Disclaimer: I don't own Life with Derek of any of its characters.

Dedication: To my sister, Sally, who was my proofreader and sounding board for this whole fic!

Edwin didn't understand it.

He was pretty much Lizzie's best friend out of anyone in their quasi-family. Why was he having such a hard time figuring this out?

It was just a few days before their now customary combined birthday dance party, the third one. Edwin was turning fifteen and was facing the annoying situation of becoming what Nora would call "emotionally mature." He and Lizzie had never given each other birthday gifts, somehow figuring that being co-guests of honor at the party cancelled out the obligation, but this year, he felt really uncomfortable when he realized that he was the only one in his family who wasn't getting her anything.

Thanks to his very stealthy reconnaissance, he knew what everyone else was planning. His dad and Nora had already told Lizzie that they would pay for her to get her ears double-pierced, and Casey was going to give her some new earrings to go in the new holes. Derek was giving Lizzie his old hockey stick that he had been withholding for months so he could give it as a birthday gift he wouldn't have to pay for, and Marti had used her own allowance money to get her a purple helmet for street hockey.

In fact, all of Lizzie's sport needs had been basically taken care of. She had gotten a new soccer ball the year before, and a new karate outfit when she got her green belt. She got girly hand-me-downs from Casey all the time. She didn't really need anything.

Hence, his dilemma.

He and Lizzie hung out every day. They watched TV together. They played video games. She beat him at soccer. They even still hid out in the closet when Casey and Derek got too annoying. They were together all the time. How could he now know her well enough by now to know what she would want for a gift?

He considered getting her something to do with her favorite TV shows or video games, but she wasn't really the kind of person to have pop culture memorabilia. She didn't obsess over movie stars or anything. (She was too sensible for that. He liked that about her.)

Finally, he decided that he would have to just ask her. He really didn't want to, because maybe it would hurt her feelings that he couldn't figure anything out. Well, she probably wouldn't care. Really, he just didn't want her to know how much he was worrying over this, or ask why he had decided that she should get a gift this year when he had never bothered before. He wouldn't know how to answer those questions at all.

After he decided to give up the subtle route, he went in search of her around the house. He heard her before he saw her, and that's when he got lucky.

"Mom! George! Please! I don't care about my ears. I can pay for my own earrings. This is the only gift I want!"

Her voice was coming from the kitchen table, and Edwin paused on the stairs to hear what was going on before he ventured into a fight.

"Lizard," Nora's voice sighed in response. "I know it's what you want, but I really don't think it would be a good idea. Our house is already a wreck all the time. Adding a pet would not help matters."

"But I would take care of it! I wouldn't let it make a mess. Really. I'm great at taking care of pets."

"Oh, like that time you let a skink loose in our house?" George commented.

"Well, I wouldn't want a skink. I would want something furry and cute and un-scary. Like a dog or cat. Especially a cat."

"Well, we'll think about it, Liz, but I really don't think so," George answered slowly, hesitant as always to be the bad guy.

"Fine," Lizzie sighed. She began trudging toward the stairs in an overdramatically sad way that she must have picked up from Casey, and Edwin darted up the stairs before anyone saw him, grinning triumphantly.

A pet. A cat or dog… a little kitten. That would be the perfect gift. Why hadn't he thought of a pet before? Lizzie had always been an animal lover. The fact that it was most likely parent forbidden just made it even better. Lizzie and Edwin had always teamed up when they decided to break the rules. It could be a secret pet.

Edwin had hardly stepped into his room when a knock sounded at his door.


In the throes of her annoyance and disappointment, Lizzie's feet automatically steered her towards Edwin's door. She grimaced awkwardly as she made herself pause to knock. Having gone through Nora's favorite topic of converation, puberty, it seemed like they shouldn't barge into each other's rooms, but knocking always felt kind of weird.

The door swung open quickly. "Hey, Liz. Come in." He stepped aside to let her pass, and she smiled a little. If it had been any other family member, he would have asked what they wanted first, but he always assumed that she just wanted to hang out. He was usually right.

She plopped onto the edge of his bed. "Have you ever noticed that both of our parents are total fascists?"

"Hmm, well, I guess I've always thought Dad looked a little like Mussolini," he joked, and Lizzie snorted, imagining George with an evil frown. "What human rights are they suppressing now?"

"My right to have my own pet. I mean, I'm a responsible kid, right?" She felt herself moving into soapbox rant mode. "I get good grades. I keep stuff clean. I'm a very drama-free child. Don't you think I deserve a cute little kitten or something? Or at least a hamster?"

"Definitely. I'm just surprised you don't want to adopt something from an endangered species."

"Yeah, most of those wouldn't do very well in Ontario."

"On a happier note… are you looking forward to our party?"

"Yeah, a lot, as long as Jamie doesn't take it as an opportunity to get back together for the fourth time." Lizzie and her best guy friend had been going on dates, breaking up, and reconciling ever since that day with Casey at Smelly Nellie's, but she was trying to stop the cycle. After all, if they had decided they were better off as friends three times, what would make the fourth try so magical? She cared about Jamie, but could never really make up her mind about how she felt about him, even almost two years after his confession of teenage crush.

Edwin rolled his eyes. She knew he didn't like talking about the Jamie situation, although he usually tried to disguise that fact. She tried to save most of her dating conversations for Casey, but it was hard not to let a few of them overflow when she was with Edwin so often.

"How about if I cut in on you guys dancing if I see him pulling out an engagement ring?"

She laughed and winced at the same time. "If he pulls out any form of ring, I'm definitely fleeing the scene." Ed was kidding, but she could all too easily imagine Jamie giving her a heart-shaped friendship ring or something.

"So is it rings in general you fear or just rings from Jamie?" Edwin asked, his shoulders hunching up a little in that way they did when he was uncomfortable.

"Well… rings from Jamie, I guess… why do you ask?" She could tell she was giving him a bit of a weird look.

"Oh, I was just wondering what you wanted for your birthday," he said, the words coming out in a rush.

"Aw, Ed, you don't have to get me anything." She smiled, thinking of the hat and scarf set she had been knitting him for the past week. She hadn't really expected him to give her a gift, but she had wanted to get him something, anyway. Someone had to show him how to be mature.

"Well, I just wanted to… wait. Does that mean you didn't get me anything? Should I not get you something? Would it be weird?" He was beginning to talk fast, and she laughed.

"No, it wouldn't be weird. I'm giving you something." His nervousness spread to her. "Wait… should I not?"

"No! I mean, yes! I mean, yeah, we should give each other gifts. It's normal, right?"

"Yeah, normal." She looked awkwardly down at her lap. What was normal for them? They had many different modes to their relationship, and Lizzie never knew quite how to define it, beyond the obvious stepfamily distinction. Really, despite their occasional wars, she kind of felt like Edwin had become her best friend, but she wasn't sure if he considered her to be his.

Edwin switched into one of their most frequent relationship patterns and got competitive. "Well, whatever you're getting me, it's not as good as what I'm getting you."

"Oh, yeah? How do you know? Maybe I'm getting you a new computer. Maybe I'm giving you a Ferrari." She imagined how cocky Edwin would be with a Ferrari. His occasional ego trips were so very amusing.

"Yeah, right. Neither one of us has that kind of money. Unless you're somehow knitting me a car."

She frowned involuntarily at his precise guess. "You don't know what I'm planning, Edwin."

"Well, you don't know what I'm planning, either. It's gonna be amazing."

"Yeah, well, we'll see!" She put on her intimidating karate face, even though she knew it didn't work on him since he had finally gotten substantially bigger than she was during the past year.

"Ha, we sound like Casey and Derek. Except I don't know if they would ever fight about who was going to be nicer to the other one."

"Yeah, that might be the only thing they haven't fought about yet." Casey and Derek were in their last year of high school. They were both enjoying the extra prestige of being seniors on campus. Casey had already filled out lots of college applications. Derek had already planned his final senior prank.

"Don't tell them, but I think I'm kind of going to miss them. Except I won't miss being Derek's personal butler."

"I'll miss them, too, even Casey being my personal adviser about teen drama." They were both quiet for a minute. Lizzie imagined the house as it would be with her and Edwin as oldest. Probably a lot quieter. Not quite as funny. But still cozy.

"Hey, wanna watch TV?" Edwin asked. She nodded, and they bounded down the stairs and landed on the couch in the same spots they always occupied, fitting into the dents that they had previously left in the cushions.