Vanessa explained the situation to Shahid as best as she could. He thought it was weird but agreed go to the rehearsal dinner with her. He didn’t want her to be in a room full of strangers, forced to make small talk. He would be honoured to be her buffer.
Shahid’s participation had two conditions – he would pick Vanessa’s outfit and that she’d go on vacation with him after the rehearsal. Vanessa turned his requests down at first, she found the thought of being controlled by a man insulting.
She only agreed to his terms after Shahid made it clear that he wasn’t trying to control her but rather spoil her and the vacation was just meant to be a really long first date.
“Has anyone ever told you that when they see you, all they want to do is love you right?”, Shahid said while fixing her hair.
“What?”, Vanessa asked distracted.
“Nervous?”, Shahid asked.
“Why would I be?”
“The love of your life is getting married tomorrow.”
Vanessa couldn’t remember the last time she thought of Tiago as the love of her life, but she also knew that she would never be able to love another man the way she loved him. Once upon a time he was her home and the place she sought refuge. The moment was brief but in the years they were happy together, she knew peace.
“Thanks for doing this.”, she whispered as she held his hand.
“No problem. I just did this so we could have our first official date.”
He kissed her on the cheek and squeezed her hand. Vanessa appreciated the support. She had moved on but knowing that Tiago would be with someone meant this would be the last time they would ever be in the same room. Even if Thando allowed, she felt uncomfortable being friends with a newlywed she used to sleep with. Her morals wouldn’t allow.
“Are you here to check in?”, the receptionist asked.
“No, we are here for the rehearsal dinner.”
“Vanessa Costa and her plus one.”
The receptionist quickly browsed through the guest list and then looked back at the couple.
“Sorry. I don’t see Vanessa here but there is a Bri Costa on the list.”
“Yes. Brielle. That’s my middle name.”
“I thought you didn’t like that name”, Shahid spoke.
Vanessa remembered telling Shahid that Brielle was her second name and that she didn’t like it but she didn’t tell him why. Her mother named her Brielle. Vanessa wasn’t ready to share her past with Shahid. She wasn’t ready for him to see how broken she was.
“I don’t. I hardly use it, but Tiago always insisted on calling me by it. He really liked the meaning.”
“What does it mean?”, he asked.
“God is my strength.”, Vanessa smiled.
The receptionist called the conference room to inform them that Vanessa and Shahid were on their way. A concierge walked with them and showed them to their table. The room quickly filled with whispers as people wondered who the new arrivals might be.
The seating chart had Vanessa placed at the head of the table next to Tiago. Vanessa felt uneasy. She wasn’t sure any woman in her right mind would be this comfortable with their husband having their ex around. She was sure he must have lied to Thando about who she was.
Some of the guests came to the table to give their greetings. They were excited to meet someone from Tiago’s family. Vanessa and Shahid played their parts well. Whenever someone implied that she was Tiago’s cousin, she would just smile and nod.
One of Thando’s cousins walked over to the table and introduced himself. He said he recognised Vanessa and had been trying to procure her services for a long time but her client list was always full.
Vanessa didn’t like talking about work while at events, but it was a welcomed break from all the questions about Tiago’s past. While talking, he knocked over his champagne glass, spilling champagne on Vanessa dress.
“Oh. I’m so sorry. I apologise. I’m so clumsy.”
“It’s okay. It’s fine.”, Vanessa said a little irritated.
Vanessa felt bad that the dress Shahid had bought her had a stain. She looked at Shahid. He gave her a gentle smile letting her know it was okay.
“I am so sorry. I will get it dry cleaned. Please forgive me.”
“Don’t worry”, Shahid interpreted. “We will just buy a new one.”
“If you will excuse me. I’ll quickly slip into the bathroom to get cleaned up and then I’ll be back.”
“That’s fine. While you’re gone, I’ll keep Mr. Shahid here company and get to know him a little better.”
Vanessa tried containing herself but she was very upset. This was the first gift she’d received from Shahid and someone had to ruin it.
Vanessa stood in the bathroom, in front of the mirror, frantically wiping at the stain with a napkin.
“You okay?”, a voice whispered from behind her.
“Yes. I’m just… I spilled champagne on my dress and I needed to see if I could get some of it out.”
Vanessa didn’t check whether the bathroom was empty when she entered. She just ran to the mirror to fix herself up so she could get back to Shahid.
“That’s a shame. It’s such a beautiful dress.”
“Thank you. My boy… My date bought it for me”, Vanessa blushed.
“He is a man with taste. Tiago will be happy to know you are with someone who cares.”
“Oh. Okay. Wait… I’m sorry. I don’t recall seeing you in the hall earlier.”
“Yes. I’ve been hiding in here for a while.”
“I don’t know. When the hotel said you were here, I ran and hid in the bathroom.”
Vanessa was confused. She didn’t know what she could have done to scare the lady or make her feel uncomfortable.
“Hi. I’m Thando”, she said as she reached out her hand.
Vanessa didn’t know what to say. For Thando to hide from her meant that her presence made her uncomfortable.
“Sorry. I’ll leave.”, Vanessa said and headed for the door.
“Wait Vanessa”, Thando rushed to cut her off, “Don’t leave please.”
“I have to. It’s your event and you are hiding in the bathroom because of me.”
“You’re Vanessa, thee Vanessa. I was just nervous to meet you, nothing else. He downplayed how beautiful you are though.”
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