(Author Note: yet another semi-sequel to my previous story, It is a Mystery. Though it's still not exactly required reading, it will probably enhance your experience.)
"How much longer are you gonna be?"
"Will you just hold your horses? Or keep your pants on? Or . . . whatever?"
Phoenix sighed wearily as he sat back on the sofa. He wasn't so sure about his judgement anymore.
It had all started, rather innocuously, with a phone call. Maya was calling to let him know she wouldn't be coming to visit that week because of other obligations. Phoenix hadn't had to press much harder to get her to start ranting about how much she hated her duties as 'ambassador' for Kurain Village.
"I swear to all that's good and just, if I have to spend one more night with those selfish, pompous, egotistical jackasses I'm going to freak out and murder somebody. You'd defend me, right Nick? I swear, no jury would convict me once they'd heard what I had to go through."
Phoenix couldn't stop himself from smiling. Maya was probably the only person he knew who could make hobnobbing with the rich and famous sound like getting a root canal. "What's so bad about going to a party?" He'd asked innocently.
"Ooooh, if you only knew," she had replied, her tone rather like that of a sailor who'd seen the kraken. "Hey . . . why don't you come with? That'd certainly brighten my evening. And I'm fairly certain you could overpower me if I went berserk." The emphasis on 'fairly' had not escaped his ears then. Maya's spirits were clearly lifted by the thought of his company, and he wasn't about to disappoint her. Besides, how bad could it be? "Okay then," he had chuckled into the phone, "when is it?"
Turns out he didn't have anything pressing that day. He had been able to get out of work easily - Mr. Vasili never liked it when anyone took a personal day, but he wasn't exactly a crucial member of the staff, so he'd given in without much of a fight. There were no poker games that night either, and he had told Apollo that he was "fairly certain you can take care of Trucy for one night."
And so the plans were made - Maya would arrive by train earlier in the day, get ready, and they'd head out for an evening with the upper class.
Oh, if only it were that simple.
Maya had arrived early in the afternoon with bags aplenty of toiletries and fancy clothing, but after seeing the suit Phoenix had planned on wearing, she had been positively agog.
"You're going in that?" She said, her jaw going slack. She was as tactless as ever. "This isn't like the courtroom, Phoenix, these people have dress codes."
"No buts! This simply will not do, I'm sorry." She huffed and crossed her arms. "I'll have to rent you a tux."
She had quickly left the apartment, quashing all protests on the way out (in a rather roundabout way: "do you even know how much I make? No? Well good, because it's none of your business. Just know that it's no trouble, jeez.") and returning with a rented tuxedo before promptly shoving Phoenix into the bedroom to put it on.
It wasn't tailored for him, so it didn't fit perfectly in places, but on the whole it was certainly the nicest thing he had ever wore - the black jacket and pants were a fine material the felt smooth to the touch, the shirt was silk, and the tie and cummerbund matched. It had taken him some time to remember how to tie his bowtie, but he had managed. The least expensive thing on his body right now were probably the black dress shoes he had bought years back and had never actually worn.
Then the waiting game began. She bathed in his tub, dried and brushed and styled her hair in his bathroom, dressed and preened in his bedroom. Phoenix had barely seen her all day. He had heard all the jokes before about women taking forever to get ready, but he had never actually thought there was so much truth to them. Now he knew better.
So there he sat, on his couch, watching TV or reading a book or just staring at the ceiling, waiting for those magic words. Finally, they came.
"I'm ready!" She called before opening the door to the bedroom and stepping out.
The moment he saw her, he knew that all that time had not gone to waste. Maya looked positively gorgeous in her simple black evening dress. It danced around at her ankles as she walked and showed off every curve on her body without actually drawing attention to them. Her face, already beautiful in his eyes, was only enhanced by the subtle application of makeup. Her lips were a bright red now, clashing wonderfully with her raven-black hair, which flowed down elegantly from a far more elaborate bun slash topknot (bunknot? he wondered) than she usually wore. The charms and baubles in her hair had been replaced with ones that seemed to sparkle and glow, light reflecting off the jewels and crystals embedded within them. She had even done her nails - they were polished to a mirror shine.
He felt like an idiot, sitting on the couch in his rented tux. He didn't deserve to be in the same room with this woman.
"Well?" She said lightly, spinning around. "How do I look?"
It actually took him a moment to find his voice. "Incredible," he said before clearing his throat. "Really great. Yeah."
Maya hadn't missed that little slip, and she reveled in his awe. She stretched her arms and arched her back seductively. "Yeah, you don't rush perfection."
As Phoenix stood, determined not to be reduced to a gibbering fool at the sight of her, he couldn't help but notice her eyebrows raise. He did cut a rather dashing figure in his tux, with his broad shoulders and a rather lithe build from all the walking and cycling he did. Sometimes not having a car had it's advantages.
The tables now turned, Phoenix sauntered over to her, feeling just a bit more confident about his own looks. "I think I remember this dress," he said, running a hand up her back.
"Oh yeah," Maya said, realization striking her. "I walked into your bar after one of these parties." She chuckled, wrapping her arms around his neck. "God, I was so desperate for anyone normal to talk to, I started chatting up the piano player."
"Good thing you did, I'd say." He kissed her lightly on the forehead. He could smell her perfume, lilacs or something similar. "I don't think you were quite so done up, though."
"Yeah, that party was pretty low rent compared to this one. I've been moving up in the world." She scoffed and pouted, averting her gaze. Phoenix took her hands from behind his neck and held them in his own.
"Hey, it's good for Kurain, right?" He said, trying to encourage her.
"Right. . . I guess." She sighed and her voice grew quiet. "I'll be real happy when I don't have to do this any more, though."
Phoenix gave her a quizzical look. "How's that?"
All of a sudden Maya looked rather flustered. She clearly hadn't meant to say that aloud, but they were always so open around each other and apparently it had just slipped out. "Uh, jeez, look at the time, we had better get going if we want to be on time!" She pulled herself away and grabbed her small black purse from the table.
Phoenix decided to save his questions for a time when she wasn't quite so stressed. He checked he had everything he needed - wallet, keys, cell phone, and the Magatama - then headed for the door.
"You know what?" He said, smiling as he opened the door for her. She looked up at him. "The shoes are still my favorite part of the outfit."
Maya laughed for the first time that day, her high-heeled sandals clicking against the wood floor of the corridor as she stepped out of the apartment.