Author: Le Meg PM
Drag. That's what happens when you combine one intriguing older girl, a couple games of pool, and a series of poorly advised bets. Some things have to be learned the hard way; for Greg Harris, that seems to be the only way.Rated: Fiction T - English - Romance/Humor - Words: 13,898 - Reviews: 33 - Favs: 102 - Follows: 8 - Published: 01-16-09 - Status: Complete - id: 2622916
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
The Man-nequin, or: How to Lose Your Money and Your Dignity to Priscilla Aylward
By Le Meg
SKoW Member Challenge - You Look Good in Skirts
1.) Must be told from a male point of view.
2.) Must contain the sentence "you know, you look good in skirts" said to the MC while he is wearing a skirt.
3.) Must be a Romance/Humor story (No slash, please!).
4.) One-shot, minimum 5000 words.
5.) Include an argument about Michael Jackson and Prince.
- Set in a costume-wearing Holiday (ie: Halloween, Carnival, etc), or some sort of Scottish ceremony (no kilts allowed!).
- Use of bad words. At all.
He would spend the next year going over how he ever got involved with this girl in the first place, this much he knew. Because that's about how long it would take for him to figure out why he was standing on a plastic stool covered in cheap flower stickers, being poked and prodded at and used as a veritable pin cushion by a girl he'd known less than three days and certainly hadn't slept with yet, let alone managed to one-up in conversation. The losses were becoming excruciating. Greg groaned, and tilted his head back in agony as he muttered, "I would give anything for a cigarette right now."
"Anything?" The girl in question inquired, and it would have sounded promising if he hadn't already known all too well how much of a tease she was. Greg was pretty sure she knew he wanted her, in the worst of ways; he was also pretty sure she was a complete and utter sadist and took her only joys in life through the utter destruction of the male ego.
"You promised me whiskey. Why is there no whiskey?" He asked her, changing the subject. She might like to tease him, but he was in no mood to torture himself. "Actually, more importantly," he continued, beginning to sound a little more than indignant, "What am I even doing here? Shouldn't you be using, oh, I don't know, female models for this? Correct me if I'm wrong, but you make dresses." As if that wasn't enough of an emphasis, he added meaningfully, "For women."
"Greg, please look around my room. Go ahead, take your time." She paused, and glanced around pointedly herself. "Do you see any female models? Any mannequins? Any dress-maker's dummies of any kind?"
Greg didn't even bother to look. "You could use your body," he sulked, unable to just let the argument go, even after four hours of constantly losing to her. "Work in the mirror."
"If you actually knew how to sew, babe, you would realize how funny that is."
He drew a careful breath, closed his eyes, and said her name almost like he was beginning an incantation of some kind. "Priscilla."
She glared up at him. "I'm pretty sure I told you not to call me that."
"I have to piss. Please, woman. Give a man a break. You won the bet, and haven't I been a good boy?" At her dubious eyebrow, he amended, "Okay, at least a charming and very good-looking boy?"
Pris sat back on her heels, smirking around the needles in her mouth. "You're a piece of work, Mr. Harris."
"A sweet, sweet piece," he intoned solemnly. "Have some mercy, for god's sake."
She gave a tortured sigh – funny, since he was fairly certain he was the one in drag here – and stood, removing the pins from her mouth and sticking them back in their proper cushion. "Alright, just hold still while I unwrap you."
Greg watched her expression closely as she began to gently pull the dress over his arms and head, waiting for a blush or tell of some kind. But there was nothing—no, this girl was good. If she felt even an inkling of modesty or the barest hint of primal need at the sight of his half-naked body, she hid it well.
Underneath what one would only very loosely call a dress at this point, Greg was only in his boxers. Dearest Priscilla had insisted, and had even eyed the dinosaur patterned shorts with some speculation before conceding that he could leave those on. But everything else was too much bulk, apparently, and would interfere with her measuring. The whole spectacle had something of The Graduate to it – she wasn't anywhere near Mrs. Robinson's age, but Pris was older than him, by a couple years at least. At first Greg had been thrilled, sure it was some elaborate older woman plot to get him half naked and completely impatient with desire, but now, three days and four and a half hours later, he understood that she'd been entirely serious about the bet, and his subsequent help.
Girls are stupid, he thought sulkily to himself, and stalked over to the connecting bathroom as she carefully laid her not-quite-a-dress-yet over her bed. Behind the safety of the bathroom door he stretched, cracked his neck, scratched himself, and then unloaded his bladder into the toilet.
The bathroom was small but tidy, and decidedly arty; there was a lot primary color action going on. It felt a little like walking into a pop-art painting. The insanely sized Lichtenstein print that served as her shower curtain was kind of hard to miss, at the very least. It stared back at him, its cartoon panel of a man and a woman embracing amongst blue swirls, and Greg dragged his mind for the title of the piece. There was a block of text missing from it, that much he knew, but otherwise too much time had elapsed since that required art class.
After flushing the toilet, he purposefully left the lid up on the hopes that it might piss her off and then examined his face in the oddly shaped mirror as he washed his hands. His hair was kind of shaggy looking, not quite long enough to be hipster trendy but in no way short enough to mark him as a clean-cut, decent kind of boy; its disheveled state made it pretty clear, actually, that he didn't even own a comb, let alone use one on any kind of regular basis. He was also in desperate need of a shave, but despite the reassuringly constant growth of his hair, it was the same face – the same old Greg staring back. He hadn't changed a lot during college; not in the way he'd expected to, anyway.
Graduation was a mere few weeks away, and he'd be lying through his teeth if he tried to tell anybody he wasn't concerned with what he would do with his life after the diploma was securely in his hand. His parents hadn't exactly come out and asked him that much yet, but he knew it was only a matter of time.
And of course, there was his own pride to consider. How long did he want to live on the Harris family money? There was enough of it to go around, but did he really want to be the rich and charming asshole for the rest of his life? The incorrigible eldest son of the Harris millions?
He scowled, pissed off that thoughts of his future had yet again managed to weasel their way into his usual careless, irreverent lifestyle. Wiping his hands on a yellow and red striped towel (where does she even find this stuff? Is there some crazy hippie art store somewhere I don't know about? Martha Stewart Home on acid?), he scratched his chest idly as he returned to the wider, one-room space of Priscilla's studio apartment. "Your bathroom looks like Warhol threw up in there."
"Thank you," she threw over her shoulder, sounding pleased. She was standing with her back to him, pulling down colorful baskets full of stuff from the built-in shelf that took up a whole wall, one after the other, obviously looking for something. Some of the baskets were higher up on the shelves than others, and when she went on her tiptoes to reach them, Greg allowed himself to enjoy the view.
There was no telling what her original hair color was – though her coloring suggested blond – because hers was streaked with at least four different kinds. The base was a sun-kissed yellow-blond, but her long, choppy bangs and cute little ponytail boasted chunks of green, blue, and purple, and in some places there were streaks of black. She was a few inches shorter than he was, tall for a girl but not outrageously so, and her build was thin, lithe. He suspected that her youth had consisted of basketball and summer camps. Her eyes were dark; a kind of charcoal grey maybe, or espresso brown. She never really looked him in the eye long enough for him to tell.
He wished he could only see the expression on his parents' faces if he'd ever managed to bring a girl like her home for dinner. It was well known throughout the family – and most of the town, in fact – that girls looking for a decent, wealthy, and civilized young man with whom they could start a nurturing and well-adjusted family would not find their kind of stock in him. Despite the tattoos and the clever and ready wit she had at her disposal, he could tell that Priscilla was a nice girl. Edgy, with odd taste in décor, perhaps, but she wasn't a heartbreaker, a home-wrecker, or a gold-digger, in any sense of the terms. And, despite the tattoos, she certainly wasn't Greg's usual run of the mill.
Which was why, he concluded, he wanted to throw her on her bed, on that stupid dress she had him wearing way to often to be healthy, and ravage her for an equal amount of time.
He moved towards the bed, sans Pris, and stared down at the dress instead. The thing was quickly becoming the bane of his existence. It didn't look like much right now – just various fabrics pieced together, some only held by pins, some barely sewed in, but the lump of ribbons and fabric in the basket she'd been pulling from suggested that it had a long way to go. The cut wasn't even defined yet. Even if he had an eye for fashion – which he didn't, let that be made clear – there was no way to tell how that dress would turn out.
The basket full of fabrics and ribbons was more or less representative of her studio as a whole – a bright, textured, unending and yet vaguely organized mess. Only the kitchen area escaped more or less untouched, though it certainly wasn't any less colorful. A portable clothing rack full of finished and unfinished pieces in the living room area was the answer to this mystery, if such a thing could even be solved. Greg wasn't convinced.
"When's the show?" he asked, crossing his arms loosely.
She came over and stood next to him, setting a basket down on the bed next to the dress. "In a couple weeks." The basket was full of magazines and journals, Polaroid's, newspaper clips, and various other cut-outs that looked as though they spanned years and years of determined collecting. She began searching through the journals – the covers of which were all collaged – until she found what she was looking for. She flipped through to a specific page and then handed it to him absently, and started looking for another.
He raised an eyebrow at her, and glanced over the picture when she proceeded to ignore him. She'd cut out a dress from a fashion magazine and wrote a couple things about it, supplemented with some Polaroids and scraps from other magazines of different fabrics and styles. He started to imagine her in the dress, and then it became more a fantasy of him getting her out of the dress, and after a second of that, he promptly stopped himself. Oh, bad Greg. Bad.
"So how long am I supposed to be your personal drag queen?" He asked; he hadn't expected to lose a game of pool to anybody, let alone her, so he hadn't really been paying full attention to all the terms of the bet they'd made. But lo and behold, here he was.
"However long it takes me to finish the dress," she replied. He thought about throwing the journal over his shoulder and pushing her to the ground, and wondered what she would do if he did. Knowing his luck, she'd probably surprise him with some serious judo skills and make it impossible for him to ever even think about having children, let alone actually proceed to use his baby-maker. "Two weeks at the most." She seemed to have found the second journal she wanted because she was no longer flipping through them at a frenzied pace, and threw him a slightly knowing glance. "That won't be too terrible for you, will it?"
"Well, you could sweeten the deal a little," he suggested, trying to catch her eyes. The fact that she never maintained significant eye contact with him was either a good thing or a bad thing; he hadn't quite figured out which one it was yet.
She rolled her eyes and took the journal from him, moving towards her couch. "Yeah, I bet I could. You can put your clothes back on, babe, my fingers need a rest."
Greg pulled on his jeans, but left his shirt where it was, and joined her on the couch. As he leaned back and stretched out at his legs, he asked, "Pris, darling, when are you going to feed me? I am human, you know. And we humans have to satisfy certain needs now and again. Food, that's one of them. I'll let you ponder the others."
Priscilla checked her watch. "Oh, crap. Where did you park? I totally forgot to warn you, they ticket pretty exuberantly on this street."
Greg groaned. "You're killing me, smalls." He jumped up and, forgoing his shirt and shoes, hurried out of her studio apartment to the street below. It was something he probably should have thought of himself, to be honest – the building she lived in, like the majority of buildings on the street, boasted retail shops below and apartments of varying kinds above. It was a trendy area with little to no parking, and no doubt the spot he'd managed to grab had some kind of time limit on it.
When he got to his car, the dreaded little yellow ticket beamed happily up at him from under the wiper on the passenger side, and he ripped it out with a scowl. "Great."
Pris hurried up then, a little breathless after chasing him down the street. "Oh no. I'm so sorry, I should have remembered—" but then she blinked at his car and turned a rueful eye on him. "You drive a beamer."
Greg patted the roof of it affectionately. "My baby. I call her Mademoiselle. Elle for short. Shall I show you the backseat?"
"Some other time, maybe," she replied, amused. "How much is the ticket for?"
"Twenty-five. I'll live." He unlocked the car and put the ticket in the glove compartment, and then turned to find Priscilla handing him the twenty-five dollars. "Put your money away."
"No way, I should have warned you," she argued, and shook the bills at him. "Take it. Come on, it's only twenty-five bucks."
"Pris, I'm not taking your money."
She frowned. "Is that because you prefer losing yours to me over pool?"
He couldn't help but chuckle. "Put the claws away. It's just a matter of principle, sweetheart. My parents didn't raise an total heathen, alright?"
"So what, my wanting to pay isn't also a matter of principle? If this is some weird gender thing, don't worry about it – there's no need for you to be chivalrous, it's your car that got ticketed." She stepped closer and granted him a most pleasant surprise by stuffing the money in his back pocket. "There. I win."
"You wanna bet?" He asked lightly, marveling over how quickly his body responded to her touch.
"Betting doesn't seem to work in your favor, Mr. Harris," she reminded him, her tiny smirk the only clue that she was well aware of what was going on in his pants, and turned back towards her apartment. "Shall I cite some examples? The two pool games you lost to me, for instance? Or perhaps the one about you not swearing for a month?"
"I haven't lost that one yet," he retorted, locking the car behind him as he followed. "Have you heard me curse once in the last few days?"
"You could be cursing up a storm behind my back."
"I've been with you most of the time," he informed her, admiring the way she so effortlessly took two steps at a time on the stairs, among other things. "And since I'm usually wearing a dress during those periods, I think it's only fair that you take my word for it when you aren't around to keep watch."
She laughed, and set her wallet down on the kitchen counter when they re-entered her apartment. "Fine. You can have that one," she conceded, opening up the freezer. "How does pizza sound?"
"Will you serve it naked?"
"Don't bet on it."
Greg grinned, and sprawled out on the couch again. "I won't."
A little over a week passed, marking the total time they'd known each other as nothing more than half a month, and yet Greg couldn't get over how natural it felt to make the trek to her studio apartment, or how much he enjoyed running up the stairs after she buzzed him in, despite the fact he knew he was bound to be put in a skirt within ten minutes of him walking through the door. He'd probably seen her five times that week, and had worn a dress every time – the same dress, actually. It was her last piece for the show – the all-important final piece. In a way, he was kind of flattered.
Of course, part of him also wondered what was wrong with her. As much as he enjoyed living this bet through, he'd really been hoping for more than this continual shot at cross-dressing. How many times did he have to strip down to his boxers before the woman jumped him? Was it too much to ask?
Those first few visits he hadn't been sure, but after spending at least a handful of hours with her every day since, Greg was reasonably certain now that the attraction wasn't as one-sided as he'd previously thought. Something was definitely holding her back, but he was getting to her all the same. There had been a couple moments where he'd almost had her – when he could see plainly the light flush on her cheeks, the way her chest rose and fell with uneasy breath, and how slowly she'd move away from him, as if her heart wasn't quite in it. If he'd kissed her then, she wouldn't have stopped him, that much he knew. But he wanted her to break. He wanted her to admit how bad she wanted it, and he wanted her to tell him when and where, how hard and how fast. Each little step closer had his mouth watering, and he knew he was too far gone now to call off the chase.
This time when he called her from downstairs, it took her a few seconds longer than normal to buzz him in. He arched an eyebrow at the door when he heard the lock click free, and then let himself in. Her apartment door was already open, as usual, but the scene that greeted him when he strolled in was one he was not expecting.
Priscilla was sitting against her couch on the floor, journals and fabrics scattered around her, red-eyed and drinking from a bottle of Jameson. As he approached her cautiously, she held the bottle out and muttered sulkily, "I remembered your whiskey."
"Thanks, sweetheart," he said dryly, accepting the already opened bottle. "Can I ask you what you're doing?"
"Yes," she replied, rubbing her face.
He paused, and then asked casually, "Pris, what are you doing?"
"Having a cow."
"Sounds painful." He settled down next to her and took a swig of the whiskey before asking, "So what are we having a cow about, exactly?"
She groaned, and leaned her head back against the couch. "I don't know what I'm doing here! I'm a terrible designer! I have no more glue for my hot glue gun, and I'm running out of inspiration! And I'm hungry and I have no food because I've spent all my money on stuff for the show and the stupid daycare where I work doesn't pay me nearly enough to cover everything, let alone assuage the mental damage all those brats have inflicted on me!"
"If your budget's so tight, why'd you give me the money for the ticket the other week?" He asked frankly, keenly. Twenty-five dollars wasn't a lot, but it could go a long way on a college diet; most of the friends he'd made in school didn't come from money the same way he did and had to make do the best way they could. It might have resulted in a whole lot of ramen, but it was better than not eating.
For a second she looked like she wanted to hit her head against something, no doubt regretting having let the money thing slip, but then groaned and put her head in her hands again. "Just let it go, Greg! I did it because I don't want to feel like I owe anybody anything, okay? Because I have deep emotional issues and a terrible self-image and I can't afford to believe…" But she stopped herself after that, before she could admit anything else to him.
Greg took another drink – he had the feeling he was going to need it tonight – and then took her hand and put it around the bottle, and brought it to her mouth. "There. Now drink. Don't you feel better?"
Pris coughed a little in response. "Oh, god. How can you drink this? It burns! I've had it open for like twenty minutes and it still tastes terrible."
"We go way back." He allowed himself a third helping before screwing the bottle shut, and then set it between them. "Okay, here's what I'm going to do. We're going to order some food—I'm paying, don't give me that look. I'm going to call my sister and she's going to pick up some glue for you since I don't know where to buy that sh—ahem, stuff. And for inspiration…" He pulled his iTouch from his back pocket and began flipping through it leisurely. "Aha! Yeah, this will inspire you. Are you ready?"
She watched somewhat balefully as he switched her beat up looking iPod out of the speakers for his, and when his artist of choice began to play, he wasn't sure if the look on her face meant she wanted to laugh or cry. "Are you honestly playing Prince in my apartment?"
"Pris, sweet cheeks, this man is a walking god. If he doesn't inspire you it is because you have not one feeling bone in your body." Greg began to remove his belt, and kicked his shoes in the corner as he did. "Now tell me when you want me to stop undressing."
"Stop," she immediately said. "The only thing Prince inspires me to do is beat you over the head with the Jameson. Put something else on."
Greg scoffed. "No way. Prince stays. How can you honestly look me in the eyes and tell me that 'When Doves Cry' doesn't make you want to get up and dance and hug the world?"
"Okay, I'm trying to imagine you wanting to hug the world and I think I might be sick," she replied, rubbing her head. "It's like… on par with Michael Jackson and that dumb song I had to sing over and over again in elementary school about making the world a better place."
"Don't you dare compare Michael Jackson to Prince," he warned her then, and pulled his t-shirt over his head despite her ceasefire. The fact that she was watching him with those dark, magnetic eyes of hers made his skin feel pleasantly warm. Not even fifteen minutes in and he was already thinking about the unspeakable things he would do to her should she ever give him half the chance. It looked as though he would be making another phone call later tonight; he'd already pulled out the little black book twice before in the short time he'd known her, and he had no doubt he'd come back to the list at least once more before it was show time. He wanted her, but short of the lovely Pris, something was better than nothing.
Pris jumped on the argument readily enough. "At least Michael Jackson had some really innovative stuff going on – 'Billy Jean', 'Thriller'? Prince can't touch those."
"Yeah, well he doesn't touch children either, so I guess you can't have everything," Greg retorted, and then dialed his sister's number. As he put the phone to his ear, he added, "But you know what Prince would touch, if you would just give him a chance? You. Mentally. Physically. In all of the secret places you want the mo—hey, Erin. I need you to do me a favor."
"How did you know me and Justin were making a liquor run?" Erin immediately asked in response, very suspiciously. "Do you have ESP? I thought you went to see Pris again."
"I did. I am. She's having a nervous breakdown and I'm trying to be a gentleman here," he explained, looking at Pris as he did. "What was that stuff called?"
"Glue sticks," Pris reminded him, quietly. Now that he was actually on the phone, she looked taken back, and not a little pensive. "For my hot glue gun."
Greg kept his eyes on her. You want me, he tried to influence her mentally. Nice Greg is making you all hot and bothered. You don't know what to do with yourself. And if he's this generous on his feet, baby, think about how good he'll be to you off his feet. "She needs glue sticks for a hot glue gun. And a bottle of…" he paused, and raised his eyebrows at her. "What kind of drink, babe?"
"I'm fine," she muttered, rubbing her neck.
"No you're not, you're forcing whiskey down your throat, sitting on your cute little butt in the middle of a giant fabricky mess, despairing over your grossly misconstrued lack of talent." Greg took a breath, and then repeated calmly, "What do you want to drink?"
Pris stared at him for a few more seconds before glancing away. "Gin and tonic water."
"The lady would like some Bombay Sapphire and some tonic water, if you would be so kind," Greg relayed to his sister. "I'm about to order some food, you guys want something? We can make a switch when you drop everything off."
Erin snorted. "You are such a freak. What are you ordering?"
"Indian, probably." He remembered her saying something about chicken tikka marsala being one of her favorite dishes earlier in the week, and he was familiar enough with the restaurant he had in mind to know that the portions they served were gargantuan. An order from there could easily last her a couple days, at least.
Pris closed her eyes at that, and then slowly got up and disappeared into the bathroom. He watched her every step of the way, and ran a hand through his hair in frustration when the door to the bathroom closed.
"Yeah, okay. I want curry." She paused and Greg heard her confer with Justin in the background before she added his order to the mix. "He wants whatever it was that you got last time, with the potato things. You're lucky I'm such an awesome sister."
Greg rolled his eyes. "Right. I owe you," he told her, and promptly hung up. He moved towards the bed and peered down at the dress he'd spent so much of his time wearing recently, and eventually changed into it. Today his boxers had little devils on them.
When Pris finally reappeared, he was inspecting the label on the bottle of Jameson as he put in their food order to the Indian place. He glanced at her as he repeated some of the dishes a couple of times, and then asked her, "You want some naan bread? Extra rice?" She simply stared at him in return, so he made an executive decision and said yes to both, and listened to the Indian guy on the other side of the line repeat everything back to him before confirming the price and hanging up.
His phone wasn't even closed before Pris said, "You really don't have to do all this."
"Yeah, that's the beauty of it," he agreed, and set the Jameson on the stunted coffee table.
She paused, watching his movements with an unsettled air that bordered on vulnerable. He hadn't known her that long, true, but this wasn't the Pris he was used to seeing at all. The sad part was that it turned him on even more. "You… actually think my clothes are good?"
"Yeah, sure." He shrugged, overly casual. "Most of my judgment is a result of my fantasizing what they all look like on you as I remove them, though, so in that regard yes, they are quite lovely."
Pris blinked slowly at him, and then pointed towards the couch. "Sit down."
Greg hiked the dress up over his hips so he wouldn't wrinkle or tear the fabric as he instantly obeyed her, and then watched as she moved towards him. His excitement plummeted a little when Pris paused to collect some pins and a needle and thread, and it pretty much died altogether when she put the pincushion in his mouth. "Don't talk anymore."
He made a noise of assent in response, and sat complacently as she began to fiddle with the sleeves of the dress. At first he assumed she was fixing them or adding details to them or something equally crafty – he couldn't even remember how many times she'd done something similar, working a minute, specific spot of the dress until she was satisfied. But it became apparent after a little bit that she wasn't doing much with the straps at all – even he could tell that much. The intensity in her concentration betrayed the fact that there was plenty going on inside her head, despite that. He wanted in. Greg wasn't sure how he could get under her skin, or why she brought out the urge in him in the first place, but he knew he would have to get there or die trying.
As Prince's 'Kiss' played, he took his chance, and took the cushion from his mouth. "Okay, you have to admit, this song has got to make you want to—"
Pris tossed the pins and needles to the side, took his face in her hands, and kissed him. For a second he just sat there, disbelieving, but when he felt her begin to back off he grabbed her hips and pulled her into his lap. She was thin, but it was a lean, healthy thin, and he already loved how far his arms went around her. Her mouth was small but so expressive; he knew because he'd spent the last week and a half watching every curve and twitch that tugged at its corners. He kissed every part of that mouth he could, and slid his tongue in every space she made available, and only wished he could pay the same tribute to the rest of her. Greg arched his hips up into her as he thought about it, unable to stop the groan from escaping his throat.
The noise seemed to startle her and she began to pull away. "Bad," she gasped, moving her hands off of him and onto the couch behind him to steady herself. "This is bad."
He held onto her tightly, murmuring into her mouth, "Don't stop. Dear god, Pris, don't you dare stop."
She made a soft, whimpering noise in response and sunk into him again, almost helplessly. He didn't know how long they'd sat there – all he knew right then was the way her mouth moved against his, the way it tasted, the way her skin felt under his fingers. Her hands were in his hair and his were in her shirt when the buzzer downstairs signaled the arrival of either the liquor or the food. Pris turned her face away then, breath ragged, her eyes tightly closed as he moved his attention to her jaw and neck. After a second she managed to wriggle out of his grasp, muttering, "Greg, we have to stop."
He watched her as she moved to buzz whoever was downstairs in, breathing heavily. The fact that the dress was loose around his hips was a good thing at this point, but even that might not fully disguise how hard he was for her right now. Pris moved from the door to the bathroom without looking at him, and then he was alone in the room again. It was almost like their little interlude on the couch had never even happened. Her attentions to him were so hot and cold, he didn't know what to do or think. A large gulp of whiskey was the result, and then he was up a few seconds later to answer the knocking at the door.
Erin and Justin stood on the other side, and neither one of them could keep a straight face when introduced to their eldest brother in drag. "Greg, this is… er, surprising," Erin managed after a second, once she'd gotten control of her laughter.
He flicked them off, but moved to the side to let them both in. "Yeah, yeah. Eat me."
Justin set the brown paper bag of liquor he was carrying on the kitchen counter and then turned to observe him, cocking his head a little as he crossed his arms. "You know, you look good in skirts," he told him, smirking. "I think you might have a career ahead of you."
"You're encouragement means the world to me," Greg replied, deadpan.
Erin was regarding him now too, though her expression was more thoughtful than teasing. "The dress is going to be gorgeous," she mused. "Obviously unfinished, and not made for you at all, but I have to say, I love where it's going."
Pris emerged from the bathroom then, weary but smiling. She'd pulled her hair back into a ponytail, no doubt to help cover up the fact that he'd made an absolute mess of it during their delicious make-out session on her couch just a few minutes prior. "Hi," she jumped straight into introductions, shaking hands with each of them. "I'm Pris. Thank you so much for this, I can't tell you how much I appreciate it."
Justin smiled the wide Harris smile they all shared. "No problem. I've been curious to see what Greg was doing the last couple of weeks anyway, since he's been so mysterious about it. Now I know why."
Greg rolled his eyes. "I'll bet you were."
"You might not want to, since that's what got you into a dress in the first place," Pris reminded him lightly, but before he could even think about responding, she turned her attention back to Erin and Justin. "I would give you guys a tour, but…" she shrugged. "This is pretty much it."
Erin smiled, but Greg noticed for the first time there was something a little off about it. "I love the color. So you're in the High Street Fashion show next week, right? It's amazing that you even got in – I hear it's nigh impossible for people who haven't already made a name for themselves."
Pris didn't seem phased by the veiled suspicion in her voice, though he and Justin shared a glance at it – Erin had been cool on the phone, and was generally. If she didn't think the best about his flirtations she usually saved her derision for after the girl was gone. But, like so many other things having to do with Pris, this was something else, and Greg had no idea how to place it.
"It wasn't easy," Pris agreed, and then nodded towards the rack where most of the pieces on it were now finished, or close to being done. "Let me show you some of the stuff I'm working on."
As the girls moved to the other side of the apartment, towards the mess of clothes and fabrics and other fashion designer things Greg couldn't even begin to name even after two weeks of this crap, he and Justin got to work on the drinks. "What was that about?" He asked his brother under this breath, pulling some glasses from the cupboards.
Justin shrugged, tossing a glance over his shoulder. "I have no idea, dude. She said she was looking forward to finally meeting Pris after she got off the phone with you but that was it. I'll say something to her." He paused, and then asked in amusement, "So, did we interrupt something?"
He chuckled, and looked repentant as he reached for the vodka he'd bought. "Sorry. Didn't mean to cock-block. She's hot."
Greg scowled and glanced over to where his sister and Pris were in a fairly serious conversation about something. He doubted it was about clothes. "You're forgiven. But I'm going to strangle Erin in a second. What the heck is she doing?"
Justin gave him a perturbed look. "Did you just say 'heck'?"
"Part of the bet," Greg replied evenly, and added the tonic water to the gin and tonic he was making Pris. "Don't ask questions, Justin."
Greg delivered the drink then, freely interrupting whatever the girls were talking about with a quick grin. "Here." He handed the gin and tonic to Pris as he told them, "The food should be here in ten minutes, maybe. Think you'll survive til then?"
"I'll cross my fingers," Pris replied, and took a small sip of her drink. Since she didn't gag on it or make any kind of face at him, he took that to mean that he'd mixed it well enough. He was kind of impressed by her poise now, considering how much of mess she'd been when he first walked in, and how she'd almost lost it in a different way in his lap just a few minutes prior. But something about her dissembling also left a bad taste in his mouth, and he didn't want to acknowledge how vulnerable she made him feel about the way things were between them.
"Have you been modeling for all of these clothes?" Erin asked then, eyeing the dress he was wearing again. He could tell that despite whatever the two of them were talking about, she had a grudging respect for her designs.
"Just this one," Greg replied, and then batted his lashes at her. "I think it brings out my eyes, don't you?"
"Oh, it brings out something, all right," Erin agreed, and turned her attention back to the multi-colored Pris. "So what number are you in the show? My mother and I have tickets; we go every year, actually."
"Eighth. Where are your seats?"
"Second row, I think. Mom donates, and apparently one of her interns at the office is modeling, so she's got a couple hands in the pie. Like always." Erin rolled her eyes, as if to say, "Mothers," and then headed back towards the kitchen to grab one of the bags. "I almost forgot – your glue sticks. I wasn't sure what size you'd want so I just bought a whole bunch."
With Erin out of hearing distance, Greg asked Pris quietly, "You okay? She's not bullying you, is she?"
"She's fine," Pris replied evenly, but didn't meet his eyes. She moved away from him to thank Erin again, murmuring, "You really are a life saver. I can't tell you how much I appreciate this."
Greg's phone went off then, and he answered it without preamble. Their food had arrived, as suspected, and so he promised to be downstairs momentarily before hanging up. "Erin, come carry the bags with me," he demanded, pulling on his jeans under the dress. Something told him that Pris wasn't going to be working on the dress at all tonight, regardless of whether or not he was there to distract her. It made him wonder why she hadn't just phoned him and called it off, told him to come back tomorrow. He gingerly put the dress on the bed, and then joined his sister at the door as he threw over his shoulder, "We'll be right back."
Once they were in the safety of the stairwell, he dropped the niceties. "What did you say to her?"
"I'm just looking out for you," Erin replied, some of the natural Harris attitude lining her voice. None of them were good at backing down; they were fighters, every last one of them. "Do you even know what her full name is, Greg?"
He scowled, one hand on the railing as he sped down the steps. "What does her name have to do with anything?"
Erin shook her head in exasperated amusement. "You don't know anything about her, do you? Did you not hear what I was saying? They don't just let everyday people into the High Street Fashion Show – she has real talent, yes, but she also has social clout, without which they'd never of let her in. Didn't her name even give you pause? Not many people call their daughters Priscilla these days."
He didn't like where this was going. "Get to the point, Erin." Greg opened the entrance door, and glanced both ways down the sidewalk before noticing the car parallel parked a few yards to the left with the restaurant's logo on the door. As he pulled out his wallet, his sister followed.
"Elizabeth Priscilla Aylward," she snapped, not at all pleased with the way he was brushing her off. "Even you know who the Aylwards are, Greg – you aren't that ignorant."
He didn't reply for a few seconds, preferring instead to retrieve their ordered food from the delivery guy. But he did know the name, and now that he thought about it, he realized there was a stunning similarity between her and the rest of the Aylward clan – the blond hair, the dark eyes, and the razor-sharp wit. The Aylwards were pretty much royalty in their city, and were even wealthier than his family—the Harris millions were a couple generations in the making, but the Aylwards were old money. And yet Pris was nearly having a fit earlier about her lack of funds. He knew the daycare bit was true – she'd called him from the place once and the screaming and shouting in the background was more than enough proof. But if she really was an Aylward, why work in the first place? And what was all that nonsense about her self-image? Something about all this didn't fit, and he was far too impatient to try and puzzle it out himself.
He thanked the delivery guy and tipped him generously, and then waited for the man to drive away before turning back to his sister. "So let me get this straight," he started, unable to keep his temper under control. "You're telling me that she's been lying to me? Or are you telling me that I'm not good enough to associate with an Aylward?"
Erin threw her hands up, exasperated. "No! Jesus, Greg, I didn't say anything like that. I just want you to know what you're getting into. Last week when you told me her name, I got worried. I know how much you like her, but I also know why she's completely broke—why her parents kicked her out."
He told himself that it didn't matter what she did, that this apparent rebellious streak only made her that much more attractive to him, but he found that his feet were still firmly planted to the cement sidewalk. He liked Pris a lot, but as nosey as his sister was, Erin had never led him wrong before. After a second, he asked impatiently, "Well? Don't stop now, Erin. You have my attention. Let's hear all the juicy gossip." He couldn't help the note of derision in his voice, and felt a little guilty when his sister visibly winced.
"Greg, I'm sorry. For what it's worth, I've got nothing but respect for her. I just thought that you should know—"
Greg glanced away, but at least managed to tone his anger down some. "Spill it, Erin."
She sighed, and ran a hand through her strawberry blond hair before asking, "You know who Brendan Foster is?"
Greg just gave a short nod in response. The kid was a senior by the time Greg had started college, and had been one of the most popular guys on campus. They'd never been friends or anything, but knew of each other, and had even shared a few words here and there at parties. Greg more or less recognized his premier social status, and Brendan had in turn understood that, even as a freshman, the eldest Harris child would come in time to occupy the very position he himself held. Their acquaintance was a very loose one, and belonged to college only; once Foster graduated, there was no reason to keep in contact.
"They dated for a year or so, just after he graduated. Their parents set them up, and it was because of their parents that they even lasted as long as they did. But even though they weren't in love or anything, they didn't hate each other either, and neither one of them were known to abstain in the first place. When she got pregnant, nobody was really surprised…"
That wasn't exactly something he'd wanted to hear. Erin hurried forward at the look on Greg's face, taking some of the bags from him as he stalked towards the door. "Anyway, her and Brendan's parents wanted them to get married. Brendan didn't want to lose his trust fund, but Pris refused the engagement, and she refused to carry the child to term. She got an abortion, and her parents cut her off and kicked her out."
Greg paused at the stairs, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. "What did you say to her inside?"
Erin's expression was one of a person who knew they needed to tread carefully. "I… wanted to make sure I was right. She may be the black sheep of the family now, but she still has all the social training. When she took me over to look at the clothes, she asked me point blank what I wanted, that she didn't have any money but she desperately needed the show. I just asked her if I was right – if she was Priscilla Aylward – and I… told her you liked her and if she took advantage of you I would ruin her life."
"You what?" Greg asked, flatly. "Erin, I've been waiting for her to take advantage of me all week. Thanks for ruining it."
"No you haven't," Erin retorted, softly, affectionately. "You like her because she hasn't tried to get anything out of you. Don't even try to lie to me, Greg. You haven't spent this much time with the same girl since the seventh grade."
God, she's perceptive. "You pay way too much attention to my love life," he accused, and started up the steps. The story was a doozy all right, but as he reflected on it, Greg found that he really didn't care that much. Pris hadn't done anything that he wouldn't have done, had he been female and in the same situation. If anything, his respect for her went up a few notches because she'd stood her ground and hadn't let her family's money come before her principles.
Erin followed him. "I told you. I'm just trying to look out for my big brother here."
"You're going to make me sick, Erin."
They re-entered the apartment to find Pris and Justin in the kitchen area, nursing drinks and talking about movies. Justin was doing more of the talking, though, and Greg noticed how pale Pris looked—how worried, when he and Erin brought over the food.
"Well, we don't want to interrupt the creation process," Erin announced then, opening containers as she searched for her and Justin's meals, "So I'll just put our stuff in a bag and leave you guys to it."
Greg wanted to kiss his sister then, and even felt a decent amount of brotherly love for Justin, who took the hint without a hitch. "Yeah, but it was great to meet you. Good luck with the show next week," he told Pris, tipping his glass towards her before draining it.
Pris smiled. "Thank you."
Erin handed the bag of Indian food to Justin, quickly kissed Greg on the cheek before he could protest, and then much to his surprise, hugged Pris. He could tell she was whispering something to the girl, but he didn't know what, and from the looks of it neither did Justin. Greg could guess, though, the way Pris's eyes slid to him. When she finished, Erin stood back and smiled genuinely at the black sheep of the Aylward clan. "I'll be rooting for you. Just wait until my mom gets a load of your stuff – trust me, you're going to wish you'd never met any of the Harrises."
"We'll see," Pris replied, but unlike her smiles before, this one actually met her eyes.
Erin and Justin left soon after. He could hear Justin interrogating their sister all the way down the hall, and from the slight twitch of Pris's mouth, it was obvious that she hadn't missed it either. Apart from that and the music from his iTouch, the apartment was silent. It took a few seconds for Greg to realize that Prince was no longer playing, and with growing indignation he asked, "Did somebody switch playlists?"
Pris set her drink on the counter. Only a quarter of the glass was left. "Your brother did. Said you were gay."
Greg scoffed, and vowed to get him back as he started doling out the Indian food. He let that settle comfortably before moving on, preferring to acknowledge the pink elephant in the room rather than dance around it for the rest of the night. "My sister isn't going to ruin your life," he told her conversationally as he worked. "She said she really respects you, actually. But Erin is a little over-protective. Ironic, since I'm the older brother, but hey."
"You're lucky," Pris said quietly, moving out of the kitchenette. "I guess she told you."
"Yeah." He glanced at her, and added a slice of the naan bread to each of their plates before bringing them over to the coffee table. There wasn't a lot of room, so he started stacking up some of the magazines and journals she had lying about and moved them to the floor neatly. "I don't care if you're an Aylward or not," he told her then, settling down next to her on the couch. He wasn't sure what he could say to make her feel better, but he knew that he at least had to try – seeing her like this made him feel awful. Very few people outside of his family elicited this kind of sympathy from him. It was a good thing she wasn't the kind to take advantage, as Erin had hinted at earlier, because at this rate he was liable to hand her his credit cards, let alone every last shred of dignity he had left – it would all be hers for the taking. "I still like you. And I want you to come to my graduation party in a couple weeks."
She put her head in her hands then. "I might be moving."
Greg paused, his fork half way to his mouth. "What? Why?"
"I can't afford the rent here, and my parents are making it impossible for me to get work in any of the boutiques in the area," she muttered, emotionlessly. "Everything is riding on this show. If I don't get a deal out of it, I'm screwed. Even then, I don't know if they'll let me stay."
"They can't make you move," Greg argued. "What if you talked to them? If you told them—"
"That's out of the question," she interrupted, shortly.
"Why not? It's worth a shot, isn't it, if it means you can eat regularly? I'm sure they don't want you to starve—"
"They wrote me out of their wills, Greg." She stood, and moved briskly to the kitchen. "Obviously they don't care if I starve or not."
That was a little like a blow to the gut. He argued with his parents all the time, but at the end of the day he knew that they loved and supported him, no matter what. To hear something like that – that a family could so willingly turn its back on a daughter without any regard for the consequences – absolutely infuriated him. "What about your siblings? Don't you have like five brothers and sisters?" He didn't know what the count was exactly, which just went to show how little attention he paid to the family and to social politics in general.
She was pouring herself another drink, though from the looks of it this one had a little more gin than the last. "I haven't spoken to any of them in more than a year. Just let it go, Greg. I don't want them in my life if they don't want to be there. My only concern right now is getting my clothes done for the show."
He approached her from behind, and put his arms on either side of the counter so she couldn't escape. "I'm sorry," he murmured, kissing her ear briefly. "I won't talk about it anymore. Come eat, and then we'll finish your dress."
Pris stilled, and for a long moment didn't say or do anything. But something in her broke, and after a second, she started crying – she was quiet, but he could tell from the way her shoulders shook against his chest. He moved his arms her waist and pulled her into him, kissing her hair briefly. After a second she turned, and stared up at him with tear stained cheeks. Her eyes, he noted, were charcoal grey, not brown. "Why did you throw the pool games?" She asked then, wiping her eyes with her hand. "I know you lost them on purpose so don't argue with me."
He grinned, a little ruefully. "What are you, a pool shark?"
"You didn't know who I was?" She asked, refusing to be distracted. "Your sister knew before she even walked through the door and you've spent two weeks with me and you didn't guess?"
Greg frowned. Where did this come from? "No, I didn't. I threw the games because I liked you and I agreed to the bet because I knew I wouldn't get your number any other way." He attempted to lighten the conversation a little by adding, "You take 'playing hard to get' to a whole 'nother level, babe."
"That's not funny," she muttered, slipping out of his arms. "You don't know anything about me. You didn't even know my last name up until today. And if you think I'm going to sleep with you because you say nice things and buy me liquor, you're wrong."
He exhaled slowly, corralling his temper as he counted to ten. She was trying push him away—he knew that. But he didn't know why, and it didn't make it any easier to put up with, especially after how good he'd been to her. "If you sleep with me," he told her, unable to keep all the anger out of his voice, "I want it to be because you want to, Pris. And if you really think all I wanted from you was sex, then forget it. I can get the sex elsewhere." He moved away, picking his shirt up off the floor as he went. "I wouldn't have put up with this ridiculous bet if I didn't enjoy spending time with you."
"What am I supposed to think, Greg?" She asked, raising her voice some as she watched him dress. "That the night we made the bet you went home with that girl to play monopoly? Or that the hickeys on your body last week just magically appeared out of thin air? You think showing off the number of girls who will jump into bed with you is automatically going to make me want to do the same?"
"Screw you," he replied angrily, and grabbed his shoes and, after a second of reflection, the bottle of Jameson. What did his bed habits have to do with anything? "I don't understand you at all. If you can't trust me, then there's no point in doing this anymore."
She crossed her arms tightly, and glanced away. "You're finally right about something," she muttered, her voice completely devoid of emotion.
It was weak, but it had the desire affect. Greg stared at her, but when she didn't meet his gaze his mouth hardened and swore at her, wheeling towards the door. "You win the bet, sweetheart," he snapped, and didn't look back to see her reaction as he walked out.
The High Street Fashion Show was a huge success for all parties involved – the papers in the following days were full of articles about the people and the clothes that had come out of it, and he hadn't needed to hear it from Erin that Priscilla Aylward was the biggest and best surprise. The fact that her parents hadn't managed to stop the papers from printing positive reviews about their estranged daughter meant that she must have done as well as she'd hoped, if not better, and Greg could honestly say that he was pleased for her in that regard. One of the journalists had even gone so far as to hint at how poorly the Aylwards had treated in her in the first place, and how it was a miracle that the woman, who'd grown up pampered and waited on in a way that rivaled the treatment of princesses, managed to keep her head above water, let alone strike such an elegant and ingenius chord in fashion. The picture that had accompanied the article was one of Pris on the runway with the models, glowing with the success of her show. Reading about her achievement had made him proud, but that photo twisted his stomach so much that he didn't read another article about her for fear that he would come across that picture again.
Erin was walking on eggshells around him. He knew she felt responsible for his and Pris's falling out, and even though he'd told her it wasn't her fault more than once, his sister was doing her best to cheer him up and make amends. Justin helped out by distracting him, enlisting Charlie and Mark – when he could, since their youngest brother had been the only Harris to go to school out of state – to assist in the effort. Numerous nights of video games, pornography, bar hopping, and even the occasional strip club or college party helped keep him occupied when his plans for graduation didn't. He tried once or twice to hook up with one of his usual suspects but found that the satisfaction wasn't what it once was, and didn't open the figurative black book after that.
The party, at least, was going to be awesome. His parents had given him the go and allowed him to use the house for what he was now terming the Greg Harris Graduation Extravaganza, and so he kept himself busy by planning for food, drinks, and entertainment. He'd been making new playlists for the past week, and had started a quick little documentary about his college years with the help of Charlie and some of their friends that would no doubt cause everybody who didn't already think he was insane to believe he was.
A few days before the big day he'd been chilling at one of his favorite cafes, listening to his iTouch and flipping through a Sports Illustrated, waiting for Justin and Mark to come pick him up. The iTouch he'd gotten from Erin, who'd returned it to him after Pris had given it to her at the fashion show. He could have easily bought a new one, but somehow he'd known that even if she didn't give it to him personally, Pris would get the MP3 player back to him either way. She didn't fail him; at least not in that regard.
His car had been in Charlie's possession – it was his and Adelaide's ten-month anniversary, apparently, and he'd wanted to show his girl around in style. Because he was such a terrific cousin and a generous person overall, Greg had agreed, but with one condition: "Do not, I repeat, do not have sex in the backseat. I just cleaned my baby and I promise you I will rip out your innards if you so much as even glance towards the spacious leather."
Charlie had scoffed at him. "Greg, I know for a fact you've spent more time in that backseat than anybody else. Besides, we're talking about Addles – she deserves so much more than the 'spacious leather' of your car." He paused for a second though, as something occurred to him. "Although I bet she'd be up for it. God, I love her."
"Well, that's great. Just not in the backseat."
Charlie's barb, though said with humor, made him pause, though. His cuz was right—Greg was known for his many dalliances with the ladies over the years. He'd prided himself on it, even. Erin had been right, too. Out of all the girls he'd dated over the same amount of time, had there been any that had lasted more than a month? And if Charlie and Erin were both right on that account, then so was Pris, in her own way. He couldn't blame her for thinking the way she did, especially after the treatment she'd received from her own family. She'd been discarded at the first sign of trouble.
Which, by all accounts, is pretty much what he did. He knew he wasn't to blame for the way things went down, but he wasn't faultless either. The same went for Pris. Neither one of them had made the extra effort, though, and maybe that's what really bothered him the most.
So naturally, as he was thinking about the way he left Pris high and dry, he saw Pris. She was coming out of a boutique across the street a little ways from his cafe, pulling her neon pink ray-bans down to shield her eyes from the sun, and she looked happy. Not pale or stressed out, like he was used to seeing her, but happy.
She didn't see him, and kept on walking down the sidewalk, swinging the canvas bag she carried with her cheerfully. Greg wasn't sure if he was relieved that she didn't see him, or disappointed, but he did understand with one hundred percent clarity that he missed her, and that a life without anything to look forward to each morning – even if that anything was putting on a dress – was not much of a life at all.
When Justin and Mark pulled up, honking noisily at him to get in even though he was only seven feet away from the curb, Greg did with new resolve. He may not have planned out his whole future exactly, but at least he knew what he wanted. And that was a pretty good start.
The night of the party, he started the celebrations with a special dinner for his family. He'd surprised them all with a hearty plate of baked ziti, a fresh basket of rolls, and a tossed salad, and to go with the food he'd planned a special speech of thanks. Greg knew he'd been a hellion all of his life (though no doubt a good majority of that was genetics, knowing his father, so he couldn't really be blamed) and the spectacle of the Aylwards really put the constant love and support of his family in perspective. Graduation only amplified that. His mother had been touched, so much that she'd started tearing up at the dinner table. Greg was pleased, but couldn't help teasing her a little ("Mother, stop weeping all over the salad, you'll make it soggy. Control yourself."). Naturally, the Harris brood – plus Addles – was entirely capable of teasing back, and Greg took the accusations with all the dignity he could muster ("You should be thankful this is from the Olive Garden. If I had made this you wouldn't live through the meal."). They finished dinner and heralded Greg's impending graduation with a shot of Jameson (yeah, the whole family was cool like that), and then the party officially began.
It was a good turn out, but he'd expected no less. He was Greg Harris, and he was a god among men – he'd excelled at college, and this party would be his last, and his best. The music he'd set up sounded great, and the video he'd made of himself posing in important spots all over campus while narrating a ridiculous and unlikely story of his glory was enthusiastically applauded. Mark had finished his exams early so he could make it and celebrate with him properly, and Justin was, as always, more than willing to throw a few back. Charlie and Addles had mysteriously disappeared for an hour but that was to be expected. His friends were all accounted for, and every time he walked into a room Greg received cheers and demands to do shots.
More than once he would give a long sigh and modestly tell them in reply, "It's so difficult to be the king."
He inevitably found himself playing pool, hours after the party had first started. It was maybe midnight, possibly a little past that, but he'd long lost track of the time. What he was keeping track of, however, was the streak of wins he was currently enjoying. So far he'd taken eleven games, and was about to win the twelfth. Erin had already lost, so she was clapping and taking pictures and feeding him shots every now and again like any decent sister should. But more importantly, she was also keeping book – he was a betting man, after all, and considering how much this party had cost him, he wanted to make some of that money back.
Greg sunk the eight ball effortlessly in the right corner pocket to win the game, and from there gave an elaborate bow. "Thank you, thank you. Your struggle was valiant, my man, but ultimately fruitless. You may pay with cash, check, or charge."
Steve rolled his eyes, and reached for his wallet. "That was merciless, dude. Remind me to stick to Hide or Die, at least then we're on the same team."
Greg gave him a two-finger salute, and then grabbed his bottled water so that he could hydrate between games. He took his billiards seriously, after all. "Good call. Okay, so who wants to lose next?"
Charlie jumped up from the barstool he occupied. He'd already lost once, but was clearly looking for a chance to come back and even the score. "Rematch! Come on, Greggy-poo, let's see you double your luck."
Greg was more than ready to bring on the pain, but Erin voiced a quick, "No! I already have a thirteenth challenge lined up. And this one is special," she added, looking pointedly at Addles, who then perked up in understanding.
"You don't want to be lucky number thirteen, do you Chuck?" Adelaide asked Charlie then. Her dark hair hung in a loose braid over her shoulder, and it swung forward as she reached for him and tugged him back between her legs. "Fourteen is a much better number. Safer. Friendlier. Not-specialer."
Charlie arched an eyebrow at her over his shoulder, but settled his hands on his knees. "Okay then."
Greg screwed the plastic cap back on his water, knowing a conspiracy when he saw one, and set the bottle aside. "Okay, what's with all the cryptic looks and made up words? Where's my challenger?"
He turned at the sound of her voice, and met her dark grey eyes in the doorway. Greg knew his siblings – especially his sister – far too well to be surprised, but the sight of her still made his mouth go dry and his stomach do funny things. He beat down the urge to grin like an idiot and instead acknowledged her presence with a cool, "Pris."
"Hello, Greg." She smiled a little wryly, but everything about her said that she belonged right where she was. She was wearing the dress that he'd spent two weeks modeling, and he had to say, it looked a lot better on her. It was a multi-patterned hippie affair that ended mid-thigh and left his mind wandering into places it didn't need to go. He noticed with some amusement that she'd gotten rid of the straps entirely. After he finished his perusal of her – he hadn't realized it was that obvious – she smirked at him and put her hands on her hips. "You ready to lose?"
His mouth quirked up of its own accord, and Greg began setting up the table for a new game. "I'm not throwing this one, sweetheart."
"You won't have to."
His smirk widened at that. As he stacked the table, he asked, "What are your terms?"
She retrieved a pool stick from the other side of the table, and inspected the tip of it before searching for the chalk. "As you know, I'm pretty broke, so I hope you don't mind if I bet something other than money."
Greg was feeling fairly optimistic about that, all things considered. "What did you have in mind?"
"If I win," she began, and paused to think it over, regarding him thoughtfully as she did. He was about ready to jump over the table and pin her against the wall when she finally decided, "If I win, you have to help me make another dress for my newest client. But without the boxers."
Erin snorted with laughter, and then quickly tried to cover it up as Greg raised an eyebrow at her. "All right," he agreed, turning his attention back to Pris. "But if I win, I get to take that dress off of you."
"All right," she replied breezily, despite some impressive noises from their audience. "Who brakes?"
"I do," he informed her, grinning cheekily as he took up his pool stick. "Since I've won twelve games in a row."
"Twelve games too many," she retorted, glancing at him in amusement. "Let's hope thirteen is your lucky number, since you have yet to win a bet against me."
He leaned over the table, positioning himself to strike the cue ball and get the game rolling. "Bring it on, baby."
The game went on for much longer than any of them had expected. Greg had been able to win most of the games before in half an hour or so, with only a couple of those extending into forty-five minutes. He knew Pris was good at pool, since he'd already played her twice before, but it became apparent to him that while he'd thrown each of those games, she hadn't exactly been playing at her full strength, either. It made this one especially interesting, since they were both playing to win. Of course, he was fairly certain that he'd be winning either way, thanks to the nature of their bets.
In the end, it was a close one, with both of them trying to sink their remaining ball so that they could move on to the eight ball. Greg sunk his striped ball first, but stupidly missed sinking the eight ball. Pris did not, and from the sounds of it, the entire party heartily approved. Greg scowled at everybody. "Traitors! All of you!"
"Face it, dude," Justin teased, pointing his bottle at him cheerfully. "You are forever destined to wear a skirt now!"
God, I hope so, he thought, and then lifted his hands as he shrugged. "So be it. You played a mean billiard game, babe." He directed the last part to Pris, who still stood with her pool stick, and then mock-bowed in her direction. "We who are about to die salute you."
"Thank you," she replied graciously, and put the stick up. "Now how about you come make me a drink?"
He was more than willing to do that. Greg gestured for her to leave first, mostly because he wanted to watch her walk, but once outside of the room, he caught her arm and pulled her towards the gently curving staircase that flanked the front of the house. "We need to talk," he told her. The subtle but spicy scent of her perfume shocked him into silence for a second, and only sheer will power kept him from jumping her right then and there. "We'll have more luck in the study."
Once there, he was careful to shut the door behind them, and then made his way over to the liquor cabinet. His father kept the thing very well stocked, seeing as entertained quite a lot of business associates at home, and most of the better brands of alcohol were located in the study. Greg began making her a gin and tonic, but only got as far as the ice before he felt Pris slide her hands around him from the back.
"I'm sorry," she murmured, her cheek against his shoulder. "You were right. I have huge trust issues, and you were scaring the crap out of me."
He chuckled, and reached for the gin. "Well, you're the first woman to say that to me."
"Can we start over?" She asked then, quiet. "I promise I'll be better behaved."
"No." He grabbed her hands so she couldn't run away from him, and then pulled her around so that she stood squeezed between him and the bar. "I don't want you to behave. I like us the way we are."
She smiled and squeezed his hands. He liked the way this felt. "So," she murmured after a second, "You like my dress?"
"I think it looked better on me," he told her, leaning in.
"Liar." She grinned as he kissed her. He hadn't been able to forget how good those ten minutes on her couch were, for all that they didn't do, but he hadn't remembered just how perfect she felt, and it was everything he could do to keep his act together.
"Jesus, you taste amazing," he groaned, barely removing his mouth from hers.
He felt rather than saw her smile in response, and then she pouted, "And you taste like whiskey."
Greg smirked and nibbled on her bottom lip. "Shut up. You missed it." He pushed the bottle of gin and the drink he'd started to make back and then lifted her on the counter, sliding his hands under the dress.
Her legs drew him closer, and for a long moment they remained that way, fingers digging, bodies arching, tongues dancing until all he could breathe, think, and feel was Pris. The enormity of his want scared him, if only because it went far beyond what he was used to. He wanted to sex her up, yes, but it didn't stop there: he wanted to help her with her dresses, even if that meant standing around in skirts for the rest of his life, and he wanted to see her in a boutique of her own; he wanted to help her with her family and her fears, and he wanted to be there for her if they let her down again; he wanted to live with her, sleep with her, and spend Sunday mornings groping and cuddling well into the afternoon; he wanted every smile, every tear, every laugh, and he never wanted to make a bet with anybody else for as long as he lived…
Someone cleared his throat then, and the distinct note of humor in the noise was unmistakable. Greg jumped away from Pris and turned to face his father in one quick movement, and hadn't quite caught his breath yet when he greeted him awkwardly, "Hey… Dad."
"Greg," Mr. Harris returned, amused. He stood just in the doorway, a hand on his hip. How neither one of them had heard him come in, he didn't know.
It wasn't exactly the first time his father had caught him doing something illicit; unlike Charlie and Addles, people always seemed to walk in on him doing something he shouldn't. That was something they were all used to, and it had become a long-standing joke in the family. But he hadn't exactly wanted to introduce Pris to his parents quite this way – with his hands up her skirt and her lipstick all over his face.
"You must be Pris," his father said then, after a moment of painful silence. It was clear to Greg that Mr. Harris was downright loving this, and he would have scowled at him had he not been so surprised that his father already knew about Pris in the first place.
Pris shifted uncomfortably behind him, though she didn't get down from the counter, and gave his father a slight wave. "Yes. Hi."
This time his father did grin, and he chuckled at the two of them as he turned to leave. "Greg," he started, and paused to arch an eyebrow at his son.
Greg took his cue, though he rolled his eyes as he did it. "Father?"
"Next time, lock the door. Happy graduation, son." He made a gesture for them to continue, and then pulled the door shut behind him.
"Oh my god." Pris waited until after the door had been closed for a good ten seconds or so before she freaked out. "Well that was great. I think I just flashed your father."
Greg couldn't help but laugh, and he took her face in his hands and kissed her. "I'd say that's a pretty good first impression," he teased.
She shook her head, but couldn't escape the humor of the situation either. "I can't believe this. I'm never going to be able to live that down."
He pulled her down off the bar then, smirking. "Yeah, probably not. Welcome to the family, sweet heart."
The smile she gave him in response – the sheer size and brilliance of it – made everything else seem insignificant in comparison, and without a doubt, he knew. Greg Harris knew exactly what he would look forward to every morning for the rest of his life.
Thus ends the second installment in my fledgling series The Harris Family Tree. Greg was overwhelmingly the next Harris child that everyone wanted to hear from, so I hope he lived up to your expectations. ;]
I'm half way through a "sequel" to Hide or Die – you can find a short little excerpt of it at my website (click the homepage link on my profile), and I would be very glad to hear back from people on that as well. It's kind of at a roadblock right now and encouragement might just be what gets it going again. There's also a scrapped version of what the excerpt used to look like at my blog (link also on my profile; once you click on that you can find the excerpt under the appropriate labels), so if you just want some good old fashioned Charlie lovin', check that out.
This might be the last addition for a while, only because school is about to start and I have one crazy workload to look forward to, but never fear – there's at least three and a half more installments to come, and one of those might very well be chaptered. So keep your eyes peeled and your fingers crossed, people! ;p