Of course thinking like this was only a way to distract himself from his passenger. He didn’t want to turn his eyes from the road, didn’t want to even give her a single glance from the corner of his eyes. He wasn’t sure if such a feeling was because he was angry, because he was uncomfortable or because he was hurt. Either way he knew inside that this was the worst decision he had ever come to. He was going to ruin himself by the end of this trip and he knew it. But what could he do? Turn around, drive the next two hours back to his place where they had met up and send her on her way? That made no sense.
He had flown her out to Los Angeles once he had arrived back in the city. Leaving New York behind like a scar that he hoped would fade in time. New York was always his city, a part of him that he never wanted to disappear. He didn’t want the solace that the city offered him to be marred by his own stupidity, his own lack in strength and the plans those he trusted had set into motion.
Essie had been set up in a hotel, a nice one that at first sight could be thought to be worth nearly as much as he was paying her. He had a couple of people that worked for him help her to get settled, make sure she was comfortable before they laid down the itinerary of the day they would be leaving. Jared couldn’t have let himself see her, that would have sent everything that he had built up like some sort of defense go shattering apart. He couldn’t have that and so he had kept himself away until he felt he was ready to see her.
Only now he didn’t feel like he was ready at all.
Being this close in proximity to her again was sending his nerves on high, like some sort of feverish rush he didn’t want to cool off from. He wanted to find her eyes, read every emotion there and see if she was as lost on him as he was on her. No doubt she wasn’t, she was just anticipating the other twenty five thousand he had promised her. He’d given her one half and the other would come at the end of the trip. She would leave this whole mess one hundred thousand dollars richer and he would be left licking his wounds.
He had to bear through this though, no matter how many times he had the thought to send this plan off somewhere unknown. He was doing this for his mom, to wipe away all that worry that he knew would be there in her eyes. Ever since everything happened, ever since he had spiraled apart she had been constantly on edge, checking up on him, hoping that things were going alright, and God, did she hate that he was alone. So he had to do this for her, he didn’t want her to worry about him. After this trip he hoped she would be assured that he was going to be just fine.
It was worth it. That’s what he just kept telling himself. This was worth everything little thing he was doing to himself. Just to see her have a nice time on this trip, this little vacation. Once he made sure that she was happy he would be alright and Essie- well she could go on back home and buy her daughter a nice new dollhouse or something with all that money she would have in her bank account.
Jared willed himself to glance at her and he wondered if she was alright with this, how she was handling this. Was her husband confused as to why she would be spending this week away from him and their daughter. The week of Christmas too. He hadn’t even thought about that, but then he wasn’t sure why he should care. She was doing this for money, that pay check would be enough to calm her family down.
Turning away from her quickly the moment she looked to him, Jared settled his eyes on the road ahead, stealing the dryness of his lips with his tongue. They were almost there, just a few more minutes and they would be settled into the cabin that his mom had rented out, the Winter enough to make everyone want t get closer. If it were any other time Jared would find the idea extremely romantic but without someone truthfully spending it with him there wasn’t a point in letting the thought cross his mind. It wasn’t like- No he couldn’t think about all that, wouldn’t allow himself to.
"Just be yourself." He spoke to chase away the memories and haunting thoughts that passed through his mind. He needed to discard it from the region of his thoughts just for the moment, just until they passed. His voice filled the car, sounding over the music. "My mom doesn’t like it when people are on edge, or try to change who they are." He supposed that was one of the best things about his mom. Anyone could be themselves and there would never be any judging thing passed. "So just…be yourself."
Essie tucked her hair behind her ear, eyes looking to him as she contemplated what he told her. That was easy enough, wasn’t it? Unless of course who she really was was in no way the woman he had met that day outside of the premiere. Then that would, he supposed, prove to be rather difficult. Either way he was sure that his mom would like her, she liked all the girls that he had ever taken home. There was only one problem, what he would tell her once he let her know that things were over after the holidays. She would be crushed, he knew that but it wasn’t like he could survive keeping up the charade for that long.
"How do we say that we met?’ She asked, her voice nearly startling him when she let it out. Her eyes turned to him, curiously waiting for his answer. She was sure that they couldn’t say they had just met almost two weeks ago when she’d been waiting for him outside of his premiere, that would make her sound like some kind of groupie. And it had to be something believable, something that would make sense and yet was easy for her to remember.
He hadn’t thought of that yet and so he did so now, his teeth biting down on his bottom lip as he scoured his mind for an answer. Rather quickly his eyes looked to her before returning to the road. “Well what do you do now?” he questioned, hoping that it didn’t sound like he was striving to get to know her. He wanted to know her, that was the problem wasn’t it? Always wanted to know the wrong ones, the ones who were distanced from him, the ones who let and ran after only a few months. “That’ll make it easier for you to remember.”
She sighed softly, almost unsure if she should answer truthfully. This whole thing was a lie and dealing with it, living with it was getting harder than she had first expected. She hadn’t been expecting this, hadn’t been anticipating a single thing. All she had been waiting for was for them to tell her that she was in a good enough place, that he had fallen for her and then she would be given her money. She needed that money badly. “I’m an artist.” She said, thinking of her daughter back home, those portraits she had painted of her. “We met at an art show.”
He thought about it and knew that it was their best bet. It wasn’t like that was too impossible for him to have gone to. Meeting people at a showcase was easy, meeting her at a showcase would have been heaven. Why couldn’t he have met her before she had gotten married. How would things have been then? Would she have fallen for him, honestly? Or would he still be sitting as silent as he was now, there beside her, wishing that all that was raging inside of him was there welling inside of her.
"Okay." He replied with a nod. "We met at an art show, I approached you…you knew who I was and that was a little over three months ago?" He suggested, eyes penetrating the road, his fingers tight on the steering wheel. He just kept telling himself that this wasn’t real, it was going to end soon enough.
She nodded, not looking at him, instead looking out the window, watching the snow caressed scene play out in front of her eyes. He knew that she wasn’t on edge, not at all. She never would be because she was sailing through this, sailing through it because her bank account was going to explode once this week was over. What an easy job. Tear his heart out and get a payday. Sounds pretty fantastic.
Finally he pulled the car to a stop, taking the keys from the ignition. In just under a minute or so his mom would step out to greet him, like she always did. He had to gather himself, had to pull himself together so he didn’t seem so on edge. He looked to Essie, reaching his hand out to carefully push back the loose strands of her red hair from off her shoulder. It grabbed her attention and those green eyes of hers met his. He wasn’t sure how long he could stand looking into her eyes without leaning forward and taking her lips with his own.
“Guess that I should…that I should thank you.” He said before pulling his hand away and lowering his gaze. He pressed his lips together, swallowing down rather harshly as he took a breath. “It should be easy. My mom’s great, there aren’t that many people, I won’t get in your way…” He was rambling, trying to shake his nerves and from the corner of his eyes he could see the front door open and his mom stepping out, wearing that jacket he’d bought for her last Christmas.
Softly she sighed and set her hand on his shoulder, she looked out the window to see the woman she knew was his mom and then looked back to him. Leaning in she lightly kissed her cheek before carefully nudging him. “Don’t worry about it, okay Jared? Everything’s going to be fine. Now come on…” She smiled at him and opened the car door, making to step out.
Jared turned to face her as she got out, his skin where she had kissed, burning from the touch of her lips. He knew why she’d done it, that she had just wanted to make it seem real to his mom who was waiting on them. Following her lead he got out, adjusting his clothes and meeting her on the other side of the car.
Immediately he found himself in the warmth of his mom’s arms, nodding to her questions over whether he was alright. Of course he was, he was here wasn’t he? Smiling softly down at her he moved from her arms and followed her gaze to Essie who was waiting to be introduced. “Mom, this is Essie.” He said, putting on his best smile. These were the days that he honestly was the most thankful for being able to act, fooling people, got him quite far he supposed.
“It’s wonderful to meet you.” His mom said, taking Essie’s hand and smiling widely. Yes that was the gleam he was waiting for, that happy look in his moms eyes that he had done all of this for. She liked Essie already.
“I’ve heard so much about you.” Essie softly said once she linked her arm with Jared’s. “Thank you for inviting me here, M-“
She shook her head. “Constance, honey.”
Essie smiled and looked up at Jared and he couldn’t help but smile back. There was a sigh of relief that came from him but there was also a torn feeling that this wasn’t real. None of this was, no matter how much he wanted it to be. After this week he was going to be alone, as alone as he had been before all this. But still he smiled, he had to didn’t he?
“Jared? Why don’t you show Essie your guys’ room.”
He looked at his mom, then back at Essie, swallowing down. Their room? But then Essie was smiling and she lightly tugged him towards the house. “Yes, show me our room.” She looked back at Constance and smiled at her before looking up to Jared again. “It’s fine.” She softly told him. “Don’t look so worried.”
He only nodded and headed on into the house, leaving the door opened for him his mom would come in.