When It's Real
“What?” He rears back. “No. Fine. How about—” he pretends to think and then snaps his fingers “—old lady?”
“Great.” I give him my fakest smile. “I’ll call you...dick cheese.”
“Vaughn, gross,” my sister interjects.
Oakley covers his mouth. I swear I see a smile. I wait for his response and I’m not disappointed. “I have no problem with that, crabby patty.”
“All right, that’s enough of that. None of this needs to be in the contract.” Oakley’s lawyer rattles his papers in agitation.
I turn back to Claudia. I’ve given in on the kissing. On the dates. On this made-for-the-media breakup with my boyfriend, but no way am I going to let them change my look. I’ve got to fight for something. “I thought you wanted a normal girl. I’m a normal girl. This is what some normal girls wear.”
When Claudia and Jim exchange a glance, I know I’ve won this one. They agree to keep my look...for now.
“But when we take pictures, at least let us do your makeup. You’ll want us to,” Claudia promises.
Um. That doesn’t sound ominous or anything.
The negotiation goes on. When will our first official picture be released? Where will the dates take place? Will I go to an awards show with him? How about fashion week in New York? How often should I be seen with him? Every day? Every other day?
Oh, and I would not get Oakley’s phone number. Like I care.
But I still find it weird, because what nineteen-year-old isn’t allowed to give his number to his own girlfriend? And how does he communicate with his friends? Wait—does he even have friends? Or are they all fake like me?
I peer at him from underneath my lashes and feel a pang of sympathy. Oh, brother. Am I actually starting to feel sorry for him? I think I might be.
But then my stomach growls and reminds me that we’re still mad. And unfed.
“You’ll text Amy or me if you want to get ahold of Oakley,” Claudia says.
“I feel like I need my own people. My people can text your people,” I joke.
No one laughs. Instead, Claudia looks like she’s seriously considering it, but then decides against it. “No, I think two nonteens Tweeting each other and commenting on Instagram would appear too contrived. And your voice, we want to preserve that. Whereas Amy has been running Oak’s page for a couple of years now.”
I have a voice?
“Whatever.” I’m exhausted and hungry. One granola bar wasn’t enough, and my stomach rumbles again to alert everyone to that fact.
“Is the granola bar all you’ve had today?” Oakley asks.
A burst of surprise jolts me. Out of all the people in this room, Oakley’s the one to ask? “I had breakfast, but I like to eat like a normal person.”
A faint smile touches his lips. “Jim, we need to eat.”
“Oh, sure.” Jim turns to Paisley. “Run and get us one of everything from the café across the street.”
I see a chance for fresh air and an escape. “I’ll go, too.” Not to mention that I don’t want to be here without Paisley.
“Oh, no, we’ll need you here,” Jim objects.
“I’m sorry,” I murmur to my sister. She doesn’t need to wait on me.
Paisley laughs. “It’s my job, silly. I’ll be right back.”
She trots out like she’s glad to be out of there, while I watch her exit and wish I could go with her.
On the other side of the table, Oakley leans back, crosses his arms again and looks smug, like he cured world hunger. “Well?” he prompts.
“Aren’t you going to thank me?”
“Why? Paisley’s the one getting the food.”
“You wouldn’t be having lunch without me.”
I point to the clock. “I’ve been sitting in this conference room for five hours. Prisoners in maximum security receive better treatment. If it weren’t for you, I’d be lying on the beach rereading The Handmaid’s Tale and I would have eaten something. But sure, thank you for alerting your manager to send my sister to get me food.”
He doesn’t like my smart-ass response. “It’s too cold for the beach.”
“I never said I was going to swim.” I speak in the same tone I use when I tell my little brothers they’re acting like immature idiots.
“Why are you at the beach, then?”
I gape at him. “Why does anyone go to the beach? Because it’s awesome.”
“If you say so,” he responds, but the smugness he’s previously displayed is dialed down a watt as if my reasons for liking the beach are important...or even interesting. Or he might be confused about why I’d choose to go there rather than sit five feet away from his holy presence.
But I’m not going to tell him.
Instead, I drain the rest of my Coke, slam it on the table with more force than necessary and then sit back and refuse to say another word.
Is it childish?
But it feels really, really good.
Jim drags me into his office before I can make a run for the elevator bank. My bodyguards, Big D and Tyrese, remain outside the door, but they have a perfect view of us because the office is a big glass cube. I don’t know how he gets any work done with the whole floor being able to see him at all times.
My entire life is a big glass cube. I can’t even remember a time when I had actual privacy.
“Do not run her off,” is the first thing Jim snaps at me.