Chapter Four

Chapter Four
We May Need a Vacation From Our Vacation

The next day, Saturday, Orlando awoke to the sound of the shower running in the bathroom.

After the pillow fight, things had relaxed considerably. The quartet had ended up playing Twister drunk on beer and sheer happiness. Samantha and Gretchen had slept out in the living room, not willing to walk home to their own apartment. Chris and Orlando had retired to their rooms and gone to sleep.

Orlando shifted in bed and glanced at the clock. It was a little after ten, a little later than his body felt like it should be, but he figured a nice shower would fix that in a hurry.

He opened his door and stretched. He heard voices from the kitchenette and figured that someone was up. He had forgotten that Samantha and Gretchen had stayed the night, and it didn’t register that the voices were Samantha’s and Chris’s.

He opened the bathroom door, thinking that it was just Chris in there. Chris had no problem with Orlando strolling in to brush his teeth while Chris was shaving, clad in his jeans and T-shirt and hair wet from the shower. It wasn’t like he was naked.

Unfortunately, the person who had occupied the shower this morning was.

He opened the door and saw a naked person with black hair and wide green eyes.

A shrill female voice told him to get out. Before he could open his mouth to apologize, a bar of Lever 2000 hit him in the chest like a baseball going a hundred miles per hour. It knocked the breath out of him and he fell down.

As Orlando tried to resume breathing normally on the floor, Gretchen’s face appeared over him. She was contrite.

“I didn’t hit you too hard, did I?” she asked.

Orlando replied in a breathless voice. “Oh no. It was just…” His chest tightened again. “Perfect.”

Gretchen sighed and helped him up. He had a spot on his chest were the soap had left its gooey imprint. She tried to ignore the sight of his bare chest and looked into his face. “I kinda acted out of instinct. Sorry if I hurt you.”

“We seem to have a knack for getting into these kinds of predicaments,” Orlando observed, trying not to blush.

“Don’t we?” Gretchen sighed and grabbed a clean washrag. She wiped at the soap on his chest. She was close enough for him to smell the lavender in her hair and the soap on her skin. And what was that about her being a like a little sister, again…?

Chris arrived at that moment, curious. His curiosity turned to amusement as he noticed Gretchen was in a towel and Orlando had a soap spot on his chest. And that they were standing close together.

“A little shower rendezvous?” Chris asked, amusement alight in his eyes.

“Something like that,” Orlando replied, figuring he might as well not fall into the trap again this time. He looked to Gretchen. “Until next time, love.” He ruffled her curling, dripping hair and made her cheeks go pink. “I’m going to shower by myself now.”

“Eh, you do that…” Orlando disappeared into the bathroom leaving Gretchen a little uncomfortable.

Chris just stared at her.

“What?” she demanded.

Chris said nothing.

Samantha came up with Gretchen’s cell phone. Gretchen and Chris stared at her expectantly.

“Aunt Irene’s on the phone,” Samantha told her in a stage whisper. “She sounds…unnaturally happy.”

Gretchen squelched an oh hell and took her cell phone from Samantha. When she greeted her mother, she managed to sound pleasantly surprised to hear from her.

But by the time the conversation had ended, Gretchen’s face was pale.

“Sam,” she said, groping for her cousin’s hand. “You…you were right.”

“I was right?”

Gretchen nodded. “Aunt Rebecca called you because she was happy about Mom.”

“What did your mum do?” Chris wanted to know.

Gretchen exhaled deeply. “She’s getting married again this summer, but she wants us home for Spring Break for the engagement party.”

As Samantha stood there in shocked disbelief, Chris walked to the bathroom door and banged on it.

“What?” called Orlando from the shower. “I’m trying to wash my bloody underarms!”

“Screw your armpits, mate! Hurry up and get your shit packed!” Chris yelled back. “We’re going home!”

* * *

When Orlando emerged from the shower and dressed, the trio had to explain to him what was going on, as being in the shower sort of muddled things.

“So we’re going to your mum’s house for her wedding, am I correct?” Orlando asked Gretchen.

“Well, sort of. She’s having an engagement party first,” Gretchen replied. “That’s the big thing during the break.” Then Gretchen sighed again, feeling the headache. “But before then, you have to endure five days with my sisters. If you survive, then you’ll probably come to the wedding.”

“And cousins,” Samantha piped up. “Don’t forget Jen and Cassandra.”

“Maybe we should make him a chart,” Chris suggested, holding up a permanent marker.

Orlando stood from the couch, suddenly frustrated and on the brink of insanity. Gretchen, Samantha, and Chris watched in rapt interest as Orlando whirled around looking harried.

“Look,” he began, “just answer me this. Am I going to have to take out a life insurance policy or what? Because the way you’re sounding, I might not come back here alive.”

They just stared at him silently, a pair of cornflower blue, a pair of emerald green, and a pair of olive green eyes gazing at him expectantly, almost as if they expected his outburst.

“You’ll come back alive,” Samantha assured him in a dead-pan voice.

“With all my appendages?” Orlando demanded.

Silence. Samantha cleared her throat.

“Um, maybe I ought to get started on that flow chart,” Chris said, leaving the room. He left Orlando face-to-face with Samantha and Gretchen, who were both a little shocked and perplexed. Finally, Gretchen sighed (geez, would she ever stop that?) and climbed to her feet. She faced Orlando, leaving about a foot between them.

“Orlando, calm down,” she said. “It’s not that bad. We’re a typical large family with lots of women, so it’s bound to be a little odd at times. You will be the minority in some situations but just be yourself. You’re charming and funny and hot with your shirt off…” Suddenly she stopped, realizing what she had said.

Samantha cleared her throat again and suppressed a smile.

Instead of blushing, since he had been on the edge of reason, Orlando found himself strangely not able to believe his ears, but amused at the same time.

“What was that?” he asked, cocking an ear in her direction. “Could you repeat that?”

“Oh,” she said smiling tightly, “that was nothing, Orlando. Just trying to fluff you up a bit. Make you feel better. And I am not repeating it.”

Orlando nodded, his expression blank. “Oh. Right.”

Gretchen threw up her hands. “Alright, fine. I think you’re cute. Is that a crime? I mean, I’m a girl—as you found out this morning—and you’re a guy—as I also found out this morning—and it’s natural for a person of one sex to think that a person from the opposite sex is visually appealing.”

Orlando couldn’t help but smirk. “You like me, don’t you?”

Gretchen opened her mouth to say something, but closed it when she realized his intent. Samantha quietly slipped away from room to find Chris. He was going to be in trouble for deserting her.

“No,” Gretchen said simply. He just stared at her. “No, no, and a thousand times, no!” she exclaimed forcefully.

“I can’t believe your vehement denials,” Orlando said. “You’re lying.”

Seeing that she wasn’t going to get away without telling the truth, Gretchen shrugged as if it wasn’t a big deal. “So what I had a small crush on you about two weeks ago? It’s gone now. Now that I know the real you, I know I couldn’t manage to have any kind of relationship with you.”

Orlando frowned, looking comedically perplexed. “The real me?”

Gretchen couldn’t keep a straight face and began laughing.

“What’s so…?” Understanding, Orlando grabbed her and pressed his knuckles in her scalp. She yelped for Samantha and Chris, half-squeaking and half-giggling. They didn’t come. The only way Gretchen could save herself was to elbow Orlando in the gut. They both fell to the couch in a heap, laughing.

Gretchen elbowed him again and he moved a safe distance away. Samantha and Chris were still gone. She tilted her head and looked at him, her eyes noticing the slight worry in his eyes.

“It won’t be that bad, I promise,” she assured him. She patted his hand reassuringly. “All my sisters aren’t like Jess. Moira-Selene’s nice. And you might like Claud, she’s nice. And Sam’s little sister is fun.”

“Are they cute?” Orlando asked.

Gretchen elbowed him in the ribs and didn’t miss this time. “Don’t be silly,” she said. “I don’t want you to think it’s an opportunity for you to have some catch-up sex with one of my relatives. Because it’s not.”

Orlando almost choked at the notion. “Catch-up sex?”

“You know what I’m talking about.” Gretchen loosened her ponytails. “When a guy’s been dry in that certain area for a while and finds himself having sex with every available bachelorette within fifty miles. Catch-up sex.”

Orlando nodded in comprehension. “Oh yes, I see.” He stared at her sidelong, brown eyes warm. “Would you be offended if I slept with one of your sisters?”

“During Spring Break?” Gretchen clarified. “Yes, I would.”

It was his turn to pat her hand. “So I won’t.” He fingered her curling black hair. He thought it looked better out of those pigtails, but he didn’t tell her that.

Gretchen blinked. “Really?”

“Really,” Orlando promised.

In a rare and spontaneous show of gratitude, Gretchen gave Orlando a peck on the lips. “Thank you,” she said happily. “You’re such a good friend.” She jumped up and faced him. “And I promise, I won’t let Jessica kill you, no matter what you do.”

Orlando groaned at the thought of fear descending upon him again. “Gretchen…”

“Sorry!” she trilled, and flitted from the room. She left him alone with the lingering scent of lavender and a lime green ribbon on the arm of the couch. He toyed with the ribbon and hoped for the best for the next week. Whatever the best meant. Hopefully it meant him alive, happy, and with functioning reproductive organs.


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