“When are my mommy and daddy coming back?”
Aiden was perched on the counter in Alicia’s bathroom while Gabi was touching up her makeup. Alicia’s boyfriend and apparently father to Aiden had shown up at the house shortly after Suzette had been removed from the premises. He and Alicia were having a heated argument downstairs in the kitchen. Aiden had woken up when he heard his parents and Gabi offered to watch him while they “talked”.
“They’ll be back in a little bit, squirt,” Gabi replied, pinching his chubby cheeks. “Are you not having fun with me?”
“Not really,” he answered honestly. “I’m just sitting here.”
Gabi stepped back from the mirror and smiled kindly at him. “What would you like to do?”
“Can you tell me a story?” he asked, his face lighting up with excitement.
“Sure!” She picked him up off of the counter and carried him into Alicia’s room, setting him down on the bed. She sat down next to him and he immediately cuddled into her side. “Do you know the story of Jack and the Beanstalk?”
Aiden shook his head and Gabi wrapped her arms around him, pulling him closer. “Well once upon a time there was a boy named Jack who lived in a small house with his mother...”
Gabi was about two minutes into the story when Aiden fell asleep. She gently laid him down and covered him with a blanket.
“I didn’t know you were so good with kids.”
Gabi whipped around and clutched her chest. “Geez Ryan!” she hissed. “You scared the crap out of me.”
Ryan laughed quietly and pulled her away from the bed where his nephew was sleeping soundly. “You look beautiful baby.”
Gabi looked down at her sweats and makeup stained t-shirt and frowned. “I’m not even dressed yet.”
He wrapped his arms around her waist. “I know. I can’t wait to see you all ‘gussied up’ as they say down south.” He looked at his watch. “Hurry and get dressed though. The limo will be here to pick you, Lizzie and Alicia up in about twenty minutes.”
“What about you?”
“I’m heading out with Luke now so we can greet everyone.”
Gabi stuck her bottom lip out. “Boo. I thought we were going together.”
“Don’t worry,” he laughed. “I’ll bring you up on stage and introduce you to everyone as my girlfriend.”
“Oh my gosh! Please don’t do that!”
“I’m kidding Gabriella,” he said planting a kiss on her forehead. “I’ve got to go now but I’ll see you soon.”
As soon as he left the room, Alicia walked into the room with a smile on her face. She walked over and kissed Aiden on the forehead before turning to Gabi. “Let’s get dressed; We have to leave in like fifteen minutes.”
Gabi followed Alicia into her closet where their dresses were hanging. “I’m assuming everything’s okay now?” Gabi enquired casually.
Alicia nodded vigorously and took Gabi’s hands. “Can I tell you a secret?”
“Sure,” Gabi replied.
“My boyfriend just proposed!”
Gabi’s jaw dropped. “Oh my goodness! Congratulations!”
“Thank you!” Alicia dropped Gabi’s hands and started to get dressed. “I can’t stop smiling.”
“I bet,” Gabi replied with a grin. “Forgive me if I’m prying but I thought you two were arguing.”
“We were,” Alicia replied, slipping into her dress. “After I told him about our altercation with Suzette, he got angry. Joseph doesn’t understand why I still keep him and Aiden a secret from the press. I tried to explain to him that I only do it for their privacy and protection but if it really bothered him that much, I would make an announcement tomorrow. He said he just needed to know I wasn’t ashamed of them so he got down on one knee and proposed.”
“That is so sweet!” Gabi gushed. “Why is it a secret though?”
“Get dressed, Gabi!” Alicia laughed. “It’s a secret until I can make an announcement to the press.”
“Oh, I see,” Gabi replied as she put on her dress and her shoes.
There was a knock at the door and Lizzie poked her head in the room. “Some lady named Mary said our ride is here.”
Alicia glared at Lizzie. “If you’re dating Luke, I want nothing to do with you. That includes sharing a ride with you.”
Lizzie looked alarmed at Alicia’s declaration and glanced at Gabi for support.
Gabi placed her hand on Alicia’s arm. “This is my best friend Lizzie. I’m not going to lie, I don’t get what she sees in your brother either but she’s cool,” she said, winking at Lizzie. “Now come on; We don’t want to be late!”
Alicia eyed Lizzie warily but nodded and followed Gabi from the room. The entire ride to the venue, Lizzie gushed over how amazing Alicia was and eventually Alicia warmed up to her.
By the time they pulled up at the Plaza, Lizzie and Alicia were gabbing like old friends. The driver opened the door to the limo and Alicia stepped out waving to the paparazzi and fans who had gathered at the entrance. Gabi and Lizzie followed, trying to shield their faces from the flashing lights.
Once they were inside, Gabi leaned in to whisper to Alicia. “Is there always paparazzi around your family or is it just because you’re here?”
Alicia smirked at her. “Ryan and Luke have their own little following too. You know with the whole ‘father and sons business dynasty’ and all that. Nobody knew Ryan and Luke were in Houston that’s why you’ve never seen the paparazzi. That’s over after tonight.” She smiled and waved as they entered the ballroom. Alicia walked away to greet some people and Lizzie made her way over to Luke.
The ballroom was decorated in immaculate style but Gabi only had eyes for the tall, curly-haired man with the glistening caramel skin that was her boyfriend. Ryan noticed her a few moments later and smiled widely at her before ending the conversation he was having and making his way over to her.
He kissed her cheek and then stepped back to look at her. “Damn,” he breathed in awe.
Gabi flushed and wrung her hands together nervously. The pale pink dress she wore was far more revealing and form-fitting than her normal attire. It molded to her every curve and had a deep V in the front, barely concealing her healthy sized chest. Her back was completely exposed and the dress trailed behind her in a slight train. She chose to keep the makeup light and had the hairstylist pin her curls into a sophisticated updo with a few tendrils hanging in front to frame her face.
“You look absolutely stunning Gabriella.”
“You don’t look so bad yourself,” she replied with a smile.
Ryan was wearing a navy blue tuxedo and his trademark tortoiseshell glasses. But what was most attractive about him to Gabi was the confidence he exuded.
“I have to keep making my rounds but save me a dance after dinner?”
Gabi nodded, unable to wipe the grin off of her face.
He smiled back at her and kissed her firmly on the lips. “Good. I have a surprise for you later,” he said with a wink before he walked away.
Gabi stood there in shock, aware of the stares and whispers of people around her. All of a sudden Alicia was back at her side.
“Come on Gabi; You and Lizzie are at my table.”
Gabi allowed Alicia to lead her over to the table where Lizzie, Heidi, and Brittany were already seated.
“You alright there Gabi?” Lizzie asked. “You look a little pale.”
Gabi nodded. “Uh, yeah I’m fine. I just didn’t realize that we were going public with our relationship,” she whispered to her best friend.
She took a sip of her water and noticed Brittany and Heidi staring at her. “What?”
“Why didn’t you tell us you were dating Mr. Cole?!” Heidi whisper-yelled across the table.
“It’s new,” Gabi replied defensively, feeling her cheeks warm.
The girls began to ask all sorts of invasive questions much to Alicia’s dismay. She had no desire to know how her brother was in bed. As they were talking, Gabi noticed a shadow fall over her and turned around to see who had caused the sudden lapse in the light.
“Michael,” she said shortly.
“Gabs,” he replied with a grin.
“Michael Wilkerson?” Lizzie inquired. Gabi saw the hatred flash in her eyes. “What the fuck are you doing here?”
Michael laughed. “Didn’t Gabi here tell you I’m her boss?”
Lizzie’s jaw dropped as she looked to Gabi for confirmation. Gabi just sunk down in her chair.
Michael leaned down to whisper in Gabi’s ear causing her to shudder in displeasure. “I knew you were sleeping your way to the top. So typical of you. Once a whore, always a whore.”
He stood with a smirk and walked away from their table. Gabi felt the tears running down her cheeks as she trembled in her seat. All she wanted to do was flee the room but she was frozen.
“Are you alright Gabi?” Lizzie asked concernedly, placing her hand on Gabi’s shoulder and handing her a napkin.
Gabi shook her head.
“Come on honey; Let’s go to the restroom.” Lizzie took Gabi’s hand and led her from the table.
As soon as the bathroom door closed Gabi broke down sobbing while Lizzie held her and whispered soothing words to her. After a few minutes, Gabi drew back and grabbed a few paper towels to dab her eyes.
“It’s been years Lizzie! And I still panic when I’m in the same room as him!”
“It hasn’t been that long. And what he did to you was traumatizing; Anyone would feel the same. Don’t beat yourself up about it Gabs.”
“I know,” she sniffled. “I just promised myself that I wouldn’t let him get to me anymore.”
“How have you handled working with him? And why didn’t you tell me you were working with him?! Does Angela know?”
Gabi nodded. “She found out last week. I didn’t tell y’all because I didn’t want you to worry.”
Lizzie shook her head and handed Gabi another tissue. “Well dry your tears and don’t let him ruin the evening for you. We’re in New York at a gala for one of the top companies in the world, which you work for, sitting with a famous pop star and we have the hottest dates in the entire room.”
Gabi smiled weakly. “Thanks, Liz.”
“Anytime! You know you’re my girl.”
They both touched up their makeup and headed back into the ballroom with their heads held high. There was a note on Gabi’s plate when they reached the table. She glanced over at Alicia with a questioning look.
Alicia smiled. “A waiter dropped it off and said a gentleman asked him to deliver it to you. I wonder who that gentleman could be,” she said with a wink.
Gabi smiled as she sat down and opened the note.
Meet me on the rooftop terrace at 8:30 pm.
“What does it say?” Lizzie asked.
“Ryan wants me to meet him on the terrace at 8:30,” Gabi said, trying to contain her excitement. “I guess he wants to see me alone.”
Her friends squealed excitedly. Brittany glanced at her phone. “It’s 8:20 now; You’d better hurry!”
Gabi stood and straightened her dress before she headed to meet Ryan. She felt butterflies in her stomach the entire elevator ride to the top floor. She stepped out onto the rooftop balcony and shivered in the February wind, immediately wishing she had thought to bring her coat. She glanced around and saw that Ryan hadn’t yet arrived.
She walked around, looking out at the beautiful New York skyline while she waited for Ryan. After a few minutes, she heard the door open behind her and heard a voice that sent chills up her spine.
“Glad you could make it Gabi.”