Shades of Red
Gretchen’s first thought was: Whoa.
The guy named Orlando Bloom standing beside her buddy was a little taller than she, with a muscular, lanky frame that looked perfect in the jeans and T-shirt he wore. He had brown hair that looked freshly washed and cut and deep brown eyes that formed a new appreciation of the color she had thought as dull in her mind. In the split second after she had appraised him, she realized that they were waiting for her to say something. Oh shit.
“Um, hi,” Gretchen said weakly, waving a hand at him.
“Hullo,” Orlando greeted her back. Wow. His voice was…wow. A British accent, low-pitched and enough to…well… Wow. No more elaboration needed.
Samantha, being the perceptive angel she was, waved her hand and caught Orlando’s attention. She grinned at him, unruffled, unlike her younger cousin. Orlando didn’t notice that she had pink hair at the moment. “It’s nice to meet you, Orlando,” she told him. “Welcome to America, and I hope it hasn’t been too shocking for you.”
“It was quite amusing to behold the sight of our philosophy teacher talking about sex,” Orlando responded amusedly.
“Damn, where’s this class? I need to sign up,” Samantha joked. She tilted her head. “I’m sure you two learned stuff that you didn’t know. You know, like how to keep it going past five minutes and how to open a girl’s bra without snagging it on her shirt.”
Chris responded to that by twisting his knuckles in Samantha’s bright pink head. She elbowed him in the stomach and narrowly missed his genitals. He yelped about his very precious package.
“The world would be so much better without your offspring,” Samantha told him.
“Oh, you’re just jealous ‘cause you know I wouldn’t dare ask you to mother my children,” Chris retorted from a safe distance.
Samantha snorted. “Sure, and bear the Antichrist?”
Chris looked shocked, but comedically, so it was all in good humor. Orlando laughed. Samantha turned to him, grinning.
“It’s all tough love, Orlando,” she explained. “Though, I wouldn’t mind having one of your children.”
Chris pouted. “It’s just that new guy smell on him. In a few days, you’re gonna be running him out with a frying pan and yelling about the ERA.”
“Yeah, and into my bedroom with a deadbolt on the door.” She punched Orlando in the arm. “I’m joking, really.” She gestured to the couch, which was laden with a couple of half-filled boxes that she moved onto the floor. “Have a seat. We don’t bite.” She smirked. “At least on the first day.”
“Damn right,” Chris broke in. “You usually wait until the first night.” Samantha kicked him in the shin. “Bloody hell, Sam! Watch those bloody feet of yours.”
Samantha glided past him and walked toward the sliding glass doors. Orlando’s mouth dropped open once he caught sight of the back of her pink head. Chris noticed his expression and shook his head vigorously. Gretchen frowned, and just stared at Chris. When he noticed Gretchen gazing at him, he just grinned innocently and Orlando cleared his throat.
“So you two are cousins, right?” Orlando asked, trying to start a conversation.
“Uh…yeah,” Gretchen replied. “Sam’s the oldest in her family. I’m the youngest in mine.”
“Yes, our young Gretchen has four sisters,” Chris told Orlando, whose eyebrows lifted. “And three of them look just like her.”
“Are you messing around with my head?” Orlando asked in disbelief.
Samantha turned and shook her head. “Nope. The mother of our bisabuela was a quadruplet. And our bisabuelo was a twin. So it’s in the genes, sadly.”
“Bisabuela?” Orlando asked. “Bisabuelo? I’m a little rusty on my Spanish.”
“Great-grandmother and great-grandfather,” Samantha explained. “Our mothers were born in Spain. Castilla-Leon, to be exact. They migrated here to America when they were teens. But they taught us all about their homeland, including the language. It certainly came in handy when we visited Castilla-Leon last summer.” She nudged her cousin. “We had a blast, didn’t we?”
Comfortable when she wasn’t looking at Orlando, Gretchen nodded. “One of these days we should go back.”
“Orlando here would just love a serenade,” Chris remarked abruptly.
Samantha seemed mildly shocked. Gretchen was mortified. Gulp. Well, here we go. “Um, sure!” Gretchen exclaimed. “We’d love to do a song for you.” She whirled to Samantha, who was staring at her meaningfully. “Um, which one do you think we should…?”
“The new one,” Chris suggested. “The one about those girls…” Samantha and Gretchen looked at him, a bit shocked. “I know you two were playing around, but I overheard…”
Samantha grinned. “Well, I guess that’s his way of telling us that we’re geniuses.”
Chris shook his head. “Nah.” Samantha threw her head scarf at him. “Geez, I’m just messing around. But I’m sure two women with guitars would turn Orlando on.”
Orlando chuckled. “Chris, my friend, the sight would be orgasmic.”
Samantha shared a glance with Gretchen. “Hm. We’ll see after we serenade you how good you feel.”
* * *
That night, the group started the task of moving Chris out and moving Gretchen into his old room.
While Chris and Orlando labored over leasing forms and applications, Gretchen and Samantha packed and deliberated over the items that would stay in Samantha’s room or go with Gretchen. Orlando listened as they agreed and disagreed. They sounded like sisters, and in the ways that counted, they were, from what he saw of them.
Orlando completed his form first. He placed it aside after flicking a glance at Chris, who was in the midst of frowning over his, and sauntered into Gretchen and Samantha’s room, where Gretchen was holding a stuffed black cat in a lime-green tutu and arguing about the bureau.
“But I have more clothes,” Gretchen was insisting.
Samantha crossed her arms. “That just makes you more of a fashion slave than me. We’ll get you a bureau later. This one’s mine, not to mention it’ll cut down on the moving we’ll have to do tonight.”
Gretchen pouted and began to protest when she spotted Orlando in the doorway. Her cheeks reddened. She seemed embarrassed that she was holding her stuffed animal in his presence. Samantha spoke first again, saving her cousin from imminent embarrassment.
“Done already?” Samantha asked.
“You’ve filled out one form, you’ve filled them all,” Orlando replied. He gestured to the drawer. “Has the disagreement been settled or do I have to play referee?”
“Oh absolutely not,” Samantha said with a warning glance at Gretchen. Gretchen blew a heavy breath through her lips and muttered about getting a box. When Gretchen was out of earshot, Samantha shook her head and turned to Orlando.
“Do you mind packing up Gretchen’s clothes?” she asked. “I want to help Gretchen with Chris’s room.” She glanced at her watch. “Well, first, I think we better get dinner…” She shrugged. “We’ll order in. Have any preferences?”
“As long as it’s hot, fully cooked and doesn’t move on its own, I’ll be happy to eat it.”
Samantha laughed heartily. “A man after my own stomach.” She patted him on the shoulder—a little harder than he would have expected from a girl, but he played it off. “Gretch is coming with a box. I’ll be ordering dinner if you need me.”
At that moment, Gretchen appeared, and Samantha tugged at her ear. With a yelp, Gretchen dropped the box and ran after Samantha. A loud squeal came from the living room, then a thud. Chris made a loud protest, and then Orlando heard Samantha laughing. Chris yelled something unintelligible and turned on music. He came bounding into the room moments later.
“Having fun, mate?” Chris inquired.
“As much as you can have packing a girl’s clothes,” Orlando answered. Chris raised an eyebrow. “Oh come on. I barely know the girl to start lusting after her.”
“Yeah, I see what you mean. Honestly, I have to say”—and he leaned in close to say this so the girls wouldn’t hear—“Samantha turned me on the first time I met her. But now I can’t see her as more than a sister to me. Gretchen, too. Maybe it’ll turn out like that for you.”
Orlando considered it. Samantha was beautiful, but she was of the ilk that usually scared a guy like him. Gretchen, with her fragile teenage beauty, wasn’t as dynamic as Samantha, but she was probably more his type. But, he admitted to himself, he wasn’t looking for a girlfriend, and at the moment, Gretchen and Samantha would be perfect best girl buddies for him.
“You’re right.” Orlando folded down the flaps on the box so he could put things inside.
“But I know, mate,” Chris said with a gleam in his eye, “that eventually you’ll need to play the field. Meet some other players.” A smirk upturned the corners of his mouth. “And I know a lot of them.”
“Oh do you? Well, I suppose you could share the wealth with us bereft ones.”
“Consider it shared.” Chris punched him in the shoulder. “I’ll pop my head in a little while. I gotta put on some tunes. Have fun, mate.”
Chris and Orlando exchanged goodbyes and Chris left the room. Orlando opened one of Gretchen’s drawers and breathed a sigh of relief. T-shirts.
“You doing alright?” Gretchen asked as she breezed by holding a pillow and Aisuru.
“Oh sure,” Orlando assured her as he lifted the first stack and placed them into the box. “I’m doing wonderfully.”
“Great. Just tell me if you need any more boxes.”
Orlando assured her that he would and reached into the drawer again. See, this wasn’t so bad. They were just shirts, and he could live with packing a shirt or two. He wore shirts like these. Well, not as small, but they were shirts nonetheless. They had collars and sleeves and sometimes words on them. Nothing indecent.
Assured that the rest of this task was going to be easy, Orlando finished with Gretchen’s tees and opened another drawer.
Jeans. There was a god. Or Fate was being merciful.
Yes, jeans. He wore these too. Stonewashed, boot-cut, straight leg. Some had holes that had him cocking an eyebrow. He was not here to judge the style of Gretchen’s jeans, so he placed the stacks in the space not occupied by the tees.
Samantha came in then, still wearing the black bandanna. She held a page of coupons for pizza. She asked him what he wanted, then left him alone. Someone had turned on some music in the living room. Chris was heard singing about a woman’s choice in lovers. The Isley Brothers, no doubt.
After the jeans, the box was completely occupied. Gretchen breezed in and offered him another box. He thanked her and she marched off with her clothes.
“See,” he told himself. “Not bad at all.”
Then he opened the top drawer. And his face went red.
It was the underwear drawer.
Oh the horror! Alarm bells and sirens seemed to fill his head. His vision tunneled, and all he could see was lace and cotton underpants dancing around in his head. Thongs singing the “Thong Song.”
“Calm down, mate,” he muttered aloud, squeezing his eyes closed. The musical panties vanished. “It’s just her underwear.”
Most guys would be elated at the chance to paw through a girl’s undergarments (and with her permission, no doubt!), but Orlando… Well, he had just met her! He wouldn’t be able to look Gretchen in the eye again if all he could see was that innocent, guileless girl with the stuffed cat in a tutu, prancing around in them. Half-naked—
“Dammit, Bloom,” he muttered to himself, frustrated in more ways than one. “Just do it. It’s not going to hurt anyone if you do.”
So he inhaled as if he were going underwater for sixty seconds and reached in. As if he had dipped his hand into a drawer of hot potatoes, Orlando treated Gretchen’s underwear gingerly and put them into the box. Well, dropped would be a more apt term.
He reached for another handful and uncovered something pink…and made of rubber…
“Oh bloody mother of God!” he blurted in awe, shock, and terror.
Samantha and Chris came running, Samantha with the cordless phone and Chris with the Mission to Please CD. They saw Orlando gaping at Gretchen’s open drawer as if he had discovered a dead cat inside.
“What the hell is the matter, mate?” Chris asked.
“Are you alright?” Samantha wanted to know.
“I-in there,” Orlando managed. “In the drawer. It’s there in the drawer…”
Samantha and Chris rushed over to look, eyes wide. A moment later, stupefaction spread across Samantha’s face as she reached in…and pulled out a pink rubber vibrator.
“Uh…” was all Samantha could utter as her eyes met Chris’s.
“Is that yours?” Chris asked Samantha.
Outraged, Samantha threw it at him and it hit him in the chest. When Gretchen walked into the room, Chris was playing with the dial on the bottom and watched it pulsate with Samantha telling him to stop. Gretchen stopped dead, mouth open.
She rushed into the room, and took the toy from Chris, who was over his embarrassment and saw the whole ordeal as funny. Orlando and Gretchen, on the other hand, had yet to get past the embarrassment stage.
She tossed it into the box and turned to Orlando, cheeks flaming. “I am so sorry, Orlando,” she said hurriedly. “I didn’t think that was still in there. I didn’t mean to embarrass you. I am so sorry.”
“It’s quite alright,” Orlando tried to assure her, though, he was most obviously lying. “I’ve seen worse honestly.”
Chris came up and placed a hand on both Gretchen and Orlando’s shoulders. “Perhaps Sam and I should leave you two alone and allow you to get to know that darling contraption.”
Gretchen flushed again, and punched Chris in the stomach. She stalked off, cheeks still enflamed. At that moment, the pizza guy came and they heard Gretchen answer the door.
Samantha and Orlando shared a glance, but Orlando made it out of the room first.
They got to the door just in time to hear the pizza guy say to a mortified Gretchen, who was still holding the box with the contents visible to him, “Nice panties.”
Orlando snatched the pizza box and stuffed some bills into the guy’s hand. “That’ll be all, mate. Now get out of here before she renders you unable to have children.”
The guy rushed off, money in hand. Orlando shut the door as Gretchen gaped at him.
“Wow,” she said, stars practically in her eyes. “Thanks, Orlando.” She dropped the box and hugged him. “That was so noble of you…”
“See?” Chris remarked. “Soon, they’ll be having kinky fun together with pink rubber.”
“Chris,” Samantha warned, as Orlando and Gretchen, now about two feet apart, blushed again, “put a sock in it.”
* * *
Later on, when he and Orlando were in the darkened living room on the pull-out at opposite ends of the bed, Chris remarked from the head of the bed, “By the way, I just want to let you know, mate, that vibe was actually mine.”
Half-sleep, Orlando sat up to look at him from the foot of the bed. “I hope you’re pulling my bloody leg, ‘cause if you aren’t—”
Chris’s raucous laughter affirmed that indeed he was being jocular. Orlando, slightly embarrassed, threw his pillow at him, which made him laugh harder. Seeing the humor, Orlando couldn’t help but chuckle, too.
A moment later, a door opened down the hall. “If you two jerks don’t go to sleep right this minute, I’m going to kick you both in the balls so hard you’re going to vomit your testicles!” Obviously Samantha.
Orlando and Chris glanced at each other. That was their cue to go to sleep, and sure enough, they made the greatest effort of their lives.