Scandalous

Summer knew that she had made a mistake when she had agreed to it. The tabloids were stupid and she never read them, but hearing the sniggers as she passed made it rather obvious. She hadn't known why they were laughing at first, but, then, she had caught a whiff of one conversation. Hearing her name repeatedly was something new, even though she had been the editor and manager of the magazine since Billy had first brought her in to help him create it.

It was because of this that the words barely registered in her mind at first. Then, it hit her. Had her secretary's friend from the third floor just said 'Summer Hathaway' and 'slut' in the same sentence? For a moment, she could hardly believe it, but, when she turned back to see if the expression on the girl's face fit with the words she had heard, she saw Billy walking up to the group of girls to join whatever conversation they were having. If they had been talking about her that way, they certainly wouldn't around Billy. He was, after all, the creator and co-editor of the magazine—and only the best fashion designer in the United States. Besides, he also happened to be Summer's best friend. Even if they were rude, they weren't morons. Hopefully.

Why would they have said those things, anyway? If Summer Hathaway were ever a slut… well, she couldn't even finish the sentence. It just would never happen. Summer was a goody two-shoes, nice and naïve. She wouldn't have even known where to start to become a slut if she were to want to do so. Which she never would.

Feeling silly and frustrated, she entered her office in a huff and sat down behind her desk with a sigh. Slowly, she put her elbows on the desk and lay her head in her hands. There was something terribly exhausting about feeling inadequate, something that just make her ache down to the bone.

With a deep breath, she decided that she had better get to work—after all, she was being paid for her time, and she never liked receiving something she didn't earn. As she removed her head from her hands and her elbows from the table, a piece of paper partially stuck to her left elbow and was released into the air. Steadily, it floated down to the ground, from where she plucked it up and examined it. It was a sealed manila envelope—but, wait, the seal was broken. Someone hadn't been very sneaky.

She flipped it over to examine the other side and sighed, realization hitting her as she read the words. Summer's Modeling Photos, in Billy's handwriting. Who had opened it after he had sealed it, though? Pondering that question, she opened it and pulled out the clean, crisp photographs of herself.

How had she ever let Billy convince her to get in that dress? Oh, yeah, she had been drunk. Not falling-down drunk. Just a little tipsy. But it had obviously been enough—considering she rarely drank anything. It had been a beautiful dress, though. Sleek, shimmering, and sexy—everything she was sure that she wasn't. But Billy knew best when it came to fashion, didn't he? Besides, looking at the pictures now, it didn't look half bad on her. She actually looked pretty—and happy, something she didn't show in public much. They were good pictures—and she wasn't exactly photogenic either.

She flipped through them. Most of them were of just her, but a couple had Billy and even the photographer, David, in them. There were a few with hugs and kisses on the cheek, nothing drastic, just friends being silly. Looking at the pictures made her feel awkward, though—mostly because she was staring straight at one of her and David, Billy off to the side, and they were hugging. And mostly because he had asked her out on a date right after the small photo shoot. Of course, she had said no. But it still made an embarrassed imprint on her mind.

Summer was sure that her secretary Margaret would be appalled at her response to the man's request—he was rather attractive, after all—but she really didn't care about that. What did appearances matter anyway? Well, of course, they mattered to an extent—she hated to admit it, but they did—but just a small extent. She just wasn't attracted to the kind of man that David was: organized, intelligent, happy, clean-shaven, a businessman—the kind of man that she should have been attracted to because they would have so many similar interests. But, no, she was attracted to something totally different (from herself, too): chaotic, funny, outspoken, dirty, confusing, horrible fashion sense, an utter mess—the kind of man that, under normal circumstances, she utterly loathed, but, for some reason, when it came to romance, nothing like that really mattered.

With a sigh, she dropped the photo onto the table and glared at it there. It was more frustrating than anything else in the world—not even how frustrating it was when someone borrowed the copy of the magazine and messed it up right before it goes to the print shop and she had to stay to fix it all—because she knew that that guy right there in the photo was the type of man that would be able to hold down a relationship and be sweet and loving. That's the kind of thing that every naïve little girl is supposed to dream about. Why did it never work out that way? Why couldn't it ever work out that way? Why couldn't there be a Prince Charming to sweep her off her feet?

She smiled slightly as she looked down at the ring on her left hand, and, at the sight of it, she couldn't help but with it, grin extending enormously. And yet, when it came right down to it, she didn't think she'd be happy with a Prince Charming. He'd be too sweet, too nice, too perfect. It would be horrible. She'd hate it. The ring on her finger there was proof of that. It just went to show that things rarely turn out like you'd hoped. But she was happy, and wasn't that what mattered most?

A knock sounded on her door, and her secretary entered without awaiting a response. "Hi," Margaret said in her cheery voice, but there was something false about it. She didn't quite trust it. "Do you need anything, ma'am? Coffee, tea, lemonade? A muffin?"

"No, Margaret," she smiled calmly, looking up at her with a serene face, "but thank you very much." She turned back down toward the pictures still cluttering her otherwise empty desk and quickly began to gather them up.

Her secretary hesitated at the door. "Ma'am," she said, pausing every once in a while, "I was wondering—well, you see, there's this rumor going around, and I wasn't sure about it, but I was just wondering—"

Summer looked up again sharply, her eyes narrowing at the words. "Wondering what?" Perhaps she would be able to get to the root of what the ladies were saying in the hallway several minutes before.

"Well, Jessica and Melanie were saying that they had seen you with David Paulsen. Is it true that you're dating him?" asked Margaret.

She couldn't help but laugh at the words, especially after just considering that moments before. At her secretary's confused and curious face, though, she forced herself to say through bouts of laughter, "No, I'm not dating David. He's an excellent photographer, but he's not my type."

"Then what is your type?" asked someone new from just beyond the open doorway. Both women looked up to find Billy there with another man standing behind him out of view. But Summer could tell right away that it was the hidden man that had said the words.

"Oh, well, that's really none of your business," she said, her tone turning from amused to curt. She stood up to greet her boss and best friend. "Good afternoon. Would you like to sit down?"

Billy rolled his eyes at her change of stance. "Stop being so uptight, Summer, darling," he said with a flick of the wrist as he moved inside and sat down on a very cushioned chair. "Darling, you know Freddy, of course, so don't act like you don't. He's come back from that dreadful place he lives in downtown to visit us. Isn't that sweet of him?"

She tried to be polite, but she couldn't help the curtness coming out of her mouth. She was nervous, and that was just what happened when she was nervous. "Very sweet. Have a seat, Freddy." She turned to her secretary and dismissed her politely before returning her attention to the two men in her office. "How may I help you?"

Her boss crossed his legs, which meant he was going to be frank and friendly, and said, "Well, Summer, I heard an awful rumor on my way here (before I met up with Freddy), the same one your dear secretary already related to you. David does have a bit of a crush on you, you know. You can just give him one tiny date—I'll even pick something for you to wear—and, if you don't like it, you don't ever have to go again."

She smiled nervously, and her right hand went immediately to ring on her left, a simple silver band with a small bit of topaz, her birthstone and her favorite. She spun it around her finger as she tried to formulate a response to that. "Well, you see, Billy," she said hesitantly as she leaned back against her desk, "I really can't—"

"Why not?" The question didn't come from Billy like she had expected but from Freddy, and she glared at him for the intrusion upon her speech, meager as it was.

She still did her best to answer it, though. "Because," she said forcefully, "I am… I am otherwise engaged." Hah, she couldn't help but think, engaged in more ways than one. "And where do you get off interrogating me here? This is my office. Billy is my boss, but you are—"

He grinned as he interrupted again, "Quite something else entirely, I know." It was a secretive grin, like something he was keeping all to himself. But she knew exactly what it meant, and she couldn't help but smile softly as well.

Billy, on the other hand, was not particularly pleased. "But, Sum, you never go on dates! And you know how I love dressing you up. It'd be a blast." As she hesitated again with an answer, fingering the ring in her nervousness, his eyes flickered toward it. His attention was caught. "Summer," he said cautiously, "what's that?"

"What's what?" she asked innocently, knowing full-well of what he was speaking. She looked down at herself in mock confusion. "I'm not wearing anything different, I don't think."

When she tried to move her hands as if to look at her clothes, he dashed forward and snatched up her left hand. "That's an engagement ring!" he exclaimed in surprise.

"No it isn't," she denied immediately.

"It is! Who gave it to you? And why didn't you tell me?! I'm appalled, Summer. I'm your best friend!" he shouted fervently, words rapidly flowing together so that she could hardly make out what he was saying. When all she did was look at him meekly in response to his inquiries, he said, "If you don't tell me who gave that engagement ring to you, I will fire your booty and learn to live with editing the magazine myself!"

Summer gasped at that. "You can't!" she cried in disbelief.

"Oh, yes I can!"

"No, you can't. We've—we've signed a contract. You just… you can't," she babbled. "You wouldn't be able to handle it, anyway. It wouldn't be organized. You'd lose all your profits. You'd go bankrupt!"

He glared at her. "Summer, I am not that incompetent. Now, tell me who it is."

She opened her mouth to reply, but no words issued forth.

From her fluffy chair, Freddy glanced around the room as if bored as he said, "Yeah, Summer, who's the unlucky man?"

Angrily, she tore her hand away from her friend and marched back behind her desk to sit in her chair and glare at both of them. "If he's that unlucky," she said in a huff, "maybe he'll want this stupid ring back."

"Don't listen to him, Summer," demanded Billy gently. "He's just being… Freddy."

She laughed humorlessly at the words. "He always is." Then, she looked down at the ring again, straightened it, and said in a quiet voice, "I wouldn't want to keep the ring if he were any other way."

Her boss's eyes widened at those words—he had heard her clearly—and, then, a grin engulfed his entire face. "Why didn't you tell me it was Freddy?" he yelled, both in anger and excitement. He moved forward to her again to hug her, ecstatic. "He's so hot, too! I can't believe this. I'm so happy for you, Sum!"

Behind them, still in the chair, Freddy raised an eyebrow dubiously, not sure how to respond to being called hot by a man. After a moment, he shrugged it off and waited for what was sure to come next: Billy coming back to him and hugging him, too, in congratulation.

Summer watched him from over her best friend's shoulder and smiled. "Thank you, Billy," she said happily as he pulled away, and, just as Freddy had predicted, he was off to hug the other man as well. She laughed at the look on her fiancé's face as he was overwhelmed.