Chapter 41:  Countdown

When they arrived at the front of the Ritz-Carlton, the driver stepped out and opened the doors for them to get out.  The first thing everyone noticed was the lighted horizontal fountain, which shot spurts of water that increased in height from one end to the other.


“Look at the fountain!” Serena said breathlessly.  “It’s so beautiful.”


“Oh my god, the water is pink!” Kathy gushed.  “That’s so cute, Alex.  How did you get them to do it?”


Alex smiled.  “Daddy,” she responded simply.


A red carpet had been laid out before them, and a huge banner proclaiming “Happy Sweet 16, Alex!” was suspended over the entrance to the hotel.  “Do you want me to escort you inside?” Elliot asked, grinning widely and putting a hand on Alex’s back.  “Since Liv is over there checking her makeup and all, I figured you’d need someone a little less girly tonight.”


Olivia shot him a look and snapped her compact shut.  “Do you want to keep the family jewels?” she asked crossly.


“Hey, Liv!  I was just joking!” Elliot insisted, a bit taken aback by Olivia’s reaction.


“Damn, Liv.  A bit possessive, don’t you think?” Serena asked.


“I’m Alex’s one and only escort tonight,” Olivia responded in her defense. 


Casey leaned over and whispered in Serena’s ear, “Note to self: wear flame retardant suit when asking Alex for a dance tonight.”


“Let’s play nice…” Alex said, linking her arm through Olivia’s.  “I want everyone to make it to the party in one piece.” 


“Don’t we all?” Elliot muttered.


Once in the lobby, Alex announced, “Ok, I need to find Mom and Dad so I can get my key card and put my laptop in my room.  Give me your outfits and I’ll take them with me.”  She looked from Olivia to Elliot.  “No fighting or I will administer spankings for the both of you.”


Olivia grinned and playfully shoved Elliot.  Alex started to swat her arm but decided against it because she knew that’s just what she wanted.  “Hey!  You can’t start fights on purpose just so I’ll spank you!”


Olivia hugged Alex’s waist from behind and whispered in her ear, “Can I come with?”


Alex couldn’t help but smile.  “I dunno.  I do intend on making it to dinner in time.”


“I can see right now that the guest of honor is going to be showing up, um…fashionably late,” Casey murmured, nudging Serena in the ribs with her elbow.  Serena brought her hand to her mouth to stifle her giggling.


“Hey, I heard that!” Alex yelled.  Olivia grabbed her hand and they ran off to find Alex's parents.


A few minutes later, Alex opened the door to her suite and a hand flew to her mouth.  “Liv, look!  It’s an Arabian suite!  The furnishings look so authentic and Middle Eastern.  I feel like I’m in Dubai or something.”  Rich, warm hues of ochre, maroon, and navy flowed throughout the room.  The furniture featured Arabic lattice work that only added to the suite’s flair.  Paintings of ancient Arabia and Persia adorned the walls. 


Olivia grinned and took the clothes from her to hang in one of the closets.  “Did you just expect it to be a regular room tonight?”


“Well…yeah.  I only expected the Arabian Nights theme to go as far as my party!”  She walked over to her nightstand to admire a hand-painted ceramic vase that contained a White Iris bouquet.  “Mmm.  These flowers smell lovely.”


“They’re pretty,” Olivia replied, glancing over her shoulder at Alex.


Alex walked over to the desk and put her laptop down on it.  “I’m so glad this hotel has high-speed Wi-Fi.”


“Ooh, it also has a private terrace!” Olivia shouted, running outside.


“Come on, Liv.  We can’t stay long,” Alex told her, yet following her nonetheless.  She looked around and smiled.  “This is so nice.  We can have breakfast tomorrow morning out here.”


“What’s even more exciting is that there is a telescope out here!  We can watch the stars together.”


Alex grinned.  “Your romantic geekiness is so adorable.”


“Speaking of romantic, we can have our own little slow dance out here after the party is over,” Olivia suggested, draping her arms across Alex’s shoulders.


“I’d love that,” Alex replied.  She softly jerked her head in the direction of the bed.  “Did you notice how fucking huge the bed is?”


Olivia gave her a knowing smile.  “It’s the first thing I noticed.  Let’s go test it for um…recreational purposes.”


“You said it,” Alex said, pulling her back inside.


Alex walked over to the king-size canopy bed and took a seat on the edge.  Olivia took a seat beside her and said, “Wow.  Everything here is so beautiful.”  She looked down at the floor and added, “Even the carpet.”


Alex chuckled.  “Yeah.  We’re going to have a great weekend.  The only thing I hate is that it will all be cut short by school Monday morning.”


Olivia grinned.  “Too bad we can’t skip like after Valentine’s…”


“Our parents would kill us.  We barely escaped last time with the skin of our teeth,” Alex reminded her.


“Speaking of killing, we need to get back downstairs before everyone starts thinking the worst,” Olivia said.


They opened the door to leave and almost jumped 10 feet in the air when they saw all their friends gathered around with shit-eating grins on their faces.   “Oh yeah!  Real mature, guys!” Alex snapped.


“What the fuck are you doing up here, huh?  Spying on us?” Olivia demanded.


“We thought we heard a little bed squeaking,” Serena teased.


“Can we see inside?” Casey asked.


Alex rolled her eyes but slid her key card in anyway.  “I guess.”


Casey and Serena ran in and climbed on the bed.  “Ooh, it’s all cushiony!” Serena exclaimed, patting the comforter.


Kathy and Elliot started walking around.  “This is really nice, Alex,” Kathy commented.


“I know, right?  There is a sitting room area and everything,” Alex replied.


“Can we go outside?” Elliot asked.


Alex nodded.  “Sure.”  She turned to see Casey and Serena rolling around on the bed.  “Come on, guys!  Knock it off.”


Casey got on top of Serena and teased, “Ok, so this is how Alex and Liv are gonna be tonight.”  She started riding Serena’s waist and Serena moaned, “Oh!  Oh, yes!  Get it, Liv!”


Continuing to grind against her waist, Casey grabbed Serena’s breasts and asked, “Is this how you like it, Alikins?”


“Oh, you asshole,” Olivia interjected.  “I sound nothing like that when I’m making love to her.”


“At least we don’t fuck each other at gas stations!” Alex shot back.


“Is that the best you can do, Alex?” Casey asked, picking up her pace.


Kathy and Elliot came back inside.  Watching the scene unfold on the bed, Elliot remarked, “I don’t even wanna ask.”


Casey grinned at Elliot.  “Oh, don’t mind us!  We’re just doing a little Alex-Liv role playing.”


“Get up, guys!” Olivia ordered.


Serena looked at Olivia with a wicked grin.  She pushed Casey off her and whispered something in her ear.  Casey proceeded to get on all fours and Serena wildly started slapping her ass.  “Oh, fuck, Liv!  Harder!  Harder!” Casey shouted.


“Ok, seriously get off before you make me mad,” Olivia threatened.


“You two are idiots.  Everyone knows that Olivia would be the one getting spanked, not me,” Alex said with her own shit-eating grin.


Everyone began roaring with laughter, even Olivia.  “You guys are relentless,” Olivia said, shaking her head.


Elliot took Kathy’s hand and began walking toward the door.  “I’d love to stay and watch you girls rehearse your latest porno flick, but I’m actually starting to get a little hungry,” he joked. 


“Yeah, let’s get back downstairs,” Olivia said.


“Yes, let’s,” Alex agreed, ushering the rest of them toward the door.


After they had all been seated in the private dining room reserved for them, Alex turned to everyone and said, “Thank you all so much for coming.  You don’t know how much it means to me to share my 16th birthday with the people who mean the most to me.  I love you guys.”


Everyone started clapping and toasting their water glasses to Alex.  “We love you, too, Alex,” Kathy replied.


“Especially me,” Olivia whispered, reaching under the table and squeezing Alex’s hand.


“When do you think people will start getting here?” Serena asked.


“Probably sometime around six.  The line is gonna extend around the block.  But they won’t be let in for awhile, though,” Alex responded.


“Are you nervous about your big entrance?” Casey asked.


“A little.  I just want everything to go smoothly,” Alex answered.  “I hope the horse doesn’t get spooked by all the people and excitement.”


“Those horses are trained to perform in front of large crowds, Alex,” Madeline assured her.  “You’ll be fine.”


“Yeah.  Besides, Alex, you’ve been riding for years.  You know how to keep a horse calm,” Serena pitched in.


“How long before we get to eat?” Alex asked.


“Just a few minutes, sweetie,” John answered.


“The question of the century,” Olivia teased.  Alex thumped her hard on the arm in retaliation.


“Alexandra!” Madeline chided.


“Boy, am I glad to be on the opposite side of the table,” Elliot quipped.


Olivia sneakily reached under the table and pinched Alex’s thigh.  Alex let out a loud yelp, startling everyone at the table.  Madeline shot them another look.  “Girls, if you can’t behave…” she warned.


“Sorry, Mom,” Alex apologized.


“Yeah.  Sorry,” Olivia added.


In a short while, the servers brought out the food, which included a whole stuffed roast lamb, sunflower honey bread, vegetable bucatini, Moroccan chicken with couscous, orecchiette with tomatoes and black olive sauce, stuffed aubergine, kibbeh, fatayer, and blueberry and wild rice salad.  Alex turned to Olivia with her mouth wide open when she also saw a server roll out a wine cart with bottles of champagne on ice.


“Wow,” Olivia said, licking her lips.


“My sentiments exactly,” Casey murmured.


Alex turned to her parents.  “We all get champagne?”


Madeline smiled.  “Well, it’s your 16th birthday.  It’s a rite of passage for a young adult.  I’d say champagne is appropriate.”


Alex got up and gave her mother a kiss on the cheek.  “I love you, Mom!”  Taking her seat beside Olivia again, she rubbed her hands together and said, “Ok, time to dig in!” 


Her mother laughed as the waiter filled all their glasses with champagne.  “I know you’re excited to eat, sweetie.  But your father and I would like to make a toast to you.”


“Ok, Mom,” Alex replied, smiling expectantly.


John and Madeline stood up.  “Alex, I can remember the days when you’d sit on my lap in my study and beg me to read the Wall Street Journal to you,” her father began.  “I can also remember tucking you in every night with your favorite teddy bear.  But now you are no longer a little girl.  You have blossomed into a fine young lady.  You’ve always been a strong, independent girl who is wise beyond her years.  Princess, you carry the Cabot name with honor, and this party is just a small token of my love for you.”


Alex felt tears prick the back of her eyes.  “Thanks, Daddy,” she choked out.


Madeline looked at Alex and smiled.  “Alex, you have bestowed so much joy upon us over the years.  You’ve learned, you’ve grown, you’ve handled even the most untenable situations with the greatest finesse.  You excel at everything you put your mind to.  I wish you a happy birthday and only the best life has to offer.  Your father and I couldn’t have asked for a better present 16 years ago.”  She and John lifted their glasses together and toasted Alex.  Everyone else followed suit.


Alex quickly brushed away tears.  “You’re so wonderful, Mom.”


“That was so beautiful!” Olivia exclaimed.  “You two are even going to make me cry.”


“Me, too!” Serena added, brushing her own tears away.


Alex grinned and hugged Olivia close to her.  “I’m so happy,” she said thankfully.


“You deserve it,” Olivia replied.


“It’s just…”  Alex paused to search for the words.  “…humbling to know that everyone at this table genuinely cares about me for who I am inside and not for what I can give them.”


“That’s true, Alex,” Elliot replied.  “Love isn’t conditional.”


The group began passing the dishes around the table and helping themselves.  “This smells so delicious,” Alex remarked.


“You’re tellin’ me,” Serena agreed.


“I absolutely love couscous,” Alex stated, digging in with her fork.


“This food all looks so exotic,” Olivia added, taking a bite of kibbeh.  “This is really yummy.”


“The lamb is really juicy,” Casey said.


Alex took a sip of champagne.  “Really good, Mom.”


Madeline smiled.  “I thought you’d enjoy it.  Just don’t drink too much of it.”


After they were done eating, Alex leaned back in her chair and said, “Well, we have some time to spare before we have to start getting ready.  What are we gonna do in the meantime?”


“Ugh.  I’m so full I could nap for the rest of the night,” Casey answered.


“Make sure you have room for cake,” Serena told her.  “And you can’t miss the party, silly!”


Alex licked her lips.  “I cannot wait until we cut my cake!”


Olivia smirked.  “Yeah.  She almost jumped it earlier when we went to see it.”


John looked at his watch and said, “Let’s go check the ballroom one last time.  I want to make sure that even the most minute details are perfect.”


Alex stood up and smiled.  “Great idea, Dad.”  She turned to the rest of them.  “Come on, let’s check it out.  I haven’t even seen it since yesterday.”


“Me neither,” Olivia echoed.


They walked into the ballroom and all their friends gasped.  The entire ballroom was decorated like the throne room of a palace from the 1001 Arabian Nights stories.  The scent of Damascus rose wafted through the room.  Gold and royal purple silk fabrics draped the ceiling and flowed neatly down the walls.  In between the silk, bronze wall sconces with carved lion motifs contained arrangements of blue, pink, and white lotus flowers.  Syrian lanterns were suspended from the ceiling and LED lamps projected gold sparkles onto the white floor.  Sandstone columns with gold Arabic calligraphy had been set up across the ballroom. 


“Oh…my…god…” Casey said, trying to take everything in all at once.


“As Fin would say:  ‘Bling bling,’” Elliot remarked.


“Is everything exactly how you want it, Alex?” John asked.


“Yes,” Alex replied breathlessly.  She looked around and sighed contentedly. 


“This is beyond gorgeous,” Olivia breathed.  “It’s certainly fit for a princess.”  She gazed at Alex adoringly.


At the back of the ballroom, five circular marble steps led up to a large marble platform fashioned after a dais.  Two great ice sculpture griffins sat on opposite ends of the dais and rose petals were scattered across it.  At the very back of the dais was another life-size ice sculpture that was fashioned after Alex.  Tiny purple, yellow, blue, pink, green, and orange neon tubes had been implanted inside all the ice sculptures and emitted their bright colors across the room.  A chaise longue with colorful Persian cushions was placed in front of Alex’s ice sculpture for her to sit on. 


“It’s so magical,” Kathy mused as they all walked up the steps.  “I’ve never seen anything like it.”


“Alex, your mother and I will be back,” John told her.  “We’re going outside to survey the area again.”


“Ok,” Alex replied, kissing her father quickly on the cheek.


Serena went to get a closer look at Alex’s sculpture.  “How cool is that?” she marveled.  “Alex has her own fucking ice sculpture!”


Olivia waggled her eyebrows.  “Now if ever there was an ice sculpture I wanted to suck…”


Elliot grinned.  “I guess it wouldn’t be out of line to refer to her as an ice princess this time...”  Everyone laughed.


“She’s my little ice princess,” Olivia whispered, hugging Alex.  Alex giggled.


“Can drinks flow out your sculpture, Alex?  You know, kinda like a vodka luge?” Casey asked.


Kathy looked at Elliot.  “Uh oh.  I already know where this one is going.”


Elliot smirked.  “You catch on quickly.”


Alex gave Casey a look.  “Don’t even.”


Olivia turned to Alex with a mischievous grin.  “Well…we all know where the drinks would flow out and I’d be more than ready and willing to relieve you of—”


“Hey!” Alex protested, swatting her arm.


“Well, it’s not like my tongue has never ventured into areas unseen,” Olivia replied.


“It’s not going to be venturing in front of Mom, Dad, and 200 guests!  Besides, it’s not like my sculpture’s naked!” Alex argued. 


“I think drinks would be much better if they flowed out of the griffins’ mouths instead of Alex’s…um…nether regions,” Elliot reasoned.


“Ok, that’s gross.  I started thinking of another liquid entirely and—” Serena began.


Alex shot Serena a glare.  “Don’t say it.  Nothing is flowing out of the ice.”  She walked down the steps of the dais and went over to examine the food.


Long buffet tables were set up on each side of the room, and in the center of each table was a large golden genie lamp filled with sparkling, iridescent punch.  Tall chocolate fondue fountains were at both ends of each table.  One table featured pink and white chocolate fondue fountains while the other featured dark and milk chocolate ones.


“Mmm…chocolate,” Olivia said.


“Oh, I can’t wait to taste the pink fondue!” Alex exclaimed. 


“Why don’t you try it out?” Kathy suggested.


“Good idea,” Alex replied, picking up a slice of apple and dipping it into the flow of chocolate.  She took a bite and then gave the rest to Olivia.  “Mmm…this is divine!  Try some, guys!”


“I agree,” Olivia said, wiping some fondue from the side of her mouth. 


After they had tried out the fondue, Alex said, “I’m so excited about everything that I can barely see straight!”


“This is seriously going to be the best party ever!” Casey exclaimed.


“Everyone is still gonna be talking about it for weeks to come,” Serena chimed in.  “No one is gonna pay attention in class on Monday cuz everyone is gonna be recapping the party.”


“Where’s the cake?” Kathy asked.


“Susie said they were gonna bring it in around 7:30,” Alex replied.


“That’s still almost two hours away,” Elliot observed.


Alex looked at the clock.  “Ok.  My performers aren’t here yet.  Where the hell are they?  They can’t fucking come in at the last minute cuz they need time to set up.”


Olivia rubbed her back comfortingly.  “They’ll be here soon, baby.”


Alex groaned.  “Well, the bouncers are gonna start checking people’s I.D.s around 6:45 and I don’t want it to get too chaotic.”


“Alex, everything will be fine, ok?” Serena told her, giving her a quick hug.  “Don’t stress, babe.”


Alex sighed.  “I guess you’re right.”  She grabbed Olivia’s hand and dragged her back up to the dais.  “I want you to sit up here with me,” she said, smiling sweetly at her.


“Oh, sweetie…I couldn’t.  Tonight is all about you,” Olivia replied.  “I don’t wanna take up your spotlight.”


“Don’t be silly,” Alex persuaded, giving her a warm hug.  “If I’m a princess, so are you.”


“But baby…” Olivia started to protest.  “There will be pictures and everything.  It’s your sweet 16.  People will wonder why we’re so joined at the hip on your big day.”


“So?  Let them wonder,” Alex responded.


“Alex…just because we’re dating doesn’t mean we have to spend every waking moment together.  This is your time to shine.  I can spare not being right beside you for a couple hours.”


“Liv, queens always sit beside their kings on the throne.  I’m not saying we can’t ever be apart; I know we can.  But tonight I have a choice and I want you to be up here with me.”


Olivia sighed.  “Baby…”


“Liv, you told me that you planned to make my birthday the most special day of my life.  You still mean that, don’t you?”


Olivia frowned slightly.  “Of course I do.”


“Well, it won’t be as special if you aren’t here with me.”


“Alex….won’t your dad get suspicious?”


Alex gave Olivia a look.  “Sweetie, I just want you to sit beside me, not suck my face.”


Olivia gave a lopsided grin.  “You sure about that?”


Alex laughed softly and whispered in her ear, “Well, I do want you to suck something but that will have to wait until later.”


Olivia gulped.  “Baby…it’s not fair to bribe me!”


Alex pouted at her.  “I’ll be too sad to go on with my party if you don’t sit up here with me.  You’re my Princess Charming.”


“Aww,” Kathy, Elliot, Casey, and Serena cooed in unison.


“Ok, ok,” Olivia finally decided, not able to stifle a goofy smile.  “If that’s what you want, I’ll sit beside you.”


Alex smiled and gave her a big hug.  “Thanks, sweetie!”  She turned to the rest of them and said, “Ok, let’s go up to my suite and we can all change into our costumes.”


Elliot smirked.  “Ah, yes.  Girls Gone Wild, Volume II.”


Olivia gave him a slight shove.  “Not even,” she argued.


Alex decided to brush off Elliot’s comment this time and began walking toward the elevators.  “Ok, Serena and Casey, you two can take the bathroom.  Elliot and Kathy can take the sitting room.  And of course Liv and I will—”


“Fuck like rabbits,” Casey interrupted.


Elliot, Kathy, Serena, and Casey bent over with laughter as they stumbled into the elevator.  Olivia and Alex rolled their eyes.  “You wish,” Alex responded.


“Can’t you guys come up with any new material?” Olivia asked as she pressed the number to Alex’s floor.


“Speaking of coming…” Serena started.


Alex pushed Serena into the wall of the elevator.  “I thought you said you wouldn’t tease me anymore.”


Serena pouted.  “Aww…you’re no fun.”


“You guys act like we’re the only ones having sex,” Olivia muttered.


“Come on, Liv,” Elliot said, dangling an arm around her shoulders.  “You know we don’t mean anything by it.”


The doors opened and they walked to Alex’s suite.  Alex slid her key card in and said, “Ok, we’re gonna go in, get ready, and get outta here.  No fooling around.  Is that understood, guys?”


Serena raised her hand to her forehead and saluted Alex.  “Yes, ma’am.”


Alex took their outfits out of her closet and distributed them.  “Ok, hurry up, guys.”


After everyone had gone to their respective dressing areas, the girls took off their heels.  “These pumps certainly look more comfortable than they actually are,” Alex muttered.


Olivia kicked her own heels out of the way and agreed, “Ugh.  Tell me about it.  I’m almost dreading the formal segment of your party.”  Alex laughed softly.


Olivia pulled her halter over her head and slid out of her dress.  Alex turned around expectantly and smiled at Olivia over her shoulder.  “Unzip me?”


“Sure,” Olivia said, unzipping Alex’s dress and helping her out of it.  Alex leaned back a little so that her back barely grazed Olivia’s nipples.  She giggled softly when she felt Olivia shiver slightly against her.


“Cold, Liv?” she teased.


Olivia quickly turned Alex around to face her.  “Kiss me, princess.”


Alex happily obliged.  “You’re lovely, babe.  And the world’s best kisser, too.”


“So that’s why you keep me around?” Olivia joked.


“Damn.  I guess I’m busted, huh?” Alex replied, capturing her lips again.


At that moment, Serena and Casey came back in the room.  “Whoa!” Serena shouted.


Olivia and Alex turned around and quickly covered their breasts with their hands.  “Oh my god, guys, stop spying on us!” Alex yelled.


“We weren’t spying…intentionally,” Casey said in their defense.  “We came to ask you if we could borrow some lipstick.”


“Yeah, sure you did,” Alex responded sarcastically.  Nonetheless, she pointed to her makeup case on the dresser.  “Go help yourselves.  And hurry up so Liv and I can get dressed.”


“Aw, you guys are cute.  Matching undies,” Serena said, glancing down at their underwear.


Olivia’s jaw dropped.  “Serena, stop staring!”


Giggling, Serena and Casey got the lipsticks they wanted and went back into the bathroom.  Alex rolled her eyes and locked the door.  “Peace at last.”


“Thank god,” Olivia muttered.


Alex changed into her dress, which was a two-piece turquoise velvet gown with gold and silver beads and a gold silk organza veil.  The top and belt of the skirt had an intricate hand-beaded Egyptian lotus design with shimmering fringe hangings made from glass and seed beads.  Tiny rhinestones outlined the costume and diamond cut-outs were on both sides of the skirt, which contained a long center slit.  Twirling around, she modeled the dress for Olivia.  “How does it look?”


“Absolutely gorgeous,” Olivia said, checking her out as she pulled on her own skirt.  “It’s as sparkly as it is sexy.  And your boobs look amazing in the top.”


“I know!  I even have cleavage!” Alex said excitedly.  She looked at Olivia’s costume.  “Wow.  You look amazing, stunning, hot, sexy, beautiful—”


Olivia smiled.  “So you like what you see, huh?”


Alex nodded.  “And your cleavage…mmm.  Never in my life have I seen cleavage this hot!”


Olivia laughed.  “You say that whenever my cleavage is showing.”  All jokes aside, even Olivia was pleased at how great she looked.  Her two-piece brown satin gown was covered with several multicolored beads in elaborate swirling designs as well as silver and gold holographic sequins.  The fringe beadwork on the haltered bra and skirt was made from gold and amber glass and seed beads, metallic beads, and twisted and standard bugle beads.  The two-panel skirt had an iridescent sequin edging and revealed her right leg almost entirely. 


“No, it’s even hotter this time.  I’m serious,” Alex insisted.  “Your cleavage is much more pronounced in this top.  And those abs…I just wanna rip your costume off and—”


Alex was interrupted by a knock at the door.  “We’re ready!” Kathy yelled.


“Ok, ok,” Alex grumbled, unlocking the door to let Kathy, Elliot, Serena, and Casey in. 


“Whoa, Liv!  Nice cleavage!” Casey observed.


Olivia grinned and shook her chest at her.  “Thanks.”


Serena admired the amount of skin the skirt afforded.  Without even thinking, she slid her hand up and down Olivia’s thigh.  “Nice leg!”


Alex quickly slapped Serena’s hand away.  “Hey!  Hands off my harem girl!”


“Careful, Serena.  You might lose a hand,” Kathy joked.


“Hey, don’t hit her!” Casey cried.  She picked up Serena’s hand and placed several tender kisses over it.


“Pussy whipped,” Olivia said with a grin, sliding on her matching beaded arm gauntlets.


“That color looks really good on you, Liv,” Kathy said.


“Thanks,” Olivia replied.


“Liv, don’t harem dancers usually wear pants?” Elliot asked.


Olivia rolled her eyes.  “When we were getting our dresses made, we tried the pants first and they just seemed…I dunno…off.  So we went with the skirt and it looked 100 times better.”


“Where were these made?” Serena asked.


“The final designs we chose were made in Egypt,” Alex explained. 


“They’re lovely,” Kathy said.


Alex slid on her silver arm cuffs.  “Ok.  Where did I put my solitaire necklace?”


Olivia went over to the dresser and picked up Alex’s rose-cut diamond solitaire necklace.  Dangling it in Alex’s face, she asked, “This little thingy?”


Alex smiled and turned around for Olivia to put it on her and fasten the clasp.  “I love you, Liv.  I’d probably forget my brain if you didn’t tell me where it was.”


Olivia chuckled.  “Oh, Alex.”


“Am I missing anything else?” Alex asked, turning back around.


“A spray-on tan?” Serena teased.  Olivia and all their friends laughed.


Alex frowned and looked down at her arms and chest.  “I’m not that white, am I?”


“You’re perfect,” Olivia swore, softly kissing her lips.


“Ooh, I have the greatest idea!” Serena exclaimed.  “Why don’t we get a picture of the two sexy star dancers kissing?”


Alex grinned at Olivia.  “I have no argument.”


“Me neither,” Olivia replied.


Serena grabbed Alex’s camera.  “Ok, you two.  Strike a pose!”


Alex leaned in near Olivia’s mouth and parted her lips slightly.  Olivia smiled and parted her lips as well.  “Ooh, sensual.  I like that,” Serena said.  After snapping the picture, she ordered, “Ok, now you two actually need to kiss this time.”


“Not a problem with me,” Olivia replied, pulling Alex in for the kiss.  Their friends cheered as Serena snapped a few pictures.


Serena showed everyone the pictures.  “Wow, Liv.  You two are pure sex,” Casey said.


“Speaking of pure sex,” Alex began.  “We forgot to put on body glitter!  Let me glitter your boobs, Liv.”


“Is glitter the new code word now?” Elliot teased.


Olivia rolled her eyes.  “Alex and I are more creative than that.”


Alex opened her container of body glitter and started to rub some on her boobs and Olivia’s.  She took special care not to get the glitter on either of their costumes.  As Alex’s smooth fingers caressed her cleavage, Olivia tried her hardest not to get flustered.  She failed.


“Is it just me or does Liv look like she’s about to jump outta her skin?” Serena asked.


“As if you don’t feel that way when Casey touches your boobs,” Olivia shot back.


“Don’t mind her,” Alex told her softly.  She let her lips brush ever so lightly over the pulse point on her neck.  This time, Olivia literally did jump a little.


“See, told ya!” Serena said smugly.


Madeline knocked loudly on the door.  “Is everyone almost ready?” she asked.


“Yeah, Mom!  Give us a sec!” Alex shouted.


“Hurry up because the dancers just arrived!  You need to go through your routines one more time!”


“Ok, Mom!”  Alex ran over to get some lipstick for herself and Olivia.  “Here.  Put this on.  I need to double check and make sure I’m not forgetting anything else.”


Olivia put her hand to Alex’s chest.  “Sweetie, your heart is beating a mile a minute!  Come on, take some deep breaths.  That’s right.  In, out, in, out.”


Alex continued taking deep breaths to try to calm her nerves.  She picked up their pairs of sandals and asked, “Barefoot or sandals?”


“I think it will look more authentic if we go without,” Olivia replied.


“Me, too,” Serena said.


“Oh!  I can’t believe I almost forgot!  The henna artists need to henna our feet, hands, and around our belly buttons,” Alex said.


“How long is it gonna take to dry?” Olivia wanted to know.


“Oh…about 15 or 20 minutes.  Then we need to leave it on about an hour before flaking it off,” Alex replied.


“Are we practicing the dance before or after we get the henna done?” Olivia asked.


“After.  That’s why we need to get a move on.  I want it to dry first,” Alex explained.  Taking one last look around, she grabbed her camera and veil and bolted for the door.  “Come on, guys!”


They all looked at each other and shook their heads.  “It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s super Alexxxxxxx!” Olivia teased.


Once in the elevator, Olivia suggested, “Sweetie, maybe we should practice before we get hennaed.  That way we can get everything over and done with before people start coming in, and no one will see our dance before it’s actually time.”


Alex took a moment to ponder.  “Hmm…you’re right.  Sounds like a much better idea.”


The elevator doors opened and Alex ran to the ballroom.  “Where’s the fire, Alex?” her father asked as she sped past her parents to get to the belly dancers. 


“I was wondering the same thing,” Elliot joked.


“Ok, are you guys ready?” Alex asked the dancers.


“Are you?” Yasmin, the lead belly dancer, asked.


Alex nodded.  “Yep.  I’m so excited.”


Yasmin smiled.  “Good.”  She nodded appreciatively at Alex and Olivia’s costumes.  “Girls, your bedlehs are beautiful.”


“Thank you,” Alex and Olivia responded together.


Yasmin instructed one of the dancers to move Alex’s chaise back so they could have plenty of room.  She turned back to Alex and Olivia.  “And girls, remember that when you do the karsilama at the end you need to face each other and be on beat.  This is a very fast, very lively rhythm and it’s easy to miss a step.  Just concentrate and let the music guide your body.  Got it?”


Alex and Olivia nodded.  “Let’s hope so,” Alex muttered to Olivia.


“Ok, everyone.  Get into your positions,” Yasmin ordered.  Alex and Olivia ran up on the dais with the other dancers and got into place.  They were a few steps in front of all the other women.  The musicians started playing their instruments and everyone launched into the routine.


When they finished a few minutes later, their friends and Alex’s parents gave a big round of applause.  “That was great, sweetie!” John shouted. 


“Way to go, Liv!” Elliot shouted encouragingly.


“That was flawless, girls.  Ok, Alex.  Are you ready for your drum solo?” Yasmin asked.


Alex nodded.  “As ready as I’ll ever be.”  The dancers all cleared the dais so she could begin.


“Wow, Alex has got some moves!” Elliot said, watching Alex twirl around gracefully.


“She looks so beautiful,” Olivia said in awe. 


“Yeah, gymnastics really is coming in handy,” Serena added.  “Floor routines always incorporate dance.  Her body is really lithe.”


Alex finished without missing a beat.  Again, much applause was given.  Grinning, Alex ran down the steps.  “How did I do?”


“You were amazing, sweetie,” Olivia said, proudly rubbing her back.


“I agree,” Serena pitched in.  “You owned the stage.”


“Thanks, guys,” Alex replied sincerely.  She glanced at the clock.  “Ok, henna time!”  Taking Olivia’s hand, she led her over to one of the henna tents.


Once their henna was done, Alex turned to Olivia and whispered, “Wow, I’m glad that’s over.  It tickled my stomach!”


Olivia laughed.  “Felt really good to me.”


“We should convince Elliot to get henna done.”


Olivia raised her eyebrows.  “Yeah.  Good luck with that!”


Alex stood up.  “Let’s go to the meeting room.  The bouncers are gonna start letting people in in like 15 minutes and I don’t wanna chance anyone seeing me.”


“Be careful not to smudge!” Anjali, one of the henna artists, warned.


“We will!” Olivia replied, following Alex out the ballroom.


A half hour later, Olivia opened a door to the ballroom just slightly and peeked in.  The place was already considerably packed.  “Damn!  People are filing in fast!” Olivia said.  “Ooh, I just saw Fin and Monique come in!”


Casey and Serena came up behind them.  “Hey, Alex, your dad just told us that 10 people were already kicked out for having fakes,” Serena informed her.  “The bouncers are being really anal.  People were trying to push and shove to get in.”


“I feel like this is a 21 and over club,” Alex said with a laugh.


“Well, it is pretty exclusive,” Casey said.


Madeline came up behind them and put a hand on Alex’s shoulder.  Alex jumped slightly and turned around.  “Gosh, Mom, you startled me!  Is my horse here yet?”


“Yes, Alex.  Everything is taken care of,” Madeline answered.


Alex turned to Olivia.  “Liv, what if the horse takes a shit on the red carpet?”


“Alexandra!  Watch your language!” Madeline scolded.


“He won’t, babe,” Olivia assured her.


“What if I fall off?” Alex continued.


Olivia smiled.  “You won’t, babe.”


“Ah, I can’t stand the suspense!” Alex exclaimed.  “I want to go out there already!”


Olivia grabbed her arm.  “Whoa there, princess.  Party doesn’t start until 8.  Remember what I said about deep breaths?”


Alex nodded.  “Yeah.  What time is it now?”


“7:03,” Madeline answered.  “You still have quite awhile.  The cake isn’t even here yet.”  She gave Alex a hug and continued, “I’m going to find your father again.  You girls go back and wait in the meeting room.”


“What are we gonna do in the meantime?” Alex asked.


“Continue letting your mehndi set,” Madeline said, taking her leave.


At around 7:40, Madeline came into the meeting room.  She looked down and gasped when she saw that Alex and Olivia hadn’t scraped the hardened henna paste off yet.  “Girls, you have 20 minutes before this party starts and you aren’t even ready!”


Alex had to stifle a groan.  “Mom, it’ll take 5 minutes tops.  No biggie.  Can you just tell Anjali and Sita to come in and remove the paste?”


Her mother pursed her lips.  “Fine.  After this is removed, make sure you take care of any other cosmetic adjustments promptly.”


Once the henna artists had removed the hardened paste, they set the mehndi with a layer of eucalyptus oil.  “This oil will also give your skin a nice glow,” Sita told Alex.


Alex smiled at Olivia as Anjali rubbed some oil across Olivia’s skin.  “We’re glowing.”


Olivia smiled back.  “We always glow together.”


Madeline returned a few minutes later.  “Go around and wait at the back with Nancy.  I need to speak with the party planner and then your father and I will meet you to give you further instructions.”


“But, Mom!  We need sandals if we’re going outside,” Alex said.


Her mother groaned and shook her head.  “Run upstairs and get your sandals then.  Absolutely no playing around, you two!” she ordered, pushing them out the door.


“Hey, stop pushing!” Alex complained.


Olivia smirked as she watched Madeline run off.  “Looks like your mom has had one too many energy drinks.”


“She’s had one too many of something,” Alex muttered.  “Go find the rest of the crew and then we can go upstairs and put on our sandals.”


“Will do,” Olivia promised.  She slapped her ass and ran off before Alex could pinch her.


A few minutes later, the group walked outside into the brisk night air.  “Brrr!  It’s chilly out here!” Alex whined, wrapping her veil around her.


Olivia wrapped her arm around Alex’s shoulders.  “We won’t be out here long.”


The trainer backed the black Arabian stallion out of his trailer and brought him over to Alex.  Alex smiled.  “Hi, Nancy.”


“Hey, Alex!  Happy birthday!” Nancy replied.  “Ready to make your grand entrance?”


Alex nodded.  “Yep.  How’s Thunder tonight?”


Nancy held Thunder by his lead rope and responded, “He’s good.  He was a little tired earlier, but he’s all perked up now.”


Alex stroked Thunder’s mane and cooed to him.  She turned to Nancy.  “He’s so gentle.”


“Yeah, he’s a pretty good ride, too,” Nancy replied.  “Is his tack ok?  I know your theme is Arabian Nights, so I wanted him to look traditional.” 


Alex appreciatively ran her fingers over the tack.  The purple tasseled halter and breastplate were made from Syrian wool and decorated with jewels and Arabian cowries (seashells).  The nose chain on the halter was made from real gold.  “He looks gorgeous.  And his coat is so shiny and healthy.”


“Thank you,” Nancy replied.  “I’m glad everything is to your liking.”


Alex took the lead rope from Nancy and turned him toward Olivia.  “Hey, Thunder.  Say hi to Olivia.”


Thunder snorted at Olivia and nuzzled her cheek.  Alex laughed and said, “I think he likes you.”


Olivia gently petted his jaw and replied, “Yeah, I think so, too.  He’s beautiful.”


“He’s tall, too!” Casey said.


“Exactly how tall is he?” Serena asked.


“16.2 hands,” Nancy responded.


“Hands?  What’s that?” Elliot asked.


“A hand is basically the equivalent of 4 inches.  So if a horse is 16.2 hands, that means he’s about 5 feet, 6 inches tall from the ground to the withers, or the base of the neck,” Alex explained.


“Wow.  That means he’s over six feet tall if you count the neck and head,” Elliot said.


Olivia patted Alex’s back.  “Our resident horse expert.  Is there anything she doesn’t know?”


“Hey, Serena rides, too,” Casey reminded her, rolling her eyes.


Olivia frowned.  “I never said she didn’t,” she shot back.


Alex looked from Casey to Olivia.  “Um, Casey, I’m sure Olivia didn’t mean to offend.  We all know Serena is a superb rider.”


“Can we stop talking about me like I’m invisible?” Serena snapped.


“Yeah, not getting into this one,” Elliot muttered to Kathy.  He started to walk around the horse.


“Whoa, El!  Be careful!” Alex shouted.


Elliot gave Alex a confused look.  “What’d I do?”


Alex walked over to Elliot and gently placed her hand on the horse’s rump.  “Whenever you walk around the back of a horse, you always need to touch the hip to let him know your intentions.  Otherwise, you can get kicked pretty hard.”


Elliot laughed nervously.  “Oh, thanks for telling me.  Definitely don’t want that to happen!”


At that moment, Madeline and John walked up to join them.  “Thank god,” Olivia whispered to Alex. 


“Ok, Alex.  When the fire breather blows the last set of flames out of his mouth, the drumming will abruptly come to a stop.  That’s your cue.  The curtains will be pulled back and you can start your ride down the center aisle,” John informed her. 


“And the dancers will have all moved to the side to greet you by the time the curtains open.  Wait until they lift the palm leaves and throw the rose petals before you pass between each pair of them.  Everything should be synchronized and done fairly quickly,” Madeline added.


“Ok,” Alex said, nodding quickly.


Rabia, the party planner, ran up to them.  “At this point, there are about 30 kids that still need to be let in, so we’re going to be a tad behind schedule.  Once it’s clear outside, you’re going to go around to the front, ride through the lobby, and make your entrance in the ballroom.”


Alex groaned.  “Are you serious?  I cannot believe people couldn’t even manage to be punctual!  This party is supposed to start at 8, not 8:05, not 8:15—”


“Alex, watch your tone,” Madeline scolded.


“We’re trying to speed things up as much as we can,” Rabia explained. 


“I know,” Alex sighed.  “I’m just a little edgy.”


“Everything’s going to work out fine, Alex,” John told her.  “Just be patient.”  He and Rabia went back inside the hotel.


“Ugh.  Tonight was supposed to be perfect,” Alex said, pouting and folding her arms.


Olivia rubbed Alex’s arm and whispered in her ear, “You’re so sexy when you pout.”


Alex giggled.  “Your breath is warm.  Feels good.”


Olivia blew lightly against her ear.  “How does this feel?”


Alex bit her lip sharply.  “Almost too good.”


“I want to kiss you right now,” Olivia whispered.


Alex turned to face her.  “Mom’s standing just a few feet away.”


“Let’s go behind the trailer,” Olivia suggested.


Alex hesitated for a few seconds.  She looked from her mother to the horse trailer and tried to think of a feasible excuse for walking away from the rest of the group with Olivia.  “Ok,” she finally told Olivia.  Clearing her throat, she said, “Hey, Mom?  Liv and I are gonna walk around for a little bit because we’re freezing.  We’ll be right back.”  Kathy, Elliot, Serena, and Casey all tried to keep a straight face.


Alex started to walk off with Olivia when Madeline grabbed her arm and pulled her to the side.  “Alexandra, I was not born yesterday,” she whispered harshly.  “You will stay right here.”


“But Mom!” Alex protested.  “We won’t stray far.”


“I know you won’t because you’re not going anywhere,” Madeline responded tersely.


Alex groaned loudly.  She and Olivia walked back over to their friends.  “Sometimes I think it would be better if we’d never come out to your mom,” Olivia said.


“I hear ya,” Alex agreed.


Fifteen minutes later, Rabia came back outside.  “Alex, the coast is clear now and the curtains are drawn.  I told the drummers to beat for a few more minutes to give you enough time to get there.”


“Ok,” Alex said, taking a deep breath and grabbing Thunder’s lead rope.  “Let’s go.”


When they arrived at the front of the hotel, two male models were waiting to help Alex mount the horse.  “No, guys.  I can mount by myself,” Alex insisted, getting slightly irritated. 


“Alex, there aren’t any stirrups,” Serena reminded her.


“I know.  I don’t care.  I’ll jump up.  It’s not like I’ve never ridden bareback before,” she replied.  Olivia grinned and started to open her mouth but Alex shot her a warning look.


“Darling, you’re supposed to be a princess, not a cowgirl,” Madeline informed her.  “Let these young gentlemen help you.”


“I’ll help her up,” Olivia volunteered.  Alex grabbed onto the horse’s mane while Olivia offered her open palm to step into.  Once Alex’s foot was securely in her hand, Olivia gave her a boost up.  Alex easily brought her other leg over and settled comfortably on the stallion’s back.


Madeline smiled at Olivia.  “You’re strong, young lady.”


Olivia grinned.  “Well, it’s not like Alex weighs that much.”


“Can you remove my shoes, Liv?” Alex asked.


“Sure, sweetie,” Olivia replied.  She removed Alex’s sandals and handed them to Madeline to keep. 


They made their way through the lobby and to the front of the ballroom.  Alex’s heart was racing with both excitement and trepidation.  Her palms began to sweat.  A thousand thoughts ran through her head as she waited for the drumming to cease.  What if Thunder stops and refuses to walk again?  What if he rears?  What if he takes off down the carpet?  What if I fall off?  What if I slip and fall flat on my ass when I dismount?  How are people going to react to my entrance?   She shook her head quickly to regain focus and wondered how much longer before the drumming would finally stop.  A mere couple of minutes seemed to drag on for hours.  She instinctively reached down and squeezed Olivia’s hand for support.  Olivia looked up at her and silently squeezed back.  Their eyes met and in that split second, all of Alex’s fears dissipated.  With Olivia’s confidence in her, she felt like she could do anything.


After what seemed like an eternity, the drumming ceased.  “It’s showtime,” Olivia said with a grin.