Chapter 1: Discovery
Sabina's face genuinely lit up when her vibrating phone alerted her to Alex's card activating the elevator up to the club. She hadn't had a chance to call Alex and Patrice and tell them that she was back in town yet, and their presence at the club, something that she knew had become more rare over the years, was a pleasant surprise. Nathalie was still in London on business, leaving Sabina's sleep restless. But there was always the possibility that she could persuade her old mistresses to revisit the past and if that happened, she knew that she would sleep soundly that night. She headed toward the elevators, planning to greet them when they arrived, but when the doors opened, they didn't open on Alex or Patrice. Sabina blinked once before she licked her lips. "Theo." It took all of her composure not to laugh outright at the expression on Theo's face.
"Aunt Sabina..." Theo's voice cracked as he said her name. Of all of the things that he had expected to find in a sex club, his parents friends, the woman who was practically his godmother, was not one of them. "Um... How's Aunt Nathalie?" It was the only thing that he could think of to say and Sabina seemed suspiciously on the verge of mocking him. "You know what, this was a mistake. I should just go home or something... someplace that isn't here, yeah, that, right." He tried to back himself into the elevator, but the doors were already closed.
"Theo," Sabina shook her head, a smile still tugging at her lips. "It's okay." She wrapped a hand around his bicep and guided him down the hallway to the main room. "I'm not one of your parents, and if you're curious enough to sneak in here, I'm not going to send you away. Even if you don't quite meet the dress code," she joked, trying to put Theo more at ease. She accepted that his weak smile was probably all that she was going to get for the moment. When they walked into the main room, she carefully watched Theo's expression, making sure that he wasn't scared or disturbed by what he saw.
"Um... thanks." Theo looked at Sabina skeptically as she guided him to a couch and motioned for a drink, which turned out to be sparkling water. Still, it was something that he could distract himself with, rather than staring too openly or otherwise embarrassing himself.
"You're welcome. Now, are you interested in men or women? I don't like to assume." She was already thinking of whom she might summon that would both appeal to Theo and make sure that he wouldn't do anything stupid, though her concern was more the latter than the former.
Theo blushed bright red as he struggled to answer. "Um, women. Definitely women." His eye flicked to the girl that had brought him his drink. "And, uh," Theo squirmed uncomfortably, "maybe someone not so... submissive?" He hoped that he wasn't pushing things too far, that he was using the right words, that Sabina didn't think he was a complete idiot, though he was still pretty sure that she was just humoring him.
Well, that was certainly going to make it easier for her to keep him from getting into trouble. "Of course." Sabina motioned to Eric, Brynn's successor, and whispered a carefully worded request. He was quick to nod and disappear. Sabina smiled down at Theo. "Cameron should be here soon. Do what she tells you to do and you'll be fine." Sabina ruffled his hair and stepped away, first to quickly exchange words with Cameron about using kid gloves with Theo, and then to call Alex.
Chapter 2: Interlude
As with Orobouros, italics indicate flashbacks.
Theo turned the card over in his fingers, looking at it from every possible angle. It was heavy and had little more than an address on it, yet somehow he still knew what it was for. There wasn't a barcode or a magnetic strip or anything obvious on it, but it would be easy enough to embed an rf chip or directly manipulate the magnetism of the metal. It probably worked in some way that he couldn't even fathom. And really, there was only one person that he could talk to about his growing curiosity. He picked up his cell phone and quickly dialed Eli's phone number, trying to quell the nervousness in his stomach as he waited for her to answer.
"Haven't I told you never to call me here?" Eli answered, unable to contain her laughter at the end of the sentence. She relaxed back into her chair and looked at the people milling about the piazza in front of her. Italy for half of a summer... She couldn't believe Theo had skipped it for a mid summer internship at a bank. "What's up, kid?"
Theo took a deep breath. "I'm not calling at a bad time or anything, am I?" He tried to laugh along with Eli, but it even sounded hollow to him.
"Are you kidding? There isn't any such thing here. You're missing out." Eli sipped her sparkling water and pushed her sunglasses down from her head. Something was up; she could tell by the sound of his voice. And she wasn't going to give him any openings to avoid talking about it. "So...what's going on?"
"I... uh..." Theo rubbed the back of his head nervously. "So, I was getting some cash out of Alex's wallet and this card fell out. Kinda like a credit card, but heavier, and it just has an address on it..." They had never really talking about some of the things they suspected that their parents might be interested in, but he knew that she had noticed it too. "I was thinking of trying to use it." He didn't really want to talk about why he wanted to use it, but he wanted some kind of reassurance that it wasn't an utterly stupid idea.
Eli's eyes went wide and she sat up straighter. She didn't know if Theo really knew anything. She hadn't told him about the toys or the collars, and she really hadn't told him about the invitation she had found to the club. She preferred not to really think about the club at all. "It's probably nothing..."
"Eli," Theo pursed his lips and crossed his arms, looking so much like a masculine version of Alex that it usually made Eli crack up. Of course, it didn't work so well over the phone. "I'm not a little kid. You don't need to protect me. We both know that it isn't nothing. Alex wouldn't carry around a metal card with an address on it if it were nothing."
"It's probably just...nothing that you want to be involved in, okay?" They had an incredibly open household. Eli had never been uncomfortable discussing sex, especially with Patrice when it came to little secrets. Her one hangup was her brother.
Theo sighed. "Just... do you think that either of them are going to kill me if they find out?" That was what he really wanted to know.
"Probably...I don't know..." In all likelihood, Alex would not be pleased when she found that the card was missing. Eli hadn't known there were cards, but she assumed that Patrice had one. And if Patrice had one, she was likely to be calmer about Theo stealing it. "Theo...it's a sex club. You know it's a sex club, right?"
"Yeah, Eli, I know it's a sex club. I just... I don't know. I can't get it out of my head. So maybe if I just go and see it, I'll be able to stop thinking about it." Or something like that.
She let out a long sigh and closed her eyes. "Just...don't do anything stupid, and please God don't give me details, okay?" When Eli opened her eyes she tried to refocus her thoughts. "And when Alex finds out...try not to talk to her until Patrice is around."
"I won't, and thank you." He wasn't exactly sure why Patrice being there would help, and he didn't like Elis pessimism concerning his chances of getting caught, but he knew that Eli meant well. "I'll never bring it up again."
"Great...thanks. I'm going to go. And when Alex and Patrice get this phone bill, I'm going to try not to ask them if it compares to their sex club dues."
"Try not to have too much fun with the hot Italian girls." Theo chuckled as he hung up. There was no way that Alex and Patrice would find out. It just... wasn't going to happen.
Chapter 3: Experimentation
Theo tried to keep his eyes on Sabina, but she disappeared around a corner far too quickly for that to be a practical long-term plan, and then he was at a loss. It didn't seem like anyone would mind if he watched. That was, in his mind, at least half of the point of coming to a sex club. If you didn't want people to see, you might as well stay home. But there was simply so much going on and as it added to his nerves, he quickly became overwhelmed. At least, that was the excuse he gave himself when he suddenly felt a hand on the back of his neck, pushing up through the hair there and over the top of his head. He jumped at the touch, trying to crane around to see who was touching him, but at the same time, there was something oddly calming about it.
"Theo, right?" The woman sat next to him, almost uncomfortably close, and offered her hand. "I'm Cameron, and Sabina told me that she would be very upset with me if I broke you, so you're safe, at least for the night."
Theo blinked repeatedly, confused by her smile and just how forthright she was being. "Um, hi..." It was only after staring at her outstretched hand for a long minute that he remembered what he was supposed to do. He took firmly, just like he had been taught, but held on just a second too long. "It's nice to meet you, I think, yeah." There was something incredibly sexy about the way she was looking at him, as if she were picturing something that he couldn't quite see yet, but that clearly she found very appealing. It made his breath catch, and his smiled turned even more uncertain. "Uh, do you mind if I ask what that means? That you're not allowed to break me?"
There was a hint of something darker in her laugh and it made Theo shiver. "Sabina just meant that you're new at this and that you aren't entirely sure about what you're doing, so I should be careful with you." Cameron's hand was at the base of his neck again and there was something about the touch that made him want to press back into it. "I like that you're willing to ask questions when you don't know what's going on. Don't stop doing that." She rubbed the side of his neck at a reward, pushing her thumb into the muscle there and trying to relieve some of the tension. His eyes fluttered closed only to open again when he felt her nail scrape against his hairline.
"Uhm... okay." Theo blushed at just what Cameron's touch was doing to him, certain that it just wasn't entirely normal. "I won't."
"Good." Cameron started to scratch her nails through Theo's hair. He was responding beautifully. "Do you have a safe word?"
"A safe word?" Of course he knew what one was, he had just never thought that he would realistically be in a situation where he needed one. He grabbed for the first word that came to him. "Uh... skyscraper. Yeah." And then he blushed bright red at how incredibly lame that seemed. Skyscraper. He was a moron. There were only 8,000 skyscrapers right outside the window. But Cameron didn't seem to be laughing, though there was a sort of bemused smile on her face.
"Skyscrapers it is then." She leaned in and kissed Theo lightly, barely letting the feel of her lips against his register before she was pulling away. "So, Theo, do you have any idea what you're interested in?"
"Uhm, not really." Theo looked down at the couch, certain that that was the wrong answer and that Cameron would be disappointed in him already. Of course there were ideas that intrigued him, but they were just that, ideas. He had no clue if they would be equally appealing in real life. It took him a minute to realize that the pressure on his chin was her lifting it up, and something in her expression had softened, even as she looked incredibly pleased.
"Not really, ma'am." She echoed, holding his gaze long enough make sure that he understood. "Now, stop looking so forlorn. I like boys who don't know what they want." It was a large part of the reason that Sabina had asked her if she was interested. Cameron ran her hand through Theo's hair. "I like figuring out what they want." Finally moving her hand from his hair, Cameron tugged at the bottom of his shirt, untucking it and slowly drawing it off.
"That's better." Cameron ran her hands over Theo's now bare chest, and this time his shiver was much more pronounced, inspired by both her touch and the cool air. "You are... beautiful."
"Thank you," Theo swallowed, still trying to push away his nerves as he squeaked out a, "ma'am." He wasn't entirely sure about the compliment, but he thought that he should say something anyway.
He flinched again when Cameron chuckled at him, completely unable to resist as she started to push him toward the floor. He hadn't really had a plan when he stepped onto the elevator, but it seemed like things were working out. He just really hoped that Sabina hadn't thought to call his parents.
Sabina looked into the common room one more time before she dialed Alex's number. She could still see Theo and Cameron, but the noise was dampened enough not to disturb the impending conversation.
When Alex picked up the phone, a slow smile spread across her face as she chanced to see who exactly was calling. "Isn't it past the middle of the night there, Sabina?" she answered, sounding stern.
Sabina chuckled at the reproach in Alex's voice. "I'm in the city. I got in yesterday. How are you doing?" She was genuinely interested, but she knew that part of her was stalling as well.
"You're in the city?" Alex smiled. She was glad, and she knew Patrice would be glad. "I'm fine...we're fine. You should have called and let us know you'd be here. When can we see you?"
"It was spur of the moment. I was going to call you tomorrow, once I was sure when Nathalie and Marco were getting into town, but something's come up at the club that you need to know about." Sabina leaned against the wall as she watched Theo sink to his knees in front of Cameron.
Alex furrowed her brow. She couldn't imagine why anything at the club would need her attention, especially considering that she and Patrice were so rarely there anymore. "What's that?"
"Before I tell you, I want you to promise me that you're not going to over-react." Sabina knew that no matter what she said, Alex was going to over-react, but at least she would know she tried.
Alex pursed her lips. She could vaguely hear Patrice turning the shower on, getting ready to go out for a glass of wine or two. "Sabina..." she said, tone warning.
"Theo's here." Sabina winced in anticipation of Alex's reaction.
As the words echoed in Alex's mind, she found herself coughing. She tried to reconcile them with the fact that she and Patrice thought Theo had gone out with friends that night. He hadn't said as much, but they had always been safe to assume with him more so than Eli. "Theo...what? Alex immediately went to her purse, going through her wallet and finding her keycard missing. "Shit...Sabina, you send him home right now."
"Alex..." Sabina turned the corner, content in the knowledge that Theo would be fine without her watching over him. "I'm not going to do that. He's an adult, and if he wants to explore a bit, I'm not going to turn him away." As much as she valued her relationship with Alex, she wasn't going to police her adult children. "I just... I only thought it right to tell you."
"Sabina...he is..." Alex ran her fingers through her hair and tried to will herself from getting red. "Dammit...Patrice..." Alex called, holding the phone away from her. She stomped to the bathroom and opened the door, sticking her head in. "Theo took my keycard out of my wallet...and he is at the club... At the club, Patrice..."
Sabina just sighed, knowing that Alex wasn't listening to her at all.
"What?" Patrice turned the water off and pushed her hair back. It was still fairly full of soap, but Alex's tone required attention, though she'd only heard half of the words.
"Theo," Alex said, each word too slow and too pronounced, "is at the club...right now. Sabina's on the phone..."
Patrice took a moment to process the information and decided she had two options. The first would only lead to more trouble, so she went with the second and laughed, "Dear lord...I suppose we should have seen this coming." From Alex's expression she could tell she was in for a long night.
As she glared at Patrice for a long moment, Alex tapped the phone against her chin, lips pursed. She turned on her heel, putting the phone back to her ear with the certainty that she and Patrice would discuss the situation later. "You make sure that if he is with someone he is using protection...and you make sure that he doesn't get fucked over," she said finally to Sabina as she closed the bathroom door.
"Well, I don't know that Theo is particularly the one in charge of the encounter, but I'll do what I can." Sabina couldn't resist adding the slight bit of extra information.
That gave Alex pause and she stopped in her tracks as she crossed the bedroom. "Sabina," she began quickly before simply just shaking her head. "Make sure he comes home tonight," she said finally.
"I will." Sabina was glad that she wasn't in Theo's shoes. Really, really glad. "And I'll see you and Patrice sometime soon?" She couldn't the hint of hopefulness from her voice.
"Of course," Alex replied distractedly. "Call me tomorrow..." She didn't wait for Sabina to acknowledge before she simply hung up the phone and sank down to the bed, waiting for Patrice to get out of the shower. Theo was definitely going to get a talk for taking the card. The club wasn't something to be toyed with. But if Sabina was right, Alex couldn't really fathom it. Theo... She shook her head and tried not to think about Theo bottoming for anyone she knew at the club.
Theo unlocked the front door as slowly as possible. Maybe Alex and Patrice would be asleep and he could put this conversation off until the morning, or forever. Forever was an option that he really liked. Cameron had a room at the club, and she would have let him stay there for the night if Sabina hadn't told him that he had to go home. That alone was enough to tell him that his parents knew where he had been, and that was just embarrassing. It was bad enough that he knew that they went there. They didn't need to know the reverse. But as he opened the front door, Theo saw that the living room light was on, and there was no way that he was going to be able to sneak past that. So he stood in the entryway and crossed his arms. "Alex..."
Alabaster rounded the corner after jumping off of Alex's lap, and she started to bark happily when she saw Theo, squirming and trying to climb up into his arms. They had had the puppy for nearly a year, but she still thought she was tiny enough to fit in someone's arms. "I'm in here, Theo," Alex called as she squeezed the bridge of her nose.
Theo picked Alabaster up and carried her in his arms as he walked into the living room. His cheeks were bright red by the time he rounded the corner. "Um... You, uh, didn't need to wait up." He licked his lips nervously.
"Patrice didn't think so either," Alex said, each word clipped. She took a deep breath and held out her hand. "Put the dog down, and give me the keycard."
Theo put Alabaster down and pulled the card out of his back pocket, holding it out to Alex. "I'm sorry I took it without asking. I, um... well, I guess I just thought that I wouldn't get caught." It was always better to be completely honest with Alex. She could see through spin better than anyone he knew.
"That's what you were thinking?" Alex tossed the card onto the table and shook her head even as she scratched Alabaster behind the ears. "You thought you wouldn't get caught, so you... God, Theo. You're lucky that Sabina was there. Were you careful?"
"Alex!" Theo couldn't keep the outrage and surprise out of his voice. "I don't know that I want to answer that." Outrage was certainly better than the embarrassment that he was covering. "I'm 19. That isn't any of you..." Some sort of self preservation instinct cutting him off, knowing that Alex wouldn't appreciate being told what was and wasn't her business.
"Keep your voice down," she snapped, glancing towards the bedroom where Patrice was sleeping. Alex stood and put her hands on her hips. "You made it my business when you took my keycard. Now...were you safe?" The anger in Alex's voice was apparent, but as much as she tried not to let the worry show, it was there as well.
"Of course." Theo shrank back in the face of Alex's anger. Eli might have yelled back, but that was never his inclination. "I've kept condoms in my wallet ever since Patrice gave them to me when I turned 16, and it isn't like that place is ever going to run out." There had been a whole assortment on Cameron's nightstand, and from the way she paused when she saw them, Theo had a feeling that Sabina had made sure they were there.
"Theo..." Alex rubbed her head, deflating somewhat. He was a good kid; they had raised him to be conscientious and aware, and she would be kidding herself if she though he was any less interested and active than Eli. Theo just did things in his own way, and it was perhaps because it was so similar to her that the differences were startling. "it's not a game."
"Mom," It was something that he only rarely called her, but he couldn't help it, "I know that. I promise." He finally sat down and rubbed his hand through his hair. It was still damp from the shower he had taken before he had left the club, and now it was sticking up at odd angles. "You don't need to worry about it." He didn't like making her worry.
"There are rules, and there is etiquette..." All of which would be explained to him when he signed contracts for his membership. She and Patrice had at least agreed that if he wanted this, there was no way they were going to let him do it the wrong way. "And you will be paying your own dues as soon as you are done with school, which, by the way, this will in no way interfere with. Do you understand me?"
"Yeah, of course." Theo rubbed the back of his neck and tried not to think of just how good a job he was going to need to find to keep up on the kind of fees that the club charged. That was years away. "I'm not," Theo paused, trying to find the right words, words that would both convey his meaning and not embarrass either of them even more. "I'm not going to do anything that you'd be ashamed of me for doing." That wasn't quite right, but he didn't know that telling her that he would make her proud wasn't exactly appropriate.
"Good," Alex said sternly. She stood there for a moment, arms crossed before going to Theo and ruffling his hair. She bent and quickly kissed the top of his head, putting out of her mind just what he might have been doing and who with. There would probably be more talks about the seriousness of the club and the lifestyle itself, but not that night. "Go tell Patrice goodnight, and try not to stay up too long," she said out of habit. Patrice probably woke up the second he walked in the door, and Alex would do something later about her listening to the conversation from the bedroom.
Theo nodded and stood, petting Alabaster as he did. "I'm sorry. Just..." He shrugged before he turned down the hallway, poking his head into his parents' bedroom to murmur a goodnight. He definitely wouldn't be taking Alex's key card ever again.
Chapter 4: Interlude
Theo doesn't go to the club every time that he wants to have sex, and he doesn't want to have sex every time that he goes to the club. Some nights, like this one, he likes to go, and sit and just be surrounded by people. He isn't really there to people watch, or engage in any sort of voyeurism; generally, he just stares out of the windows at the skyline, feeling the people moving around him. That's the sort of night that he's having when he first sees her. It's a change in the pitch of the crowd -- not her doing, but the result of some other spectacle-- that draws his attention away from the sunset and into the room, and once he's turned around, he can't take his eyes off of her. He's young and romantic enough to believe in love at first sight and he knows that he's already in love with her.
It isn't something that he's ever experienced before. His chest feels tighten, and he would think that it was hard to breathe, except that he doesn't really care about breathing anymore. He doesn't care about anything beyond getting her to look at him. And then she does, their eyes meeting as she holds his gaze. He thinks he sees a fleeting spark of interest, enough to make his blood run hot, but it quickly turns into complete disdain, deepening the longer that she looks at him. Suddenly, it's his pants that are tight and not his chest. She flicks her hair forward as she turns back to the woman that she was talking to, someone that Theo feels like he should know, but whose name he can't remember.
As soon as her attention is gone, he acutely feels it's loss, and the high he was on immediately crashes down around him. It's all he can do to turn back to the skyline and stay in his seat, his first instinct being to immediately leave the room. He wants to follow her with his eyes, but he forces himself not to. He won't intrude on her night. It isn't his place. But he can't get the all too brief spark of interest out of his head and he's determined to see it again, determined to make her contempt disappear, or at least temper it with desire or satisfaction or something. He just... has to figure out how.
Chapter 5: Machinations
Samantha closed her laptop and crossed her legs, the fabric of her trousers swishing softly. She glanced at the clock at she waited, noting the reflection of the sunset and that the boy wasn't late just yet. She valued punctuality, and she had been keeping her eye on him from a distance. He was polite, respectful, on time without fail, and he was learning more than anyone had expected of him. That more so than his parentage and charm caught her attention.
Theo licked his lips and lightly tapped on Samantha's door. He was really hoping that there was some sort of mistake involved in him being summoned to her office. In his experience, being summoned anywhere was never good and he didn't know what the fact that her secretary was gone meant. He pushed the door open after a second and stepped inside. "You wanted to see me, Ms. Kincaid?"
"Please," Samantha said, leaning back leisurely in her seat, "have a seat Mr. Cabot-LaRue." Sam indicated one of the chairs in front of her desk, offering Theo an expansive view of the city, at which she would be the center. She regarded him for a moment, letting silence fall with dusk. His posture was good, and he was well groomed. She appreciated that. "You've been enjoying your time here at the bank?"
Theo smiled slightly, one side of his mouth curling up. "Yes, ma'am. Very much." He blushed, but he didn't know why he was blushing. Maybe you weren't supposed to like working at a bank quiet that much. "I've been learning a lot."
"So I've been told." Samantha's tone was easy, but it did not take the form of a compliment. Slowly, Sam straightened as she leaned forward, running her fingertips over her tie. Her shirtsleeves were rolled, and she clasped her fingers together. "You have plans this weekend."
Theo looked at her confusion clearly written on his face. It hadn't sounded like a question, but he answered it anyway. "No, ma'am, I don't." He thought that he might slip off to the club at some point, and once again, foolishly try to get a glimpse of her but he wasn't going to tell his boss that.
Samantha tapped her fingers lightly on the desk before sliding an envelope across to the boy. "I believe my daughter will quite enjoy this play. The restaurant's card is there, and your reservation is at six-thirty." She leaned back in her seat again and regarded his face as he took the envelope. The tickets would have been difficult for anyone else to procure, but the reservations were for Sophia's favorite restaurant near the theater. And behind the tickets was a slim, black credit card with Theo's name on it.
Theo was still confused. He looked at the tickets and then the card, not really comprehending just what Samantha meant. "What's this?" He held the card up, trying to figure it out, but there wasn't anything on it to give him a hint.
"The means to show my daughter a good time for dinner and drinks after the show, should she wish it," Samantha replied as if it were nothing. Her posture was relaxed, but she kept her cool eyes trained on Theo, watching his thoughts play across his face. He was an honest boy.
"You're setting me up with your daughter?" Theo absently rubbed a hand across his forehead before he caught himself and stopped. That just didn't make any sense to him. Weren't normal parents supposed to want to keep their children at home until they were thirty? Of course, he didn't have normal parents, so he didn't know why he assumed Samantha would be normal either.
"I believe you and Sophia will be well suited for each other, and she very much wants to see this particular play," Samantha replied. In short, the answer was 'yes.' Though, she would not use his terminology. Theo had good parents, and he was very clearly going places. She and Selena had agreed that it would be both in his best interest and in Sophia's to make the evening happen. And she did not think twice about what the outcome might be. "You may pick her up at a quarter till six."
"Uhm, okay." He still didn't quite understand, but he would be there at 5:45. For an idle second, he wondered if this constituted sexual harassment, but there wasn't any point in following that line of thought. Even if the worst happened, one date couldn't possibly be that bad. He stood up and brushed his hands over the front of his pants. "Was there anything else?"
"I'd very much like my daughter to have a good time, Theo," Samantha said as she stood. She placed both of her hands on her desk and leaned forward. "I'm sure you can understand that."
"Of course." He nodded sharply. Even if this was weird, there was no way that he would take it out on Samantha's daughter. He looked at the card one more time, flipping it between his fingers, before he carefully placed it on Sam's desk. "I can, uh, take care of dinner and drinks myself. Thank you for the offer though."
Samantha raised her eyebrows and took a moment to consider before simply nodding. She would let the boy do as he wished--his family certainly had the means--but she was impressed that he turned down the card without really knowing its value. "I'll see you on Friday," she murmured. "Give my best to your mothers."
"Of course." He smiled slightly before he turned to leave, closing the office door behind himself and going back to his own work area as quickly as possible. Friday was going to be interesting, that was for sure.
Chapter 6: Changes
As Sam closed the door quietly behind her, she shrugged off her coat, next hanging it meticulously in the coat closet. The house already smelled of garlic and onions and other spices that when in a certain combination were uniquely Selena. She knew, as she strode toward the kitchen, that she would find her wife there instead of the cook. And even though the house was quiet for the moment, it would be full of life that night. When she got to the kitchen, she stood in the doorway for a moment, leaning against the frame, simply smiling at the line of Selena's shoulder, her dark hair slipping from its pins. She stepped as quietly as she could, almost soundlessly, behind her and leaned in to kiss her soft neck. "That smells good," she murmured.
Selena let out a quiet breath, tilting her head just slightly to the side to allow Sam to continue, though she knew it would be only fleeting. She put a cover on the rice she had been stirring, "I did hope so. Your day was good then?"
"It was," Sam said between soft, intent kisses. She turned Selena in her arms, placing the last of them on her lips before taking half a step back, still content after all the years to quietly take in her beauty. "I would have come home earlier, but I scheduled a late meeting. Someone should have called you."
"It is no worry, Cecilia is still at the studio, and Andrea is in her room with her homework." Selena tilted her head slightly, pausing to smooth Sam's shirt around her shoulders. "Who were you meeting with then?"
"I believe I told you that Alex Cabot and Patrice LaRue's son was working at the bank this summer?" The kitchen was pleasantly warm compared to the rest of the house, and despite the heat outside, Sam liked the space. She took a step back, knowing the Selena would not be detained from dinner for too long, and she leaned easily against the counter as she loosened her tie. "I wanted to speak to him about Sophia," she said, bright blue eyes trained on Selena as she began to adjust her rolled shirtsleeves.
Selena began to quietly clean and cut a fresh bunch of cilantro while she listened, "She had managed to grow up while my back was turned I think" Selena silently held back a pang of nostalgia, knowing Samantha was only looking out for their oldest daughter's future. "You must think quite highly of him then. Of course he comes from a good family as well." But Samantha would have been judging him on his own character, and that alone she was sure.
"He certainly has a mind of his own, but one would expect that from one of their children. I can see Cabot in him." The corner of Samantha's lips quirked into half a smirk. She could see the concern, the memories in Selena's dark eyes. She could see how all of the years of caring, of worrying, had only increased her unique beauty, and she loved her all the more for it. And in her years of watching, of helping, of picking up toys and teaching small hands how to tie ties, she had been planning. "He's taking Sophia to the theatre this weekend."
Selena let a long second pass, making peace with how life moves on. She could hear the front door close as Cecelia returned like clockwork for dinner as usual, and she tried not to consider that that too would be changing soon. She slid the cilantro into a bowl with the already diced tomatoes, "I'm sure she will enjoy that."
Chapter 7: Coincidences
Theo took a very deep breath as he looked up at the Kincaid house. Just looking at it was making him nervous, and if he had been wearing a tie, he would have tugged at it. Maybe he should have worn a tie. He had no idea what Sophia would like and Samantha hadn't really given him much to work with, but you couldn't ever really go wrong with a tie. Maybe he had time to go back.
"Whatever it is, stop pacing, suck it up and get in there."
"What?" Theo was surprised that he wasn't alone, but he guessed his pacing was enough to attract comment from a random passer-by; he tried to smile. "Oh, um, thanks." He ran a hand through his hair and stepped up to the door; he took one more deep breath before he knocked. His watch said 5:45 precisely.
The door opened and an older gentleman gave Theo something of a once over, as if making sure he were suitable to enter, before ushering him inside. "This way, sir. You're expected," he said as he led him into a small study off the main hallway.
"Thank you." Theo stepped into the study and smoothed the line of his jacket, resisting the urge to put his hands in his pockets. He wondered if he would get to see Samantha or Selena that night, but hoped that he wouldn't.
When Sophia opened the door, all she could see was a mop of blonde hair and narrow shoulders against the painting above the mantle. She leaned in the doorway, watching for a moment, her head cocked to the side. "You must be Theo," she murmured, her voice soft as one mother's but as musical as the other's.
Theo spun around at the sound. He had been thinking that Sophia would come in the same door he did, but clearly that wasn't the case. As soon as he got a good look at her, though, it felt like his heart stopped. It felt as if all of time stopped. The woman from the club. That was... that was impossible. He swallowed and hoped that he didn't come across as an idiot. "And you have to be Sophia." He held a hand out, hoping that was appropriate. "It's very nice to meet you."
"You as well," she said, taking his hand in a firm grip. If she recognized him, she gave no indication of it, save the brightness of her dark eyes. But she did linger a moment with her fingers against his palm. "If we leave now, we'll just miss my parents," she said, glancing about the room.
"Right." He motioned toward what he hoped was the correct door and let her precede him. He had borrowed one of his mother's cars for the night and it was sitting parked at the curb. He opened the passenger door for her. "We have reservations, but I'm sure you already know that." There was no way that he was this lucky. It just didn't happen.
The conversation in the car was light. Sophia let Theo concentrate on his driving and was happy to leave out that her mother would have provided a driver for them. And once they had arrived at dinner, she was pleased to find that her mother had not in fact ordered their entire meal. "The lamb is my favorite," she said, smiling softly that Theo had asked her opinion on the menu.
She didn't think her mother would sent her off with a complete boor, but she hadn't expected to be sitting across from someone who, while he his his nervousness well, was just as nervous as she was.
"Better than the tuna?" The lamb did sound incredibly good, but he didn't want her to think that he couldn't make up his own mind, particularly as the date hadn't exactly been his idea either.
"My mother is very fond of tuna," Sophia murmured as she fingered her napkin thoughtfully. "But I've never quite had a taste for it." When she looked back up at him, meeting his soft blue eyes, she smirked, tossing her hair back lightly. "I'm hardly going to report back on what you're ordering."
Theo chuckled and smiled, knowing that it lit his face up. "I didn't think you would. It was a genuine question. Maybe I should just get the pork belly and toss all of the hidden meanings out of the window."
Sophia laughed. "There you have it," she said, sitting back slightly to admire him openly. She had always been taught not to shy away from the things she thought worthy of attention, and Theo, to her surprise, was proving to be one of those things.
Dinner passed far more quickly than Theo thought possible, and as he handed the ticket to the valet, he realized that he truly wished that it could have lasted longer. He had absolutely no idea what they talked about as he drove to the theater, but they were still laughing as the lights went down and he had to bite his lip to keep silent and the curtain came up. It wasn't the happiest of plays, but at the very least, it wasn't Ibsen, so he was still in good spirits as they retreated to the car. Once they were seated, he found that he didn't want to take Sophia home. Samantha had told him to take her for drinks, after all. "So, can I interest you in a drink?"
She smiled knowingly. "And just where did my mother recommend when she dragged you into her impressive office with the impressive view?" She was absolutely aware that the most impressive thing about Samantha was Samantha herself, and it was something she strove to emulate--one mother's easy power and the other's easy charm.
"She didn't." He scratched lightly at his temple. "She merely suggested that a drink would be a good way to end the night. I do hope you'll say yes though. Or that you'll let me take you for a drink some other night."
"I'll say yes to both...because I don't think you're doing this to get on her good side. But you have to pick the place tonight. The next time...it's my choice." She said it with easy confidence, and Sophia had no doubt that he would take her up on it.
"Done." Theo put the car in gear and headed toward a bar that he knew was in the area. He didn't have the audacity to simply take her to the club, though that was exactly what he wanted to do. There was no way that was first date material. Instead, he took her someplace small and dark and lit with a motley assortment lanterns on the tables and hanging from the ceiling. It was eccentric, but it was the best bar he had found that summer.
"Interesting place," Sophia said as she slid into a seat. She ran her fingers through her hair, shaking it out lightly in a habit that she was only barely conscious of.
"It's part of the charm. They have a band in on Saturdays that plays this really random mix of zydeco and eastern European gypsy music. It takes a little getting used to, but once you do, it's cool. And the bartenders are awesome." He smiled as a server came over for their drink orders.
"Zydeco and gypsy music?" Sophia arched her eyebrows as she sat back and regarded Theo thoughtfully. As well as they were getting along, he still seemed to be predictable enough until that moment.
"Yeah. It's random, but it works." He shrugged and ordered a drink. "But you'll probably just have to trust me on that." He leaned back slightly, really relaxing for the first time that night. "What's your favorite bar like?"
One corner of Sophia's lips curled slightly in a smirk that could easily be as cruel as it was amused. "Oh, I suppose it's a bit...nontraditional as well."
There was something about the way she said it that made Theo shift in his seat and he had a feeling he knew exactly which bar she was talking about. He had managed to forget for a while just where he knew her from, but he certainly remembered now. "Maybe you'll take me there sometime." he hoped that wasn't too forward.
The server returning with their drinks saved Sophia from a reply. She remembered glimpses of Theo, of the way he stole glances at her. Perhaps she would take him one day, but would be on her own terms. "Mm," she intoned after taking a sip of her drink, "this is delicious."
"Told you." Theo didn't try to keep the smile from his face. He was having a good time and he hoped that Sophia was as well.
While she was curious about just what the band would be like, Sophia was thankful for the atmosphere that allowed her to simply sit and talk with Theo. Certain similarities--their family circumstances, their impressive schools--were no coincidence, she knew, but others, such as a shared secret love of the Natural History museum and a shared distaste for balsamic vinegar, among other trivialities, could not have been handpicked by her mother. They were laughing like good friends by the time he was walking her to her door. "...and then James turned and saw the TRex display, and Mama says he nearly clawed her legs trying to get up into her arms while I was trying to climb up the skeleton..." She said, laughing so hard that her cheeks were pink.
Theo laughed, subtly reaching for Sophia's hand and easily catching it. "How far did you get?" The night had gone much better than he had anticipated and she looked even more beautiful when she laughed, something that he hadn't had an occasion to witness at the club.
"Mother caught me just before i could climb up the tail." Sophia smiled as she cocked her head and twined her fingers through his of her own volition. "And I was hopelessly dejected when she wouldn't buy it...or so I'm told."
"Mmm. I can't say that I ever tried to get anyone to buy me a real dinosaur." They climbed the steps to the door and Theo hoped that neither the butler or Sophia's mothers were waiting on the other side.
"Obviously you're not as ambitious as I thought." Sophia smirked. She stopped at the door, but she made no move to go inside. She turned to Theo and gave him a moment, wanting to see what he would do.
"I guess not." He squeezed Sophia's fingers, not wanting to let go, yet knowing that he was going to have to. He wasn't sure if he should kiss her or not, so he briefly looked down at his feet as he tried to make up his mind.
At that Sophia pursed her lips. She slipped her hand out of his and raised his chin with her finger, meeting him in a kiss. Kincaids never waited for the things they really wanted.
It only took a second for him to register the kiss, but by then, it was over. He leaned in for a second one and was thrilled when Sophia didn't pull away. Her lips were as soft as he had imagined and he was close enough now that he could smell her perfume, light and crisp against the night air. But eventually, it had to end, and he reluctantly pulled away. He took her hand one more time and squeezed it, wanting to press it to his lips, but restraining himself. "Have a good night."
"Thank you for a wonderful evening, Theo," Sophia murmured, a smile in her voice as she slipped inside, knowing full well that as she made her way upstairs, the light in her mother's study would be on.
Chapter 8: Interlude
A flashback for Theo...part 1.
There was a hint of cool in the air, and Theo knew the leaves would start to change soon. He liked this time of year, when summer was just holding on until the last; there was something exciting about it, something exhilarating. If he admitted it, he would say that he'd heard Alex say that once; it was her favorite time of year too. There had been a meeting for the fall play after school, and he'd stayed, even though he had no intention of auditioning. He thought helping backstage might be fun, and he glanced down at the flier for the dates as he walked.
"Hey, Theodora!" The voice made Theo look up; he knew it even though he hadn't turned around, and he was already half sighing. But he just raised his hand in a half-hearted wave as he walked on. There was no
sense in engaging. "He's gotta head home to his mommies...you know he's got two."
Theo stopped then--there was something about the way Matt said that that raised the hair on the back of his neck, but almost as soon as he turned around, he knew he shouldn't have. He clutched the flier, his blue eyes trained on the other boys, but he was silent.
"What?" Matt Aaron strode forward, his arms crossed. He was a tall boy and so thin he was almost willowy--not the makings of a textbook bully. But he had a sharp tongue and a way of getting to people. And he had bigger boys that were scared of him. "It's true, isn't it. You've got two mothers--filthy dykes who are too fucking stupid to know that they shouldn't bother trying to be fucking normal." He looked pleased with himself, totally calm as the blood rushed to Theo's ears. He forgot about the flier as he flexed his fingers and it fell to the sidewalk, picked up by a breeze. "What? Got nothing to say, Theodora?" Matt's laugh was harsh. "I guess that's what you get for being raised by two fucking cunts..."
Whatever he said next, Theo didn't hear it above the sound of blood rushing in his ears. He couldn't say how he didn't trip over his own feet, which he was prone to doing lately, but somehow, he moved forward and his fist connected with Matt's nose, and even though it hurt, the crack that resounded was somehow satisfying. But it was satisfying only for a moment. Theo was so surprised with himself, so angry still that he didn't realize Matt was hitting back, and he yelped when the other boy hit his jaw.
In an instant, they were struggling, falling to the sidewalk, and Theo felt hands grabbing, trying to pull him away. He got to his feet, backing away, shaking off Matt's friends, who looked just as freaked out as he felt. And there was a silence between them, the air live with adrenaline and the fear of being discovered. When he turned away, Theo didn't look over his shoulder. He didn't think anyone would be saying anything about his mothers again--at least, he really wanted to think that so he could jsut go home, go to his room, and hide his face in his pillow while he cried. It was going to be hard to explain this to Alex.
Chapter 9: Interlude
A flashback for Theo...part 2
Theo opened the door as slowly as he could, wincing as the act of gripping the door knob made his hand ache. He really, really hoped that it wasn't broken. If it was, there was no way he was going to be able to hide it from Alex and Patrice. He'd managed to avoid any black eyes, but the curve of his jaw was quickly swelling and the elevator mirrors had shown him just how black and blue it was going to be. Maybe he could get some ice on it without letting on... It was just a glancing blow anyway. He stepped over the threshold and listened for a long moment. Not hearing anything, he bypassed the living room and headed down the hallway to his bedroom.
"Theo?" Alex called from the bedroom, a shift half folded in her hands. She couldn't remember what he had had that afternoon at school--music, lacrosse practice...something--but she had still expected him to be home when she got there. Patrice had been in their home office for at least an hour, and she had muttered something about no privacy at her own office with that damnable new assistant. Alex had left her alone. "Did...practice," she said uncertainly as she moved to the bedroom door, "run over...oh my God, what happened to your jaw? Theo..." She dropped the shirt and hurried into the hallway, stopping to gingerly touch the bruise.
Right, practice. It wasn't until the next day, but maybe Alex would forget. "I, uh, yeah.... there was a ball and I didn't duck. It was dumb but I'm fine. Really."
Frowning, Alex grabbed his arm, hauling him toward the kitchen. Accidents happened, but Theo had never been prone to them. Still, he was going through a growth spurt... But something in the back of Alex's mind was not content with the explanation he had given. She let go of him to take an ice pack out of the freezer and wrap it in a dish towel, and it was when Theo took it that she saw his hand. The liens of Alex's face creased with her frown. "Did you punch the ball afterward?" she asked, finishing by pursing her lips.
Theo shrugged, looking down. "I fell or something," he muttered. "It isn't a big deal." He pulled away from her, just wanting to go back to his room and be left alone.
"Theo..." Alex's voice and eyes softened as she took him by the elbows. She could immediately see the tension in his features, the way he avoided her eyes, but greater instinct told her something was more wrong than just a scrape after school. "You can tell me what happened..."
"I don't wanna talk about it." He tried to pull away again, but Alex's grip was tighter this time. Maybe she would just get frustrated with him and send him to his room.
The blond furrowed her brow. This was absolutely unlike her son; in fact, it was more like Eli. Though, she didn't think Theo would be running to Patrice with the story either. Her cheeks flushed with her immediate propensity toward anger, but she took a breath. "I think maybe you should talk about it." Her voice was calm, matter of fact, but she was rubbing slow circles on his elbows with her thumbs. "Okay?"
"I got into fight," Theo mumbled, still looking down. He just wanted to melt into the floor. He was fine. His hand just hurt a little. "I have homework to do, so can't you just ground me and get it over with?"
"Theo...that much is abundantly clear," Alex said slowly, trying incredibly hard not to snap. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the puppy lingering at the kitchen door, obviously picking up on the tension enough not to come in. "I'd rather not ground you without hearing what happened." She sighed and pulled him into a hug. "I need to know what's going on because this isn't like you...so just...can we skip the teenage attitude part and make this look as easy at it seems to be for Patrice?"
Theo bit his lip and shrugged. "I just... Matt was talking about how you an Patrice are..." He really didn't want to say it but now that he was talking, it was hard to stop. He stared at the floor even harder. "filthy dykes and that you should stop pretending to be normal and then he called you fucking c-cunts," Theo tripped over the words. "And I just... I just hit him. I just wanted him to shut up."
Alex's eyes went wide and she pulled Theo tightly against her. She kissed his hair as her cheeks became hot, as she squeezed her eyes shut. If anything had ever said anything like that to Eli, she had never known about it. It was hardly as if she thought it would never happen, but she tried to think the best of people, tried to think things had changed, had come a long way. "Theo..." she managed, throat tight. "It's okay...it's okay. These things just... I'm sorry he said that to you. I'm sorry." She was holding him tightly and pushing her own tears away--tears because of his upset, because of the stricken look on his face. And when she pulled away slightly her jaw was set. "Patrice!" she called. "Patrice, can you just....come out here please." She guided Theo into a chair and pulled away. "Matt...which Matt is that. Is that Chandler Aaron's son..." She was already looking for phone numbers.
A moment later, Patrice was standing in the doorway. Alex's tone had told her well enough something was wrong, and her eyes widened when she saw Theo's state, and Alex's expression. "Theo, what happened to you?" Alex was looking more and more agitated, and Patrice couldn't decide who to comfort first without knowing what the hell was going on.
"I got in a fight." There was no point in denying it now, but there was no way that he was going to say it all again. He just wanted to forget it ever happened.
"Wait, just...one second here." Patrice put her hand on Alex's shoulder, trying to halt whatever she was planning on doing. "What exactly does any of that mean?" Theo hadn't been in any sort of fight since preschool, and Patrice could only imagine what it would have taken to make him react with any manner of violence.
"It doesn't bear repeating, especially not in this house," Alex said, pursing her lips. She turned to Patrice, alive with tension. "It was about us, Patrice," she said quietly, glancing to Theo. "And if someone had ever called my mother that, I would have hit them to." She raised her voice and pulled away. "I'm calling his father."
Patrice crossed her arms as Alex continued her rampage through the drawer. She was getting the idea, and turned back to Theo, "Theo, I'm sure you know this already, but I'm going to say it again. There's no excuse for fighting, and as hard as it is, sometimes you have to walk away and leave people to their ignorance."
She paused then, and took in the growing bruises, her own sense of guilt growing, "let me get you some more ice for that chin." Handing it over, she pulled him into a hug, whispering in his ear while Alex was still distracted, "we love you, and things happen. Go to your room for a bit while I calm Alex down?" She stepped back and gave him a small smile, "I don't think any of us feel like cooking, I'll call you when dinner gets here."
As her son turned away, Patrice moved and stopped Alex again, "Alex, maybe you should leave it. If Theo's any indication, I'm sure the other boy's father already knows full well he learned his lesson." Theo might not be one to fight, but he wasn't one to lose either.
"I can't just... that child should not have said those things, and I can't just let him...and he hit Theo back, Patrice!" She knew she wasn't making much sense, but the words kept tumbling out and she realized as she turned away from Patrice and tried to flip through the probably outdated phone book again just to give herself something to do with them. She was shaking her head and trying to hold back tears. "I just won't have it."
Finally, with Theo gone, Patrice let her composure go, and pulled Alex away more forcefully, holding both her hands still. "Alex...I know, and I'm just as upset. But whether you'll 'have it' or not, it's over, and unless it happens again I'd say Theo's pretty clear that what he did was wrong, even if some little ass deserved it."
"Patrice..." Alex focused on her for the first time since she'd entered the room, and that's when she felt her eyes become wet with tears. "He's my baby...he's my baby and someone told him his mothers were fucking cunts...and...he's...he's not too young to understand, and I don't know how to make that go away." She clutched at the blonde desperately and sniffed.
As much as Theo didn't want to test his parents' patience and as much as he just wanted to curl up in bed, he knew that Alex and Patrice were talking about him. He just couldn't stand not knowing, so he carefully slipped out of his room and crept to the end of the hallway.
Patrice tried to fight back what she knew were inevitable tears of her own, stroking Alex's hair quietly,."I know, I know, and I want to fix everything for him too. But we can't, and I suppose we should be grateful that this is coming as s shock."
"I just...almost expected this with Eli, but not with Theo...he's...he's so quiet." But strong. Alex had always known that and aside from her heartbreak at the situation, she was proud of his resolve. "I wish they were still small," she said quietly.
Patrice tightened her arms around Alex, kissing her hair quietly, "Me too sometimes, but Theo's doing fine I think - today aside maybe." And she was fairly sure of that.
"I hope he kicked that kid's ass," Alex muttered into Patrice shoulder, a slow smile creeping across her face in her surprise at herself. After all of these years, a little of Patrice's spontaneity had rubbed off on her, and she wasn't too proud to admit it. But she quickly sighed. "You think he'll be all right...there's...not anything else we should say?"Issues came up so seldomly with Theo that sometimes Alex felt as if she hadn't done this already. She pressed her fingertips into Patrice's back, taking comfort from her warmth.
"Mmm...I'm sure he did. And, not at the moment." Theo was so like Alex in that way- he'd say something only when he was ready. "But I think I should put in a call to Stella's. I'm thinking a little chicken parmesan and garlic bread might improve on his mood considerably." She shook her head then, "though who knows if Eli will humble herself to eat anything that might not be organic this week.."
"I'm sure she could be enticed by the promise of pear gelato afterward." Alex couldn't help but smile as she pulled away, pausing to kiss Patrice lightly. "If it happens again we're suing," she said over her shoulder as she moved to the now almost antique takeout menu organizer and handed the familiar menu across to Patrice. "I'm not going to let some little bully get away with that kind of thing..." She moved to open a bottle of wine then, content in her indignation and the knowledge that they had passed this hurdle and that it wasn't likely to come up again.
Chapter 10: Imagination
Theo repositioned the straps of the backpack, moving the weight around a little to make it easier to deal with. He had taken the subway rather than drive and he hoped that Sophia didn't mind a short walk before dinner. The backpack didn't exactly go with the suit he was wearing, but it was going to have to do. He straightened his tie and rang the doorbell.
As usual, he was shown in, and though Sophia had been hovering near the top of the stairs, though she had heard the doorbell, she didn't dare answer it. She waited an acceptable moment before slowly descending the stairs and entering the study, smiling but not too brightly. Their last date had gone well, but since then, they had scarcely found time to make another. "A backpack?" she said as she got a good look at him. Sophia arched her eyebrows, taking in what a disjointed picture he made.
Theo grinned. "Yeah. You don't mind going on a short walk do you?" He hoped that Sophia enjoyed his plan. He had certainly called in enough favors to make it happen.
"No.." Sophia looked at his suit and down at her slacks and blouse. "I don't suppose I need to change...where are we going?"
"You're perfect, and it's a surprise." His grin only got wider. "Come on." He offered her his arm as he practically bounced with excitement.
There was something positively boyish about that that made Sophia almost wish it was time to take him for a quite different surprise, but she merely took his arm and followed him out, smiling at what a nice day it was. "Well, I suppose I'll have to trust you."
It wasn't far from Sophia's to the subway, and the walk from the subway to a nondescript back door was equally short. He knocked and then smiled reassuring at Sophia. He was sure that she wasn't used to traipsing though back alleys. A minute later, the door opened and a guy Theo's age, wearing a bow tie, poked his head out. "Hey, you're here. Good. Well, come in, come in." He waved them inside and offered his hand to Sophia. "You're Sophia, right? I'm Matt. Great to meet you."
"Nice...to meet you too, Matt," she said, shaking his hand. Sophia gave a quick glance back to Theo, questioning him about just what sort of date this was supposed to be. But she trusted that nothing too drastic would happen if she simply stepped inside.
"Matt's my roommate from freshman year. Don't worry. As long as you're not a few hundred years old, you're safe." He let Matt lead them through back hallways and side corridors until he swiped a key card and opened a heavy door.
"Just, promise me that you won't touch anything." He gave them both pleading looks before he left.
"Theo...?" Sophia walked into the dimly lit room. She tried to let her eyes adjust but nothing was quite making sense. "Where are we?" she asked at last, pushing her hair back as she turned to him.
"We," Theo tried to draw it out as he took his backpack off. "Are at the National Museum of the American Indian." As if on cue, the lights slowly came up. "They're opening this exhibit next week, but everyone's taking the day off for a conference, so I got Matt to sneak us in." He pulled a blanket from the back pack and laid it out in the middle of the floor. "I thought we might have a picnic."
"The National Museum of the American Indian?" Sophia put her hands on her hips, but she couldn't keep a serious face for long. She laughed, and in it was sheer delight that he had thought to do something so different. "Skateboarding and Native American culture?" she asked as she took a few steps to move around the room.
"Uh, yeah." Theo blushed slightly. He hadn't really thought to ask just what the exhibit was about. "You should look around while I set this up." He started pulling containers of food from his backpack and laying it out on the blanket, followed by a well insulated bottle of prosecco and snap together plastic wine glasses.
"A picnic?" Sophia was outwardly grinning, and she looked wholly like her mother--an expression that, on the older woman, was reserved for only those close to her. "Now I really know my mother had nothing to do with this."
"Is she not one for picnics?" Once everything was set out, Theo popped the cork on the prosecco and poured them each a glass.
"No, that's not it," Sophia said, smiling over her shoulder as she heard the pop of the cork. She turned back to the display she was studying and almost reached out to touch it before she remembered Matt's warning. She turned back to Theo and sauntered over to him, taking her glass. "We had some lovely picnics when I was young...before Andi came along. Mother would have just had someone else set it up."
Theo chuckled and offered her a hand to help her sit. "Well, then I'm sure this isn't anywhere as elaborate. We're limited to what I can cook." He wasn't a bad cook, but he wasn't going to be opening his own restaurant either.
"That was really sweet, Theo," Sophia said softly as she sat in front of the modest feat he set out. "Thank you."
Theo smiled and joined her, handing her a plate. "You're welcome. Hopefully you're as impressed after we've eaten." He kept stealing glances at her as they ate, far more interested in her than he was in the setting. "I'm glad we finally found the time to do this. And that the timing worked out."
"Me too... and I promise I'll make up having to cancel last time." She took his hand and squeezed it lightly, rubbing her thumb over his wrist.
Theo didn't even try to suppress the shiver that her touch elicited as he looked down at her fingers against his skin. "I'll look forward to that." He voice was thick with all of the things that he wanted from Sophia but that he couldn't put into words, at least, not yet.
Sophia pulled her hand away and let him show her what he had made. She was used to her mother's cooking and the cook's. Family meals were important enough that eating out, even like this, seemed like a special occasion somehow. And Theo had been too modest about his culinary skills. "That was delicious," she murmured, lying on her back and staring at the ceiling.
"Thanks. I'm glad you liked it." Theo quickly packed everything but the blanket back into his backpack and sat it aside before he joined Sophia in staring up at the ceiling. He let his fingers twine with hers and squeezed her hand. "And thank you for trusting me."
"I'll admit," she teased, "I was a little worried with the nondescript doorway that ended in a kid in a bowtie..." Sophia laughed lightly as she turned to him and kissed his cheek.
Theo turned his head toward her at the kiss and captured her lips with his own. Two dates was enough for him to learn that he should just go for those sorts of things because Sophia would only shake her head in exasperation at him if he didn't.
"Mm," she intoned, moving closer to him to deepen the kiss. Sophia ran her fingers through his soft hair and smiled. "Today was perfect."
"Good. After all of the problems, I wanted it to be." He slid an arm around her waist and pulled her closer. He could feel her body heat radiating through the scant space between their bodies. It was hard not to push against the fingers in his hair and he quickly gave up, thoroughly enjoying Sophia's touch as he sought out her lips again.
She ran her hand down his neck, massaging it gently before touching his back, his shoulders. Sophia could imagine what his skin felt like under the fabric. She thought she could remember seeing him naked and collared once. "I should be getting home," she said finally as she pulled away.
"Right." Theo sat up and hid his disappointment. "Matt probably wants to lock up again anyway." He stood and offered Sophia his hand, and once she was up, he folded the blanket and shouldered his backpack.
Sophia pulled him into a light kiss before straightening her hair and taking once last look at the room. She didn't want to stop, but she was too controlled to allow them to get into something there, where anyone could walk in. And when they did go to bed together, she very much knew what she wanted.
Chapter 11: Out
Sophia hesitated for only a millisecond before ringing the bell to the penthouse. She had no real idea what to expect. Sophia was not privy to the lives of others. When she and her siblings wanted to spend time with friends, they were invited over. She had never been home with anyone from school. Still, she had never minded. Her parents were protective without being suffocating. If she or one of her sisters or brothers wanted to have a weekend with several friends, her parents would facilitate the arrangements. She had glimpses of Theo's family life from things he had said--their dinners were certainly not the same, and she had no doubt that there were other similarities. When the door opened, she recognized one of his mothers immediately not only from the similarities to her son but from seeing her picture in various publications. "Hello," she said, smiling. It was early in the evening, and while the visit was unexpected, she hoped she wasn't interrupting anything. Theo indicated that they had no set dinnertime. "You must be Alex... I'm Sophia." She extended her hand and refrained from looking past Alex into the penthouse out of curiosity.
"Ms. Cabot will do," was the clipped response. And when the blonde took her hand, Sophia felt like she was going for some sort of interview. Theo always talked about both Alex and Patrice warmly, but Sophia felt a distinct chill. It wasn't uncommon, however, she knew, for mothers to take some time to warm to their sons' love interests. "Come in."
"Alex, who is it?" Patrice wandered out of the kitchen. Her voice was slightly muffled by the spoon she was balancing in her mouth as she looked into a container of ice cream, "and whoever it is I hope they've already had dessert because someone around here's done good work on this," she came around the corner into the entry, "I mean, this always happens on holiday breaks..." Patrice looked up at the visitor and her voice faded out. She took the spoon out of her mouth. "Oh, sorry." She smiled curiously, "Who's this?"
"This," Alex said, giving Patrice a slight glare over the girl's shoulder as she closed the door, "is Sophia... Kincaid, I presume." She crossed her arms as she said it and finished by pursing her lips.
Sophia extended her hand, a warm smile on her face. "It's a pleasure, Ms. LaRue." She glanced back to Alex before focusing on Patrice's warmer expression instead. "Theo's told me so much about you both. I hope I'm not interrupting anything, but my mothers decided not to go out to dinner this evening, and I thought I might surprise Theo."
"Oh just Patrice is fine. Great to meet you, Sophia, and I'm sure Theo will be more than happy to escape a night of his mothers asking about his plans for after graduation." She could already hear Theo rustling in his room, closet door being flung open. Patrice chuckled to herself imagining him trying to look presentable before he made an appearance.
"No doubt he won't have to keep trying to explain why he's suddenly so interested in working in a bank," Alex murmured as she went to Patrice's side and wrapped an arm around her waist. But Patrice's ease only made her rigidity stand out more. It wasn't quite fair, she knew. Her mother, were she still alive, would probably have been beyond thrilled to have her grandchild dating one of Samuel Kincaid's grandchildren. But Alex didn't want Theo being pushed into anything.
Patrice gave Alex a look, rolling her eyes slightly even as she didn't let her smile fade. It was almost sweet how quietly protective Alex could be- in her own way. Still, Patrice wouldn't let it go too far, "Want to go see if Theo can be pried away from the computer for a few hours?" She turned back to Sophia, "I'd ask you to stay for a drink, but I'm guessing you'd just as soon get on with whatever you've got in mind?" The next time Patrice would be sure to insist.
Alex pursed her lips again before simply turning and going to Theo's room. Sophia heard her knock on the door as she said, "Thank you, Patrice. I really just want to be able to spend a little more time with him before summer ends." And they would probably have to talk about that at some point, but Sophia was sincerely hoping she did get invited back for a drink with his mothers. Patrice seemed the type to have a wealth of stories and good advice, and she was now determined to win Alex over.
Theo opened his bedroom door at the knock, settling a light linen sport coat on his shoulder as he came out. His hair was slightly damp from the comb he had quickly run through it, and his cologne, while not overpowering, had clearly just been put on. He smiled briefly at Alex and murmured a thanks before he stepped around her and headed toward Sophia. "Hey." He wanted to kiss her, but felt awkward doing it in front of either of his mothers, so he settled for just sticking his hands in his pockets and smiling. "I thought you had plans today?" Not that he wasn't happy to see her. He was practically bouncing on toes.
Patrice watched the little exchange between them, and couldn't help but smile as she put the ice cream down. Theo could be quiet and reserved, and when he was excited he wore it on his sleeve. She wanted to linger, but pulled herself away, "Apparently you lucked out Theo." She put a hand on his shoulder, and leaned in to whisper conspiratorially, "She's lovely," before turning back to Sophia, "great to meet you, hope to see you sometime soon." Patrice could almost feel Alex bristling behind her, and nudged Theo toward the door.
"It was good to meet you too..." Sophia said politely, thankful that Patrice was allowing them out of the situation so easily. She offered a gracious smile to Alex as a goodbye and took Theo's hand when Patrice opened the door. "I promise we won't be out too late," she teased. "Good night."
"Of course." Patrice smiled at them and closed the door as they started down the hall. She paused for half a moment, thinking how best to avoid Alex's building mood. Without further delay, she smirked and quietly eased down onto her knees. Patrice tried to cover the smirk as best she could when she glanced up at Alex, knowing the unexpected and now quite rare concession would be hard for Alex to take in without forgetting any annoyance almost immediately. She held Alex's gaze, and managed levelly, "I apologize for that," then she couldn't help a small laugh, "and you can have the rest of the ice cream."
Before Alex could really finish raising her eyebrows, she was laughing slightly. She ran her fingertips through Patrice's hair before gently pulling her up and into her arms. "I think now that we have the house to ourselves, I want more than ice cream." She started to pull Patrice off to the bedroom without further warning, determined to simply think about Theo's new girlfriend later. "We'll see how sorry you really are," she teased.
Sophia leaned against the wall as they waited for the elevator to come back up. "Something came up and Mother had to fly to Switzerland. So, they both went." She smiled, her anticipation for the rest of the evening building. "Your mothers are nice."
Theo smiled and stepped closer, hoping to put an arm around Sophia for at least the length of the elevator ride. "Thanks. I'm sure Patrice is going to want to know when I'm inviting you back for dinner or drinks or something as soon as I get home." He leaned in for a kiss. "And can I say that I'm very happy that whatever it is that happened in Switzerland that meant you showed up at my door."
She laughed lightly and pulled away from him as the elevator doors opened. "And thankfully it's not something that will cost you or anyone else your jobs." She smirked, leaning against the side of car. "Anyway, I wanted to do something special tonight." And the pleasant flutter in her stomach was not just from the rapidly dropping elevator.
"Okay." He took her hand as they stepped onto the street. "What's the plan then? Since it seems like you have one already."
"You’ll see." Selena led him to the waiting car and slid in before him. As soon as the driver closed the door behind Theo, she quickly wrapped a blindfold around his eyes.
"Really? Because I'm not seeing much of anything right now." It was a lame joke, but talking helped quell the sudden rush of blood through his veins. He was already wondering how long Sophia would leave the blindfold on and if it was merely the location that was a surprise or something else. He tried to push that thought away, not wanting to get his hopes up. They had been dating for most of the summer and she hadn't so much as looked at him whenever they both happened to be at the club at the same time, and he hadn't gotten much further than a hand up her shirt on their dates. It was both immensely frustrating and immensely satisfying, but that didn't mean he wasn't looking forward to the day it would end.
"Mmm," Sophia intoned. She ran her hand up Theo's leg, already anticipating seeing him stripped of the clothes he had probably chosen meticulously. She was silent for the rest of the ride, but she kept her hand there possessively. And when they arrived, she ushered Theo inside without removing the blindfold at all.
It was easy for Theo to trust her, to let her guide him out of the car and into an elevator, one that smelled suspiciously familiar. His breath caught in his chest and he reached blindly for Sophia. It was really happening. Finally. His mouth was dry and suddenly he was nervous. What if he wasn't good enough for her? What if he could make her happy? "Sophia..." He was still reaching, needing some sort of reassurance.
"Yes, Theo?" Her voice was quiet, completely sure. This was what she had wanted from the very beginning. And the discipline to wait for it was only going to make every moment better.
The confidence in her voice was enough to give him that reassurance. "Nothing. I'm sorry." He swallowed and tilted his head down slightly, waiting for the elevator to stop or for some sort of instruction.
When the doors slid open, Sophia led him out and stopped before the formal entrance to the club. She took the blindfold off and turned to him, pressing her finger under his chin to lift it up. "I want this," she said, her dark eyes piercing his gaze. She had to know that he truly wanted it to. It was a formality that she would not skip.
Theo licked his lips and look directly into her eyes. He could feel the light stubble on his chin and he wished that he had thought to shave before joining her. His tongue felt thick in his mouth. "So do I. So much." He searched her face, then, hoping to finally see something besides disdain and dismissal.
"Good," she replied, tone casual, words clipped, "I hope you'll be in proper form when you meet me in the lounge, then." Sophia wanted nothing more than to simply kiss him and tell him that she was glad, that she was glad they could potentially share this. But she wanted to slip into her role before they ever stepped foot in together. And she sauntered through the doors, leaving him to sort himself out.
Theo took a very deep breath as he watched her walk into the club and away from him. It took him a moment to pull himself together and duck into a side room to disrobe. He hoped that Sophia didn't mind the imposition when he had his clothing sent to her room, but if she did, he was certain to hear about it. Once he was naked, he took a quick minute to shave and arrange his hair once again. Though they were available, he didn't put on a collar. It seemed like something that Sophia would want to do herself. One last look in the mirror and he opened the door and stepped into the club proper. It didn't take him long to get to the lounge, and he tried to clear his mind while he walked, but his thought kept churning. Sophia was easy to find. He had been watching her for months; he knew where her favorite spots were. A moment later and he was kneeling at her feet, still fearful that she might not even acknowledge him.
A thrill ran down Sophia center to see Theo kneeling so eagerly at his feet. Even though she had looked upon him with mock disdain, even though she had seemed to ignore him, she had been quietly watching Theo too, getting to know him through the way he watched others, through the women he seemed to seek out. To her knowledge, he hadn't gone to bed with one of them since they began to date. And she was quietly satisfied with that. "A drink," she murmured as she glanced around the room.
Theo easily unfolded himself and wordlessly headed to the bar, neither he, nor the bartender, would need anything more specific to know just what she wanted that night. The bartender placed a tray in front of him and he carefully picked it up, carrying it back to Sophia and offering it to her.
She took it, and once Theo was settled onto his knees again, Sophia ran her fingers through his thick hair. She had never been so aware, so excited by the men at her feet. But tonight, she savored the small touches and Theo's reactions to them.
Theo's eyes drifted closed as Sophia continued to pet him, and he finally managed to achieve some sort of mental calm. It seemed like it was going to be a very long night, and he wanted to be prepared for that, for anything that she might ask of him.
"Have you ever been punished before?" Sophia asked, her steady voice quiet and calm. She had not seen him being severely punished in public, but she did not know what went on behind closed doors.
Theo shifted slightly. "Physically?" When he saw her nod, he continued. "It's never been something that I was particularly interested in." A spanking here and there, a light paddling more for show than anything, ran closer to his interests. He had never been whipped or caned or tied to a cross and the thought that Sophia might want to do something like that so soon made him nervous.
"And you're not interested now?" The question was frank. There was no expectation or accusation in it. Sophia was cautious; Theo was not a chance she wanted to throw away.
"Pain isn't something that I really enjoy." It was something that he could tolerate, and there were aspects of the performance that were appealing, but he didn't get a rush the way he knew other people did. "But I like the audience, the spectacle." He was much better at admitting to his desires now than when he first started, but it had taken a while to build up to that confidence.
"Mmm... spectacle," she said, rolling the word on her tongue as if tasting it. Sophia stood suddenly, leaving her drink as she crooked her finger for Theo to follow her before she sauntered across the room. She led him out to the great room where a number of small scenes were being played. But she did not give any a second glance as she stroked to a Saint Andrew's cross and waited expectantly for him to ready himself against it.
Theo stepped up to the cross without hesitating. He could feel the wood against his skin as Sophia tightened the restraints and it made him shiver. He watched her from the corner of his eye and he could tell from the way the light buzz in the room shifted that they were attracting an audience.
The immediate attention might have been from who they were, that they were together, or it might have been from the simple fact that something new and attractive was taking place. Sophia began to touch him lightly as she leaned in and whispered, "I believe you have an audience, Theo."
Theo nodded slightly, pushing eagerly into Sophia's hand as best he could while restrained. She hadn't, after all, told him to be still. He was already half hard and getting harder by the second and it just felt so good, so good for her to finally be touching him.
"Be good," she whispered, her lips barely gracing his. Then, Sophia stepped away. She took a moment to admire her handiwork, and Theo looked perfect restrained there. She knew she wasn't the only one to appreciate it, and as Sophia sent a house slave for a glass of sparkling water, she saw someone approach the platform to touch Theo.
Theo wasn't exactly sure what Sophia's version of 'good' was, but he had a feeling it didn't involve coming all over someone else's hand. He tried to ignore the random touches as more people wandered over and fingers trailed over his skin at random intervals. He shivered with each new touch, twisting in the bonds when some of them became too much. He was arching toward Sophia, muscles straining against the leather bonds which creaked slightly with each movement.
As Sophia watched him strain, her own anticipation built. She licked her lips, sipping the cool water, prolonging the moments he would have to wait. And it was not when she thought he could not last another moment that she crossed back to him, parting a small group of people; it was when she no longer wanted to wait. She leaned in for a deep kiss before pulling away in order to loosen his bonds. "We're going to my room."
Theo nodded and sighed in relief as all of the other hands disappeared and he could focus on her touch once again. He followed her through the hallways and stepped into her room, his natural curiosity getting the better of him. As far as he knew, every room in the club was different and some people took more interest in their decoration than others. He had imagined a myriad of different ways that Sophia's room might look.
It was simple, with tastes more modern than the usual club decor, and she had had it painted a brighter color and made more well lit. But Sophia did not tolerate his wandering gaze long. "I don't want to have to punish you right now," she murmured as she wrapped her arms around his neck. And she didn't. Sophia wanted simply to have him; she did not have the control to wait for a prolonged punishment. "Go on," she said, urging him to undress her.
"I'm sorry." Theo focused immediately and carefully started to undress Sophia. There wasn't even a point to trying to make his hands stop shaking. It would have been impossible. Each newly revealed piece of skin only made his anticipation worse. His breathing sped up as he unbuttoned her shirt and pulled it off. He lingered over her bra, letting his fingers skim over the tops of her breasts, before he dropped to his knees again and unfastened her pants. When he finally got to her panties, he took a shuddering breath, a barely audible "God," escaping his lips once she was naked before him.
Sophia was shaking lightly with the effort to simply keep still, but she didn't think he noticed. Even so, at his utterance, she quickly pulled him up and into a kiss, pressing herself again him. "Theo..." she moaned, feeling him hard against her. Sophia couldn't wait any more; she didn't want to. "Bed...just...now..."
"Yeah." Theo picked her up and quickly staggered back to the bed, landing on top of her once they were finally there. He didn't know what he would do if she told him to stop. Probably die from spontaneous combustion. He pushed his fingers between her legs to see if she was wet enough and God, she was and that alone was almost enough to make him come. "Sophia, please." He wanted to bury himself inside of her, but he wasn't going to do it without permission, even if he was already pulling away to grab a condom and put it on.
"Yes...yes," she panted, taking the wrapper from his hands and fumbling to open it. She put the condom on him herself before pulling him back down and kissing him hard as she wrapped her legs around him. "Now, Theo..."
"Fuck." Pushing in to her felt so good it made him wince. There would be time for other games later, but for right now, they both needed this, to be together in the moment, equally overwhelmed. Sophia was hot and wet and felt so damned good, like she was made of molten lava that was going to consume him. He didn't try to measure his thrusts, he couldn't. He was acting on instinct alone, eyes half closed and muscles straining once again, this time to pull her impossibly close.
She was gulping in jagged breaths between kisses as she pulled him close, splaying her fingers across his back, his hips. And finally, Sophia slipped her hand between them, touching herself as his thrusts became uneven and almost brutal. As she came, she arched into him and cried out, moaning unabashedly until she began to come down.
Theo didn't stop, Sophia's moans only spurring him on, the way her muscles contracted around his cock pushing him that much closer. Then suddenly he was coming, pushing deep inside of her as his back arched. It took all of his remaining energy to roll off of her and carefully pull her into his arms.
Sophia put her head on his chest and smiled as she closed her eyes. She didn't do half of the things she'd thought she might, things she'd planned and thought about for weeks. But it had been perfect, exactly what she wanted. And she sighed softly in contentment as she moved closer. There would be nights they spent there together, waking up to order breakfast before they returned to the world, but she knew that because she would have to get him home as promised, she should enjoy this moment as long as it lasted.
Chapter 12: Secrets
Eli shifted on the sofa and turned the volume on the television down as she glanced at Theo. Alex and Patrice were at a holiday party, and mercifully, it had been of the caliber that did not invite its guests’ adult children. Since she'd gotten into town for Christmas, Eli felt like she hadn't had a moment to herself. "Theo…is there some reason you're obsessively checking your phone?"
"Huh?" Theo looked up from his phone. He hadn't really been paying attention to Eli or the tv, happy to let both of them fade into background noise. "What'd you say?"
She rolled her eyes. He'd always been like this with books and video games, and it seemed that the same applied to his phone now, Eli guessed, when it applied to his girlfriend. "Is Sophia supposed to be texting you or something?"
"Oh, yeah, when her plane lands." Sam and Selena had barely given her time to get back into town before they had all left again for a short trip to the Bahamas, but she was supposed to be back before Christmas. She was supposed to be back that day but the schedule hadn't been set when last they had talked and with her mothers, anything was possible. She could very well end up calling him from Japan or something.
"You've been with her for how long and they couldn't take you with them to Timbuktu or wherever?" Eli didn't have anything against Sophia, but it was easy to pick at Theo about her. And it was clear that she still wasn't Alex's favorite, which was probably why Theo hadn't gone on any sort of trip with the Kincaids… if they'd invited him at all. They were a weird bunch, in her opinion.
Theo shrugged. "It was family only, though yeah, she asked if I wanted to come." It was only sort of intimidating that Sam Kincaid was willing to let him be a part of her family, even if he and Sophia had been dating for almost three years. "I just, uh, didn't want to risk missing Christmas at home." He turned his phone over in his hands, willing it to vibrate. "Have you talked to Dani since you've been back?"
"Uh, no… I don't know if she's in New York," Eli replied easily, even though her shoulders tensed.
"Oh. Uh, sorry." Theo shrugged. "I didn't mean..." She might be trying to play it off, but he could tell that she didn't want to talk about it. "We could go out or something... Distraction, or whatever."
"I'm good here… seriously… It's snowing, and honestly, I'd be fine if I didn't see another person for a while, and you don't count, you know that." It was good to see Theo again. Texts and phone conversations weren't the same as nights at home, as fighting over the last of the ice cream. And California was a lot father away than Massachusetts had been. "Listen… about Sophia… it's really that serious? I mean… you've been together for a while, you're planning grad school around what she's doing..."
"The grad school thing is a coincidence, but yeah, it's pretty serious." He looked down at his phone again before sitting up. He ran a hand through his hair before he looked up at Eli again. "Don't tell anyone, but I'm thinking about asking her to marry me." He couldn't stop the blush that colored his cheeks. "You know, after graduation and everything. I mean, I still have to talk to her parents first..." He shrugged.
Eli sat up straight, knocking the remote onto the floor. "Shit…Theo…" She licked her lips as she studied his face, tracing the serious wrinkle in his forehead with her eyes. "Have you told Alex and Patrice? Have you gotten a ring?"
"Uh, this is the first time I've really said it out loud." He pulled his legs up onto the couch crossing them underneath himself. "So no, I haven't told Alex or Patrice yet and I think maybe ring buying should wait until after I've talked to Sam. She's probably got a carefully vetted list of jewelers and stuff in a folder someplace." He tried to smile hoping that Eli couldn't see just how nervous that made him. He loved Sophia, but her moms were still unsettling.
"Then I hope you pick something she'll absolutely hate." Eli grinned widely as she reached over and ruffled Theo's hair, pulling her into his arms before he could pull away. "Oh, my God, I don't know how I'm going to be able to keep this a secret… my little brother getting married to the weirdest family in New York."
"I'm, uh, more concerned with getting something Sophia's gonna like than pissing Sam off." He hugged Eli back not really bothered by the contact the way he would have been a few years earlier. "And you only have to keep it a secret for a little while. I mean, once I actually ask her, it won't really be a secret anymore."
"Secret or not… we're going out… people be damned." Eli was grinning as she pulled away. She nearly tripped on the remote when she got up to put on her shoes and get her coat, but she was in too good a mood to care. A good mood… mixed with a little bit of being freaked out, but she pushed that away to deal with another day. It meant she didn't have to deal with the fact that Dani hadn't called her back, anyway. "Let's go to that dive you like and get those awful Jingle Bell Martinis..."
Chapter 13: Interlude
Samantha sighed contentedly as she sat in a chair by the fireplace in the library. She watched the flames dance as she loosened her tie, letting the office fade for the day. Soon enough she could hear the rumble of small feet running down the hall and was quickly assailed by two exuberant faces—their oldest.
"Mother!" The boy smiled and kissed her cheek, while the little girl crawled unaided onto her lap.
The blonde kissed both of them, quietly pulling the younger girl's thumb down as she went to put it in her mouth, giving her a soft but warning look. She turned back to the expectant boy, who was already preparing for a question, his hands wringing behind his back,
"All right, James, do you have an answer for me?" Sam tried to look serious, but at her oldest child's expression it was hard to do. The boy had obviously been memorizing all day, probably taking care to learn spellings and perhaps a fact or two should she have asked.
"There are seven." He looked up, expecting the follow-up already, and so he went ahead, "The Pacific, the Atlantic, the Indian, Caribbean....Mediterranean..." The young blonde paused as he tripped over the pronunciation and counted on his fingers to see how many were left, "the....Gulf of Mexico..."
Samantha nodded in quiet encouragement and approval as he searched for the last in the list, his face pinching slightly in concentration the way her closest brother's did sometimes.
"Arctic!" The girl on her mother's lap couldn't help herself, giving the answer and giggling before her brother could find it.
Sam chuckled at both of them, fully satisfied with the performance. She kissed the girl's fine hair lightly. Sophia was sharp; she did not have to work as hard to keep up with her older brother. "Very good—both of you." She shifted and reached in a pocket, producing two pristine silver dollar coins and gave the children each their reward. There would be another question for tomorrow—once she thought of it.
"Dinner you two, go and wash." Sam turned as she heard her wife's silky voice from the doorway. The children bounded out, and Selena crossed the room to kiss her, balancing the baby boy on her hip. "Was your day all right?" She smiled warmly, always glad to see the Samantha come home again.
“Mmhm,” Samantha intoned as she let her fingers graze the slight swell of Selena's stomach. She stood, cupping the back of the baby's head to rub her thumb over his wisps of hair. “I'm happy to be home, though.” She took the child from Selena's arms, settling him on her own hip as she smiled. “Come and sit down...the children will find their way to the table.”
She took Selena's elbow gently and guided her to the table, each movement protective, simple. There were moments when Sam couldn't imagine anything more perfect, but as their family grew, she allowed some perceptions to change, allowed herself larger visions. But in that moment, the sound of Sophia's laugher and James's steps pulled her from those thoughts and brought a smile to her face as the family came together for dinner.
Chapter 14: Moment
There had never been a real sense of "after hours" at the bank for Sam. Her office was quiet from the early morning until the late evening and beyond that if she had reason to stay. She had grown used to the way the shadows moved, as if they were a part of her, a part integral to the workings of each day. She knew when she looked up that the lobby would be clearing, that people would be busy with tasks as the locking of the doors echoed throughout the marble. And she knew to expect the knock on her door. It came, just as she glanced at the clock, and before answering, she took a moment for a soft breath, for the minute movements required to completely center herself. "Come in," she called. And when Theo entered, she merely nodded to a chair.
"Thank you." Theo smoothed his tie as he took the offered seat, smiling nervously. He had gotten more used to Sam as he had spent more time with her, and while she was still intimidating, particularly in regard to this specific conversation, she no longer made him fidget nervously. Enough family meals had cured him of that habit. "I'm, um, glad that you could find the time. I know I didn't really give your secretary much notice." He had been thinking about it for weeks, but not this part. In fact, he had been actively trying not to think about this part.
"Not at all," she replied. Sam's eyes flicked momentarily to half full decanter on one of her shelves, but she made no move toward it. There would be time for that later; she wanted him to face her with a clear head, and he would appreciate that later. As she went back to regarding him, Samantha was pleased with her choice. She laced her fingers together in front of her, drawing out the motion, leaving the unspoken question in the air.
Theo looked down at his own laced fingers and took a deep breath, trying to figure out how he wanted to start. "I... wow, this is harder than I thought it would be." He really didn't think that Sam would tell him no, but there was always the possibility that she had changed her mind. He had seen her do it before, pulling out of multi-millions dollar deals at the last minute for no apparent reason, though he was sure that she had them. And he knew that Sophia was worth far more to her than any sum of money. Suddenly, the two years they had been dating didn’t seem to mean anything at all. He smiled nervously, appreciating her silence and the moment that she gave him to collect himself again. "I hope you know hope much I love you daughter. I think you do." He smiled sheepishly.
The corners of Sam's lips twitched up into a faint smile. "I don't think I would be remiss in saying that Sophia shares the sentiment." When she pushed them together, Samantha had some idea that they might form a friendship easily, but she had been more than pleased to see how much Sophia had grown to care for Theo and how attentive he had been to her, even through separations of place. Theo was a good investment for the bank, but that was nothing if he was not good for Sophia.
The words made Theo smile broadly despite his nervousness. He didn't think that he would ever tire of hearing just how much Sophia loved him, and any positive words from Sam were few and far enough between that he treasured them. "I want to ask her to marry me. And I'm hoping you'll give me your permission to do so." He looked at Sam expectantly.
Samantha shifted almost imperceptibly, and even though her faint smile remained, her eyes were serious. He had given her no reason to say anything other than 'yes.' And Sophia had given no indication that she would want to Sam to do otherwise. But this was her eldest daughter, her flesh and blood. She would not take such a decision so lightly as to have not already discussed it with Selena, to have not taken her own quiet moments to think about it. Finally, she leaned forward. "Provided that Sophia is agreeable and you do not marry before she finishes her degree, I would be pleased to give it to you, Theo." There was much unsaid, words between Samantha's words. She would see to it that her children were happy.
"Of course, of course," Theo rushed to assure her. He didn't think that Sophia would agree to a wedding before she finished her MBA. He didn't know that he was prepared for one either. But that wouldn't be a long wait. He doubted that they could even plan the type of wedding that Sam and Selena would insist on in that time. "Thank you." He couldn't stop grinning. He wasn't even trying. "Thank you." Now he just had to get Sophia to say yes.
When Samantha saw him tense to rise, She stood, taking the decanter off of its shelf and pouring two glasses. "You've thought about a ring?" Sophia, had no doubt, noticed the absence of Selena's ring--a Kincaid heirloom that would be hers, as she was to marry first. But she was not sure if Theo had been told--a test. And it was Selena who had seen the signs in Theo, who had approached Sam noting that it was time. That night, she would have her replacement.
Theo blushed. "I hadn't really gotten around to looking yet." He fidgeted with his tie. "I didn't think that there was any point in getting ahead of myself." Sam might have said no, after all.
As she handed him his glass, Samantha put hers down, opening the top drawer of her desk. She took out a small box--leather covered and square. The delicate gold leaf design around the top was growing worn with time. "This ring has been in my family for generations," she murmured, offering the box to him, handling it with a sort of reverence. "It rightfully belongs to Sophia."
"Oh..." Theo exhaled as he took the box, holding it with just as much reverence, in awe that she would trust him with it. It made everything else she was trusting him with that much more real. He didn't have to look at it to know exactly what it looked like. He had noticed it on Selena's finger before, when he first had an inkling that he would ask Sophia to marry him. "Th-thank you." He closed his hand around it and slid it into a pocket.
"Of course." Samantha dropped back into her chair and slid an envelope across the desk in Theo's direction. "Sophia will be in early this weekend. I've made you reservations for Saturday night; I'm not sure she'll want to go out Friday." She sipped her drink thoughtfully, the picture of Theo's proposal unfolding in her mind.
Theo knew immediately what Sam wast thinking of with the envelope and he smiled as he accepted it. He had been planning just how he would ask Sophia to marry him for months, daydreaming about it, worrying about all of the details, but if Sam wanted to think that she could create perfect night for them, he would let her think that. It would be rude to turn down such a gift, even if he didn't really plan on using it. "Thank you." He nodded as he sipped his drink, wondering if there would be any other such meetings. He knew that Sam in no way considered him her equal, but the camaraderie was nice.
Samantha nodded. "I hope you'll let Selena and me be the first to congratulate you." With a party, naturally, and Samantha's meaning of 'hope' went unspoken. She was sure Alex and Patrice would want to know the details as well, but there would be time. She had already begun the preparations for the celebration. Finally, she finished her drink and stood, a note of finality in her movements. "We'll meet at a more appropriate time to discuss your future at the bank," she said quietly as she rounded her desk.
"Oh," Theo stood, slightly taken off guard by Sam's movements. He stood to meet her. "Of course, anything you want to do would be great." He would let Sophia negotiate the arrangements. As for his future at the bank, he wasn't going to get ahead of himself. He knew that he needed to finish school as well. "Um, thank you, again. For everything." He offered his hand, hoping that Sam would wouldn't laugh at him.
Sam took his hand, holding it longer than was necessary for any sort of formal goodbye or business arrangement. She held Theo's eyes as well, looking at him closely. She had not been so young, so fresh and ambitious when she made her plans to be with Selena, but she recognized the glimmer of excitement, of anticipation in his eyes. "You'll do well," she murmured before she pulled away, going back to her desk to end her day before supper would be on the table.
Theo smiled to himself as he ducked out of Sam's office. He pulled his cell phone out and found Sophia's number. He couldn't wait to make all of his plans final.
Chapter 15: Interlude
Against Selena's still slim shoulders, the black fabric of her dress stood out sharply. Samantha stood just beyond the scope of the mirror, just where she could see the reflection of her wife's bowed head, the shadows of the low light in the room playing over Selena's face as she concentrated on clasping a bracelet around her wrist. Sam leaned easily against the wall with no acknowledgment from Selena, but she did not need to question whether Selena knew she was there.
Finally, when she heard the click of the clasp, when Selena's elegant neck straightened, she pushed away, stepping forward, pulling her hands free. Wisps of grey hair escaped the chignon at her neck, but the effortlessness of it was beautiful. Sam didn't watch herself come into view of the glass. She soundlessly slipped her hands out of her pockets, pulling a thin box from one.
Selena did not look up, but her dark eyes caught Samantha's reflection as Sam opened the box and extended her arms, circling Selena's shoulders and lifting the necklace to her neck to carefully clasp it.
"You look beautiful," she murmured, eyes bright as she caught the glitter of emeralds against Selena's collarbones.
"Thank you..." Selena touched the gems carefully, as if they would crumble. Her eyes were shadowed.
Sam rested her slim hands on Selena's shoulders, gently, feeling her warmth as they watched each other through the reflection. "You're feeling well?"
"My oldest daughter is to be married. There was littler time for her than I expected." Samantha understood acutely, but the world of plans opened up to her, just as the world was opening to Sophia. And the absence was left for Selena to bear.
"Theo will take care of her." Sam would not have allowed anything less even though Sophia was perfectly capable of taking care of herself. But her plans for her children included every contingency. Her plans for herself had been just as precise but not so precise that she allowed others to see that the unexpected could shake her.
She watched as Selena shifted, turning her dark eyes up, and Sam's breath caught as their eyes met. The years did not matter. The familiarity did not matter. Selena could always capture moments with her that way.
"They will take care of each other, amor mia."
Theo couldn't keep the satisfied smile from his face. His cheeks were starting to hurt and he knew it was ridiculous, but there just wasn't anything that he could do about it. He was happy. He was so unbelievably happy. He wrapped an arm around Sophia's waist and pulled her close, reveling in the smell of her perfume as he kissed her cheek. "I love you," he whispered. He grabbed two glasses of champagne from a passing tray and handed one to Sophia.
"I love you too," she murmured, shifting so that they were not so close together. Sophia was just as happy, but her expression was placid. She loved the closeness, the feel of Theo's warmth. Garden lights twinkled around them, and there was a pleasant undercurrent of the hum of people just beneath the sound of the band. She had played in this courtyard as a child, had taken tennis lessons at this country club and had had lunches there after her morning riding lessons. It was fitting that her parents should chose to host the party there. "Your family hasn't arrived…" And the time of fashionable lateness was growing thin.
"They'll be here soon." He wasn't worried. "Eli just texted me. They're in the parking lot." His smile only grew and he bounced slightly on the balls of his feet. It was rare that so many people that he loved would all be together and happy all at the same time and it was adding to his giddiness.
"Theo," Sophia said, voice quiet as she turned into him, "while it surprises me that you're quite this excited about the party, I am very pleased, but…" She glanced up, catching Samantha's gaze from across the cobblestones, "my Mother is watching, and you're acting as if the petting zoo is about to arrive." She turned away, offering merely a nod to Samantha as she coolly sipped her drink.
"Maybe they're bringing the petting zoo with them." Theo chuckled. He just couldn't help teasing her sometimes. "And you can always do something about my terrible behavior later." He kept his voice low as he whispered the latter hoping that she just might take him up on it the next night.
"If you so desperately want me to," Sophia said, turning more fully into him in order to straighten his bow-tie—which seemed determined to be crooked for the entirety of the night, "perhaps I won't do anything at all." A half smile came to her face. "I wanted a petting zoo at my sixth birthday..."
"Let me guess, you got a trip to Africa instead?" Theo was still just as excited. There really wasn't anything that could happen that night that could ruin his good mood. "Oh, I think Alex and Patrice just walked in." He nodded toward the gate where Alex, Patrice, Eli and Dani were all congregating. He really hoped that Alex hadn't been too put of by the lecture he and Eli had prepared, but he really didn't want her getting in a fight with Sam that night.
"A circus. I'm not sure I would have appreciated a trip to Africa then," Sophia said thoughtfully as she followed Theo's eyes. She took in each member of Theo's family as they made their way over. Eli was like him in appearance, but it surprised her just how different they were in personality, where she and her siblings seemed fairly uniform. Eli's body language matched Patrice's more closely than Alex's, even though it was the opposite for their looks. And Danielle just seemed content to be holding Eli's hand. Theo's family fascinated her, but Sophia wouldn't admit that, and she smiled pleasantly as the group reached them. "Alex, Patrice…we were beginning to worry."
Patrice smiled, and pulled Sophia into a hug before giving Theo one as well. Her eyes were bright- nearly misty as she looked around. The whole thing seemed surreal, to see Theo in this light. "No need, it just took a little time to get us organized...you know us." And she did, and Patrice could tell it didn't bother Sophia as much as she might try to make it look. Alex was close beside her, and for all the complaining she had done about Sam Kincaid running off with the planning, it was nothing a good drink wouldn't make her give up.
Theo practically picked Eli up as he hugged her, laughing as she squeaked. "I wasn't the one that was worried." He hugged Dani too, glad to see she and Eli seemed to have finally settled into something. "You all look beautiful, but then, I think everybody looks beautiful tonight."
"Someone is either lovesick or has had too much candy," Eli said, rolling her eyes. She was grinning at Theo though with his crooked bow-tie, and Sophia thought they had the same sort of grin. But there was something different behind Eli's than Theo's. She kissed Eli on the cheek and squeezed Dani's hand. It was good to see that they were back together, happy. She supposed it was true that when one is happy one wants everyone to be happy as well. "I hope everything suits tonight." She said it with Alex in mind, looking into her eyes as she offered her a polite hug.
"It's beautiful,” Alex said. She moved away from Sophia and hugged Theo tightly, almost not wanting to let him go. "Just like Patrice said it would be."
"When will you ever learn I know what I'm talking about sometimes." Patrice grinned at Alex, and took two glasses of champagne from a passing waiter's tray. She handed one to Alex, and glanced back to Sophia, "I hope your mothers are getting a chance to enjoy themselves, I know how hard they must have worked on the arrangements." She lowered her voice just slightly then, "And how is Selena tonight? Is there anything I can do to help?"
Sophia's eyes clouded for a moment, but she forced herself not to turn, not to look for her mothers. And her face remained completely calm. Alex and Patrice were becoming family, but that did not mean she could take off her Kincaid armor even for a moment. "Mama is doing well, thank you," she said softly. "It's very kind of you to offer, but I believe all is in place." Her eyes twinkled lightly. "You know how mother can be, I'm sure." This made Alex's face crease with the frown she was holding back, but Sophia did not mind. Either she would win Alex or she would not. "And Theo has done quite a bit; we've found he's rather good with managing the staff." She pressed his arm and smiled.
Theo smiled and wrapped an arm around Sophia's waist. "I'm thinking of just... staying home and managing the "staff" after the honeymoon." He chuckled and shook his head.
Patrice let the moment lighten then, "Well we didn't pay for those years of business school for nothing then." She laughed quietly, and took Alex's hand. There were more guests arriving, and wanting a moment of the young couple's time. She guided them toward a table, noticing who was missing, "Dani, will your parents be able to make it? I know Taylor said something about an important vote earlier this week."
"They said they'd be here." Dani shrugged. Sam was way too important for Taylor career for her to just blow the party off. "They're probably just running late. Mom's life just... runs half an hour behind everyone else's." Dani had given up worrying about it.
"We're honored that she could make the time," Sophia murmured, a soft smile on her face. She knew full well that the senator and her wife would come, even if only for a short period. This party was as much about her family and their contacts as it was Theo and her, but Sophia did not mind that. Her happiness did not depend on everything centering on her. Theo's attention was exactly there, and she couldn't ask for more than that.
“They wouldn’t have missed it,” Dani replied.
“And maybe soon,” Patrice added, smirking, “they'll have another engagement party to be co-hosting as well as just attending.” This earned a glare from Eli, and Sophia knew matters such as this well enough to know it was time take care of the situation before it became something else.
"Alex, Patrice, I saw Avery Wherren just before you arrived, and he was very curious about Eli. I told him I would be sure to tell you he hoped to see all of you tonight, and I believe he is just over by the fountain."
Patrice followed Sophia's glance and nodded appreciatively. Sophia was nothing if not her mother's daughter. "Thank you, it will be nice to have a word." She grinned, "Even if the last time we met he was less than pleased to see me." That was the way of their profession though, and most acrimony was left in favor of business once the need for it had passed.
Eli turned to Dani and subtly rolled her eyes. There were some nights when she appreciated her mothers' contacts, but some nights she just wanted to spend without being entirely charming and on guard. The latter never seemed to happen. She took Dani's hand and smiled at Alex and Patrice. "Well, let's go have a word about how interesting I am before I decide to have another glass of champagne." She smirked at Theo. "I'm sure we'll catch up with the two of you later." And she winked before heading toward the fountain, expecting her mothers to follow.
Theo waved good-bye to Eli and his parents before turning to Sophia, the goofy grin returning to his face. He let out a quick sigh of relief. "That... went better than I thought it would." He could only shake his head. Of course Alex wouldn't make a scene. He really shouldn't have worried. Patrice and Eli wouldn't have let her. "Have I mentioned how much I love my sister? Because right now, I really love Eli."
Sophia arched her elegant eyebrows. "Are you trying to make me jealous at our engagement party, Theo." She pressed his arm fondly as she glanced around the garden, picking out faces and their relationships to her family quickly. "I've already told Patrice that I plan to consult Alex about arrangements for the reception; I'm sure that will go toward smoothing her feelings about tonight."
"Yeah." Theo squeezed her hand and twined their fingers together as he tried to pick out people in the crowd that he actually wanted to talk to. "I think Senator Hamilton just got here." He nodded toward the gate that Taylor was holding open for Abbie as Abbie smoothed her skirt.
"So it seems." Sophia took in the stray strands of Abbie's hair thoughtfully as she caught Taylor's eye and smiled.
Abbie gave Taylor a sideways smile as she stepped through the gate, and took her offered arm. "I can't believe you made us late Taylor...really." She couldn't help her smile growing though as she quickly reached over to rub a last hint of lipstick off of the blond's neck. "I'm almost scared to ask just exactly what vote you had before coming back."
"I'll tell you about it later." Taylor kissed Abbie's cheek lightly and headed toward Theo and Sophia, nodding when she caught Sophia's eye. "They look happy." Theo could just heard the end of Taylor's whisper as he reached out to shake her hand. "Senator, we're so glad you could make it."
"Yes, thank you for coming," Sophia said as she shook Taylor's hand and leaned in to kiss her cheek softly. She did the same with Abbie, standing on her toes just slightly. "Ms. Carmichael, you look beautiful. I'm sure we have you to thank for pulling the Senator away from her work for a little while."
"Abbie, please Sophia. And we wouldn't have missed it, congratulations to you both." The event was obviously a Kincaid affair, though Abbie could feel a more personal tenor than others she had attended that were purely for show. She smiled as she glanced around, "We won't keep you, but thank you again for the invitation." Across the courtyard, Abbie could see Dani with Patrice and Alex. There was still an element of unreality about seeing Alex, but Patrice had grown on her. The blond was gesturing with her champagne flute, and quite clearly telling a story Alex was only half allowing. "We should probably catch up with our daughter over there."
"I believe you might have Eli's thanks for taking them out of that conversation." Sophia stepped back to Theo's side and took his arm. "Do enjoy yourselves."
"We will." Taylor squeezed Sophia's hand. She needed to talk to Samantha that night but it was going to wait until she saw her daughter. Somehow, despite the fact that Dani and Eli lived in DC now, Taylor never got to see enough of them to make her happy.
As they parted, Sophia murmured their own excuses. "Mama seems tired," she whispered to Theo, worry creeping into her voice. She guided him across the cobblestones toward where Selena was sitting, Sam standing behind the chair as if on guard.
Theo could only pull Sophia closer knowing that was the only comfort that she would allow in such a public setting. "I'm sure your mother won't let anything happen to her." He kissed her temple.
"Of course," Sophia replied, as if that were the most natural thing in the world. For her, it was. She watched the room carefully, making sure they wouldn't be intercepted by anyone that would keep them too long. Her eyes fell on a tall blonde that seemed somehow more stately than almost anyone there, almost rivaling her own mother. And next to her was a man whose tattoos peeked out of the collar and sleeves of his suit. They made a curious pair, and Sophia didn't believe she knew them. But she saved her curiosity for later.
Theo tried not to worry about it too much as they stepped up to Sam and Selena. Sophia would want to check on Selena before she got back to the party.
Selena rose and smiled as she saw her daughter. She could feel Samantha tense behind her, as if she would break at a moment's notice. "I am fine mi amor, you will know when it is otherwise." Selena turned and wrapped her daughter in a brief embrace, "You two are beautiful, I hope you are enjoying yourselves." The night was going well, and she was proud of all they had built.
"Mama," Selena murmured , pressing into the embrace before pulling away. "Are you enjoying the night?" She smiled as she ran her fingers over her mother's necklace. "This is lovely..."
Theo stood back and let Sophia have the moment with her mother, meeting Sam's eyes over their heads. He could never tell just what she was thinking, but he hoped that she truly did approve.
"Very much, and yes, you know your Mother has good taste." Selena smiled quietly at Sam next to her.
Samantha smiled as she put her hands on Selena's shoulders. "You make that easy," she said. She kissed the brunette's cheek lightly. "We saw the two of you speaking the the Senator. I'm glad she could come. And I see your sister and her daughter seem happy, Theo."
"Yeah. I think she and Eli have finally worked everything out." It was just one more thing that made the night perfect. "I'm sure they'll come over and say hi eventually." Theo put his arm back around Sophia's waist as if it were the most natural thing he had ever done. She just... somehow fit against his side.
"We'll be glad to see them,” Samantha murmured. "But the two of you should go and enjoy yourselves. This is your celebration."
"Thank you." Theo took Sam's hand and shook it, taking a risk and pulling her into a hug. "Thank you so much," he whispered.
Sophia suppressed a grin at Theo's actions. But she noted that her mother did not resist. She had, after all, picked Theo herself; though, had Sophia not fallen for him so completely, she knew they wouldn't be there. While they were distracted, she took Selena's hand. "It's still early...but if you need me, Mama, we can stay here by your side."
Selena waved her off, "I am fine, go and enjoy your night." Her smile was genuine.
"Of course, thank you." Sophia leaned in and kissed Selena's cheek, lingering for a moment, feeling Samantha's worry. She took Theo's hand again and smiled brightly. "Let's go and get more champagne, hmm?"
That sounds like a wonderful idea." Theo smiled a sideways smile at Sam, still not quite believing that he had gotten away with hugging her and lived. "I think I saw a waiter off that way." He pointed and let Sophia lead them over.
Voices in the garden were beginning to drown out the music, but everyone seemed happy, seemed to be enjoying themselves and that was how she wanted to share her happiness. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw to familiar figures heading for the bounds of the garden toward the clubhouse. Eli and Dani had slipped away from their families, and Sophia could only imagine what they were up to.
“Your sister seems intent to disappear tonight....” She watched as Theo followed the figures until they disappeared into a shadow.
“Let her. Tonight's for us.” He smiled brightly and stole a kiss, pressing their foreheads together for a moment before the broke apart. Tonight was for them, and it was just the start of many nights.