Page 22 of Buying the Bride

“How did you two meet?” Arora asks as the lady helping us shows me tiaras and veils.

I tell her about walking the dogs in the park, how they got off leash and how Heath saved the day. My mind starts to wander back to that day when Heath ate from the hotdog cart after refusing to at first, and how he loved it so much he finished mine. He was so stiff and awkward at first, and I wasn’t sure I was going to like him when we first met, but then, seemingly out of nowhere, he charmed me. Then there was that kiss … It was the kind of kiss girls dream of.

As I’m telling the story, I realize I’m smiling, and I hear the whimsy in my voice. When I finish telling Arora about how Heath and I met, her eyebrows are raised. Is that surprise I see, and maybe a bit of amusement?

“A literal blushing bride,” she says. I look down at my chest and see that I’m flushed. Heath does that to me. Apparently, so does the thought of him. “That’s some story. It’s very romantic.”

“It was,” I say, and it’s not a lie.

“Sounds nothing like my brother. He’s normally such a stiff.”

I don’t know why, but her comment puts me on edge and I feel the need to defend Heath.

“Maybe you don’t know him as well as you think you do.”

His whole family lives out of the country, and from the sound of it, they don’t come to visit that often. How would she know how he acts with someone he cares about?

She has a slight grin on her face and I think she purposefully tried to rattle me. It worked. At this point I don’t care about the dress anymore. I just want to get out of here.

“This dress is fine,” I say.

Arora tells the woman helping us that we’ll take it. I don’t even feel bad that it cost more than I earned in the last two years combined.

Heath is gone when I get back to the apartment. I go into my room where there’s a tall mirror. I want to see the dress without Arora there judging me and being suspicious. Even though the dress is for a fake wedding, I want to feel right wearing it. I get it on, but there are so many different buttons and hooks in the back that I can’t do it myself. Still, just holding it up against me, looking in the mirror, it feels all wrong.

I close my eyes and sigh, frustrated. When I open my eyes again, I see Heath’s reflection in the mirror. It gives me a start. He looks equally as stunned. He’s staring at the dress. I look back at my own reflection, trying to see what he sees. The only thing that feels right about this whole thing is Heath. That’s when I realize that my feelings for him have tipped past the point of no return. For me this has become more than a working relationship and it’s all my fault. I shouldn’t have kissed him, or started giving him a massage. I shouldn’t have put my mouth on him last night.

I shouldn’t have done any of those things, but I can bring myself to regret it. I now know why the dress doesn’t feel right. It’s because I don’t want it to be a dress for a fake marriage with Heath. I want what he and I have to be real.

But it’s not real and it can’t be. I’m here for a job. Heath doesn’t want me. Mandi’s words swirl around in my head about how I’m not good enough. I’ll never be the kind of girl a guy like him goes for. I don’t have the wealth or the status. I’m bad for the image he seems to care so much about.

“You look incredible,” he says.

I feel the pressure of tears behind my eyes. I can’t cry in front of him.

“I have to go,” I say, but when I try to leave, my feet get tangled up in the train and I fall to my knees. I’m not hurt, but I stay there anyway, fighting tears and this new emotional sandbag I’ve brought on myself.

Heath comes to me and kneels by my side. “Are you hurt?”

I shake my head. “No.”

“What’s wrong?” he asks when I cover my face.

“I hate this dress.”

“Why? You look beautiful. You’re the prettiest bride I’ve ever seen.”

His words aren’t helping. They make me want to cry even more. I laugh to keep from crying. “This is all so stupid,” I say under my breath. I don’t think he heard my words. If he did, he doesn’t ask what I mean by it.