Home > Come As You Are(6)

Come As You Are(6)
Author: Lauren Blakely

I cringe at the image as Whitney nods enthusiastically, delighted horror in her eyes. “That would be a fantastic costume. You could be totally hidden under a creepy cloak. It would be so scary and gross.”

“Thanks, but I think I’m going to pass on the bloody stump for a head.”

But I do need a kick-ass costume. Something that makes people think. That reminds them that I’m at the top of the game. Something as clever as ID theft.

As I review a set of proposals from hot young start-ups, the new costume idea descends into my brain, fully formed and entirely entertaining.

Surely, everyone will get it.

* * *

After work, I do a little shopping for the costume then head to the racquetball club to take my mind off work for a bit.

My sister, Olivia, joins me, her brown hair pulled back in a ponytail, her game face on. “Get ready for me to crush you and crush you quickly, because I have plans tonight.”

“Got a hot date?”

She looks at me. “Yes, with my six-month-old. It’s called breastfeeding, and she’s going to be hungry in about an hour.”

“Glad to hear you still know how to party. How is my perfect niece?”

She points her racket at me. “Zoe is awesome, even though her uncle is being a pain in the ass for saying I have no life.”

“Teasing.” I grab a ball and bounce it. “Although, clearly you have no life if you’re hanging out with a guy like me.” I lower my goggles, lift the ball, and smash it toward the wall.

“I’m not teasing when I say I’m going to kick your pain-in-the-butt ass.” As the ball rockets to her, she slams it back.

We proceed to pummel the hell out of the ball for the next thirty minutes. Olivia works in the same field as me—she’s an ethical hacker, and like me, she’s also highly competitive. She also hates when I win, so she makes sure I don’t, finishing our match with a victory at the last second.

She smacks my shoulder. “Take that. Your older sister still has it, even while she’s nursing.”

Panting, I grab a water bottle and down a gulp. “Damn, you and your boobs are the toughest. Also, can we pretend I totally did not acknowledge your boobs right now?”

She thrusts out her chest. “You can’t deny what nature gave me and what my baby made even bigger.”

I cringe and cover my eyes. “Make it stop. Put on a bag.”

When I open my eyes, she says, “Speaking of hot dates, what’s your excuse for hanging out with me when you could be, I dunno, out with a sexy single woman? Assuming any sexy single woman would want you.”

“Thank you, as always, for your support.”

“It’s endless.”

I grab a towel and wipe my brow, answering her seriously now, “Same old story. Two days ago, I was propositioned after a keynote speech.”

Her eyes widen. “For sex?”

“No, for marriage. That’s what made it even crazier,” I say and share the details of Nova’s pitch to become Mrs. Flynn Parker.

“Damn,” she says, whistling, “it must suck to be you.”

She raises her racquet like a violin and plays a lament.

“Tell me about it. It was as sad as a sad song.”

“Seriously, though, can you even imagine what it’s like for athletes and really rich and famous people?”

“I can’t. I honestly don’t see how you could ever trust that someone was truly into you. Especially given what happened with Annie last year.” I shudder at the memory of my ex.

“She was a tough one to spot as a bad seed, I’ll give you that. But what about Dylan? He found someone who’s truly into him, and if memory serves, he’s as rich as sin, too, since he netted half of the sale of the company you two ding-dongs founded.”

“True,” I concede, since my twin, Dylan, tried using a matchmaker and wound up falling for her. She also happened to be immune to rich guys, so I think that helped smooth the path to trust. “But even so, I need to focus on Haven. Make sure we launch the marketing campaign flawlessly, especially with ShopForAnything breathing down my neck.”

“I suppose whenever you do date again, we could just paint your face like a clown so no one recognizes you.”

“Oh, yeah. Bozo scored with the ladies, didn’t he?”

“Who doesn’t want a big red nose and floppy shoes on her man?”

“Bozo was a real Casanova.”

“Or,” she says, snapping her fingers, “we could give you a new look entirely. Find one of those aesthetic centers and give you a face-lift.”

I grab the door to the court, and we leave to head down the hall toward our respective locker rooms.

“It’s either that or you’re going to have to become a monk.”

I laugh as I reach the entryway to the men’s locker room. “Yeah, that’s at the top of my list of life goals.”

But as I turn into the locker room, grateful Dale’s not here to talk up what’s next in sexual performance grading, something Olivia said sits up in my brain and insists on being heard.

No, I don’t plan on getting a face-lift.

The idea has some merit though.

4

Sabrina

I zoom in on the prize. The box sits high on the shelf, atop an old Candyland, a beaten-up game of Twister, and a 1980s Trivial Pursuit. Not just the ’80s flashback version. The actual 80s version from shortly after the game came out when US history questions stopped at President Carter.

I reach for the Monopoly box and yank it off the shelf. It imitates a Jenga tower and tumbles down.

“Ouch.” The cardboard smacks my face, and Marvin Gardens and its brethren scatter as the game spills onto the floor of the Salvation Army, where I’m now standing in the midst of an iron, a race car, a thimble, and dozens of pink and green bills.

Crudola.

Maybe I am cursed. Maybe Sasha was right.

Making sure I don’t flash anyone as I bend to the linoleum floor in my once-a-kimono-now-a-cool-red-dragon-skirt, I gather up the spilled pieces.

A woman with wild and curly brown hair and kind eyes joins me. “Let me help you.”

“It’s no big deal. I’ll just pick it up, and then I’ll take it.”

“Are you sure you want it?” Her voice is gentle, full of concern over a game that looks like it’s seen many lives. “It’s missing a lot of pieces. We were going to toss it because the last time someone wanted to buy it, he said there was no Boardwalk and then left in a huff.”

I smile. “Boardwalk is the dream, isn’t it?”

She smiles back. “I’d like to live on Boardwalk.”

“You’re telling me,” I say as I grab some stray bills. “But I don’t plan to play the game. I need it for the money.”

The woman arches an eyebrow and gives me a curious look. She lowers her voice and talks to me like I’m in third grade. “You know the money isn’t real, right?”

“I do know that,” I say, laughing.

She takes a beat and screws up the corner of her lips. “Why don’t you just take the game for free?” she says in a conspiratorial whisper, sliding the box toward me.

“Are you sure?”

She winks. “It’d help me out to get it off the shelf. Plus, I have a Mega Monopoly that needs a good home if you want another one.”

Mega Monopoly has the biggest bills. That makes it even more perfect. “You’re an angel.”

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