"Are you ready to go back inside?" Roz asked idly as she and Frasier's conversation faded away. "I think Craig and Denise have stopped fighting."
"Actually, I'd rather stay out here with more pleasant company," Frasier said. "I mean, no offense to your family, but…"
Roz rolled her eyes. "Don't apologize. She's my sister and I love her," she lowered her voice. "But I don't like her. If you hadn't shown up and pretended to be Roger, they would've ripped me apart."
She smiled half-heartedly and then shook her head as if to free her mind of her family's criticism. She replaced her morose expression with saucy grin Frasier knew very well.
"You know, even though last night was a mistake…I…liked it," Roz said pertly.
"Really? You're not just saying that to thank me for coming here?"
Roz hooted, fixing Frasier with a lopsided smirk.
"Since when do I pamper your ego?"
At that moment an unwelcome voice broke into the conversation and Denise stepped onto the porch, beaming that saccharine smile that Roz had always hated. She glanced between Roz and Frasier, tapping her foot as if deep in thought. Her younger sister froze, suspicious of the silence.
"Roz….after all the excitement of meeting Roger, it just occurred to me that you never told me he was coming. We only had the smallest room left for you. Might be a tight squeeze, but we have an extra cot."
'Roger' caught Roz up into a quick hug and affectionately stroked her hair. Unaccustomed to this affection (even if it was for show) from her best friend, Roz had to work to act natural.
"Honey, there's plenty of time for that later," she played along. "Did you want Denise to get that cot?"
"And miss an opportunity to be closer to my girl? Nonsense! Just don't push me off the bed."
Roz could almost hear Frasier giving her a quick wink.
Another figure joined the group on the porch. It was Craig, who was coming out with a bucket of beers nestled into a heap of ice.
"Anyone want a beer?" he offered.
"I'll take one," Roz immediately snatched up a bottle.
"I'm not much of a beer drinker, thanks," Frasier declined.
"Mind if we join you?" Denise asked…as she and Craig settled on neighboring chairs. It looked as if Roz and Frasier didn't have a choice.
For the next half hour, Roz and "Roger" were bored stiff by Craig bragging about his work and Denise often cutting in to praise him. Then Denise took over the conversation, but it was far from a reprieve; she bragged about her promotion at her job, her recent climb up the social ladder, winning a prize for the best blueberry pie at the county fair, how much weight she'd recently lost (which Roz knew was an outright lie; Denise had always been slender). She really was fishing for something to brag about, even if she had to lie. When Denise finally ran out of things to say about herself, she turned to her sister.
"Why don't you join an exercise program, too? You wouldn't believe how freeing it is to lose weight. And I've got the most darling dress. It will look perfect on you once you get yourself down to an empowering figure. I'll give it to you before you leave."
Denise said this all in a sickly-sweet voice, as if she was giving heartfelt advice. Roz was no fool; it was just her passive-aggressive attitude disguised as caring. Roz rose to her feet, dragging Frasier with her.
"We're going to bed," she said stiffly.
"Oh, goodness, you misunderstand me," Denise said, with the practiced smile Roz—and Frasier—couldn't stand. "It's just sisterly advice."
But Roz merely ignored her older sister, holding in her rising emotions until she and Frasier were alone in the guest room. And there she sank onto the cot and gave way to soft weeping. In one fluid movement, Frasier was there beside her, pulling her into a platonic but comforting hug.
"You know what she says isn't true," Frasier said softly. "You're a beautiful, confident woman, Roz. Denise isn't as secure as she claims to be if she has to brag so much. And more than anything, you're a wonderful friend. Don't let Denise get you down."
Roz finally smiled.
"You're right, Frasier," she conceded. "Sometimes I just can't get past her attitude…but there's one thing I have that Denise doesn't."
"And that would be?"
Roz returned the hug he'd given her moments ago.
"An incredible friend like you."