Alanna is hiding in the bathroom when George comes to pick her up.
It's not that she's nervous--well, okay, it's a little bit that she's nervous--it's just that she lives with Thayet. And she loves Thayet, but she remembers what it was like the first time her friends from high school saw her, the way she was just invisible. And she doesn't want to see it when it happens to George. It was bad enough with Jon.
Instead, she takes a long time looking at herself in the mirror, checking her hair and makeup. She knows this isn't a date. This is George. George already knows her, and he's clearly already into her. She doesn't have to dress up or anything. But she is. And she's being so obvious about it. She made Thayet do her makeup, so she and Buri know exactly how invested she is in this. Buri is clearly amused she's encouraging George's stalking, and Thayet is painfully kind and supportive.
She hears the knock on the door and the buzz of conversation and keeps staring at herself in the mirror, getting her breathing under control. George is one of her best friends, which is--a little weird to think about, admittedly. This is their first time hanging out outside of the bar, but somehow, that doesn't matter. He's George. She trusts him. She doesn't even know when that happened.
"You should get your friend Gary to make me one!" Buri calls, and Alanna takes a deep breath and heads out, purposefully not looking at George.
"You can ask Gary, he'll do anything for a pretty face," she remarks, looking around for her purse. "Just tell him he can watch you and Thayet make out."
"I'm not touching her anywhere near your frat friends. They were creepy enough the last time," says Thayet. Alanna can't argue the point; they really can be gross, and the more of them there are together, the grosser they become. They're exponential douchebags.
She gets the bag and finally risks a look at George. He's looking at her, not Thayet, and smiling, which makes her feel better. He's wearing a black t-shirt and jeans, which he manages to make look really, really good. She was not aware his arms were so nice. He always wears long sleeves at the bar. "Hey, darlin'. You're makin' me feel under-dressed."
She rolls her eyes and pulls on her shoes. "You look very nice, George. Thanks for taking me out tonight."
And it's nice. It feels like Alanna thinks a date would be, not that she's ever been on one. He insists on paying for dinner, and he's charming and funny and, well, maybe not handsome, not like Jon and Raoul, but she likes his looks better than theirs.
She knew this was a terrible idea.
"So, tell me more about Alanna," he says, with another stupidly attractive smile.
"You know about Alanna," she says. "I know it probably seems like you don't, but--the only thing that's different about Alanna and Alan is that Alan is a boy. I'm a history major, Jon's my best friend, I have a twin brother named Thom."
"You haven't told me much about the brother."
Alanna shrugs. "Not much to tell. He's my brother. We've always been close. Our mom died when we were born, and our father kind of--" she makes a face. "Well, I don't know if he was an asshole before that, but he has been for as long as I can remember. Thom was all I had for a long time." She kicks him gently. "Why are we talking about this? We should talk about anything else."
He laughs. "I like hearin' about you," he says, and Alanna's stomach flips over. "But sure. I bet you've got some good snapchats from Jon on vacation to show me."
"Safe bet," she says, and they lean in close together to look at her phone.
The thing is, she knows she's not misinterpreting the signals. George is interested in her. He's been more than clear about that, even now that he knows she's a girl. And this in many ways resembles a date. She's not wrong to think she might get laid tonight. She wants to.
She just needs to remember that's all that will happen. She knows better than to get her hopes up.
She's feeling even less optimistic an hour into their club adventure. She thinks George has ditched her entirely, which sucks, and she thinks about leaving or flirting with one of the weird flock of guys who won't leave her alone, but Rispah comes over with a drink for her and says, "George is an idiot."
Alanna glances over at him reluctantly. He's talking to a guy, but he's not hitting on him that she can tell, just talking. "What?"
"He's trying to be noble and give you space to get your flirt on or something," says Rispah. She shakes her head. "Just go talk to him. He's a complete moron, but he's been looking at you every five seconds."
"You think I'm an idiot too, don't you," Alanna says, dubious.
"Not as much as him." She smiles. "You seem good."
Alanna finishes her drink and then goes back over to see him, knocking her should against his."Where did you go?"
"Lettin' your admirers get you drinks and fawn over you. You aren't goin' to dance?"
"Not with them," she says, pulling him up. "I want to dance with you."
She's not really sure what to do once she's got him, though. Alanna's never been this person, the girl who goes to clubs and dances and hooks up. The last time she went to a club, she was pretending to be a boy. And not a boy who was looking for romance. She danced with Raoul and Gary and Jon threw up on her shoes.
George takes over for her, leaning down so she can wrap her arms around her neck and putting his hands on her hips. And it's so much easier than she thought it would be, because it's George. George, who can't dance, who teases her, who cares about her.
So she kisses him.
It's not her first kiss, but it's pretty close. She and Jon kissed a little, but it hadn't really been a focus, and the whole thing had been so new and quick that she didn't get much of a chance to enjoy it.
There's a few seconds where George doesn't respond, and Alanna is terrified that she's screwed everything up, that she was wrong, George's flirting didn't mean anything, and he's horrified.
But then he makes this tiny noise, surprised and happy, and his hand is on her chin, repositioning her so it's a real kiss, and a really good kiss. Alanna gets up on her tiptoes, trying to get closer, and George's arm wraps around her, pulling her flush against him. His other hand slides into her hair, and Alanna hums her approval.
When they finally pull apart, he rests his forehead against hers, grinning like he's never going to stop. Alanna suspects she might be too. "I was hopin' you were into that kind of dancin'," he teases.
"Shut up," she says, and pulls him down for another kiss.
She texts Thayet on their way back to George's to say she'll be home late.
why would you come back, morning sex is great
She snorts and writes, thanks for your support
"Hm?" asks George, smiling down at her. His hair is mussed and he's still grinning. Alanna's having trouble not stopping to kiss him again.
"Nothing," she says. "Just letting Thayet know where I'm going. Don't want Buri thinking you kidnapped me."
She puts her phone away and George takes her hand, twining their fingers together. His hand is big and rough, and she tries very hard to not think about all the other places his hands could go.
It's a good thing his apartment isn't too far.
They're kissing before George even has the door all the way open, and he picks her up once they're inside, carrying her back to the bedroom.
"'m glad you wear dresses," he murmurs, putting her down and kissing her again. "You look beautiful in dresses."
Alanna blushes all over. "You've already got me in bed, you don't have to chat me up."
"I like chattin' you up," he says, kissing down her neck. "And I wanted to make sure you knew I liked your dress. Didn't want you to get the wrong idea from how fast I'm gonna take it off you." He's as good as his word, pulling it up over her head. He pulls back a little to look at her, and she tries not to squirm.
"I think you look good in t-shirts," she says. "They do a lot for your arms."
He laughs. "Like my arms, huh? Tell me more."
"Well, I haven't seen the rest of you."
"All you had to do was ask," says George, pulling the t-shirt over his head. He's kind of ripped, apparently. George Cooper: full of surprises.
She surges up for another kiss, pushing him onto his back on the bed, and George laughs against her mouth. "Shut up," she says, running her hands up his chest.
His hands come around to unhook her bra. "Well, you're supposed to be telling me how good I look, anyway."
"I--" she starts, but his hand is on her breast, and she gasps. She's thought about this a lot and dreamed about it a few times, but she still wasn't really prepared. She bites her lip. "I haven't done this much," she admits, burying her face against his neck.
"That's alright," he says. "Just tell me when to stop. Or if you don't like anythin'. Or if you--"
"George," she says, laughing softly. "Don't stop."
"Sorry," he says. "I'm nervous too," he admits, rolling them over so he's on top of her again. He kisses her before she can respond, and Alanna busies herself with the button on his jeans instead of wondering what he has to be nervous about. George has done this plenty, she's sure.
"So, what do you want, birthday girl?" he asks, moving his mouth down to her chest. "I live to serve."
She pulls him back up. "I like kissing," she says. She puts his hand back on her breast, and he grins against her mouth.
"Me too." He kicks his jeans all the way off and settles between her legs, and Alanna can't help pushing up against him, just a little. She's gratified when he moans and thrusts back, and suddenly they're grinding against each other, desperate and breathless. He gets one of his hands between them, into her underwear, and starts rubbing her clit too. She wraps one leg around him, pulling him even closer, and it's not long before she feels him shudder against her. "That's not representative of my stamina," he manages, speeding up his fingers on her clit. "I promise."
Alanna laughs, but she's pretty close herself. "I was very worried."
He slides his hand lower, getting two fingers inside her and keeping his thumb on her clit, and her laugh turns into a helpless moan. She comes hard, and George works her through it, pulling his hand away almost reluctantly. He kisses her after, and she thinks it was supposed to be quick, but his mouth is distracting, and they just keep going.
When he finally pulls back, George flops onto his back with a breathless laugh. "Okay?"
"Okay," says Alanna, stretching and looking for her bra. George wraps his arm around her and tugs her in against his side before she can find it, and she lets herself snuggle against his chest. It's not going to make it hurt any worse tomorrow.
George kisses her hair. "Happy birthday, darlin'."
She closes her eyes and breathes him in. "Thanks."
When she wakes up, George is still holding her, and one of his hands is on top of hers, like he was holding it before he went to sleep. He looks relaxed, and Alanna looks at him for a long time, the way his hair falls in his face, the curve of his mouth, smiling a little even in his sleep, the mole under his ear.
She swallows hard and tries very, very hard not to cry.
It's not hard to slip out of the bed without waking him, and she finds her clothes and gets dressed in silence. She gets out of his apartment and goes back through the fire escape instead of through the Dove. It's only nine, she can't imagine Solom is there yet, but this feels safer.
She goes to the park, sits down on the bench by the pond, and continues not crying. She pulls out her phone and scrolls to Jon's name, but she can't bring herself to dial. She knows what Jon will say. Jon will tell her to go back.
Jon thinks George is in love with her, but Alanna is pretty sure Jon just feels guilty for not being in love with her himself.
Once she's got herself under control, she goes over to the frat to pick up some spare clothes, not ready to see Thayet. That can wait for tonight, when she'll be able to gossip about making out with George instead of just feeling raw about it. It was fun. And he was great. She doesn't have any complaints, except that she apparently has a thing for flirts. Which isn't George's fault.
She hangs out at the library until her shift, and then she goes into work. It's not one of her ordinary shifts, but she suspected she might want the distraction. Shes' not exactly happy she was right, but she's glad for the foresight.
Part of her can't help being upset, though, that George doesn't come in. Maybe some small, naive part of her was hoping he'd come in with flowers and a declaration of love.
Instead, she gets Numair fifteen minutes before closing.
"I need a drink," he says, groaning.
"You've come to the wrong place. Unless you meant coffee."
"I did not. But you close soon, don't you? Also, happy birthday. I should have led with that. I hope it was a good one?"
Alanna has a sudden, vivid memory of George's mouth and his hands, his body all pressed up against her, all warmth and affection, and she bites her lip. "It was, yeah. What's wrong with you?"
"I, ah." He rubs the back of his neck. "I may have been wrong. About Daine's age."
"She's seventeen. Eighteen at the end of next month. So, I was thinking I'd go get drunk. If you're not doing anything else--"
Alanna swallows. She wasn't planning to see George, but going to another bar feels like a betrayal. And the part of her that can't help picking at scabs wants to see him. "Well," she says, slow, "my admirer does work at a bar."
George is the same as ever, and Alanna is stuck between being stupidly relieved and even more stupidly disappointed. She didn't want it to change anything, like it hadn't with Jon, but it wouldn't kill him to be a little different. Numair drinks a lot and moans, and she and George drink somewhat less and console him a lot. It's all very normal, except that she keeps getting distracted by George's mouth on his beer bottle.
When Numair leaves, she stays, even knowing it's stupid. But it's really tragic that she hooked up with George Cooper and didn't actually get laid, and that's something that must be corrected.
George isn't opposed.
Thayet is still awake when she gets back, feeling sore and happy and a little heartbroken all at once. Alanna's never made very good decisions when it comes to emotions.
"Please tell me you weren't having sex this whole time," says Thayet. "You need to take breaks to hydrate."
"Not the whole time."
Thayet laughs. "So, how was he?"
"Good. Great, even."
"Are you going to see him again?"
"We're friends," she says. "I see him all the time."
Thayet frowns. "Alanna--"
"I need a shower," she says. "It's been too long."
Thayet takes the hint, and doesn't mention it again when Alanna gets out of the shower. Instead, she gives Alanna her birthday present (a book and a bottle of vodka, because Thayet is the best), and when Alanna says thanks, she's sure Thayet knows exactly what she means.
The frat gets back at three the next day. Jon takes one look at Alanna, waiting in the common room, and says, "So, how was sex with George Cooper?"
Alanna embarrasses herself by bursting into tears.
Jon and Raoul get her to Jon's room, and Gary brings her water, and tea, and advil, and a hot water bottle, and a teddy bear.
"Were you a boy scout?" she asks him.
"I'm just awesome," says Gary, giving her a hug. He and Raoul leave, and Jon sits down next to her and puts his arm around her.
"George Cooper isn't me," he says, gently.
"I know," says Alanna.
"He's crazy about you."
"He is," Jon says firmly. "I know you think he's not. But I've seen the two of you. He looks at you like you're the best thing that's ever happened to him. And he flirts with the rest of us, sure, but he takes care of you. He and I are friends, and he'll joke around with me, but if you were stuck in the middle of Alaska and called him, he'd come get you."
"If I was stuck in the middle of Alaska, I'd call someone a little closer."
"Alanna. What happened?"
"We hooked up. A couple times."
"And that's it." She shrugs. "He seemed pretty normal about it this morning." He came in for coffee like nothing had happened. No flowers, no declarations.
Jon frowns. "Really?"
"Really." Her smile is twisted. "I know you have this story worked out in your head where he's in love with me, but--"
Jon puts his hand over her mouth. "But nothing. Seriously. We're going over there tonight. And you're going to ask him out."
"Fine. I'm going to use my keen powers of observation to determine what's going on."
"Really?" asks Alanna flatly. "You?"
"Shut up. I'm a master of human nature. I will figure out what's up." He squeezes her shoulder and kisses her hair. It's sweet, and all she can think is how much more she liked it when it was George doing it. "You shouldn't be crying over him, Alanna."
"It's not his fault," she says. "I knew it would happen. I just--did it anyway."
"Come on," says Jon. "You need a drink."
Alanna laughs. "That's your answer to everything."
"That's because it's always right."
Raoul gives her a concerned look when they come out, but it's fleeting, because he and Alex are playing one of their complicated, incoherent drinking games. This one involves the hexagons from Settlers of Catan and some of Alex's Warhammer minatures. She gives him a shaky smile, but it's good enough.
"He's not me," Jon says again, soft, as they drink their beers. "George isn't an idiot. I was an idiot."
Alanna smiles and wraps her arms around him. "Don't sell yourself short. You're still an idiot."
"It's a date," says Jon. Well, he slurs it. Jon Conte might be a master of human nature, but he's also very, very drunk. She's glad her angst didn't keep him from the really important things.
"It's not a date! It's a booty call."
"He loooooooooves you," says Jon.
"He does," says Gary. "We're talking about the bartender, right? Everyone knows the bartender is in love with Alan." He squints at Alanna. "He knows about your breasts, doesn't he?"
"He knows about my breasts."
Gary nods. "That's good. It would have been a shame if he was just in love with Alan."
"See?" says Jon. "Gary knows I'm right. Gary knows everything."
"That is true. I am all knowing and all seeing."
Alanna rubs her face. "You're all drunk," she says.
"Drunk and right," says Jon.
"Raoul!" Alanna calls. "Is Jon right?"
"Almost never," says Raoul. Alanna gives him a fist bump.
"Raoul," says Jon, "is George in love with Alan?"
"Oh, yeah, never mind," says Raoul. "He's right about that."
Alanna stuffs her hands in her pockets. "I don't know why I hang out with you guys."
Alanna spends a while trying to figure out what to wear to whatever is happening at George's, but she can't stop remembering him saying she looked beautiful in dresses. No one's ever told her she's beautiful before. Cute, mostly. Pretty, on occasion. Not beautiful.
She's got a nice green dress. Nothing too fancy. But it looks good on her. She puts clips in her hair, but no makeup. Makeup is a pain. If George likes her, he probably likes her without makeup.
"Will you be back tonight?" Thayet asks, and Alanna deflates all at once.
"I have no idea."
Thayet looks at her for a long minute. "He looked at you a lot longer than he looked at me, you know. He couldn't take his eyes off you."
Alanna ducks her head and smiles. "Then I hope I'll see you tomorrow."
She kisses him as soon as she sees him. If George is in love with her, he probably likes the kissing too. She really likes kissing him. It's going to suck when they stop.
It doesn't take long, either. They barely even start. "Alanna," he says, and she tries not to show her hurt. She knew they were wrong. "I, uh--not that I want you to stop or anythin'. But I need to know if this is all I'm going to get."
"I don't know what you mean," she says, confused.
"Don't get me wrong, I'm real glad you decided you want to kiss me and all. And I don't mind waitin' if you don't want to be in a relationship right now. But that's what I want, and I need to know if that's somethin' I might get someday."
Alanna blinks, trying very hard to not suddenly burst into tears again.
George Cooper really is in love with her.
"But you--" She starts, still not ready to believe it. "I thought you just--you want to date me?"
George stares at her in clear disbelief. "I made you lasagna. I had my ma come and help."
It's about the cutest thing she's ever heard, and it takes real effort not to kiss him. "I thought you were just flirting," she says, and it feels so stupid, saying it to him. But he doesn't call her on it. He lets it go.
They have dinner, and she even tells him about Jon. It's almost easy, even though it still hurts a little. George has always been easy to talk to. He's casually affectionate, nuzzling and kissing her hair, sliding his hand under the hem of her shirt, squeezing her hand. It's like he has to keep reminding himself she's here. Alanna feels a little stupid for ever thinking he didn't want her.
"Do you want to stay?" he asks, once Chopped ends. "Not, uh. I'm not expectin' anythin'. No pressure. I'd just--"
Alanna leans up and kisses him, laughing. "You're nervous again."
"I don't want to screw this up."
"I think I was in a lot more danger of screwing it up," Alanna says. "I'm a mess. Aggressively not talking about my feelings."
"You've got feelin's, huh?" George teases, tugging her closer. "Tell me more about these feelin's."
Alanna shoves him, but she's still grinning. "Shut up. I like you, okay? And I want to stay. But I am expecting some things."
He pulls her into his lap. "What kind of things?"
The kiss is long and dirty. "That kind of thing."
George licks his lips and looks up at her, and it clicks for Alanna all at once. Jon and Raoul and Gary and even Thayet, they've all seen George look at her like that. That's how they knew.
She doesn't know how she missed it.
"That can be arranged," he says.
She wakes up before him again, but when she tries to get out of bed, his arm tightens around her. "Don't go," he mumbles. "Sucked when you left."
Alanna's heart twists, and she rolls back and kisses him. It hadn't occurred to her, what he must have thought. How much that must have hurt him. The last few days have sucked for her, but she hadn't quite put together that they probably sucked for George too. "I'm going to the bathroom," she says, kissing him again. "I'm not leaving."
George lets her go reluctantly, and she uses the bathroom and washes her face. She's got a hickey on her shoulder, and she's sore all over. It's awesome.
She slips back into bed and wraps her arms around him, sliding her leg between his and getting as close as she possibly can. "Sorry I left before," she says.
"'sokay," says George, nuzzling her hair. "I get it. But I like havin' you here."
"Me too," says Alanna. It should feel scary, being so honest, giving so much of herself away. But George has been giving himself to her ever since they first met. She just hadn't realized it. "I'm staying."