Elegant Deception

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Sean came back with Zoey in tow. She seemed somewhat drained. Yet she hid it with a smile as she joined us by the reception desk. Sean sat down beside me at the same time I stood up to greet Zoey.

“I’m tired,” Zoey muttered as she rested her arms on the marble countertop.

As I expected, the news of Zoey and Julian’s engagement were already office gossip. People weren’t dense. They’ll easily notice their glow and Zoey’s ring.

“How many congratulatory greetings did you have this morning?” I inquired in humor to lighten her mood.

“Too many to count. Julian wasn’t helping either. He told the executive staff during the morning conference. Plus, Kyla enthusiasm was blinding,” she chuckled dryly. “I thought she’ll start planning for my wedding in that instant.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised she’s on a phone conversation with your sister, Kathy,” I giggled.

“Don’t even paint that picture in my head. Your sister is enough problem as it is. And added with my sister, I think I might elope with Julian instead,” Zoey jested.

On cue, the elevator door across from us opened. Marching out in her tailored navy pencil skirt, cream blouse, and nude pump heels were my sister. April squealed when she saw Zoey. From her sudden appearance, I might have overlooked a text from her throughout the morning – since I don’t check my phone while I’m working.

“Zoey! Where is it? Let me see the ring!” she shrieked some more.

Zoey giddily turned around and held out her left hand. April studied the ring like an expert jeweler.

“Oh! This is beautiful! Wow! Julian didn’t hold back,” she pointed coyly, winking at her.

“You know how he like outlandish things. I would have preferred a smaller ring…” Zoey shyly admitted.

“Really? Now that you have seen this on your finger, would you have preferred that still?” April challenged.

Zoey slowly removed her hand from her grasp. “Well… no.”

“Thought so.” April beamed and finally noticed us. “Hello everyone!” She addressed in general before looking at me. “Amy, are you going to lunch with us?” she asked when I remained by the other side of the counter.

“I wasn’t informed about going anywhere for lunch today,” I admitted, which was true. And she knows I’d easily overlooked a text invite.

“Zoey?” April looked at her best friend quizzically. Zoey usually informed me herself, which was why she’d turn to her.

“Oops! I forgot to tell, Amy. Sorry! It was a really long morning. Cut me some slack,” Zoey sighed.

April shook her head and turned back to me. “So, are you going with us or not?”

I peered down on my computer screen, then back up to my sister and Zoey, and then to Sean before studying the computer screen again. “I’m not sure…”

I didn’t get to finish my sentence when Sean cut in. “Go, Amy. I’m here anyway. And I already had my lunch. I can man the fort.” He commanded.

April clasped her hand and made her way towards me, putting me out of my seat. “And who's going with us today, gentlemen? Albert?” April stared at the two security guard who stayed silent throughout the scene, watching us with amusement.

In reply, Albert stood up. “I’m going this time.”

“Good. We’ll be having lunch on the bistro across the street, Albert. Is that okay?” April knows the procedure, which was why she asked him.

“It’s close. So, it’ll be okay. But I’ll head down first and check the place.” Albert informed before making his way towards the elevator.

“Thank you, Albert. You’re the best!” April said.

Greg abruptly stood up and called out to Albert. “Hey! Grab me some sandwich while you’re out!”

Albert nodded before the elevator close in front of him.

Once he was gone, April was able to drag me across the counter where Zoey stood. “So, is it a girl’s lunch out or should I expect Julian to be inviting himself as well?”

“No, Julian’s staying in. I’ll be ordering him a takeaway. He’s busy having a video conference with a business partner,” Zoey replied.

“Well, it’s a girl’s lunch out then,” April smiled.

With that note, we headed down the lobby and waited for Albert’s go signal. When he arrived, he informed us he’d made a reservation for the group, which he hadn’t asked him to do. But Albert had always been thorough and thoughtful on his job as a bodyguard for Julian and Zoey. Though it was already a year since the announcement of Zoey’s relationship with Julian, the tabloids weren’t yet tired of their daily life. But at least the amount of camera’s flashing in our direction weren’t legions and most of them learned to keep a good distance. However, a few paparazzi – who we’ve already gotten acquainted throughout the year – still didn’t receive the memo about personal space. And one, in particular, was waiting outside as we exited the building.

“Zoey! Hey! How are you today? Where you able to enjoy last weekend with Julian at charity gala?” the paparazzi hastily bombarded her with questions.

Albert was alert. He stood between the paparazzi and us like a wall.

Zoey briefly smiled at the man and laced her arms around April and mine, walking between us. “Hi, Bill! I’m good. How are you today?” She retorted, evading his questions.

As Bill, the paparazzi, clicked away on his camera, Zoey repositioned her left hand and hid it under her blazer pockets – her arm still linked around mine. Noticing the gesture, I moved a bit closer and angled myself to hide her hand.

“There were rumors that Julian proposed to you over the weekend. Some witnesses saw it happened while you two snuck away from the party. Is it true?” Bill pressed on his question while we continued walking faster towards the bistro.

Zoey remained quiet but smiled at the man’s question. April and I remained indifferent as well. We allowed Albert to keep the man at a good distance from us.

“Can I see the ring, Ms. Curtis?” Bill finally got aggressive when he got no reaction from Zoey. “Is that why you’re hiding your left hand? Did Julian finally proposed to you?” he pressed some more.

But Zoey didn’t budge and continued walking.

I was in awe of her. She dealt with the situation with only a smile. Though Zoey claimed she had a long way to go with handling the tabloid or the press while watching her now and her confident stride, she grew some thick skin. Kyla might have influenced her somehow. And Kyla was no stranger to the public’s eyes. She’s married to Julian’s young brother, Jensen Hawksley, the current general manager of a five-star hotel owned by Hawksley Holding.

Once we arrived at the bistro, I saw Albert’s sigh of relief – though it was quickly covered by a poker face as the maître d’ escorted us to our reserved seats.

“Is it always like this everywhere you go?” I asked even though the answer was obvious.

Zoey replied with an apologetic smile. “It’ll grow on you. Besides, Julian is beside me when they’re around.”

“That means you’ve never gone anywhere without him?”

Zoey snorted. “I have. When that happens, I have Albert or Greg with me. But when I’m at my parent’s place, they’ll just drop me off.”

“How about shopping and other stuff?”

“Wow, sister. Why are you suddenly intrigued about menial things such as shopping? If I compare you with Zoey, she has more freedom than you. When you’re not working, all you do is stay coop up in that apartment of yours?” April interjected.

I rolled my eyes at her. “What’s new with me anyways? That’s my norm. But for Zoey, that kind of environment…” I turned to her with a bleak smile.

“Don’t. I’m not in a horrible nightmare. If this is the price to be with someone who I love and surprisingly loves me back, I’ll take the devil’s deal.” Zoey beamed. Her glow was palpable.

I smiled and decidedly dropped the conversation. “I’m truly happy you’ve found someone great, Zoey. After what happened with your ex, we were worried you wouldn’t recover.”

“Says the woman who still not have moved on with her issues…” April whispered in a remark.

I glared at my sister in response.

She gave me a sweet smile to defuse the tension.

The conversation was cut short when the waiter attended us. After giving him our meal order, April jumped into the topic of how Julian proposed to Zoey. From her weary looked, Zoey might have already told April in detail via phone call. Since I haven’t heard the story yet, she took her time and narrated everything again for me.

After Zoey’s detail recount of the proposal, April jumped into the obvious next topic.

“So, when would the engagement party be? Or better, the wedding? Do you already have a date in mind?” She near bombarded her with questions.

I watched Zoey struggled to come up with a response. As much as I wanted to help, I’m not sure how to properly intercede with those questions.

“Well… Julian and I haven’t really gotten to that conversation yet. We’re still wrapping our heads around being engaged.” Zoey admitted.

I smiled. “That’s sweet of you two.”

“He’s like a changed man. I thought once you get engaged, the spark or whatever you call it would disappear. But Julian wasn’t like that… he was…” she trailed off and lightly flushed with a coy smile.

“Really? And you’ve told me he was a ten in bed,” April remarked with a giggled. “Are you sure you should be working today?” she added in jest.

Zoey’s face flushed some more. She lightly slapped April’s arm in retaliation. “Oh! Shut it! Like you don’t brag about your new hubby’s performance in bed.”

“Well, Scott is more than adequate in bed… you know he did this thing…”

I held up my hand before my sister got into graphic detail about her sex life. Sometimes, she doesn’t have discretion at all. “Okay. Okay. Let’s remember we’re in public and stranger might eavesdrop on our conversation.”

April sweetly smiled at me. “Oh! Don’t be a poor sport sister. We didn’t mean to leave you out of the conversation, being single yourself.”

I scoffed at her obvious sarcastic façade. “I’m good being single right now, April.”

“Really? I heard from mom that you visited them this weekend. And what did she say to you?”

I rolled my eyes. I didn’t want to tell her personally that even my parents aren’t completely happy that I was still single. Being the eldest daughter, and my parents already in their seventies, they were in the age they’re expecting – the least – baby news. They were so open-minded they’d accept that I’d skip the step of marriage just to see a grandchild. Since I’ve been adamant on focusing on my career, they eased up on me until recently. When they heard the news that April was in a relationship, they’ve gotten a bit aggressive with their obvious hints.

“There still waiting for that grandchild,” I dryly informed. “Well, since your active in the scene of baby-making, maybe you should volunteer and give them one.” I quipped.

April snorted. “I’m not having a kid just yet. I still have at least two good years to plan for one.”

“And you’re implying that I don’t have the same choice as well?”

“People might say thirty is the new twenty. But let’s face it, we aren’t all wonder-mom-baby making machine. We have our own body clock ticking.”

I pursed my lips, unable to retort. For one, she was right. Even if I’m a healthy soon-to-be thirty-year-old independent woman, the future isn’t set in stone. Around this age, if I don’t take a careful precaution of my body, I’ll have a difficult time barring a child. It made me rethink when was the last time I’ve gone to the doctor for a physical exam.

I sighed. “Well, how do you suppose should I find decent men who’d date a thirty-year-old?”

Looking at her villainous smile, I knew I’ve said something I’d soon regret. “Since you’ve finally seen your faults and stubbornness, your dear sister is happy to help.”

I arched my eyebrow. “What are you planning, April?”

Zoey had kept relatively discreet throughout the conversation, listening to us banter back and forth.

“I know you’re not planning a birthday bash this weekend. But since you’ve come to me for desperate measure –”

“I haven’t even mention about my birthday. Now that you mentioned it, I have no plans for that as well.” I interjected.

She snorted. “Oh, please! There is no way our parent’s nor I would forget to celebrate that day with you.”

“I’m not expecting anything, April.” I interrupted again, which she ignored.

“Allow me to plan your party. And I’ll make sure you’ll find someone then.” She giddily offered.

I scoffed. “You know I don’t like mingling with strangers or crowds.”

“Then I’ll only invite a handful of people that you know. Plus a few people that you might want to meet as well,” she countered.

I stared at her. From the look on her face, there was nothing I could say to persuade her otherwise. If I’d known she’d ambush me about this, I should have stayed at the office.

“As long as you’re not inviting any creeps, or have the venue at a shady place, I’m good.” I sighed in defeat.

She squealed in victory. “Yes! I won’t make you regret this.”

“I’ll hold you on that,” I warned. But my words didn’t faze her.

She was already sprouting different venues for the weekend. It was then Zoey joined back in the conversation and listed a couple of places she might be able to help us booked under such short notice. One of the perks of having friends with connections, you’d get things done.

However, we were short in time to discuss this in detail. April reassured me that she and Zoey would have a list of places for me by tomorrow. After that, we hastily headed back to the office. April said her goodbyes to us by the entrance of the bistro, looking a bit worried she might be late since we got carried away. Thus, I was left with Zoey and Albert on the trip back to the office. With luck, the paparazzi who followed us before was nowhere in sight.

Albert looked even more relaxed when we entered the elevator alone. It was then Zoey comfortably spoke.

“April may seem to be playful, but she’d been worried about you.”

I smiled at her for sharing that tidbit of information. “I know. However, my sister isn’t the type to think that being single equates to being happy. She also thinks that love is the answer to everything. But don’t get me wrong, it’s an innocent and beautiful way of thinking. Nonetheless, we live in reality, Zoey. Not all of us gets the romantic blissful ending. To me, this might be my happy ending.”

“But, don’t you want to be with someone at least?”

“Maybe once…” I whispered, remembering the sentiment of that kind of love.

“And now?”

“Not anymore.” For a moment, I wasn’t sure whether that answer was a lie or not.

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