Fisher sucked back a pull of his beer. “You’re just paranoid. The guy has no idea. I watched his face when you said Evelyn’s last name, and the only thing he noticed was how beautiful you are.”
I shook my head. “No, he made a weird face. I saw it.”
“How long were you talking to the guy?”
“I don’t know. Maybe fifteen minutes? I met him at the bar and then he asked me to dance.”
“Did he seem like the type of guy who would be shy about asking a question if he had a concern?”
I thought about it. He actually didn’t. Hudson came off more bold than bashful. “No, but…”
Fisher rested one of his hands on each of my shoulders. “Take a deep breath.”
“Fisher, we should go.”
The emcee came on again and asked everyone to please take their seats, as dinner was about to be served.
Fisher pulled out my chair. “Let’s at least eat. If you still want to ditch after we’re done, we can. But I’m telling you, you’re just being paranoid. The guy hasn’t got a clue.”
My gut told me to leave now, but when I scanned the room, I noticed we were the last of a few stragglers standing, and people were looking at us.
I sighed. “Fine. Dinner and then we’re out of here.”
I spoke softly, aware of the other guests seated at our table that we’d been rudely ignoring. “Where have you been, by the way?”
“Talking to Noah.”
“A cute waiter. He’s going to be an actor.”
I rolled my eyes. “Sure he is. We were supposed to stick together, you know.”
“It didn’t look like you were too lonely. Who was that Adonis, anyway? You know I don’t like it when you have men in your life better-looking than me.”
I sighed. “He was gorgeous, wasn’t he?”
Fisher drank his beer. “I’d do him.”
We both laughed. “Are you sure you don’t think he noticed anything? You’re not just saying that because you want to stay, are you?”
“No, we’re absolutely fine.”
Somehow, I relaxed a little over dinner. Although that might’ve had more to do with the waiter who kept refreshing my drink without being asked than deciding Fisher was right. It wasn’t that I no longer thought Hudson knew we were imposters, but rather that the buzz from my gin martinis left me unable to care if he did.
After they cleared our plates, Fisher asked me to dance, and I figured why not? A girl could have a worse evening than one spent dancing with two handsome men. So we hit the dance floor for a catchy pop song, and when the music slowed, Fisher took me in his arms.
Halfway through, we were laughing in our own little bubble when a man tapped my partner on the shoulder.
“Mind if I cut in?”
My heart started to pound in my chest. I wasn’t sure if it was the prospect of being back in the gorgeous man’s arms, or the prospect of being found out.
Fisher smiled and stepped back. “Take good care of my girl.”
“Oh, I intend to.”
Something about the way he said it made me feel uneasy. Though Hudson took me in his arms and started to move us to the music, just as he’d done earlier.
“Having fun?” he asked.
“Ummm… Yes. This is a very nice place for a wedding. I’ve never been here before.”
“Who did you say you were a guest of? The bride or the groom?”
I didn’t say. “The bride.”
“And you know each other how?”
Shit. I looked up, and Hudson’s mouth curved into what resembled a smile, but it definitely wasn’t a funny-~ha-ha~ type of smile. It was more cynical than jovial.
“I, uh, we used to work together.”
“Oh? Was it at Rothschild Investments?”
I wanted to run for it. Maybe Hudson sensed I might do just that, because unless I was imagining it, his grip on me tightened. I swallowed. “Yes. I worked for Rothschild Investments.”
The only thing I knew about Evelyn’s short-lived job there was that she had worked as a receptionist and couldn’t stand her boss. She used to refer to him as GQ Prick.
“In what capacity might that be?”
This was starting to feel like an interrogation. “As a receptionist.”
“A receptionist? But I thought you were a perfumist?”
Shit. Right. I hadn’t been thinking earlier when I’d been honest about my profession. “I, uhh, I’m starting my own business, and things got delayed, so I needed an income.”
“And what type of business is it you’re starting?”
At least this part wasn’t a lie. “It’s called Signature Scent. It’s a mail-order, custom perfume line.”
“How does that work?”
“We send twenty small scent samples for the person to rate from one to ten, along with a detailed questionnaire. Based on the types of smells they like and their answers to our survey, we create a scent just for them. I created an algorithm that builds the formula based on the input we collect.”
Hudson scanned my face. It looked like he was trying to figure out some sort of puzzle. When he spoke again, his tone was softer. “That’s actually a good idea.”
Maybe it was the alcohol fueling my nerve, but I was suddenly offended that he seemed surprised. “Did you think because I’m blond I wouldn’t have any?”
Hudson flashed what I suspected might’ve been a real smile, but it quickly faded back to his stoic face. He stared down at me for a long time as I held my breath, waiting for him to call me out as a fraud.
Finally, he said, “Will you come with me for a moment?”
“I have to make a speech, and I was hoping you could stand nearby. Your beautiful face will give me just the encouragement I need.”
Hudson smiled, but again, something about it felt off. What he’d asked seemed harmless enough, though, so as he took my hand and led me to the front of the room, I tried to convince myself that all the weirdness was in my head, stemming from my guilty conscience.
He spoke to the emcee, and then we walked to the side of the dance floor to wait. We stood next to each other as the song ended and the emcee asked guests to take their seats again.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to introduce a very important person to the newlyweds. He’s the brother of our beautiful bride and a good friend to our dashing groom. Let’s give a great big round of applause to our groomsman, Hudson!”
Oh fuck. He’s the bride’s brother!
Hudson leaned down to me. “Stay right here where I can see your gorgeous face, Evelyn.”
I nodded and smiled, though I felt like throwing up.
Over the next ten minutes, Hudson gave an eloquent speech. He talked about what a pain in the ass his little sister had been, and how proud he was of the woman she’d become. When he explained that their father and mother had both passed away, I got a little choked up. His admiration for his sister was evident, and his speech was an equal mix of serious and funny. As he spoke, I let out a heavy sigh of relief that he hadn’t had anything unusual up his sleeve. It was a shame that I’d met him under the current conditions, and that I’d introduced myself with a fake name, because Hudson seemed like a great catch.
At the end of his speech, he held up his glass. “To Mason and Olivia. May you have love, health, and wealth, but most importantly, may you have a long life together to enjoy it all.”
A murmur of salud went around the room before everyone drank, and I thought that was the end of the speech. But it wasn’t. Instead of handing the emcee back the microphone, Hudson turned and looked directly at me. The wicked smile that slid across his face gave me the chills, and not in a good way.
“Up next,” he said, “I have a special treat for you all. My sister’s dear friend Evelyn would like to say a few words.”
My eyes widened.
He continued. “She has such a great story about how the two of them met. It’s really entertaining, and she can’t wait to share it with you this evening.”
Hudson walked toward me with the microphone in his hand. His eyes sparkled with amusement, but I worried his shiny shoes were about to be decorated with vomit.
I waved him off and shook my head, but that only egged him on.
He spoke into the microphone as he took my hand. “Evelyn seems to be having a case of the jitters. She’s a bit on the shy side.” He tugged me, and I took two unwilling steps toward the middle of the room before digging my heels in and refusing to move any farther.
Hudson laughed and raised the microphone once again. “It looks like she needs a little encouragement. What do you say, ladies and gentlemen? Can we have a round of applause to help Evelyn come up and say a few words?”
The crowd started to clap. I wanted the floor to open up and my rigid body to fall into a bottomless pit. But it was becoming clearer by the second that the only way out of this was trudging straight through. All eyes were on me, and there was no getting out unscathed. I debated making a run for it, but decided it was better to have only a few people chasing me than the entire place.
So I took a deep breath, walked over to the closest table of guests, and asked a random old man if his drink contained alcohol. When he said it was vodka on the rocks, I helped myself, downing the entire contents. Then I smoothed my dress, pulled my shoulders back, lifted my chin, and marched over to Hudson, grabbing the microphone with my shaky hand.
He smirked and leaned down to whisper in my ear, “Good luck, Evelyn.”
The room quieted, and I could feel beads of sweat forming on my forehead and upper lip. A lump the size of a golf ball was stuck in the middle of my throat, and my fingers and toes tingled. All eyes were on me, and I wracked my brain to come up with a story—any story. Eventually I thought of one, though I’d have to improvise a little. But that was par for this evening, anyway, wasn’t it?
I cleared my throat. “Hi…”
I’d been holding the microphone with my right hand. Noticing it shaking, I raised my left and clamped it over the other to help keep it steady. Then I took a deep breath. “Hi. I’m Evelyn. Olivia and I met in kindergarten.”
I made the mistake of looking over at the table where the newlyweds were sitting. The bride’s face was wrinkled in confusion, and she stared at me while whispering to her husband.
I better make this quick… “As Hudson mentioned, I wanted to share how Livi and I met. I’d just moved to the City in the middle of the school year and didn’t have many friends. I was really shy back then. My pale skin would turn bright red whenever too much attention was focused on me, so I avoided speaking in class at all costs. One day, I drank an entire bottle of water during recess outside. I really needed to use the ladies’ room when we got back inside, but Mr. Neu, our teacher, had already started a lesson, and I didn’t want to interrupt him. He was, like, seven-feet tall and scary to begin with, and the thought of raising my hand and having all the kids turn and stare at me when he called my name completely freaked me out. So I held it during his entire lesson, and boy, could that man talk.”
I looked over at the bride. “Remember how Mr. Neu would just drone on and tell all those really bad corny jokes? And then he’d be the only one to laugh at them?”
The bride looked at me like I was absolutely crazy. I was pretty sure she was right.
For the next five minutes, I blabbered on and on—standing in front of a room full of people telling them how I ran to the bathroom when the teacher finally stopped talking. But all of the stalls were taken, and I just couldn’t hold it anymore. I detailed how I’d come back to the classroom with wet pants and tried to hide it, but one boy had spotted it and yelled “Look! The new girl peed her pants.” I’d been absolutely mortified, with tears brimming in my eyes, until my friend came to my rescue. In an act of courage that would become an unbreakable bond for the two of us, Olivia peed her own pants and then stood up and told everyone the grass was wet outside at recess, and we’d been sitting together.
I closed my story by telling a room full of smiling faces how my utmost wish for the happy couple was that they’d have the same love and laughter I’d shared with the bride for many years. Raising one hand, I held up an imaginary glass. “A toast to the bride and groom.”
People started to applaud, and I knew I needed to use the time to get the hell out of there. Hudson was still standing off to the side, and if I wasn’t mistaken, I thought he might be a little proud of me for not crumbling. His eyes gleamed, and he watched me intently as I walked over and pressed the microphone to his chest.
He covered the top of the mic and smiled. “Entertaining.”
I showed him my pearly whites through an exaggerated smile and crooked my finger for him to lean in closer.
When he did, I whispered in his ear, “You’re an asshole.”
Hudson let out a deep laugh as I stormed away, never looking back to see if he was following. Luckily, Fisher was already walking toward me, so I didn’t have to search for him before we hightailed it out of here.
His eyes were as wide as Frisbees. “Are you wasted? What the hell just happened up there?”
I grabbed his arm and kept walking. “We need to get the hell out of here quick. Do you have my purse?”
Shit. I debated just leaving it, but my license and credit card were inside. So I veered left and made a beeline for our table. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Hudson and the groom talking to the maître d’ and pointing in our direction.
“Shit! We need to hurry.” I rushed the rest of the way to our table, grabbed my purse, and turned back around. After two steps I pivoted.
“What are you doing?” Fisher said.
I plucked an unopened bottle of Dom Pérignon from our table. “I’m taking this with me.”
Fisher shook his head and laughed as we headed for the door. Along the way, we swiped bottles of champagne from every table we passed. Confused guests had no idea what to make of the scene, but we were moving too quickly for them to comment. By the time we got to the exit, our arms were full, and we had at least a grand worth of bubbly.
Out front, we got lucky that a few yellow cabs were stopped, waiting at the light. Jumping into the first empty one, Fisher slammed the door shut, and we both got up on our knees to look out the back window. The maître d’ and the two security guys who had been checking IDs earlier were halfway down the marble staircase. Hudson stood at the top, casually leaning against a marble pillar and drinking a glass of champagne as he watched the insanity of our departure. Blood rushed through my ears as I looked back and forth between the traffic light and the men closing in on us. Just as they reached the curb and stepped off, the red switched to green.
“Go! Go!” I yelled to the cabbie.
He hit the gas, and Fisher and I stayed on our knees, watching out the back window as the men grew more distant. Once we made the right at the corner, I turned around and slumped into the seat. I couldn’t seem to catch my breath.
“What the hell happened, Stella? One minute I saw you dancing with a gorgeous man who looked completely into you, and the next you were telling some crazy story to a room full of people. Are you drunk?”
“Even if I had been, I’d be scared sober right now.”
“What came over you?”
“It’s not what came over me, it’s who.”
“I’m not following.”
“You know the gorgeous man I was talking to?”
“Well, turns out he knew all—” A sense of panic washed over me as I realized I wasn’t sure where my cell phone was. Frenzied, I opened my purse and started to pull things out. Clearly, it wasn’t inside, but it just had to be. Refusing to accept what I’d done, I turned the purse over and emptied the contents onto my lap.
No freaking phone!
“What are you looking for?” Fisher said.
“Please tell me you have my cell.”
He shook his head. “Why would I have it?”
“Because if you don’t, that means I left it on the table at the wedding…”
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