S. S. Sahoo
Emily frowned as she watched me dig into a tub of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream in my pajamas, my hair tied up in a messy bun.
“Are you okay?” she asked.
“Super,” I said through a mouthful of chocolate.
She sighed, grabbing her own tub of ice cream from the freezer. She sat next to me, stuffing a spoonful of vanilla into her mouth.
“Spill,” she demanded.
“I’m just really stressed out,” I admitted. “My dad’s in the hospital, and we’re going to have trouble paying the bills. I just had my interview with Curixon, and I’m afraid that I messed it up, and…” My voice faltered.
And a certain billionaire made a ridiculous request the other night.
But I didn’t want to tell Emily.
How could I?
“You didn’t mess it up,” Em assured me. “You killed it, right? You told me yourself.”
“I thought I did,” I said. “Now I’m not so sure.”
It was true; I’d really hit it off with the interviewer. Curixon was a great company, and I was hoping I could finally put my engineering degree from Harvard to good use. I’d spent the last few months working part-time at Em’s flower shop.
She even let me live with her in her apartment.
I’d be totally screwed if it wasn’t for her.
“You’re a lifesaver, Em,” I began. “If it weren’t for you letting me stay here—”
“Kill the dramatics,” she said before I could thank her again. “You know you’re allowed to stay as long as you want. I just don’t want to see you waste your life sweeping the floor of my flower shop when you could be working somewhere like Curixon. Even if you do have random adoring fans coming into the shop. You’re too smart for that, Angie.”
My heart skipped a beat.
Em didn’t recognize Brad, then. Thank God.
“Anyway, I’m off.” Em got up, throwing her spoon into the sink and the empty tub of ice cream in the trash. “Don’t mope around too much.” She slipped on her shoes, and before I knew it, she was gone.
I was alone.
My mind drifted back to the other night. Honestly, I thought it was all some kind of crazy dream. But when I scrolled through the contacts of my phone, his name was still there.
I crawled out of the living room and into my bed, curling up into a ball. I closed my eyes and let my mind drift back to that night…
“What?!” I scrambled away from Brad, putting some space between us. “Is this some sort of joke?”
He watched me, shaking his head to himself.
“I’m so sorry,” he said. “I got ahead of myself. Please let me explain.”
I looked behind me. The doors to the hospital weren’t very far away. I could make a run for it if I had to.
Besides, there was something about him that made me want to trust him. He just seemed so genuine and kind. Maybe it was because of his age?
I nodded cautiously, gesturing for him to continue.
“After you were so good to me this afternoon, I knew I had to pay your act of kindness forward. I visited Em’s Flowers. That was where the bouquet you were holding was from.”
“I saw it on the paper. And I spoke to Em, a lovely girl. And asked after you, Ms. Angela Carson. She said she knew you well. That you were in a small hospital in New Jersey because your father had just become ill.”
I nodded, still in disbelief at this whole conversation.
“And please, forgive the question, but your family doesn’t have the funding necessary to make his care…his treatment, his hospital stay, as comfortable as possible, do you?”
I shook my head.
“That’s where I can help you, Angela. We can help each other.” He smiled, his eyes disappearing in a crinkle of crow’s feet.
“So, you want me to marry your son,” I repeated his words from earlier. They felt alien coming out of my mouth.
I thought about what I knew about Brad’s son.
I knew of him, of course. How could I not? He was a celebrity. Filthy rich and drop dead gorgeous.
Any girl would pounce at the chance to be his wife.
But he seemed to have a rebellious streak. I’d seen the headlines and articles about him, on and off for the past few months.
He was wild.
A shiver ran down my spine, but I couldn’t tell if it was from fear or excitement.
“But why me?” I asked. “I’m sure you could find a million girls that are more beautiful and more successful than I am. A better fit for your son.”
“You’re a pure soul, my dear. You may not know it, but you’re rare. I want the best for my son, as any father would. I think you can help him. I trust my instinct, and my instinct now says this will work.”
A pure soul? What does that even mean?
“But marriage isn’t just a piece of paper,” I argued. “You can’t just sign a contract and fall in love.”
“That may be true, but love is patient.”
“How do you know I won’t marry your son and then divorce him the next day?” I was playing devil’s advocate, but I needed answers to this confusing hypothetical.
Instead of getting his back up, he stepped closer to me and took my hand. His touch was warm and strangely comforting. “I don’t believe you’d do that, Angela. Like I said, your soul is pure. But if you need some sort of insurance plan, look behind you.”
I turned and saw the hospital, lit up by the street lamps outside. “Medical bills are no joke. Treatments, rehab, around-the-clock care. It all costs money, darling. If you hold up your end of the deal, I promise you, on my life, that I’ll hold up my end, too.”
My mind was racing. There had to be a different way.
“I have a second interview for this job tomorrow. I might be able to—”
“Angela,” he said, stopping me. “Do you know how much an overnight stay in the hospital costs? Seven-hundred dollars each night. A routine blood test is two-hundred-fifty dollars. If they, God forbid, have to use the defibrillator, that’s another fifteen-hundred dollars.”
I closed my eyes.
“Please. Please, stop. Just give me a minute to think.” I tried to organize my scrambled thoughts.
Years of debt.
A new job.
Curixon paid well. If I got the position, I could slowly pay things back.
Emily would let me live with her for a while longer if it meant saving my dad’s life.
How could I marry a man I didn’t love, much less even met?
“Why are you even helping me?” I asked.
“When you came to me this afternoon,” he began, “you answered a prayer I’d sent up to the sky. You gave me strength when I needed it. So, now I’m here to answer your prayers. I’m here to give you strength, and this is how I can do it.”
I thought about it, my breath coming in shallow gasps.
Was I seriously considering this?
“Angela?” Brad asked softly.
“Can I at least have some time to think about it?” I asked. “This is a lot to take in.”
“Of course,” he said.
Brad handed me a business card, made of a thin, lightweight metal.
I guess paper is too plebian for a billionaire, I thought somewhat deliriously.
“Give me a call when you decide.” He smiled at me before turning away. “I truly believe that this will work, Angela. I truly, truly do.”
My phone rang, shaking me out of my daydream. I rolled over on my bed, checking the caller ID.
I bolted upright in bed, my heart hammering in my chest.
Okay, okay, okay, okay.
I took a deep breath.
“Hello?” I said, willing my voice not to shake.
“Hi, is this Angela Carson?” a female voice said on the other end of the line.
“Hi, Angela. I’m just calling to inform you that unfortunately we’ve decided to move on with other applicants for this job.”
“Oh.” My heart sank.
“We’ll be sure to keep your application on file should another position become available.”
“Uh, okay. Thanks.”
What else could I say?
After another few seconds of painful exchanges, I collapsed into my pillow, face first.
So much for killing the interview.
I felt tears of frustration spring to my eyes, and I let them soak into my pillow. There was so much more on the line then just paying the bills and having some spending cash.
My dad’s life was at stake.
I took out my phone, scrolling through my contacts.
I stared at Brad Knight’s number, my thumb hovering over the call button.
It’s not like I have much of a choice.
I hit the dial button, sealing my fate.
“Hello?” Brad picked up.
“Hi Mr. Knight, it’s Angela.”
“Angela!” he greeted me warmly. “It’s so nice to hear from you. So can I assume that…?” He left the question hanging.
I took a deep breath. I felt like I would be crushed underneath the weight of the words forming in my mouth.
“Yes,” I said. “I’ll do it.”
I felt something inside of my heart curl up and die.
“I’ll marry your son.”