Getting ready is the best part of going anywhere. Blending in eyeshadow and drawing on liner and smudging on the perfect shade of lipstick; it’s all kind of therapeutic. And it’s a type of therapy I take extremely seriously, which means that before big events, I always block off at least an hour and a half of prep time. Though apparently I should have blocked off more than that today, because it took me a full hour just to choose my dress for the evening.
I don’t know why I’m so nervous. It’s just dinner. I’ve been to the Knox mansion loads of times. Tonight’s not any different.
Except that it completely is. Because tonight I’m not sitting down with old family friends. Tonight I’m sitting down with the people who are supposedly going to be my in-laws one day. And despite the fact that I know we’re not actually getting married, I’m still slightly terrified.
Maybe it’s because my parents will be there. I told them about the engagement earlier in the afternoon, driving out to their house in suburbs after my morning ballet class to break the news before they heard it from Brenton’s parents.
It was a really strange conversation. It’s one thing to tell your parents you’re engaged to someone you’ve known your entire life and have them be surprised because they hadn’t realized the two of you were even romantically involved. It’s entirely another to tell them the big news and have them be completely ecstatic, and say that this is what they’d always hoped would end up happening.
And the latter situation is exactly how my parents reacted. Well, Dad was surprised, but then he told me that Brenton’s a great man and all that he cares about is that I’m happy. Mom hugged me super tight for an extended period of time, swaying me back and forth and telling me that she couldn’t be happier because she’d been wishing Brenton and I would get together our entire lives.
I was caught between being relieved that they weren’t upset that I’d never told them Brenton and I were even involved in the first place and being shell shocked by their overwhelming enthusiasm. And maybe that’s why I’m currently so tense; because their support is so heartbreaking. I completely agree that Brenton’s fantastic and would make a wonderful husband.
But he won’t be that for me. Because I’ve never had feelings for him that strayed past completely platonic. Plus, there’s the fact that Brenton’s heart already belongs to someone else.
A knock on my door causes me to curse as I realize that I still have about half an hour of prepping left before I can leave, and I shoot Brenton a glare of mock annoyance as I let him into my apartment. “You know, when I tell you to pick me up at 7, I really mean 7:30.”
We’re arriving at his house to meet his parents for dinner together, mostly because I probably wouldn’t show up if I was supposed to come by myself. I’m not great with confrontation.
“I know,” he smiles softly, following me back to my bathroom so I can begin the process of curling my hair. “I came early because I have a present for you.”
“My birthday isn’t for months,” I reply, reaching up to pull my hair out of the messy bun I’d kept it in while I put on my makeup.
“It’s not that kind of present,” he replies, digging into the pocket of his black trousers and pulling out a small velvet box. He opens the lid and extends his arm towards me. “Here.”
I stare at the gorgeous diamond ring inside the box, completely certain that my mouth is hanging open as I take the box into my hand and pull the piece of jewelry out.
“This is an engagement ring,” I whisper, shifting my gaze slowly back up to Brenton, wondering if he meant to give this to me.
“It belonged to my Grandma Laura,” his smile widens. “She gave it to me when I turned eighteen.”
That seems a little bit young to be getting a family engagement ring, but there’s another part of that statement that has me more perturbed. “This belonged to your grandmother.”
“Yes, that’s what I just said,” he furrows his brow in confusion.
“It was her engagement ring,” I state, acutely aware that I sound like an idiot.
“Again,” he nods. “Just said that.”
I manage to blink in disbelief a couple times. “You’re giving me your grandmother’s engagement ring.”
Now he just looks annoyed. “Why are you repeating yourself?”
“Brenton,” I say slowly, breathing deeply because all of this feels a little surreal, “don’t you think you should give this to the woman you’re actually going to marry?”
Neither one of us are under the impression that woman is me. Just like I’ve never had romantic feelings for Brenton, he’s never felt that way about me either. And it’s not one of those situations where after being friends for years, we finally realize we were meant to be together all along.
I do love Brenton. But I reject the idea that my love for him has to mean we end up as a couple. Both of us are more than happy just being friends. And we’ll always be best friends, that much will never change. Even if we are forced to pretend we’re engaged for a few months.
Besides, I know for a fact that there’s someone Brenton has probably thought about giving this ring to more than once.
“I will one day,” he assures me, “so make sure you take good care of it.”
I roll my eyes, settling him with my iciest glare. “I’m being serious.”
Getting the picture that joking isn’t going to make this less awkward, he sighs. “Look, no one in my family is going to believe that we’re engaged if you’re not wearing this ring.”
“Oh,” I whisper. I guess that makes sense. If it’s a family heirloom, it’s only natural to assume Brenton would give it to his future wife. So, if I show up to dinner ringless, his parents would probably be suspicious.
Maybe the real reason I’m so hesitant to take it is because it’s kind of exactly what I want someday. Maybe not with Brenton, but the dream is to have someone love me enough to give me their grandmother’s engagement ring. I guess I just didn’t think it would happen this way.
“I know it’s weird,” he says sympathetically, gently pulling the ring from between my fingers and grabbing my left hand. “This whole situation is weird. But you just gotta bear with me.”
“I guess wearing it wouldn’t exactly be a chore,” I say as I watch him push it on my ring finger, hoping that if this ever happens for real, I’ll feel…more.
He deadpans. “Thanks for your sacrifice.”
“You’re welcome,” I grin brightly, enjoying the way the diamonds set in silver compliment the French manicure I’d gotten on my way back from my parents’ house. “It looks pretty good, huh?”
“Beautiful,” he nods. “Are you almost ready?”
“Fifteen more minutes.” I assure him, though I know it’s a lie, because it’ll probably be more like forty.
Fortunately, he knows me too well to believe I’ll be ready that soon and turns towards the door, calling over his shoulder, “I’m gonna get a snack.”
Turning back towards my mirror, I grab my brush and detangle my hair before tying up the top two-thirds of it so I can begin curling the bottommost layer. Brenton returns from rummaging through my fridge when I’m moving onto the middle layer, pulling off the plastic top of a cup of chocolate pudding.
“So what’s the plan tonight, exactly?” I ask, rolling the curling up towards my head.
“I told my parents I proposed to you, and they were ecstatic, of course,” he replies, digging a spoon into the pudding. “So now we just have to sell it.”
I laugh. “No pressure.”
Of course, his parents reacted to the news of our engagement the same way my parents did; with joy. Because despite the fact that we don’t really come from the same social background, his parents have watched me grow up and trust me not to break his heart or sabotage the company. It’s they possible they think that Brenton marrying someone they’re so familiar with rather than a socialite they would have to get to know is actually a huge asset.
“You’ve had dinner at my house probably hundreds of times,” Brenton reminds me through a mouthful of pudding, leaning against the doorframe to my bathroom.
“I know,” I say, “but this is different.”
This is the Knox family we’re talking about. They’re movers and shakers; the powerful elite. They could have me destroyed if I so much as breathe wrong. Which means tonight is important, because I need to prove to them that I am a suitable partner for their son in reality as well as in theory.
He understands why I’m anxious and shoots me a comforting glance. “I know. We’ll get through it.”
“I trust you,” I say, making eye contact with him in the mirror. I don’t like how much tension has been in the room since he arrived, so I lighten the tone of the evening by continuing with, “So what’s your position on PDA?”
He doesn’t even blink as he responds, “I’m all for full on make out sessions at the dinner table.”
I glare at him through the mirror, because it was actually a serious question. I don’t want to grab his hand and have his parents think I’m too forward. The most affection I’ve ever seen Harrison and Colleen Knox show is when they give each other air kisses as greetings. “Hilarious.”
“We’re already comfortable around each other, so it’s not like it’ll be awkward,” he shrugs, finishing off the last of his pudding and pushing himself off the door frame to throw the empty plastic cup away in the bathroom trash can. “There’s just gonna more cheek kisses.”
That’s true. Being friends for so long means we have no issues being in close quarters. So I guess convincingly acting like a couple will mostly entail standing close together and being super smiley.
“How classy,” I reply dryly. He rolls his eyes and I hold in a laugh as I release the last section of my hair from the curling iron. Reaching over to unplug the device, I run my fingers through my hair to loosen my curls before smudging on some dark red lipstick to compliment my cocktail dress and turning to face Brenton, posing with my hands on my hips. “Okay, I’m ready.”
He looks me up and down and his smile widens. “Stunning.”
I’m glad he approves, considering the embarrassing amount of time I spent staring at the clothing options in my closet. Dinner with the Knoxs had always been a fancier occasion than at the Fenwick household. I’m not used to having to put on lipstick to enjoy a homecooked meal, but any time we were invited to the mansion, we did make a point to try and dress the part.
And I knew that in the eyes of Harrison and Colleen, Brenton’s fiancé was a very important figure. Which meant I needed to look like I belonged. So, I scoured my closet for the perfect dress, finally settling on an emerald green one with cap sleeves and crisscross cutouts above the bust line. I’d bought it on a whim two years ago and it’s now one of my favorite dresses because not only is it extremely comfortable, it makes me feel beautiful as hell.
Grinning, I walk past him into the bedroom to slip into my nude heels and grab my purse, smirking at him over my shoulder. “Thank you, boobear.”
He winces as though I’ve just stomped on his toe and sighs, “Please don’t call me that again.”
He’s always hated cutesy nicknames, probably because his mother has called him Brenny-Bear since he was a child and refuses to stop despite the fact that he’s now a fully-grown man. It’s a fun fact that I enjoy holding over his head when he gets on my nerves.
“I wouldn’t dream of it, honeybuttons,” I reply, unable to hide my joy as I lead the way to the front door.
I’m pretty sure it takes every ounce of willpower he has not to roll his eyes as he places his hand in the small of my back and guides me into the hallway, letting out a frustrated sigh. I’m full on grinning as we head to the elevator. Maybe this night won’t be so bad after all.