Hurray! I'm finally back on the Soap Opera Sunday wagon. Brillig and Kate's brainchild is sweeping Planet Blog; check their sites for other great soapy stories. If you need a refresher, here are the links for Part One, Part Two, and Part Three.
“I’m so glad we’re finally here,” said Jill. “I’m starving.”
Laura wrinkled her nose. “Really? I’m still too grossed out by the smell of that bus to be able to think about food.”
“Well, as soon as we check in, let’s go get some dinner. You should probably eat something.”
“This is some hotel,” breathed Laura as they pushed through the revolving door. It looked like a palace; huge, fluted pillars supported a triple-height ceiling that was painted all over with frescoes of nymphs and cherubs. Liveried doormen stood along the hall or helped guests with matched, monogrammed leather luggage sets. Laura tried not to gawk as they walked up the carpeted steps to the long marble front desk. A uniformed attendant looked up politely as Jill approached.
“May I help you?”
“Yes, we’re checking in. You should have a reservation for Jill Westphal.”
The attendant looked through his register. “Ah, yes, Miss Westphal. But before you do so, I should inform you that you have a visitor waiting for you in the bar. He just arrived a few moments ago. I’ll let him know that you are here.” He turned to the bank of telephones behind him.
Jill turned to Laura and squealed. “It must be Simon! But I wonder why he’s in the bar. Why wouldn’t he just wait for us in his room?”
“I hope Colin’s with him. Then we can all go to dinner.” Laura tucked her hair behind her ears nervously. She hadn’t had a minute to freshen up after getting off the bus and walking several windy blocks to the hotel. Maybe she could go find a restroom and put on some lip gloss.
“Jill,” said someone quietly. But it wasn’t Simon’s charming, accented voice. Jill and Laura turned around slowly.
Mr. Westphal stood there, his face grim.
“What exactly are you doing here, Jill?”
“I…I…” Jill shut her mouth and looked down at her shoes. “I’m sorry, Daddy,” she whispered.
Mr. Westphal looked like he was trying to turn his daughter into ice with his stare. “Let’s go,” he said finally. “The car is in the underground garage. We have a long drive home.” Without even a glance at Laura, Mr. Westphal turned and walked away.
“Tell Simon I’m sorry I missed him,” Jill choked out. She gave Laura a look of apology, then hurried after her father.
Dumbfounded, Laura watched them walk away. She couldn’t believe Laura’s bravado had utterly wilted in the presence of her father. Their grand adventure was over before it had even begun.
How had the Westphals found out where they were? Crap! Her mother must have confronted Twee; they hadn’t told anyone else other than Colin and Simon what they were doing. Oh, her mother was going to be mad.
Laura couldn’t believe Mr. Westphal hadn’t said a word to her, that he would just leave her there. Was her mother on her way from the valley as well?
Laura doubted it; there was no way that Marie could have gotten off work on such short notice. And she must know through Twee that Laura wasn’t in any danger.
Now what was she supposed to do? She didn’t have the money to stay at this place. Her bus ticket home was for tomorrow afternoon. She twisted her empty locket on its chain and thought.
“Twee,” she whispered, feeling the cat’s presence at the edge of her consciousness, but knowing that she wouldn’t get an answer.
“What’s that you said, Laura?” Colin stood there, crisply handsome in his immaculate school uniform, looking like he’d just stepped off the set of Brideshead Revisited.
“Oh, Colin! It’s so great to see you!” Laura launched herself into his arms. Twin waves of relief and despair washed over her, and she broke down sobbing. Colin patted her back awkwardly for a few seconds, then pulled out a freshly ironed handkerchief and handed it to her.
“Thank you,” she mumbled. She blew her nose and tried to blot her face dry. Fantastic, she thought. I’ll bet I look like a total hag.
“Laura, what’s happened? Here,” Colin said, taking her hand and leading to an exquisitely upholstered couch to the side of the front desk. “Sit down and tell me everything. Where’s Jill?”
Laura sank down onto the down-stuffed cushions and told him the whole story.
“Wow,” he said when she had finished. “I had no idea you were going to go to such trouble to come and see us. What do you want to do? Shall I take you back to the bus station and see whether we can get you home tonight?”
“No! Why should I go home to an empty house? My mom’s at work. Tomorrow morning, she’ll crash until it’s time for her to get up and go back to work again. I got here; I’m already in trouble. I just want to enjoy my time with you so that it’s all worth all the grief I’m going to get tomorrow night.”
Colin’s blue eyes were grave. “Well, then. Let’s set about doing that, shall we? Come along—Golden Gate’s coach is hosting a dinner party for both teams tonight at his house in Sausalito. The bus is leaving in about a half hour. Come upstairs to our room. We’ll have to break the bad news to Simon.”
“Okay. But where will I stay?”
“We’ll figure something out. If worse comes to worst, Simon and I shall sleep on the floor, and you’ll have our bed.”
The party was overwhelming. Laura felt like she was experiencing something from the pages of a magazine. The coach’s huge Arts & Crafts house had gorgeous views of San Francisco Bay; the lights of the City through the gathering fog sparkled like jewels set in gray velvet. There were tables of beautiful food everywhere, and there were at least a hundred people present. She’d been at Simon’s side for most of the evening, but now the two teams were engaged in some good-natured trash talk over tomorrow’s game, and Laura felt a little superfluous. She wandered out the French doors to one of the balconies and leaned against the railing gazing out at the dark water. A large black Labrador got up from a bed in the corner and nuzzled at her hand. Laura smiled and rubbed his sleek head.
“I’m Graf,” the dog said. “Twee wanted me to let you know that I’m a friend, if you need one.”
“Oh!” Laura knelt down and scratched his ears. “Wow. I had no idea. I don’t know how you guys are all networked to each other, but it’s nice to know you’re here.”
The lab cocked his head and panted for a moment as if listening to something far off. “Twee feels bad that he had to tell on you. He thought Mr. Westphal would offer to bring you home; he’s sorry that he misjudged the man’s character.”
“That’s okay. I know anger makes it harder for Twee to see anything about people; from the way Jill’s dad looked at the hotel, I’m surprised Twee could see him at all.”
“Well, what’s done is done. And I’ll be at the game tomorrow, as well. Let me know if I can be of help.”
“Thank you, Graf.” Laura smiled through sudden tears and gave the dog a hug.
“What a lovely animal,” said Colin, stepping through the doorway. “But I thought you were a cat person.”
“Oh, I like some dogs,” Laura said, standing up and brushing off her mohair sweater. “He’s a sweet one.”
“Really,” Colin murmured, moving closer to Laura and taking her in his arms. “Should I be jealous?”
Laura looked at Colin’s perfect face as it drew near her own, then shut her eyes in anticipation of his kiss. She was not disappointed. Long, slow, and soft: Laura felt as if she were melting in its warmth. Colin’s arms tightened around her, pressing her into his lean body. He kissed her harder, slowly moving his lips from hers and down her jawline until he reached an especially sensitive spot just under her ear. “Laura,” he whispered, “I very much look forward to our night together.”
Laura’s eyes snapped open; she broke away from Colin’s embrace and stepped back against the railing.
“What do you mean, our night together?” she said.
Colin chuckled. “I persuaded Simon to bunk in with Gray and Fletcher tonight. We’ll have the room to ourselves.”
Laura could only shake her head, eyes wide with confusion.
“You American girls,” Colin said, grinning. “Hot for it one minute, all innocence the next. You’re maddening.” He moved in again, but Laura backed up as far as she could go.
“Girls?” Laura knew she sounded like a mindless echo. “American girls? But you’ve never been to the States before.”
“We were on the East Coast for two weeks before we came to California, remember? You can’t have thought I’d been saving myself until I met you. Although you are definitely my favorite,” he said. He reached out and traced one long finger down the side of her neck until he reached the collar of her sweater. Grasping it, he used it to pull her towards him again.
“Colin, I think somehow you’ve gotten the wrong idea about me,” she said, putting her hands against his chest and trying to push him away.
“I very much doubt that,” he said, and kissed her again. Laura tried to twist away from him, but Colin pinned her against the railing. “You’re protesting a bit too much, love,” he whispered.
A deep, menacing growl came from behind them. Startled, Colin let go of Laura and turned to see the huge Labrador standing at his feet. Laura used the moment of distraction to slide around Colin and put Graf between them.
Graf bared his teeth at Colin and growled louder.
“Get away, you bleeding monster,” Colin snarled, and kicked at Graf. Graf snapped his jaws at Colin’s leg, letting the boy know that it was no accident that he’d missed biting him.
“Come away, Laura,” said Colin, sidling around the dog to the French doors. “We’ll tell our host that his mongrel’s out of control.”
Kneeling by Graf’s side, she sank her hands into his fur and shook her head. “I’m not going anywhere with you,” she said.
“You heard me. You’ve got the wrong idea about me, Colin. I think I’m much safer with the dog than I am with you.”
Colin’s perfect features grew cold and haughty. “Suit yourself, you bloody little tease,” he hissed, and stalked into the house.
“Thank you, Graf,” Laura whispered. “But now what am I going to do?”
I will do my very best to finish our story next week!