Perfect Illusion

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Chapter 35: Living a Huge Lie

Pancakes.

Hot chocolate.

Same old, same old.

Except that this time, the entire dynamics of our so called ‘friendship’ has changed. Daniel and I eat together in a very tense silence, one that I’m so willing to break but even I can’t do it.

Le sigh.

“Do I even want to know where you’re heading off to?” Daniel groans as he finishes the last of his pancakes. I clear my plate by the sink and frown. I’m assuming it’s a question that I wouldn’t want to answer.

But Daniel presses me even further.

“Are you going to see Nate?” He doesn’t even bother to hide his curiosity. But he’s damn good at hiding his jealousy.

I turn the faucet off and glare at him. “Why the hell do you care?”

“I think I have a say when where my fake fiancé goes and who’s she fucking.” Aaaaand he doesn’t even bother to hide his vulgarity.

My nostrils flare. “Fuck you.”

Yep. I don’t bother to hide it either.

Daniel’s jaw clenches, like what I had just said stung him. He runs his fingers through his blonde hair, and shakes his head. “You used to tell me everything.”

My breath falters.

A part of me feels guilty that I’m being a bitch to him. But... I’d rather be mean to him.

At least, he will hate me rather than like me. It’s easier this way. For him to move on. For me to move on with Nate.

But why is he making it so hard for me to do exactly that?

“Daniel, please don’t do this.” I sigh as I grab my keys from the countertop.

“Do what?”

“Try to make me feel guilty about being with Nate.”

He lifts his eyebrows. “I wasn’t implying that at all.” Then, slowly his lips curve into a crooked smile. “You came up with that one on your own.” God dammit. I walked right into that one.

“Okayyyyy,” I roll my eyes and head for the front door. “Whatever. I’m spending the whole day out. Don’t wait up for me.”

“Wasn’t gonna,” Daniel replies sourly.


Nate picks me up about ten minutes later. He doesn’t wear his usual grin this time. He’s a little bit warier of me now, eyes constantly flickering to mine, silently wondering if I’m going to flee again like how I did on our first date.

My heart aches knowing that I put that doubt in him. I want him to trust me again, and I hope by doing this, I will be able to gain back a little piece of his heart that I shattered so many times over.

“Hey,” he says as I slide into the front seat. I hug my bag tightly as if it’s the only thing that’s keeping me together.

Keeping me sane.

“Hey,” I cast him a small nervous smile. He doesn’t seem affected by it. He grips the driving wheel harder and starts to back the car out of the parking lot.

When we’re on the road, his gaze meets mine again. I hold my breath, wondering what he’s going to say.

“You okay today?” He speaks in a low tone.

I nod my head. I know I should apologize about what happened on our date. I did so on the phone yesterday, but it doesn’t seem enough. “Look, Nate, I’m so sorry about-”

He cuts me off almost immediately. “You sure you want to do this?” He asks instead. I’m debating whether he’s annoyed or angry at me. Either way, it’s not good.

Slowly, I nod my head again, this time firmer. “Yes. I do.” He sighs, and looks straight on the road in front of him.

I fiddle with the straps of my bag, unsure of what else to say. Ever since I screwed up our date, there’s this invincible barrier between us. I feel it when I place my hand over his, but he hesitates at my touch. I feel it when I look at him, and he greets me with a very forced smile. I feel it when he leans towards me and places a kiss on the square of my lips, a kiss that has never felt this awkward before.

I don’t know how to fix it anymore. I don’t know how to fix us anymore.

When Nate pulls over a block away from the house, I release my breath. He cuts the engine and helps me get out of the car. I’m grateful by this small gesture, because at least I know he doesn’t hate me that much.

As we walk towards the house, I see it in full view. It’s a cute little English-themed house; the exterior walls are a pale green, but it stands out from tall tress leaning towards it, its leaves acting as an armour to protect the house from unwanted visitors.

The glass on the cream coloured windows reflect the clouds which shield the sun’s rays from falling on the house. The heavy wooden oak doors sit on the centre of the house. Perfectly trimmed bushes grow in front of the house, below the windows and stop at the small porch, creating a low border.

“Wow,” I say. I’ve never seen much houses in Boston before. Especially one this breath taking. I’ve mostly lived in the city so there weren’t much houses there.

“It’s... huge.”

“Yeah.” Nate stares up at the house too. “My great uncle died recently, and seeing as how I was his only relative, he left some of his fortune and this house to me. It was totally unnecessary because the location was too far from campus, so grandma agreed to take care of the house while I was gone. She’s lived here ever since.”

“It’s a beautiful place.” I say in awe as my eyes roam around the garden.

“Wait till you see the inside.” He takes my hand and guides me towards the porch.

When we’re inside, I make sure to keep behind Nate. He flashes me a reassuring smile, and for a second I think that he’s okay with me now. That he’s forgiven me and that we can move past whatever I did wrong.

I gasp slightly when my eyes fall upon the huge space in front of us. Beige wallpaper line the walls, along with beautiful framed paintings and photos of unfamiliar people. As we walk, I catch a glimpse of Nate when he was a teenager, his dark hair cut in the shape of a mushroom and his braced teeth flashing at me.

I laugh quietly. Nate notices what I’m looking at and blushes. “Even back then you were trying to woo people with your flashy grins.”

An easy laugh rumbles from his throat. “I couldn’t help myself. I’m a natural.”

He takes me upstairs and as I ascend them two at a time, the floorboards beneath me groan as they take my weight.

Okay. I’m not that fat.

Finally, when we reach the top, he glances briefly at the door before looking at me again.

“I’m fine, Nate.” I say before he can say anything. “You can let me see her. I mean, if you want me to.”

“I want you to,” He squeezes my hand. “She’d want to see you. She’d kill me if I didn’t let you see her.”

I laugh. “Open the door, Nate.”

He releases my hand and does what I say. Then, he places a hand behind my back, guiding me inside the room.

“Hey, grandma.” Nate’s face breaks into a huge smile as he walks over to the bed.

“Nathaniel Albert Eliose Jones,” She addresses him mockingly. Her voice is sweet and raspy at the same time. Like old honey, if that makes any sense. Her eyes spark with life as she looks at Nate. Her eyes crinkle with crow’s feet as she smiles at him. “Not a surprise seeing you here.”

“You know you love my visits.” He teases.

“I should have known you were coming. Danielle took the day off today. I assume you told her to.” She rolls her eyes.

“Yep.” Nate sits at the edge of the bed, crossing his arms, “She needed to rest anyways. It takes a lot of work to put up with your daily insults and fusses.”

“Don’t insult me, boy,” His grandma frowns, “I deserve some respect from you considering I went through hell try’na raise you.”

“Come on. It wasn’t that bad. I was a good boy.” Nate chuckles.

“Only because I made you into one!”

Nate laughs even harder. I snort at her witty comment. I’m surprised at how at ease Nate is with his grandma. He relaxes around her.

Only because I made him tense in the first place.

“Oh, this is Alex, by the way.” Nate finally addresses me, and I straighten when his grandma turns her full attention to me.

Her eyes scan me, from my eyes to my face, to my body down to my feet. I’m not sure what she thinks of me, and I’m eager to know. Her eyes hide her thoughts well enough.

“Alex,” She breathes and I slowly make my way to her. “So, this is the girl Nate has been talking highly about these few weeks.”

Nate’s entire face turns as red as my lipstick.

An easy laugh flows out of me. “It’s nice to meet you.”

“Please.” She extends her hand, shaking mildly as she does it. Warmth and kindness frame her face, “Call me Pepper.”

“Okay, Pepper.” I nod. “How are you feeling?”

“Urgh. I hate it when Danielle asks me that. Please don’t be like her.” She tells me.

I lift an eyebrow in confusion.

“Danielle’s her nurse.” Nate clears my confusion. “She works weekdays and sometimes on the weekends when I can’t come over.”

“Okay,” I take this information in. “So, I guess I’ll refrain from anything she says that makes you ickish.”

“Ickish?” Pepper makes a face. “What are you? Five?”

My mouth gapes open at her forwardness. Nate clears his throat.

“Excuse my grandma. She’s always like that.”

“It’s okay,” I shake my head. “It’s refreshing to meet someone who isn’t afraid to tell someone off, whether she likes them or not.”

Grandma swivels her head to Nate and nods in approval. “I like her. You can keep her.”

“I wasn’t looking for your permission to keep her, grandma.”

“Nonsense, boy. As long as I’m alive and breathing, I have to approve of who you date. It’s a grandma thing.”

“You are unbelievable.” Nate chuckles. I laugh along with him.

Pepper turns her attention to me again. “Can you believe this boy? He hasn’t any manners at all.”

“Oh, I got to disagree with you on that. He’s usually quite gentlemanly. At least around me.” I smile.

“Only because he’s trying to get into your pants, hon.” I burst out laughing. Nate’s face turns even redder.

He stands up, covering his face with his hands. “I’m going to go down and get myself a drink if I want to survive the rest of the day with you, grandma.”

Grandma lifts her finger. “Make that drink a strong one.”

Before he leaves the room, Nate glances at me. “You want anything, Alex?” “Nah. I’m good.” I wave him off.

“You okay staying with her for a while?”

“I’m fine.” I lean towards Pepper, who’s annoyed by Nate, “Pepper and I got a lot of catching up to do.”

Nate grins. “Alright, then. Call me if you need anything.”

“Okay.”

He takes a hesitant step out of the room before pausing. “You sure-”

“Boy, get the hell outta here before you run the girl off,” Pepper interrupts him, batting her eyelashes, “she looks like she’s about to hit you for asking her too many questions.”

Nate grumbles. “Fine.” Then he leaves the room.

I scoot closer towards Pepper, eager to know more about her. I’ve never met someone quite like her before.

Pepper asks me to help her into a sitting position so I do so. I heave her up until she’s resting against her pillow that is placed beside the wall. When she’s comfortable, she returns her gaze to me and frowns.

“Is something wrong?” I ask her, a little bit worried.

She glances at the door again, as if checking that Nate is out of earshot, before making eye contact with me again.

“Why are you with Nate?” She questions me accusingly.

“Huh?” I’m confused about her question.

“Why the hell are you with Nate, girl?” She narrows her eyes at me. “I’ve seen you on the television. You’re that guy’s fiancé- Kerrington, I think. I saw you in that interview with him. So why the hell are you with Nate, now?” Oh, boy. That is not what I was expecting. At all.

“It’s... complicated.” I shrug.

“Please,” She rolls her eyes, “Are you playing any games here, Alex?”

“What? No!” I say quickly. “No, I would never.... it’s just... very complicated.”

How am I supposed to explain to her? I’ve told too many people that the engagement between Daniel and I is fake. Too many. But then again, Pepper has the right to know. If I were to gain her trust, I’d have to tell her.

But I’m not sure how to do it.

She shakes her head. “You got to tell me what’s going on with you, Alex. I don’t mean to be boasting or anything but I’m pretty good at reading people, and I can tell you’re conflicted about your feelings. Now, I didn’t want to say anything in front of Nate because he’s so taken by you. Every time when he comes over, he’d tell me all about you. And I wanted to meet you for so long, but I didn’t know you were... with another man.”

“It’s not what you think.” I reply with a shaky laugh. “It’s really not.”

“I think it is, Alex.” She says, frowning. “I know that your heart is not with Nate. It may have been for a short time, but it isn’t now. It’s with another man. And I bet it’s that guy who I saw on television.”

I open my mouth to deny whatever she’s saying, but no words come out.

Because I didn’t want to admit it for so long, but I know Pepper’s right.

“Don’t be stringing my boy along, Alex. You may think that you aren’t, but you are. I know you’re a good girl, and you have a sensible heart. You want to do what is right. So do what is right and end things with Nathaniel before its too late.” Tears swim in my eyes because I know she’s right.

“You can do it,” Pepper urges me. “You have to, Alex. Your heart is not in the right place. It’s sure as hell not with him. And don’t make him believe that he has it. Because then the both of you will be living a huge lie.”

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