Elegant Deception

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Three

The days leading to my weekend birthday bash was more or less quiet. Other than the occasional cryptic text I get from my sister about preferences on food and drinks, and the venue lists, I hardly heard from her. However, it wasn’t the case with Zoey. But she doesn’t worry me like my sister. For one, she had a lot on her plate than I do.

Once the news of her engagement with Julian Hawksley had spread to the public, both of them had been avoiding the paparazzi like the plague. But the funny thing about avoiding them was the fact those two live and work at the most auspicious places to be caught in public together. And it can’t be avoided. Hence, it explains why Zoey’s not a threat.

Seeing her walked out of the elevator with Julian in tow early Friday morning, my verdict was correct.

“If I hear one more reporter yelling at me to show the ring, I’m going to shove this rock up their…,” she trailed off in annoyance, marching in my direction.

“I presumed those people finally overstep some boundaries,” I stated rather than greeting my usual pleasantries.

Zoey sighed.

“What did they do?” I inquired.

Rather than Zoey, it was Julian who answered. “They breached security and entered the premises. However, they could only follow us until the lobby before back-up came to block the elevator.”

I gasped and stood up. “Oh my! Are you two okay?”

Zoey looked even grimmer.

“We’re okay, Amy,” she reassured me before peering briefly at Julian. “Julian might be adding security again until the hype dies down. I hope you’re okay with more people crowding your space.”

“Don’t worry about me, Zoey. You do what needs to be done. I’ve already gotten used to Albert and Greg. What're a few more people?” I jested.

“Thank you, Amy. And please don’t think just because I’m having such difficulty walking around in public that I’ll skip your birthday bash tomorrow night.” Zoey grinned mischievously.

“And I prayed you’d not mention it today.” I sighed.

“Oh! There’s no way I’ll forget with how much April’s been bothering me about it for the past few days,” she informed with a chuckle.

“So it wasn’t just me whose receiving a cryptic text from her?”

“Cryptic? Oh, no. I’m in on the surprise.” And like that she stopped sulking.

Behind her, I noticed Julian grinning and shaking his head in disbelief. Before Zoey started chatting with me about my birthday, he excused himself and headed to his office.

“Is Julian okay that you two are using his connections to get a venue? Because I’m okay with a small gathering at some cheap bar or something…” I asked the minute he was out of hearing range.

Zoey snorted and waved her hand in dismissal. “Don’t worry about the tiny details. Julian’s happy to help. Think of it as our birthday present to you.”

“I’m… oh… wow, thank you?” I replied, unsure of how to respond.

“You’re welcome,” she cheekily said. “Well, I’ll see you later for lunch. And yes, April texted me we’re having lunch together today – no matter what my circumstances are. She’s adamant we’re having this meeting before tomorrow.”

I groaned in defeat. “I apologize on my sister’s behalf for her lack of tact. She means well, and she does care for your safety. And maybe, for once, you should tell her no?” My words dangled into a question when I saw Zoey shaking her head.

“I know April. We’ve been friends this long because I know what to expect from her. And I play along with her antics – most of the time. So don’t worry. I do tell her off when she does cross a line.”

“Good to know.”

“Well then, I’ll be heading to my desk. Even though I’m marrying the boss it doesn’t constitute that I stop working as I did before,” she joked.

“But you can slack off a bit now that he can’t reprimand you without getting reprimanded himself once you two get back home,” I pointed in humor.

“Now, there’s a threat I haven’t thought to use on him yet.” She smiled playfully.

I covered my mouth in fear of planting the idea on Zoey’s head. However, Zoey’s infectious laugh told me she was joking. With that, she left in a better mood than when she stepped out of the elevator.

However, as Albert and Greg arrived, I finally got the gravity of Julian and Zoey’s situation. There was hardly that bothered Albert, even in this situation. But Greg had always been his opposite. He was vocal about what happened and started narrating everything.

“If only the head of building security allowed us to take some control on this growing problem, it wouldn’t have happened that way. The man is rather stubborn. I’m glad the boss is taking this matter into his own hands.” Greg scoffed as he finished telling his piece.

“Was it that bad, Greg?” I asked, looking more worried than I did when Zoey and Julian arrived.

“These people weren’t the normal, professional side of the entertainment business. Most of them were freelance photographers for tabloids. I’ve heard there’s a hefty price of who can take a picture of the ring… just because Zoey wanted to keep the news secret from the major public until their engagement party. I mean, these two aren’t even popular celebrities. They need to cut them some slack.” Greg muttered in dejection.

“In their world, they are, Greg.” I reminded him.

The Hawksley may not be in the entertainment industry or under the spotlight, however, they are a notable public figure because of their family business. And they’re a wealthy family with a heart of gold. They’ve handled public charity functions and giving generous donations for multiple causes. That’s their selling point as a family in concerns with the media.

Not only that, Julian had always been in the public’s eye, especially when it comes to his love life. He’d dated a lot of prominent women in the entertainment and business industry. For instance, Julian’s previous relationship with a model turned businesswoman before he met Zoey. That news gained a lot of heat when she openly publicized the reason for their break-up, gaining some backlash towards Julian and Zoey. However, those two were able to fight fire with fire and released an article about their relationship. It was such a roller coaster week when it happened.

Hearing all of this made me hesitant to let Zoey out of the building for lunch. Per their story, one of the paparazzi nearly grabbed hold of Zoey’s arm. If he did, I’m sure Julian would have pressed charges from the attempted assault – or something.

By the time lunchtime came around, I put my foot down and insisted on canceling our lunch get-together. It wasn’t worth the risk – for me at least. But Zoey wasn’t about to give up, knowing my sister. So I offered a compromise.

“Maybe we should just dine here at the office and ask Greg to get us some takeaway?” I asked and peered at Greg, who was sitting by the small security booth beside the elevator.

Upon hearing his name, Greg got up from his seat. “I’ll gladly grab you girls something for lunch. I’m not letting you walk out of this building without at least five security guards with me.” He informed. But I noted his teasing tone.

Zoey rolled his eyes at him. “Okay, fine. We could borrow the small conference room for a few minutes. I’ll head back and check if someone’s using the room. And Greg, get us our lunch at the bistro. You know what we want to eat. Thank you.” She instructed before making her way back inside.

“Then I’ll text my sister about her meal order,” I informed. Then, on cue, the woman herself arrived and exited the elevator.

“Hi, Amy! Where’s Zoey? I thought she’ll be here already. Is she still working?” She didn’t wait for me to reply to her first question and continued on another one.

I held up my hand, signaling her to stop talking. “Zoey is checking one of the rooms for us to accommodate. Something happened with Zoey and Mr. Hawksley this morning, so we’re not eating out today. And Greg is about to grab our lunch.”

She looked alarmed at the change of plans. “What happened? How come I didn’t hear about this until now?”

“It happened just this morning, April. Didn’t you hear me?”

“Beside the point. Why haven’t either of you called me about it? And what happened?” she pressed further, ignoring my explanation.

I peered around to check if Zoey was back before replying. “Zoey was nearly grabbed by one of the paparazzi this morning. A couple of them were able to enter the premises until more security arrived to stop them by the front of the elevator.”

“Oh god! Is that why it nearly took me forever to get in the building? Security was a pain. They kept asking so many identification and contact. I could have let them call you, but somehow I was on a list… which took them forever to clarify,” she groaned in annoyance.

“What? I haven’t heard any security changes…” I trailed off and turned to Albert.

Greg had left without waiting for us to tell him our meal order. He knew if he stuck around he’ll be there for most of the afternoon. Since April and I hadn’t told him what we wanted to eat, he’ll just have to figure out for himself.

So Albert answered my questions. “We’ve not yet completed the new security system, so we haven’t announced the new procedure. However, Mr. Hawksley and Ms. Curtis have compiled all the staff and guest list who’ll breeze through security. They’ll also add new I.D. card by the entrance leading to the elevator for added protection. But that’s still work in progress right now.”

“Why didn’t you say anything to me? When did this happen?” I asked.

“Mr. Hawksley and I had talked about this with the head of building security two days ago. So it’s still new, Amy. I didn’t say anything because we haven’t finalized it. Well, after what happened this morning, maybe the security downstairs have incorporated our suggested security protocol.”

I groaned. For someone who knows the front and back of what’s going on in this office, I should have noticed this tidbit of change. But I’ve been preoccupied with my birthday bash that I let it slip through me. And I’m beginning to feel like it’s a horrible idea to have this party.

“Thank you for finally sharing this information to me, Albert. I’ll talk with Zoey and confirm it with her so I’ll be ready to notify all secretary and staff on the changes.”

“No worries. But don’t circulate this information yet. I’ll let you know when Mr. Hawksley greenlights it,” he stated.

“Of course. I’ll keep it to myself.” I nodded.

On cue, Zoey returned and escorted us to the empty conference room where we’ll be occupying. Since April didn’t question her about the changes, she assumed I told her. And thankfully, April didn’t feel the need to hear the story again from Zoey. She might have noticed how timid she’d been about it. So, to get her mind out of what happened this morning, April opened the floor to discuss my birthday bash.

“Oh yeah, before the party at night, we are heading to mom and dad’s place for a more intimate lunch. They aren’t able to attend your party tomorrow night since they have other engagements.” April stated.

“Just say you didn’t invite them in fear you or someone might do something stupid, April.” I dryly pointed out.

She scoffed. “Yeah, I’m not hearing mom preach about alcoholism and poor life choices just because someone in our family is in rehab and one of our uncle’s – the distant one – is in jail.”

“True that.” I nodded in agreement. “So, we’re having a smaller, family lunch with them. Got it.”

“And oh! Don’t forget I’m taking you shopping after as well!” April exclaimed.

“Before the party? Do you have the time?” I challenged.

“I’ll make it work, sister. Trust me. Because I’m not letting you go to your own party looking like you’re going to a job interview.”

I looked at her, a bit offended by the comment. “Hey! I think my fashion style is very elegant chic.”

“Not all pants suits are considered elegant or chic, sister. Especially the ones you bought at a thrift store.” She sighed heavily. “I don’t know why you even go to that place. You don’t have the right fashion sense to shop cheap.”

“I do have. And I can’t afford anything else but shop cheap, as you put it, sister. Not all of us could jeopardize our saving for the sake of fashion.” I remarked, eying her.

“And thank god I have a sense of fashion. Because of these Miu Miu shoes, I’m a junior partner’s secretary.” She raised one of his legs to show her shoes for emphasis.

“Give yourself credit, April. It can’t be just because of those shoes.”

It was then Zoey jumped in. But in agreement with April’s story. “No, she’s right. She wore those shoes when she got the promotion.”

I didn’t want to get further with this conversation, feeling like I can’t win this argument. Also, we’ve detour away from our main topic. So, with disdain, I acknowledge and agreed to let my sister take me shopping before my party.

After that, it didn’t take long until Greg arrived with our food. I’m impressed how quickly he got back. However, his ragged breathing told me there as a lot of running on his part that got him here in record’s time. I mentally noted to buy him something a bit expensive for the holiday.

Once we finished eating, April addressed the issue of my birthday party again. This time in a more serious note.

“So, I’ve already finalized the venue yesterday. And told the owner about the drink list and food. I’ve also mailed the guests who are invited for the event,” she informed.

“Who is invited to this again?” I asked since not once I got to see that list.

I had asked her before but April kept avoiding the question. It was easy on her end since I’ve only asked these questions through text message. But now is no longer the case.

Unless you’re my sister.

“Just friends, Amy. No worries. I got it handled. Now, what I want from you is a good night’s rest. Also, promise me that you won’t back out with anything that I’ve planned for the day.” She informed.

“That promise is just setting me up on my own grave, April. I’m not agreeing to anything without knowing what it is.” I argued sternly.

She looked at me, trying to gauge out whether I was serious. Since I hadn’t flinched once, she gives in a bit.

“Fine, but I want it to be a surprise. So all I’m giving away is that you’ll like what I’ve done for lunch at mom and dad’s house. And then, you’ll thank me again for going out of my way to set up something great for your party tomorrow night.”

“I’ll be fine with the thing at mom and dad’s place. I’m sure mom won’t let you get too crazy there. But you need to be specific sister. What is this ‘set up on something great’ for my party?” I pressed. Unhinged with her theatrics.

She groaned. “Please. Just trust me on this. I promised you. It’s nothing weird, okay? Just go with it, please.” She begged one more time.

I peered at Zoey, who seemed oblivious about that tidbit of information. But she’s my sister’s best friend. Zoey’s well-accustomed to all of my sister’s tricks. So she’s no help. I thought about it some more and throughout this week, she didn’t push me on doing anything out of the ordinary. Plus, she did ask for my approval on every decision, from the venue to the drinks. Though the guest list is strike one, and this is strike two.

“Amy?” April asked as I gone quiet for a near minute.

“Okay, fine. I promise to be a good sport this one night. You’ve done a good job so far. So don’t ruin your streak.” I lightly warned.

She squealed. “Thank you. You’ll love it! I promise that you’re going to enjoy tomorrow.”

I hope I didn’t make a bad decision.

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