Chapter Six - The Show Must Go On
“I’m a jerk too Grace. Admittedly so however. That is where this guy and I differ.”
“I’m sorry Brennan, I shouldn’t have said that.”
“It’s true though Grace. Don’t worry, I’m not insulted.”
I took a bite of the pizza and although my brain was not hungry my stomach thanked me for the intake of food.
“So there has only been him?”
“Relationship wise, yeah.”
I’d only ever been with ex point blank period, but Brennan didn’t need to know that. I guess it was embarrassing to admit how little experience I had with relationships, but Brennan needed to know before we arrived at his parents and I made it completely obvious this was all a sham.
“Though about 18 months ago my friend Belle made me install tinder and started swiping on boys. I went on a date with a match who proceeded to talk about our wedding and what we would name our children about 15 minutes into our first date. I physically ran from the bar.”
Brennan laughed, out loud, which made me feel something deep in the pit of my stomach. It wasn’t a sound I was used to hearing from him, and I liked it.
“Some girls would like that level of commitment right off the bat.”
“Not me.” I responded. “I’ve watched too many rom coms to settle. True love for me or nothing.”
Brennan’s eyebrows raised so high they almost disappeared into his hairline, a playful smile crossed his lips.
“So you’re not entirely unarmed of knowledge then?” he offered.
“Are you kidding? Romantic comedies are generally unrealistic fan service circle jerks. I watch them because they give me a wholly hard to believe cliché ridden cheese fest so I can feel simultaneously like a failure and warm on the inside. If I showed up to your parents acting like one of the characters from a rom com, they’d wonder what if I was on something.”
Brennan laughed again, he raised his hand and the waitress came back to the table. “Two more beers please.”
The waitress nodded and walked away.
“We can cancel this now. I can say you got sick. I can go alone.” Brennan offered, placing his hand back on mine. My eyes gravitated to the touch. I couldn’t hear him or anything going on anymore. He was touching me and this time it wasn’t to make sure we could actually touch without it being awkward. I shook my head and looked back at Brennan.
“I’m not backing out.”
Brennan smiled and removed his hand from mine. We ate together in silence. Once we’d finished our second beers and the rest of the pizza Brennan paid the bill. Our flight was being called as we reached the gate so we boarded the plane.
It was only 7pm as the plane began to taxi down the runway, but I was feeling exhausted. I closed my eyes and resolved to sleep the 5 hours the flight would take. I must have fallen quickly and deeply because my eyes didn’t open again until Brennan shook me awake. I was confused at first, my head wasn’t against the back of the chair anymore. I felt leather on my face, only it wasn’t cool it was warm, like I’d been there a while. I sat bolt upright and looked at Brennan, I’d been asleep on him for god knows how long, probably drooling all over his leather jacket.
“Oh shit, sorry.” I gulped, I wiped my mouth and sighed with relief when it was dry, no drool.
“It’s fine.” Brennan replied. “Honestly.”
Except it wasn’t fine. Damn Belle mentioning the crush I’d had once upon a time. I hadn’t looked at Brennan with those eyes in forever and now I couldn’t stop overthinking everything.
I looked out the plane window, it was slowing to a stop.
“What’s the time?” I asked, now feeling a little too refreshed for what I assumed was the middle of the night New York time.
“New York or California?”
“California.” I replied.
“Just after 9pm.” He replied softly. “Don’t worry, I’m almost certain you’ll be exhausted again after we meet my parents.”
I chuckled and unclipped my belt. The plane emptied and Brennan grabbed our cases from the conveyor belt. On the way out of the airport we stopped by a rental car place and Brennan picked up keys for a car. Five minutes later we were sitting inside a black Audi A8 driving out into the countryside. It was dark outside, and I could already see a few sparkling stars in the sky.
Just after 10.30 Brennan slowed and turned into a driveway. On my side of the car there was a large black white and silver sign that was lit up and said “Wolf Winery and estate.”
My stomach turned in knots. This was it, in a few minutes I’d either be pulling off the biggest lie I’d ever told or we’d be caught. Then I saw the house.
The place was a mansion. I’d never seen anything like it ever. The place was big enough to be a college campus, albeit a far more luxurious one. All of the lights were on and it drowned the place in light so much it almost seemed like day time.
“Holy shit.” I muttered under my breath.
“You okay?” Brennan asked.
“You didn’t mention the castle B.” I choked out.
Brennan laughed. “My parents own the most well known wine company in the US. They’d say the world… You better believe they like to make sure that it’s obvious.”
“It’s intimidating.” I replied.
“Tell me about it.” Brennan agreed, although I knew his words had a different meaning than mine.
As we drew closer to the entrance I noticed a group of people waiting outside already. I chewed on my lip and readjusted the seatbelt. My heart started to thud and my stomach churned tighter.
“How’d they know we would be here now?” I squeaked.
“I text my sister from the airport. They know how long the drive is. Relax G, I’ll make sure they don’t eat you alive.”
I almost scoffed. Brennan, although he avoided his family, knew them better than I did but he seemed to forget that him bringing home a supposed fiancée was new to them. They were going to have questions.
Brennan stopped the car and turned the ignition off.
“Let me open your door.” He murmured.
I nodded, and held back a quip about not needing to be a gentleman to impress me. I unclipped my seatbelt and sucked in the deepest breath I could. The passenger door opened and Brennan held out his hand for me. I slipped my hand in his and it felt seamless, like we’d done this a million times even though it was the first.
He closed my door, and we walked hand in hand to the people standing on the deck of the ridiculous sized ‘house’. A middle aged woman with dark hair and eyes like Brennan’s was the first to break from the group.
A huge smile crossed her face as she moved down the steps and ran toward us.
“Brennie!” She cooed. She had kind eyes, and as she looked at Brennan they shone with only love. Her arms wrapped around Brennan’s neck and the force pulled his hand from mine. He hugged her and then broke the contact.
“Mom, It’s nice to see you too.” He chuckled and took a step back. “I’d like you to meet my better half, Grace. Grace, this is my mother, Jacqueline.”
Brennan’s Mom’s eyes moved to me, wide and lined with tears. She looked me up and down before grabbing my hands and pulling me into a hug similar to the one Brennan had just received.
“Oh Grace.” She exclaimed. “You are beautiful. Thank you for coming with Brennan and please, call me Jaq”
“It’s my pleasure.” I replied.
Brennan and I had barely made it to the steps before being ambushed by Brennan’s brother Blake and his wife Jade and his sister Kate and her fiancée Alec. They were all sweet and I was beginning to wonder why Brennan avoided them so much. We walked up the steps and the last person Brennan introduced me to was his father.
He sat on a white wooden rocking chair swirling a glass of red wine. Brennan didn’t look much like his dad like his siblings did. He had pale skin, alabaster but sprinkled with wrinkles and grey hair. His blue eyes studied Brennan critically. His mouth drew into a thin line and he placed the glass down on the table next to him before pushing himself to his feet. Brennan and his father were however the same height. His siblings were both much shorter, more like their mother.
“Brennan.” His father said, his voice low and gruff. “It’s been too long.”
“Yes.” Brennan responded, sounding a mere shadow of the man I knew in the office. “It has. Dad, I’d like you to meet my fiance Grace.”
Brennan’s Dad looked at me with the blue eyes that had studied and judged his own son only moments beforehand, and I half expected the same look, only they softened instantly and he smiled. He stepped forward and pulled me into a hug.
“The name is Sam.” He said stepping back. “It’s nice to meet the woman who finally showed Brennan that there is some joy to be had in life.”
Brennan barely concealed a sigh, he was already growing weary. I took his hand in mine, our fingers entwined and I felt him relax a little.
“Blake and Alec, help Brennan with the bags, the girls and I are going to take Grace down to the cellar for wine and girl talk.” Jacqueline exclaimed, pulling me away from Brennan.
I looked at him, and he raised an eyebrow as if to make sure I was alright. I just smiled and let myself go with his Mom, sister and sister in law. Truth be told I felt more comfortable with them than I’d expected.
Kate and Jade looped my arms through theirs and we followed behind Jaq who was talking about how nice it was to have all of her children in love finally. Kate leaned in and laughed.
“Thank you for coming, even my wedding hasn’t had her smiling this much.”
“Oh I’m sure that’s not the case.”
Jaq stopped and turned she looked at me with the most serious look on her face and said with a completely deadpan expression.
“It’s 100% the case. Seeing my eldest happy in love when he’d sworn of it.”
I felt a frown forming on my face, but quickly shrugged it away. Why had Brennan sworn off love? I was about to ask when Jaq opened large double wooden doors and ushered the three of us into the room.
I walked in and twirled to take everything in. Belle would have felt like she’d died and gone to heaven. There was so much wine that the walls looked like they were made with wine bottles. The lighting dim, and elegant and in the middle of the room was a table, adorned with a cheese platter and a vase filled with my favorite flowers, peonies.
“Take a seat.” Jaq murmured. “Kate get the Wolf 2000 Chardonnay please.”
“Of course Mom.”
Kate disappeared for a second and returned with two bottles of wine. They bore the wolf wines logo, similar to the sign at the end of the driveway of the estate. The bottles were unique in that they had a glass wolf that stuck out and glistened in the light.
Jaq walked around the table and filled the glasses one by one. She stopped when she got to me and picked up my hand, the one with the ring on it.
“Oh he did give you his grandmothers ring.” She exclaimed, sheer happiness exuding from her lips. I felt guilt rise up in my throat, or was it nausea. I already hated that I was lying to Brennan’s family. They were kind and loving.
“He did.” I replied.
“Of course he did Mom. He loves her. Did you see the way he was looking at her before.” Kate smiled and reached across the table, she grabbed Jade’s hand with hers. “Right Jade? We both mentioned it. Tell us your story?”
I swallowed hard and as soon as Jaq had finished filling my glass I picked it up and took a sip. I almost sighed audibly. The wine was exquisite, Belle and I had been missing out, drinking out budget wine all the time. I smiled and placed the wine down.
I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. I could do this. If nothing else I could fall back on my rom com knowledge, as long as I left the nutty stuff out.
“Well as you know I’ve been his personal assistant for the last three years. Making his appointments, collating his notes, taking his phone calls.” I paused. “Screening his phone calls, which I must say I’m sorry about. I hated doing it, but I…”
Jaq held her hand up and shook her head. “While I might not agree with my son’s reasons for avoiding us Grace, I don’t place any of that on you. If anything you’ve only shown me how loyal to him you truly are.”
Guilt surged again. I was leaving Brennan. I was leaving work. None of this was real and it felt horrible lying to them. I shifted in my seat, and picked up the wine again. I resisted the urge to drain the glass, both out of nerves and because it just tasted that good. I was in the company of wine connoisseurs who knew how to truly appreciate the stuff. I took another small sip and placed it down.
“Anyway, about 6 months ago we were at the Christmas Luncheon for work. B… Sorry Brennan had bought a date, but we spent the entire afternoon talking to each other. Things kind of changed after that day. We got close, fell in love.” I paused and smiled, remembering the first day I’d met Brennan. I hadn’t met a guy who made me feel tongue tied before, and I wasn’t sure how I’d still managed to get the job after I’d fucked the interview up so much. I’d gone home, kicking myself only to get a call that night from Brennan, offering me the job.
I’d dreamed about Brennan that night. But my rom com history came to bite me on the ass, because I had dreamed that I walked into the office, and he told me that he hired me because I was the best candidate and he couldn’t live without me. I woke up from that dream annoyed and intrigued. It wasn’t out of the realm of possibility right? On my first day of work I had to screen a call from a girl. Little did I know then, it was a trend that would continue.
See, Belle wasn’t entirely wrong. I’d had a crush on Brennan, and it had stuck around longer than I’d ever like to admit, long after that first girl or the second or even the third.
“I guess there had always been something there, a spark or an attraction. Once we gave in, it burst into full flame.”
I spoke in analogies, in part to make it easier to tell a story that wasn’t entirely true, I was surprised how easy it was though.
“Aww.” all three of them cooed.
“You have to come back here for your wedding.” Kate exclaimed looking at Jaq. “Right Mom?”
I smiled and nodded. “Of course.” I agreed to have our non-existent wedding at the estate, and idly wondered if Brennan would go so far as to have a fake wedding to impress his parents. I chuckled to myself and picked up my wine glass, downing a bigger mouthful this time.
“I’d love to meet your parents.” Jaq exclaimed. “What do they do?”