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This Is Life With Derek

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The cupboard doors clanged loudly as Edwin searched for cereal.  Dejectedly, he shook several empty cereal boxes.  “I see no one has done the grocery shopping yet.” 

Lizzie’s spoon clinked against the side of her bowl as she rattled a box in his direction.  “This is all that’s left.  Sounds like a full helping if you hurry.”

He grimaced.  “Greeeeeat.  Healthy cereal.”

“Take it or leave it, kid.”  Lizzie munched happily.

Pulling a bowl towards him, Edwin reluctantly emptied the box into it.  As he poured his milk, he inquired, “Where’s everyone else?”

She stifled a yawn.  “George said he had an early meeting and Mom took Marti with her to pick up the trailer.”

“Trailer?”

Rolling her eyes, Lizzie sighed, “For Derek and Casey?  Honestly, Edwin, pay attention.”

“Oh, right.”  He took a bite, chewing with his mouth open widely.  “This stuff is terrible.”

“It’s good for you!”

Edwin gulped loudly.  “I think I rather starve.”

“You can’t live on sugar and junk food forever, you know.”

His chin pointed towards the sky as he snarked, “Sure I can.”

Lizzie was in the middle of an exasperated sigh as Derek strolled into the kitchen, hair tousled from sleep, but whistling merrily.

Casting each other a significant glance, Edwin and Lizzie observed Derek as he took a seat across from them.

“Wow,” Lizzie sang, “You’re sure in a good mood.”

Derek shrugged, but his grin stayed firmly in place.  “Ed.  Cereal.”

Lizzie shook her head.  “We’re all out.”

Waving a hand at his abandoned bowl, Edwin added, “This is it.”

“Guess I’ll just take yours then.”  Derek snatched the bowl away from his brother.

“Be my guest.”

Derek loaded a huge spoonful into his mouth, and instantly gagged on it.  Edwin sniggered, falling into a giggling Lizzie.  Glaring, Derek warned, “Shut up.”


🎵 "It used to be my mom, sis, and steps with me,

A happy blended family, yeah, reluctantly.

Then we left London, that's when everything changed,

Some things have gone, yet others remain.

A new town and new friends,

So many changes make my head spin.

Still got a step-brother who gets under my skin.

This is life with Derek... AGAIN!

This is life with Derek... AGAIN!

Going to miss Lizzie, Edwin, George and Nora, Marti, and the baby.

Now, I'm stuck with Derek,

Now, I'm stuck with... DER-REK!" 🎵


"I can't even think the word g-goo-good-b-bye.

Just the thought of saying it to my family, Emily...

and Ralph and Sam could bring me to instant tears." 

Casey fanned desperately at her watering eyes.

"Alright... leaving for Queen's...

is kinda... well...

Sam and Ralphie, the fam..."

"I'm going to miss this crazy, insane, messed-up...

wonderful, amazing, sweet, blended family so much."

"Living with this bunch of baboons wasn't

entirely bad.  With one minor exception."

Derek smirked.  "But she's going with me."

"This is the hardest thing I've had to do,

leaving everyone behind that is.

Well, I guess I am taking someone with me.

But do I really have to count Derek?"

"Hey, at least I'm leaving behind my legacy."

A few stray tears rolled down Casey's cheeks.

"But it's almost time."

"And things at Queen's should be... interesting."


Athletically, Derek flew up the attic stairs, barging into Edwin’s room unannounced.  His brother jumped, quickly stuffing some things into his file cabinet, and locking it.  Edwin held up his hands defensively, “I didn’t mean to laugh!  I just couldn’t help it!  The look on your face when you took a bite—”

Derek cut him off, “Relax, Ed, that’s not why I’m up here.”

Edwin sobered and cautiously asked, “Then what do you want?”

Approaching Edwin’s desk, Derek leaned threateningly over the top of it towards Edwin.  “I need something from you.”

“Y-y-yeah?” 

“Yeah, I know you have home video stuff that you’ve been hoarding for blackmail.”

Edwin’s voice cracked as he answered, “I don’t know what you mean.”

Derek’s eyes narrowed as he leaned further down.  “Wrong answer.  Try again.”  Edwin gulped, and Derek carried on, “I need them.  All of them.”

“You can’t delete them!”

“I’m not deleting them.”

“But I need them!  It’s my life’s work!”

“I’m not going to do anything to them.”  Digging a hand into his back pocket, Derek pulled out a thumb drive and tossed it at Edwin, who caught it sloppily.  “Copy them onto there.  You can keep the originals.”

Puzzled, Edwin looked up at his brother and fumbled with the thumb drive.  “What are you going to do?”

Derek straightened, “Classified info.”  He backed away, an arrogant smirk firmly in place.  “Oh, and that’s on the double, Edwin.”


“How much further, Nora?”  Marti crossed her feet impatiently on top of the dashboard.

“Not far, sweetie.  Terri lives on the outskirts of London.  And feet off the dash.”  Marti sighed, but did as she was told.  Nora squinted, consulting the street sign as they passed it.  “We should be close.”  She pumped the brakes, slowing down as she watched for the right address.  “Here it is!”

Nora maneuvered the vehicle onto the curvy lane, tall trees surrounding it on either side.  They drove slowly up the incline until the trees faded out, opening to reveal a broad white house, beautiful plants on the expansive front porch.

“Whoa.”  Marti breathed as she studied Terri’s fancy house and the slopping green hills in the background.  “I think I’ll get engaged to a doctor too.”

“Oh, Marti.”  Nora chuckled, “You marry for love, not for money.”

Sighing, Marti gazed out her side window, “There’s plenty of room for a pony or five.”  Marti gave another hard look over the terrain, mumbling under her breath with a whistle, “Or ten!”


Clutching her phone to her ear, Casey paced around her room, tidying things as she waited for an answer. “Hey, Em!”  She chirped as soon as the call picked up.

“Hi, Casey.”  Emily deadpanned.

Casey frowned. “Is everything alright?”

“Oh, yeah.  Just tired.  You’re calling early.”

Casey glanced at her watch and cringed.  “Uh, sorry.  I’ve got a lot to do today so I wanted to update you.”

“What’s up?”

“Well, last night at dinner, I finally announced my decision.”

“And?”

“I’m going to Queen’s after all.”

The line was silent for a beat.  “I can’t say I’m surprised.  I knew that’s what you’d decide in the end.”

Some of the happiness faded from Casey’s expression.  “What’s the matter, Emily?  Aren’t you happy for me?”

“Sure, I’m thrilled.”

“You don’t sound like it.”

Emily exaggerated a yawn.  “It’s early, I guess.”

“I see…”  Casey trailed off.

“So, how did Jesse handle the news?”

Casey heaved a heavy sigh, “Well, let’s just say there’s no romance with an attractive waiter dancer in my future.”

“He was upset?”

“You could say that.”

“What did he say?”

“Basically, that I have my priorities all wrong, etcetera, etcetera.  But after a few seconds it was all about him.  Seems like he wanted me to choose dance so that I could help him.  He wasn’t concerned about what was best for me.”

“Well, you probably did hurt his feelings.  He wanted you in New York with him.”

Again, Casey frowned at her phone.  “How do I know he wasn’t just interested in me just because of how I helped him calm his nerves and land a part?”

“Even if that was true, why not give him a chance?  It could go somewhere.  You seemed to like him a lot this summer.”

“I did like him.  But what kind of foundation for a relationship would that be?  I don’t want a relationship based in convenience, Em.”

“I’m just saying, maybe his feelings for you are real and you’re dismissing them.”

Casey quieted, gathering her thoughts as she played with the spiral of one of her notebooks.  “I think he made it quite clear last night how he felt.”

“What do I know then?”

“Why does it matter so much?”

“It doesn’t.  If you’re sure you know everything.”

“Emily, are you okay?”

“I’m fine.  How did the fam take it?”

“Mom and George were clearly relieved, and the kids were supportive.  Derek seemed—"  Casey cut herself off as she spied movement in the hall.  “Just a second, Em.”  Casey covered her phone with her hand and hissed at a grinning Derek, hovering in her open doorway, “What?”

“And good morning to you too, Princess.”

“Der-rek,” Casey whisper shouted, “I’m a little busy right now.  What do you want?”

“I can’t stop to exchange morning pleasantries with my favorite keener?”  He covered his heart, faking hurt.

Casey rolled her eyes.  “I’m surprised you even know what the word pleasantries means.  I wasn’t aware Neanderthals had those types of customs.”

His grin grew, and his eyebrows twitched up and down.  “I’m quite familiar with pleasantries, thank you.”

“Funny, I must have missed that fact somewhere in all these years.”

Now, leaning casually against her doorframe, he buried his hands deep into his pockets.  “Doesn’t surprise me.  You’ve been known to overlook my best qualities.”

She stood up from her desk, rolling her eyes, the phone falling from her ear as she approached him.  “So, just what is it that you want?”

He shrugged one shoulder.  “Just keeping track of the count.”

“Count of what?”

“How many times you’ve checked your lists today, Spacey.”

“Shut up, Derek.”  There was no bite to her words as she smiled back at him.

Derek shot her a grin.  “Oh, and a pleasant reminder… you better finish packing my clothes today.”

“Der-rek!  I am not your maid!”  Horror flashed across Casey’s face as she realized what she said.  A hand shot up to cover one of her red cheeks.  “No, no.  Forget I said that.”

Sniggering, Derek held up his hands defensively.  “You said it, not me.”  He pushed off the doorframe and drew nearer to her.  “But now that you mention it… That’s not a pleasantry, but it’s a pleasure.  Maybe even a guilty one.”  He winked and turned on his heel, striding to his room.  Casey watched as he paused in the doorway and turned back.  He gave her a Derek patented grin as he shot, “And Case?  You’re on the phone.”  He pointed to her hanging hand, where she gripped her forgotten cell.

Her jaw dropped and he laughed as she hastily flew the phone to her ear.  With a snap and a finger point in her direction, Derek ducked into his room, the door slamming behind him.

“Oh, I’m so sorry, Em!”  Casey cried.  “I got side-tracked—"

“Yeah, I heard.”  The tone of Emily’s voice was sharp as she snapped, “Better go, Casey.  You have a lot to do.”

“Emily, I—"

“It’s fine.  I have to go too.”

“Wait!”  Casey took a deep breath, “Are you sure you’re not ready to talk about—"

“Definitely sure.”

Casey gave the buzzing line a quiet, “Bye then.”


Terri greeted Nora and Marti before the second chime of the bell sounded.  Her face split open in a wide grin as she threw the heavy wood door open.  “Nora!”  She pulled Nora into a welcoming hug before leaning down to Marti.  “And Marti!  I’m so glad you could come too!”  She straightened, beckoning them in.  “Please, come in!”

Nora guided Marti in front of her as they followed Terri over the threshold into the colossal front hall.  Marti instantly looked up, taking in the sparkling chandelier.  “It’s so shiny.”  She whispered happily.

Terri chuckled, glancing up herself.  She smiled back at Marti.  “Would you like a tour?”  Marti nodded and Terri reached for her hand, walking them down the hall as Nora waddled behind them.

“You have a beautiful home, Terri.”

“Thank you, Nora.  You’ll have to pardon the mess.  George has been moving his things in when he has the weekends off and neither one of us have had time to properly put things away yet.”

Chuckling, Nora reassured, “You don’t have to explain messes to me.  We have five kids and one on the way, remember?”

Shooting Nora an amused smile, Terri laughed, “Of course, how silly of me.”

“And we’re very thankful that George left his trailer here this weekend so we can borrow it to move Casey and Derek.”

“Oh, no problem.  It’s the least we can do after your family was so kind to us.  Although, I must say I am anxious to meet those two.  After what I’ve heard, I’m surprised they decided to go to the same school.”

Nora laughed awkwardly, “Yeah, we were all a little surprised as well.”

Marti shot a look at Nora.  “I wasn’t.”  Changing the subject, Marti turned to Terri excitedly, “I’m so excited for the wedding.  I love weddings!  Are you using enough purple?”

“Well,” Terri hesitated, “Our colors are mostly in the blue realm, but there’s a little purple.”

Shaking her head, Marti replied, “There’s never enough purple.”  There was a tiny beat of silence before Marti chirped, “So, have you ever considered buying a pony?”

“Marti!” An exasperated Nora sighed.


Edwin knocked lightly on Derek’s door before he warily slipped into the room.  When Derek looked up from his screen, Edwin held up the thumb drive between two fingers as he inquired, “So, why do you want these?”

“Reasons.”

“Uh?  Okay?”

“Just give them to me, Ed.  Or I’ll be forced to—"

“Okay, okay, here!”  He hurriedly tossed the drive to Derek, who effortlessly snatched it out of the air with one hand.

Edwin followed the path of the projectile, stepping around Derek’s desk.  In a flash, Derek was up and hauling Edwin by the back of his collar.  In a few broad strides, Derek was at his door and throwing Edwin out.  Behind the slammed door, Derek called, “Later, Ed.”

Glaring at the closed door, Edwin’s hands flew up to fix his mangled collar.  His foot was on the first step of the attic stairs when Lizzie’s door opened softly.  “Hey,” She whispered, “Game closet in five?”

Edwin stepped down as he turned to her.  “You bet.  I’ll get the stuff.”


“Okay, this has to be perfect.”

“Relax, Lizzie.  We’ll nail it for sure.”  Edwin tucked his pencil behind his ear as he shuffled through their papers.

Lizzie watched him attentively, “This really means a lot to you, doesn’t it?”

Shrugging, Edwin fumbled with his pencil.  “For as much as I complain about Derek, I’m going to miss him.”

“Same.”  Lizzie sighed.  “I want this to be perfect for Casey.  She puts 110% into everything she does, and I just want her to know that I’m really going to miss her too.”

Edwin reached for the light chain as he spoke, “I’ve never experienced life without Derek.  I don’t know what to expect.”

Lizzie nudged his knee with her foot.  “Well, speaking as someone who has known life without Derek…”  She paused to smile at him.  “It’s a lot quieter.”

He chuckled lightly.  “I can only imagine.”  He sobered.  “I have a hard time believing life with just Casey was that much quieter.”

Laughing, Lizzie set down her notebook.  “It really was!  The three of us were just so… mellow.  Sure, Casey could be dramatic, but it wasn’t so… loud then.  Derek changed that.”

“I guess I can see that.  Here it was always assumed Derek ran the show, no questions asked, you know?  But when you guys moved in, everything just… exploded.”

Lizzie pretended to plug her ears.  “Yeah, I know.  I was there.”  They laughed together.  Suddenly, Lizzie quieted.  “You know, I was so anxious to be out of the shadows when they left for university, but now when it’s so close to actually being here—"

“It makes you sad?”

“Yeah.”  Lizzie breathed.  “Like I’d give anything for another week of the craziness.”

“I feel the same way.”  Edwin fiddled with his papers again.  “Which is why I’m putting everything I have into this thing.”  He sent a tentative smile at Lizzie, which she returned before going back to her notebook and picking up her pen.

They worked in silence for a few moments before Lizzie voiced, “I just hope Mom and George have their parts ready.”

“Better remind them.  You know how they get.”

“Do you think Marti has her part ready?”

Edwin shrugged.  “Who knows?  But I wouldn’t worry about her.  Marti will do this like she does anything.”  He allowed space before he delivered his line, “Completely random and entirely magical.”

Giggling, Lizzie agreed, “That’s true.  Just where is Marti?  She should be here by now.”

Consulting his watch, Edwin frowned.  “Give her some time.  She probably got distracted by a pony or something.”


“Nora, are you crying?”

Nora laughed through her tears.  “Yes, Marti.”

“Are you sad?”

Nora laughed again and Marti shot her a concerned look.  “I am, honey.”

“Then why are you laughing?”

Her words caused Nora to laugh again. “It’s because of the baby.”  She patted her bump fondly.

Shaking her head, Marti sighed, “I hope this baby doesn’t make you crazy forever.”

Tears rolled down Nora’s face as she giggled.  “Oh, it will.  Your children make you crazy no matter how old they get.”

Marti turned back to Nora and studied her profile.  “This isn’t about the baby anymore is it?”

“No, I guess it isn’t.  It’s not easy when your little birds leave the nest.”

“Just because they fly away, doesn’t mean they won’t fly back, Nora.”

Nora wiped a tear off her cheek before she looked over at Marti, a small watery smile directed at her.  “You’re right, Miss Smarti.”

Marti nodded importantly.  “I know.”  She looked out her side window for a long moment.  “But if you want to know the truth, I’m sad too.”

“Do you want to talk about it?”

She offered Nora a small shrug.  “I’ll miss them a lot.”

Sighing, Nora reached over to hold Marti’s knee as she watched the road ahead of her carefully.  “I will too, sweet pea.”

“Then we better give them the absolute biggest, bestest send-off!”

“That’s right, Marti.  We will.”  Nora smiled.  All traces of tears gone from her face.

“And no crying, Nora.”  Marti warned.  “It’s supposed to be funny.”

“I’ll try my best, Marti, but the baby may have other ideas.”

Marti’s hand covered Nora’s belly and she leaned as far as her seatbelt would allow to talk to the baby.  “I mean it, baby.  NO crying.  Got it?”

Nora chuckled, covering Marti’s hand with her own and giving it a gentle squeeze.


Without so much as a knock, Casey burst into Derek’s room.

“Always a pleasure, Princess.”  Derek drawled sarcastically without looking up from his work at his laptop.

She gave him a sharp look.  “Must you?”

“Hey, just keeping up with my pleasantries.”  He looked up to send her a cheeky grin, then returned right back to his screen.  “I’ll stick with the obvious then… What the hell are you doing in my room?”

“As much as I hate doing what you asked, I also don’t want to be behind schedule.”

Derek finally looked up at her to find her hauling his suitcases out of his closet and throwing them onto his bed.  She turned back to face his closet, hands gripping her hips as she considered the job before her.  He smirked to himself and then resumed clicking.

After several moments, Derek took a break, reclining in his chair, crossing his arms behind his head as he watched the methodic way Casey took his clothes out of his closet, matching them according to a mystifying system she had devised in her head.

She folded his shirts carefully, smoothing out the wrinkles and gently stacking them into piles.  Derek saw as Casey found his orangutan shirt, smiling softly to herself as she held it against her to neatly fold.  Four folded shirts later, Derek turned away.

Casey’s voice broke the silence.  “What do you want me to leave out for tomorrow and Saturday?”

“Don’t care.”  He rapidly typed away.  “Just pick something.”  Derek studied his screen, missing the startled look Casey sent him.

Her hand trailed across the stacks of shirts as she bit her bottom lip, considering the options.  Hesitantly, she thumbed through a pile, pulling out his orangutan shirt and setting it aside and laughing under her breath.  From a different stack, she picked a soft gray, running her fingers tenderly across the top as she set it aside as well.  With the rest of the shirts, she organized them carefully into an open suitcase, zipping it up and then turning to her next task.

Casey separated his jeans and khakis from his sweatpants and shorts.  She put a hand to her chin, turning to him to ask, “Jeans?”

He murmured, “Sure.”

Humming to herself, she selected two pairs of jeans and placed them carefully next to the two shirts she had picked.  It took her several tries to fit the rest of his pants into a suitcase before she was happy with the arrangement.

She bit her lip, glancing at Derek before crossing to his dresser.  He didn’t stop her this time as she emptied the contents onto his bed and started refolding his undershirts and socks, placing them into a bag.

Casey cast a nervous glance at Derek, who didn’t even look up as he concentrated on his screen.  Taking a deep breath and holding it, she reached for his boxers, a blush darkening across her cheeks as her hand hovered over a pair of black boxer briefs.  Her eyes flickered between the boxers and Derek on rapid repeat.

As Derek began to speak, her hand snapped back, taking refuge on her frantically beating heart.  “If you’re waiting for me to stop you, you’re in for a long wait.”

Her breath caught, then she breathed in a rush, “Why?”

Typing away on the keyboard, he attempted a shrug.  “Why not?”

Tentatively, she began making neat creases and placing the boxers into his bag as well.  Quietly she asked, “What changed?”

Rolling his eyes, he countered, “Gee, Case, I wonder.”  Clapping his hands in front of him, he pretended to gush in his most girlish voice, “We’re just so much closer now.”

Her eyes narrowed as she scrutinized him.  “I can’t tell if you’re being sarcastic or actually being honest and hiding it with a joke.”

Derek cut off the short laugh that escaped him, covering it with a cough.  “Guess you’ll never know then.”

Casey sighed, “There is no pleasure without pain.”

Derek snorted, a lopsided grin lighting his face.  “What part of this gives you pleasure?”  He inclined his head to her as she clutched fistfuls of his underwear as she sorted.  
“Do tell, Case.  I’m… intrigued.”

Casey gasped in shock.  “Oh my god, how do you always get to me?”  She covered her face, trying to reign in her blush.  “You just suck me right in!  Every time!  You do stuff like the pleasure/pleasant—” She gestured wildly through the air, now a pair of his favorite silky red boxers forgotten in her hand.  “Thing and it gets stuck in my head until you have me doing it too!”

Derek sniggered, watching his flying boxers dangling from her flailing hand.  “It’s all part of the Venturi package, Princess.”  He pointed to himself, smirking charmingly.  “I get to you.”

Looking at her hand, Casey realized what she was holding and blushed.  Biting her lip, she turned away from him, returning to the task.  He watched her fumble for a few beats then still grinning, returned to his work.

The room was silent as she sorted out a couple pairs of Derek’s boxers, matching them to the outfits she had picked out for him, spreading everything smoothly on top of his now empty dresser.

“Done!”  Casey chirped as she zipped up his last suitcase and plopped down beside it on his bed.

“Congratulations.”

Casey rolled her eyes.  “You’re welcome.”  She replied pointedly.

With his eyes glued to his screen, Derek only hummed in response.

“What are you working on?”  Casey asked as she edged closer to him.

Derek raised a taunting eyebrow, making steady eye contact with her as he held up a hand in front of her.  “You want to go there again?” 

Casey blushed scarlet and stuttered, no words forming.

“Fair warning, Case, but you know I’m not bluffing.”

She gave an awkward laugh.  “Um, better go check my lists again!”  Casey scurried out of his room without a backwards glance.


Skipping quietly, Marti hurried up the stairs and looked around before opening the games closet.  “Calm down.  It’s just me.”  Marti reassured them as she sunk to the floor between a startled Edwin and a frazzled Lizzie.

“Where’s everyone else?”  Edwin looked towards the door.

“Nora went to the basement and I could hear Casey and Smerek in his room.”

Lizzie’s wide eyes lifted to study her step-sister.  “Again?”

Crossing her legs underneath her, Marti picked up Edwin’s clipboard and studied it as she hummed, “Yeah,” She flipped the page.  “I’m sure they’ll be occupied for a while.”  She returned the clipboard to Edwin.  “How’s it going?”

With a groan, Lizzie threw her head back into her hands.  “We’ve got some good stuff, but we’re having trouble tying everything together.”

Marti silently asked for Lizzie’s notebook and she passed it over.  After she flipped through the pages, Marti leaned back and tapped a finger to her chin.  “Well, let’s think about it.  They’re going to Queen’s… and they’re taking the Prince there.”

“And?”  Edwin pried, “What’s your point?”

Suddenly, she sat up leaning towards them excitedly.  “And Smerek is the King of cool and he calls Casey Princess!”

Lizzie’s head tilted to the side.  “Where are you going with this, Marti?”

“Let’s make it a royal theme!”

“That’s an idea.”  Edwin studied his notes.  “I think we can definitely work with that.”

“It’s great, Marti.”  Lizzie agreed.  “Really brilliant.”

Marti reclined backwards onto her hands, a smug smile in place.  “It does make sense.”

“Go get your markers, Marti.  We’ve got work to do.”

Beaming, Marti saluted Edwin and slipped quietly out of the games closet.


Derek stood up from his desk and headed downstairs.  He just reached the bottom step when the doorbell rang.  Groaning, Derek went to answer it.  He opened the door to find Emily.  “Oh… Emily… Hey.”  He scratched his head.  “I’ll get Case.” 

Rushing to stop him, Emily cried, “No!”  She took a deep breath.  “I mean, I actually came over to talk… to you.”  Derek winced, the color draining from his face.  “Look, you dropped all that on me and I was too shocked to respond.  So, the least you could do is let me say my piece.  I have literal years to work through.”

Derek cringed, closing his eyes, but didn’t argue.  He cast a look up the stairs and then gestured to the kitchen.  “Can we at least take this somewhere else?”  Emily consented with a nod and led the way to the kitchen and turned to face him.  However, Derek didn’t stop there.  He veered into the laundry room.  “I meant somewhere not here.”  He gestured wildly in a circle around him.  Emily’s brow knitted as she followed him into the garage.

“Derek, why did we have to come to the garage?”

“There’s a lot of ears inside.”  He answered distractedly as he walked around the Prince, peering inside all the windows.  Suddenly, he thrust open the back door and ruffled through the blanket in the back seat.

“What are you doing?”

He chuckled, unamused.  “People pop up everywhere.”

“Derek, the least you could do is be serious.”

“I was being serious.”  He grumbled as he straightened up, turning towards her reluctantly.  “So, what did you want to say?”

“Oh, I have several things to say to you, Derek Venturi.”

Wincing, he reclined against the Prince, propping himself up with his arms on the trunk and crossing his legs at the ankle.  “Get it over with.”

Emily took a deep breath, steeling herself.  “I think a part of me knew that you were going to break my heart, but the other part refused to acknowledge it.”

“Emily—"

“Please, don’t interrupt, Derek.  I’m just getting started.”  Derek gulped and closed his mouth.

“For years, I waited for you to see me.  Years of waiting and hoping.  Watching for any sign that you had noticed me.  I spent hours watching... watching the boy next door play between our houses, just trying to work up the nerve to even talk to you.  But back then you thought girls had cooties and ran away anytime I got too close.

A few years passed and you were everywhere.  I’d go to school and there you were in all my classes.  I’d come home and see you in our shared driveway or in your yard form my room.  You and Sam were inseparable, and I still never got a scrap of your attention.

You talked to all the other girls, flirted with them, and kissed them, but never me.  In your eyes, I didn’t exist.  I was invisible.  Not worthy of your time because I wasn’t cute enough, popular enough, or whatever enough for the Derek Venturi.

I didn’t know what to do.  I didn’t know what I could do.  And then suddenly, you were paying attention to me.   You were seeing me for the first time, and I was over the moon.  I thought I finally had a chance.  A chance to show you that I could be the girl for you.  But you weren’t treating me like the other girls.  I still wasn’t a datable option.

It meant everything to me when you called and asked me out.  I was so nervous and so excited I couldn’t even speak.  My dreams were finally coming true.  You saw me.  I was finally a girl in your eyes.”

Her hands shook in front of her and she folded them together, gripping fiercely.  She laughed shortly, “But it really wasn’t about me even then, was it?  Because I found out that you only asked me out to annoy my best friend.  I was hurt to say the least, but I was able to tell myself that I still had a chance to show you me because at least I knew you were seeing me if only as a friend, I was still a real person to you now.  And it was okay.  I was able to get over being starstruck by you and just… exist, I guess.

I thought in time that I’d get another chance… and I was right.  You kissed me.  Unexpectedly, I found myself as your girlfriend.  Everything I wanted was suddenly a reality.  Prom, graduation, everything as Derek Venturi’s girlfriend.  To say that I was on top of the world would be an understatement.”  She sniffed and wiped at her eyes.

“Finally, finally, finally.  I was comfortable with where we were at and I was ready to be more.  I wanted to take the next step of commitment… of intimacy.  And then you shut me down.  I thought, ‘Oh okay, he just wants to make sure I’m ready.  I can understand that.’  But then you left, and you were ignoring me and then downright avoiding me.  First, I was confused and then hurt.  And then I was just angry.  I wanted answers.”

Emily turned away from him, staring out the window as she continued, “You showed up at my door and I thought, ‘Wow, he’s wanting to work things out now.  We can get through this.’  How wrong I was.  I was blindsided.  I sat in my living room in shock.  My dreams were crushed again.  And this time it destroyed me.  I couldn’t even get out of bed.  I couldn’t pretend I was okay.”

Turning back to face him, Emily kept her head down as she crossed her arms.  “Then you left for vacation and I was able to get out of bed.  Spending time alone without the fear of running into you, I was able to slowly start piecing myself back together.  But your family came home, and I started getting… triggers again that would send me spiraling.”

Emily sighed, dragging her eyes back to Derek.  “I needed to tell you that.  To get everything off my chest.”

Awkwardly, Derek clutched the back of his neck.  “Listen, Em, I didn’t mean to hurt you.  I didn’t think about any of that… stuff before.  So, I’m… sorry.  Really.”

Emily nodded slowly.  She mumbled quietly, “Thanks.”

Derek shifted uncomfortably against the Prince.  “So…”

“So?”

“I don’t know what else to say.”

Frowning, Emily took over, “Well… are we going to talk about the elephant?”

He twitched again, his fingers drumming anxiously on the top of the trunk.  “Elephant?”  He wildly looked around the garage.  “I don’t see an elephant.”

“Derek—"

“I think the nearest elephant is probably at the—"

“Was the second time you asked me out just because you needed a prom date or was it to annoy her?”

He pointed out the garage window, spying his dad as he walked up their shared drive.  “Oh, there’s my dad.  Must be dinner time.”

“You could at least answer me honestly.  Did you really want to be my boyfriend?”

He raised a hand to his ear, listening off in the distance.  “What?  What was that?”

Emily tried again, “I think we should talk about this, Derek.”

“Yeah?  Dinner time?  Alright!  Got to go!”  He busted out of the garage like his life depended on it.

Emily’s lips narrowed into a thin line as she watched the backdoor into the McDonald-Venturi house bang on its hinges.  She whispered to herself, “That’s what I thought.”  Her head lowered as she walked slowly back to her own door.


“George!”  Nora greeted happily as he walked into the mud room.

Setting his briefcase down, he gave Nora a peck on the lips then squatted down to kiss her huge belly.  “And hello to you too, little one.”  Standing, George inquired, “Did I see Derek in the garage with Emily?”

“What?”  Nora shook off the oven mitts and took a seat on a stool sitting next to the stove.  “What do you think that’s about?”

“Dunno.  But it looked like he was in pain.”  George winced on behalf of his son.

“Well, I hope he’s working things out.  Emily has been really… odd lately.”

George raised an eyebrow at his wife.  “You’re counting on Derek to work things out?”

Wincing, Nora shook her head.  “I have high hopes, I know.”  George chuckled, unknotting his tie.  Smiling again, Nora ordered, “Go change your clothes, dinner will be ready shortly.”

He leaned in for another kiss.  “Yes, dear.”

Nora watched George descend the basement stairs, perching on her stool as she stirred the sauce.  Suddenly, the door slammed open and Derek sprinted through the kitchen not stopping as Nora called out a questioning, “Derek?”


Edwin checked his watch.  “Guess, we should break this meeting up.  It’s almost dinner time.”

“Right.”  Lizzie checked her lists.  “I think we’ve just about covered everything anyway.”

Marti started gathering her things, capping her markers carefully and lining them in her box in a precise order.

“Okay, troops, everybody have their assignments?”  Edwin winced as he straightened his legs out in front of him and rubbed his thighs.

“Yup!”  Marti cried.  “I’ll finish making the decorations tonight after dinner.”

Lizzie nodded, “I’m working on the rest of the skit.  You’ll get the special surprise ready?”

“Will do, sis.”  He peeked out the door.  “Coast is clear.  Let’s go.”  Cringing, he grabbed his leg.  “Okay, you’re going to have to pull me up.  I’m too old to sit on the floor all day.”

Together, Lizzie and Marti rolled their eyes before heaving Edwin to his feet.

Marti patted his shoulder comfortingly as he gained his balance.  “Feel better, old man?”

Lizzie covered her laugh with her hand.

Edwin glared between them.  “Thanks for your concern, both of you.  I’m truly touched.”  He mumbled under his breath, “Sisters.”


“Dinner, kids!”  Nora shouted up the stairs.

Innocently, Marti and Lizzie came out of their rooms, hands behind their backs and whistling.  Edwin stomped down his stairs stiffly, still cringing with each step.  Lizzie sent him a glare and slid a finger across her neck.

Drawing even with her, Edwin hissed, “I can’t help it.”

“Well, knock it off.  Someone is going to notice!”

Edwin grunted.  “In this family?  Please, my pants could be on fire and no one would notice us.”

Marti piped up, pushing past them to lead the way down the stairs.  “He’s got a point, actually.”

They plopped down in their seats, the others already sitting around the table.  Nora began to pass the food around.

As they dug in, George asked his son, “So, Derek, I saw you and Emily in the garage.  Did you work things out?”

Casey coughed, choking on her food as her startled eyes popped to Derek’s.

Derek cringed, his fork drooping as he mumbled under his breath, “Thanks a lot, Dad.”  Louder, he responded, “Uh, no.  She wanted to talk.”

Both George and Edwin groaned.

Nora frowned.  “There’s nothing wrong with wanting to talk, Derek.”

“What did she say?  When did you talk?  How did she look?  Why didn’t she tell me?”  The whole table turned to Casey, inquisitive looks on their faces as she threw questions left and right at a panicked looking Derek.

He dug back into his food with renewed gusto, taking a huge bite he chewed forcefully before pointing his fork across the table, swallowing hard.  “Is it really your business?  What does it matter?  How would I know?  And why do you care?”

She glared, slamming her fork down.  Nora stepped in, “Derek, I think all of us here care about Emily’s welfare.  Did you talk things through?”

Derek glared down at his plate, stabbing harshly around with his fork.  “If by talk things through, you mean she gave me a piece of her mind, then yes, we did.”

“What did she say?”  Nora pursued.  Derek shrugged not looking up.

“I’m 99% sure you deserved to hear it, son.”  George shook his head.  “What else did I miss today?”


“Isn’t it past the keener’s bedtime?”  He shoved her shoulder as he passed Casey sitting on a kitchen stool. 

She caught herself from toppling off by gripping the counter.  “Hardy har, Derek.  I wanted to finish this.”  Her fluffball of a pen tapped sharply against her journal.  “And I needed tea to relax.”  She picked up her warm mug and held it in her hands.

Derek glanced at it shortly, groaning, “Not more lists?”

“No, Derek, not a list.  I’m trying to tell my diary exactly how I’m feeling right now.”

“Joy.  Sorry I asked.”

“I like to share things, Derek.”

“Of course, Miss Feeling-sharer can’t go more than two seconds without broadcasting—" He waved his hand in a half-hazard circle, “Her emotions all over the place.”  He shivered dramatically before he ducked into the fridge.

She slammed her teacup down.  “What’s got your undies in a bunch?”

“I’ve had it with all this touchy feely shit today.”

Casey’s voice grew consoling, “You know, I’d listen if you wanted to talk about it.”

“I’d rather stab my eye out.”

“Derek—" Casey tried to comfort.

At the same time, they started, “Don’t be—"

Casey finished, “Bitter.”  As Derek cringed, “Sweet.”

Casey gasped, “Derek, that’s it.  Bittersweet, exactly the word that describes how I feel right now.”  Her fluffy pink pen danced across the paper as she wrote.

He rolled his eyes, groaning.  “Not another one of your oxymaroons.”

“Oxymoron, Derek.  Moron, that should be a word you can remember since you are one yourself.”

“Ha, funny, Case.  A real knee slapper.”  He threw the container with their dinner leftovers onto the counter and sat down beside her.  “But I do know what bittersweet means.”

She turned her head to watch him, propping her head on her hand.  “You feel it too?”

He took a huge bite and shook his head.  “I didn’t say I feel anything.”

Casey rolled her eyes.  “Excuse me for not conforming to your illusion of not having feelings.” She dropped her arm, picking her fuzzy pink pen back up and doodling on the edge of her journal.

Derek observed her as he munched on his food.  “There’s something bothering you.”  It was a statement.

“And you definitely don’t want to hear about it.”  She twirled her pen around.

“I can always read it in your diary later.”  He tapped the hard cover with a knuckle.

“Der-rek, that’s snooping!”

He shrugged.  “I call it fact finding.”  Shoveling another helping into his mouth, he mumbled, “Might as well tell me now.”

She turned away from him, fiddling with the ribbon on her journal.  Softly, she revealed, “Emily is upset with me.”

Derek snorted.  “Join the club, Space.”

“That’s different.”

He stopped chewing.  “How?”

“She’s my—"

“Best friend.  I got that the first hundred times.  Let’s move on, m‘kay?”

“Derek,” Casey whined, clearly frustrated.  “You’re the one that broke up with her.  She’s obviously going to be upset with you.  But why is she so angry at me?”

 His lips pursed as he looked sideways to study her sad eyes.  “Maybe that’s why.”  Derek’s fork dove hastily into his food and he shoved it into his mouth.

Casey turned towards him.  Her eyes roamed furiously over his face.  “She’s taking what you did out on me?”  Casey frowned.  “Emily’s not like that.”

Derek shrugged, but didn’t say anything.

“I don’t believe that.”

“Got a better reason?”

The look on Casey’s face grew sadder.  “No.”  Suddenly, Casey threw her head into her hands and cried, “Why is everything so hard right now?”

Panic flashed across Derek’s features as he heard the tears building up.  “Whoa, Case.  Calm down.”

Her head whipped up to glare at him, tears welling in her eyes.  “Calm down?  Don’t tell me to calm down, Derek!  We’re leaving our family and friends, our home and everything as we know it in two days!  And my best friend is mad at me because of you!”

Derek blinked.  “Okay,” He slowly began.  “Don’t calm down.  Rant away.”

The corners of Casey’s mouth betrayed her as they twitched, but then she grew serious again.  “I don’t want to rant.  I want to fix the problem.”

Turning back to his leftovers, Derek’s fork stirred around absentmindedly.  “Maybe it’s not your problem to fix.”

Casey chewed her bottom lip as she thought about his words.  She picked up her teacup up and took a small sip.  Unexpectedly, she slammed her cup down and dived for her pen.  Derek watched attentively as her pen darted across the lines as it filled in the words that suddenly came to her.

He turned back to his food and they sat in compatible silence as she continued to write.  Derek finished his food and took his dishes to the sink.  He grabbed a glass from the cupboard and poured a glass of milk.  Derek downed the entire glass in one gulp and placed the glass in the sink as well.

Casey’s small voice stopped him from leaving the kitchen.  “Derek?”

“Hmm?”  He slowly revolved to face her.

“You know I really would listen, right?”

His lips twitched as he thought of how to respond.  “Don’t sweat it, Case.  You personally smoothed out all of my undies earlier today.”

“DER-REK!”  The blush blossomed across her face and down her neck.

Laughing, Derek sent her a wink and swaggered to bed.


Derek’s dark blue robe hung off his shoulder’s sloppily as he stumbled through the kitchen.  His baggy nightshirt was twisted crookedly on his neck.  His green and blue flannels fell down his hips as he stumbled over the ends.

“Derek?  You’re up early!”  George called out in surprise as he set his coffee cup down.

He yawned widely again, trying to speak through it, “Ca-Case-ey.”

“She woke you?”  George asked him.

Sleepily, he nodded.  “At the butt crack of dawn.”  He propped his head up in his hands, but he slipped off and he had to try again.

Nora frowned, “Why so early?”

Pulling a bowl towards him, he shrugged as he blinked bleary-eyed around the counter looking for the cereal.  “Beats me.  I fell asleep three words in.”  He finally found the cereal and overfilled his bowl, cereal spewing out over the counter.

“Where is she now?”

He shrugged, milk slipping from his spoon.  “Shower?”

She nodded, seemingly satisfied.  George watched his son, amused as Derek struggled to get his cereal into his mouth.  He chuckled as milk sloshed down Derek’s front.  “I must say, Derek, morning looks good on you.”

“Har, har, har, Dad.”


“Edwin!”  Lizzie hissed through the darkness as she stumbled into his attic bedroom.  She approached his bedside, hissing again, “Edwin!”

He mumbled under his breath as he tried to burrow deeper under his covers.  “Shh, Mr. Fuzzy.”  Edwin’s arm tightened around his bear.  “Eddy… is… sweeping.”  A loud snore rumbled out of Edwin.

“Sweeping?”  Lizzie questioned under her breath.  “Edwin!”  She shook his shoulders until he jumped awake.

With wide eyes, he exclaimed, “Merlin’s beard, Lizzie!  It’s morning!”

She snorted, “Galloping gargoyles, Edwin, I know.  And you promised me we would finish the rest this morning!”

Edwin grunted, rolling away from her to face the wall and his tiny nightstand.  His arm reached out dangerously as he fumbled for his alarm clock.  He managed to pick it up, squinting disbelievingly at it.  “This is before morning time.”  As he slammed the clock back, the stand wobbled back and forth.

Up, Edwin.  You promised.”

Sighing, Edwin removed his covers and slid to the edge of his bed as Lizzie took the two steps to his desk, spreading her things out and taking a seat in his chair.  With a huge yawn, Edwin stretched his arms above his head, shaking his head back and forth.  Finally, in a seated position, Edwin cast a glance at Lizzie to find her watching him and twiddling her thumbs exaggeratedly.

He rolled his eyes, raising his hand to his forehead in a two-finger salute.  “Permission to use the latrine, General?”

“Make it fast, soldier.  We have work to do.”


George clutched his coffee cup between his hands as he watched Derek retreat through the living room, tripping on the first step as he tried to climb the stairs.  Sniggering to Nora, George teased, “That boy never could handle his mornings.”

A smile radiated from Nora as she chuckled.  “I never had that problem with the girls.  They were up and functioning before I could get a few moments to myself in the mornings.”

“Not around here.”  George laughed again.  “It was always brutal in the mornings.”  He paused, thoughtfully putting down his coffee cup.  “Although it was quieter.”

Nora looked at him surprised.

“No, really, it was.  No one talked.  They just grunted.”  He nudged her shoulder.  “Until the McDonald’s moved in.”  Both George and Nora chuckled.  “Now we have the traditional morning squabble.  Der-rek!”  George mocked.

Covering her mouth, Nora hid her laugh.  But she pulled it away to imitate Derek, “What now, Spacey?”  Suddenly, the smile was wiped from her face and tears began to well in her eyes.

It took George several beats before he looked at his wife in alarm.  “What?  What’s wrong, Nora?”

She sniffed.  “I was just thinking that we only have one more morning together as a family.”

George reached up, gently brushing the tears from Nora’s cheeks.  “We’ll have more mornings together.  They won’t end because Derek and Casey are going to university.”

“But they’ll be different.”

“But it won’t be completely different.  I’m sure we can still count on tension filled morning arguments from those two.”

Nora offered him a small smile.  “I guess some things won’t change.”  She brushed the remaining tears from her face and stood, suddenly all business.  “Come on, Georgie.  Let’s get this house whipped into shape.”

Startled at the mood shift, it took George a few seconds to follow a determined Nora down the basement stairs.


Wordlessly, Edwin reentered his room, stumbling sleepily as he walked around his desk, motioning Lizzie out of his chair.  Although she jumped up at the request, it was accompanied by an eyeroll.

Bleary eyed, Edwin clicked open his computer, taking three tries to type in his password.

“Is it there?”  Lizzie questioned over his shoulder.

“Give a man time.  I can barely see the screen.”

Huffing, Lizzie turned away, studying the scenery out of the tiny oval window behind his desk.  “How do you stand the lack of light up here?  I’d go crazy.”

He shrugged, not looking up.  “You get used to it.  Besides, it really helps a guy sleep in, you know?”

“Give it up, Ed.”

Ignoring her, Edwin yelped, “Ah ha!”

Instantly, Lizzie was over his shoulder again.  “Did he send it?  Did he send it?”

A grin broke out across Edwin’s face.  “Yes sir re bob!  It’s here!”

Lizzie let out an enormous sigh of relief.  “Thank God!”  Lizzie picked up her notebook and made her way over to sit on Edwin’s bed, flipping through the pages and reading her notes.

Under his breath, Edwin mumbled, “Way to go, Denny.  Just under the wire.”


Bursting into Derek’s room, Casey abruptly stopped two paces inside the doorway, catching Derek pulling his orangutan shirt over his head.  Derek turned to face her as he straightened the material over his chest and tugged it down over his abs.  “Well, if it isn’t the royal pain of the house.”

Casey didn’t respond as her eyes refocused from where the last bit of his skin had disappeared to the old shirt stretching tightly over his developing pectorals.  A cocky smirk was growing on Derek’s face.  As Casey finally made eye contact with him, Derek quirked an eyebrow.  “You… want something, Case?”

Shaking her head slightly, she crossed her arms over her chest.  “Yes, actually.  Your help loading the trailer.”

Derek groaned, stepping backwards away from her and further into his room.  “Oh no, no, no.  I’m no moving man.”

Casey rolled her eyes.  “Oh, come on, Derek.  Put those muscles to good use.”

Immediately, Derek straightened from picking up his discarded pajamas, his hands coming up empty as he looked at her disbelievingly.  “What?”

Ignoring him, Casey surged forward, taking hold of his wrist, and backing them slowly from his room.  He followed her instinctively, his feet moving on their own accord.

“Good luck getting out of this.”

“Is the death grip really necessary?”

“I’m not letting you make a break for it, Venturi.”

“Now would I really do something like that, McDonald?”

Casey snorted, spinning so she could descend the stairs forwards as her clasp on Derek’s wrist tightened.  “Duh.  Wherever there is work to be done, Derek is not.  It’s like your second motto.”

“And what’s my first motto, Miss All-Knowing?”

“Ha!  Too easy.  Ask me something more difficult.”  Reaching the bottom of the staircase, she resumed walking backwards, maintaining eye contact with him as their arms stretched out between them. 

An adorable smirk illuminated Derek’s face, his eyes crinkling with mirth.  “What’s in it for me if you get it wrong?”

She tossed him a playful look, “What do you want?”

“Hmm,” Derek put his unoccupied hand to his chin, pretending to maul it over.  “I’m sure I’ll think of something.”

The pair disappeared into the kitchen.  Unknown to them, a curious Marti followed their exchange from behind the back of the couch.  She sunk back into the cushions humming to herself, then singing quietly, “Kay eye ess ess eye en geeeee.”

She put the baby’s song book back in the box and folded the lid in.  Struggling slightly under the weight, Marti hauled the box up into her arms and headed for the staircase.


“EDWIN!  George shouted up the attic stairs, “GET DOWN HERE!”  Edwin came stomping down his stairs.

Nora waddled up from downstairs, puffing when she got to the top, “Georgie, have you seen Lizzie anywhere?” 

Edwin’s eyes darted guiltily to the attic stairs and George noticed, “Lizzie, get down here, now!”  Lizzie padded down the stairs, glumly.

Nora having caught her breath slightly, started explaining, “Okay, Lizzie, go down to the basement and help Marti.  She’s bringing the baby’s things up to Derek’s room.  But you can start hauling our stuff up to Casey’s room.  Edwin, can you help George carry Derek’s things that are staying here down to the basement?  Ah, Casey labeled them all.  I think she said they’re the ones with blue stickers followed with a black label?”  It sounded more like a question than a statement.  Then she turned to Lizzie.  “And Liz, you’re looking for the boxes with the orange stickers.  Make sure Marti takes the yellow ones.”

Edwin rolled his eyes.  “Why do we have to haul their sh- stuff around?  Why can’t they?”

George sighed, “Edwin, we’re a family.  And they are working too.  They’re in the garage loading stuff in the trailer.”

Lizzie and Edwin both looked at him before Lizzie asked, “Derek’s… working?”

Snorting in disbelief, Edwin added, “Yeah, I’d believe it if I saw it.  And even then, I don’t think I would.”

Nora heaved another sigh.  “Well, I imagine right now Casey is panicking and Derek is watching.”

George clapped Edwin on the shoulder.  “Alright, the sooner we start, the sooner we finish.”

All four of them groaned, disappearing to their assigned tasks.


Derek was reclined in the passenger seat of the van, watching Casey have a panic attack.  “Come on Spazy, calm down.  We’ve already got a trailer full, anymore and we’re going to have to ask if we can borrow your mothership for the move.  Eh, Space Cadet?”  He crossed his arms across his chest, once again highlighting the tight shirt.

“DER-REK!”  He grinned at her screech.  “The least you could do is help me haul these boxes inside the trailer.”

“Believe me, I can do less than that.”  He smirked cockily at her, propping his feet lazily across each other on the dashboard.  He held that position for only a second before he jumped up and walked over to her.  He shoved her shoulder as he bent down and picked up a box at her feet, stowing it in the back of the trailer.

They shot each other annoyed looks as they passed each other on the ramp.

As Derek reached for a box, Case cried, “No, Derek!  Not that one!”

Derek flinched, startled at her outburst as his hand withdrew rapidly.  “What?  What’s wrong with that one?”

She tapped her clipboard irritably.  “You have to follow this order!”

He rolled his eyes.  “Excuse me, Control Keeper Casey.  Which box can I take?”

Pacing a few steps to their left, she pointed out a stack.  “These, but make sure you keep them on the right side of the trailer.”

“Why?”

“The right side is mine.”

“I must have missed the pink tape.”  He dramatically looked around on the ground.

Huffing, Casey crossed her arms.  “This way it will be much easier when we unload!”

Derek sighed to himself before lugging one of her boxes up into his arms.  “Gaaaah!  What do you have in here?  A safe?  A piano?  A fucking anvil?”

“Der-rek!”  Casey hissed through her teeth as she hurriedly looked around them.  “Watch it!”

He slammed the box into place on the trailer before he clutched at his thighs, looking up at her to roll his eyes.  Suddenly, Derek straightened, his mouth falling open.  “Those were books, weren’t they?”

A blush blossomed up her neck as she looked away from him.

“Queen’s does have a library, you know.”

 Indignantly, Casey snatched a box from the ground and loaded it into the trailer, mumbling under her breath as she passed him, “Jerk.”

“Keener.”


Lizzie made her way into the basement, looking around at the boxes stacked on every available surface.  She whimpered before she called out, “Marti?  You down here?”

“Over here!”  A muffled cry sounded from inside George and Nora’s bedroom.

Carefully, Lizzie tiptoed through the scattered piles, cursing under her breath as she knocked a box over, its contents spilling out over the carpet.  Hastily, she ducked down to pick up the wayward toys and stuff them back into the box.

In the meantime, Marti met her in the doorway of the bedroom.  Setting the box back in place, Lizzie faced Marti.  “Where do we even start?”

Marti maneuvered her way through the room cautiously, carrying the box to the stairs.  “I’ve been taking the baby stuff up to the living room just to make more room down here.”

Lizzie nodded.  “Right, good idea.  Mom told me to take their stuff up and Edwin’s bringing Derek’s stuff down.”  Wincing, Lizzie looked around the basement again.  “Oh, this is going to take a small miracle to get this right.”

Brightening, Marti chirped, “Don’t worry, Lizzie.  Casey has this all worked out.”  She pointed at the bright yellow sticker on the box she was holding.  “These will tell us everything we need to know.”

With a sigh, Lizzie looked over the stacks, finally finding the orange stickers she was looking for.  She hauled two light boxes up into her arms and nodded to Marti.  “Lead the way, kiddo.”


“Absolutely not, Nora.  You’re not hauling things up and down the stairs in your condition.”

Nora let out a frustrated sigh.  Taking a seat on the edge of Casey’s bed.  “You’re right, Georgie.”

George picked up a pink and black stickered box.  “I’ll take these down.  You take from the kids coming up.

Nora nodded as Lizzie walked in, two boxes teetering in her arms.  She smiled at Lizzie, carefully taking them from her as George disappeared down the stairs.

“Mum?  You okay?”

Reaching out a hand to grasp Lizzie’s shoulder, Nora smiled sadly.  “I’m fine, Lizard.  This is just emotional for me.”

Lizzie nodded in understanding, offering a smile.  Unexpectedly, Lizzie leaned in for a hug, kissing her mother’s cheek as she withdrew.


On the fourth trip to the basement, George leaned against the wall, trying to catch his breath.  He jumped as Marti popped out from behind a stack of boxes.  She giggled lightly as she watched him puff for air.  Patting his shoulder, she spoke, “You know, Daddy, this would go a lot faster if you took an orange one up as you go to bring a pink one down.”

A gust of air whistled between his teeth.  “Huh.”  George panted.  “You.  Have.  A.  Point.  There.”  Grinning widely.  Marti snatched up a box and ran up the stairs.  George watched her wistfully.  “I.  Wish.  I.  Had.  Her.  Energy.”


Abruptly, Edwin ran into Lizzie’s back with the box he was carrying.  She let out a cry of “Umpf!” as she caught herself on the rail.  Glaring over her shoulder she asked, “What gives?”

“We should have invited their friends!  They’d have really good material on them.”

Climbing the stairs behind them, Marti supplied, “It’s not too late!”

Nodding, Lizzie agreed.  “We could call them…”

Lizzie trailed off as Nora’s impatient voice cut her off, “Kids!  What’s taking so long with those boxes?”  With a groan, Lizzie turned back around, and they continued their journey upstairs.

After depositing their loads, Edwin grasped Marti’s elbow as the three of them descended into the living room.  He whispered quietly, “It’s up to you, Marti.  Make a break for it.  Use all your powers of persuasion.”

Marti gave him a Venturi smirk.  “Roger, roger.”  She scurried down the rest of the stairs.  As she snatched the portable phone off the stand, she shot them a wink before slinking out the front door, edging around the corner of the house away from the driveway.

Finding a safe place behind the house, where she wouldn’t be overheard, Marti dialed the number from memory.

“Hello?”  Sheila answered the phone politely.

“Hey, Sheila!”  Marti chirped happily.  “Is Sammy there?”

“Just a second, I’ll get him.”  There was silence as Sheila went to retrieve Sam.

A minute later his smooth voice asked, “What’s up?”

“Sammy!  I need your help!”

“Marti?”

“It’s really important, Sam!  You see…”

Sam listened to Marti jabber away, an elated smile spreading across his face with every word.  “Count me in, Marti.”


Edwin cast a quick glance at Lizzie as they continued their route from the basement through the main floor and up the flight of stairs to find her lips moving silently to herself.  “Are you practicing your part?”

She laughed lightly, looking guiltily at him.  “Yeah, are you?”

“Ha, yup!  I keep going over the delivery in my head.”

“I just hope it all goes according to plan.”

“It will.  I hope Marti’s having good luck.”


“Marti!  What’s crack-a-lackin?”

“Hi, Ralphie!”  Marti giggled.  “I need a favor.”

“Name it, sister!”

Beaming ear to ear, Marti explained the situation.

Ralph laughed, “I’m all over it!  See you then!”


“Don’t touch me.”  Casey warned Derek, a hand preventing him from stepping closer to her.

He leered at her.  “What’s the matter, Casey?  Afraid of my rugged good looks?”

“Puh-lease.”  She thrust a box into his arms.  “You’re all sweaty!”  Casey made a noise of disgust in the back of her throat.

Derek rolled his eyes.  “Can’t imagine why.  You have me doing all the hard labor here.”

“Just take this into the trailer.”  She passed a box off to him.

“Yes, ma’am.”  Derek mocked, turning to make his way up the ramp.  She watched him, rolling her eyes.  Leaving the boxes in their intended places, he bounded down the ramp towards her again, pretending like he was going to run into her.

She blocked him with her arms again and he laughed twisting away from her.  He lugged a box onto each shoulder and stood looking at her.  “You going to help or just stand there all day?”

Shaking her head, Casey bent to retrieve another box, mumbling under her breath, “If only you were this helpful all the time.”

He shot over his shoulder as she followed him up the ramp.  “I heard that.  Don’t press your luck, Princess.”


Dropping their latest load in front of their parents, Lizzie and Edwin huffed in sync.

Edwin’s hands gripped his hips as he quipped, “Do we get lunch in this man’s army?”

“Don’t be so dramatic, son.”  George shoved his shoulder teasingly before he turned to his wife.  “Do we, Nora?”

She rolled her eyes good-naturedly.  “I’ll make us all some sandwiches.”  Holding her belly, she waddled down the stairs.  Reaching halfway, she paused.  “Will you help me, Georgie?”  George groaned but trailed obediently after her.

Edwin took a heavy seat on the top step, slinking tiredly down the wall.  Lizzie joined him, leaning exhaustedly against his shoulder just in time to hear him mumble, “And that was a lot.  Pause for laughter from the audience.”

Snorting, Lizzie withdrew from his shoulder to look up at him.  His eyes were closed, the corners crinkling as he concentrated on his private rehearsal.  “How can you be so sure, funny man?”

“Puh-lease.  I have only the best Derek material.”

“Just don’t get yourself killed, yeah?”

He looked at her seriously, “I said I have the best, not that I’d use it.”


“Emily, phone.”  Emily hastily withdrew from her window as Linda strolled into her room, presenting her with their landline.  An eyebrow rose in confusion as she took the phone from her mom.  Linda didn’t wait before retreating from her daughter’s room, pulling the door softly closed behind her.

“Hello?”  Emily questioned into the phone.

“Emily!  I need to ask you something important!”

“Marti, is that you?”

“Uh huh!  So, we wanted to know…”

Pulling back the curtains, Emily returned to her observation of the scene unfolding in their shared driveway as she listened to Marti’s incessant chatter.  She watched as Derek chased her best friend around the obstacle course of boxes in the drive.  Narrowly missing her each time Derek reached out, Casey danced carefully between the stacks, avoiding catastrophe.   She hesitated only slightly, but it was enough for Derek to grab hold of her, pulling her body into his.  Her hands went up to block him, pushing forcefully against his chest as she tried to squirm away from him.

Emily could hear the distant cries of, “Der-rek!  Stop!  STOP!”  Casey managed a small break from him, but Derek caught her again by the shirt, leaning down to wipe his forehead on the material.  Casey’s shrill shriek was loud and Derek’s answering smirk was prominent even from the distance.  She slapped at his hands to release her from his clutches, but it was to no avail.

“Pleeease, Emily?”

“I don’t know, Marti.  I don’t think I’m the right person for this.”

“But you’re Casey’s best friend!”  Biting her lip, Emily forced herself away from the window as Marti plowed on, “Plus Sammy and Ralphie are coming.”

With a sigh, Emily gave in.  “Okay, Marti.  I’ll be there.”

“Yay!  Thank you, thank you, thank you!”


“Kids!”  Nora shouted from the kitchen.  “Lunchtime!”  Edwin and Lizzie descended the stairs just as Marti snuck in the front door, giving a sneaking okay signal to Edwin and Lizzie with a proud grin.  The pair returned the gesture, quickening their pace to the kitchen.

Smiling, Nora waved a hand at the spread of sandwiches and chips on their kitchen island.  “Help me carry these things outside and we’ll have a picnic.  George is setting the lawn chairs up.”

Edwin’s hand sunk into the chip bowl, extracting a huge handful, and shoving them hastily into his mouth before Lizzie could slap his arm.  “Wha?”  He tried to say through his mouthful.

Rolling her eyes, Lizzie picked up the remaining chips, saying, “I’ll take these.  Apparently, you can’t be trusted.”

He mocked her behind her back, making Marti giggle as she swept up several plates to carry.  “Come on, Eddy.”  Edwin followed his sister out the back, his eyes squinting at the sudden brightness of the afternoon.  Stumbling over the threshold, he managed to secure the plate of sandwiches just before Derek swooped in, stealing two sandwiches in one go.

With a smirk, Derek ruffled Edwin’s hair as he teased, “Well, look what the cat dragged out.  Where’ve you been all day?”  Derek took a huge bite of his sandwich as he waited for Edwin to answer.

“Hauling your shit around, bro.”

Derek snorted at Edwin’s hostility as they walked over to two lawn chairs.  “At least you haven’t been with Sergeant Spazy all day.  I hope keenerism isn’t contagious.”

Across their informal circle of chairs, Casey sent him a glare.  “I heard that, Derek.”

In reply, Derek stuck his tongue out at her.  “Good.”

She laughed mockingly.  “That’s your best retort?”

George groaned, effectively cutting off Derek’s reply, “Guys, can’t we just enjoy our lunch break?”  He wiped sweat from his brow with the back of his hand.  “I can’t deal with the bickering.”

Tinkling a laugh, Marti piped up, “Yeah, thou shall not bicker while on lunch break!”  She nodded importantly “Amen?”  She looked around the circle, a silly grin spread from cheek to cheek.

There was a resounding chorus of “Amen!” that left even Derek and Casey hiding smiles.


“Sammy boy!”  Derek greeted his best friend strolling up their driveway with a huge grin, sailing down the ramp of the trailer to give him their special handshake.

Sam grinned back.  “Sup, D?” 

Derek pointed a thumb over his shoulder.  “Oh, just dealing with Casey the Keener.  You know, typical day around here.”  Derek spoke casually, but there was a tinge of sadness in the air.

Sam picked up on it, looking around at their boxes dejectedly.  “Wow, D.  I can’t believe this is really happening.”

Derek winced.  “Don’t get mushy on me, dude or I’m going to start questioning your manhood.”

“Mighty tough words coming from Dereka.”

Derek smirked cunningly before he launched himself at Sam.  Sam let out a surprised, “Oof!” before he started to fight Derek’s arms wrapped around his shoulders.

The pair crashed to the ground, laughing as they each struggled to gain the upper hand.  They rolled into a stack of boxes and tipped it over, causing Casey to cry, “Hey!  Watch it!”  Derek and Sam ignored her as they continued to wrestle.

“Boys!”  Casey called sternly, which gave way to a laugh as Sam flipped Derek over onto his back.

“Say uncle, D.”

Pretending to give up, Derek sighed.  Sam let up and Derek took the opportunity to toss Sam onto his back.  They laughed together as they stood, shoving each other gently on the shoulder.

Casey rolled her eyes, a small smile on her face.  “I’m going to go get some lemonade.  Do you want any, Sam?”

“Uh, yeah, sure.  That’d be great, Case.”

Casey turned their back on them, heading inside.

Derek called after her, “What’s that, Spacey?  Oh yeah, I’ll take some too.  Thanks for asking.”

She spun on her heel to glare at him.  “Do I look like your slave?”

Slowly, he appraised her body, drawing every second out, a tension rising in the air as his eyes traveled down and back until they locked eyes again.  He smirked crookedly at her.  “Extra sweet, slave girl.”

Her eyes narrowed before she disappeared into the house, Derek grinning after her.

“Nice.”  Sam brought him back to the present.

“What?”  Derek asked as he turned back to his friend.

Sam glanced down, a grin rising unabashedly as he complimented, “Nice shirt.”

Ignoring him, Derek leaned casually against the trailer, stuffing his hands deep into his pockets.  “So, Sammy… what’s up?”

“Well, when you didn’t answer your phone, I figured I’d just drop by.”

“Pretty sure her royal highness hid my phone.”  He rolled his eyes.  “Something about no distractions, Der-rek, we have to concentrate!”  His voice returned to normal, “What’d you need?”

“Well, I was originally going to ask about what Casey decided but a little birdie told me that answer already.”

“Oh, really?”

“Yeah, I think it’s pretty clear what’s going on here.”   He smiled humorously.

Derek looked around at the piles of boxes around the garage and driveway.  “Because we need an eighteen-ton truck to move all our shit?”

“More because you’re speaking.”

Derek glanced at his friend, mumbling, “I was speaking before.”

Sam rolled his eyes, clasping his friend on the shoulder.  “Angsty brooding Derek doesn’t count.”

“Whatever, man.”

Smiling, Sam pulled back from him.  “Forget it, D.  I’m not going to argue.  I’m just happy it all worked out for you guys.”

Derek quirked an eyebrow.  He opened his mouth to retort, but the sound of the back door opening, diverted their attention.  They watched as Casey made her approach, hands full, as she tiptoed carefully around the boxes towards them.

“Here’s your lemonade, Sam.”  Casey offered the glass to him.  Sam wiped his hands on his pants before he took it from her with a smile.

Turning to Derek, she raised a glass to him as well.  “For you,” She curtsied in front of him, “Master.”  Over her shoulder, Sam snorted into his drink, pulling away with a cough.

With a smirk, Derek accepted the cool glass from her.  His twinkling eyes held hers as he gradually took a sip.  As soon as the liquid touched his tastebuds, he instantly jerked the glass away, his cheeks puckering as he spluttered for air.

Amusement and pride danced across Casey’s features as Sam hooted behind them.  She smirked his own grin at him.  “Oh, my bad.  I thought you said extra sour.”

When he recovered, Derek gasped, “Great gag, Case.”

Sam continued laughing.  “Ah, man.  The look on your face, D!”

Casey teased, “Yeah, Der.  It was priceless.”

“Ha, ha.  I hate you both.”  Derek set his lemonade glass down on a box with a huff.

She rolled her eyes at him and turned to Sam.  “No offense, Sam, but I’m going into the house to double check my lists.”  She scooped up her forgotten clipboard off a pile of boxes.  “Let me know when Derek is ready to work again.”

Sam mocked a salute.  “Will do.”

“Don’t you mean quadruple check?”

Casey glared at Derek before she marched to the door.   Her hand rested on the door frame as she turned back to stare at him, finding Derek already watching her.  They eyed each other until Derek sent her a wink.  The corners of her lips tipped upwards before she disappeared into the house, the door swinging shut behind her.

Casting his eyes down, Derek watched his shuffling feet.  A hand came up to run through his hair as he cleared his throat.  “It’s true, you know.”

Studying his friend, Sam murmured, “Yeah, I know.”


Marti’s eyebrows shot to her hairline as she watched Edwin and Lizzie fumbling around the boxes in the basement, searching for any remaining items that had to be moved.  “Why do you two keep mumbling to yourself?  You’ve been doing it since lunch!”

“We’re practicing our parts for tonight.”  Edwin reassured her.

Lifting a box up into her arms, Lizzie turned to her, a frown forming on her face.  “Don’t you need to practice your lines, Marti?”

Rolling her eyes, Marti heaved her own box up.  “Who needs to practice?  If there’s one thing a Venturi knows how to do, it’s telling a story.”

Behind the girls, Edwin snickered, picking up his own box and following them up the stairs.  “Proven fact, sis.”


“Come on, Derek.  We’re so close!”  Casey pulled at his arm, trying to get him off the box he was sitting on.

“Relax, Space Case.”  Derek drawled.  “These boxes aren’t going to run away.”  Mumbling under his breath, he added, “But I might.”

Casey shoved his shoulder hard enough he had to grip the box to keep from falling off.  She crossed her arms, causing her skin to brush against his shoulder.  Rolling his eyes, he nudged her, then patted the box next to him.  “One minute is not going to hurt.”

Reluctantly, her arms fell from her chest and she took the offered seat next to him.  Together, they sat in silence staring back at the house.  Unexpectedly, Casey’s breath hitched in her throat and Derek cast a side glance at her.  He murmured softly, “You okay?”

The air shifted as Casey breathed in unevenly.  “Yeah.”  Silence stretched between them once again as they stared at the house.  Barely audible, Casey’s voice broke, “I’m going to miss it.”

Derek’s fist brushed against the side of her knee just once before it disappeared.  “Me too.”

Casey wiped beneath her eyes and Derek pretended not to notice.  Calmly, he rose from his seat, bending slightly as he offered a hand to her.

Surprised, she stared at his open palm before carefully sliding her own into it as he helped her up.  The contact didn’t last long.  As soon as she was securely on her feet, Derek dropped her hand, stooping to pick up his makeshift chair and lugging it up the ramp.


Nora revolved in a circle, studying the walls of Casey’s room.  She breathed, “I can’t believe this is our room again.  It seems like ages ago since we were in here.”

George smiled, coming to stand behind her and wrapping his arms around her bulging belly.  “When we were first married.  Good times, eh?”

Giggling, Nora snuggled into his embrace.  “It’s all been good, Georgie.”

He dropped a kiss on her temple.  “Mmm, even the bickering?  The arguments?  The feuds?”

“Those were hardly ever between you and me.”

A laugh split out of George.  “Ah, that’s right.  We have quite the temperamental children, don’t we?”

Sighing, Nora revolved in his embrace, her arms circling around his waist.  Resting her cheek against his thudding heart, a tear escaped, cascading down her cheek.  “They’re hardly children anymore.”

Sensing the mood shift, George tightened his hug.  “They’ll always be our children, Nora.  No matter how old they get.”

She began to cry in earnest.  “This time is so emotional for a mother.  And look at me!  Pregnant!  Pregnant as my oldest goes off to university!”  Nora gripped at George’s shirt.  “My hormones are making me a weeping mess at every turn.”

George pulled back slightly so he could meet her eye.  She refused to look at him.  Cautiously, he placed a finger beneath her chin, bringing her eyes to meet his.  “There’s nothing wrong with being sad about the kids leaving.  I’m sad too, Nora.  It’s been so long since I’ve had a life without Derek.  And I don’t know what we ever did before Casey lived here.”  He chuckled, eliciting a small watery smile from Nora.  “It’s going to be hard at first to adjust, but we will.  It doesn’t mean we won’t miss them, but we’re going to make it through this, Nora.”

Nodding, Nora wiped at her eyes.  “You’re right.  I just don’t know how I’m going to keep up with it all.  The new baby…”  She trailed off as fresh tears welled in her eyes.

Enclosing her face gently between his two palms, George kissed her forehead.  “Whatever happens, we’ll make it through together.”


“Phew!”  Edwin let out as he collapsed on the floor next to Lizzie and Marti.  He moved his head around looking at the basement.  “Tell me, exactly how are Derek and Casey going to share this place?”

“I don’t know, Ed.”  Lizzie shook her head.  “But it’s not our problem.”

“At least we won’t hear the noise.”  Marti piped in.  She bit her lip.  “Maybe.”

Edwin snorted as he folded his arms behind his head.  “I’m exhausted.”

Sitting up and tucking her legs underneath her, Lizzie spoke anxiously, “So, is everything ready?”

“My parts are.  Edwin?”

“Yeah, I got it done.”

“Great.”  Lizzie nodded, letting out the breath she was holding.  “I can’t believe it’s our last night all together.”

“Don’t cry on the parade, Liz.  This is supposed to be fun.”

She bit her lip.  “I know, that’s why I need to talk about this now.”

“It sure is going to be different around here.”  Marti agreed.  “It’s sad.”

Edwin and Lizzie both nodded their agreement.  Sighing, Edwin rolled to his side, running his hand over the carpet.  “Don’t get me wrong, I’m going to miss both of them, but I think there’s going to be a lot of good things too.”

“Yeah,” Lizzie breathed, “The three of us will have the focus for a change.”

“That would be nice.”  Marti sighed.  “But it’s still sad.”

Humming his agreement, Edwin sat up.  “True.”

“I feel guilty, guys, for feeling that way.”  Lizzie admitted.

“Same.”

“I don’t want to say goodbye to Smerek and Casey.”

Lizzie scooted over to Marti and threw an arm around her shoulders.  Marti rested her head on Lizzie’s.  They sat in silence, the girls pretending not to notice as Edwin dug the heels of his hands into his eyes.

After several beats, Edwin shook himself, glancing down at his watch.  “We better get ready.”

Squeezing Marti one last time, Lizzie stood.  “Marti, can you set up the decorations?”

“Absolutely!”  Marti jumped up, excitement taking over her features as she mounted the stairs.  “This is going to be so kewl!”


“And we’re done!”  Casey chirped as she checked the final item off her list. 

Derek secured the door of the trailer with a dramatic eyeroll.  “It’s about time.”

She folded her arms over her clipboard, hugging it securely to her chest.  “Oh, come on.  It didn’t take that long.”

His eyebrows shot to his hairline as he slid down the ramp towards her.  “All damn day, Case!  You don’t call that long?”

“Could have been worse.”  Casey shrugged.  “And language, Derek.”

“Unbelievable.”  Derek mumbled under his breath.

Casey ignored him, flipping the page on her clipboard and reciting, “So, tomorrow we just have to—"

Derek cut her off, gripping both of her shoulders as he bent over her.  “Oh, no!  I don’t want to hear any more of this tonight!”

Her brow knitted as she looked up at him.  “Derek, ignoring it won’t—"

His grip slackened on her shoulders.  “I’m not ignoring it.”  The look on her face made him reiterate, “I’m not.  Really.  I’m just fucking exhausted and don’t want to hear about any more work right now, ’kay?”

A teasing smirk pulled at her lips.  “Oh, my bad, Derek Venturi isn’t used to hard work.”

Rolling his eyes, a grin rose unwillingly to his own face.  He replaced the grip on her shoulders, with a casual arm pulling her into him as he started to slowly walk them to the door.  “I might need extensive therapy, Casey.”

She laughed.  “Poor, Derry!  Can you even make it inside?”

At her words he feigned a limp, halting them in their steps.  She looked down at his feet as he pretended to hobble.  Then her piercing gaze met his as she bit her lip in barely concealed mirth. 

“You might have to carry me, McDonald.”

Casey snorted, “That’ll be the day.”  But contrary to her words, her arm smoothly laced its way around his waist as she leaned into him.

Ignoring his stuttering breath, he readjusted his arm wrapped around her shoulders as he reached for the door with his other hand, quipping, “You’d let an attractive guy like me fall?”  He paused, preventing her from going in as he looked down at her with a smirk.

“You’d be perfectly fine if you landed on your enormous ego.”

He laughed.  “And if I didn’t?”

They slid through the open door without breaking their hold on each other.  She squeezed his side, sighing, “I suppose I’d have to catch you.”

Nodding arrogantly, Derek teased, “Admit it… you’d miss me, Princess.”  He reached up with his free arm to squeeze her cheeks into a comical fish face.

“Der-rek!”  She giggled, stopping them in the middle of the mudroom as she tried to fight off his hand.

Chuckling with her, he prodded, “I didn’t hear you admit anything, McDonald.”

Her hand at his side, sunk underneath the hem of his shirt as she tickled his flesh.  Derek jerked his hand away from her face to stop the tickling as he involuntarily started laughing as he tried to smack her hand away.

“Ha!”  Casey cried triumphantly, rubbing her cheeks with her free hand.  “You first, Venturi!”  Derek tried to stop the attack, taking several steps into the kitchen to ward her off.

“Ne-ne-never!”  He spluttered between laughs.

Suddenly, a throat cleared, and Casey’s hand immediately withdrew from Derek’s skin as she met the pale face of her best friend sitting at the end of their dining room table, clearly having heard the entire exchange.  Emily’s gaze dropped from Casey’s eyes, then shifted to Derek, taking in his orangutan t-shirt with a subtle glare before she faced determinedly away from the pair.

Derek looked up confusedly as his father cleared his throat again.  “Uh, what’s all this?”  Derek asked eyeing their family and friends sitting around one side of the dining room table.  His eyes fell on the podium situated between Sam and Nora.  His eyes followed the movement behind the stand to see Edwin and Lizzie sitting on kitchen stools, grinning from ear to ear.  “Don’t’ tell me…”

Beside him, Casey gasped, “Oh my gosh, those pictures.”  Taped to the front of the table was a plethora of Derek and Casey’s school pictures ranging from all ages.  “Oh no, they have nameplates.  This can’t be good.”  They both eyed the beautifully decorated nameplates that Marti had clearly colored.

“We thought we’d surprise you with a little university send-off.”  Edwin smirked.  “McDonald-Venturi style.”

“Meaning we’re totally going to make fun of you as we kick you out the door.”  Lizzie laughed.

“So, take your thrones and get ready to be roasted.”  Marti gestured at the side-by-side desk chairs on wheels that had been made to look like thrones.

As they made their way to their seats, Derek drawled, “Hey, I’ve already gone through this once!”  His ego-filled smirk lit up the room.

Marti jumped up from her place at the other end of the table, reaching underneath it and grabbing several items as she rushed over to Derek and Casey.  “Well, too bad because this is the ‘Royal Farewell Roast’ that we’re throwing for two very special members of royalty!”  Marti flounced about in front of them as she threw makeshift mantels over each of their shoulders, fastening the pieces of fabric securely at their necks.  Next, she pulled out a glistening gold crown with stunning rubies and placed it snuggly on top of Derek’s messy locks.  She sloppily kissed each of his cheeks, earning a playful grin from Derek. 

Turning to Casey, Marti uncovered a dazzling silver tiara from her bag of tricks and carefully positioned it on Casey’s head, fluffing her ponytail, and kissing each of her cheeks with a loud smack.  With one last grin, she bounced back to her seat.  Next to her, George reached over to pat Marti’s leg.

Beaming up at Edwin, Marti cried, “Let the roast begin!”

“I’m your host… Edwin Venturi and it is my pleasure to introduce my co-host—"

“Co-hostess,” Lizzie corrected, “Lizzie McDonald.”  Everyone applauded politely.

Edwin clapped his hands excitedly.  “Welcome, roastees and roasters to the Royal Farewell Roast!”

Lizzie elegantly took over, “Here, we are honoring the wonderfully beautiful and brilliantly talented, our favorite Princess, Casey McDonald—"  

Derek snorted and Casey sent him a half-hearted glare.

“And the ‘Lord of Lies’, the ‘Master of it All’, the ‘King of Cool’ himself, Derek Venturi!”  Edwin announced loudly.

Casey chuckled lightly under her breath at Edwin’s words and Derek nudged her with his leg.  The rest of their family and friends hooted and hollered for the man and woman of the hour.

Lizzie waited for the applause to stop.  “As they prepared for their Queen’s destination—"

“Sure to be filled with a lot of education.” Edwin cut in.  Sam and Ralph snickered, and Derek smirked at his two best friends.

“We all prepared witty words to roast them.”

 “Finding the material was no such problem.”

“But we asked ourselves how to make it all fit?”

“We came to the conclusion… with a little skit.”  Edwin finished, a proud smirk splitting his face.  The people around the table ‘Oooohed’ appreciatively.

As Marti made her way to the podium, Edwin and Lizzie ducked beneath the table.  When they emerged, Edwin was wearing Derek’s leather jacket and a fake crown on his head.  Lizzie surfaced a second later in Casey’s purple feather boa and an imitation tiara that matched the boa.

With her, Marti carried a jumbo-sized book.  Reaching her stand, she flashed the cover of her book around the room, showing them all the purple construction paper taped to the front of it.  On it she had written, ‘THE ROYAL STORYBOOK’ in huge block letters.  She smoothed it open, leaning forward excitedly, Marti cleared her throat and began in a perfect narrating voice, “Once upon a time, there were two separate families, each with their own kind of royalty.” 

As she spoke, Edwin and Lizzie turned their backs on one another.  Lizzie pretended to fluff her hair then haughtily wrapped her boa around her.  At the same time, Edwin was slouching, his hands deep in his pockets before he reached up to pop the collar of his jacket, a look of pure suaveness across his face.  The audience tittered approvingly.

“Then one day, there came a proclamation.  There was to be a merger, a blending of the two kingdoms, forever becoming one!”

Lizzie waved her feathers through the air, imitating Casey’s voice at an unnaturally high pitch, “Oh, Queen Mother, why does thoust have to be the one to uproot for thy kingdom?  We have such perfect people and a perfect castle with perfect help and a perfect schedule!”

With a frown, Edwin took over, “But father!  I am thee ruler of this kingdom and what I declare is law!  Under no circumstance shall that change!  Argh!  I shall remain thee tyrant of the castle!”

Marti stifled her laugh as she continued her story, “But to no avail, their words did little to stop the impending union.  However, one last chance remained to break their parents’ resolve…”  She trailed off, grinning evilly at Derek and Casey.

Muttering under her breath, Casey fidgeted, “Oh, no.  Are they going to bring up... that?”

As Lizzie and Edwin turned to face each other, Derek mumbled back, “That would be a yes.”  Together, Derek and Casey hid their faces in their hands, and they slouched in their seats.

“They had yet to meet.  Without being able to prevent it any longer, the king and queen arranged the day for the inevitable to happen.”

Simultaneously, Edwin and Lizzie crossed their arms defensively over their chests and glared harshly at each other.

“Alas!  Not able to face her, the Prince arranged for an imposter to take his place!”

Leaning sideways towards Sam, Ralph snickered, “I remember this part.” 

Sam shot a look at Ralph in disbelief.  “You do?  I’ve never heard this before.”  Over Ralph’s shoulder, Sam caught Emily’s distraught expression as she listened, unable to tear her attention away from the information being presented to them.

Meanwhile, Edwin mimed spying as he dodged and darted around, covering his face with his hands, and peering around them at Lizzie.

“Confusion ensured, tempers flared, but the truth was eventually revealed.  Unlikely allies emerged as ‘Operation Disengagement’ commenced.”  Marti snapped her fingers then pointed towards Lizzie and Edwin.

Lizzie struck an angry pose, her hands on her hips as Edwin gave her a sheepish shrug and smirk.  Finally, he stuck out his hand for her to shake.  Tapping her chin in thought, Lizzie considered his offer.  Hesitatingly, she reached out and placed her hand in his.  The pair looked down at their clasped hands for a beat then hastily withdrew them as if they had been burned.  Hurriedly, they turned their faces away from each other.

“However, as chaos unfolded once again, they couldn’t go through with the operation.  With their diabolical plan on the brink of success, the strings of their hearts were tugged in yet another direction.”

Dropping to her knees, Lizzie grasped Edwin’s hands in her own.  “Who are we to stand in thy way of our parents’ love?  Please, Sir Derek, grant thou father’s permission for my mother’s hand in sacred matrimony!”

Edwin sighed deeply.  “Tis time I stand aside and accept on my father’s behalf, the joining of our families.  May true love prevail!”  Edwin dramatically fell to his knees in front of Lizzie, gripping her by the shoulder to his leather clad chest.

Clicking her tongue, Marti marched on, “But all was not to the point of happily ever after.  Living together proved to be… well, a royal pain.”  Marti paused for the audience to chuckle.  “The kingdom remained on a tension filled peak as certain royalty struggled to merge together."

“Der-rek, you pranker!”  Lizzie shrieked.

Edwin dropped in a deep imitation of Derek’s voice, “What do you want now, Lady Space Case?”

“You’ve stolen all my undergarments… again!”

Edwin snickered.  “Don’t get your bloomers in a twist, Princess.”

Immediately flaring, Emily’s back straightened involuntarily as her hands clutched the edge of the table in a death grip.  Sam watched her inquisitively, but Emily never noticed.

“Days and days… and days and days...”  Deeply, Marti heaved a sigh, “Days and days… and days and days went by in the same manner.  Dramatic declarations, explosive arguments, and ragging wars…”

Next to Marti, Edwin and Lizzie forcefully shoved each other back and forth, each trying to rip the other’s crown off their head.

“Eventually led to fierce competition and witty banter that created a tentative truce, forging the foundation of our kingdom.”

From underneath the table, Edwin and Lizzie each pulled gold goblets, clinking them together in a silent toast.  Staring at each other over the rims, they each took a gulp.  Comically, Lizzie’s eyes widened as she pulled a face of absolute disgust as she pretended to spit out the drink.  She wiped at her mouth with the back of her hand as Edwin grabbed his belly, laughing loudly.

“Der-rek!”  Lizzie split his name in perfect imitation of her sister.

“You should have seen your face, Case!”

Glaring at Edwin, Lizzie set the goblet down and crossed her arms in a huff.

“The power struggle over, the kingdom prospered.  Through ups and downs, the family changed, growing together, yet one thing remained.”

Lizzie stomped her feet, crying, “Der-rek!”

“Case-ey!”  Edwin mocked.

“Der-rek!”

“Case-ey!”

Pointedly, Marti cut across them.  “If you’re looking for an ending, it’s not going to happen.  The story will continue, just not here.”

Facing Derek and Casey, Edwin and Lizzie shouted in sync, “We’re going to Queen’s!”  Theatrically, they whipped to face each other, slapping their hands to their faces in surprise.

Their audience snickered.

“Hard for them to live together.”  Marti paused, smiling tenderly at Derek and Casey.  “But even harder to tear them apart.”  Smirking, she teased, “Makes it rather difficult on the rest of us.”

She grew serious again, “But our part is over, now it’s their story to tell.”

Edwin cast an arm around Lizzie’s shoulders, pulling her heavily into his side as they beamed happily at each other.

All around the room, cheers rose as members of the audience clapped their hands.

Marti gestured with both hands to Edwin and Lizzie, who proceeded to take several bows before pointing back at Marti.  The storyteller took a dramatic bow and gave the crowd a silly wave before she skipped back to her seat.

In the meantime, Edwin had de-Derekized as Lizzie un-Caseyfied, and they both returned to the podium as themselves. 

Grinning to the still thundering applause, Edwin began again, “So, what can we say about my brother—"

“And my sister, that no one has said before?”  Snorts went around the room as they considered Lizzie’s words.  “Well, we’re going to find out!”

Edwin turned to Lizzie, saying, “You think it’s possible, Liz?  I mean, we’ve had a lot of things to say about Derek and Casey over the years.”

Holding a finger to her chin, Lizzie feigned thought.  “Hmm, well, since Casey and Derek provide the material, maybe we can get the people who know them best to divulge some of their best kept secrets?”

A grin stretched from cheek to cheek as Edwin looked around the room.  “You think they know something we missed?”  He pulled out a massive binder from below the podium.  Edwin stood it on end so the room could see the cover as he pretended to ruffle through it.  In Edwin’s untidy scrawl, he had written across every surface of the binder, “Top Secret!  Classified Research!”

Lizzie hovered over his shoulder as she too scanned the pages.  “They might be able to fill in some gaps!  I’ll get my notebook while you introduce the first informant, I mean, guest!”  She scurried back to her seat and picked up a notebook and pencil, sitting quickly, poised to take notes.  The audience chuckled, not believing their charade.

“Alright, can do.”  Edwin turned back to the audience.  “Let’s royally get this roast going!  Introducing the man… the myth… the legend, Geeeeeorge Ventuuuuuri!”

Standing, George waved modestly to the crowd as the room cheered for him.  At the podium, he spread his arms across the podium as he gripped the sides, comfortably looking around at them all.  “I’ll never forget the day Derek was born.  I had just gotten the Prince.”  George sighed, “What a wonderful car.”

George waited for the audience to stop snickering.  “I’ve always known Derek was a handful.  After all, I raised the little monster.  So, to say I was a little worried about bringing a new wife and two girls into this bursting house would be an understatement.  From what Nora told me and after meeting her, Casey without a doubt would be yet another handful.”  He smiled at Casey teasingly, “Sorry, Casey.”

“No, you’re not, George.”  Casey laughed back.

“No, I’m not really.”  George chuckled, “Anyway, where was I?  Oh, yes, Derek and Casey living in the same house!”

George reached into his pocket and pulled out a pair of ear plugs.  “I quickly learned where to invest my money.  I bought stocks in this company just trying to earn back a small amount of what I’ve spent on these wonderful little ear plugs!  Good news is that I also recommended them to everyone who knows Derek and Casey and… I’ve earned seven times my payout!” 

Their family and friends thoroughly laughed as they observed Derek and Casey’s sheepish smiles.  Laughing, George pulled a second set of ear plugs from his pocket, tossing both pairs at Derek and Casey.  “Here, these are for your roommates.  No doubt they’ll need them.”  Derek ended up catching both sets, handing one off to Casey with a sly smirk.

As George returned to his seat, Lizzie approached the stand.  “Thanks, George.  There was deafening truth to that.”  Smiling at her own pun, Lizzie turned to her mother.  “Now, I’d like to introduce the ‘Norganizer’ herself, give it up for Nora McDonald-Venturi!”  The cheers continued as Nora waddled to the front to take Lizzie’s place.

“Ah, being Casey’s mother was a rare treat.”  Nora sighed dramatically, “I lost count of how many times she told me to clean my room and eat my vegetables.”  Giggles erupted and Derek let out a loud snort before Casey glared at him.

“Casey always had a knack for perfection.  She was a force to be reckoned with… and then… she met Derek.  Her perfect match.”  In the back, Edwin and Lizzie exchanged cheeky eyebrow raises.  But Nora continued, “Where Casey was organized, Derek was a disaster.  Where Derek was easy-going, Casey was… well, a little high-strung.”

Derek staged a mutter under his breath for them all to hear, “That’s an understatement.”

Nora covered her mouth to hide her giggle.  “Well, you get the picture.  They were opposites.  At the time we decided to merge these two families together, we really had no idea what was in store for us.”

“Whatever Casey had, Derek wanted and vice versa.  It was like two toddlers fighting over the same toy.  There were fights and tears, screaming and yes, even wrestling.”

From the end of the table, Emily hitched a breath, earning a curious look from Sam and Ralph.  She waved them off and Ralph returned his attention to Nora, Sam hesitating slightly before following his example.

“But there were also smiles and laughs…”  Nora’s voice teetered as she was overwhelmed with sudden emotion.  “Hugs and—"

Edwin gently prodded her, “Nora this is a roast.  The only people crying should be the roastees from all the heat in their seats!”

“Right, right.”  Nora wiped at her eyes then smiled.  “Well, I hate to think about all the pain meds I’ve consumed because of Casey and Derek.”  She held her head.  “The headaches of pregnancy have nothing on those two.”

At Casey’s wince, Nora laughed, patting her belly.  “Thank you both for preparing me for the upcoming wailing of a newborn.”

“No problem, Nora.”  Derek grinned at her.  She blew them both a kiss, heading for her seat. 

Lizzie returned with a smile.  “Painfully perfect, Mum.”  Looking down at the platform, she read, “Next up is a man who is clever, witty, and charming… I could go on, but I’m having trouble reading his handwriting.  Just get up here, Edwin Venturi.”  The group hooted and clapped their hands as Edwin confidently took Lizzie’s place with a playful shove.

“You may be wondering what am I going to do without Derek?  Derek the older brother I both know and fear.  Well, first, I’m going to throw a huge celebration!”

“Ha, funny, Ed.”  Derek drawled as he crossed his arms over his chest.

Kidding, just kidding.”  Edwin winked significantly at his family.  “Nah, but really, my big brother has taught me a lot about life.”  Building the suspense, Edwin finally dropped, “Mostly what not to do, but it was still a lot.”  Approvingly, the audience chuckled.

“With Derek at university, I’m going to be a much richer man… since he won’t be dipping into my piggy bank!”  George and Nora gasped, and Derek shot Edwin a warning glare.  Edwin quickly held his hands up, “But I’m not bitter!”

Quickly, Edwin shifted subjects, turning to Casey.  “And then Casey arrived, and I learned a lot from her too.  I can now safely say that I know exactly what color eye shadow goes with my complexion.”  He pretended to pat his face as everyone laughed.  “And that there is a difference between fuchsia and hot pink.”  Smirking at the audience reaction, Edwin waited for the noise to die down again.  “But the best thing I learned from Casey was that I wasn’t Derek’s main target anymore!”

Edwin winked towards Derek and Casey before he went into host mode again, “Please, welcome back to the stage, Lizzie McDonald and her brutally true honesty!”

Rolling her eyes, Lizzie replaced him at the stand.  “Casey, oh dear sweet Casey.  Casey was so sweet to me growing up.”

The crowd jumped in, “How sweet was she?”

“Casey was so sweet that she saved me from ever having to go shopping.  I wore her hand-me-downs for yeeeears!  I was eight years old before I knew clothes other than cotton candy pink even existed.”

“Excuse me, that was champagne pink!”  Casey interrupted.

Edwin tittered, “Told you.”

“Anyway,” Lizzie silenced Casey, “Casey was such a sweet sister that I thought all siblings were like that.  Then Mum married George and I found out that wasn’t always true.” 

Lizzie smirked as she teased the Venturi’s who all let out an indignant cry of, “Hey!”

“I quickly learned that Derek not getting his way was the worst case of sour grapes ever.  But, over time we adapted to the sweet and sour flavor explosion of the Casey/Derek combination.  When I first found out that they were going to Queen’s together, I thought, ‘Wow, it’s going to be so much quieter around the house.’  My second thought was, ‘Oh, my gosh!  Their poor neighbors!’  Between Casey’s shrill freak-outs and Derek’s booming music, and not to mention their earsplitting bickering, the entire campus will be able to hear them!”  The audience giggled and nodded their agreement.

Grinning once again, Lizzie teased, “Those poor suckers!”  She sighed dramatically, “And poor us, because I’m sure we’re still going to be able to hear them all the way from Kingston.”

George cut in, “I’ll let you borrow my ear plugs!”

“Thanks, George!  We’ll make a huge profit marketing to all of Kingston!”  Turning back to the front, Lizzie flipped a page.  “Now, it’s time to welcome a girl who needs no introduction, the ‘Smarti’ of the bunch, Marti Venturi!”

Marti bounded up front to thunderous shouts and claps.  She let the applause fade.  “I don’t really remember all that much about the time before the McDonald’s moved in.”  Her gaze drifted over every member of her family before she locked back on to Derek and Casey.  “But I think this was always meant to be.”

Everyone shifted in their seats as the mood suddenly turned serious as Marti continued with purpose, “My Smerek was always special… like peanut butter sandwiches.  I love peanut butter!  But I also discovered jelly and then I wanted jelly sandwiches.”  She smiled like she was letting them all in on the secret of the universe. “Until I put them together and had a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  Peanut butter is wonderful, and jelly is yummy, but together, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are magic!  That’s what happened when we became one family.  Sure, it took a lot of loud, mad, sad, shouts, screams and tears, but we still got to the awesome, happy, exciting, laughs and hugs!”

Nora and George looked to each other, intwining their hands together against the top of the table.

Marti plowed on, “The number of times Casey saved my brother is unreal.”  Casey shot a proud smile at Derek at his sister’s words.  He pretended to roll his eyes, but a smile tugged at his lips anyway.  “He defs wouldn’t have graduated without her.”  Their friends and family chuckled.  “And I’ve lost count of the number of times Smerek helped Casey out, even if she didn’t know it.”  Casey searched Derek’s expression, but he avoided her eyes.  “He’s stopped a lot of losers from hurting her.” 

Half of the crowd chuckled, and the other half shifted uncomfortably in their seats.

Undeterred, Marti went on, “As sad as I am that they’re leaving, I’m super happy Casey is going with Smerek because if she wasn’t it… it’d be like peanut butter without jelly.  Cookies without milk.  Ice cream without hot fudge.  Smerek without his Smasey would just be wrong.”

The room was engulfed in silence.

“Thanks, Marti.  That was… er, enlightening.”  Edwin clapped for his sister and everyone else joined in at different levels of enthusiasm as they continued to mull over her words.

Together, Edwin and Lizzie returned to the podium.  As Edwin set up his computer, Lizzie explained, “We have a special little surprise for our roastees.”

Finishing his set up, Edwin grinned.  “I think I’ll let her introduce herself.”  He jabbed the play button, and a video filled the screen.

“Hello, everyone!”  Abby waved at the camera as she sat nestled on her couch in her home, clutching a cup of tea.  “Edwin asked me to record some material for the roast that you all are throwing in honor of Derek and Casey.  And I asked him if he had enough time for everything I had to say.”  She smiled teasingly at the camera.  “Oh, Derek.  Dear Derek.  It’s extremely hard to choose exactly what stories to use for this occasion.  You’ve always been a rather… intense boy.  In your youth, obsessed with superheroes as you and Sam conquered the evil villains as Derek the Dynamo Dude and Sammy of Steel.”

Derek and Sam groaned, covering their faces as everyone else guffawed.  Beside him, Casey nudged Derek, teasing, “Aww, D, that’s so cute.”

Picking up steam, Abby continued, “I’ll never forget when you wanted me to sew that ‘D’ on your rocket ship onesie when you were ten.”  Nothing could be heard over the giggling in the room.  Sam snickered the loudest as Ralph asked, clearly miffed at his friends, “How come I never got a cool superhero name?”

“Zip it, Ralphie.”  Derek mumbled.

“But teen Derek had nothing on our little Dynamo Dude.”  Abby sighed heavily, “You tried our patience, tested the limits, and broke every rule with increasingly extraordinary ability.”  He was back to his usual smirking self as Derek snickered. 

Shaking her head, Abby teased, “How I longed for the days before hockey, food, and girls were your constant focus.  It’s a wonder how you were even able to graduate.  Well, fortunately you had Casey to whip you into shape.  Good thing we didn’t send you off to private school without her!”

George and Nora chuckled in agreement as they watched Abby on screen.

“But now, my little boy is off to university and I grimace to think of it!  Thank God, Casey is going with you.  I’d hate to think what would happen to you without her staying on your case.”

Derek shot a sideways look at Casey and she smirked back at him.

“Of course, I have nothing but sweet things to say about you, Casey, even though Edwin gave insistent instructions that this is in fact a roast, I can’t find one thing to stay about you, Stinky Feet.”  Abby shot a wink at the camera as Derek doubled over in laughter.  Casey smacked his arm as she tried to hide her own laugh.

“Good luck to both of you!  I wish you both success in all your endeavors.  Love you!”  Abby blew a kiss to the camera before the screen went black.

Around them, enthusiastic claps sounded.  Edwin rushed over to the computer, “And thank you, Mom, for that super material!”

“And now,” Lizzie beamed, “For one more special surprise!  Go ahead, Ed.  Bring him up on the screen.”  He clicked play and backed away.

Casey gasped quietly as her dad’s smiling face stretched onto the previously dark screen.  Dennis sat behind his desk.  The backdrop was filled with shelves upon shelves of thick lawbooks.  “Casey, my little girl.  I can’t believe you’re off to university.  I am so proud of you, honey.  But as Edwin quite explicitly informed me, this is a roast and not a sappy sendoff video.  So, I guess I’ll get on with it.” 

He smiled charmingly up at them all through the camera, “Casey, even from a young age, I always knew you’d do great things.  At three years old, you had an answer for everything.  At four years old, you alphabetized your books by genre.  At five years old, you coordinated all our schedules and left us reminder notes so we wouldn’t forget things.  By the time you were six, you were following me around making sure I was hanging my ties according to color and checking to see if my socks matched before I left for work.”

Beside Casey, Derek snorted, flicking her knee with his pointer finger.

Chuckling to himself, Dennis shook his head.  “Honey, you’re picture perfect in every way.”  Casey discreetly wiped at the corner of her eye as her dad turned his attention to Derek.

“And Derek,” Dennis parroted Derek’s smirk back at him.  “You are unbelievable.  I knew this from the moment I met you.”  Dennis chuckled again.  “This smooth-talking, sharp-minded young man marched up to me with all the confidence in the world as he made it a point to get to know me.”

“Even hours after just meeting, he was giving me a piece of his mind as he protected my own daughter.”  The others looked confusedly between the screen and Derek as he scratched the back of his head and avoided everyone’s eyes.  Beside him, a small smile lit Casey’s face.

Shaking his head, Dennis eyed the camera seriously, “It takes a special kind of man to do that and I will be forever grateful to you for being that kind of man.”

“Even though, I imagine it’s quieter inside a jet engine or calmer in the middle of an anthill than it is being around the two of you together, it’s considerably less exciting.”  He laughed to himself.  “No doubt you’ll keep each other on your toes at university.”

“Watch out for Derek, Casey.  I have a feeling he’ll need your help.  And Derek, I know you’ll take care of my little girl.  I don’t think anyone else could handle the job.  She is quite the handful.”  He winked at the camera.

In the dining room, Derek clasped the back of his neck.

“Have fun you two, and be safe, study hard.  And let me know when you want to go to that Rangers game, Derek.  Bye, sweetheart.  Take care.”

As Edwin took down his equipment, Lizzie stepped to the podium again.  “Thank you, Dad.  That was most charming of you.”

Finished packing away his electronics, Edwin joined Lizzie.  “Now, let’s turn to the people who know Derek and Casey even better than their family—"

Lizzie interjected, “Their best friends!”

“Let’s start with Sammy of Steel, shall we?”  Edwin snickered.  “He must be made of steel if he’s been able to tolerate Derek as a best friend all these years!  Samuel Richards, come on up!” 

Sam laughed nervously, shooting a wink at Derek as he steeled himself against the podium.  “Wow, this is really something.  I’ve known D since we were 10 and I just never thought this day would come.  We’ve been best friends all this time and like, the thought of us separating wasn’t real.  No matter how hard I tried to get rid of him, D always found his way back.”  He smirked as the audience snickered.

“It seems like just yesterday we were kids wrestling over the things we wanted.”  Sam paused, a playful smirk appearing, “Oh, right that was actually today.”  Everyone chuckled amusedly.  Casey rolled her eyes, a soft smile on her features.

“As a best friend, Derek found it his duty to teach me the things that having all sisters had kept me from learning.  Everything from ‘Male Codes’ to pick up lines, Derek had the answer for everything.  Might be why I don’t have a girlfriend now.”

“Please, Sammy boy.”  Derek interrupted with a smirk.  “I did my best with what I had to work with.  The rest is up to you.”

“Hardy har, D.”  Sam laughed for real.  “But if there was one thing that’s always been true about our friendship is that Derek always won.  We were kids wrestling over the things we wanted.  Who got to be the superhero and who was stuck as the sidekick?  Who had the best slapshot and who got to go first down the new waterslide?  Then we grew up and we didn’t have to wrestle anymore.  Derek just won on default.  Yet suddenly we were wrestling again.  But now, it was because of something that had never came between us before.”  Sam shot a significant look at Derek as Derek sent a warning look back at his friend.

“But I’m sure it was a one-time thing.”  Sam winked cheekily at Derek.  The others looked confusedly around at each other, but Sam offered no further explanation.  “D’s always had a knack of getting us into trouble.  It was his idea to ride our bikes to the next town just to say we did.  And it was Derek’s plan that ended with us having poison oak in places I’d rather not discuss.”  A few snickers went around the table.

Beaming widely, Sam spoke directly to his best friend.  “I don’t know how we did it, but we survived it all, man.  We made a heck of a team, Scrappy.”

“Sure did, Sneaky.”

Sam turned to Casey, smiling.  “Don’t think I forgot about you, Casey.  Now it’s your turn.”

“Oh, no.”  Casey pretended to grimace as she slunk slightly in her seat.

“Casey is one of the most confusing females I’ve ever met.”  His tone was light and teasing, “Everyone in this room knows we had our ups and downs.”  The audience grumbled, making Sam laugh.  “Me trying not to cause conflict ended up causing more conflict than real conflict would have.  I was observed, analyzed, and prodded more times in the short months we were together than most animals born and died in captivity.”  Titters sounded and Casey covered her mouth to hide her smile.  “Well, good news, Case, D goes looking for conflict.”  Everyone chuckled, except Emily.  Sam spoke directly to Casey, “You can’t take my place, but you’re in charge of him now.  Make sure he gets his afternoon naps and no sugar before dinner.”

“Hey!”  Derek cried indignantly.

Laughing, Casey agreed.  “Alright, Sam.  I got it.”  Sam took a deep bow as the crowd clapped him back to his seat.

“And thank you, Sam for those truly kind words.”  Edwin grinned at Sam and Sam sent a salute back.

“I’d like to introduce now,” Lizzie took over, “The woman with the hardest job in all of Ontario, Casey’s best friend, Emily Davis!”

There was a trace of a smile on Emily’s face as she took the center of attention.  She clasped and unclasped her hands awkwardly in front of her.  “Well, I haven’t known Casey as long as Sam has known… Derek… or as long as I’ve known Derek for that matter… but I like to think I know Casey just as well.”

Silence stretched as Emily gulped and gripped the podium.  Taking a deep breath, she tried a larger smile.  “Lizzie’s right.  I do have the hardest job in all of Ontario.  I think we all know that Casey is the master of freak outs.”  The audience hummed their agreement.  “There hasn’t been a day since I’ve met her that there hasn’t been at least one crisis a day.  To say Casey is a drama queen is an understatement.  I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve had to calm her down or refocus her or whatever else a best friend has to do.  That girl….”  Emily trailed off, smiling fondly at Casey as their eyes met.  “That girl is my best friend, but gah, she makes me crazy.”  Real chuckles went around the room and Casey blew Emily a teasing kiss.

Picking up steam, Emily continued with unexpected enthusiasm, “And in all honesty, Casey should probably come with a caution sign, labeled, ‘Danger Zone’ for all her countless acts of clumsiness.  I hope you get good insurance, Casey.  You’re going to need it, girl.”  Casey bit her bottom lip as George laughed the hardest.  “And as your best friend, when we’re old, wrinkly and gray, I’ll personally make sure that all your socks have little grippers and there’s hand bars on every available surface.  Actually, you might want to look into Life Alert, today.  You know, just in case.”  Emily smiled as she waited for the audience to simmer down.

Heaving a playful sigh, Emily joked, “The stress has probably taken years off my life, but someone has to take care of her.”  Suddenly, Emily’s smile drooped, and she focused on the surface, running her hand distractingly across the wood.

“I – I suppose Casey will be okay.  She’ll have plenty of attention at least.  De-Derek will make sure of that.  Oh, boy, the things I could say about Derek…”  Emily trailed off again.  The room dropped their heads to their laps, nervously looking up at the people next to them.  Derek’s leg bounced up and down anxiously in front of him as a sense of uneasiness filled the room.

“Chase girls, eat food, prank Casey, eat food, tease Casey, play hockey.  Then eat more food while pranking Casey.  Girls, Casey, hockey, and food.  The only things Derek thinks about.”  Though true, no one laughed.  “Maybe university will change that, but somehow I think not.”

Emily still refused to meet anyone’s eye as her hand tracing patterns on the podium.  “Broken bird baths, secret swims, covert operations, fake dates…”  Taking a tiny breath, Emily’s voice lowered, “Prom, graduation… But I guess it all leads us here.”  Hesitantly, she looked up but made no move to make eye contact.  “Well, what Derek wants, Derek gets.  I guess we’ll see what happens.”  She gave a small one shoulder shrug.

Her fingers rapped against the wood as she attempted to smile again.  “I don’t know if Queen’s can handle you two together.  But if London can take it, hopefully Kingston won’t explode on impact.”

A few awkward chuckles came from George and Edwin as Emily pushed herself away from the podium and retreated to her seat.  Ralph stared open mouthed at her as Emily sat back down beside him.  Her eyes immediately went to her lap as her hands determinedly folded in front of her.

“Well…”  Lizzie trailed off as she searched for words.  “Thanks, Emily for that… um, intriguing insight.”

Edwin hastily rushed into his introduction.  “And last, but certainly not least, everyone’s favorite honorary brother, Ralph Papadapolis!”

As Ralph swaggered to center stage, his eyes darted back and forth between his two best friends.  “Hey, guys, can I be…”  Ralph dramatically threw his arms up in the air hitting a double bicep pose.  “IRONSIDE?”

Smothering their snickers, Derek and Sam looked at each other, answering together, “Sure, Ralphie.”

“Suh-wheet, dudes.”  Ralph whistled between his teeth, nodding to himself.  There was silence as the audience awaited.

“Um, Ralph?”  Lizzie spoke up from behind him.

Jumping at her voice, Ralph cried, “Oh, right!  Well, Triple D is defs a legend before his time.  I met D the first day I moved to London all the way back in Grade 8.”  Ralph nodded, a happy go lucky grin spread across his face.  “Good times.  I was checking out the rink and the ladies, when I saw D in the middle of all these high school chicks.”  Winking, Ralph gave Derek a nod that Derek returned.  Sam snickered in the background.  “I walked over to introduce myself all proper like, but on my way this guy the size of King Kong shot a puck across the ice and beamed me in the forehead.  When I came to, D was slapping my face and hauling me up.  The first thing he said to me was, ‘Way to make a pucking first impression, man!’ and I mean that was hilarious.”  Snorts and chuckles varied throughout the room.  “Then he asked if I played hockey and then we were on the ice playing within a minute.”  Ralph smiled fondly as he reminisced.

“And then the first time I saw Casey, I was Derek.  And I thought, ‘Damn, that girl is hawt!’ and then ‘I wonder if she’d give me a shot?’ but then Derek told me I couldn’t and then it got really confusing from there.”  All but Derek, raised their eyebrows, exchanging confused looks.  “I mean Casey is great!  She can take names and kick ass!”  George cleared his throat, gesturing to Marti beside him.  Ralph quickly corrected himself, “Oh, right.  She can take those things we’re called and kick major ass!”

Sam cut in, “Ralph, I think you mean kick butt and take names.”

A frown crossed Ralph’s face as he pondered, “Isn’t that what I said?”

Sniggering, Derek saved him.  “It’s all good, Ralphie.  Continue.”

“Eh, alright.”  Ralph shrugged then grinned again.  “And she’s totally hot doing it!”

A blush tinted Casey’s face and she tried to cover her cheeks with the back of her hands as everyone turned to look at her, except Derek, whose leg was bouncing furiously in front of him again.  When he accidently knocked into Casey’s knee, he instantly stilled, moving away from the contact.

Undiscouraged, Ralph elaborated, “It’s too bad I don’t understand more than half of what she says.  She uses such big words, and she gets so mad all the time.”  This time Derek snickered wholeheartedly.  “I mean it’s usually at D, but still.”

“But it totally makes sense ‘cause D and Casey are kind of a package deal, you know?”  His face lit up.  “They’re a lot like Twinkies!  They come in two’s whether you want them both at the same time or not.  Like it’s a lot if you’re only looking for a little pre-snack snack, but if you’re ready for gooey goodness it’s like no big deal.  I like my Twinkies with-“

“Ralph, don’t you think you’re getting a little off subject?”  Sam reminded him.

“Oh, right.  D and Casey just go together so it makes total sense they’re going to Queen’s together.”  He suggestively raised his eyebrows up and down at the pair.  “What happens at Queen’s stays at Queen’s, am I right?”

Casey turned away from Ralph’s eye contact as Derek gripped the side of his neck.  Noticing nothing, Ralph slid back into his chair.

“That was delightful, Ralph.  Thank you so much.”  Lizzie turned back to Derek and Casey.  “And thank you to all our wonderful guests.  I certainly learned a lot.  How about you, Ed?”

“Absolutely, Liz.  And I’m sure our roastees can still feel the burn!”  Edwin laughed at his own joke.

Rolling her eyes, Lizzie smirked.  “Do you think it’s time we turn down the heat?”

Edwin pretended to sniff the air.  “Nah, I think they can roast a little longer.”

“Hmm,” Lizzie looked around the room.  “What else can we do?”

“Oh, I know exactly what we’re going to do, now.” Grinning evilly, Edwin looked between Derek and Casey.  “It’s time we get the man and woman of the hour up here.”

Lizzie copied his smirk.  “Of course, it’s their turn to roast each other.”  She winced.  “But do you really think it’s a good idea to actually ask them to bicker?  Seems like we’re asking for trouble.”

Appraising the audience, Edwin asked, “What do you say, everyone?  Should we take our chances?”  The room cheered and clapped their approval while Derek and Casey overexaggerated eyeing each other as smirks pulled at their lips.

“Think you can handle the fire, McDonald?”

“You forget, Venturi, that I have loads of material just waiting for this occasion.”

Derek snorted.  “Sounds like all bark.”  He gave her a cheeky wink.  “Where’s your bite?”

“I’ll give you bite.”  Casey gracefully rose from her seat, flipping her hair proudly over her shoulder, narrowly missing smacking Derek in the face as he followed closely behind her.  They made their way to the stand, shoulders brushing lightly as they squeezed into the tight space together.

Casey looked to each side of the stand, staring at the smiling faces of her family and friends.  “Wow, guys.  We…”  Casey trailed off, angling herself towards Derek as he did the same to her.  She looked up at him with a smile tugging at her lips.

Derek grinned down at her.  “Don’t know what to say.  That was…”

“Something.”  Casey supplied.  Casey placed her hands on her hips, causing her left arm to press into his side.  He shot her a challenging eyebrow raise, which sparked her into words.  “To think I’ve spent years trying to get away from life with Derek.  And now here I am, riding off to Queen’s with this massive thorn in my side.”  She intentionally pressed her elbow further into his side.

His hand slid down to grip her stabbing elbow, relieving some of the pressure from his side.  “And to think I’ve got another four years to torment this keener.  Doesn’t get much better than that.”

Casey’s eyebrows hitched higher up her forehead as they considered each other.  "Are you going first, or am I?"

"Ladies first."

“Oh, now you’re being chivalrous?  Where has that trait been hidden?”

“Chivalrous shmrivalrous.”  Derek snorted.  “It’s all part of strategy, Case.”

“Typical.  I shouldn’t have expected anything different from a skirt chasing cad.”

“Ooh, Casey McKeen-a-lots is showing off her dictionary again.”

“And Derek the Doorknob is jealous.”

“Nice try, but I wouldn’t be jealous of a preppypants like you even if you paid me.”

“Oh, right because Mr. Cool is too cool for school.”

“It’s King of Cool.  Get it right, Princess.”

 “Yeah, well, I may be a Princess, but at least I’m not a jerk, jerk!”

“Wow, and I thought your insults could get no lamer, Geek-a-Freak.”

“Oh, please.  I have plenty of things I could say about you, Dereka.”

“Spacey, Spacey, Spacey.”  He shook his head, bending closer to her face.  “You got nothing.”

Lizzie jumped in before Casey could reply, “Guys!  Instead of arguing over it, why don’t you actually roast each other. 

The pair stood blinking at each other before Derek smirked.  “Go on, Head Case.  Don’t leave our audience in suspense.”

Casey took a deep breath and began, “No matter what I do, Derek always comes out on top.”  Derek smirked as Casey went on, “And he even gets credit for my accomplishments.”

Derek laughed, “Are you talking about your… credenza creds?”

“Yes!”  Casey stomped her foot as he continued to laugh.

“Funnily enough, Princess, I can think of a time that you were… on top.”  His eyebrows rose suggestively.

Casey’s mouth snapped shut as a blush took over her face.  Behind her, Sam and Ralph covered snickers.

Taking the opportunity to take the lead, Derek jumped in, “No matter what I do, I always have to step in and rescue Casey from her latest disaster.”  Derek rolled his eyes. 

“Oh, please, name one time!”

“McLame Camp?  That was going nowhere fast before I joined the Alpha Force.”  Marti giggled and the rest of the audience looked at her, confusion painted across their faces.

Casey bit her lip.  “Yeah?  Well, you’d be lost without my planning and preparation!”

He gave her a look of disbelief.  “Yeah?  Like with Purple Fog?”

“That was your fault!”  This time Edwin chuckled, quickly turning it into a cough.

“My David Snip card?”

“What about ‘Sisters of the White Cave’, Derek?”

Over Derek’s shoulder, George leaned closer to Nora.  “Do you understand what they’re talking about?”

Nora shook her head.  “It seems like they’re speaking in riddle.”

Derek snorted.  “Well, the Fergus was your fault.”

Ficus.  And that was purely your fault.”

Turning to George, Nora hissed, “What does my Ficus have to do with anything?”  George shrugged, equally confused.

“You poor delusional Space Case.”  Derek bumped his shoulder into hers.  “I think your memory has been tampered with.”

Casey rolled her eyes, bumping him back.  “The only thing that has been tampered with is my shampoo!”

Snorting, Derek combed a hand through his dark hair, “Hmm, seems like that’s a little hypocritical of you.  Eh, Case?”

She stuck her tongue out at him.  “Yeah, well it was time you got a taste of your own medicine.”

Derek slowly licked his lips, Casey’s eyes following the movement before they snapped back to his twinkling eyes.  “Not bad… for a keener.”

Looking away from him, Casey crossed her arms.  Her forearms brushing against Derek’s chest in the confined space.  She took in her mom, George, and Marti, who were staring at her expectantly.  “I think we should just stop there.  You guys hear us on the daily.”  She smiled shyly, “We should probably just thank you.  Right, Derek?”

“What’s the matter, Princess?  Can’t take my heat any longer?  Or are you just afraid of what I might say?”

Ignoring her flaming cheeks, Casey bit, “No, I know that we could do this all night.  But can you at least try to be sincere for a minute?”  She dropped her arms to her side and took a step away from him.

“With pleasure, Princess.”  He smirked cheekily at her as his hand trailed up her arm and over her shoulders, pulling her tightly into his chest.  She let out a small huff of air at the impact, then tried to pull back to put space between them.  Derek’s arm prevented her from retreating far.

Behind Casey, Sam murmured across the table, “You okay, Em?”  Emily nodded tightly, her eyes returning to her lap as her interwoven fingers fidgeted.  Unconvinced, Sam kept watch on her out of the corner of his eye.

Fighting the blush rising on her face, Casey addressed the rest of the gathering.  “We really want to thank you all.   The work you’ve put into preparing this is certainly obvious.  Wow, I can’t get over it!” 

She looked up to Derek as he smiled charmingly around the room.  “It was pretty awesome.  We should leave home more often, Case.  I could get used to all this attention.”

Rolling her eyes, Casey smacked his arm.  “You’re such an egotistical jerk.”  His free hand reached up to rub where she hit, and his eyes widened innocently at her.  Ignoring him once again, Casey spoke, “This was perfect, everyone.  I know this is supposed to be fun, so I don’t want to—" Her breath hitched as unshed tears welled in her eyes.  “Cry, but this is such a rollercoaster for us.”

Against his control, Derek’s arm tightened over Casey, causing her to bring her watery eyes up to him.  “Derek helped me figure out what I’m feeling.  This is such a bittersweet moment.  We’re looking forward to going to Queen’s to study—" She pretended not to hear Derek’s snort even as they maintained steady eye contact.  “But we’re both really, really going to miss you.  It’s hard to leave.  But Derek keeps reminding me that it’s going to be okay.”  Casey sighed, “And he’s right.”

An unidentifiable look crossed his face, torn between smugness, amusement, and sincerity as they regarded each other closely.  Unknown to either of them, there were massive looks of disbelief being exchanged behind their backs.

Her voice was barely above a whisper. “We’ll be okay.”

Slowly, a genuine smile touched Derek’s lips before it morphed into his usual cocky grin.  “I’m always right.”

Her eyes twinkled as she teased, “Hardly.  Even a broken clock is right twice a day.”

Funny!  Did you practice that one in the mirror, Princess?”

She opened her mouth to respond, but Lizzie nudged her away.  “Yeah, yeah, we’re past the bantering part now, sis.”

“Yeah!”  Edwin agreed, clapping Derek on the back.  “And past the mushy gushy time too!”

“Well, it’s been a real honor being your co-hostess—"

“And your co-host for the evening.”

Lizzie’s eyes gleamed as she locked gazes with her sister.  “We have the best sibs in the whole world.  Don’t we, Edwin?”

“Eh, I’ll get back to you on that, Lizzie.”  He winked at Derek and they shared a brotherly smile.  Edwin picked up his water glass, “To Derek and Casey!”

The others followed his lead, picking up their glasses and echoing, “To Derek and Casey!”


At the first opportunity, Emily bailed out of the McDonald-Venturi house.  Sam came rushing out the door, Ralph following close behind.  “Emily!  Wait!”  Sam led the way as they jogged over to her.

Emily stopped in her tracks but didn’t turn around to face them.

Gently, Sam tugged her arm until he could look at her face.  “Hey, are you okay?”

“I’m fine.”

Ralph frowned, studying her face as well.  “You don’t look like it.”

“This has got to be hard for you.”  Sam commented quietly.  Emily sniffed and then nodded.  “I know we’re D’s friends and all, but you can talk to us.”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

“We won’t say anything, Em.  Come on, it might do you some good.”  Emily hesitated again.  “I know it’s probably hard to talk to Casey.”

“Ha, you have no idea.”

“Let us help.”

Reluctantly, Emily consented with a nod.

“I’ll drive!  Have you officially met Venus?”  Ralph threw an arm around her, steering her towards the curb.  Sam fell into step with them, sandwiching her between them. 

“Venus?”

“Yeah!”  He indicated the bright red jacked-up jeep they were headed towards.  “Venus.  She’s a babe.”  Ralph helped Emily up into the cab, jumping joyfully into the driver’s seat behind her.  Sam edged himself into the passenger seat.  Waiting for Sam to settle in, Ralph asked, “Where to, children?”


As Derek helped himself to another slice of pizza out of the box, Lizzie’s eyes went wide.  “Derek, that’s your ninth piece!”

His cheeks bulged as he defended, “What?  I’m hungry!”  Derek flopped his half-eaten slice at Casey as he pointed.  “She worked me to death today!”

Casey rolled her eyes.  “A little hard work never killed anybody, Derek.  You’d know that if you tried it more.”

“Ah.”  Edwin sighed, leaning back in his seat, and patting his full belly.  “Sure am going to miss the dinner disses.”

Giggling, Marti teased, “Well, now you and Lizzie are going to have to act like them!”

George quickly jumped in, his beverage stilling in midair, “Oh, no!  Oh, no!  We will have no more duos of sibling rivalry in this house!”

Step-sibling!”

Ignoring Derek and Casey’s correction, George went on, “Edwin, Lizzie, you stay how you are.”

Marti nudged her Dad with her leg, a teasing smile on her face.  “What about me and the baby?”

Horror crossed George’s face.  “That goes for you too, Marti.”

Nora looked fondly around the table, emotion suddenly welling deep in her eyes.  “I’m going to miss this so much!”

Every eye turned to Nora, a spectrum of expressions across their faces.  Anxious to divert the tears, Derek mentioned casually as he reached for another piece of pepperoni, “Oh yeah, after dinner, everyone has to meet in the living room.”

Nora blinked curiously at Derek.  “Why, Derek?”

Derek shrugged indifferently.  “It’s a surprise.”

Marti jumped up and down in her chair.  “Oh, a surprise!”

George and Nora eyed each other nervously from opposite ends of the table.


Grabbing the remote off the coffee table, Derek eyed his dad, Marti, Nora, Lizzie, and Casey lining the couch.  All had varying looks of skepticism painted across their faces.  “Ed!  Hurry up!”

There was grumbling from the kitchen.  “I’m coming, I’m coming!”  He slumped into the room, the dish towel still hanging from his shoulder.  “Easy for you to say.  It’s not your night on dish duty.”

Marti rolled her eyes from her place in George’s lap.  “Build a bridge and get over it, Edwin.  We had takeout.”

Derek snorted at his little sister as Edwin mumbled to himself, settling on the arm of the couch next to their dad.  Satisfied, Derek swaggered to his chair, throwing himself into it and popping the leg rest up with a loud snap.  He pointed the remote at the television in an overdramatic fashion and pushed play.

The black screen was slowly filled with the bold white words, “The Kingdom As We Know It” set against a purple banner on a black background.  Completing the look was one of their first pictures together after the McDonald-Venturi merger.  The audio began with Derek dramatically clearing his throat, “The kingdom as we know it."  Then he mumbled into the microphone, "No matter how crazy it gets.”         

                 

 

There was a rollover transition, and the title was replaced with the words that Derek narrated, “Written, Filmed, Edited and Produced by DEREK VENTURI.”  In tiny print, a few more words flashed quickly at the bottom in parenthesis, “with a little help from Edwin.”

 

 

An electric guitar began to strum to a mellow upbeat tune as Derek’s voiceover continued to read as the page flipped, “Starring the McDonald-Venturi’s.”  There was a silly group picture of them from a few years ago that made the people on the couch giggle appreciatively.

Lizzie pointed at the screen, crying, “Oh my gosh!  Look at us all!”

 

 

Riffing, the guitar amplified as a video began to play of George and Nora standing together at the stove, cooking dinner.  Derek narrated through the unfolding scenes, “George and Nora, the king and queen of the castle!”  Suddenly, the George at the stove bent down, stealing a quick kiss from Nora.  Her answering radiant smile sent the girls on the couch cooing.  On the television, a loud gagging wretch cut through the guitar music, causing the McDonald-Venturi’s watching to laugh.  The video changed to a shot of Nora waddling towards the camera, her pregnant belly emphasized by the angle of the camera.  She was beaming over her shoulder at an equally happy George.

The video rolled offscreen, quickly being replaced by a little Marti in her pink tutu, pirouetting on the bottom landing of their staircase, twirling Sir Monks A Lot above her head.  When she finished the move, she winked cutely at the camera.  Derek’s voice was filled with fondness as he spoke, “Smarti!  The best little fairy in all the land.”  The video changed, the camera sticking through the open door of the bathroom, discovering Marti mixing ‘potions’ in their shared bathroom.  A look of intense concentration etched across her extraordinarily young face.  It morphed into a colorful tent set up in the upstairs hall.  As the scene developed, Marti’s face poked out of the tent flap, giggling ecstatically before ducking inside once again.

The picture exploded as Derek cried, “Lizzie!”  A tiny version of Lizzie was studying at the dining room table, writing intently on her poster while referring to various textbooks spread around her.  Her head popped up, sticking her tongue out at the camera before immediately going back to work.  The voiceover resumed, “The royal advisor, because this group always needs a voice of reason.”  Derek’s movie viewers snickered as onscreen Lizzie dressed in her Taekwondo uniform stood in the driveway, staring down a board.  Out of nowhere her hand smashed through the board and Lizzie grinned triumphantly at the camera.  The final scene blossomed onto screen as a revolving Lizzie bounced a soccer ball on her head as she rotated in a circle around the living room.  Every time she faced the camera, she would pull a funny face and wave.

The shot shrunk then bounced slowly off to the side, quickly being replaced with the view of the attic stairs.  Edwin materialized at the top, fixing the collar of his suit and adjusting his briefcase before he strutted slowly down the staircase.  Derek’s voiceover sniggered.  “Edwin!  No castle would be complete without the court jester.”  Professional Edwin transformed into a pajama clad version, sprawled comfortably across their couch as he watched cartoons.  A huge bowl of chips rested in his lap.  As the video played, the Edwin onscreen reached up to pick his nose and the family members watching turned to the real Edwin in disgust, shouting collectively, “Edwin!  Gross!”  Edwin shrugged, a grin threatening at the corner of his mouth.  As the audience turned their attention back to the TV, Edweirdo darted through the living room, his cape billowing wildly behind him as he flew towards the kitchen.

The picture slid off screen as another fell in from the top.  The camera captured Casey practicing her dance routine in the living room in her black leotard.  She twirled and leaped for several beats before Derek’s narration teased, “Casey, Casey, Casey.  I suppose every kingdom has its Princess… no matter how annoying and needy she can be.”  The camera had been slowly and quietly descending the stairs, still focusing on Casey as she continued her dance routine.  When Derek reached the bottom stair, it caught Casey’s attention.  She stopped mid-spin, shouting, “DER-REK!”  The camera shook slightly as Derek responded happily on tape, “Hey, Princess!”  The dancing Casey transformed quickly into studious Casey as she sat quietly at her desk in her room.  Casey nibbled lightly on her bottom lip before she reached up to adjust her ponytail.  The camera crept closer to her as Derek tiptoed stealthily into her room.  The mirror above Casey’s desk showed Derek’s grinning face behind the camera.  Her arms dropped back to her work, picking up her pencil.  Derek knelt closer to her mumbling in her ear, “BOO!”  Onscreen Casey shrieked, throwing her pencil high into the air as she turned around to face him.  Both movie Derek and Derek in his chair cackled, tears of mirth running down their faces.  Casey on the couch sent him a half-heated glare, her own amusement betraying her as she watched him laugh.  Fading out, the scene changed to Casey, now dressed in her pink fuzzy pajamas, standing in front of the bathroom sink.  The background music cut completely out, and the sound was amplified as Casey gargled loudly.  Realtime Casey, shot over the couch to slap Derek’s arm.  “You were supposed to delete that!”  Derek snickered.  “It’s gold, Case.”  He nodded back at the television set.  “Pay attention.”

Casey turned back just in time to see Derek appear onscreen, chomping his way through a huge sandwich as he screamed at a hockey game on television from the comfort of his chair.  Derek’s narration was exuberant, “Aaaaand Derek!  The star of the story, the handsome and charming knight!”  It switched to a sweaty Derek, skating across the ice towards the family, an enormous grin spread across his face as he held up a massive trophy.  The setting switched to the living room again as D-Rock loudly played their instruments, banging their heads to the beat.

The scene suddenly disappeared, and the music cut off, showing only a black screen.  Derek’s narration cut through the silence as a picture of the outside of their house whipped into view, “Our story begins.  The McDonald’s and the Venturi’s… seemingly normal on the outside, but on the inside…”  The black screen exploded into one word as Derek screamed it, “WAR!”

 

 

Heavy metal music blared loudly out of the speakers as the words disappeared and the video played of absolute mayhem unfolding in the upstairs hall.  A tiny Marti was screaming at Casey and Lizzie for touching her things.  Ignoring Marti, Lizzie was yelling at Edwin for the ‘tinkle sprinkle’ he left all over the bathroom.  Avoiding Lizzie in his face, Edwin leaned around her, hollering at Casey that he couldn’t even find his toothbrush because of all the ‘girly things’ littering the bathroom.  Trying to cut through everyone, Casey shouted, “There’s nothing wrong with a little organization and basic hygiene!”  Behind the camera, Derek mumbled, “Does this look like a well-blended family to you?”

To the relief of everyone, the scene faded.  A round table in the corner of a dancefloor came into focus.  “Derek can you please get that camera out of my face?”  Casey’s annoyed voice spoke from the table.  From behind the camera, Derek’s voice bit, “What’s the matter, Drama Queen?  Not ready for your closeup?”  Casey slammed her hand down on the fancy tablecloth, tearing her gaze away from the revolving couple on the dance floor.  “You’re supposed to be getting shots of the wedding couple!  Try focusing on Mom and George!”  The camera twisted to face the newlyweds and then it was instantly blocked by a little smiling Marti.  “Hi!”  She chirped as she waved adorably into the lens.  “Smarti!  Anything to say to Dad and Nora?”  Holding a tiny pinky to her chin, Marti beamed.  “MEOW, MEOW, MEOW!”  Derek chuckled, “Hmm, interesting, but can you translate that?”  Marti gave a hiss with pretend claws scratching at the camera before she bounded away.  Mumbling under his breath, Derek turned the camera to follow her, “And that’s my normal sibling.”  Present day Edwin and Marti both whipped their heads to him and hollered, “Hey!”  Back on the television, Lizzie returned to the seat beside Casey, sitting heavily and sighing.  They gave each other tiny sad smiles.  Marti popped in between the sisters, asking, “Will you dance with me, Casey?”  Derek snorted, “What a great idea!  Let’s get little miss clumsy on the dance floor.”  Determinedly, Casey stood, squaring her shoulders off against him.  From behind her, Lizzie frowned.  Casey annunciated through gritted teeth, “I.  Am.  A.  Dancer.”  She strutted to the dance floor, the camera following her faithfully.  Twirling elegantly, Casey looked pointedly towards the camera before grabbing Marti’s tiny hands in her own and swinging them around to the beat.  To the side of the screen, Edwin approached their table, carrying a plateful of food in front of him.  He sat the plate down, but it was instantly snatched back up by Derek.  “Hey!”  Edwin mumbled, his shoulders slumping as he sulked back to the food line.

The video zipped off the screen and at the transition, the buzzing camera focused on the Venturi’s front door from the top of the staircase as George hastily threw it open, greeting a beaming Nora, whose green jeweled necklace reflected proudly in the glistening sun.  George pulled her inside, placing a chaste kiss on her lips.  Edwin’s voice sounded from the side of the camera, “Blech!”  Stepping to the side, Nora revealed Lizzie, who followed her in shyly, a timid smile on her face as one hand firmly grasped the strap of her backpack, the other desperately clutching the handle of her hamster’s cage.  Stepping closer to George, Lizzie gave him an awkward one arm hug.  Then she looked towards the camera, giving it an odd look and a little wave.  From behind the camera, loud steps thudded down the stairs, pausing behind them as another person came into view of the front door.  The third McDonald appeared as Derek mumbled, “There she is!”  Meanwhile, Casey struggled to pull her rolling luggage over the threshold, causing her to trip into the room when it gave way.  Both suitcases tipped over, creating a loud crash.  The camera shook as Derek chuckled, calling out loudly, “Smooth, klutzy!”  Casey glared at him and the camera.  “Der-rek!  Do we have to have record of this unfortunate event?”  Realizing what she said, Casey shot a look at George, whose arm was still wrapped around Nora, a blissful smile on both of their faces.  “No offense, George.”  He returned her smile, “No offense taken.”  Marti finally pushed between her two brothers with a rough shove, causing the camera to shake once again.  Marti approached the new arrivals in two large bounds, freezing right in front of them.  “MEOW!  I’m a cat!”  Laughing, Nora bent down to greet her, “And what a cute cat you are, Marti!”  Nora opened her arms and Marti happily ran into them.  When they released each other, George picked his daughter up and Marti cuddled into his shoulder.  “Well, what do you say we get you unloaded into your new house?”  Nora beamed back, “Excellent idea, Georgie!”  At the same time, Derek and Edwin let out a barely audible, “Yay” under their breaths.  Again, Casey glared at the camera.

There was a brief flicker before the scene faded back into a flurry of moving colors.  “You know, it’d be a lot more helpful if you put that camera down and actually hauled a box or two.”  Derek’s smooth voice taunted, “You’re new here.  So, I’ll let that one slide… for now.”  Casey glanced back at the camera as they made their way into the house and rolled her eyes.  As the door swung open, George and Nora could be seen in the living room, hugging warmly.  Derek made a sound of disgust as he focused the camera on them for a brief second.  It swung back to Casey as she ascended the steps.  He quickly caught up to her as they met Marti, hopping down the stairs like a bunny, not even acknowledging them or the camera.  Casey hit the landing only to be met by Edwin and Lizzie.  Edwin was turned towards Lizzie as he complained, “I don’t see why we have to do all this work.”  Lizzie rolled her eyes good-naturedly, “Because we’re kids and they’re the parents.”  Offering a dry chuckle, Edwin shook his head.  “Nah, that’s not it.  Welcome to the middle child club, Lizzie.”  Lizzie’s eyes widened as she breathed, “No!”  Edwin patted her shoulder briefly, quickly withdrawing his hand.  “Afraid so, sis.  You’ll see.”  The camera left them as it followed Casey into her and Lizzie’s shared room.  There was a hefty number of boxes piled around the room as Casey set her load onto a bed.  She peeked at the label before taking it to the right side of the room, carefully stacking it onto another box.  As she turned to face Derek, she placed her hands on her hips.  “You’ve been following me around with that stupid thing all day.  Isn’t it getting a little old?”  His grin was evident in his voice, “Nah, I need material.”  Casey’s eyebrow quirked, “For what?”  The camera rose slightly as he shrugged, “I’m starting a special collection.”  Casey squinted at him, “And that would be what, exactly?”  His voice was playful, “You’ll see.”  Casey’s glare slowly faded away.

Next, came a view of the empty living room as Derek and Edwin sat behind the camera at the kitchen island, eating their breakfast as they waited.  Edwin’s voice was impatient, “What’s taking them so long?”  Derek reassured his brother, his voice a deep murmur, “Wait for it, Ed.”  Suddenly, Casey and Lizzie stumbled into the kitchen, straight out of bed, their pajamas wrinkled and hair in disarray.  Unaware of the camera, Lizzie yawned widely, failing to cover her mouth.   Derek shouted, “Ahhh!  The bride of Frankenstein!” as he highlighted Casey running a hand through her messy hair.  Snickering, Edwin added, “Do all girls look like this in the morning?  It’s terrifying!”  Both Casey and Lizzie glared at the boys.  Lizzie relented quicker, plopping down on a kitchen stool, and grabbing a granola bar.  However, Casey remained standing, her arms folding over her chest as she refused to back down from Derek’s eye contact.  The transition zoomed in on Casey’s angry gaze before giving way to the next video.

Laughter filled the audio before the scene focused on Edwin ready to descend the staircase.  Derek’s dramatic dialogue filled the shot, “Now, presenting Klutzilla-The Revenge of the Stairs!  Starring Casey McDonald!”  Casey interrupted him with a cry of “Der-rek!”  He rushed to cut her off, “No, no, no!  No talking Klutzilla!  This is a silent film!  Now, in our first shot we see the innocent bystander walking down the stairs and as he encounters the dreaded Klutzilla, their eyes meet, and he FALLS!”  Derek continued shouting as Edwin theatrically stumbled down the stairs, falling to the bottom.  An angry Casey rose from the couch, shrieking, “That’s it!”  Derek backed away, the camera going with him as he hollered, “Oh, no!  Klutzilla is getting up!  She’s going to fall on us all!  Run for your lives!”  Casey yelled as she chased him around the living room, the view became blurry as Derek mounted the stairs.  Suddenly, Casey’s angry face was back in the shot as she cried, “Give me the camera, now!”  Derek laughed manically as he shot into his room.  He closed the door, leaving a gap so he could still point the camera out to focus on an angry Casey, who was trying to bust her way into his room.  She kept shouting over his laughter, “Der-rek!  Give me the camera!”  Derek was still laughing as the scene faded out.

The next video appeared, Casey sitting on the living room couch, a book in her lap.  Behind the couch, Marti crouched, sneakily reaching up to tug on Casey’s braid before ducking back down into her hiding place.  Casey turned around, trying to find the little girl with an angry burst of “Marti!”  The scene continued in the same way until Derek laughed, “That a way, Smarti.  Good job annoying the ugly step-sister.”  Glaring, Casey reprimanded him, “Derek, you should be setting a good example for your baby sister!”  Marti stomped her foot, immediately yelling, “I’m not a baby!”

The Venturi-McDonald front door bounced into view with the transition.  It was quiet before Edwin’s voice asked, “What are you doing?”  Derek’s voice held barely repressed glee as he answered, “Waiting to film Casey’s reaction when she finds out.”  The two brothers didn’t have to wait long as the door burst open and an angry Casey screamed, “IT’S SATURDAY!”  Ecstatically in the background, Edwin cried, “That’s genius!”  Casey gave way to the chase as she rushed at the camera with a “DER-REK!”  The camera focused on Casey as Derek mocked her while they ran, “How was school today, Casey?”  She caught up to him, still spluttering as she shoved him into the hallway wall.  Derek held the camera above his head.  Casey jumped for the camera, her furious face coming in and out of view as she huffed and puffed with intermingled cries of “DER-REK!  YOU!”

It cut off suddenly, the scene snapping to an empty upstairs hall, the camera focusing on the closed bathroom door.  From within came a piercing scream.  The door flew open as Lizzie emerged, wearing her soccer uniform, and scratching like crazy.  Edwin snickered behind the camera, alerting Lizzie to his presence.  She spun on the spot with a ferocious cry of “EDWIN!”  Still chuckling, Edwin asked, “What’s the matter, Lizzie?  I know you’re just itching to tell me.”  Accompanied with another cry of absolute misery as she gave in to the scratching, Lizzie screamed “You better run, Edwin, before I catch you!”

The video changed again, with a page flip transition.  There were a couple of throw pillows surrounding the frame of the camera.  Lizzie was in the middle of the shot, seated at the dining room table, intently coloring a project.  From behind, Marti crept up, slipping a marker from the table without Lizzie noticing.  She continued her work, not noticing as one by one Marti snuck a marker off the table until there was only the one in Lizzie’s hand left.  As Lizzie turned to fetch a new color, she hollered, “Marti!  Give me back my markers!”  In a flash, Marti took off, pounding her way up the stairs, cackling, “You can’t catch me!”  Furiously, Lizzie threw herself from the table, knocking over the chair in the process as she chased after her step-sister.  Once they both disappeared, Edwin chuckled, “Classic.”

The frame scooted offscreen, being replaced by blackness.  Lizzie’s voice asked, “How do you work this thing?”  Casey spoke irritably, “Come on, Liz.  You said you knew how to run it.”  Lizzie defended herself, “I do.  It’s just—" Casey’s face came in to view as she continued speaking, “Hurry up.  I need to make sure my campaign speech is perfect.  I want to beat Derek so bad.”  Giving a cry of delight, Lizzie informed Casey, “I got it!”  Casey straightened her stance, snapping her handful of papers in front of her importantly.  “Good afternoon, students of Thompson High.  I am Casey McDonald and as you know, I am running for student body president.  It is my goal—" Casey suddenly cut herself off with a cry of frustration.  “What’s the use, Lizzie?”  Casey began to pace as she ranted, “Stupid Derek will have a stupid counter for everything I say, and it will make me look so…”  Lizzie supplied, “Stupid?”  Casey shot a glare towards the camera and Lizzie hastily apologized, “Sorry, it seemed like you had a theme going there.”  Ignoring her sister, Casey continued, “Derek can talk himself into anything.  That captivating mouth and charismatic swagger and the entire school will fall at his feet!  Ugh, as if they’re not already lapping up every bit of smoothness and wittiness that oozes out of him.  How can someone so annoying be so…”  Casey threw her head into her hands.  “Why is he so cool and charming?”  Real life Casey was red in the face as she turned to her sister beside her on the couch, hissing, “I thought I told you to get rid of that!”  Lizzie winced, “I couldn’t figure out how to do it.”

Saving Casey further embarrassment, the scene switched to a closeup of Lizzie and Edwin as he held the camera, so they were both in the shot as he spoke, “Go on, Liz.  Document how your coach is making you feel.”  Lizzie heaved a sigh, “Well, my coach is so wrapped up with beating Casey that he’s not listening to a word I tell him!”  Clenching her teeth, she bit, “I.  Still.  Can’t.  STOP!”  Shaking her head, Lizzie turned to Edwin, “And how is your coach making you feel, Edwin?”  His eyes narrowed, “Oh, my coach is also entirely focused on winning against Derek that she doesn’t even realize that I don’t like Tanya anymore!”  Together they grumbled, “Worst coaches ever.”  They glared at the camera until it faded into nothingness.

The heavy metal music slipped into a lyrical acoustic guitar, strumming tenderly as the screen spelled out, “Peace” as Derek’s voiceover provided, “Then, there was a tentative peace.  Emphasis on tentative.”

 

 

As the chorus of “She said it was over and it was not over” rang out over the speakers, Casey turned to Derek, her eyes twinkling as she gasped, “How did you get a copy of our Clash of Bands performance?”  He smirked, his legs crossing cockily in front of him.  “Turns out Tinker had a copy.”  Casey’s eyebrows shot to her hairline, “Why?”  He gave her a look that said, ‘Really?’ before he turned back to watch the performance.

The next video slid in rapidly from the left.  “Derek, why do you have to record this?”  Casey asked the camera impatiently.  Derek drawled from over top of the camera, “Because, Casey, I want you to see your tells.”  She squinted at him, “My tells?”  Exasperated, Derek responded, “How I know you’re lying.  Now, say it again with real emotion this time.”  Casey took a deep sigh then stared the camera down determinedly as she did what he asked.  “My dear dog… Bob… passed away.”  The camera dropped as Derek cried, “Cut!”  His feet approached Casey, hers shifting nervously as he spoke, “I said with emotion, Case.  You sound like you’re discussing the weather.  That’s not acceptable!  Try it again and this time give me some tears.  Now is not the time for your well to run dry.”  The camera picked up again in time to see Casey gasp, “You, Derek Venturi, are asking me to… cry?”  Frustration was clear in Derek’s voice, “No, I’m asking you to act.  Now, action!”  This time, Casey’s hands covered her face and when she pulled them away, there were tears glistening in her eyes.  “Bob!  Bob, oh my dear, dear dog!  I can’t believe you’re really gone!”  Derek yelled, “Cut!”  Her head shot up, asking hopefully, “Well?”  He snorted once, “Better.”

When the next scene phased in, everything was green before Lizzie popped into view, passing a soccer ball to her teammate.  The girl scored a goal and cheers erupted as Edwin shouted from his place with the camera, “Way to go, team!”  At the edge of the camera screen, Casey popped into view, clapping loudly, and screaming, “Nice job, Lizzie!”  Lizzie waved towards them before she was off chasing the ball again.  Edwin redirected the camera as George and Nora approached, a skipping Marti dangling from both their hands.  George looked around before asking, “Where’s Derek?”  With an evil laugh, Edwin answered, “Oh, he’s keeping an eye on Snot.”  The camera whipped through the air to point across the field at a frustrated looking Scott.  His arms were folded across his chest, his shoulders tense as Derek stood behind him, muttering in his ear.

A party scene appeared at the next transition.  Edwin and Lizzie were in the middle of the room, dancing with their friends as lanterns and balloons hung above them.  Shifting, the camera focused on a dancing Casey, Max occasionally popping into the edge of the shot as they rotated around.  Suddenly, a young Marti interrupted them with a happy shout of, “I want to dance with Max!”  Casey smiled down at her and then at Max.  “It’s alright with me if it’s alright with Max.  Max smiled handsomely down at Mart, extending his hand, and stating, “It would be an honor, Marti.”  Marti squealed and the two started to dance together.  Casey approached the camera, settling just out of view as she said, “We did good.”  Derek focused the lens on Edwin, who alternated spinning two different girls around.  Derek laughed arrogantly, “We?  Don’t you mean me?”  Casey groaned, “You are such an egomaniac.”  Derek sighed, teasing, “I suppose you played a small part.”  The view of the room was jostled as a smack rang out.  “Ouch, Case.  Watch the merchandise.”

As the last scene bounced away, the screen was left black.  Derek’s voiceover spoke, “Buuuut, the peace didn’t last long.”  The word "Harmony" materialized on the screen, flickering on a ribbon of purple.  He questioned, “War and Peace faded into… Harmony?  No, that can’t be right.”  Suddenly, in massive letters the word "CHAOS" exploded onto the screen.  “Eh, that’s more like it.  Chaos.  Now, we have chaos, featuring rivalries and some very reluctant alliances.”  Background music started again, a quick happy tempo filled with guitar riffs and drumbeats.

 

 

The words were replaced with a view of George and Nora sitting calmly on the couch.  George’s arms wrapped around Nora as they watched with a neutral expression as Casey, Lizzie and Marti chased Derek around and around the couch, all three girls screaming at an alarmingly high pitch.  Edwin’s snickers could be heard behind the camera before he said, “Behold the chaos, everybody.” 

Videos played like rapid fire now, one shot fluently transitioning into the next.  Edwin and Lizzie poking their heads out of the game closet morphed into Derek and Casey wrestling in front of the television before it immediately changed to George tickling a giggling Marti in his arms.  It flowed into Edwin wincing as Nora supervised him doing his laundry, then Casey and Lizzie painting each other’s nails until it faded into Derek running at the camera hollering, “Edwin!  You little twerp!  Get back here!”  A frustrated Derek was replaced by Lizzie coloring with Marti at the dining room table.  They calmly switched colors, smiling at each other as they showed off their work.

Suddenly, Marti and Casey were having a tea party, wearing fancy hats as they sipped elegantly from their little plastic teacups before the scene switched to the backyard where Nora, Casey, and Lizzie were planting flowers, their hair in equal states of disarray.  Then there was a closeup of Derek and Marti’s smiling faces as they took turns making animal noises at the camera.  Their faces faded and George and Edwin were lounging on the couch in rumpled pajamas, deep within a cartoon marathon with various junk food items spread around them.

Next, Lizzie and Marti hurried around the kitchen, flour on every surface as they frantically baked.  Lizzie pulled a batch of cookies out of the oven just as Marti knocked the bag of flour off the counter and the pair disappeared behind a cloud of white dust.  When the white cloud cleared, Casey was cheering beside a football field with her fellow cheerleaders.  They finished the cheer and Casey high-fived the bulldog mascot and they both turned to wave at the camera.  Then Nora was in the kitchen, watching amusedly as Derek stuffed a sandwich down his throat at a frantic pace.  Nora’s smiling face disappeared as the camera watched George backing out of their shared driveway and ramming right into the Davis’ car.

Edwin and Marti were at the dining room table, serious expressions on their faces as they considered the cards in their hands.  Marti swept a stack of chips into the middle of the table, giving Edwin a competitive eyebrow quirk.  He winced before calling her, pushing all his chips into the middle.  Grinning triumphantly, Marti laid down her hand and Edwin’s shoulders slumped before he proceeded to bang his head against the table as Marti swooped in to collect her winnings.  The shot switched to Lizzie standing by the sink, repeatedly throwing pieces of cereal at Derek, who caught them easily in his mouth, munching contently as he waited for a giggling Lizzie to throw another.  When the scene transitioned, Casey and Marti were dressed in their stunningly pink tutus, elegantly pirouetting as they worked through a routine together.  It dissolved into another scene of George wailing on his guitar as Nora cringed and covered her ears behind him.

The next scene featured Edwin, Lizzie, and Marti in the upstairs hall playing an intense game of Monopoly as Lizzie rolled the dice and moved her dog token six spaces.  She groaned, smacking her forehead with her hand as Edwin beamed, holding out a hand, “Pay up, sister!”  As they faded out, Derek and Casey faded in.  Their laughter deafening as they stood at the sink throwing soap bubbles from the dish water at each other.  Casey launched an attack on Derek, nailing him on the cheek, bubbles comically running down the side of his face as he countered, his bubbles connecting with Casey’s forehead.  Her mouth opened in shock, but then she giggled, and they were shoving each other back and forth as they turned back to the dishes. 

And then, Edwin was working behind a huge volcano sitting on the kitchen island.  An excited looking Marti hovered over his shoulder as she kneeled on a kitchen stool.  Edwin grinned at the camera before handing Marti the button to push.  She smirked, punching the button and lava erupted in great waves, spewing out across the counter, and seeping on to the floor.  Identical looks crossed Edwin and Marti’s faces and Edwin groaned, “Nora’s going to kills us.”  The camera shook as Derek snickered, “I’d be more worried about Casey if I were you.”  With that, the scene morphed into George in front of a griddle, trying to flip pancakes high into the air as Casey and Lizzie stared horrified at him when his last attempt stuck to the ceiling.  Their looks of horror turned into Nora’s happy face as she scrubbed the outside of the windows, waving inside at the camera. 

Derek appeared, holding a ping pong paddle at one end of the table as he teased the camera, “Marti, hold the camera really still.  I want to see Edwin’s face when I crush him.”  Marti readjusted the camera and Edwin came into view as he retorted, “We’ll see about that.”  The transition brought in Casey and Lizzie curled up on the couch underneath a fuzzy blanket.  Lizzie’s head rested on Casey’s shoulder as the sisters stared unblinkingly at the movie playing on the television, small smiles on both of their faces.  Marti’s face was suddenly on screen, wincing slightly as Nora tugged on stands of her hair, creating an elegant French braid cascading down her back.  It transitioned to a hooting and hollering George as he beat Derek’s toy car around the racetrack set up in the living room.

A bunch of young girls in tutus danced across the stage before the camera zoomed in on a radiant Marti, who twirled and twisted to the music.  It faded into a shot of Lizzie and Derek on stage at Gran’s lodge, Derek’s arm wrapped around Lizzie as he smiled down at her.  Then Casey and Edwin were huddled on the couch, controllers in their hands as they taunted each other during a spirited game of Babe Raider.  As Casey and Edwin disappeared, Marti appeared clutching desperately at her monkey as Derek repeatedly tossed her into the air, tickling her sides when he caught her.

A familiar scene emerged, Casey holding Lizzie’s rainforest diorama as Edweirdo thundered down the stairs, smashing the rainforest to the ground and Edwin falling on top of it, mumbling, “Ay, caramba.  To save the rainforest from an uncaring world.”  Horrified disbelief crossed Lizzie’s face as she shouted, “YOU DESTORYED MY DIORAMA?  I HATE THIS FAMILY!”  Lizzie fled up the stairs, ignoring Casey’s attempts at apology. 

The scene length was increasing again as the mood began to shift slightly.  Anticipation building in the background guitar.  Blurry colors started to show up on screen as the camera attempted to focus from the back of the theater.  When it focused, Thompson’s High stage was lit as Pirate Pete made his entrance.  Behind the unfolding scene, Edwin snickered, whispering, “I have to get this on tape!  Derek in a musical!  Insane!”  Lizzie hissed from beside him, “Edwin!  We’re so going to get in trouble for this!  You’re not supposed to be recording!”  He pointed the camera into the darkness as he responded to her, “Relax, Liz, we’re fine.  I still think—" Whatever Edwin thought was cut off as the scene changed.

After the quick transition, Derek held the camera, capturing the tiny faces of the Alpha Force as he called enthusiastically, “Alpha Force!  Say hello to the civilians!”  Their beaming faces replied, slightly stuttering over the word, “Hi, civ-il-ians!”  Derek gave a short laugh, “So, today’s the last day of our Mission Camp.”  The kids moaned, but Derek asked over them, “Did you have fun?”  Jumping up and down, the Alpha Force screamed, “Yes!”  From the background, Casey emerged, and the camera focused on her.  Shaking her head, she joked, “I think that’s enough videoing, Captain.  Let’s get back to our educational activities, yeah?”  Marti approached the camera, “Captain Venturi?”  The camera dropped as Derek crouched to her level.  “Yes, Private Smarti?”  Her sad face came closer to the lens.  “Is this really our last mission?”  Derek’s smooth voice reassured her, “Course not, Smarti, we’ll have loads more missions together.”  As Derek picked her up, the camera rustled and only showed part of Marti’s small frame and the arm Derek held her with.  Sadly, Marti asked, “What about the rest of the Alpha Force?”  Derek bounced them, “You’ll have more adventures together in school.”  Marti pulled a face and Derek laughed setting her down, her spirit renewed as she ran off to play with the rest of the Alpha Force.  Derek brought the camera up to record them playing catch as Casey edged closer to him.  She told him lightly, “I’d say you did a great job, Captain Venturi.”  Derek’s smirk could be heard through his voice, “Not a bad job from you, Lieutenant McDonald.”  There was a quiet smack then Derek sniggered, “Who knows?  You might even get a promotion.”  The camera shook as Casey cried, “Der-rek!”  Derek was still laughing as the shot faded out.

Empty Chinese containers littered the next scene.  Derek was walking around the living room, camera in hand as he explained to his captive audience, “Since Christmas is overrated, all charades will be related to the Festival of Derekus.  Aunt Madge, since you’re our honored guest, you get to pick the teams.  The scene cut for a second and when it reappeared, there was a clear divide of two teams while Edwin acted out ‘Girls’ to a guessing Marti and Aunt Madge.  Derek sniggered at Edwin’s waggling hips.  Then Nora was pretending to hit a hockey puck with a stick as George shouted, “BROOM!”  Casey whipped her head to look at him, “George, if this has anything to do with Derek then broom would be nowhere on his radar.”  Nora continued to make the motion of shooting until Lizzie shouted, “Hockey!”  The scene faded out as Casey congratulated her sister.

Derek was behind the camera again as he captured his brother and sister arguing in the hall.  Edwin taunted, “Bet I can.”  Marti returned, “Bet I can do more.”  Crossing his arms, Edwin responded, “Bet you can’t keep up.”  Huffing, Marti stomped, “Bet you’re going to lose.”  Derek snickered, a sense of pride laced his voice as he stated, “Bet these are my siblings.”

The shot morphed into Derek skating onto the ice followed by his teammates.  Edwin narrated for the camera, “And here comes Derek Venturrrrrri!  The captain leading his team into battle!”  Just then, Derek looked up and nodded at the camera before fluently maneuvering into their warmup drills.  Edwin fumbled before he turned to the side to show Lizzie beside him, standing and clapping as she watched the team.  “And here’s Lizzie, supportive step-sister.”  Lizzie acknowledged him with a slight wave.  The camera pointed around her to find Marti, jumping up and down, waving a glittering pom-pom through the air.  “Good luck charm, Smarti, of course.”  Dodging around them both, Edwin got a shot of George and Nora sitting quietly together as they conversed with easy smiles on their faces as their eyes followed Derek across the ice.  “The ‘rentals watching their star player.”  Suddenly, the camera flipped wildly to show a closeup of Edwin.  “And me, brother, former good luck charm turned camera boy.  Much more exhilarating if you ask me.  I’m just here for blackmail really.”  Edwin shrugged then said, “Oh, I almost forgot!”  The camera circled around to face the back of the arena.  Near the door stood a girl in all black, wearing a carefully placed hat and sunglasses.  “That’s Casey.  Derek thinks it’s bad luck for her to be at his games so sometimes she sneaks in and hides in the back.  Oops… Um, if you see this, Derek, I know nothing.”  Live in their living room, Casey clenched her jaw, looking at Derek out of the corner of her eye, finding him looking expectantly at her with a grin tugging at the corner of his mouth.  She gave him a look that clearly said, ‘Oopsy!’ as she lifted one shoulder up to her ear and smiled tentatively.

When the screen focused again, it was from the back of a theater.  Several girls danced across the stage as the camera zoomed in closer, Derek adapted an Australian accent, whispering into the camera, “Aye maties, here we have a rare sighting!  The dreaded Klutzilla being… graceful!  Who knew!”  Despite his teasing tone, the camera followed her faithfully across the stage.  As Casey’s part finished, Derek zoomed back out, capturing their family members cheering loudly for her before everything turned black.

“Aww, you guys recorded it?”  Casey cooed as their performance from Dance Mania filled the television.  Nora smiled, reaching over Lizzie to pat Casey’s knee.  “Of course, honey, it was a big deal for you and Derek.”  Casey shot one last smile at her mom before her eyes glued themselves back to the screen, her body moving to the beat as she watched the routine unfold.

The camera poked through the crack in Derek’s bedroom door, spying Derek in his flannel pajamas sitting on the edge of his bed, leaning back on his hands as he watched a pajama clad Casey with her beloved bunny slippers pace in front of him, reading off her cue cards.  Suddenly, Casey whipped off her bunny slipper and chucked it at Derek’s head.  Laughing, Derek snatched it out of the air, clutching it to his chest as Casey tried to get it back, her hands pushing and pulling at him as he hung on to her slipper for dear life.  She smacked him with her cue cards once before sitting down beside him and asking him another question.  Derek relaxed, her slipper still in his hand as he flopped backwards onto his bed.

Slowly, the next scene faded in, showing the Thompson High graduates slowly milling out of the double doors.  The crowd parted slightly, and Derek could be seen approaching them with a smiling Marti on his back.  George beamed as he greeted Derek, “Ah, there’s my high school graduate!”  Derek flashed his diploma and Nora tackled him in a hug.  Edwin and Lizzie offered him their congratulations while Derek continued to beam.  He reached over the camera, clapping Edwin on the shoulder as he told him, “Ed, I officially hand over the reins of Thompson High.”  Edwin’s voice cracked as he asked, “To me?  Really?”  Derek threw an arm around Lizzie’s shoulders as he replied, “Really.”  They separated as a voice spoke from behind them, “Lizzie, I wish you better luck than I had with him.”  Casey’s smirking face came into the picture just before it disappeared again behind Lizzie’s enthusiastic hug.   George joined in, “Congratulations, Case!”  Tears flowed down Nora’s cheeks as she cried, “My daughter is a high school graduate!”  Marti wiggled her way down Derek’s back and over to Casey, who beamed at her family’s enthusiasm.  From behind the camera, Edwin told her, “Way to go, Casey!”  His hand obscured the scene for a second as they exchanged high-fives.  As the family stepped away from her, Casey and Derek regarded one another with twinkling eyes, each trying to keep the smiles off their faces.  Casey gave in to her smile as she teased, “Always the stupid, cool guy.”  Derek’s face broke into his typical smirk, retorting, “Always the drama queen.”  Contrary to his words, he weaved an arm around her shoulders as he led Casey down the hall.  Their family followed them slowly, Edwin bringing up the rear with the camera.  As Derek and Casey disappeared around the corner, the scene faded out.

The strumming guitar turned sad, the rich beautiful chords setting the tone.  Various shots of Casey sitting among piles of boxes with stickers spread across the floor flashed across the screen as Derek’s smooth voice told the audience, “Everyone has their special place at the royal castle.  But the kingdom as we know it is about to change.  The Princess and the Knight must journey to a faraway land, leaving the royal family behind.”  The color disappeared slowly from the screen, and when the upstairs hallway came into focus it was in black and white.  Slowly, the camera edged towards Casey’s open bedroom door, finding it mostly empty.  The camera span around showing every nook and cranny before backing out and turning the corner into Derek’s own empty room.  He hovered in every corner, before walking back out and closing the door with a soft snap.  Throughout the tour, Derek narrated, “The Knight must keep the Princess safely guarded in her tower and maybe teach her a thing or two about letting her hair down, while the Princess admittedly keeps the Knight from failing his jousting courses and possibly getting himself killed.”  A picture of the trailer in the driveway stretched across the screen.  “And the royal pains begin!”

Gran’s dock materialized on screen.  Derek and Casey were visible at the end of it, arms stretched out behind them, supporting their reclined bodies as they watched the sun set ahead of them.  Her shoulders shook as Casey laughed, and Derek turned to look at her, a smirk evident in his profile.  After several beats, Derek faced forward, his hand creeping closer to hers until he was close enough to knock her arm out from under her.  Casey fell clumsily onto her back.  There was a distant cry of “DER-REK!” and his arms flew up to defend himself against her attack.  They shoved each other back and forth, laughing as their attempts grew weaker.  Eventually, they stilled, their shoulders brushing as they faced the setting sun once again.

Deliberately slow, the sunset faded away and their recent family picture spread across the TV as the guitar hummed along in the background.  Across their picture, the words “The End” stretched, hovering for a second before two lines struck the words out.  At the bottom of the screen, the animation typed, “To Be Continued…” in neat white letters.

 

 

As the guitar melody ended, the frame disappeared.  A beat passed before one last recording began in slow motion.  A hidden camera at the top of the stairs, captured the McDonald-Venturi’s as they ate dinner around the table.  Edwin made a joke and the table erupted in laughter.  The scene stilled, the color fading out until the picture dissolved, leaving the screen pitch black.

At first there was tangible silence as the movie viewers continued to stare numbly at the black screen.  Derek anxiously gripped the back of his neck, looking out the corner of his eye towards the people on the couch.  He winced at the sniffling noses and watering eyes, determinedly facing forwards again.

“Oh, Derek!”  Nora wept, tears pouring down her cheeks as she tried to speak.  “That was so-so-so beautiful!”

George nodded beside her.  His eyes were misty, and his breathing was labored.  “Wonderful job, son.”

Furiously scrubbing at his eyes, Edwin cleared his throat.  “It’s ironic, we all used the royal theme.”  He grinned proudly at his brother, which Derek returned.

“Great minds think alike apparently.”  Lizzie sniffed her agreement.  After wiping her eyes, she turned to face Derek, announcing, “I loved it, Derek.”

“Thanks, Liz.”  Derek scratched the top of his head awkwardly.

Wordlessly, Marti crawled down from George’s lap, taking several steps before leaping into Derek’s chair with him.  She burrowed her face into his chest as she openly cried.  Derek’s hands reached out, holding her steadily to him.  “Aww, Smarti.  You don’t have to cry.”  She nodded frantically, great huffs of breath billowing her hair away from her face as she gripped his t-shirt.  He leaned down, kissing the top of her head.

“Case?”  Derek prompted.  She shook her head, silently sobbing, both hands covering her mouth and refusing to look his way. 

He continued to shoot her concerned looks even as Edwin exuberantly discussed his favorite scenes.  “I especially loved the entire ‘War’ sequence.”  He laughed out loud.  “Those were the days!”

Lizzie leaned forward to look at him.  “Are you kidding?  I much prefer the ‘Chaos’ or in other words, the way things are now.”  She shook her head, grinning.

George joined in with a laugh.  “I think I grew more gray hairs just reliving it all.”  He draped an arm around a still weeping Nora. 

She gave a watery chuckle at his joke.  “It was all so good.  I loved every minute of it.”

“Anyone count how many times Casey screamed ‘Der-rek!’ by chance?”  Edwin teased.

Marti peeked out from Derek’s chest.  “My favorite was when Smerek scared Smasey at her desk and her pencil went flying so high into the air.”  Marti gave a watery giggle as the others chuckled. 

Derek ruffled his sister’s hair.  “That was pretty funny, eh, Marti?”  She nodded, resting her head back on his chest.  “You know that’s why I made the movie, right?”  He smirked towards Casey.  “I didn’t want anyone to forget how much of a keener you are, Case.”

Something in his words made her withdraw from herself.  She came up swinging at his arm closest to her, her hits growing softer and softer. “You big great buffoon!”  Suddenly, Casey stopped smacking him, her hands gripping his forearm as she squeezed tightly.  “How dare you do something so incredibly sweet and leave me absolutely speechless!”  Releasing his arm, she fell back into her cushion, covering her eyes as fresh tears streamed down her face.  Beside her, Lizzie comfortingly patted her shoulder.

Sadness settled upon them once more until George cleared his throat, saying quietly, “It’s getting late.”

Nora straightened up, wiping her eyes.  “Bedtime, everyone.  We have a big day ahead of us.”  George helped her to her feet and the pair made their way to Derek.  Bending at the waist, Nora kissed the top of his head as George clasped Derek’s shoulder affectionately.

George nudged Marti.  “Bedtime, munchkin.”  Marti sighed, but flung her arms tightly around Derek’s neck in a vicious hug.  He returned it with a small chuckle.  Pulling back, she gave him a sad smile before George helped her climb down out of the chair.

Rising from the couch, Edwin and Lizzie followed.  Stopping at Derek’s chair, Edwin and Derek exchanged a brotherly handshake, giving each other a look only they understood.  Lizzie smiled at him, reaching down for a fist bump as she uttered, “Night, big bro.”

“Night, little sis.”

The family started to disperse to their respective staircases when Casey called frantically, “Wait!”  Everyone stopped in their tracks, turning to watch as she hurriedly crossed the room and pulled out a secret stack of envelopes from underneath the window seat.  She sheepishly held them in her hands.  “I wrote everyone a letter because I knew I could never get through saying these things without—" Tears gathered in her eyes and she gestured unnecessarily to herself. “Crying.”

“Mom?”  She handed the top letter to her Nora, who got choked up as she took it from her.  “George?” 

He smiled kindly.  “Thank you, Casey.”

She gave him a little nod before calling, “Edwin?”  Edwin jumped down two stairs to take the envelope from her.  He offered a lopsided smile and nod.

“Marti?”  Marti approached Casey, pulling her into a brief hug as she took the letter.

“Liz?”  Lizzie’s eyes sparkled with unshed tears as the sisters exchanged a look for a long minute.

“What no letter for me, Princess?”  Derek called from his chair.

Casey narrowed her eyes at him as she walked towards him.  “And Derek.”  Casey stretched the hand grasping the last letter out to him.

Derek raised an inquisitive eyebrow.  “Wait, you really wrote me a letter?  Did you forget I’m going with you?”

She half-heartedly rolled her eyes.  “I wrote yours before… you know.”  He shot her a look.  Casey hesitated, shifting her weight back and forth.  “Before I made my decision.  I figured you should have it.”  Gently, he took it from her, as he continued to study her.

Casey refused to meet his eyes as her hands folded and unfolded self-consciously as she sat back down on the couch.  “They’re nowhere near the caliber of Derek’s sendoff, but it’s from my heart.”

“Oh, Miss Case.  We appreciate it.”  Nora waddled over to her and hugged her tightly.  When Nora pulled away, she asked, “Are you headed to bed now, sweetie?”

Shaking her head, Casey wiped at her eyes again.  “No, I think I’m going to stay down here a while longer.  I don’t think I’d be able to sleep just yet.”

Nora nodded her understanding, uttering softly, “Goodnight.”  The others chimed in their goodnights as well, finally making their way out of the room.  Casey rejoined a quiet Derek, settling into the couch as he flipped through the television channels.


As they climbed the stairs, Edwin murmured excitedly to his accomplices, “I can’t believe we pulled it off so perfectly!”  Hitting the top landing, he held up both hands for them to high-five.  Simultaneously, Lizzie and Marti slapped his hands and then turned to each other to do the same. 

“The look on their faces!”  Lizzie whispered back, “I’d say we surprised them.”

Marti bounced up and down, babbling quietly, “I’m way too wired to sleep yet!”

Lizzie cast a look down the stairs then motioned for them to follow her.  “Let’s talk in my room.”  Lizzie opened the door, allowing them in and then quietly shut it.  When she turned to face them, she was wearing a proud grin.  “We did good!  I don’t know how I kept a straight face through that skit though!”  She laughed out loud and the others joined in.

“Same!”  Edwin spoke at his normal volume again, turning to Marti.  “Your storytelling was awesome.”

She rolled her eyes but took the compliment.  “I told you a Venturi could tell a story.”  Edwin and Lizzie chuckled before Marti went on, “Yeah, we all were amazing, but let’s talk about how awkward Emily was.”  Their smiles were wiped off their faces as all three of them cringed.

“Yeah, that wasn’t so pleasant.”  Edwin rubbed at his knees awkwardly.

“I was catching a lot of bad vibes there.”  Lizzie agreed, “I’m just not sure what all that was about.  I get that they broke up, but she seemed so… hostile, I guess.”  Edwin shifted on the bed to make room as Lizzie crawled between him and Marti.  She fluffed a pillow and put it behind her, leaning against the headboard.

Nodding, Marti added, “And she ran right afterwards.  I don’t think she said anything to anyone.”

“Something is definitely going on.”  Edwin put a finger to his chin.

Drawing her feet underneath her at the end of Lizzie’s bed.  Marti looked between them.  “Did it seem like she felt… jealous to you?”

“Yeah, I thought I was picking up on that too.”  Lizzie consented.

“Hmm, I don’t know…”  Edwin trailed off.  “It’s been such a long day.  So much happened.”

Lizzie agreed, “No kidding.  And I’m still having a hard time getting over that movie Derek made.”

“Whoa, same.  That was unexpected.”  Edwin ran a hand through his hair.  “I had no idea that’s the kind of thing he was working on when he asked for my videos.”  He smiled sadly, “I thought he was just getting rid of blackmail material before he left for uni.”

“Who knew Derek could be so sweet?”  Lizzie teased.

Marti giggled softly, snuggling deeper into Lizzie’s bed.  “He talks big but he’s a huge softie.”

Closing her eyes, Lizzie admitted, “That end part really got to me.”

Edwin scratched his cheek.  “With him and Casey on the dock?"  Not opening her eyes, Lizzie nodded.  Gulping, Edwin revealed, “He really went all out, didn’t he?”

Both girls nodded their agreement.  Marti’s voice was shaking when she asked, “What about scratching out ‘The End’ and adding ‘To Be Continued…’, eh?  That’s the part that really hit me.”

“Agreed.  And then to fade back in with us all laughing like there’s no tomorrow…”  Edwin cut himself off when his own breath hitched.  Lizzie reached up to hold his shoulder.  He took a few deep breaths before he opened his eyes again.  Lizzie waited for him to nod before she took her hand away.

Silent tears slid down Marti’s cheeks as she looked between Edwin and Lizzie.  She crawled up the bed and pulled them both in for a hug, keeping them there for several minutes.  When she pulled back, she wiped at her eyes.  “Thank you for being my sibs.  You’re the both the best.”  Marti made her way off Lizzie’s bed as she spoke, “I’m leaving now or I’m going to cry all night.”  A watery giggle escaped her as she looked back at them, each wiping their own eyes.  “See you later, alligator.”

A true smile crossed Lizzie’s face as she answered back, “After ‘while, crocodile.”

Rolling his eyes, Edwin asked, “Why do you two have to do that all the time?”

The girls giggled, saying at the same time, “Because it’s fun.”  Marti winked and slipped out the door.


“This is our last night down here, Nora.”  George turned back the bedspread before looking to her sitting at their tiny dresser.  Nora was still staring at her unopened letter and failed to answer him.  Slowly, he approached her, grasping her shoulders, and rubbing down her arms.  “Are you ready to read it?”

Her lip trembled, but she nodded.  George waited patiently for her to finish, keeping up his soft, soothing stroking until she rose and folded herself into his embrace.  Nora’s tears began to soak through his pajamas as he asked, “Do you want to talk about it?”

Shakily, she withdrew slightly, allowing him to lead her to the end of their bed.  Barely audible, she mumbled, “Can I read it to you?”

“Of course, Nora.”

She reached for his hand as she began to read,

“My mom, my friend,

            What do you say to someone who means so much to you?  I know I didn’t always make things the easiest for you, but you have always supported and loved me unconditionally.  You gave me everything I needed to become the person I am today.  So, thank you for raising me to be a strong, independent woman.

            I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what you said, and you were right.  I was the only one that could make the decision to go to Queen’s with Derek.  No one else could have done it for me.  I really appreciate how you held your opinion back, allowing me to decide for myself, yet still helped me work through the pros and cons of each choice.  You gave me exactly what I needed even if I didn’t know it at the time.  I realized that’s what you’ve done for me my entire life.  So, thank you, Mom, for everything.

            I love you so very much.  And I’m going to miss you a ton.  It’s going to be so weird being on my own.  I’ve never been without you and for as long as I can remember, without Lizzie either.  At least, I’ll still have Derek.  But I’m not sure if that’s more comforting or terrifying.  I guess I’ll find out soon enough.

            You’ll probably be annoyed with how much I call.  Please, tell me everything that’s happening at home.  I can’t imagine not being a part of it all.  We’re going to miss so much!  Ed and Liz going to high school, Marti growing up, and the baby’s first everything!  I don’t know how I’m going to handle it, because I want to be there so bad.  Make sure Edwin records the monumental moments!  Send me pictures all the time, okay?  I love you, Mom.

            With all my heart,

            Casey”

After she was through, Nora took a shaky breath, looking up at George.  He was smiling sweetly at her, but his own tears were welling in his eyes.  He squeezed her hand, and she gave him a wobbly smile in return, asking, “Will you read me your letter, Georgie?”

Nodding, he pulled the envelope out of his pajama pocket.  Ripping through the seal, George pulled out the letter, reading for the first time,

“Dear George,

            You welcomed my family into your home with open arms and an open heart.  I will always be grateful to have such a wonderful man as my step-father.  Your family is so special (We can just gloss over Derek here). 

            George, you are truly a kind human being and you make my mom the happiest I’ve ever seen her.  That alone makes my heart soar.  We all know it wasn’t easy to convert two families into one huge happy (omitting Derek, again) blended family. 

            I really do look to you as someone I can confide in and who will support me wholeheartedly.  You’ve been there for me when I’ve really needed it the most.  I love being part of this family and I’m proud to be your step-daughter.  Thank you for everything, George.  I’ll miss you.

            Much love,

            Casey

P.S. I’m sorry, George, if you ever thought my faith in you was nonexistent, especially in the early days.  It was just my doubts in a certain son of yours, who shall remain nameless.  And I don’t blame you for his shortcomings.  You did your best with what you had to work with.”

George chuckled even as he brushed his thumb underneath each eye.  “She really knows just what to say to get to you, eh?” 

Nora brought her hand up, cupping his cheek lovingly.  “That’s Casey alright.”

“I’m glad she doesn’t blame me for my nameless son’s shortcomings.”  A true laugh escaped him, and Nora joined in, covering her mouth with a hand as she giggled.


They sat in silence after Marti shut Lizzie’s door.  The third time Edwin caught Lizzie eyeing her untouched letter with a sad look on her face, he inquired, “You want to read them together?

Lizzie cast a hard look at the letter like it might bite her before she nodded, “Okay.”  Hesitantly, she picked it up and held it in her hands.  Nibbling at her lip, she looked at him.  “You go first.”

He reached for his own letter, balancing precariously on Lizzie’s nightstand.  Running his finger underneath the flap, he popped it open, withdrawing the letter quickly.  He took a deep breath and read,

“Edwin,

            Growing up, I had never wished for a younger brother because I was scared that I wouldn’t know how to relate to him.  Girls I understand, but little boys?  I was very thankful when Lizzie was born.  It was easy with the two of us.  Then suddenly we merged families and we were all thrown together… and it… wasn’t so easy.  Yes, we struggled and fought like cats and dogs, but eventually things smoothed over (ignoring Derek).  Now, I can’t imagine life without you as my brother, Edwin.

            You are an amazing person.  You’re kind, funny and an excellent friend.  I’m so glad that I’ve gotten to know you over the years.  I can’t even begin to express how much I’m going to miss you.  Not being able to see you at months at a time is crazy.  Just know that I’m one phone call away if you need me. 

            I know I don’t have to say this but take care of Lizzie and Marti.  I know you will.  You’re a good brother, Ed.  And make sure you document all those moments Derek and I are going to miss while we’re away with that camera of yours.  I’ll be waiting for hilarious and heartfelt material.

            Good luck in high school!  Please, please, don’t follow in Derek’s footsteps!  One Derek is MORE than enough.  You be you, Edwin Venturi.

            Love always,

            Casey”

Edwin sat stunned for a second.  “Wow,” He breathed, “I don’t think anyone has ever said those things to me before.”

Smiling, Lizzie confirmed, “She’s right, you know.”

“Thanks, Liz.”  Edwin mumbled, inconspicuously rubbing his face.  “Now, read yours.”

Lizzie steeled herself, carefully unfolding the paper and reading quietly,

“Hey kiddo,

            Bear with me, I have a lot of things to say.  You know me, I need to talk about my feelings, but I have no idea where to start.

            I guess a good place to begin would be to tell you that I’m going to miss you.  You’ve always been by my side.  What am I going to do without you?  You’ve always supported me, Liz, through thick and thin and everything in between.  It’s always been us, united as sisters.  We were there for Mom through the divorce and then trusted allies in the McDonald-Venturi merger.  Now, I’m going to have to deal with Derek and his… Derekness all on my own.  I have no idea how I’m going to do that.  It might take a small miracle.

            You have no idea how much I wish I could be there for you as you start high school.  It’s a hard transition, but I know you’re going to be okay.  You have things that I didn’t have… confidence, strength, positivity… the list is endless.  But most importantly, you can be completely honest.  Not only to others, but most importantly, to yourself.  You’ll excel at everything you attempt to do, Lizard.  And you will be able to get through the hardships as well.  Just know that you have me to support you no matter what happens.

            Oh, Lizzie, I’m so scared of leaving.  I’m worried about the family and I’m worried about being on my own for the first time.  What if something happens to Mom and the baby?  What about George?  What about you, Edwin, and Marti?  What if someone needs me and I’m not there?  Or what if I fail all my courses?  What if I don’t make any friends?  What if I can’t get along with my roommate?  What if Derek never leaves me alone?  What if Derek completely ignores me?  What if I’m forced to spend all my time with Derek?  What if I never see Derek?  What if Derek and I fight all the time?  What if Derek and I don’t fight at all?  Seriously, what am I going to do?

            Please, Liz, promise me we won’t grow apart.  I can’t stand the thought of us not being best friends… confidants… sisters.  Call me at least a billion times a day, okay?  I’ll be counting the days until I see you again.

            All my love,

            Your sister,

            Casey”

Tears streamed freely down Lizzie’s cheeks as she finished reading.  Edwin wrapped an arm around her shoulders, and they sat there for several long moments, Lizzie heaving silently as she sobbed.  Patting her shoulder, Edwin mumbled, “It’s alright, sis.  I got you.”


Derek had settled on a neutral station and they sat in silence as the laugh track sounded yet again.  Looking around the dark living room, Casey mumbled, “These are our last moments, Derek.”

“Casey.”  He gave her a look that said, ‘cut the crap’ before he continued, “How many times do I have to tell you?  We will be back.”

“Not in the same way.  We come back adults.  We make our own decisions from now on.”

He held her serious eye contact for a moment before a grin slowly crept up at the corners of his mouth.  “Hate to break it to ya, Case, but I’ve been doing that my whole life.”  He shot her a teasing wink.  “But I get that it’s a new concept for a goody-goody like you.”

“I am not a goody-goody.”

He snorted.  “Nice try, Spacey, but you’re still no alpha dog.”

Crossing he arms, Casey glared at him.  “I can be when I want!  I just don’t think it’s right to bark to get my way!”

“Eh, I don’t know, Case…”  He trailed off, giving her a challenging eyebrow raise.  “Face it, you won’t ever be top dog.”  His smirk grew as he inclined his body towards her, crossing his legs cockily in his chair.

Muttering under her breath, Casey defended herself, “I can bark.”

He relented, “Alright, so maybe you’ve learned to bark a little, but you’re more of an itzy bitzy dog like a chihuahua or a tiny fluffy poodle.  Not a big striking, dominate husky or a Doberman like me, the alpha.”

Casey huffed again, “Why would I want to be a dog like you?  You’re hardly even paper trained!”

“Ha!  Big words from such a little yappy doggy!”

“Der-rek!”  She crossed her arms as he snickered at her.

“Did you yap something, Case?”

“You think you’re so funny.”

“So do you.”

“Do not.”

“Do too.”

“Do not.”

“Do too.”

Closing her mouth determinedly, Casey turned back to the television.  The silence extended until the program finished, and Casey stretched, rising from the couch.  She stepped around his chair, hesitating slightly before she knelt beside him. 

Derek tilted his head to the side, silently asking her what she was doing with a quirked eyebrow.

Casey sighed faintly, “You told them everything I wanted them to know.”   She stretched slowly upwards, pressing a tender kiss to his cheek.  Breathless, she whispered, “Thank you.”

At the brush of her lips on his skin, Derek’s eyes snapped shut.   Distantly he heard her retreat, padding softly up the stairs.  Derek pulled himself back to the present, gazing up the stairs.  Leaning over the upstairs railing, Casey’s eyes locked on to his, smiling sweetly at him.  He barely managed to return it before she disappeared down the hall.

His head fell heavily against the back of his chair as he closed his eyes again.  Derek’s hand twitched around the envelope still clutched in his hand.  After taking a few moments to compose himself, he stared at his name in her curly script.  Painstakingly slow, he opened it, scanning the number of pages, he murmured, “Jeez, Princess.  Write a freakin’ book.”  Derek began to read quietly to himself.

 

 

Derek stared unblinkingly at the page as he studied the divide between the first section in her girly pink ink that often accompanied her diary entries and the next part that was written in dark pen.  He took a tiny breath as he started in on the next part, his lips moving along to her words.

 

Derek stared at her hand drawn heart, his thumb brushing over the top of it repeatedly even as he read the letter from start to finish again.


At the sound of Casey’s bedroom door closing softly, Marti peeked out the crack in her door and tiptoed across the hall, knocking lightly on her door.

Casey offered a gentle smile to the girl as she opened it.  “Hey, what’s up, Marti?”

“Can I come in?”

“Sure.”  Stepping aside, Casey allowed her entry, closing the door behind them.  Marti made her way to Casey’s bed, hopping up on the edge and waiting for Casey to sit beside her.  “Did you need something?”

Marti revealed her envelope from behind her back as she looked up at her.  “Will you read it to me, Smasey?”

Casey’s breath caught at the use of the new nickname.  “I’ll try, Smarti.”  She took the envelope, carefully sliding it open and unfolding the letter.  Nudging Marti’s shoulder with her own, she began to read,

“Special Marti,

            My little bug, you mean so much to me.  I will forever be thankful that I have the honor of being your big sister.  Your warm hugs and sweet smiles mean the world to me.  I don’t know how I’m going to go months without them!

            It makes me sad that I’m going to miss days and days of watching you grow and learn.  Make sure you call me a couple hundred times, okay?  And keep up with your studies!  Don’t take after your brother!  Learn lots and let me know if you need anything.  I will always be there for you.

            You’re the best little sister Lizzie and I could have ever asked for.  Keep the family in line.  We’d all be lost without you.  You are so special.  Derek and I are both going to miss you to the moon and back.

            Love you tons,

            Casey”

Without missing a beat, Marti tackled Casey in a fierce hug.  “I love you, Smasey.”

Casey stroked her back as she hugged Marti to her.  “I love you too, Smarti.”

Marti’s tear-streaked face pulled back, examining Casey.  “You’re crying.”

“So, are you.”  Casey gave a wobbly chuckle as she brushed her fingers over Marti’s face.  Marti returned the giggle, sweeping both her thumbs along the traces of Casey’s tears.

“Can I stay with you tonight?  One last sleepover?”

Nodding, Casey stood them both up from the bed and folded back her covers.  “Come on, snuggle in.”


Groggily, Derek made his way down the stairs, stumbling to the door and letting his two best friends inside with a sleepy yawn.  “Sup?”

They nodded at him, both Sam and Ralph looked tired as they exchanged handshakes on the way through the door.  “Come on up.”  Derek gestured for them to follow him up the stairs, which they did dutifully.

Derek opened the door to his room, crossing the floor and leaning casually against his empty desk.

“Whoa!”  Ralph cried as he stepped foot inside, his mouth hanging open.  “It’s empty!  So weird!”  His eyes continued to roam the room as he plopped down on the empty bed.

Sam followed Ralph through the door, his mouth gaping as well.  “Dude!  You’re taking all of your things with you?”  Sam gave a wry chuckle, “You’re not leaving for good, are you?”

Derek rolled his eyes.  “’Course not.  I told Dad and Nora that the baby could have my room.”

“I can’t believe your dad is having another kid!”  Ralph snickered, “Dude, a baby!”

Studying his best friend, Sam gawked, “I can’t believe you’re giving up your room.”

Derek shrugged, feigning casualness.  “No big deal.”

“Yeah, right, D!  Your room means everything to you.”  Sam reasoned.

“It just wouldn’t be the same now.” 

Sam raised an eyebrow, but Derek didn’t elaborate.  Before he could pursue the subject, Ralph butted in, “So, this is it?”

Flinching uncomfortably at the sudden tense feeling that encompassed the room, the three friends winced.  Sam cleared his throat, “Yeah, Ralphie.  This is… it.”

Derek snorted, trying to relieve some of the tension.  “It’s not like it’s for forever, guys.  Seriously, you’re getting as bad as Space Case.”

“Yeah, you’re right, D.  But it’s going to be different.”  Sam shrugged.

Ralph cut in, “I mean, yeah, totally different, man.  You’re going to be all the way out at Queen’s and it’ll just be Sammy and me around here.”

Derek perched on the edge of his desk, “You guys will be fine without the ol’ D-man!  You’re going to take Western by storm.”  He grinned, but it wasn’t up to his usual standards.

“D, we know you’re just trying to be tough and cool about saying goodbye.”

“Sam’s right, man, we know you’ll miss us.”

His shoulders slumped, but Derek gave his friends a genuine smile.  “Of course, I will, you guys.  But you know I’d never say those kinds of things in a million years, right?  Don’t want that to get out, you know?  Might damage my reputation.”

Sam busted out laughing and Ralph looked back in forth between them, confused.  Sam took pity on his friend and said, “He means, he’ll miss us, Ralphie.”

“Ohhh, gotcha!” 

They laughed together, before Sam brought something else up.  “Well, I’m just glad that Casey finally decided to go to Queen’s.”

Derek dropped his eyes down, but a small grin was still present on his face.  Sam watched his friend carefully as he asked, “What do you think, D?”

“Couldn’t have cared less.”

Ralph coughed, “You sure, D? 

Ignoring Ralph, Derek looked down at his watch.   “We’re supposed to be leaving in a little bit.”

The three friends looked at each other for a few seconds trying to read each other.  Finally, Ralph crossed the bedroom floor to Derek and pulled him into a bro hug, slapping his back hard.  “Bye, D, say hi to all the pretty ladies at Queen’s for me.  Don’t forget the ‘Nice Shoes’ bit!”  Ralph grinned widely at Derek as he let him go, walking to Derek’s door and waiting for Sam.

Derek laughed, scratching at his chin.  “Thanks, Ralphie.  And don’t worry, I won’t forget that one anytime soon.”

Sam stared at Derek, their eyes never breaking contact.  Derek smiled, lifting his arms up to allow a hug.  Sam smiled back, taking the few steps to him.  The two gripped each other firmly, saying nothing for several seconds until Derek broke the embrace.

“Well, Sammy, what do you say after all these years?”  Derek asked grabbing the back of his own neck.

“Probably nothing we wouldn’t get in trouble for.”  Sam grinned as Derek snorted at his lame attempt at a joke.

“Sad, but true.”

A seriousness came over Sam.  “Bye, Derek.  Good luck with… everything.”  Curious, Derek raised an eyebrow at him, but Sam didn’t elaborate.

“You too, Sam.”

Sam joined Ralph at the door and Derek smiled, grabbing at his neck again.  “Bye, guys.”

“Bye, D.”  They echoed together.

As Sam and Ralph were leaving his room, Sam dropped back for a second, a hand gripping Derek’s doorframe, “D?” 

Derek looked up, “Yeah?” 

An all-knowing smile crossed Sam’s face.  “Take care of her, alright?” 

Derek opened his mouth ready to argue, but his face suddenly relaxed.  He looked his best friend in the eye and nodded.  “I will, Sam.”


Casey ran into Sam and Ralph as they walked down the stairs.  “Hi, boys.”

“Hey, Casey.”

“Case.”

“Is Derek up there?”

Ralph smiled, “Yep.  In his room.”

“Figures he’d be hiding from the work.”

Sam chuckled, “We were just saying goodbye.  He’ll be down shortly.”

Her smile faltered.  “Oh, okay.  Well, I guess this is… goodbye for now then?”  Casey looked between Sam and Ralph.

Ralph swept her off her feet in a giant hug, causing all three of them to laugh.  When Ralph sat her down, he reached out to steady her as she became reacquainted with the floor.  “Easy, Casey.  Don’t want you to tumble down the stairs… you know, again.”

She snorted, reaching out a hand to swat him.  Ralph hooted, pulling away.

Casey faced Sam, who was smiling sweetly at her.  He pulled her into a gentle hug.  She returned it, closing her eyes, and smiling.  “We’re going to miss you guys.  Good luck at Western.”

Sam pulled back, returning her look.  “I know.”  He teased her, “I guess we’ll probably miss you guys too.”

She slapped him as well.  He dodged the hit with a laugh before he grew serious again.  “Casey?”

“Yeah, Sam?”

He studied her for a beat.  “Take care of him.”

One of her eyebrows rose.  “Derek?”

“Yeah.”  Sam gave her a look.  “He needs you.”  Gently, he patted her shoulder, following Ralph down the stairs.

Ralph jumped off the last three steps, hollering, “Later, Casey!”


Standing in the middle of the front lawn, Casey and Emily took turns looking at each other.  After several moments, Casey sniffled.  “I think it’s time.”

Emily’s lips disappeared as she watched the rest of Casey’s family load into the van.  “Yeah, Case, I guess you’re leaving now.”  Shuffling her sneakers in the grass, Emily looked down at her feet.  “It’s not like we’ll never see each other again.”  Emily tried to smile.

“You’re right.”  Casey’s eyes threatened to leak.  “Em, I just want to thank you.”

Emily looked up at her in surprise.  “For what?”

“For being my friend since I moved here.  For the big things.  The little things.  Everything.  I’m glad I found you here.”

They both smiled genuinely.  “Me too, Case.  We’ll keep in touch, right?”

“Of course!”

“Okay, text me when you get to Queen’s and settled in.”

“I will.  And let me know when you get to Toronto.  I think you’ll really love it there.”

“I think I will too.”

“So…”

“So, this is…”

“Goodbye?”  They both asked at the same time, forcing back tears, they fell into each other’s arms, squeezing tight and allowing the tears to flow freely.

Derek stood lazily leaning against the side of the Prince, hands shoved deep within his pockets as he waited for Casey to say goodbye to Emily.  “Yo, Princess!”  Derek cried, startling the two girls.  They pulled away from their embrace as he called, “Your chariot is waiting!  Get a move on!”

Casey shot a glare at him, calling back, “I’m coming, Derek!  Hold on!”  He rolled his eyes, sinking deeper against the Prince.  Turning back to her friend, Casey bit her lip.  “I better go, Emily.”

“Yeah.”  Emily breathed.  They clutched each other in one last desperate hug.  Emily pulled away first and gave Casey a little shove towards the Prince.  “Go, Case.”

Smiling sadly, Casey slowly began to back away from her best friend.  “I’ll miss you so much.”

“I’ll miss you too, but you’ve got to go now.”

Casey nodded, turning around as Derek hollered, “It’s about time!”

“Der-rek!”  Now stomping, Casey crossed the lawn.  “I’m saying goodbye to Emily!”  She drew even with him and he followed her gaze as she looked back at Emily.  “Bye, Em.”

“Bye, guys.”

“Later, Em!”  Derek called over his shoulder as he directed his attention at Casey, rolling his eyes at her as he casually threw the passenger door open with a sarcastic little bow.  Casey shoved his shoulder before she climbed in.  He shut the door for her, and his eyes never left Casey’s as they stared each other down through the windshield as he walked around to the driver’s side.

Seconds after Derek’s door closed, the family van and trailer maneuvered its way onto the street.  With a small rev, Derek pulled the Prince away from the curb and was off following their family down the road.

Emily watched the small convoy until the Prince’s taillights disappeared around the corner.  Shoving her hands deep in her back pockets, a tear escaped her watery eyes.  Emily whispered, “Bye, Derek.”