"Claire! Claire? What are you doing in there?"
Claire Redfield ignored her brother Chris and tore through her closet, trying to find something decent to wear. Everything she owned was too casual. She needed something formal but not too formal. Formal wasn't her usual style. She owned a couple of dresses, but nothing she could wear to a Presidential dinner with dancing and speeches and fancy dishes that sparkled.
"Crap!" she bumped her head against her closet door in frustration, staring at the clothes she scattered all over the floor.
"Need a dress?"
Claire turned to find Jill Valentine standing in her bedroom doorway, holding a dress that was a deep, dark red that had such a nebulous texture it appeared to be black. It was ankle-length with a scoop neck, and appeared to be form-fitting in the bodice and flowing in the skirt. It was perfect.
"Where did you get that?" she asked, approaching her friend.
Jill shrugged. "I've had it; I've just never worn it. Can you believe I bought it back in Raccoon City? It's been in storage forever."
"Can I borrow it?"
"Hell, you can keep it. It'd probably look better on you than me," Jill handed it over. "Ever since I went blonde nothing looks right, even when I dye my hair back to brown."
"Oh, you're the best!" Claire hugged her and accepted the dress. "It's so beautiful!"
"You better hurry and get ready. Leon will be here in a half-hour," she smiled.
"Thanks!" Claire ran to the bathroom to shower and fix her hair. "I owe you!"
Claire had showered, gotten dressed, and was just finishing a few touch-ups on her hair and make-up when the door bell rang. She found herself giggling and blushing like a teenager on prom night when she heard Chris let Leon in.
"You look very dapper Leon," she heard Jill say.
"Dapper?" Chris sounded confused.
"Classy," Leon said. "Where's Claire?"
Claire took one last look at herself in the mirror and headed downstairs. When she saw Leon her mouth dropped open. He was wearing a black suit, elegantly tailored with clean lines. A crisp white shirt and red tie brightened his outfit, and a white scarf, made of cashmere Claire guessed, was draped around his neck. His black shoes gleamed so much Claire could swear she saw her reflection in them. In his hands he held a black hat, which he casually tossed back and forth in the air. His whole outfit gave off a vintage mafia feel and he looked incredibly handsome. Claire blushed when she realized she was staring.
But she wasn't the only one who was impressed. Though he tried not to show it, Leon was in complete awe of his best friend. Her long red hair, usually pulled straight back in a pony tail, was in a lower ponytail hairstyle but it was curled, her waves rolling down her bare back. Her dress was a fitted, simple formal gown of a red-black color. It had a scoop neck and was sleeveless, and even though the bodice conformed to her curves, her skirt was long and flowing like some princess' gown. She wore high heels and a touch of make-up, which Leon thought she didn't need. He could see traces of blush on her cheeks and gloss on her lips, and she had put on earrings. Claire hardly ever wore jewelry or make-up. But even without the addition of color and diamonds, Leon knew she was beautiful and lovely and he was having a hard time keeping his mouth closed.
"So, when are you two going to be home?" Chris inquired, trying to sound blasé.
"Whenever the function is over, Dad," she stuck her tongue out at him.
"We stay out as late as the lady wants. But do not worry pops, I'll keep her safe," Leon winked.
Jill laughed. "Have fun you two. Stay safe. And uhm, tell President Graham I said hi or something," she joked.
"Yeah, sure. I'll tell him you'll bake him some cookies," he joked back. "Come on Claire, let's go," he offered her his arm and she gladly took it.
"Stay safe? What the fuck does that mean?" were the last words Claire heard as Leon shut the door behind him.
"I rented a limo for the evening. Driving to these functions yourself is kind of looked down on, so I hope you don't mind," he explained as he pointed to the black stretch limo sitting outside of the house she shared with Chris and Jill. He opened the door for her and she slipped inside with his help.
It was plush and comfortable inside the vehicle. Classical music was playing softly in the background and champagne was on ice. She hid a smile. This felt like a date.
"You've got some evening planned," she grinned when he joined her in the car.
"It's my way of saying thank-you for agreeing to come with me. You didn't have to. But I'm glad you did, because you look amazing. I feel like the night is going to be less boring because you're here," he smiled faintly. "So, do you want some champagne?"
"I'd love some," she answered, wondering how she got so lucky to have a best friend like Leon.
After pouring the champagne, the driver started taking them to their destination. Leon poured himself a glass and gestured towards Claire with his champagne flute.
"It's typical to drink to something, isn't it? Like a toast?"
"Hm. Yes," she replied. "Typically. What should we drink to?"
"Life," he said simply, a hint of sadness in his voice.
Claire said nothing and merely bumped her glass against Leon's before taking a sip. She hated seeing Leon forlorn. He hid his emotions well, but not so well he could hide them from her. She wanted so badly to see him smile genuinely. She did not like the practiced, perfect masked one he always wore.
"So," she began after taking another sip. "What's this ball going to be like? Is it going to be like the other fun ones you've dragged me to?" she teased.
He smiled wryly. "Probably. I hope you took dancing lessons."
Claire groaned. "I have to dance?"
Leon feigned shock. "Claire doesn't want to dance? Not even with the most handsome man there?"
"I thought President Graham was married."
"Oh! You cut me deep, Redfield. You cut me real deep."
The two friends bantered back and forth the rest of the way, and when they finally arrived to their destination, Claire quickly sobered.
"Come on Redfield," Leon sighed. "Let the party begin."
There had been many speeches, all about how they needed money for some cause that Claire didn't even understand. The dinner had been long and full of food she couldn't even pronounce. She and Leon didn't have much of a chance to converse because everyone in the world wanted to talk to him for whatever reason. Now everybody was dancing and all she wanted to do was go home. Leon was talked into dancing with Ashley. The young woman was positively smitten; Leon looked like he wanted to be anywhere but the dance floor.
Every time he passed by their table, he mouthed the words, "HELP ME" to her. Claire suppressed a smile. She knew Leon was only teasing. He didn't mind Ashley, but he definitely didn't return her affection, no matter how cute she looked. And Ashley looked super cute tonight in a little black dress. Claire didn't know who Leon might have feelings for, but she knew it wasn't Ashley. When he returned to their table, he drank a full glass of wine without stopping.
"Classy, Leon. Real classy," she giggled.
"The girl's a chatterbox," he rolled his eyes. "She's great, but…she gets all dreamy eyed when she talks to me. It's awkward. I'm almost a decade older than she is."
"It's the hair. It makes all the girls swoon."
He flipped it out of his eyes upon her mentioning of it, and then reached for his scarf. "I'm going out on the balcony for air. Want to join me?"
"Sure," she brightened at the mention of leaving the party.
He offered her his arm and she took it. He escorted her onto the balcony, and the cool night air greeted them as soon as the door slid open. The wind pressed against them, forcing the couple to move closer to each other. The lights from the city sparkled in front of them, but they weren't paying attention to the scenery.
"Oh God, it feels amazing out here! It was so stuffy in there," Claire breathed. She pulled away from Leon and took off her shoes, letting her toes touch the cool, bare asphalt.
Leon took a seat against the far wall and smiled at Claire. "You look so gorgeous."
Claire felt her cheeks turn pink. "Thank-you."
She walked over to him and knelt down between his legs, carefully arranging her dress so she could sit on her knees. Leon was in the middle of loosening and unknotting his tie while also unbuttoning the top three buttons of his shirt, when a strong gust of wind caught his scarf and seemed to wrap itself around Claire.
He stopped playing with his tie and smiled faintly. He tangled his fingers in her red hair. "Thanks for coming with me tonight."
"No problem," she returned his smile, inching closer to him. "But we always attend each other's events. You know, when we're available."
"Yes. But tonight…is different."
"I don't know. Can't quite put my finger on it," he moved closer to her.
They were now nose to nose, and before Claire realized what she was doing, her lips were already pressed against Leon's. He pulled her close and their kiss deepened. Both were slightly shocked but pleased that the kiss wasn't rebuffed. When they parted, Claire blushed.
"Sorry. I—I didn't mean to do that," she apologized. "I think maybe I had a bit too much to drink."
He ignored her apology and kissed her. "Maybe you should drink more often," he winked.
"I—Oh," her blush became darker.
He stroked her cheek. "Why don't you pick up your shoes so we can leave and continue this conversation back at my apartment?"
Claire raised an eyebrow. "What conver—ah, I see where you are going with this." She reached behind her for her shoes. "Leon, are you sure this is a good idea?"
His answer was a quick peck on her lips. "Probably not. But does it really matter? You're beautiful, warm, and I care about you a lot…but if you don't feel the same, I won't push it."
She shook her head. "I do the feel the same. It's not the alcohol talking."
"Then let's go."
The two friends held hands and returned to the dinner inside. Leon picked up his hat and Claire's purse from their table and they exited the party.
"Leon! Hey! Don't you want another dance?" Ashley popped up in front of them as they were leaving.
Leon paused long enough to put his hat on and readjust his scarf. "Good night, Ashley," he said dismissively.
Leon and Claire left, leaving a stammering Ashley behind them.
"Cute kid. Not my type," Leon answered Claire's unasked question.
They waited for the valet and Claire folded her arms across her chest in fake impatience. "What is your type? Asians? Blondes with big tits?"
Leon appeared amused at her suggestions. "No, actually. It's redheads with blue gray eyes. Ones that wear ponytails and like listening to Queen and driving motorcycles to zombie infested towns on Friday nights."
The limo arrived and he opened the door for her. She shook her head. "You're funny, Leon."
"I do what I can," he said, joining her inside the car. "Now, can we continue the conversation we were having earlier?"
"Which one was that?"
"This one," he kissed her cheek.
"Maybe," she replied with a kiss, feeling her cheeks turning pink.
At that moment, her cell phone buzzed with a text message. She groaned and pulled away from Leon reluctantly and checked the message. It was from Chris.
You coming home any time soon?
She quickly texted back, No. Don't wait up. Am heavily involved in a deep conversation at the moment.
"Was that Chris?"
"Yes," she nodded. "I told him I was involved in deep conversation."
"You totally are," he whispered as his mouth covered hers once more.