━━━━━━━ ◇ ━━━━━━━
Attention to detail had never been one of Drew’s strong suits. He’d send out texts with words missing, causing friends to respond with “WTF do you mean?” If he didn’t write a birthday down on a calendar, it slipped through his mind as easily as an amber post-workday beer down his throat.
Which was why, when he was asked by his co-worker Chad how long he and his fake girlfriend for the night, Avery, had been together, he chose six months. A good round number, long enough that he’d bring her to a dinner party, but short enough he might’ve not mentioned her a lot at work.
He didn’t think about how the length of time also overlapped with a Christmas party hookup, a memory blip which now had Avery looking at him, pissed.
“I guess I don’t understand: How did you forget you had hooked up with her 4 months ago? You work with her, and it’s a work party,” Avery said, her tone a dumbfounded hiss.
She wouldn’t have, he knew. Unlike Drew, there were few things which didn’t catch her attention. Each time the barber trimmed a centimeter off his hair, she’d comment on it—usually a compliment, except if the cut was too close and his head turned cube-like. If one of his girlfriends suddenly turned icy, and he couldn’t understand what caused the temperature drop, Avery would pick up the scent within a minute of his rundown.
“I don’t know,” he said.
“I mean, you’ve given me a backstory for nearly every person here, but you didn’t think hers would be a good one to know? Like, ‘Hey, you might end up in a conversation with someone I slept with. Here’s a basic description of them.’”
That was not an instance where his lack of attention had failed him, but a conscious choice. Whenever he could, he steered Avery away from his hookup Meaghan in case it might slip out. It wasn’t as if he was afraid Avery would judge him per se.
It was just… not how he wanted her to be thinking of him during their fake coupledom.
“It was an accident, okay? It slipped my mind,” he said irritatedly, not as much with her as himself. Because, now she was thinking of him that way, and over her shoulder, he could see Meaghan talking to her work bestie Raquel, probably about how he was a cheater.
Meaghan glimpsed up at that moment, locking eyes with Drew. He seized Avery protectively and kissed her forehead. If he’d still been looking at Meaghan, he’d notice her raised eyebrow; instead he faced his longtime friend and took her chin into his hand.
“Also? Hooking up doesn’t have to mean sex.” Did relief wash over Avery’s little foxlike face? “For what it’s worth.”
Avery clinked her glass against Drew’s. “Truce.” Before downing it, Avery, surprising even herself, had an idea. “Wait. Let’s pour one for Meaghan.”
“Whatever you say, boss,” Drew obliged, just happy to be back in Avery’s good graces. They slithered through the other guests, Drew holding his beer, his shot, and Avery’s glass of wine; Avery holding two petite glasses in her hand. She extended one to Meaghan as they passed.
“Cheers, babe.” Not Meaghan, Drew, nor even Avery could tell what tone the toast carried.
“Cheers,” they echoed, and let the liquid burn.
“He’ll take the glasses,” Avery directed, dropping hers inside his and nodding for Meaghan to do the same. “Did you ever get your wine refreshed? No? He’ll get you a new glass, too.”
Drew felt his face arrange itself into something that would come up if you searched “Damn” on GIPHY. Who was this tyrannical little dame and what had she done with his friend?
“Damn, Tremblay,” he professed after completing his errands.
“Who’s the inspiration? Black Widow?” He slid his arm around her as she leaned against the olive-colored wall. “You’re kicking ass. Including mine, but I’ll take it.”
She chuckled into her wine glass, her mouth on its edge, ready for her to tip the glass back and let the liquid run into it. “Well, we had to do damage control somehow. Can’t have you being the talk of the water cooler Monday, otherwise what was this all for?”
His workplace was highly competitive, and at times, walking into the office felt like he was crossing into enemy territory—only instead of grenades and guns, they parsed conversations to fit their narratives, and stole clients from the cubicle next door without a thought.
Add in a near-endless supply of alcohol for consumption, and he definitely needed someone to cover his six. Or, just keep him from jumping on a bed of live mouse traps, which is what he’d prefer to do rather than be required to party with his co-workers outside of work hours.
But, he’d be lying if he said that was his sole purpose for wanting Avery as his plus one. If he said he’d tell her that, that might be a lie.
“At that point, free drinks,” he offered. “I’m not sure it will completely keep people from talking, but it will probably be better than it could’ve been.” From across the room, Drew could see Meaghan and Raquel’s eyes darting to them, but if anything they looked confused… and maybe a little impressed.
“Do you wanna get out of here?”
Drew recognized the look of ambivalence as Avery weighed the question.
Drew grinned. “You’re something else, ya know that?”
“Well, I mean this isn’t exactly my idea of a good time—”
“But I don’t know that I’ve gotten you any useful information—”
“Oh, don’t worry about that…”
“But also?” Avery lowered her head and her voice, “What if… this… kind of is exactly my idea of a good time?”
She was a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. But for once Drew knew exactly what she meant.
“Get your coat, Tremblay. I just remembered an early exit is the biggest power move of them all.”