The Pretend Girlfriend

By: Lucy Lambert

"I can't give out private information like that, I'm sorry."

Gwen nodded. Maybe this was a sign. A sign that she shouldn't be trying to go through with this. That it was wrong, and the universe was trying to steer her back on the straight and narrow path (which led, of course, to a spare bedroom belonging to either her mother or father).

"Oh, that's okay. Thank you for your time," Gwen said.

"Have a nice day," the secretary replied,

That's that, then, I guess, Gwen thought as she turned around. She searched for her cab fare in her pocket. It's probably for the best, anyway, she continued. Some of the anxiety in her stomach bled away, and she actually started feeling a bit hungry.


She nearly ran into him. Aiden stood close by, looking at her with those cold chips of ice that passed for his eyes. He wore a black business suit today. Probably coming from work, she figured. His red silk tie was pulled loose, and the top button of his shirt was undone.

"Oh, Aiden, hi," Gwen said. Her eyes danced around the entrance hallway as she thought madly for some excuse that he might actually buy for her being there.

Aiden broke the silence, "This is nice. I didn't expect to see you again. I really want to apologize for what happened at Starbucks. I just thought I saw something..."

"I'll do it," Gwen said, forcing the words out around the bile also trying to rise up her throat. That hint of an appetite disappeared again.

"Something I might do to help us both, and then you... Wait, what?" Aiden said, his eyes narrowing.

"You want to rent yourself a girlfriend. Well, I'm your man... err... woman. Girl. You know what I mean." Gwen said. Then she stuck out her hand.

"Oh, I see. This is a bit unexpected, given your first reaction and all." He sounded uncertain, and Gwen entertained the terrifying thought that he, too, was going to refuse her. But he took her hand and gave it three solid pumps. And it was quite the handshake. Just enough firmness to show he meant business without the bone grinding force of someone trying too hard. She wondered if he learned it from his father.

"Good, I guess," Gwen said. She'd been preparing for this all day, thinking everything through carefully. This was a business deal, and she needed to treat it as such, even if her mind occupied itself thinking about how warm and strong his hand felt, and how it had so totally enveloped hers. She took a deep breath and blew it out through pursed lips. You have to get through this, she told herself.

"I have some ground rules we have to go over..." she started.

"That's great. Hey, look, let's discuss this shortly. I have to take care of some business here first. And, speaking of which, remember to remind me to ask you about how you figured all this out, where I was going to be today, I mean. Here, why don't you take a seat? I shouldn't be more than half an hour or so," Aiden said.

Before she could protest, he sat her down on a bench across from the front desk, then disappeared through the set of doors on Gwen's right.

She and the secretary shared a polite smile, then Gwen buried herself in her own doubts. She shoved both hands between her thighs and sucked on her bottom lip, staring at the black streaks left on the tile floor left by someone's shoe.

This is ridiculous, she told herself. You should just get up and leave. It's not like you gave him your address or anything.

Her thoughts turned quickly to Aiden.

And what kind of nerve is that? I tell him I'll be his pretend girlfriend and he sits me on this bench and tells me to wait like I'm some kid he has to babysit. Well, let me tell you, mister, what I think about that...!

Maybe it was because of that handshake, and how she couldn't, well, shake thinking about it, that she felt so mad at him again.

She was in the process of getting up to go when those doors swung open and out came Aiden. An older man with deep wrinkles on his face and a horseshoe of red hair followed him out. They shook hands, the other man looking quite pleased.

"I'll make sure you get that donation this week," Aiden said.

"Yes, and thank you. Thank you again," the man said.

"I should be the one thanking you, actually," Aiden said. He glanced over at Gwen, then back to the man, "I'll be in touch. Excuse me, please."

Aiden came over to Gwen, who tried not to look like she'd been just about to skip out on their deal. "Let's go grab some lunch. There's a nice diner kitty corner from here. Good sandwiches. We can talk things through."

Gwen nodded, and she followed him out. She kept eying his hand, swinging at his side. She wondered if maybe she should hold it.

No! she thought. Nothing until after we get all the details sorted.

Aiden held the door for her when they went back out onto the street, and he also got the door at the diner. It was one of those true old corner places, with a big green sign calling it the "Corner Coffee Klatch" and a large awning that shielded the window seats from the non-existent sun.

It was exactly the type of place Gwen thought a man like Aiden wouldn't eat. He was the son of a man worth billions, and would probably be worth those billions someday himself. Shouldn't he be finding the nearest five-star restaurant where he could send back his food three times saying it wasn't good enough?

She reached for the door handle, but Aiden got to it first and opened it, waving her in as the bells chimed.

And what was with that? I'm strong enough to open my own doors, thanks, she thought. Though, there was something nice about it. She remembered back to last week when a guy in a hoodie had actually done his best to close a door in her face. No one had manners anymore, it seemed.

But the question was: were his manners real? Or just some sort of show?

No one really looked up when they entered the diner. It was maybe half full, the people scattered amongst the booths lining the walls and the tables occupying the center space in front of the main counter.

Gwen smiled when Aiden directed her to an empty booth, its vinyl seat covers the same shade of green as the sign and the awning.

And now that she could smell the food (hot sandwiches mostly, it seemed) her appetite reappeared.

Although, she did experience a touch of disappointment at not sitting at one of those tables. Would he have pulled out the chair for me?

A quick glance out the window showed the community center-turned charity office. She burned to know the details of his business there, his interest in it and the other charities in the metro area he visited.

"So what's with the philanthropy?" Gwen said, indicating the charity with a nod.

To which Aiden gave her a tight smile, his fingers threading together on the clean top of the table.

He started to answer, but a young waitress with a white apron and her hair tied back in a bun, a notepad and the stub of a pencil in her hands, interrupted. "What can I get for you today? Would you like to hear the specials?"

Gwen saw the way the waitress looked at him, and actually experienced a momentary spike of jealousy. Remember, she told herself, he's your pretend boyfriend. Not your real one. Still, she glanced at the waitress's nametag, which read Tabby. Like as in the cat? she thought.

Or he would be her pretend boyfriend, if they ever got down to brass tacks about the deal.

Aiden looked visibly relieved. "The usual," he said.

"And you, miss?" Tabby said.

"The same," Gwen replied, giving them both a smile. She didn't let the smile drop until Tabby wandered back over to the counter. "What's the usual?"

Aiden tried to hide a smile behind his hand, but failed. "It's this special sandwich they do here, a BELT. Bacon, Egg (fried), Lettuce, Tomato. With a large black coffee."

Definitely not what she would have expected. Then again, she saw that Aiden appeared to enjoy defying expectations. But whose? His father's, if she had to take a guess. Was this how rich boys rebelled or something? Then why this whole thing with hiring himself a girlfriend?

Speaking of which, she knew that they needed to get down to business.

"Okay, like I was saying, I'll do this thing. But there are some ground rules that I need to make sure are crystal clear," Gwen said.

Aiden spread his hands out as though to say, "Please continue," so she did.

Gwen took a deep breath, feeling her ribs expand. "Okay, here we go. Touching is going to be kept to a minimum, and only in public. Holding hands is okay, side hugs are preferred to front hugs. Any kissing is strictly closed-mouth, or pecks on the cheek. Any hint of tongue and it's done, got it? Terms of endearment are to be kept traditional, with no funny nicknames or anything like that..."

Then there was the biggest one. Gwen leaned forward on her elbows and tried to speak as clearly as possible, locking her eyes with his. "And there will be absolutely no sex. I am not your call girl..."

"Pardon me," Tabby said.

Immediately, Gwen sat back, her cheeks burning. How long had the girl been standing there holding those steaming mugs of coffee? By the way Aiden grinned, the waitress must have at least heard the no sex thing.

Gwen forced a smile to her face as Tabby set down the cups. "Your sandwiches will be here soon. Anything else?"

She's trying not to smile! Gwen saw. Tabby wasn't doing a good job of it, and Gwen hoped the girl hadn't taken this job for cash while trying to start an acting career.

"No. Thanks," Gwen said, her cheeks sore from holding that smile (though she figured it probably looked more like a snarl).

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