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The Lies We Tell (Chapter One)

I am Natalie Conner, and I am a liar. I lie for a living, but my life isn’t the kind of story I can make up. My lying finally paid off though. I finally made it. I glance around the room; my heart is trying to fight its way out of my body as my anxiety takes over.

The crowd is overwhelming. Although I am told, I am good, seeing fans always make me realize the extent of my words.

It is amazing what a large fandom can do. I have somehow managed to bring the hope of love back into people’s lives. My brows bump together, thinking. I, Natalie Conner, of all people have brought the promise of a love life into people’s lives.

Insanity.

My first book is set to begin filming next month, and I am at a celebration dinner for me! I should be ecstatic. Instead, I am looking for a place to throw up. This is too much. Would they still love me if I threw up on a table?

A sharp elbow catches me on my side. I look down at Tabatha, a fellow writer that I met through our publisher. She has a glass held up, looking around I saw that everyone was waiting for me. I lift mine and everyone cheers.

If I don't watch myself, my head might explode throughout this. I've never known anyone to clap for someone for raising a glass. So mundane. I am an excellent writer though.

I chug the contents of my drink and hold my hand up at the waiter. I need to drink more so I can actually talk to people. My anxiety is in overdrive tonight. This is my worst nightmare and the best days of my life are bundled into one beautifully wrapped package.

"You did it," Tabatha says.

“I guess I did,” I say, amazed.

I let out a deep breath I didn’t know I was holding onto. The waitress came back with my drink, smiling. Her dark, golden skin was beautiful in the dim lighting. She handed me my glass, and I grab it, smiling as a way of saying thank you. When I get in social situations, if I speak, it is never good. I would probably tell her to enjoy her drink awkwardly. I need every drop of this.

“Congratulations, Natalie,” she says before walking away.

“You to,” I say, and smack my forehead. “I mean…thanks,” I call out to her as she left. It is all so odd. I don’t even know her name. I can’t wrap my head around this.

“You have to do that every time, don’t you?” Tabatha giggles next to me and my face turns bright red. Searching the room, I find the exit in case I have another encounter like that.

“Hey. You okay?” Tabatha asks, grabbing my elbow. She has been writing for years, so she knows what I am feeling. All jokes aside, she cares deeply for me.

“Never better,” I say. My life is changing right before my eyes. I am nervous but ready. I look around the room, looking for the two people I invited. I came up empty.

Of course, my mother told me in advanced she couldn’t make it. What the hell did I think? The guy that I walked out on my mother and me two years ago would magically show up to my party and congratulate me on my perfect life? I don’t want him to anyway; screw that guy.

He would’ve come. I shake the thought from my head. I won’t allow myself to go there. I left him, and now I have to let him live in peace.

“Look. It is the new guy,” Tabatha whispers in a room full of people. I cut my eyes at her, watching her drool over him. Tabatha is a hopeless romantic in her own way.

I crane my neck, looking for the source of her attention. He is at the back of the room, glancing around nervously as Staci with an I, a publicist, talks to him.

Even standing fifty feet away, I decided he had to be gorgeous up close. His skin is tanned, his hair is black, and he is dressed in a black suit. I am not interested though. I drain the rest of my drink and look around the party, wondering how quickly I can get another drink. Where is the drink goddess?

"You think he can write?" She asks, close to my ear.

She was practically smashed against me to get a better look. I shove her off me as I try to keep my facial composure. She is so obvious.

“Why else would he be here?” I ask, embarrassed. I glance around the room once. Nobody is looking at us.

“Looks,” she says, flatly. “Let’s go find out.”

I am being dragged across the room before I had time to protest. I pull my wrist back, but she is determined. I am swearing off men for the rest of my life. I only write about love. I don't want it. Duh. She knows this, but clearly, she doesn't care right now.

Who the hell am I kidding? She’s probably doing this for herself; taking one for the team as she would say. Tomorrow I would hear all about the new guy she spent the night with.

She tows me right to his side and stops. It is the first time he saw us, and he looks annoyed. Why wouldn’t he though? I was just dragged across the room to see him. It seems like we’re forming a fan club for him. This night is about me, not him.

I am right about the gorgeous thing, but he probably knows it. He is probably full of himself. I search his face, looking for an imperfection to fixate on. His trimmed beard is uneven on the left side. Ew. He’s not perfect. Focus on that. I am over him now.

“We wanted to introduce ourselves,” Tabatha says, grinning like a fool. “I am Tabatha and this…”

“Natalie. I know. The maker of insta-love.” He’s British. But his tone is that of an asshole. A beautiful asshole.

I don't like it; even if it sounded beautiful coming out of his mouth. Only I can make jokes about insta-love. I decided right then that I didn't like this guy. I am just going to wait patiently for Tabatha to take him home or move on for the night. I stand with my arms crossed, ignoring them like a child.

“And, you are Collin?” She asks like she hadn't already stalked his family tree on social media and named their first child.

“I am,” he clips.

He is either socially awkward, having a bad day or a complete dick. Either way, I don’t want to find out. I can’t wait to make a vague status about him later. I glare at him out of the corner of my eye for being rude to my best friend. He catches me, and a brief smile shows up on his lips.

"The writers are close. You should come out with us sometimes," she says.

I give her the craziest look I can manage without prematurely getting wrinkles. The writers are close? Who, Tab? Who? Tab and I don't like people. Naturally, we chose a career that allowed us never to leave our house if we didn't want to. He was probably the same way.

“Yeah, maybe,” he says, nodding.

He catches my eyes once more and hesitates. He sets his glass on a nearby tray and takes a few steps back.

“It was nice meeting you both,” he says, dismissing himself. I hate the sound of his perfect voice.

Tabatha twists her lips up, thinking as she watches him walk away. I threw my hands up. What did she expect?

“Oh my god, that accent is the cherry on the cake,” she says, grabbing my hands. She’s utterly oblivious to the fact that we were just blown off at my own party. This damaged my fragile ego.

“Nice, Tab. People already think we’re weird,” I say, ducking my head down. I bite at my nails and forget about the fact that people probably just saw what happened. She loops her hand through my arm, leading me to the table.

“I was just trying to be nice,” she muses. Her lies are beginning to bug me.

“You were trying to get laid,” I say and roll my eyes. She grins, shrugging her shoulders; she doesn’t deny it.

“You should try it sometimes,” she clips, smiling.

Crinkling my nose up, I shake my head. I am not Mother Teresa, but I am not Tabatha. I am somewhere happily in the middle.

“Put your glass down! Let’s dance,” she says. I nod, perking up. This is what we do best. Drink, dance, and pretend we weren’t just shot down by gorgeous douche- bags.

The very next day I am sitting at a coffee house outside of our hotel. Tabatha is texting, and I am glaring at my cappuccino. It has the nerve to still be too hot after five minutes. The smiley face the barista made is turning into a frown. I felt that.

The door opens and closes continuously; letting new people in this already crowded room. I watched them through the lens of my sunglasses. I don’t think I am cooler than you with my glasses on. I just believe these help my hangover.

If I am honest, I do this a lot. I love hiding behind my shades to people watch. I get so many character ideas. People do odd things when they don’t know they are being watched. It sounds profound, I know, but it makes sense. For example, the man that cut in front of the lady with the crying child, wouldn't have done that had he knew I was watching. He's going to coffee hell. I made a mental note to create a villain that cuts people in line.

The door opens, and the villain of my next book walks in. His beard is still uneven. I look across the table, finding that Tabatha is gone. Shit. He hates us, so he probably will ignore me altogether. I lean over my cappuccino, blowing on it and refusing to acknowledge his stupid presence.

“I am glad I ran into you,” he says beautifully while taking Tabatha’s seat. My face morphs into a frown. Excuse you.

“You couldn’t get enough of us last night?” I laugh once, completely confused by his new, jolly personality. He must be bipolar. We could probably get along if that’s the case.

Then I realize he doesn’t know Tabatha is with me. He grins and doesn’t ask who is with me or who I am talking about when I said “us.” He also doesn’t ask if I have multiple personalities. What a gentleman. I wouldn’t know how to answer that anyway. My characters talk to me. Do they count as personalities? I make a mental note to Google Multiple Personality Disorder, but only if I have wine in my system. I can’t take the truth sober. It is hard enough to receive a bad self- diagnosis online.

“Yeah, sorry about that,” he says, rubbing his beard. I cringe. It made that gross sound that my prickly legs make when I rub them. He has so many flaws. He leans back and waits for me to say something.

“Its fine,” I say, waving him off.

“My girlfriend moved her stuff out last night and…” he trails off, looking at me in horror. “I don’t know why I am telling you this.”

I swear I smiled when he said his girlfriend moved out. How horrible am I? Besides, I don't even like him. He has an uneven beard. I can't live with that kind of imperfection.

“I forgive you,” I say, unconvincing. I look back at my cappuccino. Its face has diminished. I take a sip, knowing it is the perfect temperature. I just need him to leave so I can be weird in peace.

“Good. I felt awful about last night,” he says, relieved. He obviously doesn’t know that was his cue to leave.

I press my lips in a firm line, thinking, “Friends?”

“Friends,” he says, smiling. "I guess I'll take you up on the hangouts."

I watch him rise from his seat. Tabatha comes back in the room, looking between us, shocked. Me too, Tab, me too. A million things run through my head. It wasn’t until that moment that I wanted to scream at him. I can’t be around him.

“That wasn’t my idea,” I say.

“Friends hang out,” he says right before he walks out of the door.

I look at Tabatha who is smiling and waiting for me to fill her in. I need to find out how to break up with a friend. I don't need a new friend. One is enough.

But that’s all it took. From that day on, we were best friends. We helped each other write, we shared inside jokes, and we even had sleepovers. He almost kept his promise. We remained friends for the next year.

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©2019 by Brittany Tarkington