“There’s something different about you two,” Mack said looking between Britney and Brad. “I can’t quite pinpoint what it is…but something’s really different.”
They were standing in the elevator and Brad’s eyes widened as he looked at Britney. Britney shrugged.
“Did you cut your hair?” Mack asked Britney, staring intently at her.
She put a hand up to her hair self consciously, “No.”
Mack looked at Brad, “Did you cut your hair?”
Brad copied Britney and put his hand on his hair, “No.”
“Hmmm….there’s definitely something different,” Mack was rubbing his chin as if he were trying to solve some perplexing problem.
The elevator dinged as it stopped at their floor and Britney and Brad quickly exited, leaving behind Mack.
“I’ve got it!” Mack cried walking quickly to catch up to them, “You two…you kissed didn’t you?” He whispered loudly, inadvertently bumping into Brad who had stopped moving forward.
“What are you talking about, Mack?” Brad asked.
“You sly dog, you think I didn’t notice the tension between you two has changed?”
“Mack, let’s not get started on this again. We’re not kids,” Britney looked around to make sure no one was listening to their ridiculous conversation.
“I wish I had gotten a picture of it,” Mack whispered to himself.
“Mack!” Britney couldn’t believe he was still pushing the Braty bit.
Mack laughed, chagrined. “Well, you can’t blame me for trying. You know our listeners will eat this up. Let’s get couple advice from the two love doctors. Oh the bits we could do are endless.”
“We aren’t going to do bits. The segments we do are still going to focus on the psychology of relationships Mack. That should never change,” Britney was about to walk away when Mack asked them, “How about we go out to celebrate tonight?”
“No!” they both said at the same time, remembering the lap-dancing Ariel from the last time Mack celebrated Brad joining their team.
“Don’t forget who set you two up. Oh, and before I forget, Britney you got this letter in the mail today,” Mack handed her a letter and walked away from them both, disappointed that they didn’t want to go out with him.
“That was close,” Brad whispered.
“Yeah,” Britney nodded and placed the letter Mack had given to her in her purse. “I feel slightly bad. I’d feel worse but I’ve been through several of Mack’s celebrations. They never end well.”
“So how about you and I do something tonight?” Brad asked her smiling.
“Sorry but I already have a date,” Britney said apologetically.
“What? I thought we were…you know,” Brad was looking uncomfortable, making Britney laugh.
“Dr. Clooney, how can you be so indirect? You’re a relationship expert but you won’t ask me to be your girlfriend?”
“Well…it’s different when it’s your own relationship.”
Britney laughed, “Fine. I’ll do it. Brad Clooney…wanna be my boyfriend?”
“You mean exclusively?”
“Definitely,” Britney grinned.
Brad pretended to have to think about it, “I don’t know. I have a lot of women after me.”
Britney rolled her eyes, “Spare me.”
Brad laughed and put his arm around Britney, “I’d love to be your boyfriend. Should we get couple rings or matching clothes to commemorate this wonderful day?”
Britney laughed, “Not necessary.”
“So what are we going to do tonight?”
“Brad, I’m sorry but I was serious. I really do have a date tonight.”
Britney smirked, “My brother’s best friend.”
“My brother’s friend is going to install a security alarm tonight.”
“Why so late? Can’t he do it during the day?” Brad asked.
Britney shook her head, “No. I asked him to install it late so that I could be there when he did it.”
“Well I’ll come over if it’s okay with you.”
Britney laughed and joked, “Can’t stay away from me, can you?”
Brad stood still for a moment and stared at Britney, “Nope. Not even for a minute.”
Later that Evening: Home of Britney and Nicholas Chong
“So I press the button and then enter my code and the alarm is activated?” Britney asked Luke, who had just finished installing the alarm.
“Right,” Luke looked at Brad who was hovering over Britney.
“That seems easy enough,” Britney whispered.
“I don’t know…you’re pretty bad at anything technical,” Nicholas caught a glance at Luke who was still looking at Brad.
“Whatever Nicholas. This is easy,” Britney slid the keypad cover down.
“It’s like they say…you can’t feed a new dog old Trix,” Nicholas shook his head.
Brad looked at Britney, “Does he mean Trix cereal?”
“Just ignore him,” Britney whispered. She looked at Nicholas, “It’s you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.”
“My saying sounds better,” Nicholas shrugged, causing Luke to laugh.
“Well, I should get going,” Luke said, picking up his bag of supplies.
“Already? I thought you wanted to go hit up a bar or something,” Nicholas pouted.
Luke smiled, “Sorry. I already have plans.”
“With your girlfriend?” Nicholas asked snidely.
“Girlfriend?” Britney asked. “I thought you two just broke up.”
“Correction. She dumped him but they got back together,” Nicholas had his arms crossed and was looking at Luke in disappointment, “Don’t you know the bro code man? Bros before ho-”
“Don’t even say it Nicholas!” Britney cut him off.
Luke and Brad laughed at Britney and Nicholas arguing with one another.
“Thank you for all your help Luke,” Britney said as they walked to the door. Her cell phone rang and she excused herself.
“Dr. Chong?” the voice on the other end asked.
“This is she. Who am I speaking with?” Britney didn’t recognize the number that had populated on her caller ID.
“This is Officer Diaz. I just wanted to give you a call about Larry French.”
“Oh. I wasn’t expecting a phone call but I appreciate it. Did you need another statement from me regarding what happened in my home the other day?”
She heard Officer Diaz clear her throat on the other end, “Actually I shouldn’t be calling you at all about this but I thought I would let you know. The Detective in charge of the case listened to the tip you gave about Mr. French.”
“Was he the guy? Did he murder Misty Ward?”
“No. He had an alibi. He was released early this morning. I wasn’t sure if I should call you to let you know but you previously claimed someone was stalking you and after what happened at your house…I thought you should know.”
“Thank you for calling me and letting me know,” Britney disconnected the call and walked back to where her brother, Brad, and Luke were standing.
“Who was it Britney? You look as pale as a ghost,” Nicholas looked concerned.
“Larry French isn’t the guy,” Britney whispered.
“They guy?” Luke asked.
“I told you my sister’s friend was murdered. Well apparently this French guy was also writing creepy lover letters to her in his diary.”
“Nicholas!” Britney didn’t want him discussing the personal life of her clients.
“Don’t worry Britney. The alarm will keep intruders out,” Luke assured her.
“Thanks Luke. You’ve been incredibly helpful,” Britney hugged him before he left.
Nicholas looked at Britney and Brad and smiled, wriggling his eyebrows up and down, “So what are your plans for tonight?”
Brad quickly grabbed Britney’ purse and shoved it at her, “Let’s go before we get a third wheel.”
He was joking but Nichols scowled, “Not nice.”
Britney opened her purse and noticed the envelope Mack had given her earlier. It was an egg shell color. She opened it and smiled.
“What is it?” Brad asked.
“A wedding invitation. A listener I helped out invited me to her wedding. I guess she sent the invitation to the radio station.”
“A wedding?” Nicholas groaned, “I feel sorry for the poor sucker that gets roped into going with you to that.” He quickly walked out of the room in the event that the poor sucker would be him.
“It’s a wedding for Cammie Rogers and Gordon Johnson. It’s in a couple of weeks. Did you want to come with me?” Britney asked Brad.
“Cammie Rogers? She was your listener?”
“Yeah. She had been in an abusive relationship but finally got out of it. Now she’s getting married.”
“That’s great,” Brad said softly.
“So do you want to go?”
“To the wedding?” Brad asked looking behind her to see if Nicholas was coming back.
“No to the moon. Of course to the wedding.”
“I’m sorry Britney but can I take a pass on that? I’m not a big fan of weddings.”
Britney was disappointed but didn’t argue with him. It was still too early in their relationship for her to be making demands. She smiled and put the invitation back in her purse. Nicholas was going to be the poor sucker that went with her and that was final.
Across Town: Apartment of Gabby
Gabby stared at the picture of Britney Chong and Brad Clooney laughing in the studio of their radio show. She scrolled down to the comments section of the website for Heartbreakers and frowned. It looked like a majority of the listeners were in favor of the two being a couple.
“Of course Miss. Perfect is dating the perfect boyfriend.”
She had typed in a rude comment the other day but Ivy had made her delete it. Now she was alone and she could type whatever she wanted, “This relationship is fake. They’re only pretending to date for ratings. The truth is that she’s living with another man!”
She sniggered at her comment. Readers wouldn’t know that the other man was her brother.
Gabby didn’t always hate Britney. The truth was Britney was that woman that seemed to get everything easily and it bothered Gabby. Britney was beautiful, confident, smart, and was able to make friends with everyone. It was tough trying to keep up with her.
When Britney had her own advice column, Gabby had been happy for her. After Britney got her own talk show, Gabby started to resent her a little. That feeling continued to grow each time Britney inadvertently bragged about her job. Gabby would remind herself that Britney wasn’t trying to brag…she was just sharing an interesting bit of information about her job. Still, it came across as bragging to Gabby. None of them were married or had kids so they usually discussed work.
At one point she thought of emulating Britney and listened to her radio show religiously. The real reason she broke up with Officer Dean Winters was because he wasn’t good enough. Gabby had originally thought an officer would be a boyfriend she could show off. However, she heard Britney talk to a listener on her show.
“Dating a police officer or anyone in a dangerous job is stressful and I don’t envy you.”
I don’t envy you.
Those words were enough to cause Gabby to dump Officer Winters.
Then she started dating her new boyfriend who was starting his own small company. She never told Britney about it because it was something she secretly held over the psychologist.
I have a boyfriend and you don’t.
Even Ivy and Misty didn’t know about him. She still wasn’t sure if he was good enough. Especially now that Britney was dating Dr. Brad Clooney.
She heard a knocking on the door and shouted, “Come in. It’s open!”
The door opened and her boyfriend walked through the door, throwing his keys on a coffee table. He walked over to her and quickly kissed her, “Hey babe.”
Gabby wrapped her arms around him and greeted him back, “Hey Luke.”
“One cup of chocolate chips and two sticks of butter,” Ivy was reading a list of ingredients off of a recipe for chocolate chip cookies she wanted to try. “I am so not domestic.” She placed the list down and reached for her cellphone. It had been a week since she heard from Jake. Why hadn’t he called?
“Guys are such jerks. Is it that hard to give me a call?” she was tempted to text him but didn’t want to appear needy. She refused to text him first.
Ivy was about to delete his number when it suddenly started ringing, “Is he psychic?”
Flashing across the screen was Jake’s name. She had met Jake a few weeks back at a graveyard which was an odd place to meet a man…but she wasn’t going to focus on that fact.
Jake’s voice came across the line, “I’m so sorry Ivy. I’ve been swamped with work but I’m glad I caught you.”
“I thought you lost my number,” Ivy laughed.
“No way would I ever do that. I was calling to ask if you wanted to grab some dinner?”
Jake laughed, “Yeah…tonight. And tomorrow…and maybe the day after that.”
Ivy’s breath caught in her throat, “Three nights in a row, huh?”
“Well I haven’t seen you in a while so I want to make up for lost time.”
Ivy smiled. She really didn’t expect to hear from Jake but she was glad that he had finally called her. “Okay, I’ll meet you tonight, tomorrow night, and the night after that.”
Jake chuckled on the other end of the phone and that thought, “This was going to be easy.”
Two Weeks Later
Britney sat in front of her vanity table, straightening her hair. It had been a little over two weeks since the whole Larry and Sylvia French incident occurred. She had begun renting an office space to see her clients and she hadn’t heard a peep from her “stalker.” She was beginning to relax a little.
“Britney,” Nicholas knocked on her door.
“You’re not getting out of this so just tie your tie Nicholas,” Britney yelled at him before he could make up another reason that he couldn’t’ attend the wedding of Cammie Rogers. She hadn’t give him too much information. She hadn’t even give him a choice. The conversation consisted of her telling more than asking.
“Britney, aren’t you being a bit too bossy? I’m your brother…you should be making Brad go with you. Besides, isn’t it weird to be going to the wedding of a listener? What if she’s not really getting married? I mean who has a morning wedding anyway? What if she’s some crazy woman and this is all a trap?”
Britney looked at her brother and held back a giggle, “Nicholas do you know how crazy you sound right now?”
“That’s what every man thinks when you make him go to a wedding. Ask Brad.”
“Brad would not think that.”
“Oh yeah? Then why isn’t he coming to this wedding with you? He’s your boyfriend. If I were you, I would have forced him to come. I can’t believe you let him off the hook but force your younger brother to go.”
“Nicholas I don’t know if you know this or not but I hate carrying around change so keep your two cents to yourself. I want to go to this wedding and you’re coming with me. I’m using my big sister card here.”
Nicholas turned around mumbling something about tyrannical older sisters, causing Britney to laugh.
After they were both dressed they drove to the hall where the ceremony and reception were to take place.
“So what’s the name of the bride?” Nicholas asked turning his head towards Britney.
“Nicholas, pay attention to the road. There’s a truck coming!” Britney pointed towards a white truck that hadn’t stopped at a four-way stop.
“Relax Britney, I know how to drive.”
Ten minutes later, they were seated in a large hall. To the side was where the reception would take place.
“This is fancy. When you and Brad get married, will it be in a church?” Nicholas asked.
Britney sighed, “Brad and I are just dating. Marriage isn’t even on the table.”
“So who is the bride?” Nicholas asked while looking around at all of the other guests.
Nicholas didn’t get an answer because the wedding march began to play. The audience all turned to watch the procession of bridesmaids come down the aisle and finally Cammie, dressed in a mermaid cut wedding dress. Britney didn’t care for her dress but still pretended to fawn over it as was custom of the audience.
Nicholas had turned around to see Cammie and then quickly turned back around to face the groom. If Britney thought his behavior was strange, she didn’t say so.
After the ‘I do’s’ were said, everyone clapped as the couple strolled back down the aisle together. Nicholas whispered into his sister’s ear, “Let’s get out of here.”
She turned to him and grimaced, “Nicholas we just got here.”
“Trust me Britney. We should go.”
“I’m not going anywhere Nicholas. I want to congratulate her.”
“Fine. I’ll wait in the car.”
“Nicholas, what’s the matter with you?”
“Nothing. I’m just tired of being here.”
“You’re my date. You can’t leave me.”
“I’m not your date…I’m your hostage.”
Britney rolled her eyes and dragged him towards the direction of the wine bar. Nicholas seemed nervous and kept looking around. Britney knew men could become jittery at the thought of attending a wedding but Nicholas was being ridiculous. Not even fifteen minutes had passed when he asked again if they could leave.
“Nicholas, what is wrong with you? I’ve never seen you act like this,” Britney asked her brother.
Nicholas opened his mouth to respond when another voice cut him off.
“What are you doing here?”
Britney and Nicholas both turned to Cammie, the bride, still dressed in her white wedding gown. She repeated her question, but was looking at Nicholas, “What are you doing here?”
Britney didn’t understand, “Hi Cammie, this is my brother Nicholas. I had him come with me.”
Cammie turned to Britney, “He’s your brother? Is this some kind of joke? I want you both to leave now.”
“What?” Britney didn’t know why Cammie was becoming upset all of a sudden.
“I said leave. Now,” Cammie kept her voice low but firm so that she wouldn’t get the attention of her other guests.
Britney looked at Nicholas who appeared pale. “Fine. We’ll leave. Congratulations,” Britney mumbled. She and Nicholas left the hall but Britney still didn’t understand what had just happened.
After they were back in the car, she turned to Nicholas, “What was that all about?”
“This is why I told you we should’ve left,” Nicholas muttered.
“Nicholas I’m serious. Why did we just kicked out of a wedding after she took one look at you? How did she know you?”
Nicholas pulled onto the highway before he answered, “We used to date.”
“A long time ago. We dated and I cheated on her,” Nicholas said quietly, “It’s kind of embarrassing.”
“You dated her? That’s unbelievable.”
“Yeah…hey so she was one of your listeners? Was it because I cheated on her? She couldn’t get over it?”
“Don’t flatter yourself.” Britney was reminded of her original letter. It was because she was dating an abusive boyfriend. She looked at Nicholas and couldn’t believe it. Nicholas was playful and laid back. He never displayed any kind of aggressive behavior. Still, she found herself asking, “Exactly how long ago did you two date?”
“A long time ago,” Nicholas said, emphasizing the word long.
Britney nodded, “It’s such a small world. Who would’ve guessed?”
“Yeah. It’s a really small world. After she dated me she dated one of my friends. I guess to pay me back since I cheated on her with one of her friends. I don’t know why she’d still be angry about it. She just got married. She should be thanking me for cheating on her since it led her to today,” Nicholas said as he continued to drive to their home.
Britney rolled her eyes at his comment. Then she asked, “So Cammie dated one of your friends?”
He nodded, “Yeah. She dated Luke but it didn’t last long. I’m not sure what happened but it was like one day they were dating the next day they weren’t.”
“You didn’t ask why they broke up?”
“No,” Nicholas laughed, “Why would I care? I was already dating someone else. Besides, Luke moved on pretty quickly and so did she from what I hear.”
“You weren’t mad at Luke?”
Nicholas laughed, “Bros before-”
“Don’t say it unless you want me to hit you Nicholas,” Britney warned.
He shrugged his shoulders, “No I didn’t mind. Anyway, it all worked out in the end didn’t it? She got married and Luke is dating some chick that he really likes.”
“Awww it’s just my poor baby brother that hasn’t gotten a new girlfriend,” Britney mocked.
Nicholas grinned, ‘It’s okay sis’ I’m having too much fun finding Mrs. Right.”
“Yeah, so you’re settling for Mrs. Right Now.”
As they pulled into their driveway, Britney thought of Brad’s reaction which was a little similar to Nicholas finding out that he knew the bride. She wondered if Brad also knew Cammie in some way.
“Was that why he didn’t want to go?” she wondered.
“Who didn’t want to go?” Nicholas asked.
Britney hadn’t realized that she was talking out loud, “Oh nobody. I was just talking to myself.” Still, Britney wondered if Brad had any possible relationship to Cammie.
Later that Evening: Ivy’s apartment
“We’ve been seeing one another…pretty much every night. I’d say we’re boyfriend girlfriend. Do you agree?” Jake asked while pouring her a glass of wine.
Ivy blushed, “Oh…I don’t know. Maybe we’re just two people that enjoy each other’s company?”
They both laughed and Jake leaned in to kiss her but Ivy pushed him back, “Hold on. I want to change into something more…comfortable.”
Jake grinned and watched as she headed to her bedroom. He slipped a small pill into her wine and watched it fizzle and disappear. When she returned, she was wearing sweatpants and an oversized T-shirt, making Jake laugh.
“Sexy,” he told her.
She shrugged, “I try.”
He handed her the glass of wine she had been drinking from earlier and said, “Let’s make a toast.”
“A toast to us.”
Ivy smiled and drank her wine until the wineglass was empty.
An Hour Later
“Wake up Ivy. Wake up,” Jakes voice was disturbing her thoughts.
Ivy slowly opened her eyes to find herself tied to her bed and thought, “What’s happening?”
Everything was a bit blurry to her so she didn’t understand what was going on. She tried speaking but couldn’t. A large piece of cloth was stuffed in her mouth. She started to panic.
She heard Jake laugh and she instantly became more alert when she felt the cool barrel of a small gun pressed against her temple. Jake stood to the side, holding his phone, “I need to take a picture of this, so say cheese.”