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Love is Strange, or: How George Michael Learned to Stop Worrying and Love His Cousin

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George Michael really did love living in Cabo San Lucas. Really. No really, he did. It was just that getting a GED long-distance while living on a poorly-maintained boat moored in a cheap fisherman's harbor and watching his dad hook up with a string of increasingly improbable blond European tourists wasn't quite what he'd had in mind. Plus it turned out his skin was sensitive to sunburn that close to the Equator.

So George Michael started looking into colleges back in the States. He'd been thinking about something small, a nice quiet liberal arts college somewhere in the middle of nowhere, Ohio, but then Maeby's movie came out. Dirty Laundry: The Bluth Family Story was a big hit in second-runs and pay-per-view, and suddenly all George Michael wanted was a huge state school where he could fall through all the cracks and people might just believe him if he told them his name was Mikey. He got his aunt Lindsay to help him fake California residency by taking his mail at her West Hollywood loft, and UCLA it was.

* * *

Maeby really did love being a Hollywood producer. No, really, she did. It was kind of totally awesome, and she'd never even thought about doing anything else. Seriously, she had Johnny Depp signed on for her newest project in pre-production. Johnny fucking Depp! Sure, he was no Taylor Lautner or anything, but she knew her mom thought the guy was hot. Probably her dad, too.

Plus, she was pretty sure Johnny could help them get an Oscar or at least a BAFTA nomination for this tearjerker, and if that meant she got to schmooze an award show red carpet and show a dress off for Ryan Seacrest, that'd be sweet. Even if she mainly liked him because his stupid sticky-uppy hair on American Idol reminded her a little of George Michael. Her cousin George Michael, not the singer, who was actually really weird in person and smelled a lot like smoke. Of course George Michael wasn't really her cousin anymore, not that he seemed to care about the difference, since the last time she'd seen him he'd been waving from a yacht doing its best to speed out of her life. Stupid twerp. She'd been on three paparazzi dates back in July with Joe Jonas, who was totally hotter and also famous, hello, so it's not like she was missing him, or anything.

* * *

Living in a dorm wasn't great by Bluth standards, even if it beat sharing a model house with your entire crazy family and your sexy off-limits cousin. One of his roommates snored and the other one was an international student from Venezuela who was equally obsessed with soccer and organic chemistry, but at least George Michael liked his classes. His Intro to Philosophy professor thought it was totally plausible that he could make a career out of it for himself, if he put his mind to it. He got a work-study job as a dining hall server, and it didn't completely suck, at least not when he could score the pasta station instead of having to slop out the mystery meat.

When Diego sent his roommates the Facebook invite to his frat's first post-pledge party, George Michael figured he ought to go. It was kind of silly to be in college for weeks and not have gone to a real party yet, and it wasn't like he hadn't gotten drunk before. Really only that one time, with Maeby, but it still counted. There were definitely going to be girls. It had been hard to find dates in Cabo when everyone his age was either a rich pretty person spending time with other rich pretty people at the resorts or a local girl who didn't want to date him unless he actually tried to learn some Spanish first. Lucia, whose mom ran the fish market by the dock where they kept their boat, had given him an entire lecture about how unattractive it was to be monolingual in a global economy.

So yeah, it had been a long time since George Michael kissed a girl, and even longer since that one time Maeby let him touch her bra back when he'd thought Aunt Lindsay wasn't actually her mom. It was pretty cool to find out Lindsay wasn't actually his aunt, but really, George Michael knew it wasn't blood that made a family. If that was all it was, he and his dad would have split to Cabo way earlier than they did. Maeby was his cousin, and getting worked up remembering making out with her wasn't going to change anything.

* * *

“It's kind of hard to get dates when you're an eighteen-year-old power player.” That's what Maeby's boss told her when her publicist set up yet another a photo-op dinner with some kid still cashing in on a Disney Channel image. Focus on your career, plenty of time to date later; it made sense up until Maeby was stripping down for bed alone every night.

Not that her boss had any right to talk. Gloria had been the June cover of Ebony after her most recent project broke a few box-office records, and she'd taken a different It Guy to lunch every week since then. So far Maeby's publicist seemed stuck on the squeaky-clean kiss-on-the-cheek track, and yeah, Maeby could see that possibly it was a little weird when your publicist was the one in charge of your dating life. Then again, she wasn't about to go trolling the nearby colleges for cute guys her age.

Hell. It was Friday night, Gloria had a hot date, and Maeby didn't. It was time to ask the student interns for some help. And probably buy some new clothes, too. She couldn't exactly pick up guys her age when she was still trying to dress like their moms. If their moms were all kick-ass yet totally fashionable professional powerhouses, that is. Ugh.

* * *

Diego handed George Michael another red Solo cup full of punch, grabbed his arm, and started dragging him over to the main staircase.

“Dude. There's these two hot chicks you've got to meet. The blonde one says they're models but I don't buy it. Well, maybe catalog. But whatever. You'd dig 'em.”

George Michael was wearing half his third, or maybe it had been fourth, cup of punch down his shirt by that point, and – Really? Models? – but Diego didn't seem to care. So he went and talked to a redhead whose boobs were, like, the same height as his forehead, and he thought he wasn't gibbering like a complete idiot. It was a little hard to tell when he had to lean back to see her face.

Then Kara – the blonde one – turned to a much shorter brunette coming down the stairs, squealed, and grabbed her into a hug, and, holy shit, it really was Maeby.

Maeby, dressed in skintight jeans and a strapless top, Maeby. Maeby, with freckles on her collarbone.

Kara was cooing all over her, “Oh my gawd, Janine said she finally dragged you out of the office tonight, I mean, look at you! Eee!” and Maeby looked George Michael straight in the eyes and went right on letting Kara and Janine introduce her. When George Michael opened his mouth to tell everyone how awesome it was to see his cousin again, and what a wacky coincidence it was, she shook her head to cut him off and started flirting with Diego.

* * *

Fuck. Fuck, fuck, fuck. Maeby definitely did not want to spend tonight playing cousinly catch-up with George Michael. She was kind of here to try and get laid, actually. Not that she'd say no if George Michael ever got the balls to ask, but his friend Diego seemed like a better bet.

Janine must have warned Kara not to say anything, because she'd introduced Maeby as an intern they'd met at a photoshoot, not the boss they brought photocopies. All she needed was for George Michael to keep his mouth shut, and she'd pass for an ordinary college kid for a night.

A couple of Diego's frat brothers joined them, and they all moved over to the living room, where the lights were dimmed and the rugs rolled back and a hard bass beat thumped out from the entertainment system on the far wall. Plenty of people were already dancing dirty, and Maeby grinned when Kara and Janine grabbed the other guys and left Diego for her.

George Michael had mumbled something about needing more punch, but when her eyes got used to the dimness Maeby could see him standing just inside the doorway, up against the wall, watching her dance with Diego. Maeby grabbed Diego's ass and started thinking about how she'd look to him. It would be fun to get George Michael flustered again, like she used to, even if he wasn't interested in her anymore.

She totally didn't mean to say it, she really didn't, but a few songs and a few quick kisses with Diego later when she looked to the door she couldn't see him, and before she could think she just said it.

“Where's George Michael?”

“Huh? My roommate?” Diego looked confused about why she cared where his nerdy little roommate was, and she could see his point, because why did she care so much, but she did.

“He's my cousin. Uh, I probably should have said, huh? I really ought to find him.” And she really, really hadn't planned on walking out of that room without Diego on her arm and somebody's bed as a destination, but her feet were doing it, and Diego was already making eyes at the beautiful brown-skinned girl who'd just walked in.

* * *

That was just beyond unfair, George Michael thought, and Maeby ought to know it. Keeping her fancy studio identity and their being cousins secret, fine. He could get that. Showing up looking like sex on legs and staring at him when she didn't think he would notice, fine. But grinding up against his roommate, wriggling around in a way that was a little ridiculous but deeply hot all the same, all while darting glances at George Michael, that was just seriously not fair.

He was so turned on he wasn't sure he'd be able to walk, but then Diego leaned down and stuck his tongue in Maeby's mouth, and it was sexy but also sad and gut-clenchingly disappointing and George Michael had no problems turning around and walking away. This kind of thing was basically his life, and it had been stupid to think he could get away from it at a frat party he went to with his hunky soccer-playing roommate.

The punch bowl seemed like an obvious destination, but by the time he'd wormed through the crowd to get there the thought of more alcohol just made him queasy. The kitchen opened out to a tiny square of a back porch. It was covered in cigarette butts, but the air had gotten chilly for southern California sensibilities, and the porch was momentarily empty. George Michael swung his legs onto the steps down to the yard, stared out at nothing, and thought about how dumb his life was.

* * *

It didn't take her long to find him.

When she did, the sight of his slim silhouette, his head bent down and his back curved against the night dark, the wave of wanting hit her so fast she could barely breathe. Yeah, she still wanted him, apparently as much as she ever did back when they'd shared a room in the old model home. Back when she'd perfected the art of touching herself without making a sound, because how could she sleep when he was right there, just a bed away, and she could even smell him?

He'd had the same smell all teenage boys have, a little musky with the faint tinge of iron, and just remembering it she had to go get close enough to find it again. Subtler now, and hidden in the reek of cigarettes and alcohol, but it was there. She sat down at the top of the steps, slid her legs out and leaned in next to him, startling him by moving too fast and sitting too close. He leaned away a little, just to turn and look at her, and there was really only one thing she could do.

* * *

Maeby was kissing him. Maeby was kissing him, with her distractingly curvy hips suddenly touchably close to his hands and her even more distracting thigh pressed against his, and her fingertips framing his face as if she thought he'd try to escape. There was no way he would even think about trying to escape.

It took him a moment to kiss her back, and she'd started to close her mouth and pull away, so he lurched forward to keep her with him, and ended up overbalancing them both. But then they were lying side by side, with their legs half on the stairs and the stupid wooden floorboards of the porch digging into his ribs, and it was just like the last time. Just the joy of making out, kissing and groping and not thinking about anything else but how nice everything was, just right now.

George Michael wasn't known for his ability to live in the moment, but it felt like he'd been thinking and overthinking his feelings for Maeby for years, and now, he realized, none of it really mattered to him anymore. His dad was in Cabo, having a blast playing in the sun with tourists in bikinis. His aunt, who wasn't one hundred percent his aunt, was flinging herself from audition to photoshoot to charity gala all over L.A. trying to make it half as big as her daughter had. Tobias, who definitely didn't count as his uncle anymore, was up in San Francisco giving walking tours of the Castro while dressed as a drag queen version of Little Orphan Annie. Really, who was going to say a thing about him and Maeby, if they got together? It might be a little messed up to be in love with your cousin, even if they weren't entirely your cousin, but he and Maeby were still probably the most normal people in their family.

“You should really, really come home with me,” Maeby said, between kisses. And for once, George Michael couldn't think of a single reason not to say yes.