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Chapter 22

"You're always one decision awake from a totally different life."
~Unknown


Annalise

"You sure you'll be okay?" I asked, worry gnawing at me.

"Anna, I'm sixteen, and the Griffiths are taking great care of me. Besides, you're already in Africa. You can't just fly back. What country are you in right now?"

"Egypt. We'll be going to Kenya, South Africa, and Cote d'Ivoire for two days each. Then I'll be home."

"Have fun! Take lots of pictures and make sure Will and James don't get into too much trouble."

"Will do. I'll talk to you soon. Love you."

After hanging up, I headed onto my balcony, overlooking the glittering Mediterranean Sea. I inhaled the sea breeze and soaked up the warm sun, feeling some of my worries melt away.

"Fancy meeting you out here," Will said. I jumped and found him bracing himself against his balcony railing. "How's Mia?"

"Handling this a lot better than me," I joked.

"If Mia can survive leukemia, she can handle you being away for a bit."

"I've never been away from her, actually. The Stewarts and Wallaces took care of us while our parents were on tour, and when they died, and Mia got leukemia, I dropped my university offer and took as many jobs as I could."

"Where'd you get into?"

"St Andrews over in Scotland. I was going to study management."

"You never told me that."

I shrugged. "No reason to."

"But your grades must've been phenomenal! It's a tough place to get into."

"Yeah, but family takes priority. I'd give everything up to make sure Mia stays healthy."

"She'd want you to be healthy too because you can't take care of her if you aren't."

I stared at him suspiciously. "Did she tell you to say that?"

"No, why?"

"Because she tells me the same thing." I braced myself on my railing opposite him. "So, on a different note, what's the surprise you had for me when we arrived here?"

Will held up his finger before disappearing into his room. A few moments later, he knocked on my door. I opened it to find him holding a huge box wrapped in matte silver wrapping paper.

"This is one surprise. You have another one for South Africa." Will handed me the present. I carefully unwrapped it, not wanting to damage the beautiful paper.

Inside was not one box, but two. In the first was a stunning, short, white dress with short sleeves and a floor-length train; in the second box, black stilettos, a black diamond pendant necklace, and a pair of black diamond hoops.

"This is absolutely gorgeous!" I exclaimed, holding up the necklace. It glittered brilliantly in the sunlight. "Thank you so much!"

Will sat on my bed next to me. "You deserve nice things, Annie."

"I'm only a secretary, though. I'm not supposed to stand out," I said.

"You're here as more than just my secretary. You and James are here as my best friends and guests to events. Speaking of James, where is he?"

"Probably shadowing the chefs whether they want him to or not."

Will laughed. "I'm going to go round him up. I'll pick you up for dinner."

Will kissed my head before going in search of James, leaving me to marvel at my new outfit.

Everly

My plan was set.

I sat in a busy restaurant with every single girl Mark knew of that Eric cheated on me with. Out of the twenty girls I contacted, only three of them didn't come, saying they'd known he was with me. The rest didn't and were more than happy to aid in my revenge.

For an hour, we chattered away, talking about this and that, sipping our cocktails, waiting for Eric. When he texted me saying he'd arrived. I excused myself from the table, meeting him at the front door.

I kissed him on the cheek. "Hello, darling!"

"What? No kiss on the lips for your fiancé?" he countered, leaning in to plant one on me.

"Not right now. I just ate some onions. Come on, let's go sit. There's so much to talk about!" With a vicelike grip on his hand, I led him over to the table. Like professional actresses, the girls played 'dumb,' asking me who my handsome fiancé was. Eric went rigid.

"Honey, you didn't tell me we'd be having guests," he said nervously.

"I didn't? Huh, must've slipped my mind with all the excitement over the wedding. Sit, sit! We're going to get dessert since we already ate our meals. It's on me, so buy whatever you want."

Reluctantly, my fiancé did so. I sat next to him, trapping him in the booth. For the next thirty minutes, everyone chatted gaily about the upcoming wedding.

Everyone but Eric.

"If you're going to talk about the wedding and particularly the dress, surely I shouldn't be here. I heard it's bad luck to hear about the wedding dress," Eric said.

"No, silly, it's bad luck to see the bride in her dress before you get married."

"Oh, I could've sworn it was the other way around… listen, I just got a text from work, and they need me to come in immediately. Raincheck?"

"Sure. Before you go, I need to tell you something."

"What's up?"

"You will never, ever see me in a wedding dress," I declared.

He chuckled. "Are you not wearing a wedding dress to our wedding? That'll send the paparazzi into a media frenzy."

"No, I'm not. Because we're not getting married." I stood up, taking off my ring and slamming it into the table. The other girls stood up along with me. "How dare you not only cheat on me but lie to these girls saying you were single just so you could sleep with them? How dare you ask me to marry you when you weren't going to be faithful? You're a pig, and I know karma is going to come around and bite you in your tiny ass. Unfortunately, I probably won't be there to see it. But you know what? I don't care because I want nothing more to do with you, and I pray no other girl falls for your trap. All girls deserve better than how you would treat them." Then I leaned in and whispered, "I've already found a man who, in one day, treated me better in every way, shape, and form than you have the entire time we've been together. And this new guy? I have a feeling he's going to be the one. He's caring and smart and funny and loyal, and even better? I don't have to fake anything with him."

Eric sputtered as I straightened myself up. I turned to walk away, but one of the girls went, "Everly, would you like to have the honors?"

"Ah, yes, I almost forgot," I said. Grabbing the hot sauce off the table, I sprayed it onto Eric's crisp white shirt. The rest of the seventeen girls proceeded to follow in suit, squirting and dumping any food and condiments on the shellshocked playboy. Then we upped and left, bringing our dignity with us. I tipped the waitress generously when I passed her because that was going to be one hell of a mess to clean up.

On the way out the door, I saw quite a few phones filming us. The whole scene would be on the news later, of that I was sure, but I couldn't care less. Now I had the opportunity to date a guy that was genuinely and madly in love with me, who would treat me like a queen, who would be loyal to me no matter what.

I'd always thought Mark was handsome and charming, but I'd been too blinded by Eric's slimy compliments and luxurious gifts and my own insecurities to notice my feelings for Mark were more than friendly. Thank god he told me about Eric. Thank god I'd gotten out of a situation that would've ended in the long run.

"Girls, thank you so much for meeting me and helping me," I said. "But if you'll excuse me, I have to go tell the guy I love that I'm free and ready to be all his. Catch up again soon?".

There was a chorus of yeses.

Bouncing with excitement, I ran to Mark's flat. Upon arriving, I lifted my hand to knock when I heard a girl's voice, followed by Mark bellowing in amusement. Fear coursed through me, but I forced it down. Mark wasn't Eric.

Hesitantly, I knocked.

"Mark! Door!" the girl called out.

"That's probably Walt," I heard Mark reply. The door swung open, presenting a very shirtless Mark. A smile lit up his face.

"Hey, what are you doing here?" he asked, seeming genuinely curious by my appearance.

"I had some news to tell you but-"

"Mark, who is it? I hear a girl. Wait! Oh my god! Is it Everly?!" A petite blonde came sliding behind Mark.

"Yeah, it's Everly," he replied, starting to blush a little bit.

The girl squealed and pulled me into a bone-crushing hug. All I could do was return it. "Hi! Mark has told me so much about you! So has Annalise! I'm Mia, Anna's little sister."

When she pulled back, I finally got to see her. It startled me how much she looked like her Annalise, and a wave of relief crashed through me. I'd already dealt with one cheating boyfriend today. I didn't want to add another.

"It's nice to meet you too. What all did Mark tell you about me?" I asked, glancing up at him questioningly.

"All good things, I promise. Also, saw what you did to that asshole Eric on Twitter. High five!" Mia exclaimed, holding up her hand. I slapped it gently, afraid any excessive force would break her frail body. Whatever sickness she'd had, it'd taken its toll on her, but it was evident she hadn't let it bring her down. However, she was bizarrely and deceptively strong.

"What'd you do to Eric?" Mark inquired, cocking his head.

"Look up the video. I'd watch it again, but I'm supposed to be over at Walt and Patty's in half an hour, and with traffic, there's no way that's happening if I don't leave now. Everly, it's great to meet you, and I hope to see you again soon. You two have fun. Also, before I go, you don't have to hide anything about what you did from me."

Mark stiffened. "Wait, you know?"

"Mark, you're like a big brother to me, and I've grown up with you. I know when you're hiding things from me. Plus, you go to Everly's a week ago late at night with nothing but cake and wine. You proceed to give me extremely vague details about it. You should've just said you two did some cardio. Would've been a lot less suspicious. Not much, but still. All right, I'll see you soon. Bye, guys!" Mia skipped off down the hallway.

"Well, she kind of broke my news for me," I said, holding up my left hand for him to see the bare ring finger. "Now that I'm done with him, I want to be with you if you're still interested?"

Mark wrapped his arm around my waist, pulling me flush against him. "I'm definitely still interested. What do you say I whip us up some dinner and then we can watch a movie?"

"What if I've already eaten dinner?"

"I'll still make dinner because I haven't eaten yet. Then I'll make some dessert, and we'll see what happens from there."

I smiled slyly. "Does that mean we might be doing some cardio?"

"It'll include whatever you want it to," he said with a grin before pulling me into his flat and shutting the door.

This was going to be an incredible night…

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