Derek opens the door and standing on the other side is a girl of about eight or nine. She reminds him a little of Marti, but only distantly. She’s tall (unless he miscalculated her age), long brown hair hangs down to her waist, and sharp brown eyes peer up at him. “Are you Mr. Derek Venturi?” She asks, formally.
“Uhhh,” he blinks. Leaning forward, he peers out into the hallway of his apartment building, looking for an adult or… well, he’s not really sure. “Yeah, kid, but it’s not cool to be coming to somebody’s apartment asking for autographs.”
The child arches her brow. “I didn’t come for an autograph. Hockey is a vile, violent sport.” She sniffs, and Derek’s reminded of…
“Hey, kid, where are your parents?”
“Well…” She rocks on her feet. That’s when he notices the suitcase. “May I come in?”
“Didn’t your mother teach you it’s not smart to go into stranger’s houses?” She nods.
“I have a matter to discuss with you, and I think it best if we talk about it indoors.” He’s not sure what prompts him to do it, but he sighs and moves aside. The girl walks in, dragging her rolling suitcase behind her. Pausing in the interior and taking a look around the room.
He gestures toward the living room, and she takes a seat on the loveseat. He falls into his recliner but doesn’t kick it up. What if the kid is here to rob him, or something?
“My name is Serenity,” she starts, pausing and eyeing him. Whatever she’s looking for in his expression, she doesn’t find it. “Serenity Venturi.”
He blinks. “Ed had a kid?” Serenity shakes her head. Derek feels a moment of intense panic, “Marti?!” The brow goes up again, and once more he’s reminded of… He moves on from that train of thought. “Dad and Nora…?”
Now Serenity looks disgusted. “Grandma and Grandpa? Gross. They’re too old.” Derek is inclined to agree, but that would mean…
“There are other Venturi’s in the world,” he points out, but she’s digging in the front pocket of her suitcase, and pulling out a folder.
With shaking hands, Derek accepts the folder. His own eye quirks upward, and she smirks. He’s seen that smirk before--hell, he invented that smirk. He opens the envelope and pulls out the contents.
There’s a smaller envelope in there, and he goes to open it up, but she clears her throat. “Those are, uh, baby pictures and stuff.” She looks unsure but recovers quickly. “I’m not sure you’re ready for those, yet.” He takes her word for it. He finds a separate picture; it’s him with his attention entirely focused on her as she smiled brightly at the camera.
He doesn’t realize it at first, but he’s breathing her name. It was the first time in years that he’s said his stepsister’s name and it hurts just like it used to. “I have a kid.” Then, rather angrily, he says, “And no one thought to tell me?”
He forgets about the contents of the rest of the letter.
Serenity looked uncomfortable, shifting in her seat. “Uh, Grandma and Grandpa don’t know,” she admitted. “They think that she made my name Venturi out of some kind of…,” she waved her hand, “familial thing or something.” She shrugs, “They might suspect, but they don’t know.”
“I didn’t even know Casey had a kid,” he admits, falling back against the cushion of his chair. He’s feeling a lot of different emotion right now, and part of him wants to call up Casey and demand to know why she kept his kid from him for eight years (it’s easy to pin down her age now). Then again, he suspects he knows why she did it.
“From my understanding, Grandpa doesn’t mention mom to you when you talk.”
“And you’re sure that I’m--did Casey tell you that--?” Serenity gives him that look again, and there’s no denying that she’s Casey’s daughter. “Stupid question,” he agrees. It finally occurs to him to ask what she’s doing here. She stands and walks around the room, inspecting.
“I’ve been bothering mom to get to know you for about a year now,” Serenity admits. “Becoming really pushy in the last two months or so. She finally caved, and now, I’m here.”
“I’m surprised she didn’t bring you herself.”
“She wanted to, at least part of the way, but she couldn’t.” She picks up a magazine and makes a face when she realizes it’s sports illustrated.
“I should… I should call, and let her know you’re here.”
“No!” Derek jumps as she whirls around to face him, looking slightly panicked.
Serenity clears her throat. “No, uh. I’ll do it. She, um… she doesn’t want to talk to you, and I really think that we should respect her wishes. It was one of the conditions she had when sending me here.” It stings that after so long she wouldn’t even want him to be the one to call and acknowledge her-- their --daughter had arrived. Miss Plans Everything didn’t even bother giving him a call or heads up to make sure he was prepared for his house guest.
Derek supposes he doesn’t know Casey very well anymore.
He gestured for her to go ahead, and she pulled out a phone. “Another condition,” Serenity admits as she dials the number. “She wants to be able to reach me while I’m gone.”
“About that,” Serenity pauses over the green button. “How long are you staying, exactly?”
“The rest of the summer?” She beams.
“Three months?” He blinks.
“It’s the off-season,” Serenity is quick to point out. “And I don’t have school. You will, however, have to take me to ballet class.”
He blinks. “Ballet, class?”
“Yes, I’m already enrolled.” She looks at him expectantly, and Derek sighs. She seems to take that as an agreement.
“What if I hadn’t agreed to this?” he grumbled to no one in particular.
“Then I’d go home,” she shrugs. “But I--mom had a feeling that you wouldn’t send me away like that.” He ignores her, and she hits the call button. The volume is down, so he can’t hear Casey’s voice as she talks, only Serenity’s affirmations on her end. Still, his arms get goosebumps, knowing that she’s on the other line.
When Serenity gets off the phone, he looks at her expectantly. He wants to know if Casey asked about him, but he doesn’t. “What’s for dinner?” The young girl asks.
“Umm.” He hardly has any food in his fridge as it is, and nothing to feed a child. “Let’s… go out?” He tries to remember what it was like being a big brother to Marti. It’s not quite the same, but it’s the closest he knows about being a dad.
“Where should I put my suitcase?” She asks, sounding so prim and proper, so like Casey, that something inside Derek twists. He shows her to the guest room, and ten minutes later, he’s opening the door to Sam and Ralph, the latter has his hand up as if he’s about to knock.
“Ready for movie night?” Ralph asks, glancing at the fact that Derek has on his jacket. “Or did you forget because of a hot piece of a--” Derek clamps a hand over his friend’s mouth.
“Derek,” Sam is peering beside Derek. “Who is the kid?”
Thirty minutes later, Derek is closing the door on the pizza guy. He serves Serenity a couple slices of pepperoni, then grabs plates for the guys, heading for the living room. She stays sitting at the dining room table, staring at them disapprovingly.
Ralph is the first to cave, taking his plate and sitting at the dining table. Sam follows a moment later, then Derek sighing in exasperation. It hasn’t even been a full day, and she’s taking over. Serenity seems satisfied, though.
When she finishes eating, she excuses herself to the guest room. Only then do Ralph, and Sam leans in. “So, your daughter?”
“Are you sure she’s yours?” Ralph asks. “You know how girls are.”
“I’m sure,” Derek says firmly. If it had been anyone else, he might have been wondering the same thing.
“Who?” Sam finally asks.
Derek looks away, grabbing for another slice of pizza. “A girl I knew.” It’s close enough to the truth to not be a lie.
Still, Sam seems to read between the lines. His eyes grow wide. “No.”
“What?” Ralph looks between them. “I feel like I’m missing something.”
Derek shrugs, taking a large bite of pizza to avoid answering. Sam starts laughing. “I should have seen it in the way she stared at all of us to eat at the table.” He chuckles again. “She looks a lot like her, now that I think about it.”
“She looks like who?” Ralph whines.
“Casey,” Sam answers, watching Derek’s reaction. “Serenity looks like Casey.”
Ralph chuckles, too, finally in on the joke. “Wouldn’t that be wild. Derek and Casey having a kid.” Or maybe not. It takes a second, but then Ralph gets it, too. “No!” His face splits into a wide smile. “I always knew you two would get on.”
Hours later, the movie is over, and Sam and Ralph are gone. Derek checked on Serenity periodically, and she was contentedly coloring and watching videos in the guest room. He goes to check on her after seeing Ralph and Sam out, and finds her asleep on the bed, tablet clutched to her chest. There’s a fondness there, for this little girl he just met, and he’s back to feeling angry at Casey.
It’s his fault, too, but he can’t help the anger. Casey should have told him, should have given him a chance.
Sighing, he pulls the tablet away and sets it aside. He debates on waking the kid so she can change into pajamas, but he decides to let her sleep. Carefully he pulls back the comforter from under her and tucks her in.
For the first time, he tucks his daughter into sleep.
Then he’s left alone with his thoughts, left alone to process the fact that he suddenly has an eight-year-old daughter for the summer. He wonders what he’ll do when the summer ends, how much he’ll be able to be involved once she leaves.
Derek also spends a lot of time wondering about Casey; wondering if she’s married, or seeing anyone, if she has any other kids. He wonders if he would have put it together sooner if he’d let his parents talk to him about Casey.
If he hadn’t been such an ass, maybe he could have been involved in Serenity’s life a lot sooner.
The next day he has to go to training. It’s the off-season, so there’s not as much on ice practice, but they’re still required to work out. He takes Serenity with him because her ballet class doesn’t start until the next day.
She colors while he works out, and she charms most of the guys on the team. Derek admits that she’s his kid, and leaves it at that despite all the questions.
He tries to get some of his questions about Casey answered, but the kid is pretty tight-lipped about her mother. It’s not until several questions later that he gets it’s a loyalty thing.
He does learn that she’s not married, and he shouldn’t be happy about that, but he is.
The next day passes much the same. He tries to learn about what he can about Casey, and Serenity stubbornly refuses to let anything slip. He takes her to a ballet class (it’s entirely out of the way from where he needs to be later at practice, but he can’t find it in himself to be more than mildly put out).
She’s crying when he gets back to pick her up. His first instinct is to retreat because Derek Venturi doesn’t do tears, but this is his daughter, and she needs him.
So, he picks her up and lets her tell him all about why she’s upset. He learns that this is definitely Casey’s kid because she’s just as melodramatic as her mother (but it doesn’t stop him from watching online tutorials all night so that he can put her hair up in a perfect ballerina bun the next day).
It takes two weeks for him to get it right, but Serenity wins over the other girls by the end of the first week.
At night, they watch movies, and sometimes they watch old hockey games. He tries to teach her about hockey but is surprised to find she already knows as much as he did at eight. “I thought you said hockey is a vile, violent sport.”
“It is,” she says, smoothing the blanket over her legs, “but it can be enjoyable to watch.”
He’s further surprised. “You like watching hockey?” Serenity nods.
“Who taught you about hockey, anyway?”
“Grandpa.” Derek turns to give her a look , and she laughs. She sounds just like Casey that, for a minute, he expects to see his stepsister lounging nearby. It hurts. “Mom did.”
It’s his turn to laugh. “Your mom taught you to understand hockey.”
Serenity nods, picking at a piece of fuzz on the blanket. “She watches most of your games.” He opens his mouth to ask something else, but her phone rings, and she rushes to answer it. “Aunt Marti!” Then she disappears into her room to talk to Derek’s sister.
Vaguely he wonders if Marti knows the truth because she’s always been smarter than they gave her credit for.
Every night Serenity talks to Casey in her room. Derek tries not to listen, but he wants to hear her voice. He’s not entirely sure what that will accomplish, but he wants it all the same.
It takes three weeks for the tabloids to get a picture of him with his kid, and for the speculations to start. Derek has the feeling that if it hadn’t been the off-season, it would have gotten out a lot sooner.
The picture is in a magazine later that week. Derek ignores it, and he tells his agent to ignore questions about it, too. “She’s my kid,” he admits, “but I don’t want her exposed in all that.”
“If you don’t address it, they’re just going to speculate some more.”
“I’ll be more careful,” Derek promises. “It’s no one’s business but mine.”
“And… you’re sure?” Derek snorts. “Hey, I’m just asking.”
“Yeah, I’m sure.” That’s the end of the conversation.
That night, he goes to Serenity’s room (it’s no longer the guest room--she’d begun adding her personal touch to the room, and he splurged on buying her things to make it more hers). He wants to talk to her about the paparazzi, and the pictures, but she’s lying on her stomach on the floor, feet swinging in the air, drawing on her notepad. The phone rings and her face lights up, so he knows it’s Casey calling.
Derek starts to leave to let her speak to her mom privately, but she answers the phone on speaker, intent on her art. “Hey, mom.”
“Serenity Alice Venturi. Where the hell are you?”