The Fable of Us(9)

By: Nicole Williams

He looked away for a moment, glaring at the wall across from us, before his gaze cut back to me. His shoulders were tense, his neck so rigid that his veins and muscles were showing. Part of me knew he felt insulted that I was offering him money in exchange for a favor—part of me felt ashamed for the same—but Boone’s and my relationship had been severed years ago. This was nothing more than a business transaction between a couple of acquaintances.

“You know, the last time someone offered me that chunk of change over a few drinks, it wasn’t followed by an offer that was on the up-and-up.” His voice was cool and removed, the way he was looking at me the same.

“What I’m about to ask isn’t illegal, I promise. It’s not even inside.” I shook my head. “It’s just . . . maybe a little deceitful.”

He huffed and gave a nod. “I’d expect nothing less.”

When I thought of a way to phrase what I was about to suggest, nothing sounded quite right. No matter how I worked the pieces of my proposition in my head, no arrangement made it seem less undignified. So I went with the most basic explanation.

“All I need from you is for you to pose as my plus one for the week. Nothing more. One week, ten grand. What do you think?” My words came out too fast, my voice too high. Because no matter what I tried to convince myself of, no matter how much radio silence had passed between us, Boone and I were not and would never be mere acquaintances. We had too much history to ever be “acquaintances.”

Boone was silent for a minute. One long minute I thought would never pass. When he did finally say something, I’d been two seconds away from leaving and spending the next seven years trying and failing to forget about Boone Cavanaugh again.

“Let me get this straight, because I thought I understood the English language, but I cannot get my head wrapped around what you just said.” Boone scooted his stool a half foot in my direction, the skin between his brows pinched in a deep line. “Are you asking me to show up at your family’s place with your family inside and pose as your date for the wedding?”

I shook my head. Hard. “As my plus one. That’s all.” My traitor voice gave me away though. Still too high and fast.

Boone didn’t miss it either. Something that resembled the stirrings of a smirk worked its way into his expression. “As your boyfriend.”

He wasn’t going to make this easy. Not that he had any reason to. “As my plus one.”

Boone’s smirk became as pronounced as it got. His head tipped just a bit, his eyes flashing, and his mouth turned up in a hint of a smile. “As your lover?”

My fingers curled into my palms. “As. My. Plus. One.”

An uneven chuckle vibrated in his chest as he studied me. He probably couldn’t figure out my business deal any more than I could. “Why? Why me?” He held out his arms and shrugged. “With all the history between us and the history of your family treating mine like we were trash . . . why choose me?”

I picked at the frayed ends of my cut-offs, considering his question as much as I was considering my answer. I had too many reasons to ask him, most of those reasons ones I didn’t want to legitimize by voicing . . . even to myself. When I’d left Charleston seven years ago, I’d told myself the Boone Cavanaugh chapter of my life was over. Yet here I was reopening it, or starting a brand-new chapter.

Boone continued to wait, his silence screaming at me.

He wanted to know why, so I gave him an answer, though it might have been the least honest one I had. “Limited options.” I scanned the few dozen customers, most of them older than my father and most looking like addiction had played some recent role in their lives. “Running short on time.” I tapped my wrist. “That’s why I choose you. Now if you’re done with the Q & A, what’s your answer?”

My pulse was pounding in my neck as I waited. I needed him to say yes. I needed him to agree to crawl into that cab with me and pose as my plus one for the next week because even though my family weren’t fans of the Cavanaughs, showing up single was a worse crime.

“Am I to understand that who you’d originally planned on bringing as your ‘plus one’ fell through?” Boone scooted his stool down another foot.

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