"Ooh, you should totally do that color! It's so cute," I suggested to Charlotte as we were looking through different bottles of nail polish.
"The aqua one? You're right, it is cute. K, I'll do that for my manicure," she consented.
I was getting my nails done with Charlotte for the charity event that I'd attend tonight at the five-star US Grant Hotel downtown. Everyone was supposed to dress their best because it basically was a large gala dinner. There would also be live music from one of the local bands here in San Diego.
The money we raised tonight would go to benefit a children's hospital over in Africa. I had only gone to two other charity events before with Derek ever since we got married. The bake sale was probably my favorite one by far.
Who didn't love sweets?
Speaking of my husband, he was currently at his office right now even though it was a Saturday. He had to get a few things ready for the San Francisco business trip he'd go on tomorrow. His secretary, Ashley, would accompany him.
I'd heard Derek mention her in the past, but I never got to actually meet her before. She wasn't at the last two charity fundraisers because each time they took place, she'd be out of town. But tonight, I'd finally have the chance to see her in person. Derek had told me himself that she would be present.
I decided to get a French mani pedi since it'd look nice with the dress I was wearing tonight. I had also originally planned on doing my hair at home, but Charlotte insisted we go to a salon. She needed a haircut herself, too, so I thought, why not?
Two hours later, we were both walking out of Vanity Hair Salon. My hairdresser had suggested I do a side bun with a braid running through the back. And let me tell you, I was absolutely in love with it.
"Oh my god, Claire, you look so pretty! Wait, let me take a picture real quick!", Charlotte exclaimed, digging in her purse for her phone.
"Of me? But we're in the middle of a parking lot," I said with a laugh.
"Who cares? And no, it'll just be your hair. But I can take one of you, too, if you want."
"Just the hair is fine."
"Ok. Turn around," she instructed before taking a picture of my bun.
"How does it look?", I asked her.
"Absolutely stunning. I'm so putting this on Instagram and Pinterest," she replied excitedly.
"K. Well, I have to go home and get ready now. See you next time," I said, giving Charlotte a hug.
"See ya. Oh, and by the way, make sure Derek doesn't faint when he sees you in that dress. 'Cause trust me, you'll look like an international model in it," she remarked with a mischievous gleam in her eyes. I playfully elbowed her in the ribs.
"I'm sure he's been with plenty of models before."
"But you're the prettiest out of them all."
Charlotte gave me a wink then headed towards her car, which was parked on the other side of the lot.
"Take pictures!", she called over her shoulder.
It was five by the time I got home. Derek pulled into the driveway just as I was getting out of my car. I greeted him with a nod then headed inside the house.
We'd been getting along quite well these past couple of weeks. There hadn't been any major disagreements, mainly because neither of us really talked to the other, and he spent most of his time at work. But at least we were both trying to make an effort.
Derek walked in a few moments later, carrying a bunch of files and papers in his hand. His brows were furrowed in frustration, and I knew something was wrong.
"Is everything ok?", I asked him cautiously, afraid that he'd start lashing out at me.
"I can't find the papers for the project that I was supposed to bring tomorrow," Derek replied with an exasperated sigh, running his fingers through his hair.
"Maybe your secretary might have them?", I suggested, thankful that he wasn't releasing his anger on me.
"I don't ever remember giving them to Ashley, though. I'll just call her right now and ask to make sure," he said, pulling out his phone.
Derek stood there scratching his chin as he waited for Ashley to reply. I was about to go upstairs and get dressed when he gently grabbed my arm.
"What?", I asked him.
"Your hair looks nice," he complimented with a smile before letting me go.
My face instantly brightened as I walked up to my room. That was the first time Derek had ever said anything nice about my appearance, and I couldn't help but feel all warm inside.
I went to my closet and took out the dress I'd be wearing tonight. Charlotte and I had been doing some online shopping one day a few months ago and came across it.
When I saw the pictures, I knew that I had to order it. But when I found out the price, I completely freaked. After all, it was designed by Jovani, one of the most famous name brands for dresses.
It took loads of persuasion from Charlotte until I finally was able to buy it. According to her, the dress had been a "once in a lifetime opportunity."
And to this day, I still haven't seen a more beautiful dress. I'd forever be thankful for Charlotte for talking me into getting it.
It was an elegant light pink color, reaching floor-length with a v-shaped neckline in the front and back. There was silver embroidery underneath the chest area, and the sleeves were thin and ruffled.
Once I finished putting the dress on, I stood next to my mirror, admiring how well it complimented my slim figure. The color looked nice on my tan skin, too. Charlotte was right. I did feel like a model.
After applying some light makeup, I put on a pair of dangling silver earrings for the finishing touch. I grabbed a matching clutch from my drawer before heading back downstairs.
I waited in the living room with my sparkly silver heels on, all set to go. Derek was probably still getting ready. I wondered if he was able to find the papers.
An hour passed and he still hadn't left his room. I was about to go tell him that we were going to be late when he finally came rushing downstairs as he was fixing his tie, dressed in a black suit with a white shirt underneath.
"Guess what, I found the-," Derek began before pausing mid sentence. He glanced up and down at me then just stood there, blinking his eyes.
"Papers?", I finished for him.
I couldn't help but take in my husband's appearance. He looked so handsome and manly in his suit, especially now since his beard had grown back, too.
"Yeah, they were in my room."
We were both silent when Derek finally spoke again. And let's just say that I was not at all prepared to hear the words that came out of his mouth.
"Has anyone ever told you how beautiful you were?"
"W-what type of question is that?", I sputtered, completely dumbstruck.
"Because I think you are," he said with a million-dollar smile, leaning in to tuck a loose strand of hair behind my ear before placing his hands in his pockets.
My body immediately responded to his slight touch as I felt my cheeks grow hot.
Derek James Weston just said that I was beautiful- the same guy that constantly got on my last nerves and barely ever paid any attention to me.
Would wonders never cease?
"Um, thank you...," I said. It came out sounding more like a question than statement.
"Shit, we're gonna be late!", he suddenly exclaimed, looking at his watch.
Derek grabbed my hand and dragged me with him as he ran to the garage, which was located on the other end of our house. I struggled to catch up since I was wearing high heels.
Why couldn't he have bought a smaller home?
"Ow, my feet!", I cried out in pain, already feeling a blister form.
Derek's footsteps halted, and I squealed when I suddenly felt him pick me up in his arms.
"There, is that better?", he asked with an amused expression.
I was speechless.
And just like that, Derek continued to run as he carried me bridal-style to the garage. As for me, let's just say I stopped complaining about my feet.
I took a bite of the mouthwatering lobster, savoring all of the different herbs and flavors that I could taste. Seafood had always been a favorite of mine and lucky for me, it was the main course on the menu tonight.
Derek and I were sitting at a table with two other couples whom were both older than us. In fact, we were probably the youngest people at this entire gala.
Most of the businessmen here were either in their thirties or forties, some even in their fifties. Then there was Derek, who was only twenty-four.
He was the perfect example of a high school graduate that went on to do great things without even having to go to college. I guessed it just proved that you didn't need a degree to become a multi-millionaire.
Although I didn't like Derek as a person, I had always admired him for his success and independence at such a young age. I mean, having your own ginormous house and four cars? That's just mind-blowing.
"Oh, Ashley's here," I heard Derek say as he got up to go get his secretary, who would also be sitting with us.
A few moments later, Ashley stood at our table. I turned around to greet her and immediately, my eyes widened at her appearance. I had expected Derek's secretary to be some wrinkly old lady, not a woman in her mid-twenties.
First of all, she looked like she'd be on the cover of Vogue magazine. Her long hair was a dirty-blonde color, and her eyes were a striking shade of amber. They were almost hypnotizing.
But what shocked me the most was her dress. It was a deep red color and tight. Very tight, making her butt look extremely noticeable.
There was a giant slit on the right side, revealing her long, tan leg. Her back was completely bare, and the front was dangerously low. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if her boobs came out of that dress.
And Derek had called me a hooker.
But there was no denying that Ashley was a very beautiful woman. My husband definitely had to have slept with her before.
"Ashley, this is my wife, Claire. Claire, this is Ashley Lawrence, my secretary," Derek introduced us both.
"It's nice to meet you," I said with a smile.
"My pleasure. I love your dress by the way," Ashley complimented, also smiling, but it didn't quite reach her eyes.
"I'll leave you two ladies alone to talk for a moment, ok?", Derek spoke.
"Alright, Dare," Ashley replied, touching his arm.
Was that her nickname for him? "Dare"?
"Here, have some food," I offered, handing the plate of lobster to Ashley.
"Thanks. And sorry I was so late. The traffic was terrible," she explained, rolling her eyes.
As we ate, Ashley told me more about herself. She used to be on the high school dance team and went to college at UCSD.
However, the biggest thing I discovered was that she and Derek used to date back when they were teenagers. And from there, she went on and on about the two of them.
"We went to every single dance together. You should've seen him back then. He was a total lady-killer, and he still is now," Ashley said with a sigh.
At that moment, I had to use the bathroom, so I excused myself before heading out of the ballroom. I ran into Derek and he asked me how things were going with Ashley.
"Great," I replied half-heartedly.
Even though all she's talked about is you, and I haven't been able to say a single word.
When I returned to the ballroom, the band was playing a slow song, and people were starting to dance in couples. Our table was empty, so I went looking for Derek.
I found him talking in the corner with Ashley and some other important businessmen, each of them with a glass of champagne in their hand. He beckoned for me to come over.
"Do you wanna dance?," he asked.
"Um, sure," I replied as he set his glass down.
Derek took my hand then led us onto the dance floor. I couldn't help but glance back to see what Ashley was doing. I didn't know if it was the dim lighting, but I swore I saw a frown cross her face as she stared at me...
The band was doing a cover of Seal's, Kiss From a Rose, as Derek and I swayed to the music, with his hands on my waist and my arms wrapped around his neck. This song had always been one of my favorites- an oldie but goodie.
"Did you like the chocolate cake?", I asked him.
"Eh, it was ok. Yours is better," he replied with a playful grin.
"Oh my, I'm flattered," I said in a dramatic tone. Derek chuckled.
"That dress looks incredible on you by the way. You should wear it more often."
I smiled in response as we continued to dance. I suddenly remembered what Ashley had told me about how she and Derek used to be a couple. So out of curiosity, I decided to ask him about it.
"Ashley said that you two used to date in high school. How come you never mentioned anything about it?"
"Well, you and I don't really talk so...," he replied with a shrug.
Just as the band was about to perform a different song, Ashley walked over with a cheerful expression on her face. I wonder why she was so happy?
"Hey, Derek, you wanna dance?", she asked, flashing him a dazzling smile and forgetting that I was even there.
"Sure, why not?", he answered, returning her smile.
Derek removed his hands from my waist before Ashley pulled him with her to an empty spot a few meters away. The two of them began to dance, standing extremely close to each other so that their chests were practically touching.
I remained frozen, simply watching them. It wasn't until I felt the presence of someone behind me when I finally looked away. I turned around to see a man standing there, maybe in his early thirties.
"May I have the honor of dancing with this beautiful young lady?", he asked me, his voice as smooth as velvet.
"You may," I accepted with a smile, offering him my hand. He took it then led us to the middle of the dance floor.
"My name is Ryan by the way," he introduced. "And you're Claire Weston, right?"
"Yes I am."
As we danced, he talked about how nice the ballroom looked, but the whole time, my mind was elsewhere. I kept thinking about Derek and Ashley. I admit, I was a bit stunned when he went to go dance with her without even saying a single word to me.
At that moment, I glanced over at them. Ashley's head was resting on his chest as he held her close to him. They both looked so happy together.
I suddenly felt an ache in my chest and tried to dismiss it.
Derek's eyes began to roam the entire dance floor before finally landing on mine. Just as I was about to give him a smile, Ashley leaned in and kissed his cheek.
Right away, I could feel a tear threatening to escape, but I quickly wiped it off before he or Ryan could notice.
"I-I have to go," I mumbled, pushing Ryan away from me.
"Go where?", he asked with a stunned expression.
"The bathroom," I lied.
I quickly began making my way out of the ballroom, not giving Ryan a chance to speak. I felt awfully bad about it, but now was just not the time for explanations.
"Claire, wait!", I heard Derek's voice call.
I spun around and saw him running towards me, only to be stopped by several businessmen. They started conversing and then went to sit down at a table.
Realizing that Derek obviously wasn't going to be able to talk to me, I kept walking until I reached the outdoor hotel garden.
I went to sit down on a bench underneath the gazebo by the fountain and before I knew it, my eyes glistened with tears as I cried.
There was no denying that Derek and Ashley were meant to be together. Anyone that saw them could tell that they were attracted to each other.
Even though I was the one married to Derek, I would never truly be his. Ashley was. And I bet he still loved her to this day.
That was the worst part about arranged marriages- not getting to experience true love with your spouse.
I would never be able to love anyone the way I had loved Nick. And as for Derek, he'd never love anyone the way he had loved Ashley...including me.
We were just two different souls forced to live under the same roof. There was no love, nor would there ever be. And that's why I had begun to cry in the first place.
I stayed outside for over an hour, completely losing track of time when I suddenly heard the sound of approaching footsteps and quickly wiped my tear-stained face.
Derek appeared from behind the flower bushes with a look of relief on his face, but then it slowly turned into anger.
"There you are! Do you have any idea how long it took me to find you?!", he exclaimed in frustration.
"I needed some fresh air," I said, avoiding his eyes.
"Why didn't you tell me you were out here?"
"You were busy talking to those men," I stated plainly.
And getting all close and cuddly with your ex-girlfriend.
"Well, I also tried calling you. But just like that other time, you never picked up," he spoke with an irritated expression.
I swore, I had never heard my phone ring. But to be certain, I grabbed it from my clutch and sure enough, there were four missed calls from Derek. It turned out that I had forgotten to switch my ringtone from 'silent' to 'normal.'
"My phone was on silent," I confessed, mentally slapping myself. He rolled his eyes.
"We should probably go home now. Everyone else is already leaving, too."
"Ok," I said, getting up.
We walked to his black Range Rover in silence and during the drive home, Derek said a few things about the food and how much money we had raised tonight. The whole time, I was zoning out.
"Claire, are you alright? You're awfully quiet right now," he remarked, turning down the radio.
"I'm just tired," I muttered, resting my head against the window.
But the truth was, no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn't get the image of Derek and Ashley slow-dancing out of my head.
A/N- So, it looks like Derek has another woman in his life. Does he still have feelings for her though? And as for Claire, I felt so bad for her in this chapter, having to see her husband and his ex all close like that. But on the bright side, he did say that she was beautiful(;