Isn't She Lovely Page 29

The whole thing is also completely un-Stephanie.

And for some reason that’s bugging the crap out of me, even though creating a nonStephanie is exactly the point of this whole stupid plan.

My dad doesn’t seem to mind, though. Unlike my mom, Dad seems completely willing to accept an Olivia replacement.

“I’m sure Natasha’s already asked this,” my father says, “but how did you and Ethan meet again?”

“Oh, we have a film class together this summer,” Stephanie replies, shooting me a quick glance for reassurance. We agreed on the way over to stick to the truth as much as possible to avoid getting trapped in any lies.

“Oh, right, Martin’s class,” my dad says, nodding approvingly at the mention of his old friend and Hollywood hotshot.

“Right. Martin,” Stephanie says, and I know she’s dying to know how my dad is on a first-name basis with an Oscar-winning screenwriter. Just like she knows she can’t ask, because I would have told her that already if we were really dating.

I take a breath and hope there won’t be too many more of those should-know-this-but-don’t moments between us before we can have a further getting-to-know-you session.

“So are you taking that class on a rebellious whim too, then?” my mother asks, walking to the minibar to refill her wineglass.

Not for the first time, I curse my family’s old-fashioned insistence on “cocktail hour.” It’s nothing but small talk. Translation: total hell.

I brace myself for Stephanie to start glowering and babbling about how film is the soul of this country, thus triggering my mom’s unending disdain for “pop culture,” but again Stephanie surprises me. She gives a tiny shrug and takes an even tinier sip of the white wine my parents have poured for her as she rolls with my mother’s snobbishness. “Oh, sort of. Just one of those summer things kids do, I guess.”

My mom gives a whisper of a smile, just enough to be polite, before turning back to me. “Olivia’s interning with her father’s company. Did you know that, Ethan?”


Actually, I do know that. Or at least I figured that Olivia interned at her father’s bank every summer. Just like I interned at my father’s company every summer—except this one.

Mercifully, my dad announces that he’s hungry and we’re able to move this fun-for-all to the dining room to commence what’s sure to be an endless number of courses accompanied by endless questions.

My mom squeezes my dad’s shoulder before sitting down at her spot across the table, and I look away quickly. I know she’s my mom and all, but for a second I hate her. Not even so much for sleeping with Mike senior, but for f**king lying about it. For creating a mockery of her marriage to my dad and of everything I thought family was supposed to be about.

I catch Stephanie watching me, and I give her a reassuring smile. She tilts her head and gives me the same smile right back. Like she’s the one doing the reassuring.

I probably should have given her some background information before we did this shit. It would have been easy enough. She’d obviously been fishing for details the other night when I’d barged in on her bubble bath like a common perv.

I really can’t blame her for prying. Of course she’d want to know why I’d create a fake girlfriend instead of just manning up and telling my parents that Olivia and I are over and that I’m moving on like any normal twenty-one-year-old dude. And for a second I’m actually tempted to tell her every detail. But I stop myself. I haven’t told anyone, and I’m seriously contemplating telling her? I don’t even know her.

“So, Stephanie, tell me about your people,” my mom says as our chef—yes, we have one—places some sort of weird cold soup in front of us.

I watch as Stephanie picks up the correct spoon and takes a sip of the strange-looking green goo without even a slight widening of eyes at the temperature. Even though she seems okay with it, I’m wishing that I had a regular family where the mom cooks lasagna and throws bagged salad into a big dented wooden bowl. A family where my mother wouldn’t use phrases like “your people,” as though everyone belongs to a clan as f**ked up as this one.

“My people?” Stephanie asks, as though reading my mind.

Stephanie’s features are arranged in a perfect semblance of pleasantness, but her eyes are a different story. I watch her closely, waiting for disgust at my mother’s blatant snobbery, but it’s not disgust at all. She just looks … guarded. And I hate that.

“Your family,” my mom says, taking a dainty sip of soup. “Are they from New York?”

“I grew up in Rhode Island.”

My mother gives a little shrug of patronizing fake interest. “Oh, how tiny!”

When my mom says “tiny” in that condescending voice, she doesn’t mean “adorably quaint”; she means “trivial.” And I can tell from Stephanie’s stiffening shoulders that she knows this.

“It is the smallest state, yes,” Stephanie replies, admirably dodging my mother’s condescension.

“Do you get back there often?”

I remember Stephanie’s crankiness about discussing home, and alarm bells go off in my head.

“What’s with this weird soup?” I interrupt rudely, hoping to distract my mother. “It tastes like cold mud.”

But Stephanie’s already speaking. “Actually, my father lives in North Carolina now. He moved down there when I was eighteen.”

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