Amanda grinned toothlessly up at Sammy. "Mama! Mommy!" She repeated gleefully.
Sammy laughed, high-pitched and nervous. "Aw, don't kids say the darnest things? No, Mandy, I'm not your mommy."
Amanda frowned and shook her little head, sending the blue bow on her head careening haphazardly over her left eye. "Mommy!"
"No." Sammy tried to smile. "Sammy. SAM – MY. Sammy."
"Mommy. MOM - MY!"
Sammy didn't know what to do. She looked up in desperation and caught the eye of Tristan. He smiled, amused, while shifting Andrew in his arms. "You know, you would make a nice mother. You're already so in touch with your feminine side already."
"I mean, you won't change in the locker rooms with us. You drown your sorrows in a bucket of ice cream. You can barely dribble a ball, but you jump rope better than my little sister. You can't make a proper punch. Hell, you can't even give a proper glare." Tristan's blue eyes darkened as they narrowed in on her. "You know, it's pretty obvious."
"What is?" Her whisper was hoarse.
"That you're really a girl in disguise."
Sammy's heart stopped beating.
"Just kidding." Tristan chortled with laughter and the babies giggled in delight. "Man, you should have seen your face. I'm so sorry. Just couldn't help it. Don't get mad."
Sammy started breathing again and she shrugged nonchalantly. "Ha . . . that was funny . . . ha." She nodded distantly. "Of course I'm not offended. I mean, being compared to a woman, that's great! Everyone knows how intelligent, understanding, well-mannered and mature women are."
Tristan stared at her strangely. "Right . . . you weren't being sarcastic by any chance, were you?"
"Why would I?"
"Ah, no reason." Tristan swung Andrew up into the air and walked over to take a seat across from Sammy.
Sammy sat down and placed Amanda on her lap. "So where is your father?"
Tristan shrugged, "Away on business. He'll be back for Christmas, I think."
"What about you? I mean, do you have other relatives you need to call or –
"No," she stated flatly. "I don't know much about my mother's side; they're in Ireland. As for my father's side, my grandmother died before I was born and my grandfather just passed away a year before the accident. He was a stern man and used to frighten me when I was a kid, but I soon came to realize his gruffness was only bluster. He always had tons of gifts for me and my brother."
"And your sister."
"Uh, yeah, and my sister," she amended, flustered.
"Your father was an only child?"
Her eyes dropped, fingers combing through Amanda's hair. "A brother. He had a brother."
Tristan opened his mouth to say something, but she jumped up before he could. She twirled Amanda around before setting the giggling child on the couch. "I have to get back. Vince will throw a fit if I'm here for too long. Tell Carrie I'll see her later."
Tristan nodded. "Yeah, okay. And you can tell Vincent to go to hell for me." His smile was wide and pleasant.
She rolled her eyes. "Right, you know I can't do that. Wouldn't want the messenger to be killed, would you?"
The boy laughed softly and as Sammy left the room, responded lazily, "Like he would ever lay a finger on you, Sammy."
Sterns opened the door for Sammy and she could see that the normally immaculate butler was in an alarming state of disarray. The man's white hair was sticking up all over the place like he had been running his hand through it for the past hour and his glasses kept slipping down his nose. "Mister Westlane, welcome back. How was your visit? Let me take your coat. Good. Good. Oh dear, I forgot to tell the cook to prepare the duck. Oh, oh, so many things to do. So little time. Ah, please excuse me." And with that, the man sprinted away across the hall, muttering furiously underneath his breath about duck and dust. He reeled backward as he spotted a maid who was shining the silverware and he started jabbing at a spot she missed. He looked ready to faint.
Sammy raised her eyebrow. Has Armageddon come?
The rest of the household was in an even more frenzied condition. Danielle came clicking away on her high heels. Her long black hair swished behind her back and her bracelets jangled together. She panted as she nearly slipped in her hurry. She called out loudly, "Someone get fresh flowers from the conservatory! The witch will throw the vase across the room if she even suspects the roses are a day old!"
Vincent came crashing around the corner as he bellowed, "PILLOWS! I NEED PILLOWS! The throw cushions for the sofa in the second floor living room in the west wing are missing! She'll gnash her teeth out!"
Will and Jack hurried behind him. They looked gloomy as they dodged all the running maids and servants. Will caught sight of Sammy and nearly got ran over fifty times as he ran toward her. He wheezed, "We must hurry. The witch is coming home. 'An early surprise' she says. Surprise, my ass." He grabbed her hand and they started running after Vincent.
"What? What are you talking about? Who's 'the witch'?" Sammy gasped.
Danielle came rushing past. "My mother," she gritted out. Then she screamed, "Oh my god! There's a stain! Mary, get it out or get something to cover it!"
"Danielle's mother?" Sammy whispered. "That means . . . Vincent's mother is –"
"- paying us a delightful Christmas visit," Vincent suddenly appeared besides her, clutching several fuchsia pillows. He muttered angrily, "Never pays any attention to us but she always expects everything to be perfection whenever she decides to pop in. Mother dearest." He laughed bitterly as he tossed the pillows at a nearby servant. "Get them up to the west wing living room!"
"When is she going to be here?" Sammy asked faintly.
"In two hours, just in time for dinner. Oh and Sam, she 'prefers' everything to be semi-formal at meals. That means you better be wearing a shirt and tie or she'll beat the living hell out of you with the breadsticks. I already sent a suit up to your room. You should go get ready now." Vincent started to walk off to inspect the dusting when Sammy pulled on his sleeve. He stared in surprise. "Is something wrong?"
He cocked his head, puzzled.
"I don't know how to put on a tie," Sam finally said, voice faint.
Vincent resisted the urge to smile, nodding briskly instead. "I'll come up later to help you, but it'll be a while. Go take a shower first."
Sammy was panicking. In the shower, she scrubbed herself hard enough until she was pink all over. Oh my god. I'm meeting the parents tonight. Well, the mother, anyway. And she seems to be one scary lady. What should I do? I haven't been brought up to eat a formal dinner. What if I mess up? What if I use the wrong fork? I wonder if she'll like me. I wonder if she'll make small talk first. I wonder what she'll think of me. Oh wait. I know. The shrimpy carrot top kid who's tagging behind her son - the shrimpy carrot top MALE kid. Sammy felt like wailing and pounding her head against the wall.
He frowned to himself as he walked through the hallways. I wonder what the old witch's going to think of Sam. She can be so cruel sometimes - she'll probably crush his feelings into powder.
He smiled to himself then. But as long as I'm here, I think he'll be just fine . . . He turned the corner and came to Sam's room. The boy didn't answer the knock. Opening the door, he raised an eyebrow at the empty room and started to leave. Then he heard the sound of the shower running and he smiled. God, he takes long in the shower.
A wicked grin came across his face though as he paused. Maybe I should try to lighten up his mood . . .
She wrapped a towel tightly around her body and stepped out of the shower. As she toweled off, she realized that she'd left her change of clothes outside. Figuring she might as well get into her suit now, she wrapped her towel around her and padded over to the door. Just as she was about to open the door, Sammy thought she heard something outside and stopped short. I'm . . . pretty sure I locked the door . . . right? Yeah. I think so. Didn't I? Frowning to herself, she called out anyway to check. "Is someone out there?"
There was no answer.
Breathing in relief, she turned the doorknob and –
"BOO!" Someone jumped out in front of her.
She jumped and almost lost her grip on her towel. Water dripped down, trailing along her neck and down onto her shoulders. She stared in shock as she slowly felt her trademark blush spread across her cheeks.
He stared back, equally incredulous, dropping his outspread arms to his sides. His mouth gaped open, closing repeatedly like a goldfish.
They both screamed at the same time. "AHHHHHH!"
"What – what are you doing here? I thought I locked the door!" Sammy shrieked.
"Obviously not!" Will yelped back, his eyes widened in shock. "I – I was just going to surprise you! I – I didn't realize that I was gonna get one myself!" He jabbed his finger at her. "You – you – you're a girl!"
"I realized!" she shouted. His eyes dropped to her chest and she clung harder to her towel.
"You – you have breasts! Breasts! Two of them!" He threw up two fingers in her face like some deranged victory sign.
She stared at him for a minute. "Yeah, it was buy one, get one free – HONESTLY, WILL, WHAT WERE YOU EXPECTING?"
"Not boobs, apparently!" he yelped. Then he quieted and a suspicious glint came into the boy's eyes. "Hey, what am I in a panic for? This is like a dream come true! You're everything I've ever wanted wrapped in one package! Boy and girl!"
She narrowed her eyes. "I'm not a hermaphrodite if that's what you're suggesting."
He laughed and she scowled. Pointing to the door, she whispered furiously, "Get out, Will! I have to change!"
"I don't mind."
She shot him a dirty look and he sighed. "Fine, fine. I'll talk to you later. I'll be wanting a thorough explanation . . . or a lap dance. Either one will satisfy me." But as he started toward the door, someone knocked on it.
"Sam? It's me. I'm coming in."
Vincent! She tried not to hyperventilate as she grabbed her clothes off her bed, seized Will by the collar and all but tossed him inside the bathroom. She followed quickly and slammed the door just as Vincent walked in. He frowned, "Sam?"
"Just a minute!" She called out. She murmured furiously to Will, "Turn around while I change! No peeking or – or I'll hurl this shampoo bottle at you."
He mumbled as he turned around, "You're getting violent. I think I like it."
She jabbed him with her elbow as she wrapped a piece of cloth around her chest, pulled on her shirt and struggled into her pants. She banged her knee against the countertop and hopped around in pain.
Will started to turn around, but she stopped him through clenched teeth. "Not yet!" She finally stood up and stared at herself in the mirror without really seeing anything, wanting to smash her head through the wall. Now what?
"Sam? Are you all right in there?" Vincent asked, just outside the door.
She nodded glumly, but realized of course, he couldn't see her.
"Sam?" He called again. She opened her mouth, but Will beat her to it.
There was a pause and then Vincent repeated, puzzled, "She?"
Sammy nudged Will to stop talking, but it appeared he did not quite understand her - or was enjoying himself too much to stop. "Oops! I meant 'He'." He winked at her conspiratorially and she slumped against the wall in defeat. She covered her face and waited . . .
There was another pause - and then Vincent roared, "WILL? WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING IN THERE WITH SAM?"
Will appeared to have finally realized his mistake. "Uh-oh."
"GET OUT OF THERE RIGHT NOW!"
Sammy thought about climbing out the window before realizing that there was a long way down to the ground and there was no way she could make it down the icy walls without slipping. Perhaps I should throw Will out first to use as a cushion?
"I'M GIVING YOU FIVE SECONDS OR I SWEAR I'M GOING TO TEAR THE DOOR OFF ITS HINGES!"
Just as Vincent was getting ready to do his Hulk impersonation and blast through the wooden door, it opened slowly. Will poked his head out and offered a meek smile. Through the small crack, Vincent's eyes found Sam. The boy was flushed and his clothes were all disheveled. His red locks were still damp and clinging to the nape of his neck. Vincent's eyes narrowed. Will gave a small wave. "Hiii–EEP!"
The door slammed close as Vincent lunged for it. He grabbed the doorknob and barked, "Open this door this instant!"
"Oh, yeah right!" Will clung desperately on the other side.
Sammy's voice was anxious. "Vince, just calm down! What are you getting so worked up over for?"
Vincent's blood boiled. "WHO SAID I WAS GETTING WORKED UP?" He slammed his fists on the wooden frame to emphasize his point.
"Then you promise not to kill me?" Will asked brightly.
" . . . Sure."
As soon as the boy opened the door, Vincent grabbed the front of his shirt, lifted him a few feet up into the air, and slammed him into the wall.
"You promised!" Will choked out.
"No, I promised not to kill you. I didn't say anything about breaking your legs," Vincent hissed.
Will's face crumpled. "Why do you have to be so mean? My legs are one of the sexiest parts of my -"
"Just let him go! It's all a big misunderstanding!" Sammy cried out. She grabbed Vincent's arm and he rolled his eyes, releasing his grip. Will slumped to the floor.
He turned around and folded his arms. "Well, why was he in the shower with you then?" he demanded.
Sammy's eyes widened, "What? NO! He was NOT in the shower with me! What – why – how could – what are you thinking!"
Vincent felt foolish, but continued to babble on, "Then why was he in there? Did he sneak in on you?" Without batting an eye, he grabbed hold of Will as the other boy tried to slide away.
"So why were you two together then?"
"Uh – ah – well – you see –"
"Huh?" They both turned to face Will who was nodding cheerfully.
"Sammy slipped and I went in to help her - him get up! That's all!"
Vincent didn't speak for a minute before he whacked Will on the head. He growled, "I'm not that stupid, stupid! You expect me to believe something that stupid?"
"You just like saying stupid, don't you?" Will rubbed his head, making a face at him.
"Shut up! Don't try to change the subject!"
Sammy slumped. "It's okay, Will. It's about time I tell him the truth anyway." She took a deep breath and lifted her head to stare at Vincent's chin. "Vincent, I'm sorry, but I haven't been completely honest with you. The fact is –"
"- he's just too cute for me to resist!" Will interrupted hastily. "You see, Vince, he looks so feminine sometimes, I just can't help but call him a 'she'? Isn't it easy, even for you, to also make the same mistakes? I bet if it was you, you would have tried to sneak into Sam's bathroom too!"
Vincent bristled and Will quickly added, "It was a joke! A harmless prank! I swear it! On my life and all that is sexy about me!"
With a dark scowl, Vincent sagged against the wall in resignation. Covering his face with his hand, he muttered, "First my sister, now Will . . ."
Will grinned cheerfully. "Yup! Sammy is a real man slut, huh?"
Sammy turned completely red. Vincent growled darkly, "Go away now."
Will almost tripped as he scurried away to the door.
Sammy couldn't look up, not quite able to meet Vincent's eyes.
Something silky soft wrapped around her neck and she jumped. Shocked, she would have stumbled backward if her neck wasn't locked firmly in place. Glancing up, her heart flipped when she realized that Vincent was only a scant breath's away from her. How did he get so close? He tightened the smooth cloth around her neck and she gulped. He's going to strangle me.
She croaked, "What – what are you doing?"
"What does it look like?" He murmured gruffly, "Putting on your tie. Is light gray fine?"
Bewildered, she broke out into a smile. "Oh, right! Yeah, it's perfect!"
Except being so close to him did nothing at all for her racing heart and she tried to look at anything but Vincent. Eyes diverted to the side, she hummed underneath her breath as she rocked gently back and forth on her heels.
Vincent's eyes narrowed. What is he so giggly about? Sam reached up to nervously brush a lock of her copper hair behind her ears and something about that gesture sped up Vincent's pulse. Clearing his throat roughly, he bent his head down and tried to refocus on tying the knot. He caught a huge whiff of Sam's light fragrance. Damn, why the hell does he smell so feminine, all roses and stupid flowers?
His hands tightened and the redhead squeaked in surprise. "Sorry," he mumbled as he loosened the knot. But Sammy looked up then, directly into his eyes, and his breath hitched. There was something about those green eyes. They fairly gleamed . . . like green Lifesavers. Vincent nearly laughed out loud. I've got to be the worst poet on earth. 'Oh Sam, dear Sam. How lovely thine eyes look, Like emerald candies in the black darkness, I melt with gaping tooth cavities'.
Sammy frowned. She tilted her head closer, peering at his face. "Vince?"
And that was how Sam succeeded in rendering him completely incapable of thought.
She was practically standing on tiptoes, craning her neck back to peer up at him. He had to bend his neck at a nearly ninety degree angle to help put on her tie. But for some reason, neither of them really minded their awkward postures.
He was busy trying to gather his thoughts again and trying not to strangle her and she . . . well, she was looking at his Adam's apple. It bobbed up and down every time he swallowed – for some reason, he seemed to gulping a lot. That can't be normal. She looked up again and met his eyes. His gray eyes turned dark. His clean soap smell washed over her in waves and she wanted to reach up to brush that strand of black hair from his eyes. She would have done so, but it appeared that she could not move her limbs anymore. Strange.
Vincent, though, didn't seem to have that problem. He reached up to tuck a lock of her own hair back behind her ears, his fingertips grazing lightly across her forehead, tickling her ears. She shivered involuntarily and her heart went wild in an unsteady, staccato beat. Huh. This is really strange. I may be having a heart attack.
Vincent bent his head lower and his hands pulled away from the gray tie to rest on her shoulders softly. He paused and appeared to be pondering over something before he finally shrugged carelessly and took another step closer to her. Brows knotted, he started, "Sam . . ."
"Yes?" she squeaked.
"I – I think -"
BAM! The door swung open and Danielle came barging in. "Ah, there you guys are! Snap to it! Places, people! She's moving into position! I repeat! The witch is moving into position! Go, go, go!"
At the interruption, Vincent had all but shoved Sam away and the redhead wobbled, trying to regain her balance. She flailed her arms, grabbing Vincent's forest green tie by accident and nearly choking him. She quickly let go and he reached out to ready her, but by then, Danielle had moved between them and grabbed their arms. "No time to dally! GO, GO, GO!"
Half dazed, they started running down the hallways anyway, taking the corners at breakneck speed. Vincent snapped at his sister between pants, voice hushed, "Next time, knock before you come into a person's room!"
Danielle slid on her heels around a corner and had to balance herself, latching onto her brother's arm. Still, she gave him a sly smirk and he shrugged her off. "What's the matter? Did I interrupt a love fest?"
Sammy overheard, turning pink. Vincent's expression turned absolutely black.
Danielle stopped in her tracks and nearly fell over as they rammed into her. "OH MY GOD! I did! Aw, you guys! So cute!"
Vincent snarled, "Yeah, right. Idiot – it's not –" He glanced over at Sammy and licked his lips, apprehensive. "Stop with this gay shit, Dani. You're making him uncomfortable. Sorry, Sam, she's just kidding. My sister never knows when to stop." His hand darted out to clap Sammy on the back and the redhead nearly doubled over with a racking cough. "We're buddies! Whoo! Go, go, go!"
Sammy straightened up, knees weak as she pulled at her tie's knot, trying to keep up with the boy as he sprinted off. "Yeah. Buddies."
They reached the foyer just as Katherine Pearling Grenford stepped in. The woman was like an older version of Danielle, except her pale gray eyes radiated the same warmth as ice chips did. Her black hair was impeccably swept up in a tight, severe chignon bun and she was wearing a modest black pantsuit. Her lips were pursed and faint wrinkle lines could be made out around her eyes. She must have been a stunning woman in the past but right now, bitterness and disdain marred her beauty.
"Danielle," she nodded to her daughter. Danielle stepped up and pecked her mother on the cheek. "What kind of clunky shoes are you wearing? Looks like something a whore will wear. My daughter, you are born from class - don't lose it."
"Yes, mother," Danielle responded through gritted teeth, making a face when Katherine walked past her.
"Vincent, how have you been?" Katherine reached out to touch her son's arm.
Vincent stepped forward and pressed a kiss on his mother's cheek stiffly. "Fine, mother. And you?"
"Fine. Have you heard from your father yet?"
"Father phoned to say that he won't be home for Christmas this year. An important business associate is holding a party and insists that father must attend."
Katherine sniffed in derision. She nodded to Jack and William. "How are your parents? We'll be happy to have their business again."
They nodded, silent. Then the older woman caught sight of Sammy. Her lips practically curled. It was like the woman had a radar sense of who belonged ... and who, well, didn't.
"And you are?" Katherine asked coldly.
Vincent went to stand next to Sammy. Danielle hurried over to Sammy's other side. "He's a friend from school."
Katherine arched a perfectly tweezed eyebrow. "Oh? From what family, may I ask?"
Sammy spoke up, "My name is Sam Westlane, Mrs. Grenford."
Immediately, the glacial glare seemed to diminish, though Sammy couldn't fathom why. "Westlane?"
Sammy felt uneasy, squeezing her hands as her palms turned clammy. A sense of inexplicable dread washed over her. "Yes. Westlane."
"Oh, then you wouldn't happen to be related to a certain Frank Westlane, would you?"
Sammy felt like she had just been socked in the gut. "N – no. Why?"
Katherine's features hardened once again and she sighed impatiently. "He's my financial adviser. I've known him for a long time. He seems to be a respectable man, but since you don't know him, it's of no importance, is it?" She waved a hand, the light glinting on her diamond encrusted watch. "No matter, I'm sure you will meet him later."
Sammy had trouble breathing. "Later?"
"Yes. Later." Katherine rolled her eyes in exasperation. "He'll be at the Christmas Party next week. You can see him then. I'm sure you will like him."
Happy New Year's Eve! May everyone have an excellent new year!
© Copyright 2003 Maeven (FictionPress ID:349779). Reposted 12/31/2008. All rights reserved. Distribution of any kind is prohibited without the written consent of Maeven.