Chapter Ten

Chapter Ten
Loving You For Always? (Aw Hell, We Might Need That Drink After All…)

A few moments, later, Irene came over with a strawberry-blond-haired guy. The way she lovingly leaned on him indicated that this was her fiancé.

The Thomas siblings present at that end of the table perked up a little as their mother came over. They looked warmly at the guy with whom their mother was enamored. After Irene introduced Orlando (and had to throw in the fact that he might speak at the wedding—if he decided, she added hastily), David teased Gretchen and asked Danie how her “project” was going—whatever that meant. Danie smiled emphatically and replied that it was going fine.

“Well, how about you kids go out tonight,” David suggested suddenly. “You’re only young once.” He shared a glance with Irene. “Irene and I would like a night alone.”

“It’s not like we were all going to hop in the bed and bother you,” Samantha remarked wryly.

David laughed heartily. He seemed to have a good sense of humor. His easy smile and blue eyes reminded Orlando of Robert Redford. “I know. But you’re going to want some time away with all the old-people craziness going on.”

Eric frowned. “The wedding’s this weekend, then?”

“Sure is,” Irene confirmed. “Tomorrow you’re going to get fitted for your tuxes while the girls are going to be with me getting fitted for their dresses.”

Gretchen and Samantha grumbled.

Jennifer grinned. “It won’t be so bad,” she promised.

Gretchen and Samantha gave her blank stares.

Jennifer pouted. “You guys are no fun.”

“At least not in a dress,” Samantha shot back.

“Well, you can’t wear pants to Aunt Irene’s wedding,” Jennifer said.

Samantha crossed her arms over her chest in a gesture of challenge. “Who says I can’t?”

“I do,” Irene broke in, hoping to stop the argument before it began. “Now you girls plan on having full days next week. We have a lot to do before the wedding…” Suddenly, she trailed off and her mouth went slack. Her eyes had spied something above their heads, and they were rapidly welling up with tears.

“Irene…?” David began.

“Moira-Selene,” Irene said simply, voice filled with love, pride, and awe.

Feeling a presence nearby, the people at that end of the table turned or stood to see what Irene was seeing.

Jessica was standing there in jeans and a ribbed tank top in a blue-green hue. She turned, too, to stare at the young woman behind her.

Her long raven hair fell down past her shoulders and framed her slightly pale face with its almost too-large green eyes. The jeans and T-shirt she wore seemed a bit too big on her slim frame but the optimism in her eyes made that almost unnoticeable.

“May I sit at the table?” Moira-Selene asked in a slightly scratchy, uncertain tone.

“Girl, you know you’re welcome here,” Melanie told her. She gestured to the spot that Nicole and Orlando was making between them. She came over and hugged her mother before sitting down. She smiled at Orlando, eyes filled with silent gratitude. He smiled back.

Nicole was misty-eyed. “That was beautiful, man,” she remarked. After a short sigh, she looked at Gretchen’s plate, then up into her face. “You gonna eat that chicken leg?”

* * *

It had been Claudia-Michelle’s idea to take Moira-Selene to the Party Palace for karaoke night. Now freed from her house arrest, Moira-Selene was urged to go out with the gang. Orlando came in while Moira-Selene was sitting on Jennifer’s bed getting her hair done. She was still wearing the outfit she had worn to the park earlier that day. She smiled when she saw him.

“You look smashing, love,” Orlando told her.

Her green eyes twinkled with mirth. He was glad to see her happy, remembering the day before when she looked so pale and solemn. “Thank you. It’s nice to finally be able to indulge in the presence of the people I care about again.” She patted the bed next to her. “Come sit down. I’m sure Jen won’t touch your hair.”

Jennifer smirked. “Oh, not tonight, anyway. Maybe for the wedding.”

Orlando sat down. “No, thanks, love. I don’t think I’ll look too good with a purple bow in my hair.”

Moira-Selene laughed. He was glad to hear her laugh, too. Suddenly her eyebrows furrowed in concern. “Is everything going better for you?” she asked. “I mean, I know it’s been a trial trying to settle in with our family, but…”

“I feel better now, thanks for asking,” Orlando replied. “I think seeing you helped.” When Moira-Selene gave him a dubious stare, he added, “Honestly, love! I mean, it was good to know I wasn’t the only one suffering here.”

“I’m glad I could offer you some assistance.” She tilted her head. “So you liked Claudia and Eric?”

Hearing Claudia-Michelle’s name produced a flash of indecent thought. Could Moira-Selene read minds? He hoped not. “Um, yes, I did. They are very nice.”

For a second, he was sure that the answer to his silent question was yes. Her eyes were omniscient, like an all-seeing goddess. “Indeed,” she remarked.

They looked at each other for a seemingly too long moment before Moira-Selene spoke again. “So what do you think of David?”

“I think he’s a nice bloke,” Orlando replied. “He’ll make your mother happy, not because he’s supposed to but because he wants to.”

“He’s really handsome,” Jennifer put in. “Mama told me he was absolutely hot when he was younger. Not that it doesn’t show now.”

“He’s really good with Mom,” Moira-Selene remarked. “He…” She idly touched the place where her scar began on her sternum. “He was really helpful when I was in the hospital and she was freaking out.”

“Well, we’re not going to think about all that tonight, Mo,” Jennifer chirped. “It’s your night out and we’re going to be happy and giddy.” She nudged Moira-Selene knowingly. “And maybe we’ll get you out on a date with some cute, mysterious guy…”

“Only if Orlando can find a date, too,” Moira-Selene countered.

“Oh, do I sense a wager of some kind?” Orlando asked.

“No, I was jesting. Besides, I don’t like pressure when it deals with the opposite sex. Not that I’ve had many dealings with them.”

Jennifer frowned. “What about Brian Williams?”

A heavy look darkened Moira-Selene’s eyes. “Brian and I are history, Jen. I let him go. He was being too clingy. I suppose he thought I was going to die and wanted to hang on to me. I didn’t want that.”

“He’s called here,” Jennifer told her. “Many times. He wants to talk to you.”

“I hardly want to talk to him,” Moira-Selene murmured. Wanting to lighten the mood, she looked to Orlando. “I have better company in mind.”

Orlando blinked. “Um…” he uttered.

Moira-Selene laughed again. “Relax, Orlando. I don’t want you to be my boyfriend. I just like having you around better than I did Brian.” Her grin became a touch mischievous. “Not to mention, I like your accent.”

“So do I, love,” he joked. “It’s a wonderful way to charm the ladies.”

“Quite a power,” Moira-Selene commented. She leveled her serene eyes upon him again in another meaningful gaze. “Be careful with it.”

Orlando tried not to gape. Bloody hell. She did know. And nothing had even happened yet…

* * *

Author’s note: This is the one of the times I wish I was a movie director. This scene is better seen than told, as you can see. Nicole and Orlando are so opposite that their duet is hilarious. But then they adapt to each other and it turns out to be sweet. Sort of.

The song is “Always,” originally performed by Atlantic Starr. I almost picked “Make it Last Forever” performed by Keith Sweat for this scene but I settled on “Always.”

You know, Nicole and Orlando singing “Make it Last Forever” would be great for a closing credit sequence. *snickers*

The table they had at the Party Palace was a big one. Melanie, Miranda, Danie, Megami, Jennifer, Samantha, Gretchen, Moira-Selene, Claudia-Michelle, Nicole, Chris, and Orlando took up the middle of the room, but no one seemed to mind.

They ordered their drinks and maintained a fairly good conversation for twelve people. After a young woman got up there and butchered “I Wanna Dance with Someone Who Loves Me,” Melanie turned to her friends with a determined gleam in her eyes.

“Somebody’s gotta get up there,” she said. “We can’t have performances like that peeling the wallpaper.”

“Mel!” Jennifer cried. “Be nice. Besides, we’re not professionals. We’re not supposed to be. It’s supposed to be fun.”

Meanwhile, Danie shrugged. “I wouldn’t mind going up there.”

“Alright,” Melanie began. “We’re gonna make this easy. Think of a number between one and twenty. Whoever gets close has to go on stage.”

Everyone sighed. Chris protested, “Why don’t you get to pick a bloody number?”

Melanie glared at him. “Because I can. Now think of a number. That is if you can count higher than ten.”

Chris just glared back and said nothing. After a pause, Melanie spoke again. Everyone gave their numbers in a flash, and it was a wonder that Melanie kept up with them.

After a moment, it dawned on everyone that something strange had happened.

“Um,” Melanie said hesitantly, “Orlando, what was your number again?”

“Nineteen,” Orlando responded, frowning. “What’s the matter, Mel?”

Melanie bit her lip, looking hesitant for the first time since Orlando had met her. “I think you and Nicole got the same number.”

Dead silence.

“Are you messing around?” Orlando demanded.

“No, she’s right,” Jennifer piped up. “Nicole picked nineteen, too.”

Horrified, Orlando turned to look at Nicole. She bared her teeth at him. Dread pooled in his stomach. This could only turn out one way—badly.

Nicole slapped him on the back and jostled the table. “Come on, man,” she said. “I ain’t getting any younger.”

Orlando groaned and pushed his seat back. He walked to the stage with Nicole and was rewarded with some applause from the audience, but he only gave them a grimace that was trying to pose as a smile.

The disc jockey grinned evilly and put a CD in as Nicole and Orlando picked up the microphones.

The music began.

“Oh bloody hell,” Chris muttered.

Nicole, however, was overjoyed at the choice of music. She looked like someone who had just won the Miss America pageant.

“See what you’ve done?” hissed Miranda to Melanie.

Melanie said nothing and watched apprehensively.

Orlando sang the first part like someone who had been encased in ice before the performance. He read straight from the teleprompter and sang in a hesitant, off-key voice. He stared at Nicole anxiously.

Girl you are to me
All that a woman should be
And I dedicate my life to you always

Nicole reached over and grabbed him dramatically and sang her part with vigor. Orlando looked horrified, like he wanted to run. Melanie put her head in her hands while Miranda shook her head in disbelief.

A love like yours is rare
It must have been sent from up above
And I know you’ll stay this way for always

Orlando disentangled himself as they launched the bridge and Nicole gave him a look that implied that he needed to get into the program. Her program, it seemed.

And we both know, that our love will grow
And forever it will be you and me
Hey…

Orlando relaxed a bit and started to get into the song. He swayed to the music along with Nicole, making a smile creep up on her face. It was then that they started to sound in tune.

Ooh you’re like the sun
Chasing all of the rain away
When you come around you bring brighter days
You’re the perfect one
For me and you forever will be

Suddenly they leaned on each other, looking lovingly at the audience and then at each other. Everyone was relieved.

And I will love you so for always

Orlando started the next verse by taking Nicole’s hand and wiggling his eyebrows suggestively.

Come with me my sweet
Let’s go make a family

Nicole shook her head as if to say, “Hell no” as the audience laughed. But he soothed her with a charming palm buss that made her blink coquettishly and blush.

And they will bring us joy for always

When it was Nicole’s turn, she brushed his cheek with the back of her hand…

Oh boy I love you so
I can’t find enough ways to let you know

..and then pinched him in the butt, causing him to jump, startled, and blush. The audience laughed harder.

But you can be sure our love’s for always

Orlando grabbed Nicole tightly and swayed again to the music, pinning her arms down so that she wouldn’t pull another stunt like that while they were on stage together.

And we both know, that our love will grow

Nicole disentangled herself and raised her eyebrows at him. He wrapped an arm around her shoulders and she let her exasperation fade away.

And forever it will be you and me
Hey…

But now in accord, Nicole and Orlando stepped to the music like two performers of the Motown era, inspiring more cheers and clapping.

Ooh you’re like the sun
Chasing all of the rain away
When you come around you bring brighter days
You’re the perfect one
For me and you forever will be

They leaned on each other, looking lovingly at the audience and then at each other again.

And I will love you so for always

As the song ended, the audience got to their feet, clapping and cheering wildly. Orlando and Nicole got off the stage, and when they went back to their table, he brushed by Claudia-Michelle. For a short moment in time, they were alone, just the two of them. The look in her eyes indicated that she would like to make being alone with him a reality.

He got hugs from Gretchen and even Moira-Selene. Samantha gave him a slap on the back for good measure. It was almost like he had come home from war or something. But as he looked at Nicole, who was laughing and joking with Danie and Miranda, he realized he had won some kind of battle in some sense.

“So who’s next?” Melanie asked. “Anyone want to go?”

Moira-Selene raised her hand shyly. “I’ll go.”

Everyone went silent.

“You?” Danie said in disbelief.

“Oh, let her go,” Chris broke in. “It’s her first night out in a while. She can ruin any song she wants.”

Moira-Selene gave him a look, but he just smiled innocently and let her pass so she could go on stage. At that same time, a young man with blond hair and anxious blue eyes entered the Party Palace without anyone’s notice.

“What song are you going to do, Mo?” Gretchen wanted to know.

Moira-Selene shrugged. “I’ll think of something.”

She walked away and everyone looked at each other in silent wonder. Moira-Selene whispered something to the disc jockey and he nodded. Moira-Selene got behind the mike on the mike stand now as a new song started. Chris shared a look with Melanie, who looked pleasantly shocked.

“Melissa Etheridge,” Melanie remarked. “Looks like our girl’s got an edge to her.”

“The Isley Brothers would be better,” Chris joked, earning a smile from Melanie.

The mysterious blond guy watched in wide-eyed fascination as Moira-Selene started to sing in a scratchy voice.

Come to my window
Crawl inside
Wait by the light of the moon
Come to my window
I’ll be home soon

I would dial the numbers just to listen to your breath
And I would stand inside my hell and hold the hand of death
You don’t know how far I’d go to ease this precious ache
And you don’t how much I could give or how much I could take
Just to reach you, just to reach you
Oh, to reach you, whoa

As their shock gave way to admiration, Moira-Selene slowly began to loosen up. Her eyes drifted until they fell upon Orlando, who was smiling at her encouragingly. Noticing the look that passed between the two, Chris nudged Samantha and she rolled her eyes.

“No freaking way,” Samantha muttered to Chris. “Don’t even think it.”

Keeping my eyes open, I cannot fall to sleep
Giving old promises I know that I can’t keep
Nothing fills the blackness that has seeped into my chest
I need you in my blood, I am forsaking all the rest
Just to reach you, just to reach you
Oh, to reach you, whoa

Everyone started clapping to the beat, but Moira-Selene, being Moira-Selene, remained on stage behind the microphone stand. The blond guy came closer but still was out of her line of sight.

I don’t care what they think
I don’t care what they say
What do they know about this love anyway?

Gretchen, however, spotted him, and gave Samantha a hard kick underneath the table. Samantha swore and turned to Gretchen angrily, ready to give her a harsh harangue. Gretchen hastily pointed in the direction of the mysterious guy. Samantha looked, and after a moment, her cornflower blue eyes flashed with irritation.

“Well, shit,” she grumbled. She then nudged her sister on the other side of her. “Jen. Look who’s here.”

Jennifer tore her attention away from her cousin singing and gazed in the direction of the blond guy.

She sighed wearily. “Brian Williams,” she said softly.

Come to my window, ah oh
Crawl inside
Wait by the light of the moon
Come to my window
I’ll be home soon
I’ll be home, I’ll be home, I’ll be home
I’m coming home

Her voice reached everyone else’s ears. Danie and Miranda shared a knowing look, while Nicole even had the grace to wince. A protective glint flashed in Chris’s eye, and Orlando remembered Moira-Selene’s words from earlier that night in Jennifer’s bedroom.

“Brian and I are history, Jen. I let him go. He was being too clingy. I suppose he thought I was going to die and wanted to hang on to me. I didn’t want that.”

The song ended, and the audience clapped. Moira-Selene’s table clapped distractedly, eyes on Brian Williams. Orlando and Chris shared a look, sentences communicated in one glance. Chris, sensing that a brawl could be eminent, rose from his seat and walked toward Brian. Orlando tried to intercept Moira-Selene as she stepped off of the stage. Claudia-Michelle, Megami, Melanie, Nicole, and Jennifer followed him. Samantha and Gretchen remained on Chris’s heels, while Danie and Miranda just sat and watched. Hey, it could be interesting.

Moira-Selene smiled shyly again as Orlando swept her up in a hug. The move blocked Brian from her view and also served to reassure her that she had done well on singing in front of a crowd on her first night out since her surgery. Jennifer, Megami, and Melanie crowded in to congratulate her while Nicole kept an eye on things.

Meanwhile, Chris stopped in front of Brian. “Long time no see, mate,” he greeted him. “Quite a coincidence that you’re here tonight. I suppose that has nothing to do with Mo, right?”

“It’s a free country,” Brian snapped. “I can be here if I like.”

“All well and good, then. But you stay away from Moira. She doesn’t want to see you.”

Brian’s jaw clenched but he said nothing. Megami and Melanie were heading back to the table. Jennifer was on Moira-Selene’s right with Claudia-Michelle on Jennifer’s right, making sure Moira-Selene didn’t see Brian. Moira-Selene was saying something to Orlando, face tilted up. Jennifer and Claudia-Michelle held their breaths when Moira-Selene kissed Orlando on the cheek.

“This is about to get real ugly,” Nicole muttered.

Seeing this over Chris’s shoulder, Brian shoved past Chris and stalked toward Orlando. Chris tried to grab him but he was too fast.

“You get your hands off of her!” Brian yelled at Orlando, earning stares from everyone in the room. Moira-Selene’s green eyes went wide with shock, then shockingly flat.

Orlando, meanwhile, could not fight the irritation that was slowly becoming anger inside of him. “What the bloody hell do you want?”

Brian stepped forward, almost on Claudia-Michelle’s foot. “You need to stay away from her.”

“I do not think you are in any position to tell me whom I can or cannot be with,” Moira-Selene said to Brian. “Please leave.”

As Brian stared at Moira-Selene with startled eyes, Orlando said to Jennifer and Claudia-Michelle, “Please take Moira to the table.”

Moira-Selene had no time to protest, but before she disappeared with Jennifer and Claudia-Michelle, she lightly touched Orlando, eyes filled with gratitude and a little bit of fear. Brian’s blue eyes flashed with anger. Samantha and Gretchen noticed the nasty look he gave Orlando and stepped beside of their new friend, arms crossed over their chests. All conversations in the room quieted dramatically.

“Something else you want to say, Brian?” Samantha asked in a voice that was a barely veiled threat. “I’m sure my fist would love to hear it.”

“This is between me and that English lothario,” Brian snapped. “Get out of my way.”

“I don’t think so,” Gretchen countered in a voice that even had Chris’s knees trembling. “If you mess with him, you mess with all of us.” When Brian said nothing, she dropped her arms to her sides. “Now I suggest you go home. And you’d better act like an adult at the softball game tomorrow.”

As Brian slunk away with fury in his eyes, giving Orlando a warning look as he passed by, Orlando himself frowned. A long moment passed as the noise level rose again as everyone diverted their attention away from them. Everyone sat down, but Megami declared she wanted to go on stage. As Megami went on stage with Melanie, Jennifer, and Claudia-Michelle, he looked to Gretchen.

“Softball game?” Orlando wanted to know.

Gretchen winced. She had forgotten to tell him about that, and Samantha had, too. “Um…about that…”

“It’s a rather long story, mate,” Chris said. “Perhaps I’d better explain…”

Orlando exhaled, feeling tired. “Do I need a diagram for this one?”

Gretchen rolled her eyes and didn’t say anything. Samantha shared a look with Chris as Danie and Miranda whispered to each other and drank. Onstage, the quartet sang a slow number with Melanie leading. He locked eyes with Claudia-Michelle, who was standing at the far end beside Jennifer. Her eyes lingered too long, making that itchy feeling come back. He exhaled, feeling a little over-warm.

I like the way we carry on
His love will send me on and on
With my man
People out there can understand

I’m giving something he can feel
Ooh, to let him know this love is real
Giving him something he can feel
(All my loving)
To let him know this love is real
(Oh, my love is real)
This love is real

Orlando swallowed hard and looked away. Things were suddenly getting harder and harder…

backhomenext

“Always” performed by Atlantic Starr. Written by David Lewis, Jonathan Lewis, and Wayne Lewis.
“Come to My Window” performed and written by Melissa Etheridge.
“Giving Him Something He Can Feel” performed by En Vogue. Written by Curtis Mayfield.

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