Casey shifted uncomfortably on the floor, removing the last bits of shampoo from her forehead. Derek was curled up in front of her, holding his knees against his chest, trying to avoid touching the cold tiles with his bare feet. They had sat in silence for a strange amount of time, trying to decipher the noises coming from the party downstairs, which had somehow gotten quieter as time went by.
Derek let out a frustrated sigh, nervously licking and chewing on his bottom lip. He felt so unusually powerless; for once things weren't going his way, and for once he couldn't put the blame on anyone else. He was sure that was it: they were going to be busted by their parents and punished for so long, their hair would grey by the time they could go outside again. And Casey knew that too, because unless a bible-worthy miracle just happened to take place in their bathroom, there was really no way out of that situation; which is why she was so desperate to tell him off.
The temptation to attack him (with well crafted, logical arguments of course) was itching at her skin. He continuously misbehaved when strictly told not to, and it was driving the morally entitled side of Casey's brain absolutely crazy. The goal was to annoy him into remorse essentially, given the fact that she longed to hear him say he was wrong and that he regretted not following the rules. Casey wouldn't stop until she saw at least an apologetic glimpse in his dark eyes. Her head was screaming at her to finally get even, to treat him the same way he treated her every day, but something within her mind was holding her back. And whatever it was that was stopping her, was also making her feel something disgustingly close to sympathy for Derek. How fucking insane- as if he deserves sympathy.
"I know you want to scold me." Derek mumbled, breaking the awkward silence that was just starting to feel comfortable "Don't. Leave it to George and Nora."
"I wasn't," Casey replied, disappointed that she allowed her voice to shake so much - Derek could always see through her bullshit. "Really."
"Oh, please." he huffed, staring at his hands "I bet you already have that condescending look printed on your face."
"You're wrong," she warned, after attempting to soften her own expression. "Look at me."
It was imposing as much as it was a gamble, and Derek's lack of response made her wonder if it had been the right move. In reality, Derek's inaction was simply due to a lack of courage. He didn't want to look at her. He was terrified of facing her and knowing what she was thinking, because he always seemed to know what she was thinking. In the last few months, Derek had studied her better than any subject, treating her like a mind puzzle or a side project that he admittedly spent too much time on. The ultimate goal was to make her predictable in his head, but any time he could annoy her into screaming was a bonus too.
Unfortunately for him, she could never become predictable. That was something he learned through their daily fights, when some days she would overreact and throw something at him, aiming specifically at his head (or dick), but others she would just smile at him before slamming the door in his face. Derek hated it when she did that; there was no pleasure in bothering Casey if she didn't look, well, bothered.
Now things were changing, and their patterns were evolving into something Derek didn't dare to analyze yet. Nonetheless, he was more curious than afraid. After a few seconds, that somehow felt like an eternity, his eyes met hers. Her focus was already on him, her stunning features captured by the ominous bathroom light. Casey felt her chest tightening, the direct result of their eye contact intensifying. She was scared it was quiet enough in there for Derek to hear her stupid rapid heartbeat, pulsating furiously in her ears. Hesitation, he thought.
Her eyes were reflecting all the light and his own doubts back at him, make them glow a cool shade of blue that reminded Derek of some white sand dreamy beach in California. Didn't she always want to go to California?
"Stop it," she finally breathed out "I feel like you're staring right through me."
"What are you afraid I'm going to find?" he questioned, his left eyebrow arching up.
"The Derek in me." Casey smirked, tapping her fingers nervously against her knee.
"You say that like it's a bad thing." he folded his arms across his chest, hiding his sly smile.
"It's what got us into this mess."
"Sometimes messy is good." Derek provoked her.
"You really don't know me at all." she playfully rolled her eyes, though she internally wished it was true.
"I know more than you think." he immediately replied, regretting his answer "About a lot of things."
"Oh yeah?" he nodded and she continued, curious "Do tell."
"I know George and Nora are arriving in close to 3 minutes, and I know they're gonna find Edwin and Lizzie under your bed."
"3 minutes?" he nodded once more "We have 3 minutes before we're thrown into the fire pit?"
"Yes." Derek shrugged "And I also knew you'd be dramatic about it."
"As if." Casey shot him a serious glare.
"Probably shouldn't have thrown a party the first time our parents leave for the weekend, huh?" he sighed.
"Why did you?" she asked, hearing a slightly sad tone in his raspy voice.
"It's like people expect me to mess up, so I do."
"It was actually kinda fun though." she grinned, loosening her ponytail in an attempt to let her shampoo-drenched hair down.
"This was fun? For you?"
"Yes!" Casey laughed "I guess it's official; you've driven me crazy."
"Yeah, well, it wasn't a far drive." he smiled, hearing her soft laugh echo through the bathroom walls.
"It's pretty quiet downstairs, huh?"
"Do you think the police came and cleared everybody out?" Derek asked, pretending like he wasn't scared shitless of that thought.
"Better them than our parents." Casey joked, before the door slammed open and a very shocked and upset George and Nora stood before them.
Her mother examined the stains that seemed to cover all the tiles, and the were dirty towels that had been thrown everywhere. Nora opened her mouth to say something, but no words came out as she fully noticed that her daughter and step-son were coated in shaving cream and shampoo. Casey glanced over at Derek, whose eyes were now wide and whose face had 'regret' written all over it.
"Living room. NOW." George angrily spit out, pointing towards the door.
Nora exited along side her husband, who had put his arm around her, muttering something under his breath. Derek got up quickly, taking Casey's hand and pulling her up. He gave it a reassuring squeeze, before letting go as they went down to the living room. George was pacing around in circles, as Nora let out several frustrated sighs. It did look much worse than what Casey remembered, with broken furniture and trash spread around the room.
"A study group, Derek?" George huffed in disbelief, rubbing his temples "As soon as we heard that, we immediately turned around. I shouldn't have trusted you, I really shouldn't. But I did. Despite my best judgement, I trusted you. And now I'm more than disappointed."
"What were you thinking?" Nora asked.
"It's not that bad…" Derek stuttered, rubbing his arm in a nervous movement.
"Not that bad?" his dad sarcastically chuckled "The house looks like a crime scene! God, Derek, you really let me down…"
"Both of us." Nora added, letting out another puff of air.
"Wait," Casey courageously stepped in "Why do you assume it's all Derek's fault? Maybe I had something to do with the party too."
"What?" the three of them turned to her, surprised by her words.
"Did you have something to do with this?" her mother asked, resting her hand on the back of her neck.
"Yes." Casey sadly confessed.
"Well, if you both did this, then you can both clean this up." George immediately replied.
"We'll talk about this later." Nora narrowed her eyes at her daughter, quickly exiting to the kitchen.
"You don't have to say anything." she assured, watching his worried expression.
"But I do…" he insisted, resting his hand on her thigh. "I can't believe… You fell for that!"
"What?" she asked, as he burst into a sadistic laugh.
"Have fun cleaning this up, Case." Derek winked, before getting up and racing upstairs, leaving Casey speechless.
"Motherfucker." she huffed, her blood boiling inside her veins
THE NEXT MORNING
"George, we really need to talk." Nora said, leaning over the kitchen counter.
"You really need to ask? This Derek-Casey situation is completely out of control. They fight every day. And Derek's reckless behaviour is starting to corrupt Casey."
"I know Derek can be a handful, but don't you think you're exaggerating a bit?"
"No, I'm not. I think it's time we take some real action. You guys aren't alone in this house anymore, you know that, right? We're responsible for them. And it doesn't seem like some healthy rivalry anymore. Things are getting out of hand. We moved in together at the beginning of summer, and it's now mid-September, and I see no changes." she spoke, taking in a deep breath.
"I agree with you honey, but maybe we should wait just a little bit more. Maybe after this whole party fiasco, they'll learn something." he tried to console her, chewing a strip of bacon.
"Does that really sound like Derek?" Nora arched up her eyebrow, trying to talk some sense into her husband "George, I just don't want this to affect our marriage. It was already a struggle to get where we are, and I feel like this will really affect us in the long run. And I love you. This can't be the reason we're not happy."
"I love you too, Nora." George smiled, giving her a quick peck "But how can we fix this? Derek is too self-absorbed to listen to us, and Casey is too consumed with the thought of taking Derek's power away to care."
"Derek needs something he has never had before: discipline. And Casey needs to go back to her roots. Maybe we should change their school." she shrugged.
"Well, Derek isn't doing well in that area, that's for sure. Do you really think that if they went to a more exigent school, they could change their behaviour?"
"Maybe. I don't know, George. Maybe it's a risk we should be willing to take."
"But most of our problems are here, at home." he pointed out, taking a sip of his tasteless coffee.
"I know…" she sighed, before an idea struck her "What if we move them to a boarding school? I mean, think about it. They're really exigent, strict, but they teach them how to live on their own. And Derek definitely needs that. They're 2 years away from university, George. It's the perfect time."
"Isn't that a bit out of our reach? Financially, I mean."
"Yes, but with less work around the house, I could definitely find another job. I think this might have a shot of working out."
"Maybe, it sounds doable."
"Promise me you'll think about it." she begged, "If this is something we're really considering, we need to get informed as quickly as possible."
"I promise." George nodded, stroking her cheek softly.
1 WEEK LATER
"Hey, Case…" Derek called her attention, squeezing his fork to stop himself from laughing "Sam told me something really interesting today."
"Derek, don't start," George warned when the whole table realized their daily dinner fight was right on schedule.
"No, dad, it's quite interesting." he chuckled, as Casey shot him a deadly glare "You see, apparently our great pride Casey, fell at school; again. That's right everyone: Klutz is back, stronger than ever!"
"DE-REK!" Casey burst with rage, kicking him under the table, as Edwin and Marti giggled loudly "How can you be so insensitive?"
"How can you be so clumsy?" he mocked her, imitating her squeaky tone.
"Derek, I swear to God, I'll kill you!" she harshly spat out, throwing a piece of bread at his head.
"Good aim…" he admitted, a smirk drawn on his face "For a Klutz."
"You jerk!" Casey barked loudly, getting up and running to her room.
"It's the third time this happened this week." Nora sighed, shaking her head "After dinner we're gonna have a serious talk."
"This can't go on." George nodded, with a stern voice.
"Come on dad, where's your sense of humor?" Derek laughed, tilting his head back and taking a bite of the piece of bread that had fallen on his lap.
"It left when you threw that party. And just like my trust in you, after that, it's not coming back." he said, immediately shutting Derek, and a giggling Edwin, down.
"Casey?" Nora knocked on her door, before letting herself in "We need to talk."
"I'm doing my french homework." Casey answered, leaning over her book, highlighting a few sentences.
"It's important." she tried to be assertive, something that never seemed to work around Casey. "Living room, please."
"Okay, fine." she sighed, closing her book and perfectly aligning her pencil to her notebook.
"What's this about?" Casey questioned, sitting on the opposite side of the sofa from Derek, refusing to acknowledge him.
"You." George pointed, standing in front of the tv "Both of you."
"What did we do?" Casey huffed, glancing over at Derek in disgust.
"I don't know. What didn't you do?" George sarcastically replied.
"Kids, we're done with your rivalries." Nora slowly explained, "We gave you time to adjust, close to four months actually, but now it's time to take action."
"What… What kind of action?" Derek stuttered. He was beginning to feel something he didn't feel often: threatened and powerless.
"We're gonna change your school." George stated, folding his arms across his chest.
"What?" his son nearly screamed, shifting in his seat. "You- you can't do that!"
"Oh, Derek, that's where you're mistaken! Not only could we do it, but we're also doing it."
"But I just moved schools!" Casey complained, looking at her mother "You're not gonna make me be the new girl for the second time in just two months!"
"It's for the best." Nora said, as George gave her shoulder a reassuring squeeze.
"I can't believe this." she shook her head, attentively observing Derek, who had his hand running through his untamed hair.
"Dad, Nora, this is crazy. What school would you even put us in? I mean… Ours is the best one around."
"Well, Derek… Casey…" George took a deep breath "We're actually moving you to a boarding school."
"This is not happening." Derek fell back on his chair "This can't be happening."
Casey sat in silence, digesting the conversation. The initial shock was obvious, none of them were expecting their parents to make such a huge, defining decision like that. And even though she could see (and enjoy) Derek freaking out from the corner of her eye, it didn't really feel all that awful to her. For a goal-oriented, meticulous, ambitious person like Casey, the thought of living in her school and having full responsibility over every aspect of her life, actually sounded rather appealing. All kinds of thoughts drifted through her mind, from how she would decorate her room, how she could organize her weekends, and especially how much she would avoid Derek on a daily basis. For a rushed moment, it seemed like a flawless plan- after all, Casey was a big fan of improvising and adapting to overcome a problem.
"I'm sorry things had to come this far." Nora apologized, bringing Casey from her thoughts back to reality "But you guys are making it impossible to live like this."
"This is a disaster." Derek insisted, and all Casey wanted to do was laugh at his pathetic overreaction.
"I get it." Casey nodded, "We haven't made it easy for you. But mom, are you sure this isn't a weight on our finances?"
"It's for your wellbeing, and ours too. There's no price on that." Nora lied, knowing that if she told Casey she'd have to work two jobs, her daughter would carry that guilt forever.
"Dad…" the upset Derek tried to say, but George interrupted him.
"I know what you're going to say. It's not up for discussion; not with you guys anyway."
Derek fell back on the sofa, letting himself sink into his seat. Sure, not living with his parents sounded great, but at the same time, it would mean being at school all the time, which Derek wasn't a particular fan of. And plus, even though Derek hated himself for even allowing his brain to think it, it kind of felt like his parents were trying to get rid of him. Of course he had never been an easy child, or an easy anything, but surely he couldn't be bad enough to be sent away to a boarding school… They made it sound worse than it really was. Sure, he and Casey fought. Maybe they fought hard, and regularly- but what step-siblings didn't? She was obnoxious and he was always right, so obviously living together would be slightly troubling.
He glanced over at Casey, incredulous at her beaming expression. Why did everything that upset him never seem to be an issue for her? She was never satisfied with anything, but the moment she finds out about something that will be potentially great for her and shitty for him, a smile appears on her face. It was utterly annoying. There she was, leaning back on the cushions, biting her lip to stop a giggle from escaping her mouth, probably mentally planning out her new room, alphabetically organizing all her books in her new white stands… All whilst he was struggling to even relax his muscles, ferociously breathing in and out, clenching his fists in anger.
"I have to go call Emily!" she interrupted Derek's thoughts, taking the phone from the coffee table and racing to her room.
"Dad, Nora, you can't do this." Derek tried to reason, still hoping he could change their mind. "Any other punishment is better than this! I'll do anything."
"You should've thought of that before you threw that party." George replied, stern like never before "Or before you decided to torture Casey and throw the good house environment we were trying to keep out the window. Go to your room now please, we'll discuss this tomorrow."
George left slowly, followed by Nora, who was avoiding eye contact with her sorry step-son. The living room emptied, leaving Derek alone to be consumed by his fatal thoughts. After the shock wave passed, he gathered the strength and courage to get up and return to his room. This unusual feeling was taking over him, and he had never felt so nauseous in his entire life. As soon as he lied down in his unmade bed again, the thought struck him: defeat. That's what it was.
Oh, and how bitter it tasted…