The Pretend Girlfriend

By: Lucy Lambert

"I wish I could loan you the money, but I just don't have it," Beatrice said. Gwen knew that she would have, but she also knew that Beatrice only did a little better in the financial department than she did. And Gwen wasn't about to put her best friend into a deep debt hole just to save herself.

"What about your mom and dad?" Beatrice said.

"The bank of mom and dad's been closed for a while," Gwen said. Her parents were nice enough to her, but they hated each other. She'd just started college when they started the divorce. Apparently, they’d just been holding it together for her. Any money they had went to lawyer fees. If she was lucky, one or the other might let her stay with them, but they both lived too far outside the city. She'd have to leave school to do that, and that wasn't an option to her. She told Beatrice as much.

"Lame," she answered. Then she perked up, slopping some mocha out onto her hand and licking it off. "But hey, if you can't fix it, you should try to forget it for a bit. I wanted to get in touch because I got a line on a big party going down tonight..."

"I don't have time to party, B. Besides, we're not freshmen anymore," Gwen said, finally taking a sip from her latte. She savored it, knowing that she wouldn't be able to afford another one for months.

"Oh, come on. It's perfect! You're not gonna get anything done today. So just come with me and get some of this stuff out of your system. Who knows, maybe there'll be some cute rich boy with too much of daddy's money and too little sense."

"B! I'm not about to..." Gwen started.

But Beatrice cut her off with a laugh. "Oh, Gwen, still so easy to bug. And take it from me, rich guys are all jerks. You're way better off figuring out a way to fix this on your own."

"I just had to make sure. Sometimes it's hard to tell if you're being serious or not," Gwen said.

This earned her an indignant look from her friend. "What? Moi, joke around too much? Why Gwendolyn Eveline..."

"That's not my middle name..."

Gwen's middle name was, in actuality, Gladys, which she had unfortunately inherited from her maternal grandmother. It was a secret she intended to take to her grave. Which just made Beatrice want to find out all the more. Beatrice always tried out a different middle name, hoping to hit the proverbial pay dirt.

"...Browning. How could you make such a claim?" Beatrice said, doing her best offended Southern belle impression. It was pretty funny, seeing as Beatrice was from Yonkers and sounded like it.

"Well now I know. And I really don't have time for a party."

"Okay, let me put it this way: you're coming, or I call Messner and give him your telephone number, your email, and a copy of that picture of you in a bikini from when we went to Daytona last summer, and I'll make sure it has a lipstick kiss on it and a note saying with love from Gwen to the handsomest pysch professor at school..." Beatrice said, letting her lips curl up in an evil smile to put cartoon villains to shame.

"You really are ruthless," Gwen said, unable to listen anymore to her diabolical scheme, smiling back. She thought that it probably was a dangerous waste of time to go so some party, but she really could use some way of getting her mind off things that wasn't sitting on her couch watching rom-coms while nursing a pint of Rocky Road.

Chapter 3

The party was at some rich guy's condo in Manhattan. Beatrice and Gwen shared a cab into the city. And by shared, Gwen meant that she chipped in a $5 she found under her bed a few minutes before getting picked up.

Not really being a party girl, her selection of clothes had been, in a word, abysmal. She'd finally settled on the obligatory little black dress every woman kept in her closet and a pair of short heels. Beatrice whistled at her when she sat down, and Gwen tried to keep the hem of her dress pulled down while her cheeks burned.

She kept apologizing and telling Beatrice she would pay her back, but Beatrice just laughed it off. "You want to pay me back? Just be my wingman. I want at least five guys to ask for my number tonight."

"Five? That's... oddly specific," Gwen said.

"Hey, don't look at me like that! Get your head out of the gutter. And yes, five. It's a numbers game, you know. Say only one guy wants my number. He does that dumb three-day wait thing and asks me out for a coffee. It doesn't go anywhere. Now say two guys get my number. It doesn't pan out with the first? Maybe the second's more interesting! But probably not. Especially with these rich guys. They think having money makes them unforgettable. I figure five's a nice number. I mean, at least one has to work out, right?"

It was interesting logic, anyway.

"Whatever happened to rich guys are all jerks?" Gwen said.

"Momma needs a new watch," Beatrice said, watching the river flash by between the girders of the bridge as they crossed, "Besides, they usually drive cool cars."

Gwen snorted at this. Leave it to Beatrice to say what jerks rich guys were in one breath and then express her desire to speed around the city in a Lamborghini in the next.

"So how'd you know about this?" Gwen asked. This wasn't just some normal frat house party.

"I got connections. Look, stop worrying about all that. Let's just go, have some expensive champagne, flirt with some boys, and get me those digits I need. I promise, tomorrow you're going to feel better about everything. Hung over, maybe, but better. Okay?"

"Okay," Gwen replied. She still wasn't sure about this whole thing, but Beatrice's optimism and charm were infectious. Besides, Gwen couldn't shake that need she'd felt earlier, lying in bed all by herself, for comfort and company.

Though now, she knew, would be the absolute worst time to try and cultivate any sort of relationship that wasn't going to enlarge her bank account.

Another possibility crossed her mind, then. Suppose something did happen tonight? Suppose she did meet some rich boy desperate for attention? It wasn't unheard of. The term "sugar daddy" did exist after all, didn't it?

Gwen let herself entertain that fantasy only briefly. It would be an easy way out, she admitted, and a tempting one. But she wasn't that kind of girl. She intended on fixing this whole thing herself, even if it meant taking some time away from school and taking on a couple more part time jobs.

Of course, that little voice in her head kept screaming that it was all too little, too late. And that by the end of next week she'd be negotiating with her parents over a place to stay, or biting the bullet and moving in with Beatrice (because of course Beatrice would offer) even though they both knew that it would most likely be the end of their friendship.

So Gwen craned her neck to look up at the skyscrapers crowding the Manhattan streets. The deep blue of the evening sky looked back down at her.

"Okay," Gwen said.

"Okay?" Beatrice replied, looking up from her phone, one index finger poised to stab at the screen.

"Yes, okay. I'm agreeing with you. Tonight's about fun, about forgetting all this stuff."

"That's my girl! Oh, hey, here we are. Driver, pull over, will you? Yeah, here's fine," Beatrice said.

The doorman let them in when Beatrice gave him the name of the guy hosting the party, and they found their way into a beautiful, big lobby with marble accents. It really made the building Gwen lived in seem like a tenement. It smelled nicer, too, with the faint scent of lemon in the air. And not the cheap knockoff cleaner stuff, either.

Gwen suddenly felt underdressed. A thread coming out of the strap on her right shoulder caught her eye. Way, way, underdressed.

They went to the elevator. "Get your game face on. Arch that back," Beatrice said, pressing her hands against the small of her own back for emphasis.

The doors chimed, and they stepped in. Beatrice prodded the button for the very top floor, the 40th. Even the elevator smelled nice. A small, neatly concealed vent up in one corner washed them with gently cooled air, and the tones of some old symphony, Bach or Beethoven or someone like that, lilted down to them.

"Posh," Gwen said, "Who is this guy, anyway?"

"The guy who owns the condo? Ben something. Astor? Yeah, that's it."

"And he invited you?"

"No, it was someone else. What's with the third degree? It's just a party; enjoy yourself! I know how hard that is for you, but just make the effort."

The elevator ran so smooth and silently that Gwen hadn't noticed it until the car stopped, the music muting while the doors chimed. "Do you know which apartment it is?" she said.

She didn't need to ask that question. The elevator doors opened directly into the most opulent room she'd ever personally visited. Marble everywhere, big paintings on the walls, and an enormous doorway at the far end with a bay window that gave a stunning view of the park. The sky had turned from blue to a bruised purple as evening stole away the daylight.

As soon as they stepped through the threshold, a man in a tuxedo offered them champagne. Still awestruck, Gwen took the glass without saying anything. Beside her, Beatrice started going on about how great the place was, how it probably cost more than she'd see in her whole life, that sort of thing.

This room turned out to be some sort of entrance hall, apparently. Stunning, really, seeing as Gwen knew her whole two-bedroom apartment could fit comfortably within. They followed the sounds of music coming from deeper within this modern day palace, and soon found the rest of the partygoers.

Top Books