It was never supposed to happen this way. When Reece asked me to go on vacation with her father and half-brother, it was just a way for me to see Europe and for her to avoid seeing a man she wanted nothing to do with. I never meant to fall in love.
"He's your dad. He'll never believe that I'm you," I protested when she first came up with this convoluted idea.
"Sure he will. Green eyes, light brown hair, smallish features. We look very alike. And he hasn't seen me since I was three. Please? Jason and I were going to take jiu jitsu over the summer!" Reece and Jason were always trying new things together. They were a great match.
"And you can't do that during the fall?" Reece shot me a tortured look.
"Please? Pretty please, Seraphina?"
I groaned and put my head in my hands. "Where did you say they're going?" Reece leaped up and attacked me with a hug.
"Thank you, thank you, thank you!" she squealed happily.
"I haven't agreed yet," I grumbled.
"But you will," she said confidently. "You're the best friend a girl could ask for."
And so it was that I found myself on a plane to London, where I would be meeting Reece's father, Jeremy, and brother, Tyler. I had only a vague idea of what they would look like- Reece's only picture of them was two years old. Tyler had been thin and scrawny, with too-short hair and ears that stuck out. Jeremy- I still hadn't figured out whether I should call him Dad or not- was handsome for his age, but there seemed to be a hardness around his eyes that made it easy to believe all of the bad things Reece said about him.
So to say that I was a little nervous about having to find them, and for that matter, having to make him believe that I was his daughter, would be a major understatement.
'You are so dead,' I texted Reece. For the sake of keeping from discovery, I'd already changed her name to 'Seraphina' in my phone. It felt more than a little bizarre to be texting myself.
'So you've landed? Do you see them? I can text you that picture if you need me to,' she replied immediately. I knew she was nervous for me. Thank goodness she'd already sent her father a picture of me, pretending it was her. He could recognize me, even if I wasn't sure I'd be able to recognize him.
The picture, in the end, was unnecessary. At that moment, a mess of bleached blonde hair hurled into my line of vision and gave me a painfully tight hug.
"Oh, Reece! I'm so thrilled to finally meet you!" an annoyingly high, falsely enthusiastic voice squealed in my ear.
I shoved her off of me as soon as I recovered from the shock. "Who," I gasped, "Are you?"
"I'm Charlene," the woman said, as if her name should be obvious to me. She stared at me with eyes caked with makeup. She was a thirty-something trying to look twenty again. If her type didn't bother me so much, I might have pitied her.
"Charlene," I repeated stupidly, racking my memory. Should that name mean something to me? Reece had been my best friend for over a decade. There wasn't much she didn't tell me about her life. But I was nearly certain that she'd never mentioned a Charlene. It was the kind of name we might have laughed at, once.
Her face fell and someone came up from behind her and put an arm around her shoulder. I glanced up and was more surprised than I should have been to see that it was an only slightly-older looking Jeremy. Behind him was someone who could only be Tyler, though he certainly had done some changing in the past couple of years.
Gangly no more, Tyler had bulked up some and grown out his hair so that his ears didn't stick out. He had twinkling green eyes and a dashing smile. Instant attraction.
I gave Jeremy a nervous smile and held out my hand. He took it and pulled me into an awkward one-armed hug- awkward because his one arm was still around Charlene and because I didn't know this man. That's not to mention the guilt I felt for deceiving him this way. Some of that must have been showing on my face, because Tyler was biting his lip to keep from laughing.
"So Jere-" I quickly cut off at a look from Jeremy- "Uh… Dad. I hope this won't be insulting, but who exactly is Charlene?" I glanced at her and gnawed on my lip a little- a nervous habit of mine. Charlene looked confused.
Jeremy laughed in that I'm-really-wish-I-wasn't-here-right-now way and Tyler looked… amused. "You didn't tell her?" Charlene demanded shrilly.
Uh oh. This was obviously something I should know. Now would they find out that I wasn't really Reece? I couldn't see that going over well.
"No, Charlene, sweetie, I thought this was really best told in person." Jeremy turned to me and coughed uncomfortably. "Charlene is my wife. We've been married for three weeks now."
"Oh." I gave her a small, forced smile. "Congratulations." Her perfume was starting to make me dizzy.
"Thank you, Reece! I think we're going to be great friends." She gave me another hug and I did my best not to wince.
I looked behind her, where Tyler was standing, and met his eyes. My heart fluttered. I squeezed my eyes shut, reminding myself that he thought I was his sister. It could never happen.
If only I'd taken my own advice.