Plus-One With A Vengeance : 22 / 29

Plus-One With A Vengeance : 22 / 29

[ An Altered Fates Story ]
by Iolanthe Portmanteaux

 


"I felt a great disturbance in the Force..."
— Obi-Wan Kenobi


 

On the drive down to Newport, Rhode Island, Max and I had a comically confusing conversation. We were at cross-purposes about where we were staying during Nessa's wedding weekend. It was comical to Max, but confusing to me.

I won't give you the blow-by-blow, but if I did, every "blow" would be a swing and a miss. By way of example, when Max breezed by Bellevue Avenue, my head jerkily tracked the turn that was there... back there... way back there. "Max, you missed it."

"Missed what?"

"The turn for the Newport mansions — Bellevue Avenue was that turn, back there..."

"Did you want to see them now?" he asked. "I thought we could check in, relax, take it easy before the big dinner tonight."

"Check in? How can we check in?" I asked, gesturing lamely off... in that direction... behind us on the left.

"How can we check in?" he repeated. "You've been in hotels before, right? We walk up to the desk, we say hello, we have a reservation, etc., etc."

"It's the same?" I asked.

"The same as what?"

Bewildered, I said, "The same as a regular hotel."

He gave me a strange look and replied, "It *is* a regular hotel."

"Oh, I didn't know that," I said.

"Are you okay?" Max asked.

"Yes, I'm fine. I just don't understand..."

Max grinned. "I'm sorry, I forget sometimes that you're a clone. This is all new to you, isn't it," he teased.

"No, Max, I can't understand how we can check into a... hotel... or whatever, if we're driving away from it."

"We're not driving away from it. We're driving toward it."

It wasn't until we pulled up in front of our hotel that I finally got it. "Ohhhh! We're not staying in one of the mansions?" I asked.

After all the talk of "destination wedding" and "Newport mansions," it seemed quite natural to assume that we would be staying overnight in one of them.

"Are you kidding?" Max scoffed. "All of us? It would cost a fortune! I don't think they even allow ordinary mortals like you and me to sit down, let alone sleep over. Not even my Aunt Viv could wrangle a night in one of those places. It's like staying overnight in a museum."

After a pause, Max conceded, "Nessa is getting married in one of the mansions, but even then, I'm pretty sure the reception and all the dancing and whatnot will be outside, on the grounds."

"But... I had the idea that Nessa was staying someplace... someplace with Castle in the name, I forget what it's called."

"Yeah, Nessa and her maid of honor, they're staying somewhere special and a little apart, but not in a mansion. Not even them."

"And Tag?"

Max sighed. "I'm pretty sure Tag and his boys will be out all night, in a last-minute bar crawl."

"Hmmph. Hope he'll be in shape for the wedding."

"Heh. All he has to do is show up, stand there, and smile."

"And not throw up or faint," I added.

"That, too," Max acknowledged. "If he forgets his one line, the minister will feed it to him."

I considered all this in silence for a few moments. For two weeks I'd been looking at pictures of the mansions and wondering what it would be like to wake up there. I kept meaning to ask Max which one we'd be be staying in, but hadn't gotten around to actually asking.

Max reached over and squeezed my hand. "Don't worry, this is a very nice hotel. You'll like it. As an added bonus, most of my family is here, so you'll get to meet pretty much everybody in one shot. And don't forget, your pals — Aunt Viv and my Mom — will be there, in case you need backup."

"And you'll be there," I added.

"And I'll be there," he repeated.

I didn't dare ask whether Amber would be there. I didn't want to hear Max tell me yet again to forget about Amber. Unfortunately, there was no way to evict her out of my head or to shake the feeling of impending doom. To quote Obi-Wan, I felt a great disturbance in the Force. In his case, it was a planet dying. In mine, it was Max's crazy ex scheming.

Then another name occurred me — or... not a name, but another person, someone I could ask about. "Hey, Max, is that, um, cousin of yours coming? I don't know her name... the wild girl that—"

"Oh my God," he said, interrupting. "Yes. Delphine will be there. We'll see what crazy shit she'll pull this time. Someone else's wedding is the perfect platform for her shenanigans. At a moment when all the attention is supposed to focused on someone else, you can be sure Delphine will do something outrageous and steal the show." He blew out a big breath of air. "Well! We'll have to keep our distance, stay at arm's length, so we don't get sucked in, or immortalized in infamy by being included in an embarrassing video." He glanced at me and saw my amusement. "You can laugh now, Lorelei, and you can you laugh afterward — but if you want to laugh while she's raising hell, you need to be well out of striking distance. It's only funny if it happens to somebody else, and sometimes not even then." After a momentary silence, he added, "Listen: if you happen to be anywhere close to her and you notice that she has a maniacal grin, don't even bother to make an excuse. Just get the hell out of there. You'll thank me later."

Max had such an earnest, almost fearful expression, that I burst out laughing.

"You'll see," he warned. "You'll see."

 


 

The hotel was nice — that's all I need to say about it. It seemed anticlimactic after my visions of the mansion, but it was perfectly fine. Everything clean, well-appointed; the staff was uber-professional. Our room was great; high up, with a view of the harbor. I was nervous, though. Nervous because I had a surprise planned for Max that night, and nervous because I'd be meeting all his closest family, all at once. Up till now, I'd only met his parents and his Aunt Viv. Or so I thought.

Tag's parents sprang for a dinner in one of the hotel's conference rooms. The room was filled, nearly wall-to-wall, with tables for four. The overall impression was white tablecloths as far as the eye could see.

"This must have cost a fortune," I murmured.

As we commandeered an empty table, Max pointed toward the door with his chin and said, "Hey! Look who's here!"

"It's Robin and Lana!" I exclaimed. Max happily waved them over.

Robin is a tall, geeky, gawky, fun and friendly guy. He has a mop of thick, straight, dark brown hair, a nose that's slightly oversized, big feet, and long, spidery fingers. He's very outgoing and engaging.

Lana is a good six inches shorter than Robin, even in heels. Melissa always described Lana as "big-boned" — I think she was trying to be kind. Lana is a big girl. She's also a fiercely intelligent and successful lawyer. Robin is some sort of engineering consultant, although no one seems to know exactly what that means. "Don't worry about it," Robin always says. "It's too hard to explain."

The four of us were friends in high school.

Max and Robin greeted each other enthusiastically, agreeing that it was "great to see a face they knew" and that they "no idea who anyone else in the room was." Lana and Max hugged each other. I was on the other side of the table, suddenly realizing that — as Lorelei, I'd never met either of them. I'd have to feign ignorance. Apparently, Max had forgotten that I was supposed to be a stranger, and he didn't catch the head gestures Lana was making in my direction, clearly asking Max to introduce us.

At last Lana, exasperated, exclaimed, "Max, who is this exquisite creature?"

"Oh," he said, turning to me, "You know Robin and Lana." I bit my lower lip and shook my head.

"No, she doesn't!" Lana scoffed. "How could she possibly know us?" Reaching her hand across the table, she said, "Hi, I'm Lana Knockwell and this is my husband, Robin McLanahan. He's the brother of the bride." Robin, grinning, extended his hand.

"I'm Lorelei Gight," I told them.

Lana scrutinized my face. "You must be related to Elliot Beekman. The resemblance is just uncanny!"

"He's my cousin," I explained.

"Is he here?" Robin asked. "I haven't seen Elliot in forever!"

"He's visiting his father down in Florida," Max informed them.

 


 

Which reminds me: I had a third reason for feeling nervous. My dad was coming up for a visit. Vivianne had planned for it, though I didn't expect it to happen so quickly after Nessa's wedding.

Dad's visit, in Vivianne's plan, filled two purposes: one was to publicly say goodbye to Elliot, and the other was to explain my new situation to my father. The idea was that I'd return to being Elliot for an evening so I could call my father on the phone to invite him up. Instead, my father jumped a few moves ahead by sending me a text yesterday. A telegraphic, all-caps, text:

COMING TO SEE YOU WED. PLANE LANDS 11:05AM. PICK ME UP?

The message seemed uncharacteristic, almost as though someone else had written it. Then again, texting itself was uncharacteristic for Dad.

I texted back,

Sounds great! See you then!

and he responded by sending his flight details.

So... that was behind the horizon, soon to appear.

 


 

As soon as we sat down, a waitress took our drink orders and made sure we noticed the menu card on the table.

I turned to Robin and asked, "You're Nessa's brother? But you're not in the wedding party?"

"No, thankfully! Tag plays lacrosse and some other sport, and so — no matter how many bridesmaids Nessa whips up, Tag can always produce a trim, muscular groomsman to match." The drinks arrived, and Robin raised his glass to us before taking a sip. "And so, that leaves me free and clear: a simple civilian with no other duties than to eat and drink—"

"—and dance—" Lana cut in.

"—and dance," Robin agreed, nodding, "And to ding on the glass to make the newlyweds kiss."

I nodded. "Doesn't the brother of the bride traditionally give a speech?"

Robin, chuckling, put his index finger to his lips and shhh'd me. "Nessa didn't want that, so I'm off the hook."

"Your secret is safe with me," I assured him.

"I like this one," Lana told Max, gesturing in my direction. "She's a keeper! I'm so glad you dumped that crazy bitch Amber."

Robin coughed, and said, "Let's not go there, hon."

In a bid to change the subject, I asked, "How long have you two been married?"

"Two years," they answered in chorus.

"And it's great," Lana told me, "except for one thing. Our last names."

I frowned, not understanding. Robin rolled his eyes.

"I hate my last name — Knockwell. There aren't *really* any funny jokes or remarks to make, based on that name. But yet and still, people try. And fail. Anyway, I hate that name. Ever since I was a little girl I DREAMED that I'd fall in love and marry a man with a cool last name, and save me from this Knockwell curse." She turned to look at Robin, who grinned and shrugged. "So who do I fall in love with? Who do I marry? A man with a worse last name than mine."

"What's wrong with McLanahan?" I asked.

"By itself, nothing. With the right first name, it could be fine. But if I took his last name, I'd be Lana McLanahan." Robin began to open his mouth, but she raised a warning hand. "I swear to God, if you say banana-fanna-fo, I will scream."

Robin closed his lips, nodded, and said, "Point taken."

"So I'm stuck with Knockwell." She took a sip of her wine, glanced at Max, then nodded at me. "You're lucky. If you two get married, you'll be Lorelei Errison." She smiled wistfully. "That's a pretty cool name."

"Whoa, babe," Robin cautioned. "Let's cut these two a little slack. You know they're going to get dumped on all weekend."

"Oh, yeah, sorry," Lana apologized. "Wasn't thinking."

"What are you talking about?" Max asked, frowning.

"Oh..." Robin began, and turned his head to look around the room. "Do you see any other young couple here? Any young, unmarried couple, other than yourselves?"

"I don't think so," Max replied as he studied the room. "I guess not."

"So... ALL the relatives, all the guests, probably the DJ, too, if there is one... EVERYBODY will lean on you and tease you and ask you when you two are getting married."

"Ah," Max groaned, getting it.

"You have to suck it up," Lana advised. "It's all part of the deal. Don't answer, just smile. Laugh if you can. Don't fight it; there's no point."

Robin added, "You can say, We haven't talked about it. That's about the best you can do. You can't tell them to fuck off."

The four of us laughed.

Our dinners arrived at that point, and once the waitress left, I asked, "So... Max and Robin, you're cousins."

"Yes," Robin answered. "But more than that, we're friends. The three of us were in high school together." He gestured to me, saying, "Along with your cousin Elliot. And um — have you met Kitty and Claus?"

"The Dahlmanns?" I ventured, as if trying to recall. "Yes, they're nice, we've had dinner a few times."

"They're friends from high school as well. Which reminds me — I've seen the seating chart. We're at the Friends table."

"Friends like the TV show? Is it a theme?" I joked.

"No, heh — there's a Friends table and a Singles table, and the Grandparents table, and so on..."

Lana leaned in toward the table and confided, "By the way, Maxwell, I saw that your crazy ex weasled an invite out of Nessa. I thought THAT was pretty damn nervy. It's not as though anyone ever has wedding invitations to throw around." After a dramatic pause, she added, "And she's bringing somebody! She's got brass! She's not even family, and she's no friend of Nessa's. I'd like to know what exactly she said or did to pull that off!"

Naturally, I was dying to ask whether Amber was also at the Friends table, with us, but didn't dare.

Almost as if reading my mind, Robin proposed with a wicked grin, "Would you like to know who else is going to be at our table?"

"No," Max said decisively. "Why borrow trouble from tomorrow?"

"Oh, that's a nice turn of phrase!" Robin observed. "It rhymes, so it must be full of wisdom. But it's too bad, because I'm going to tell you anyway." He held up four long fingers. "There are four couples." Bending back one finger, he said, "Me and Lana," bending back the next, "You two," bending back the third, "Kitty and Claus." Then, holding the last finger and waggling it, he tried to prolong the suspense. "Last of all... the remaining couple..."

"Oh, damn it," groaned Max.

"You don't know who it is yet," Robin protested.

"You're giving it away," Max complained.

"Who is it?" I cried, almost desperate.

"Amber and her plus-one."

Max shook his head. "It doesn't matter," he said. "It doesn't matter." Turning to me, he said, "Don't worry, babe."

Lana grinned at that, and smiling at me said, "That's right, babe, Your big, strong man will protect you from the crazy, evil witch."

In spite of myself, I laughed.

"Now, her plus-one..." Robin continued, "is a wildcard. He's a man of mystery."

"Why is he a mystery?" I asked.

"Because no one knows who he is," Lana explained. "It's not a mystery, it's just a..."

"An unknown," Robin said, "A cipher. The unbidden guest at the feast. Banquo's ghost."

"Now you're making it sound creepy," Lana protested.

"I've seen the man's name, but it means nothing to me," Robin reported. "In fact, it almost sounds fake, like a made-up name."

"What is it?" I asked.

"Oswald Chamberlain," Robin pronounced, shaking his head. "Come on, now. Seriously?"

Max shrugged and shook his head.

Lana asked me, "Have you ever met her?"

"Do you mean Amber? Yes, I met her briefly. We had a strange encounter in a store. It was pretty unpleasant."

Robin grinned, and teasing, asked, "Uh-oh! Is there going to be a cat fight at the Friends table tomorrow? Me-ow!"

Lana looked around her, saying, "Where is a rolled-up newspaper when you need one?" She pulled her wallet from her bag and used it to give Robin a loud whack on the arm.

"Ow," he observed. "That hurt! I was only joking."

Lana leaned forward and put her hand on mine. "Don't worry, hon. The big girl will protect you." I grinned.

Robin said, "Of course, there's no telling which side Kitty will fall on. She and Amber are pretty tight."

"Will you guys quit it?" Max interjected, sounding a little peeved. "Nobody's going to fight anyone at this wedding."

"We know. We know that," Robin answered, with mock solemnity. "Speaking as the brother of the bride, I have seen the program, and nowhere does the entry Catfight at the Friends table appear." He looked over his shoulder at the door, as if he'd heard something. Then: "Of course, a late entry of All Hell Breaking Loose could always be added."

Lana chuckled. "Seriously, Lorelei, don't worry about Amber. If she tries anything, or says anything, the key word will be de-escalate. We'll blow out the match before it starts a fire."

"On the other hand," Robin added, "If it *does* get physical, the three of us will tackle her and stuff her mouth full of wedding cake."

"Thanks," I said. "That does make me feel better."

Robin turned again to look over his shoulder at the door. He must have remarkable hearing, because all I could hear was the conversation in the room and the clink of cutlery and plates.

A man appeared at the door, a short man, late twenties, with owl-eyed glasses. It took him three tries — three tentative hand-raises and excuse-me's before he was able to get the attention of a waitress. At first she regarded him with her tired, way-too-busy face, but when he smiled, his smile must have been full of charm, because the waitress smiled right back. She relaxed. The two spoke a bit, but in the end her message was clear: No, I'm sorry — it's family only. And she seemed sincerely apologetic. My lip-reading took me that far. He nodded and smiled again: I understand. Thanks for your time.

Then he was gone.

Max watched the entire exchange with rapt attention, and after the fellow left, Max asked, "Does anybody know that guy? Who is he? I'm sure I've seen him somewhere before."

No one had.

Lana chuckled. "Maybe he's Oswald Chamberlain."

Robin, mock sententiously, said, "Aren't we all Oswald Chamberlain, in our own small way?"

"Oh, stop it," Lana complained, laughing in spite of herself. "You're too goofy sometimes."

"How disappointing," Robin sighed. "Only sometimes?"

The fellow with the owl-eyed glasses was soon followed by a more insistent apparition: Nessa, the bride to be, in the flesh. She was dressed in neon-green sneakers, a loose pair of sweatpants held up by a wide ribbon tied in a big, floppy bow, and a tight pink tank-top that showed off her belly button — to say nothing of her flat abs and enhanced breastwork. The front of the shirt read HERE COMES THE BRIDE... and the back ... ZILLA. Bridezilla. Her straight, glossy hair was pulled back and held by a jet-black scrunchie, leaving a loose ponytail falling down her back all the way to her waist. With the eyes of a lynx she surveyed the entire room, compiling her hit list as scanned. Her appraisal ended at our table, and now that her target was fixed, she glided like an arrow through the room, ignoring all the greetings and well-wishes thrown in her path.

Nessa stopped at our table and gave a dramatic pause, to be sure that all of us were looking only at her. She tilted her head to one side, and in a cheerful sing-song, said, "Hello, Lana." Lana nodded and raised her glass in salute.

Nessa moved quickly behind Robin's chair and put her hands on Robin's shoulders. She leaned all her weight on him until he let out an involuntary soft grunt. "Brother," she said, "My big, dear brother, is your speech ready?"

"My speech?" he queried. "You told me you didn't *want* me to give a speech. You said no one wanted to hear it."

Nessa scoffed and rose up on her toes so she could lean in harder. She switched from using her hands to resting her elbows on Robin's shoulders, until his eyes and mouth opened wide in astonished pain. "Why would I say that?" she demanded, wiggling back and forth or put pressure first on his left, then on his right. "It's traditional! Are you going to rob me of the most traditional... traditions at your own sister's wedding? Your ONLY sister's wedding?"

"No, of course not," he assured her. "I will have a speech ready, full of laughter, pathos, and tears. Ow..."

"It better be!" she exclaimed. "I want everyone to laugh... and then cry!" She abruptly let go. He gasped in relief. She smiled a perfectly lovely, well-practiced smile, and sang out, "Love you!"

"I love you, too," Robin perfunctorily replied.

Next she moved on to me. She stood next to me, just one head taller than my sitting height. I could see why Max had called her "Kim Kardashian" — she seemed cast in the same mold: the symmetrical, perfectly portioned face, the long, silky hair, the ponderous breasts and oversized backend. Nessa was beautiful, and striking so — there was no doubt.

"This must be the mysterious Lorelei," Nessa observed, her eyes glued to my face as she shifted back and forth ever so slightly, like a cat. Then she leaned in close, her face inches from mine. She opened wide her mouth and eyes and cried out, "WHO ARE YOU?" Then she laughed and skipped back a step.

"Who am I?" I repeated, startled.

"Yes, who are you? Amber, that wicked witch calls you a homewrecker—" she guffawed and gave Max a backhanded swat on the arm. "Aunt Viv LOVES you! Aunt Viv! Love!" Nessa looked around her, gaping, right and left, as if seeking an explanation. She spread her arms downward, palms out, in bewilderment. "I heard that Aunt Viv hugged you and smiled at you. Is that true?"

"Yes," I replied. "Yeah, she did."

Nessa studied my face with exaggerated attention as I spoke, as if she were watching an uncanny natural phenomenon. "OH-MY-GOD!" she declared. "She hugged you more than once, didn't she! I can see it in your face."

"Yeah, I guess so..." I lamely admitted.

"You don't understand, do you! Aunt Viv doesn't smile at anybody! She never smiled at me, and she's friends with my mother!"

Nessa suddenly grabbed my chin with her hand and tilted my face one way and the other. "Have you had any work done?" she asked, in a tone filled with suspicion.

"No, none."

"Hmmph." She turned my face a few more times, then sbruptly let go. She gazed at my breasts for a moment before telling me, "I've had a fair amount of work done. My lips—" here she did a fish-face "—my butt, my boobs, my chin, my forehead, ..."

"But you're so young!" I exclaimed.

"Never too early," she replied. "Anyway, perfection is the goal. Kim-perfection."

She leaned in close, conspiratorial. "Do you want me to throw you the bouquet?"

Startled by the unexpected question, I said, "No, thanks."

"I can do it," she whispered.

"No, that's fine. Please don't bother."

She nodded slowly, cannily, her eyes still fixed on my face. "Okay, I get you. You want it. I know you do."

"I don't, Nessa. Really."

"Ha!" She chuckled quietly, then abruptly turned her attention to Max.

"Max, Max, Max," she said. "Max!"

"What? I'm right here."

"Max!" she cried one last time. "Have you seen Delphine?"

"No, why would I?"

Nessa smiled wickedly. "Wasn't she almost your date? Your plus-one?"

"No!" he said. "Never. Where did you hear that?"

Nessa stroked her chin. "A little bird told me. Seriously, though, I need to find Delphine and straighten her out."

"What's she done?" Max asked.

"She hasn't done anything yet, but Delphine is threatening to wear a white dress tomorrow. A white dress to MY wedding!"

Nessa took a deep breath and rose up to her full, tiny height. "It's bad enough that she's coming," Nessa complained, "I've worried myself sick, wondering what bullshit she's going to unleash. Do you know, she actually, honest and truly, called my baker to ask if she could jump out of the wedding cake?"

A laugh burst out of Robin, but he stifled it immediately, under the glaring, punishing gaze of his little bridezilla sister.

"She told my baker that it was MY idea, and — thank God — he had enough sense to call me to check."

"Anyway," Nessa went on, looking at Max, then at Robin, "I might need you two guys tomorrow. Are you with me?"

"With you for what?" Robin asked, suspicious.

Nessa huffed impatiently, as though her unstated request was the most obvious thing in the world. "In case we need to throw Delphine out. In case we need to eject her from the reception." Her eyes grew in a sudden, panicked thought: "Or even from the wedding! She's the kind of person who, when the minister says, speak now or forever hold your peace — Delphine might jump up and say something!"

"Oh, seriously?" Max asked, skeptically.

"Yes, seriously! You two might need to pick her up bodily and toss her over the hedge or the wall or whatever is there to keep out the riffraff." She glanced behind her at the rest of the room. "You might need help."

Nessa straightened up, took a breath, then slowly drew her hand down in front of her face, as if closing a curtain. She raised her head, looking regal and sublime, then turned to Robin. "Remember, that speech: don't let me down. You need to make everyone laugh, then cry. If you're going to say something embarrassing about me, I need to clear it first."

"Understood," Robin acknowledged.

The whole time, Max had been giving furtive glances around the room, looking for someone or something to distract Nessa's attention. He found it. "Hey, Nessa," he told her, "I haven't seen Delphine, but her mother's over there, to the left of those flowers, see?"

Nessa swiveled her head, focused on the new target, and was off.

"Whew!" Lana said, relieved. "She's a handful and a half!"

"Tell me about it," Robin said.

"What are you going to do about the speech?" I asked him. "Can you come up with something tonight?"

"Oh, yeah," he said. "No problem. I wrote it three weeks ago, but I haven't told her. I knew she'd go back and forth. She'd want to read it and make changes." He laughed. "I'm ready to go or to not go." He shrugged.

Then we sat in Nessa's silent aftermath, watching Nessa expostulate with Delphine's mother, on the far side of the room.

"That poor woman," Lana observed. "Nessa can tell her whatever she likes, and Delphine's mom can promise Nessa the moon and the sky, but in the end Delphine will do whatever the hell she pleases."

"Speak of the devil," Max said, looking at the door.

There, on the threshold, stood a young woman with narrow eyes and a permanent smirk. Her hair was a reddish-blonde, and fell in waves down to her bosom, where they framed two healthy breasts, laid out for all the world to see. Obviously, her breasts weren't fully exposed, but her cleavage was so generous, it took little imagination to picture the small portion that was covered by her dress.

Delphine reminded me of a young Lindsey Lohan. She appeared to be capable of anything, good, bad, or indifferent; her presence alone appeared to threaten mayhem. Her figure wasn't as extravagant as Nessa's, but it was absolutely striking. She clearly spent a significant amount of time in the gym, molding her body and working off the effects of her dissipation. Unlike Nessa, who scanned the room with active intent, Delphine casually let her eyes roam, as if she had all the time in the world.

If Nessa was Kim Kardashian, Delphine was Cleopatra.

Delphine's eyes came to rest on our table, and — while Nessa glided like an arrow, Delphine came on cat's feet; a slow, casual stroll.

"Hello, Lana," she drawled. "Hi, Robin." Her eyes swept over me, but she didn't greet or acknowledge me. She moved behind Max, and leaning one hand on his far shoulder, pressed the side of her breast against his head. She smiled as she toyed with his hair.

"Delphine, what the hell?" Max growled. "Get off me! What the hell are you doing?"

"I'm trying to recruit you," she purred, and continued to press her body against his, and to run her fingers through his hair.

"Well, knock it off!" Max demanded. Smirking, Delphine took three tiny steps away from him. "Yeesh!" she observed. "Somebody's a little touchy! I'll tell you, Maxwell Errison — right now, I'm sure as heck glad you didn't ask me to be your plus-one!"

"I was never going to ask you to be my plus-one," Max informed her.

"Oh, really? That's not what I heard." Again, she smirked, then looking down, she pushed out her lower lip in a pout. Then, in an annoying little-girl voice, she asked, "Anyway, will you two big, strong men, help poor little me?" she looked from Max to Robin and back again.

"Probably not," Robin said. "Help you with what?"

Delphine glanced across the room, where a very animated Nessa was talking to one of her relatives. "Nessa has exploded into a full-blown bridezilla, and I'm afraid she's going to have me thrown out — bodily! — tomorrow, or arrested — whichever comes first."

"Why would she do that?"

"I don't know," Delphine replied, sighing dismissively. "Hormones?"

Lana scoffed loudly.

Delphine tilted her head back and looked down her nose at me. I looked back, keeping my face neutral.

There was movement in the background, to Delphine's left. It was Nessa, single-mindedly flowing across the room, gliding like war-canoe, her focus laser-tight on Delphine.

"Delphine," Nessa growled. "What the hell, Delphine?"

"What the hell to you, too," Delphine replied, with a mild smirk.

"I heard that you're planning on wearing a white dress tomorrow," Nessa said, her voice loaded with tension. "Is that true?"

"If you tell me that you heard that, I believe you," Delphine replied.

Nessa growled with impatience. "Are you going to wear a white dress tomorrow? To my wedding? Yes or no!"

"I don't know," Delphine replied, calmly. "If you want me to, I will."

"No, you idiot! Of course I don't *want* you to! I want you to wear any other color. You can wear the entire rainbow! Just, not white! Anything but white! Only the bride wears white."

"Dua Lipa wore white to a wedding," Delphine informed her. "Didn't you see?"

"You're not Dua Lipa!" Nessa hissed.

Delphine looked down at herself, unconcerned. She pretended to brush something off her breast. Then, after interminable seconds, she lifted her head and looked Nessa in the face.

"Don't worry, Nessa, I was only joking. I don't even own a white dress."

Nessa, molified, nodded. "Thanks," she said, and shaking with the after-effects of too much adrenaline, she slipped out of the room and away.

"Wow, that girl is wound up way too tight," Delphine observed. Before any of us could reply or comment, Delphine slowly sauntered toward the bar. Once she arrived, she stood and twisted in a way that the poor bartender's eyes fell into Delphine's cleavage and stuck there. She had the poor sap hypnotized.

"Do you think Delphine's going to wear white tomorrow?" I asked.

"Bet on it," Lana said. "Put all your money on white."



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