Aaliyah walked into Jay’s Place, an upscale clothing store owned by one of her best friends, Janelle Hackett. She saw her friend looking through a rack of clothing, a frown of concentration on her face. When she walked through the door, Janelle looked up and a look of surprise flitted across her face.
“Look who has finally emerged from her castle! I haven’t seen you for almost the entire summer. Were you on location somewhere?” Janelle pulled her into a friendly hug.
“I know I’ve been MIA, and no, I’ve been working locally. I’m sorry, I met someone and you know how it is. You spend as much time as you can with that person in the beginning,” Aaliyah tried to explain.
“Yeah…uh huh, who is this person who’s been taking all of your time?”
“Well, he’s my gardener, Ant -”
“Wait, you’re dating the gardener? You can’t be serious!”
“What, what’s wrong with being a gardener? You can’t have an issue with that.”
“Whoa there buddy. I have nothing against gardeners, I’m just saying I think you could do better, that’s all, you’re a princess for crying out loud,” Janelle huffed.
“Janelle, he’s an amazing man, and aside from having some dirt on him every now and then, he is no different than any other man in Appaloosa. In fact, he treats me better than any other man I’ve been with!”
“Hmmm, so you really like this guy,” Janelle asked skeptically. “You don’t have the best track record when it comes to men Lia. Remember Johnny? He was a complete let down in the end. And what about Josh? Scumbag numero uno. And Tad! Tad was -”
“Yes, I get it. Thanks for pointing out my terrible taste in men.” Aaliyah shook her head, laughing.
Then she turned serious, “I think he might be the one, Jay. Even after four months of dating, I still get nervous and tongue tied around him. He can hold a conversation about anything and he listens to me. And I think I might love him a little bit.”
“Wow. I’ve never seen you this sappy before. It must be love!”
She poked Janelle in the stomach, “Stop making fun of me! I’m being serious.”
“I know, I know. I’m happy that you’re happy Lia. It’s about time you found a good guy.”
“Thanks Jay. Now for the real reason I’m here.”
“You mean it wasn’t for my astute and professional advice on men and how to keep them?” Janelle deadpanned, “Well, that’s disappointing.”
“I need a dress for the award show coming up in a few months,” Aaliyah said, rolling her eyes, “and I would be honored if you designed it for me.”
Janelle was shocked, “Really? You would wear something of mine on the red carpet?”
“You have the best fashion sense I know and your designs are simply stunning. You have your own fashion house and you are doing quite well for yourself. I can’t think of another person I would trust to make sure I looked fabulous.”
Janelle grabbed her arm and dragged her to the back of the store. “True, all very true. I’m going to make you look like the superstar that you are, baby girl!”
“Did you have a good day today,” Antonio asked Aaliyah while they watched the sun set on Myrtle Beach.
“Yeah, I went to see Janelle today. It was great catching up with her. She even agreed to design my dress for the award show.”
Aaliyah had been trying to find a way to bring up the awards for a couple of weeks now. They had yet to go anywhere important as a couple. She knew that he preferred quiet nights alone together, like this one, but she really wanted him to come to the show with her.
“I would really love for you to go with me.” There, it was out in the open. Aaliyah held her breath.
He stiffened by her side, “Lia, there’s something -”
“If it’s about money,” She quickly cut him off, “don’t worry about. I’m nominated for a Simmie Award and the flight and hotel are paid for by the award committee.”
Antonio moved away from her, “It’s not about the money, Lia. There’s something I have to tell you.”
“Whatever it is, it can’t be so bad that -”
Now it was his turn to cut her off, “Aaliyah, listen to me. My full name is Antonio Torres.” He stressed the last name and seemed to be waiting expectantly for her response.
Aaliyah knew it was silly that they had been dating all these months without exchanging last names, but being a celebrity rather made it a non-issue for her. Antonio knew who she was and she never thought to ask. It might not reflect well on her, but she knew whom he worked for and he had never volunteered that information before tonight.
After spending her entire life knowing every embarrassing detail of the lives of the people in her inner circle – a precaution her parents took seriously, a part of her had welcomed not knowing much about Antonio and getting to learn about him organically.
“I’m Aaliyah Weatherly Shelby,” she giggled, “it’s nice to properly meet you.”
Antonio just stared at the hand she held out.
Aaliyah stopped laughing and looked at him, “Antonio, you’re starting to freak me out. What’s the problem?”
He closed his eyes and sighed, “My name is Antonio Torres, as in the Torres Landscaping Company. I own the company that’s been working on your property all summer.”
“Wait, so you’re not a gardener? But I’ve seen you talking to my trees,” she frowned, “There’s something I’m not getting.”
Standing up, he said, “When we first met, you had no idea who I was. I let you believe that I was just a gardener with the company because I thought that you were like every other rich person I’ve ever worked for: snobby, petty and belittling to people who have to work for a living.
“I didn’t want to have to put up with that again, but you weren’t like that. You were nice to me, even though I was this crazy person talking to your trees. Then we bumped into each other at the library and I got to know you. These last few weeks have been amazing.”
“Wait, wait, wait, hold on. So the real reason we’ve never gone anywhere is because you’re some rich and famous guy?” Aaliyah stood up and put her hands on her hips, “Seriously? I’m a freaking princess! I know what it’s like to be treated differently just for being who I am. Didn’t you think I would find out who you were eventually? Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”
“In the beginning, it didn’t matter. I didn’t think there would ever be anything serious enough between us for the lie to matter.”
“You are unbelievable. I spent my whole life dating losers who used me because of who I am. I have been living alone in this town because my parents thought moving away would make the media stay out of my life. And you think that I would spend time with someone who I didn’t think would be worth it?”
Aaliyah brushed away the tears that started to slowly slide down her cheeks, “I’ve been trying to find ways to get you more involved in my life and wondering why you never seemed to want to do the same.
“I thought it was because of the difference in our income. I thought that maybe you were too proud to let me pay for things, but that wasn’t it at all, was it? You didn’t want to be seen in public with me in case someone recognized you. Well, now you can stop pretending like you care about me.”
“Aaliyah, it’s not like that. I’m so sorry I didn’t say anything.”
“Stop, just stop talking. I liked you better when you were just a gardener.” Then she walked away.