"DER-REK!" Casey screamed while pounding on the bathroom door. Her hair up in a messy bun as she gripped her fuzzy pink bathrobe closer to her body. "Open up! I need the bathroom!"
The door swung open with a bang, leaving a stunned Casey mid-knock. Derek stood in the doorway, his disheveled head of hair damp from his shower. Frothing at the mouth, he mumbled around his toothbrush, "Chills, woman. No need to throw a fit." Holding the door open for her, he stepped aside to let her in.
Quick to duck under his arm, Casey headed straight to the cabinet for her own toothbrush. While Casey frantically looked for her toothpaste, Derek smirked slightly as he watched her growing impatience. Finally, he held out the tube to her, "Looking for this, sis?"
Glaring as she whipped it out of his hand, Casey reprimanded him, "Der-rek! You're using my toothpaste, again? Why can't you get your own toothpaste, instead of always using mine?"
He scooted her over, leaning down to spit into the sink. While he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, he held steady eye contact with her through the mirror. "What's the matter? I thought it was all the same difference?" Derek tossed his toothbrush into the cabinet at random. He didn't look at her again as he turned on his heel and marched out of the bathroom.
Derek's bedroom door slammed before Casey even realized he had left the bathroom. Frowning to herself, Casey studied her appearance as she absentmindedly brushed her teeth. His carefully emphasized words swirled around in her head.
🎵 "It used to be my mother and my sister and me,
A happy little family, and alright with me.
Then Mom got married, that's when everything changed,
Some things were lost, and others were gained.
A new school, a new house,
So many changes make my head spin.
Now I've got a brother who gets under my skin.
This is life with Derek,
This is life with Derek,
This is life with Lizzie, Edwin, George and Nora, Marti, and Casey.
Livin' life with Derek,
Livin' life with Derek!" 🎵
"Derek and I? Yeah, we've always had our differences. I like school; he likes sports. I like to study; he likes to party. I like the finer things in life and he likes... well the not so finer things. I'm mature and classy. Derek's gross and disgusting. You get my point. Same old Casey and same old Derek. But what I can't figure out is why suddenly, there's a... difference."
Pacing his bedroom, Derek threw his clothes across the room, upset with himself. He had tried to get over it, really he had. It didn't even make sense to him why it was bothering him so much. But as the days went by, his mood grew steadily worse. Their late-night conversation playing on repeat in his head.
Derek collapsed on his bed, picking up his headphones. Shaking his head, he threw them back onto his pillow. His eyes closed heavily. The last few nights he spent tossing and turning were catching up to him. After a few moments, he sighed deeply as he fell into a restless sleep.
Stomping down the stairs, Derek raced towards his recliner. Edwin followed, hot on his heels, carrying a notebook and pen.
"Scram, Ed. I'm not in the mood."
"Come on, D. I'm trying to learn from the Master of Pranks, the Lord of Lies, the-
"Beat it, Ed." Slumping ungracefully in his chair, Derek hastily clicked on the television. A hockey game roared to life.
Defeated, Edwin sighed before turning and heading into the kitchen. He found Lizzie at the counter, pouring juice into a glass. Unhappily, Edwin dropped onto a kitchen stool.
He sighed, holding out his hand towards Lizzie, "Hit me, bartender."
Glancing across the counter, Lizzie slid the poured glass to him, "Rough day, mister?"
Edwin heaved another loud sigh as he took the offered drink, "The worst."
As Lizzie turned to get herself another glass, she prodded, "Care to tell me about it?"
Finishing his drink, Edwin smacked his lips then said solemnly, "Trouble with the wife." He offered Lizzie an amused smile as she snorted into her glass. "It's Derek."
"Derek's your wife?"
"Ha, funny, Liz. I was joking about the wife. Derek isn't giving me anything to work with. I'm trying to take notes to follow in his footsteps, but he's not giving me any material!"
"Edwin, maybe you're pushing too hard. You know Derek. He's not willing to give when he knows you're waiting for it."
"Ah, Lizzie, what you say makes sense."
Before either one of them could say anything else, Derek stormed into the kitchen. He glared at them both before barking out orders, "Edwin, sandwich, now. Lizzie, juice, now."
Jumping up, Edwin rushed to prepare Derek a sandwich. Lizzie rolled her eyes, but complied anyway, handing him the carton of juice and going to retrieve another glass. Turning back to hand him the glass, she saw that it was too late. Derek took big gulps straight from the carton as he made his way to the cabinet to grab a bag of chips.
Lizzie cringed as he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand before popping the bag open with his teeth and filling a bowl with the chips.
Derek trudged his way out of the kitchen calling, "I'll be in my chair."
Looking at Edwin as though their conversation hadn't been interrupted, Lizzie replied, "Or Derek is just in a really bad mood."
Pausing his sandwich making, Edwin nodded frantically. "Ever since the day after graduation. I don't understand because he was so happy to be done with high school and so proud of the prank we pulled."
"EDWIN!" Derek bellowed from the living room.
Hastily flipping the top onto Derek's sandwich, Edwin scurried out of the kitchen to an awaiting Derek.
Casey bounded down the stairs, stopping at the coat rack to grab her purse. Derek looked up from his recliner, feigning disinterest as he said, "Where ya going, Klutzilla?"
Pausing at the question, her hand already turning the doorknob, Casey called over her shoulder, "I don't see how that's any of your business."
Derek snorted, faking extra concern, "As the oldest brother here, I say it is exactly my business."
Her hand slipped off the doorknob as she turned slowly to face him. "Oh, please, you have never acted like an older brother to me."
The footrest of Derek's beloved recliner slammed as he bailed out of it. "Ex-actly. But now I am, my dear sister." He crossed his arms across his chest and smacked his lips together, "So, where ya going?"
Copying his stance, she countered, "You are not entitled to know my business just like that." Casey snapped her fingers for emphasis.
"Just like that? Hell, Space Case, where have you been for the last four years?"
"What does that have to do with you demanding to know my business?"
"So, I'm the oldest! It's my brotherly duty to know!"
"Brotherly duty to pry into my business?"
"Yes! Like I would let Marti leave the house without knowing where she's going?"
"How you treat Marti has nothing to do with me!"
Derek's face instantly contorted into a winning smirk, causing Casey to gulp as she steeled herself for his next words.
He advanced towards her. "Oh, really? Listen to yourself, would you? Marti is my sister. You say you're my sister. Yet, how I treat Marti has nothing to do with you?" Derek studied her as she scowled. "Shouldn't it be the same difference?"
Clutching her purse strap tighter, Casey answered softly, "I'm going to the mall with Emily." She turned and rushed out the door, leaving Derek standing in the middle of the living room. A dark look crossed his face as he threw himself back into his chair.
As the day went on, Derek's mood continued to darken. He snapped at everyone and anyone for no reason at all. The family had taken to avoiding the living room at all costs.
While they stood in the kitchen preparing dinner, George and Nora discussed the possible reasons for Derek's attitude.
Nora absentmindedly stirred the pot on the stove. Her other hand trailed along her protruding baby bump as she listened to George speak.
"He even upset Marti!" George waved his oven mitt clad hands around in exasperation.
Suddenly, the kitchen sliding door burst open and Edwin and Lizzie scurried in. Quickly shutting the door behind them, they heaved equal sighs and collapsed against the closed door.
Edwin held up his fist for Lizzie to bump, "We made it!"
Returning the bump, Lizzie helped Edwin stand up and they approached the kitchen counter together.
Giving the two an understanding look, Nora asked the pair, "Avoiding Derek?"
Both nodded. Lizzie grabbed the salad bowl to start preparing the produce laid out on the counter. As she cut and sorted, Edwin stood next to her, picking ingredients out at random and tossing them aside or taking a bite out of them. Each time his hand reached in, Lizzie slapped it away with a stern look.
Waving a stray cucumber through the air, Edwin ranted, "I'm telling you, it's been since the day after graduation." He nodded to himself as if confirming his words and threw the cucumber into a random bowl. Lizzie fished it out and returned it to its proper place.
Casting his gaze up to the ceiling, looking for the answer he needed, George sighed loudly. "It's been that long? I haven't really noticed until today."
Nora looked confused as well. "Really? But he was so happy at graduation!"
The middle children rolled their eyes at each other, acknowledging their parents' cluelessness. Interrupting their silent communication, Marti stomped dramatically into the kitchen.
"Smerek is even worse today! He clearly needs ice cream!" Marti tapped a finger against her chin. "Or something purple. I'll go draw him a picture!" Flying out of the kitchen without another word, Marti's purple cape swished behind her.
With dinner finally served, the McDonald-Venturi clan sat around the table in their usual places, but an unusual silence settled over the room. Confused by the quiet, George and Nora locked eyes across the table. Having both made several stabs at conversation, they sighed in defeat.
Finally, Edwin was able to capture the table's interest in an elaborate story that had everyone (excluding Derek) laughing and commenting in all the right places. Chuckling at his own storytelling, Edwin went on, "So I told Teddy, same difference!"
Instantly bristling next to his brother, it took the King of Cool a few seconds to recover. However, his reaction had been caught by a pair of observant blue eyes across the table. With his fork pointed directly at Edwin, Derek spoke for the first time since sitting down. A cynical tone covered his words, "Ha, as if it could ever be the same difference."
Breaking off in the middle of his sentence, Edwin regarded his brother, confusion plastered across his face. "What do you mean, Derek?"
Waving his fork around impatiently, Derek ground out, "Are you sure you have all your facts straight, bro?"
Edwin started slowly, "Yeeeeah-"
Cutting Edwin off again, Derek continued waving his fork around. "Can you honestly just go around saying something is the same difference without the facts to back it up?" Realizing he was wielding his fork, Derek stabbed randomly at his plate and chomped on whatever it was he had speared.
Various reactions went off around the table. Nora and George looked at each other, bewilderment evident at their slack jaws. Edwin turned to Lizzie, whose eyes were wide and still staring at Derek. Marti continued pushing her vegetables around her plate, looking up between the people at the table. Her eyes lingered curiously over her oldest brother's tense face.
Meanwhile, Casey's fork still hovered halfway to her mouth, frozen in place at Derek's outburst. Her eyes danced across his features, analyzing his every movement.
Derek chewed harshly and swallowed. He opened his mouth again as his fork rose in the air to punctuate his words. "Better watch yourself, Ed. Wouldn't want to go off spouting untruths now."
Brows furrowed even deeper, Edwin questioned, "But Derek, it is the same difference, I was just saying how-"
Casey's fork slammed into the table. Everyone jumped and Derek's startled eyes locked with hers for the first time since she left for the mall. "Alright, Derek, what makes it not the same difference?"
His eyes narrowed at her, "Besides everything?"
Haughtily, Casey snorted, "That's hardly an answer."
"Then tell me one reason that it is the same difference, Casey."
Opening her mouth to respond, no words came out. Casey closed her mouth and tried again. Still, nothing. Derek smirked triumphantly, while the family eyed them both curiously.
After several moments, Case spoke quietly, "But it's supposed to be."
Derek leaned forward slightly, meeting her eye, challengingly. "Says who? It never has been the same difference, why is it now? He raised an eyebrow at her.
She didn't answer and they both dropped their eyes back to their plates. No one else said anything either. The room filled with a tangible silence. Silverware clanged awkwardly against plates.
Suddenly, Casey spoke, "Alright then, it's not... the same difference."
Unconvinced, Derek shrugged, "Whatever, Casey."
Casey continued to glare at him, "What do you want me to say, Derek? I was wrong?"
Raising one perfectly arched eyebrow, Derek responded with a lopsided smirk forming. "Jeez, keener, don't think I've ever heard those words come out of your mouth, but yeah that would be a start."
A corner of Casey's mouth lifted, "Don't get used to it."
Derek and Casey smiled at each other slightly before returning their attention to their forgotten food.
The rest of the family looked between each other, totally mystified.
After everyone had finished dinner, Lizzie and Edwin cleared the table while Marti took her turn helping George and Nora with the dishes. Casey made her way into the living room, grabbing the remote off the coffee table and settling into her seat on the couch. Finding her favorite channel, Casey leaned back into the cushions with a content smile.
It lasted two full seconds before the remote was whipped out of her hand. "DER-REK!"
But Derek had already found a hockey game and reclined back in his chair. "No time, Case. The game's on."
"Der-rek, I was watching that!"
"Too bad, Princess. There's important things to see!"
"I want to watch TV too!"
"Hey, I'm not stopping you! Go ahead, watch!" Derek inclined his head towards the hockey game with a smirk.
Casey made a grab for the remote, but Derek held it above his head. "DER-REK!"
"Or you could do whatever it is a keener like you does after dinner. You know, somewhere far, far away from me and this hockey game."
Walking purposely into the room, George scolded, "Derek, be nice to your sister."
In unison, Derek and Casey instantly corrected, "STEP!"
Smirking, Derek turned to Casey as he spoke to his father, "It's step-sister, Dad. There's no way I'm related to a keener like her."
The corner of Casey's lip twitched as she fought an answering smile.
George ignored Derek's words, throwing himself at the other end of the couch, exclaiming, "Great, the game's on!"
Rolling her eyes, Casey got up from the couch. Derek's eyes followed her as she stepped around him. She shoved his shoulder lightly, heading towards the staircase.
Derek's smirk grew to full volume. His world shifted back into balance.