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View Full Version : It Happened One Night (Theresa/Ethan, Chad/Whitney, Sheridan/Luis, Gwen/??, Hank/??)



UAgirl
4.29.07, 11:54 PM
It Happened One Night





Prologue~~~The Morning After



She blinked against the morning sunlight streaming in through the floor to ceiling windows, yawning sleepily and stretching her aching limbs in her semi-conscious state.

A blissful smile curved her lips upward as the sleek silk rustled against her naked skin.

She loved this dream.

In her dream world, there were always luxurious silk sheets. And sunlight. Sunlight that poured in through the bedroom windows, painting the body of the man she loved in pale golden tones. Kissing his brow with the beauty of the morning before her lips had a chance.

She sighed, and her eyes fluttered beneath her drowsy lids as she trailed loving fingers up the flesh of his forearm. Shifting and turning in his embrace while making sure his arm never left her waist. Snuggling against him and tucking her head underneath his chin.

In his arms she was warm and secure. Happy. And above all else…loved.

Oh how she hated for the dream to end!

But she knew all good things must come to an end at some point, and unfortunately, her favorite dream was no exception.

The clock chimed the early hour, and she distantly wondered…when had her bedside alarm clock been traded in? The clock chimed once more. Seven. It was seven in the morning, she thought with a groan.

School!

She had to give a presentation today in her 8 a.m. class! She could NOT be late. She just couldn’t. Why hadn’t Whitney dragged her out of the bed already and shoved her under the shower’s icy spray? She knew how she got after a night out on the town. “You’re going to pay, Celeste,” she grumbled under her breath.

It HAD been Celeste’s idea to paint the town red in order to MAKE her relax. Actually…it was virtually imperative she relax. She just got so keyed up when she had an oral presentation, and Celeste…well, her fellow classmate looked for ANY reason to go clubbing. And she and Whitney usually got suckered in to making the trip with her—courtesy of Celeste’s amazingly real-looking fake ID’s, of course.

SOMEBODY had to be the designated driver.

And besides…it felt good to forget about him. If only for a little while. Noah Bennett had really done a number on her heart.
She moaned at the dull pounding in her brain, a reminder that SHE obviously hadn’t been the designated driver LAST NIGHT.

Nope. She didn’t get drunk. Just a little tipsy. So why…

Oh no! Oh, goodness no, her mind whirled as the last vestiges of sleep slowly faded, and she blinked her heavy lids against the suddenly too bright sunlight.

She DID get drunk! Mama would KILL her!

Her panic subsided slightly with the realization that she was in New York. Mama was in Harmony with Papa.

Who said Mama had to find out?

And wasn’t she an adult anyway?

“That’s it, Theresa. You’re being ridiculous. Of course, you’re an adult,” she muttered at the ridiculous notion. Twenty-year-olds were considered adults, right?

“What?” a masculine voice mumbled. “You say something?”

She gasped. Going completely still. Completely silent. Her brown eyes wide.

Getting drunk last night, it seemed, was the least of her worries!

She peeked between clasped fingers, and her heart started pounding furiously…

The silk sheets, the man in the bed, her being naked, the whole deal with the sunlight, HER BEING NAKED…it was real.

IT…WAS…NOT…A…DREAM.

“Oh no,” she squeaked as the arm around her waist tightened. “What have I done?”

This was so NOT a dream.

Think, Theresa. Think. What was the last thing she remembered…?

Blue eyes. His eyes were so blue, she remembered. Brown eyes darting to his boyish face, and shining with disappointment when she found his eyes closed in slumber.

But first…Celeste dumping her and Whitney AGAIN to go home with ‘an old friend.’

She scoffed silently. She could own up to being terribly naïve sometimes, but she wasn’t THAT naïve.

Whitney flirting with that D.J. That really cute D.J. What was his name again? Cody? Cory? Cha… Anyway…he wasn’t half-bad-looking, and it wasn’t the norm for Whitney to be so INTERESTED. So she’d made herself scarce.

And landed right in his lap.

Literally.

Exactly what she got for being such a klutz.

But he was so nice about it, and she found herself enjoying, for the first time since her breakup with Noah, painting the town red.

They shared a few drinks. Talked about themselves. Well…he was older, more sophisticated, and she didn’t want to make a fool of herself, so she scrambled to remember a few pointers Celeste had drilled into her during a particularly boring session with Mr. Pierre. She kept the conversation from steering into something TOO personal.

Yeah, right. Like that worked, Theresa, she mentally scolded herself. Glancing at her state of undress once more.

From the looks of things…things got EXTREMELY personal last night, she thought as a blush stole over her body.

Have…to…get…out…of…this…bed.

Preferably BEFORE the person possessing this incredibly warm and wonderful-smelling, she thought, sniffing in his masculine cologne, body WOKE up.

She froze as he sighed in his sleep, but she seized the opportunity when he shifted to escape his arms. Or at least she tried to…

He rolled back over just as she neared the edge of the bed, and she found a strong male arm thrown across her waist again.

She closed her eyes tight and waited for the rhythm of his breathing to even out before taking a deep breath and lifting his arm high enough to ease out from under it.

And fell with a resounding thud on the floor.

“Ow,” she winced as she rubbed her backside. Taking a few seconds before she peered over the edge of the bed.

Did this guy sleep the sleep of the dead or what?

She hustled around the spacious bedroom, gathering her scattered clothing in her arms and yanking the first door she came to open.

Presumably the bathroom.

Her hand fumbled for a light switch, and she rolled her eyes as she realized she wasn’t in the bathroom.

Her bathroom in the apartment wasn’t even half the size of this closet!

She groaned as the zipper of her dress caught, and no amount of pleading and pulling would un-stick it.

Feet were shoved into heels too high for daytime, and the door to the closet creaked slightly as she nudged it open and made her great escape.

His eyes were so blue, she remembered as she tiptoed across the bedroom floor to the OTHER door, hopefully the door leading out of this room AND this whole mess.

The clock chimed in the hallway as she rushed by, fingers working quickly to unlatch the front door, and finally achieving success, she scampered toward the elevator.

She took the stairs. Not eager to face the curious gazes of nosy onlookers.

Had she not been in such a hurry, she might have noticed the fit young blond she very nearly plowed over, and doubtless, she would have apologized profusely.

But she didn’t, and mirthful blue eyes twinkled at John the Doorman, and laughter escaped her lips as she said, “Wow. SHE’S in a real hurry, isn’t she? I haven’t seen her here before, John. New tenant?”

John’s kindly blue eyes smiled back at the curious woman in front of him as he held the door open for her. “I wouldn’t know. I wouldn’t know a thing. Enjoy your visit with your nephew, Ms. Crane.”

“Thanks, John,” she winked as she bussed his grandfatherly cheek. “I fully plan to. Ethan and I have a lot to catch up on.”

“That you do, Ms. Crane,” he muttered under his breath as he watched the young lass climb into the back of a cab. “That you do.”

UAgirl
4.29.07, 11:55 PM
Chapter 1~~~I’m NOT a morning person. OKAY?!?! (Or an afternoon person. Or an evening person. Or…)



“I SO blew it! ‘Ms. Lopez-Fitzgerald…perhaps your talents are better suited elsewhere. Fashion…well, apparently it’s NOT in the cards for you.’ Celeste! This is SO your fault!” Theresa accused. Stumbling down the steps in front of her.

“Damn, girl,” Celeste laughed wickedly. Rushing forward to avert the imminent disaster that seemed to follow Ms. L-F around. “Be more careful before you fall flat on your ass.”

“I wasn’t going to fall,” Theresa insisted.

Her sunglasses were crookedly perched on the bridge of her nose. Mascara smudges dotted her cheeks. Her dazed brown eyes were bloodshot. And that dress looked amazingly similar to the one Celeste loaned her last night.

“Ms. T,” Celeste teased. “You need to learn how to handle your liquor, instead of being three sheets to the wind with a couple of drinks. Hangovers do NOT become you. Tell me…did you go home last night at all?”

“That is NONE of your business!” Theresa hedged. Fixing the fluffy hot pink mini-jacket Celeste had ‘kindly’ lent her earlier that morning around her shoulders. It was awfully drafty back there, she thought absently. “I’m NOT a morning person. OKAY?!?!” she grumbled. Very loudly. Regretting it almost instantaneously. “Celeste…I’m sorry about the zipper. I don’t know how it got broken.”

Celeste rolled her green eyes, squeezing Theresa’s slim shoulders to drive her point home. “Don’t worry about the dress. I’ve already worn it once anyway,” she said flippantly. “Besides…who cares? I’m just happy my dear little Ms. T got some last night,” she grinned.

Theresa’s pink-smudged mouth fell open in shock for a moment before she scrunched up her nose and yanked on one of the glossy yellow pigtails within her reach. “Celeste…”

“So you DID get some,” Celeste’s green eyes grew impossibly wide. “Ooo, ooo. Tell me. ALL the details. Who was he? What did he look like? Was he good? Better than you-know-who?” she winked, the grin on her face stretching two-fold at Theresa’s answering blush.

“Why don’t you tell me about the guy you left the club with last night?” Theresa turned the tables on her.

That little opening was all it took.

Before she knew it, Celeste was relating the life story of ‘the guy of the week.’

~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~


“Ethan?” Sheridan smirked before taking another bite of her bagel. “Are you sure you’re okay?”

Ethan didn’t answer, and she almost choked on her breakfast when her nephew, in his zombie-like state, narrowly missed becoming an overzealous roller-blader’s roadkill. “Huh? Did you say something, Aunt Sheridan?” he finally muttered absently.

“Me? Say anything? Nope. Yes, I said something Ethan. Where’s your brain today?” Sheridan rolled her eyes as she tossed the remainder of her bagel in the nearest trash bin. “I come to New York for a fun-filled visit with my favorite nephew, and he’s only been able to mumble a few incoherent sentences…”

“I’m sorry, Aunt Sheridan,” Ethan apologized. Slowing as they neared a park bench hidden away beneath the shade of an old tree. “I guess I AM a little preoccupied,” he admitted.

Sheridan pulled him down beside her on the park bench with a smile. “Want to talk about it? Is it work? How are things going at the firm? Have they made you full partner yet?”

A slow, easy smile transformed Ethan’s face as he shook his head. “Not full partner yet. But Johnson thinks it’s pretty much inevitable.”

“Well,” Sheridan’s blue eyes sparkled with curiosity. “What is it? Ethan,” she pouted. “Tell me…”

Ethan chuckled as the pout got even more ridiculous, and she started making whiny little puppy sounds. “You’re crazy. And nosy. If you must know…”

“Oh my god!” Sheridan squealed happily. “You met someone! Why, Ethan Crane…some girl finally made you look twice,” she said teasingly. “That’s wonderful!”

Ethan shook his head at her giddy display, laughing as she flung her arms around his neck.

“What’s her name?” she asked. Arranging her legs Indian style and propping her chin on her hand. “Does Gwen know?” she whispered softly.

He sighed. Studying the children tossing a Frisbee back and forth several feet in front of them instead of meeting her inquisitive gaze. “Gwen and I decided a long time ago we were better off as friends. We’re just not good as…no, Aunt Sheridan. She doesn’t know anything about this girl.” Neither do I, he thought silently.

“Oh. Well…” she waited expectantly. “Aren’t you going to tell me anything?”

He turned to her with a silly grin on his lips. “I thought you wanted to have fun. How is giving me the third degree about my love life fun?”

“Come on, Ethan,” she rolled her blue eyes at him. “You know if I actually HAD a love life of my own, you’d never shut up with the questions. Fair is only fair.”

“I’ll tell you later,” he shook his head. “Time is ticking away, Aunt Sheridan. I only have a week off, and I promised you a fun-filled visit. Who am I to break my promises to my favorite aunt?” he winked. Pulling her to her feet. “What do you want to do first?”

Sheridan crossed her arms and tapped her foot impatiently. “I see I’m just going to have to torture you until you spill all,” she raised a golden brow at him.

Ethan groaned as a wicked smile caressed her lips, and she yanked his arm forward.

“Hey!” she called out to a couple of skaters zooming past them. “Want to make a little money?”

“Aunt Sheridan…” he whined as the couple readily took her up on her offer. “You know I can’t…”

“Your fault, pal,” she shrugged her shoulders as she thrust the pair of skates at him. A mischievous sparkle in her blue eyes. “Put these on. All you had to do was tell me her name, but no…”

“Theresa,” he muttered. “Her name was Theresa. Okay?”

She laughed as she stood up. Taking a moment to steady herself before she affectionately ruffled his dark blond hair. “Oh, what’s the matter, you big baby? Afraid a little fun will ruin your image? You got to spice things up sometimes, Ethan. Live a little.”

“But I told you her name,” Ethan pointed out.

“So,” she stuck out her tongue at him. “WE,” she tugged him upright. Trying not to laugh hysterically as he nearly did the splits right then and there. “We are still going roller-blading. And after we’re through…you’re going to tell me the rest of the story.”

“Aunt Sheridan!” he panicked as she skated away. Like a pro. And left him in the lurch. “Aunt Sheridan! Help!” he cried as his feet wobbled beneath him like a newborn colt’s, and his arms flailed helplessly in the air.

She shrieked with laughter as she bent to pull him to his feet and landed in a heap beside him. “I guess I deserved that,” she smiled.

“Was there ever any doubt?”


~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~


“Whitney!” Theresa called as she latched the lock, and Celeste traipsed in behind her. “Whit! Are you home?”

“In here.”

They followed the sound of Whitney’s voice, ending up outside the bathroom.

Celeste waltzed back into the living room and planted herself in front of the television. “Ms. T…ask Whitney what she wants on her pizza.”

“Whit,” Theresa stuck her head inside the steamy bathroom. “What do you want on your pizza?”

The spray of the shower gradually slowed.

And a bare arm reached blindly for a towel.

“Here,” Theresa said helpfully.

“Thanks,” Whitney said. Stepping from the tub a moment later wrapped in the gigantic purple towel. “Um…tell Celeste not to worry about me. I’m not going to be able to…”

“Uh huh,” Celeste appeared out of nowhere. Her left hand propped on her hip. The other hand holding the phone to her ear. “This is the big kiss-off, isn’t it? What was Mr. DJ’s name? Whitney has a date. Whitney has a date. Whitney has a date,” she singsonged.

Whitney glared at her.

Until they ALL heard the pizza guy’s rude shout on the other end of the line.

“Hell no, I’m not some loony tunes b***h. You want your ass fired? You are talking to none other than Celeste Calloway. Of THE CALLOWAYS. Only the richest family on the corner of 74th and Main Street. Let me talk to your superior. Let me talk…I said LET ME TALK TO YOUR SUPERIOR,” she screamed into the phone.

“She IS crazy,” Theresa shook her head as they watched her stomp back into the living room.

“Theresa?” Whitney said curiously as she followed her friend into her bedroom. “Isn’t that the same dress…” she trailed off.

“Whit,” Theresa shook her head vigorously.

“Theresa!” Whitney gasped as her eyes traveled to Theresa’s neatly made up bed. “Oh my…you never made it home last night…”

Theresa bounced face first onto the mattress with a huge groan. “And?”

“And? Theresa,” Whitney’s voice came closer, and Theresa turned to face her as she felt the mattress shift under her added weight. “Did you…”

Theresa shut her eyes tight to Whitney’s incredulous face and nodded her head slightly.

“This isn’t like you,” Whitney sighed. “The guy from the club? The nice, rich-looking one with the blue eyes?”

“Ethan,” Theresa softly whispered. Leaning against Whitney’s offered shoulder.

“Did you do it to get back at Noah?”

Theresa drew her legs to her chest and propped her chin on her knees. “No. Yes. No. I don’t know,” she sighed heavily.

“Oh Honey,” Whitney whispered. Giving her a reassuring pat on the back.

“Is she telling you about the mystery guy?” Celeste’s blond head popped around the corner. “Getting information out of Ms. T when she wants to keep a secret is like pulling teeth. Jerkoid is fired,” she announced. Theresa’s mystery guy totally forgotten as she twirled into the bedroom with a grin.

“Nut,” Theresa muttered with a smile as Celeste dove onto the bed with them.

The bed groaned under their combined weight.

Celeste’s green eyes danced as she blew a raspberry at them both. “Nuns. Oh wait…Whitney…last I saw you, you were making googly eyes at Mr. DJ. He was pretty sexy. Not MY type. But sexy,” she teased. “And Ms. T…you still owe me a pretty in-depth heart to heart. I may be blond but I’m NOT stupid. Changing the subject on me like that earlier. Tsk, tsk,” she chided.

“Since when is ANYBODY not your type, Celeste?” Whitney rolled her eyes.

“True, true. But I know not to fight a losing fight. The guy was definitely interested. In YOU, Whit. So you go first. Whaddya do after I left?”

“Are you finished with the phone?” Theresa grabbed for the phone as she scrambled out of the bedroom. “I have to call Mama…”

“Are you going to include your wild night in the daily T report?”

“Shut up, Celeste!” Theresa slammed the bathroom door behind her.

“Back to you, Whit. Spill, spill, spill before I kill, kill, kill.”

“His name is Chad,” Whitney muttered. “NOT Mr. DJ.”

“Oh,” Celeste clapped her hands. “You DO like him. Have you kissed him yet?”

“Celeste!”

“What? Valid question,” Celeste huffed.

“How could I have kissed him if we haven’t even went on a date yet?”

“AHA! THAT’S why you can’t stick around for pizza. High five, girlfriend. It’s about time you realized there are more important things in life than tennis.”

“Celeste…mind your own business. I’m late…”

“For?”

“For my…no. No way. I’m not…Get out. He’s taking me out, okay? Satisfied now?”

“Not quite,” Celeste grinned. “But I think we’re making a little progress.”

The ringing of the doorbell saved her from being clobbered with a pillow.

“Delivery.”

“Gotta go.”

“Thank God for small miracles,” Whitney muttered as she hurried to her own room, easing the door shut behind her and making sure the lock clicked in place.

UAgirl
4.29.07, 11:57 PM
Chapter 2~~~Dinner and a Movie





“Pizza,” Whitney muttered with a smile as Chad held the door open for her.

“I can take you someplace more ‘upscale’ if you want,” Chad suggested.

Whitney smiled shyly under his unwavering gaze. “No. Pizza’s fine, Chad. Who doesn’t like pizza?” she said softly. Her smile becoming a little more open when she was rewarded with a pleased grin from him.

“Pizza it is,” he said with a flourish.

She slid into the booth across from him. Picking at the red and white checkered tablecloth self-consciously.

The waitress came, took their order, and zipped back into the kitchen.

“So,” Chad began. Shooting an easy smile her way. “Don’t take this the wrong way, but you just don’t seem…it was a surprise to see someone like you at the club. No offense,” he apologized hastily. “I don’t mean that in a bad way. It was a good surprise,” he finished awkwardly.

Whitney took her soda from the waitress and waited for her to leave before she said anything. “I’m not. Clubbing is more Theresa and Celeste’s thing. Actually, Theresa’s more into than me, but she doesn’t LOVE it like Celeste…” she trailed off.

“That crazy blond chick?” Chad asked with an infectious laugh.

“That would be Celeste,” Whitney smiled back at him.

“How’d you get mixed up with her?”

“It’s a long story actually,” Whitney revealed. “The short version…she’s in design school with Theresa, and by some strange twist of fate, they really hit it off…”

“What about Theresa?” Chad inquired. “You two look pretty tight.”

“We grew up together. Same little seaside town, same grammar school, same high school. Our parents are best friends so I guess you can say it comes naturally.”

“That’s good. Best friends,” Chad mumbled around his mouthful of cheese pizza.

Whitney hid her smile from him, directing her gaze to her own piece of pizza. She carefully lifted it and took a tiny taste. “What?” she asked when she looked across the table to find Chad laughing at her. “I just don’t feel the need to swallow it whole,” she told him.

Chad shook his head at her, all the while laughing, and leaned back in the booth with his arms crossed around his middle. “Nothing.”

She rolled her dark eyes at him, taking a bigger, sloppier bite. “Better?”

“You’re getting there,” he teased. Picking up the napkin beside his plate and leaning across the table.

“What…what are you doing?” she asked nervously as he brought his hand closer to her face. He was so close she was having a little bit of trouble actually breathing.

“Sauce,” he informed her with a smile after he’d gently dabbed the napkin across the corner of her mouth.

“Oh,” she said awkwardly. “Thanks. Thanks for that.”

“No problem.”

Whitney’s gaze became fixed on the young, attractive ‘couple’ that had just walked through the front door, and her eyes widened with realization…

“Whitney? Earth to Whitney,” Chad waved his hand in front of her dazed face. “Yo, Ms. Russell. Look…if I bothered you by touching you…”

“No! No,” Whitney said more calmly as she snapped out of her daze. “It’s not that. I liked that,” she said hurriedly without thinking.

Chad grinned at her. “Then what is it?”

Whitney craned her neck to watch where the waitress was taking the ‘couple.’ “He’s got a girlfriend. Oh no…Chad? Can we go to that movie you mentioned? Now?”

Chad’s forehead creased in confusion, but he readily agreed. “Sure thing. But we might be early…”

“That’s okay,” Whitney flashed a quick smile at him as he scooted out of his booth and held out his hand to her, making her forget, for a moment, the awful truth about ‘Theresa’s blue-eyed stranger’ when her hand tingled at his friendly touch.

“Right behind you,” Chad told her as he pulled a wad of cash from his wallet and laid it on the table.

Whitney casually strolled past the couple’s table, and when the woman’s blue eyes met hers, she gave her a rather nasty glare.

Chad’s guiding hand at the small of her back startled her, but his breath on her neck… “What’s up with that? Man, you gave her the evil eye. Someone you know?”

“You could say that,” Whitney murmured as he led her through the open parlor door.

“Remind me not to get on your bad side, girl,” Chad laughed. “What movie do you want to see? Your pick.”

“Oh,” Whitney smiled at him. Glad for the change of subject. “I don’t know. Do you know of any good ones?”

“You’re trusting me with picking the movie?” Chad’s dark eyes sparkled at her under the street light. “Whoa!” he teased. “You must really like me or something.”

“Or something.”



~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~




“Why won’t you tell me? Please. Plllllleeeeaaasssee,” Celeste begged.

“Not now, Celeste,” Theresa snapped.

“Damn, Ms. T. You seem awfully pissed. Did I do that?” she asked. Somewhat fearfully. Theresa was usually mild-mannered, but she had been witness to some of her more…well. Getting her mad, really and truly mad, was NOT a good thing.

“No. Celeste, you didn’t do anything but be yourself. I just…I just don’t feel like talking about it right now. It’s embarrassing enough to think about…”

“Come on. It’s not the end of the world. He seemed nice,” she said. Just before stuffing her face with pepperoni pizza. “And cute,” she teased.

“Don’t talk with your mouth full,” Theresa scolded. “It’s disgusting. Is there NOTHING on TV tonight?”

“Yes, Mom. Reruns suck. Especially reruns with those sniveling brats,” she snarled. Yanking the remote from Theresa’s hand and hurling it at the television screen. “Dawson’s Creek, Ms. T? I thought that was reserved for level 2 depression. I think Sex in the City is a little bit more appropriate.”

“Celeste! I am NOT depressed. I’m just…”

“No way!” Celeste’s green eyes went wide. “You’re on the pill, right? I mean, it’s not foolproof, but it’s…and I’m sure he…he looked like the responsible type. Oh geez,” she sighed. Gripping Theresa’s arm and resting her chin on her slim shoulder. “Deep breath. In. Out. Relax. You need to quit obsessing about it.”

“How can I Celeste? I’ve never done something so stupid before…”

“You know what you need?”

“Celeste…your bright ideas aren’t always so…bright,” Theresa let her down gently.

“Oh hush up, you. I was only going to suggest the movies.”

“Celeste,” Theresa’s dark eyes lit up in understanding. “Didn’t Whitney say she and Chad were going to the movies?”

“She did?” Celeste tried to play it cool. “What a coincidink!”

“Celeste…”

“Okay. So I’m curious. Sue me. Well…don’t do that. That would make Daddy very, very mad. Furious. He already complains about my spending habits. Daily,” she rolled her green eyes. “Come on, Ms. T. Aren’t you the least bit curious? And I really do want to go. That hottie from Pearl Harbor…whatshisname…I heard he was nekkid in his new flick. In a theater near you,” she squealed. “Us,” she amended quickly. “See, Ms. T? I’ll be too busy drooling to spy on Ms. Thang. Please. Please,” she pouted. Dropping to her knees on the floor and clasping her hands. “I’m going whether you go or not,” she threatened. “Wouldn’t it be better if you were there to keep me out of trouble? I promise I won’t ditch you for Joe Schmoe,” she winked.

Theresa rolled her brown eyes and shoved Celeste’s forehead playfully. “Okay,” she finally relented. Someone DID need to be there. Celeste was a magnet for trouble.

“Yay! Thank you! I knew you wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to see a fine male specimen in all his glory. Oh, and I heard the love story’s nice, too,” she shot over her shoulder as she bounded out of the living room. “I’m going to borrow your red sweater.”

“It’s too little on you,” Theresa shouted.

“Precisely,” Celeste grinned as she peeked around the open door of Theresa’s bedroom. Blond pigtails already coiled on top of her head. “And I’m wearing my specs,” she said. Emerging from the room a second later. “Sexy AND smart. What do you think?” she asked. Twirling around to give her the full effect.

“I think you better be careful,” Theresa giggled. “Or you might lose one of those,” she pointed at Celeste’s bosom.

“Really?” Celeste’s green eyes sparkled mischievously.

Theresa groaned as she realized that was probably the idea the entire time. “Celeste?” she panicked as Celeste grabbed her by the hand and tugged. “What are you doing? I’m not even ready yet.”

Celeste swept her gaze over her friend’s appearance. Chunky-heeled boots, snug-fitting, low-riding jeans, an adorable little purple sweater that matched the one she wore…”Oh puh-leaze,” she rolled her eyes. “You look better in your moping-wear than I do in my evening-wear. Face it, Ms. T. You’re a cutie-patootie,” the Rosie O’Donnell compliment rolled off of her tongue easily.

“What if I don’t want to be cute?” Theresa huffed.

“Gunning for another babe tonight?” Celeste asked with interest. “Oh, T-girl, you’re going bad. Bad to the…”

“Shut up, Celeste!” Theresa shook her head as she yanked the walking hormone out the front door.

“Knew that would get ya,” Celeste snickered as their footsteps echoed in the fire exit. “Always taking the stairs. Always. Why not just let yourself go and relax by riding the nice elevator? There’s always liposuction…”

“Celeste…”

“Okay, okay. I’ll shut up now. But I can’t promise anything later…”

“That’s what I’m afraid of.”


~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~



“I can’t believe I let you talk me into this,” Ethan grumbled as he stared at the huge screen in front of him.

Two young lovers were going at it hot and heavy, and his aunt…

To say Sheridan’s blue eyes were glued on the screen in front of her and the enormous image of the guy’s ass was an understatement.

This was NOT his idea of entertainment. Nor the young girl seated with the leather-jacket clad young man two rows down. She had her head lowered in embarrassment. He’d seen her somewhere else before. But where? “Au…oomph,” his blue eyes widened in surprise when Sheridan shoved a handful of popcorn in his mouth to keep him quiet.

“God, Ms. T,” a brash voice behind them sighed. “I’m in Heaven. Told you you’d love it.”

Theresa slumped down in her seat. Cheeks flushed. Love it? This was bordering on…but she couldn’t help but look.

“He’s beautiful, ain’t he?” Celeste nudged her in the ribs with an evil gleam in her green eyes.

Ethan rolled his eyes. Women. What, exactly, about this film appealed to them?

“Oh, oh!” annoying girl behind him squealed excitedly. “Did you hear that, Ms. T? He told her he loved her. How romantic.”

“During sex,” he muttered under his breath. “He’s going to pretend it didn’t happen when it’s all over. Cop out just like a coward. I can see it coming a mile away. Furthering the myth that ALL guys are jerks.”

“Shut up, Ethan,” his aunt Sheridan hissed. Smacking him on the arm. “Wait! Ethan. Where are you going? I’m sorry I hit you,” she turned those sparkling blue eyes on him. But he could read her like an open book.

“Sure you’re sorry. I’m going to get another drink. Want anything?”

Theresa’s mouth gaped open as a feeling of familiarity washed over her. Oh no! Oh no, it couldn’t be!

“Okay, Ethan,” the pretty blond sitting next to him smiled as she leaned over and planted a kiss on his cheek. “I really am sorry for hitting you,” she said with twinkling blue eyes.

“I forgive you,” Ethan smiled.

He smiled back at her. Who was she? Did he…no. He would have mentioned it. Wouldn’t he? They looked so…comfortable around each other.

Her brown eyes flashed.

He had a girlfriend!

“Ms. T,” Celeste hissed giddily beside her. “Don’t look now, but Mr. DJ just pulled a classic on our Ms. Thang. The old yawn and stretch. Ms. Thang HAD to have seen that one coming. I think she likes him. Ms. T…Ms. T?”

“Celeste…” Theresa turned to the bubbly blond beside her. “We have to get out of here. NOW!” she said in a full-fledged panic.

“But…”

“Celeste,” Theresa warned.

“Okay. Dammit. Bye, you male god,” she waved to the man’s handsome image on screen. “Ms. T, you are SO going to pay for this. You best have a very, very good reason for making me miss all the action or so help me God…”

Sheridan’s blond head whirled around, along with several other patrons, when she heard a terrible commotion, but all she saw was a blur of yellow hair and a flash of purple. “Thank you, Ethan,” she grinned as she snatched the gigantic cup of soda from him.

“But Aunt Sheridan…”

“Don’t be selfish, Ethan,” she chided. She loved to annoy him so! He was like the kid brother she never had.

Ethan huffed and plopped down in the seat beside her.

“Look, Ethan,” Sheridan motioned to the young couple two rows down. “Don’t they make a lovely couple?” she sighed wistfully.

He clasped his fingers around hers and squeezed.

Sheridan smiled a watery smile at him and turned her gaze back to the couple on-screen. She wanted to fall in love so badly. So badly it hurt sometimes. “So, nephew of mine…what was all the commotion about?”

“I’m not sure what happened, but the blond sitting behind us…”

Sheridan looked at him quizzically. Frankly, she hadn’t noticed, and had NO clue what he was talking about.

“…the girl with her did a nose dive into the popcorn. All I could see was her hair…”

“I guess she was hungry,” Sheridan smiled. Cracking up at the mental picture Ethan’s words presented.

Ethan shook his head at her when she totally lost it, and people started turning their heads to stare AND glare at them. “I don’t think I’m letting you out of the apartment tomorrow. You’re crazy,” he said. Giving her an affectionate smile. “And I’m so glad you’re here.”

“That glad, huh?” she teased. “You never know…I might just make it permanent.” She giggled at the stricken expression on his face. “But…maybe not. What do you mean you don’t want me around all the time, Buster?”

“I’d say she’s forgotten all about the evil eye,” Chad smirked as he watched Whitney stare back at the young twosome a couple rows back. “Not letting it ruin her fun…”

Not letting it ruin her fun at all, Whitney thought as she narrowed her eyes at them both again.

Jerk.

He had a girlfriend!

UAgirl
4.29.07, 11:59 PM
Chapter 3~~~I’m NOT a Stalker! I’m just your secret admirer. ; )



“A$$----“

“Celeste,” Theresa fretted. Pinching the bridge of her nose as Celeste picked through her hair, dislodging kernels of popcorn.

She counted $7.50’s worth on her bedroom floor alone!

“Bastard,” Celeste muttered, shoving Theresa’s head down and pulling a hidden kernel from behind her ear. “Be still Ms. T,” she ordered. “I still don’t have it all.”

Theresa sighed, slumping further into her beanbag chair.

Life couldn’t look any more dismal at this moment if it tried.

Roughly 78 people had been witness to the single-most embarrassing moment of her life. Actually…to be perfectly honest, she was guessing. She HAD counted over 40 pairs of feet. Celeste’s estimate had been much higher. More like 200-plus.

Celeste didn’t possess a tactful bone in her body.

“Idiot.”

So…Celeste had advanced to the ‘I’s’ while she zoned out. “Celeste?”

“Uh huh, Hon,” Celeste mumbled.

“Celeste, are you chewing gum?”

“Yep,” Celeste smacked. “God, Ms. T. You have like a ton of popcorn butter in your hair. GREASY!” she wrinkled her nose, picking up another strand gingerly. “Here,” she shoved a hand into her skin-tight jeans pocket and pulled out a piece, dropping it into Theresa’s palm.

Theresa popped the gum into her mouth and started chewing. She felt like a cow chewing on… “Yuck! What is this stuff?”

“Nicotine gum, Ms. T. I told ya I was trying to quit, and you know me…can’t have none of that cold turkey $#!t. Dammit! You interrupted me. We already have JERK covered. What’s another J-word for dumbass?”

“Celeste…why are you giving Ethan the alphabet treatment? It was a one night stand,” she muttered shamefully. “So he has a girlfriend. So what?”

Celeste pulled Theresa’s dark mane back and propped her chin on her shoulder. “Sometimes Ms. T, you are just too nice for your own good. I know he was a one night stand, and we really have no good reason to get pissed…”

“We?” Theresa’s big brown eyes locked with Celeste’s sparkling green ones in the reflection of the vanity mirror.

“Hey, T-girl. Some guy even looks at you funny, he pisses ME off. You’re my girl, and us girls have to stick together.”

“I love you,” Theresa smiled, tugging on one of Celeste’s yellow pigtails playfully.

“You’re not switching teams, now are you? I love you too, Ms. T, but I’m not into that…I don’t swing that way,” she pretended to be shocked.

“Nut.”

“Nun. Oh hell! I guess that one doesn’t apply to you anymore.”

Theresa giggled when Celeste sat down on the beanbag beside her and started an all-out war for the seat, pushing and shoving and getting all out of breath.

“Your scrawny ass is stronger than it looks. I’m impressed,” Celeste grinned, leaning her back against Theresa’s. Exhausted.

“Does Jackass count?” Theresa broke the silence a moment later.

“Potty mouth! High five!” Celeste squealed. “Wait until I tell Ms. Thang. She’ll be horrified. I’m stumped on the ‘K’s,’ Ms. T…”


*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*



“So…I had fun,” Whitney said, ducking her head shyly. “The movie was wonderful.”

Chad grinned at her. “Really? That’s awesome. I really dug all the Romeo and Juliet moments…”

Whitney stared back at him blankly, her brow knitting when he started laughing. “What?”

“Girl…chick flicks aren’t my thing, but if you like ‘em, I’m cool with that. ‘Cause I like you, Ms. Russell…”

The shy smile was back. This time tinged with a little embarrassment. “Chad, I’m sorry I…I really did have a great time.”

Chad smiled back at her, and they walked along the sidewalks in silence for several minutes until Chad decided to broach the subject he’d been wondering about the entire night. “So…if you don’t mind me asking, what’d that chick at the movies do to you? Things were a bit chilly…the guy an old boyfriend or something?”

“I don’t have anything against her personally,” Whitney muttered, walking ahead of him.

“Could have fooled me,” Chad’s voice was teasing as he jogged to catch up with her.

“Really,” Whitney said unconvincingly. “It’s the guy, okay?”

“I guess asking if you wanna do something with me tomorrow is out of the question then,” he said, following her inside her apartment building and pulling open the doorway to the stairs for her.

“He didn’t do anything to me. He…it was my friend. I have tennis lessons tomorrow.”

Chad’s dark eyes twinkled at her as he digested the new information. “Tennis lessons. I’m flexible. What time are you finished?”

Whitney smiled at him as she fished her key out of her purse. “6:00. But I have a test to study for…”

“What kind of test is it, ‘cause I could help you…”

“It’s just an elective music course I’m taking…”

“Music? Why didn’t you say something? I’m your bonafide expert,” he grinned at her.

“6:30. This address,” she said, scribbling a few words on a scrap of paper she’d grabbed from her purse.

“6:30,” he agreed, taking the paper from her outstretched hand with a smile. “You’re going to ace that test. You’ll see,” he called out as he backed into the stairwell. “I had a great time tonight, Ms. Russell.”

“Me, too,” Whitney whispered, leaning back against the door with a happy sigh.

“Way to go, Ms. Thang!” a voice shouted from inside.

Roomies.

Weren’t they wonderful?


*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*



“Celeste…I don’t know,” Theresa said uncertainly as they trotted around the track for the hundredth time that morning.

THANK GOD all their morning classes were canceled. She didn’t know if her rubbery muscles would carry her to a taxi, much less across campus. She felt like Gumby in sneakers.

That flu bug was taking out professors left and right.

“You said he lived in one of those fancy schmancy buildings around here, right? So it only makes sense that he’d exercise here. You aren’t backing out on me, are you Ms. T? What happened to getting a little ole revenge?”

Theresa wished they’d been able to convince Whitney to skip her English Lit. class to come with them. She was the sensible one. The one who thought things through from every angle.

“R-E-V-E-N-G-E! Find out what it means to me!” Celeste bellowed at the top of her lungs, turning more than a few heads.

A fat, balding man, already panting for oxygen on the track ahead of them, nearly tripped over his own feet trying to get far, far away.

Celeste jogged in place, trying to give the old man a good head start.

“Celeste! If I stop now, I’m not going to be able to move at all.”

“Hey,” Celeste said, her blond ponytail bouncing up and down. “If Sipowicz goes into cardiac arrest, I’m not giving him mouth to mouth. Hell no! Come on, T-girl. You can’t tell me THAT offended you. In the years we’ve known each other I’ve said much worse. Much, much, much worse. Damn, girl. I don’t want to have to give you mouth to mouth either. I don’t remember much besides Mr. Bernard shoving his tongue down my throat…”

“It’s him,” Theresa wheezed.

“A shim? Oh my God! Where? Ms. T, that’s the most feminine man I’ve ever…Holy $#!t! That’s your man?! He’s cute. Maybe a little too cute if you know what I mean…Honey, you can do SO much better than him,” she muttered under her breath as a tall, leggy blond jogged up next to him.

“That’s her, Celeste,” Theresa pulled on Celeste’s arm. “That’s the girlfriend.”

“Bitch,” Celeste growled in the blond’s direction. “REVENGE. Just a little bit. Revenge,” she sang under her breath as she took off running after the ‘couple.’

“Celeste! Wait!” Theresa yelled, sprinting after her. Trying furiously to make up for the 5-6 inch height difference.


*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*


“Aunt Sheridan,” Ethan whined as he struggled to keep up with her. “Wait up.”

“Oh, quit whining, you big baby,” she teased. Jogging backwards and very narrowly missing tripping over an over-eager golden retriever racing after a whirling Frisbee.

“Ethan!” she slapped his shoulder when he reached her side. “Why didn’t you warn me?”

“You’re abusive?” he kidded. “Seriously, Aunt Sheridan. I haven’t jogged in…”

“Yeah, and that’s why you’re developing a gut,” she smirked, nodding at his slim waist. “I was kidding!” she laughed, when he tried to run her off the track.

“Sheridan! Watch out!” Ethan’s blue eyes grew wide as a ponytailed blond barreled out of nowhere, straight for his aunt.

“Like I’m falling for…”

It was a collision course he didn’t see because he closed his eyes and chanted a silent prayer.

Nope.

Didn’t work.

When he opened his eyes, it was some sort of surreal fantasy.

Two blonds, wrestling in the shallow waters of a muddy pond.

“Oops! I’m sorry,” Celeste lied quite pleasantly through her teeth as her hand ‘accidentally’ slipped, smearing mud all over Sheridan’s face.

“Ethan,” Sheridan called in a slightly panicked voice. Were any mental facilities missing any patients? “A little help here.”

Ethan crept forward, a displeased scowl on his lips as his brand-new sneakers squished in the mud, and the brown glop oozed into them.

“I’m so sorry I ran into your girlfriend,” Celeste reached a manicured hand out to him. “I wasn’t watching where I was going. Please let me make it up to you. Did anyone ever tell you that you have the most gorgeous blue eyes? Aww, I bet millions of girls have. I bet those eyes charm lots of girls into your bed,” she drawled. “Why I’d jump right in the sack with you right now, if we were…ALONE.”

Sheridan climbed to her feet WITHOUT Ethan’s help, shoving past him in annoyance. ‘Girlfriend?’ she mouthed. She’d be laughing her ass off if she weren’t sure some kind of amphibian/reptile/something wasn’t trapped in her sports bra.

“She’s not…” Ethan bumbled.

Only to be cut off by Celeste. “You’re just the cutest little thing,” she grinned, twirling her blond hair around her pinkie. “I’d marry you if Luanne hadn’t already said you were hers.”

Sheridan ducked behind the nearest tree and stuck her hand underneath her bra, squealing as the tiny frog squirmed away. “Damn you. Get out of there.” She raised blue eyes to find Andy Sipowicz’s double ogling her, jaw dragging around his ankles.

Oh no! This SO did not look right!

“It’s not what you think. Seriously. There’s a…there’s a frog in my bra. I fell in the pond, and…”

“Hey, I don’t judge nobody,” the fat guy leered at her.

So it wasn’t the most MATURE thing to do, but she couldn’t help herself.

Andy lumbered away after she flipped him off.

“Luanne?” Ethan choked as the blond looped her arm through his and beamed up at him. “I don’t know anyone named Luanne. She thinks…she thinks I’m hers?” he stammered.

“Oh Honey, you don’t know the half of it,” Celeste continued to drawl, winking at Theresa, crouching behind the opposite side of the tree Sheridan clung to. “She’s SO in love. Your pictures don’t do you justice. You’re much prettier in person.”

“Pictures?” Ethan’s eyes grew round. “That’s called stalking…”

“Honey, where I come from that ain’t stalking,” Celeste giggled. “You got yourself a secret admirer,” she batted her lashes at him.

Ethan jumped when he felt her hands close around his buttocks and squeeze.

“Buh bye, Doll. I may just have to start my own collection,” she waved, jogging off into the distance.

“Ethan, who the hell was that?” Sheridan grumbled as she came up behind him.

“Don’t ask me,” he shrugged. “You ready to get out of here yet?”

“You kidding? I thought you’d never ask,” she smiled, throwing a sisterly arm around his waist. “You really don’t know who she was?”

Ethan blushed. “She said something about a secret admirer,” he mumbled.

“Some people have ALL the luck,” Sheridan cracked, her blue eyes twinkling mischievously.

UAgirl
4.30.07, 12:01 AM
Chapter 4~~~A Little Bit of This, A Little Bit of That





Two little girls, hair beaded and trailing down their backs, skittered past, all bashful giggles and admiring glances, tennis rackets in hand.

Chad smirked as he waved a hand at them, taking a moment to survey his surroundings.

Children’s voices bounced and echoed off the walls of the Y, basketballs and sneakers moved quickly across the gym floors, and in one distant corner was a makeshift tennis court.

Whitney zipped her tennis racket up, slinging the bag over one shoulder and grabbing a stack of books with her hands.

Chad’s grin grew even wider at her shy smile, and he ambled over to her, taking the books from her hands and ignoring her half-hearted protests. “I had no idea you were the one GIVING the lessons. You were pretty impressive out there.”

Whitney ducked her head, and a veil of dark curls hid her face from view. “Thanks,” she murmured.

“I call ‘em as I see ‘em, and you, Ms. Russell,” his voice dropped an octave, deep and appreciative, “are a pro. How long you been playin’?” he asked, a hand reaching forward and holding the door for her.

“Almost all my life,” Whitney answered, waiting for him to exit the door behind her. “My dad always loved tennis, and I guess he passed that love on to me. Wait a minute. Where are we going?”

Chad shifted her books onto his hip and studied her for a moment before speaking. “I thought we could grab something to eat before…look. If you don’t want to, that’s alright. We can just go somewhere and…study.”

Whitney stepped forward with a quirk of her lips, not waiting for him to follow. “I think there’s a little place not far from here,” she said softly.

“Good. Good,” Chad said, falling into step beside her. “You can’t pull on all-nighter on an empty stomach…”

Whitney arched a dark brow and giggled lightly at his teasing grin. “It’s just…”

“Don’t even go there,” Chad cut her off. “It’s never just music. Appreciating good music is an artform.”

The corners of Whitney’s mouth curled up as she glanced at him. “You really love it, don’t you? You’re a good DJ,” she offered.

Chad shrugged his shoulders, “You have your tennis. I dig music. Being a DJ is cool, but it’s not what I want to do with the rest of my life. I have other, bigger dreams,” he revealed to her.

Whitney gave him a perplexed look as they passed the diner by and headed for the subway. “I thought you were hungry…What other bigger dreams?” she asked, following him down the steps. “Chad, where are you taking me? The test…”

“…is going to be the easiest test you ever took,” he reassured her. “You asked about my dreams, Ms. Russell. Now I can tell you about them, but I don’t think it’d have the same effect. I think it’s better I show you…and before you say anything…just trust me, okay? You’ll ace that test, and learn more about me in the bargain. Now tell me…does that really sound that bad?”

Whitney felt some of the uneasiness start to seep out of her tensed body, and she relaxed, giving him a smile as she stepped onto the subway with him. “Not bad at all.”


~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~



“Celeste,” Theresa huffed, a tiny pin poised just a breath’s distance away from her bouncy friend’s hip. “Be still.”

Celeste’s green eyes sparkled down at the top of Theresa’s dark ponytailed head. “Ms. T,” she mock whined. “I warned you…Ms. T, I can’t be still. Not while time is ticking past, and debonair bachelors are out there, just waiting to be snatched up. Oh, Ms. T!” she exclaimed, bouncing even more.

Theresa’s arms dropped to her sides, and she tucked a loose strand of dark hair behind her ear in resignation. Obviously, she wasn’t going to get anywhere with this project tonight. Celeste…well…she was even more boisterous than usual. “What now?” she asked, trying to look stern and failing. Never worked. A traitorous giggle spilled from her lips, and soon they were curving up in a tickled grin.

Celeste’s aristocratic nose crinkled up as she stepped off of the small stool she'd been standing on and plopped onto Theresa’s twin bed. Patting the space beside her.

Theresa pushed the forlorn-looking Snoopy Noah had won for her years and years ago at the local carnival in Harmony aside and slumped down beside Celeste. “Who is he?”

Celeste carefully pulled Theresa’s work in progress over her mussed blond head before speaking, slipping it over the mannequin next to Theresa’s childhood desk with a shudder. “Damn, Ms. T. Doesn’t that thing creep you out sometimes? Gives me the heebie jeebies.”

“Celeste,” Theresa rolled her humor-filled dark eyes at the girl wandering back toward her, clad only in her jade lingerie. “You’re studying to be a designer…”

Celeste threw herself back against the bed’s mattress, one arm resting above her head and the other resting on her stomach. “About that…Ms. T,” she half-mumbled, bringing her hands up to hide her face, “Fashion’s fun and all, but I’m not sure I have the stuff…”

“Celeste!” Theresa exclaimed. “You’ll never graduate if you keep changing your major.”

Celeste sat up and peered at Theresa from behind her hands, propping her elbows on her up-drawn knees. She pouted when Theresa forcibly removed her hands from her face. “T-girl, you know my intellect’s not my strongest point. I’m rich. I’m a debutante. An heiress. The U’s just for show. I can’t flunk out of this place no matter how hard I try ‘cause Daddy’s always going to fork over the cash to save face. Fashion’s fun, but I’m not good at it. I’m runway material, Baby,” she said, wiggling her yellow brows up and down and jumping up off the edge of the bed.

Theresa giggled despite herself as she watched Celeste strut back and forth across the small bedroom in her underwear. “You ARE going to be my model,” she said softly.

“And you mine,” Celeste reminded with a wink, holding out her hands.

Theresa took her offered hands and let Celeste pull her to her feet and into a hug. “Celeste…this doesn’t…Celeste…” she said pointedly.

“Aww, Ms. T…I’m so hurt,” Celeste feigned tears. “You don’t want to be my lover?”

“Nut,” Theresa rolled her chocolate eyes at her, walking up to the mannequin and giving the bright swatches of pinned material an appraising glance. “What do you think?”

Celeste’s expressive face reminded Theresa of a cartoon character sometimes. This was one of them. She finally settled on a wide, confident grin. “You’re going to be mega-rich someday, T-girl. Movie stars and supermodels around the world will sell their first-born or the first-born of their agents to wear one of your designs. But you’re going to cater to moi, Celeste Calloway. Hollywood’s Brightest Star.”

“Thanks. I think,” Theresa laughed softly. “Back on the acting gig?”

Celeste followed her out into their living room, casually strolling into the kitchen and opening the fridge to withdraw a carton of orange juice.

Theresa cringed as she drank directly from it, putting it back into the refrigerator. Mama had tanned Miguel’s hide for less than that. “Celeste…”

Celeste answered her with a loud belch, totally unladylike and definitely unbecoming to the ‘deb’ she’d labeled herself just a few short minutes ago. “You ain’t my mama,” she said, sticking her pink tongue out at Theresa.

Theresa crossed her arms across her chest and took a seat on one of the bar stools along the kitchen counter. “Thinking about putting on clothes tonight,” she hinted none too subtly.

“Are you kidding me?” Celeste hopped up onto the opposite side of the counter, swinging her enviably long legs back and forth. “I’m free, Ms. T. You should try it sometime. Besides…our lovable, uptight Ms. Thang’s out ‘studying’.”

“Whitney DOES have a test tomorrow,” Theresa put in her requisite defense of Whitney’s virtue. “She’s not you…”

“And WHAT is THAT supposed to mean?” Celeste pretended to be offended.

It was obvious to Theresa it was all an act. Really…she’d never make it as an actress if she didn’t learn to be more convincing, Theresa thought, biting the inside of her cheek to keep from smiling. “She’s more…careful…with her dates.”

“You mean she’s the Virgin Queen while I, on the other hand, am Beautiful Sex-Crazed One,” Celeste flashed her a toothy smile. “It’s okay, T-girl. It’s not like I’m offended or anything. I like sex…don’t blush,” she admonished. “Guys brag about it. Why can’t I? Equal opportunity for everyone. And besides…I’m careful, Ms. T. You don’t have to worry about me,” she said, tapping her tongue against her teeth when a knock sounded at the door.

Theresa’s mouth hung open when Celeste stopped her from getting up with a hand to her arm.

“That’s okay. I’ll get it,” Celeste singsonged. Pushing herself off the kitchen counter and striding across the apartment. “That should be Taran.”

Theresa’s lips tried to form the question ‘who?’, but she was so flabbergasted by the sight of Celeste’s hand poised on the door knob, unfazed about answering the door in her near-naked state.

“My date,” Celeste revealed with a wicked smile on her lips. “God, he’s dreamy. Did I mention he’s a Calvin Klein underwear model? He said he might be able to get me a gig. Just think of this as my audition for a job. Daddy’ll die of a coronary when he sees my ass displayed on billboards all over the city,” she said, positively giddy at the image her own words evoked.

“Celeste,” Theresa hissed in horror, covering her wide brown eyes with the heels of her hands as the door began to slowly swing open.

Celeste fixed her pretty features in her sexiest smile, tossed her yellow hair over her shoulder, and spun around. Her voice leaving her throat in a kittenish purr, “I’m ready for my close-up.”

“Excuse me…I thought this was the residence of Theresa Lopez-Fitzgerald…I must have taken a 3,000 mile detour and landed in the Playboy Mansion…”

Theresa didn’t know whose jaw had dropped lower—hers or Celeste’s—when her brown eyes snapped open and blinked rapidly, brain-numbing mortification making her flush a lovely purply-red color as she met a familiar pair of brown eyes. “Hank,” she said in a strangled voice.

“Best welcome I’ve had in years,” Hank grinned, or more aptly, leered at Celeste before turning his full attention to her. “I was in the neighborhood, and I thought I’d drop by, and damn, did I make the right decision. Come on. I think the brother’s best friend deserves a hug, don’t you?” he said, holding his arms open.


~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~




“I can’t believe you refused to sit in the luxury seats,” Ethan grumbled, wincing as the door bit into his sun-burned arm. “Those seats didn’t come cheap, Aunt Sheridan. I didn’t spend all that money so you could trade places with Lois Lane and Clark Kent.”

Sheridan tossed her armful of souvenirs onto the stiff, serviceable chaise in Ethan’s impersonal living room, grabbing her home-run ball and tossing it from hand to hand as she turned to face him, beneath pale, fluttering lashes. “You’re right. They DID bear an amazing resemblance, don’t you think? Ethan,” she teased, stilling the ball in her hands and smiling at him. “Lighten up. The woman was ten months pregnant, for goodness sakes. I just thought she’d be more comfortable out of the sweltering sun,” she said, giving him a devious wink.

Ethan groaned softly. “You’re going to kill me before the week’s over, aren’t you? I’ll never make full partner because I’ll take my own life before then.”

“Quit being melodramatic, Silly,” Sheridan touched his arm lightly, careful of his burn. “I’m sorry you got burned.”

“Than…” Ethan started to say, the first genuine smile since they’d arrived at Yankee Stadium earlier that day blossoming on his lips.

“I hate to say I told you so, Ethan,” Sheridan said, her blue eyes twinkling. “But I told you so. Next time wear sunscreen.”

“Aunt Sheridan,” Ethan whined. Scratching at his wrist absently.

“Stop being such a baby, Ethan,” Sheridan chided good-naturedly as she disappeared down the hall. “It’s very unattractive.”

Ethan rolled his blue eyes at her behind her back. They were almost abnormally close in age for aunt and nephew, and their relationship had always been more of a sibling relationship anyway. Sometimes she just drove him crazy, and today was definitely shaping up to be one of those days. “Stop being such a baby,” he mouthed, collapsing against the sofa and closing his eyes. Spending the day with her was exhausting to say the least.

“Well, you are being one.”

Ethan jumped, blue eyes snapping open and looking up at her, looking soft and beautiful and fresh as a daisy. By comparison, he looked like a damned wilted weed. “You’re awfully dressed up for the apartment,” he commented, his eyes shifting to the strappy sandals that adorned her feet, then back up her length.

Sheridan smoothed her hands over her fitted red dress and looked at him expectantly. “Ethan?”

“You look nice, Aunt Sheridan,” he said, the compliment rolling off his tongue quite easily.

“I wasn’t fishing for compliments” she rolled her blue eyes at him. “Get up,” she muttered. “You’re taking me to dinner.”

“Dinner?” Ethan scoffed, rubbing his hands over his aching thighs. Roller blading, jogging, her every whim. “You had hot dogs, popcorn, peanuts, cotton candy, you name it at the game. You can’t have any room left in that stomach of yours,” he said, casting an incredulous glance at her slim waist.

“Ethan…”

Oh damn, he thought with a soft groan. She was pulling out that time-perfected pout of hers.

“I’m hungry, dear nephew, and if you value your life, you’ll take me out to dinner before…besides,” she decided to switch tactics mid-sentence, “Gwen left a message on my voice mail. She’s in town this week, too, and she wants to get together. We’re going shopping tomorrow. You know how those trips tend to go…”

Boy did he ever, Ethan thought silently. His demeanor softening the tiniest bit.

“You’ll be rid of me the entire day, and the week will be over soon, and you never know when I’ll visit again…”

“Okay, okay,” Ethan sighed. “But only because I love you,” he said, earning a happy smile from her. “Just give me time to change…”

“Thank you, Ethan. You’re a sweetheart,” she breathed, leaning forward and kissing his smooth cheek in passing.

Ethan gave her hand an affectionate squeeze before dropping it and heading toward his room. He paused outside his door when he heard her amused voice.

“Tone it down a little, Ethan,” she advised him teasingly. “You already look like an overcooked lobster.”

He shut the door on her lilting laughter. Funny, Aunt Sheridan. You should be a comedienne.

“You should definitely put some aloe on those burns!”

UAgirl
4.30.07, 12:04 AM
Chapter 5~~~Sebastian, Antonio Sabato Jr. Wannabe’s, and…Frodo?




In true Hank Bennett fashion, Hank had quickly ingratiated himself into the middle of their plans. Well Celeste’s plans anyway. Which somehow had become Theresa’s plans in an interesting twist of events, and now the four of them were crammed into the back seat of what quite possibly could have been the smallest cab ever on their way to some little Italian restaurant Theresa had never heard of in completely horrendous traffic. She smiled sheepishly at the cabby when she caught his gaze in the reflection of the rear-view mirror when Celeste and Hank started another round of prickly banter. “I knew I should have sat in the middle,” she muttered under her breath.

“Hey Tarzan,” Hank addressed Celeste’s Samson-locked date, crushed against the back passenger side door on the other side of Celeste. “You look familiar. Where’ve I seen you?”

“TARAN,” Celeste glowered at Hank, “is one of Calvin Klein’s top models.”

“My work is displayed on billboards all over the city,” Taran replied self-importantly.

“Your work,” Hank raised a brow, “Wait a minute. Was that your ass I saw in Times Square?”

Theresa hunched over, embarrassment coloring her cheeks. She knew Hank, and she knew Celeste. Neither was going to give an inch. Maybe she could jump out of the taxi. It wasn’t like they’d notice.

Celeste squirmed in the jam-packed seat, glaring at Hank the whole time. “Is that your ass taking up the whole seat or your ego?” she snarled, nailing him in the ribs with a well-placed elbow as she jostled around for a more comfortable position.

Taran’s cheek hit the window with that move, but he was only momentarily peeved. Spotting a billboard depiction of himself, he grinned goofily and crowed, “Look at those abs!”

He seemed to want congratulations so Hank took it upon himself to offer them. “Impressive.”

“Thanks, Herk,” Taran said distractedly. Apparently he found his own image fascinating.

Celeste squealed and leaned over Hank to grab Theresa’s arm excitedly. “I told you he was dreamy.”

Theresa’s brow climbed to her hairline, and she inwardly cringed when she noticed Hank’s brown eyes gleam and gravitate toward Celeste’s immodestly displayed cleavage. “Dreamy,” Theresa parroted then gulped. Maybe Celeste wouldn’t notice. Maybe she’d win the lottery tomorrow. Either way, they’d all be lucky.

“Buns of steel!” Taran murmured admiringly, now completely oblivious to his surroundings.

Celeste leaned back. And caught Hank’s roving eye.

Theresa slumped further down in the seat, wishing mightily for a pair of ruby slippers. They’d helped Dorothy out in a clinch, why not her?

“My God, you are such a perv,” Celeste scoffed at Hank. “Roll your tongue back up and put it in your mouth before we all drown in your disgusting drool. I don’t date midgets like you, Frodo.”

“It looks like Antonio Sabato Jr. wannabes are more your type,” Hank shot back, glancing pointedly at Taran. “And, if I might make a small but rather significant correction…Frodo was most definitely a hobbit. NOT a midget.”

“The biceps are bulging. Oh yeah,” Taran grinned gleefully.

“What are you? Some soap opera watching freak,” Celeste wrinkled her nose and crossed her arms across her chest, hiding it from Hank’s vision. “Hobbit,” she blew out an annoyed breath. “Whatever.”

Theresa’s appetite was virtually gone; this dinner dripped of disastrous potential.



~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~



Being completely honest with himself, Ethan had to admit the Italian restaurant Sheridan had chosen had a certain romantic charm about it. Still, he was growing alarmed by the number of people that had already mistaken them for a couple this night, and if Aunt Sheridan didn’t desist in her Ariel impersonation… Unfolding his napkin over his lap, Ethan wrapped his fingers around the stem of his wine glass and raised it to his lips, murmuring, “I find it mildly distressing that you know the entire soundtrack to ‘The Little Mermaid’ by heart.”

Twirling clumsy strands of fettucini around her fork, Sheridan looked up at her nephew, the smile she presented him with coy but the expression in her blue eyes brazen. “I find the fact that you recognize the soundtrack to ‘The Little Mermaid’ even more disconcerting. Sebastian,” she added, her voice softly teasing. Impossible as it seemed, Ethan reddened even more, and Sheridan found the reaction incredibly endearing. Taking pity on him, she changed the subject. “Whatever are you going to do with yourself while I’m gone tomorrow?”

“Rest, recover, recuperate,” Ethan answered her with a flurry of ‘r’s.’ “Recapture my sanity,” he mumbled under his breath so she couldn’t hear.

“You could join Gwen and I for lunch,” Sheridan suggested, nibbling at the corner of a breadstick. “My treat,” she smiled. “Despite your earlier insinuations, it’s not my goal to bankrupt you during this visit. My aim’s much more ambitious.”

“Aunt Sheridan,” Ethan choked, gulping down the last of his wine to clear his windpipe of the meatball that seemed to have lodged there with her threat, at least her words sounded threatening to him. “I’m afraid to ask,” he rasped, his blue eyes watery.

Making a steeple of her hands, Sheridan leaned forward and looked at her nephew appraisingly. Finally, she relaxed, and with a smirk on her lips, reported her findings. “It’s as I expected. You need a woman in your life, dear nephew, to keep you on your toes.”

“I already have you,” Ethan muttered, a flash of dark hair momentarily distracting him. “Aunt Sheridan, we’ve had this conversation thousands of times. My work at the firm ties me up. It’s not fair to ask…”

“Excuses, excuses,” Sheridan cut him off with a wave of her hand. “You could give Tessa a call,” she arched a golden brow at him, purposely flubbing the name to garner a reaction.

“Theresa,” Ethan absently corrected her as he sat up straighter in his chair, craning his neck to get a better look at the group seated at a table just beyond them. Something about the back of that woman’s head…. “Has no last name.”

“Theresa No-Last-Name. Catchy.” Sheridan’s blue eyes sparkled with amusement, and she held out a hand when Ethan leaned just a little too far in his chair, trying to prevent his inevitable fall. “Ethan, what on earth…”


~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~


“Whoa! Did you see that?” Taran slid back into his seat after his trip to the ‘powder room’ to inspect his coiffure. “Some poor chump just got the shock of his life. Fell out cold on the floor. Boy, did he look stupid.”

Hank wiggled his brows at Taran and smirked at Celeste, his teeth showing when she simply rolled her eyes at him in response.

“Really? Where?” Celeste dug her compact out of her handbag and opened it up, angling it over her shoulder to try to catch a glimpse at the spectacle. She frowned and looked to Theresa with green eyes wide with exasperation when Taran’s chiseled face loomed over her shoulder. “Ms. T, what’s happening?” she entreated when Taran took the compact from her and started admiring the strong line of his jaw.

Stretching tall in her chair, Theresa could see nothing but a small circle of waiters and onlookers, fidgeting nervously and looking concerned. Finally, shaking her head, she told Celeste, “It’s no good. I can’t see anything.”

“Hey Fabio,” Hank tapped his fork against Taran’s untouched plate.

Concerned by the blemish on his golden skin, Taran answered with a distracted grunt, “Uh?”

Hank continued, undeterred from the daggers shooting in his direction from Celeste’s incensed green eyes. “You said he got the shock of his life. Was there a woman with him?”

Taran snapped the compact shut and lay it on the table beside his plate, covering it with his hand when Celeste snatched at it. “A real knockout. I think she recognized me. Do you think she’d like my autograph?” he mused aloud.

Celeste groaned and crossed her arms about her middle, muttering something obscene under her breath.

Theresa shrugged and uttered a polite “Maybe” when Taran looked at her in earnest expectation.

“It’s always worth a try, Buddy,” Hank winked his encouragement, his brown eyes sparkling with mischief. Drumming his fingers on the table, he informed them, “I say either she’s cheating on him or pregnant or both.”

“That’s right,” Celeste scowled blackly at Hank, who had the audacity to grin even wider, “blame it on the woman. God, I so need a drink. Waiter,” she pouted prettily to the young waiter scurrying past. “A glass of wine?”

“Red or white?” the young man blushed from his neck to the roots of his spiky red hair under Celeste’s flirtatious smile. “We have both.”

“What would you suggest?” Celeste batted her thick eyelashes at him, ignoring Hank’s annoying smirk and Theresa’s soft sigh as she quietly excused herself and left the table.

Tugging awkwardly at the clip-on tie hanging crookedly at his neck, the young man stuttered, “R-R-Red. I’d suggest red, Ma’am.”

“Red,” Celeste purred, tickling a nail across her bare arm, “I like red. Red it is. Thank you…I’m sorry. You didn’t give me your name.”

“Br…Brandon, Ma’am, and you made a nice choice,” he smiled at Celeste shyly. “An excellent choice.”

“And an illegal choice if I’m not mistaken,” Hank interjected, breaking the spell Celeste was weaving over the boy before he had further chance to make out a fool out of himself. “Since you’re not allowed to sell alcoholic beverages to the under-aged,” Hank winced when Celeste’s heel connected soundly with his shin, “you can bring that red wine out here to me. Oh, and put it on her tab.”

“Why don’t you just do the world a favor and vaporize,” Celeste growled at Hank, grabbing her goblet of water and tossing it into his face.

Hank blinked the water from his eyes, chuckling as he watched the young waiter beat a hasty path toward the kitchen and far away from what Hank now assumed to be his former source of enchantment. Wiping his face with the back of his hand, Hank flicked the excess water in Celeste’s general direction and offered a word of advice to Taran. “Take a page out of Opie’s book and beat it, Pal. This one’s trouble with a capital T.”


~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~


Theresa closed the door to the ladies’ room behind her and leaned back against it with her eyes shut, emitting a sigh of relief. She felt her heart jump in her chest when a soft, understanding voice broke the silence in the room, alerting her to the fact that she wasn’t alone. Her brown eyes widened when she recognized the short, curling blond hair and the open, beautiful face. Schooling her features into some semblance of calm, Theresa blinked as she took a timid step forward. “I’m sorry. Did you say something?”

Reaching into her matching red handbag, Sheridan thumbed through its contents until she found what she wanted. She placed the tube of lipstick on the counter in front of her and turned to face Theresa with a friendly smile. “Nothing. Just that it looks like your ‘date’ is going about as well as mine.”

“Disaster doesn’t even begin to describe it,” Theresa nodded, taking another step forward. She looked away uncomfortably when she was met with a pair of searching blue eyes that only served to remind her of another pair of impossibly blue eyes and a night that she was just realizing wouldn’t leave her memory. Tucking a heavy strand of dark hair behind her ear, Theresa darted covert glances at the woman carefully reapplying a splash of red to her lips. “Is your date, is he okay?”

Musical laughter bubbled from Sheridan’s lips, and she replaced the tube of lipstick in her purse, zipping it closed. “I told Ethan no one noticed. I guess I lied, didn’t I? Ethan’s an idiot, but when you’ve known him and loved him as long as I have, you learn to make peace with that fact.”

“You love him?” Theresa’s voice dropped to a whisper.

Sheridan’s answer was delivered with unmistakable affection and unwavering honesty. “I love him. He’s the number one man in my life.”

Theresa watched Sheridan move toward the door with an easy grace, and she felt all the trumped up feelings of dislike seeping away. She couldn’t hate the woman when she could so easily imagine her as a friend. “I’m glad he’s going to be okay.”

“Nothing hurt but his considerable male pride,” Sheridan laughingly answered.

The door shut behind her, and Theresa lifted a hand to her face. She was smiling.

UAgirl
8.20.07, 10:13 PM
Chapter 6~~~Circle of Friends





“…and then he just toppled over. I’ve never seen anything so funny, Gwen. You should have been there.” Sheridan’s laughter was contagious, and it was several minutes before the two women were able to compose themselves.

“I would have paid good money to see the look on his face,” Gwen hid her grin behind her napkin, lest the sight set Sheridan off into another giggling fit. “Oh, Sher,” she reached across the table to touch Sheridan’s hand with her own. “It’s been too long since we caught up like this.”

“It has,” Sheridan agreed. “So…” she played coy as she stabbed a piece of cheesecake with her fork. “Catch me up.”

“Nice,” Gwen smirked. “Real subtle. What about you?” She lobbed the ball straight back into Sheridan’s court. “You’re the one who spent most of the last year in a foreign country. Take any of the local guys out for a ride?”

Sheridan’s blue eyes went wide as the piece of cheesecake she’d been savoring torpedoed straight down her windpipe at Gwen’s question. “Gwen!” she finally sputtered, after gulping down the water Gwen helpfully offered her. “Are you trying to kill me?”

Gwen’s lips twitched and her brown eyes danced naughtily. “It was an innocent question.”

“Innocent my ass,” Sheridan muttered, voice still a little husky from her seconds old near-choking miss.

“I meant in your car,” Gwen cheerfully lied, enjoying the way Sheridan’s face morphed into ten different shades of red right before her. “Are you telling me you didn’t get ‘friendly’ with at least one Spanish hunk the whole time you were in Costa Marbella? Not Barcelona either? So that makes it how long without sex?” Gwen asked incredulously.

“Announce it to the whole world,” Sheridan hissed, grabbing Gwen’s half-full glass of wine and taking a generous drink.

“No wonder you were practically orgasmic over that damn cheesecake,” comprehension dawned on Gwen. An evilly gleeful twinkle appeared in her eyes.

“What?” Sheridan asked suspiciously. “Whatever you’re thinking, Gwen, no. Just…no. Absolutely, positively no.”

“You haven’t even heard what I’ve got to say yet. Come on, Sher. At least hear me out,” Gwen wheedled, sensing a crack in Sheridan’s disinterested façade. “I’ve got this friend who’s got this friend…”

“When you put it that way,” Sheridan mustered up as much sarcasm as she could, standing up and tossing her napkin on the table in front of Gwen. “I’m not so pathetic that I can’t even get my own date, Gwen.”

Grasping Sheridan’s hand in hers and refusing to let her walk away, Gwen dialed down the teasing and searched Sheridan’s face with serious eyes. “I never said you were. Sher, there are more than just Jean-Luc’s in this world,” she said, referring to the last serious relationship Sheridan had had, a relationship that had ended in heartbreaking disaster for her friend. “There are Ethan’s, John’s, and Tony’s.” Gwen’s eyes sparkled at the burgeoning laughter Sheridan was having trouble keeping in. “And trust me, the Tony’s of the world know how to have fun, and glorious sex while they’re at it.”

Sheridan laughed and squeezed the hands that now clung tightly to both of her own. “Is this your way of catching me up?”

“Sher,” Gwen took a deep breath then nearly blinded her best friend with a mega-watt smile.

“Yes?” Sheridan prodded, giving the sweaty palms in her hands another encouraging squeeze.

“I’ve met someone.”




~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~




“It’s official, Ms. T.,” Celeste announced as she dropped into the booth beside Theresa and started attacking the mound of fries in the center of the table with gusto. “I’m a beauty school dropout.”

“Don’t you mean design school dropout?” Whitney, ever proper, corrected her.

“Yeah,” Celeste shrugged with a toothy grin. “But I always wanted to say that. Hey, do you think Mr. DJ will play that song for me next time we’re at the club?” she asked, drawing designs in the ketchup with the fry in her hand.

“There’s not going to be a next time,” Theresa vowed, slumping further in the booth.

“Aww, come on,” Celeste protested. “I’m sure Ms. Thang wouldn’t mind spending more time with her boyfriend.”

“Chad’s not my boyfriend,” Whitney disputed quietly. “He’s just a…”

“If you say friend, you really are deeper in denial than I thought you were. Some friend he is, keeping you out until midnight the night before a test,” Celeste raised a brow at Whitney in challenge.

“How did that go, by the way?” Theresa leaned forward with interest, swooping in and grabbing the fry Celeste had her sights on, making the pigtailed blond pout.

“The test, or the date?” Whitney asked, biting her lip when she realized what she let slip.

“Aha!” Celeste crowed. “I knew it. Tell us all the juicy details, Ms. Thang. I want to hear everything. Is he a good kisser?”

“Is that all you care about?” Theresa snatched her soda before Celeste could finish it off. Turning to Whitney, she couldn’t keep the grin off of her face as she asked, “Is he a good kisser?”

“What makes you think we did…that?” Whitney avoided their eyes, reaching down and pilfering a few fries for herself.

“Oh God,” Celeste groaned, elbowing Theresa in the ribs. “No wonder she’s stuck at first base.”

Despite herself, Theresa couldn’t help but giggle, and through her embarrassment, Whitney smiled.

“Some of us just aren’t good at baseball.”

“You can hit an ace, can’t you?” Changing the subject suddenly, much to Whitney’s immense relief, she blurted a question that had Theresa giggling helplessly again. “Where’s Frodo? Did he go back to the Shire?”



~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~



Hank rubbed his sweaty palms against his jeans legs one more time before raising his hand to knock at the door in front of him. Unlike the day before, when he’d shown up unexpectedly at Theresa’s apartment door certain that he’d be welcomed inside, today was different. Her door was different. If he could trust his gut one iota as much as his good buddy Luis trusted his, Hank knew he was in for a whole heap of trouble. And that thought had him turning on his heels and pacing the length of the hallway outside her apartment for the tenth time in as many minutes.

“You know,” a voice Hank knew well, hell had grown up with, chose that moment to interrupt his nervous fidgeting, “You’d be halfway to Harmony by now with as many miles as you’ve worn in that floor in the past ten minutes.”

“Antonio,” Hank frowned. “What the hell are you doing here?”

Bare-chested and smirking, Antonio stepped aside for Hank to enter the small apartment. “Isn’t that my question? I was in the neighborhood,” he finally said, employing the same excuse that had rolled so easily off of Hank’s tongue the night before.

“Where is she?” Hank nudged past Antonio, scanning the tidy living room.

Antonio shrugged, sitting down on the couch like he owned it and slinging an arm along the back lazily. “Gone before I woke up this morning.”

“You spent the night?” Hank questioned, dropping down into the armchair across from Antonio.

“I have just as much right to be here as you do.”

The reminder had the intended effect, and Hank felt the beginning embers of anger quickly die out. Exhaling a pent-in breath, he let himself relax, sinking back against the colorful pillow behind him. “What the hell…” he exclaimed when a muffled voice started counting, in Spanish. Jerking the pillow back, he glowered at the owner of the voice.

“Uncle Hank!” a little voice cried excitedly. “You found Dora!”

“What is this?” She stood in the open doorway to the apartment, glaring at the two men inside. “An intervention?”

“Beth,” Hank’s smile was suitably nervous. “Is that any way to greet your best friend?”

























To Be Continued???

UAgirl
8.21.07, 10:16 PM
Chapter 7~~~Dora, Diego, and Daniela






“Whatcha been up to, Wiggles?” Hank helped his goddaughter crawl into his lap, along with Dora, of course, and ruffled the messy dark ponytail atop her head affectionately.

“Look,” the little girl drew his attention to the Barbie band-aid on her knee. “I got a boo-boo at daycare.”

“Who did it?” Hank demanded to know, the fierce expression on his face making the little girl laugh and Beth crack a reluctant smile. “I’ll go beat him up.”

“Nobody did it,” Beth finally relaxed enough to move closer, taking a seat beside Antonio on the sofa. “Daniela, tell Uncle Hank what happened.”

“Me and Meggie were racing, and I fell,” Daniela deflated; the truth didn’t hold as much of a thrill for her as the story she had concocted for Antonio the night before, about a mean old witch like the one in Snow White. “But I didn’t cry, Uncle Hank. Teacher said I was brave.”

“Super brave and smart too,” Hank agreed, playfully tapping her button nose. “I wonder who you get that from?” Hank lifted a finger to his chin and pretended to be deep in thought.

“Daddy.” Daniela grinned proudly, brown eyes big and sparkling.

Beth shifted uncomfortably beside Antonio, until he lay a comforting hand upon her knee.

“And Mommy,” Daniela quickly added, wanting to make her mother smile again. “Hey, Uncle Hank,” she fingered the collar of Hank’s rumpled black tee-shirt with her tiny polished fingers. “Did you bring me a present? Uncle Antonio brought me a surprise.”

“Daniela,” Beth scolded, standing up and heading toward what Hank presumed was the kitchen. “It’s not polite to ask for presents.”

“She gets that,” Antonio grinned wryly, “from her aunt Theresa.”

Hank could hear cupboards being opened and closed and the clinking of glass from the kitchen and he raised his brows in question at Antonio only to receive a dismissive shake of the head from the other man. “So, Wiggles,” he released a long breath, “tell me about this surprise.”

“Uncle Antonio won’t let me see it yet,” Daniela huffed in frustration, small hands flying to her hips. “Tell him it’s my birfday, Uncle Hank.”

“It’s my birfday, Uncle Hank,” Hank parroted on cue, earning him a roll of Antonio’s dark eyes and another infectious case of the giggles that only died down when Beth placed a juice bottle in Daniela’s hands and a glass of water on the coffee table in front of Hank.

Antonio scooted over on the sofa, leaving Beth ample room, but she perched uneasily on the sofa’s arm instead and stared at an undefined point over Hank’s shoulder.

Hank and Antonio exchanged looks over her evasive behavior, but Daniela soon brought their attention back where it belonged—solely on her.

“Uncle Hank,” she tugged on Hank’s sleeve then placed her small palm against his jaw. “Guess how many I’m going to be. How many?” she grinned, holding up two closed fists.

“I don’t know,” Hank said, shaking his head as she raised one finger. “Nah, you’re more than that.”

“This many?” Daniela held up two fingers.

“Let me think,” Hank made a goofy face, and three little fingers went up. When a fourth finger rose, he waved his hand in the air. “Oh, oh. I know. I know. Four?” he pretended to put a lot of thought into his answer, and Daniela squealed when he got it right. “Wow, you’re getting old. Is she really that old, Uncle Antonio?”

“She really is,” Antonio answered, leaning his elbows on his knees and smiling fondly. “I remember the day your mom and dad brought you home from the hospital. I’ve never seen your dad so silly over a girl, except your mommy.”

Daniela beamed, pearly teeth showing, and hugged Dora tight as she gathered her knees closer to her body. “My daddy’s coming to my birfday party, Uncle Hank.”

“He is?” Hank tried to keep the surprise out of his voice, but he knew he had failed miserably when Beth’s eyes connected with his and the awkward undercurrent that he’d done his best to ignore from the moment he’d entered the apartment crackled back to life.

Antonio cleared his throat when the tension grew too thick, but the gesture proved to be worthless a few seconds later when Daniela made another unexpected announcement.

“Mommy’s friend Diego is coming too.”




~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~






“You mean she hasn’t even told your brother she has a new boyfriend?” Celeste was incredulous. “That bitch.”

Whitney, believer in all things just and fair, decided to put her neck out there for once. “I”ve met him. He seems like a nice enough guy,” she shrugged.

“Beth and Luis have been separated for nearly six months,” Theresa sighed. “And besides,” she said, clearly trying to remain diplomatic, for Daniela’s sake if nothing else, “it’s not like she left Luis for Diego. It just, kind of, happened.”

“Remind me again why she left your brother,” Celeste shook her blond head in disbelief. “The man is hot as hell.”

Theresa grimaced, and Whitney looked uncomfortable at the comment, but Celeste wouldn’t be perturbed.

“What? I’d sleep with him. Rowr,” she playfully growled. “On second thought…let her keep Digger. Maybe I can score Luis’s phone number at the party.”

“You will not try to pick up my brother at my niece’s party,” Theresa reacted immediately. “Don’t make me un-invite you.”

Celeste seemed to take her warning seriously, well as seriously as she took anything, and she strolled ahead of them in the department store, flipping idly through racks of clothing and draping items that interested her over her arm.

Theresa groaned when she held up a pair of black leather pants and the obscene matching bustier and wondered how in the world her friend had managed to find the most risqué article of clothing in the entire store.

“Think Luis will like it?”

Whitney covered her smile with her hand, ducking her head when Theresa looked her direction.

“Put that back,” Theresa blew out an exasperated breath. “We’re looking for Daniela a gift.”

“It’s all Daddy’s money,” Celeste shrugged. “Hey!” she exclaimed a second later, making Theresa, Whitney, and everyone within fifty feet jump in fright. “That’s it! I’ve got my new career. It’s perfect,” she grabbed Whitney by the arm and started bouncing up and down, blond pigtails flying comically. “I’ll be a personal shopper.”

“You do have an unusual talent for spending,” Theresa giggled, walking on ahead of the pair with newfound determination when she saw the children’s department looming. “Uh oh,” her laughter faded and she stumbled when Celeste, not looking where she was going, bulldozed her from behind.

“Ms. T., I’m so sorry. I wasn’t watching…what?” Celeste’s nose scrunched up at the look on Whitney’s face.

“It’s her,” Whitney whispered.

“It’s the girlfriend.”



~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~




“Glorious, huh?” Sheridan teased when Gwen held up a frilly pink tutu for her inspection.

“It’s too girly,” Gwen surmised. “She might not be a girly girl.”

“Did you just say girly girl?” Sheridan grinned.

“I just said girly girl,” Gwen smiled back. Throwing her hands up in frustration, she cried, “Ugh! Why is this so hard?”

“I don’t know,” Sheridan bit her lip, rifling through a rack of jeans and holding up one pair for a closer look. “Look how tiny.”

Gwen bit back a knowing smile at the way Sheridan’s face softened with absolute awe and took the denim pants from her, studying them critically. “These are cute.”

“How old did you say this niece was going to be again?” Sheridan crowded close to her and pointed out a tee-shirt that was partially hidden behind the jeans, with a tiara emblazoned across the front.

“If the crown fits…He did positively light up when he was talking about her,” Gwen revealed, tucking an errant strand of blond behind her ear as she chewed on her bottom lip thoughtfully. “I don’t know, Sher. I don’t even know what size this kid wears. I don’t even know her name. I have no business buying her a birthday gift.”

“Gwen,” Sheridan tried to cut in, sensing she was doubting more than just the birthday gift. “Don’t talk yourself out of this. You’re the happiest I’ve seen you since…since Ethan.” She squeezed Gwen’s hands reassuringly and gave her her most encouraging smile.

“Four-year-olds prefer toys anyway,” Gwen seemed to gain new confidence before her eyes. “If we hurry, we can hit a couple of toy stores before our appointment at the spa,” she declared, sidestepping the next rack of clothes and the blond engrossed in the rack of mini-faux leather jackets. “Sher?” she turned back when she realized Sheridan wasn’t following her. “You coming?”

“You go on,” Sheridan absently called, picking up the tee-shirt again. “I’ll be right there.”

“Don’t take too long, okay? I promised Ethan I’d get you back for that dreadful dinner party with the firm. He’ll kill me if we’re late, and he has to go by himself. You know how he is about those things,” Gwen grumbled.

“Tell me about it,” Sheridan muttered to herself, but still loud enough to the ears closest to her to hear, which just happened to belong to a certain pigtailed blond. “I’ve been his date to too many of them over the years.”























So...thoughts anyone?

To Be Continued???

Thanks for reading!!!

Look for updates on my other stories hopefully soon. :D

And don't forget...if you have feedback (LOVE feedback, lol), leave it in the UAgirl updates, comments thread. Thanks. :)

P.S. This has only been proofed so if you see any really big mistakes, please let me know.

P.P.S. Ethan and Chad (and Luis, hehe) WILL make appearances soon.

UAgirl
4.14.08, 9:34 PM
Chapter 8~~~Something To Talk About




“Crane!”

Ethan’s smile froze then melted in apology when the commanding voice and the man it belonged to encroached upon the quiet little corner he, his aunt Sheridan, and Gwen had carved out for themselves in the starkly furnished penthouse suite that bore a disconcerting resemblance to a museum instead of a place of residence.

Grabbing one of Sheridan’s slim hands in his beefy clasp, the man bent to press a noisy kiss against her smooth skin before she could protest, and his small blue eyes roved over her figure approvingly. “I don’t think I’ve had the pleasure.” The corners of his mouth curled up beneath the shadow of his dark mustache, and he barely gave Ethan a second glance when he stumbled over the introductions. “This lovely creature is your aunt?” Noting the seeming absence of an engagement ring or a wedding band on Sheridan’s finger, he positively leered in satisfaction while Sheridan suppressed a tiny shudder.

Watching Ethan open and close his mouth like a water-starved fish, Gwen rolled her eyes, snatching two sparkling glasses of wine from the tray of a passing caterer and pushing one into Sheridan’s hands. Raising a brow in challenge at Ethan as she took a fortifying sip from her own drink, she snaked a possessive arm around Sheridan’s waist and watched their friend’s beady blue eyes narrow at the action. With toothy grin in place, she staked her false claim. “Allow me to make the introductions,” Gwen insisted, barely noticing, out of the corner of her eyes, Sheridan lift her own flute to her lips and take a generous, nervous swallow. “This is Sheridan. My significant other.”

Sheridan choked violently, white wine spraying unexpectedly from her mouth and hitting her would-be suitor square in the face while Ethan, an unfortunate bystander, wasn’t completely unscathed. Nostrils burning and eyes stinging, Sheridan could only cough hoarsely as Ethan, cheeks and ears flaming scarlet, pursued the man in apology. Holding a hand to her throat, she turned on Gwen with wide, incredulous blue eyes and croaked, “Gwen!”

Smirking, Gwen offered the closest thing she was willing to give as an apology. “We really do need a code word.”

Trying to glare at her and failing, Sheridan gave up, gulping down the remainder of her wine before smiling helplessly at her longtime friend. “A little warning would have been nice,” she agreed, letting first one undignified giggle escape then another. Calming slightly, she frowned as she reminded Gwen of one little side effect of her gallant rescue, “He’s going to be insufferable on the ride home.”

“I’ll make it up to him,” Gwen vowed. “Besides,” she said, brown eyes alight, “you’re the one stuck with him. I’m taking a separate taxi. Remember?”

“Don’t remind me,” Sheridan groaned. “You mean you’d abandon me, one of your oldest and best friends?” Answering herself, she warned Gwen, “Don’t answer that. Of course, you’d abandon me. I’d abandon me for glorious sex.” Sighing wistfully, she barely managed not to cringe as they watched the peeved quality of Ethan’s approach, “Does this Tony have a brother?”

“As a matter of fact…”




~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~^~




Antonio was long gone, and Daniela was in the bathroom brushing her teeth. That left Hank and Beth alone in the kitchen, straightening up after dinner and fumbling to re-establish communication.

Studying Beth’s profile as he watched her scrape the remainder of the ravioli from a pan into the garbage disposal, Hank wondered at the barely discernable tired lines around her eyes and the drawn set of her mouth. Luis, it seemed, hadn’t been the only one suffering. The separation clearly hadn’t been the easiest of situations for Beth either. Still, that knowledge failed to explain a certain someone, the so-called elephant in the room, and Hank was never one to stay quiet long. In the end, he blurted the question, his curiosity getting the better of him. “Does this Diego know that you’re still married?”

Beth took a second to glower at him, before reminding him, none too gently, “I signed the divorce papers, Hank.”

Hank winced when she yanked the door to the dishwasher open and jerked the tray out, plopping the pan in place with more force than necessary, making the glasses, dishes, and silverware already loaded rattle and clatter discordantly. He knew his reply was completely unwarranted—she, better than anyone, already knew—but he answered anyway. “He won’t sign the papers.”

The rumble of the ancient machine as it sputtered to life wasn’t enough to disguise the fatigue in Beth’s tone. “I’m not trying to take her away from him. I’m not,” she insisted when he looked dubious.

“Really?” Raking a hand carelessly through his dark hair, Hank considered his next words and decided there was no way around the issue when she’d done exactly that. “You packed his kid up and everything you owned in that beat-up old car of yours and drug her here, Beth, to New York, far away from everything and everyone she knows.”

“Not everyone,” Beth muttered, refusing to meet his eyes as she studied her own hands, fingers pushing at and worrying a cuticle. “Theresa’s here.”

“And the position you put Theresa in,” Hank shook his head, remembering his buddy’s reaction to finding out where Beth and Daniela had spent their first weeks in New York and the subsequent rift that had developed between brother and sister, one that still hadn’t completely healed.

“She’s his favorite,” Beth whispered guiltily. “He won’t stay mad at her forever.” Pushing away from the counter she had been resting against, she paced to the other side of the small room in an attempt to avoid his disappointed stare. “At me, maybe. But not at her.”

Sighing, Hank let the expression on his face soften, and told her, with all sincerity, “Luis is not angry.” When Beth frowned at him disbelievingly, he corrected himself, “Not anymore.” Approaching her cautiously, he quietly said, “He’s hurt, Beth, and trying to understand where it all went wrong, where he went wrong.”

Beth blinked back the sting of tears at the thought; whatever else Luis was to her, he was a good man, and she hated to think her leaving had hurt him so much. Still, she knew her explanations to be inadequate and not for Hank’s ears, though she felt she could make one small admission. “It wasn’t all him, Hank,” she said, helpless to stop her eyes from filling as she let Hank fold her into a brotherly hug. “It was me, too.” The painful words were muffled by Hank’s shoulder. “I didn’t want to hurt him.”

“I know,” Hank whispered his answer against her forehead. He pressed a quick kiss to her hair and pulled back when they heard the soft pitter patter of little feet and Daniela boisterously announced her arrival. “Wiggles,” Hank admonished with a grin, stooping down to eye level with the little girl, “I thought I told you…super secret agents like us have to be sneaky so no one knows we’re even there.”

Daniela’s eyes were round and dark and serious and she raised a finger to her lips as she nodded in acknowledgment, going so far as to shush her own mother when Beth attempted to speak.

“Excellent job, Agent,” Hank praised. Scooping her into his arms with a small grunt of exertion, he pandered to the amused smile that twitched at the corners of Beth’s mouth, winking and speaking to Daniela in muted whispers.

“Lights out in five minutes,” Beth reminded as the pair swept past her, Daniela flapping her small hand in goodnight.

“Fifteen,” Hank bargained, the sound of his voice and Daniela’s giggles slightly garbled behind the walls that separated them.

Turning the dishwasher on, Beth made a final concession with a fond roll of her eyes at her friend’s familiar antics. “Ten, and that’s my final offer. Take it or leave it.”

“Take it!”



~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~



Whitney’s solemn, sympathetic face watched her in the reflection of the bathroom mirror as she arranged her long dark hair into a neat ponytail. “You could just call in. Tell Nate you’ve got that flu that’s going around.”

Theresa mulled her suggestion over for about a second before she shook her head, making her ponytail swing back and forth. “I can’t do it, Whit. We both know Nate’s just doing me a favor letting me work at the restaurant a couple nights a week. You have your lessons. This is my way of pulling my weight around here.”

Celeste’s more animated face joined Whitney’s in the reflection of the mirror, and she lifted a hand to wave off Theresa’s worries. “Listen to Ms. Thang. I already told you I got it covered.”

Theresa turned around to face her two friends with a heavy sigh. “We’re staying here practically rent-free as it is, Celeste.”

“So?” Celeste interjected with a shrug of her shoulders. “Think of it as doing Daddy and me a favor. He doesn’t give himself a massive heart attack worrying about his little girl living all alone and I don’t kill myself out of sheer boredom. It’s a win-win situation.” When Theresa still looked skeptical, she added, as further proof, green eyes sparkling teasingly, “And the fact that I’m practically living with two nuns just sweetens the deal.” Whitney’s lips thinned into a tight, straight line at the comment, and Theresa’s lips trembled slightly, neither reaction the one she was seeking. Floundering for more comforting words, she finally gave up, grabbing both girls by the hands and forming a semi-circle in the small bathroom. “You know I love you, right? Even if I don’t always say the right things.”

“We know,” Theresa answered for the both of them, brown eyes bright and brimming with affection.

Whitney answered with a tiny squeeze of her fingers in Celeste’s hand.

Voice wavering slightly, Theresa fiddled self-consciously with the buttons lining her shirt, avoiding each of the other girls’ eyes. “Being a nun would be less complicated.”

“Too bad Mother Teresa was already taken, huh?” Celeste smirked, swatting at Theresa’s hand. “Stop that! You look fine.”

“Nate will understand,” Whitney tried again.

“Yeah,” Celeste encouraged, grin re-emerging. “I bet he knows all about problems with men.”

“Celeste,” Theresa chided with a reluctant smile. “Nate has an ex-wife and daughter.”

“What?” Celeste feigned innocence. “I’m just sayin’.”

“I’ll call him for you if you want,” Whitney offered.

“Now that is true love,” Celeste told Theresa, throwing an approving arm over Whitney’s slim shoulders. “Ms. Thang willingly practicing the good ole art of deception.” Rocking back on her heels, she made an offer of her own. “I do a real convincing gagging sound.” When Theresa’s resistance to the idea seemed to waver just slightly, she went in for the kill. “We can turn it to Soapnet and mock 90210 and Days of Our Lives.”

Whitney was the one to give the last gentle push. “There’s some of your favorite ice cream in the freezer.”

Finally relenting, Theresa let Celeste lead her into the living room while Whitney left in search of the cordless phone and lamented on their newest inadvertent discovery. “How was I supposed to know he had a kid?”



~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~




John the Doorman saw lots of things; the people of New York had always given him plentiful fodder for conversation.

Take Mrs. Yearwood from the third floor, for example. Every morning around 9 a.m. she took her beloved poodle Bitsy out for a walk. She had friends over from her Yoga class every other Tuesday. And each Thursday afternoon, she had a standing appointment for a relaxing massage from Henri, a well-built young man at least twenty years her junior with a hideously fake French accent.

Now John wouldn’t call himself cultured or well-versed in the ways of the rich, but he’d learned a few things on the job and he had a pretty good understanding of human nature. Suffice it to say, only Mrs. Yearwood’s unsuspecting husband remained ignorant to Henri’s real relationship to his wife.

Mrs. Yearwood wasn’t the only tenant that had captured John’s attention or fancy. There was the eccentric, reclusive author that holed himself up in his fifth floor apartment for months on end. The flighty up-and-coming actress who’d just scored her first major movie role. The tiny business mogul twins that John wanted to take under his wing and offer a good, fattening meal. And finally, young Mr. Crane and his delightfully friendly, equally young, aunt.

Mr. Crane was a lawyer, one of the newest young bucks at his big firm.

John knew this to be true for a variety of reasons, two of them being Mr. Crane’s tender age and his unmistakable sense of idealism. Idealism tended to fade and disappear altogether in John’s city, but Mr. Crane’s hadn’t yet. Thus, Mr. Crane was obviously one of the new kids on the block.

Most tenants of John’s building—as the Doorman for the last twenty years, John felt it wasn’t impertinent of him to claim a little bit of ownership—greeted him with a polite nod or small wave. Some ignored him altogether. But Mr. Crane and his aunt? Always had a kind word, always addressed him by name and looked him in the eyes. As such, John couldn’t find fault with harboring a particular fondness for the pair, and his blue eyes were especially watchful where they were concerned.

It’s how he first noticed the young lass that had had Mr. Crane walking around in a fog for days on end.

It was how, though he wouldn’t realize it until much later, John was the first to lay eyes upon the young man who would return the favor for the lovely Ms. Crane.

And he did so by quite literally crashing into her.




























































Misunderstandings abound!

LOL!

I promise, we're getting there. I mean, hey, I *did* finally introduce a certain special someone into Sheridan's life (although she might not actually realize it yet).

Don't worry. There'll be more collisions later.

Thanks, as always, for reading!!!

SHUIS_4EVER
4.15.08, 11:34 AM
waiting for moreeeeeeeeeeeeee just read it at the old board. lol

UAgirl
7.10.10, 11:09 PM
Ahem.


*clears throat*


Is anybody still reading this? Anybody? Bueller? Anybody?


LOL!


If so, I come bearing gifts.


A new chapter!


I know, tis a shock. As much to me as any of you guys. ;)


But it *is* a new chapter, and it's fairly long. Both good things, no?


Hope you enjoy.



Title: It's My Party (And I'll Cry If I Want To)
Rating: PG
Warnings: nekkidness (it's pretty tame), some language, violence against clowns (lol, you'll see)
Characters/Pairings: Gwen/Antonio, Theresa/Whitney, Luis and a quirky blonde, Celeste/Hank, the Lopez-Fitzgerald brood, Gwen/Sheridan, Hank/Beth, Sheridan/Luis, more
Word Count: 7430
Summary (for chapter): Rubbing at her eyes with her fists, Daniela pouted, “I want my daddy. He promised he’d come.”







Chapter 9~~~It’s My Party (And I’ll Cry If I Want To)




“Mmm,” Gwen sighed dreamily at the talented lips giving special treatment to her neck and the hands artfully stroking her down from her post-lovemaking high. “What a way to start the morning.” She tunneled her fingers through her lover’s dark hair, smiling saucily at him when he lifted his head to grin up at her with self-satisfaction.

Antonio returned the favor, combing his fingers through her messy blonde hair. “You’ve got bed-head,” he teased, dropping a nipping kiss to the swell of her exposed breast.

“I don’t care,” Gwen told him, and it was true. If he kept doing what he was doing, she didn’t care if she looked like that cartoon she’d seen once, the one with the beehive; she felt damn fabulous. “What time’s it?” she asked on a half-moan, his mouth up to no good (who was she kidding?) again. “I was supposed to get a wake-up call.”

“You did,” Antonio murmured against her mouth.

“Antonio.” Gwen tried to muster up disapproval and disappointment, but it was a fruitless gesture because she certainly wasn’t fooling anybody, least of all herself.

“After last night,” Antonio smirked, “I thought you needed the rest.”

“That’s what we were doing?” Gwen’s brown eyes danced with humor at him as he settled more fully atop her. “Resting?” An undignified shriek of laughter erupted from her lips when he chose to reward her sarcasm with a well-placed touch. She was unnaturally ticklish, a fact the man currently sharing her bed had delighted in ever since he’d discovered it. Ethan, thankfully, had never used her little weakness against her like Antonio did on a regular basis; whether it was gentlemanly restraint or ignorance of the fact, Gwen didn’t know. “Stop, stop,” she pleaded breathlessly, squirming beneath the heavy body blanketing hers. “We have a party to go to. Remember?” Her reminder did the trick, and she propped herself up on her elbow, admiring Antonio’s unabashed confidence as he stood nude before her, searching for his discarded clothing from the night before. She bit her lip when he gave up looking for his boxers and pulled on his jeans.

Her reaction made Antonio’s grin return. “What?”

“Why don’t you take a shower here?” Gwen questioned, sitting up in the bed, the sheet pooling at her waist.

“We’d never make it out of this room,” Antonio told her, his lustful dark eyes drinking her in. “Besides,” he explained, smiling at the slight blush that painted her pale skin pink, “I don’t have any clothes. I never expected to spend the night.”

His answer had an unexpected effect on Gwen; ignoring the funny twist she felt in her stomach, she found herself nodding along with him and trying to smile. The smile came much easier when she remembered the gift she and Sheridan had finally found in the last toy store they’d gone to the day before. Pulling the sheet up and bunching it up under her arms, she left the bed, crossing the room and coming back to stand in front of Antonio with a bag in her hands. “Wait until you see what I got your niece. The manager of the toy store said it was one of their most popular items. Sheridan and I got the last one,” she told him proudly, presenting the bag for his inspection.

Antonio looked skeptically at the fuschia ribbons and the tissue paper erupting from the bag in a rainbow of color before delving inside, and he couldn’t help grinning when he got a good look at the box in his hands. “Dora?”

“Not only does she sing,” Gwen smiled back at him, “she dances too.” Something in his expression gave her pause, and her smile started to fall. “Well,” she started to ramble nervously, “She doesn’t really dance. It’s more like scooting than anything.” Worrying her bottom lip between her teeth when he remained close-lipped, she ventured in a deflated voice, “You don’t think she’ll like it.”

Seeing her so disappointed, Antonio finally uttered a few words of reassurance. “Daniela loves Dora. It isn’t that.”

Gwen frowned as she watched him scratch at his head; it was obvious he wanted to say something. “Well, then,” she prodded, feeling her stomach start to coil in knots at his unreadable expression, “what is it?” Antonio still did not answer her, and she felt a growing sense of horror as another possibility occurred to her. “You never actually asked me to go to the party. That’s it, isn’t it? I’m not invited. You don’t want me to go. I just assumed. Oh God. Why didn’t you say something before? I spent all day looking for the perfect gift. I can’t believe I was so stupid…”

Antonio finally cut off her panicked rambling with a kiss, a kiss that effectively left Gwen dumbstruck for several long seconds, which was more than okay with him, because it gave him the chance to blurt out an explanation. “We got the same gift!”

“Are you kidding me?” Gwen was aghast once she had regained the capability of independent thought and, subsequently, speech. Touching a hand to her tingling lips, she started to shake her head, and then, without warning, she punched Antonio in the shoulder, with just enough oomph to make him groan.

“What was that for?” Antonio held up a deflecting hand.

“We got the same gift,” Gwen shot back. “You made me think I was some crazy rich ditz you were just using for sex.”

With as serious an expression as he could muster, Antonio told her, “You are not a ditz.”

“Gee, thanks,” Gwen rolled her brown eyes at him, stomping across the room and nearly tripping over the trailing sheet wrapped two-fold around her. Spying his missing boxers hanging from the knob of the bathroom door, she snatched them up and threw them at him, sling-shot style. “See yourself out.”

Brown eyes dancing at her as he removed his boxers from his face, Antonio reminded her, “I need my shirt.” He slapped a frustrated hand against the bathroom door when she slammed it in his face and quickly locked it, his shirt inside. Seconds later, he heard the shower come on, and he knew he wasn’t going to outlast her (the lady loved her showers long and leisurely), not if he was going to make it to the party on time—after taking care of the list of errands Beth had pushed him out the door with the evening before. “Fine,” he muttered under his breath, “Keep it.” Louder, he told her, “The party’s at noon, in the park. Just look for the pink and purple balloons.”

Inside the bathroom, Gwen gave no indication she had heard him.

“I don’t invite just anybody to my niece’s birthday parties,” Antonio said. “I just thought you should know that.”

~*~


“You’re looking better this morning.”

Theresa returned Whitney’s encouraging smile with a small frown. “That bad, huh?”

“That bad,” Whitney confirmed, wrapping her arms around Theresa’s shoulders and giving her a consoling hug. “He’s not worth it, Honey. Try to remember that.”

“Oh Whit,” Theresa sighed, lifting a hand up to squeeze one of her best friend’s arms gratefully. “Promise you won’t ever let me do something so stupid again.”

Whitney gave Theresa’s shoulders an answering squeeze before letting her go and painted a hopeful smile on her lips. “Theresa, you’re a force of nature. I can only do my best.”

"That’s all I can ask for,” Theresa replied. Casting a glance around the tidy living room, she focused on Whitney again. “Whitney,” she gently scolded, “I told you I’d clean up the mess.”

“It wasn’t me,” Whitney told her, wandering into the kitchen to fix herself a glass of orange juice. “It was Celeste.” The bubbly blonde had burned off an enormous amount of nervous energy by cleaning every nook, cranny, and inanimate surface in the small apartment this morning. With her pink sundress, pearls, and perky ponytail, she’d blown past Whitney like a virtual Energizer Bunny with nary a word, except for two very important ones, hissed as the door was closing behind her.

“Where is Celeste?” Theresa wondered aloud, signing her name to Daniela’s birthday card with a flourish and offering it Whitney, who had already returned to her side.

Whitney neatly printed her name below Theresa’s own and handed the card back to her. She took a sip of her orange juice before answering. “Monthly meeting with the Captain.”

Theresa winced.

“How do you think he’ll take the news?”

“That’s she changing her major? Again?” Whitney nodded, and Theresa bit her lip with worry. “Maybe one of us should have gone with her.” Snagging her purse from the coffee table and fishing inside for her cell phone, she withdrew it and flipped it open, checking her messages. “What’s our code?”

“Funky Chicken,” Whitney revealed, feeling ridiculous for even uttering the words. She swore their off-the-wall friend did it on purpose. Last month the code had been “Foxy-Ass Mulder.” She’d never live down the humiliation she still felt at bursting into the restaurant and blurting out those words in front of the early dinner crowd , a crowd which just so happened to include Nate’s bitchy ex-wife and his twelve-year-old daughter Chesley. Nate, privy to Celeste’s rocky relationship with her father and her near-constant need to be rescued (Celeste called Theresa a real snake-charmer where her father was concerned), had barely batted an eyelash, shooing Theresa and Whitney out the door with one hand and taking his ex-wife aside to issue an explanation. Last month, Celeste had worn a short pink wig and fishnet stockings to an afternoon opera performance; this month Whitney wagered the Captain might actually give Celeste his phone so that she could call or text them.

Theresa released a relieved sigh when she found no messages, voice or text, from Celeste. There were, however, several from assorted members of her family, immediate and otherwise. Scrolling past messages from Miguel and Paloma, even one from Noah (that she immediately deleted without reading) she saw a voicemail from her mother. Listening to it, her dark eyes grew round and her head whipped around to face Whitney mere seconds later. “Whitney!” she exclaimed in a near panic, “What time is it?” Without waiting for Whitney to answer, she jumped up from the sofa, tugged her purse over her shoulder, and headed for the door.

“Theresa, it’s barely after ten,” Whitney frowned, nevertheless following in Theresa’s wake. “The party’s not until noon.” Pausing to snag her own purse from the kitchen bar, she made the hasty decision to scoop up the assortment of brightly wrapped presents stacked in one of the bar stools and snatched her own set of keys off their ring when it looked like Theresa hadn’t heard her, dashing from the apartment in a blind hurry. “Theresa, Honey, wait!” Whitney called after her, slamming the door shut behind her. She barely made it inside the elevator before Theresa was jabbing frantically at the buttons.

“We’re late. Mama and Papa were on the 9 o’clock bus.”

Whitney quickly fell into their established pattern, calming Theresa as the elevator doors shut. “It’s okay. I’m sure we’ll make it. You know how those buses are. They’re always late. I’m sure your parents haven’t been waiting very long.”

Inside the empty apartment, the phone rang.

And rang.

And rang.

~*~


“Excuse me, Sir,” John’s normally kind blue eyes narrowed in suspicion at the man that had literally been pacing back and forth in front of the building for the last fifteen minutes. “May I help you with something?” he asked, raising his voice to capture the man’s attention. When the man turned around, sliding a cell phone into his jeans pocket with a disappointed sigh, John’s brows knit together in consideration. Something about the man was familiar, and it only took a few seconds of him sorting through his mental file of faces to make the connection. “You’re the lad from yesterday—the one who applied for the job in security.”

The man offered John his hand, shaking it firmly if not a little distractedly. “Luis Lopez-Fitzgerald,” he introduced himself.

Chuckling, John told him, “That name’s a right mouthful, Lad.” Sobering slightly, he gave his own name, and a little helpful advice. “I hate to disappoint you, but your application probably hasn’t made it to the Boss-Man’s desk yet.”

Nodding his head in understanding, Luis sheepishly admitted, “I know. That’s not why I’m here. I’m actually new to town, and this place is one of the only places I know besides my sister’s apartment and the place I stayed in last night. My daughter’s having her birthday party at the park today, and New York’s a big place.”

“With a lot of parks,” John interjected with twinkling blue eyes.

“With a lot of parks,” Luis agreed, delving in his jeans pocket and pulling out a crumpled sheet of paper. Scribbled on it was an address.

John patted the inside of his jacket looking for his glasses. Withdrawing them, he placed them on the end of his nose and held out a hand for the piece of paper. “May I?”

Luis readily gave it to him and waited (im)patiently for him to give him some direction.

After a few seconds, John whistled beneath his breath and pronounced, “This park is clear across town. What time is the party?”

“Noon,” Luis blew out, fishing for his phone again. He opened it, finding no response from Theresa, and shut it again in frustration. He couldn’t say he was surprised; communication between him and Theresa had been sparse and strained with tension since he’d discovered she’d harbored Beth and Daniela their first few weeks in this vast city without giving him so much as a hint of their whereabouts. “I’m not going to make it, am I?”

“Not without a little bit of help,” John answered honestly. “Stay right here, Lad. I may know somebody willing to offer you assistance.”

Luis did as he asked, but not without renewing his pacing. Intermittently, he’d pull out his phone and try Theresa again. A couple of times he even tried Beth, but her phone had been going straight to voicemail all morning. Luis tried to reason with himself that she was probably busy, taking care of some last minute preparations for their daughter’s party, but his frustration was starting to build into anger when John returned with a tall, thin, waif of a girl.

“Mr. Lopez-Fitzgerald, Ms. Standish,” John stepped back to present the girl to Luis. “Ms. Standish, Mr. Lopez-Fitzgerald.”

The girl smiled sweetly at him and offered him a pale, slender hand. “Call me Charity.”

Luis took her hand, shaking it, then offered her the much-handled piece of paper, smudged around the edges and almost unreadable. He recited the address by memory when she struggled to make it out. A little more harshly than intended, he cut off her attempts at making small talk (he caught snippets…something about acting, a movie maybe), “I don’t mean to be rude, but are you sure you can help me? I really don’t want to be late.”

The smile on her face barely wavered. “Of course. My driver can take us.”

“You have a driver?” Luis looked at the girl with new eyes; she hardly seemed the celebrity type. Then again, she possessed a certain eccentric quality.

“I know, right?” Charity regarded him with an odd tilt of her head and a smile that bordered on saccharine. “I still haven’t gotten used to that. I guess the producers want to make sure I make it to the set in one piece,” she told him as they made their way toward a black SUV with tinted windows, conspicuous in its very attempt not to be. “How old is your little girl?”

Luis opened his mouth to answer her, but she didn’t give him the chance, and so he slid into the back seat of the SUV beside her, listening to her ramble on about her movie.

“Maybe she’d want to visit the set? On second thought, that might not be such a good idea. Did I tell you my movie has zombies in it?”

~*~


“Come on, Captain,” Celeste muttered under her breath as she waited in the lobby of one of her father’s many hotels for him to reappear (he had important business to attend to, like always), “I’m gonna be late. As always.” She fiddled nervously with the strand of pearls around her neck, her fingers itching to release the ridiculous ponytail that sat high upon her head, and started counting to one hundred under her breath, determined to keep her cool. She still had big news to tell her father, after all, even if she had chickened out during their brunch. When she got to fifty, she paused to ask, “Daddy, where are you?” She whirled around on her heels when she heard a strangely familiar voice close to her ear and glared down into a pair of mischievously twinkling brown eyes. “Frodo,” she addressed Hank with trumped-up disgust.

Hank’s grin grew as his eyes roved over her ensemble. “Are they having Grease auditions again?” Making a show of looking past her shoulder, he asked, “Where’s Tarzan?”

Celeste rolled her eyes and started to walk away from him, only to have him follow her, “Not that it’s any of your business, but Taran and I decided it was best if we go our separate ways.”

“I think you made the right decision,” Hank told her. “Anybody with a heart wouldn’t try to come between the man and his true love.” After a beat, he added, “His own reflection.”

“See that guy over there,” Celeste snarled, haughtily tossing her head toward a beefy man lurking around the bank of elevators. “His name is James. One word from me, and he’ll be tossing you out on your midget ass.”

“Hobbit,” Hank helpfully corrected her, teeth gleaming white at her.

“Midget. Hobbit,” Celeste rounded on him. “Whatever. Scram,” she hissed, her green eyes searching out her still absent father.

“Aww. And you asked so nicely too. There’s just one little problem. I’d love to oblige you, but I’m meeting somebody, in about…” he glanced at the watch on his wrist then to the elevator that had just opened, with a gaggle of twittering women spilling out all agog over something, or rather, someone, “2.5 seconds.” When the waters had parted, so to speak, and Antonio stepped out, bare-chested and red-faced, Hank couldn’t help the smirk that curled his lips. “In fact, there he is now. It’s been a pleasure, as always.”

Celeste’s jaw dropped open as she watched Hank and the half-naked man meet halfway, and her green eyes were still round with shock when her father’s commanding voice boomed in her ear.

“I’m sorry, Kitten,” the Captain apologized. “We’re going to have to have that little talk you wanted sometime else. There’s been a crisis at one of our West Coast properties.”

"But Daddy.” Turning her back on the strange little scene still unfolding, she weakly protested.

“I’m real proud of you, Celeste,” the Captain’s green eyes glowed with genuine pride as he pulled her close for a parting hug. “I wasn’t too keen on this fashion business nonsense at first, but you’ve stuck with it longer than anything else to date. Maybe your mother and I will actually get to attend a graduation ceremony before we have one foot in grave, after all.” Cupping her cheek briefly with his palm, he let his hand drop back down to his side and stooped to pick his briefcase back up. “Check in on your mother while I’m gone, will you?”

Celeste nodded mutely, her fingers gravitating back to her necklace as she watched him depart. She barely noticed when Hank walked past her, the half-naked man with him now sporting a tight white tee-shirt.

“Why the sad face, Sandy?” Hank teased. “You’ll see me at the party.”

Celeste opened her mouth to deliver a blistering retort, but, out of the corner of her eyes, she caught the time and changed her mind. With little more than an hour to go until the party, she hurried out the door and hailed the first taxi she saw.

~*~


Coming to a breathless stop, Theresa turned her head back and forth, dark curls spilling over her shoulders as her eyes darted from row to row of chairs, searching for her mama and her papa. Behind her, Whitney barely managed to juggle Daniela’s gifts in her arms, a little breathless herself after literally chasing her friend for the better part of the last half hour. “I don’t see them,” Theresa finally spoke. “Where could they be?”

“Por favor, Theresa,” a weary voice gave her the answer she sought. “Next time will you check your messages?”

Theresa smiled apologetically into her little sister’s wise brown eyes and pulled her into a hug. “Paloma, I am so sorry.”

“You should be,” Paloma regarded her seriously. “The whole time I had to watch those two make moon eyes at each other when they thought the other one wasn’t looking.” She nodded her head at two figures seated close together a few feet behind her. “It’s mucho disgusting.”

“Still in denial, huh?” Theresa commiserated with her over Miguel’s and Kay’s apparent blindness when it came to recognizing their feelings for each other. To be fair, Miguel had only just begun seeing his good friend in a different light in the past year while Kay had had a year’s head start on him. She could attest to the fact that her brother’s learning curve was sometimes painful to watch. Glancing around, she couldn’t help noticing her parents’ glaring absence. “Where are Mama and Papa?”

“They took a cab,” Paloma revealed.

Stunned into speaking, Whitney couldn’t help but repeat Paloma’s statement incredulously. “They took a cab?!”

Nodding, Paloma repeated herself. “They took a cab.” Turning around to gesture at Miguel and Kay, she explained the circumstances behind her parents’ uncharacteristic decision. “But only after convincing that police officer over there not to let us out of her sight.”

Whitney’s and Theresa’s eyes were drawn to a uniformed woman that all but blended into the background of the milling bus terminal. She wore her dark hair in a heavy braid down her back, and her fierce expression didn’t waver as she nodded at Paloma and Paloma nodded back.

“Apparently, Tina knows Chief Bennett.” Paloma frowned slightly in confusion, retaining only a vague grasp of the details. “Anyway,” she continued, “Mama and Papa didn’t want to be late, and somebody had to wait here for you, when you finally decided to check your messages.”

Theresa could only smile apologetically at the pointed look Paloma gave her. “I came as soon as I got Mama’s message.”

“No, you came as soon as you checked Mama’s message,” Paloma smirked slightly.

“At least she came,” Miguel joined them, giving Theresa a warm, welcoming hug.

Kay, meanwhile, hung back a little, until Whitney started to lose her grip on the packages in her hands again. “Here,” she offered. “Let me take some of those.”

Whitney shot her a grateful smile and obliged.

“Paloma,” Theresa tucked a heavy strand of hair behind her ear. “I really am sorry.”

Paloma softened and took her sister by the hand. “I know.”

“Guys,” Miguel interrupted the moment to remind them, “don’t we have a party to get to?”

~*~


With barely ten minutes to spare until noon, Gwen finally caught sight of Sheridan coming around the corner, a purple gift bag swinging in her hand and glittering in the brilliant sunshine. “Thank God,” Gwen greeted her, expelling a sigh of relief. “You made it.”

Sheridan handed the bag over to Gwen with a teasing smile. “It wasn’t easy, I tell you. You owe me big time.”

Peeking in the bag, Gwen dazzled Sheridan with a smile of her own. “Whatever you want, Sher. It’s yours.”

"Whatever I want,” Sheridan pretended to mull it over. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

“Within reason,” Gwen felt the need to add.

“But of course,” Sheridan responded with a laugh.

“Do I look okay?” Gwen blurted out, waving her free hand about slightly to indicate her appearance. “I’m not too dressy for a little kid’s party, am I? I thought I should wear something casual but nice. This is the most casual thing I own.”

Sheridan took in the black pencil skirt and the simple silk shell neatly tucked in and accentuating Gwen’s narrow waist and decided another day of shopping was in order. Smiling, the only piece of criticism she offered related to the killer pumps adorning her friend’s feet, “I think those are the kind of shoes that result in kids, not the kind you wear to a preschooler’s party.”

Gwen’s brown eyes widened comically. “What will his mother think?”

“She’ll be jealous?” Sheridan shrugged, blue eyes twinkling at her. Sensing her comment had done little to ease Gwen’s anxiety, she took a step closer and seized her by the arms. “Forget about her for a minute. What will this Tony of yours think?”

Blushing slightly, Gwen admitted, “They’re his favorite.”

Sliding her hands down Gwen’s arms to give her hands a reassuring squeeze, Sheridan said, “There you go. Problem solved.”

“But Sheridan…”

“No but Sheridan’s,” Sheridan tsked gently, amazed at how important making a good impression on Tony’s family was to Gwen. This was so much more than heady sexual attraction; she knew it and Gwen knew it, and she could see that that little piece of knowledge was all but terrifying to Gwen. “You’ll be a hit. How can you not be? You come bearing gifts,” she teased.

"I can’t thank you enough,” Gwen professed. “You’re a lifesaver.” She didn’t mention how detrimental it was to Sheridan’s well-being, buying clothes for a child that hadn’t been much more than an unrealized dream gone in the blink of an eye; that was more Ethan’s style, bumbling but well-meaning.

Sheridan read more into the words left unsaid by Gwen, and she bit her lip, her blue eyes growing a little misty. “My therapist begs to differ.”

“Well, you know what I think about your therapist,” Gwen responded.

“Some of the things he says make sense,” Sheridan put up a token defense, squeezing Gwen’s hands back gratefully when they refused to let go of her own. “I do have to let go. I’m just not ready yet.”

“Let go on your own terms, Sher. No one else’s,” Gwen advised her, leaning forward to kiss each of her cheeks. “Are you going to be okay?”

Nodding, Sheridan accepted Gwen’s hug, swiping discreetly at the few tears that had escaped unbidden. “I’ll be fine. Go. You don’t want to be late.” When Gwen hesitated to leave her side, Sheridan reassured her, “Ethan won’t be long. He had a few things to take care of.”

“Are you sure?”

“Gwen,” Sheridan grew somewhat exasperated. “I’m sure.”

“Okay,” Gwen smiled back at her. “Wish me luck.”

“You don’t need it,” Sheridan answered. “They’re going to love you.”


~*~



“Well, if it isn’t my favorite four-year-old!” Hank announced, swooping in and claiming Daniela for himself, from her grandmother’s arms.

Pilar smiled at them indulgently before giving Hank a significant look and moving on to help Beth and a couple of the other children’s parents with the rest of the decorations.

“You’re looking mighty pretty today,” Hank complimented the little girl, who beamed proudly.

“She dressed herself,” Beth, placing paper Dora plates and plastic forks and spoons along the picnic bench behind them, teasingly divulged.

“It’s my birfday,” Daniela huffed in explanation, slightly disgruntled at her mother’s laughing tone. “Mommy,” she frowned, tugging at the fluffy white skirt of her dress. Pink cowgirl boots peeked out beneath. Sticking one skinny little brown leg out, she showed them off. “Look at what Diego got me, Uncle Hank.”

"Nice,” Hank caught Beth’s eyes then smiled. “I need me a pair of those.”

“Uncle Hank,” Daniela giggled. “You’re so silly,” she proclaimed, squirming to get down. “Mommy,” she pointed out a little boy in a yellow Spongebob tee-shirt and shorts, just arriving with what appeared his mother, carrying a tiny tot with an abundance of strawberry curls. “Will and Emma!”

“What’s Spongebob got that I don’t?” Hank cried, watching the pair meet each other halfway and promptly scamper off to join the growing circle of kids clustering around a strange-looking pseudo-clown making balloon figures. Hank slowly turned around, lifting a brow in question at Beth. “Who sprung for Pennywise over there?”

Beth barely spared Hank a roll of her eyes. “Diego wanted to do something nice for the kids. Clowns are expensive.”

Hank’s eyes widened. “You’re not saying…no. That’s not him, is it?” His lips quirked with the makings of a grin.

“Hank, don’t even,” Beth warned.

“I’m just saying,” Hank couldn’t help himself. “He should look into getting a refund from the Clown College.”

"Leave her alone, Hank,” Antonio stepped in, a giant cluster of pink and purple balloons in his grasp. “Where do you want these?” he asked Beth.

Beth looked a little frazzled as she answered him, raking her fingers through her hair. “Anywhere. Everywhere.”

“I’ll take care of the balloons,” Martin announced, taking the balloons from Antonio’s hands. “There’s someone here to see you,” he told his son.

Antonio followed his father’s line of sight, and a slow grin stole over his face when he spied Gwen standing a few feet away, hesitant to join what was rapidly becoming a three-ring circus. “Thanks, Papa,” he touched his father’s shoulder with his hand, trotting across the short distance that separated him from the nervous blond.

“Poor thing looks like she’s never been to a kid’s birthday party in her life,” Martin remarked.

“Not even her own,” Hank muttered in agreement, watching the pair with avid interest. To no one in particular, he commented, “Why didn’t someone tell me we could bring a date?”


~*~


“Whoa, Baby! Tell me you’re finally legal,” a familiar feminine voice catcalled as they were rushing down the sidewalk, making Miguel flush ten different shades of red and Kay narrow her eyes in jealousy.

“Miguel, Kay…you remember Celeste,” Theresa made the (re)introductions.

“Thank God you’re late too, Ms. T.” Celeste proclaimed, slightly out of breath from power walking the last couple of blocks to the park (she’d actually run out of cab-fare before then…there was a lot to be said about the power of flirting). Sliding her green eyes back over Miguel’s boyishly handsome face, she lamented, “Too bad I pride myself on not being a cradle-robber, Migs. Too bad.”

Miguel (and Kay) seemed to release a relieved sigh, and Theresa had to hide a smile at them both. She turned her attention back to Celeste when she realized the lovable motor-mouth hadn’t actually stopped talking.

“I chickened out, Ms. T. I didn’t have the guts.”

“Celeste,” Theresa lightly chastised, waving Whitney and Paloma ahead of them when it looked like they were waiting for the rest of them to catch up.

“I know, I know,” Celeste took her admonishment on the chin. “I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t disappoint him that way. And then he got an important business call. And Frodo showed up and met this random half-nekkid guy…it was too much. My brain couldn’t handle it all.”

Theresa shook her head, knowing Celeste never gave herself as much credit as she deserved. She was much more than the persona she let the rest of the world see. “You can’t hide the truth forever.”

“I don’t know, Ms. T. Money talks. There are a lot of flunkies out there who will do anything for a buck. We can always stage a graduation,” she said.

“How much are you paying?” Kay piped up, earning a disapproving look from Theresa. “My dad’s the Police Chief back in Harmony,” she shrugged. “He’s not exactly rolling in the dough. Besides, how hard can it be?”

Celeste grinned, her blond ponytail bobbing in her enthusiasm. “I’m sure we can negotiate an acceptable amount.”

“The truth will come out,” Theresa had a little wisdom of her own to impart. “It always does.”

“Maybe,” Celeste considered her words. Then she brightened, “I’m a much more adept liar than you are.”

“Dios mio,” Theresa muttered underneath her breath, making Miguel and Kay snicker. Acting? Maybe not so much. But Celeste could spin some wild tall tales. With the right help. “That’s not exactly a good thing, Celeste.”

“Depends on who you’re asking,” Celeste wouldn’t be perturbed. “I happen to think it’s an excellent trait for an actress to have. That’s all acting is. Lying about who you are.” Suddenly changing the subject, she started extolling the praises of random half-nekkid guy. “Frodo said he’d be at the party. Do you think he brought his friend?”

“Maybe,” Theresa distractedly answered, squinting into the bright sunshine and trying to make out the figure sitting forlornly on a bench at the far edges of the park. The only thing she could clearly distinguish was a swath of ocean blue and blond hair. It almost looked like…no. Telling herself there were millions of blonds, bottle and otherwise, in New York, she refocused her attention on where she was going, a beaming smile lighting up her face when she spotted her little niece break away from a swarm of boisterous children, racing headlong to meet her, arms outstretched wide.

“Auntie Resa! You came!”


~*~


Knuckling a few tears away, Sheridan retrieved her purse from the bench and withdrew her compact, hoping to repair the damage. Frowning in dismay at her appearance, she delved her hand back inside her purse, searching for a tissue, a handkerchief—something to take care of the mascara smudged around her reddened eyes. Finding none, she sighed and leaned her head back, closing her eyes. If Ethan found her like this…she tried to push the thought from her head, tried to push all thoughts from her head really, but it didn’t work.

The music of children’s laughter echoed through the park, and a gentle breeze blew, stirring the leaves of the tree that cast a shadow over the bench.

When the shadow grew longer and hurried footfall reached her ears, Sheridan straightened on the bench, her blue eyes snapping open. “Ethan, I…” her excuses died on her lips when she discovered not Ethan, but a man familiar to her in the vaguest of senses. “I’m sorry,” she softly murmured. “I thought you were someone else.” Her apology seeming to fall on deaf ears, she regarded the tight set of the generous mouth, the deep brown eyes that had only briefly landed on her face, and the nervous twitch of feet. Standing up slowly, she extended a hesitant hand. “Can I help you?” she asked, lightly touching his arm. She stepped back slightly, startled at the intensity of his gaze (and his touch), and softly said, “You look lost.”

"I am,” came the simple answer.

“Are you looking for a certain person, a particular address?” Sheridan fished for information. For the first time, she noticed the small wrapped package clutched in his hands, and understanding lit her face. “A birthday party, perhaps?” Briefly glancing at the package, he looked back to her, and Sheridan felt almost lightheaded (ridiculous, right?), being the object under such incredible focus. Finally, he spoke, on a frustrated sigh.

“It’s my daughter’s party.” If he noticed the surprised arch of Sheridan’s brow, he didn’t remark on it. “I’m late, and I promised her I would come.” Overcome with a moment of self-doubt, he shook his head, and Sheridan got the distinct feeling he was talking about more than just a birthday party when he continued, “Maybe I shouldn’t have come.”

“I’m not so sure your daughter would agree with you,” Sheridan blurted out, biting her lip at her own forwardness at his disbelieving reaction. “If she loves you half as much as it seems you love her, she’ll be happy to see you. She won’t remember that you were late to her party; all she’ll remember is that you were there.” She felt herself blushing when he seemed to look at her with new eyes.

"I didn’t catch your name.”

“Sheridan,” she replied. “Yours?”

“Luis,” he answered. Gratefully, he said, “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome, Luis,” Sheridan tried his name on for size, softly smiling at him. She felt the tiniest flutter beneath her ribcage when he gave her a small smile back. Her blue eyes briefly traced the path Gwen had taken earlier, and she looked back to him. Out of the corner of her eyes, she noticed Ethan’s approach. “There’s a party just around the corner. I’m not sure if it’s your daughter’s, but…”

Luis was already on his way, breaking into a jog.

“Good luck, Luis,” Sheridan whispered to herself as Ethan came to stand by her side.

“I didn’t mean to be gone so long,” Ethan apologized with a concerned frown when he got a good look at her face. “Who was that? Was he bothering you?”

Sheridan ignored his questions and took his arm, snagging her purse from the park bench as she steered him in the direction he had come from. “I’m hungry, Ethan,” she told him. Catching a glimpse of him rolling his eyes, she pretended to be offended. “Hey! I saw that.”

“You’re always hungry, Aunt Sheridan,” Ethan teased, blue eyes merry but just the slightest bit confused. He wisely chose not to comment on her appearance (he’d call Gwen, find out what had upset her later), and said, “I think there’s supposed to be a good Indian restaurant around here somewhere.”

“What are you waiting for?” Sheridan playfully tugged him along. “I am your guest, after all, Ethan. Feed me.”

Ethan mock-groaned, “It’ll be my treat.”



~*~


Hank grabbed a handful of chips from one of the bowls lined up on the picnic table and shoved them in his mouth, oblivious to Beth’s disapproving glare. Nodding at Antonio and the uptight blond he’d introduced simply as Gwen a few feet away, he mumbled around a mouthful, “High society, huh?”

Beth slapped his hand away when it shot out to snatch some more chips. “Stop it! Those are for the party.” She followed his gaze and watched Gwen’s nervous attempts to entertain the children that had virtually mobbed her since her arrival, ever curious about the unknown. Antonio stood close by, ready to make his rescue should it be needed, and observed the whole scene with an amused smile. He looked and acted happy around Gwen, Beth decided. His previous words to the contrary, she had an inkling this relationship was more than just the casual coupling he’d admitted to her that first night when they’d stayed up late and caught up with each other’s lives. “She seems nice,” she finally allowed.

“She’s nice all right,” Hank smirked, recalling the state he’d found Antonio in earlier that morning. “Which is more than I can say for Sandy here,” he remarked, unable to resist comment when Celeste walked by, ushering a freckle-faced little girl back to join the rest of the kids.

“Cover your ears, Meggie,” Celeste instructed, holding her hands over the disobedient little redhead’s ears herself. To Hank, she snarled, “Piss off, Frodo.”

“Frodo?” Beth covered her laugh from the confused little girl with a choking cough. Waving Meggie and Celeste along, she shook her head at Hank. “She’s a little young even for you, Hank.” When he started humming Send in the Clowns under his breath, she socked him in the stomach, wiping the grin off of his face.

“I bet his mom still has his high school diploma hanging up on the living room wall,” he said of Diego. “Right beside the one from the Clown College.”

“You’re not exactly scoring yourself any points, Uncle Hank,” Kay came up beside him, sneakily procuring a chip for herself. When Beth glanced back over at the pair, Kay wore an innocent smile. “With either of your best friends,” she said pointedly, slipping away just as quietly as she’d arrived.

Hank closed his mouth long enough to point an accusing finger at Kay when Theresa and Paloma swept by to join Beth, carefully arranging plates and colorful place-cards on the table. “Did you see that?” Getting no sympathy from either of the girls, he tried his luck on the stoic-faced Pilar. “You’re looking lovely as ever.” All he got for his trouble was a long-suffering sigh and an affectionate pat of his hand. “Wiggles?” he tried gamely when Daniela scampered by with a bunch of her little groupies. When he went unnoticed, he lamented, “What’s a guy gotta do to get a little love around here?”

Will reappeared and tugged on Hank’s pants leg.

“Got any words of wisdom for me, Spongebob?” Hank’s brown eyes twinkled down at the kid. “What’s your secret to success?”

“Stop pulling their pigtails, Mister,” Will told him matter-of-factly. “They don’t like it.”

“Thanks,” Hank replied dryly. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

~*~


The rest of the restless children were anxiously gathering around the cake, four candles proudly lit and flickering in the breeze, but Daniela refused to take her position as the guest of honor, skulking away by herself and stubbornly refusing to acknowledge her mother’s pleas for her to come back. Ducking behind the nearest tree, she hid—until her grandmother discovered her.

“Mi hija,” Pilar crouched down in front of her tiny granddaughter, her little face screwed up and looking on the verge of tears. “Why the sad face?”

Rubbing at her eyes with her fists, Daniela pouted, “I want my daddy. He promised he’d come.”

“Oh Daniela,” Pilar sighed, folding one of the tiny hands in her own and tugging the little girl into a hug when one tear fell, quickly followed by another. She struggled to find the words to comfort the little girl, and found herself saying, “I’m sure your daddy wanted to be here.” Sensing they weren’t alone, she cast a glance over her shoulder to find Diego’s sympathetic smile partially hidden behind the enormous prosthetic nose he wore.

“Is she okay?” he asked Pilar, not waiting for her answer to crouch down beside them. “Maybe your daddy’s mean boss wouldn’t let him off of work, and he’s just running late. That could be it.”

Daniela frowned. “Uncle Sam’s not mean.” She didn’t dispute the fact that her father’s job kept him busy though; she knew, even at her tender age, his job as a police officer kept him very busy.

Wearing the appropriate expression of contrition, Diego hastily took back the words but still reassured her, “I’m sure he’s on his way, Short Stuff. He wouldn’t miss your birthday.” At this, he looked to Pilar for reassurance.

"Not if he could help it, mi hija,” Pilar squeezed Daniela for emphasis. Somewhat reluctantly, she gave Diego a grateful smile and accepted the hand he offered her, letting him pull her (and Daniela) to her feet. “Come. We’ll save your daddy a piece of your cake.”

“But…” Daniela started to protest.

“You don’t want the Candle Bandit to strike again, do you?” Diego posed with a crooked grin, earning a definitive shake of the head from the little girl and handily distracting her.

“Who is this Candle Bandit?” Pilar demanded to know, sliding a glance over to the man matching their every step in red shoes even larger than his bulbous red nose.

“Will,” Daniela giggled, reaching out her hands for Diego and holding on tight when Pilar relinquished her. “Tell her, Diego.”

They made quite a pair, he in his full clown garb, she in her pink cowgirl boots and fluffy white dress. Finding nothing but kindness in the man’s eyes as he looked upon her granddaughter, Pilar could only smile.

“Will likes to blow out everyone else’s candles,” Diego informed Pilar. “Earned himself a black eye at Meggie’s party.”

Pilar’s mouth opened wide in dismay. “Who...”

“That Meggie’s one tough cookie. Right, Short Stuff?” Diego chuckled, placing Daniela on her own two feet when the rest of their party came into view. The smile on his face faltered when he saw Beth’s expression, and he barely had time to react before a tall, angry looking man with Daniela’s eyes sucker punched him.

“Keep your hands off my daughter!”







































Feedback would be oh so lovely. Especially considering it's been two-plus years since I've dusted this fic off and posted something.

Let me know if you're still interested in it or if it's a lost cause.

Thanks so much for reading!!!

SHUIS_4EVER
8.17.10, 6:55 PM
still reading this..pls update soon. x

UAgirl
8.31.10, 12:55 PM
Thanks Bree!

Still writing, just more slowly.

LOL!

Keep checking. Maybe I'll surprise you.

:D

Shae