“I’m very sorry, Margot.”
“It’s okay. We’re not actually related, anyway.”
- The Royal Tenenbaums.
“Let’s go to Mexico.”
Casey looks over her shoulder, only a bit disdainfully. “Mexico.”
“Yeah.” He sits up. “I can totally speak Spanish now.”
“No, you can’t.” She bends down and snags her shirt from the floor, pulls it over her head in one smooth motion. “And don’t be ridiculous. We can’t go to Mexico.”
“What’s stopping us?” He hates the way she can get dressed so quickly, the wide expanses of skin disappearing beneath cotton and polyester (he can pretend that her body is his to examine whenever he pleases, but only for a little while). “We’re young. I have a car, you have gas money.” He sits up, tries to grin, but shivers instead. “Let’s just go.”
“We can’t.” She stands in front of the mirror on his door and pulls her hair back, sees the scraped-raw skin of her neck and changes her mind.
“We could take the Prince.” Derek is engrossed in this fantasy, he thinks of shitty motels with leaves and branches in the pool water, Casey in a bikini and coconut tanning oil. “They’d never find us.”
She picks up her bra from the floor and looks down at him in sympathy, or maybe it’s pity, he can never tell the difference. “Get some sleep, Derek.”
She leaves and she doesn’t kiss him goodnight (morning).
(He hates how it’s never her kissing him, it’s always him kissing her. But she never stops it, so there’s that. Then again she never stays the night, either.)
(It started like this:
Kind of a cliché, but honestly what wasn’t about their relationship? He’s angry about something stupid, she’s angry about something stupider, and they’re fighting and yelling and yelling turns them on and – oh.
They’re watching a movie with Emily (who’s dating an eleventh grader from her math class but still smiles too widely too much at him regardless, so that’s annoying) and Casey has chosen The Royal Tenenbaums, because she likes to be fucking confusing like that sometimes.
He’s sitting in His Chair but she’s got her feet propped up on the arm, legs spread across the gap to the couch, her bare toes brushing his bicep every time she adjusts. Every few minutes, she’ll hum a few bars of the Friends theme song (it’s been stuck in her head since Tuesday) and then frown to herself.
Onscreen, Luke Wilson and Gwyneth Paltrow are kissing, and yes, it is exactly what he thinks it is.
Emily wrinkles her nose. “Ew,” she says. “That’s kind of…disturbing.”
“They’re not really related,” he says.
“Only technically,” Casey replies, and there’s a fucking elephant pressing on his chest.
“Really,” he says flatly. “You think so?”
“Of course,” she replies, affronted. “They’re still brother and sister, for God’s sake.” She meets his eyes and there’s so much (painangerdesire) something in her eyes that he has to look away.
I think we’re just gonna have to be secretly in love with each other and leave it at that Ritchie, Gwyneth says.
If only it was that easy, Derek thinks.
It’s kind of stupid, but mostly pathetic, that he lets her into his room later that night, anyway.
(The sex is good like it always is but Derek’s not so sure if that really means anything anymore. Or if it ever did.)
(Here’s the thing:
he’s not always fair when he thinks about her because he knows her better than he knows anyone else he’s ever known, ever, and he knows that she acts like a bitch when she can’t deal with herself, and this is forgivable. And it’s not like he doesn’t wince right along with her whenever somebody calls him her brother.
But still, she doesn’t have to run hot and cold all the fucking time. He can only take so much, and God, he’s trying, isn’t he?)
She gets into Harvard. (Great med program.)
He gets into – oh, Christ. Does it matter?
The night before she leaves, they have sex. (Twice.)
“I’m so scared,” she whispers, as if it’s a secret. (It’s not; everyone’s been tiptoeing around her for a month.)
“Mexico’s still an option,” he jokes, but not really.
She stares up at his ceiling and she’s naked and he doesn’t want her to leave, but when has what he wanted ever mattered?
“I just wish…” she trails off and this is one of those moments, when he thinks that there might be – it might be, there, it, she, they could be something else, something more, but she blinks and sits up and reaches for her shirt.
“Stay,” he says, and hates himself.
She hesitates long enough for it to be obvious and he calls it a victory.
(She still sleeps in her own room, though.)
College is kind of boring.
The people he meets are endlessly predictable, his classes are kind of a joke (it’s not that he wasn’t smart, okay, it’s that he never gave a fuck). He doesn’t want to be disappointed because that’d mean that he’d been expecting something more, but he is anyway.
Nora tells him to transfer. “Where?” he replies. She shrugs.
(The thing about George and Nora and parenting is that they kind of don’t always have time for it, so a lot of things slip through the cracks. And it’s not like he isn’t used to it, and he thinks it’s a lot easier for them now that he and Casey are gone, and he doesn’t blame them for it or admit that he’s disappointed, because that would mean admitting that he expected – wait, this sounds familiar.)
Casey sends him letters. She doesn’t like email, and it’s too expensive to talk on the phone (international calls cost double and fuck, she’s in another country. Not like America really counts, but still).
They arrive fairly regularly in soft purple envelopes and there’s almost always some kind of trinket stuffed in with the folded notebook paper – a Harvard sticker for his car (he puts it on his back windshield and just laughs when people asks him about it), a picture, a CD she’s burned for him (her taste in music really is atrocious), a maple leaf from the campus. Once she fills the envelope with glitter so that when he opens it, it explodes in his lap and he’s brushing shiny bits from his hands for days (that one was good. He’ll hand it to her).
Another once – she buys him a necklace that she found in some thrift shop in Boston. It’s a simple piece of twine threaded through a guitar pick with a Rolling Stones motif on the front. He does not wear it (it’s falling apart) but he keeps it.
(He still doesn’t know how to say thank you, so he doesn’t. In fact, he still doesn’t know how to say a lot of things.)
Spring Break comes, and it doesn’t coincide with Casey’s. (They’ve been two weeks apart for everything, all year.) He invites himself on a road trip to Miami with some people that he pretends to like (pretending, always pretending), including a girl that he may or may not be currently dating (it’s all relative – relative, get it? Ha ha. Ha.) and begs off somewhere near Massachusetts.
He’s nothing if not independent, and manages to find his way to her campus (it takes him two days, and no, he doesn’t want to talk about the hitchhiking incident). He shows up at her dorm and for some strange reason, she isn’t all that surprised.
“Derek,” is the first thing she says. “Oh God, I missed you so much,” is the second.
She hugs him and he’s too tired to do anything but hug her back (anyway his Rules don’t mean all that much anymore, especially with her).
Things they do not talk about:
their siblings, especially Marti (which extends also to their parents, either set, and coincidentally also Toronto, London, or anything that could be remotely associated with Canada in any way shape or form);
how obviously she fits in there, in the Ivy Leagues with everyone as dedicated and passionate and brilliant as her, and also how obviously he sticks out (in his two-day-old-jeans and leather jacket and uncombed hair) when they walk across the campus for coffee;
how amazing it feels to walk around in public with his arm around her shoulders, and every once in awhile when he grabs the back of her neck in that possessive way only men can seem to pull off and kisses her temple, it feels like a puzzle piece falling into place;
Her roommate is gone for the night, staying with her boyfriend, so they fuck in her tiny, dorm room bed with the lights off and sheets bunched up beneath her shoulders (and yes, he missed this, her, he can admit it now because there’s no point in pretending when she sees right through him, anyway).
Later, she makes stroganoff from a box on her illegal hot plate and they sit on the floor and share a fork and maybe, possibly, they talk about their feelings. A little. (As much as they can, anyway, while still skirting the Things They Are Not Talking About.)
The roommate comes back eventually and Derek stays for as long as he can before it gets awkward, which comes out to be a couple of days. (Casey introduces him as her boyfriend, and he should not get as dorkily excited about that as he does.) He sleeps on their futon and occupies himself at the various coffee shops and bookstores around the campus while she’s in class, and even takes her out to dinner.
She works at the campus bookstore and he manages to pull her away on her break, and she only protests a little when he pushes her up against the wall in the storeroom and yanks her jeans down her legs. She’d spilled half her vanilla latte down the front of her shirt earlier (she’s still so incredibly clumsy and he thinks it’s adorable, he always has) so all he can smell is the coffee as he fucks her, the sound of his name over and over (derekderekderekderek) in his ear and her thighs clenched around his hips, and for the rest of his life whenever he drinks a latte he’ll get a little bit turned on.
The morning he has to leave, they get up before the sun rises and stand on the fire escape of the dorm building, his arms wrapped around her waist and his face buried in her neck.
(They don’t speak, but she shudders every time he kisses into her skin, and when he finally pulls away she clutches for his hand and presses it to her face and he can feel her tears on his palm. They don’t say I love you or I don’t want you to go because the difference between now and before is that they don’t need to.)
Things don’t change after that visit. Much.
What does change: they call each other now. Casey allows one call every Thursday, and he can’t quite seem to fool himself into thinking that it’s not the one thing he has to look forward to every week.
The phone gives them some kind of safety that wasn’t there face-to-face (wall-to-wall) and he tells her things he’d never imagined telling anyone, most especially her. It’d scare the shit out of him if he was thinking clearly (he’s not), but damn if she didn’t always know what to say to make him feel better.
It’s not that hard to make her feel better about things, either, he’s been doing it for years. She’s incredibly easy to figure out, and he doesn’t know why all of her boyfriends had such a hard time understanding Casey Logic. She’s not normal, and once you accept that, everything gets so much easier, anyway.
He hangs up the phone feeling like, happy, or something, and fuck, she’s turned him into such a girl.
(He thinks that if this is what a real relationship is like, then…you know. It might not be so bad.)
He dreams about her every night.
Mostly they’re sex dreams. And he’s certainly got enough material. (Most of the time he just relives scenes in his head. Going down on her in the Prince in the parking lot at the high school and the time in the shower with George and Nora right downstairs and when she let him bend her over the dining room table while everyone was at the zoo and in her dorm bed at Harvard, when it was almost more like making love than any other coarser word.) He has enough room still to imagine, too, though. (He’s a kinky bastard, he’s discovered. The thing is though, that he thinks she wouldn’t mind.)
But sometimes he has different dreams, fuzzy ones that wake him up in the middle of the night feeling like somebody’s reached into his chest and messed around with his insides. He never remembers specifics, just vague impressions of ache and disappointment and the most intense longing he’s ever felt in his life and Casey’s name on his lips.
(And even once, he dreamt of a little girl that looked kind of like Marti but more like Lizzie and Casey had flour on her face and when she leant down to wipe flour from reddish-brown hair, they both laughed the same and Derek crumbled just a little bit more.)
He wants to tell her about them, but can’t quite bring himself to voice it. So he settles for explaining the sex ones, and she’s only too happy to reciprocate with her own.
(Yeah, it’s pretty much the hottest thing ever, listening to her explain her fantasies over the phone, but he’d still like to know if she has the other kinds of dreams too. He doesn’t ask, though, and yeah, he knows he’s a pussy.)
Casey makes the Dean’s list. Derek takes up smoking.
The first thing she says upon arriving at the airport at the end of May is, “that’s a filthy habit.” He shrugs and kisses her with too much tongue, and she snorts a little laugh and grabs his ass (in public. He’s so proud of her).
He smokes at least three on the drive back to the house, partly because he knows it’ll rile her up, partly because he won’t get a chance to at home and partly because his hands are shaking so badly and he needs something to do with them. She doesn’t say anything else about it, but when he reaches for a fourth, she gently takes his hand and clasps it in her lap.
(His mother used to smoke. She quit when she got pregnant with Marti but Derek still remembers afternoons when he’d camp out in the living room with her and watch her work her way through a pack of Newports as she pounded away at her thesis. He smokes the same brand as she did, too, because it makes him feel closer to her, and they taste as bitter as he feels about a woman who cares more about the marine life in the Mediterranean than her children, but, well.)
He pulls over a few blocks from the house and parks on the side of the dark street. She doesn’t miss a beat, climbing into his lap and reaching for his belt buckle. (And it’s surprisingly her that initiates most of their sexual encounters and yeah, he kind of loves her. No, he does.
Hey, he admits it. That’s a positive step.)
Living with their family again feels like a step backwards. The weird undercurrent’s back (“Only technically,”) but it’s different, too, somehow. He can feel her eyes on his skin whenever they’re in a room together, and when he looks over she catches his gaze and keeps it (puts it in her pocket, with all the other parts of himself that she’s been collecting).
They don’t talk about the future. But sometimes when he sits on the back step at night to smoke a cigarette, she’ll join him and lean her head on his shoulder and tell him about her day, and it’s almost like something normal.
(They’re not normal, though. They’re something else, but he’s starting to think that they got the better deal.)
The worst case scenario happens (which so figures):
They’ve been back at home for a few weeks, meeting late at night to kiss and feel beneath his blankets, when things get a little out of hand in the living room halfway through Ocean’s Twelve (she always gets frisky during Brad Pitt movies. He doesn’t like to analyze it), and Nora arrives home to find her eldest daughter half naked with her hands down his pants.
There’s yelling (Nora) and crying (Casey) and when George gets home it gets about ten times worse. Edwin, Lizzie and Marti are banished to the basement as World War Three commences in the living room and the status quo is shattered. The elephant’s been let loose and Derek decides that it sucks.
(Later, when he thinks back on this day, he won’t remember hardly any of what was said – especially anything from the mouths of either of the parents. What he will remember: Casey’s hands shaking, and the way she would glance over at him before she said anything.)
Casey gets mad, and he gets madder, so they leave. (She never would’ve reacted like this a year ago. He thinks it’s progress.)
So, they made this whole storming out dramatic gesture thing, but the hitch in the plan is that they don’t, uh, really have anywhere to go.
They drive around for about an hour until Casey stops crying and saying “I knew we should’ve watched that movie in your room,” over and over. She still sits all curled up in the passenger seat, her head on her knees and she looks so small that it kind of hits Derek in the gut a little, so he pulls over for a minute so he can hug her. (He feels stupid, but she really calms down after and she even smiles at him, so it was totally worth it.)
Derek’s roommate from second semester (the cool one, not the first one, which was – he does not want to talk about it) has an apartment for the summer in a town nearby, so they end up there, sleeping on the pull out couch. In the morning, Casey finally answers Nora’s call (the latest in about three dozen) and she goes into the bathroom to take it, staying locked in for about twenty minutes. Derek flips through the daytime talk shows and tries very hard not to throw up (the bathroom’s occupied, after all). He also tries not to think about how fucking hard it’s gonna be to go the rest of his life without ever touching her again, but that part doesn’t really work out. (He is so pathetic.)
When she finally comes out, her eyes are red but she looks resolute. She sits down next to him on the couch and Derek waits for the inevitable, clenching the TV remote so hard that he’s sure he’s breaking some blood vessels.
“Okay,” she says, “I love you,” and, um, yeah, that’s really not what he thought the inevitable would be.
“Uh,” he replies. (Brilliant. He’s just a fucking genius.)
She looks a bit disheartened at this. “My mom’s still really angry. And your dad is, too, and apparently they called Abby and Dennis, so now pretty much everybody is pissed off and thinking the worst, and…” she breaks off, taking a shaky breath. “I, um. I want to work through this. I mean, it’s going to be hard and weird and awkward and God, I don’t even want to know what Ed and Liz must be thinking right now, she’s gotta be so freaked out, I tried to call her but her cell went straight to voicemail, do you think I should’ve left a message or – “ he grabs her shoulder and she stops rambling. “Right. So the way I see it, we have two options right now. We can break it off right now and try and pass it off as some hormonal lapse in judgment,” she winces and bites her lip and oh my God, he wants to kiss her so bad, “or we can go home, explain that we are in a committed and caring relationship and that we promise never to watch Brad Pitt movies in general living spaces ever again.”
He blinks, and before he can process, she jumps up, hands flying above her head. “Case –?”
“I knew it! You’ve been using me for sex, haven’t you?” She glares at him, hands on her hips. “You dirty, rotten – “
“Casey.” He stands and grabs her face. “Shut up,” he says, and there’s no more talking after that.
(Sometimes, she does do what he says.)
(He’ll always remember:
she arches her back and her hair’s spilling over her mouth like ink and he kisses her through it and he can taste her shampoo, and when she says his name it sounds like she’s begging, and he’ll never find anything better than this.)
Later, the roommate comes back and gets mad that they had sex on his couch. Derek brings up the time he walked in on a hand job in his desk chair, but they get kicked out anyway.
It’s okay, though. They need to face the music, anyway. (Loud, painful, awkward…talking-about-feelings music. Ugh.)
So they climb back into the Prince and head for home, and the sun is setting and he can’t see the road that well so she lends him her too small (pink) sunglasses and laughs at him when he puts them on, and he swats at her knee but she grabs his hand and presses it to her throat, and he can feel her pulse beneath his fingers.
(They’re definitely not normal. But fuck normal, anyway.)
The inevitable conversation with George and Nora is every bit as painful as he’d thought it would be. Casey does most of the talking, though, and he lets her. (She’s better at it, anyway.)
Then afterwards they have the same conversation with his mother (shorter and more painful), and her father (much shorter and kind of terrifying) and Lizzie and Edwin (just plain awkward). They try to talk to Marti but the first thing she asks is when they’re getting married, so they call it a win.
(“Never, Smarti. We’ll be living in sin, instead.”
The results: they can’t have sex in the house anymore. Not because George and Nora told them not to or anything (Nora could hardly spit out the word “condom” and so after the initial scolding everyone pretty much avoided the issue hardcore) but because every single time either they find themselves on the second floor together there is suddenly a parent on their heels. (It’s obvious and awkward, but they only have a month left of summer, so whatever.)
The entire atmosphere post-outing feels forced and fake. It hits Casey pretty hard but she grins and bears it and he can’t believe what a lucky bastard he is sometimes.
The end of August approaches and Derek surprises Casey with an acceptance letter to a school in Boston. She squeals and jumps up and down a lot, which makes things bounce, and so they have sex. To celebrate. (Later, she confesses that she’d been planning to send in applications for him herself if he didn’t, and he laughs and pulls the blankets over her head.)
Nobody is all that shocked at the transfer, although he is forced to endure a few more Heartfelt Conversations, which sucks. But every couple of days Casey brings him print-outs of music clubs she thinks he’d like and museum brochures that apparently she’s going to take him to, and so he doesn’t mind. Much.
(He still isn’t quite sure how to deal with something this good and when he tries to articulate it she just lays her hands on his face and presses her cheek to his forehead, and it’s so much easer to whisper things into her neck because he knows that eventually he’ll be able to say it to her face but for right now it’s just overwhelming, so big and great and grand because he loves her, he loves her so much and she fucking loves him back, and he can’t deal with it.)
When they fly away, Canada becoming a speck in the distance, it’s like a weight sliding off his shoulders, and he can almost hear the click of everything falling into place. So she slips her feet into his lap and starts talking about possible spring break vacation spots and he thinks, yes. Finally.
they go to Mexico.)