Inspiration finally struck me again. After a dry period of about two months. Not a spot too soon, I do say. So here we go again. This is a prelude, I suppose. Just a taste of what's coming.

Title: Old Maid

Chapter One: Birthday Surprises

Pairing: Chrave (Chelsea/Raven)

Warnings: The obvious homosexual relationship between two consenting adults. Eventual sexual content.


She stared at her reflection in the mirror, twisting the lacy hem of her dress between her fingers. The dress was her own design, of course, and was made to her exact specifications. She'd only dreamt of this day for thirteen years -- thirteen long, heartache-filled years. But now that the day had finally arrived, she was feeling a mixture of emotions she wouldn't have thought possible. There was, of course, happiness coursing through her body, and the proper level of adrenaline befitting the occasion; but there was also fear, anxiety, and hesitancy.

The ever-important box was on the counter top next to her -- there was no way she could forget that, or the evening would be ruined. Once her appearance was satisfactory (not a hair out of place, or a smudge of makeup out of line), she fingered the velvet of the small box, a small smile on her lips. She held it almost reverently, gazing at the maroon fabric for several moments before safely depositing it in her purse. It was impossible to guess that it was inside her purse, as the purse was large and bulky, but she could feel its presence.

Fifteen 'til seven and she was out the door. She revved the engine of her periwinkle blue Prius and practically zoomed out of the parking garage attached to her apartment building. Five 'til seven and she was at another door, hand raised to prod the doorbell. Before she could act, though, the door swung open and she was greeted with the most beautiful sight she could imagine.

"Rae, gimme a minute, 'kay? I just need let Prince Albert outside one last time." Chelsea flustered past Raven, a leash in her hands.

Raven watched her best friend hurry out to the sidewalk, a collie dog on the other end of the leash. Chelsea was decked out in a light evening gown, a light green dress with thin spaghetti straps made out a silky material. Trying to keep her eyes from scanning Chelsea up and down repeatedly, Raven chose instead to look at the doorframe as patiently as she could. Eventually Chelsea brushed past again, pushing her dog into the townhouse, and locking the door behind her.

"So, what's for dinner?" She questioned, smiling not just with her lips, but with her eyes as well.

"It's a special day, Chelsea, so you get a special meal." Raven baited her best friend, not wanting to give away the surprise so easily.

"It's not special," Chelsea argued, "It happens every year."

"You turn thirty every year??" Raven gasped in false surprise, "So that's the secret to staying young. Girl, why didn't you tell me?"

Chelsea rolled her eyes, "No, silly, I have a birthday every year, duh."

"This is a special one." Raven grew more serious. "I'm sure you'll figure out the restaurant before long."

They reached Raven's car and Raven held the door open for her dinner date with a bow. Chelsea giggled and settled herself into the vehicle, tucking her dress under her knees delicately. Nodding her approval, Raven hurried to the driver's side.

"Good thinkin'… wouldn't want you to flash the paparazzi." Raven joked, starting the engine.

"Just promise me," Chelsea fiddled with the radio, "Promise me -- no French food."

"Scout's honor." Raven returned. Pulling out onto the street, she started them on their way. "I'll give you a hint. It's not sushi, either."

Chelsea sighed with relief, "Gives me indigestion. And no Indonesian. I had that for lunch…"

Raven's eyes narrowed slightly; she checked her rear view mirror, "Hmm?"

"Yeah, I had a bit of a… lunch date."

Even with her distraction, Raven couldn't miss the sparkle in Chelsea's eyes. "Oh?"

Chelsea shook her head, "Can we not talk about it?"

Sealing her lips with a finger, Raven turned her attention back to the road. Either the date was special and Chelsea didn't want to jinx it, or it was just that bad. Raven wasn't sure she wanted to know which it was.

The car ride wasn't overly chatty, nor awkwardly quiet. It had the feeling of years of practice and Raven wouldn't trade that feeling for anything in the world. When the car slipped into a parking spot, Raven spread her arms.

"I give you Incanto! Restaurant and Wine Bar!"

Chelsea clapped her hands childishly, "I love Italian!"

Once they were seated inside, Raven grabbed the menu with gusto. She'd been too nervous earlier to eat properly, so her appetite was ravenous. Over the top of her menu, she watched Chelsea's eyes as they scanned the menu as well. When the waiter approached, she ordered a bottle of red wine, not bothering to ask Chelsea's opinion -- she knew what her girl liked after some twenty-five years of close friendship.

"So thirty years." Raven pursed her lips and nodded slowly, "You don't look a day over fifteen, darling."

"Who would have thought, thirty years old, the both of us, and still hanging out like we're carefree teenagers." Chelsea sighed thoughtfully.

"I don' know about you, girl, but my teenage years were so not carefree." Raven riposted.

"Mm, I guess not. I think all my troubles came from you and your you-know-whats." Chelsea waggled her eyebrows.

"You didn't have to participate," Raven sniffed disdainfully. "I coulda handled it all on my own."

"You say that now, huh?" Chelsea greatly enjoyed their playful banter. She'd never met anyone else that she could joke so freely with. "You didn't seem to mind my help that time when --"

"Whoa, Chelsea, we don't talk about that anymore." Raven cut her off with a snap of her fingers.

Chelsea chuckled, "Thank you for taking me to dinner tonight. I'm happy you still like me after all these years."

"Chels, I love you after all these years."

"Aw, Rae, that's sweet." Chelsea rested her head on her palms, elbows on the table. "I love you, too."

"So did the office do anything for your birthday?"

Chelsea shrugged, "The usual small cake, off-tune singing, and the celebratory beer."

While Raven was still nose-deep in fashion, Chelsea had changed her mind in college about her career. She'd started off in political science and biology, determined to bring the world's plight to the government, but found her calling in the more in-depth biology. Switching her major to bio-chemistry, she delved into pharmaceuticals. She worked for a large company, trying to find cheaper ways to create effective medicines. It was her personal goal to be able to produce effective medicine that any person in the world could easily afford.

"So what was that about a lunch date?" Raven couldn't help herself but pry.

Chelsea fought back her blush. "I met this guy, Steve, the other night at the bowling alley."

Raven hid her hands beneath the table so that they didn't start tapping impatiently on the surface. "And?"

"We had a drink, we hit it off." Chelsea shrugged, "He's a nice guy, good sense of humor, biceps that are to die for, you know."

"And?" Hating that her voice nearly cracked, Raven took a sip of ice water, trying to cover it up.

"Well, he wanted to celebrate my birthday, too. So we went out to a restaurant with ethnic food I'd never tried before. It was sweet of him."

"Are you… well, is he…"

"I think he might be a keeper," Chelsea beamed, "I wasn't going to say anything for a while, though. I'd hate to sing his praises too early, right, before I find out all his dirty little secrets."

"I see." Raven tried to smile. She suddenly wished that the box in her purse would just disappear.

"I want to talk about you, though, not him. I talked about him with him earlier. How's life?" Chelsea smoothly changed the subject, sensing Raven's odd discomfort.

The rest of dinner went well and dessert was, as Chelsea exclaimed, scrumdiddlyumptious. It was over dessert that the subject of presents came up, and Raven's mood went down.

"So what did you get me this year?" Chelsea demanded playfully, "Not a car, right?"

"Look, Chelsea, I need to get you a different gift. The one I have… it doesn't work anymore."

"It doesn't… work?" Chelsea tilted her head, "Try me."

Unwilling to fight it any longer, Raven reached into her purse and slid the box across the table. Chelsea opened it, astonished at the shiny engagement ring inside it. Her mouth opened wordlessly, then shut with a click. Eyes misting, she swallowed audibly, unable to speak.

"You remember don't you?" Raven asked, voice low. "That summer when we were seventeen…"