“She’s been groomed for the spotlight. That’s where I want her.”
“Yes, yes, Mother,” Billie says. “We all know you’re disappointed that only one of your children has skyrocketed into worldwide celebrity. If you’ll excuse us, I want to introduce Cal to some of my friends.”
Billie grabs my arm, and we head away from her family, making a beeline for the bar. While we wait, I can’t help asking, “Why didn’t you tell me your family was…”
She shrugs. “I’m not about that life. I don’t use their names or status to get things. My band hates me for it, but whatever.”
We get our drinks, head outside to the stairs, and go down them to the long boardwalk that leads to the beach. There’s a bench just at the sand, and we sit, sipping our drinks in silence, with only the ocean sounds filtering up from the shoreline.
“That was a lot,” I say after a moment of quiet reflection.
“It’s always extra like that, all the time. I’m sorry. You did great, though.”
“Who were you hiding from, that you needed a fake boyfriend?”
“Oh, my mom. She’s always trying to set me up with someone’s actor son or singer son or producer son.”
I nod. “Got it.”
“My dad liked you.”
“He was nice.”
“The most normal of the bunch,” she says wistfully. “I do love my dad.”
“Not your mom?”
“It’s complicated. She had me in show business before I could walk. When I decided I didn’t want it, she couldn’t let it go.”
“I get that. My parents had other plans for me, too.”
“You want to walk on the beach?”
We slip off our shoes and leave our glasses on the bench. She holds my hand as we walk, the sound of the waves calming in comparison to the frenetic energy of the party up the hill.
As we get to a deserted part of the beach, we stop and look out at the water. Well, Billie looks at the water. I look at her profile.
“I know this is a fake relationship, for the purposes of annoying your mother, but I do want you to know I find you genuinely attractive.”
She turns, a soft and kind of shy smile on her face. “I find you genuinely attractive, too.”
“There’s the work at the center with the kids, you know? Like, we keep tipping over the line because there’s something going on between us, but I don’t know where things should go from here, Billie.”
She nods, licking her bottom lip in a way that distinctly does not make things easier. “I wonder…” She sighs. “I wonder if we could have a sexual relationship and still be professional for work at the center?”
I lean in, ready to kiss her. “I can compartmentalize.”
“Is that so, Mr. Lefleur?”
“Indeed, Ms. Hirsch. Compartmentalizing is my specialty,” I whisper against her lips, this time fully intending to kiss her properly.