Pretending

Albin Conway stuck his head into the door of Vila Kingsley's office. "Knock, knock," he said.

She glanced up from the opened folder on her desk and saw who it was. "Come on in, Al," she said.

Albin grinned and entered the office, taking a seat in the chair on the other side of Vila's large desk.

"What's up?" Vila asked pleasantly.

"I need a favor," Albin sighed.

"Of course," Vila smiled.

"A personal favor," he clarified, giving her a pleading look.

"Oh?" She asked, surprised that her management team partner was daring to cross that unspoken invisible line.

"Are you doing anything the third weekend in July?" He asked nervously.

Vila glanced at her appointment book opened on the corner of her desk. "I don't think so," she said cautiously after turning a few pages in the pad and then looking back at him. "What's up?"

"I know this is going to sound strange and absurd and pretty foolish but I was wondering if you wanted to go to a wedding with me," Albin said.

Vila tried not to look surprised. Her professional office attitude was to be calm, cool and collected, always appearing to be controlled and reasoned in her middle management role. One of the reasons she got along so well with Albin professionally was because he basically had the same philosophy. Personable and polite, friendly and humorous, but with a tenancy to get the job done.

"Who's wedding?" Vila asked.

"My sister's," Albin replied.

"You know I don't socialize with co-workers away from the office," Vila said.

"I know," Albin sighed. "But I'm kind of in a bind."

"How so?"

"If I go home stag I'll never hear the end of it," Albin revealed. "My mother will ride me to no end."

"Because you're over thirty and not married," Vila realized.

"Yeah," Albin shrugged.

"I know how that goes," Vila admitted with sympathy. "My mom is always on my case. She can't understand why my career is more important than my ovaries."

"I'd just like to avoid the drama," Albin said.

"Why me?" Vila smirked. "I'm sure there are plenty of girls in the secretarial pool who would love a weekend getaway. Barbie. Judy. What's her name with the pink hair."

"You and I already know each other pretty well," Albin explained. "We get along great. I figured it would be a smooth transition faking it for a weekend."

"Oh, you want me to pretend we're together?" Vila asked, raising her eyebrows.

"It would make things easier," Albin said meekly.

"It's inviting disaster," Vila warned forcefully.

"Look, Vila, I know this is selfish of me but you'd really be doing me a favor," Albin, trying not to sound as desperate as he felt.

"I really don't like mixing business with personal," Vila reminded him.

"I know," He said. "I wouldn't be asking you of this if I wasn't this pathetic."

Vila smirked, amused by her co-worker's panicked look. "How could I say no to that?" She asked sarcastically.

"You mean you'd do it for me?" Albin asked with surprise.

"Well, it's been six months since Peckerwood dumped me," Vila said. "I guess I have nothing better to do. I'm probably just as pathetic as you!"

"Alone, lonely, and on the verge of joining the Lonely Hearts Club?"

"Yeah, that," Vila frowned, annoyed by his comment.

"I was kidding," Albin said, not meaning to offend her.

"I've got my Masters in business but I still feel like I'm a sophomore in high school when it comes to my dating life," Vila grumbled.

"Maybe you'll meet somebody at the wedding," Albin deadpanned.

Vila laughed. "Touché," she grinned. Then she leaned across the desk. "Mums the word, Al," she warned. "Not a word about this to anyone. I have a reputation around here I need to protect."

Albin put his finger to his lips. "Sworn to secrecy," he vowed, standing and knocking on her desk with his knuckles. "I owe you one."

"Yes, you do," Vila replied as she watched him leave her office but once he was gone she sat back in her chair and smiled.

Sure, she was breaking her own rule about mixing business with pleasure but Vila had been working alongside Albin for five years now and she knew what kind of person he was. Not once had he hit on her or made snide innuendos like half the men in the company. Her social life had been in the toilet lately and Vila was working way too many hours to compensate for that drought in her life. Maybe a getaway would be a good thing. Nice change of pace. Doing something different. And she knew she could trust Albin, the only person on her management team she felt a kinship with and a bonding toward even if it was mostly work related.

The managers had attended a few social gatherings together – office holiday parties, invites to the CEO's home, even a two day conference in New York - so Vila was quite familiar with Albin away from the office too. She came to the conclusion that she needed to forget about Peckerwood (Tom who exited their relationship after three years, claiming she was too work-obsessed, an ironic complaint given that Lawyer Tom worked sixty-hour weeks himself more often than not) and start enjoying herself again.

Vila wasn't sure why she was willing to let her professional guard down to go on a personal venture with Albin. Maybe she was tired of being all work and no play. She knew Albin was attracted to her. Why else would he invite her to his sister's wedding? Maybe getting dumped by Tom was a wakeup call, warning Vila that she was going to end up lonely and loveless if she didn't pay better attention to her personal life. And one weekend with Albin didn't mean a lifelong commitment by any means. She could still maintain her professional work integrity no matter what happened with Albin, right?

Neither mentioned the wedding that was a month away. They continued their easy going working relationship and allied partnership in management meetings and on work projects. Vila and Albin made for a solid professional team which is why they got along so well.

Vila found an appropriate, attractive, comfortable and trendy dress to wear to the outdoor wedding ceremony and she got her hair done a few days before the event. She noticed that Albin got his hair cut and that he shaved off his closely trimmed beard a day before they were scheduled to leave. She wasn't quite used to him being bare-faced and she noticed a few acne scars on his cheek that the beard had covered. Even with that defect, Albin was still a relatively good looking guy with dark brown hair and deep eyes. It was his smile that had always been his best attribute in Vila's opinion.

Vila packed an overnight bag the night before they were scheduled to leave. She stood in front of her full length closet door mirror examining herself, wondering if she was totally presentable for a family wedding. Her golden brown hair was curled now, still reaching her shoulders. She managed to keep herself in reasonably good shape thanks to the small gym at the office that allowed her to work out during lunch or after hours. Some considered her to be overly aggressive in her management style but Vila considered herself to be a sympathetic leader even if she came across as gruff sometimes. Albin believed in holding people accountable but he was much more relaxed in his management style and the two sort of played good-cop/bad cop when dealing with personnel issues in the workplace. Albin was the cheerleader while Vila was the enforcer.

Albin wanted to head home the day before the wedding so he took Friday off. Vila went into the office for a few hours, partly so people wouldn't make any assumptions about both managers being off on the same day. She told Albin to pick her up at her condo at noon. As far as she was aware, nobody at work knew of their weekend getaway plans and she wanted to keep it that way. If there was one thing she abhorred at work, it was gossip.

Albin had been to Vila's house for social gatherings and a couple of management team mini-retreats and he was quite familiar with her condo set up. He met her on the front stoop, almost doing a double take as Vila was wearing khaki shorts and a casual blouse, a far cry from the attractive professional business suits she work to work. Vila was probably the best dressed manager at the company as far as Albin was concerned.

Albin carried her overnight bag and a garment bag to the car for her and the two hour ride seemed to fly by as Albin and Vila discussed several work-related topics, issues and philosophies while reviewing a couple of current projects. They meshed together well as a working team and they had long ago developed an easy rapport when it came to discussing professional interests. It was only now as they drove to Albin's childhood home that Vila realized that she didn't know all that much about her co-worker's personal life and she found herself intrigued by that aspect of his life. They had shared tidbits of their past interests and experiences that included various stories of youthful indiscretions and tales of collegian heroics but in truth they had both kept most of their personal lives private so this road trip home was unique to the two of them.

It wasn't until Albin turned the car off the interstate and drove along several state and county roads that Vila got a sense of Albin's history and background. Soon they arrived at Sun Rise Lake and Albin was driving the car down Lake Shore Road.

"That's where we're eating tonight," he said as they passed by the rustic looking Sun Rise Lake Inn. "And that's where I went to high school." He gestured to the huge private boys school campus on the top of a hill at the far end of the lake and Vila saw the sign for 'The Sunrise Lake School for Boys' as they passed the main entrance.

It was a glorious summer's afternoon with blue sky, bright sun and just the hint of a few puffy clouds. The lake water was blue with the sun reflecting off of it. Several older summer cottages and cabins were intermixed with both vintage and modern year round homes and Vila's eyebrows went up when Albin slowed and turned his Volvo sedan into a long paved driveway that led to a large year round house on the water with a golf-course green large yard, a boat house, a dock and a raft.

"I can't believe you've been keeping this from me all this time," Vila remarked.

"It's my secret get-away," Albin grinned.

He noticed how instantaneously Vila seemed to relax right in front of his eyes. She was always so serious and uptight at work, hard-charging and results orientated and even when they were away from the office most of their conversation was work-related in some way. Now Vila seemed almost transfixed by the sparking lake water and the sounds of the tiny waves hitting the shore.

There were several cars in the driveway and parking area in front of the garage A large tent was on the far lawn covering about one hundred white plastic folding chairs, clearly where the wedding was going to take place.

"Wow," Vila said with amazement as she took in the surroundings. "This is where you grew up?"

"Yep," Albin grinned as he climbed out of the car. "Swimming, water skiing and fishing in the summer, ice fishing and skating in the winter."

"This is wonderful," Vila remarked as she joined him outside the car.

The three story house was painted white with black shutters. There were two screened porches on both sides of the house and a long screened in porch along the front. The large garage was painted red with a weather vane on top of the canopy. Various noises and voices spilled from the house and laughter and yelling could be heard from the large dock by the lake front.

"Come on," Albin said, daring to take her hand as he led her to the front porch that faced the lake.

"Ablin!" Several voices greeted the couple as they entered the porch and the next twenty minutes was a whirlwind as Vila was introduced to various family members – Albin's cheerful parents (Bernie and Annie, the bride to be (Audrey), several about-to-be-in-laws, Albin's two other siblings (Andy and Alexandria – they called Alex Miss A), several cousins, Aunts, Uncles, grandparents, family friends and other people Vila couldn't remember. They were all friendly, bubbly, enthusiastic, welcoming and pleasant people and Vila felt like she was a member of the family, no questions asked.

"You can have your old room," Albin's mother told her visiting son and he lugged his and Vila's luggage up to the third floor of the house to a small room that overlooked the side yard and part of the lake.

Everybody naturally assumed that Vila was Albin's girlfriend happy to share a room with him and he wasn't about to ruin the illusion.

"This was your room?" Vila asked, glancing around as they entered the space that featured sailboats wallpaper with pine wood boarders.

"Until I moved out," Albin verified.

The room didn't look much different from his days of youth. The bookshelves still contained the same books, his high school sports trophies and academic awards. Some of the models he built were still on his bureau and several framed photos of various family summer activities hung on the wall. In addition to the dresser, there was a desk and chair, a double bed, an easy chair, and a flat screen television on the wall. An older stereo was on one of the bookshelves.

Vila sat on the bed and bounced on it to test its firmness.

"I can sleep on the porch," Albin said.

"Your sister said it's a full house," Vila replied. "Your cousin Bo is going to sleep in the hammock! Besides, we don't want anybody to think we had a fight or something."

"I'll sleep on the floor then."

"It's okay," Vila let him know. "The bed is fine for both of us."

"You're being very understanding," Albin said as he walked to the window and glanced out at the lake.

"Your brother said I'm the first girl you've brought home since Jamie," Vila said.

"Yeah," Albin confirmed with a sad heavy sigh.

"Who's Jamie?" Vila wondered.

"My college sweetheart," Albin said blankly, his eyes focused on the lake.

"You guys broke up?"

"No, she died," Albin revealed, his voice flat-lined.

Vila's mouth dropped open. "Oh, Al! I'm so sorry. What happened?"

"Car accident," Albin said softly. "Apparently, she had some sort of medical emergency. Witnesses on the highway said she was slumped over the wheel when the car went off the road."

Vila stood and looked at him with new insight. "We've known each other all this time and you never said anything."

"Seven years later and it's still not easy to talk about," Albin admitted quietly, finally looking at the concerned Vila. "I was going to marry her."

"Oh, Al," Vila sighed. "I hope this weekend isn't going to be too difficult."

"My sister deserves her happiness," Albin smiled bravely. "It's not about me."

"Well, I'm really glad I came with you," Vila said with sincerity, reaching out and touching his arm with her hand in a rare display of physical affection between them.

"Sun Rise Lake is too much like paradise to be up here moping," Albin said with a forced grin. "Let's go outside and socialize with the rest of the gathered."

"You didn't tell me the wedding was in paradise," Vila complained. "I didn't bring my bathing suit."

"There's a community dresser in the alcove on the second floor," Albin let her know. "I'm sure you'll find some suits in there."

Albin quickly changed into his bathing trunks while Vila was on the second floor looking for something to wear. They met on the stairs and Albin noticed she was holding a blue garment in her hand.

"Found something?" He asked.

"I think so," Vila said, feeling slightly awkward for some reason.

"I'll meet you on the dock," he said.

Vila smiled and returned to the third floor room with an entirely new appreciation and perspective about her co-worker. Being with Albin away from the office and work, meeting his family, finding out he grew up in Eden, and learning about his dead fiancé were all eye openers for her and suddenly Vila was overcome by a sense of total relaxation and escapism, forgetting about all the office crap and discovering that this is where she needed and wanted to be. She couldn't remember the last time she had a break from everything without some sort of agenda to it. Her getaways with Tom were always action-packed and non-stop escapades with barely enough time to catch her breath but there was something magical about being here at the lake – life had slowed and there was a peacefulness to this house she had never known before.

Vila stripped out of her clothes and put on the one piece skin tight blue bathing suit she had found in the community dresser that seemed closest to her size although now that she had it on she wondered if perhaps it was too small. She didn't want her breasts popping out of the top or the backside crawling up her ass cheeks. She put on a blouse over the suit and walked downstairs, joining the rest of the crowd on the lake front yard and dock. There was wine and beer and soda and snacks, laughter and conversation, swimming and boating.

Vila saw the double look Albin gave her when she first approached the group in her striking bathing suit and that made her secretly smile. She had never seen him look at her like that before. She sat on the arm chair of the wooden deck chair he was occupying and if Albin had moved his hand six inches he would be coping a feel of her curvy rear that was no more than a foot from his face.

Vila performed a great and convincing job playing the role of Albin's pretend girlfriend. She laughed at just the right moments, contributed appropriately to the ongoing conversations, showed affection and attention to Albin sitting next to her, and even told a few stories that made it sound like she and Albin were together. Vila was surprised at how comfortable she was at faking that reality and how easy it was to sound like she and Albin were intimately involved.

Albin did his best to be equally as believable in his presentation knowing that his family would be less worried about his prolonged grief regarding Jamie if they assumed he was with Vila. Appearing legitimately as a happy couple there would lessen the angst about Albin's aloneness and offer hope for his successful future having finally found someone after Jamie, who was loved and adored by everybody who knew her.

Of course, the Conway family was very gracious, accepting, welcoming, warm and embracing toward Vila, happy to see her with Albin and that made her feel accepted and relaxed. She found herself loving the whole family environment, something she wasn't all that familiar with. Tom had been an only child with a dead father and a re-married mother and he was mostly independent from his roots. Vila didn't like to think about her own family if she could help it so being swept into the Conway family group hug was new and different.

Albin took a few dips in the lake and Vila joined him in the refreshingly cool water. She couldn't remember the last time she had taken a swim in an actual lake and she found the experience enjoyable and delightful.

"I really appreciate you going all in on this," Albin told her as they treaded water during one of their swims. "You have them eating out of your hand."

"They'll hate me if they ever find out the truth," she worried.

"We just need to get through the weekend," Albin reminded her.

"You mean we just go back to the way it was on Monday?" She asked.

Albin shrugged. "Isn't that what you want?"

It was at that moment when Vila realized she had no idea what she wanted.

Those not involved in the actual wedding ceremony stayed on the lake front well into the evening. The entire group was due at the Sun Rise Lake Inn down the road at 8:00 for a catered gathering/celebration on the eve of the wedding so people started venturing back to the house (or the inn or the motels where they were staying) and Albin and Vila finally headed for their room a little bit before seven. Vila was aglow from her afternoon in the sun and she was all smiles as Albin led her into the bedroom. There were two other bedrooms and a bath on the third floor – Andy and his wife Betty were in one room and Uncle Jess and Aunt Sally were in the other. Albin closed the door to their room.

"We have last dibs on the bathroom," Albin said. "Since we were the last ones here."

"That's okay," Vila replied, taking a seat at the chair at the desk.

She was beginning to have serious doubts as to whether or not she was ever going to be able to see Albin as just as co-worker and fellow team manager now. She liked being with him. She liked swimming with him. She liked being a part of his amazingly welcoming and cheerful family. She had always been soothed by his personality but she never saw him as a possible romantic interest until now, sitting in his childhood bedroom with him, him still in his bathing trunks, and her wearing a borrowed bathing suit.

"Are you going to shower?" Albin asked, standing in the window of the bedroom again and allowing the breeze to greet him while watching the sun set on the lake surface.

"Do you think there will be enough hot water with so many people in the house?"

"Probably not," he admitted.

"I should at least rinse my hair out."

"Andy said he'd knock when the bathroom was ours," Albin volunteered.

Vila nodded her head in understanding. "You have a great family," she blurted out.

"Everybody's on their best behavior on the eve of the wedding," Albin teased.

"My father left my mother for another man," Vila told him.

Albin looked at her with surprise. "Oh."

"I didn't care so much that he was gay," she said, glancing down at the floor with sorrow. "But it bothered me that he left the family. We'd still see him. He dutifully paid the child support and we went to visit him on school vacations and two weeks in the summer but he was never really a Dad. He was too focused on being a gay man in partnership with the man he was with and being a Dad was not all that high on his priority list."

"I'm sorry," Albin offered from his place by the window.

"I know he loves me but it still hurt to know that our family wasn't important enough to him," Vila sighed. "I have a lot of resentment because I feel like he ruined my family because his lover was more important to him then his own children."

"Every family has its problems," Albin said.

"What kind of problems did you family have?" Vila frowned, sounding like she didn't believe the Conways could have the same experience she did.

"My grandfather was a pedophile," Albin revealed quietly. "We didn't find out until years later but it's pretty undeniable. My Aunt Maggie drank herself to death. Andy was pushing drugs for a while. Miss A was pregnant when she was sixteen."

"But your parents seem pretty happy," Vila said.

"Yeah, they seemed to have made it," Albin agreed with gratitude.

"I was always jealous of my friends who had fathers they were close to," Vila sighed. "I've never been very close to my dad so seeing fathers dote on their daughters made me feel lonely and abandoned. I always wondered what it felt like to be a daddy's girl. It bothers me that he missed out being a part of my childhood and adolescence. Even now, he can hardly be bothered."

"How are things with your mom?"

"She remarried, she's happy, but my step-father isn't really connected either," Vila said. "I feel abandoned so I'm always searching for that love I never got. Yet I don't trust it so I end up just as distant and removed as my father. I get obsessed with my work because I'm afraid that I'll always be disappointed in my relationships."

"You're very good at your work," Albin told her.

"I didn't even care when Tom left," she said. "It was almost a relief. I'm very comfortable being alone. I don't need a man to survive but I do feel that everyone deserves to be loved."

"I agree," Albin smiled.

"It must have been hard after Jamie," Vila said with sympathy.

"Very hard," Albin acknowledged. "I was convinced I'd never love again and so I never even tried."

Neither said anything for the longest moment. Vila wondered if Albin could love now. And she asked herself if she was willing to love again too. She was attracted to Albin, she wasn't going to deny that now. He was kind, genuine, humorous, and real. They worked well together and they understood each other. Now they were getting to know each other even more on this little weekend escape. It suddenly felt fresh and new being with him at the lake. But would she always be jaded, doubtful and suspicious, afraid that Albin would let her down too? Would she always be dogged by the hurt and rejection of her past or would she ever be able to love openly and freely?

There was a knock on the door. "Bathroom's yours!" Andy yelled.

"You go first," Albin told Vila. "There should be plenty of fresh towels in the linen closet inside the bathroom."

"Okay," Vila agreed, standing and digging a toilette case out of her overnight bag. "I shouldn't be long."

Albin watched her leave the room and when he knew she was gone he let out a long loud breath. It never occurred to him that the weekend with Vila pretending to be his girlfriend was going to become so tempting, emotional, and moving. She was so sexy in that one piece blue bathing suit that looked like it had been glued onto her body and Albin knew he hadn't looked at another woman like that since Jamie. It was the first time in years he felt attracted to someone in that way. Strange how he had been working with Vila for five years and only now that he was home did he see her as someone other than a respected and well liked co-worker. Only now did she know about Jamie and only now did he know her father's story.

Albin was struggling trying to figure out what he was supposed to do with his emotional feelings. Was he betraying Jamie by being attracted to Vila? Did Vila have any similar feelings toward him? Was all this just a fantasy escape with no basis in reality? The stereotypical wedding euphoria that made everybody feel extra romantic?

Albin was lost in his thoughts when Vila came through the door, closing it behind her. She was wearing nothing but a yellow Terri clothed towel that Albin recognized from his younger days. She looked and smelled clean. He tried not to stare at her barely covered frame, the towel tied off around the top of her breasts and stopping dangerously short high on her thighs. She laughed at his reaction.

"I'll just step outside," he said awkwardly.

"Oh, who cares?" Vila replied, handing him her still damp bathing suit. "I wasn't sure what to do with this."

"We have a system," Albin grinned, taking the suit from her and returning to the window. "There's little hooks out here. I always hung my trunks to dry out here."

"Sounds like a plan,' Vila smiled.

"I guess I'll go take a quick shower," Albin announced once he was done hanging her bathing suit.

"Okay," Vila said but she stood in his path as he started for the door and he nearly bumped into her.

"Excuse me," he blushed and Vila giggled in response, her towel barely clinging to her body and it was all Albin could do not to reach out and yank the towel to reveal her birthday suit underneath, something he was suddenly dying to see for some reason.

Both of them could hear the other's heart pumping, it seemed, or at least their breathing in the quiet room. Vila wondered if she should innocently lift her hand up and drop the towel to the floor. How would Albin react? Would that be too forward and crude of her?

"I'll give you some privacy," Albin muttered, finally stepping past her.

Vila went to the bed and it was only when Albin went to close the door behind him did he see that she had indeed dropped the towel to the floor. Her back was to him and he saw her white buns contrasted against the colored rest of her body from that afternoon's sun. His eyes went wide at the lovely sight and even though her back was to him Vila knew that he was checking her out and she was strangely okay with that. She didn't say anything as she waited for him to close the door behind him and once he did she burst out in a wide grin, laughing in delight to herself just imaging what the look on his face must have been.

Albin stumbled into the bathroom in a daze. He wasn't sure why he hadn't tackled Vila to the bed and ravaged her from behind except that wasn't his style. He barely dated in his post-Jamie fog and his sexual relationships were few, short, and far between over the years. Most recently, there was Joleen in Finance who seduced him a few years earlier - it was a nice fling and they both moved on without regret or remorse (Joleen had since left the company). He was also embarrassed to admit he took advantage of the young intern Amber the previous summer, letting her flirt with him and when he knew she was about to leave for her junior year of college he took her out for an expensive dinner and then brought her back to his place for a night of physical passion but that was about the extent of his sexual conquests because he just couldn't get beyond Jamie.

But now he had brought Vila home for his sister's wedding. Vila was right. He could have asked one of the women he didn't know all that well from the secretarial pool to play the role of his fake girlfriend - it would have been just as meaningless as Joleen and Amber - but it was Vila he had sought out and now as he stood in the bathroom of his childhood home thinking about Vila (and what he had just seen) he wondered if he had subconsciously gone to Vila for the favor because she was the one he wanted all along.

Albin stripped out of his bathing trunks and tee shirt and stepped into the shower. There was no hot water, of course, so he quickly rinsed the lake water off of his body and washed his hair. He turned off the water and started to open the shower curtain and almost ripped it off the rod when he realized Vila was standing at the sink with her back to him putting her make up on in the medicine cabinet mirror. He quickly grabbed a towel and closed the curtain, pretty sure she hadn't seen...anything. She was wearing a pretty yellow summer dress and she was concentrating on her make up in the mirror.

Albin hastily dried himself off behind the shower curtain and securely wrapped the towel around his waist before cautiously stepping out of the shower.

"Hey," Vila said, smiling at him in the mirror.

"You don't have a lot of boundary issues, do you?" Albin realized.

"We're not sixteen, Al," Vila said giving him the eye. "Besides, we're supposed to be a couple."

"Yeah," Albin agreed before quickly leaving the bathroom so he could dress before she was done doing her face.

He had his khakis on and he was just pulling a polo shirt on over his head when Vila entered the room.

"You look great," Albin told her.

"Thanks," she smiled. "This is going to be a crazy dinner, isn't it?"

"We reserved the main room just for our family," Albin said. "It should be fun. My father will make a teary eyed toast. Audrey will be like a kid on Christmas morning. You only have one wedding day eve bash in your life if you're lucky."

"My family never did anything like this," Vila sighed. "Makes me feel sad sometimes."

"Well, maybe this weekend can make up for some of that," Albin smiled with encouragement. "Everybody already thinks you're great."

"You don't think they'll resent me because of Jamie?" Vila worried.

"It's been seven years, Vila," Albin reminded her. "Everybody except me moved on a long time ago."

"When do you think you'll be able to move on?" Vila asked with a quizzical look on her face.

"Pretty soon," Albin whispered as he put his sat on the edge of the bed and put his sandals on.

Vila waited patiently for him to finish and then followed him from the room and down the two flights of stairs to the front door. Various family members had already left for the Inn.

"We could walk if you wanted," Albin said. "It's a nice right now but it might be a little cool by the end of the night and the road is dark."

"Somebody will give us a ride back, right?" Vila asked.

"Sure," Albin said.

"Let's walk then," Vila said.

Albin told her several lake stories as they walked along the shore road toward the inn. Riding his bike around the lake on the shore road - he and Andy would race Audrey and Miss A - the girls would leave the house in one direction and he and Andy would head in the other direction.

"We usually won," Albin bragged.

"You were older than Miss A," Vila pointed out.

"And Miss A was older than Andy," Albin rebutted. "And Audrey was older than me. I'd say it was even."

Vila nodded. "My sister and I didn't get along all that well," she revealed after a few quiet moments.

"How come?" Albin asked.

She shrugged. "Margie tended to play the gay father pity card more than necessary," she said. "Got a lot of sympathy and special treatment that way. I thought it was disrespectful and a cop out but my mother always favored her over me because I tended to be much less expressive with my feelings on the subject."

"Your mom probably felt Margie was more of an ally for her."

"Probably," Vila agreed. "So, anyway, we didn't do a whole lot as a family. Sort of the separate camps mentality, plus my mother would make me feel guilty as hell for being so willing to spend time with our father while Margie was much more Sarah Burnhart about it."

"I was the only one who attended Sun Rise Lake School for Boys," Albin said. "I guess that made me different."

"Audrey and Miss A weren't allowed," Vila said.

"And Andy refused to go," Albin revealed.

"How come?"

"He didn't think he was smart enough," Albin replied. "Plus he didn't want to follow in my shadow. I was pretty good at sports and academically too." He pointed toward a certain spot on the lake. "We would crew right out there."

"Did you like going to a private school?"

"I didn't mind," Albin admitted. "In hindsight, Andy probably would have been better off here too. He ended up having problems at the tech school. Drugs and stuff."

"He seems to be doing well now," Vila observed.

"He is," Albin proudly confirmed.

"You were pretty lucky to have grown up here," Vila said. "It seems so peaceful and serine."

"It is," Albin agreed. "I never took it for granted either."

The inn appeared in the distance and Albin took Vila's hand in his as they walked the final hundred yards. It was a nice feeling to be arriving together as the pretend couple.

The celebration dinner and gathering was fun. Audrey and her husband-to-be were the hit of the party and center of attention but Vila was also treated as a special guest star and she enjoyed being swept up into the family culture. The food was delicious and there was no shortage of drinks available either. Vila wasn't feeling any pain by the end of the night and Albin had never seen his co-worker so laid back, mellow, and receptive before. She was affectionate, she was funny, and she was vulnerably cute. Albin was amused by her giggly good natured attitude spurred on by the alcohol and he used it to his advantage as far as socializing with her went. Family and friends were happy to see Albin looking so happy again.

Albin and Vila caught a ride back to the house with Andy and Betty – Andy was the only one cold sober of the foursome. The lake water was sparkling in the moonlight.

"Want to go skinny dipping?" Vila giggled.

"Probably not a good idea after a night of drinking," Albin advised. "I'd hate to ruin the wedding by drowning the night before."

"You're no fun," Vila pouted as Albin helped her up the stairs to the third floor.

Vila kicked off her shoes as she sat heavily on the bed and gave Albin a look. "Are you afraid of me?" She wanted to know.

"No," Albin laughed. "Should I be?"

"I'm not sure," she smirked. "I'm feeling pretty goofy right now."

"Maybe we should just go to sleep," Albin suggested.

"I won't bite you, Al," Vila assured him with a giggle.

"You've probably had too much to drink," he said.

"Yep," she said with an amused look on her face. . "I'm going to get undressed now."

"Do you want me to leave?"

"Nope," Vila replied matter-of-factly. "Make yourself at home. I'm the guest."

She stood and shimmied out of her dress, now standing at the foot of the bed in her panties and bra. Albin tried to look relaxed and unaffected by the sight but he was nervous and awkward about the situation so he turned the light off.

"Ah, you're no fun," Vila complained.

"Let's just go to sleep," he suggested again, sounding very gentle and soothing.

Albin took off his clothes and slipped under the cover sheet of the bed in his underwear. Vila was still standing at the foot of the bed, now staring at him. He could see her in the shadows of the room and he could hear her breaths too.

"What are you so afraid of?" Vila wanted to know.

"I'm not afraid," Albin insisted. "I'm just respecting you."

She laughed. "Seriously? "You'd be the first."

"We've been drinking," he reminded her.

"How many times are you going to tell me?" She groaned.

"It's just that you might not feel so….goofy….in the morning."

Vila rolled her eyes, tossed aside her bra and slipped her panties down her legs before slipping into the bed under the covers next to him, totally nude. "I have a feeling I won't care how I feel in the morning," she purred, a mischievous grin on her face. "You okay?" Her teasing smile even in the shadows almost made him laugh out loud.

"I don't want you blaming me in the morning for anything that might happen," Albin said.

"Oh, but I already blame you," she said.

"Why?" He asked defensively. "I didn't do anything."

"That's what I'm blaming you for!" She laughed, leaning in and kissing his cheek. She peered into his eyes as they both lay on the bed, him on his back with his head turned to her, Vila on her side facing him, the sheet barely covering her breasts. "Are you thinking of Jamie?" She asked seriously.

"We don't have to talk about her right now," Albin said sadly.

"Do you ever talk about her?"

"Not really," he confessed.

"Maybe it would help if you talked about her to me," Vila said. "What was she like?"

"Why would you want me talking to you about her?" Albin asked with surprise.

"Who else you going to talk to about her?" Vila asked.

"You don't think it's weird for us to talk about her?"

"No," Vila said. "Why? Do you think I'd be jealous of her or something? That I'd be jealous of a dead person?"

"I don't know," Albins shrugged.

"You loved her."

"We were insanely in love with each other," he admitted. "She never stopped looking at me with eyes of want and desire and love and happiness. She was my first true love. A very special person. She came from a Polish family and she had lots of customs and traditions."

"So, she was different," Vila said. "In that way."

"I never realized how empty my life was before she came into it," Albin said.

"Or after she left it," Vila remarked.

"Sometimes I feel like she's watching over me," Albin said. "She was meant to be my wife and I feel bad that we got cheated out of that."

"You miss her."

"I worshipped her," Albin clarified. "I was devastated when she died. I couldn't function for weeks. I'd sit out there on the lake front as if I had a stroke. I couldn't talk. I couldn't move. I couldn't think. I couldn't feel."

"But you got better," Vila said. "Eventually."

"I guess," he said. "I lost my job in Greenville because I couldn't go to work but gradually I started to figure things out. I decided to leave the area because there were just too many memories of her around here but I learned that she was still with me no matter where I was."

"And you joined Davis, Leach and Phillips," Vila said.

"Well, I had a few intermediate stops along the way but yeah, that's where I ended up. And met you."

"Have you recovered from her loss yet?" Vila asked.

"I miss her," He said.

"Of course."

"I went through all the grief stages," he added. "I was angry, I was depressed, I was resigned, but I guess I've finally accepted it. Only took seven years."

"And you're ready to move on?"

"I still think about her."

"You always will."

"I think about the things I did wrong and what I could have done differently," Albin sighed. "I beat myself up for every unkind word I said, for impatience displayed, for all the times I let her down in some way."

"You can stop now," Vila advised. "She forgave you a long time ago."

"You never forget your first true love," Albin said.

"Especially when they die," Vila agreed.

"She was a great cook," Albin recalled. "We lived a quaint life. I'd go over to her mother's house and they'd over feed me. She'd come here and we'd go for a canoe ride on quiet summer afternoons."

"You don't have to feel guilty, Al," Vila told him, her fingers tracing his jaw line in the darkness as they shared the bed side by side.

He felt her move on the bed and then her lips were on his, kissing him. It was a soft and tender kiss of compassion and understanding, sorrow and hope. Albin felt lightheaded and even a little turned on but he was afraid to react to much as he rubbed his lips along hers.

"It's okay to feel sadness," she whispered.

"It's not fair to you," Albin replied.

"I feel sad too."

"About what?" He asked, searching her eyes now.

"About my father," she said quietly. "And Tom. And all my past relationships. But here I am with you and somehow it feels okay."

"It's a moment that I never thought would happen," Albin confessed.

"I know you were in love with her," Vila said softly. "And for a long time nothing else mattered but her because she was your world."

Albin was too emotional to say anything.

"And that might be the reason why I could be falling in love with you now," Vila courageously revealed.

He leaned in kissed her with a smile and she felt her breath suck away.

"I know you would go back if you could and do it all again," Vila said.

"I couldn't take losing her again," Albin said, tears in his eyes.

"If you feel like there are things in your heart that are unfinished and that you still need to sort out, I'll understand," Vila said. "I love being here in your bed with you and I'd love to have you hold me in your arms but if you're not ready I'm okay with that too."

He wrapped his arms around her and kissed her again. "I'm almost ready," he said.

Vila breathed out a gush of relief and pushed her body into his. He enjoyed the feel of her warm naked skin against his and that's how they fell asleep together.

The house was bustling with activity and noise in the morning – wedding day. Albin and Vila lay in bed for as long as they could resisting the start of the day while allowing the morning breeze to blow through the window and the sun to warm their face. Vila was still nestled against Albin, much the same way she had been when they fell asleep. He looked at her and saw that she was looking back at him.

"Are you still afraid?" Vila asked.

"No," he said. "Are you still feeling goofy?"

"I'll always feel goofy with you!" She teased.

"So you're not going to blame me for you being naked here in bed with me?"

"I'm naked?" Vila joked in mock horror, lifting up the sheet and peeking underneath.

"You were kind of drunk," Albin said.

"I remember everything said and not done, Al," Vila told him with a smirk.

He slowly tugged the sheet down and she giggled without resisting. Soon it was down by her ankles and she lay flat on her back naked looking at him. She smiled acknowledging his look of appreciation before she sat up on the end of the bed, her back to him. He reached his hand out and rubbed the top half of her backside that wasn't pressed into the mattress. She reached out and rubbed his arm in understanding before standing and going to the window.

"Looks like it's going to be a glorious wedding day," Vila announced.

"I can see that," Albin grinned, taking in her magnificent naked beauty as she stood in the rays of the sun coming through the window. She almost looked transparent.

Vila looked at him and smirked. "We haven't had sex yet, Al," she reminded him.

"This is already perfection," he said.

"Well, thank you," Vila said happily. "That's a wonderful way to start the day."

She had never looked as sensual as she did at that moment. She smiled and stepped toward the bed, lifting the sheet off of the bed and wrapping it around her body before heading for the door. Albin let out a deep breath wondering if this was really true. He was finally with someone he wanted to be with, apparently able to thaw from his Jamie deep freeze and slowly move forward. Vila had made it clear through her actions and words that she was interested in him. Albin was pretty sure that when a woman willingly got naked in front of a guy she trusted him, believed in him, was comfortable with him, and wanted to be with him. Maybe he should rip off his boxers and run naked after her into the bathroom to show that he was willing to be naked in front of her too.

Vila returned after a while, looking refreshed and relaxed, still wrapped in the sheet. "I'm trying to remember the last time I've gone to a wedding," she said, closing the door behind her.

"Andy's, for me," Albin said, still sitting on the bed.

"I guess it was my cousin's a while back," Vila recalled. "Very formal. Church wedding. Very upscale posh reception."

"You won't have to worry about that here," Albin replied. "Are you hungry?"

"Sure," Vila replied.

"The Lake Front Diner has good food," he said. "We could go there if you want."

"Okay."

She unwrapped the sheet from her torso and let it fall to the floor, catching Albin off guard in her unexpected nudity again. She smirked when she saw the look on his face.

"You really need to lighten up, Al," she said as she fished for some clothes out of her overnight bag that was sitting on the desk. "We're on vacation."

"I'm just not used to exhibitionism," he said.

"I'm not one of those," Vila insisted as she started to dress. "I'm just having fun with you. Breaking all the rules. That's what you do at weddings."

She was wearing the same khaki shorts as yesterday but with a red tee shirt with some sort of faded emblem on the chest. Albin quickly threw on a pair of jeans and a yellow tee shirt and they headed downstairs. There were people coming and going with a determinable level of stress and anxiety filling the air as various wedding party participants and family members hustled about with last minute preparations and worries. They could hear Albin's mother barking orders at somebody in the kitchen.

"We really need to avoid all this," Albin said, grabbing Vila by the hand and rushing her out of the house.

Luckily, his car wasn't blocked in and they zipped out of the yard and down the road to the center of the small lakefront village, finding a parking spot on a side road. The diner was busy (mostly family and friends from Albin's wedding house!) but – after saying hello to various familiar faces - he and Vila got a small table for two in the far corner. They ordered coffee as soon as they sat and a moment later a waitress arrived and took their order (pancakes for Albin, yogurt and a banana for Vila).

"I want to apologize if I embarrassed you before," Vila said. "I didn't mean to be a troll prancing around naked."

"It's not that I minded," Albin said with a slight blush. "I'm just not used to it."

"Maybe I went overboard playing the role of your girlfriend," Vila admitted.

"I worry about Monday," Albin said.

"What do you mean?"

"When the pretending stops," he sighed.

"Who said it was all pretend, Al?" Vila challenged seductively.

"I don't want to be all emotionally vulnerable here and then have to go back to the way things were on Monday," he said.

"Me either," Vila replied. "I enjoyed our conversation last night. I liked being with you like that."

"Can you still work with me after I saw you naked?" Albin wondered.

"Wow, I guess I'm not as modest as you are," Vila realized. "I was never that hung up on body exposure. I didn't mean to offend you."

"Maybe we now know too much about each other," Albin worried. "And we'll never see each other in the same way again."

"I really think you're overthinking this way too much," Vila replied. "Relax, enjoy your breakfast. Your sister's getting married in a few hours. It's all good."

They were interrupted by family members and friends wanting to chat (mostly about the wedding) and when they were done with their breakfast, Albin and Vila returned to the house which felt more chaotic than ever with the wedding getting all the more closer. They were greeted by Albin's mother as they stepped onto the lake front porch.

"I'm really sorry we haven't had more time to talk," Mrs. Conway said to Vila. She was a good four inches shorter than her son with jet black hair and a somewhat stocky body. "How long have you two been dating anyway? Albin, you haven't told me anything about this lovely girl."

Albin and Vila had not kibitzed about their story and it was clear that Albin was caught off guard by the question.

"We've been working together for about five years but things got a bit more personal after the company Christmas party this past year," Vila lied, her eyes dancing gleefully as she affectionately wrapped her arm around Albin's waist and tugged him close.

"I wanted to wait and make sure we were really serious about each other before telling you, Mom," Albin said sheepishly.

"We talked about this, Al," Vila said. "What was the first thing I said when you told me Audrey was getting married? I want to go! Remember?"

"And here we are," Albin smiled.

"Glad to see it," Mrs. Conway said earnestly. "I don't have time to talk about your future now though. I've got a daughter getting married today!"

"Can I help with anything?" Vila volunteered.

"Yes, certainly dear, come with me," Mrs. Conway replied as she swept Vila into the house, leaving Albin standing alone on the porch.

Andy came barging out of the house almost on cue. "Let's go harass the new brother in law," he said.

Albin hopped into Andy's car and they went to the Inn where the groom's party was held up in one of the rooms drinking a celebratory beer while waiting for the bewitching hour. Albin thought Grant was a nice guy good for Audrey who wasn't all that much unlike Vila in many ways – concentrating on her nursing career and putting off marriage until she was firmly entrenched in her career.

The group of guys shot the breeze, those who were married giving inside pointers about how to be a good husband while the single guys joked around about Grant losing his independence and freedom. All Albin knew was that he envied Grant for finding love and being willing to settle down.

Albin and Andy returned to the house an hour before the ceremony. Vila had already showered and she was standing in Albin's room dressed in her knock out dress for the ceremony – a skin tight white satiny number that caused Albin to gawk at her in amazement. She laughed at his reaction.

"Go shower," she said. "We're running out of time."

Albin stripped down to his underwear and took a quick shower, daring to return with only a towel wrapped around his midsection. Vila raised her eyebrows in a seductive expression but Albin kept the towel on as he slipped on a pair of fresh briefs under the towel. He wasn't sure if Vila looked disappointed in his modesty. He put on a pair of new light colored khaki trousers and a never before worn short sleeved dress shirt, with a blue tie that reflected the color of the lake.

"You look very nice," Vila told them when they were ready to leave the room.

"You look even better," Albin replied.

There was a five piece orchestra playing overture music when Albin and Vila approached the large tent covering the folding chairs. Various people were mingling about talking and laughing while waiting for the main event to start. Albin and Vila sat at the front on the bride's side in the immediate family row. Soon the rest of the family took their seats except for Miss A who was Maid of Honor and Andy who was among the groomsmen. The bridal party was wearing striking blue dresses and the groom's party was decked out in white tuxedos. Mr. Conway gave away the bride and the minister was hip younger guy who was humorous and earthly yet strikingly spiritual and God centered. Everybody attending agreed that it was a lovely ceremony with moving vows, nice speeches, emotional music, and loving platitudes. Vila took Albin's hand in hers during the ceremony and kept hold of it in her lap until it was over.

When the newlyweds were pronounced husband and wife, they ran from the stage down the center aisle to applause and cheers and the catering crew made a quick change, bringing in tables and a portable dance floor as the DJ set up and the food serving tables were arranged. The wedding party and guests mingled about the lake front with champagne and conversation until the tables were ready.

"I think this is the best wedding I've ever been too," Vila decided as she chatted with Albin on the grassy edge of the lake front. "I'm enjoying your family and friends. Everybody here is good people."

Albin smiled, feeling good that the weekend was going so well. "Everybody likes you too," he said.

"They like me because I'm with you," Vila pointed out. "They're hoping I'm the perfect girlfriend and that I'm the woman you've been waiting for all this time."

"So what?" Albin asked.

"You want to be with me?" She wanted to know.

"You agreed to be my pretend."

"Because we said we were pretending," Vila said, taking a sip from her champagne glass while eyeing him. "Are you having a good time?"

"Best time ever," he said honestly. "My sister is married. I'm with a beautiful woman. Who could ask for anything more?"

Vila took another sip from her champagne glass as they slowly walked to the table area where the wedding banquet was now set up. They found a table with some other family members and enjoyed the afternoon reception of toasts, good food, dancing, and conversation.

Vila continued to fit in well and she enjoyed getting to know Albin's family and hearing more family stories. Vila was a terrific dancer, swaying her hips to the beat of the music, her face happy and her smile complete. Albin was proud to be seen in her company and it was easy to be swept up in the excitement of the celebration and the enjoyment of dancing. They took breaks when the DJ did, sitting at their table to rest, regroup and chat. At one point, Albin ran the back of his hand along Vila's cheek.

"Thanks for doing this for me," he said sincerely. "Having you here makes all the difference."

"Al, please stop talking about it," Vila requested. "I'm glad I'm here. I'm having a great time. Relax."

Albin let out a deep breath. "Okay," he agreed.

She raised an eyebrow and laughed while giving his hand in his lap a squeeze as she leaned in and delivered an open-mouthed kiss on his lips before forcing his mouth open and sticking her tongue through his teeth. "I'm really glad I'm here," she whispered.

Albin had to force himself not to lift her out of her chair and sprawl her across the table, taking her right there and then. Instead, he tried to compose himself and resist such urges. .

"That's great," he said, his face flushed as he broke from her smooch to see her face alive with amusement.

"This has been pretty easy to pull off, hasn't it?" Vila asked.

"What?" He asked, confused.

"Us looking like we've been together all along."

"I guess," he shrugged.

Vila looked smug as she took him by the hands and led him out to the dance floor for more dancing when the DJ started the music up again. And when some slow music started to play, Vila didn't miss a beat, placing her head against his chest and he held her tightly as they slowed danced naturally as if they had been doing it together for years. Vila lifted her head up and she looked into his eyes.

"Do you think it was supposed to be?" She asked.

Albin's eyes widened. "I'd like to think so."

Vila smiled and rested her head against his chest again. "I really didn't expect it to turn out like this, Al," she confessed.

"Me either," he admitted. "But I'm glad it did."

A wedding reception on a lake front offered various activities, including motor boat rides, water skiing, swimming, snorkeling, canoe rides, and sail boating among other events. Albin and Vila broke from the dancing long enough to take a speed boat ride with the bride and groom, not bothering to change for that adventure.

"It's nice that both of us are happy at the same time," Audrey told her brother during the boat ride.

"I think we deserve it," Albin said with contentment.

"I think you're right!" Vila said from her perch next to them, drinking another glass of champagne.

The bride and groom left the reception around sunset but several guests and family continued celebrating long into the night until the DJ finally had enough and called it a night around midnight. Vila and Albin had danced until their feet turned raw and the idea of a skinny dip crossed Albin's mind but there were still too many people out and about plus Vila had been drinking quite liberally for most of the day and it probably wouldn't be the best idea to have her naked and drowning in the lake on the night of his sister's wedding celebration!

The Pretenders made it back to Albin's room and Albin quickly stripped down to his BVDs while Vila was using the bathroom. She returned holding her dress while covered in only her panties and bra to find Albin sitting on the bed in his underwear. She giggled and sat next to him on the soft mattress. Albin leaned in and kissed her softly on her forehead.

"Are we still pretending?" He whispered, glancing down at the top of her breasts sticking out from her thin lacy bra.

"Were we ever really pretending, Al?" Vila asked quietly as she reached behind her back and unfastened the garment.

Albin said nothing as the bra fell into her lap, exposing her breasts once again for him to see. She tossed that aside and slipped her silky panties down her legs, kicking them off before sliding herself under the covers. Albin pulled down his underwear, kicked them aside, and joined Vila underneath the sheets.

"Can we considered this whole weekend an endless first date?" He asked.

Vila laughed. "Best first date I've ever been on."

She snuggled into Albin's side and they looked longingly into each other's eyes. The light on the desk was still on and noises from a few lingering party-goers could be heard outside the window. Vila ran her hands through Albin's hair and he softly rubbed her arm in a pleasing and sensual display of affection. Vila took deep breaths in response as they both smiled at the other until they both fell asleep in each other's arms after the long day (and night) of emotional gala wedding celebration.

It was still dark when Albin was awakened by a soft buzz in his ear.

"Are you still asleep?" Vila whispered.

"Enjoying this great dream," Albin replied, kissing her on the mouth.

Vila rolled onto her back and Albin climbed on top of her as they began to make out with a need, want, desire, force, fever, and fire neither had known before. It was erotic, sensual, and delightful, aided by the touch of their naked bodies rubbing against each other in the summer heat.

"No more pretending," Vila vowed as they began to make love.