Take My Breath Away
Wright & Co . Law Offices, April 17, 2019 8:15 p.m.
Maya at this point had abandoned her smile of anticipation in exchange for a look of complete perplexity. Noticing Phoenix still hadn't replied to her teasing quip made her wonder exactly what was going on his head. He continued gawking, as if he'd never laid eyes on her before; rather than looking admiring, as she'd so desperately hoped, he looked absolutely gobsmacked instead!
She was starting to feel a tad self-conscious now. Maybe she had overdone the makeup? But she'd worked so hard to thoroughly replicate the careful instructions the girl at the cosmetics counter had given – she had even jotted down notes while Pearly had drawn pictures! Was the red too daring or vibrant for her pale coloring? The saleswoman in the department store had so convincingly assured her that "men loved red" and that the combination of the color and cut of the dress would get any man's blood pumping!
So why was her best friend looking at her like a gaping fish out of water?
Mercifully, Pearl unwittingly saved by the day for both of them, finally breaking the awkward silence. Bouncing in front of the lawyer, she rolled up her sleeve and glowered at Phoenix. "Mr. Nick! Aren't you going to tell your Special Someone how beautiful she looks right now?"
Grateful for the excuse of diversion to finally stop ogling Maya like a lame, love-struck teenager, Phoenix shifted his gaze to the little girl, smiling in spite of himself at the furious furrowed brow marring her doll-like face and finally found his voice.
"So, this is what you wound up getting when you girls dragged me around the mall for five hours today, huh?"
"Four and a half!" Pearls corrected, momentarily distracted into forgetting Phoenix hadn't replied to her prompt. "Mr. Nick, you did offer to buy Mystic Maya whatever she wanted as her birthday present! You just handed over your credit card around noon and said 'I'm going to the electronics store, meet me there whenever you're done, go nuts'!"
Ah, from the mouths of babes. Sadly, it was the truth. Stumped about what to get a 21-year-old (he refused to buy her any more Steel Samurai or Pink Princess paraphernalia as a matter of principle, as it had seemed unfitting for a woman who was now old enough to drink!), Phoenix had offered to take the girls shopping for Maya's outfit, and had decided that would be her gift from him. After an hour of being dragged to about a dozen clothing and shoe stores, with still no purchases made, Phoenix had irrevocably reached the end of his tether when the girl at the cosmetic counter had insisted he try out the new makeup for men line, insisting he use bronzer to highlight his "high cheekbones." When he'd refused, she'd then, without warning, coated his right thumbnail with a coat of gun-metal grey 'male polish!'
After spending the next 15 minutes in the men's room peeling it off, the disgruntled lawyer had curtly handed Maya his Visa and told her to "go nuts" and announced he'd meet them at the Best Buy.
In hindsight, he knew he had nobody to blame but himself. He'd let Maya Fey on the loose with his credit card – and told her to go nuts?! He must be the one who needed to get his head examined! Whatever had he been thinking? They had finally reconvened at the electronic store, three and a half hours later, and at the sight of Maya, weighed down with about a half-dozen tissue paper festooned bags, Phoenix had broken into a cold sweat. He didn't even want to fathom his credit card bill the next month, and had hastily veered the girls towards the exit door, his dreams of purchasing a new cell phone for himself now vanquished.
And somehow Maya had still managed to con him into getting them Samurai dogs for lunch on top of that!
Now, looking at the end results of the whole shopping excursion/ordeal, Phoenix finally understood the whole 'well worth the money' mentality. His beloved 50-inch plasma TV he'd finally splurged on for himself even paled in comparison. He thought he'd never seen his hard-earned dollars look so well-spent in his entire life. And no price-tag could ever be put onto the megawatt smile Maya was now bestowing on him as she did a little twirl.
"You're so great Nick! Thanks again for getting me this…I didn't break the bank too much, I swear!" She fidgeted with the neckline of the sequined bodice uncertainly. "Although I really could have, since you didn't give me a limit! Yes, I know it took me a day to get ready and find the perfect dress that 'called me', but…what do you think, Nick?"
Maya knew she was deliberately compliment-fishing, a tactic she was loathe to do, but getting a direct compliment out of Phoenix seemed to be as likely as Larry Butz keeping a girlfriend longer than a fortnight. Desperate times called for desperate measures.
"You look amazing! Just look at you, Pal! All grown up now!" A familiar voice boomed from the doorway.
It was Detective Dick Gumshoe, who had apparently arrived and been welcomed in by Pearl while Maya had been trying to get Phoenix to say something about her ensemble that was non price or time-consuming related.
"Detective Gumshoe!" Maya screeched happily, rushing over to hug her old friend and momentarily forgetting Phoenix (who was grateful for his second reprieve that evening). "It's been so long! You look great! Is that a new jacket?"
"Ya, the wife got it for me," The stocky detective grinned shyly and ran a hand through his shaggy brown hair, while the other proudly adjusted the camel colored trench coat, a vast improvement over the shabby green one that had been part of his usual attire. "Sorry I'm a little late. I had to pull over at a coffee shop twice on the way over here for her."
"It's all my fault, us mamas-to-be always needing the potty. It's the never-ending story," chuckled a voice behind him. A tiny, pert brunette, heavily pregnant and glowing, waddled from behind Gumshoe and gave a quick hug to Phoenix and Pearl before warmly embracing Maya.
"Maggey!" Maya squealed, squeezing the detective's wife. "I've missed you so much! You look fabulous! When's little Gordy due?"
"Four months." Maggey Gumshoe, née, Byrde, replied proudly, rubbing her swollen abdomen. "Although with first babies, you can never know, right? It could be later, or earlier. I'm so sorry to have to miss out on your birthday festivities tonight, but a crowded bar just wouldn't be the most comfortable place for me to be at...look how huge I am already! And it's not like I can drink anyway! But I just had to see you on your special day. You look so sophisticated! I just love your entire outfit! Is it new?"
Maya nodded happily and did another little twirl. "Nick got it for me as a present, because as of this day I can finally legally drink with the big boys! 21 today! Do l look the part?"
Maggey's eyes shone with warmth behind her glasses. "You look like a beautiful movie star in that dress Maya. Don't you agree, sir?"
Both Gumshoe and Phoenix looked up at the question, as the former police officer/waitress/ 'Goddess of Misfortune' had been known to address many people by that title, including Gumshoe on occasion. In this case though, her query was directed at the lawyer, who had finally run out of ways to dodge answering this line of questioning.
"What was that Maggey?" He asked, while hoping she wouldn't repeat it.
"The dress, Pal," Gumshoe spoke slowly, as if talking to a confused small child. He gave Phoenix a strange look. "My wife was asking if you like Maya's dress?"
"Oh, well um…Phoenix glanced idly at Maya, struggling to find words that wouldn't reveal what he so greatly hoped to conceal. "I don't know, isn't it, a little, er…tight? I mean, Maya, how are you getting any air in that thing?" He nervously ran his finger along the inside of the collar of his Polo shirt, which was the same midnight blue as his eyes. He prayed his face didn't give away his true thoughts, which were that he was the one having trouble breathing!
A look of annoyance flickered across Maya's pretty face. "What!? Tight? Are you saying it makes me look fat or something?"
"No he's not!" Pearls gave Phoenix an unprecedented sharp jab in the arm. "Mr. Nick would never mean to say something so mean, Mystic Maya! Did you, Mr. Nick?"
Phoenix winced in pain and rubbed his bicep. For such a tiny little thing, Pearls sure could punch (and slap!) hard. "Of course not!" he denied, putting a hand to the back of his head and giving an embarrassed smile. "I just meant, it's um, small, as in, there's not enough material! I mean, there's definitely enough to cover you! Just not enough to make you hot! No! I mean, to keep you warm! Cuz it's going to be cold tonight, and you should really wear a jacket!" Feeling like every bit the babbling buffoon he was sure he sounded like, he hurriedly grabbed his light jacket from the nearby coat rack and dropped it on Maya's bare shoulders. "Cover yourself up. You could catch your death otherwise!"
The four of them stared at him as if he'd acquired a second head.
"I am not wearing a jacket!" Maya exclaimed, shrugging out of the offending garment, uncaring that it drifted to the floor. "This is a dress that's meant to be seen!"
"It's spring in LA, Pal," Gumshoe assured him. "And it's 80 degrees out tonight. I'm sure she'll be fine."
Things were getting way out of hand, and Maya was desperate to change the subject at this point. "Let's get going, shall we?" she trilled, with a cheerfulness she no longer felt. "It's getting late and we don't want to keep the others waiting." She gave Maggey and her cousin a huge hug as she headed for the door. "Thank you so much for watching Pearly tonight so that your husband could come out with us. You're such a gem, Maggey. Pearly, be a good girl for Mrs. Gumshoe, OK?"
"I need the practice, and besides, she's an angel, it's no problem at all!" Maggey waved her hand dismissively at the thanks and gave her husband a quick kiss. "And I'm happy that one of us at least gets to represent tonight! Have fun you all!"
But Pearl wasn't about to let things be.
"Why do you want Mystic Maya to cover up her dress, Mr. Nick?" Pearls asked, looking like she was going to cry. "I helped her pick it out. I thought she looked so pretty in it. Don't you like it?"
Phoenix felt like the world's biggest heel. In his lame attempts to play it cool with Maya, he'd invariably upset the little girl who he adored more than anything in the world. Bending down, he tousled Pearls' silky light brown hair and pulled her over to his side in a hug.
"Of course I like the dress, Pearls. I just worry too much about Maya…always have, always will. But she's a big girl now and can wear what she likes." He smiled faintly at his friend. "The dress is very…nice, Maya."
Pearl beamed, seeing this as high praise indeed. Gumshoe and Maggey also smiled at disaster averted, but although Maya had a grin plastered on her face as she murmured her thanks, inside she was inwardly fuming.
Nice?! She silently screamed. Three hours spent on my hair, my nails, and my makeup, and I get told my dress looks nice? Nothing about me in it at all? Would it kill him to just lie to me at this point and say that I look gorgeous?! She stopped her thoughts and gave her head a shake. It so wasn't like her to be demanding and acting like a prima donna. It had to be due to the dress; red just made her take on a more diva persona.
That had to be the reason, Maya tried to convince herself, why she felt so dejected and ready to cry at the lukewarm compliment Phoenix had essentially been coerced into giving her.
Happy Birthday to me, indeed.