Chapter 43:  Spotlight

When Alex and Olivia returned, their friends were all surprised to see them back so soon.  Alex couldn’t help but chuckle at the shocked expressions on their faces.  “Aww, did we disappoint you?” she teased.


“They could’ve still gone for a quickie,” Casey muttered to Serena.


“Nope.  We did nothing of the sort,” Olivia assured them.  “We have plenty of time for that later—and there will be nothing quick about it.”


Alex grinned at Olivia.  “Got that right.”


Olivia grabbed Alex’s veil and wrapped it around herself.  “How do I look?”


“Very hot,” Alex replied.  “But I need that,” she added, taking it back.


“Are you gonna dance with your tiara on?” Elliot asked.


Alex paused for a moment to think.  “Hmm…nah.”  She took it off and gave it to him.  “Hold on to it for me, ok?”


Elliot teasingly put it on his head.  “I think it goes with my outfit.”  He turned to Kathy.  “What do you think?”


Kathy laughed.  “You accessorize well.”


Olivia gave him a weird look.  “You’re scarin’ me, El.”


“Yeah…I think it looks much better on someone else,” he said, taking it off and placing it on Kathy’s head.


Alex winked at Kathy and remarked, “Beautiful.”  She walked over to Yasmin and said, “Hey, Liv and I are ready.”


Yasmin smiled.  It’s about damn time, she thought.  “Good.”


Everyone cleared the dais for the belly dancers.  Olivia patted Alex’s back and asked, “How ya feelin’, babe?”


Alex took a deep breath and responded, “Excited.”


Olivia smiled.  “Me, too.  I’m so pumped for our big debut.”


They took their places in front of the other dancers and waited for the music to begin.  Yasmin took the microphone and called for the ballroom’s attention.  “Everyone, it is with great pleasure that I announce our first special performance tonight by none other than the birthday girl herself.  Alex is going to show off her new belly dancing skills in what’s sure to be a crowd pleaser.  She and her friend Olivia have worked very hard, so without further ado, let’s give our undivided attention to these wonderful ladies!”


Everyone started clapping and shouting words of encouragement.  Alex smiled when she noticed her mother and father making their way to the front of the crowd.  She turned to Olivia and whispered, “I can feel the adrenaline starting to kick in.”


Olivia gave her a wide smile.  “Oh yeah.”


The musicians started playing and the routine began.  Instruments such as the kanoun (harp), oud (lute), and ney flute blended with the rhythms of the dumbek (an hourglass-shaped drum), def (a drum resembling the tambourine), and tar (frame drum).  Alex and Olivia let the rhythms of the music guide their bodies and carefully altered their movements to match the different exotic melodies.  They implemented a variety of moves, including arabesques, arm waves, vertical figure eights such as mayas, horizontal figure eights, knee and hip drops, hip circles, shuffle steps, camels, belly rolls, and grapevines.  The fluidity of their movements made each transition flawless.


“I love their matching henna designs,” Mandi said to Monique.


“Oh, me too,” Monique agreed.  “Those two are really good for each other.”


“Well, you and Fin are pretty cute, too,” Mandi said with a grin.


Monique smiled.  “Yeah, I guess we are.”


“Damn straight,” Fin agreed.


Casey and Serena stood next to them and watched as Alex and Olivia did their backbends effortlessly.  “I bet Alex is used to that position,” Casey quipped.  “You know those two probably get into some seriously freaky stuff.”


Serena laughed.  “Hey!  Don’t be dirty!  I can bend my body like that, too because of gymnastics.”


Casey grinned.  “Maybe you can do a special one for me later on tonight.”


Serena’s mouth dropped open and she playfully punched her girlfriend in the arm.  “And you talk about Alex and Liv being freaky!  I can see the wheels in your head turning already.”


Elliot, Kathy, Monique, Mandi, and Fin all gave them a weird look.  “I’m not touching that one,” Fin said.


Alex took her veil and sensually dragged it over Olivia’s shoulder, down her torso, and across her exposed thigh before doing a couple windmills with it.  Several loud wolf whistles could be heard from the crowd. 


“Damn, those two really know how to get the crowd fired up!” Fin exclaimed.


Elliot chuckled.  “Yeah, tell me about it.”


When it was time for the karsilama finale, the girls turned to face each other.  They were so close that their rivulets of sweat blended together.  The spotlight reflected off the delicate beadwork of their costumes.  They did sultry hip and shoulder shimmies and added in hops, dips, and jumps.  As the rhythms sped up, they perfected each movement in sync without missing a beat. 


“That dance is very erotic,” Kathy remarked.


Serena smiled.  “Well, I think that’s the nature of the karsilama.  Except in other places where it’s performed, it’s usually a man and a woman.  I guess Alex wanted to change things up a bit.”


Casey turned to Serena.  “We’ll have to get Alex and Liv to teach us that.”


Once the karsilama was completed, Alex and Olivia joined hands and bowed before the roaring crowd, both their chests heaving heavily.  Alex then turned to Olivia and gave her a huge hug.  “We did it, sweetie!” Alex exclaimed.


“Yep,” Olivia agreed as she squeezed her tightly.  “We rocked it.”  They joined hands again and took another bow.


Once the cameras stopped flashing, Alex wiped her brow and said, “I’ll go get us some water.  I’ll be right back.”


“Ok,” Olivia said with a grin as she regretfully let go of Alex’s hand.  She smiled as she noticed the crowd that immediately gathered around Alex when she got to the bottom of the steps.  She’s loved so much by so many people, Olivia thought proudly.


“Yo, Liv!” Fin shouted, waving his arm and abruptly bringing her out of her thoughts.


Olivia walked down the steps and joined all their friends.  Elliot patted her on the back and said, “You were great, Liv.”


“Yeah, Liv.  You really kicked ass!” Kathy added.


Serena smirked.  “Yeah.  Casey here was commenting on your um…flexibility.”


Olivia grinned slyly and turned to Casey.  “Oh, she doesn’t know the half of it.”


“How did it feel when you were up there in the spotlight?” Monique asked.


Olivia sighed happily.  “I’d never felt anything like it before.  To be up on stage with Alex and have hundreds just watching us…it was the best feeling in the world!”


“Better than sex?” Casey teased.


Olivia gave her a look.  “Hey now.  I didn’t say that.”


“That dance you two did at the end was really hot,” Serena told her.  “You two looked like you almost forgot everyone was there!”


Olivia looked over at Alex and smiled.  Alex caught her eye and winked.  Olivia turned to Serena and replied, “I think we kinda did.”


“Yeah, you totally looked like you wanted to jump Alex right there,” Mandi said.


Olivia laughed.  “Well, she’s smokin’.”


“Can I have your autograph, star dancer?” Elliot teased as Alex came over to join them a few minutes later.


Alex grinned and handed Olivia her bottle of water.  “Take a number.”


Olivia laughed and wrapped her arm around Alex’s shoulders.  “I see the fame has gone to your head already, little one,” she joked.


Several feet away from them, Madeline turned to John and said, “You know, Alex and Olivia had great chemistry onstage.  They completely outshined all the seasoned performers.”


John smiled.  “Why the sudden change of heart about Olivia?”


Madeline shrugged casually.  “Well…Alex really adores her, so I just want to be supportive of their friendship for our daughter’s sake.”


John chuckled.  “I’m glad you let go of that silly notion that they were romantically involved.”


Madeline gave him a thin smile.  Oh, it’s not just a notion, dear, she thought.  “Well, let’s go and congratulate them both.”   


A few minutes later, it was time for Alex to perform her solo.  She turned to Olivia and squeezed her hand.  “I’m so nervous.”


Olivia took a deep breath and gave her an encouraging smile.  “You’re gonna do great.  I know it.”


Alex went back up on the dais and Yasmin called for the crowd’s attention again.  “Ladies and gentlemen, the dancing isn’t over yet!  Alex is going to wow us one more time tonight.  She’s going to be doing something very traditional and hard to master in belly dancing—the drum solo!  So let’s give her a big round of applause!”


Alex stood in the center of the stage and waited for the drummers to start.  Once they did, all eyes were on Alex as she performed her solo.  Her hip shimmies and chest undulations were crisp and on point.  As a long, fast roll hit, she did a twisting shimmy followed by a pelvic tuck and chest pop to match the sharp rhythms.  When the drum rolls got softer, she did rolling mayas.  The grace with which she commanded the stage caused everyone to be mesmerized.  Holding Olivia’s gaze for a few short moments, she smiled and brought her arms inward and crossed them over her chest in a Pharaoh position.  Olivia smiled back, her smile increasing as Alex did waterfalls with her arms and began gyrating her hips to the accents of the maqsoum rhythm played on the dumbeks.  


“Dear god, she’s gorgeous,” Olivia breathed as she watched Alex perform a butterfly turn with her veil.  She looked at the intense concentration on her face.  She could tell that Alex was imprinting each rhythm in her mind and compelling her body to move accordingly.


“I agree,” Casey said.


At the end of her solo, she froze and formed the letter “O” with her fingers over her heart.  Olivia grinned from ear to ear as her friends started patting her on the back and cheering.  Confetti came pouring down on Alex as the audience went wild.


“I can’t believe she did that!” Kathy said.


“Oh, I know!  It’s like a silent shout-out,” Serena said, clapping.


“Is that a traditional pose?” John asked Madeline.


I doubt it, she thought.  “Um…if I remember correctly, I think it represents strength and harmony,” Madeline lied.


“Good, good,” came the reply from her husband.


After all the photographs were taken, Alex ran down the steps to join her friends.  Olivia picked her up in her arms.  “You were so amazing, baby!”


Alex gave her a big kiss on the cheek as Olivia placed her back on the floor.  “Thanks!”


“By the way, thanks for the little shout-out,” Olivia told her.  “I never would’ve expected you to do that.  I mean it’s not like you did it when you rehearsed!”


Alex ran her fingers through some of the fringe on Olivia’s costume.  “Well, I just wanted to let you know how much I appreciate you.  I never would’ve been able to do it without you.”


“I’m so proud of you,” Olivia whispered, rubbing her arm.


“When did you think of that, Alex?” Casey asked.


“At the very end,” Alex answered. 


Fin pointed to the group of people approaching them.  “Looks like these folks want some pictures with you.”


Alex laughed and rolled her eyes.  “I guess everyone wants a piece of me.”


Once the excitement surrounding Alex’s solo had died down some, the jugglers took the stage.  Rabia, the party planner, warned everyone to move back a safe distance before the performance.  Once she was satisfied, she motioned for them to begin.  The four men picked up the machetes and began juggling them.  Each juggler handled three machetes.


“Damn, this is better than being at the circus!” Fin said.


“Those guys are brave.  I wouldn’t get anywhere near those machetes,” Serena said nervously.


“Yeah, Alex.  Those look a little dangerous,” Olivia said, taking her arm and pulling her back some more.


“Liv, we already moved back!” Alex protested.  She had to smile at Olivia’s protective nature.  “But you’re so adorable when you get all frazzled over my safety.”


Olivia smiled back.  “Well, I have to protect my baby.”


“Who’s gonna clean up if someone gets decapitated?” Elliot joked.


“Elliot, must you be so morbid and gross?” Kathy asked.


Olivia smirked.  “Didn’t you get the memo, El?  You’re assigned for cleanup duty.”


After the machete act was over, the jugglers started throwing flaming batons into the air.  The crowd stood in awe as they watched each magnificent ring of fire.  The jugglers even exchanged their batons in the air and a couple of them did a few quick somersaults before catching them.


“I hope none of the batons accidentally hit an ice sculpture,” Serena said.


Alex gave her a look.  “Serena, they’re trained professionals.  They know what they’re doing.”


“Still, it would be pretty embarrassing if they couldn’t catch ’em,” Serena responded.  She suddenly leaned in to sniff Alex.


Alex gave her a weird look and moved back.  “Serena, what the hell are you doing?  Do I have B.O. or something?”


Serena laughed.  “No.  I noticed your perfume and wanted to get a closer whiff to see if I could recognize it.”


Alex laughed.  “Liv got it for me.  It’s Juicy Couture.”


“Oh yeah!  I knew I’d smelled it before in the mall but I just couldn’t remember the name of it,” Serena replied.


Casey leaned in to sniff Alex as well.  “Nice, Alex.”


Alex blushed and moved back again.  “Hey, what is this?  Sniff Alex night?”


Olivia wrapped her arms around Alex’s waist from behind.  She rested her chin on her shoulder.  “Everyone knows you smell lovely.”  She looked at Serena and Casey.  “You girls better not be using that as an excuse to get close to my woman.”


Serena rolled her eyes and snuggled up to Casey.  “Don’t worry, Liv.  Lovely though she is, she’s all yours.”


“If you like her smell now, you should smell her when she’s about to—”


“Liv!” Alex exclaimed, turning beet red and slapping her on the arm.


“Uh…I think we’ll pass,” Serena said awkwardly, glancing at Casey.


“Liv, do you have to share such personal details all the time?” Alex asked.  “You’re embarrassing me!”


“How did you know what I was gonna say?” Olivia teased.


“Because I know you too well!”


“Then what was I gonna say?”


“You were gonna say…um, you know…” Alex said, getting flustered.


“Nah, I don’t know.”


“You’re gonna make me say it?”


“Say what?”


“C-co—” Alex said, turning away from her so she couldn’t see the deep shade of crimson on her face.


“I’m sorry, I can’t hear you,” Olivia continued.


“Liv, seriously?” Alex asked in shock, turning back toward her.


Kathy looked at Elliot and said jokingly, “I’m scared, baby.”


Elliot chuckled.  “You’re not the only one.”


Olivia stared at Alex with a smug smile.  “If you don’t say it, I swear I’ll grab the mic and make an announcement!”


“Come!” Alex exclaimed a little too loudly.  A few people turned around and looked at Alex with curious expressions on their faces.  She lowered her voice and continued, “I cannot believe you made me say it in front of our friends!”


Olivia smiled.  “I was just messing around, baby.  And you totally wanted to say it anyway.”


“I did not!”


“I can almost see your nipples hardening through your top,” Olivia continued.


“No, you can’t!” Alex exclaimed, quickly folding her arms over her chest.  She leaned into Olivia and whispered harshly, “Stop trying to make me horny in public!”


“When are the fire breathers coming back?” Casey asked, desperate to change the subject.


“After the jugglers,” Alex responded.


“Are there any girls who are fire breathers?” Casey asked. 


Alex grinned.  “Yeah, there are a couple.  You’ll see them in a few.”


Serena smiled.  “Good, cuz I wanna see some hot chicks swallow fire.”


“Did someone say swallow?” Olivia teased.  Gasping, Alex shoved her.


Once the fire breathers started performing, Olivia tucked her arm around Alex’s waist and said, “This is the best night ever.”


Alex snuggled closer to her and replied, “Only because of you.”


Olivia laughed.  “Sweetie, I’m not the one dishing out hundreds of thousands of dollars to give you this big party.”


“If you weren’t here, I wouldn’t be able to enjoy it,” Alex responded.


“Oh, Alex.  You always know the right thing to say,” Olivia whispered.


“I’m not just saying it, Liv.  I really do mean it,” Alex swore, lightly stroking her face.


Elliot cleared his throat loudly behind them.  They turned around and gave him an annoyed look.  “You need something, El?” Olivia growled.


“Uh, guys, the photographer is busy snapping pics of you two.  Just wanted to give you a heads up before it got a little NC-17.”


Alex rolled her eyes.  “I swear I keep forgetting that guy is here.”


Olivia frowned at Elliot.  “Shutup, El.  We weren’t even kissing.”


“But you were about to,” Elliot replied.


Olivia shot him a warning look.  Elliot put his hands up in surrender and continued, “Ok, ok.  I’ll leave you alone.”


Alex looked at the photographer.  “I wonder if he took any incriminating pics.”


Olivia followed her gaze and responded, “We’ve been a little close, but I hardly doubt that’s incriminating.”


Alex draped her arms over Olivia’s shoulders and said, “Well, I don’t care.  It’s my birthday and I should be allowed to have as much fun as I want.”  She moved in closer.  Noticing Olivia’s hesitant look, she said, “I just wanna be near you, baby.  I won’t do anything that’ll get us in trouble.  Promise.”


Olivia smiled and relaxed a little bit.  The last thing she wanted to do was cause problems for Alex on her birthday and ruin her party.  “I wish things were easier for us.”


Alex leaned in beside her ear and whispered, “One day they will be.”


Olivia pushed a couple of Alex’s curls over her shoulder.  “I just wish we didn’t have to sneak around in front of my mom and your dad.”


Alex stepped back and looked into her eyes.  She rearranged one of the Swarovski crystals in Olivia’s hair.  “I know, sweetie.  But let’s not think about that tonight.  Let’s just focus on each other, deal?”


“Deal,” Olivia replied, shaking her hand and turning back around to watch the show.


After the fire breathers finished performing, the snake charmer took the stage.  He motioned for Alex to come back up on the dais.  Olivia and their friends followed her.  Everyone waited expectantly as the snake charmer started playing his pungi to lure the snake out of the basket.  Once the snake appeared, he stood up and put the 8-ft. yellow python around Alex’s shoulders.


“Alex, that python is fucking huge!” Olivia exclaimed.  “He’s going to crush you!”


Alex looked at Olivia and grinned while she petted the python.  “Nah, Liv.  He seems gentle.  Wanna pet him?”


Olivia smiled and cautiously reached out a hand to pet the snake.  “He’s smooth.”  She looked at the charmer.  “What’s his name?”


“Sunshine,” he answered.


Alex moved over on the chaise longue some and patted the space beside her.  “Come on, sit down.  We can share Sunshine!”


“I bet he weighs more than Alex,” Casey remarked to Serena.


Serena laughed.  “Oh, I’m sure of it.”


Olivia sat down beside Alex and the charmer picked up the end of the snake and draped the rest of his body around Olivia’s shoulders.  Olivia laughed and said, “It’s like we’re sharing a huge feathered boa.”


“He doesn’t feel so heavy now that we’re sharing the weight,” Alex said, shifting the snake’s position on her own shoulders.


“They are so cute,” Mandi said to Elliot as she watched the snake slither across Alex and Olivia’s shoulders.


Elliot chuckled.  “Yeah.  If Liv wasn’t my best friend, I’d probably gag at the cuteness.”


Mandi folded her arms.  “You know, last year Liv used to walk around brooding a lot of the time.  It was like basketball was the only thing that really made her happy.  But now she’s smiling all the time.  Alex must be really special.”


Elliot turned to her and smiled.  “She is.”


“I just hope I can find someone one day who makes me that happy,” Mandi continued.


Elliot put his arm around Kathy.  “Well, I’ve already found mine.”


Mandi punched him in the arm.  “Oh, that’s right, go right ahead!  Rub it in!”


Elliot laughed and rubbed his arm.  “Damn, you basketball chicks are rough!  Don’t worry, you’ll meet someone.”


Mandi rolled her eyes.  “That’s what everyone in a relationship says.”


Elliot shrugged.  “Well, it’s what I told Liv a year ago.  She didn’t believe me either.  Now look at her.  She’s found the love of her life.”


“Yeah,” Mandi responded, looking off dreamily.  She sighed and said, “Hey, I’m gonna go hang out for a bit.  I’ll meet you guys later.”


“See ya,” Elliot said, giving her a wave. 


“Ack!  He’s flicking his tongue between my cleavage!” Alex exclaimed.


Olivia grinned.  “He has good taste.”


After they’d finished playing with the snake, Alex said, “Come on, guys.  Let’s go to our VIP tent.  I don’t want to sit up here the whole time and have folks staring at us.”


“You’re supposed to be the center of attention,” Olivia replied.


Alex tapped her on the nose.  “Well, I wanna be the center of your attention.  And for that, I need some privacy,” she said, getting up and reaching out for Olivia’s hand. 


They made their way down the steps and across the ballroom.  “The stilt walkers are fucking tall!” Kathy said as one passed her.


Elliot smiled.  “They’re supposed to be.”


“Well, I know that much, silly!” Kathy replied, slapping his arm.  “They just seem so much taller when you’re right next to them than on TV.”


Once they were all inside the tent, Alex took a seat on Olivia’s lap.  Olivia gave her a quizzical look and asked, “Why are you sitting on me?”


Alex grinned.  “Cuz this is the best seat in the house.”


A short while later, Madeline peeked inside the tent and frowned when she saw Alex on Olivia’s lap.  Alex quickly got off her lap and sat beside her.  “I just wanted to see if you kids needed anything.  Alex, may I see you for a second?”


Alex gave Olivia a nervous glance and then turned back to her mom.  “Uh…sure.”  She got up and left the tent.


Madeline grabbed Alex’s arm and said sternly, “Alex, you’re in a very public place and you need to be more aware of your actions.  I’ve told you both that I want to see no public displays of affection between you two.”


Alex’s mouth dropped open in disbelief.  “But Mom, I was just sitting on her lap!  We weren’t kissing!  And we’re in my VIP tent!  No one’s allowed in here unless I say so!”


“You never know who could wander in.  Do you want your father to catch you?”


Alex looked down; she hadn’t thought about that.  “No.”


“Then behave yourself.  I don’t want any scandals to leave this hotel.”


Alex sighed and promised, “Ok, Mom.”


She rejoined her friends and took her seat beside Olivia.  “What was that all about?” Kathy asked.


“My mom didn’t want us cuddling.  It’s my fucking party.  Why is everyone trying to control me?” Alex asked in annoyance.


“Sweetie, we have plenty of time to cuddle afterwards,” Olivia reminded her.  She gently massaged the back of Alex’s neck.


“I know, baby…it’s just…annoying that she would try to censor us just because we’re gay,” Alex replied.


“No offense, Alex…but if Kathy was sitting in my lap, you better believe her parents would kick me out,” Elliot said.  “Her dad would probably snap my neck, too.”


“Yeah, Alex.  You probably get more leeway because you’re not a straight couple.  When I was dating Derek, my dad would blow a gasket whenever he saw us kissing.  Parents freak out about their daughters being affectionate with boyfriends because they fear they’ll have sex and get pregnant.  At least you don’t have to worry about that,” Casey said.


“Well, you don’t have to worry about it anymore,” Serena pitched in.


Casey smiled.  “Yeah, I guess that’s true.”


Alex thought about it for a second before responding, “Yeah, I guess you’re right.  When Liv concocted that Mike story, my parents flipped out because they were worried about pregnancy.”


Olivia laughed.  “I remember that.  They made you go to an OBGYN and everything.”


Alex frowned.  “It’s not funny,” she snapped.  “You weren’t the one having to spread your legs and watch some strange woman stick her fingers inside you.”


“Sounds like one of Liv’s one night stands,” Serena quipped to Casey.  Elliot, Kathy, and Casey all laughed.


“Babe, I’ve been to the OBGYN before.  Most chicks have.  Lighten up,” Olivia replied.  She then turned to Serena.  “Shut up, Serena.”


Serena ignored her.  “Sure you didn’t get your OBGYN’s number while you were at it?”


Olivia rolled her eyes.  “She was hot, but um...thinking about a date was the last thing on my mind.  I just wanted to get the hell outta there.”


“Yeah, like she was gonna go after some teen girl anyway,” Casey chimed in.


Olivia smirked.  “Hey, never underestimate the power of my charm.  Chicks love me.”


Alex snorted.  “A little overconfident, don’t ya think?”


“I’ve never been turned down once,” Olivia said with a smug smile.


“You better be glad it’s my birthday or I’d teach you a lesson,” Alex said with a smirk of her own.


“I guess Liv brought party favors,” Casey muttered to Serena.


“What are you talking about, Casey?  I am the party favor!” Olivia joked.  Everyone laughed.


“Olivia Benson…the gift that keeps on giving,” Serena said.


“Damn right,” Olivia agreed.


“Don’t any of you call me tonight or tomorrow either!  I know the stunts you guys always pull!” Alex said, pointing her finger at the group.


Serena snickered.  “Well, while we were suffering at school, you two were doing the humpty dance.  Why should you guys get to have all the fun?”


“We’re just good like that,” Alex said, kissing Olivia on the cheek.


“Yes, we are,” Olivia agreed, planting a quick kiss on Alex’s lips.


Alex grinned.  “You can’t tease me like that,” she said, pulling Olivia in for a longer kiss.


Casey rolled her eyes.  “I’ll go stand guard.”


“Yeah, definitely don’t want anyone walking in on that,” Serena said. 


After a few minutes, Casey noticed John walking in their direction.  Pulling the tent closed, she turned back around and warned, “Alex!  Your dad’s making his way over!”


Olivia and Alex separated from each other with lightning speed.  Alex jumped up and straightened out her costume.  “I don’t have lipstick smeared on my face, do I?” she asked Olivia.


Olivia shook her head and ran her fingers down the edges of her own mouth.  “No.  You’re good.”


John walked in and gave Alex a kiss on the cheek.  “Are you enjoying yourself, pumpkin?”


Alex smiled.  “Yes, Daddy.  Thanks so much for this party.”


John rubbed her back and replied, “You’re most welcome.  I just wanted to come by and tell you again what a wonderful job your mother and I thought you did earlier.  Your hard work really paid off.”


“Honestly, how were we on a scale of 1 to 10?” Alex asked, standing on her tiptoes and awaiting his answer.


“A solid 10,” he confirmed.  “And you looked gorgeous.”  He looked around Alex to Olivia and added, “You too, dear.”


Olivia smiled.  “Thank you, sir.”


After chatting with them all for a few more minutes, John said, “Well, I’ll take my leave now.  I don’t want to cramp your style, as the saying goes.”


Alex smiled and placed her hand on her father’s arm.  “Oh, Daddy.  No one says that now.”


John chuckled and shook his head.  “Ah, well.  I can’t keep up with you kids’ lingo.  Just have fun.”


“We will,” Olivia told him.


“And the belly dancers are performing again if you want to check them out,” John added as an afterthought.


“Nah, that’s ok, Daddy.  We’re just gonna hang out here for awhile,” Alex assured him. 


“See you later, Mr. C,” Serena said.  John gave her a quick wave and exited the tent.


Elliot let out the breath he had been holding.  “Alex, I think I get more nervous around your dad than Kathy’s.”


Alex laughed.  “You should see Liv.”


Olivia waved off Alex’s remark with a flick of her wrist.  “Oh, please.  I totally play it cool around him.”


“So that’s why you’re sweating bullets now, huh?” Casey teased.


Olivia rolled her eyes.  “Whatever,” she mumbled.


“So, uh…are there gonna be anymore X-rated videos made tonight?” Serena asked.  She and Casey burst into giggles.


Olivia gave her a look.  “Um, no.  And the video you saw earlier was not X-rated.”


Serena smirked.  “Right.  And we’re all virgins.”


“I thought you were gonna be nice on my birthday,” Alex accused, folding her arms.


Serena held her hands up in surrender.  “All right, all right!  I’ll stop teasing.  I’m serious about it this time.  Swear.”


“I’ll show her X-rated,” Olivia mumbled to Alex.  She stood up and walked over to stand directly in front of Serena.


Serena leaned back.  “Uh…what are you gonna do to me?”


Grinning wickedly, Olivia reached around her back and started to undo her top. 


Serena covered her eyes.  “No!  No, no, no!”


Olivia moved Serena’s hands and shook her chest in her face.  “Well, you wanted to see X-rated.”  She pulled her halter over her head and slowly started to ease it down her chest.


“Liv!” Alex yelled, completely horrified.  Her face was bright red.  “Don’t you dare!”


“No…let’s see where this goes,” Casey said, intrigued.


Alex jumped to her feet.  “No!  Liv, please stop!”  She looked as if she were going to cry.


“Oh, baby, I wasn’t really gonna do it,” Olivia insisted, quickly pulling her halter back over her head and fastening her clasp in back.  “I just wanted to freak her out a little for constantly teasing us.”


Alex folded her arms and sat back down.  “Whatever.”


Olivia sat down beside her and put her hand cautiously on her shoulder.  “Baby, I swear.”


Alex turned away from her and crossed her legs.  “Leave me alone, Liv.”


“Sweetie, did you honestly think I was gonna flash my tits?” Olivia asked, turning Alex back toward her.


Alex glared at her.  “Well, you were getting pretty damn close!”


“Come on, sweetie!  You’re exaggerating.  That was barely 2 full inches of skin.”


“It was enough!” Alex retorted hotly.


Olivia threw her hands up.  “Alex, this costume shows quite a bit already, need I remind you.”


“And you had to show more?” Alex asked.


Olivia clenched her jaw.  “I told you I wasn’t really gonna do it.”


“When did you plan on stopping?  After your nipples were showing?” Alex demanded.


“I wasn’t gonna go that far!” Olivia yelled. 


“If I hadn’t yelled for you to stop, your tits would’ve been completely exposed!”


“That is bullshit!  I had only planned to pull it down part of the way in the first place!  And I’m not gonna sit here and listen to you call me a liar!” Olivia said, jumping to her feet.


“Come on, guys.  Don’t fight,” Kathy said. 


Elliot looked at Serena and Casey.  “Yeah.  We already got a dose of Ike and Tina tonight.”


Serena and Casey’s mouths dropped open.  “Hey, we don’t lay a hand on each other!” Casey snapped.


“Chill, Casey.  I was just joking,” Elliot said in his defense.  “Shit.  Did someone spike the punch or what?” he muttered to Kathy under his breath.  Kathy snickered lightly.


“I need some air,” Olivia said, starting to walk out.


Alex stood up and yelled, “Oh great, Liv!  Just great!  Leave!  Way to be an asshole on my birthday!”


Olivia turned around to face her, her face crimson.  “You started this, Alex!  You had to get your panties in a bunch because of a practical joke!  You push my buttons just to see how far I’ll go, then when I lose my temper, you blame it all on me when it’s all your doing in the first place!  You just want to feel sorry for yourself!”


“Guys, please stop,” Serena begged.  “I didn’t mean to make you fight or anything.”


Alex burst into tears and sat back down.  Olivia immediately regretted what she had said.  Sitting back down beside her, she wrapped her arm around her shoulders and hugged her close.  “No, Alex.  Don’t cry.  Baby, don’t.  I’m sorry.”


Serena grabbed some tissues and brought them over to Olivia.  Olivia nodded her thanks and started to wipe Alex’s face.  “Come on, Alikins.  I’m sorry,” Olivia repeated.  “No tears on your birthday.”


Alex sniffled.  “No, you’re right.  I overreacted and I was totally wrong to keep nagging at you.  I’m sorry for getting so mad at you.”


“It’s ok,” Olivia said.  She kissed her softly on the cheek.


Alex gave a small smile and placed a peck on her lips.  “Thanks for putting up with me.”


“Hey, you put up with enough of my stuff,” Olivia replied.


“Aww, group hug!” Casey said, running over to Olivia and Alex.  Kathy, Elliot, and Serena followed her and they all wrapped their arms around them.


Olivia grinned.  “Ok, now I really need some air.”


Alex laughed.  “Yeah, me too.”


Their friends let go of them.  Olivia tugged on one of Alex’s curls.  “You’re so beautiful—even when you’re frustrating.”


Alex smiled and kissed her on the nose.  “I guess I’ll take that as a compliment.”


“How about you take this as a compliment?” Olivia said, leaning in to capture her lips. 


Standing up, Casey rolled her eyes and said, “Time to stand guard again.”


A few minutes later, Elliot looked at his watch and said, “Hey, Alex, it’s 5 after 10.”


Alex stood up and reached for Olivia’s hand.  “I guess it’s time for me to make the announcement for everyone to change into their formal wear.”


Olivia grinned.  “And when we return, you get to cut that luscious cake.”


Alex licked her lips.  “Oh, I’ve been waiting all day for that!”


“You have any room after all those meatballs you ate?” Serena asked.


Alex gave her a knowing smile.  “Plenty.”


Olivia placed a hand below Alex’s hips and swooped her up in her arms.  Alex giggled and wrapped her arms around Olivia’s neck.  Olivia grinned and said, “I just thought I’d carry the princess back to her throne.”


Elliot smiled.  “Aw, look at Liv.  She’s Alex’s knightress in shining armor.”


Olivia winked at him.  “Hey, I try.”