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When Avery asks Drew if he’s going to be late, the answer is a singsonged “maybe.” Which, in Drew speak, is the equivalent of “no.”
“Are you kidding?” Avery says exasperated in the phone’s receiver, while forcefully pulling on a jacket. “We have to be there in 15 minutes and it takes 12 to get there.”
Avery swore under her breath and sweat under her trenchcoat, obsessively checking the dashboard clock even though she knew she would arrive with 3—make that 2—minutes to spare. She skidded to a park, practically bottoming out on the driveway apron.
Casually leaning against his own car, Drew laughed lightly. “Did you use your blinker to turn into the driveway?” He shook his head. “Only you, Tremblay.”
Using her purse to cover her hair from the moisture in the air, somewhere between light rain and an omnipresent mist, Avery hastened in quick little steps and slipped her arm through Drew’s. Might as well start the illusion now.
“You know, I feel like I’m more nervous about this than you,” she said, lifting her black leather ankle boot over a puddle that formed in the blacktop’s slope, it’s surface iridescent from the car runoff it had collected. Drew walked straight through, paying no mind to the liquid sloshing onto the edges of his navy blue pant leg.
“Yeah.” He looked over, cocking a bushy eyebrow in her direction. “Why is that?”
“Why? Maybe because I’m not a good liar and you’re asking me to act like I am for hours on end,” she said, lowering her voice to a near whisper, so the people getting out of the Jeep twenty feet away from them wouldn’t hear, while retaining its point-making edge.
“Again, don’t think of it as lying. Think of it as role playing.” Her response was a stare. Piercing and unavoidable, he told her she should patent and teach FBI agents for interrogations, because it would always make the recipient crack. Thus far, it had a 100 percent success rate with all people named Drew Matthew Warner, and this day hadn’t changed the statistic.
He sighed, sending the air towards the gray, cloud-packed sky. “Fine. I’ll do the bulk of the storytelling, you just go along with it.” Unlooping his arm from hers to open the door, he grabbed the bronze-brushed handle and waved her inside as if he were a butler.
“Drew! Heyyy! Glad you could make it.” Hugs with back claps and air kisses. Drew could never gauge the sincerity of these people. That’s where Avery’s keen senses came in.
But she’d hung back. “Av,” Drew called toward the vestibule, where she was toying with the latch of her handbag. “Come on, there’s some people I’d like you to meet.”
There was a John. His wife Thora. A Brad, a Chad, two Teddys, and a Jack. A handful of girlfriends with names you can likely imagine. A fireplace roared and Avery’s glass was never not full, and yet, she felt chilly and unwelcome in this colossal mansion.
Avery turned to find the woman attached to the slender hand that just clasped her elbow.
“I- I could use some air.”
“Yeah. It’s stuffy in here,” the woman replied deliberately, and, with her hand one the small of Avery’s back, guided her through the small crowd. The gesture had an implication of fellowship that Avery welcomed.
Avery cast a gaze around for Drew, so he would know she hadn’t fled, but her eyes didn’t catch him before they left the room.
The woman knew her way around the home relatively well for not being the owner—that honor belonged to Chad and, dammit, what was her name? Briana? No, Brielle. Avery locked the name down in her brain as the woman led her down one hallway and another, until they finally reached a set of glass doors and stepped onto the patio.
When she breathed, Avery felt like the oxygen was reaching places in her lungs long deprived of it. The woman seemed to agree, because as soon as the door clicked shut, she said, “There. That’s better.” Her heels clacked against the flagstone on her way to a chaise lounge of which she sat down on the edge. “These people. I love them, but they can be a little much.”
Avery mulled her words. In her experience, people who said statements so smoothly either did it because they genuinely meant it, or because they were baiting. Knowing barely anything about this woman other than she was part of the group Drew described as his work air-quote friends, she didn’t have enough information to decide which it was. So, she settled for a laugh.
“How long have you and Drew been together?” the woman asked.
Of course Drew wasn’t around to live up to his promise to do the lying, but at least in this instance, she knew what to say. He had whispered it in her ear as they grabbed an appetizer in the kitchen.
“Six months,” Avery said as she lowered herself onto the cushion of the chair across from the woman.
“Huh,” the woman said, taking a swill from her glass.
“Six months,” the woman ticked back her fingers one by one. “November, then?”
“Novemberish,” she volleyed.
The woman arched an eyebrow.
“You know how the beginnings of relationships aren’t always so clear,” Avery filled in.
“Ain’t that the truth,” the woman returned, draining her glass. “Ready for more fun and games?”
Avery rallied her face into a smile. “Ready.”
“I’m just going to freshen up,” the woman said, dipping into the bathroom and leaving Avery to navigate back.
When she found Drew, she could tell he was on edge, even though he was laughing with gusto at one of John’s quips. “Does anybody need a refill?” he asked, and intercepted Avery suavely.
His mood promptly flipped. “Where did you go?”
Avery was taken aback. “I needed to get some air.”
“Can we just stick to the plan?”
“Sorry, I was just getting lightheaded in there and this woman a-”
“I didn’t get her name—”
“Well what did she look like?” Drew’s voice was creeping up in octave.
“I don’t know, um, pretty. My height. Dark hair.”
“Shit.” He counted back on his fingers exactly as she had. “That’s Meaghan.”
“And I hooked up with her at our holiday party.”
“I see.” Avery felt stung. Was it just the additional pressure this mathematical error added to their role-playing? Or something else?
The answer is maybe.
— END OF PART I —
Come back tomorrow to find out what happens in Part II.