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Hothouse Flowers

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Act 1

==> Be John

It's past her bedtime, you know, and part of you feels like a terrible father, but these are special circumstances. Honestly, who gives up on a game of Monopoly before it's officially over? That would just be silly.

Well, that's what Casey says.

She yawns wide, blinking a little too slowly and swaying in her seat. You need to move your little silver iron forward, landing on her hotel and probably losing the game. Okay, maybe you're being a little financially creative in this, but you know she wouldn't let you give up. You have to get her to sleep somehow.

"Daaaaaaaad. You owe me money." She reaches, grabbing and missing the colorful cash by a couple of inches and slipping dangerously close to the edge of her chair. You hold her steady, planting the bills in her hand and closing her fingers around them. With some effort she tucks them under her edge of the game board; she doesn't have the energy to count them or sort them.

"I think this means you win, Caseadoodle."

"Mmm." She's blinking more slowly now. "You're not letting me, are you?"

"Case! What kind of scoundrel do you take me for?" She smiles through her struggle for consciousness, yawning heavily while you start packing up the board.

"You are! The game's not over." She runs a hand lazily over the die, fumbling with it until she can roll to take her turn. You manage to snatch the piece off the board before she can move it.

"It's time to sleep. You can't even keep your eyes open."

She blinks, forcing her eyes open and focusing too hard on the board. Her shoulders hunch over and she squints with the effort, peering too close to the board and nearly whacking her head on the table. She looks like you when you forget your glasses, and you reach over to cover her eyes before she hurts herself.

"Mmph!" She pulls your hand off her face, planting it on top of her head instead. "This goes faster when we have more people."

"Well, we could have gone over to see Dave and Jade…" you pat her slowly, feeling her fine yellow hair smooth out after a day of playtime. You wish you knew a little more about how to brush it.

She shakes her head, suddenly energetic again. "No. Their place is scary and we're not going. They should come here."

It takes a lot of effort to get Casey over to the Strider-Harley apartment these days. Doesn't matter how many years have passed, every time she worries that she'll walk in to see a broken mess and a bleeding Dave. You're not sure you can blame her, but it's much harder to reconcile your little family when Casey hates visiting their house.

You still miss Jade sometimes. You two formed a bond of sorts, fighting through all that misery together. Or maybe it's a bond that was always there, just waiting to be tested. Now she has her husband back, and you still have your daughter, and you can pretend that it's only once in a while that you find yourself waiting impatiently by the phone for her lunchtime call.

Casey finally found Jade's airsoft gun ("Did you really have to hide it, Dad?"), and you've been doing your best to train her with it. She insists that you're not doing it right, because Jade told her to always shoot on the exhale and you hold your breath when you fire. You know she's probably right, but the two of you have fun shooting at soda cans anyway.

Casey tucks her head into your chest, and you dread the day when she'll think she's too old for this. "Can you make them come visit us instead? And mom. Mom never does." She snuggles into your armpit, already half-asleep. "She was the best monopoly-er ever."

"Mom visits when she can. And you know she adores you."

"Mmm. I dunno. I don't think she likes me very much."

"What are you talking about? Your mom loves you more than anything. Kanaya too."

Casey sighs. "They love me. But they don't like me. I get in the way."

You pull her tighter, because you have no idea what to say to that. You wish you could tell her it's a lie and she should never, ever worry, but you sometimes think Rose feels the same way about you.

"…If she doesn't like you, she's missing out. I think I got the better end of the deal here."

You can feel Casey shift her face into your side, and the corner of her grin spreads just far enough for you to see it. "No kidding. We're awesome and going out with mom is, like, the most boring thing ever. She just talks about books and never wants to play games."

"Maybe next time we can bring Monopoly?" you offer, and she seems pleased. At least pleased enough to allow you to pick her up and carry her to the bedroom.

"Mmm. And Clue because Aunt Jane likes it, and Adam has to come play too."

"And Dave and Jade?"

"Aunt Jade and Uncle Dave can come too. But we have to keep an eye on them. Dave cheats."

You laugh, adjusting her in your arms. She's getting big, and you think you might be getting old. You're just about ready to pass out yourself, but you're not cruel enough to make a half-sleeping eight-year-old climb the stairs on her own.

She mumbles something into your sweatshirt. "What was that, Casemaster?"

Her eyes are half-lidded when she tries to look up at you. "And you can't ever give up. You have to play until the game is over." A yawn. "Those are the rules."

Her bed looks almost as inviting to you as it must to her. Your bones creak under strain as you set her down, and she barely manages to pull her socks off before curling up under the covers.

"Do you want CK?" Her big red squiddle is at the foot of her bed, and you make him tap dance for her at the edge of her pillow.

"Dad. I'm way too old for CK now. He was for when I was little." You have to choke back a laugh, trying not to remind her that she's still only four feet tall.

"Alright, Casosaurus. Love you higher than the sky."

She wrinkles her nose at you, but she's a little too tired to hold back her grin. "Love you stronger than the wind." With a click, you turn out the light next to her, and make sure to take her reading light from her bedside table. You're not going to have her sneaking out of bed again.

You press a kiss to her forehead, wondering not for the first time today how it's possible that this warm, perfect little kid could ever have anything to do with you. She's beautiful and smart like her mom, full of energy like her Aunt Jade and sharply sarcastic like her Uncle. Where you come into play you can't seem to figure out, but you think you're just lucky to be around.

If Rose really doesn't want custody, she must be completely insane. You can't think of any reason you might have to ever waste a minute that you could spend with her.

In a moment of exhausted weakness, you open your phone.

- ectoBiologist [EB] began pestering tentacleTherapist [TT] at 23:41 –

EB: rose?

EB: hey, casey's school gets out in a couple of months. think you could plan a longer visit? maybe a week or two...

EB: i think she'd be really happy to see you.

EB: doesn't look like you're online anyway.

EB: :(

TT: I'm here. Sorry. Kanaya needs some help with fabric choices.

EB: right. so, about that whole coming to see us thing?

TT: I'll be visiting soon. Roxy's party, remember?

EB: are you actually going to stop by to visit though?

TT: Are you insinuating that I would be in the area and ignore our daughter?

EB: ...

TT: John. Just because I am busy does not mean I don't care about Casey's well being. I am going to be there as often as I can.

EB: i know. but she misses you.

TT: I miss her too. Is she asleep already?

EB: yeah.

TT: I'll call at an earlier time as soon as I have the chance. I'd like to speak with her.

EB: could you? i think she'd like that.

TT: Of course. Until next time.

EB: okay. goodnight!

TT: Goodnight.

- tentacleTherapist [TT] ceased pestering ectoBiologist [EB] at 23:57 –

In the moment it takes you to lean your head against the door frame, you realize that you have heard this all before. It's the same routine, with some vague future phone call promised that never comes and another present that Casey will never use.

Well, with any luck this will be the time that Rose is serious. You can keep hoping anyway. Until then, you'll wait on Dave and Jade to play Monopoly and bring out an old checkers set in the meantime.