“Yes, Michael can be a little pushy, can’t he?” Diane says.
I shrug my shoulders and squeeze Michael’s arm tight.
“And tell me, Scarlett. When did you start working at The Black Chapel exactly?” Diane asks.
Diane hands me the microphone and I freeze. My stomach sinks into the floor, and for a moment, I can’t breathe or think.
“I…I…uh, don’t know what you mean,” I say. The room is suddenly spinning. I connect with a few eyes in the audience. Some, it seems, have no idea what The Black Chapel is, although a few, I can tell from their wide eyes that they definitely know that it’s a strip club. They’ve probably even frequented it.
Diane laughs and snags the microphone out of my hands, shooting me a very satisfied glare.
“Well of course you do,” she says. “It’s the strip club called The Black Chapel. You know, where you work? One of my friends saw you entering there just earlier today.”
Friends? Yeah, right. She means one of her dirty, rotten, spies followed me. Why in the world is she doing this? Didn’t she just change her entire will so I would get all the money? I knew I hadn’t been careful this morning when I went to meet Michael at The Black Chapel, but I thought she trusted me. I hadn’t thought that I needed to take all the precautionary measures I had been taking this last week.
I finally spit out, “What do you mean?” I look at Michael, and I don’t know if he has connected the dots yet. He’s not stupid, but at the moment he looks just as shocked as I feel.
Maybe he’s embarrassed at the mention of the strip club. Maybe he feels guilty because he was there and didn’t tell me the girl he was pursuing was a stripper. And oh, shit. He definitely doesn’t want his dirty laundry aired out so openly in front of his family, business acquaintances, and the Portland socialites. What is his mother thinking? Is she trying to completely destroy her son’s reputation? She really is evil.
I squeeze his hand harder, knowing it will only be seconds before he won’t allow me to hold it anymore.
Then he looks at me, and the eyes that just moments ago were filled with love and devotion toward me have turned distant and callous.
Shit. Fuck. Moses. Mary.
I should have told him when I had the chance. I thought the backfire then would be bad, but this is a thousand times worse. Not to mention mortifying for the both of us.
He doesn’t release my hand. I’m sure he’s thinking it would give too much away. Instead, he snatches the microphone from me.
“Thank you, Mother, for bringing that up.” He flashes her a murderous glare. “Forgive my mother. She doesn’t understand privacy or personal boundaries. Scarlett doesn’t work there. I have actually had a fantasy for a while in where I made love to an angel. And since my beloved fiancé is my real angel here on earth, I wanted to see if she’d indulge me this one thing on Christmas Day. Of course being the wonderful woman she is, she immediately said yes.”
Shit, he’s covering for me. Does this mean he isn’t mad? No, if he weren’t mad, he wouldn’t have that icy glare in his once tender eyes.
Diane looks like she’s about to have a stroke or a heart attack, or quite possibly both. It makes me feel a little bit better, knowing Michael can be just as cunning, though I’m just as afraid of where my lack of truthfulness will lead us.
Michael doesn’t miss a beat, but I can see fury in his blue eyes, toward us both, I believe.
“I rented The Black Chapel from the owner, Laila. She told me the place would be closed on Christmas Day, and that it was the perfect time to have the facility all to ourselves. Then we lived out my fantasy. It was beautiful, wasn’t it, Scarlett?” He turns and looks at me, his lips smiling softly, but his eyes angry as sin.
I nod, but I can’t get a word out, my mouth is so dry.
The guests are very happy for us and they applaud generously. Some of them laugh at the “misunderstanding.”
“So, it’s all a misinterpretation, I’m sure,” Michael says.
Diane takes the microphone back. Michael grabs my hand, drags me off the stage, and out of the ballroom. He doesn’t say a word, not even when he helps me put my jacket on or when we get into the car.
“I was going to tell you everything right after tonight,” I say. But now it all sounds like empty promises, a way to try and save my skin.
He starts the car, revving it up several times, the powerful engine roaring over my voice. He glares at me for a moment, a cold, unforgiving stare, and then he speeds out of the driveway.
“Let’s just talk about this like adults,” I say. “I know I should have told you, but…”
“Stop talking. I don’t want to hear another word,” he says.
“Please, Michael, just listen.”
He turns the radio on, the song Rockin’ Around The Christmas Tree blaring from the speakers.
Driving in silence, I feel like my dream world is now coming to an end, unraveling into black ashes, being scattered in the wind. My subconscious is whipping me. You had it coming. You don’t deserve this kind of happiness. You could never hold on to a man like Michael. Who do you think you are? Liar. Slut. You’re no one, and especially now, you’ve messed up your life again.
Tears stream down my cheeks onto my lap as I look out the window at the raging blizzard. One after another the Christmas tunes play, and for every minute of silence, I die a little more.
It seems like forever, but we finally arrive at my house.
Once the car stops, Michael says, “Get out.”
“Michael, please let me explain,” I beg.
“Not now. You need to go home. The next time I want to see you is at the wedding.” He huffs loudly and closes his eyes for a moment. When he speaks again, his voice is soft. “I’m sorry my mother is such a fucking bitch.”
I try to laugh, but the laughter gets stuck in my parched throat. “Me too. I’m sorry she aired your…our dirty laundry.”
“I should have seen it coming. But then again, I didn’t know you…screw that! I’m even sorrier that you lied to me. I thought—” He stops. “We are through….this…” he points back and forth between us. “…this is over. The deal is still on, and I expect you at the wedding.”