NEITHER HERE NOR THERE
Casey Pollack stood at the counter of Dave’s Cafe greeting customers. At the same time, he was also in the kitchen washing dishes. And in the alley behind the building, he was emptying the trash into the dumpster.
He brought the garbage can back inside and was reabsorbed by the Casey in the kitchen. Out front, he took orders from an elderly white couple and spawned two more Caseys to make their drinks while he served the next customer in line.
In the kitchen, he finished with the dishes and brought a fresh stack of mugs to the counter. He served a few more customers and, for the moment, the café was empty. He sighed and collapsed back into a single body.
Casey’s phone buzzed. He took it out of his pocket and found a message from Paul, his boyfriend.
“When do you get off tonight?” it said.
“In half an hour,” Casey replied.
“Want to come over?” Paul asked.
Casey smiled to himself and typed, “Sure.”
“Great,” Paul replied. “Catch you later.”
Casey navigated his contacts to his mother’s number.
“Gonna crash at Calvin’s tonight,” he typed. “See you tomorrow.”
He took a deep breath and sent the message.
“I told you I didn’t want to see that phone out while you’re working,” his boss Renee said, coming down from her office.
“Sorry,” he said, and shoved it back into his pocket.
“Please don’t make me warn you again,” she said. “You’ve been a godsend since Dave retired, but I can’t just let you carry on however you like.”
“I know,” Casey said. “I just wasn’t thinking.”
“Well, try harder, okay?” she said. “I realize this is your first job, but you can do better.”
Casey nodded and Renee headed back up to her office. The front door opened and another group of customers strolled in. Casey forced a smile and took their orders.
Casey felt a little self-conscious walking through this upper middle class neighborhood late at night. He half-expected someone to call the cops on him before he made it to Paul’s townhouse.
He rang the bell and waited. The curtains fluttered in a house across the street. After a minute, Paul answered the door in jeans and a polo shirt. He smiled warmly.
“Hey, you,” he said. “Come on in.”
Casey followed Paul into the living room and took a seat on the couch. He stared up at the huge bookshelf on the wall, which always seemed a bit fuller every time he visited.
“You want something to drink?” Paul asked, stepping into the kitchen. “I’ve got beer, wine, and vodka, or I could just put on a pot of coffee.”
Casey held his hands out in front of him and said, “Anything but coffee.”
Paul let out a soft, short chuckle.
“Fair enough,” he said, and grabbed two wine glasses from the rack.
Casey leaned back on the couch and watched Paul pour. Paul was twenty-eight, a full decade older than Casey. He was also pretty much the whitest human on the planet; pale skin, baby blue eyes, platinum blond hair, the whole package. Not usually Casey’s type… but here he was.
Paul sank into the couch beside Casey and handed him a glass of red wine. Casey took a sip and winced a little. Paul laughed again.
“We really have to work on that,” he said with a smirk.
“I’m sure I’ll get used to it if I just drink some more,” Casey replied, taking another sip.
“That’s the spirit,” Paul said, and propped his elbow on the back of the couch. “So, how was your day?”
Casey awoke to the sound of his phone ringing. He tried to get out of bed, but an arm held tight to his chest. Lips nuzzled the back of his neck.
He split in two and his doppelganger searched the floor for his pants. He found the phone and checked the call display: it was Calvin, his older brother. He stepped into the hallway and answered the call.
“Thanks for the heads up, man,” Calvin said sarcastically.
“Huh?” Casey muttered, rubbing his eyes.
“I just got off the phone with Mom,” Calvin said. “She was apparently under the impression that you were at my place last night, and since you weren’t answering your phone, she called me.”
“Oh shit,” Casey said. “What did you tell her?”
“I told her you just left and are on your way home,” Calvin said.
“Okay, thanks,” Casey said. “I really appreciate—”
“This has to stop, Case,” Calvin said. “I can’t keep lying to Mom for you. From now on, you can either tell her the truth, or find another alibi.”
“Fine, whatever,” Casey said. “Can I go now?”
“Yeah,” Calvin said. “Bye.”
Casey hung up and stepped back into the bedroom. He stared down at himself in Paul’s arms and just wanted to stay there the whole day.
“You should stay here all day,” Paul said, stroking Casey’s chest.
“I can’t,” Casey said. “I have to get home.”
“You could do both,” Paul said.
“If I could extend myself that far, I totally would,” Casey said, “but even I have my limits.”
He got dressed and absorbed his double from the bed. Paul grasped thin air and rolled onto his back.
“We should go to dinner sometime,” Paul said.
“You mean, like, at a restaurant?” Casey asked.
“That’s generally where one goes,” Paul replied.
“I can’t really afford anything fancy,” Casey said.
“I’m not asking you to pay,” Paul said, and held his hands out before Casey could reply. “I know, I know, you hate being pampered. Tell you what: I’m going to make some reservations, go to the restaurant, and order two meals. If you’re there with me, I’ll be more than willing to share. If not, more for me. How’s that sound?”
“It sounds like you’re not taking ‘no’ for an answer,” Casey said.
“I still haven’t heard a ‘no’,” Paul replied.
“That’s because you only hear what you want to hear,” Casey said, chuckling. “Do what you have to do.” He leaned in for a kiss. “I’ll see you later.”
Casey took one last glance at Paul on his way out the door. Outside, his head throbbed a little in the late-morning sun. He looked left and right along the street to check for nosy neighbors, and headed for the nearest metro station.
Casey stepped off the train and climbed the stairs to the street. His apartment building was halfway up the block. The big, brick tower where he grew up was pretty ugly, but wasn’t really a bad place to live. He rode the elevator to the fifth floor, took a deep breath, and stepped into his family’s apartment.
His mother, Diane, was standing at the kitchen counter digging through her camera bag. She was wearing her nicest blouse and dress pants.
“It’s about time you showed up,” she said. “I’m shooting the MacMillan wedding today and I need you to watch your sister. Or did you miss the two dozen times I reminded you over the past few days?”
“I overslept,” he said. “It was a long night.”
“Uh huh,” she muttered. “If you’re so tired that you can’t even make it home after your shift, maybe you shouldn’t be working so late. Next time you go in, talk to your boss about cutting back your hours.”
“No,” he said. “I can handle the work.”
“Well, you can’t keep mooching off your brother,” she said. “Just because he’s too nice to kick you out doesn’t mean you can just pop in whenever you like.”
“I wasn’t mooching,” Casey said. “He… barely even knew I was there.”
“I don’t care,” Di said, zipping up her bag and turning to face Casey. “You need to….” She trailed off, sniffed the air in front of him. “Have you been drinking?”
He glanced at the floor.
“Just… a little wine,” he replied.
Di rubbed her temples.
“Goddamn it, Casey,” she said. “Where did you get it? From Calvin?”
“No, he… It was before I went over there,” Casey said. “I just had a little drink with friends after work. It’s no big deal.”
“Oh, well, if you say your underage drinking is no big deal, then I’ll just forget all about it,” she said sarcastically. “I can’t believe you would….” She glanced at her watch. “I’m going to be late. We’ll talk about this later, when your father gets home.”
She grabbed her jacket and headed for the door. Opening it, she glanced back at Casey.
“And I want you to clean your pigsty of a room,” she said.
She stepped out into the hall and slammed the door behind her. Casey exhaled and turned to the couch. His sister, ten-year-old Elena, was playing a LEGO game on the Xbox. Casey sat beside her.
“Where did you really go last night?” she asked.
“None of your business,” he replied.
He grabbed the second controller and joined in co-op mode. While they played, another Casey stepped into his bedroom. He gathered his dirty clothes from the floor and shoved them into the laundry hamper.
“You hungry?” he asked.
Elena nodded without taking her eyes off the screen.
“Can we get McDonalds?” she asked.
“I suppose we could,” he replied, “if you don’t tell Mom.”
Elena crossed her heart and hoped to die.
“I’ll be right back, then,” he said, smiling.
He stepped out of the apartment and rode the elevator down to the ground floor. As he made his way up the block, the connection between the Casey on the couch and the Casey on the sidewalk began to strain, like an elastic band pulled too tight. Concentrating on the game took more effort with every step.
Someone called his name as he stepped into McDonalds. He glanced around the restaurant and spotted his friends—Tony, Michelle, Phoebe, and Marcus—sitting around the booth in corner. They waved him over.
“Look who it is,” Marcus said. “Care to join us?”
“Can’t,” Casey said. “I’m babysitting my sister right now.”
“Oh, come on,” Marcus said. “We hardly see you anymore since you started working nights.”
“Well… okay,” Casey said.
Phoebe, Marcus’s sister, scooched over, and Casey squeezed in between them. Tony and Michelle were too focused on each other to pay him any mind. Phoebe stared silently at the table, occasionally picking at her French fries.
“So how’s the job treating you?” Marcus asked. “Raking in the big bucks yet?”
“Just minimum wage and tips,” Casey replied.
“Better than nothing, I guess,” Marcus said. “I’d try to get you on at my dad’s shop, but he can barely afford to keep me on the payroll.”
“That’s okay,” Casey said. “The café’s not too bad.”
Back in the apartment, Elena nudged him in the arm.
“What’s taking so long?” she asked.
“There’s a line,” he replied.
In the restaurant, a third Casey approached the counter. He ordered some food (and a strawberry shake for Elena) and headed home.
“I still wish I could do that,” Marcus said. “I mean, the shit you could do in the bedroom with that kind of power? Sign me up.”
Phoebe cleared her throat and stood from the table.
“I’m going to the bathroom,” she said, stepping away.
Michelle got up and followed her. The three guys remained silent until the girls disappeared into the ladies room.
“You don’t need to ask my permission, you know,” Marcus said.
“What?” Casey asked.
“My sister,” Marcus replied. “She totally has a thing for you. If you want to go for it, I won’t stand in your way.”
“I… uh… appreciate that,” Casey stammered, “but I’m… not really….”
“I know, I know,” Marcus said. “I’m just saying.”
“Leave him alone, Marcus,” Tony said. “You’re making things weird.”
Marcus threw his hands up in defeat.
“Try to do a guy a favor,” he said.
The Casey with the food rode the elevator up and stepped into the apartment. He set their lunch on the coffee table and merged with the Casey on the couch.
In the restaurant, the girls returned from the washroom. Phoebe flashed Casey a brief smile and looked away.
“We should probably get going,” Michelle said. “We’re going to be late.”
“Late for what?” Casey asked.
“Face Ripper 5,” Marcus replied. “It’s a movie about a serial killer who wears his victims’ faces. It was filmed here in town. You should come with us.”
“I’d like to,” Casey said, “but the theatre’s too far. I can’t leave Elena by herself.”
“Bring her along, then,” Marcus said.
Casey shook his head.
“Mom would kill me,” he said.
“Hey, little sisters have to grow up eventually,” Marcus said, and looked up at Phoebe. “Right, Phee?”
Phoebe rolled her eyes and headed for the door. Michelle and Tony followed.
“Just remember what I said, yeah?” Marcus said, standing from the table.
“Uh huh,” Casey said.
They all stepped outside and said their goodbyes. Casey watched them walking the opposite direction for a minute, then turned and headed back to the apartment.
Casey sat on the couch listening to his parents ramble on about responsibility and maturity and blah blah blah. The word “curfew” came up once or twice, as well as “grounded”. Eventually, he’d had enough.
“I’m not a kid anymore, you know,” he said. “You can’t tell me what to do.”
His parents were silent for a long moment.
“You’re right,” his father, Simon, said finally. “We can’t tell you what to do. So here’s what’s going to happen.”
He glanced at Di.
“Next month,” she said, “you start paying us rent.”
Casey leaned forward and snapped, “What?”
“You’ve had a free ride since you graduated,” Simon said, “but if you’re not going to follow our rules, we’re going to have to start treating you like a tenant.”
“But that’s not fair,” Casey said. “I’m trying to save up for college next year.”
“And you’ll still be doing that,” Di said. “We’ll just be holding onto the money until then. Minus expenses, of course.”
Casey glanced around the room, trying to brainstorm a way out of this. A thought popped into his head, but he wasn’t sure he should speak it. His parents glared down at him, waiting for a response.
“Maybe… I should move out,” he said.
His parents looked at each other again, and turned back to Casey.
“Well, if that’s what you feel you have to do,” Di said, “we’ll certainly support your decision.”
“I can help you look for apartments, if you want,” Simon said. “I know a few places that are pretty safe and affordable. I’ll put together a list.”
Casey sank back into the couch, deflated.
“We’ll give you some time to think it over,” Di said. “In the meantime, you need to respect our rules while you’re still living for free under our roof. Okay?”
Casey nodded weakly.
“Good,” Simon said. “You’re free to go now.”
Casey stood from the couch and walked silently to his bedroom. He shut the door behind him and lay back on his bed, staring at the ceiling. His phone buzzed.
“I’m bored,” Paul’s text read. “Want to come over again?”
“I do,” Casey typed, “but my parents are still pissed about last night.”
“You should tell them you’re not a kid anymore,” Paul replied.
“I tried that,” Casey typed. “Now they want me to pay rent.”
“Is there anything I can do to help?” Paul asked.
“I just need to lay low for a while,” Casey replied, “and hope this all blows over.”
“Okay,” Paul texted. “I’ll be here for you if you need anything.”
“Thanks,” Casey replied.
He rolled over onto his stomach and closed his eyes.
Casey spent the next few days either in the apartment or at work. His parents continued to nag him for his decision, and Paul continued checking in to see how he was doing, but Casey evaded everyone’s questions.
He looked up from the counter and saw Phoebe standing in in the café, wearing a white dress with her hair tied back in a ponytail. She clutched her elbows and stepped forward slowly.
“Oh, hey, Phoebe,” he replied. “What brings you all the way out here?”
“There’s… something I’ve wanted to tell you for a long time,” she said. “I keep waiting for the perfect moment, but that’s never going to happen, is it? So I’m not waiting anymore.” She took a deep breath. “I like you, Casey Pollack, and I want to be your girlfriend.”
He ran a hand over his hair and glanced at the counter.
“I… I’m flattered,” he said, “but I’m actually already seeing someone.”
She blinked, and her eyes glistened.
“Oh,” she said, not looking at anything in particular. “When… when did this happen?”
“A few months ago,” he said. “We met here.”
“What’s her name?” Phoebe asked.
Casey hesitated a moment, then said, “Paul.”
Phoebe opened her mouth to reply, paused, and tilted her head to one side.
“That’s… not a girl’s name,” she said.
“No, it isn’t,” he replied.
“So… you…” she stammered.
“Yeah,” he said.
“Wow,” she muttered. “Does… does Marcus know?”
Casey shook his head.
“Nobody knows,” he said. “Well, except you, now.”
“I’m honored that you’d trust me with that,” she said.
He shrugged and said, “You deserved the truth.”
She glanced up the stairs.
“Your boss looks annoyed,” she said. “I should go.”
“Okay,” he said, chuckling. “Sorry for, you know, breaking your heart and stuff.”
“It was worth it,” she said. “See you later, Casey.”
She turned and strolled out of the shop. Casey exhaled. That went better than he’d expected, though he still felt a little bad about it.
He waited until Renee went back upstairs, then he spawned a double. He slipped through the kitchen and into the alley. Grabbing his phone, he called Paul.
“Still want to go to dinner?”
“Definitely,” Paul replied. “Are you available Thursday evening? The Rogues Gallery is opening up a new location and I just so happen to have a reservation.”
“Works for me,” Casey said.
Thursday afternoon rolled around and Casey stood in front of his mirror trying to decide which shirt to wear. He heard a knock on his door and his mother stepped into the room.
“You father has to work late tonight,” Di said, “so I’ll need you to babysit Elena while I’m at the shoot.”
“Mom, I have plans,” Casey said, turning to face her.
“You’ll have to cancel them,” she replied. “Family comes first.”
“I thought I was just a tenant,” he said.
“I don’t have time for this, Casey,” she said, and reached into her pocket. “Here’s some money. Order yourselves a pizza or something.”
She slid two twenties onto the dresser by the door and turned to leave.
“I’ll be back later tonight,” she said.
He listened to her footsteps thump along the carpet in the hall. A moment later, the front door opened and closed. Casey dropped his shirts on the floor and sat on the edge of the bed with his head in his hands.
“Casey?” his sister said.
He looked up and saw her standing in the doorway.
“Yeah?” he replied.
“You can go if you want,” she said. “I’ll be okay by myself. I promise.”
He shook his head.
“I’m not going to leave you,” he said. “I just… need to make a call.”
She hesitated a moment, then stepped out of the room. He picked up his phone and stared at his contact list. Paul was being very understanding about this whole situation, but he wouldn’t keep waiting forever.
An idea struck him. He closed the contact list and loaded up a map of the city. He plugged in the address of the restaurant and zoomed out gradually until….
“Hey, sis,” Casey said, poking his head out into the hallway, “want to go see a movie?”
Casey used the cash his mother had given him to buy two tickets to a new fantasy movie called Akkraemyth: The Forgotten Prince, and some popcorn and soda for Elena. They headed inside just as the trailers were starting and took their seats.
Outside, a second Casey headed up the block, away from the theatre. He reached the intersection and crossed the street to the Rogues Gallery Steakhouse.
Spectral images floated over the building, displaying sizzling steak, chicken, and fish, along with the words “ROGUES GALLERY II, GRAND OPENING.” An Asian woman with a platinum-blonde pompadour and band patches sewn all over a tattered denim jacket stood on the sidewalk projecting the images from the tips of her heavily-ringed fingers.
Casey peered in through the window. The restaurant was packed, and Paul was sitting at a table near the front of the building. Casey took a deep breath and stepped inside.
“I was starting to think you weren’t coming,” Paul said as Casey sat down across from him.
“I wouldn’t miss this for the world,” Casey said. “You’d never forgive me if I did.”
“Hey, I’m not that needy,” Paul said.
“That’s not what I meant,” he said. “I just… I’m sorry for not really being available lately.”
“It’s all good,” Paul said with a shrug. “I know you’ve got a lot on your plate. I was a teenager once, you know.”
“Huh,” Casey said. “I always figured you were carved by an Italian sculptor and given life with a magic spell.”
“Oh, I wish,” Paul replied. “You wouldn’t believe how much effort goes into maintaining these abs.”
He patted his stomach and winked.
“Well, they’re a work of art, regardless,” Casey said.
“You have always had a good eye,” Paul said.
Casey smiled and glanced around the table.
“So is there a menu I can look at?” he asked.
“I’ve already ordered for us both,” Paul replied.
“You really weren’t kidding the other day,” Casey said.
“I never kid,” Paul said with a wink.
On the movie screen, a giant spider leaped out from the shadows toward the main characters. Elena grabbed Casey’s arm and squeezed hard.
“Ow!” he muttered, glaring down at her.
“What’s wrong?” Paul asked.
Casey blinked and glanced across the table.
“Oh, um, just a cramp,” he said, rubbing his arm.
Paul leaned forward and looked at him quizzically.
“You’re somewhere else right now, aren’t you?” he asked.
“Mom made me babysit my sister,” he said. “We’re watching a movie down the street.”
“Sneaky,” Paul said, chuckling. “You could’ve just brought her along. I wouldn’t mind meeting some of your family.”
“I don’t think that’d go over very well,” Casey said. “My parents aren’t the most open-minded people.”
“I’ve been around awhile, Casey,” Paul said. “Whatever you’ve got, I’ve seen worse.”
“I don’t doubt it,” Casey said. “But at this point, I’d just rather not give them any more reasons to jack up my rent.”
Paul took a deep breath and propped his elbows on the table.
“Do you want to move in with me?” he asked.
Casey stared down at the table.
“I’m… not sure that’s such a great idea,” he said.
“Why not?” Paul said. “You’re over every other night, anyway, so it’s not really that big of a change. This way, you’d get out from under your parents’ thumb, and you won’t have to worry about rent, because I’ve got that completely covered. It’s a win-win.”
“But what if things don’t work out between us?” Casey said. “I don’t want to end up homeless.”
“Is there some specific reason you think that’s going to happen?” Paul asked.
Casey shook his head.
“No, not really,” he said. “It’s just… you’ve got this whole adult life that I can’t even begin to understand. I’m just a dumb kid who pours coffee for a living. Aren’t you going to get bored of me eventually?”
“Do I really seem like the kind of person who’d just casually throw away someone I care about?” Paul asked. “You’re not just some boy toy to me. You’re smart and funny and interesting, and I can really see myself building a future with you someday.”
“So can I,” Casey said, “but we need to be equals. I can’t just be your dependent. I need to know I can stand on my own feet.”
“I can appreciate that,” he said. “Of course, you realize the same applies to your parents, don’t you?”
“I’m not sleeping with my parents,” Casey said.
“I should hope not,” Paul said, chuckling. “I just mean….”
The waiter returned with two plates of steak and various vegetables. Casey closed his eyes and inhaled the thick smell of garlic.
“This smells amazing,” he said.
“Tastes even better,” Paul replied, taking a bite.
Casey dug into his meal and their conversation moved on to less-contentious topics, like food, books, television, the weather. Every once in a while, Casey glanced around the restaurant, eyeing the décor, the crowd. He could definitely get used to living like this, but he wasn’t sure how he felt about that.
In the theatre, the movie rapidly approached its climax as armies of elves and orcs and whatnot clashed in a fantasy world that looked an awful lot like New Zealand. It wasn’t too bad for a movie based on a video game, but it wasn’t exactly going to win any awards.
When the credits began to roll, Casey followed an excited Elena toward the exit, half-listening as she quoted the movie and pretended to swing a sword around at random passersby. A white woman with bright pink hair smiled at Elena as they filed out to the hallway.
“Casey!” a voice called out.
Marcus waved from the door of another theatre. Phoebe followed closely behind; she smiled faintly at Casey. Tony and Michelle joined them a moment later.
“Hey guys,” Casey said. “What’s up?”
“Oh, not much,” Marcus said. “Just indulging in a bit of Hong Kong ultra-violence. How about you?”
“Akkraemyth!” Elena said, and mimed a sword thrust at Marcus.
He clutched his chest and staggered backward into Phoebe. She shoved him off her and he pretended to draw a sword. He pointed it at Elena and grinned.
“En garde!” he said.
They play-fought for a couple minutes while the others just rolled their eyes. Eventually, Casey cleared his throat and laid his hand on his sister’s head.
“I hate to break this up,” he said, “but it’s a school night so I really should get her home.”
“Can we get ice cream?” Elena asked, twisting to peer up at her brother.
Casey shook his head and said, “I don’t think—”
“Come on,” Marcus said. “There’s a place just down the street.”
“Fine,” he said.
“Yay!” Elena said, and followed Marcus out to the lobby.
“Better be careful,” Phoebe said. “Next thing you know, he’s going to want to swap sisters with you.”
“At least I wouldn’t have to babysit anymore,” Casey said.
“True,” Phoebe said, “but having me as a sister would open up a whole new can of worms.”
She winked, and Casey chuckled.
“I suppose that would be pretty awkward,” he said.
Michelle cleared her throat.
“You mind flirting some other time?” she asked.
“Well, if you insist,” Phoebe replied. “Let’s get moving.”
She turned and headed up the hall. Casey, Tony, and Michelle followed her through the lobby and outside. Marcus and Elena were already halfway across the street. Casey hurried after them with a sinking feeling in his stomach that intensified when Marcus turned left.
“How far did you say this place was?” Casey asked.
“Relax, it’s really close,” Marcus replied.
They continued down the street. The Rogues Gallery grew nearer with every step. Elena pointed up at the illusive food dancing in the sky.
“Excuse me,” Casey said to Paul, and stood from the table.
He took a few steps toward the men’s room, but hesitated. He glanced down at Paul.
“Hey baby,” Marcus said to the woman in front of the building. “How’re you….”
He trailed off. His eyes were fixed on the window. Inside, Casey leaned in and kissed Paul.
“What’s the matter?” Phoebe asked, and skidded to a halt beside her brother. “Oh… wow.”
Casey came up for air and leaned his forehead against Paul’s.
“I think we have an audience,” Paul said, glancing out the window.
“I know,” Casey said.
“Friends of yours?” Paul asked.
“I guess we’ll see in a minute,” Casey replied.
He returned to his seat and took a deep breath. Marcus backed away from the window and turned toward the Casey on the sidewalk with his eyes lowered. He seemed to be lost in thought for a long moment, then he looked up.
“Just tell me one thing,” he said, jabbing his index finger at Casey. “Is he rich?”
“He’s… pretty well-off, yeah,” Casey replied. “Why?”
“Excellent,” Marcus said, and grinned. “You’re buying the ice cream, then.”
He turned and continued down the street. Elena was still staring through the window at Paul and the other Casey.
“Is that your boyfriend?” she asked.
“Yes,” he replied. “Do you… know what that means?”
She looked up at him and rolled her eyes.
“Duh,” she said. “My friend Sean has two dads.”
“Oh, okay,” he said. “So, um… do you mind not telling Mom and Dad about this?”
She crossed her heart. He took her hand and led her away from the restaurant. Phoebe walked beside him, while Tony and Michelle trailed behind.
“You seem very happy together,” Phoebe said.
“We are,” he replied.
“I’m glad,” she said, and squeezed his hand.
“Is everything okay out there?” Paul asked.
Casey smiled and said, “Couldn’t be better.”
Casey and Elena rode the elevator to the fifth floor of their building. Some old music from the 1970s was playing on the stereo when they stepped into the apartment. Their mother sat in front of the computer in the corner, sorting the evening’s photos, while their father read a book on the couch.
“Hey, kids,” Simon said, setting his book aside. “How was the movie?”
“It was so good!” Elena said.
She jumped up onto his lap and started recapping the plot with a heavy focus on the swordfights. Casey walked slowly toward Di.
“Mom?” he said.
“Yeah?” she replied without turning around.
“I’ve made up my mind,” Casey said. “About the rent thing, I mean.”
“And?” his mother said.
He took a deep breath and said, “I’m going to move out.”
She swiveled her chair to face him.
“Why?” she asked. “You think our offer’s unfair?”
“No, not at all,” he replied. “I just… I’ve realized that this is something I need to do.”
“Where are you going to go?” she asked.
“I don’t know yet,” he said. “I guess I’ll start with that list Dad mentioned.”
“I can have that ready for you tomorrow morning,” Simon said.
“Thanks,” Casey said.
“Are you sure about this?” Di asked. “I mean, really sure.”
“Yeah,” he replied. “I am.”
She leaned back in her chair for a long moment.
“Okay,” she said, and turned back to the computer. “But I may still need you to babysit from time to time.”
He glanced back at his sister, still rambling on about the movie.
“I think I can handle that,” he replied.