The 100 Acre Wood (or A Lack Thereof).
I was going to make up this long and elaborate story about how Casey James is an orphan raised by elephants, which would explain why he's so huge and has no grasp of human etiquette, but I stop myself. That would just give him the excuse he's been looking for these long twenty-five years.
Instead I tell the girl asking about the big obstruction across the room, "Oh, Casey? He's a funny, special guy. I mean really special. His nickname is Nutcase."
As if he could overhear any of this and is determined to prove my point, Casey yells for everyone to stand back and then crushes a beer can against his temple. A full beer can. The dark lager bursts out everywhere, spraying at least half the party. It's like watching Gallagher stand-up comedy—you see the watermelon and the mallet and it's just so stupid that you don't think you're going to laugh until you do.
Times like this I wish we weren't friends.
Drenched in beer, he makes his way over to us with a huge grin and a new can of uncrushed beer. If he gets any of it on me this time I swear I'll strangle him right here.
Casey drapes himself over me and looks at the girl.
"'Sup?" he asks her.
I go for his throat. The girl backs away slowly and disappears into the crowd while Casey and I wrestle a second. He's laughing as he pries my fingers away. As soon as he lets go, I'm going to find a gun.
"I just said hi to her, Piglet. You don't got to strangle me."
There is nothing I hate more than the nickname that has followed me throughout my chubby childhood into my skinny mid-twenties. God put Casey on this earth to spite me. In a previous life I'm pretty sure I must have killed a Messiah, because otherwise I can't think of anything I've done to deserve this.
"First off, don't call me that!" I try and fail to tug my hands out of Casey's grip. "Second, this is a cashmere sweater! You're soaked in Guiness! Get off me!"
"What? You don't want me to do this?"
On 'this,' he pulls me into a full-body hug. Even our legs are somehow intertwined. If we weren't vertical and at least one of us fully clothed, this might be awkward.
Thinking of that, "Where the hell is your shirt?"
Casey drunkenly nuzzles my head, burying his cold nose in my hair. It's like being mauled by a Saint Bernard puppy. His mouth finds my ear and my thoughts freeze, but the last one has absolutely nothing to do with dogs.
"I thought I'd turn this into a Naked Party," he whispers. "Come on. Let's get naked." His hand slips under my shirt. He's let go of my hands and I didn't even realize it. "Everybody's doing it."
"That's it," I snap, my voice raspier than usual. I snatch the beer out of his hand that was about to fall anyway and hand it off to a guy passing by, who takes one look at my situation and then winks. "You're cut-off. And if you don't get your hand off my bra, I'm going to—"
It's almost a good thing he interrupts me with a kiss because I actually had no idea how to finish the threat. But then I have to deal with his tongue probing my mouth. It isn't like I'm a lesbian, and Casey is a pretty good kisser, but this is "Nutcase" Casey James. He smashes cans full of beer on his head. This is the guy who, in fifth grade, lifted up my shirt during our presentation on wolves and howled so loud that the fourth and third grade classes down the hall echoed him. In eighth grade he pulled down my pants during our Health presentation on genital herpes, pointed at my polka-dot underwear, and told everyone I had to wear polka-dots to camouflage mine. Throughout my entire life when we lived next door to each other, he used to pull up the blinds in random rooms of his house to flash me.
He's also the one who cried on my shoulder when his hamster Sammy died. When his first girlfriend dumped him, we stayed at the play park for hours talking about it; Casey scared away all the littler kids who asked for turns on the swing. When my first boyfriend dumped me… Actually I've never had a real boyfriend thanks to Casey, who would meet all my dates at the front door and tell them I have herpes, effectively scaring them off before I ever knew they were there. But the first time he did that, he also took me out to the movie my date and I had planned to see, and has filled in for all my other dates that abruptly decided to cancel.
Is it weird that I think that last one is really sweet and not at all creepily controlling? I should have my own Lifetime movie, especially now that we're college roommates.
Wow, this kiss has been going on a bit long. Maybe I should stop feeling up those lovely pecs, too.
"Case!" I snap, shoving myself away.
He gives a goofy grin, eyes still heavy-lidded. "Yeah, Piglet?"
Oh, yeah. That's why the kiss was such a bad idea.
"Stop it," I snarl. "I am not a Piglet anymore."
His green eyes sweep over me, lingering on my girly parts, before finally meeting my gaze again. I look around the party but, no, time has not frozen to leave only the Nutcase and I in seriously awkward motion.
"You're my Piglet, Piglet," Casey says, wrapping his arms around me again. He stinks of beer and a faint whiff of Old Spice. "And I'm your Pooh Bear."
"We haven't played Pooh's Corner in fifteen years."
I feel his mouth against my ear curl with a smile. "So let's go back to the apartment. I've got a 100 Acre—"
"I don't want to explore your so-called 100 Acre Wood, Casey. Been there, saw it, and you're just about 100 acres short."
Stupid body, starting to respond to the vibrations of his chest against my (ahem) girly parts.
What am I saying? We were just discussing the length of his penis and how he would take advantage of me as kids, at full volume, in public.
"Besides," I mutter, glancing to my right, "I'm planning on going home with Brian over there."
"Brian Barr?" Casey releases me to swivel in my hottie's direction. "OK. Come on, I'll introduce you."
"What? Wait! No!"
Realizing that by trying to hold back Casey is more like trying to get Godzilla's attention, resulting in total ignorance and him dragging me closer to Tokyo by the second, I release him. This would have worked if Godzilla didn't suddenly morph into King Kong and hook an arm around my waist, once again dragging me into the heart of some unwitting city.
Brian, the three guys, and several girls he's talking with swing their attention to Casey. I manage to catch Brian's eye on accident and my face feels like I just downed a shot of Famous Dave's Devil's Spit sauce with a wasabi chaser.
"Ladies," Casey says, getting the attention of every girl in the house. "And Brian." My face is going to melt right off. "I don't think you've met my roommate, Piglet."
I can't believe he just did that.
Plus his hand that was resting on my hip before is now under my shirt, an inch away from my boob.
Then he winks at Brian, adding, "She really likes you, so I'll only charge half-price."
I swing around and break my hand against his face. My palm burns like athlete's foot as I turn and storm off. I have no idea where to go. The whole house heard him and every room I pass through I swear people are pointing and laughing. Either they heard, or Casey has been spreading rumors again.
He called me a whore! In front of like ten people I intern with at the hospital! On Monday I'm going to be in surgery with Brian, and by then the other trainees will know! I'm the new whore on campus!
Does he have to rub it in?
I walk five blocks and then need to stop to dig in my bra for my key. Now I even look like a whore just because I wore a dress without pockets and didn't bring a purse.
"Want some help?"
Ignoring him, I manage to find the key. Casey holds the door, already having taken out his key and unlocked it. I shove him through it and then slam the door closed after him, but it's on an air-shock lock and instead closes with a soft swish. Casey doubles over, laughing, the sound cut off once it finally clicks shut.
I turn and stomp off into the night. Let's see if Casey is still laughing next week once I use the grocery money for a hotel room.
"Piglet, come on. I'm going to pick you up and carry you inside in three, two…"
I break into a run before he gets to one.
Damn him for all those years on the track team through middle- and then high school, and those daily morning runs that he always has to wake me up before even though he knows I hate exercise.
Casey doesn't have any trouble carrying me into the elevator and riding up five flights with me slung over his shoulders like a farmer's hoe.
Yeah, my self-esteem is shot for the night. Even all my metaphors now have some level of prostitution in them.
On the bring side, that last shot of Yaegermeister has apparently kicked in because I am totally distracted by the smooth olive skin beneath my fingertips, which I've been absently caressing since Level 3.
On level 9 we head into the apartment, turn right, and are in my bedroom. Casey drops me in the full-sized bed and then collapses beside me. We roll toward one another with our heads together, foreheads touching.
"You know I was kidding."
"You're paying my half of the rent to make up for this so I can spend my money on cheer-up clothes."
"Sexy cheer-up clothes?"
"I was thinking sweats."
"Mmm," Casey murmurs, slipping an arm around me. "Sexy sweats?"
I shove his arm off. "Get out."
He kisses my forehead and rolls away. At my doorway he stops, turns, murmurs, "Sorry about that joke. Just so you know, Brian is sleeping with three of the nurse assistants."
Rolling toward the wall, I mutter, "How would you know?"
There's a grin in his voice when he says, "Because they have herpes."
I close my eyes.
"You're so unbelievable, Casey. Literally."
"That's what the ladies tell me."
"If you mean the women who won't sleep with you, whom you say all have herpes."
"That hurts, Piglet."
"I still love you."
Pulling up the covers, I'm thinking I might have overdone it with that last shot. "You too, Nutcase," I murmur.
"Double-shot caramel macciato with skim milk and extra froth."
"Tall?" asks the barista.
"It's like another language," Casey groans, covering his eyes at the bright smile the barista beams his way. "Remind me what I'm doing up this early, Piglet?"
The barista keeps the smile but glances at me with widened eyes at the nickname. It makes her look crazy, which is what the baristas of my nightmares look like so it's fitting. I probably have the same look on my face right now, minus anything bright or smiley. It isn't like he isn't used to waking up this early; it's that he drank too much last night.
"You woke me up to ask if I wanted to run with you. I didn't. You crawled into my bed and started snoring so loud that I couldn't get back to sleep. So I dragged you out of bed to get coffee with me."
"Ma'am, could you please move aside so the next person can order?"
Casey slips an arm around my waist to pull me away before I can fly over the counter at the teeny-bopper barista with the crazy (ugly) face.
"Am I a ma'am?" I snarl at Casey.
"What's a ma'am?" The tension flows out of me on a sigh. This is why I keep him around. "That reminds me, I feel fat," Casey mutters, rubbing his thickly muscled Mario Lopez abs.
And that's how God plagued me.
"You know what? Forget the coffee."
He doesn't take into consideration that I haven't moved. He just snaps, "We already chopped off your hand to pay for it! If you don't drink it, I will."
The only thing more horrifying than the Nutcase on caffeine is his snoring.
"I was kidding, Nut."
He nuzzles my temple. I stifle the urge to dig in my pocket for a dog treat.
"So," he whispers, the deep timbre easily carrying down my ear canal over the grinding screech of the cappuccino maker. "I need a favor."
Pretending not to hear, I go grab my latte and give the barista a mean look. Unfortunately I've dragged Casey this far and he isn't about to let me ditch him now. He follows me out onto the sidewalk. We head toward the college, which isn't exactly within walking distance, but I have some time to kill and a cell phone to call a taxi when my feet get tired.
Casey continues as if I asked what the favor is. "My little brother's recital is tonight. I support his life choices and blah-blah-blah, but I really don't want to sit through two hours of fairies prancing around a stage."
I hope the look on my face is withering, but Casey can't even spell wither let alone feel it. "Yeah, calling them fairies shows oodles of support. Was that you with the Nazi star on your sleeve during last May's Gay Pride Parade?"
He grins, says, "I meant actual fairies, Piglet. It's the Nutcracker ballet."
"The Nutcracker ballet?" I'm trying and failing to not sound too excited. "You have free tickets to Julliard's Nutcracker ballet?"
The bushy black caterpillars posing as Casey's eyebrows climb his forehead. "You mean you really want to go to it? Since when do you like ballet?"
"I don't like ballet. I don't want to go. It's just, I mean... Do you know how much those tickets go for in certain circles, though?"
"Oh, you're right." Shit. "Never mind. I take back my favor. I'll just put 'em up for auction on eBay."
"No!" I round on him. There's still the faint pink handprint on his right high cheekbone from last night's slap. "No take-backs! This isn't third grade. Besides, it's Shaun's first big performance. You don't want him to look up in the audience and see some strangers where you're supposed to be. Give me the tickets. I'll go."
The watts bursting out of his smile now could light up Times Square's annual MTV Christmas Party.
"You want to go," he says slowly.
When I last thought that Casey James was put on this earth specifically to spite me, I was halfway kidding. Now I'm totally certain his only purpose for existing is to thwart me at every turn. I wonder if this is how all those villains feel, if it weren't for those meddling kids.
Why am I always the villain even in my own head when Casey is the one doing the torture?
"All right, compromise," Casey says. "I'll go to the show if afterward—"
"Compromise? You just said you don't want to go! You were going to make me go in your place! Where's the bargain in this?"
"If afterward we can go to my favorite restaurant and you buy dinner."
"Casey! You're such a jerk that I feel like we're speaking two different languages!"
He stoops to put his face in mine, his dark curls brushing across my forehead. "Do me a favor," he whispers threateningly. "'Call me a jerk one more time.'"
Then he whips out the 'Running Man' dance and segues into some disco move. Any music he's hearing right now is totally in his head. The scary part is that, for us, this is completely normal. No, wait. The truly scary part is when my brain starts singing along. I stop short of pulling on my Moonwalking shoes. Even though I do a killer 'Moonwalk,' I don't want passersby to start dropping pennies in my coffee cup.
"Yo, Nutcase!" I snap again. He looks at me, but continues to 'Walk Like an Egyptian.' "Can we put away the crazy for a minute so you can fork over those tickets?"
Casey stops. "I don't have them on me. Shaun said they'd be in the mail by today."
We look at each other for three seconds. I don't think either of us is surprised when I turn and start running the three blocks back to the condo. For some reason Casey doesn't even give chase. When I glance over my shoulder to see if he's following, he is bent double to pick up my now empty cup and the lid. He easily steps over the spilled coffee and tosses both into a campus trash can.
Well look at that! He has at least one human manner. Maybe Casey James wasn't raised by elephants after all.
Disclaimer: I do not own copyrights to any of the dance moves used above, and rights to the rap "You're A Jerk" belong to New Boyz.
Thanks to for pointing out my mistakes in the first draft. I've corrected what I could discern but my writing is rarely perfect. Thanks for taking the time to set me straight!