XI. My Fair Lady
Song: Could Be Anything, The Eames Era
I certainly hope that you are happy
With your new change of company
Surrounded by your enemies
Can't you see if I could be anything, And if you say everything will want to go your way
I want to be I would be you see
Can't you see if I could be anything
I will turn you away as easily as I turned you into me
And if you say everything will want to go your way
The ride to the Westin Hotel, where the dinner was, was relatively quiet and way too short for my liking. Actually, it could have lasted a full hundred years and I still would have complained that it went by too fast, because the whole time I was quietly fidgeting and trying to construct a new persona for myself, all the while attempting to avoid Natanael's eyes (which got to be rather hard after a little bit, seeing as he was practically burning holes into my skull with his unwavering stare from the other side of the limo).
I was deciding what to say if anybody asked how I felt about the spread of food there when the driver stopped with an announcement in Portuguese.
After a moment, I felt a tap on my knee, but I couldn't move. From here, I could see the red carpet, the wave of paparazzi standing outside, and the flashes of the cameras that went off so often it was almost like we were right in front of a strobe light.
"Evy." My tongue got stuck in my throat.
"Evy." I was trying to answer, really I was. Uh, with something that didn't contain the words oh my GOD CAN WE PLEASE GET THE HECK OUT OF HERE RIGHT NOW.
I heard a sigh, and the car door closest to Natanael opened, bringing with it screams both in Portuguese and English for a second before the door closed again, cutting off all outside noise.
Then, the door right by me clicked open and a hand extended inside.
I looked up, surprised, to see Natanael offering to help me out of the car, a rather bizarre expression on his face.
"Come," he said shortly. Be it his clipped tone of voice or the fact that some logical part of me knew that I couldn't stay in here all day, I grabbed his hand and hoisted myself up into a standing position. Shouts bombarded us every which way as Natanael slammed shut the door of my only getaway behind me. I felt a paranoid feeling of claustrophobia as reporters and cameramen closed around us, held back only by our bodyguards though once in a while a microphone still poked through available openings to jab me in the chin. My hand was in Natanael's once again, more of a necessity so we didn't lose each other in the crowd than anything else.
"So new Evian needs help out of the car now?" Natanael muttered as we moved forward an inch.
I blinked. "What?"
"I did not realize the transformation of you is so whole already," Natanael quipped. "But I suppose help out of cars is being WAG, yes?"
He turned away and concentrated on walking. I let this information sink in. Oh. Natanael thought I purposefully waited for him to escort me out of the car because it all fit into my makeover personality. Uh… I guess that would have been proper WAG behavior, wouldn't it?
Whatever. I'll take credit for that.
Suddenly, we turned a corner, and were on a photo walk in the hotel parking lot. A huge red carpet led the way to the entrance about ten thousand miles away. To our left was a cardboard backdrop, white with printed patterns of sponsors and the official UNICEF logo, and to our right, a sea of desperate, hungry sharks armed with cameras and microphones and screaming reporters stood leashed behind a red rope.
When they saw us, they started going absolutely nuts. I thought my hair at one point was actually going to do that thing like in the comics and go vertically straight from the sheer volume of the crowd.
"EVIAN! EVIAN, YOU'VE CHANGED IN APPEARANCE SO MUCH! DOES YOUR CELEBRITY STATUS AS A WAG HAVE ANYTHING TO DO WITH THAT?"
"EVIAN, GIVE US A QUOTE!"
"EVIAN, WHO ARE YOU WEARING?"
My grip on Natanael's wrist tightened. They were screaming my name? How did they even remember? Who was I in significance?
I felt myself shrinking, but at the last minute a strand of my curly brown hair blew into my eyes and I caught a whiff of my expensive hairspray. I remembered the mask of the new WAG I had on, and tried to stand confidently, with my hip cocked to one side and my legs planted apart.
"Smile for the cameras," Natanael whispered sarcastically as a tribute to Jorge.
"Nata! Nata, Nata! How good to see you!" A tall, wolfish looking man with long, curly hair and a sharp nose strode towards with his arms apart. When Natanael caught sight of him, his face broke into a grin, and the two men exchanged brief cheek kisses as was custom. The man lapsed into a string of rapid Portuguese, with Natanael laughing every so often and responding. I stood quietly in what I hoped was a dignified fashion, watching people in tuxes and dresses pass us by to go find their table. We had just made it inside to the ballroom (after a solid twenty minutes of pictures, interviews, and the like outside), where dozens of tables had been set up for elegant formal dining, and in the back of the room a dais with a podium, the words UNICEF underneath, was ready for the auction and recognition speeches that would take place later tonight.
"E quem é esta senhora amável?" The man gestured at me, and Natanael only just seemed to remember I was standing right beside him.
"Namorada, Evian," Natanael said, and brought his arm around as if to sling it around my shoulders, but stopped before he touched me, his arm hovering in the air. Finally, under the man's raised eyebrows, he awkwardly patted my back a couple of times.
"Ah," The man nodded, and he looked amused. "You know, I see pictures of you, but you look so different."
"No, honey, I tell you this is Evian, remember, but—oh, Evian?" Amanita suddenly appeared at the man's shoulder. The Goddess was wearing a slinky, body-hugging red dress that stopped just at her knees, and her expression was one of complete and utter shock as she regarded me. "Evian, is that you?"
I felt my cheeks warm, and couldn't exactly smile. "Yea—yes. Do I look… that different?"
"Oh my, but you do—Silvia! Silvia, venha aqui! (Come here!)" Amanita hurried off to get Silvia.
The man she had been hanging onto extended his hand to me now. "Paul Fuentes," he said with a smile, and leaned forward to give me my due cheek kisses, which I returned a bit too late because I was suddenly scared of the WAG posse again. I tried to concentrate on the situation at hand.
"Oh, I know who you are, you're the captain of the team," I recited from my fact sheet. Paul—and Nata—stared at me.
"Did you—" Nata started, but Paul cut him off.
"You follow futebol portuguêsa?" He exclaimed, an impressed look hanging about his face.
I tried to shrug nonchalantly. "A little. It's so nice to actually meet you though," I added.
"So who is your favorite player then, eh?" He tested.
After a moment of utter panic, I found the names I'd memorized inside my head and their statistics. "I like Emilio Reis, he has a great long shot. But you're probably my favorite, you're a legend."
I'm pretty sure I sounded like a robot as I said all this, but Paul broke into laughter.
"I like this one, Nata!"
Natanael looked dazed.
Thank god for Jorge. Thank god for my photographic memory.
Before Natanael had time to muster up some sort of response, Amanita was back, dragging with her—the black-haired girl who had made the sarcastic remark about Natanael's taste in girls changing (Silvia); the pregnant one (Ana); and Carisol.
All of them were holding champagne glasses, and all of them staring at me, wide-eyed.
I tried not to fidget. "What?" I said, channeling Marina, my most confident and WAG-like friend I had. No, that was an insult. If Marina were ever a WAG, she would definitely be like Amanita, except less clueless. But she would impress these girls more than I had. (W.W.M.D – What Would Marina Do?)
After a moment, Ana opened her mouth. "You are…"
"So different." Silvia finished. "So. Much. Difference."
"Oi," Paul said at the girls with a snort of laughter. "You look like you just see the devil. That different?"
"So much," Silvia assured Amanita's husband with a pat on his chest. She turned back to me. "Is your dress Chanel?"
My mind flashed back to the little red dress that was hanging forlornly in my closet. "Uh, no, it's Vera Wang," I said, hoping I had pronounced her name right. Well duh, Vera Wang was probably one of the easiest names to say, but sometimes I got paranoid like that.
"I love it," Silvia exclaimed. "You must tell where you purchased it sometime."
If I had not caught myself in time, my jaw definitely would have dropped onto the carpet. As it were, I blinked a couple of times before a brilliant answer popped into my head. "Actually, my stylist picked it out, and I'm pretty sure it was imported from Madrid. I don't go shopping for myself," I said, and watched Ana's eyes bulge in her skull as Silvia colored a few degrees. Well, I reasoned to myself, it was partly true… and the stuff about Madrid could be true, for all I knew.
"Of—of course," Silvia replied, flustered. "It's what I meant, to—yes."
On my other side, Amanita was talking—or rather, congratulating—Natanael. "Ay, Nata, she is so much easy on the eyes than Jennifer. You know the first time I see her I think, oh how to say, ay, triste, triste, but you surprise me!" She slapped him on the arm jokingly. "You keep this gem hidden all to yourself, eh?"
"She is beautiful," Paul agreed. The man turned to his wife. "But not as you, Ama," and he kissed her affectionately on her forehead. They fit together so perfectly—her head in the nook under his chin, and her curvy body against his broad shoulders and tall frame. What a perfect couple.
Natanael had wiped the dazed expression from his face, and was now trying to grin. However, I'm pretty sure I'm the only one who noticed the tic on his temple.
When I turned back to Silvia and Ana, I noticed she had dragged another man over—undoubtedly her own boyfriend, the way his arms had already encircled her waist.
She was talking to him in Portuguese something whiny, with Ana hemming her agreement every now and then, but after a minute or two nudged him in my direction. "Evian, this is my boyfriend, Horacio Varela."
I initiated cheek kisses with the man, who was very good looking, and tried to imitate Marina's flirtatiousness (a.k.a., Marina's normal speaking voice when she talked to men) in my voice. "You're number 10, right? Striker. I loved your last goal in the friendly against Brazil."
He looked surprised. "Yes. Thank you," he said in heavily accented English, and looked taken aback. Then, instead of speaking to me, he called out something to Nata, something that included my name and a whoop of laughter. Success.
Nata looked embarrassed, and said something back that sounded like he was trying to brush it off.
"We are going, ladies," Amanita said after another minute of raucousness. People around us who were already seated had started to stare by this point, and Amanita tugged Silvia and Ana off of me. "We are at table thirteen. Please, stop by later, Evian," Amanita said. She leaned forward and kissed my cheek, and whispered, "I'm so glad you are in the family now," and then she was dragging Paul, Silvia, Ana, and Horacio away with her.
I felt a little stung. Amanita probably had no idea the negative implications of what she had just said held. She was glad I was in the family now? What about before—I was just dragging them down? In all honesty I probably was, but I didn't need her telling me that. I tried making myself feel better; Amanita wasn't mean, just sort of oblivious. And besides, she had been nice to me all along, unlike Silvia, who was apparently deciding to be on my side now that I looked like I belonged in an imported Vera Wang dress that I wasn't even sure I wanted to be in. (Also, it was starting to itch.)
I turned on my heel, miraculously not stumbling in my Louboutins, and peered up at Natanael. Surprisingly, he stared back at me, an odd look in his eyes that I hadn't seen before. He opened his mouth—and suddenly, a strange, overwhelmingly scared feeling ran through me. You don't want to hear what he's going to say, someone thought inside my head, and I cut him off.
"How did I do?" I asked. He frowned, confused, and I shakily went on, unable to hold our eye contact any longer. "I think what I said to Silvia about the dress was probably one of the snidest things I've ever said in my life. Make us proud and all." I heard myself laugh, a definite tremor in my voice that was probably an aftershock of how unlike myself and bold I'd just been. What the heck was I talking about?
He seemed to be thinking along the same lines, because whatever look was in his eyes before had now melted to one of utter confusion. "What—"
"Nata!" Before I knew—and, by the way he lost his balance, before Natanael knew—what was happening, he was being ambushed in a hug by two new guys.
"We take big brother for a moment, okay?" One of them—he looked young, probably a reserve or a trainee—said to me enthusiastically. The moment my head tipped downward in a nod, they were off and away, practically picking 'big-brother' Natanael off his feet in their eagerness.
Even after they disappeared around a corner, I could hear Natanael's protests, and I almost laughed as I pivoted on my heel—and came face to face with Carisol.
After she had come over with Silvia and Ana, she hadn't said a word, and with everything else that was going on, I had forgot she was there. Now, she was standing with her arms crossed, a critical eye pinning me to the floor.
In a flash, I was old me again. I abruptly felt very, very ridiculous and phony.
"Hi," I managed to say in a small voice.
One of her eyebrows arched, her expression dangerous. "Evian, what is this? What are you doing?"
I shrugged awkwardly, loosely wrapping my arms around myself. The tan-ness of them was still strange to me, as were the lacquered nails; as I hugged myself, the scales of the Vera Wang dress pressed cold on my forearms. "I don't know," I admitted. "I thought it'd be better this way."
Her eyes traveled back to where Amanita, Silvia, and Ana were now chatting at their table. "Better…"
"Easier. For Nata… for Natanael, too." I shrugged again. "So his teammates don't think less of him…" I realized the self-bashing I had just incriminated on myself as soon as the sentence was out of my mouth. It was true though.
"So it is for show?" Carisol asked, her heavily hooded eyes regarding me.
I was silent for a second. "I guess," I answered. "I hope," I added under my breath.
Just then, somebody brushed past me, did a double take, and stopped in her tracks. "Evian?" I sighed. How many more times was this going to keep happening?
"I'm surprised you remember my name," I told Leila, and almost accidentally added 'Barnacles' to the end of my sentence. I almost let myself, but I decided I wasn't that bold.
The blonde had just recently dyed her hair again, and it sat like straw atop her head. She was in a silver sheen dress that hurt to stare at. She looked me over once and then scoffed. "Decided you wanted to be more like us?"
"Hardly," Carisol sneered. "When Evian gains thirty pounds, we will call you up." She stared Leila down until the girl walked away, shaking her head and straightening her dress.
I managed a smile. "Thanks," I said, and Carisol nudged me.
"I suppose it is easier," she admitted. "Let's get to the table. You're sitting with me."
With a smooth motion, Natanael slid the card-key into the slot and the green light above the door handle flashed, signaling it was open. After we tromped into the room and he shut the door after us, only then did I dare to let out a huge sigh and wilt onto the edge of the bed.
The rest of the night hadn't gone badly; mostly it was just dinner and listening to speeches and sitting quietly as other people bought things at the auction, so nobody really had the chance to talk to me about how very, (very!) different I looked. Perhaps he felt just as much pressure as I did, but Natanael called the driver directly after the auction, declining to join the after party at a club nearby that Paul and Amanita invited us, and the rest of the team and their WAG's, to. And then I just had to make some more kisses and wave-goodbyes and avoid Leila until the limo arrived back. It wasn't until now, feeling my muscles loosen and my jaw unclench, that I realized I had been on edge the whole night and had a massive headache now.
"Have fun?" Natanael asked sardonically. He stood at the entrance to the suite, busy taking off his jewelry and unlacing his shoes.
I threaded my fingers together. "Can we not do that again for a while, please?" I laughed, and it came out shaky again. Damn.
He surprisingly nodded with a polite smile. "Sure."
This was weird to me; last I remembered, his bad mood was still hanging about his head. And Natanael's temperaments didn't just disappear into thin air; if anything, they only got delayed.
I bit my lip. "Are you… okay?"
He turned and didn't say anything, waiting for me to go on.
So I did, phrasing my next words delicately. "Uh… I mean—you're not mad anymore?"
He shook his head. "I did not say that."
"Oh." I had no idea what to say next, and started staring at the carpet again, trying to muster up my Marina-WAG personality, even though we were in private and it was still hard as hell. "Well, I had no idea what that was about, anyways—I mean, everyone likes me better like this. No," I corrected with a shake of my head, "Everyone likes us better like this. So it's good, right?"
Natanael shoved his hands in the pockets of his tux, shifting his weight onto his right foot. "If you are so sure, why do you need me to agree?" He suddenly sounded very arrogant, his accent only making it worse.
"I am sure." This was a complete lie; I wasn't sure at all because so far, all the people who mattered even a miniscule bit—Jorge, Katina, Carisol, Marina, and as grudgingly as I admitted it, Natanael—were against this change. But I didn't understand. It was so much easier, so much more convenient, so simple an answer—why couldn't they all see it? I was so sure I was right, but by sheer force of peer pressure, I started doubting myself. It was like in math class, when you were so positive two plus three equaled five, and yet everybody around you saying no, no, no, it was six—and after a while, you started going with them too. It was me against the world, it seemed. And I wasn't strong enough a person on my own.
"There is your answer." Natanael said. Ugh. This was so frustrating.
"So you're not mad? Where are you going?" I started up off the bed when he pivoted on his heel and started for the door again.
Natanael opened the door. "I am going," he said, and then turned around to face me again, leaning against the doorframe, making me stop short before I crashed into him (what if paparazzi saw? Apparently they were all still tied up at the Westin, or Natanael just didn't care right now) "to that other room, as you like. You do not want me in here, yes?" I opened my mouth—and then closed it again. He seemed satisfied, and then continued in a strange voice, "As for anger—I have learned… how do you say… forgive and forget." He spun around and lifted up a hand in parting. "Goodnight, Evy."
"…'Night," I said, stunned.
"Mmmurph." I waved a hand in the air. "Go 'way."
"What the…?" I peeled an eyelid back.
I jerked up in bed, terrified, yanking the covers up to my face before I could scream. Oh my god. Oh my god, oh my god, the closet monster. He was real. He was—
THUMP. THUMP. THUMP.
Wait a minute, I realized. That wasn't a door to the closet; that was the door to the connecting room.
THUMP. THUMP. THUMP. THUMP. THUMP.
Scrambling out of bed, I almost tripped over my own dysfunctional legs in my hurry to open the door before the whole building came crashing down.
I threw it open and there was Natanael, looking positively rumpled still in his white dress shirt with most of the buttons undone and black slacks, his tie hanging loosely around his neck. He was silhouetted by the light of a table lamp still on in the adjoining—empty—room. As my eyes adjusted to the light, I looked around him at the room behind him. Where was Jennifer? Hiding?
"Do you know what time it is?!" I screeched, though nothing louder than a squeak would come out.
"Four thirty-two," Natanael reported matter-of-factly.
"Four thirty-two!" I repeated, getting some of my voice back. "In the morning!" He looked at me blankly. "Natanael, some people need sleep! I—need—sleep!" I slapped my chest for emphasis, feeling like Tarzan but not really caring. It was a fact of life that, when woken up during my state of passing out, especially if I had been under stressing circumstances the prior day, that I would become extremely irritable, violent and unlike myself (well, more like my old self, before Aidan and that mess). Marina and my parents were firsthand witnesses—and victims—to scratches, bruises, and verbal abuse I would inflict on them if woken up any time before seven A.M. by anybody other than Mother Nature or myself. The only reason I hadn't already snapped at Jorge several times when he had woken me up was because one, I was partially scared of him still, and two, the man was paying me. Never bite the hand that feeds you, and all that.
Despite my best dead-of-night antics, however, Natanael seemed unfazed. In fact, he seemed to be quite angry himself.
"Evian." He said, and I responded almost immediately with a squawking, "What!?"
"I want you," he ordered, "to explain to me why you did… this." He waved one hand down the length of my body a couple times. "I do not understand."
"Now? You want me to explain it now? I couldn't have explained it five hours ago?" As I woke up faster, my hysteria started to dissipate. I took a breath and smoothed out my—now crunchy—hair. "Because it would be easier, all right? I've already said that. It's just easier if I look like a proper WAG. I mean, isn't it?"
"Always you ask for confirmation!" Natanael snapped, annoyed. "But it is easier? Who said so? Jorge?"
"No," I said. "Although I don't know how he didn't think of it first." When Natanael's eyes narrowed, I added, "Everyone, even most of those girls, liked me tonight because I looked like them and acted like them! People expect you to have a certain type of girlfriend and when you don't they think less of you. I only gave them what everybody has been expecting since day one, or haven't you noticed."
Natanael bristled. "They think less of me? Who? Why?" He continued furiously, "I play good football. Why do they care about other things?"
"I don't know!" I shouted back. God, I was so freaking tired of all this. Of all this! Why couldn't he just leave me alone for once! "I only know that they do care so I decided to help you out!"
"Oh, you think you are helping," Natanael said with a condescending scoff.
"YES!" I shrieked, feeling the midnight frenzy come over me again. Or perhaps it was just stress. I balled my fists. "You think I wanted to be like this!? You think I would willingly get a tan that makes me look darker than you, or kill my hair, or wear dresses that make me look like fish!?" At this comment, Natanael looked temporarily bewildered, but I didn't care that I had forgotten to let him in on what I thought about the scaly Vera Wang dress.
"If that is not you, then why do you think that is what I want!?" Natanael grabbed my shoulders and shook me. "I am not everybody Evian, I do not care about everybody—foda se—I just wanted for you in that red dress and that's all!"
I threw his arms off me. "Ohh, you're a LIAR! I wore my own clothes and you told me I looked so bad that we needed to go shopping! Remember that? And then you were so embarrassed about my hat you even bought me another one with Chanel stamped all over it just so I would fit in a little!" I was waving my arms wildly around in accusation, and not until I said it out loud did I believe it about the hat—or any of it—but I couldn't stop myself.
"Ah, because that really was your regular clothing," Natanael sneered.
I ignored that last statement. "And it's always me trying to impress you here and there, and don't make a fuss Evian, don't let people think we're fighting, chase after me when I'm storming out, Evian, do all the work, Evian, hold my hand even when you know I hate you, smile for the damn cameras, and now that I've finally fixed myself nobody even says good job! YOU'RE NEVER SATISFIED!"
Natanael grabbed a hold of me again, and all I could see were his eyes, damn those piercing Portuguese eyes that could make me go a little bit weak in the knees even now, and shouted, "I was mad before!"
"I DON'T CARE!" I screamed at him. "It hurt so I CHANGED MYSELF FOR YOU! I WAS TRYING TO HELP YOU!"
It was suddenly silent. I, with the last of my shrieks still ringing in my ears, didn't realize what I had just said until a minute later, when I realized Natanael had stopped fighting with me.
Instead, he was staring at me with the same, strange expression on his face that he'd held earlier on in the night when I'd been scared to hear what he was going to say next.
Actually, I'd seen that expression a lot lately. And I had no idea what it was—I had just attributed it to anger.
Wasn't it anger? I replayed all the times I'd seen it on his face, in his eyes.
Then I realized we were still staring at each other, his hands painfully squeezing my shoulders and my body all tensed up.
I looked down. "I—" I started, but never got to finish the thought as just then, Natanael pulled me to him and kissed me.
To be continued...
A/N: Hello, hello... happy new years, and yes, I am not dead :o). It has been seven months since updation (I think I just made that a word, what!) but I definitely HAVEN'T abandoned you! Woot. AHH, I know, it sucks to leave it hanging here, but I rather like this ending since it marks a... turning point. Anyway, three things are in order.
1. Please click on my profile page and scroll down to the bottom where it says "a most deserved apology" or something like that. It applies to all of you, and it's from me! It explains why I haven't been updating lately... sort of. Also, I will try in the future not to be this ridiculously late.
2. I am nominated on Time is Running Out Awards (TiRO) in the category of Best Romance Fic. The link to the awards is at my profile, and if you could find some extra minute or two to vote for me, that would be most wonderful and awesome and I would love you forever. Voting has already started, and ends I believe sometime near the end of January. Please support Girl for Hire (only if you really do of course.)!
3. On that note of supporting me, I have just posted up a new fic called Something Ever After. Right now it's just the prologue, but I really think you'll like it. It's kind of different from this fic but still deals with romance and lots of laughter (and not so much angst, hooray!). Please check it out if you have the time! And I promise updates to that one are frequent, seeing as most of the fic is mapped out and/or written already.
I love you all, I am still responding slowly to all my reviews, and happy reading! Cheers.