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Chapter 1 – 4 weeks earlier
Callum Redbrook was the kind of man that pushed in front of old ladies in shop lines. He was the kind of man who ate the last donut without asking if anybody else wanted it. He was a chauvinistic, egotistical pig and for three embarrassing years I was in love with him.
Still, it had been almost two years now since he'd dumped me. And not that I hadn't gotten over him, I had. It was the pride, really. The little voice in my head that wondered what was so wrong with that he had dumped me for another girl. A girl with bigger boobs and blonder hair. It was all pride talking. He'd hurt my vanity, my plan was to hurt his right back.
The plan was born in light of my sister's engagement.
When she'd rung me with the news I was, of course, the perfect sister. Gushing. Bright. Bubbly. Oh Darling, I'm so happy for you (when really I was seething in jealousy because she'd always been the better daughter to mum. The first born, the first graduated, the first, god help me, married.) It was disgusting and pitiful that I still felt any need at all to compete with her. Obviously I was matured now since 12th grade. Obviously I could handle her wedding with a nice big fuck-you smile.
Then she'd dropped the bomb.
"Oh, and darling" she'd added, just as I was about to happily hang up after hours of listening to her talk about gorgeous Peter "Callum's going to be there. You know how he and Peter are such good friends. He's bringing along his lovely Veronica too so don't get any ideas. I'm sure you're old enough to handle it."
So don't get any ideas.
What the hell did she think I was? Some sort of desperado? Did she think I was the kind of girl who would attempt to hook her ex-boyfriend at her sisters wedding? Well, maybe, because that was the first thing that came to mind. Stolen romantic moments. Ria, I still love you. And I would of course, be ever so obliging and take him back and patch his broken heart together again.
I was disgusted with myself, true, but Callum, even if he did push in front of little old ladies in a mad dash to get to the counter first, was gorgeously irresistible. In my mind at least.
But then my loving sister had mentioned Veronica. The Veronica. The home-wrecker rat who'd taken him from me with a snap of her fingers and a shimmy. A little snap! And our relationship of 3 years was doomed to failure. No, I wouldn't be wasting time thinking about Callum anymore. At least not in that sense.
As they say, don't get mad, get even.
I sat in my living room and twisted the phone cord around and around my little finger. Even though he couldn't see me, I was trying my best to look cool and sophisticated. Clearly I couldn't care less what his answer would be. Just curious. Nothing really, just a little favour to ask…
There was definitely wariness in his voice. Wariness and resignation. Michel was a good enough friend to know that when I got that tone of voice, sweet, needling, there was a 'brilliant idea' coming on, an idea which didn't have the best track record for flaming success. But he was also a good enough friend that he'd keep trying them with me, even when he knew they were doomed to failure.
"How would you feel about spending 3 weeks in London?"
There. Nice and casual. Make it seem like its going to benefit him.
"London." He repeated flatly. "You want me to go to London. With you."
I tried not to be offended.
"Why?" In the background I could hear him moving around, the fridge door opening and the distinct sound of a coke can being opened, then swallowed.
"Um…" I stalled, wondering what to say. In my mind, Michel had said Yes! instantly, and off we went. Easy peasy.
"Because Ria, if you haven't forgotten, there's this thing called work. And this other thing called paying the rent and this other thing called a thousand dollar plane trip. You might not have a problem with any of those things, but I certainly do."
"It's only for 3 weeks Michel, christ." And it wasn't like he couldnt afford to take time off from his stupid job. His job was so damn flexible it made me sick. Sick and jealous.
He sighed, exasperated.
"Fine. Whatever. Don't come." I made to hang up, slowly, keeping my ear pressed to the phone the whole time, waiting for him to give in.
"Wait, Ria, wait." A sigh.
He grumbled quietly, then "There better be a damn good reason for doing this."
"See you soon." I smiled and put the phone down.
Michel, as usual, came over for dinner that night. Well, brought dinner over to me. It was a little ritual we'd had for years, Half-dry pasta from the place down the road, and their specialty cream sauce. It wasn't exactly a 5-star course, or even a one star, but Michel and I were creatures of habit.
He gave me a quick kiss on the cheek and walked into the kitchen, dumping the pasta on the bench as he went.
"So, explain." His tone left no room for arguments. If he was shelling out for a plane ticket to London then he deserved an explanation for going.
He bent down and rummaged in the cupboards for some bowls and I tried to ignore his too-delectable rear end. If I hadn't known Michel for so long, watched him grow from total geek to total spunk, I was sure I'd be in love with him by now. Or at least, naked in bed with him. Michel was a man of appetites, I well knew. I just wasn't sure why those appetites hadn't tried to work their charms on me.
Still, I wasn't curious enough to question it. Michel was Michel, he'd always be enough just the way he was.
I blinked and realised I'd been staring at him, and looked away quickly.
"The explanation, please."
"Well…" I wondered how to break it to him how blatantly I was going to use him. Honesty was the best way I decided bravely, squaring my shoulders.
"You remember Callum?"
Michel winced and nodded his head. Of course he remembered Callum. Michel had had to suffer through all my tears and tantrums and joys concerning Callum for three whole years.
"Well, it's my sisters wedding in 4 weeks..." I trailed off, not sure how to proceed. I imagined myself an undercover agent, thinking about where to place the bomb for minimum damage and greatest advantage to the mission. In the end though, it wouldn't make much difference. Everything would blow up the same way.
Michel interrupted my plans with a raised eyebrow, "And I take it Callum's going to be there."
I nodded, "Best man." The bastard.
"And you want me there because…"
"You're my best friend" I said quickly, bowing out of my resolution for total honesty. "I need some support." In the form of a loving, attention-giving Date.
He looked skeptical and crossed his arms, waiting for more.
I sighed, resigned finally to telling the whole truth. "And I want you to, well, be my date."
There was a moment of silence and then Michel burst into laughter. "You want me to be your date?"
I glared at him, "It's not funny!"
Michel stopped laughing but he grinned at me. "Let me get this straight, you're trying to make Callum jealous right?"
Uneasily I nodded.
"So you want me to play your lover for 3 weeks?"
I winced at his choice of words, "Yes."
What the hell was his problem?
"Yes, you, Michel." I added his name in just in case he tried to ask again.
"You do realise we're going to have to act like lovers right? We're going to have to share the same room, the same bed, I'm going to have to be affectionate" He grimaced. Affectionate was not something Michel was good at. He liked his space and usually his girlfriends all annoyed him. I should know,I was the one who had deal with all his frustration.
"Well, we don't have to go all out. Just, you know, hold hands."
"And that's going to make Callum jealous is it? Holding hands? What is this, an expedition back to 3rd grade?"
I frowned, "Obviously, he'll be so struck by our love for one another all he'll be able to think about is getting me back so he can have that to." I was joking. Sort of. I hadn't really thought past the part where Callum sees another man at my side that's not him. Apparently, we'd have to act like a couple as well. I knew that for me, just seeing Veronica at his side would be enough to send me into a jealous rage.
But maybe it wasn't the same for men. Experience told me they weren't the sort to jump to assumptions, like the fact I would be madly in love with Michel, unless they were shown cold hard facts. And even then you had to slap them with it in the face a few times, moronic beings that they were.
Michel approached me carefully and tilted my chin up slowly, looking into my eyes. Michel had the most wondrous eyes, this calm gray, like a cloudy sky. But the colour was bright, clear. Beautiful.
"Is this what this is about Ria? Getting Callum back?" I snapped out of my soppy thoughts and focused on what he was saying.
I yanked away. "Of course not! I just want him to want me back." My chin tingled a little where he'd touched me, but I ignored it. Too focused on what he was suggesting. Didn't he realise I had more pride than that?
With a roll of his eyes Michel turned away and poured the pasta and sauce into the two bowls on the bench, wrinkling his nose slightly at the lumpy mixture. "I don't know why we still eat this shit; it should have killed us years ago," he muttered, half to himself, half to me.
I ignored him and shook my hair back from my face, waiting for him to say something constructive.
"You really want me to do this? You really think we can pull this off?"
Suddenly I was angry, "Well if this plan is so despicable to you, if it revolts you so much than forget it! I'll just find someone else!" Getting angry probably wasn't the best way to go about it, I knew, but still. Did he have to be so damn reasonable? All the time?
"Yeah? Like who?" He'd turned towards me again, leaning on the bench with his arms folded. He looked serious, his eyes grim.
"I don't know…" My eyes lit with inspiration, "Gabriel!" Gabriel would do it in a moment, he'd find the whole thing hilarious.
Michel raised his eyebrows skeptically. "You're going to ask a gay man to play your lover?" There it goes again. The Reasonable Answer to everything. Dammit.
I waved my hand carelessly. I could play this logic game too. "Totally beside the point, Michel, Gabriel's a majoring in theatre; he'll have to learn to do this sort of thing sooner or later." There. I'm practically doing this for his benefit.
He shook his head in exasperation. "You're impossible you know? You're like a train wreck waiting to happen."
"I am not a train wreck" I retorted indignantly, "This whole thing is about proving to my family exactly that!" And I snatched my bowl from the bench and stormed out of the room.