Disclaimer: I am in no way affiliated with Life With Derek.

I've seen this format used by a lot of different authors for a lot of different stories, and I always thought it was a pretty awesome way to do a story, so I figured I might want to try it. (:

PERFECTION IS THE BEST KIND OF PAIN

i. She hates being the first choice. For anything. Because it always ends up that there was something much better waiting ahead.

ii. She's terrified of full moons.

It's not a werewolf kind of fear—although she was a little bit traumatized at five years old when her uncle made her watch The Wolfman with him—and she doesn't even know why simply the idea of a glowing, white circle illuminating the night sky and everything around her horrifies her.

Or maybe she just doesn't want to remember.

Because sometimes remembering is worse than forgetting.

iii. She is only seven when she hears the first fight.

There's screaming and crying and the sound of smashing plates and she frowns because when Lizzie dropped a plate on the ground, nobody was yelling or shouting, and now there's this big commotion because of the electrified noise of glass shattering on the cold linoleum floor. She hears a meek sound at the door and she realizes it's Lizzie, little, three-year old Lizzie, clad in nothing but her fuzzy nightgown and the cold duvet. It's brand new and Casey hates brand-new things because they're always so cold.

"Casey…" Lizzie's voice is in a whisper and her big sister can barely hear it because Mommy and Daddy are being loud and the screaming is echoing through the house. "Casey, I'm scared," She states, but it comes out more as an, "I'm scawed," because she's only three and she's still got a lisp and she can barely even talk but she's got to hear these words that Casey's pretty sure three-year-olds aren't supposed to know. In fact, seven-year-olds shouldn't be hearing them either.

But maybe if Casey is a good big sister, maybe if she is beautiful and wonderful and kind and sweet and she protects her little sister and loves her, then maybe Daddy and Mommy won't have to fight anymore because their daughter is going to make everything better.

After a bit Lizzie's whimpering dies down and Casey doesn't have to rock her so hard, and the soft snoring of the toddler becomes steady and she's sure the child is asleep. "Shh, Liz, it's going to be alright," she murmurs in her ear because it's the kind of thing a big sister would say to a little sister. So she spreads Lizzie onto her bed and tucks her in with the brand new duvet (even though it's cold, so, so cold, like the night outside, but she hopes Lizzie won't notice) and then she steps outside and into the hallway.

She can still hear faint yells and screams so she closes the door so her baby sister won't wake up. Her small feet—they are tiny, even for a seven-year-old—inch towards the door towards Mommy and Daddy's room. Her little fingers ghost over the cold metal of the doorknob and her breath hitches in her throat, wondering whether or not the perfect little daughter would open the door right now.

Her teeth sink through the soft, sensitive flesh of her bottom lip and as the metallic taste of her own blood enters her mouth, she decides, "Yes."

So with a flick of her anemic wrist she turns the knob and opens the door.

Mommy is on the floor and she can see bruises that weren't there at dinner and there are tears running down her cheeks and even if she's only seven and just barely not a baby anymore she knows that this isn't supposed to be happening. There is blood dripping from her lips and for a moment Casey wonders if Mommy can taste the same thing in her mouth right now. Daddy is turned away, facing the wall, fist clenched and jaw tight and she can faintly feel the tears begin to form and make their trail down her face.

She can hear someone mumbling softly, and with a start she realizes that it's her, and she's not mumbling, she's screaming, shouting, crying, making a scene. "Mommy, what's happening? Mommy, what's wrong? Daddy, what did you do? Daddy, why is Mommy crying? Mommy! Daddy! Mommy, I'm sorry! Don't cry! Please, don't cry! Daddy, Daddy, I'm sorry, I'll be good, I promise! I…" She is yelling hysterically because she doesn't want Mommy to cry because she's not the best daughter, she doesn't want Daddy to be angry at her or Lizzie or Mommy because she's not the best daughter; she's going to be if they want her to, she promises.

But her words only make Mommy's tears come faster and Daddy turns around and she sees tears in his eyes, too, and she knows that good girls aren't supposed to make their mommies and daddies cry. Her apologies come, more and more, and avalanche of regret and pleading and please, don't cry, don't cry! until Mommy has had enough and she screams at her.

"Alright, Casey! Just – Just go back to your room!" She shrieks, face buried in her palms, and suddenly Casey's tears stop dripping and her teeth crash down on the pink skin of her bottom lip once more. She wants the bitter taste to come back into her mouth because she wants to know what Mommy is feeling right now because it's obviously not good, and maybe if she knows what it's like she'll know how to fix it.

So she turns around and walks back into her bedroom where Lizzie is still breathing softly, face buried in the pillow, and she sits perfectly still, back upright, eyes straight ahead, and for the entire night she simply tastes blood.

She looks outside the open window, where the night is so perfectly still as though if anyone moved it might explode and perfection will shatter. It's so quiet and unmoving that the blinds lay as if they are glued against the wall.

It's a full moon outside.

Soon, she notices whenever the screaming starts in the night—it's always late in the night, when her and Lizzie are about to drift off to sleep, and suddenly the shouts startle them so they'll never be able to close their eyes—it's a full moon outside.

iv. Sometimes, she really, really, really hates Lizzie.

She hates having to be the big sister all the time, always having to protect her, always having to be perfect and set the perfect example for her, because who wants her to grow up all fucked up inside? Who wants poor, defenseless Lizzie to grow up like screwed, crappy Casey? Nobody does, and Casey's going to make sure that everyone's happy, because that's her job, right? Make everyone happy, make everything perfect.

But it's really, really hard. And on nights (on full moons, really, it's always full moons when she feels like this) when she has to rock Lizzie to sleep because Mommy and Daddy are yelling again and the lights are on in the neighbors house and she's thirteen now and this is getting kind of old and she's sick of it, and even though she's old enough to know these words and hear these screams and do these things, she wishes she were seven again and someone could come and save her. But she knows it's a little too late for her.

And yet she still wants to just break down and cry, she wants to be selfish and scream about, "What about me? Do you know what this is doing to me? I don't want to do this anymore!", because what about Lizzie? So she wraps her long, thin arms around her shivering baby sister and rocks and "Shh"'s her to sleep.

She doesn't even say anything when the cops come.

She doesn't wake her up when they drag Daddy out of the house, and she leaves her alone in the room for a second to watch them talk to Mommy, watch them and their scary uniforms and clipboards and flashlights and guns.

She doesn't ask Lizzie to be with her when they spot her and start asking her questions like, "Did your parents ever hurt you? When did they begin to fight? Have you ever been abused? Did they ever yell at you?" and she answers every question perfectly like the perfect daughter with the perfect parents and the perfect life even though everything is far, far from that.

She only bothers to wake Lizzie up when everything is perfect, when the night is calm and Mommy's sobbing is stifled enough by the door that you can't hear unless you press your ear up against the wood very, very hard, and she doesn't tell Lizzie anything, she doesn't want her to know that sometimes, life is far from perfect. She's going to make sure that her baby sister is going to grow up right and good and she's not going to have to deal with the things she had to. She's going to make sure her life is perfect.

Sometimes, she thinks it's not fair that Lizzie gets to have the perfect life, she gets to grow up perfectly and have the perfect parents and perfect sister and everything is wonderful. Why couldn't she grow up like that? Why did she have to be the big sister—why couldn't Lizzie be born first so that she could protect her and love her and be good to her.

But then she shakes those thoughts out of her head and hugs Lizzie tight.

v. She doesn't actually mind Derek that much.

He is a jerk, a heinous, horrible, loathsome, awful, terrible, atrocious, crappy, and mean; the most reckless stepbrother that God could ever decide to grant her with, and she despises him, how he makes her waste her breath on him, screaming and yelling and having to be the only one who really bothers to care about exactly what he does.

And every moment reprimanding him is like pure bliss.

It's like she gets this sick high from shrieking at him. Like every breath wasted on his ridiculous actions unleashes this euphoria, it's practically orgasmic (and she's horrified when she realizes she used that word to describe screaming at Derek in her diary ((because it's only in her diary that she'll talk about him; everywhere else is too dangerous)) because 1. EW! and 2. It means his shameless perverted tendencies are rubbing off on her ((but that means she must have been spending a lot of time with him, which gives her more sick pleasure))) the way the feeling rips through her body.

But she loves every time she yells at him because it's her chance to act imperfect, act angry and horrible and shout the meanest things to him in public and be completely out of character and flawed and just absolutely terrible and she'll still be perfect, because perfect people want the best for everyone else, so they're going to punish those who go against the rules.

Sometimes, she swears she loves this goddamn boy.

But then, she realizes that if she loved him, she couldn't hate him so much.

And then she remembers her parents and remembers that you can hate someone to the deepest pits of hell and still love them with a passion.

vi. Derek is the first person to see her cry since she was five and she skinned her knee learning to ride a bike.

Daddy just left on the plane and she knows that even though, "Don't worry, Case, I'm still gonna be here. I'm still gonna be your good ol' dad. Sure, I'm a couple hundred miles away," (do you really have to rub it in?) "but I'm going to visit a ton. In fact, I'll be around so much, you're gonna be sick of me!" that she's going to miss him like crazy and she's probably going to never ever see him again because he's happy in Puerto Rico with his sexy new wife who he never fights with, his perfect, smart little kids who still haven't been fucked up, his beautiful house with the gorgeous view and his life that's so much better than his old one that he just had to leave so he'll never have to remember life wasn't perfect before. Dammit, even his dog is ultra cute.

So she puts on a mask—cheesy grin, pink cheeks, gorgeous hair, perfect make-up (but it's her eyes that give her away… She could never hide the broken twinkle in her bitter eyes)—hugs her Daddy, says, "Alright, Dad. I'm going to miss you! Can't wait for your next visit!", then watches as he walks away without a second glance.

No one notices but Derek and Lizzie that she doesn't say anything on the ride home. Mom talks and talks to George and Derek and Lizzie and Marti and Edwin and Casey about everything that no one cares about and no one decides to remember that Casey is so, so broken, because she's always been a good actor, and she's managed to convince everyone that she's completely perfect and nothing less.

She never knew it would hurt so bad when they believed her.

And when she marches wordlessly out of the car, climbs up the stairs, and enters and closes the door to her room completely silently (it's so quiet it's unnerving, and it makes her want to scream but she doesn't; she's always been so good at stopping herself from doing what she really wants) nobody follows like she wishes they would.

Which is why she never expects it when the door opens to reveal—not the Lizzie, or the Nora, or even the George she expects—but none other than the great Derek Venturi, in all his holy-shit-I'm-not-used-to-this-whole-comforting-step-brother-thing-so-this-is-kind-of-awkward glory.

But life won't even let her cherish this moment because he had to walk in right as weakness was trailing down her face. "Derek, can't you learn to knock?" she tries to shriek at him but it comes as more of a mumble and the broken-ness of it all seems so, so pathetic to her.

"Can't you learn to lock?" he counters softly but quickly. It's fun to argue with him, she admits in her mind. Then, he does what you never expect him to do. He kneels on the bed and hugs her close. She can feel his warmth press against her cold, cold body and by the way he shifts to pull her closer tells her that he's noticed how freezing she is.

He pulls away, and she almost moans at the loss of heat. But he does something that Casey McDonald would never, ever, never expect anybody's stepbrother to do, ever, ever, ever. But Derek is definitely not the normal stepbrother.

So he takes his index finger, tucks it under Casey's chin, lifts up her face so that brown meets green, and he kisses her.

For a minute, she forgets how broken she is and how sick this is.

But the kiss ends in what seems like only two milliseconds (she checks the clock—it's been two minutes since he laid his dark red lips onto her light pink ones) and he's gone before she even processes what exactly happened between them and she is left alone in her thoughts in the dark. And that's the worst kind.

Sexual behavior between two persons who are closely related genetically.

That's the definition of "incest" that Google gives her.

She runs to the bathroom and retches the few contents of her stomach into the porcelain bowl, and then brushes her teeth so she'll have no reminder of ever kissing him again.

So she'll never remember that the one time she was ever truly happy was her most imperfect moment of all.

vii. She thinks George might be the best stepfather in the whole entire world.

Why? Because he doesn't care. He doesn't give a crap, he doesn't care whether you storm out the house ready to ruin yourself and everyone around you because you're so fucking fed up. He doesn't mind up you're reckless and careless and stupid and dumb as long as you're home in time for dinner, you don't kill yourself, and Nora either isn't pissed about it or doesn't know at all. He's a pretty damn bad father—and you can tell by the way Edwin, Marti, and Derek are raised—but Casey swears that's the best kind.

She relishes the times when Mom is out of town for a week or so and the only one left to manage two horny teenagers, two confused pre-teens, and one hyper kid is clueless George because it means freedom. It means "I don't have to worry about perfection." It means she can be Casey for a week or so and she doesn't have to be afraid of ruining anything.

And she loves George even more the night Derek throws an enormous party while the 'rents are out (again) and he gets caught (again). She thanks the Gods that Mom is out somewhere for a business meeting and George is the only one to barge into the room because she really doesn't think her Mom would forgive her if she saw her then.

Casey prays to God that night for blessing her with George.

Because any other stepfather would not have simply seen his teenage stepdaughter in bed with an obviously inebriated teenage boy, nodded, then backed out of the room without another word to anybody.

God, George is her fucking hero.

viii. She can't wait, wait, wait for senior year to end.

Which is disappointing, because Casey's always been the grade-grubber kind of girl, the keener, the teacher's pet. She'd always been popular (well, kind of) which is why it's kind of weird that she's not making a big deal about how, "Oh my god, high school is almost over! It's the best years of our life, blah-blah-blah, it's ending!" Nobody notices about how strange this is for Casey. No one except Derek and Lizzie. Everyone else has gotten pretty good at ignoring her.

So graduation goes through without a hitch, she says her goodbyes to everyone, then, quickly and hurriedly, because she's afraid she's not going to be able to say it, she says it in a rush to get it all out without a single hesitation so they won't know how scared she is to go, she tells them.

"I'm going to school in California. I'm going to UCLA. I'm leaving tomorrow. Goodbye." She informs her family politely. Perfectly, calmly, slowly, nicely. Like a robot. But a perfect robot.

No one is even fazed.

"That's great!" They say, without even missing a beat. "That's so awesome you got in! You're so smart, Casey! You're so wonderful, so brilliant, so beautiful, so perfect!" She smiles and nods and accepts the compliments without a word against them.

She's afraid if she denies them it'll make it even more true how imperfect she's become.

ix. Derek calls one night in California.

She answers the phone without checking the caller id, thankful that her new boyfriend is a heavy sleeper. She greets the phone with a perky, "Hello, Casey McDonald speaking. Who is it?" but from the soft chuckle on the other side of the line she knows something is up.

"Hey, Case. It's D. Still remember us back here?"

Her breathing stops for a moment and she wonders if it'll ever start back up. Finally, her lungs regain the ability to function and Derek hears her voice again. It's soft and unsure and scared and he regrets the call now because he doesn't want to see this Casey. "How did you get my number?" She mumbles and he coughs awkwardly as they both shuffle the phone, wondering what to say next.

"You're in the directory."

"Oh."

"Yeah."

She bites her lip, hard, and the familiar taste of her own blood, her own pain, invades her mouth.

"Are you ever coming back?" He asks suddenly after what feels like an eternity of deafening silence. It's like the quiet is pressing against her shoulders, trying to drown her in the past, in the regrets, in the loss.

"Don't ever call here again." She tells him firmly and abruptly hangs up the phone, leaving him with the dial-tone to gawk at. Her eyes close and her body falls back against the bed and she tries so, so hard to forget that just happened.

x. Her life is perfect now.

Everything is. She has the perfect husband, she has the perfect best friend, and Stacy and Cameron are the perfect kids—fraternal twins, one boy and one girl, because she always thought that would be perfect.

And even better—Lizzie, Edwin, Derek, Marti, everyone from before, are all far, far away and she's never going to have to remember that there was a time when everything wasn't perfect.

But sometimes she misses that time, and for a second, she wonders if even though not everything was perfect back then, maybe that was okay?

And then she forgets about all that and everything is perfect once more.