Vera looked around the housewarming party and saw friends who were supposed to be strangers.
There was Phill Conrad, a fellow Loan Some hire that frequently reminded people there were two Ls in this name. Today, he was dressed in a sweater vest and was going by the alias Bradley Bradwell. Then there was Gabi Vega, married mother of two and Loan Some hire of nearly two years. Today she was going by Margo Curran and was posing as Bradley Bradwell’s hotsy totsy girlfriend, clad in a skin-tight black dress.
In the months since Vera had started working at Loan Some, she had been on plenty of assignments, and this was proving to be one of the more fun ones. It was almost like an office party, with all of the other “loaners” getting a chance to actually talk to each other, since the party mostly consisted of people hired to look like they were friends with Dutch Skoblow, the party-thrower.
Wearing a Liza-Minelli-esque wig in a corner while sipping some champagne, Vera chatted with fellow loaner Maudie Meisel, as she tugged at her wig to make sure her red tendrils didn’t pop out.
“So where did you grow up?” said Maudie.
“Virginia,” said Vera. “You?”
“Washington State. You close to your parents?”
“Yes, actually.” Although Vera felt guilty for not checking in with them as of late.
“What do they do?”
“Dad’s a real estate agent, and Joe’s a teacher.”
Maudie smiled. “Raised by two dads? That’s awesome.”
“I imagine it’s probably not much different than being raised by a man and woman. Still got in trouble for the same things most kids get in trouble for. Like staying up past midnight to finish a book.”
“Nerd,” said Maudie, her eyes bugging out a little when she said it. “So I take it ‘Dad’ is your birth father? Where’s mom?”
Vera paused before responding. A good question.
“My mother and father had me when they were pretty young, and after she gave birth, she just. . .left.”
“Wow. You ever think of trying to find her?”
Before Vera could answer, Dutch rang his wine glass with a fork to make an announcement.
“Hello, everyone. Thank you for coming to my party. I’d like to get a picture of everyone together, to put on Facebook.” Dutch had a Santa Claus quality about him, his cheeks jolly red and his tummy out and proud.
Maudie rolled her eyes so only Vera could see her do it.
“The dream of being popular on Facebook is what keeps this company in business,” she whispered.
The group congregated together for the photo, a ragtag team of loaners and real people whom Dutch would tag as friends on Facebook, when really he knew maybe 5 percent of them. In fact, the photo ended up being a great Loan Some company pic.
As the photo group (and party) dispersed, Vera noticed a handsome non-loaner, looking at her in an interested-but-not-creepy way. He had kind brown eyes, which actually drew her in beyond everything else—even if everything else looked pretty good. Vera knew the rule: Do not date the “real” people at these parties. So she tried to break eye contact and get on her merry way.