Plus-One With A Vengeance : 23 / 29

Plus-One With A Vengeance : 23 / 29

[ An Altered Fates Story ]
by Iolanthe Portmanteaux

 


"It's a funny thing that when a man hasn't anything on earth to worry about, he goes off and gets married."
— Robert Frost


 

There was a lot of milling around after dinner: cousins, aunts, and uncles catching up with each other. Max introduced me to more people than I can ever remember. Regardless of who they were and what their relation, one true line ran through virtually everyone in his family: My friendship with Vivianne seemed a matter of great astonishment. It was like an unsolvable puzzle, and it gave me a huge cachet among Max's relatives.

Another line of inquiry that came up with nearly every family member was, as Robin predicted, questions about the wedding status of Max and me. "When are you two getting married?" and "Have you set a date yet?" were the most common openers. A few asked Max "When are you going to make an honest woman of her?" (once accompanied by a literal re-enactment of the grin, grin, wink, wink, nudge, nudge, say no more routine). A few gave a more philosophical, almost wistful comment along the lines of "We'll be back doing this for you two next year."

I naively assumed that the whole when-are-YOU-getting-married would be a succession of one-liners, delivered and dropped right after, but a few customers were pretty insistent on wanting an actual answer, diving into a discussion. Two younger female relatives who seemed bent on becoming internet influencers, assumed that we, too, would have a destination wedding — and wanted to send a list of their preferred destinations.

When I'd point out that Max and I weren't even engaged, people took that as a hint that Max intended to propose during Nessa's wedding weekend, at the reception itself or soon after.

By the time we got upstairs to our room, my feet were a little sore from standing in heels for so long. The interrogations were a little wearing. It would have been nice to have at least a short soak in the tub before bed, but as I said, I had a surprise planned for Max.

I wasn't sure how to get my surprise past Max and into the bathroom, where I meant to change, but Max obligingly sat on the edge of our bed, then fell back with a groan. He covered his eyes with his hand.

"Are you okay, Max?"

"Yeah," he replied in a low voice. "I'm just thinking about something."

"Okay," I acknowledged. "I'm going to be in the bathroom for a few minutes."

I was pretty sure that my surprise would cure whatever was bothering him.

What was the surprise? If you recall, one of Max's Christmas presents — the one marked "P" — consisted of a super-sexy lingerie set: a tiny triangle bra, a skimpy Brazilian brief, and a sheer, transparent babydoll. The fine lace seemed spun from gossamer, and were so light they seemed fragile and unreal. In my hands, on my body, they seemed airy and insubstantial, I could crumple them to the size of a ping-pong ball without wrinkling them in the least. The outfit was so diaphanous and ethereal, the pieces seemed to bond with my skin when I put them on. Wearing them, I felt more naked, vulnerable, and exposed, than I felt when I wore nothing at all.

My heart pounded as I regarded myself in the bathroom mirror. I felt a mad mixture of emotions; heady and terrifying: I was frightened, amazed, energized, and embarrassed — all at once. I'd never tried to be sexy before, and these garments were an exaltation of feminine sexual appeal.

I felt powerful. I blushed crimson with that power, as if ashamed of having it, of wielding it.

Back at home, before we left, I'd debated and experimented with adding jewelry, heels, and stockings, but in the end, I stayed with the basic three: the bra, the panties, and the babydoll. I wished I could have asked another woman for help, but I didn't dare. In the absence of real, living help, I restored to the internet for suggestions about hair, poses, and movements.

In the end, I simply tied my hair back with a red ribbon, so I could let it loose while standing close to Max. The moves and poses I practiced in secret, filming my attempts — I wanted to be sure of producing the right effect, which was seduction. I didn't want to make him laugh unintentionally, and by God I didn't want to look silly.

Of course, I deleted those videos as soon as I was happy with what they portrayed. I didn't want them floating around for anyone to see — or worse yet, ending up on the internet, where there'd be no hope of deletion.

When I emerged from the bathroom, Max was sitting on the edge of the bed, staring at the floor between his feet. I was about to call his name softly, but before I did, his head rose to face me. I had one foot slightly behind the other. My hands were raised tentatively. My lips were slightly parted.

As his head came up, he opened his mouth to speak, but when he saw me, he lost the power of utterance. His mouth hung open. His eyes stared unblinking. He opened his hands, helplessly. He blinked several times, and his lips moved, but no sound came out.

I turned slowly, rocking my hips, then grinding them in a long, protracted circle. I slowly spun my back toward him. After a teasing look back over one shoulder, I bent down with straight legs wide apart, and peeked at him, smiling, from behind one knee. I posed, I twisted and turned. I stood, turning again, working my hips, until I faced him and bent forward, seesawing my shoulders so my breasts swung and swayed.

Max looked at me, hungry, wild, and somehow — confused. I moved slowly forward, grinning with power, until I rested my hands on his thighs. The softest groan I have ever heard escaped his lips, just before I bent into close to kiss him. I kept pressing forward, my hands sliding inexorably up his thighs, until he fell back heavily upon the bed.

Then he came into action, decisively. He grabbed me by my hips and using his elbows and heels like an upside-down commando, he planted himself in the very center of the bed, carrying me atop him. Then, intermixed with inarticulate cries, frantic movements, and frantic need, Max moved enough of our clothing out of the way so we could couple.

We did it with a fierce passion — powerful, explosive, nearly mad. It would have frightened me were it not so all-consuming.

It lasted a long time — the longest we'd had yet — and when Max was done, the two of us lay side by side. Me, satisfied to an extent I'd never before experienced, and wide-eyed with surprise and success, still shocked, uneasy, and yet exulting in my new-found sexual power.

Before I'd gone into the bathroom, Max was in a kind of funk — I didn't know why. I expected that our love-making would neutralize his negative feelings. After all, he often slept after we'd done the deed.

This time, instead, he lay there aware, alert, on fire. He gave the vibrational signature of a boxer, panting in his corner of the ring between rounds, studying his opponent, ready to go again.

I rose on one elbow and looked at him. Somehow I didn't dare touch him. Once again, he had one hand over his eyes.

The question Max, what's wrong? stood poised on my lips, but he spoke first, after clearing his throat.

"I've been thinking and wondering," he said. "How is it that everyone seems to know I considered asking Delphine to come here as my date? How is that possible?"

He sniffed and swallowed before he continued. "See, the weird little thing about it, is that I only considered asking her for one small moment, when I'd had too much to drink. That was the one and only time that idea ever entered my head. And I only told one person." He lifted his hand from his eyes and turned to gaze into mine. "The only person I told was you." His face reddened, but more from embarrassment than anger.

He asked me, "Who did you tell, Lorelei?"

"No one," I said, mystified. I thought for a moment. "Maybe Amber put microphones in your house, and—"

"No," he said, flatly. "No. Just stop. Do you hear how crazy that sounds? You give her too much credit — too much power. Just— Just forget about Amber, will you?" He took a deep breath and let it go. "Who did you tell?"

"No one," I said again.

"No one?" he repeated, his eyebrows lifting. "Are you sure? You didn't tell a living soul?"

"Oh," I said, getting it, suddenly remembering. "I told your mother. She was the only one."

"You told my mother? WHY? Don't you know she's a terrible gossip?"

"No, I didn't know," I replied in a little, small voice.

He growled softly, but at the same time his eyes passed over my chest. As subtly as I could manage, I rolled my shoulders back and sat up straighter. (Clearly I needed all the help I could get.)

"My mother is the worst," he explained, and sighed heavily. Then he exclaimed, "Women! You can't keep a secret! None of you!"

"Well, to be fair," I interjected, "I wasn't a woman at the time."

He gaped at me, incredulous. "Seriously? Seriously now? That's your excuse? That's supposed to somehow make it better?"

I shrugged and spread my arms, feeling my breasts bob as I moved. "I'm sorry, Max, I didn't mean to hurt you."

"You didn't hurt me," he replied, as his eye roved over my legs. "It was more embarrassing than anything else. I'll live."

"Oh, good," I said, stupidly, rising up to sit on my heels.

He looked me in the face. I could see he was calming and getting excited at the same time. He wanted to be angry and chastise me, but at the same time, the spiderweb woven into that pale-red lingerie was catching him, pulling him in.

"Oh my God," he groaned. "You are driving me wild, do you know that?"

"In a good way or a bad way?" I teased.

"Both," he said, coming closer, nearly standing, resting one knee on the bed. "Both, at the same time, God help me." He grabbed my shoulders, gently but firmly, and pushed me down on the bed.

I looked up into his face and smiled. It took a little nerve to smile that smile, but it came, naturally enough. "For a minute there," I told him with what I hoped was a seductive smirk, "I was afraid you were going to spank me."

"I'd never," he replied. "I couldn't spoil that perfect ass of yours. No, no spanking. There are a thousand other things I'd rather do with you and to you."

 


 

In the morning when I woke, at first I didn't know where I was. Max and I were lying on top of the wrinkled, rumpled bedclothes. We'd hadn't gotten as far as turning down the bed. Max was naked. My panties were gone, but I still wore the sheer babydoll. My bra was pushed up over my breasts in an uncomfortable way. I rolled a little on my side, toward Max, and tried to get my hand up my back to undo the clasp. My movement was less than slight; still, it didn't pull Max from his slumber. Instead, it switch on a kind of autopilot in him. He didn't open his eyes or come fully awake, but his hand moved to the side of my thigh and slid smoothly up my body. Encountering no resistance, it kept rising, higher and higher. He breathed a long, unconscious sigh until his hand encountered my bra strap and stopped moving.

Hmmph he grunted softly, and with no effort or thought whatsoever, his fingers squeezed the bra strap, popping it open.

"Ohhh!" I exclaimed in a mixture of surprise and relief. Then I tried to slide away from him. His hand coasted down my back until it rested on my derriere. Even in his sleep, he held me.

"Where you goin', babe?" he whispered, eyes still shut.

"I need to pee," I whispered back.

"Can't you hold it?" he whispered back. "Feel how smooth you are."

"No, I can't hold it, and I need to get our of these clothes."

"Uhhh," he grunted. "No, no — leave them on. Never take them off."

"Okay," I promised, as I peeled his fingers off my nether cheek. He stretched and moaned.

"Don't wake up yet," I whispered. He nodded, and said, "Promise."

"Promise," I repeated, unsure which of us was promising what.

On the way to the bathroom, I found the red, gossamer panties hanging from the back of a chair, thrown or kicked in a moment of passion.

After using the bathroom and taking a big drink of water, I fished a cute but more conventional set of pajamas out of my luggage and slipped into them. The pale red lingerie got quietly folded and surreptitiously hidden in a pocket of my suitcase. "These things are like dynamite," I whispered to myself. I filed a note for the future, in case I ever wanted a secret weapon or needed to cast a spell over Max. Clearly, judicious use was recommended.

 


 

Max was disappointed in not finding me dressed in red transparent lace, but he didn't complain. He knelt over me. His face was tired, but his manhood was turgid. He said, "If you tell me to stop, I'll stop, but I am so hungry for you."

He undressed me as I lay there smiling and we made love once again. This time, though, it tired him, and he spent a long time in the shower in the hot steam, recuperating.

We both dressed in shorts, t-shirts, and walking shoes, and armed with hats and sunglasses, went down to breakfast. Robin and Lara were already there. They, along with some other guests, were dressed for a mansion tour. Max and I were apparently the only ones who opted for the Cliff Walk.

If you don't know Newport, you might consider visiting for the Cliff Walk alone. It's a three-and-a-half mile path that runs along the rocky sea shore. It passes most of the Newport mansions from behind, but they don't look any less spectacular from the back. There are a few spots where you can carefully descend to the water, but not to swim. Some adventurous souls surf at certain points, but even if I knew how to surf I'd avoid that stretch: if you wipe out, you won't wash up on the beach, you'll be thrown upon the black, pointy stones.

"Do you think the rocks down there qualify as boulders?" I asked Max.

He glanced down below us. "Some of them, yeah."

That was pretty much the extent of our conversation in the first hour of the walk.

We passed through a pedestrian tunnel. A handful of preteen kids were shouting and hooting, listening to their echoes. When we emerged on the other side, we had to step out of the way of a young couple who came from the opposite direction, the wife pushing a double stroller. Max leaned his back against the rock wall, and I squeezed in next to him. The young mother eyed the two of us, and as she passed me, she gave me a secret, smiling wink. Yeah, yeah, I thought. I get the message. Max and my future together was one of the themes of the weekend — at least for everyone else, everyone who wasn't Max or me.

After the couple with the stroller passed, Max began to shift away from the wall. I put my hand gently on his chest and he stopped. We looked each other in the face. He gave me a quick glance, and in that moment I somehow saw myself and him through Max's eyes. He, taller, muscular, leaning his back against the wall; me, smaller, slenderer, my shoulder against the wall so I could face him. I stood close to him, so close that the backs of his fingers rested on my thigh. The tips of my fingers were lightly on his chest; a light, gentle request for him to wait and listen.

It's weird how quickly I've fallen into this female role, I mentally observed. Aloud I said, "Max, are you still upset with me? You know I'm sorry."

He smiled and shook his head. "No, babe, I'm not upset with you."

"But you're so quiet," I protested, nearly whining.

His smile broadened. A light breeze lifted a stray tress on the side of my head. He asked me, "Is it strange to you, how quickly you've fallen into this female role? It's amazing. It's like you were born a girl."

After a sigh, I replied, "I was just thinking the same thing. Sometimes it is a little weird. Sometimes it's like I'm watching someone else, but that someone else is me."

"Are you still okay with it? You haven't freaked out yet, at least when you've been with me."

"No — I mean, yes, yes, I'm more than okay with it. I love being me. Being me is being Lorelei. I never want to go back to being Elliot."

"But you have to for a few days, right? So you can talk to your father."

"Yeah. I'm not looking forward to it." Hearing how that sounded, I quickly added, "I mean, I'm really looking forward to seeing my Dad. For that, I can hardly wait. But... to have to put Elliot back on... not so much."

He nodded. Then: "I'm not quiet because I'm upset. I'm kind of tired or out of sorts. We've been going it night and day, you and I."

"Yeah, we have." I smiled.

"Mmm," he nodded again, smiling. "About the Delphine thing... I'm just... embarrassed, mostly. I know that for the rest of this weekend people will hassle you and me about getting married, and they'll tease me about Delphine. I hate being teased. It really bothers me. I know it's nothing, but it bugs me." He frowned. "At the same time, in my head, I know: family is family. Teasing is big part of what families do."

"For lack of other ways of showing affection," I suggested.

"What a very girly thing to say!" he laughed, and squeezed me around my waist.

A little boy and his mother came out of the tunnel at that moment, and the boy, big eyed and amazed, looked up at the two of us.

"Mommy," he asked, "Are they married?"

The mother smiled at us, tried to spy our ring fingers, but couldn't. So I said, "Not yet" in the same moment Max said, "No." The boy's mother smirked, and the three of us laughed while the little boy's head swiveled back and forth, trying to figure out where the joke was.

 


 

It would be difficult to say which of the Newport mansions is the most imposing, but the prettiest and most ornate is Clarethorn. The facade was constructed of pale-pink terracotta blocks, ornamented by huge windows and columns, inspired by one of the palaces of France's Louis XIV.

Nessa's wedding ceremony took place on a marble terrace on the back lawn, with a wonderful view of the ocean. The soft hush of the surf provided a lovely calming background. A small arbor, decorated with flowers and vines, provided the frame for the bride, groom, and the minister who'd marry them. Between the arbor and the mansion stood an array of white chairs for us, the guests. When Max and I arrived, half of the seats were already filled. There were four ushers; one of them let us to the fifth row. Max sat on the aisle and I sat down next to him. I looked around, taking it all in. The weather was lovely: cool, but not cold; light clouds shielded us from the bright sun. You could not have asked for a more perfect day.

"This is incredible," I whispered to Max. He nodded in assent.

Suddenly there was a flurry at Max's elbow. It was his mother, Melissa. She smiled at me, then bent anxiously, grabbing hold of Max's arm. "Max, you have to come and help your father carry a present inside."

"Huh?"

"Come on, hurry, before the ceremony starts!" She shot another smile at me and tugged at Max. He looked at me, shrugged, and followed his mother down the aisle.

While I waited, two of the ushers led two older women up the aisle — I think they were the respective grandmothers. At first one, then both, of the women didn't like their assigned seats. There was a lot of pointing, demands, and frustrated gestures. The young men tried to be patient, and the other two ushers came rushing up, hoping to help in quickly resolving the situation.

It probably nothing more than a coincidence, but it was exactly during that moment of mild confusion, that Delphine came drifting up the aisle, sauntering casually, blissfully unaware not only of her own assigned seat, but probably not knowing that seats were assigned at all. During her slow progression she swept her gaze left and right and back again, taking in everyone and everything, smiling like a little girl with a secret.

Her slow flow came to a halt next to Max's empty chair. Delphine tilted her head to one side and let her eyes rest on me, as if she were sizing me up.

She didn't wear a white dress, thankfully. Her dress was an autumn print: predominantly dark reds and browns, with images of fallen leaves gone yellow, gold, red, and orange. It was outrageously unseasonal in terms of color and design, but of a fabric so light that it fluttered gently in the merest breeze. It hugged her curves almost like a second skin. I'm sure that many men found their breath caught in their throat when she appeared.

She plopped down into Max's empty chair.

"Uhh... Delphine," I began.

"Uhh... Lorelei," she replied, echoing my intonation perfectly.

"You can't sit there," I told her. "That's Max's seat."

"He won't mind," she said, with a dismissive shrug. "There are plenty of seats."

"Yes, he will mind!" I insisted. "And *I* mind! Come on, Delphine."

"Come on? Okay, where are we going?"

"Delphine," I told her, my tone getting more urgent, "You can't sit there."

"Fine." She stood, rising in a flounce. "Since you asked so nicely," she pushed in front of me, only to plop down in the chair on my right. "Is this better?" she asked.

"Yes, thanks." I didn't know whose seat it was, but at least Max's chair was free.

"I'm not a bad person," Delphine informed me.

"I didn't say you were," I replied, and she laughed as though it was all a joke.

"Okay," she said, slipping her arm through mine and wiggling close, "I have a question for you. This is my first-ever wedding. Can you believe that? Anyway, there's something I've been wondering. My question is this: do people really do that thing where they ask speak now or forever hold your peace and all that?"

"Yes, that's pretty standard."

"Do you think they'll do that today?"

A middle-aged woman dressed in beige was seated in front of me. I recognized her as Max's Aunt Doris. Doris was stirring in her seat, obviously provoked by Delphine's question, and probably fearful of where those questions were leading.

"Yes," I replied. "I expect the minister will ask that question."

"Hmmph," she acknowledged, thoughtful. After a pause, she asked, "Are you going to stay anything?"

At that, Doris stiffened and stirred. I don't know whether Delphine didn't notice, or whether she pretended not to notice.

"No, of course not." I responded. "I'm not going to say anything." After a pause I asked her, "Are you?" (I could almost see Doris' ears perking up, to listen better, the way that dog's ears do.)

Delphine frowned. "I'd need to be inspired," she confessed.

At that, Doris could endure it no longer, and she turned around in her chair. She gave a serious look at Delphine, and then to me. At that moment I realized that Delphine was probably aiming exactly at this, all along: she wanted to get a rise out of Doris.

In a very firm tone, very much like a schoolma'am, Doris addressed us both. "Excuse me, girls. I couldn't help but overhear." Delphine raised her eyebrows and made an expression of mild interest. Thus encouraged, Doris went continued: "You're talking about a very serious portion of the ceremony. Very serious. It's not an occasion for making jokes or having fun. It's not something to be taken lightly."

Delphine frowned as if mildly confused. "So it's not a general discussion?"

Doris' jaw dropped for a moment, but she quickly recovered. "No, absolutely not! It's for serious issues!"

"Such as?"

"Well, such as bigamy. That would be the classic impediment. What if one of them is already married to someone else? Or what if one of them isn't who they pretend to be? Suppose the bride or groom was a criminal of some sort, living under a false name?"

Delphine tapped her chin, processing the information. She nodded, and in a mock-serious voice told her, "Thanks, Aunt Doris. Those are top-notch suggestions. I'll take them under advisement."

Doris, seeing at last that she was being made fun of, frowned. She pressed her lips into a tight line. Her jaw set, and with an offended harrump! she turned her back to us.

Delphine squeezed my arm, squinted her eyes, and opened her mouth wide in a silent howl of laughter. She leaned into me, giving me with her shoulder the sort of pokes most people do with their elbow.

"I've always wanted to use that phrase in conversation," she whispered. "The one about taking things under advisement."

"Good for you," I told her.

"Ooh, sarcasm," she whispered, tickled. "It burns."

Then Delphine raised her head, scanning the crowd. After she finished her survey, I asked her, "Hey, did you really call Nessa's baker and ask if you could jump out of the wedding cake?"

Her eyes crinkled in delight. "No."

I was confused. "But Nessa said—"

Delphine waved her hand dismissively. "What I did was so much better than that. I had no idea who her baker is or was. But anyway, I didn't need to call him. I got a friend of mine, a guy, to call Nessa. He acted like he was the kind-of slow-witted assistant to the baker. He asked Nessa in an irritating, dopey voice whether she still wanted the traditional wedding cake, now that her order had changed, because there would be an additional charge."

"I don't understand."

"Neither did Nessa, so of course, she got all agitated and started asking questions. My friend told her that if she only wanted the cake for her cousin to jump out of, that was one thing, but if she ALSO wanted the traditional cake from the original order, it would cost more."

"Oh, God."

"Nessa was incandescent. I'm surprised she didn't burst into flames. My friend kept her on the phone for fifteen minutes, until she felt sure she'd straightened it all out with the baker. Also, she asked which cousin was supposed to jump out of the cake, as if she couldn't guess."

I took a breath. I wasn't sure what I wanted to say.

"There's more," Delphine chuckled, and leaned her head on my shoulder for a moment, as if weakened by laughter. "I told my mother that Tag had asked me to jump out of the wedding cake in a bikini. I showed my Mom some of my most scandalous bathing suits and asked her to help me pick one. She was shocked and horrified." Delphine was overcome by a fit of laughter at that point. Doris, her back to us, muttered Disgraceful!

When Delphine was able to go on, she said, "I pretended to let my Mom convince me that it was a bad idea. I told her I'd tell Tag to ask someone else. Anyway, when Nessa called, full of wrath, my mother thought she had a secret, shameful backstory about Tag, but out of a sense of delicacy she didn't say it until she felt that Nessa had driven her back against the wall."

"Ohh," I sighed. "Delphine, that's awful!"

"There was a lot more confusion than I expected, but you know, it will help make this wedding memorable, don't you think?"

My mouth fell open, wordless.

At that moment, Max returned. I turned my face up to his. He looked from the expression on my face to Delphine, then back again, and his own face went white. An usher ran up and asked him to take his seat, so he did.

The wedding ceremony was lovely. Nessa's was, of course, beautiful, and so was her dress, which was very white, very sparkly. The bodice was super-tight, showing off her flat stomach, her perfect posture, her trim waist, and her magnified breasts. From the waist down, it was a tulle skirt in the ballroom style, sprinkled with blingy bits. Topped by a crown-like tiara, Nessa seemed a princess. A Disney princess, to be specific. Her hair flowed down in tiny dark curls.

"A lot of that is hair extensions," Delphine muttered to me. Max, hearing her speak, but not understanding, turned to give her a suspicious glare. When he looked away, Delphine gave me a conspiratorial smirk and squeezed my arm lightly.

Inevitably, when the minister arrived at the phrase, "If anyone here present knows any reason these two should not be joined in holy matrimony, let them speak now, or forever hold their peace," I saw Doris' back stiffen and tense. Nessa held her breath, and tried to find Delphine with the corner of her eye. I found myself tensing up as well. What should I do if Delphine tried to speak?

Delphine shifted, straightened, and stretched her shoulders. She took a breath and looked at the sky and the trees around us — she was the very picture of innocence.

Then she put her face next to mine and whispered. "Go ahead, say something. You know you want to." It struck me that I was looking into the wicked grin Max had warned me about.

I froze for an eternity of seconds.

Then the moment passed. Delphine's smile softened. I relaxed. Doris relaxed. Nessa smiled, and at last we arrived at "You may now kiss the bride."

 


 

After Nessa and Tag swept victoriously down the aisle, they were followed by the wedding party. The rows emptied one by one, starting from the front.

While we waited our turn to leave, Delphine, who had kept hold of my arm this entire time, asked me, "Lorelei, can I hang with you? You have this calm, neutral energy that I need right now."

"Do I seem calm to you?" I asked her, surprised.

"Yes. Aren't you?"

I sighed. Leaning closer so Max couldn't hear, I confided, "Max and I had a fight last night. A little argument."

Delphine's eyebrows rose in interest. Her eyes twinkled. I could see the gears turning in her head, and I feared for a moment where those gears might stop, but then Delphine seemed to drop it.

While the bridal party went off to take pictures, the rest of us milled around on the terrace and the lawn. Waitpersons circulated with hors d'oeuvres and glasses of champagne.

"Horse doovers," Robin said, by way of hello.

"Horse doovers to you, too," Max said, raising a canape in salute.

Robin and Lana eyed Delphine up and down. Then Lana observed, "I see you didn't wear white, Delphine."

"Yeah," Delphine acknowledged, looking away. "I might change later. If Nessa changes her outfit, I have to see if her wedding dress fits me. I call dibs."

(Spoiler: Neither Nessa nor Delphine changed outfit that day.)

Then, it seemed as though the crowd of persons parted to make way for an imposing figure, who headed our way.

"Uh-oh," Delphine breathed. "Here comes Aunt Viv. Oh, shit."

Vivianne approached, smiling. Her husband Ken followed a few feet behind her. His face was already red from the exertion of drinking.

"Hello, Lorelei." She greeted me with open arms. As she hugged me, she murmured, "I couldn't be prouder of you. You've turned out so wonderfully well."

She let me go, then nodded to Max, Lana, and Robin in turn.

Delphine, nervous, worked up the courage to tease Vivianne: "Aren't you going to hug me, too, Auntie?" Her voice cracked on the word Auntie.

Viv turned and regarded the girl in silence for a few moments, then smiled and opened her arms wide. "Come here," she said. "Of course I want to hug you." After the hug, she put her hands on Delphine's arms and looked her in the face. "You're such a strikingly beautiful woman, Delphine, but I'm sure you know that." A small frightened smile appeared and disappeared on Delphine's lips. "Something you might not know..." she paused "... has anyone ever told you, Delphine, that I was very much like you, when I was your age... and younger?"

"No! You? Were like me?"

Vivianne laughed. "Of course, I was much wilder and more frightening, if you can imagine..."

"The frightening part I can imagine," Delphine blurted out. "But wild? Wilder?"

Vivianne looked from me to Delphine and back again. "I can't tell you how pleased I am to see the two of you together."

She gave one last smile to the five of us, then moved off, towing Ken away with her.

Delphine was actually shaking. "Ohmygod, ohmygod, ohmygod," she babbled. "I think I'm going to pass out! I actualled TALKED to Aunt Viv, AND LIVED! can you believe it? She talked to me!" She lifted her hands, which were trembling. "Oh, God, I need a cigarette."

Before anyone could answer about the cigarette, Melissa came over. She pounced on me and hugged the hell out of me. When she let me go, she looked warily at Delphine.

"I don't bite, Aunt Melissa," Delphine told her. "And no hug for me? Aunt Viv just hugged me now."

"Yes, I saw," Melissa admitted quietly, with a feeling she'd been trapped. She lifted her arms, opening them a little unwillingly, tentatively.

Delphine rushed into the opening, cackling, and grabbed Melissa. She hugged her, laughing, rocking, and she wouldn't let go. Melissa tried to tap out, but Delphine ignored her signal.

At last she stepped back, releasing her hold on Melissa. With a huff, Melissa ran a hand through her hair, and said, "See? That's why I wasn't sure about hugging you! You always go too far!" Delphine smirked, pleased with herself.

"Hey, Melissa," I said. I don't know why I chose that moment to ask, but that's what happened. "Did you tell everybody that Max was thinking of inviting Delphine as his plus-one?"

Melissa didn't respond, but she turned dark red and gave a furtive guilty look in Max's direction.

Delphine let out a disgusted scoff. "Am I really that bad? That people have to be embarrassed about wanting to be with me?"

Melissa defensively shot back, "It isn't that! It's that Max was reduced to asking his cousin—"

"—by marriage," Delphine tossed in.

"Mom," Max muttered dangerously.

"Even so!" Melissa exclaimed.

"I would have gone," Delphine declared hotly. "There's no law against it. We could even get married, if we so desired."

Max let out a choking sound. Melissa looked distinctly uncomfortable, and reached out to grab my hand.

Delphine, seeing that gesture, looked me in the face and nodded. "So that's how it is, is it? Congratulations, Lorelei. I hope you and Max have dozens of children. More than you can count. Ugly little children." Melissa's mouth fell open in shock, but Delphine found a way of sending me a smirking wink that no one saw but me.

She stalked off in a pretended snit.

Robin nervously rubbed his jaw over and over, as he said, "Hmm, well, I think I see... over there... the uh—"

Lana cut him off by saying, "We'll see you guys later," and she led Robin away.

"Oh, Christ," Max swore. "I'm going to go look at the ocean." With that, he walked away.

"Well, hmmph," Melissa said, disconcerted. "Just you and me, then." She clung to my hand, in case I was thinking of heading off as well. Then, in the spirit of payback, she told me, "You know, there's something I wanted to talk to *you* about."

"Seriously?" I asked her, and started laughing at the absurdity of it all.

"Yes," she said. "And it's not to change the subject. Or not JUST to change the subject. Do you remember when you came to me two weeks ago to ask about periods and all that?"

"Sure, I do."

"You had a pregnancy scare, didn't you, you wild little thing! Why didn't you tell me?"

"How did you know?" I exclaimed.

"Well, I didn't know for sure until a second ago," she smirked. "But it came to me later... the way you asked some of your questions about Aunt Flo..."

She let my hand drop, then raised both hands, fingers crossed.

Laughing gleefully, she skipped away.

Slightly disconcerted, I decided to go find Max. It wasn't hard; as he said, he was standing at the wall at the edge of the property, looking out to sea.

I came up beside him. He was quiet, calm. He smiled at me and draped his arm over my shoulders.

"I told you, babe: that girl is a roving land mine!"

"Mmm," I replied. "And she's not the only one!"



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