When It's Real
Someone at the end of the table gasps at my audacity, but Oakley’s unfazed by my insult. “Even Madonna has a full collection of letters in her name.”
“W is not pretentious.”
“If you say so.” He smirks.
“I do. He’s awesome. And sweet.”
“So why’d you break up with him?”
“I didn’t,” I say indignantly.
His brow creases. “So he broke up with you?” He sounds...confused. Like that doesn’t make sense to him.
Oakley shifts to Claudia. “So my down-to-earth, wholesome, normal girlfriend is a cheater?” He raises his eyebrows. “That’s gonna go over well.”
“Oh, you mean the fake breakup,” I say. For a minute there, I’d forgotten.
He looks like he wants to roll his eyes, but refrains.
“He’ll break up with her tomorrow. The sooner, the better. We’ll give it approximately two weeks after the breakup, and then she’ll Tweet you the drawing. Then there’ll be a series of dates, but no touching.” Claudia turns to me. “When did you have your first kiss?”
“Ever?” I realize it’s a stupid question, but my mind is stuck on the breaking up with W bit. I haven’t thought this whole thing through. I’ve been so focused on the money and how we’d be able to pay off the mortgage, pay for the twins’ college, allow Paisley to sleep better at night, that I hadn’t given any thought to the actual details of how this whole thing was going to work.
“Yeah, ever,” Oakley says, and this time he does roll his eyes.
These personal questions suck. “When was yours?” I counter, still focused on the W issue. Lately, he’s been pulling away. He says it’s my fault that I don’t act like an adult about our relationship because I’m still refusing to have sex with him.
“With tongue? I think I was eleven. It was with Donna Foster, the daughter of my dad’s side chick.”
My eyes grow wide. He French-kissed at eleven? I still thought boys had cooties at that age. Oakley would probably pee with laughter if he knew I was a virgin.
“You?” he prompts.
“Um...” Jeez, now I’m even more embarrassed, but for another reason. “Sixteen,” I mumble.
“How sweet. Just like the saying.”
I curl my fingers into fists. If Claudia’s team wasn’t sitting between the two of us, I might’ve reached over and smacked his smug smile off his smug face.
Paisley grips my hand, an unspoken gesture for me to get it together.
Even Claudia must sense that my patience is coming to an end. Hurriedly, she says, “Let’s do hand-holding on the third date and then a kiss on the fourth date. We’ll keep the first couple of dates under wraps, but leak the later ones to the paps.”
“Hold up, we’re going to kiss? I have a boyfriend,” I remind the room. “No one said there’d be kissing.”
“We’re gonna have a year-long relationship and we don’t kiss? Why don’t we just announce that it’s fake from the beginning?” Oakley mocks.
“But...but...” Yeah, I definitely didn’t think this through. I quickly turn to Paisley for help.
She grimaces. “They’re right. No one is going to believe that you and Oakley haven’t kissed. Not if you’re serious.” Her tone is apologetic, but her words don’t provide me any relief.
“You don’t expect me to...” I trail off, not able to bring myself to say the words out loud.
“Of course not,” Jim interjects briskly. “We’re not that kind of agency.”
He tries to play it off as a joke, but, um, they kind of are. They’re hiring this guy a girlfriend and they expect us to kiss.
How am I going to explain this to W? Sorry, babe, not willing to have sex with you yet, but I’m going to kiss another guy. In public.
That will go over well.
Claudia leans forward. “This is no different than if you were acting on a television show. Remember, you’re playing a part in a big love story.”
Her assurance doesn’t help, either. I may not know what I want in life. I may just be telling everyone I want to be a teacher because that’s easier than admitting I’m clueless about my future and that I’d rather hide as a waitress for the next five years. But I do know that the entertainment industry doesn’t interest me.
Paisley squeezes my hand again, probably to remind me why I’m doing this. By playing the role of a girlfriend, I get to lift the burden off my big sister’s shoulders and provide for my brothers. It’s not like I’m signing my entire life over. It’s just one year.
“What do I need to do?” I ask, feeling resigned.
“Just a few kisses, some hand-holding. It’s nothing, really.” Claudia waves her hand airily. “And it doesn’t need to be in the contract other than some general terms about physical contact when necessary.”
“Does any of this need to be in the contract?” Oakley sounds annoyed.
“I agree. If this ever got out, it would be terrible for Oak’s image,” Jim points out.
“The terms need to be specific so that the girl can be held to them,” one of the suits replies. Then he and Jim engage in some furious whispering until the lawyer presses his lips together in unhappy surrender. “Fine, it can be general, then. A general contract of employment.”
Once that’s decided, Claudia returns to her list. I wonder how long it is. I glance at the big white clock on the wall. It’s going on three hours and I’m exhausted.
“Let’s talk about her look again.”
“I’m not changing my look,” I mutter. “I like my look.”
I like my comfy skinny jeans, assortment of colorful T-shirts and the Vans that W and I doodled on during morning advisory last spring. The sneakers are filled with details marking our favorite dates. There’s a wizard’s wand along the left sole because we’re both Harry Potter fans. Then there’s the light post to signify the Urban Light display on Wilshire, where W kissed me for the first time. Where there was definitely tongue. His initials are on the back of one shoe and mine are on the other. He has a pair of them, too, but he doesn’t wear his. He says he doesn’t want to ruin them.
“You have a look?” Oakley raises his eyebrows.
“Yeah, and it’s better than yours,” I retort, tired of his attitude. “Would it kill you to wear pants that actually fit around your waist? No one wants to see your underwear.”
“Baby, everyone wants to see my underwear. I get paid a hundred grand per pap pic.”
“Baby?” I scoff.
He leans forward, threading his surprisingly elegant fingers together. “Don’t like that one? Pick another, then. You’re my girlfriend,” he reminds me mockingly.
“So you’re into infants?”