A/N: This is a one-shot response to the challenge Priscilla Shay made on my LiveJournal page when I asked for something to jump-start my creative juices. It's a bit late (because I ended up working on my chaptered stories in between), but here it is now.
The challenge was as follows:
- A girl in college and her younger brother's best friend's older brother who's also in college
Including: Cream cheese, the zoo, a violin, a turquoise bra, and a $1000 BN gift card.
Also: In Australia...during the summer...and using the word sycophant at least once...
(This story is dedicated to Priscilla Shay because she actually checked my LJ and responded. *Ahem* to everyone else.)
P.S. Jersey's Wild is a one-shot that I wrote (after this one) that has Lori as the main female. Check it out and let me know what you think!
- One-shot -
"14 seconds," Lori whispered.
I looked up and noticed that she had a look of mild distaste on her face. "Huh?"
She nodded her head a bare amount to indicate the balding man sitting two rows in front of us. "14 seconds for that bead of sweat to drip off his head."
"That's disgusting," I told her with a grimace. "What's wrong with you?"
"I'm bored and it's fucking hot! Deal with it, or find your brother yourself." Lori glared at me. "I don't have to sit in this bloody bus in this stinkin' weather if you weren't such a miserable babysitter." Lori growled when the balding man turned around at her loud complaining. "What're you looking at? This here ain't no hair-growth advert!"
For starters, my brother wasn't lost; he was merely very elusive and managed to run off with his best friend (who happened to be vacationing in the same country as us) without shouting out so much as a "so long, suckers!" as he left. And, secondly, Lori wasn't really as bitchy as she seemed. Jet-lag, combined with early waking, a missing cousin (yes, Lori's my cousin), and frizzy hair didn't put her in the happiest of moods. Not to mention that she automatically slipped into speaking ghetto when she was pissed off.
I shot the man a weak smile and shoved a chocolate bar in Lori's hand. "Eat more, talk less," I hissed out from between clenched teeth. "I'll let you chew off Nile's head when we find him." Noticing her unsatisfied expression, I made amendments. "Okay, I'll hand George's head to you on a platter too." George was my brother Nile's best friend.
"Say, doesn't George have that hot older brother?" Lori asked, suddenly perking up.
"George has two older brothers...Mel and Julian."
"Which one is hotter? I've never met Mel."
I frowned and stood up as the bus slowed. "I'm not answering that and he's not here on vacation anyway. Come on."
She grumbled something under her breath, but followed me off the bus. It didn't fail to catch my notice that, before doing so, she dropped the chocolate bar in the balding man's lap and mumbled a quick apology as well.
Deciding not to bring up her actions, I turned around in a full circle - taking in the east coast beaches - before pointing towards a tall building nearby. "That must be their resort."
"Sounds right," Lori agreed, falling in step with me as we walked towards it. "So, now that I'm actually feeling awake, how exactly did Nile escape?"
"He didn't escape, per say," I corrected her. "George called last night and said his family decided to vacation here as well...so he said he was going to come over early this morning to 'hang'. Apparently his definition of 'hang' included going back to his resort, so he took Nile and they ran off without a word."
Lori yawned as we stepped through the doors of the hotel, which was held open by a young man who looked to be Spanish. "Thanks. How'd they get over here then?"
I hadn't considered that. In fact, I hadn't even considered that they might not have come back to George's place. "I...I don't know," I responded shakily. "Shit." My actions were more hurried as I reached the hotel information desk. "Excuse me? Hello?"
A girl, probably around my age, scurried out of the backroom. "Sorry. Hello and welcome to-"
"Sorry to interrupt," I said wryly. "I'm in a bit of a panic, so can we cut to the chase? I believe you have the Tanner family residing here?" I continued without pause. "Can I get their room number?"
The girl's smile looked a little tight around the edges as she turned to her computer. "One second please, ma'am. I'll just take a look..." After tapping a few keys, she looked up. "What did you say the name was?"
"Thank you." She hit some more keys. "I'm sorry ma'am, but I'm not coming up with anything."
I frowned and shot Lori a puzzled look. "Are you sure? I'm quite sure this is where they're staying."
The girl - I noticed her name-tag read 'Christine' - shrugged delicately. "Well it's possible that they're using a different name, or they could have requested anonymity during their stay." A smirk quickly passed over her face. "Or they're not here at all."
"Listen Chris," Lori interjected, "I don't know what-" Luckily for all of us, Lori didn't get the opportunity to finish her sentence.
"Julian," I breathed, turning to meet his ashy blue eyes. "Thank God."
"Ah, Mr. Tanner," Christine interrupted coyly from behind the desk. "I wasn't sure if you wanted your identity protected..."
Julian waved at Lori before smiling over my head at Christine. "Did we request it?" he asked, sounding unsure.
"Well no," she trailed off, and I looked over my shoulder in time to see her expression waver.
"Hold on," Lori snapped, leaning over the desk. "You made up bullshit while we stood here panicking?"
Christine was checking anxiously behind her at the closed door of the office. "Ma'am, I'm sorry but I didn't realize the urgency-"
"Damn straight you didn't!"
I put a restraining hand on Lori's arm to make sure she didn't attack the other girl. "It's okay Lori...Julian's here now, and that's all we needed in the first place."
"No need to keep our rooms a secret," Julian said kindly to Christine as I dragged Lori towards the elevator. His footsteps were close behind us, and I stopped when we were a safe distance from the information desk.
"Julian, where's Nile?"
He reached past my shoulder to push the 'up' button on the elevator. "He's upstairs with George...why?"
I finally relaxed, letting the tension flow out of my body in relief. "Thank God," I repeated. "Those kids just took off on their own without saying a word!"
"Did they really?" Julian asked, stepping aside as the elevator doors opened so that we could get in first. "I specifically told George to make sure somebody knew Nile was coming over, and that I was downstairs waiting to drive them over." He chuckled and shook his head. "I guess it was my mistake to trust a bunch of teenagers and their memories."
"Yeah," Lori piped in. "Your dumbass irresponsibility meant I had to wake up at a goddamn freak hour this morning."
I mouthed '11 o'clock' to Julian when he looked to me for confirmation.
"Early? I see..." he said, amused. "I'll try to avoid being a dumbass in the future."
"Whatever. Can we go now?"
What was currently surprising me was the fact that Lori hadn't made any kind of attempt at Julian. The two had been introduced a year or so ago, and Lori hadn't stopped talking about him for ages afterward. The fact that she was letting loose her bitchiness made me feel a tad wary about the situation.
The elevator dinged and opened, interrupting my thoughts. Julian, once again, waved us out first before stepping out and leading us to their suite of rooms.
"Brace yourselves," he warned with a grin. "If the boys haven't destroyed it yet, the view will blow you away."
And sure enough, when he pushed open double doors, I gasped in delight. The room was high enough up to avoid annoying tree branches, but it was low enough to see a wide expanse of the beach and ocean. A wide balcony went around the edges of the suite, and thin white curtains were fluttering in the ocean breeze. The room was wallpapered in beige - with a hint of gold - and the furniture and decorations were mostly in subdued tones of brown and maroon.
"It's beautiful," I whispered, stepping into the room and bracing my hand on Julian's arm. "Wouldn't this cost a fortune?"
"Money's not exactly a problem," Julian said sheepishly, and I felt stupid for bringing it up. It was common knowledge that Julian's family was loaded with money; both his parents were only children and they had inherited a great chunk of property and money.
I blushed and walked away from him to cover it up. "Where is everyone?"
"I'm not sure," I heard him say. "George? Mom?" He walked down the hallway and stuck his head into the last room. "Dad?" He looked contemplative as he came back and stepped onto the balcony. "Oh, there they are."
Lori flopped onto a coach and waved me away, so I made my way over to stand next to Julian. "Where?"
"There." He pointed, and I realized that his parents, brother, and my brother were all below us in the resort's pool area.
I pushed my hair away from my face when the light wind made it tickle. "What I never understood," I said, "is why people use pools - especially in the summer - when there are perfectly beautiful beaches within walking distance."
"I prefer the beach myself," Julian agreed. "Didn't you run a brush through your hair today?" There was a small smile playing on his lips when I blushed and looked at him. "I take that as a 'no'?" he laughed, reaching out to tangle his fingers in my curls. "I've always wondered how you manage with such long hair," he murmured, still playing with it.
My body was frozen, my brain not having decided how to react to Julian's touch. Was he flirting, or was he always this casual around women? Random tidbits I had picked up from Nile indicated that Julian never had any problem in the female department (and why would he, looking like that?); however, it didn't sound like he was a player - although he hadn't ever had a steady girlfriend as far as I knew.
"What's wrong? You look like you're debating jumping off the balcony," Julian laughed. "Don't worry Phoebe, I'm not going to murder you or anything." He pulled away and held up his hands in mock surrender.
Me? I was grateful he hadn't realized the real reason for my freeze-up. Or, if he had, that he hadn't mentioned it.
"Oh no," I rushed to say, "I'm not...scared. Um...I should get going."
He raised an eyebrow. "So soon? You just got here."
I shrugged. "I just had to check if Nile was here..."
"You could have called," Julian pointed out.
"I...hadn't even thought of that," I admitted with yet another blush. "Stupid of me, I know."
"Nonsense," he said, placing a hand on the small of my back to lead me inside the suite, "you were probably just overly anxious about his safety. Anyway, do you want something to eat or drink before you leave? I'm sure you missed lunch because of this little chase." He looked over at Lori, who was still lying on the couch. "Lori? Would you like some lunch?"
"Your treat," Lori snapped, somehow going from lying flat on her back to standing straight. "For being a dumbass who trusts teenagers to announce their day-plans," she explained.
Julian bowed elegantly. "Of course. I wouldn't have it any other way," he assured her, sending me an obvious wink. "Hotel restaurant or someplace else?"
Lori raised an eyebrow at him. "Which one's more expensive?"
We got out of the elevator at the ground floor and the first thing I saw was Christine heading in our direction.
"Mr. Tanner!" she called out as she scurried over. "Julian! Hi!"
Lori wasn't too pleased to see the petite redhead. "Isn't there some kind of rule around here that you can't call a client by their first name without express permission?"
Christine looked at Julian with excess hurt on her face at those words. "I'm sorry Mr. Tanner."
For the first time, Julian looked a little fed-up with Lori's attitude. "No, it's fine Christine. I'd actually prefer it if you'd call me Julian, so you can consider this my permission and request."
"Thank you Julian," Christine simpered, shooting me - and not Lori, surprisingly - a glare. "Anyway, I was just making my way over to ask if you needed anything."
Lori rolled her eyes. "Look, Chris, there's a perfectly good desk over in the corner. A perfectly good desk with, in big letters, 'Information' engraved on top of it. If we wanted your help, we would have made our way over there and asked."
"I was just trying to be helpful." Christine looked pleadingly at Julian.
"Lori," he said, the warning clear. "I apologize on her behalf," he continued to Christine. "She's not in the best of moods right now. Anyway, I really appreciate that you came over here to offer your services."
My cousin muttered something that sounded suspiciously like 'what kind of services?' The other two ignored it, but I couldn't help but mentally agree with her comment; Christine was definitely not being a girl scout, what with her rapidly fluttering eyelashes and pouty expression. I mean, who did that? I thought people were only this dense, obvious, and whorish in movies and books...or when they were drunk...or in a club...or...well, not at their place of employ for sure! And especially not in front of two girls the guy happened to be with.
And that's when I realized it: I was jealous. For heaven's sake, I was jealous of a redhead hotel receptionist who we'd never see again once we got back to Canada at the end of our vacation!
But jealous I was, and I couldn't help but note that Julian was being his nice old self towards Christine, politely asking her what restaurants nearby were enjoyed by tourists, how long she'd been working at the hotel, and...wait, he just asked her what perfume she was wearing! What. The. Hell?
"You know," Christine was saying, "I could see if I can take my lunch break now, so I can show you to the restaurant and keep you company." The eyelashes fluttered a bit more.
Lori was still muttering under her breath to me. "Yeah, because we're just a couple of stone pillars that can't do shit about keeping Mr. Tanner 'entertained'. Whore. Bitch."
"Excuse me? Did you just call me a bitch?"
Apparently Lori hadn't spoken quietly enough, and she found herself facing a pissed-off Christine. "Yeah," she admitted calmly. "I also called you a whore and," her eyes flickered down between meeting Christine's eyes again, "judging by your appearance, I wasn't in the wrong."
It was then that I realized what Lori was referring to. While she was talking to Julian, Christine's body had been turned so that we could only see her side. However, now that she was facing us, I could see that the top two buttons of her receptionist uniform (a black skirt-suit with the hotel's name on the blazer's lapel) were unbuttoned, and the top of her turquoise bra was clearly visible.
Christine flushed a deep red while quickly buttoning up the blazer. "You're out of line."
"And acting like a whore to your employer's client isn't?" Lori shot back. "Or wait, is that how things are run around here?"
"Phoebe." I jolted at the voice near my ear. Julian looked at me desperately. "Stop her before she does something stupid."
I frowned as I looked back toward the two, who were whispering furious insults at each other. "Lori!" I grabbed her arm and pulled on it. "Lori stop!" My cousin turned her blazing eyes on me. "Come on...let's get out of here." It look a lot of effort - she was very stubborn - but I managed to drag Lori out of the hotel. "What were you thinking?" I hissed when we were on the sidewalk.
"What was I thinking? What was that scumbag thinking?"
My hands found their way into my hair again, and I winced as I remembered they were still tangled. "Okay, I get that you hate people like Christine-"
"I'm not talking about Chris," she spat with a glare. "I was referring to your precious Julian."
Lori gave me a look that clearly called me stupid. "Oh Julian, please find us an unoccupied corner so that we may get started on my services," she said in a high squeal that was clearly supposed to imitate Christine. "Oh yes, Little Red Riding Hood," she continued, switching to a low voice that sounded remarkably like Julian's, "I am enamored with your scent, so let us skinny-dip in your perfume before we do the down-and-dirty."
"I was asking so I could buy the perfume for my mom, but you just ruined that idea for me."
I blushed on Lori's behalf as we turned to see Julian behind us.
"Ah..." I began tugging on my tangles, deciding to focus my attention elsewhere while my brain figured out a convenient method of suicide.
He smiled at my antics and turned to Lori. "Lori, I'm sorry that you thought I was being a flirt back there...well, I guess I was flirting," he admitted, "but it wasn't anything serious. And definitely not something to do with corners or skinny-dipping."
"What else are you sorry for?" Lori asked. I could tell by her tone that her anger was already deflating. Lori was such a hot-and-cold type of girl, I didn't understand why she didn't come with a warning label.
Julian's smile turned wry. "I-"
Lori waved off his words and turned to me. "Oh my God, did you notice what she was wearing?" she demanded, everything else forgotten. "That bra had enough lace on it to...to...well, it had plenty of lace on it!"
"What bra?" Julian asked.
I snorted at the same time as Lori. "Don't tell me you didn't look," she said.
"Look at what?" he said innocently. I couldn't tell by his face whether he was acting or not.
Lori rolled her eyes and crouched to tie up her shoelaces. "Hold on."
While we looked at her, Julian flicked my ear. I looked at him in surprise.
"You're quieter than usual today," he commented.
I shrugged. "I guess I'm just tired," I admitted. "It's hard for me to get used to new sleeping arrangements."
"Yeah, my mom's like that too. She was playing classical music all night while we were trying to sleep...it was pretty annoying."
I smiled, remembering his mother's obsession with music.
I realized that he'd moved closer to me, so that our shoulders lightly brushed. "I think you'd look great in turquoise."
By the time lunch was over, I think I was a quarter in love with Julian.
Which was very weird, come to think of it, because I'd known him for a very long time - since our brothers were best friends and all - and had never considered him anything more than a family friend.
While Julian and Lori - their previous blow-up forgotten - argued about whether the purple and orange shoes of the man at the next table was the next fashion trend (oh God, please no!), I tried to figure out what had changed my perspective of him. He'd always been a charmer, having even convinced my mother that the sun shone out of his ass. Oh, and what a fine ass it was too. (And clearly I've jumped straight from family friend to lustful female.)
It wasn't as if his looks had changed in the last few months (for I hadn't been this pathetic the last time I saw him), and it wasn't as if he was focusing his attention on making me notice him. In fact, I hadn't realized how little attention he was paying me until Christine had run over earlier.
"Phoebe?" Julian was watching me.
"Huh?" Caught being zoned-out, I quickly shoved a forkful of pasta into my mouth.
Lori smirked at me. "One would almost think you weren't paying attention to us."
I swallowed and took a small sip of water. "That's because I wasn't," I admitted. "Not everybody cares whether orange shoes make their ankles look fat. Or," I continued when Julian opened his mouth, "whether belly button piercings indicate that-"
"-speaking of belly button piercings," Lori cut in, making me blanch, "how's yours doing?"
Julian suddenly looked very interested. "You pierced your belly button? When?"
"I..." There was no point in denying it, so I shrugged. "I did it about three months ago. I regret it though, because it got infected and took medication for the swelling to stop."
"I'm sure it's worth it," Julian mused, his eyes dropping to where my stomach was blocked by the table. "Can I see?"
"Here?" I squeaked.
He shared a grin with Lori. "I'm pretty sure we'd get kicked out of here if you start lifting your shirt, but I don't mind if you don't." He laughed at my expression. "No silly, I meant later...but I guess I'll see it anyway whenever we go swimming."
"I don't plan on wearing a bikini...I don't wear them," I countered. "Ever."
Julian raised an eyebrow. "That explains last summer, but it's a real shame that you're hiding that body under a one-piece."
Lori choked and began coughing loudly.
I was too shocked by Julian's words and expression to do anything to help. Had he just called me hot? Had he just inferred that he'd been checking me out? The waiter walked by at the moment, giving me an opportunity to change the topic. "Cheesecake!" I told him.
"Pardon me ma'am?" the man asked, puzzled at my outburst.
"You know, that thing you make with cream cheese? Cream cheese, sugar, graham crackers - for the crust, you know - and eggs! And you can decorate it with-"
"What Phoebe here is trying to say," Julian cut in smoothly, "is that she'd like to order dessert. Do you have cheesecake?"
The waiter glanced at me before responding. "Yes sir, we do. How many servings would you like?"
"Please bring by the entire cake," Julian said. When the waiter walked away, he grinned at me. "I know how much you love your cheesecake."
"Thank you for caring whether I died," Lori complained, having stopped coughing.
I grinned at her to avoid conversation with Julian. "No problem. How'd your lungs enjoy your meal?"
She sulked as she began picking at her pasta again. "Shut up."
The man knew I loved cheesecake.
That was the only thought running through my mind as I sat in the hotel room, watching the white box in which the remains sat. Yes, Julian had insisted that I take the last few pieces to enjoy later.
"Honey?" my mother called out, strolling into the room in her bright red wrap-around skirt. "Are you done with the computer? How'd you do?"
I was yanked out of my thoughts. "Huh? Oh...my marks?" I had been checking the university's online portal to see whether my final marks had been put up. "I did fine," I said with a smile. "Great, even. I got about 6% higher in psychology than I thought I would - I guess I pretty much aced that exam."
"That's great honey," my mother said, kissing the top of my head. "Just make sure you tell your father, okay? If you don't, he'll keep pestering me about it."
My eyes rolled of their own accord. "Dad really has to start asking me questions directly, instead of being all sneaky about it. It's not like I'm going to shoot him for asking if I had dinner."
She shrugged with a grin. "You know how he is...that insane man-"
"-who you absolutely love," I finished. "Yes mom, I've heard that one before."
"It's true," she insisted, like she always did. "Hey, is that food?"
"Cheesecake," I said carefully. Desserts tended to disappear around my house.
My mother's eyes brightened. "May I?"
I sighed. "Fine. Fineeeeee!"
"Thanks," she said, grabbing the box.
"Thank Julian, not me. And hey, where do you think you're going?" I demanded when she made to walk off with the entire box.
She beamed at me as she walked backwards. "Did you really think I'd settle for a small slice? Tsk tsk, honey." Her free hand touched the door-frame. "Oh, and tell Julian on your next date that I'm very grateful for the cake."
And then she was gone, my dessert disappearing along with her.
"IT WASN'T A DATE!" I screamed after her, knowing full well she could hear me.
I was right, because the sound of chortling reached me as I slumped in my chair, glaring at the spot where my precious box had sat.
Since the Tanners' resort was so much nicer than ours - the view and the service - my parents decided to coordinate our activities with theirs. For two days, my parents and brother went to the strip of beach attached to the Tanners' hotel, while Lori and I decided to hit the stores.
By the end of the second day, we had bought enough souvenirs to last us a lifetime, and we decided that shopping would be limited for the week and a half we had left.
"What're we doing tomorrow then?" Lori asked as we weighed our souvenirs to make sure we wouldn't have to pay for overweight baggage on the flights home. A couple of the hotel staff kept walking by and shooting us amused glances as we used the scale in the lobby.
"Swimming?" I suggested. "Nile says the beaches are warm enough to enjoy for long periods of time."
Lori turned towards the wide glass windows of the hotel lobby; the Eastern view showed us a large expanse of beach. "That sand doesn't look too nice," she complained. "It looks brown and...well, dirty." She shot me a hopeful glance. "How about we do what your family is doing and visit the Tanner's resort?"
I continued weighing in silence as I considered. I hadn't seen Julian since he'd handed me that box of cheesecake, but I hadn't been able to get him out of my mind. It was very annoying how I went from thinking of him as family friend to just...constantly thinking of him. Period. "Okay..." I finally said, drawing out the word. "We'll go by their place."
"Don't sound too upset," Lori drawled, rolling her eyes. "We both know you're dying to see your lover-boy." When I glared and opened my mouth, she waved a hand in dismissal. "Don't tell me I'm wrong. I saw the expression on your face when he gave you cheesecake. You're such a cheap whore. I mean, dessert? And you sell out your heart?" She grinned and stood up with her bags of souvenirs. "Whore."
"Somebody needs to clean out that potty-mouth of yours," I grumbled, standing up as well.
She grinned and threw her arm around my waist as we turned towards the elevator. "Everybody keeps saying that to me, but nobody has been brave enough to try."
"Except your mom when you were six and thought the F word meant 'hello'."
Lori scowled. "I couldn't get the taste of soap out of my mouth for weeks!"
The next morning the five of us piled into my father's rental car and headed to Julian's hotel. Lori kept shooting me knowing expressions and wagging her eyebrows at me, and it didn't help that every other word out of Nile's mouth was about Julian.
"And then Julian jumped in and their mom started screaming because the waves flipped over her inflatable."
Lori snorted. "If anybody eavesdropped on this conversation, they would think Julian's a fatty when what he really is is a hunky piece of man-candy."
Nile retched at her comment, and a loud groan escaped my father.
"Tell me again why we brought her along on our vacation?" he asked my mother loudly.
My mother laughed. "Because she's your favourite niece and when she asked you couldn't say no."
"Remind me to disown that side of the family when we're back," he said in return, shaking his fist behind him in Lori's general direction.
"Both hands on the steering wheel, Mr. Uncle!" Lori chastised. "Wouldn't want you to crash and hurt me."
They argued playfully for the rest of the ride to the resort, and I had a headache on its way when I finally stepped out of the car. My father handed the keys to the valet, who waited until we unloaded our cooler before driving away to park, while I trailed inside behind Nile.
True to my luck, or lack thereof, the first person I saw was Julian. He was sitting on one of the enormous armchairs the hotel's lobby had to offer, reading through some kind of magazine. Christine, of all people, was sitting on the arm of his chair, pressing her chest into his shoulder as she leaned over to point out something on one of the pages.
I bit my bottom lip and looked at Lori, who had walked in behind me and just noticed the duo. "Don't make a scene," I begged.
She eyed me with distaste, but my mother walked in before she could respond.
"What's wrong Phoebe?" she asked immediately. I looked around for my father, and was grateful to see that he'd gone to the information desk with Nile to get clearance to head upstairs.
"That!" Lori spat, pointing openly at Julian and Christine.
My mother turned to look. "He doesn't look too comfortable," she said gently, reaching for my arm. "Let's go talk to him, shall we?"
"Mom...we're not together," I told her. "I told you the other day."
She merely rolled her eyes at me before dragging me towards them. I didn't want to create a scene, so I went along quietly, hoping Lori would be on the same page as I was.
"Julian! How are you this morning?" my mother said cheerfully, coming to a halt in front of him.
"Mrs. Thompson!" Julian said as he looked up with a smile. "Hey Lori." His eyes slid over her and met mine, but I quickly shifted my gaze to the bottom edge of the armchair. "Phoebe..." It may have been my wishful thinking, but his voice seemed softer as he said my name. "Are you here to swim?"
"Mostly to spend time with your family," my mother responded, "but swimming is definitely on the agenda. Where are your parents?"
From the corner of my eye, I saw Christine squeeze herself tighter against Julian. That girl had no shame for sure. It was one thing to act up around people her own age, but it was a whole other thing to do it in front of parents.
"I'm going to go see what's taking Dad so long," I whispered to nobody in general, taking hurried steps toward the information desk. Unfortunately, it wasn't until I got there that I realized my father and brother were headed towards the men's washroom.
Not wanting to go back to crashing Julian's little party, I walked after them and ducked into the women's washroom. I didn't have to use the toilet, so I just braced myself on the marble make-up counter and stared at my reflection.
I looked like shit. My eyes looked sad and a little lost, and my skin was paler than usual. I swore rapidly under my breath as I realized that my haggard look was directly related to jealousy over Julian.
How had I gone from normal to pathetic in a matter of a few days?
The washroom door began to swing open, so I quickly began rubbing my lips as if trying to even out lipstick. In the mirror, I saw Christine reflected at the door.
She came to stand beside me, pulling a small eyeliner pencil from the pocket of her slacks. "I can feel the jealousy pulsing off you," she said spitefully. "You know, I was perfectly happy to let him go, but you seriously ticked me off."
I watched her in the mirror. "Ticked you off?" I repeated. "I didn't even say anything!"
"Your friend went off on me on your behalf, didn't she?" Christine responded with a sneer. "It's not as if she has a chance with Julian."
"It's not like you do either," I snapped, turning to look directly at her.
She grinned. "You'd be wrong about that." Her grin grew wider. "I've already had Julian. Yesterday afternoon, when everybody was at the beach, we took advantage by rabbiting around his entire suite." Her lips pursed. "He's probably the best lover I've ever had."
I opened my mouth to call her out on her lie but I ended up running for the toilet instead. My stomach emptied itself until I felt that it could not take any more heaving, and just when the urge to vomit began to subside, I sank into darkness.
When I came to, I was in a pale green room with fluttering white curtains across wide glass windows. My throat itched, and the instinctive cough wracked my body painfully.
A hand reached over my body to hold me down on the bed, and I stilled enough to focus on the large tan fingers.
He nodded, worry lurking behind his eyes. "Are you okay sweetie? What are your symptoms? Why didn't you say anything?"
"Oh for goodness sake Joseph!" Mrs. Tanner said, breezing into the room. "Give the poor girl some water before you pile questions on her!"
My father sheepishly took the glass of water she offered and held it out to me.
Mrs. Tanner groaned and swatted him on the wrist before taking the glass again. "She just got up and you're trying to get her to hold a full glass? Really Joseph, go calm yourself down...your baby girl is fine." She waved him away and turned to me with the glass. "Okay, use the straw to sip while I hold the glass."
I did as instructed, drinking only enough to get rid of the itch in my throat. "What happened?" I asked when I pushed the glass away. "And where am I?"
"Food poisoning," Mrs. Tanner said in disgust. "That hotel is known for its low standards." She brushed my hair back from my face and smiled. "And you're in George's room, dear, but we'll move you to your new suite when you're feeling better."
"New suite?" I wondered. "Where?"
She lifted my wrist from under the thin cotton blankets and squeezed gently. It was then that my muddled mind remembered Mrs. Tanner was a doctor. "We've arranged for you to move in downstairs," she explained. "Julian went over to your old hotel and - to quote your cousin Lori - 'bitched out' the staff until they agreed to refund and pay the difference for you to change to this hotel."
"Is that even possible?" I wondered.
Mrs. Tanner winked. "It is if you're Julian. Now you try to get back to sleep while I see about getting you something to eat. I'll also go see if your father bothered going to the new suite and informing the rest of the bunch that you're awake."
"Okay," I agreed, letting my eyes drift closed.
When I woke again, it was dark outside and the curtains were still. The light in the room had been dimmed, but I could see well enough. Pale blue eyes were watching me warily, but I wasn't surprised.
I had dreamed of him.
He blinked once before standing up and heading to a table near the door. When he came back to my bedside, he held a bowl of soup on his left palm. "It's not too hot."
I sat up and took it from him, my eyes never leaving his face. "What's wrong?" I asked him when the silence became unbearable.
Julian stared at the bowl in my hands. "I didn't have sex with her," he said quietly. "The thought never even crossed my mind."
"I know," I said, spooning a bite into my mouth.
"How?" he asked harshly. "For all you know the things she said could have been true!"
I calmly swallowed and took another spoonful. "I know because Nile incessantly yapped in the car about yesterday afternoon...and he didn't mention anything about you sneaking away to do the dirty with the hotel staff. How did you know she told me all that?"
He ran a hand through his hair before dropping his head onto my pillow, beside my hip. "She panicked after you fainted and thought she'd driven you over the edge or something...she told me everything when I asked what happened in the washroom."
I shook my head and continued spooning the soup into my mouth.
"How are you feeling now Phoebe?" His hair was tickling my side.
"Much better," I admitted, dropping my spoon into the empty bowl. "Especially after having such a great nurse at my side." The fingers of my free hand threaded into his hair of their own accord. "Your gel is rock-hard."
He sat up and took my bowl, rolling it across the floor haphazardly. "Occupational hazard," he explained, pushing me towards the other side of the bed. "You see," he continued, climbing onto the bed so that we were sitting hip-to-hip, "being hot is hard work. Rock-hard hair is a potential complication I just have to live with."
"Is that so?" I said, playing along. "I guess it's a good thing I don't have to worry about all that. Being hot seems to take too much effort."
Julian's nose found its way into my neck and I froze in surprise. "And yet you make it seem so easy," he murmured, rubbing his nose against the sensitive skin.
"I'm not hot," I protested, my right arm unfreezing to slide around Julian's back to tangle in his hair and keep him from moving away.
He pressed a kiss to my neck. "We're not going to have this argument, Phoebe." Another kiss, a little lower. "Man, you're addicting..."
His hand found mine in his hair and untangled it. Before I knew what he was intending, I was sitting on his lap, straddling him so that he could get better access.
"We can't...be doing...this..." he muttered, lifting his hips and sliding down the headboard so that we were flat on the bed instead of sitting up.
I made a sound of agreement, and then lowered my lips to his.
It was sweet. No, not the flavour of his lips, but the way he returned my kiss as if we had all the time in the world. It was me who pushed to deepen the kiss, to open our mouths to the onslaught of our tongues. He treated me as if I were fragile, with one hand gently combing through my hair as the other held lightly onto my exposed waist.
I pulled my face away with a groan. "You're holding back," I accused, glaring down at his face.
"Maybe that's all I have to offer," he said in return, a smirk playing on his lips.
My hands ran under his T-shirt to rest on his chest. "Is that so?"
He groaned and forced my hands out. "Aren't we feisty today?" he teased when my hands were held still by his. "But no, we're taking this slow Phoebe."
"So we can go back to ignoring each other after this vacation is over?"
"Nobody's going to ignore anybody after this. You're in my system now, and I don't feel like I need to get you out."
"Yet," I muttered.
Julian's face look its playfulness. "Maybe," he agreed, "but who's to say?"
I didn't respond to that, and chose to ask my own question instead. "So when'd you realize that I'm...in your system?" I would have air-quoted the words, but my hands were still captured.
It looked like Julian blushed, but I couldn't tell with the lighting. "Three months ago," he admitted, "at George's birthday party after our brothers smashed the remaining cake on my face. You offered to clean it up, and...and I immediately had a vivid image of you..." he coughed "...cleaning it up."
My eyes narrowed. "Cleaning it up how exactly?"
"Well it would be a shame to waste cake, right?" he joked.
"Cleaning it up how?" I repeated insistently.
He pulled my head down so that my ear was at his lips. "You licked it off me," he whispered seductively and a shiver ran down my spine. He let my head go so I could lean back and glare at him. "I've never looked at cake the same way since then."
Horrified shouting woke us the next morning, and Julian and I rubbed our eyes in confusion before sitting up.
Mrs. Tanner came running into the room, her face looking like my mother's did when she was determined to hunt down a cockroach. "What's going on?" she demanded.
"Our eyes!" Nile shouted, staring right at us. "Oh my eyes!"
George grabbed Mrs. Tanner's arm and pointed at us. "Why couldn't Julian find somebody else?" he complained. "He's going to ruin my friendship with my best friend!"
I stared at Julian with confusion until I realized what the havoc was all about.
For one thing, Julian and I were sharing the same bed. For another, he had thrown his shirt to the ground before we finally got around to sleeping - which led to another bout of kissing initiated by me. And finally, the spaghetti straps of my tank-top had slid off my shoulder during the night and, with me sitting up clutching the sheets to my chest, it looked as if I was naked and in bed with an equally naked Julian.
Mrs. Tanner seemed to have reached the same conclusion as the boys, because she looked at a loss for words. Her eyes kept darting to us and away. Us. Away. Us. Away.
"It was hot," I explained, pushing the sheets away from me. The boys immediately screamed like girls and turned away. "I'm fully-clothed!" I exclaimed.
They finally worked up the courage to look at me - as if I would willingly allow them to see me naked, jeez - and sighed in relief.
"And what about Julian?" Mrs. Tanner asked, looking at her middle son.
He grinned and linked his fingers behind his head. "Under all these sheets...I'm naked."
I glowered at him and climbed out of bed, yanking his sheets away at the same time. "Lies!"
"Babes, you ruin my fun." Julian climbed out of bed in his shorts and stretched. "So is that what all the commotion was about?" he asked our brothers. "Because I didn't even get a chance to say good morning to my new girlfriend."
"Girlfriend?" Mrs. Tanner asked, looking delighted.
It was at the tip of my tongue to point out that I wasn't in the habit of sleeping beside random half-naked men, but I held it back.
"Yes, girlfriend," Julian repeated.
His mother practically ran over to me in her haste to give me a hug. "Oh finally," she exclaimed. "We've all been wondering when you children would realize what was right in front of your eyes."
My brother, however, did not look as pleased. "Really man?" he asked Julian. "My sister? You couldn't torture me some other way?" Then he grinned and punched Julian on the arm. "Just don't mess it up for us, okay?"
George said pretty much the same thing to me. It was clear where the boys' priorities lay, and they were definitely centered around their own friendship.
I couldn't blame them though; friendship was the strongest ship in the port. (Um. Lame, I know.)
"This is great," Mrs. Tanner gushed. "I'm going to run down and let Joseph and Cathy know that you've come to your senses!"
She rushed out as I moaned. "This is embarrassing," I whined, stepping into Julian's arms.
"No, that is," George declared, shaking his head at us. "We're out of here."
They ran out, slamming the bedroom door behind them.
Julian's hands, which had been patting my back, slid under my tank-top to rub my back.
I looked up at him, wondering how things had changed so fast.
"Hi," he whispered.
I traced his bare chest and smiled. "Hello."
One hand found its way out from under my tank-top to grab my knees so that he was holding me bridal style. He lowered me gently to the bed, and I kept him with me by looping my arms around his neck.
He kissed me then, gently on the lips. When he pulled back, he was smiling wider. "Good morning."
I released his neck to stretch. "Good morning indeed," I agreed readily.
"Now..." Julian stopped and nuzzled my neck. "Now you will stay in bed for the rest of the day."
Such was my surprise that I didn't react until he stood up straight and began pulling on his shirt.
"What? No, I'm getting up."
"You're still weak," he said, grabbing his wallet from the dresser. "I'm not letting you tire yourself out."
I sat up and ran a hand through my hair, wincing as I met tangled clumps. "You're not letting me?" I repeated. "You're not my keeper."
Julian shot me a grin that made my legs feel weak. "Oh, but I am," he said with a wink. Before I could protest, he held up a hand. "Okay, how about this...you behave today and I'll let you choose tomorrow's activities. We can spend the entire day together with nobody to bother us."
"And if I don't?" I challenged.
His grin grew wider. "I'll sic your cousin on you. I'm sure she'll enjoy having to babysit you all day." We both knew she would rather kill me than take care of me.
"That's playing dirty," I complained. When it was clear he wasn't going to give in, I nodded. "Fine. I get to choose what we do tomorrow."
"Good girl." He pulled me up to fuse our lips together, and it was the most passionate kiss he'd given me. For once, he didn't hold back and I hated him when he pulled back.
"Now that's playing dirty!"
Julian's lips found my forehead. "A man can't play all his cards at once, sweetheart. I'll see you in a bit."
Julian came back an hour later with boxes and boxes of board and - haha! - card games. We spent the entire day playing, stopping only to eat and argue.
After a very late dinner - which was also in bed - Julian asked me if I had decided what I wanted to do the next day.
"Kangaroos," I had immediately responded. "I want to see at least one kangaroo during this trip."
He promised he'd figure out where we would have to drive out to to see the creatures, and was just suggesting we get to sleep when my father appeared in the doorway of the room.
"Phoebe, are you ready to sleep?"
I nodded. "We were just going to do that."
"Okay, I'll wait for you by the suite entrance. I don't want you taking the elevator on your own."
"She can-" Julian began.
"No, she can't," my father finished with a wry smile. "She's not sleeping here with you when there's a perfectly good bed for her downstairs." The two of us laughed at Julian's expression. "Nothing personal, son...I'm just being a father."
Julian pulled me into a hug. "Yes Mr. Thompson...I understand."
My father quickly walked away from the door and we laughed.
"He doesn't want to see us indulging in PDA," I commented.
"Was that what we were going to do?" Julian responded archly, before pulling me up on my toes to kiss me thoroughly. "Hmm...I guess he was right," he said when we pulled apart. "Good night Phoebe."
I pulled him down for one last kiss before walking towards the door. "Good night Julian. See to those kangaroos, will you?"
At our new suite, I made a point to avoid Lori's knowing and gloating expression. However, that didn't stop her from managing to fit the odd sexual comment into our conversation as I found my suitcase - clearly packed by Lori since it was so messy - and got ready for bed.
By the time she shut up and we snuggled into our beds (we were sharing a room with two double beds) I was beginning to feel insecure about my new 'relationship'. Everything felt so fast, and I kept thinking that quickly-come would lead to quickly-go...and that wouldn't do at all. No, not just because it would definitely put a strain on my brother's friendship with George, but because my heart would inevitably be broken at the end.
Various scenarios ran through my head as I thought of ways to avoid being hurt, but everything came down to one thing: I had fallen in love with Julian a long time before this vacation. Maybe it had taken this trip and a spurt of jealousy to realize, but it had always been there.
I loved Julian Tanner, and that was saying a lot for a girl who limited her love-life and dated only people she felt comfortable with. And, even then, only after a lot of pressure and persuasion from my closest friends.
Again, I found myself mentally berating myself for rushing into things...but the other side of my conscience popped up to inform me that I had actually taken too long to get to where I was. Clearly my parents - and Julian's - agreed, because the first thing my mother had said when she saw us after she heard the news was "Could it have taken you any longer?" (Continuing on, she had muttered about children 'these days' playing that 'nonsensical' game of 'hard-to-get'.)
"So did you guys do it?"
My eyes having adjusted to the darkness of the room, I rolled onto my side to see Lori facing me with her head propped on her elbow. "No, we didn't do 'it'," I responded harshly.
She sat up then, pulling her pillow onto her lap. "I'm not saying that's a bad thing," she ventured cautiously. I was surprised - caution was the last thing Lori had on her mind. "It's just that it's been so obvious the two of you are meant to be."
I mimicked her position. "What do you mean?" I asked much more gently. "Didn't you crush on him before?"
"Before," she admitted. "But only until I realized that you didn't seem to happy about it."
I groaned and pressed my palms against my eyes. "Hold on while I kill myself for being a total moron," I whispered.
"I just realized that I've been a complete dunce for not realizing how much I liked Julian." I groaned again. "Remember how I make fun of stories where girls don't realize what's in front of them?"
Lori chuckled. "Yeah, I always thought that was hilarious after I noticed how oblivious you were."
"And why didn't anybody tell me this?" I asked, shooting her a glare that I was sure she couldn't see in the dark.
"Because you had to realize it for yourself," she responded seriously. "If I told you and you went for it...then there might always be a little inkling of doubt in your mind whether you acted on my belief or yours. If I told you and you didn't go for it...well, that would just make things awkward all around." She threw her pillow back in its spot and lowered herself onto her back. "I mean, I didn't know Julian well. I saw him at parties that your family threw, but it's not like I knew him well enough to judge how he felt. If I said something and I was wrong...I don't know, I don't think that would have been too good for our friendship. And, no matter how much I bitch, I value it. Our friendship."
I smiled to myself. "Aww, that's so sweet-"
"Shut up and fucking get to sleep," Lori snapped. "People actually like sleeping, you know." She rolled to face away from me.
I covered my mouth to hold in a giggle and lay down on the bed again. Deciding not to point out that she had been the one to initiate the conversation in the first place, I mumbled a 'good night'. I didn't expect a response - she was probably too embarrassed over the mini heart-to-heart - so I wasn't disappointed when she grunted in response.
Somehow, our little conversation had pushed aside my worries over my new relationship with Julian, and I felt myself smiling before a yawn took me to the edge of drowsiness, and drowsiness led to sleep.
The next morning found us in our rental cars, following the tourist map that the hotel had conveniently provided. And yes, you read the plural in 'car' correctly. Julian and my kangaroo trip had spontaneously become a group event when we were informed by a slightly-patronizing man at the information desk that no, we weren't going to see kangaroo's leaping around unless we wanted to drive a few hours out of the city.
And even then, it wasn't a sure thing.
"They're not pets to be beckoned at your call," he had responded with an air of someone who knew more than we did. "You can make the drive out there, but I've had a lot of people do that who ended up merely wasting petrol." His eyes had gleamed at that point. "But what I can do for you," he'd continued happily, "is give you discounts to visit the closest zoo. They have a vast display of Australian wildlife, as well as creatures from New Zealand and around the world."
So the two of us has headed upstairs to tell our families of our change of plans before leaving...only to be cornered by our brothers.
"Are you serious? Kangaroos? I heard they box with their feet!" George crooned.
Nile nodded vigorously. "Yeah, and I want to see the Tasmanian Devil!"
"They don't look anything like Taz from Looney Toons," I felt I should point out.
The boys glared at me. "We don't watch those cartoons."
I heard Julian snort from beside me. "Sure," he agreed, nudging me with his elbow. "George definitely does not get up early on Saturday mornings to catch those shows. No siree."
"Nile doesn't either," I agreed, laughing at my brother's expression. "Come on, we should get going."
"Yeah, we should. We're ready kids."
We turned to see Julian's parents slipping their shoes on.
"Where're you going?" Julian asked suspiciously.
His mother smiled at him. "To the zoo, of course. Come on, Joseph, Cathy and Lori are all waiting in the lobby."
I shrugged when Julian gripped my arm in his fingers. "Oh no they did-n't," I mumbled as we made our way downstairs.
"Let's ditch them."
I beamed up at him. "Kangaroos, remember?"
He sighed and pulled me past everyone else and to the main doors of the hotel. The doorman was the Spanish man who Lori and I had seen on our first visit here, and I cheerfully thanked him when he pulled open the doors for us.
After Julian gave the valet instructions to get his car, I turned to admonish him for being so grouchy but was stopped by his lips meeting mine.
"I don't want to spend the day avoiding touching you because your father's near," he mumbled when we pulled apart. "Can we please ditch them and go to the zoo another time?"
I slid my arm around his back so that I could lean against him comfortably. "We'll just end up procrastinating our vacation away," I chided him. "Besides, just the fact that we're on family vacation and getting time to get to know each other is a miracle in itself. I mean, what are the chances that we end up taking our trips in the same country?"
"Very low," he muttered. "Then again, you didn't consider the fact that George is Nile's best friend and I was just going crazy."
I tilted my head to look at him. "Meaning?"
"Meaning it was my turn to pick where we vacationed, and it didn't take too much questioning to find out from George that you guys were headed here."
I gasped and then began laughing. "Oh my God, you're a complete stalker!" I stood on tip-toe and kissed his cheek, which had turned a light shade of pink.
When I set my heels down, I saw Christine walk up the stairs to the hotel. She had her head turned to watch us as she walked, and I couldn't help but feel a little embarrassed on her behalf when she turned away, stumbled, and quickly hurried into the building.
The valet pulled up at the moment in Julian's rental car, and a bustle at the door indicated that our families had managed to get the zoo discounts and were ready to leave.
"Shotgun!" George shouted, darting to jump into the car.
Julian stopped him by grabbing the back of his collar and holding him back. "Phoebe, get in."
I winked at the scowling George and slid into the seat. Julian finally let go of his brother, and the boys and Lori climbed into the back while complaining of each others' elbows.
After exchanging a few words with our parents about where we'd meet, Julian climbed in and pulled the car away from the hotel.
An hour later - which the time it took to drive, park, and gain entrance to the zoo - we were standing in front of the kangaroo display.
"It's bloody ridiculous that I'm in the land of the leaping marsupials, but have to resort to going to a zoo to actually see one," Julian muttered.
I patted his cheek before leaning against him as I watched the kangaroos hop around doing...well, nothing really. "Don't pout dear, it's not attractive."
Although, judging by the look of longing some teenage girl was shooting in Julian's direction, she definitely found it attractive. I fought the urge to advise her to try for somebody her age - like Nile or Goerge - but decided that the last thing I needed to do was make a girl cry at the zoo. Not that I would be able to do it, but Lori was at my side and we all know that she's capable of blowing up on anybody on my behalf.
Nile and George were reading through the information plaque, trying to figure out how to get the kangaroos worked up enough to begin fighting, so we decided that it was time to move on to the next display.
We ended up taking our time and going through the entire zoo, and somehow things were not awkward even though Lori was a bit of a third wheel. In fact, she was strangely happy as we made our way around, telling us random tidbits about most of the animals we saw.
"She wants to be a vet, right?" Julian asked me when we got to the Tasmanian Devil display.
I nodded, feeling stupid. Of course that was why my cousin was suddenly so chirpy. I plastered a smile on my face as she launched into her spiel about the creatures, feeling Julian's chest rumble with a laugh when Lori mentioned that their ears turned bright red when aroused.
Our brothers had stopped pretending to be even remotely interested after the second animal, and I heard them muttering about the Tasmanian Devil.
"That's it?" Nile was whispering to George. "I thought they stood up and stuff."
"Man, even baby Taz was cuter than this thing!" George responded.
When we were done touring the place, we embarked on a hunt for our parents. They had entered the zoo with us, but had told us they would explore on their own. However, we had not bumped into them in our time there.
It took a while, but we finally found them sitting at one of the overpriced restaurants, licking at large cones of ice cream.
"Did you kids have fun?" my mother asked, primarily asking the question to me and Julian.
I rolled my eyes. "Yes mom...although I don't know why you guys came if all you did was eat."
"Oh, we looked around a bit," she assured me. "Then we sat down and discussed-"
My father elbowed her without subtlety.
"-life," my mother finished after glaring at him.
"-us," Julian murmured into my ear with a quiet laugh. "Mom's been on my nerves to ask you out for ages...she's probably on cloud nine."
I glared at him. "Did everyone just assume this was going to happen? Seriously..."
"Come on kids," Mr. Tanner said. "Grab the table beside us and sit down - I'm sure you haven't eaten lunch yet, and all we've had is ice cream."
It was true, and a glance at Julian's watch told me that it was well past noon. We sat down and a waiter showed up with menus for all of us.
The menu was very exotic, with categories of food from different places of the world. I pursed my lips as I debated between Chinese and Indian, and then finally settled on Thai - which I tended to consider a mix of the two.
When the waiter came back, everyone placed their orders and I was the last person he came to. "Your order, ma'am?" I told him the list number. "And your drink, ma'am?" I asked for water. "I will make that our best still water at no cost," he responded with a wink. "Only the best for a beauty."
Lori looked over from prodding Nile with her spoon, her eyes wide as they landed on Julian.
"I'll...um...well...thank you," I managed, sneaking a peek at Julian when the man bowed and left.
"I'm experiencing this strange feeling of a pit stuck in my chest," he said, watching the waiter go.
Lori snorted. "Does it make you angry?"
Julian shrugged. "A bit, yes."
"Ah, Julian my boy...you finally know what jealousy feels like," she said sagely.
"Perhaps," he responded, playing along. "Because anyone before was dispensable, but..." He traced a finger down my cheek. "Perhaps."
George gagged and began complaining about this 'unnecessary touching and shit', but he was cut off by a band beginning to play. I ignored the music, choosing to instead twine my fingers with Julian's under the table. Why was his every action suddenly making me feel fluttery?
It was only after my parents started staring in our direction that I realized the music had gotten louder. Following their gaze behind me, I realized that the band was really a group of two men and one woman. The woman was playing a flute, while one man played a violin and the other a clarinet.
The woman seemed to be the main attraction, playing high and long solos that were occasionally joined in by the clarinet, while the violin player chimed in at the end of each section to add drama to the piece. And it just so happened that, as I turned away, it was the violin player's turn and in his excitement he misjudged the distance between me and his bow and...yes, he ended up shoving it into my head.
My eyes quickly watered at the sudden blow and Lori began rubbing at the spot as I clenched my teeth.
"I am so very sorry madame!" the violinist exclaimed, shoving his instrument at the clarinet player to examine my head. "It does not look too bad," he assured me after prying Lori's hands away and examining the spot. When I looked at him in confusion, he shrugged. "I was a doctor in my own country," he said sadly.
Meanwhile, Julian was prying my fingers - which I had clenched over his at the blow - from his. "You're a walking hazard," he whispered to me. "Come on, let's get out of here."
"It's okay," I told the violinist. "I'm fine. I was just surprised." He puttered around me for another moment, offering to get some ice, before the flutist pushed him aside with an apologetic look towards me. "And we're here with family," I whispered to Julian. "We can't just leave in the middle like that."
"Not even for a trip to the bookstore?" he asked, wagging his eyebrows.
I looked at him suspiciously, wondering if he was being truthful. "Bookstore?"
"I have a gift card."
My eyes brightened. "Lemme see!"
He sighed and pulled out his wallet, flipping through until he found what he was looking for. "Here."
I stared at the plastic card, reading both sides carefully. "How much is on there?"
Julian grinned. "I don't know...something like a thousand."
"A...thousand?" I shrieked. "How did you end up with a thousand?!"
Lori looked over at me in concern. "Shut up, you're embarrassing."
I ignored her and turned back to Julian. "Seriously? How?" I wanted a $1000 gift card too!
He shrugged casually. "Won it. Engineering contest."
I stood up and yanked on his arm. "Come on, we're leaving."
The waiter showed up with my 'special' water at that moment. "Where are you going in a hurry, my beauty?" he asked charmingly.
"Barnes and Noble," I responded happily. "Pack our food and give it to her," I continued, pointing at Lori. "She can have my water too."
He began to argue, but Lori snapped her teeth together and bared them in his direction. "What, I'm not pretty enough to drink your stinkin' water?"
Leaving the waiter to get out of that mess, Julian and I waved goodbye to the boys, stopped to tell our parents we were leaving, and headed to the exit.
Unfortunately, we remembered then that we had brought the others in our car, so we doubled back and gave the keys to his parents.
"We'll commute," he assured them. "It's not like they speak a different language over here."
By the time we figured out where the nearest bookstore was - and how to get there - we were famished. Grabbing burgers from a food-stand, we began the hour-long trip that would take us back into the heart of the city.
At the bookstore however, we were at a loss again when I realized something very important.
"I have no room left in my luggage!"
Julian grinned at me. "That just sucks for you, doesn't it?"
Something about his tone made me suspicious. "You were quite aware of that, weren't you?" I demanded.
"Yep...but if I had brought it up earlier, I wouldn't have been able to drag you out here."
I wrenched my arm free of his and walked into the romance section.
"Hey, come on," he said, following me. "I just wanted to hang out without the others." When I continued ignoring me, he took the book I was holding and placed it on a shelf behind him. "Let's do this. We'll find what we want, check their online stock, and then order it for delivery at home."
My glare found his face. "Yeah?"
"Yeah," I repeated, "well the book I wanted was just rudely taken from me."
He sheepishly grabbed it and handed it back. "Deal?"
I slipped my hand into his larger one. "Deal."
The rest of our trip went quite smoothly, and as the vacation started drawing to a close I was feeling more and more nervous about what would happen after we got back home. It didn't help that, since we flew in on different days, our flights back were also not the same. I was to leave before him.
Julian, however, didn't seem upset about anything. I was too pathetic to ask him directly, but he was ever the cheerful one, occasionally speaking of his friends that I had to meet, certain places that he was surprised I hadn't visited, and the Thai restaurant next to his campus that he was going to get me hooked on.
After telling me about the restaurant, he'd leaned in conspiratorially. "That way," he'd whispered, "you'd come by my campus very often just to eat...and I can show you off to everyone."
I'd grinned at that, although my heart was throbbing painfully at the sweetness of his words. "I'll have to find a place you'd visit at my campus," I'd responded coyly, "so that I can show you off."
Of course, he'd laughed at that and called me stupid. "You don't have to do that, because I'll be visiting often enough without that kind of incentive." And then added a cheesy, "Because you are my incentive."
(Which made Lori snort out a laughter from the next room, where she'd be shamelessly eavesdropping.)
On our last day in Australia, I was extremely touchy-feely with Julian. If he noticed - and I'm sure he did - he didn't comment on it. Instead, he forced me into a bikini he'd bought at the resort's gift shop and dragged me out to the beach.
After spending a few minutes admiring my belly piercing, he'd tossed me over his shoulder and run into the water as I screamed bloody murder. We'd stayed in the water, our salty (from the water) mouths fused together, until the coastguard demanded that we come out to avoid drowning.
He came back to my room after we walked along the beach for a little while, deciding to help me pack whatever else I had left instead of hanging out with the rest of the group.
"Why are you panicking?" he asked at last.
"I'm not," I responded, continuing my avoidance of the topic.
"You've packed and unpacked the same pair of shorts four times now," he commented, coming behind me to wrap his arms around my waist. "Calm down...we'll work out. We'll last."
I simply nodded, shoving the shorts back into my bag. "I think I'm done packing."
"You've been done for two days," he laughed. "Stop being paranoid, Phoebe."
My parents came back inside a few minutes later, and they suggested we get to sleep because our flight out was early in the morning.
"Yeah..." I trailed off and looked at Julian. "Good night."
He pulled me closer to quickly peck my lips. Out of the corner of my eye I saw my father turn away with a sigh. "I'll see you soon," Julian promised. "Good night sweetie."
The next morning we were checking out of the hotel when Julian strode in from outside and grabbed me in a tight hug.
"Where're you coming from?" I asked, surprised that he was up and about so early.
"Went to talk to the valet," he responded, pushing my tangled hair away from my face. I hadn't bothered to comb it since I was going to sleep on the plane anyway. "Ready to leave?"
My father finished up his discussion with the desk clerk - not Christine - and turned to us. "Yes, we're done now. Let's get going."
It turned out that Julian had arranged to have his car at the door so he could come with us to the airport. My parents grinned at each other and suggested that Lori and Nile stay in their car so that Julian and I could have some privacy. Nile grumbled a little at the word 'privacy', but Lori merely snapped that she didn't care and only wanted sleep.
However, the last thing we ended up needing was privacy because we didn't speak a word the entire ride to the airport. After parking, we headed inside with our bags to check-in, and I noticed that Julian went to a travel agent booth while we stood in line.
By the time we were done checking in our luggage, Julian was by my side again and I took his hand while we waited. My parents spoke excitedly while the rest of us were quiet; Lori was sleeping, and Nile was trying to stay awake.
A quarter of an hour before the flight was due to board, we stood up and I went to give Julian a hug. He accepted the hug and then waved a piece of paper in front of me.
"What's that?" I asked, taking it.
"Boarding pass," he said cheekily.
I looked up at him in surprise and then read the paper. It was indeed a boarding pass, but it was for another flight. "Why do you need this?" I asked him.
"To get in all the way to the gate," he said, pinching my side. "Don't worry, I'm not going to get on the plane or anything."
I muttered about unnecessary expenses while he picked up my hand-luggage and steered me to the security check-point. We got to our gate with no hassle, and then stood around while they began boarding the business class.
"What's he doing here?" Lori asked, finally realizing that Julian had come all the way to the gate.
I sighed and leaned against his shoulder. "He's a psychopath."
"Mommy, what's a sycophant?" A little boy, around 5 years of age, asked as his mother pulled him along to the line as people with children were called to board.
"That works too," Lori muttered, yawning.
"Hmm..." Julian pushed me away from his body. "Wait here a moment, won't you?"
Before I could refuse, he disappeared into the crowd. I frowned after him, and got into line when the announcer called for all the other passengers to begin boarding.
He didn't come back for a long time, and my parents had finally worriedly stated that we'd better board before they closed the gate. Sighing, I handed my boarding pass to the attendant and waited while she scanned it and looked over my passport.
She handed it back and wished me a good flight, pointing towards the path I had to take to get into the plane.
I'd barely taken a step before I heard Julian's voice.
Feeling very much like a character from a movie, and very aware of the curious gazes of the lagging passengers in the area, I turned red as Julian hurried towards me. He came to a stop in front of me and handed over a small box.
I frowned and opened it, finding a fuzzy miniature of two koala bears - one sitting on the others' head. The one on top held a plushy pink heart that said the word "I love you" in block letters.
"It's cute," I whispered, running my fingers over the fuzz.
Julian pushed my hair back again, frowning at the tangles. "You didn't comb it again," he mumbled before shaking his head. "I wanted to get you something...something to, you know, show that I'm serious." He laughed. "I was looking for penguins because of that stupid quote about them mating for life...but this is Australia, so I settled for the koala bears." He opened his mouth, but I pressed a finger to his lips.
"Don't say it now," I begged. "It's just so cliché and I'll keep wondering about it. Tell me when you come home."
He looked surprised, but quickly bent down to kiss me on the cheek. "Okay. I'll tell you the minute I see you after getting back. But just know that...I do."
"Ma'am, we're going to have to close the gates," the attendant interrupted. "I'm sorry, but..."
"It's fine," Julian said to her, "she's coming." He kissed me again. "I'll see you in three days," he promised. "Will you be at the airport?"
I laughed, holding back my choked tears. "Yes...yes, of course I will."
"Good," he responded, pushing me towards the attendant. "Bye Phoebe." He slid something into my palm. "Don't look until you're seated."
I nodded and smiled at the attendant, thanking her for her patience. "Bye Julian."
My parents were arguing with the flight attendants when I got on, demanding that they check to see where I'd gone off to. I waved off their questions and took my seat beside Lori.
"What are you clutching?" she asked curiously.
"I don't know," I said, managing to buckle the seat-belt with one hand. It was only after I finished that I opened my fingers to look down at the object Julian had slid into my hand.
And then I laughed, because he was just too cute for words.
Because in my hand sat a small belly piercing ornament, the top part a small koala bear, with the dangling bit a red crystal heart.
A/N: I tried to make this one-shot as realistic as possible...and I think I succeeded in that goal. (Let me know if anything made you think otherwise.)
Thank you to everyone for your patience while I went off on vacation and ditched FictionPress. There's a poll on my profile (there's always a poll on my profile), so check that out and vote. Check out my LiveJournal, add me to facebook, send me a review (please???), and do any other lovely things you can come up with.
~ Rebekah ~