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Damaged Like Us: Chapter 11

FARROW KEENE

DECLAN LEFT HIS REPLACEMENT—WHICH turned out to be me—a short noteI hadn’t thought hard about Declan’s words, his warning, until the end of September. Until today.

Until Maximoff invited his three siblings and five of his cousins to mini-golf. Until everyone except Jane cancelled when they saw social media: paparazzi and crowds amassed, jumping onto the putt-putt green, like they caught sight of rock stars or English dignitary.

And then Maximoff firmly and concisely said, “We need to leave.”

We’d only been there for a half hour, and he’d spent the prior three hours coordinating the mini-golf outing for his family.

Being forced to drop set-plans that quickly would piss off most people.

Maximoff just pivoted and created a new one in seconds. He signed the golf balls and putters for the mini-golf facility to sell, and then he spent the next hour taking selfies with fans and Jane. I spent that time detaching overwhelmed, sobbing girls and guys off his waist.

When we finally climbed into his Audi, I expected Maximoff to sigh in exhaustion. Maybe express frustration. His mom would’ve been tired, a little upset.

Instead, he seemed just as prepared for anything, and he said, “Let’s find a pub. Jane will meet us.”

Declan should’ve written: Maximoff Hale will barrel through every circle of hell and come out unscathed.

He actually wrote: everything in Moffy’s life is short-lived.

9:12 p.m. we shake off paparazzi and discover a hole-in-the-wall Irish pub around South Philly. After I ensure the place is safe, we order our food and drinks at the bar. They say they’ll bring it to us shortly.

We claim a low wooden table in the very back. Cigarette smoke clouds the cramped, dimly lit area, and a soccer game airs on the only TV. Engrossing several old bearded men at a high-top table, plus the bartender.

I lean back on two legs of my chair and casually examine our surroundings, but I find myself looking at him.

Maximoff reads a text. “Jane and Quinn are still fifteen minutes away.”

I open my mouth to reply, but a voice infiltrates my right ear. “Omega to Farrow.” I drop on all four legs of my chair and press my mic. “Farrow.” My eyes lift to Maximoff who watches intently. Like he’s never even overheard his old bodyguard speak to security before.

Maybe he hasn’t.

I’m not about to excuse myself from the table to speak to Akara. I don’t care if Moffy listens to a conversation that’s about him.

In fact—I pop my earpiece out, hang the cord over my shoulder, and then I swivel the volume knob on my radio. Increasing the sound.

His brows furrow, confused.

My smile stretches. Just wait, wolf scout.

Akara’s voice crackles over the earpiece speaker, audible to me and Maximoff. “I need to know if Moffy plans to go to a drugstore or grocery within the next week. We’ll have to put extra security on him.” With the Camp-Away approaching and its annual popularity, he’s been in entertainment news almost nightly.

“And?” I ask Maximoff. He knows that Akara can’t hear me unless I touch the microphone.

He leans forward, forearms on the table. “Tell him no.”

I click the mic. “No, not anytime soon.”

Akara says, “Thanks.” The line goes quiet after that.

Taking a deep breath, Moffy straightens up, and neither of us unfastens our strong gazes.

“Did you like that?” I ask, my lips lifting.

“So badly it hurts,” he says dryly, but a real smile crests his mouth. “Would you be willing to do that for me all the time?”

“Would you want me to?”

I love giving him things that no one else can. For a guy who has the world at his fingertips, you’d think there’s nothing left to offer Maximoff. But he’s been denied some simple pleasures and human rights.

Like the ability to drive safely down a fucking highway.

Maximoff cracks his knuckles. “Actually, no. Security will kill you.”

“Now you care if I die? What happened to shoving me out of the car and backing up over my body?”

“Give me five minutes,” Maximoff says, “we’ll be back to your death.”

I roll my eyes into a wider smile, and my tattooed fingers rotate a saltshaker like it’s a coin. I catch Maximoff staring at my fingers for two long beats. He’s in love with my fingers. I try to seize his gaze.

He purposefully glances behind me.

I follow his attention to the bar, and I run my tongue over my molars, my smile slowing hardening. A guy about my age sits on a tattered leather stool, dressed in a black beanie and graphic T-shirt.

My jaw muscle twitches. I look between them, and the guy gives Maximoff a suggestive I-want-your-ass once-over.

Maximoff begins to smile back.

I can’t tell if he’s just being nice or if there’s real interest. My narrowed gaze pings from him to the guy, my muscles burning the longer they scrutinize one another.

shouldn’t care.

I set my elbow to the table and put my hand to my mouth. I spin a saltshaker with my free fingers while a million replies grind at me.

He’s not good enough for you.

You could do better.

You really like that dickhole?

You’re here with me.

Don’t flirt with him.

Don’t fuck him.

The saltshaker falls on its side.

Moffy glances at me while I upright the salt.

Jealousy. I’m jealous of a nameless, beanie-wearing dickhole on a barstool. My ex-boyfriends would laugh at me for caring this much about a twenty-two-year-old celebrity.

I unwrap a piece of gum, and as soon as I peel the foil, Maximoff asks, “What’s your favorite color?”

The corners of my mouth curve upward. “My favorite color?” I repeat like he asked me a kindergarten question. Which he did. But I keep thinking, he’s not interested in that other guy anymore.

He’s more interested in me.

Maximoff crosses his arms. “What kind of high school names someone valedictorian when they can’t even answer their favorite color?”

I lean forward and whisper lowly, “Says someone who doesn’t know what it’s like to be valedictorian.”

“Just admit it,” he says, “you don’t have a favorite color. It’s sad.”

“It’s silver,” I retort.

He nods a couple times, his own smile appearing, and just as he goes to speak, the waitress brings out two Fizz Lifes, a plate of loaded potato skins, and basket of French fries.

He stares off for a long second, lost in his head.

I wad a straw’s paper and toss the tiny ball at his face. It hits him square in the forehead, and he wakes up to glare at me.

He asks, “Do you know mine?” His favorite color.

Orange.”

“You actually Google-searched me,” he says it like he caught me jacking off.

I almost laugh. “Man, you have a mom who buys orange plastic silverware and plates for any Maximoff-Hale-related event.” I count off my fingers, starting with my thumb. “Which includes your sixteenth birthday party, your prep school graduation

“Alright.” He cringes. “You knew me when I was sixteen. I get it. The world gets it

“The world doesn’t care that I was at your sixteenth birthday.”

He flips me off with one hand and grabs a potato skin with his other. He gestures at me with the potato skin. “Eat. Stop staring at me.”

“Not until you admit that I know you better than a Google search.”

Maximoff pauses eating, just to quiz me, “Why don’t I date anyone, Farrow?” That’s not a fact available on the web, and it’s also something he’s kept private from me.

“You’re not into relationships,” I guess.

“Not because I wouldn’t want to be. I just can’t.”

I shake my head. “I don’t follow.”

“I’ll never be in a relationship,” he tells me flat-out. “I’ll never experience any kind of romance beyond a one-time hookup. Because once I date someone in public, media will hound them to the point of intrusion, vulnerability—I won’t ever subject someone to an extreme loss of privacy that they’ll never get back. I’ve accepted that this is my life, and I’m satisfied with that.”

My brows ratchet up. “You’re not satisfied. You’re just resigned.” Before he protests, I ask, “Have you ever wondered what it’s like to hold someone’s hand romantically? To see them in your bed two nights in a row? Cook breakfast the next day, share clothes, wake them up before work? You’ve never imagined that?”

Maximoff shakes his head once. “I can’t.”

That’s sad.” Because he wants to desire those things, but he’s not even allowing himself that.

And no one else among the Hales, Cobalts, or Meadows would sacrifice the possibility of a relationship just to protect their significant other from the media.

Only him.

“What about dating privately?” ask.

“No. If I can find someone to trust for longer than one night, they’d be all over the news every time I was spotted with them. Especially if I let them meet my siblings.”

I’m the exception to that. Our eyes meet, and that fact passes between us. He clears his throat and reaches for his Fizz Life, the world’s most popular diet soda.

“Give it here.” I gesture for the glass. He has a rule about ordering drinks. #45: sip all my drinks first. I don’t trust bartenders.

He slides over his Fizz Life and takes a moment to eat another potato skin.

I swig his drink. No alcohol. “It’s good.” I slide the Fizz Life back.

Maximoff Hale doesn’t drink alcohol. He never has. It’s public knowledge that alcoholism runs in his family, and he chose to be sober. Bartenders sometimes purposefully spike his drink. Hell, some people pay the bartender to do it.

Just to see a celebrity break sobriety.

Maximoff washes down his food with Fizz Life. Then he motions to me. “What’s your favorite childhood memory?”

I smile and eat a fry. “What’s with the twenty questions?”

“You can Google me. I can’t Google you.” He wants to be on equal footing.

Okay. I swig my own drink. “My favorite childhood memory is the only memory I have of my mother.” He’s aware that she died from breast cancer when I was four.

Maximoff holds my gaze strongly.

“I can’t distinguish her features, but I can hear her silky voice as she says my name. That’s all, just my name.”

Farrow.

She named me. And she could’ve picked Edward Nathaniel Keene after my father, my grandfather, my great-grandfather, all the men in a long legacy before me, but she chose differently. Apparently she loved the old film version of The Great Gatsby, and she named me after the two lead actors.

Mia Farrow.

Robert Redford.

And I’m a Keene.

I recognize how special and unique Maximoff’s name is too. His parents also named him after something they love, and it’s why neither of us ever use our names in banter—and why I’m trying to honor whatever the hell he wants me to call him.

He nods a couple times, appreciative that I told him that story.

I dunk a fry in mustard. “Anything else?”

“If I asked about medical school, you’d tell me…?”

“That you have to be more specific.” I pop a fry in my mouth.

“For someone who completed all four years, you have to like medicine at least a little bit, right?”

“There are people who suffered through med school, but I wasn’t one of them.” I slide the mustard aside and grab the glass ketchup bottle. “I enjoyed medicine, just not like my family.”

“What do you mean?” He uses a straw to push the ice in his soda.

I unscrew the bottle. “It’s not just about medicine for them. My father, my grandfather, great-grandfather, great-great grandfather all share the same name and the same profession.” I pour ketchup in the French fry basket. “There’s status and pride in continuing this legacy and obtaining the MD. And I really couldn’t care less about honoring a generational tradition.”

“Why not just be a doctor for you and say fuck them?”

“That’s why I finished medical school.” I wipe my hands on a napkin. “I genuinely wanted to help people. But every day I thought about how I was another Keene falling obediently in line, and I just couldn’t breathe. I remember doing rounds in med school and feeling wrong. Like out-of-body.” I rake my fingers through my hair. “Like I was experiencing someone else’s life that wasn’t supposed to be mine.”

Maximoff nods. He’s a good listener; he always looks interested in what people have to say. At least when he’s not staring off into space.

“There’s a possibility,” I tell him, “that I only liked medicine because it’s all I knew; it’s what I was conditioned to do. And I can honestly say it’s the only thing that’s ever terrified me.”

He thinks for a second before asking, “So how’d you decide that security detail was the right fit?”

“I’d been taking MMA classes for years at Studio 9. Akara suggested I try security training. I liked it.”

Maximoff is quiet for an even longer moment.

“You can say it. I’m not easily offended.”

He leans forward some. “So you like the fame without being famous: the fine-dining, the yacht trips

“Me?” I give him a look. “I was born to an aristocratic lineage of pretentious assholes; I didn’t need to guard a celebrity to get a five-star meal.”

He begins to smile. “Then why do you like it? What’d you tell me yesterday about security work?”

“This profession is notorious for inducing three things.”

Maximoff nods, remembering what I said. “Sobriety, celibacy, and sleeplessness.” He gestures to my chest. “Why put up with the weird hours, isolation, inconsistent days and sleepless nights?”

“For your life,” I say. “I’m here to protect you, and I love being put in high-stress situations and coming out on top. Wearing a white coat isn’t the only way to impact a life. My father never understood that.”

He’s speechless.

Maximoff keeps swallowing, and he turns his head, a smile forming.

“You’re grinning,” I point out.

“Shut up,” he says flatly and then rubs his jaw, looking right at me. “We’re so different.”

“I know.” He has enough siblings and cousins to create their own flag football team. I have one older stepsister who lives halfway across the country. I see her maybe once every three years. If that. And it’s something deeper.

It’s how his family is a life force that keeps him breathing and waking up in the morning. Mine was suffocating me. I made a career decision at the cost of hurting my father.

Maximoff would probably sooner fall to his death than betray his.

Where I go rogue, he stays loyal.

I recall a brief conversation we had a few days ago. He told me that he didn’t go through with a Batman tattoo because it’d kill his dad. Everyone knows that Loren Hale is a diehard Marvel fanboy, and Maximoff cares about hurting him.

Over a tattoo.

“I don’t know how you can care so emphatically about your parents,” I tell him.

Maximoff outstretches his arm. “They’ve given me everything. I don’t feel indebted to them, but I feel like it’s my duty to pay it forward somehow. Some damn way.”

I lean back on my chair legs again. “Like taking over your family’s companies?” Fizzle, Hale Co., Cobalt Inc. are multi-billion dollar family businesses that their parents inherited. Then they created their own conglomerations: Calloway Couture, Halway Comics, Superheroes & Scones, Cobalt Diamonds, Camp Calloway—the list goes on and on.

The Hale-related businesses could one day be passed down to Maximoff, and that’d be his life.

“If I could take over Hale Co., I would in a heartbeat,” he says, “but my dad, for whatever reason, says no on a daily basis.”

Good.

Loren Hale is keeping Moffy twenty-two and not aging him to fifty, and since Maximoff collects responsibility like it’s his favorite toy, I doubt he’d recognize that.

Maximoff sits up straighter, and I hone in on his confident demeanor that hoists his body like he’s ready to go. For a run, a fight, a competition, mind-blowing sex—anything. It’s not manufactured resolve or tenacity; it’s palpable.

24/7.

I lower my chair legs and shift forward. Shit.

I’m ensnared without a fucking trap even being set.

“So let’s rewind,” he says. “Say that you hypothetically finished your year internship and started your residency, where would you’ve wanted to end up? Surgery or

“Emergency medicine.” I fiddle with the saltshaker again. “But I didn’t have a choice.”

His brows knot. “What do you mean?”

I frown. “You really don’t know?” By his sheer confusion, I realize that he never figured it out. I edge forward, arms on the table. “Maximoff…I was going to become your concierge doctor.”


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