint of her earlier smile wiped off her face. Shit. Lisa pasted the smile back on, but Dana knew, Dana knew that if they did this, if they actually kissed—Lisa wouldn't be okay with it. Some people could laugh it off, but Lisa wasn't one of those people to begin with, and this was Casey, the guy that Dana knew was the first One, the first one that Lisa had ever really been serious about, and if Lisa was actually willing to admit that, that meant it was even more serious than that—
Dana couldn't kiss her roommate's boyfriend at a party in front of a crowd of people. She couldn't. But everyone was watching, and she didn't want to cause a scene—and who the hell would even start the tradition of forcing people to kiss under a plant that was poisonous anyway? What kind of sick humor was that?
"Come on guys! And no kisses on the cheek either, that's cheating."
Dana was about ready to turn tail and just run for it, but then Casey's hands were on her shoulders, and he was turning her around to face him. Dana just stared at him, ready to ask what the hell he thought he was doing—and then he began to lean in, and Dana froze.
And then his lips brushed her forehead gently, and then he was pulling back.
Dana stayed frozen for a moment longer, taking in the catcalls and groans and a few drunken girls calling out to Lisa that her guy was a keeper. Finally, blushing, she met Casey's gaze. "Nice save there." Was it just her imagination, or did she sound a little unsteady?
Casey shrugged, but she thought he was blushing too. "Sudden burst of genius," he admitted. He glanced over at Lisa, who was smiling now, the—relief?—yes, relief on her face obvious.
Dana shook it off. "C'mon, let's go."
When they got over to Lisa, Dana was already ready, grumbling about how mistletoe was actually a parasite that fed off trees, and why and how this tradition had started up, she couldn't tell you. Lisa smiled and laughed at her, and Casey wrapped an arm around Lisa and kept up with Dana's patter, and everything was fine.
Dana made a noise that might have been a whimper as she stretched in her seat.
Casey looked up from his book. "What was that?"
"Nothing," Dana said automatically. "Just...my back hurts a little. Actually a lot."
"It's no big deal though. I'll be fine."
"Want a backrub?" Casey offered next.
Dana blinked, suddenly a little uncomfortable, even if she couldn't pinpoint why. "Thanks for the offer, but I don't actually like backrubs."
Casey looked at her in surprise. "That doesn't even make sense. Who doesn't like a backrub?"
"I don't," Dana said reasonably.
"Well, then you've had really bad backrubs." Casey cocked an eyebrow. "You sure you're going to be all right?"
Dana snorted. "It's not a broken limb, Casey, I'll be fine."
Lisa was worried about Casey, something she was willing to talk about quite often with Dana.
"He's just not dealing," Lisa said impatiently over lunch. "And he's refusing to even consider the idea that it's influencing him—I mean, he got a C-minus on his art history midterm, and he doesn't even care."
Dana blinked. "Casey's taking art history now?"
Lisa gave her a withering look. "That isn't actually the part you're supposed to focus on, Dana." She sighed. "Look, I've tried to talk to him, but...I thought you could give it a shot."
It wasn't that Dana didn't want to keep her word to Lisa, it was that it was proving remarkably hard to do so, because Casey was turning out to be as slippery as a fish. He just kept dodging the issue, so skillfully that Dana was starting to believe it'd be easier to build a homemade rocketship to take to the moon than get Casey McCall to talk about his feelings.
So Dana suggested a study session, hoping that over the works of Rubens and Velazquez, Henry James and Thomas Hardy, Casey would finally open up and talk.
It worked too, even if not in the way she'd originally planned.
"Okay, that's it, come here," Casey ordered after Dana was caught rolling her head around for the third time that night, trying to work out the kinks in her neck.
Dana regarded him suspiciously. "Why?"
"Because I said so," Casey replied, and Dana snorted.
"Casey, that's never worked when my mother has used it, why would you think it would work now?"
"Just...come here," Casey repeated, rolling his eyes. Dana squinted at him, but slid off the chair and sat next to him. What happened next was both a total shock and not—Casey put his hands on her shoulders and started to press.
"What are you—"
"I told you," Casey said matter-of-factly, "—if you don't like backrubs, you haven't gotten a good one."
And Dana didn't know quite what to do here—she had the faint feeling that they were crossing a line of some sort, but Casey's hands felt...felt nice, felt warm and strong and capable, and her back and shoulders had been bothering her for a while.
So she waved a hand and said, "Fine, but if you fracture anything, I'm going to sue you for everything you've got."
Casey laughed and said, his hands still moving, "Great, you're welcome to all my worldly goods. Of course, that's just clothes that wouldn't fit you, nine hundred and fifty bucks, and maybe a few Beatles records."
It became very relaxing after a while. Dana forgot to be uncomfortable or awkward, and began to unselfconsciously sigh, "Oh, right there, please...little higher...yeah."
Casey worked patiently, never suggesting that they take a break or that his hands were tired. And little by little, Dana forgot about the fact that she had nearly fifty more pages to go for her assigned reading, or that she was lying on the not-so-comfortable and probably very dirty floor on her stomach, or that it was her best friend's boyfriend giving her an—admittedly fantastic—backrub.
She felt relaxed and open, and barely noticed when Casey's hands went from massaging to tracing, gently skating up and down her spine. She didn't notice until she did, finally, and then it was like a light switch, something in the air just changed.
In the back of her mind, Dana knew—they had the opportunity to do something very very stupid here, if they let themselves.
Dana pushed herself up on her elbows. "Casey." She looked over her shoulder and asked, "How's your dad doing?"
His hand paused for a moment, and Casey just looked at her, then let his hand drop away, and sat back on his heels. "He's fine."
Dana moved so that she was lying on her side and gave him a look. "Really." And the look was deliberate, because if she had to give Casey a guilt trip over—whatever the hell that moment between them was in order to get him finally talking, then okay, fine.
Casey looked at her for a moment longer, and then looked away. "You know, every year my house is the place to go for Christmas in my family. It's just what we do." He pauses for a moment, then says, quieter, "This is the first year that my mom's seriously considering just canceling it."
"Because of your dad?"
Casey's voice was harder now, an edge of frustration leaking through. "Because despite the fact that my father just had his second heart attack less than a month ago, he still insists on acting like nothing's happened, and right now my mother's too frustrated with him to get into the proper holiday spirit, especially with guests around." His mouth quirked, but not in a smile. "She didn't put it in those exact words, but that was the general gist."
Dana shifted about until she was sitting next to him, cross-legged. Casey glanced at her once more, his hands flexing on his knees as he did so.
"You know," she started, but Casey shook his head.
"Dana, if this is some variation of 'it's all right to be scared' or 'I'm sure everything is going to work out', trust me, Lisa's already said it a million times. I already know."
Dana waited, and then said calmly, "Actually, I was going to tell you it's all right to be angry with your dad."
That got Casey's attention, and he said, "He nearly died, Dana, I don't think that he needs me getting pissed off that he was inconsiderate enough to let his heart nearly give out on him for the second time."
"It's all right to be angry," Dana said smoothly, as if he hadn't spoken at all, "—because you are scared, and you're worried, and that's fine, Casey, it really is." Casey wasn't looking at her now, instead he was staring at his knees like the hieroglyphics of the Rosetta Stone were inscribed on them. "It's okay," Dana said, and going on instinct—like she had been for most of this night—she let her hand sink into his hair, and stroked it gently.
And all of a sudden, the tension seemed to rush out of Casey. His shoulders relaxed, and he leaned into her touch. Which was good, because the tension Dana was feeling was ratcheting up like she couldn't believe, and hell if she knew why, or rather, hell if she wanted to think about why.
Casey's eyes were closed. "Feels nice," he said softly.
Dana cleared her throat. "Want a scalp massage? Seems only fair that we trade, right?" And if her laugh was pitched a little higher than usual, was a little louder than usual, Casey didn't notice at all.
"Yeah, thanks. For—all of it."
Later, when they were walking home, Casey stopped by a Santa ringing a bell for the Salvation Army and stuffed all the bills he had in his wallet in. At Dana's look, he shrugged and said, with the first real smile she'd seen on his face in a while, that it was Christmas and he could stand to gain some good karma.
The situation, Dana felt, was awkward as hell, and she felt in need of a handbook that told her exactly what to do when her two good friends broke up.
Lisa wasn't talking about it much, but she was back to dating assholes again. Dana found herself with very little to say, because Casey was in nearly all their conversations; even when they talked of everything but Casey, he was there anyway.
"Have you? Been hanging out with Casey, I mean."
Dana took a breath, and then turned around. "Yeah. A little."
Lisa nodded sharply and turned back to the pasta. "Okay, that's what I thought."
"Dana, it's fine, I know you two are friends. It's not like I can expect you to break up with Casey just because I did."
Ironically—at least to Dana—being around Casey was a thousand times easier, because while he followed Lisa's rule of never talking about the breakup, her presence was never felt in their conversations. Casey refused to even hint about what had led to the split, not even attempting to justify himself—and he could have easily. Dana had had the unwelcome privilege of seeing the two of them in some nasty fights, and Lisa could get mean when she was provoked.
But Casey never talked about it, or spoke about Lisa, and Dana found that easier than she maybe should have.
But it was just nice, being around Casey. Finals were coming around again, and Dana was in the running for a prestigious internship that she wanted badly, and she was stressed out, and when she got stressed out, Dana could admit that she had the tendency to get a little, well…odd.
Of course, Casey held that Dana was always odd, it was just that during finals, her oddities reached new heights.
"Okay," Casey said carefully as Dana puttered about, "what exactly are you burning this time?"
"I'm making a chocolate soufflé," Dana said loftily. "And you are going to eat it."
Casey nodded as if this were to be expected, but asked, "And just to be clear, when I come down with food poisoning, you're driving me to the emergency room, right?" When Dana glared at him, he burst out laughing, but nicely enough that Dana didn't want to kill him completely. "I'm sorry, Dana, but you have to admit, your skills in the kitchen are a little lacking."
"Oh, and you're so much better."
Casey just shrugged and said, "Well…yeah."
And Dana couldn't really argue with that, so she just snapped her fingers and said, "Hand me that timer, would you? And quit making with the jokes."
Casey shrugged, but did what she asked. And when the soufflé fell—which it always did—he ate it anyway.
But Dana's quirks—and she was self-aware enough to admit that she had them, even if they weren't nearly as bizarre as Casey insisted they were—didn't seem to matter in the long-run, because Casey, despite all his complaining and jibes, took them all in stride. A wrinkle of the forehead, an incredulous half-smile, and then he went with it, be it new meditation techniques that ended up with Dana falling asleep right on the floor and Casey stifling his laughter so she wouldn't wake up, or trying to teach herself how to make complicated desserts—which were dismal failures, every last one of them, with Casey holding the title of official guinea pig, thanks to his cast-iron stomach, something he accepted with grace.
When Dana realized that Casey's breakup with Lisa had actually caused their friendship to become even stronger than before, she blinked twice, then pushed it out of her mind.
"So, who's the lucky guy tonight?" Dana asked absently.
Lisa took a breath. "Cliff Abrams."
Dana's head jerked up at that and she stared. "Wow," she said at last. "And here I thought your taste in guys couldn't get any worse."
Lisa glared at her. "That's not fair."
"It's accurate, though," Dana said flatly. "Lisa—"
"Dana," Lisa said, and she sounded tired and sad, in a way Dana had never heard before, "I'm trying to get over him, okay? And it's not easy, it's not easy at all, not when he was such a good guy that even my best friend wants to hang around him, and not when I'm still—" She shut her mouth quickly, "It's not easy getting over it, and I'm trying, and I would really appreciate a little leeway here."
All Dana could do in response was nod, because what else could she say but, "Okay. Okay."
"Good," Lisa said, although it wasn't, Dana could see now, not at all.
Dana must have felt guiltier than she thought she did, or else why on earth would she have agreed to go on a double date with Lisa, Cliff Abrams, and a guy who had the bad taste to be friends with Cliff Abrams. Then again, Dana was willingly allowing herself to be seen in public with the scumbag, so she couldn't really talk.
"You can't hate him that much," Lisa said tiredly, putting in her earring as she did so.
"He's a self-involved, egotistical, chauvinistic, spoiled-rotten schmuck, Lisa, so yeah, I think I can," Dana shot back, and then the doorbell rang. "Oh, God."
"Just…try to be nice, okay?" Lisa asked.
"Did you ask Cliff the same thing?" Dana groused, but went despite her better instincts.
The good news was the food at the restaurant was delicious. The bad news was…well, everything else about this date. Including the guys they were on it with. Lisa's smile was getting tighter by the minute and Dana was reciting Shakespeare in her head to make the time go by faster.
Finally, it was time to see the movie, and at least there they could be silent, even if Dana's date—David-Michael, and what kind of a name was David-Michael, it sounded like the most pretentious thing she'd heard in her life, just like him—was trying to put his arm around her, and even if Cliff's laugh was a little too loud and braying, at least they didn't have to try and make conversation.
But then they went to a café for coffee, and there, of course, because they had to—things got worse.
Cliff was telling a long story that involved a lot of money, a yacht, and him doing some wonderful thing that had gotten him a medal. Dana was possibly exaggerating here, but not by much. Lisa was nodding and smiling, and David-Michael was humming along to the carol that was playing on the radio, and Dana was wondering if she just hid in the bathroom for the rest of the date, whether anyone would notice.
And of course—of course—because the laws of the universe demanded that whatever would go wrong, would go wrong at exactly the perfectly wrong moment; that was when Casey walked into the café.
Moreover, Casey walked into the café looking, even to Dana's impartial eye, fantastic. Hair ruffled from the wind, cheeks a little pink, looking tall and handsome and relaxed in his dark coat.
Dana could feel Lisa stiffening ever-so-slightly next to her, but she said nothing, and so Dana said nothing. And they just looked, because while Dana wasn't looking at Lisa—she could be damn sure about this: Lisa was looking.
And—again with the predictability—right as Casey got his cup of coffee, he turned and saw them, saw Lisa, saw Lisa with Cliff Abrams of all people, and held their gaze for what felt like an eternity before looking away, looking down at his cup for a moment before turning and walking away without saying a word.
The rest of the date—if you could call it that, torture would be more accurate—was a blur in Dana's memory. All she could remember was the tight look on Casey's face, and the way Lisa sank into the couch once Cliff and David-Michael had left.
When Dana saw Casey again, she'd already prepared what she was going to say if Casey brought that night up, but he didn't, he didn't say a thing, and for the first time, it made things more awkward rather than less, because how could he not bring it up, how could he not say something?
She didn't try to meditate that night, and the macaroni and cheese (neither of them was in the mood for sweets) was woefully undercooked. Casey ate it without complaint.
Two nights later, Lisa went out with Cliff Abrams again.
"Why?" Dana asked, confused beyond belief by all this. "You can't honestly tell me you have fun with him—"
"I don't," Lisa said tightly, trying to get her pumps on. "That's the whole point."
Dana blinked, tried to process this, and failed miserably. "It's just that…you can do so much better. This is Cliff Abrams we're talking about here, you can find a better guy."
Lisa straightened up in her seat. "I did," she said, sounding choked up. "I did. I found the better guy, and look how that ended."
"Oh, honey—" There were tears in Lisa's eyes now, or maybe they always had been there, and Dana just hadn't noticed.
"No," Lisa interrupted, "—no, because Casey was everything I wanted, everything, and I ended up with a broken heart anyway, so why shouldn't I date assholes like Cliff, huh? Why not?"
The doorbell rang, and Dana looked from it to Lisa, helplessly. Lisa waved her hand. "Go. He doesn't like to be kept waiting."
Dana had a sudden memory of Casey happily sitting around for a half-hour while Lisa primped, and the look on his face when she'd finally come down, the way he just lit up. Like the proverbial kid with the Christmas tree.
Dana was suddenly sure, looking down at her, that Lisa was remembering the same thing.
Lisa waved her hand once more. "Go. Dana, please. Just—"
"Okay," Dana said, nodding because it seemed like the thing to do. "Okay. I'll get the door, and you just—finish getting ready." Finish getting ready for a guy who wasn't Casey McCall, who was nothing like Casey McCall in all the ways that mattered.
When the doorbell rang, Dana hoped it was carolers, or traveling salesmen—although traveling salesmen generally did not go door-to-door at this time of night—or anyone but Casey or Lisa, because Dana had had her fill of drama for one night.
It was strange, Dana realized, but she was in this breakup just as much as Lisa and Casey were, if not more—and that should have made sense, because they were her best friends and both of them were hurting, but—
The doorbell rang again, and Dana went to the door, sighing—and it was Lisa, but Lisa like Dana had never seen her before—clearly drunk, to the point where she was actually swaying—and saying brightly, "Can I come in?"
Dana blinked in shock and then automatically moved aside.
"So let me see if I've got this straight," Dana said carefully. "You went to the bar with Cliff, got drunk, and came back here."
Lisa seemed to consider it, and at last said, "No. First I threw my drink in Cliff's face, and then I came here. No, somewhere in between that I also got very drunk." She giggled, and it wasn't a happy giggle.
Dana tilted her head and said at last, "You know, I think I'm going to get you some water."
"Oh, that's all right, Dana," Lisa said, stretching out on the couch, her head on the armrest, her legs tucked in. "You don't have to—"
"Yeah, but in the morning, you'll be glad I did," Dana said, dryly. When she came back with the glass of water, Lisa obediently drank most of it, set it down on the nearby table, and started to giggle again.
"I keep dating these jerks, Dana, and I know they're jerks, but I keep dating them anyway. Why is that?" Lisa asked, still laughing. Dana was alarmed, and with good reason apparently, for the laughter turned to tears, and Lisa was crying on the couch.
Dana gingerly sat down on the couch and rubbed her shoulder. "Hey. Hey, it's all right."
"No, it's not," Lisa said, sounding choked. "It's not all right, because I miss Casey, I miss him so much, and there's nothing I can do about it, because he's gone and it's done, that's it, and it sucks."
Dana rubbed her shoulder some more, at a loss for what to say.
Lisa took a shuddering breath. "And it's not like I don't know why we didn't break up. We just kept fighting—all the time—and I'd say these things, and I wouldn't know why—except I could feel it, I could feel him pulling away, and I couldn't fix it, I couldn't fix any of it—"
Dana ached for her. "Lisa…"
"And you know what the worst part is?" Lisa said with a little laugh, looking up at her. "I've been so jealous of you," and that was surprising, Dana could feel her eyes growing wide, and Lisa nodded as if confirming that yeah, she really had said that. "You can talk to Casey, you can see him and speak to him and hang out with him and I don't even get that, I don't get anything at all, and it's horrible. It's all horrible." She wiped at her face furiously, cleaning off the tears. "Oh, God—ignore this, please. It's the alcohol. I should never drink tequila."
"Or maybe it's just that you miss your boyfriend," Dana said quietly.
Lisa's face crumpled once more, and Dana wished she hadn't said anything. "I do, oh, I miss him so much, Dana, you have no idea how much I miss him. I just kept thinking it would get better and it doesn't, I'm still in love with him and I can't figure out how to stop."
There was more that night, but that was the gist of it. Lisa loved Casey, missed Casey like crazy, and had no idea what to do about it.
Two days later, Dana went back to the scene of the crime—or rather, she went back to the café where she and Lisa had run into Casey. Casey was there, fidgeting in his seat, but he stopped when he caught sight of her.
"Hey, what's going on? Are we doing another study session?"
Dana shook her head as she took off her coat and settled it on the back of her chair. Next was the hat and the scarf, and she fluffed her hair nervously before sitting down across from him. Casey raised an eyebrow but waited until she was settled. "What's going on, Dana?" he asked at last.
Dana took a breath and folded her hands in front of her. "We're friends right?"
Casey looked a little bewildered, but said, "Yeah, of course we are—"
"So, as your friend, I'm going to ask you something, and I need you to not get upset."
Now he looked wary, but said, slowly, "Okay."
She looked him straight in the eye, and asked. "Why did you and Lisa break up?"
Casey looked at her for a moment, then picked up his mug of coffee and took a long drink. He held the cup in his hands for a second before finally meeting her gaze, quickly, before looking away again. "You know why, Dana."
Dana made herself shrug casually. "You know, I actually don't. I know about the fighting, I was even there for a few of those fights, but I don't know how you guys broke up. Or why."
Casey's jaw worked for a second, and he stared down at the table. "Why are you asking me this?"
Dana took a breath, and put her hands on the table. "Because Lisa misses you. And because I think you miss her too."
Casey shook his head. "Dana—" He stopped suddenly, looking frustrated, and said at last, "You think you know what it was like, what we were like, but you don't—you think we were fighting a lot, but we were fighting all the time, and I couldn't figure out how to stop it, and it just…kept getting worse."
Dana nodded and let him continue to talk; she'd thought that Casey didn't want to talk about the breakup, but boy, was she wrong—it was all he wanted to do right now, it seemed, like the words had been building up until he had to utter them or burst from the pressure.
"And it was a nightmare, Dana—because I loved her, I still do—but I couldn't remember why the hell we were even together any more, if we were making each other so miserable." And Casey looked miserable right then, he looked sadder and more tired than Dana had seen him. "So…I ended it."
Dana nodded. "Do you miss her?"
Casey let out a quiet laugh. "All the time. Sometimes…sometimes I pick up the phone to call her, and then I have to put it back, because I forgot that we're not talking."
"Do you still love her?"
Casey paused for a moment, but when he spoke, Dana could hear the truth in it. "Yeah. Yeah, I'm still…I still love her." He looked at her and asked, almost plaintively, "Now what? What am I supposed to do with that?"
"You talk to her," Dana said resolutely—although why she would need to be resolute, Dana didn't know, except that she did. "You talk to her and you—you figure things out together. You're smart people, Casey. You'll work it out."
Casey nodded slowly. "Just like that?"
Dana rolled her eyes, needing to lighten the mood. "Well, yeah, but what do I know? I'm just the person who's been watching both of you drive yourselves crazy over this stupid breakup."
Casey laughed suddenly, then leaned over the small table and kissed her on the cheek. "Thanks, Dana," he said, looking lighter than he had in a long time.
The timer dinged softly. Holding her breath, Dana opened the oven, pulled out the pan—and there it was. The perfect soufflé. Her perfect soufflé of chocolate goodness, looking like something straight out of a cookbook.
Dana started to grin, her excitement mounting, and reached for the phone, ready to call Casey and gloat—
—and just as her hand reached the receiver, Dana remembered that Casey wouldn't be home, that he was out with Lisa on an important date—their first post-breakup date, and Casey probably wasn't even home, or maybe he was there, with Lisa, and they were talking or cuddling or—
Well. Probably not the best time for a phone call then.
Dana sighed, and took her perfect soufflé to her cluttered desk, filled with papers and books, grabbed a fork and a knife, and went back to studying.
On the radio, Ella Fitzgerald was singing about sleigh rides, and snow was gently falling outside the window, and it was going to be a beautiful Christmas, Dana could tell.
"Lisa, do me a favor, and tell your boyfriend to stop being an ass already."
Lisa looked at Dana calmly and asked, "Well, why don't you tell him that yourself?"
"I have," Dana gritted out, "—and you know, I don't remember giving Casey final approval over who exactly I can and cannot date."
Lisa wrinkled her forehead a little, and asked after a moment, "Dana—if you like Dave, then who cares what Casey thinks?" And this was the right way to look at it, Dana knew that, knew that if she liked Dave, then she shouldn't give a crap what Casey McCall thought about him, or about Dana's relationship with him.
But she did care, because Casey was just so judgmental about it, and it made Dana want to smack him on the head.
"Just tell him, okay?"
"I just think you can do better," Casey said in that infuriating way he had, that calm, detached manner that let Dana know that Casey thought she was acting nuts, but was going to humor her anyway.
"Oh, and you're the best judge of what's better," Dana scoffed. "Look, when I want your opinion, Casey? I'll ask for it."
"Come on, Dana, you have to admit the guys you've been dating lately are a little—"
Casey made a face, and Dana was suddenly furious then, although she couldn't explain exactly why, only that she was, she was spitting mad.
"A little what, exactly?"
Casey shrugged. "Well…they're dull."
The hard part, Dana thought to herself morosely as she wandered around the mall, was that Casey was right. Dave was dull. Dull Dave. A nice guy, a sweet guy, but…if he were more interesting, if Dana were more interested in him, she wouldn't be having such a hard time figuring out what to get him for a Christmas present, or figuring out if she even wanted to give him a present.
No, not even that—it was that Dana didn't much care about this dilemma. So she didn't know what to get Dave. So what? Did it honestly matter, when she knew that this relationship would go up in a puff of smoke, just like all her other recent ones.
Lisa held up a dark knit sweater and looked at it appraisingly. "Do you think Casey would look good in this?" she asked.
Dana tilted her head. "Yeah. Wait, you're getting him a sweater, really?"
Lisa raised an eyebrow. "You mean to tell me you don't think Casey's wardrobe could use improvement?"
"Look, Dana—I'm sorry."
Dana said nothing for a moment, because the truth was that she wanted to be angry at Casey for a little bit longer. But here he was, apologizing, and Casey didn't apologize that often, but when he did, he meant it. It was hard to stay mad at someone when they were really and truly sorry for what they'd done. Dana had never managed it, and she wasn't about to master the trick now.
"Look," Casey was saying now, "—you shouldn't let my opinion matter here. As long as you're happy with Dave, what does it matter what I think?" He gave a cute little self-deprecating shrug. "God knows, Lisa and I look crazy from the outside."
Dana's shoulders slumped a little. "That's the thing, Casey. He is dull." She let out a little laugh. "He is, he's dull and boring and we have nothing in common and what am I doing with him?"
If Casey was bewildered by her complete one-eighty, he gave no sign. Instead he looked at her sympathetically. "Dana, if you don't want to be with this guy, then don't."
"It's not that," Dana said, waving her hand. "Dave's just the latest in a trend. I find these guys, no, these test runs—and none of them work out, and I don't know what I'm doing wrong, only that whatever it is, it's apparently huge because every time I try a relationship, it turns into a disaster—"
"Hey," Casey said, looking concerned now and coming over to her. "You're not doing anything wrong."
"Casey, I'm doing everything wrong," Dana said flatly. "Dave's a nice guy and I don't even like him, and I've been dating him for ages anyway—"
"Just because he's a nice guy isn't reason enough to date him. You tried, and it's not working out. Dana, that's not your fault."
"No?" Dana moved to the couch, tucking her feet underneath her. Without hesitation, Casey sat down next to her. "I mean…there's you and Lisa. And okay, maybe your relationship looks a little nutty, but you've been dating each other for three years. You're committed, you're in love…and here I am, hopping from one guy to the next, and they're all duds."
Casey smiled, and threw a comforting arm around her shoulders. "So you wait until you find that guy who isn't a dud. Whatever it is you're looking for, Dana, you'll find it eventually. Just give it some time."
Dana looked up at Casey, and the thought came unbidden, yet fully formed. I think I'm looking for a guy like you.
The door banged open, and Lisa bustled in, her arms filled with shopping bags. "Oh, man, you won't believe the sales that are going on right now, it's practically robbery, only legal—" She stopped and stared at them, and it took Dana a second to realize that Casey's arm was still around her shoulders.
Feeling awkward—although why, Dana didn't know—she shrugged Casey's arm off, and stood up. "Here, let me help with that."
Lisa blinked, then handed one over. "Thanks," she said, although the response seemed automatic. She was looking from Dana to Casey and asked, "So, what were you two talking about?"
Casey grinned, and he seemed to be the only one of them who wasn't feeling awkward right then. "Dana's love life," he said easily.
"He means we've been talking about my crappy dating record," Dana corrected.
"Oh," Lisa said, then agreed, "Well…it is pretty crappy, Dana."
"Says the girl who dated Cliff Abrams," Dana shot back without thinking, and immediately wished she could take it back, knowing somehow it wasn't the right thing to say.
"She has a point, Lise," Casey said lightly, easing the sudden tension in the room. "But then again, at least Cliff wasn't dull. An ass, but not dull." He blinked and seemed to take in the shopping bags for the first time. "Holy crap, Lisa, did you leave anything in the store?"
"Considering one of these is your Christmas present, I wouldn't talk," Lisa said tartly, and Casey tried to open one of the bags, and got a slap on his hand for his pains.
"We should do this more often," Dana murmured, watching as Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds kissed on the TV screen, the music swelling in a crescendo.
"Get drunk on margaritas and watch musicals?" Lisa asked rhetorically. "Yeah, absolutely."
"Hey, it's the best Friday night I've had in a while," Dana laughed, turning the TV off. She slumped against the couch, feeling boneless and relaxed. Lisa turned on the cassette player, and as Dana listened to the lyrics of the latest Christmas carol, she started to laugh out loud. "Grandma got run over by a reindeer," she sang softly, and Lisa started to laugh too.
"I can't believe there's a song about Santa committing vehicular homicide," she said, and Dana laughed even harder.
"I can't believe you can still say words like 'vehicular homicide' with all the drinks we've had tonight," Dana said, and Lisa grinned.
"What can I say? It's a gift," she said lightly.
Dana cleared her throat, because something has to be said, and now was as good a time as any. "Hey—about earlier—I shouldn't have said that, about Cliff, it was—well, I shouldn't have said it," she finished awkwardly, and Lisa said nothing for a moment.
"It's all right," Lisa said at last, and Dana sat up, feeling like she had to get this off of her chest.
"No, it's just—I've been going a little nuts over this whole Dave thing, and what it says about me, and I said without thinking, and—and I shouldn't have. Especially not in front of Casey, so…I'm sorry."
Lisa nodded. "Do you know why I dated guys like Cliff for so long?" she asked idly, fiddling with the hem of her turtleneck.
Dana shook her head, feeling a little bit like she was moving underwater, too slow to feel quite real.
"Before Casey, it was because I didn't know what it was that I wanted, and it seemed as good a way as any to pass the time until I did figure it out. And after Casey—" Dana knew what Lisa meant by this, she meant during the breakup that wasn't— "I dated guys like Cliff, not because I didn't know what I wanted, but because I did, and I just thought I couldn't have it anymore." Lisa looked at Dana. "What about you? Why are you dating guys like Dull Dave?"
Dana sighed. "I don't know. I guess…I have this idea of what I'm looking for, and I keep thinking I've found it, and then it turns out that they're not what I'm looking for at all."
Lisa nodded. "Would...would you say you're looking for a guy more like Casey?"
Dana snapped her fingers. Or tried to at least, but it didn't quite succeed. "Yeah, exactly. I need to find a guy like Casey."
"Well, when I find another guy like Casey, I'll let you know."
Dana, still not realizing—as she would later—that there was something subtly wrong in this conversation, said idly, "It's too bad that Casey isn't a twin, huh? Or even if he had a brother, that'd be something."
Lisa picked something off her shoulder, saying as she did so, "Yeah, it's a real shame." She looked over at Dana and said, "Come on, we should probably get you to bed."
Dana listened, and eventually went to bed, and in the morning when she woke up with the worst hangover in history, she didn't remember what happened for a while. And when she did remember, she tried to convince herself that nothing really awful had been said, it had all been very innocent, and of course Lisa wouldn't look at it oddly. There was nothing to look oddly at, after all.
Dana wished she could convince herself of this. It would make things so much easier. But she couldn't, and it wouldn't be easier, it wouldn't be easy at all, she knew now. Something was changing, they were changing, and Dana didn't know when it was going to stop, or what it would look like when it did.
The ring was all anyone could talk about. Not what are you doing for Christmas or have you gotten all your shopping done or are you going anywhere special this year? Nope, it was all talk about the ring.
Everyone agreed it was gorgeous and tasteful and perfectly lovely and all they could ask was have you two picked out a date and when did he pop the question and have you two decided where you're going to live?
Dana had a few questions to ask, the first one being along the lines of no, seriously, what are the two of you thinking, are you nuts? But she held her tongue, held it because Casey looked so happy and Lisa looked so happy and they looked good together, and because the name Lisa McCall just tripped right off the tongue and really—they'd been together since freshman year, it was a little ridiculous to say she hadn't seen it coming.
"How'd your parents react when you told them?" Dana asked.
Casey grinned. "Well, they're a little worried, because they think we're so young—" and it really did take everything Dana had not to say, of course they're worried, you are too young for this, you're twenty-two and you're already decided to get married, Casey, are you nuts?
She held it in. She was getting really good at that.
"—but they love Lisa, so I'm sure they'll get used to the idea." Casey looked so happy that Dana hated to say anything, but she had to, suddenly, or else go crazy.
"Casey—are you sure you want to get married? It's just—this all seems so fast—"
Thankfully, he didn't take offense, just said, "Dana—I've never been more sure of anything in my life," and really, there was no argument you could make to that.
Of course, Lisa was on cloud nine. She'd always been one of those girls who had been planning their wedding since they were kids, and was always on the phone with her mom and her sisters, talking about dresses and flower arrangements and locations—should it be Casey's hometown or hers, could they afford a destination wedding—
Dana couldn't rationally explain why she was so irritated by all this wedding talk, but she was, she was horribly irritated, which was awful of her when these were her two best friends, engaged, ready to be married—and yet, if Dana heard one more word about anything to do with weddings, she thought she was going to scream.
And she didn't know why she was so opposed to this, when Casey and Lisa had been Casey-and-Lisa for years now, when for almost as long as she'd known them, there had been Casey-and-Lisa, but she was, she was. She was opposed, because they were all working crappy jobs that barely paid enough money to keep themselves together, because they were all so young, because the word marriage was so adult, so horribly final—
Because everything was changing, faster than Dana could adjust to, and she didn't know how to adjust to this too.
Dana couldn't remember the last time she'd seen Lisa without a bridal magazine in her hand.
"You know, in a way, the bridesmaid dresses are even trickier than my dress," Lisa mused. "It's so hard to find a dress that will flatter everyone—I've been thinking about blue." She looked up and gave Dana a quick smile. "Don't worry, the color I'm thinking about will go great with your hair. I'm not going to be one of those brides who makes her friends get into those fluffy awful monstrosities," she added, with a laugh.
Dana smiled, because it was the thing to do, but she was picturing it in her head, the three of them—and it had always been the three of them, until now—standing up there in the church, the minister or the priest—Casey was Lutheran, and Lisa had been raised Catholic—saying until death do you part and Dana just standing there, watching and listening—
She couldn't see it.
But Dana smiled at Lisa anyway, and said, "That's a relief. God knows I don't want to be walking down the aisle looking like a lime-green pastry."
Somehow, without realizing it, whenever Dana was asked to think about who her best friend was, it was Casey who sprung to mind. Which was strange—if you'd asked her five years ago who her best friend was, it would have been Lisa, no question.
But even though Casey sprung to mind, they weren't best friends, not exactly. Dana's feelings toward Casey were—complicated. She liked him, respected him, he was a huge part of her life—but they weren't technically best friends, at least not according to the definition of friendship she'd always had in her brain.
Which was, if you thought about it, really odd.
"Dana, I'm sorry, but I'm not getting why you're so upset here," Kyle said patiently. "Haven't Casey and Lisa been dating for six years now?"
"Five," Dana corrected, "—and come on, Kyle, they're twenty-three, you really think they're ready to get married?"
"It doesn't really matter what I think, Dana—I barely know them," Kyle pointed out, and she hated how reasonable he sounded; it made her feel very unreasonable. "And for the record—yeah, I think it's a little nuts, but come on, Mom and Dad got married when they were twenty, and that turned out all right."
"That's different," Dana protested, except how it was different she couldn't really articulate, only that it was.
"How?" Kyle asked. "Look, the way I figure is that some people are just ready when they're ready, and that's it. Have you tried talking to them about it?"
"I can't," Dana explained. "Lisa's over the moon and so is Casey—what am I supposed to do, say, 'I'm sorry, but I think you guys are rushing into this and you're not ready to get married?'"
"Yeah," Kyle said, "—pretty much."
Dana hadn't been dating anyone for a few months now, and she really didn't mind. There were opportunities, of course—but Dana wasn't looking for another Dave, and that seemed to be the only type of guy she was meeting nowadays.
Lisa said she was being too picky, but Dana insisted she just had standards.
Except now she was starting to wonder exactly what kind of standards she had.
She was starting to wonder how every guy she met never seemed to fit—and how she could never articulate why, just that they would never meet some arbitrary standard in Dana's head—except it wasn't arbitrary, Dana realized with growing horror, not when she was silently comparing all those guys to Casey and finding them lacking, maybe because none of them were like Casey, they weren't like Casey at all—and since when had Casey McCall become the standard by which she judged all potential boyfriends?
Thanks to Kyle's ideas of honesty and frankness, Dana did end up spilling out her concerns to Lisa eventually—and it didn't go well, just like she'd thought. Actually, it went about a thousand times worse than she'd ever thought it could go, starting with Lisa's reaction, which was completely out of left field.
Lisa had just looked at her when Dana had finally come to a fumbling halt and asked, shaking her head slightly, "Why are you saying all this?"
Dana was at a loss for words for a moment, and said at last, "I—wanted to be honest—"
Lisa stood up, getting off the couch, the couch that they'd shared for four years. "Dana—I don't know what this is, but honest isn't—this isn't honest, it's—why are you doing this, Dana? I've never been more sure about a decision in my life and you come here and try to—"
Dana gaped at her; she hadn't thought this conversation would go this bad. "Lisa, I'm not trying to do anything, I'm just…as a friend, I want to give you my honest, objective opinion about this."
Lisa's arms were folded now, defensive, seething. "If there's one thing you're not, Dana, it's objective." There was a twist, a sneer to the last word that made Dana angry.
"Well, all right then, you tell me why I would be here, having this painfully awkward conversation with you, if it was out of anything but concern. You tell me what I'm doing here then."
Lisa just stared at her for a long, long moment, seeming almost…helpless. And then she answered Dana with another question.
"Do…do you want Casey?"
Dana's mouth fell open, then she burst out, nearly tripping over the words, "No—Lisa, of course I'm not doing anything with Casey, why would you even—"
"I didn't ask if you were doing anything with him, Dana, give me a little credit," Lisa snapped out, the words now precise, harsher. "I asked you if you wanted to."
And now, Dana's mouth was still open, but this time she couldn't think of anything to say.
And for a second, all she could see was the open hurt on Lisa's face, before it closed over and shut down. "Well. That answers that."
"Don't," Lisa said sharply. "I really do not want to hear it, Dana, I don't. Not a word." She started to pace around, gesturing with her hands. "I tried to ignore it, I thought I was making things up—I really tried, Dana, but I'm about to get married here and I don't know how to ignore this anymore."
"Lisa, you have to know that I would never—"
"That's not the point!" Lisa snapped out. "The point is that you want to—my God, Dana, he's just proposed to me. We're going to get married." Her shoulders slumped as she finished, "How long am I supposed to wait for you to get over this stupid crush?"
Nothing would—or could—come out of Dana's mouth now. Because here was the kicker, the feelings were there, she couldn't deny them anymore—and apparently she'd been in twelve kinds of denial for years now, if she was just realizing this crucial fact because Lisa, of all people, was calling her on it.
Lisa was pacing again, clearly agitated as she gestured with her left hand, the hand with Casey's ring on it, and Dana felt a burst of shame. Without meaning to, she'd screwed everything up. "I don't—what am I supposed to do here?" She looked at Dana and said at last, "You wouldn't do anything, I know that. And God knows Casey wouldn't—"
"He wouldn't. I wouldn't," Dana said, low and urgent, because when everything had turned topsy-turvy, she and Lisa could both rely on this crucial fact. She would never, and Casey would never.
"Tell me you're going to get over this, Dana," Lisa said.
Dana nodded. "Of course. I will, I promise you, I just—I didn't realize what I was doing," she said, and it sounded weak, sounded like an excuse, except it was the truth—had to be the truth—and because Lisa was nodding now, accepting it.
Lisa took several deep breaths. "All right. Okay, we can—we can move past this, now that it's at least out there in the open, we can deal with this, and go forward." And Dana wasn't sure if that was the truth—she couldn't imagine moving forward, when all she felt was stuck—but Lisa seemed sure, sure enough for them both, which would have to be enough.
Dana wanted to believe that Lisa was right, so she did.
"Dana, this is the year I'm going to teach you how to cook," Dana's mom said with satisfaction.
"Mom, you say that every year."
"Well, this year I'm going to actually get it done. You've gotten out of college and you're making your way in the world—it's about time you learned how."
"Do you really want our memories of this Christmas to be about the food poisoning I gave everyone?" Dana asked and was rewarded—or insulted—with her mother's wary look.
"We'll start after Christmas Day," her mom decided, with a pat to Dana's shoulder.
It was easier, when the contact between Dana and Casey and Lisa was limited to phone calls and sporadic letters. It was easier, because with space came a decrease in guilt—guilt over what, when nothing had even happened, would never have happened, Dana didn't know—but the guilt was there all the same.
Casey had gotten a job in New Hampshire and was working hard, was happy from all accounts. He sent over the articles he wrote, and Dana knew, just like she'd known in college, that this guy was going to turn into something amazing, was going to do something amazing. It was all there, all she had to do was wait and see.
Most of the updates came from Casey. Lisa was still—distant, but Dana couldn't blame her, not when she couldn't find the words to bridge the widening gulf. It made sense that Lisa couldn't find it either.
So they let Casey travel the gulf for them both, and it worked out fine.
They were all settling down to dinner—not the big Christmas dinner, but a big one all the same—when Dana got the phone call from New Hampshire, and it was Lisa's voice on the other end, not Casey's.
"Hey," Dana said at last, surprised and pleased.
"Hey," Lisa said. "Just—thought I'd call, see how things are going over at your house."
"Oh, they're going great," Dana said, hearing how high and artificial her voice sounded, and hating it. "So far, my brothers have managed to break one vase, three dishes, and a mug that's been around since the late '60s, but I expect the count to rise."
Lisa's laughter was welcome, and it was easier than Dana thought to relax, to remember that Lisa had been a close friend too, was still a close friend, despite—despite everything.
They ended up chatting easily about her and Casey's plans for Christmas—
"No, I think we're staying in New Hampshire, actually—you know it's our first Christmas together and everything…yeah, I'm trying to get Casey to learn the proper way to carve turkey and ham. Of course, he just thinks you can hack at it with a knife and it'll be fine, forget about the presentation—"
—and who was coming over; apparently she and Casey were having a full house this year.
"Well, his parents for sure, my parents are still wavering—a couple of my friends from town, oh, and Casey's bringing over this new coworker of his from the newspaper. Practically a kid—no, he is a kid—his name's Danny, and he and Casey have hit it off like you wouldn't believe, it's actually pretty cute to watch, like they share a brain sometimes."
"Holy crap," Dana said, "—how are you planning to feed all of them?"
Lisa just laughed. "I have my ways, don't worry. But if you call after December 26th and find that I've been taken to the nice padded cell with the men in lab coats, don't be surprised."
It was a good conversation, a really good one, and Dana came back from the phone with a clear sense of relief—relief that nothing had been damaged beyond repair, after all—that they could be all right, were all right, that her brief moment of insanity hadn't ruined things for good.
They'd be all right again, and things could go back to the way they were before—no, better, because now Dana was smart enough now to not let herself go places she really shouldn't.
Kyle came in, humming a Christmas carol under his breath, and Dana laughed once she realized what it was.
"You know, I don't think there should be Christmas carols about Santa committing vehicular homicide," she told him, and Kyle grinned at her.
"Hey, it's a catchy song," he protested. "Sing the chorus with me."
And so Dana did.