Lara dreaded family gatherings, especially since her sister Emily never missed a chance to mock her single status. Determined to survive her father’s upcoming birthday dinner, Lara decided to hire a date for the evening. She never imagined how this would turn out to be the best decision she ever made.

Lara loved her family but hated family get-togethers. Her sister Emily always found a way to tease her about being single. Last Thanksgiving, Emily went too far by setting a place at the table for Lara’s “imaginary boyfriend,” complete with a napkin drawing of a face. Everyone laughed, but Lara felt humiliated. Emily brushed off Lara’s discomfort, insisting it was all in good fun.

With her father’s birthday dinner approaching, Lara felt she couldn’t face another event filled with Emily’s jabs. Over coffee, she vented to her friend Kate. “I can’t handle another dinner with my family,” Lara said. “Emily probably has something planned already.”

“Why not hire a date for the night?” Kate suggested with a laugh.

“Seriously?” Lara replied, incredulous.

“Yes! My sister did it once when she didn’t want to attend her ex-boyfriend’s wedding alone. It’s all above board and the guys are professional,” Kate explained.

Lara was skeptical but decided to give it a try. She contacted the same agency Kate’s sister had used and was matched with Jake. He seemed perfect: charming, easy to talk to, and understanding of Lara’s situation.

They met several times before the dinner to get their story straight. “So, we met at a mutual friend’s party, hit it off over their dog, and have been dating for three months,” Jake said with a smile.

“Exactly,” Lara agreed, “and you’re an architect who loves cooking.”

On the day of the dinner, Lara was nervous but hopeful. As she walked into her parents’ house holding Jake’s hand, her family gasped. Her mother raised an eyebrow and smiled, while Emily, never one to miss an opportunity, leaned in to Jake.

“Blink twice if she’s forcing you to be here,” Emily joked. “Everyone knows how difficult Lara can be.”

Just as Lara was about to snap, Jake squeezed her hand and spoke calmly but firmly. “Listen, are you going to behave like this all evening? Are you jealous of your sister?”

Emily was taken aback, her cheeks flushing red. “No, that’s not what I meant,” she stammered, retreating to the kitchen.

The rest of the dinner went surprisingly well. Jake charmed Lara’s parents with stories of his travels and even engaged her aloof brother Mark in a conversation about architecture. Emily tried to challenge him, but Jake handled her jabs with humor and grace.

The evening took a turning point during dessert when Jake made a toast. “To the man of the evening, happy birthday! And to Lara, the most amazing woman I’ve ever met. You’re smart, kind, and have the cutest laugh. I’ve been in awe of you since the day we met.”

Lara was moved to tears by Jake’s heartfelt words. Her family, believing the relationship was real, smiled approvingly. Emily looked genuinely surprised.

After the dinner, Lara pulled Jake aside. “Thank you,” she said softly. “You’re a great actor, but I don’t know how to repay you.”

Jake took her hand and looked into her eyes. “Lara, I wasn’t acting. Everything I said was true. I’ve been in love with you since the day we met.”

Lara’s heart skipped a beat. “But we only met because I hired you,” she replied.

Jake shrugged, smiling. “Life is funny like that. Sometimes the best things happen when you least expect them. I want to give this a real shot. With you.”

Lara grinned, nodding. “I’d like that too.”

Months later, Lara and Jake were still together and happier than ever. They decided not to tell her family the truth about how they met. To them, Jake was the boyfriend who came into Lara’s life and won her over, which was true in its own way.

When Kate found out, she laughed. “So only I know the truth?” she asked.

“Yes,” Lara replied. “Emily would never let me hear the end of it if she knew I hired Jake. But the important thing is, I found someone who truly loves me.”

A few weeks later, Lara visited her parents for tea. She wasn’t dreading it for once, now that they knew about Jake. During a quiet moment in the kitchen, Emily approached her.

“I’m sorry for being so rude,” Emily said. “I didn’t mean to treat Jake badly at Dad’s birthday. I guess I was jealous.”

“Jealous? Of what?” Lara asked, surprised.

“I broke up with Paul months ago,” Emily admitted. “I was taking my frustration out on you. I’m sorry.”

Lara was taken aback but grateful for Emily’s honesty. “It’s okay, Emily. Let’s move forward.”

How would you handle a situation like Lara’s? Would you hire a date to survive a family gathering, or confront the teasing head-on?

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