Inspired by LwD. No ownership of the show implied.

Hey guys, I know you think one-shots mean I'm cheating on Delayed Satisfaction... but they're so much more instantly satisfying! So, forgive and enjoy, I will pick the other story up very soon. :-)

Not Talking to You

She says, 'most annoying brother ever-'

He says, 'Step-Brother…'

She pauses, hesitates infinitesimally, says, 'Same difference…' (Right? Right?)

They are leaning on the island in the kitchen, elbows, t-shirts, course books between them. You know the score. And they are staring at each other as if…. As if they're just two hearts, stripped to the tissue, to the quiet hiss of blood… as if seeing inside each other's heads, to the back of brown eyes, blue eyes, flushed cheeks, shaking hands is the only thing that either of them ever wants to do. If they only knew it, this subject would be a perfect major.

He waits a beat. And another.

Then he says, 'Yeah… You're right'...

And walks away after one more minute of excruciating, impossible banter that has no meaning for either of them and cuts all ways.

They are twenty-one days from college and their new lives.

Fourteen days from the end of his summer job and the end of hers.

Eight days from the pool party at Sam's.

One day from the weekend when, newly pregnant and not-particularly-blooming, Nora will ask them to mind the house because she just has to get away for a while with George and the younger children from the sweltering heat that has suddenly engulfed Ontario and seems to be making everyone wilt, sweat, hate or break up with each other.

They live in a safe middleclass neighbourhood, where they can easily do things like leave their almost-off-to-university teenagers alone together. No hidden dangers lurk on sidewalks or round corners.

Casey stands there shaking.

It started the second he dropped her gaze, the second he walked away, the second there was no challenge in his voice, only disappointment and acceptance and an effort to brave out the situation by being more Derek than Derek.

Could this have been the one time in her life she gambled on playing word-games and lost?

Putting on her shoes to go to work – she's coaching tweens for a local dance school – she can't get her fingers to tie the laces and has to ask Marti instead. Marti ties them all wrong, knots them too tight, but Casey's so grateful not to be asked about her shaking hands that she kisses the top of the little girl's head in abject gratitude. Sometimes a sister's kindness can bring tears.

'Casey, honey, don't forget you need to get groceries on the way home. George isn't home till late and I'm so tired. My card is on the counter.'

Casey just nods. She can't speak.

This should be one of the happiest days in her life: choosing courses, anticipating new friends, planning the colour scheme of a new room. But all she can think about is what she might just have broken, burnt, lost or ruined with her spectacularly unnecessary pushing to define boundaries and barriers the previous evening, her deliberate playing with fire.

It wasn't as if there was an audience watching then, who needed reassuring that she and Derek were just siblings, nothing untoward or seedy happening between them, nothing that might not play quite proudly on The Disney Channel, after all. They'd been alone. All by themselves, facing each other. Sharing something that might have led somewhere.


Brother….Stepbrother….Same difference.

And his look – that said, 'Bullshit!' and his words that meant, 'You've made your choice', as clear as if he'd spoken that.

When she gets back from work, toting the groceries and her shoes – she tried to undo the knots, one lace snapped, it was a minor disaster in a day of minor disasters that she can hardly remember – her heart feels close to her mouth every time she moves.

It's her mother who is pregnant. It's she who is feeling sick.

The irony sucks.

She knows what she needs to do. She needs to go to him and apologise and take it back and make it not have happened. Same difference? No way!

But oh my goodness! The weight of re-opening that particular conversation that has never happened before and ought not to have happened ever, the w-e-i-g-h-t.


She can hardly bear it. It's not the apology that sticks in her throat. It's all the other things that would need to be said to make it credible. The 'actually-if-you-were-my-real-brother-I-might-still-feel-this-way-about-you' and the 'it-was-a-test-because-you-always-argue-back-when-I-say-'brother'-and-this-time-you-didn't-why-on-earth-didn't-you?'.

An apology means she has to be the one to break their four-year pact of throbbing, dizzying and completely rational pretence.

So she stirs the bolognaise sauce for tea and tries to think of an ambiguous enough opening, something that will not alert him to the fact that she's been dwelling on that brief conversation all night and all day.

He enters the kitchen, speaking. 'Hey Nora, smells good … can I eat?' then he sees who's at the stove and spins on his heel.

Before she can open her mouth, he's gone, thumping up the stairs and all she can hear above the bubbling of the sauce and the shudder of her heart-valves jamming is the sound of his door as it slams shut.

When she calls everyone for dinner, he doesn't come. And Nora's exhausted, so she stays in her room. And Marti's at Dimi's.

So there's just Edwin and George, making each other gurgle like a pair of babies, and Lizzie, trying not to stare too hard at her (because wouldn't you know it, the kind girl has picked up on Casey's miserable vibe and wants to make it better).

Casey wishes her sister would look away, or hiccup or do anything, because soon she's going to be sick into her spaghetti. She hates how her swirling passions turn the people who love her most - Lizzie, Nora, Emily - into bit players in her reality show.

She does the dishes without being asked, because it's easier than sitting on the couch making small talk.

The next morning, she knows for sure. Broken, not cracked. Because he doesn't ask her if she wants a lift to the gym where he's off to practice and she's going for another coaching session, this time with a different set of children.

He doesn't seem to hear her as she calls out to him in the hallway, and by the time she gets out the door, he's driving off.

This time, Nora notices.

'Have you and Derek fallen out again?' She asks, concern and weariness mingling in her sleepy voice. (She was sick eight times in the night, she's already told Casey. After two near-perfect pregnancies, her luck's run out with this one. Must be the Venturi genes.)

'No, mom…' But Casey's not convinced herself, so who's she kidding.

'Want to talk about it?' Nora knows they're going to the same University now, so she wants them to get on. They'll soon share another bond – the tiny person entering the household. So she wants them to get on. She has always wanted them to get on but never known anything about them or how to make that imagined amity happen. Or so her eldest daughter thinks, bitterly, fearfully, recollecting that really this is the first time in months that Derek has ignored her. The first time in years that she's had to think about what life might really be like without Derek. Same difference? Hmmm.

This is Friday. This is Friday. This is Friday.

The final pirouette, and she's waving goodbye to the most gorgeous twins in town, brown ringlets, identical smiles, pretty dresses.

There was an incident today in the class.

She tried to separate them, to get them to dance with other partners. They simply would not. It was like trying to bend an inflexible bar of metal.

Finally she asked them what they were going to do when they grew up and went to college. They burst out laughing. She asked them what was so funny.

'We're married, silly, just like mummy and daddy are. See?' Then they'd stood nose to nose, while the rest of the class practiced, and stared into each other's eyes. Finally Casey told them to step apart and asked what they'd been doing. 'Reading each other's minds', she was told. 'She was thinking that you're sad today', said Ella. 'And she was thinking that you've been separated from your twin', said Cindy, simply and suddenly running over and hugging Casey so that everyone stopped dancing and looked and looked.

It had taken ages to get them all back on task again.

'Bye….' Her voice trails and echoes round and round the gym space, glancing off polished floors and mirrors. Then suddenly her eyes fill.

'Why can't you, my twin, my soul-mate… why can't you read my mind?'

She knows he won't be done practicing for an hour, so she buys herself a smoothie and goes to sit in the bleechers, half hidden behind a pillar.

When she sees the session closing, she scrambles uneasily to her feet and withdraws to the corridor, then walks swiftly to the car park and perches on the hood of the Prince before he gets there. Then she jumps off, because she's only wearing a short skirt and the scratched metal is molten in the sun.

Sweat trickles unevenly down the side of her cheek.

When he comes out, eventually, fresh and glowering because he's showered and now he's seen her and obviously wishes they were in different countries, continents, universes even, she's about to run away.

'Can I get a lift home with you? I want to get home in time to make them sandwiches for the journey.'

It's such a blatant lie she thinks he might be tempted to argue with her. After all, her work finished an hour ago, and here she is at three o' clock still in the car park when she could have been home.

But he just shrugs and unlocks the door. Climbs in, graceful limbs, damp floppy hair, burning eyes.

As luck would have it, the sun's been on her side all day and when she sits her thighs scorch. If he were talking to her, they'd banter about that, and she'd ask to drive. But as he isn't, she nibbles on her lower lip and fights off the tears.

Back at the house there's the usual going-away pandemonium, the usual sultry air, the usual banging of doors, Marti screaming that someone took her yellow sunhat and it had her dead goldfish in it which she wants to take to the lakeside and bury.

As the car door clicks shut and the window winds down she hears George murmur to Derek, 'Whatever it is, give her a break, son. We're not all mind-readers!' Phew. So everyone has noticed. That means it must be true. He's not talking to her.

Finally they leave, and it's totally silent. They have forty-two hours before George returns.

She thinks he's going to rush upstairs to get away from her, but he doesn't. He sits in the recliner and turns the table fan on full, angling it so all oxygen is blowing in his direction.

Then he leans back and closes his eyes, fake relaxation cloaking the nervous energy rippling across his body.

The television isn't on, so she has no defence. Excuses are dead on their feet.

Feeling the hot air of panic scraping through her lungs, Casey stands behind him,

She's holding tight onto her hands so that they do not take off of their own accord and stroke though the dizzying mess of Derek's hair – which is about all she can see of him from her vantage point.


Silence. Breathing. She can sense his chest rise and fall. Wishes she could just throw herself on it and weep her passion aloud.

'Derek!' He opens his eyes. Doesn't look at her because that would mean turning around and showing he wants to listen to what she has to say.

Casey stays behind him. She can't allow herself to look or be looked at either.

The fan is cool on them both and she picks her words.

'I'm thinking of living in an apartment, not a residence when we go to Queens.'


'What d'you think?'


'Would you consider …um… I'm going to need a room-mate.' Her throat is so dry, she thinks that swallowing sand might be easier than talking. 'I don't mean that you have to change your plans because of me – I just thought it might be cheaper – and that way you can share my notes without going to classes. If that's what you were intending to do.' She's feeling completely sick now, because what if she's wrong about the not talking? And the last thing she wants to do is to lay out her adoration for him to scoff at for the rest of their lives.

'Can you not tell when someone is not talking to you?'

She swallows her tears grimly. 'Why? Why are you not talking to me? You were fine with me last time we spoke.'

'What? What do you want me to say? I was fine. I am fine. You are fine. Everything is just dandy! Okay? But let me be brotherly and give you some advice: you don't want to live in an apartment. You're just scared about living on your own with all those girls. You think they'll hate you and all your prissy keener ways. Well, news flash, Casey McDonald. The future is NOT always like the past. You'll be a big hit probably. And I intend to make my own notes. Or to find another girl who's willing to share hers with me without all the mind games. Now go and behave like a normal sister and do whatever you do in your own room while I practice for the next stage of our performance.'

He's so dauntingly unhappy that she still can't come round to face him because the thought that she caused him to feel like that is simply unbearable.

'You think I'm playing mind games with you?' She says so quietly he has to turn towards her at last, craning back in his chair, looking younger, more vulnerable, because she's standing and he isn't and the fan is blowing his hair in his eyes.

'Aren't you?' Chill, chill voice. No humour, no irony, maybe a hint of self-pity.

'This is about us being brother and sister?'

He doesn't nod. That would be too much. Casey can sense that it would be too much and might just turn him into a pile of salt on the chair. In fact he swivels away again, so she's left looking at the top of his head. She has to do this alone. She gathers herself.

'You're right. Most sisters wouldn't even notice if their brother wasn't talking to them for thirty-nine hours, twelve minutes and fifty seconds…' And then, because there are no study cards for this one, the words simply dry up. There is no way to say what needs to be said and if there is, she's too much of a coward to say it. Deep pity speeds through her for all the other people in the world trapped like they have been by cultural norms or social expectations or any other kind of unjust, inhuman code that dresses itself up as moral decency and marches young lovers to early graves. Courage. She thinks. We are lucky. We may be shamed, but we certainly will not have to die for our love.

She's taking so long to finish her sentence that Derek thinks she has lost her nerve. And he doesn't have an ounce of energy left inside him. Not an ounce. Being just her brother for thirty-nine hours, fourteen minutes and six seconds has taken everything he's got.

But what is the matter with her hands! They're shaking themselves loose of each other and wandering towards the top of his head. What is the matter with her? She's leaning down over the back of his chair – it's an awkward position, uncomfortable, precarious, distinctly imbalanced.

Now a trembling upside-down Casey is almost cheek-to-cheek with him.

There's no dignity anywhere in sight.

Derek's misery recedes, to be replaced by fear.

What is she doing? Why is she so close, leaning down with her hair brushing his cheek, arms inching around his neck like instant paradise, like a delectable, inviting noose?

He's done his best to honour their deceitful pact in the kitchen – Brother-Step-brother-Same Difference – and now in the course of five minutes she's just gone and made him smash up his resolutions and hers too.

He's not sure what he wants. When it comes to her, he's been so wounded and frustrated and unhappy and confused for so long now – and hiding it is not as hard as you'd think, since he's the King of Lies – that the thought that they might be about to talk properly and seriously is simply terrifying. Today, when she was beside him in the car, he'd wanted to ride them both into a wall. He'd wanted to ride along a highway, open her door and push her out. He'd wanted to stop, pull her onto his lap and tear her shirt off with his teeth to hear her say his name.

Her cheek is now against his, officially touching.

Her nose is somewhere near his collarbone.

The chair is threatening to tip backwards under their combined weight and she's steadying it on her tiptoes.

'Case….' His voice is strangled, but his hands are thinking by themselves and have reached back to embrace her too. He laughs a little as he thinks she's just the sort of person to do a cat-girl flip over the chair-back and land right side up straddling his thighs. Of course, she doesn't. She just stays like that, clutching him tightly, allowing a pool of sweat to form between their tight-pressed cheeks.

Eventually she's getting cramp, so she disentangles their arms and comes around the front of his chair and kneels up so they are hugging in a more sensible position. He pulls her onto his lap, ignoring her body, concentrating on the expression in her eyes.

'Can I kiss you?'

She's never asked anyone that before.

'Will that make you happy, Case?

'Um hm.' She's eyeing his lips, engrossed.

'You're not just doing this because you want me to talk to you again and think this is what I want? Because I'm done sulking, okay? So you don't have to buy me. Will it make you happy?'

'Only if you agree to share an apartment with me in Kingston afterwards. Otherwise it might just make us sadder. Don't you think?'

'You're kidding, right? That's pure blackmail…'

But he's allowing her to do whatever she wants, regardless, because he knows that, of the two of them, she'd be much better at getting on with her life alone than he would.

March break when they were alone, he couldn't let an hour go by without her attention. But she... she just lay on her bed, reading and reading and reading... as if he didn't exist. A person like that would not go to pieces if things didn't work out between them. A person like that would cry and read books and talk to friends and finally move on.

She's so strong, this Casey of his, and he likes her in a quite terrifying way. He knows that if he's going to do any proper living in his life, she's got to be there too, otherwise he'll never have any peace of mind. Talking to Casey has slowly become his favourite leisure pursuit. But touching... this is a new universe entirely, something only imagined and dreamed and hastily suppressed.

So this time, what Casey wants, Casey gets.

Afterwards, teasing, but intending to wound her too, he murmurs, 'Best sister ever…'

He thinks she's too embarrassed to look up and instantly regrets the words.

But really she's too humbled by how astonishing it feels to be able, finally, to bury her nose against her beloved adversary's neck with no-one gaping distorted disapproval at them and nothing, nothing inside him or her, fighting back.

Time swims by and darkness swallows the room. The amicable thrumming of the fan is, for a while, the only sound.

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