A/N: I never knew going back to work could so completely screw up my already pitiful writing schedule. I'm sorry about the long absence, folks. I would say I'll do better, but...yeah. If anyone wants a better explanation, your best bet is reading my LJ.

The meeting of two personalities is like the contact of two chemical substances: if there is any reaction, both are transformed.

- Carl Jung, Swiss psychologist

Chapter Twelve

To Celeste the final leg of the drive passed in moments rather than hours. She and Brian talked the entire time. Not just idle chit-chat either, which is the most Celeste had expected. Instead they talked more about their careers and their families, old scars and new outlooks on life and love and everything in between. At some point Michelle woke, but Celeste barely noticed. Brian's only acknowledgment had been to glance over his shoulder and move his armrest so Michelle could squeeze between the seats and nab Celeste's computer from her lap. Celeste looked back a few minutes later and noticed Michelle looking away from the screen periodically, proving she was paying more attention to the conversation than the computer. But for once Michelle seemed more content to listen than join in, a decision for which Celeste was both grateful but uncertain.

Their arrival broke the mood. The trio was met at the door by not only the concierge and a bellhop, but by a group of familiar faces blocking the revolving front door. The bride-to-be and her fiancé led the pack as greetings and hugs were exchanged. A couple of their friends hustled Brian, who'd immediately slipped into his typical gumshoe demeanor, to one side to decide where they'd go that evening. At the same time Celeste told the girls she wanted to go to her room and shower off her traveling funk. Michelle declined the invitation to go out immediately as well, promising she and Celeste would be meet up with everyone at the rehearsal dinner. The only thing Brian said to Celeste in front of everyone was a chilled "Thanks for the ride." Celeste replied with a disinterested shrug. Then she followed the bellhop inside, Michelle right on her heels.

Michelle's silence didn't last. As soon as the two got into the elevator, Michelle cracked. "Why did Brian start acting like that all the sudden?"

Celeste had known it was coming. "Because that's the way he is."

Michelle persisted. "But he wasn't acting like that in the car."

"Like I said, that's the way he is."

Michelle frowned. Silence followed once again until the elevator dinged, signaling they'd reached their floor. The bell seemed to focus Michelle's thoughts again. "Why'd you do the same thing?"

Celeste let the bellhop and Michelle both walk out first. "What thing?"

"You started acting weird once we got here too."

Celeste opened her mouth to argue but stopped short. Of course Michelle was right; Celeste had noted Brian's change and transformed to suit. Same as always after all.

Celeste nearly ran into the bellhop when he stopped at a door and swore under her breath as he unlocked it. Would she always be a slave to juvenile knee-jerk reactions anytime Brian reverted in her presence? Was she really that susceptible to his influence, even after so many years?

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean anything by it." Michelle's voice went up an octave as she rushed into the room. "I was just saying -"

"It's okay." Celeste felt drained as she traded a twenty dollars tip for a complimentary visitor's guide, an expedited order for two large cappuccinos, and their room keys. "You're right. As soon as we got here, I went into bitch mode, and it's not like I had any real reason for it."

Michelle blanched. "I wasn't saying that."

"I know. That's what I'm saying." Celeste dropped onto the couch and scouted the pseudo-living room. "I mean, what the hell I was thinking? It's not like I didn't know this would happen. And I can't blame him for it; he hasn't changed. Then again, neither have I obviously."

Michelle rolled her eyes. "Sure you have, just like the rest of us. Even Brian," Michelle added. She took the overstuffed recliner adjacent to the couch and curled up in it. "And it's not that we've changed, I don't think. We've grown up and all that, but everybody's pretty much the same as they always were from what I can tell."

"But that's the problem. I hated who I was when we were kids."

Michelle shrugged. "I think you hated how you were more than who you were." She sat up. "Hey, do you still plan on taking a shower before the dinner tonight, or do you want to look around the stores downstairs? I thought I saw some dresses in one of the store windows."

Celeste marveled at Michelle's consistent ability to jump topics on a whim. "Um, yeah, I wanna shower before I go anywhere. Plus I need that cappuccino desperately, and I've gotta check my messages."

"Oh yeah, your phone's been blinking for a few minutes." Michelle pointed to Celeste's hip case where the little green light glowed. "Didn't you tell your editor you're on vacation?"

Celeste snorted. "Like that matters. Did you notice how many times he called on the way up?" She glanced at her cell before yanking it out of its holder and holding it in front of her nose, her eyes narrowed. "But it's probably not him. The red light's for voicemail. Green is a text message."

"Your agent?"

"Or Elizabeth, so I better not ignore the thing." Celeste chuckled. "Even though it probably is my agent."

Michelle shrugged but peered over the arm of her chair anyway, even though Celeste knew she couldn't see anything. Celeste herself resigned herself to one more communique with her literary taskmaster, promising herself if it was her agent, she would turn her phone off for the duration of the weekend. Celeste flipped the phone open and accepted the message. It popped up a second later; the miniature block text barely fit on the screen.

Got a table with a view for dinner - we can park the 3rd wheel by the kitchen.

She read it quickly, then sat up and read it again. She propped her elbow on her knee and her chin in her palm for the third read-through and smirked. "Yeah, right. Asshole."

Michelle jerked. "What is it?"

Celeste snapped her phone shut and hid her grin. "Just something stupid." She tossed the phone aside and hopped up. "Keep an ear out for the coffee. I'm gonna go ahead and clean myself up for tonight."

"You can wait until we get the coffee. We've got three hours until we have to catch the shuttle to the restaurant."

Celeste grabbed her carry-on and slung it over her shoulder. "I don't wanna be late."

- - - - -

"Wow, I can't believe it's this packed in here. Can you tell where we're supposed to sit?"

Celeste took in the crowded room and felt what remained of her patience fizzle out. She could hardly see the placecards in front of each seat (seats which all looked occupied to her,) let alone read the names.

She should have known better. No matter what she did or could have done differently, one thing would never change: Michelle was always late.

A hand flattened against the small of Celeste's back, and she jumped. She spun, to the wrong side she realized a moment later, right into Brian's chest. Unmoved, his hand remained in place, his arm curved loosely against her waist.

"So many years, and still she falls into my arms," he said, posture perfect and chin up, his eyes the only thing which lowered to study her annoyed expression.

Celeste tensed. "Bastard."

"Says the bastardette." He glanced at Michelle. "I'd wondered if her punctuality had improved over the years."

"She wouldn't be Michelle if she could be on time."

"Very true." Brian made no move to stop Celeste as she stepped back and nodded to an approaching waitress.

She conquered the urge to roll her eyes as Brian made a ladies-first motion as the young waitress offered to escort them to their designated seats. She did however give in to it when she noticed the waitress, barely twenty by Celeste's estimation, almost ran into a chair after Brian added a wink to his words of thanks once they gave their names and found their places.

Celeste ignored Michelle peering across the table, her eyes moving from Brian to her and back. She wondered why she was surprised that Brian was still a masterful flirt; at the same time she wondered why she cared.

Then Brian rested his arm on the back of her chair and leaned over so that his nose grazed her temple. "Jealous?"

Celeste spoke before she thought too much about it. "A little."

She felt the pause in his breath. "Don't be. You're twice the woman she could ever hope to be."

Since the waitress's waist looked like it was the same diameter as one of her thighs, Celeste muttered a peevish, "Yeah, I noticed."

She glanced over, not sure if he caught the comment.

He smirked. "Ah, but self-appreciation is so much sexier than self-depreciation." His expression changed to a serious one. His eyes met hers and held them in a mesmerizing grip she hadn't experienced in a decade. "Don't lower yourself to false humility." His voice dropped to a whisper. "You're an amazing woman; you always have been. Besides," he said, his voice dropping lower still, "if you want to get on this ride, all you have to say so. But you do have to actually say so."

Celeste forced herself to look away before she did something really stupid. Like kiss his pompous ass. She thought she heard him mutter "I thought as much," but she ignored it. She instead turned her attention to the other people sitting down which included several of their old friends who'd been mingling with relatives and other guests she didn't recognize.

Everyone looked at Brian and Celeste curiously, but it was Heather who broke the tension by making a production of introducing her husband-to-be. Celeste sent silent thanks and grinned and Heather returned it with a nod and an empathetic smile.