HURRICANE LAINE

 

Chapter 1

Jules

 

Do you know that feeling when you’re doing everything right? You’re following the rules. You’re trying to be a good person and life kicks you in the ass? And I’m not talking about a friendly bump on the butt to encourage you to keep going. I’m talking about when life really pulls back its foot and lets it fly.

Maybe you don’t see it coming. Maybe you don’t realize what’s happening until you’re face down in a pile of cow dung… because in this imaginary scenario you’re on a farm for some reason. But you get the point. You’re just trying to do your best and live like the way everyone told you you should and life mauls you like a horny, rabid dog… that also lives on a farm.

Well, that’s me now as I sit in my temporary assignment manager’s office. Bill is the guy who is supposed to find me work.  And he has been finding me work. Has he been finding me enough work to get by? Yes, barely.

Honestly, I can’t blame Bill for where I’m at. The only thing I can blame is life. I’ve been working. I’ve been getting assignments, showing up on time, and I’ve been doing what they have been asking me to do.

When I’m there I’m friendly but not too friendly. I smile politely even when people make bad jokes. And I’m sure to not only learn everyone’s name, but to use it in a sentence to show them that I know it.

‘Yes, Aiden, that Baby Yoda meme is very funny. Yes, Brie, I did get Aiden’s Baby Yoda meme. Yes, Pat, I definitely know who Baby Yoda is and I’m not just saying I do because the entire office seems obsessed with it and if I don’t say I do, I’ll get branded as the weird temp who will never find a husband and probably die alone.’

…Okay, that got dark, fast. But, you get my point. I’m a good temp. Yet, for whatever reason, I keep working these assignments which are supposed to be for two or three months, and less than halfway through, I’m called into Bill’s office, just like I am today, to be told the same thing.

“So, Jules, I have some bad news.”

“Don’t say it, Bill,”

“I’m sorry. We’re going to have to replace you on the assignment.”

“But, why? I don’t understand it. Did I do something wrong?”

“You didn’t do anything wrong.”

“Then, why am I being replaced?”

“It’s a corporate thing.”

“It’s a corporate thing? What does that even mean? How is my work assignment as the invoice coordinator at a plastics company “a corporate thing”?” I asked Bill nearing my breaking point.

Bill gave me a look and then shrugged. “What can I say? I’m sorry. I just do what I’m told. But, I promise you, you didn’t do anything wrong. You’ve been a great employee everywhere you’ve worked. Everyone likes you. I’m sure I’ll find you something new very soon.”

“But, you don’t understand. I need this job. Like… mortgage and student loans. I’ve been taking care of my mother and…”

I stopped talking because I remembered one of the fundamental rules of temp work. No one wants to hear your problems. They have their own problems and if you want to keep working there, you have to keep your drama to yourself. These people aren’t your friends. They’re just under-appreciated co-workers who block out the emptiness of their lives with their obsession with memes… what, too dark again? Anyway, you get my point.

“Bill, if you can find me something ASAP, I would really appreciate it. I was counting on the money from this job.”

“I promise you, as soon as something crosses my desk that you would be a fit for, I’ll give you a call. I promise,” Bill said sounding sincere.

“I would really appreciate that,” I said trying to fight off the abyss of despair that threatened to consume me.

Getting up to go I felt my phone buzz. As I’m heading to his office door, I take out my phone. I have a text from Bill. Without opening it, I turned back to him.

“Did you just text me?”

“I did. You seem really down. I thought I’d send you something that picks me up.”

I turned back to the text and opened it. It’s a Baby Yoda meme. I have got to figure out where Baby Yoda is from. I’m gonna guess ‘Game of Thrones’?

I thanked Bill with a polite, tight-lipped smile and left. Crossing through the open-space office looking at the eager young faces signing up for ‘Temporary Temps’, I couldn’t help but think about how things had gone so wrong for me. This wasn’t supposed to be my life.

I had a good thing going in Seattle. I had a job. I had friends. I had things to do on a Saturday night. But, then my mother got sick and I had to return home to Calabasas, California, a city whose main export are Kardashians. Yeah, it’s not the place to be broke and jobless.

The great thing is that my mother is doing much better now. It was cancer. They caught it early. She’s in full remission and she’s just about back to normal.

The downside is that her treatment has not only destroyed her savings but has put her on medical leave from her job for months. My mother used to make a lot of money. She was… I mean, is the VP of a successful entertainment company. That’s what allowed her to pay off her mortgage a few years ago.

Paying for my college tuition is what got her the second mortgage on her home. She wouldn’t have had any problem paying for that too if it wasn’t for all of her medical debt. And, yeah, she had insurance.

So, with her needing someone to take care of her, I left my job and Seattle and moved in with her. Finding out about her financial situation, I started looking for a job as soon as she started feeling better. Not being sure if I could live in Calabasas long term, I applied to ‘Temporary Temps’. But, with them continuously yanking the rug from under me, I haven’t been able to help my mother at all. Now she is at risk of losing her home.

Do you know that feeling of stomach-churning guilt because your mother took on a 2nd mortgage to pay for your education and you are the worst daughter in the world because you can’t even keep a job long enough to help her, sending you into to downward spiral of hopelessness and gloom? Yeah, me neither. I was just asking for a friend.  

With all of life crumbling around me at once I did what every respectable Calabasas resident would do, I got a $6 cup of coffee. Could I have found coffee cheaper elsewhere? Sure. But it wasn’t about the coffee. It was about the experience of getting it. Think of it as my splurge lunch. Now that $6 seems like a bargain, right?

Sitting on the patio of the coffee shop across from Temporary Temps, I stared at the office building wondering what the hell I was supposed to do next. I couldn’t keep working with them. ‘They let me go because of corporate?’ What does that even mean? And, how is that in any way fair?

If one day I decided to not show up for an assignment, I would get blackballed. But, they could remove me from an assignment even though, as Bill said, everyone liked me and I was doing a great job? Why was all of this happening to me?

It was as the tears made their way to my eyes that I looked around and saw someone I truly never expected to see. It was a guy I knew from college. At least I think it was. That was approaching ten years ago. And it wasn’t anyone I was friends with, but I certainly saw him around campus.

We had both gone to a small, mid-western college. The school wasn’t big enough to not at least recognize everyone’s face. What were the odds of running into him in a coffee shop in the middle of the day in Calabasas?

Now, here’s the tricky part. I recognize him, but I don’t remember his name. Here’s the other thing. I have put on a few pounds since college. I was never really a thin girl, so those few pounds have tipped the scales for me.

Back then I could have considered myself to be “solid”. Now, I’m… how would I say this so that I’m not being horrible to myself? Now I’m pleasantly plump.

So, with all of that in mind, do I even bother striking up a conversation? What would be the point? It wasn’t like we were friends.

On the other hand, I don’t remember him being this good looking. It wasn’t like he was a part of the sweatsuit brigade in college, but the tailored shirt he was wearing was hanging on him like a bad habit. He’s the type of guy who, if I were in a better state of mind, would make me think of sex. That’s worth fumbling through a forgotten name.

As to the extra 50 pounds, couldn’t I tell him that it wasn’t mine and I was just holding it for a friend? Sure I could. He’d believe that, right? Besides, it’s not like my life could get any worse.

“I’m sorry,” I said grabbing the good looking guy’s attention. When he looked at me, he had this steely look in his eyes that, if I were in a better state of mind, might have made my down-below quiver. “Do I know you?”

The good looking man flashed a good looking smile. “I don’t know. Do you know me?”

He said that like he was famous or something. Wait, did I actually go to school with him or do I just recognize him from TV? Freakin’ Calabasas!

“No, we went to school together, didn’t we? Beloit College?”

The man’s face dropped recognizing the name. He stared at me trying to figure out what was going on. It took him a second, but soon his smile returned.

“Wait, yes. Yes, I know you. You used to live in… What was that dorm closest to the gym? It was our senior year,” he said excitedly.

“Haven. Yeah, it was Haven. It was our senior year. You got it,” I said feeling a glimmer of hope remembering a time when my life was so full of possibilities.

“That’s right, Haven,” he agreed with a smile. “Laine,” he said offering me a wave from two tables away.”

“Jules.”

“That’s right, Jules,” he said as if he recognized my name.

Laine stared at me for a moment with a pleasant smile on his face and gestured for permission to come over.

“Please,” I told him welcoming the company.

“So, Jules, what have you been up to? What are you doing in Calabasas? Do you live here?”

Here was the tricky part. What was I supposed to tell him? In these types of situations, aren’t you supposed to humblebrag about the great things going on in your life? So, what was that for me? I could tell him that I recently found $10 in a pants pocket, but I didn’t want to make him feel that jealous.

“Honestly, not much,” I told him instead. “I was up in Seattle for a while. But a family situation brought me back here.”

“Are you from here?” Laine asked getting better looking by the second.

“Yeah. Not Calabasas, but Southern California.”

“And, where do you work? What do you do?”

He had to ask me that, didn’t he? It was such an L. A. thing to ask. I didn’t have the energy to blow smoke up his ass. It had already been a long day, so I told him the truth.

“I don’t work anywhere, actually.”

“Oh, are you married?”

I laughed. I hadn’t even dated anyone since moving back here. My lady bits have already twice filed for unemployment.

“No. It’s just that I’ve been looking for something temporary because I don’t know how long my “family situation” will last, and the agency I was working through can’t seem to get their act together,” I said deciding it was better to blame my situation on corporate.

“Oh, okay,” he replied with quickly diminishing interest. Freakin’ L. A.!

“But, how about you? What have you been up to? You look like you’ve done well for yourself.”

This was what got his focus back on me. Who would have guessed that a guy would want to talk about himself?

“Actually, I’m doing very well. I own an investment firm.”

“Really?” I asked suddenly understanding what he meant by “very well”.

“Yeah. After college I moved to New York to work for one of the big banks. I shorted a couple of stocks right before the great recession and then took home a fortune,” he said with a million-dollar smile.

“So, when the economy was crashing?” I asked him.

“I was raking it in.”

“Huh,” I said as I began to consider the morality of how he made his money.

“But, don’t mistake me for those asshole bankers packaging those toxic mortgages. That wasn’t me.”

“No, you just made money by betting on those banks to fail.”

“Actually, it was by betting on them being too big to fail,” he said with another smile.

It had been a long time since I had thought about back then. We were just recent graduates entering an about to be devastated job market. It wasn’t something I had the energy to think about now.

“So, are you married?” I asked him trying to cut to the good bits.

“No. Not married,” he told me flatly.

“Special someone?”

“Nope. Nothing.”

“How?” I asked sounding like I was flirting… because I was.

“Who knows,” he said with a charming smile.

Yeah, that told me everything I needed to know. He wasn’t married because he didn’t want to be. Clearly, he was the type that liked to keep his options open. If today was going to end in sex, I would have to remember that. Not that it was…

“I see,” I said returning his smile.

“It’s funny that you asked me about that,” he said seeming like he wanted me to probe.

“Why?”

Laine leaned back in his seat and looked away. “You ever get yourself in a weird situation, that you don’t know how you ended up in?”

“Laine, you don’t know how often. I live in that state.”

Laine chuckled. “Then maybe you can relate. I’m heading down to the Bahamas in about a week…”

“Nope, can’t relate,” I said cutting him off. He chuckled again.

“I’m heading down in about a week and I’m going to be hanging out with a friend.”

“Sounds nice.”

“Yeah, but I might have told the friend a bit of an exaggeration.”

“What’s that?”

“I told him that I was dating someone and that I would be bringing them.”

“Why would you tell him that?” I asked confused.

“I don’t know. He’s just a guy that makes me feel… There are some people who always make you feel bad about yourself no matter how well you’re doing. That’s him.”

Damn, how rich does his friend have to be to make a successful investment banker feel bad about himself?

“I think I know something about how that feels,” I told him genuinely relating.

“Yeah, well, that’s him. And, in order to not look like a total loser, I have to find someone to go with me and pretend to be my fiancé.”

“Your fiancé?”

“Yeah, I know,” he said lowering his head and rubbing his eyebrows in frustration.

“I gotta say, Laine, you’ve gotten yourself into quite a dilemma. So, are you gonna tell him the truth?”

“Oh, god no. I can’t do that.”

“Why not?”

Laine paused for a moment as something flashed through his mind. “I just can’t do that.”

“So, what are you gonna do?”

“I have to find somebody.”

“You have to find someone to go to the Bahamas with you. Yeah, good luck with that,” I joked.

“It’s not as easy as you think,” he protested.

“Really? You can’t find somebody to go to the Bahamas with you?”

“No. I can’t.”

“I find that hard to believe.”

“I can prove it,” Laine said confidently.

“How?”

“Like this. Jules, would you like to go to the Bahamas with me and pretend to be my fiancé?”

“Oh, I would love to but can’t. I have to work.”

“See!” He said triumphant.

“Okay, I see what you mean. But the only reason I can’t do it is because I have to work. Believe me, if I didn’t, I would absolutely do it. I can’t tell you how much I need a trip to the Bahamas right now.”

“What, the family thing?” He asked becoming more serious.

“It’s a money thing. I really need to work right now. I mean, I’m not gonna get into it, but I really need the money.”

So you know that feeling when a suuupper rich, suuupper handsome guy is staring at you with a twinkle in his eye that makes you want to throw yourself at him like a rug? Well, that might be what’s going on now.

“Why are you staring at me like that?” I asked him.

“The only thing stopping you from helping me out is money?”

“Yeah. I don’t know what world you live in. But, in my world, it’s a big thing.”

“I’m sure. But it’s something I have,” he said starting to beam with confidence.

I wasn’t sure how I felt about where he was going with this. “What are you suggesting?”

“How much would get you out of your “family situation”?”

“How much? Geez, I don’t know. Probably more than you have.”

Laine twisted his head in doubt. God was this guy cocky. How much money did he have? My family situation could have been in the millions.

“Give me a number,” he said making me question what the hell was happening.

Steadying myself I looked at Laine again. How much did I remember about him from college? Not much. I think I do remember him being a little full of himself back then, too. I really didn’t interact with him, but I was starting to remember female friends who did. If I remembered correctly, he was a bit of a man whore.

And, didn’t I have a girlfriend who came crying to me about him? Was that about Laine or someone else? It was such a long time ago. It’s hard to remember.

Whoever it was about, it had been ten years. People change. Situations change. More importantly than all of that, my situation had changed. And here was a guy asking me how much money I needed to get out of the hole I’m in. What do I tell him?

If his offer was real, I certainly didn’t want to scare him off by saying a number that was too high. At the same time, he was bragging about having a lot of money. Why shouldn’t I at least be honest?

“$200,000.”

“$200,000?” He asked with a broad smile.

“Yeah. There are medical expenses involved and a student loan that…”

“Deal,” he said cutting me off.

“What?” I asked sure that I had misunderstood him.

“I said it’s a deal. I’ll do it. If you come with me to the Bahamas and pretend to be my fiancé, I’ll pay you $200,000.”

I was stunned. There was no way he couldn’t tell. He was just looking at me with this cocky grin on his face and I didn’t know how I felt about it. What had I gotten myself into? For some reason, I felt like a mouse who had been cornered by a cat.

Why should I feel that way, though? Laine wasn’t a cat, he was my savior. That number would cover what my mother had borrowed to send me to school. It wouldn’t wipe away her medical debt, but it would pay off her mortgage and give her the breathing room needed between now and when she would be able to return to work.

It wasn’t a million dollars, but this was not-being-kicked-out-of-our-home money. This would allow me to return to the way things were before all hell broke loose. Could this really be happening?

“Half up front,” I suddenly said.

“What?” he replied caught off guard.

“I would need half of it before I left,” I explained to him.

He looked at me regathering his self-assuredness. “And how do I know you won’t just take the money and disappear on me?”

“How do I know you’ll pay me in the end? How do I know if you even have that type of money?”

Laine laughed as if I was ridiculous for suggesting such a thing. How much money did this guy have?

“Tell you what,” Laine began while pulling a card out of his pocket. “I would love to talk to you about this some more, but maybe we should both do a little research on each other before we commit to something fully. Here’s my card. Look me up and let me know tomorrow. If you get a better offer between then and now, I understand. Otherwise, I’m really happy I ran into you and you will love my private island.”

With that, Laine pushed his business card in front of me, got up, and headed towards the most expensive car I’d ever seen. I think it was a Jaguar, but it was the type that required a British accent when you said it. I’m not a car girl, but that thing was nice.

Hearing his engine roar and watching him drive off, I next looked down at his card. It read, ‘Laine Toro, Triad Investments.’ Typing that into my phone his picture was the first thing to come up. It turned out, he hadn’t been exaggerating. He was insanely rich.

His company had 5 billion dollars under management. It was clear why he laughed when I suggested that he might not have the money. If he dropped a hundred dollar bill, it wouldn’t be worth his time to pick it up. 

And, did he say that he had a private island in the Bahamas? Could all of this be real? Didn’t there have to be some sort of catch?

 

“Will you have to have sex with him?” My mother asked me disturbed.

Have to?”

“Yes. Will he make you have sex with him?”

Make me?” I asked her as I pulled out my phone and showed her a picture of him.

My mother stared silently at Laine’s picture undoubtedly weighing the morals around prostitution when it was with the hottest guy in the world.

“He seems very nice,” my mother said clearly getting a full accounting of his personality from the shirtless picture I showed her. “But, what do you know about him?”

“I mean, I went to college for four years with him.”

“So, you were friends in college?”

“No. But I remember him. He knew a number of my friends.” And, by that, I meant that he slept with them.

“And they would vouch for him?”

“I guess.” And, by that, I meant that they would say that he was a dog.

But I couldn’t tell my mother that. She’d just get worried and tell me that I shouldn’t do this. But I had to do this. She was months late on her mortgage payments. An eviction notice could be coming any day. I needed to do this.

And, if I end up sleeping with the hottest, most eligible bachelor in the universe while doing it, well, I guess that was a grenade I was willing to fall on. Look at me taking one for the team. I’m practically a saint.

I will admit, that his reputation from back then and the way he smiled when I asked him why he wasn’t married, did worry me a bit. The last thing I wanted was to get emotionally involved with a guy who was incapable of reciprocating it. Been there. Done that. Bought the t-shirt… and then burned it along with the football jersey which he clearly loved more than me. Long story.

But, Laine wasn’t asking for any of that. All he was looking for was someone to pretend to be his fiancé for a week or two to impress his billionaire friend. I wouldn’t mind draping myself over him for a few weeks. And as long as I keep telling myself that this is a job, and that everything I’m doing is pretend, then I’m not gonna catch feelings.

I’m not one of those girls who fall for the first smokin’ hot billionaire who has probably changed a lot since college and now has a smile that makes you want to throw yourself at. No, that’s not me. And, honestly, I feel sorry for those girls.

“Hi, Laine? This is Jules. We met today at the coffee shop. Actually, we met back in college. We re-met at the coffee shop… today… in Calabasas.” Keep it together Jules.

Laine laughed. “Yes, I remember. Have you given any thought to my offer?”

“I have and… no.” Wait, what did I just say?

“Did you say no?”

Did I just say no?  “Yeah, no,” I repeated not recognizing the self-destructive crazy person who had taken control of my mouth. “It’s a very generous offer. And, I definitely need the money. I mean, I really need the money. But, it just seems too weird.”

“What do you mean? It’s just a guy you haven’t seen in ten years offering you $200,000 to pretend to be his fiancé to impress his friend. What’s weird about it?”

“Are you joking? That. All of that.”

Laine chuckled on the other end of the phone. “Listen, I get it. It is weird. It’s all weird. And that’s why I’ve had such a hard time finding someone to do it for me. I’m sorry I bothered you with it. Have a good life.”

“Wait, is that it?” I said not liking anything about what just happened.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, are you just gonna give up?”

“What did you want me to do?” Laine asked sounding reasonably confused.

“I don’t know. You could try and convince me that it wouldn’t be weird,” I told him even though I really felt that I shouldn’t have had too.

Laine laughed again. “Okay. Why do you think it might be weird?”

“I don’t know. It’s just a lot of money for just pretending.”

“It’s the amount you asked for.”

“Yeah, but… like… when you say that I have to pretend to be your fiancé, what exactly does that involve?”

“Are you asking if I will be expecting you to have sex with me?”

“Of course I’m asking you if you are expecting me to have sex with you. What else could this be about?”

Laine chuckled again. “Just so we’re clear, I’m not expecting you to have sex with me. What I need is for you to make my friend think that you are legitimately my fiancé. That pretending ends once we are alone in the bedroom.”

“So, we’ll be sharing a room?”

“Of course. What engaged couple doesn’t share a bedroom?”

“And… will there be… how do I say this?”

“Two beds?”

“Yes. What will our sleeping arrangements be?”

“There will be one bed. If you prefer, I can sleep on the floor. Would me sleeping on the floor make it less weird for you?”

“I mean, it would. But then you would be sleeping on the floor on your own private island. That would be weird on its own.”

“Then, how would you like to handle it?”

“How about we keep the floor as an option, but we play it by ear?” I told him trying to be practical.

“That seems like a reasonable compromise. Is there anything else that you want to talk about?”

“No. I think that’s it.”

“So, does that mean that you’ll do it?” Laine asked casually.

“I guess. Yeah, sure, I’ll do it.”

“And, are you okay with being paid afterward?”

I thought about that part of it again. “Well, I checked you out. You seem to be good for it.”

“So, is that a yes as well?”

“Yeah, sure,” I said not recognizing the crazy person who had once again taken control of my mouth.

“Wonderful.”

“But I do have one other question?”

“What’s that?”

“Why do articles refer to you as Hurricane Laine?”

Laine laughed. “It has to do with an acquisition I made a few years ago. Sometimes when you take control of a company, you have to shake things up. I shook, and ruffled a few feathers. Ever since then, the press has taken to calling me that. I don’t know, I kind of like it. It makes me seem exciting. Don’t you think?”

“It definitely does,” I told him in response to his perfectly reasonable explanation.

“Anything else?”

“Yeah, one other thing. How long are we gonna be there?”

“I don’t know. But I would say, plan like you’re going to be there for three weeks. Actually, make it a month. It may end up only being a week. It will all depend on how things go with my friend.”

“What do you mean?”

“Just plan for a month. If it’s shorter, it’s shorter.”

“Okay. And when do we leave?”

“I actually spoke to my friend today. Can you leave in three days?”

“Three days? I thought you said we’d leave in a week or more?”

“I did. But things move fast. Can you do it?”

“Umm… Yeah. Sure, I can do it.”

“Great. I’ll have my assistant send you the itinerary. Thanks for doing this for me. You’re helping me out a lot.”

“And you’re helping me out a lot. It’s a pleasure doing business with you.”

“Yes, it’s a pleasure,” he said allowing his sexy smile to echo through the phone.

Hanging up I felt a lot better about everything. He had clearly changed since college. This couldn’t be the same guy my friends cried on my shoulder about. Or, maybe the things from back then weren’t actually his fault.

I’ll admit, I was a little wilder back then. It wasn’t anything over the top. But my friends were all bat shit nuts. They were fun, and I loved them, but their role model was a singer who had set her boyfriend’s house on fire. It seemed reasonable at the time, but looking back on it, yikes.

So, maybe Laine wasn’t as bad as I remember him to be. Maybe he just got a bad rap. And, even if he wasn’t the best guy back then, who was at their best in college? Certainly not me. We’re all different people now. All of us deserve a fresh start. And, with the money I’ll earn from this job, I’ll be able to afford one.

With me leaving in three days, there were a lot of things that I had to do. The great thing was that on top of the $200,000, Laine was giving me what I referred to as a billionaire’s girlfriend allowance. It was $2000 that I could use to transform myself into someone who looked like they were dating a billionaire. Nails, hair, plucking, waxing, you know, the usual stuff. Then there was my wardrobe.

I went shopping in Beverly Hills to really play the part. There was a bikini there that cost $800. $800! So, then I drove to this little French boutique called Targét. I picked up four swimsuits and snacks for less than $200. That’s right, $200! Come @ me… which I think is a thing people say.

It was the day before we were scheduled to leave that I was sent our backstory. Apparently, he and I had only met four months ago. Clearly, it was love at first sight. He flew me to Paris last week and asked me to marry him. Our imaginary engagement was so romantic. However, I’ll have you know that my imaginary jetlag? It’s been horrible.

Not having seen or spoken to Laine in the three days leading up to our trip, I was expecting to see him in the car he sent to pick me up. I didn’t. I was then expecting to meet him for check-in. He wasn’t there. In fact, I didn’t even see him during my flight to Florida. I gotta say, if this was any indication of how our imaginary marriage was going to be, this pretend engagement wasn’t going to last.

It wasn’t until I was nervously about to board my flight to Bimini that I got a text from him. It said, “Hey Honey, I can’t wait to see you at the airport. You’re going to love the island.”

The text set my mind at ease. This wasn’t actually a new version of survivor where billionaires led unsuspecting women to a tropical island where they had to battle each other for food and $200,000.  I’m not saying I wouldn’t do it… and win. I’m saying, I just did my nails… so, bring it on bitches!

Approaching the island I looked down at the water. I had never been to the Bahamas. I’d seen pictures, but they didn’t prepare me for this. It was beautiful. I hadn’t realized those shades of blue existed. And, the closer we got to the island, the more I was sure I could see fish swimming in the crystal clear water.

That did mean that the fish had to be larger than I felt comfortable swimming with. And that my bikini might never touch the ocean. But, the sight itself was beautiful.

Landing on the very short runway, I was relieved to be on solid ground again. When the door of the plane opened, I was surprised by how warm it was. I guess it was less the heat than the humidity, but still, it was a shock. I started sweating immediately. It wasn’t a good look on me. Girls my size weren’t built for such weather.

Crossing the runway and entering the small airport, I kept expecting to see Laine. All of this was new to me. Except for the imaginary trip for my engagement, I hadn’t even left the country before this. I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do. I mean, the airport wasn’t very big so there weren’t too many places to go. But still.

Following the person in front of me, I crossed the tarmac into a small building. It wasn’t very ceremonious. Come on, didn’t anyone know who my pretend fiancé was? He could pretend to buy and sell this place. I don’t mean to pretend to be that type of person. But, it would’ve been nice if crossing the airport I wasn’t made to feel like the lead male character in every sitcom, you know, clueless and playing way out of my league.

“Jules, Honey, you made it!” I heard a familiar voice say.

Looking around as I stepped out of the other side of the small building, I spotted him. Laine was no longer dressed like a stylish power player. He was dressed like a guy on a yacht in a cologne commercial. He was wearing a loose-fitting white linen shirt with white khaki shorts and light brown leather sandals. Damn, did he look good.

Immediately dropping my bags I ran over to him, threw my arms around him, and gave him a kiss. The move was playful and sexy. It was what I once saw Julia Roberts do in a movie.

“Laine, dear, so good to see you,” I said in a spot-on English accent.

Laine gave me a look as if he was questioning my character choice and then waved his hand towards the guy standing next to him.

“Jules, I would like you to meet Reed. Actually, Reed went to college with us.”

I turned to the surprised man standing next to Laine and froze. He was more than just familiar. I knew Reed. I knew him much more than I knew Laine. In fact, he and I had a history…. a long, complicated history.

Is this a coincidence? Did Laine not know that Reed and I knew each other back then? It has to be a coincidence…, right?

 

 

Chapter 2

Reed

 

There is no way this is a coincidence. Three days ago Laine called me up and told me that I had to drop everything because there was someone who I had to meet. I asked him who it was, and he told me that it was his fiancé.

Laine Toros was engaged? No way. Uh-uh. Laine goes through women like tick tacks. He doesn’t see them as people. To him, they’re just mountains to summit. And I told him that.

But he said that this one was different. That she was special and that she turned his ways around. He said that she made him a new person. Now, come to find out that the woman who he is set to marry is the very woman who I was hopeless in love with in college. In no universe was this a coincidence.

“Reed, I’d like you to meet Jules, my fiancé,” Laine said casually as if I wouldn’t know who she was.

“No, we’ve met, Laine,” I said still recovering from the shock. “I mean, we’ve met, right?” I asked Jules suddenly flooded by memories of our complicated past.

“No, we’ve definitely met,” Jules clarified.

“Oh wait. That’s right. You guys have met. Right!” Laine said as if all of it was coming rushing back to him. “Isn’t this a small world,” he continued flashing one of his annoying smiles and wrapping his arms around Jules’s shoulder. “Honey, was the flight okay. I don’t have to buy and sell anywhere for you, do I?”

“Oh, it’s funny that you would say that,” Jules said returning her gaze to Laine.

“Why?” Laine asked.

Jules smiled. “Nothing. It’s just funny. So, Reed, how have you been? It’s been a while. We haven’t spoken since graduation day.”

“You remember that?” I asked surprised that she would remember something so forgettable.

“Of course. You had put all of those polka-dot things on your gown. I always wondered, how did you do that? Was it staples?”

“Yeah!” I said shocked that she would remember something so minuscule. “It was staples. I had spent the entire night running around with… actually, it was with your fiancé here.”

“I remember that,” Laine said gripping Jules tighter. “You just had to add your polka-dots. You couldn’t graduate without your polka-dots.”

As Laine talked about it, I was reminded of that night. “You broke into that closet in the science hall to get staples, didn’t you?”

“You were threatening not to walk if you didn’t have your polka-dots. What was I supposed to do?” Laine reminded me.

“That’s right,” I said having completely forgotten that Laine could have a sweet side.

“Anyway, we have plenty of time to reminisce when we get to the island. Reed, you wouldn’t mind grabbing Jules’s bags, would you? Jules, is this all you brought?”

“You know how I like to travel light?”

“Yes, of course, Honey. And that’s one of the things that I love about you,” Laine said before touching his nose to Jules’s and giving her a kiss.

Watching the two of them, I wasn’t sure what was going on, but I was sure that I didn’t like it. This could not be a coincidence. And there was no way that Laine had forgotten the way I had felt about her.

I couldn’t count the number of times I had talked to him about her back then. I could remember us once talking about her until the sun rose. I guess I was the one doing most of the talking, but still, he couldn’t have forgotten that.

“So, how did you two meet?” I asked as I drove them back to my place.

“Did Laine not tell you?” Jules asked me from the back of the golf cart.

“No. In fact, Laine hasn’t told me anything about you two.”

“Shame on you Laine. Dear, let me.”

“It’s all yours, Honey.”

“We were both in Calabasas…”

“I have a home up there,” Laine said smugly.

“He does. And I recently moved back to take care of my mother.”

“Oh, what was wrong with your mother?” I asked concerned.

“Cancer treatment. But, she’s in full remission. Everything’s fine.”

“Your mother had cancer? I didn’t know that?” Laine interjected.

“Of course you did. I told you that. You knew I moved back to Calabasas to care for my mother.”

“Oh wait. Yes, to care for your mother. Of course. You know what, I was thinking of someone else. Anyway, go on.”

“Anyway,” Jules continued, “I was working at a temp agency…”

 “A temp agency?” I asked her suddenly reminded of something.

“Yeah. Not knowing how long I would be there, I thought it would be easier. In either case, I had just been fired from another temp assignment when I decided to go have a coffee. And, wouldn’t you know it, who was at the same coffee shop? Laine Toros, from college.”

“It was me,” Laine said chiming in. “Then, one thing led to another, we started talking, and here we are.”

“Here we are,” Jules confirmed.

“Wow! I don’t believe that things like that just happen,” I told them. “I guess you two were meant to be.”

“We were meant to be,” Laine said slipping Jules’s hand into his own.

Seeing yet another of their displays of affection, I returned my attention to the narrow, empty street. This was a lot to take in. It took me a long time to get over Jules. In fact, she was one of the reasons I had moved here after college.

The whole thing with her really messed with my head. I don’t know why I couldn’t get myself to just ask her out. I had always felt like she would have said yes if I had, but I never did. I’m not sure why I didn’t. Maybe I was just too screwed up back then. Hell, maybe I’m still screwed up.

I mean, what have I even done with my life while Laine has been out making himself richer than god? Nothing. I’m living in the same broken-down house I moved into ten years ago when I got here, and I still barely have a penny to my name.

Seeing the Johnsons wave at me as I approached, I waved back and made note that I had to stop by their place and say hi when I got back on the island. They were getting up in age and there were a couple of us who kept up their yard for them. My turn was coming up soon.

“Mr. and Mrs. Johnson, how’s Thelma and your new grandbaby doing?”

“She doin’ just fine,” Mr. Johnson said after I pulled over next to him.

“Do you know if she got those mangos I left for her?”

“Ya know, I think she did.”

“That’s good. They were very sweet. I’ll have to bring you some.”

“You know we always like your mangos,” Mr. Johnson said with a smile.

“By the way, these are a couple of friends of mine. They’re visiting from the States. You remember me talking about Laine. And this is his Fiancé, Jules. We all went to college together.”

“Very nice to meet you, sir,” Mr. Johnson said to Laine before turning to me. “Is this the girl you talk about?”

“Oh, I’m sure I don’t know what you mean. Anyway, I’ll bring those mangos by. I’ll see you when I get back,” I said pulling off before Mr. Johnson could say another word.

Yes, I had mentioned Jules and my heartache about her many times to them over the years. And now that Mr. Johnson was getting up there in age, his filter wasn’t what it used to be. There was nothing about what he would say that I would want to have to explain.

“They seemed very nice,” Jules said again grabbing my attention.

“Yes. Everyone’s very nice here. It’s a small community so everyone knows each other. I’m the godfather to their grandson,” I said proudly.

“You mean Thelma’s son?” She said as if she knew who she was talking about. “Thelma with the mangos.”

I laughed. “Yes, Thelma with the mangos.”

“It’s a quaint little island,” Laine said deliberately cutting us off.

At least once a year Laine came down to visit. He clearly didn’t get island life. It was too working class for him. He never talked after I introduced him to someone. And I always got the impression that he resented me being here. So when he told me that he had bought an island a few miles off the coast of South Bimini, I was more than a little stunned.

He hadn’t even mentioned it to me until his call three days ago. He had to have come down to visit it at some point before buying it, didn’t he? Or did people like him buy million-dollar homes sight unseen? I mean, my place had to be a dump in comparison to his and I walked through it five times before buying it.

“We’re here,” I announced as we pulled up to my humble home.

When I looked back at Jules, I found her staring at my house surprised.

“Something wrong?” I asked her suddenly feeling self-conscious.

“No. I just had the impression that… Do you not do what Laine does… job-wise?”

“Oh no. God no,” I joked.

“You don’t have to say it like that,” Laine replied with a smile.

“No, I think one person doing what Laine does is enough. The world only has so many companies to exploit. Right, Laine?” I said giving him a gentle ribbing.

“Of course, otherwise I would be a lot richer. No, Reed here followed his own path.”

“Oh, what do you do?” Jules asked.

“A little of this. A little of that. Mostly I run an after school program where I offer college prep classes. It’s not really a paid thing, but it’s what I can do. So… you know.”

“He’s been running it for five years,” Laine added. “Hey Reed, tell her how many kids you’ve gotten to go off to college.”

“Six,” I said proudly.

“Yeah, that’s almost one a year… After five years,” Laine said with his usual level of contempt for what I do.

“Actually, this year we have two.”

“Two whole students, huh?”