"It's the end of the world, Cappie. What are you going to do?"
And Ashleigh looked at him expectantly and he knew she already had the scene written out. It would be a romantic ending worthy of at least a solid week of discussion at the Zeta Beta house. He'd rush up to Casey, tell her he loved her, and they'd kiss. The credits would roll and they'd live happily ever after.
But it wasn't the end of the world. Not really. And the way Cappie saw it, it wasn't about who you wanted to be with on your last day on Earth. It was easy to make those declarations. To choose someone when you didn't have to face a tomorrow.
The question was who you wanted to be with on laundry night. Who you wanted to drag to the end of year party when the beer money was gone and the house was a mess. Who you wanted to be with on the most ordinary of days.
Cappie knew who he wanted to be with. He'd known since freshmen year. He didn't need a manhole or the end of the world to tell him that. He wanted to be with Casey, even when she was nagging him, even when she was going insane over some sorority conflict.
But she didn't want him. Not all of him. She might think she did, after a near-death scare and too many months with Max, but soon enough she'd wise up and remember he was the same guy she dumped three years ago.
When he told that to Ashleigh, she called him an idiot.
Well, at least it was better than douche.
"Did you . . . do something to my sister?" Rusty asked the next day. Cappie hadn't yet left the KT house. There were too many places where he might run into Casey. Much better to lie on the couch and let the world move on without him. Let her move on without him.
"No, I didn't do anything to your sister," Cappie said.
"Because Max said she broke up with him because of you."
"Has anyone ever told you that your obsession with your sister's love is a little creepy?"
"Okay, what about my big brother's love life?" Rusty asked, coming to sit down next to him.
"Nothing happened, Spitter."
"So Casey all of a sudden decided to dump Max for no reason?"
"You'd have to ask her about that."
"Fine, I will."
"Wait!" Cappie reached out and grabbed Rusty's wrist. "Don't ask her."
"You did do something to her!"
"What? Do you really have that little trust in me?"
"Then why won't you tell me what happened?"
Cappie sighed and ran his fingers through his hair. "Look, your sister had some kind of spur of the moment 'epiphany' and deluded herself into thinking she actually wanted to be with me."
"And nothing." Cappie looked away, not wanting to meet Rusty's eyes.
"That . . . doesn't make any sense."
"If she really wanted to be with me, it wouldn't have have taken a manhole fall for to realize it."
"That's just Casey," Rusty said. "Sometimes she misses the obvious. I'm the smart one, she's the popular one, remember?"
But Casey had never been dumb. She knew what she wanted and she knew how to get it. He'd never been a part of that plan, of the life she wanted for herself. She needed an Evan or a Max. Someone who would complete the picture of the perfect, ambitious couple on the rise.
"So that's it?" Rusty said. "You've wanted her all this time and now you're just going to . . . turn her down?"
"Please stop talking about your sister's love life."
"You're an idiot."
"Haven't you seen around lately."
Cappie looked up from paying for his coffee to see Evan standing next to him. For a moment, he was lost in time, and couldn't remember if he and Evan were the best of friends or the worst of enemies. Then Evan held out a fist for him to bump and they were back in that in-between place. Not quite friends, but no longer hating each other.
"You know how it goes," Cappie said, as he sipped his coffee. "Things to take care of, parties to throw."
"Aren't the KTs still on suspension?" Evan paid for his coffee and the two of them moved off together and headed toward the main campus.
"Parties to plan then."
Evan gave him a look. "Is . . . everything okay?" he asked.
"What could possibly be wrong with me?" Cappie asked, giving Evan his best grin.
Evan smiled a little. "That act never worked on me. Remember?"
Not when they were freshmen or kids at camp, but over the past couple of years, yes, it had worked on Evan. He'd believed Cappie's carefree facade. Or maybe he just stopped caring enough to look deeper. "I know we declared a truce or whatever," Cappie said, "but you don't want to hear this one."
"Come on," Evan said. "What could I possibly not want to hear? After everything we've fought over--Oh."
"So Casey . . . what? Broke your heart again?" Cappie didn't answer. "It isn't freshmen year, Cap. Casey and I are long over with."
"And so are we."
Evan shook his head. "Don't tell me you're finally giving up on her. Not after trying to get her back the entire time I was dating her.
"Sorry about that."
"Sorry about stealing her from you."
Cappie snorted. "Casey's not really the type who can be stolen."
"That's not what you said back then."
"Well, I was very young and stupid."
"And now you're . . . ?"
"Not-so-young." Cappie paused. "Maybe more stupid."
"So you're not going to tell me what happened?"
"Do you know why we broke up?"
"I really don't need to hear about your and Casey's relationship."
"Spoken like a man who has zero interest in her."
Cappie shrugged. Maybe he would never be able to hear about Casey and someone else. It was hard to imagine a time when it wouldn't hurt. And it was his fault, all of it, from the first break up to turning her down. All his fault, his decision.
"Do you know why?" Evan asked again.
"Well, I assumed it had something to do with you cheating on her. Smooth move there, buddy."
"If you'll recall, you helped her get back at me for that?"
And he shouldn't have done that, either. There were a lot of things he shouldn't have done and maybe more he should've done. But seeing Casey playing pool at the out-of-the-way bar he'd introduced her to . . . he wasn't strong enough to walk away. So much had changed since then.
"But it wasn't just then, was it?" Evan asked. "You kissed her."
"You know about that?"
"Broke up with her because of it."
"Then I'm sorry for that, too."
Evan smiled. "It's old history, Cap. Point is, we broke up because of you. And now I hear she's single again."
Ashleigh's words from the week before echoed in Cappie's ears: And she's going to break up with the next guy because of you, and the guy after that . . .
"That's her choice."
"And your's is . . .?"
"Mine is . . . " Cappie sighed, and looked across campus. There were plenty of women around. Plenty who would appreciate his attention. Who wouldn't ask him to be more than he was. "Mine is to stop talking to you about this."
"You're an idiot if you don't at least try."
What Cappie did try and succeed at was avoiding Casey. He'd attended most of the women's studies classes during the first half of the semester, so he figured he'd done his duty there. Both academically and . . . otherwise. There wasn't anything worth going back for.
He knew Casey wouldn't show up at the KT house again and he avoided Rusty's apartment. Giving up Dobler's hurt, but there was always Gentlemen's Choice. That left a small chance he'd run into her on campus, but he'd spent three years plotting to run into her, so it wasn't hard to flip that around and stay out of her way.
Once he saw her sitting at a table with Ashleigh and Rebecca. The other two were laughing, but Casey just stared off into the distance. Ashleigh said something to her, and Casey shook her head, and then gathered her books and left. Ashleigh and Rebecca watched her go, and then put their hands together. After a while, Ashleigh shrugged, and they went off in the same direction as Casey.
It was the first time he'd seen her since the party.
Hurt worse than seeing her with Evan. Then it was his fault, but at least she was happy. Now it was his fault and she--but she was better off without him. Soon enough, she'd find someone new, and then maybe, maybe they could be friends again. Or if friendship was an impossibility, at least Greek events would be slightly less awkward.
"Are you stalking her now?"
Cappie closed his eyes and winced. He probably should've considered that in his plans. Avoid Casey and avoid her ex.
"You should really see someone about this little obsession of yours."
Max was more vicious than Cappie had realized. But then being dumped by Casey Cartwright did strange things to you.
"I know she broke up with me because of you," Max continued. "What did you say to her?"
"What do you think I said to her?" Cappie asked. He was exhausted. He'd finally decided to be done with Casey and now he couldn't escape her. Once upon a time, he would've used that as evidence that the universe wanted them to be together. Now he figured the universe just wanted to torture him.
"I don't know, but we were just fine until I saw the two of you getting out of that closet!"
Cappie sighed. "I'm not the person you should be having this conversation with. You want Casey, go get her. I promise to stay away. Have fun." He moved his bag further up his shoulder. "For what it's worth, I told her to stay with you."
Something changed in Max's face. "Why would you tell her that?"
"You might be a douche, but you're a good guy."
"And you're not?" Max stared at Cappie like he was one of his experiments. Like there was something to discover.
"Me?" Cappie laughed. "I am everything you ever thought I was. Unambitious. Childish. Dumb. Cal Tech won't be giving me any grants to turn down."
"She doesn't think so."
"Yes, she does."
"She defended you," Max said. He sighed. "Look, Cappie, it doesn't matter what I think, but you should at least know she doesn't think those things about you. And you're an idiot if you think she doesn't love you."
"So. The general campus consensus is I'm an idiot." He dropped his books on the table and took his seat across from the woman of his dreams. It had taken half an hour, but he'd finally tracked Casey down at an out of the way table behind the science building.
"You're not an idiot, Cap," Casey said softly. But she kept her eyes on her book and didn't put her highlighter down.
"Not according to your best friend, your brother, and your ex-boyfriends."
"You've never cared what anyone thinks."
"I care what you think."
"I think you should tell me what you want."
"For starters, how about you looking at me?"
Casey put down her pen, closed her book, and folded her hands. And only then did she meet his eyes. "What do you want?"
Cappie reached across the table and took her hands in his. "I want you to want me."
"I do. Cappie, I lo--"
"How do I know you're not going to dump me for the same reasons you did before?"
"How do I know you're not going to dump me? There are no guarantees. Isn't that how you live your life? Karmic synergy? Let things work themselves out."
Cappie shook his head. "That's not you. You need to have a plan."
"No, I need someone to remind me I don't always need one." She hesitated. "And maybe you need someone to remind you that it's okay to think about the future sometimes."
She'd tried to tell him that freshman year. She was so focused on the future, on getting the best possible life for herself. When he'd refused to be included in that, she moved on without him. Stopped including him in her plans.
"It's been a month, Cappie. I haven't changed my mind."
Cappie stroked her fingers, his thumb running over hers, and heard her take a sharp breath. He'd never thought being offered everything he wanted would be so hard.
He had no answers. No glib remarks. Let the others call him an idiot and a douche, but all that mattered was what he thought. What he wanted.
Then Casey withdrew her hands from his and he remembered that it wasn't just about him. She'd chosen him first, not Evan. She'd gone along with it every time he tried something. He'd given all the power to her, and now she'd handed it back to him.
It had been a month.
Four weeks after her manhole fall, she still wanted him. She couldn't promise she'd want him in ten years, but it was more than he ever had before. He couldn't walk away.
All he said was her name, but it was enough.
He'd never seen anything as beautiful as her answering smile.