"Why do you have to be like that?" Casey asked in a quiet voice.
"You should know, by now, that it's because of that tough-guy thing, where the nerdy, good-hearted girl has worn on him, but he'll never admit it. There are some moments I can't let you just suffer through, with my veiled conscience and all."
"I know, but…I just had to hear you say it."
Derek sighed. "You're only asking because the author thought she'd pull a Disney-style move by wrapping everything up with a happy family and a moral lesson in time for the story's end."
"The author…? You mean that we don't have a team of TV writers this time, but one person?"
"Yes," Derek replied, chuckling at his stepsister's naivety. "Someone female and young, that's all I know."
Casey rolled her eyes. "She's just your type, then."
"Ooh," he said, turning in his perfectly character-fitting armchair that he insisted no one else could sit in. "Did I just hear an unsurprising catty move from one Casey McDonald?"
"Maybe you did! It is unsurprising, isn't it, considering how I'm supposed to be…what…eighteen… seventeen, maybe? The actress playing me was twenty-three years-old around the time of the last episode-"
"Yes, I know, Derek. I'm the one who stays on top of the scripts and relays information to you."
"Trying to downplay my genius again, I see."
"Can it, Derek. I'm just tired of being in high school, with cameras following me around."
"Yeah, the cameras can get in the way when you're trying to make out with a girl, especially when the girl's all self-conscious or camera-shy."
Casey rolled her eyes again.
"Is this the part where I start watching a hockey game and you annoy the crap out of me throughout?" Derek inquired, playing with the TV remote.
His stepsister shrugged.
"As we're bickering, are we going to have this stand-off, where we get closer and closer to each other?" he asked. "Because I haven't had my rabies shot yet, and besides. If the writer of this story wants to make it some TV special or something, I'll need to change my shirt…put on something more…masculine."
"Relax," Casey said. "I doubt she'll take it that far. After all, I'm sure some people are sick of what a jerk you are."
"No way, are you kidding? I'm good-looking, and fans know it."
"Well, I'm sure the fact that the actress who plays me is really pretty helped her get hired."
Derek nodded appreciatively, but said nothing.
"I could see the author wishing for a TV special about us, though; maybe one where you kiss me on a dare or something, or…I don't know…almost kiss me? See, it's clear in the body language on the show, that the actors playing us get along really well, whatever their off-camera relationship extends to, because when they're playing us, and…and we're about to be given a talking-to by George and Nora, we just…stand kind of close and your hands will go into your pockets, making your arm-Derek, are you listening to me?"
With his gaze across the room, either on a wall or out a window, he replied, "Nope."
That's when Casey broke out her pouty, I'm-exasperated face, knowing that's what the author wanted.
"Why throw around ideas about a TV special," her stepbrother said smugly, "When there's so going to be movie about us. You know, one last stand, which disproves your 'people are sick of Derek' theory."
Casey bolted to the edge of the couch, eyes wide. "There's going to be a movie, really? Oh my gosh!"
"Don't say 'gosh'; it bugs me, and it kind of bothers the author, too."
Casey rolled her eyes at Derek, who gave her a small, mock smile. "Liar; don't give me any of that 'only pansies say gosh' talk."
He shrugged, still showing off that plastered-on smile. "Okay, I won't, but I'll strongly imply it."
"When are we going to kiss?" Casey inquired, sitting on her hands in carefully edited impatience.
"Calm down, Case. We have to build up some tension first, which is going to be a little weird, considering…"
Derek's hand gesture seemed to say 'it's obvious'. "I mean the way we treated each other over the course of my show."
"It was our family's show, Derek! Just because it had your name in it, you have to go and be a jerk."
"Relax, loser. Your time for TV fame will come…when you're video-taped breaking some coveted artifact or-"
"Did you just say 'coveted'?" Casey replied, facing him more. "Have you stolen my dictionary and learned a new word?"
Derek groaned and tipped his head back against the chair, purposely missing Casey's gloating moment.
D C x D C x D C x D C x D C x D C x D C x D C x D C x D C x D C x D C x
Nora set down her gloves and scarf on one of the empty stools at the kitchen counter, eyeing the room's activity level at the same time. Marti was seated at the other end of the counter, ignoring her small plate of carrot sticks and grapes in favor of Derek's impression of a manatee. Casey was washing her hands while trying to convince her sister Lizzie that six cookies were a better idea than twelve this soon before dinner. Edwin sauntered in just then, his eyes on the cupboard Lizzie was protecting. The whole family knew where the cookies were. Upon noticing his stepmother, Edwin headed over to her.
"Nora!" he said.
She smirked. "What do you want?" was her joking response.
"Before you think the worst, I want you to know that no neighborhood dogs were harmed in the-"
"Ed!" Derek snapped, his full attention on the younger brother, eyes sharp.
Edwin continued, but with some slight nervousness. "I mean, I didn't know it was possible for little Smokey to get up that high from the rebound affect of-"
"Ed, stop talking before I make your face cave in."
Nora's eyebrows shot up, her mouth fighting a smile. "Edwin, what's this about?" she inquired. "Did this happen today? Derek, quit threatening your brother and please get Marti to eat her carrots."
"I…It's not about…I didn't…" Edwin stuttered. "I didn't know he could be allergic to anything!"
"Who, the dog?"
Nora shook her head. "Whose dog is Smokey?"
Derek mussed Marti's hair and took her bare plate, narrowing his eyes at Edwin all the while.
"What's he talking about?" Casey asked quietly as she watched Derek rinse off the plate.
"Nothing, keener, it's nothing."
"Well, I can tell it isn't nothing, Derek."
He sighed noisily. "Case, you know that there isn't a street or a yard or a car on the other side of this house's front door. Not even a driveway."
She rolled her eyes.
"Smerek!" shouted Marti, waving at him with both arms in an almost violent manner.
"What's up, punk?" he asked.
"Come over here! I'm going to tell you a secret!"
"Well, please lower your voice, babe." Nora said, before gently guiding Edwin into the other room.
"Derek," Casey continued. "I know that this is a set, not a real house, but seriously-"
"Seriously, we can't have this conversation. It would mean some kind of friendship between us, or…well…any kind of getting along that Edwin or Liz might witness or hear about from Marti, and I am not about to ruin our reputation. Why would you want to disrupt the balance, hmm?"
"What's wrong with you?"
"Happiness, nonchalance…" he replied, as if simply naming options for Casey to choose from. "Perhaps a desire to have dinner before our next loud argument that would undoubtedly land us both on second-floor-only restriction for the rest of the night."
"Oh come on, Derek!" his stepsister replied sarcastically. "You want to deny us a genuine, feel-good fam-"
"No. Since when have I done anything to make you happy?"
Casey tilted her head. "When, you ask? When you quit that restaurant job for-"
Derek rolled his eyes. "Enough!"
"Then the time you ruined my necessary cell phone, then handed me a new one!"
Casey smiled, watching Derek squirm a bit in discomfort.
"That never happened."
"I totally understand, Derek!" she replied in an exaggeratedly kind tone, making him suspicious.
His glare made her smile. "That never happened," He repeated in a lower tone, before striding from the room. "If you tell anyone right now, it'll ruin what we have going. You don't know how much it would change."
She followed him. "But-"
"Save it, Casey. Just go complain to Emily about me, and leave this alone. Don't go thinking that suddenly, I'm gonna be nice to you all the time."
"I'm not assuming anything, Derek." she shot back, her confusion obvious.
"We need more time to change whatever you and I have. Things won't stay this exact same way forever, sure, but some things about us will never go away or loosen up," he pointedly tilted his head at her. "You're trying to get me to tattle on my dufus brother, but I'm not going to play your buddy for even a second right now."
Casey's lip twitched. "I am not going to cry."
"In three minutes, you are."
"Shut your mouth, Derek. Why are you behaving this way? This is all about the franchise and the contracts and...just...money, isn't it? That's why you won't have us getting along very well?"
"The guy playing me is going to take a good while to get back on his acting feet, and why shouldn't he go out on a good note? By that, I mean pretending to see Casey as his sister and not anything more. Got it? I have to stick to the script."
Casey's lip was full-on trembling now. "That is so cold and unfair to both of us. I...I won't forgive this for a very long time. If you keep shutting me out, our relationship will never improve."
Derek was stoic.
"I never took you for the all-business type."
With that, she headed for her room, trying not to cry.