Lauren accompanies Stanley to most of his meetings but today was one of the few occasions where Stan decided to give her a break. He told her not to worry, he will attend the meeting alone and then head over to her apartment to pick her up for the date at his sisters' place.
So, as soon as Stanley was done with his meeting with Mr Hayes, he made his way to Lauren's apartment.
Lauren opened up after he pressed the bell twice.
"Hi, " She smiled at him as soon as they came face to face with each other.
Lauren was almost ready, she was in a simple knee-length dress while Stan was in his casual clothes.
Stanley walked in and placed a kiss on her lips which made her blush.
"You look beautiful." He complimented as he wrapped his arms around her waist.
Lauren smiled, "You are just being nice because you like me."
"You know that's not true." He replied.
She nodded. "Thank you! You don't look bad also."
"How did the meeting go?" She asked as she pushed aside a small strand of his hair that fell across his face."
"It went well, I'll discuss everything with you on our way to Anita's place. We should get going so we won't keep her waiting."
"Don't tell me you've changed your mind about going with me?" Stan asked with an eyebrow raised.
"Not really. As far as I can remember, your Sister has always been nice to me so the least I can do is to honour her invitation. I'm just a bit nervous." She confessed.
"There's nothing to worry about. I'll be by your side all through and if you are not comfortable there, I will come up with an excuse so we can leave." He assured.
Lauren smiled, he always knew what to say to make her feel better.
"Should I put my hair up or down?" She asked.
"Down." He replied almost immediately.
Lauren reached for her coat and then she and Stanley made their way out of her apartment.
As promised, Stanley briefed Lauren about his meeting with Mr Hayes on their way to Anita's place and soon enough, they were at Anita's medium-size home.
"The plan was to get mad at you forever if you don't show up tonight because you promised me that you would be here, " Anita said as soon as she opened the door but her smile got bigger when she sighted Lauren.
Anita took a glance at her younger brother and then back at Lauren. She was surprised and happy at the same time. The last time she and Stanley talked, there was some sort of misunderstanding between him and Lauren and now that they are here together, it could only mean they've settled their differences and talked about their feelings with each other.
"Good evening Anita." Lauren greeted nervously.
Anita smiled. "I don't know how my brother did it but I'm happy he brought you along with him as his date. It's good to see you, dear." She pulled Lauren into a hug.
Lauren internally heaved a sigh of relief and hugged Anita back.
"Don't I deserve a hug too?" Stanley muttered.
"Don't be such a cry baby. You know I'll definitely hug you too." Anita pulled away from She and Lauren's hug and then she hugged Stanley after which she ushered them into her home.
It was Lauren's first time in Anita's place.
"Uncle Stanley!!" A cute little voice screamed with so much excitement before running over to Stanley and hugging his legs tightly.
Stanley chuckled, he freed himself from Alexa, his elder sister's four-year-old daughter and picked her up.
He showered her face with kisses which made her giggle loudly.
"How is my favourite little human doing?"
"I'm fine, Uncle Stan."She grinned.
"What about you?" Alexa asked.
"I'm fine too my love." He replied.
"I miss you so much. You do not always come to play with me." Alexa pouted
"I apologize for that, princess. I'm always busy with work that's why." He explained.
"Mommy said so." She whispered.
Then her eyes landed on Lauren who was a few steps away from them. "I saw her at Grandpa's party, She gave me cookies. Is she your girlfriend?" She whispered in Stanley's ear.
Stanley chuckled. He gestured for Lauren to come closer and she did.
Four-year-old Alexa wasn't accustomed to the fact that her favourite uncle was already married. All she knows is that the person named 'aunty Rita' is a mean person.
Anita tried her best to make Alexa change her perspective about Rita but all effort proved abortive.
"Princess, This is Lauren and Lauren this is my niece, Alexandria." He introduced, with Alexa in his arms.
"It's nice to meet you, Alexa." Lauren smiled and kissed the little girls' cheek.
"She's very pretty." Alexa grinned at Stanley.
"I know, " Stan said proudly.
Lauren and Stanley greeted Harry, Anita's husband and then they all proceeded to the living room where they made random conversations after which they made their way to the dining room for dinner.
Never for once did Lauren feel like an outsider. Harry and Anita made sure they involved her in their conversations. Little Alexa also engaged her in conversations too. Instead of sitting beside her mom for dinner, she insisted she wanted to sit with beside Lauren.
Once they were done with dinner and dessert, Lauren offered to help Anita clear the table and do the dishes.
Anita sighted Lauren's bracelet as Lauren was wiping her hand with a napkin.
"It looks very beautiful on you, " Anita said with a glint of adoration in her eyes.
"Thanks!" Lauren replied, she silently prayed Anita won't ask further questions like, where she bought the bracelet.
She had no idea if Anita is aware of what is going on between herself and Stanley.
As if Anita could read Lauren's mind, she spoke. "I was there when he bought it for you." She said proudly.
Lauren opened her mouth to say something. Perhaps to justify herself but no words came out.
Anita smiled and gave Lauren's shoulder a light squeeze. "There's nothing to be nervous about. I mean no harm." She assured.
"That fateful day, I was able to drag Stanley to the Jewellery store to help me pick out an anniversary gift for my husband."
"Then he saw the bracelet and couldn't take his eyes off it. He bought it and requested them to engrave your name on it."
"I actually thought he was never going to give it to you because a month later, I asked him if he had given you the bracelet and his reply was no. He said he hadn't figured out the right way to present it to you."
"I'm sure you are aware of how close I am with my brother so Yes, I know about you and him."
"And you're not mad?" Lauren asked unsure.
Anita shrugged. "Love cannot be forced and besides, you make Stanley happy."
"He really likes you. You're the first girl he's bringing to my home. I'm happy he brought you along with him."
Lauren looked confused. "First girl? He said you told him to bring me."
Anita smiled. "Please don't be mad at him. He must have said that because he was afraid you will refuse his invitation. So he came up with the white lie. But it was all worth it. We are enjoying your company and my daughter adores you."
"I know we've met before at Stan's office and my family gatherings but You're the first girl he has ever brought to my home."
"Rita and I don't get along so she has never set foot in my house. I do extend invitations to her but she never shows up."
"My brother really likes you, Lauren. I don't know what happened or how it happened but your presence changed Stanley and the more time he got to spend with you, the more he fell in love with you. He came crying to me the night that the realization hit him that he was in love with you. I've never seen him so helpless like that night." Anita smiled sadly.
She took Lauren's warm hands in hers. "You love him too right?" She asked hopefully.
It took a while for Lauren to reply but she eventually nodded positively.
"Stanley assured me he's going to protect me but I can't help but get worried about what Rita might do because she has warned me to stay away from her husband." Lauren voiced out.
Anita sighed. "Three years ago, Stanley felt fulfilled, he had everything; Fame, money, his business was doing extremely well, he had achieved some of his goals and then he thought about settling down and having his own family."
"Around that time, he met Rita. They went out on dates, dated for a few weeks before he proposed to her. And then they got married."
"Things went pretty fast between them that I almost thought Rita was the one who lured Stanley into marriage. He told us he liked her and as a family, we could do nothing but support him."
"He didn't think things through before getting married to Rita. The attraction he had for her must have been a mere crush or something else but I can assure you it wasn't true love."
"Stanley is ready to go the extra mile to fight for you and protect you from everybody and I'll urge you to do the same for him."
"You make him happy and he is ready to lose everything just to be with you."