When his mother opened the door Brent handed her a vase of roses and a box of chocolate covered strawberries. Rita fussed unnecessarily with her necklace as she closed the door behind the youngest of her twin sons. "Merry Christmas honey, do you need help carrying anything?"

"Nah," his bright white teeth flashed a minty fresh smile. "I decided it was better to receive than to give. The flowers are from Brad and the strawberries are from Natalie." Brent watched his mother's fingers playing with the chain around her neck. "I see someone forgot to tell Santa that you were naughty and not nice. Who bought you a necklace and how come you're getting presents early this year?"

"I’ve had this for years. Your father gave it to me when we were dating." Rita gave her second son a sharp look. "I don't believe that you didn't buy anyone presents. Did you forget them?"

"Relax, they're up in Brad’s room. I'm surprised you didn't find them" he said smugly. His mother shook her head as she looked at the hem of his jeans dragging on her spotless foyer floor. "I hope your dress clothes are up there too. I'd like to get some family pictures this year. Where in Brad’s room did you hide presents?"

"Ha, I knew you'd be in his room trying to find things. Wouldn't you rather have pictures of us being cool and relaxed instead of wearing stuffy dress clothes?" Brent's smile grew as he thought about his mother walking into the living room and seeing the picture of her three children up on the wall. Looking over her head he peered through the doorway. A red ribbon hung from the picture. His brother-in-law winked at him while his sister waved. The tension in his stomach dissolved. Christmas was going to great this year. His attention turned back to his mother who was still talking.

"Your sister went to a lot of trouble to get matching shirts for you and Brad to wear for pictures so I hope you appreciate them." Waves of anxiety cascaded through Brent as he stood in the hallway with his mother. Why did she always have to worry about everything? She still hadn't said anything about the flowers or the strawberries either. Two minutes ago he had been whistling as he walked up to the door. Grimly Brent accepted a hanger for his jacket and ran up the stairs two at a time. His old room no longer had furniture in it but at inside he could spend some much needed time away from his mother.

Three steps from the top of the stairs his eyes encountered a fluffy pink sweater stretched across breasts he remembered holding. A diamond pendant swung hypnotically before him. Before Brent could ask why Gretchen was walking down stairs she didn't own her hand flicked something off his shoulder. If there had been mistletoe hanging over her head he would have kissed her. His head moved as her hips swayed in front of him. Several self protective mechanisms warned him that teasing was a part of her nature. There was nothing special about the way she was coming on to him.

Gretchen's feet slid backwards as Brent moved closer. Their first kiss transferred gloss from her lips to his. His fingers rubbed the links of her necklace together as they moved down the hall. Long fingers reached around her waist to lock the door of his former bedroom. Brent smiled against her hair when he felt her hands climb up his back. Beneath her skirt her legs were soft, silky and bare. His hands moved up wondering how far she was going to let him go. It was a mistake to check if she was watching him. Soft parted lips were almost his undoing.

Behind closed eyes Gretchen was thinking furiously. If she screamed someone in his family would come and then she'd have to explain what she was doing in Brent's bedroom. Gauntlets that he had tossed her way whirled through her mind while his hands wandered. If she tried to slap him he would..., Gretchen didn't know what he would do but it wouldn't end well for her. Brent was a lot smarter than people gave him credit for. What she should do is see how far she could get him to go, get his girlfriend's number from Brad and give her a thirty second update on what he was doing when she wasn't around.

That plan had potential but Brad would want to know why Gretchen wanted Sasha's number. A better plan would be to get into things with Brent, fake an earth-shattering orgasm and call him Brad. Imagining that blow to his ego had her smiling for real except Brent would probably tell Brad and that would mess up everything as far as he was concerned. Brent rushed things but Brad wouldn't be like that. He would take things slow and work a woman until she was screaming. That was the real difference between Brad and Brent. Brad made women scream while Brent made them cry.

Memories of the day Brent had taken her virginity were still painfully vivid. It probably wasn't fair to blame him since they had both been young but Gretchen didn't think she would ever forget how much that had hurt. She had been crying and he didn't even notice until he was done. There hadn't been much blood to show for the pain. Gretchen still felt bad about stealing the ruined beach towel that had belonged to Brent's Uncle Dave that day. She had also gotten pregnant and that had been the beginning of the end of everything.

Gretchen sighed when she felt Brent rubbing the sides of her neck. It was weird how tingles traveled through areas he wasn't touching and why did Brent of all people have to be so good at what he did? His fingers went up and down, pushing stress away, gently massaging overly tight muscles. For a moment she wished they could sit down and talk. He had so much potential, all he needed was some encouragement. A new thought had her straightening her shoulders. Initially Brent had started kissing her but now he was rubbing her neck and being really nice.

A long time ago his brother had said that people wanted what they gave other people. Gretchen remembered that conversation specifically since they had been talking about wanting to be left alone, she still didn't understand that about Brad. Who wanted to be by themselves when there were other people around to talk to? So if Brent was being nice to her he must want her to be nice to him. Maybe Brad had told him something that made him rethink the way he had treated her in the past because if all he wanted was sex he wasn't being very proactive about it. At that moment she could have walked away but she had been unintentionally seduced by the non-sexual turn of events.

Being in his arms was so nice. Her boyfriend was in shape but he had a different shape then Brent. They didn't smell the same either. Curt's cologne preceeded him into a room, experimentally Gretchen sniffed the area near Brent's underarm. When he gave her a curious look she blushed, looked away and returned his tentative smile. Their smiles grew in unison and then together, each of them evaluating the other for potential threats, danger and wondering about the wisdom of their current situation. They were both fully clothed, it wasn't like they were really doing anything, they were just hanging out. Hanging out, having fun and thinking about the other person.

Gretchen's soft sigh gave Brent a renewed sense of hope. Now was the time to leave, while she was still breathless, before she gathered her things together and slapped him. Her color was high, her eyes sparkled and the sheen of gloss that had covered her lips was gone bringing back memories of when they had both been sixteen. Futilely he wished he could go back and rewrite history. Had things worked out differently they would both be parents bringing their child to a Christmas party. The way things were..., he didn't want to think about a future without Gretchen.

His eyes closed over her head while he tried to ease tension out of her shoulders. Being wound that tightly wasn't good for anyone. Gretchen needed to relax. She needed to see that life was still fun or she'd wind up like his mother. Constantly criticizing and berating everyone over details that didn't matter anyways. What mattered was people. Not how clean your house was or how many bedrooms you had. Someday Brad would have a big house but with a wife like Michelle it would never be a home. Maybe he and Gretchen weren't going to be rich but at least the places they lived in were warm and inviting.

Gretchen would be the kind of wife you wanted to come home to. Someone who would welcome you with a kiss and start working you over before you even made it to the bedroom. She was kind and generous, Gretchen listened to people, it was probably why she had so many friends. Friends..., the idea had an undeniable appeal. He could call her up, Gretchen was the kind of person you could tell anything to and she had been in so many scrapes herself she didn't point fingers or put you down for doing something stupid. He kissed her again as a way of thanking her for the conversations they had shared almost a decade ago.

He wanted to tell her he was sorry for the things he had said in the past especially since they hadn't been true because Brent really did worry about her. His fingers wrapped around the fine bones of her wrist while the word osteoporosis eroded his earlier contentment. If Gretchen would start working out and quit eating junk her weight wouldn't be so much of a concern. Gretchen was a smart person living a stupid lifestyle. Brent knew he could help her with some of it but he was pretty sure she wouldn't listen to anything he had to say.

But she would listen to Brad and he could help her. Gretchen would listen to him and he would have the patience to take her through all the steps she would have to go through to get back into shape. His eyes closed again as he thought about all the times Gretchen had smiled at Brad and ignored him. A lot of people liked him better than they liked Brad but Gretchen wasn't most people. She was cute, Gretchen was fun and she was a terrible enemy because she wasn't afraid to call him on things or get up and walk out of a room he entered.

Watching Gretchen in action was great because she was good at what she did. She included even the most annoying people and she helped tone down people who were drunk and rowdy. People listened to Gretchen and he hadn't thought about it before but now he realized that she had some basic leadership skills. She drank but not excessively, she was empathetic but she didn't take every sob story at face value like her sister did. His admiration for her grew when she met his stare without blinking.

Other women were prettier, he had seen better bodies but Gretchen was a package deal where the sum was greater than the value of each part. They'd probably just annoy each other if they ever tried dating again. Kissing Gretchen when he still had a girlfriend had been a mistake. He was good at making those, this time he was going to learn from his latest idiotic idea. Gretchen had just earned some long overdue respect and he was going to start treating her better so he didn't have to miss out on the times when she was hanging out with their mutual friends.

With Gretchen's arms around him he couldn't step back without taking her with him. He opened his mouth to apologize just as Gretchen put her arms around his neck and wrapped her legs around his waist. Gretchen was good at reading other people. Maybe she knew that he felt bad and this was her way of telling him that the old scores had been settled and, Jesus God, she was good at this. Seconds ago he had been ready to open the door for her, now he felt as if his childhood home could burn down around him and he wouldn't move or care.

That thought followed his hand as he covered her breast. Bare toes curled into the carpeting while her hands traveled down. Brent buried his face between her breasts wanting to laugh and scream and sigh all at the same time. Desperately Gretchen moved his hand to the front of her panties. Greedy fingers were rougher than he intended so he made up for it by being gentle with her nipples. Meanwhile his eyes lingered on the borders tan lines had left. Brent told himself go to slowly with her but with Gretchen urging him on his body didn't want to listen.

His organic cotton t-shirt was unbelievably soft, Gretchen gathered it together wishing she could take it home with her. Then she would always have a reminder of him. The fact that she wanted that was momentarily sobering but then Brent bundled her and the shirt together. When happy tears escaped her eyes Brent was quick to brush them away. Hesitantly he kissed her cheek but the phrase 'I love you' never made it to her ears.

A cloud of golden curls rained down around her bare shoulders when her hair came undone. Lowering her to the floor gave Brent the unforgettable opportunity to taste her. On the floor Gretchen's hips arched beneath his hands. Brent allowed himself a satisfying look at her before closing his eyes. After he had finished she wouldn't let him go. Feverishly she tried to memorize the way he looked lying on the floor. Rhythmic hands encircled her hips. The chain around her neck fell between them. Gretchen's hand flung it across the room while moving against him. Drunk on love Gretchen laughed, cried out and forgot to breathe.

Blissfully they laid on the floor until they heard a knock on the door. Hating the frightened look in Gretchen's eyes Brent threw an arm around her, liking that she was still holding his t-shirt. "What's up?"

Outside of Brent's room Brad tried the doorknob again. "My shirt is in your room. Rita wants to know what you plan on doing with the stuff you brought; you haven't seen Gretchen have you?"

In the seconds that followed Brent thought he might hate his brother. "Even Rita should be able to put flowers in a fucking vase for crying out loud. Jesus Christ." He tossed more clothing at Gretchen wondering how much time they had. "What is your shirt doing in my room anyways?"

"Well Sherlock, most people could connect iron, ironing board and dress shirt however since you overlooked two of the three things sitting out in your room I guess you would have trouble understanding why I would like to get in there. Dan said it was too bad Jim and Rita weren't hosting a topless Christmas Eve party but I think Gretchen looks good in pink. Dan thinks her bra is black but I said I wouldn't bet on that. He also said you should watch out for her boyfriend. The only thing stronger than his right hook is his over-priced cologne. You haven't seen Gretchen around have you? She was over here earlier but no one has seen her recently."

A vicious retort was on the tip of Brent's tongue but Gretchen's voice interrupted him. "I'm in here Brad. I came over to see if Rita had shoes that would work with what I was planning on wearing and then I remembered that we were out of distilled water for the iron so I thought I would see if I could borrow some from you guys so I wouldn't have to wear wrinkly dress pants to the party. I didn't know Brent was in his room and I accidentally opened the door on him but it was okay because he found all the pieces of my broken necklace."

Uneasily Brad shifted his weight. He had just done something he prided himself on not doing and Gretchen sounded dangerously close to tears. He wondered if Brent had said something worse than the words she had just heard. "I'm sorry Gretchen. Dan and I were just talking. I'm just envious that you picked Todd over someone who can't wear cologne at all. Maybe I'd have better luck with women if I could bench press what he can. He makes good money, he seems organized and from what my dad said his clients like him. I couldn't make it in sales if my life depended on it. In other news your mom called. I guess she didn't know you were addressing the distilled water issue. I told her I would bring some over for her."

Silent tears ruined Gretchen's carefully applied makeup as she stared at the wrong side of Brent's door. Brad was going out with that horrible Michelle creature, Brent was still dating Sasha and she had just fucked him on his own bedroom floor. Worse yet it she had instigated it. The button on her skirt had popped off, her dress pants barely fit and she had let a girlfriend borrow the shoes she had planned on wearing. Distilled water was the least of her concerns right now. Brad would never run out of anything. Witness his bright blue dress shirt hanging neatly in Brent's closet waiting for its freshly showered owner. "You didn't shower and shave yet did you?"

For as long as Brad had known Gretchen he still couldn't follow her abrupt subject changes. "Not yet. I have something for you though. Stop by my room when you have some time. I want to talk to you about something."

"I have to take another shower. My hair didn't turn out so I have to go wash it again. If you haven't showered why don't you go do that now and I'll stop by as soon as I'm ready." As soon as she got home Gretchen was going to take the longest hottest shower she could stand and in there she was going to remove every piece of DNA Brent had left on her off. Gretchen felt strange eyes on her but she avoided them by focusing on the door. Escape was at hand and Brad was her ticket out of a bad situation. She knew he didn't mean anything by his earlier comments. That was Brad repeating Dan Parker's ideas, Gretchen knew the way his mind worked. Shakily she stood up, walked over to Brent's closet and grabbed Brad's French Blue dress shirt on her way out

Brent watched her make her way home before breaking up with Sasha. That evening Gretchen made it her mission to avoid him. Jealousy tore through him when Brent saw her smiling up at his brother. After that he said goodbye to his mother and left without saying Merry Christmas to anyone else. Back in the sanctuary of his own apartment he took another shower. It was 3:33 on his alarm clock when a sound woke him however Peach Hyacinth perfume was the only thing lingering in the hall. Back in his room he pulled out the necklace Gretchen had worn earlier. When he dreamt it was of her. Gretchen was smiling up at him, unbuttoning his shirt and promising to love him forever. The next morning he remembered everything. His conclusion: dreams that make you cry are memorable ones.


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