A/N: Happy Valentine's Day! This is just a little story I cooked up in an attempt to pair up some characters who were still single (no, seriously!). It's still in progress as I post this, so anything can still happen in the course of the story. So let me know what you think as it goes along…
§ § § - February 2, 2007
It was very uncharacteristic of Roarke to repeatedly check the time, but he was doing it this morning; and at first Leslie thought it was just because it was a Friday and he wanted to be sure everything was done before the next morning's guests arrived. However, when he continued to do it for more than an hour, she finally cleared her throat and ventured to ask the obvious question. "Father, are you waiting for something?"
"Someone, more correctly," Roarke said, frowning at the grandfather clock. "Two of them, to be precise. And they are both late."
"When were they supposed to be here?" Leslie asked. "Maybe I could make a call or put out an alert or something."
"Not on these two," Roarke said darkly and shook his head at the clock. "Really, this is most impolite, not to mention unprofessional."
"I'm sorry, Roarke, but we got held up," said a male voice, and Leslie looked around to see a tall, trim, muscular and extremely handsome man, with dark wavy hair, brilliant blue eyes, flashing white teeth and an enviable tan, stride into the study through the open French shutters. He was wearing nothing but a loincloth. Behind him was what looked like an oversized cherub, clad only in a diaper and with a bow and a quiver of arrows slung over one shoulder, madly flapping his wings to keep his chubby little body aloft and apace with his companion. Leslie stared at them.
"I've seen you guys before," she realized suddenly. It had been quite a few years, but that particular meeting was one she remembered nearly as vividly as the day it had taken place. "Eros and Cupid."
"That's us," chirped the cherub, beaming at her and coming in for a landing between the leather chairs in front of the desk. "Sorry we're late. I needed my quiver, and despite what my smug older brother here will tell you, it is too his fault."
"It is not," Eros barked before Roarke interrupted him with a short, sharp throat-clearing. Eros cleared his own throat and smoothed his hair. "Pardon me, Roarke. We've already been around and around on the issue, and I'm fed up with it. So…not necessarily to change the subject, but what's the big emergency?"
"You are both well aware, of course, that Valentine's Day is less than two weeks away," Roarke said, getting emphatic nods from both visitors, "and as far back as late October, we had planned a party for the day, in order to bring together single people."
"Especially those who're having a hard time finding just the right someone," Leslie chimed in. "And in this day and age, there're plenty of them."
Roarke nodded. "Indeed there are. So I felt it wise to call upon your help."
"A party!" Cupid exclaimed happily. "I love a party, and Valentine's parties are the best ones of all. I'll be thrilled to help—but of course, you'll have to allow me some time to fashion more arrows."
Roarke smiled. "Of course," he agreed graciously.
Eros grinned a bit lasciviously. "Hmm, sounds like just my kind of scene. Maybe I'd better find some of my Hot Lovin' Specials and get them ready for that night."
"Try to be a little more subtle," Roarke said, sounding a little ominous. "I'm afraid you spend entirely too much time focusing on the physical aspects of a budding relationship and too little on the most important part."
Eros snorted disgustedly. "Oh, Roarke, as if I don't have enough problems, what with AIDS joining all the other usual suspects. Not, of course, that people seem to pay much more attention than they did before it came along back in the 80s. Still, having you put restrictions on my livelihood really rubs me the wrong way."
"Just try to restrain your enthusiasm, that's all I ask," Roarke suggested, and Eros let out a put-upon sigh but shrugged agreement. "And as for you, Cupid, please try not to repeat your mistake of a few years ago. At the very least, wait until two people seem to have a clear interest in each other before you fire an arrow in misjudgment."
"What mistake was that?" Eros wanted to know, looking intrigued.
Leslie and Roarke looked at each other, and Leslie smiled wryly. "He almost shot Elizabeth Taylor and Mickey Rooney when they happened to be here at the same time."
Eros laughed loudly. "That would've been poetic justice all right. What've they got, seventeen marriages between them? Maybe they've been looking for each other all these years and just never realized it. I wish you'd let him shoot them, Roarke. I'd have loved to see what would have happened."
"You forget that, among other things, Mr. Rooney's current marriage remains in force. That aside," Roarke said firmly, "we do have a few celebrity guests who plan to be in attendance, most notably Princes Paolono and Marcolo from Arcolos. Their father is beside himself by this time that neither of his sons has found even a steady girlfriend, let alone a wife. He has literally begged me to see to it that they both find someone at this party, so please, please—use the utmost discretion."
Cupid, still looking a little shamefaced about the Taylor-Rooney mixup, nodded complacently. "I promise, Roarke, I'll be extra-careful. Don't worry about a thing."
"With you, kid brother, there's always something to worry about," Eros cracked and grinned when Cupid glared at him. "So is the king looking to have his boys married off, or just paired up with attractive prospects?"
"Anything," Leslie said. "Errico said that if either, or both, of them get to the point of wanting to get married right away, we're to do it, no questions asked. So if they find some girl they seem to really like, by all means, shoot arrows."
Roarke raised a hand at her. "Don't be too hasty, Leslie. As you may recall, King Errico stressed that the young ladies must be suitable matches for the princes."
"I'm sure that won't be a problem," Leslie said. "It's going to be a big party, and I've been told that lots of girls are coming who have hopes of being noticed by Paolono or Marcolo. There must be some who'd pass muster with Errico."
Cupid and Eros looked at each other. "How are we to know what that king would approve of?" Eros wanted to know. "Suppose one of the princes falls for some totally unsuitable girl? Then what?"
Leslie glanced at Roarke and offered, "You could consult with Father."
"This seems needlessly complicated," Roarke observed, "but if you feel that much trepidation in regard to the princes, then by all means, do so. As for the rest, however, just use your best discretion. After all, the ultimate goal of this party is for these young single people to find mates, and the more successes you have, the better."
"How big do you expect the turnout to be?" Eros asked.
"We have received nearly three hundred responses to the announcement Christian kindly placed for us on the island's website," Roarke told him.
Eros and Cupid looked at each other. "Wow," Cupid said. "Then maybe I'd better get to work right away making more arrows. Is there anything else you need us for? 'Cause if not, I'd really better get outa here and get started on them."
"As long as you have no further questions, by all means, go," Roarke said, and Cupid bobbed his head and took to the air with a flapping of wings that sounded like a flock of pigeons trying to gain altitude. Eros watched him go, then shook his head.
"Do you think I'll need some Hot Lovin' Specials?" he asked Roarke.
"If you feel that Cupid may need some help, then you might do well to bring a few of those," Roarke said. "Do you have any other questions?"
"No, I don't think so," Eros mused. "I suppose that'll do for now. Oh, wait—what time does this shindig start? I wouldn't want us to be late."
Roarke smiled. "No, that would never do. The party will begin at six o'clock sharp on the evening of the fourteenth, so I suggest that you and Cupid appear at least half an hour prior to that, so that we can go over anything you may not be clear about."
"Got it," Eros agreed. "Okay, Roarke, see you then. And Leslie…say, last time I saw you, you were waiting ever so patiently for your prince. How's that gone?"
"Oh, we've been married six years now and have triplets," Leslie said.
Eros blinked in amazement. "Triplets! That'll kill your love life faster than almost anything else I can think of. You and the prince need a Hot Lovin' Special or two?"
Leslie cleared her throat, feeling herself reddening. "Uh, no thanks…we, uh, we really don't…well, I mean, we're doing just fine in that department, thanks anyway."
Eros regarded her with a particular interest that made her squirm. "If it weren't for your prince, you'd be getting a lot of my attention. You're still pretty hot-looking." With a smirk, he sauntered out of the study.
Roarke chuckled, and Leslie rolled her eyes. "If I had enough clout, I'd sic Hera on him, her being the goddess of marriage and all that. She'd fix his little red wagon."
Laughing, Roarke patted her shoulder a few times. "I'll tell you a secret, Leslie: Eros is much more bark than bite. He prefers simpler conquests. Now, why don't you make a few phone calls and find out which of your friends have unattached siblings who may be interested in attending the party."
§ § § - February 12, 2007
Leslie's friends had gathered at the Enstad house just to catch up, and Ingrid had just served a couple of large, homemade jordisk-style pizzas along with batches of newly made jordisk cherry seltzer. The pizzas had a wide range of toppings, including a few jordiska ones that Leslie's friends had never seen before. "Who puts asparagus on pizza?" asked Camille in astonishment, staring at it. "Is it any good?"
"The people of Lilla Jordsö do, and I've tried it myself. It's not bad at all," Leslie said. "Give it a chance. And I think everybody'll love the cherry seltzer."
"Hits the spot," agreed Myeko, sipping some. "And hey, it's the right color for the holiday, being bright red and all." The girls laughed, and Ingrid nodded at Leslie's gesture and began portioning out pizza slices.
After a few minutes of sating their hunger and commenting on the various pizza toppings, Maureen focused on Leslie. "Okay," she said, "since we're all here by ourselves while our respective husbands are working on whatever strikes their fancy, and those of us who have preschoolers have been graciously relieved of responsibility temporarily, thanks to your Ingrid there—what exactly are we here for?"
"Just a get-together," Leslie said, "although I did want to mention something to you guys. You may or may not have known that there's going to be a huge Valentine's Day party on the island come Wednesday, and Christian and I are more or less obligated to be there."
"I bet Christian loves that," Lauren commented with a smirk. "Is this some sort of new annual institution or something?"
"I don't know yet. Father wants to see how it works out and then decide whether to have one every year. For the moment, though, this thing's going to be really big, so we thought it couldn't hurt to cull out some of your siblings who are still unattached and see if they're interested in coming."
"Well, that lets me out, being an only child," Tabitha kidded. She was due literally within hours, grossly swollen with pregnancy and looking very uncomfortable; in fact, the girls had learned that every time she sat or lay down, she had to have help getting back up. "I wish I could be there; it sounds like fun, and I love seeing people fall in love."
"Oh, so that's why you read all those sappy romances," Camille said, grinning.
"That's also why I read all those sappy romances," Myeko told her loftily, "except I like a little more spice in mine. Hey, Leslie, you never did read those bodice-rippers I lent you when you were pregnant, did you?" Only slightly sheepish, Leslie shook her head as they all laughed. "Well, anyway, I can volunteer two of 'em—Taro and Sayuri. Taro's ex is in rehab for her addiction to that weird drug, whatever it was called, and last he heard, he said she has no willpower at all and keeps relapsing. He's warned Stephanie, Noah and Tia not to hope for a reconciliation."
"Sorry to hear that," Maureen said. "Hey, how's Tia doing, anyway? I think she'll eventually be going to school with April and the triplets, won't she?"
"Yeah, they're all the same age," Myeko said. "Tia's fine. In fact, you'll never believe this, but she's already learning to read, and she won't even be three till summer. But the kid has a brain like you wouldn't believe. I hate to say it, but whatever that damn drug did to Iriata during her pregnancy with Tia, it benefited the hell outa the kid."
"There's no real proof that black lightning, or any of its side effects, is responsible for Tia's precocity," Leslie said uneasily. "Although I think if you mentioned it to Father, he'd be interested in hearing all about it." She let her thoughts stray for a moment; after a small surge in usage of black lightning had been reported a couple of summers before, he had done some investigating and discovered that the current ultimate source of the drug was the young wastrel husband of Marina LiSciola. These days, the drug made the news mostly for the periodic reports of Iriata Sese's relapses from rehabilitation. Since the woman was a former Miss Samoa, her exploits were still considered newsworthy.
"Well, whether it was the black lightning or not, she's still a prodigy, or at least sort of one," Myeko said. "I wish Dawn was like that. It's all she can do to write her own name."
"Give Dawn a chance," Maureen told her. "She's only in kindergarten, and she has plenty of time to find her niche."
"Right," Leslie agreed. "So Taro and Sayuri, huh? That's good, anybody else?"
"My sister Deborah," Lauren said. "She's gonna be thirty-eight this year and she's still as single as she ever was. I think she's finally ready to consider settling down, though. She gets a real kick out of hanging around Kevin, and he says she's his favorite auntie. And oh yeah…Brian's niece, Dania, is supposed to fly in on tomorrow's plane. She was planning a visit here anyway, but she moved the date up a few days so she could go to the party."
"Hey, speaking of Kevin, today's his birthday, isn't it?" Camille asked her cousin. "I hope you're planning something."
"Well, there's going to be a party this evening at my parents' house, so Brian can be there and we can give him his presents then. We'll just have birthday cake and ice cream for dessert. Leslie, I know Kevin and Tobias are good friends—do you suppose you or Christian could bring him over?"
"Oh, probably," Leslie agreed. "I'll mention it to Christian. So…anyone else?"
Camille grinned. "Jonathan and Julianne said they'll be going. I guess Jonathan's trying to get back into circulation after that breakup of his…" She paused long enough to flick a glance toward the kitchen, but Ingrid was nowhere in sight. "And Julianne's as bad as Deborah, except for being ten years younger." The girls laughed again. "Jonathan said something about their school friend Patrick Apacarr coming, too. I guess the kid's still single."
"No kidding," Leslie said, intrigued. "It'll be fun to see him. I haven't since he was a baby and Tattoo almost adopted him. I wonder if Thomas and Mary ever told him the story. I hope he does decide to show up."
"Hey, you never told us about that one," Camille said, surprised. "He hung out with Jonathan and Jeremy all the time when they were in school, all the way from kindergarten to their high-school graduation. We got used to seeing him around our house. So Tattoo was that close to adopting him, huh?"
"I'll tell you about it sometime," Leslie promised. "Well, good. I guess that's everybody, then."
"What about teenagers?" Myeko asked. "Alexander thinks the whole thing's a pile of dog poop—you know how boys are at his age, and he'll be fifteen soon—but Noelle insisted I ask you if there's an age restriction on the party."
"I think there should be one," Katsumi remarked. "My Haruko is sixteen and I am afraid she wish to go to this party also."
Leslie grinned. "We'll have a smaller party for teenagers next weekend. This one's strictly for adults, because they're serving alcoholic beverages. No need to worry, Katsumi and Myeko. Camille, I think you better make sure David has something constructive to do on Wednesday night."
"Yeah…he thinks being sixteen gives him license to act like an adult without the attendant responsibilities," Camille complained, rolling her eyes. "Ever since Mr. Roarke gave him that summer driving job last year, he's been so cocky he makes me want to snap his neck sometimes. Now he thinks he's old enough to do anything."
"Oh, something'll happen to burst his bubble quick enough," Maureen assured her. "Brianna had the same idea as Noelle—you know how thick those two are. I told her not to get her hopes up, but thanks for the idea about the teenagers' party, Leslie. If you need any chaperones, let Mr. Roarke know and I'll volunteer. I'm not handling any catering next weekend, so I've got time to supervise."
"I'll tell Father," Leslie said, nodding. "Thanks, Maureen. Well, then, I guess that settles it. Hey, I see you all liked the pizza."
"Yeah, that was decent," Myeko agreed. "Thanks for having us over, Leslie. It was just what I needed."
Tabitha sighed heavily. "Me too. I'll be more than happy to see this baby get born. To tell you the truth, I've been having a few weird twinges in my back all day, but that's it so far, and I'm starting to wish the kid would get a move on. I feel as if I should have given birth last month."
"You poor thing," said Maureen sympathetically. "I felt like that with both Brianna and April. How are Cristina and Ramón getting to school and back?" Cristina Ordoñez, a classmate of Camille's son Craig, was almost ten and a fourth-grader; her brother Ramón had just turned six and was in full-day kindergarten, as a classmate of Myeko's five-year-old daughter Dawn.
"Fernando takes them," Tabitha said. "He's hired a girl from the fishing village to fill in for me till the baby's born and I can get back to work."
"Well, you're not going back till the baby's a few weeks old at least, right?" Lauren asked, surprised. "I didn't go back till Kevin was a month old."
"And I was out till the triplets were over three months," Leslie put in.
"Oh, I'm planning to take it easy till summer," Tabitha said. "When school lets out, I'll go back to work. Cristina will be a big help with the baby."
"Good thing," said Leslie, nodding. "By then you'll probably be going crazy looking for a break from diapers and bottles. Christian's started teasing me occasionally about trying to have another baby, so we can maybe give Tobias a brother, but I've told him I've got all I want and I'm not interested. I think I'm afraid I'll wind up with sextuplets."
"He's not really serious, is he?" Maureen exclaimed through the others' laughter.
"I don't think so," Leslie said, grinning. "I guess he's just used to being one of four kids and thought it would be cute if we did too, but he's just being funny. I don't think he really wants to be a new father either, not when he's knocking on fifty's door."
"Oh yeah, next year's it, isn't it," Myeko said and grinned. "Considering who he is and the kind of milestone this is, I think we should start planning the party now."
"Only if you really want to put your life in jeopardy," Leslie warned, laughing.
Camille snorted good-naturedly. "Why should he care? Aside from how much he hates parties, I don't see why he'd complain. He looks damn good for a guy his age. I'd swear he was at least ten years younger. He must've gotten some really good DNA. Some people just have everything, don't they? Royal, rich, famous, and delicious-looking. What I want to know is what his faults are. Nobody can possibly be that perfect."
"Christian'll be the first to say the same thing," said Leslie, grinning. "Look, he's going to get back over here anytime, I'm sure, so we'd better change the subject before he finds out he's the big gossip topic at our little kaffeeklatsch here."
Her friends laughed and obliged. "I have a question," Katsumi said slowly. "You say this party is for people who have no one, and here they can find someone?" Leslie nodded, and the beautiful Japanese woman frowned. "It seems not so fair. You and Christian will be at this party. I think it would be nice if all of us could go also, even if we are married."
Leslie glanced around at her friends. "What do the rest of you think?"
"I wouldn't mind getting out," Maureen observed, sounding wistful. "We just never do anything. I mean, I don't want to say Grady's stodgy…but it never crosses his mind to ask me if I'd like to have an evening out, just the two of us. Brianna's more than old enough to be in charge of April for a while, so he doesn't have that excuse. I just think he's getting too set in his quiet ways, and I'm getting just a bit bored."
"Well, you have to expect that," Tabitha pointed out. "Grady's quite a bit older than you are, isn't he?"
"Yeah, he'll be 57 this year," Maureen admitted through a sigh. "Sometimes I think he's acting like an old man before he has any real reason to. I mean, come on—fifty-seven isn't exactly standing on death's threshold, you know. And it'd do him good to take me out dancing someplace. Give him some exercise."
Leslie giggled. "Even Christian wonders why he never seems to see Grady outside doing anything more than mowing the lawn on that riding mower of his. Well, I don't see any reason you couldn't all come if you want to. Who knows, Tabitha, if that baby hasn't gotten here by then, getting in some dancing might help jar the kid loose."
Christian walked in the door amid the girls' laughter and surveyed the group gathered around the coffee table, which as yet Ingrid hadn't cleared. "Must have been an exceptionally funny joke."
"Hi, Christian," they chorused, and Leslie arose to give him a kiss.
"I hear you're gonna be at Mr. Roarke's Valentine party Wednesday night," said Camille with a wicked little grin.
"Under duress," Christian quantified, rolling his eyes. "I don't know what his excuse is for insisting I be there. I'd had hopes of updating my family's website so that I could post those baby pictures Roald and Adriana finally sent me." Adriana had given birth in November to a boy who had been named Staffan Teodor Christian Lagnebring; Christian had asked why they'd chosen his name to be one of their son's, and Roald had told him they just wanted to pay him a little homage. "None of the others has done it yet," he had e-mailed, "and I figured you deserved something for sitting there answering all our stupid questions for the last three decades plus." Christian had burst out laughing and e-mailed his thanks for the honor.
"You can as easily do that this evening," Leslie chided him with a grin. "Don't tell me you were saving that just for Wednesday night." Christian hiked an eyebrow at her, but he didn't say anything, which made her friends laugh again. "So did everything at work go okay, then? You said something about a problem with a website."
"A quick conference took care of that," Christian said. "He had some ideas he wanted me to try out, so I agreed to do what I could with them. I hope there's some of that pizza left; I'm hungry."
"There's another one in the kitchen," Leslie told him, and he smiled at that and headed in that direction. She watched him go for a moment, then perched on the arm of the chair in which Katsumi sat. "Any other questions?"
"Yeah—what should we wear?" Myeko asked. "Is it formal?"
"Not really," Leslie said. "Just dress in your favorite dancing clothes. But one caveat: the color of the day is red, so try to wear something in that color."
Myeko smirked. "Aha. An excuse to go shopping. Anyone want to come?"
"I can't even go to the bathroom," Tabitha complained. "How can I go shopping?" They all laughed sympathetically, and she grinned back. "I could use a little help, if nobody minds. Thanks for the ride, Leslie."