A.N.: I'm finally updating. Aren't you proud of me? I'm proud of me...um, proud of myself...meh, whatever. I've been working for over sixteen hours straight, so I'm tired, and my brain hurts. I think I'll post this and then go do something that doesn't require intelligent thought, like pelt people with stale gummy bears or try to convince my baby sister not to shove pennies up her nose. Anyway, lemme know what you think! I know I should be writing for the sake of writing, but again, I'm a review whore, and if I don't get feedback, I lose interest.

Oh, and thanks to my beta, Bird. He's been amazingly patient, so props to him.

"In My Defense"

By Venus Smurf

Chapter One: Glitter and Drag

I've completely humiliated myself in front of this man…who isn't gay. And who claims to be in love with me, which just means that things are doubly awkward, because now I don't know what to say to him.

Just shoot me, please.

Becca called at two in the morning on a Tuesday. I probably should have been annoyed, but I was still awake and hard at work in the kitchen.

Okay, so I was making itching powder. It's still work.

And hey, everyone deals with insomnia in different ways. Some people watch infomercials or skin cats. I make things—smoke bombs, brownies laced with Ex-Lax or methylene…

So I have the mentality of a four-year-old. I'm over it. And it's not like I actually use what I make on people.

Or at least on people I like.

More than once a week, anyway.

I was a little surprised, though. I mean, I hadn't heard from Becca in over two years. We'd been pretty close during our freshman year of college, but then she…well, I'm not really sure what happened. She got really into David Bowie and basically stopped talking to anyone who didn't wear glitter makeup.

And since I'm not a seven-year-old girl...

Needless to say, we'd lost touch, and I definitely didn't expect her to call in the middle of the night, let alone tell me that she was standing outside my door and would probably get eaten by hobos if I didn't let her in.

Pfft. As if the hobos would want to eat her. I'm pretty sure that much glitter would cause indigestion. Or maybe she's finally grown out of that phase?

Apparently there is no God, because as soon as I opened the door, I realized she'd moved past Bowie and into something worse. The girl standing at my door seemed to have skipped the glitter, but she'd more than made up for it with the peroxide blond hair, the pink eye shadow, and the equally pink sundress with matching purse.

Holy heck. Hasn't anyone told Becca she looks like Barbie threw up on her? I already miss the glitter.

"It's about freaking time," Becca grumbled as she pushed past me, practically yanking the door from my hand and slamming it shut behind her. She threw the chain, locked the dead bolt, and then spun to glare at me. "I could have been eaten."

I sighed inwardly, wondering why we'd been friends even before the glitter obsession. Had she always been this abrasive? "Hi to you, too," I muttered as Becca threw her ridiculously pink purse on the coffee table beside the door and then turned to face me, hands now on her hips.

I can already tell I'm not going to like this.

"Of course I'm happy to see you, Becs," I said, only partially lying, "but it's kinda late for a social visit, isn't it?"

She only shrugged and then turned her back on me. She started moving around my living room, running a finger along a lampshade, pausing to examine a picture and then bending to sniff the arm of my couch.

…did she really just do that?

Forget abrasive. She's just crazy.


She ignored me, continuing to walk around the room, then turning on her heel and moving to the kitchen. I followed, frowning and getting a little annoyed when she started opening my kitchen cabinets and counting the number of chairs around the tiny folding table I'd been using for meals.

"Is the entire apartment this small?"

One of my eyebrows shot into my hairline. "Excuse me?"

She was still ignoring me. "It's a little dingy in here, isn't it? And is that mold I smell?"

It's really too bad the itching powder isn't ready. I sorta want to hurt her now.

And okay, so my apartment isn't exactly a room at the Ritz. It's small, and it's in a pretty bad neighborhood. The furniture doesn't match, and the walls could use a good coat of paint…or just some bleach, because even though I hate to admit it, she's not wrong about the mold.

It's still mine. I earned it, and even if it's crap, what right does she have to insult it?

Becca was too busy inspecting the contents of my fridge to notice my glare. "How many bedrooms do you have?"

I'm officially tired of her. "Why are you here, Becca?"

She pulled herself out of my fridge, finally turned to look at me. "I need a place to stay."

Of course she does. "Is that why you were sniffing my couch?"

Becca didn't even have the grace to look embarrassed. "Yes. Do you have an extra bedroom or not?"

I was too irritated to be tactful. "Not for you."

Becca's lower lip curled into what she probably thought was a cute pout. For the record, I've seen more attractive lips on mudsuckers. "Why not?"

"Because you were sniffing my couch. I have a moral obligation to protect the virtue of my upholstery."

She rolled her eyes. "You're such a drama queen."

I don't think I have to take that from someone possessed by Barbie.

Becca must have realized she wasn't exactly winning me over, because she suddenly sighed and tried to look apologetic.

For the record, she failed. Miserably.

"It's not for me," she confessed. "It's for Luke."

Luke, Luke…do I know a Luke?

Becca rolled her eyes at me. "My brother."

Ah, now it all makes sense. Sort of.

…only not really, because while I vaguely remember her mentioning a brother, I'm fairly certain I've never even met the guy. "So, what, you want me to let him stay here? No way."

And there go the mudsucker lips again. "Why not? You couldn't use a little help with the rent? You wouldn't feel safer with someone else around?"

I really sort of hate her, but she does make a good point. Points. Heaven only knows how much I could use extra cash, and if I had a guy around, I might feel safe enough to stop sleeping with mace under my pillow. Still, the thought of sharing my home with a male version of Becca isn't really all that appealing.

...because now I'm picturing a life-sized Ken doll in a pink dress sniffing at my couch. Gross. As if I didn't already need therapy! "Sorry, Becca, but no can do. Can you imagine what my mother would say if she knew I was living with a man? She'd kill me."

Yeah, I'm totally lying. I'm not sure my mother even knows where I am, and even if she did, she'd probably be too drunk to recognize me, let alone care about my choice of housemate. Details, details.

"I thought you hated your mother?"

Darn. She's on to me. "Whatever. It just wouldn't work, Becca. Sorry."

I'm so not...though I admit that I'm tempted. I really, really could use the money...

Becca had the weirdest expression on her face. She stared at me for a second, and then she shrugged. "Would it help if I told you Luke's gay?"

Luke's gay? Okay, now I'm really picturing the Ken doll in pink drag...I think I might vomit.

...though to be honest, it is becoming more of a possibility. If he halved the rent and maybe even the utilities, I might save enough to start taking night classes again. Wouldn't that be worth putting up with a drag queen? Even one related to Becca?

"It helps," I admitted slowly, "but something still isn't adding up. Why me, if you think I live in such a cesspool? Why can't he just live with you?"

Becca's expression suddenly became neutral, her eyes shifting away from mine. "He just can't."

That isn't suspicious at all.

I looked doubtfully at her. "Does he have a wanted poster?" With my luck, he would.

Of course, with my luck, he'd end up murdering me in my sleep and stealing my itching powder on top of that.

And that would be bad. Good itching powder takes a long time to make.

Becca's eyes had widened and flashed back to mine, but then she chuckled weakly. "You need to lay off the bad cop dramas, Risa. He's my brother, not a criminal."

Do I believe her? I don't think I do. "So why can't he find an apartment himself?"

Becca had gone back to not meeting my eyes. She was silent for a little longer than she should have been, and then she sighed and met my gaze squarely.

"Don't tell him I told you, okay?" She waited for my reluctant nod, then pushed on, speaking so quickly that she was almost tripping over the words. "My parents aren't exactly big fans of Luke's lifestyle, but then his...his boyfriend cheated on him, and now Luke needs to get away before it all catches up to him, you know? It's just for a little while, maybe a couple of months. Just until things calm down back home and our parents get off his case."

I frowned, still not quite convinced but suddenly feeling a little more sympathy for the brother. After all, it's not like I haven't been there. A parent causing problems, a cheating, loser boyfriend...yeah, I've been there. And I know what it's like to need to get away.

"That still doesn't explain why he can't just crash with you."

Becca looked like she was trying not to roll her eyes again. "Mine is the first place they'll look," she told me, her tone informing me that it should have been obvious. "Nobody would look for him here."

Did she just insult my apartment again? I think she did. It was implied, at least. I really ought to just kick her out and let the hobos have her. Money aside, sympathy aside, there's just no way I'm going to le—

"I'll give you five hundred dollars right now."

And there go my principles. "Cash?"

Becca nodded. "Cash. And that's on top of his share of the rent."

"And half the utilities?"

Her mouth twisted in a smug grin. "So you'll let him stay?"

"It depends."

Becca was still looking too satisfied. "On what?"

"On how often you'd be visiting."

Cue the mudsucker lips.

Becca gave me an hour, just enough time to literally shove my dirty laundry back under the bed where it belonged, think about doing the dishes, and most importantly of all, hide my assortment of stink bombs, itching powder, and questionably legal minor explosives.

And then she was back, strolling into the apartment as if she owned it, throwing that hideous purse of hers on the couch and then wordlessly disappearing into the closet masquerading as my second bedroom.

"Make yourself at home," I muttered under my breath, already regretting this but pasting a smile on my face as I turned to greet the man who'd come in with her.

Luke wasn't quite what I'd expected. He was a surprisingly big man, at least four or five inches over six feet and as muscled as an athlete. He had Becca's sandy hair and dark eyes, the same sharply appealing jaw and nose even if his lips were less full than hers. I decided I liked his face—any girl probably would—though given his preferences, it was probably a good thing he wasn't quite my type. My life was complicated enough without throwing attraction to a gay guy into the mix.

His expression was much calmer than Becca's had ever been, as well, though I wasn't sure if that was a good thing. He looked tired, sad, maybe even a little bitter. Not surprising, given what he'd gone through. And I'm sure the fact that he shared genes with Becca wasn't helping.

My smile might have been forced initially, but as I held out my hand, it became sympathetic and genuine. "You must be Luke. I'm Risa," I said, pleased by the distinct lack of glitter. The man was wearing only a pair of worn jeans and a t-shirt, and even though I think he was good-looking enough that he might actually have been able to pull off even drag, maybe this wouldn't be as bad as I'd feared. He didn't seem like a drama queen, at least.

He shook my hand, his grip gentle enough even if his eyes were now focused a little too intently on me, watching me with a rather guarded expression. I mentally shrugged, not bothered but wondering just what Becca might have told him about me. Knowing Becca, it wouldn't have been anything good.

"Come on," I told my new roommate. "I'll show you around."

I took him to the kitchen, showed him where he could store his things in the shared bathroom, saved his bedroom/closet for last simply because Becca was in there and I didn't want to spend more time in her presence than was absolutely necessary. Luke's expression didn't change in the slightest during the all-of-thirty-seconds tour, whatever he thought of his new living conditions kept to himself...which was probably for the best, because while I was still just a little afraid he might try to take my itching powder, I wouldn't have hesitated to use it on him if he insulted my home.

Becca was waiting for us in Luke's room, busy hanging thick white curtains across the single window overlooking the fire escape. I frowned, knowing I hadn't seen her carrying them when she'd arrived, briefly wondering where she'd been hiding them and then deciding I absolutely didn't want to know.

I watched her for a minute, surprised she even knew how to hang curtains, also questioning her choice. Why bother with curtains when Luke didn't even have a bed yet? "Shouldn't you get furniture first?"

Becca seemed to freeze, but after only a second, she went back to work without so much as glancing in my direction. "No. You may not care about privacy, but Luke does," she told me, her voice a little too even.

Which would have been a valid point if, you know, the window hadn't been facing a brick wall. Who would be peeping? Spider Man? He'd be the only one able to get up there.

I shrugged, not caring too much but still wondering where Luke was going to sleep tonight. As lumpy as the couch was, I wouldn't have made even my mother sleep there.

Well, maybe my mother.

Definitely Becca.

"Did you happen to bring sheets with you?" I asked the other girl, wondering if it would be weird for Luke to sleep on my spares. They were clean and all, but even so...

Becca did turn, then, looking at me as though I'd sprouted a second head. "How could I have brought sheets? It's not like they'd have fit in my purse."

I glanced meaningfully at the curtains, and then decided I just wasn't going there. "I'll ask Luke, I guess," I informed her, only then realizing the man in question was no longer with us. Had he left because his sister is freaking crazy and he doesn't like being around her any more than I do, or because he'd changed his mind about staying with me once he saw the room and realized he'd be living in a tiny box?

I found him in the living room, digging through the two large suitcases he'd brought with him. He looked up as I entered the room, something tightening in his expression as he watched me approach.

I decided to ignore that. "Hey, I don't suppose you have any spare sheets with you?"

One of his eyebrows shot into his hairline, though he only shook his head.

Was it really such a stupid question? Maybe it was. I guess when a man is trying to escape, he isn't really thinking about where—or on what—he's going to sleep that night.

Still, I sighed, honestly not knowing where I was going to put the guy. The couch was small along with being lumpy, and my bed wasn't an option, even if he is gay.

"Never mind, then," I said, pursing my lips in thought, "though I don't know where I'm going to put you. I don't suppose you can bend yourself in half like a pretzel?"

He didn't even respond to that one, and it occurred to me that I hadn't heard him speak yet. Maybe he was just the strong, silent type. Or maybe, after a lifetime with Becca, he'd just stopped trying to make himself heard over her.

"Risa can take the couch. She's smaller. Or you can just share the bed."

I turned to glare at Becca, who'd apparently finished hanging her curtains and was now standing behind us, her hands on her hips. Her expression was sly, though she was looking at her brother and not at me.

I glanced at Luke, noting that he was also glaring at his sister. "I'm not taking her bed," he informed her in a voice every bit as deep as I'd have expected in such a big man.

Ah, the chivalrous type. I'm liking him even more now…though I'd like him just a wee bit more if he'd speak to me and not just about me.

Whatever. I'm not exactly polite, either. "Right. So the floor it is," I announced after a moment. "I have some extra blankets, and you can use the couch cushions for padding. Not the best option, but it's almost dawn anyway."

Luke didn't object, and Becca just made a face and disappeared into the kitchen. I didn't ask her to come back, though I didn't exactly like that she was running loose through my apartment. I hope she's potty trained.

I left Luke and went to the closet, gathered the few extra blankets I had and brought them back to Luke. He had already pulled the cushions from the couch—I really should vacuum under there one of these days, because I'm pretty sure that dust bunny just waved at me—and with a mumble I think might have been "Thanks," he took the blankets from me and began arranging them on the floor.

I watched him for a minute, then headed back to the kitchen for some pest control.

I found Becca going through my things again. Every cupboard was open, as was the fridge, and my obnoxious former friend was perched on the counter, the plate of brownies I'd made earlier in her lap. She had one in her hand and was in the process of cramming another into her mouth, and after a single glance at the plate, I knew this wasn't the first she'd eaten.

I wonder if I should tell her that I'd spiked those with Ex-Lax?

Venus Smurf's Jokes/Quotes of the Day:

Accept that some days you're the pigeon, and some days you're the statue. ~Dilbert

Always do right...it will gratify some and astonish the rest (and annoy the crap out of everybody). ~Mark Twain

The best leaders inspire by example. When that's not an option, brute intimidation works pretty well, too.

Consistency is only a virtue if you're not a screw-up.

(Send me your jokes, and I'll include them in the next chapter!)

Thanks to: Mozz, Lanayaj, Princess of Blah Blah Blah, Rachel Hardington, .kid, Nightwalkr, .Rocket, Disney is Hardcore (it so is), Sassy-Chan, and Roxie H. You're all awesome! I'd send you cookies, but since I can't cook and would probably kill you by accident, y'all are better off with just my thanks.