Authors: Rebecca Barber
Then James appeared. The whole bar started applauding and whistling wildly. The look on James’s face was priceless. But when his eyes landed on Anna, his faced paled instantly. Striding deliberately towards the table, James flopped into the chair beside Anna and tried to discover what he’d missed.
“Well, the moment you left they showed today’s press conference and announced to the world you were engaged. That’s all.” Anna sighed heavily, raising her eyes to meet James’s sympathetic gaze.
In the few minutes he had left her alone, Anna’s life as she knew it had become totally unrecognisable. At the end of the room James’s gaze landed on a karaoke machine. Standing up, he strode purposefully towards it. The operator, who had seen everything, watched him approach.
“Mate,” James began, “mind if I say something?”
He didn’t say a word; instead he just handed James a microphone, twisted a few knobs and watched as his control panel lit up.
“Hi everybody!” James announced sounding remarkably cheery.
Anna’s stomach clenched and her eyes never left James. She couldn’t have pulled her eyes away even if she wanted to. Grant, who was still sitting next to her, slipped his arm around her.
“Well, um…Hi. My name’s James Thompson and I would like to take this opportunity to introduce you to someone who has become the most important thing in my life. My fiancée, Anna.” Anna was stunned. She tried to swallow, but her throat felt like sandpaper. They’d agreed Anna would never be publicly named in attempts to try and save what little privacy remained. Yet here he was standing in a crowded bar in her hometown calmly declaring their engagement. “Anna, can you come up here please?” he asked, his eyes never wavering from hers. With some encouragement and prodding from Grant, Anna stood. On shaky legs, Anna shuffled over to where he was standing, not trusting her feet to move any faster. James extended his hand to help her as she stepped carefully up onto the stage. Now she stood, deathly pale beside him, James wrapped his long, warm arm around her waist and Anna was sure it was the only thing keeping her standing upright. A painful silence hung heavily in the air. If someone didn’t break it soon Anna was sure it would kill him or her. Or there was the distinct possibility she’d throw up.
Daniel, who had watched all the commotion in silence, slowly stood up. He was the only sign of movement in the room. He rose his glass high above his head and said, “Congrats Anna and James. Cheers.” Daniel offered Anna a conspiratorial wink before taking a long swig of his beer. Slowly everyone followed, all standing, clapping, and calling out their congratulations.
James smiled. Anna was still frozen at his side but when James bent down and kissed her lightly on the lips, the tension from Anna’s body evaporated and Anna seemed to come back to life. “Dance with me?” James asked before he led her onto the dance floor.
In that moment it was like no one else in the room even existed. They were floating on a cloud, wrapped in their own private bubble. The music played and they danced. Before they knew it the dance floor was full of people moving to the music, acting as if they had no cares in the world. They could have been in heaven. How could it ever get better than this? It was what she’d always pictured.
“Told you,” James said, stroking Anna’s hair. Her head was buried on his shoulder. In those strong, protective arms Anna knew she was safe. While she was wrapped in those arms no one could touch her.
“Mind if I cut in?” The alarm was evident as Anna’s head shot up and looked around to see who dared to interrupt them. It was only Grant.
“Sure, mate. Just watch your hands,” James teased, letting go and moving away from her.
Grant’s arms slid around Anna’s waist with a strange familiarity. It was odd and Anna knew the moment his hands touched her skin she’d regret this. “You really did it, didn’t you?” Grant muttered quietly so only Anna could hear his accusation.
“I’m sorry. What did you say?” And with that, Anna’s dream was shattered. No longer wrapped in the protective cocoon of James’s strong embrace, Anna felt as though she was about to face the firing squad.
“I said, you did it.”
“I did what?” Anna snarled. Agitated, her eyes were now scouring the room desperate for James to swoop in and rescue her.
“Don’t get defensive, Anna. I just mean you really did it. This is the happiest I’ve ever seen you. And honestly, if James is responsible. Well…all I can say is congratulations. You really do deserve to be happy.” Grant smiled sweetly.
“Thanks, Grant.” Anna dropped the cynicism and snuggled against him. The Grant in her arms was not the one she remembered. Maybe Grant had changed as much as she had. Maybe growing up agreed with him. Anna felt relieved as she realised maybe someone would actually understand.
“Sleeping with him?” he asked callously. It was like a slap in the face. Barely moments ago Anna was giving him credit for being an actual human being, but with that comment Anna knew he was still the same manipulative, sex-obsessed asshole he’d always been. Pushing him away, she stormed off towards James. Back towards home.
Still seated at the table were Bronwyn, Stephanie, and Holly. Anna could only assume they were still gossiping about what had just happened. Anna felt the anger and disappointment building inside of her. Why couldn’t they just be happy for her? Through high school they’d been the popular ones, the ones with the latest outfits, the perfect hair, and the perfect boyfriends. Anna just felt as though now it was her turn. She had always been happy for them even if privately she was also more than a little envious, so she couldn’t quite comprehend why they couldn’t return the gesture. Surely it was her chance to have it all. She had the perfect fiancé and for the first time since she could remember Anna felt truly happy. And if she ever found the courage to take off her overcoat they would see she now had the perfect wardrobe as well. She was finally exactly who she wanted to be. And sadly, the people who she wanted to accept her and be happy for her were just sitting there bitching about her. Anna was filled with disappointment.
Moments later, Grant walked calmly back to the table as though nothing had happened. Then, almost as if he was rubbing salt in the wound, he suggested they move the party on and get James and Anna out of the spotlight. They’d been gawked at enough for one night and perhaps it was time they should head to the nightclub up the road. Without hesitation they agreed. But the girls couldn’t let it go. Or they wouldn’t. It was obvious they were still suspicious. Anna wasn’t sure how she was going to convince them this was a legitimate engagement or even if she could be bothered trying to convince them. How did she make someone believe her? Make them believe she wasn’t just after his money? Or that he wasn’t using her as a fake fiancée to protect himself from overzealous fans?
Anna and James quickly agreed getting out have there was indeed a great idea. “Well…the car is out the front so we’ll meet you there,” James explained. Anna knew him well enough to see past the mask. He didn’t care about the car. She knew he wanted a moment or two, just the two of them without eyes analysing their every move. Five minutes wouldn’t be enough but at least that would give James a chance to check on her and make sure she was still holding herself together. The smile plastered across Anna’s face didn’t fool James. He knew her too well. He knew the smile wasn’t real—it didn’t reach her eyes.
Anna was determined to make one last ditch attempt to reunite with old friends, no matter the cost. “Why don’t you drive the guys up and I’ll walk with the girls? We’ll meet you out the front. I’m sure they would love to take a spin in your new toy anyway.”
“You sure?” James asked nervously.
“I’ll be fine,” Anna convinced herself before giving him a sly wink.
Splitting up, they headed for the exit. No one spoke until they burst out onto the street. Just as Bronwyn opened her mouth and was about to start interrogating Anna, Marcy appeared. By the looks of her she’d just knocked off work for the night and was looking to party.
“Anna! I didn’t know you were back. How are you? What’s new?” Marcy exclaimed, throwing her arms around Anna’s shoulders with a touch too much enthusiasm.
“Yeah, Anna, what’s new?” Stephanie asked sarcastically. They were all blatantly staring at her, barely containing their giggles. What was she supposed to do? Lie?
“What did I miss?” Marcy asked, looking mystified.
As the girls pushed off they started clacking down the street, their impossibly high heels clicking on the pavement.
“Guys! Come on! Tell me! What’s going on?” Marcy pouted as she spotted the furtive glances and nervous laughs surrounding her.
“It seems…” Holly began to tell the tale. “Well…it seems Anna here went and got herself engaged.” Anna forced a smile.
“Congratulations! Oh my god…Anna, that’s great. Isn’t it?” Marcy asked, looking slightly lost. “Why aren’t we all jumping up and down and celebrating? Aren’t we happy about this?”
“Yeah, I am. It’s great.” Anna finally felt relieved. Someone was reacting the way friends were supposed to, the way she’d hoped they all would.
They circled the car like a lion circled its prey. They were beyond impressed and over-awed. It was obvious they were envious of James’s pride and joy. His V8 ice silver Audi Spyder put a smile on everyone’s face and a jealous sparkle in their eyes. Everyone was practically drooling. It was a dream car but James was the lucky one with the keys in his pocket.
“Dude! This is a hot car!” Matt exclaimed.
“How fast?” Rick questioned.
With a beep James unlocked the car, and without waiting for an invitation, Grant slipped silently into the driver’s seat. The black leather interior gleamed under the street lights and James couldn’t restrain the wide grin that consumed his face as he watched the guys surround him and salivate over his toy.
“It goes okay. Zero to one hundred in four point two seconds.” James smirked nonchalantly.
“Fuck yeah!” Grant bellowed, climbing out of the car. But not everyone was as impressed by James’s choice of transportation. It seemed Johnny too had questions, but they had nothing to do with the Audi.
“So, what’s the go? Why propose to Anna?” Johnny asked, leaning casually against the car. It would have seemed like a typical male question between friends but these guys weren’t friends. These were people James had just met and right now he wasn’t sure he liked any of them.
“Why does anyone get married? I love Anna. That’s all. She’s the one I want to spend my life with.” James was being extremely diplomatic, which he had plenty of practice at. Over the years James had gotten used to the fact he had to watch what he said. He had been told a million times it was just one of the drawbacks of ‘being known.’
“But Anna? Seriously? I’ve seen pictures of you hanging out with actresses and models, yet you’re marrying Anna?” Johnny asked, genuinely bewildered. “Let’s face it, she isn’t exactly hot and she is…well, you know…a bit on the chunky side. Maybe it’s me, man, but…you have really nice taste in cars but you need help.” Johnny didn’t even attempt to hide his distaste.
James bit his lip and swallowed his argument. James smiled as he thought
wait until you see what is under that coat
. Sliding into the driver’s seat and revving the engine seemed to bring the discussion about Anna to a halt. Rick jumped in and flipped the others off as James and Rick tore through the car park, leaving the others to make the trek on foot.
Moments later they pulled into the parking lot. James killed the ignition before he and Rick headed towards the door. The girls had managed to beat them and were waiting out the front for them. Anna stood surrounded by women as if she were the last cake at a bakery. She was fielding questions from Marcy, who appeared as though she actually approved. Without thought or hesitation, James sauntered over to where they were and took his position beside her.
“Marcy, I’d like you to meet my fiancé, James.” Anna grinned as she reached out and wrapped her arm around his waist, pulling him close.
“Oh my god!” Marcy had lost control of her mouth and was just blurting out strange noises. Eventually she managed to splutter out, “Hi…congratulations.”
The bouncer quickly checked their identification and after James signed an autograph for his son, they made their way upstairs. James insisted it was time for Anna to take off the jacket. It took him a moment, but James managed to summon up three pretty acceptable reasons. “Anna, it will be so hot on the dance floor you’ll certainly overheat. As hot and stuffy as it is in here, I don’t want you getting sick. Besides, you look fucking hot. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. I promise, I’m the only one who will be watching you.” He smiled at her. The third reason James knew he would never speak aloud. It was purely selfish. He wanted everyone to shut up once and for all and stop judging the woman who would be his wife. He knew this was the perfect revenge.
“If I have to. But I just want you to know, I’m only doing this for you,” Anna gave up reluctantly, shrugging out of her coat.
The others were already on the dance floor showing off their very funky dance moves. James went to get a drink but sent Anna ahead of him. Edging around the corner of the bar, she spotted them. They were in the middle of the crowded dance floor. Nervously she made her way over.