Chapter Four - Start with the Truth
By the time 5 rolled around I was more than ready to leave. I stood up and was about to leave the office when Brennan came out of his office and walked with me to the elevator. Being the end of the day, the small space filled with others heading home, so we didn’t talk, but when the doors opened and I stepped out into the foyer, I felt someone’s hand tug gently on my arm. I turned and looked at Brennan who stood there.
“I thought I’d check that 7.30am is okay for you tomorrow?” He said, his voice clear and crisp. His demeanor had returned to the sophisticated, bachelor businessman I’d come to know. I nodded and readjusted my bag on my shoulder.
“How did you get to work?”
“I caught the subway.” I replied. “I always catch the subway.”
I looked at the huge marble wall clock in the foyer by the doors. If I didn’t hurry up I was going to miss the next one.
“I’ve got to go Brennan.” I said as I started to walk toward the exit. If I quickened my pace, I’d make it.
“I can give you a ride, in my car.” He exclaimed, tripping ever so slightly on his words. “I’m headed that way anyway.”
“Okay. That’d be nice.”
We walked in silence to the parking garage of the building. The last time I’d been in Brennan’s car I’d been a bawling mess. I ignored the feelings of grief that threatened to break me and walked to the passengers side of the car.
Brennan unlocked the car and we both got in. I pulled the seat belt across and clicked it into the lock.
“Do I need to pack something for the wedding?” I asked softly after Brennan started the car.
“No, My mother has already, er booked you for a Saturday shopping excursion. I hope that’s alright.”
I smiled and nodded. “Of course.”
“Well I’ll give you my credit card. Anything you want.” He replied.
“I can pay my own way Brennan.” I retorted.
“I am well aware Grace. However I’ve dragged you into this. At least let me cover the expenses while we’re there.” His tone was taut, he wasn’t about to back down on it.
I sighed, this was a battle I didn’t have the strength to fight.
“Fine.” I replied.
“Good.” Brennan said with a chuckle. “So, have you figured out what you’re going to do when you leave?”
I looked out the window and sighed.
“I’ve managed to end my lease early and this professional moving company is coming to collect my keys tonight so they can pack up while I’m away. Then I’ll be going to my fathers at the end of the week.”
“You’re leaving so soon?” Brennan asked, he sounded confused.
He stopped and cleared his throat. “Sorry. I guess I just didn’t realize. I’m glad everything is working out for you.”
“To be honest I didn’t know until my landlord said I could end the lease early as long as I was out by Wednesday. That kind of sped things up.”
The rest of the drive was silent, Brennan pulled up alongside my apartment building and turned his car off.
“Thank you for doing this Grace. I know it’s weird.”
I didn’t say anything, mostly because I couldn’t explain why I was doing it. I didn’t know what had implored me to accept the proposal, aside from Brennan offering to end my contract early.
I nodded as I unclipped my belt. I smiled as I opened the door and climbed out. “At least I’m not a bawling mess today.” I joked, looking down at a stone faced Brennan.
He pasted on a smile that barely moved a muscle in his face and then turned his attention back to the road before turning his car back on.
“I’ll see you in the morning B.”
“See you then G.”
I closed the car door and walked into my apartment building.
I changed into a tracksuit and sent a message to my college friend Belle. I needed to talk to someone.
By the time she arrived I’d managed to pick at a chicken salad for dinner. I filled her in, and watched as her face changed the deeper into the story I got.
“I can’t believe you’re moving just like that.” Belle exclaimed, pouring the wine into one glass, and then the other. Filling them both up almost to the top.
“It’s time.” I murmured.
Belle had been one of the only people I’d kept in touch with after college. Her being here meant I’d always have a reason to visit New York.
“Time, shmime.” She scoffed, handing me one of the overfull glasses. “If you and Mr. Boss man just admitted the simmering attraction between you. Maybe all this turmoil you’re subjecting yourself to would disappear.”
“Attraction!? Belle, the man is incapable of settling down, He avoids his family like the plague. I am not his type and he is not mine. You and my mother would have got on well. She always assumed there was more than there was.” I sipped on the wine, but Belle shook her head and took my wine and placed them both down on the coffee table. She sat down on the couch and took my hands in hers.
“Maybe that’s because you talk about the Man whenever I see you. Not to mention I’ve seen you together, at that Christmas luncheon last year.”
“He was there with another woman.” I reminded her.
“And he spent most of his time talking to you.”
“About work.” I replied, although truth be told, I couldn’t remember exactly what we’d been discussing.
“Well, if there is no reasoning with you, I must demand we spend this weekend getting absolutely shitfaced.” Belle giggled picking up the wine glasses again, handing one back to me. “There is a new club opening in town. We’ll go tomorrow night.”
I bit my lip and lifted the wine glass to my lips, draining the large amount of wine in one gulp. I placed the glass down and sucked in a breath. Belle, who was watching me with wide eyes and a confused smile shook her head.
“It’s a work night. We probably shouldn’t get shitfaced tonight Grace.”
I didn’t want to tell her of the ruse. I could feel her judgement already and I’d said nothing yet. I had no choice though, because I couldn’t go out with her at all this weekend.
“I’m away this weekend.” I offered. “A business trip of sorts.”
“A business trip?” Belle repeated, sounding less sure than I had. She sat back on the couch and shook her head again. I felt the guilt surge, I was a shitty liar at the best of times, I wasn’t sure why Brennan had thought involving me in such a scheme was a good idea in the slightest.
“Brennan’s sister is getting married. His family looks down on him for not being what they want and he didn’t want to go back as a disappointment. So, he said he’d remove my notice period if I returned with him and pretended to be his fiancée.” I spoke quickly, and all in one breath, almost gasping as the sentence ended.
“Whoa.” Belle replied. “I wasn’t expecting that.”
“Tell me I’m not crazy for agreeing to this.” I begged.
Belle shook her head. “You’re not crazy.”
“I’m not?” I questioned, I felt crazy. This felt crazy. I picked the wine bottle up and poured myself another glass.
“I think this insane crush you’ve buried under your work for the last three years is making you do something completely crazy... but I don’t think you’re crazy.” She exclaimed with an amused smile.
“Crush? Belle, I...” I stopped. Suddenly I felt clammy and hot but I wasn’t entirely sure why. “I don’t have a crush on him, I’ve literally seen first hand how he treats women, they’re objects to him. A past time.” I picked up the glass of wine and sipped it.
“We always want what we can’t have. Its like engrained in us to make stupid decisions.”
“Speak for yourself.” I replied. “Need I remind you of my last date. He was a stupid decision that I literally ran from.”
Belle laughed before draining her glass. She placed it down on the coffee table then looked at me. “Say I believe you no longer harbor lustful thoughts towards your boss.”
“I don’t.” I smiled sweetly.
“That’s going to make pretending you’re in love with the guy harder.” She offered, a concerned tone was present in her voice. Maybe she was right. Maybe his parents would see right through us. I shook the thoughts away.
“They’ll be busy with the wedding, I’m sure once the initial novelty has worn off, their eyes won’t be on us.” I said softly.
“Even still, you and Brennan need to come up with a story. One that is closer to the truth than not, because you are a terrible liar.”
I nodded and sipped on my wine. She was right and we both knew it.
Belle left close to midnight. I packed my suitcase for the trip, showered and climbed into bed. When my alarm sounded the next morning I barely felt ready for the day let alone the weekend and the fact that I wouldn’t be back home until Monday, when my apartment would be all packed up.
Life was moving too fast, I barely had time to breathe. I climbed out of bed, and forced myself into the shower. I dressed in my normal work attire, a pencil skirt and white blouse and then stood in front of the mirror.
I looked like a PA, which was fine considering I was one, but Belle’s words had been playing on my mind. My ability to lie effectively was limited, showing up looking like a PA wasn’t going to help the situation any. Yes, Brennan’s family would be aware I was his PA, but I didn’t need to show up looking like I did at work. I walked to my closet and Pulled out a sundress I’d bought the previous summer but hadn’t worn because I had no life. It was floral and flowy. I was generally a jeans and t-shirt girl, but I’d bought the dress with the intention of going out more over the summer. Of course I’d never followed through. I slung it over my arm and grabbed my suitcase before heading down to wait for Brennan on the street. I stepped into the elevator and rode it down to the ground floor, when the doors opened, Brennan stood in front of me. His eyes widened.
“I thought I should come up and help you with your luggage.”
“Oh, there is no need for chivalry Brennan.” I laughed. “We’re only pretending to be engaged.”
Brennan chuckled, and took the suitcase anyway. “Humor me.”
I shrugged and walked out of the elevator and behind Brennan out of the building.
“What’s with the dress?” He asked as we got to his car.
“I thought I might change before we leave work. I don’t think I should arrive looking like I do every day at work.”
“Oh, yeah. I guess.” He murmured. “It looks nice.”
Brennan put my case in the trunk of his car and then took the dress and hung it in the back. I sat down on the passenger side and pulled my seatbelt across. We were almost at work when Brennan spoke.
“My parents are looking forward to meeting you.” Brennan noted, placing his swipe card on the parking garage entrance. The yellow and red metal bar raised and Brennan put his foot down on the accelerator. The car purred in time with my suddenly racing heart.
“I’m a little nervous if I’m being honest.” I responded.
“There is no need to be, just be yourself. They will love you.” Brennan replied, I looked at him, and I knew I had the most confused expression on my face. Brennan didn’t say things like that to anyone, ever. He looked at me and shrugged.
“I’m just trying to help.” he grinned. “You’ll be fine Grace.”
I nodded and pulled my hand bag up from the floor, on to my lap.
“Do we have a story yet?” I asked.
“A story?” Brennan sounded confused as he pulled into his carpark.
“Your parents know I’m your PA B, they are going to wonder when the dynamic changed.”
Brennan chuckled and turned off the car. “They’ll just be happy when they think I’ve settled down they’ll hardly care about a story.”
I sighed and opened the car door. Brennan got out too and walked around to my side of the car. He took the dress out and handed it to me.
“If you think we should have one, then let me know what it is.”
I nodded and walked to the elevator.
Once we were in the office I hung the dress in the coat cupboard and then sat at my desk. I opened a chat box with Brennan and began to type.
Grace: We can just say we started seeing each other at the Christmas Luncheon. It was long enough ago to make sense. You were there with someone else, but we were together all night. It’s not so far from the truth... aside from the epic romance we’re purporting.
Brennan saw the message right away. He began to type back but stopped. I closed the chat box and began to work on some files. A few minutes later the chat box flashed. I clicked on it and read Brennan’s response.
Brennan: Works for me. Thanks for giving up your weekend. I know ultimately it’s because you get to leave sooner, but I appreciate it all the same.
I frowned. He was right, I’d said yes because it meant he would waive the required notice period, however I wasn’t entirely sure I’d have said no under other circumstances if Brennan had explained his family situation.
Grace: It’s okay, I don’t have a life
I deleted the sentence and sighed.
Grace: That’s not the only reason I agreed.
And again I deleted my words.
Grace: You kidding? Free alcohol and food and a party? I’m having more of a weekend than I’ve had in ages.
I heard Brennan chuckle from his office. I smiled and leaned back in my chair. I wasn’t sure what Brennan’s parents were like. Sure I’d spoken to them on the phone a few times, but usually those calls ended pretty quickly when I reiterated that Brennan was ‘in a meeting’ whenever they called. I knew that they owned a winery, While Wolf wine bottles were strictly out of my price range I was more than aware, like anyone with the ability to google knew who they were.
The day ticked by painfully slowly. I wasn’t sure if it was because I was nervous or excited, but I told myself it was nerves and tried to focus on work. Brennan left the office at lunch time and returned with a bag of shopping. He stopped before he got to his door and held the bags up.
“I figured I should get changed too. I don’t want to wear a suit when I get to my parents house.” He smiled.
I smiled back. “Good idea.”
Brennan nodded and walked into his office. At 4pm I left and showered in the ladies bathroom. I changed into the dress, styled my hair down and applied more makeup than I normally would. I stared at myself in the mirror and gulped. Brennan hadn’t seen me like this, I’d reserved this kind of get up for formal events. I sighed and hung my work clothes over the clothes hanger and walked out of the bathroom and back down to the office. Brennan wasn’t in his office when I returned so I walked to the closet behind my desk and slipped my work clothes inside. I sucked in a breath and looked closed my eyes. I could do this. Pretending to be in a relationship wouldn’t be that impossible. Sure, I didn’t have a whole lot of experience in them to know how to behave, but I had my vast rom com knowledge to fall back on.
I turned around and the office door opened at the same time. Brennan walked in, wearing black jeans, boots and a navy blue button up shirt. I swallowed hard, I didn’t know what to say or think. My eyes were having trouble adjusting to almost casual Brennan. It occurred to me I’d only seen him in suits where the only thing that ever changed was his tie in varying shades of green. We both stood in the room silent for an almost uncomfortable amount of time. I forced myself to draw my eyes up to meet Brennan’s. The eye contact broke the moment, I let out the breath I felt like I’d been holding for far too long.
“You look different.” I whispered
Brennan frowned and pulled at his shirt. “Oh? Should I change back...”
I felt my eyebrows raise, it wasn’t like Brennan to be self conscious, he’d always been the most self assured person I knew. I shook my head.
“Relax, good different. I’m not used to seeing you out of suits B.”
Brennan smiled and pointed at me. “You can talk G. You look gorgeous.”
I forced myself to ignore the slight twinge at the bottom of my stomach. I smiled and shrugged. “I tried.”
“Before I forget.” Brennan murmured walking toward me. He lifted his suit jacket pocket up and pulled out a ring box. The twinge tightened. I wanted to slap myself for being stupid, this was all fake. Probably including the ring.
In three days we’d be on the way home and this would be all a memory.