When Casey calls him at 11 at night, the first thing Henry thinks is that there’s been some kind of catering emergency. That’s what they have each other’s numbers for after all, to gather their team members or get last-minute rides or whatever.
But it’s the middle of the night and Ron’s team isn’t working and Henry’s pretty sure Casey didn’t pick up another shift with someone else.
All of this flashes through his brain in a matter of seconds.
“Uuuurgh,” he answers.
“Oh my god, were you asleep?” Casey says. She sounds judgemental rather than actually apologetic.
“Um.” Henry definitely just woke up, but. “I may have had a beer in front of the game.”
“Why?” Henry yawns, half-heartedly covering his mouth. “What’s up? Is this a booty call?”
“You wish,” Casey snorts. He absolutely does wish, but, given their history of hooking up in stairwells at work, Henry doesn’t think the assumption is entirely out of line. “No, actually, there’s this weird Hungarian comedy playing at this funky old theater by my house in like an hour. I was thinking of going. Wanna come?”
“Yes!” Henry is too enthusiastic, he knows. This thing with Casey is fragile, but going to the movies with her at midnight is the closest he has come to going on a date with Casey.
“You want to crawl out of bed to watch a foreign film in the middle of the night?”
Yes. Yes. Dear god, yes. If it involves hanging out with Casey without Ron Donald chaperoning, then absolutely yes.
Henry does know better than to actually say that, though.
“Well, don’t you?” He asks instead. “It was your idea.”
Henry can practically hear Casey rolling her eyes. He doesn’t know how that’s even possible. “I’ll text you directions.”
Casey pays for the tickets and Henry buys a slightly stale bucket of popcorn bigger than his head.
They sit in the dark and read subtitles and laugh in all the wrong places because this particular film doesn’t translate well and maybe their greasy hands brush a couple of times as they both reach for the popcorn.
Maybe Henry doesn’t want to drive back across the city at 3 a.m. Maybe he crashes at Casey’s instead. Maybe they don’t do a whole lot of sleeping. Whatever. It doesn’t mean anything.
The thing Henry counts as their first real date, he knows Casey considers grabbing-food-after work.
It’s a sit-down restaurant, though. It is a diner, not part of a chain though. Henry found it the last time Party Down had an event in Alhambra, where the people are a little less weird but all the streets look like movie neighborhoods.
They’re both tired and dirty and Henry is also sticky and smells like cotton candy, because apparently at kids’ events bartending skills are equivalent to holding a paper stick above swirling molten sugar for hours on end. Casey, on the other hand, with her hair rumpled and her uniform shirt and bow tie discarded, looks great.
Henry groans, sliding into the booth. Across the table Casey echoes him.
“Can we just not?” She asks after the hostess hands them menus and walks away.
Henry is too tired to even pretend to know what she’s talking about. “Huh?”
“Work. There were a million bratty little kids running around with sticky, brightly colored hands. It happened, it’s done. Let’s just not.”
Henry smacks his head against the back of the booth and then winces because it was a lot harder than it looked. “Case. The last thing I want to talk about with you is work.”
Her eyebrows furrow together. “All we have in common is work.”
“We have a million things in common. Hating Party Down is just one of them. I mean, we also hate the Hollywood rat race. And our parents.”
Casey snorts in agreement.
“Are you ready to order?” a waitress approaches the table.
Henry’s known what he wanted since he suggested this place. He gestures to Casey.
“Can I just get a burger? Medium?”
The waitress nods. “And for you?”
Henry feels a pang of sympathy for the young woman. They basically have the same job, after all, only hers is inccessent where his is only soul crushing in random burst.
“The cobb salad, please.”
Casey raises her eyebrows at him and shakes her head. She’s totally laughing at him, but it’s a really good salad here.
“The Ty Cobb?” the waitress asks. Henry feels his cheeks flush. He takes back any kind thoughts he had in her direction. It’s not his fault something so delicious has a stupid name.
The waitress isn’t out of earshot before Casey starts hassling him.
“A salad, Henry? Really? That’s how you’re going to prove what a manly provider you are? By ordering a salad?”
“Maybe I’m proving that I don’t buy into gender stereotypes. Or that I really like spinach.”
Casey grins at him and Henry grins back. Spending time one-on-one with Casey makes his tiredness disappear and It’s a really nice meal between friends who sometimes see each other naked.
Plus Casey lets him pay. That’s not nothing.
The first time Casey sees Henry’s apartment, she bursts out laughing.
“It is pretty bare,” he admits.
“Are you doing some modern zen thing?” she asks, still giggling. Henry knows she’s trying to be polite, but sarcasm leaks out the edges of her words.
Sarcastic or not, it’s a charitable explanation for the single recliner, tv, and dozen Keanu Reeves one-sheets that make up Henry’s living room.
“I was robbed,” Henry tells Casey.
She presses her hand over her mouth. “Oh, shit. I’m sorry.”
“No, no. It’s fine. My roommate moved out and liberated a bunch of my shit. He left the posters in… trade, I guess?”
Casey is back to laughing.
“I still have a bed.” Henry hastens to add.
“Good to know.”
“Even if I hadn’t, I would have replaced that. I’m not a total heathen.”
Casey narrows her eyes at him. “How long ago did your roommate move out?”
Henry shrugs. “A few months.”
It’s not like it even really mattered. Henry spends most of his time at home in the recliner. He doesn’t have many people over.
Casey keeps standing there, hands on her hips. “How long, Pollard?”
“April?” He’d been at his parents for Easter, is how this all happened. He might be a little bit passive aggressive, but he wouldn’t have just watched his roommate walk out with his stuff.
“In six months you haven’t had the energy to drive to Ikea and replace your shit?” Casey sounds almost angry at him. Like she’s somehow disappointed that he is this guy.
“I have a bed,” he repeats. Henry’s surprised that he kind of wants to fight with Casey about this. This guy is exactly who he’s always presented himself as: an apathetic, lazy, failed actor. He doesn’t understand what else Casey was expecting him to be.
“I bet if he’d taken the tv you’d have replaced that.”
His roommate actually had taken the good tv. This is the shitty boxy one from the early 90s that barely has a working remote and used to live in Henry’s bedroom. It has a built-in VCR for christsake.
He shrugs. “I probably would have just read more books.”
This seems to gain him some points with Casey.
“So you really just are this lazy?” she asks, picking up her purse. “Come on, let’s go. I’ll even spring for meatballs in the restaurant.”
This, Henry doesn’t want to fight about. Spending the afternoon with Casey trying out couches and pretending that they’re more than they are actually sounds kind of great.
He still has his roommate’s security deposit, after all. He feels like it’s the least the guy can do to buy him a dining room table and a couple of chairs.
Casey is on Henry’s couch when he gets home. She has a key, but it’s the first time she’s ever used it.
She’s wrapped up in a million blankets, most of which Henry has never seen before, and she looks pale.
“Hey,” he says quietly, under the volume of the television Casey doesn’t really seem to be watching. “What’s up?”
“I’b sick,” she answers. She sounds miserable. “My roobbates are doo loud. Is id okay dhad I cabe here?”
“Yeah, yeah, of course,” Henry says quickly, overeager again, but he figures that’s probably not the thing that’s going to scare Casey away at this point. “Is there anything I can do? Are you hungry? I think I have some soup.”
Casey sighs and hesitates like there’s something she wants but she’s unwilling to ask for.
“I’b okay,” she says after a minute.
Her personality is so big that sometimes Henry forgets how small Casey actually is. Curled up on his couch though, she looks tiny and delicate.
Henry sits next to Casey and eases her into his arms. She relaxes against him and he runs his fingers through her hair.
“Bedder,” Casey murmurs against him.
For the first time, Henry dares to hope that he might actually get to keep this.
Every time Casey comes over, she brings him something. A plant – when that dies, a cactus – a picture frame, a vase that still has the 25-cent sticker on it from whatever yard sale she picked it up at, one of the blankets from her place when she was sick.
Henry keeps telling himself it doesn’t mean anything. That Casey spends a lot of time at his place and she doesn’t want to hang out somewhere gross.
He is absolutely not getting his hopes up. Even though he has every reason to. Even though he could.
Casey’s not that girl though. That feelings girl. She’s just being a pal. A sexy pal. Who is slowly starting to bring things like toothbrushes and clothes over.
Henry is only a little bit surprised when one morning. Afternoon. Whatever. Before work over coffee Casey says, “So, my lease is up and it seems kind of pointless to renew it.”
Henry splutters into his mug. “You want to move in?”
“Yeah. Um. Is that not okay?” Casey falters, backtracking a little.
“No. I definitely think you should move in.” After a pause Henry asks, “Not as roommates though, right? As, like, a couple living together?”
“Why?” Casey asks. “Are you afraid I’m gonna steal all your stuff?”
Henry shrugs. “It’s mostly all yours anyway. But if you touch my Keanu posters, woman, I swear to god...”
Casey cracks up and then Henry breaks and through his laughter he thinks he can finally trust this.