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Buying the Bride

By:Penny Wylder

Buying the Bride
Penny Wylder

1

Sylph

I should be looking through the job ads since rent is due faster than my bank account can keep up, but everything that I'm qualified for is either demeaning or doesn't pay enough. When the most promising thing I can find is a mascot at a burger shop, I decide to give my search a rest and look through travel magazines instead. One day I will go to Greece. It's my life's mission. I don't care what kind of job it requires to get there. I'm going to do it-even if that means dancing in a hamburger costume on main street.

Mandi, my roommate and best friend, walks in and plops down on the couch beside me. She looks worn out and stares at the blank TV screen with her brow furrowed.

We've been friends most of our lives, and surprisingly, we're still friends after rooming together for a year. She's the worst when it comes to cleaning up after herself, so I do it for her. Which is a fair trade considering she makes more money than I do and picks up my slack when I can't pull my weight with the bills. Weird thing is, I don't even know exactly what she does for a living. Whatever it is, she always has money. Lots of it. I've asked, but she always manages to skirt around the answer. My guess would be stripping. In the last year she's gotten breast and butt implants, her lips done, and hair extensions. Each time she gets some new augmentation, I ask her why, and she always says, "It's for work." What other kind of job requires that kind of upkeep?

I don't push her for answers because a. It's none of my business, and b. I don't want her to feel ashamed.

"What's wrong?" I ask, when she continues to sit there without saying anything.

"Oh, just work stuff."

I raise my eyebrows as if to say, ‘That's all you'll give me?'

"Alright. If you want to talk about it, you know where to find me," I say and get up to go to my room.

"Wait, Sylph." I stop and turn to face her. She looks worried.

"What is it?" I ask.

"I need a big favor."

I slowly walk back toward her and sit on the couch. The tone of her voice tells me I might not like what she has to ask. "With what?"

"Work stuff."

My eyebrows shoot up. Is she finally going to reveal what she does for a living? A tendril of nervousness coils in my stomach. If I'm right, and she's stripping for money, what could she possibly need my help with? I certainly don't have the assets she has. I barely fill my B cup bra; my ass is shapely but small. I'm not exactly built for the kinds of things I fear she might ask me to do.

"What kind of work stuff?" I ask hesitantly.

She cringes, and now I'm scared. "The kind where you pretend to be married to someone."

I just sit here, blinking, wondering if I heard her right. "You want me to pretend to marry someone … " I test out the words to see if they make sense when I say them out loud versus the way it sounds in my head. " … for money."

This is a thing? I've never heard of it before and I can't believe Mandi has kept it from me all this time.

Mandi shrugs. "Easy, right? And the pay is good."

Just thought of marriage, pretend or otherwise, fills me with anxiety. I was married before, when I was eighteen. Divorced by the time I was nineteen. It left a bad taste in my mouth and I don't ever want to go through anything like that ever again.

"I'm sorry, Mandi, I can't."

I start to stand, but she grabs my arm, her eyes pleading. I've never seen her desperate like this before.

"I know it sounds crazy, and I would never ask you to do something so bizarre if I weren't absolutely desperate."

"This is your job, pretending to marry people?"

"Believe it or not, it's a high-demand business. And ten thousand dollars per week isn't bad pay."

I choke on nothing. There is literally nothing in my mouth and yet it feels like I swallowed a jawbreaker. "Ten thousand a week? That's what these men pay you?"

All the things I could do with ten grand a week flash through my head. Mostly images of Greece come up, but there are other things too, like rent, and my phone bill, and food. I imagine stress-free days lounging on the couch instead job hunting. I can stretch 10k long enough to figure out what I'm going to do with my life.

"How long do the jobs last?" I ask.

"A few weeks, usually."

A few weeks. Again, my head is flooded with images of more money and less problems. How hard could it be to pretend to marry someone, unless …

"Do you have to sleep with these men?"

"God, no. I'm not a prostitute. All you would have to do is meet with the guy, come up with a plan about your history together, meet the family or the people he's trying to either impress or get off his back, have a pretend ceremony to make those people happy, then when the client is ready to exit the marriage, you part ways with a fat check in hand."

"I guess that sounds easy enough," I say.

Maybe too easy. The guy is probably a troll. Anyone who has to pay someone to pretend to be their fiancée must need a bag over his head to get laid, but I suppose that doesn't matter. I don't have to sleep with him. All I have to do is pretend to be his bride and I get paid more in a few weeks than I have in a year.

"I'm in," I say. Though the money sounds amazing, I'm still skeptical. It sounds too good to be true.

Mandi squeals and wraps her arms around my neck in a bone-crushing hug. "Thank you so much. You're saving my skin."

Mandi goes over the client's information with me. Heath Starre is a billionaire heir for a huge international real estate development company. He's never been married, has never had a real girlfriend of any kind. I bet he looks like Lord Farquaad from Shrek: short, so hairy he would be shot in the woods during hunting season, and probably an honest-to-god asshole too. People with that kind of money don't have to be nice. All they have to do is wave some bills around and people will do whatever they want. I can already picture the kind of shit-show I'm getting myself into. I just have to keep my eye on the prize. I need that money. Do it for Greece, Sylph.

"You ready for this?" Mandi asks.

I shrug. What choice do I have? My job prospects are basically nothing and I'm drowning in debt. If I'm not careful, I'll find myself homeless, or worse, back at my parents' house. "Ready as I'll ever be."

"Good. I'll arrange a meeting for you at his office. He'll go over the details for the background of your relationship and the things he needs you to do going forward." She sounds far more excited about this than I feel.

"Okay." I square my shoulders and take a deep breath. "Let's do this."

2

Heath

I look down at my watch again. I'm surprisingly nervous about meeting with the woman who I've hired to be my make-believe wife. Her name is Sylph. It's a different name. I don't know if I've ever heard anything like it before. I wish I knew more about her going into this since I'm going to have to spend several weeks with her-or more, depending on how long my family decides to stay in town. I can't help but wonder what she looks like. Probably plastic. Big fake breasts, bleached hair, too much makeup, too much surgery. Maybe I'm being too harsh or too judgmental about her looks, but that's just what I picture a girl-for-hire would look like. That might be what most men in my financial position prefer-a swimsuit model with a thirst for the finer things in life-but that's not what I'm interested in.

Those tend to be the types of women who throw themselves at me at any given time. I can't go to the gym or dinner with potential clients without women shoving their numbers in my pockets. Those aren't the kind of women I would ever dream of calling my wife. I want someone who's down to earth, who I can have actual conversations with, who sees more than a bank account when she looks at me. I'm starting to think maybe a woman like that doesn't exist.

Maybe this was a bad idea, hiring someone to pretend to be my wife. I got the idea from a friend of mine who hired a girl because his dying grandmother wanted to see him happy and married before she passed. He said the process was easy and the girl was reliable. But will she be a good enough actress to fool my family? By nature, my brother and sister-twins a couple years younger than me-are suspicious. Neither of them have real jobs, and they don't contribute one minute of their time to the family business, but they are very concerned about the money.

Whenever I've had girlfriends in the past, the twins are always the first to interrogate her. I guess that's a good thing because they are like bloodhounds and have a knack for sniffing out gold diggers. But I know they don't do it out of the kindness of their hearts or to make sure their older brother isn't being taken advantage of. They're concerned about me getting married without a pre-nup and losing half my fortune to an ex. I'm the heir to my father's empire and when he dies, I will be in charge of their allowances and they want to make sure no one messes with that.

I straighten the papers on my desk, check my tie for the tenth time. When I look at my watch again, it's exactly ten. I take a deep breath. It's time.

3

Sylph

The man sitting behind the desk is not who I'm expecting. This can't be him, but this this is the office the secretary led me to.

"Hi … " I say timidly as I step into the pristine room. It's a stark gray space with a few shelves with books on them. One of the walls is a big blue print. Everything is modern and sleek, made with different metals and hardwoods. I feel under-dressed in my t-shirt and jeans. "I'm looking for Heath Starre. I think the secret

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