The following night at the awards ceremony, Alex stayed true to her word and shocked Oliver when she showed up at the red carpet on the arm of Sam Daniels looking nothing like the student he was used to seeing. The Vivienne Westwood figure hugging royal-blue gown with an everlasting train and exposed back that Sam had bought the twenty-three year old made her a favourite for the flashlight snapping people around the place.
“You do know you look hotter than every female here tonight right? Celebrity and non-celebrity, you top the list.” Sam whispered into Alex’s ear as they posed for photos. “I bet everyone is wondering who the beauty beside me is. Let me go and introduce you to the world my lady.”
He posed with her at every stop on their way down to the first exclusive reporter on the carpet who was still talking to Oliver and his thirty-eight year old date Miranda Rose.
“Do you think they can see how nervous I am?” Alex whispered back as they continued posing for the cameras.
In response, Sam wrapped his arm around hers and drew her closer to his side. “I’m right here with you baby.” He said proudly.
“Those screaming females over there would stone me to death if they heard you call me that.” She laughed. “This is the first time am walking the red carpet. Mr C and Anton always wanted me to pose with them but I never imagined I would have the courage or the grace to pull off something like this. Am sweating like a pig under there, am too dame nervous.”
Sam laughed out loud at her bluntness. “Am amazed you can say that to my face without blushing.” He said. “However, I’m honoured to be your red carpet first.” He said. “Okay, are you ready?” He asked just before they stepped in front of the microphone as Oliver and his date were being led away.
Alex nodded and he gave her hand a little squeeze. Oliver chose that very moment to look behind and see the intimate moment between the two. Smiling nervously, Alex waved at him for a second and immediately went back to being Sam’s perfect date.
“Is that the girl you told me about?” Miranda asked Oliver as they walked towards the entrance, posing every now and then for screaming fans and camera men and women.
“Yes,” Oliver answered simply.
Miranda laughed. “Now I understand why you begged me to play your date tonight.”
“I never begged, I asked and you had no trouble agreeing. I had no idea she would be coming. I knew Anton already had a date so,” Oliver said in a tight voice even though he kept his lips in check for a smile for the cameras. “I just wanted her to feed off the presses when they start speculating stories about us. You do know you are the very first woman I’ve walked the carpet with after Sophia right?”
“Coward.” Miranda said under her breath. “How can I not know?” She asked out loud. “And how long do you think it’s gonna take until they discover my real preference for dates?” She chuckled mischievously, eyeing the cleavage of the lady that passed by.
“As long as you control yourself and quit staring at every boob that passes you by.” Oliver said. “Woman, have you no self-control? What was I even thinking asking a beast to be my date?”
Miranda laughed. “Because of you are too scared of your feelings for a twenty-three year old and you couldn’t risk asking a real woman with real feelings on a date because you didn’t want to deal with the after math.”
“My question was rhetoric.” Oliver remarked.
“I know,” she said. “And so was my response.”
Oliver shook his head. “You are impossible Miranda.” He said, smiling for the cameras.
“I know.” She returned.
Behind them, Alex kept her mouth on guard as Sam professionally attended to the questions being thrown their way.
“I know she looks like a doll tonight but she’s actually very legal.” Sam laughed with the reporter. “She’s twenty-three.”
“We always see you in the company of the Coopers but we’ve never been graced by your presence on the red carpet before; what changed this time?”
Alex chuckled nervously before answering and Sam gave her another squeeze to assure her he was beside her. “The Coopers are like family to me so, I guess I never really bothered about the red carpet, it always seemed easier to just go straight in and sit but since I came specifically as someone’s date tonight…I thought I could rise up a bit to his standards.”
“And rise you have Alex. You look smashing!” The reporter said. “I am green with envy right now because that dress is a killer.” And she turned back to Sam. “So is it safe to say you are off the market now Sam?”
Sam laughed and looked at Alex. “Only if she agrees to go on a second date with me.”
“So?” The reporter placed the microphone in front of Alex, her face beaming with expectation.
“I will give him a response when he asks me out in private.” Alex answered.
“Oh dang! The reporter exclaimed in disappointment. “Looks like Oliver Cooper trained you well on how to keep the media guessing.”
Great. Good going, just keep bringing up Oliver’s name won’t you? Alex thought as Sam attended to the rest of the questions before they were ushered forward.
Minutes later, Oliver got the second shock of the night when Sam and Alex were ushered to their table. But he was not the only one shocked by Alex’s presence that evening. Anton too who was sitting with his girlfriend Cathy on the same table couldn’t seem to get his lips back together when he saw Alex.
“Alex?” Anton said and Oliver stood to welcome them to the table.
“Great to see you here Sam.” Oliver said as he shook Sam’s hand. “Alex,” he turned to shake her hand. “You look stunning.”
“Thank you Mr C.” Alex said, smiling as she sat down on the seat Sam had pulled out for her.
“Hi Cathy.” Alex greeted her nemesis. “You look very stunning tonight.”
Cathy did not return her greeting. Instead, she pouted and turned her attention on Anton.
“You look great Alex. “Anton said.
“This is Miranda, my date.” Oliver quickly remembered to introduce his date who couldn’t seem to take her entranced eyes off Alex.
“Pleased to meet you.” Both Sam and Alex said at once, winning themselves stares from everyone around the table.
“You are one hell of a beauty Miss.” Miranda said to Alex. “Now I see why-“
Oliver kicked his date under the table and she winced in pain. “I see why Sam here can’t seem to take his eyes off of you.”
Sam laughed. “Her name’s Alex.” He introduced her. “She’s my date tonight.”
“I thought you were going to say girlfriend.” Cathy chipped in. “Weren’t you guys on a date last time? It appears every guy you meet wants to keep you in the friend zone Alex. You should up your feminine wiles.”
“Cathy, right?” Sam addressed her. “You are the one we met at the club that evening when you almost had a fight with Alex over Anton missing classes to chill with you at-”
“What club?” Oliver asked. “And what fight?”
Oh, it’s nothing Mr Cooper!” Cathy answered quickly.
Sam turned to Oliver. “Alex here was upset that the reason your son Anton had skipped classes that week was because he had been out relaxing at the club.”
Disgusting sneaky bastard. Anton thought as his eyes shot daggers at Sam.
The only thing Alex could do was smile nervously. She understood why Sam felt he had to come to her rescue but she didn’t like the fact that that revelation was going to put a strain on Oliver and Anton’s already strained relationship.
“We will talk about that after this.” Oliver told his son sternly. “I am not up for ruining my mood this early in the night.”
“And you need to be all smiles when you go up to receive your award honey.” Miranda said, wrapping her hands around his arm. Oliver’s eyes instinctively went to Alex who was seated across him just as she turned her head to look at what was happening on stage.
Towards the end of the show after Oliver had received his award, Alex excused herself to got to the bathroom and Cathy followed her right behind.
“Why are you trying to make my man jealous?” Cathy had grabbed Alex by the arm and pulled her to the toilet stall at the far end of the room and locked it behind them.
Alex tried to get away but Cathy pinned her against the door thus making it hard for her to turn and unlock the it. “What the hell are you talking about?” Alex asked.
“You think I haven’t seen what you and Sam are up to?” Cathy accused. “I used to have such respect for Sam but what kind of man is he that he’s allowed himself to be used by someone like you?”
“Let go of me Cathy.” Alex said. “I am not interested in your boyfriend and Sam isn’t playing any games with you or anyone here tonight. Even if you don’t like me, can’t you trust your own boyfriend? Why are you attacking me?”
“I wouldn’t be like this if I wasn’t aware of the soft spot Anton seems to have for you. He considers you family but we both know it’s not possible for people that aren’t related to act like family to each other.”
“It’s not possible for you, but it’s possible for some. I always thought of you as family Cathy. You are the one who never wanted me around.”
“No I wasn’t the only one! Mum too wanted you gone! You had just been a temporary substitute and the moment you were of no use to her, she got rid of you! Dad too allowed her because he couldn’t stand some strange child getting in the way of his family’s happiness.
“You always thought you had his back but do you know what he said when he discovered you go to his school? He said he feels suffocated. Suffocated Alex.”
“Why are you telling me all this?” Alex blinked back her tears. “I am not interested in your family anymore. You can keep them.”
“But you are interested in my man.” Cathy said. “It is my job to keep leeches away from my things…just like I did many years ago.”
“I really need to use the bathroom so please-“
“What?” Cathy asked. “Are you going to pee on yourself like you did when you were kicked out of our house?” She laughed as she towered over her. “What is a dirty orphan girl like you doing in such a place? If your own parents could not accept you, do you think the rich folks here will? Go home Alex, you don’t belong with this crowd.”
Cathy grabbed Alex by the shoulders and pushed her to the side. She opened the door only to find Miranda standing on the side, glaring at her like she had just committed murder. Embarrassed, Cathy quickly ran out of the bathroom.
Alex who had remained inside was unaware of Miranda’s presence in the bathroom. She closed the door behind Cathy and dropped to the fall crying. Miranda could hear her stifled sobs from outside but when Alex came out of the stall five minutes later, her eyes were dry and she had a huge grin on her face.
“Are you okay?” Miranda asked her as she pretended to wash her hands by the sink.
Alex finished washing her hands and turned to look at Miranda with a huge grin on her face. “I’m great, why do you ask?” Alex lied. She then walked to the dryer and reached her hands out to dry. “Oh, you mean that I’ve been here for a while?” Alex added. “I was on a call with someone so-“
“I see,” Miranda came to dry her hands next to her. “See you back there then.”
“Yes, thanks.” Alex said and exited the bathroom quickly.
“Oliver,” Miranda said to herself. “You have a lot of work on your hands buddy.”
Two hours later at the shows after party, Sam struggled to keep Alex from drinking that he had to go searching for Oliver to help him.
“Where’s she?” Oliver asked, ready to go to her.
“She is up on the balcony and she refuses to get up.” Sam informed Oliver and Miranda. “She’s crying and keeps saying I should leave her alone on her own terms…she’s not making any sense but I think something must have happened while I was attending to something.”
“Let’s go.” Oliver led the way to the balcony and for sure they found Alex sprawled out on the floor looking half-dead with a bottle of wine in her hands.
“Alex-“ Oliver rushed over to her. Alex lifted her head up and smiled when she recognized Oliver.
“My Knight in Shining Armor.” She said, pointing her drunken finger at him. Oliver grabbed the bottle from her and tried to help her up on her feet but she was too drunk to stand. Sam came to the side to help but Oliver scooped her up into his arms and started leading her down the stairs. Miranda and Sam followed him behind.
“She had a fight with that Cathy girl in the bathroom.” Miranda informed the two gentlemen as they walked the flight of stairs.
Oliver stopped and turned to look back at her. “What was the fight about?” He asked sternly.
“What do you think she must have said to the poor girl to make her drink like this?” Miranda said.
Sam ran down the stairs passed Oliver and turned. “Let me carry her out since she’s my date.” He told Oliver. “There are too many cameras here and-“
“She is my responsibility first before she’s your date Sam so let me handle this. You can go back inside and celebrate with your friends. I will take Alex home. Take care of Miranda for me.”
“At least let’s all escort you to the car so that we can avoid media speculation tomorrow.” Sam suggested.
“He is right.” Miranda said. “If they see Alex leaving in your arms while Sam continues to party inside, they will have a field day.”
“Okay.” Oliver agreed and the three of them walked together to his car.
“Where’s your designated driver?” Sam asked when they found no one waiting for them by the car.
Anton who had been standing close to the window in the lounge where the party was being held spotted his father carrying someone in his arms and laying her in the back seat. Without saying a word to Cathy who was standing next to him deep in conversation with the elites, he excused himself.
“I’ll be back.” He said to her and rushed out of the room without giving her a chance to respond.
Cathy was too star struck by the celebrities around her to even notice that her boyfriend was gone.
“I sent him away.” Oliver explained as he laid Alex who was now passed out in the back seat. “I don’t drink on such days so I prefer to drive myself back home.”
“Thanks for doing this for me.” Sam told Oliver when they were done getting Alex sleeping comfortably in the back.”
“There’s no need for you to thank me.” Oliver said in a very authoritative tone. “She is my girl. I promised her I will always take care of her and I intend on keeping my word.” He kissed Miranda on the forehead and got behind the wheel.
“I don’t know why I keep replaying his last words in my head.” Sam said to Miranda as they watched Oliver’s car disappear into the night.
Miranda walked over to the twenty-nine year old and put her hand over his shoulder. “You have a very keen sense young man. Embrace that.” She said and started walking back to the party.
They bumped into Anton right at the entrance. “Where’s Alex?” He asked Sam, his eyes searching where his father’s car had been parked.
“She wasn’t feeling so well so your dad has taken her home.” He explained.
“I think you need to re-evaluate your taste in women my dear Anton.” Miranda said to the young man. “Do you have any idea how wicked that girl you’re dating is?”
“You don’t know my girlfriend that well aunt Miranda so-“
“I don’t need to know her that well to come up with that conclusion.” Miranda said. “She said enough in the bathroom when she attacked Alex for me to draw sufficient conclusion as to what sort of character she is.”
“I have no idea what went down in that bathroom but I also don’t appreciate anyone that disrespects my woman.” Sam told Anton in a no-nonsense tone. And turning to Miranda he said; “am going up to excuse myself. I don’t think am in the mood to party anymore.”
“Have a good night Sam. It was very nice meeting you.” Miranda said and turned to Anton. “Aren’t you going back up?”
Anton hesitated as he kept his eyes fixed on the car park ahead but after a few seconds, he turned and led the way back inside.
Because he had never been to Alex’s apartment, Oliver took her to his place instead. He carried her into the house and laid her down in the spare bedroom downstairs, not trusting himself to have the energy to carry her all the way up to the room she used whenever she visited him.
After laying her on the bed, Oliver removed her shoes from her feet and was about to take off her earrings when Alex opened her eyes and stared straight into his.
“You are up.” Oliver said.
Alex suddenly sat up and without warning threw her arms around him.
“Alex, what’s wrong?” Oliver asked, trying to get her to stop hugging him so he could have a conversation with her but Alex tightened her arms around him.
“It’s fine, am here.” Oliver said and hugged her back.
After a while, Alex released her arms from around him and instead passed them around his neck and locked her hands behind his head, their faces only a few inches apart. “Why won’t you love me?” She asked Oliver.
Oliver grabbed her arms and led them slowly down to her sides. “You need to rest.” He said. “You are drunk and it’s been a long night.”
“Can’t you treat me like a woman, just for one night Oliver.” Alex begged with tears streaming down her cheeks.
The sound of his name from her lips caught Oliver by surprise. She had never before called him by his first name. With just one word, Alex had managed to erase the gap that had always separated them in their usual banter. She had dared cross that line and catch him off-guard.
With her back leaning against the bedpost, Alex stared at Oliver unflinchingly, desperately waiting to hear his response.
“Do you even know what you are asking of me Alex?” Oliver asked.
“I know.” She said.
“Unless you don’t want us to continue being family I beg that you don’t ask me something like this again.” Oliver said and stood up from the bed, turning his back to leave. However, Alex surprised him again when she hugged him from behind and pulled him back towards her, resting her head hard against his back.
“Please.” Alex begged. “Why can’t it be me?”
Oliver just stood there, not sure what to do or how to respond. “I love you. I am in-love with you. I don’t want to but I do.” Alex cried.
Oliver tried to turn around.
“Don’t.” Alex said, tightening her grip around him. “I don’t want you to look at me if you are going to tell me to stop.”
“How can we talk with my back to you like this?” Oliver asked.
“Just answer my questions truthfully and I will let you go.” She said.
“Is it pity that makes you act the way you do towards me or is it something else?”
“What do you mean act?” Oliver asked.
“I think that you like me too but you constantly avoid me these days but when I need you, you are always there…like tonight. I’m confused.”
“Okay,” Oliver said. “Can I at least turn around to look at you as I answer? I promise I will be honest.”
Alex let go of him and Oliver turned around to position her comfortably on the bed lest she fell from her drunken state. He made her legs rest on the side of the bed and positioned her back straight, getting down on his knees and holding her steady by her arms as he spoke.
“How old am I Alex?” Oliver asked her, looking straight up at her.
“Forty? Forty-one?” Alex said.
“Forty-three.” Oliver said.
“Forty, forty-three, it doesn’t matter.” Alex said.
“And how old are you?”
“Twenty-four.” She said.
“Twenty-three. You are still twenty-three for a couple more months.”
“I know where you’re going with this. It doesn’t matter to me. Age is only a number. What does it matter when we love each other?”
“I never said I loved you like that Alex.” Oliver said.
“Then are you telling me you love me like a daughter?” She asked.
“Yes.” He said.
“Fathers slap their daughters when they kiss them the way I kissed you that night.” She reminded him. “But you didn’t. Instead, you kissed me back!”
“I never kissed you back.” Oliver argued. “I was fighting to stop you-“
“Only after you kissed me back. Why are you lying?” Alex cried. “I felt you kiss me back.”
Oliver sighed deeply. “Okay, maybe I did, but it was only for a second. I was confused. You surprised me and-“
“What sort of father gets confused like that by his daughter?”
“Why won’t you just admit the truth!?” She yelled, wriggling her arms from his grip.
Oliver rose to his feet. “Because you are a child dammit!” He snapped. “I watched you grow up and play with my son who by the way happens to be older than you. Not so long ago you were in-love with him. You are his best friend for Christ’s sake so how can I even begin to imagine something happening between us? I am old enough to be your father Alex don’t you get it?”
Alex put her feet on the floor and tried to stand but everything was spinning so she failed to hold her ground against gravity. Oliver held her in time and sat her back down on the bed and went back on his knees before her.
“I beg of you Alex, let’s not do this. Just continue thinking of me as the cool dad you never had. Isn’t that what you used to tell me? Fall in-love with someone younger and live your life to the fullest. You don’t need to have an old guy like me dragging you down.”
“Who says you are dragging me down?” Alex asked. “I don’t want to be with anyone else. It’s you I love so why can’t I be with you? Are we going to be the first couple with such an age different? True love doesn’t look at such things.”
“True love also cares about the welfare of the other person so why would I allow you to make this kind of mistake?”
“That means you love me too isn’t it?” She said.
“Like a father loves his child.” Oliver insisted.
Alex sulked and dropped her back onto the bed. “Cathy was right.” She said resignedly, closing her eyes and dropping her arms on either side of her head.
When Oliver stood up to check if she was sleeping, he saw tears cascading down the sides of her eyes as she fell asleep. Afraid to lay his hands on her, Oliver put a cover on top of her and quietly walked out of the room. He carefully closed the door behind him and closing his eyes, he dragged his back against the door slowly down to the floor. Once on the floor, he dropped his head and sighed like a man who had just lost a great battle.
After about a minute, Oliver opened his eyes to find familiar legs standing in front of him. He raised his head to find Anton glaring down at him, total disdain written all over his face.
“Son?” Oliver quickly got to his feet. “When did you get here?”
If eyes could shoot fire, Anton would have burnt his father to ashes that night. “How long has this been going on?” He asked.
“Come,” Oliver grabbed his hand. “Let’s talk somewhere else.”
Anton flipped his father’s hand away but still followed him into the living room.
“When did you get here?” Oliver asked when they stopped in the living room.
“How long has this been going on between you and Alex?” Anton asked.
“What are you talking about?” Oliver tried to brush his suspicions aside. “What would be going on between me and Alex?”
“I heard it all dad.” Anton said. “I heard her say she’s in-love with you!”
“Please, keep your voice down.” Oliver said. “Do you want her to overhear this conversation?”
“Why didn’t you tell me that she had developed feelings for you?” Anton asked.
“Because I also only discovered recently.” Oliver answered.
“And you, how do you feel about her?” His son asked.
“If you heard her say those words then am sure you heard my response too.” Oliver said, turning to leave the room and put the conversation to a stop.
“I don’t want to hear the answer you gave her.” Anton said. “Man to man, I want to know your true feelings.” He then moved closer to stand in front of his father. “Do you love her?” He was looking him in the eye, daring him to give a lie.
“I’m too tired.” Oliver said dismissively. “I don’t have time to get into it with you tonight.” He tried to turn again to walk away but Anton grabbed him by the shoulder and forced him to look back at him.
“You love her don’t you?” He asked.
“Are you drunk?” Oliver said.
“I know you dad. You only avoid questions when you don’t want to tell the truth. You can easily tell me you don’t love her so why are you running away?”
“I’m not running away.” Oliver said sternly. “And anyway, what’s it to you how Alex feels or how I feel about her? She is old enough to make her own decisions and I am your father so I don’t deserve this line of inquiry from you.”
Oliver turned and started walking away.
“I won’t let you have her!” Anton shouted at his father.
Oliver stopped right before the staircase and looked back at his son. With his hands in his pockets, he took the few steps back to where Anton was standing and stopped right in front of him.
“Just out of curiosity,” Oliver said. “What makes you think you have the right to make such a declaration?”
“What is wrong with you?” Anton looked disgustingly at his father. “She is young enough to be your daughter. I am older than her!”
“Lower your voice Tony or hell I will lower it for you.” Oliver thundered. “Let me tell you this and am only going to say it to you once; I haven’t made a decision to pursue Alex but if ever I do, her age would be the least of my worries. Don’t hide under the veil of looking out for her when we both know exactly why you are acting like this.”
“Yes,” Anton said. “I love her.”
“Bloody fool.” Oliver muttered.
Even when that fact had been obvious, that Anton had said those words out loud made Oliver shake in his boots. In that moment, he realized the power of the spoken word and how it could change everything. He had seen the look in his son’s eyes when he saw Alex earlier that evening and he had known exactly what lay there but hearing him come right out with his feelings made him feel worse than he had been feeling a few minutes ago.
“I know am a fool for realizing it this late,” Anton said. “And I am embarrassed to admit that I first had to see her on the arm of another man to realize my feelings but I will be dammed if I just ignore my feelings after stumbling on them so suddenly. I love that girl and I won’t give her to anyone else!”
“Do you think that you can just act on your feelings whenever you have them?” Oliver asked his son. “Have you forgotten that you have a girlfriend or that you sacrificed your friendship of over ten years the first chance you got without even realizing it? Is that how you love son? When are you going to grow up?”
“Oh don’t use your age over me dad.” Anton retorted. “You know as much as I know now that I’ve always loved Alex…I was just too busy doing other stuff to realize it.”
“You were too busy chasing skirts to realize what a great girl you had right beside you so don’t blame anyone for how things have turned.” Oliver said. “We all have to pay a price for the decisions we make and you need to take responsibility for your stupid and careless actions.
“The world doesn’t come to a stop simply because you need it to. You need to grow up and stop acting like a spoiled brat. I’ll be dammed if I let you into Alex’s life so you can ruin it. Whether she loves me or not, I will never let wishy-washy punk like you, even if you are my son anywhere near her heart.”
“Let me worry about that dad.” Anton said. I don’t want to have to fight you over Alex and even though you’ve always won over me in everything, this time around I won’t let that happen. Alex might think that she’s in-love with you right now but she’s just confusing her feelings of gratitude with something else. If you are that lonely just find someone your age and leave Alex alone.”
With that, Anton stormed out of his father’s house, leaving Oliver alone to stew on his words for the entire night.