I hung up the phone and buried my face into my hands. Why the hell did I do that?
“You’re such a little liar,” he tutted in a low voice that made my forehead sear with heat. “I won’t play along with your little charade. I’m not Luke.”
I looked at him hesitantly, but he didn’t look very angry. “I’m really sorry, Will. I didn’t really plan on doing that—I just didn’t feel like telling her the truth and disappointing them.”
He throttled the engine and I winced as the car lurched forward. We were already speeding past Oakland, merging into the lanes that would take us across the Bay Bridge. “Well, we’ll probably be photographed so that’ll corroborate your lie. Your ex might not be pleased, though.”
Shit. I hadn’t thought of that. “I don’t care.”
“You care about using me to make yourself look better in your parent’s eyes. Nice.”
He clearly wasn’t impressed with what I did.
“Listen,” I began defensively. “I don’t judge you for all the things you do—don’t judge me. I’m just trying to make them happy.”
I hated the pity on his face. “Make them happy?” he said in an incredulous voice. “Natalie, Natalie, Natalie.”
My frown deepened with every repetition of my name.
“You’ll never be able to live up to their standards. You’ll never be able to make them happy. The sooner you realize that, the sooner you can move on with your life. I’m probably the only one out of my brothers who doesn’t suck up to my dad.”
“How’s that working out for you?”
His fingers whitened on the steering wheel.
That’s what I thought.
The rest of the car ride was pretty silent. I kept waiting for him to slip some sort of sexual innuendo into the conversation, but instead he seemed keen on pissing me off.
“Oh, you’ll have to take all the trains and buses that the laypeople use by yourself. You have to do a write-up of how to get to all these places.”
I didn’t expect that. “I’ll have to go by myself?”
He smirked. “Pardinis don’t take public transport.”
Whatever. Rolling my eyes at the smugness, I turned my head so I wouldn’t have to look at his irritating face.
“By the way, I got you a seat in coach. It’s a ten-hour flight, so that’ll suck.” He sniggered.
Another flare shot up my face. “It’s not a problem when you’re short. Coach suits me just fine.”
Will’s jaw went slack.
I expected a crowd of paparazzi to follow us around, but Will parked us in the long-term parking lot and we took the train to the international terminal. I had never flown out of the country before and couldn’t keep my excitement from ramping up.
After we shot through the airport security, we were ushered through a series of corridors while I wondered what the hell was going on. Why weren’t we going to one of the airport terminals? Delta, US Airways, whatever?
It was only when we were walking across the tarmac and I saw the white jet, stamped in bold, gold letters with his name that I realized Will had been joking about flying me in coach.
He smiled at my wide-eyed expression. “Ladies first.” He swept his arm towards the staircase leading to the airplane.
My hair whipped around my head as I bounded up the steps. I felt like a little kid with a shiny, new toy. There were rows of plush, white leather seats and flat screen TVs.
A tabby cat sat on the table in his blue cage, his yellow eyes extremely round.
“What the hell? What’s a cat doing here?”
“Kitty!” he exclaimed.
I almost laughed at the delight transporting William’s face. He rushed past me to unlock the cage and a handsome cat with dark tiger stripes immediately walked out, stretching his back legs.
The stewardess pursed her lips reprovingly. I had a feeling that animals were required to stay inside their cages at all times, but she wasn’t going to argue with the man giving her paychecks.
“This is Tom,” Will said with his hand on the cat’s back.
The cat head-butted his hand, purring loudly.
“You brought a cat to Europe,” I deadpanned. “Do these bed and breakfasts even take pets?”
“They’ll do as I ask.” He glowered at me as if to add: Or else.
He sat down on one of the chairs and Tom the cat immediately jumped on his lap, settling in for a nice, long nap. Will talked to the cat in a baby, singsong voice. My head was ringing with the strangeness of it.
“Tom follows me everywhere. Isn’t that right, baby boy?”
The cat closed his eyes and lifted his white chin as Will scratched his fur. His black lips rounded in a soft mow.
He’s crazy. I opened my phone and texted to Jessica: He brought a cat on the plane. He’s singing to it now. I’m scared.
She replied. Get out while you still can.
I stifled laughter from her text and was distracted by Will’s high-pitched voice. Now, he was kissing the top of the cat’s head.
“Seriously, what’s the deal with the cat?”
I didn’t have anything against cats. I even liked them, but I couldn’t imagine how he was going to take care of him for three weeks.
He stood up with the cat over his shoulder, almost as if he was burping a baby. The cat licked his lips and stared at me through yellow slits as Will rubbed his back. He stopped in front of me and I yelped as he deposited him in my lap.
“Tom is my therapy. He goes wherever I go. Think of him as a service animal.”
Tom stood and faced me, his whiskers fanning out and his tail curled in the air like a question mark. Then he head-butted my face, rubbing his cheeks hard against my nose as a line of cat drool smeared my face.
“Urgh.” I spat out the cat hair.
“He really likes you. That’s good,” he said, as if his cat was a good judge of character. He sat down and looked at us with his head in his hand, smiling faintly with a bit of sadness in his eyes.
“You seem different. A lot more mellow.” I held Tom against me, feeling his little heartbeat hammer against mine. Petting him over and over with his reassuring, motor-like purr vibrating in my stomach made me feel lighter. Happier. Maybe he was right about the cat.
He frowned, not angrily. “When I take these pills, I feel like a robot. I don’t like it.”
“So then don’t.” Curiosity seethed inside me. I wanted to ask him why he took the pills, but it was such a personal question. You must despise me. His words echoed in my head, haunting me.