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Damaged Like Us: Chapter 21


WHEN I FINISH a hearing at the local courthouse, I slip on a pair of Ray Bans out of necessity. Farrow is already wearing dark aviators, and in unison, side-by-side, we push through the double doors.

Camera flashes blast in quick succession.

Reporters from prime-time news stations bounce near me. Microphones at the ready. Their questions ringing shrilly in my ears. Farrow extends his arm and bars the reporters from getting in my face.

I move forward.

No hesitating. No lingering. No wallowing or complaining. What’s done is fucking done, and it’s not the first time I pled my case to the court. Not the first time I said, “I take responsibility for speeding, but what’s being done about the paparazzi?” They’re rarely fined.

The court always replies, “Regardless of the paparazzi, you have the means to pay for a personal driver. There’s no excuse for endangering the lives of other people.”

get that.

It’s why I hardly argue. Before I climb into the passenger seat of my Audi, I catch the tail-end of a reporter speaking to a camera.

“This will be the fourth time the court has suspended Maximoff Hale’s license for excessive speeding. And his license will remain suspended for twelve months.”

I can’t drive for year.

Farrow slides into the driver’s seat, shuts the door, and puts the key in the ignition. For the first time with Farrow as my bodyguard, I’m not behind the steering wheel.

I crack my knuckles and watch him adjust the side mirrors. “You’re loving this.”

His smile widens into James Franco territory, and he revs the car, peeling out of the courthouse. Driving with one hand only, but he ditches the paparazzi after a sharp turn down a narrow street. Navigating his way around Philly with ease and precision.

My cock throbs—no. If I could speak to my dick, I’d say you’re not allowed to be attracted to Farrow driving my car. That’s my car. Mine. He’s only allowed behind it for

I wince. A whole agonizing year.

Farrow studies my expression in a quick glance. “Realizing I’m a better driver than you?”

“Realizing doomsday just happened.” I crack my knuckles again and shift in the seat. Sitting straighter. Partly to avoid a hard-on. Mostly to stop stressing about not having my feet on the gas pedal or brake. No longer the captain of my ship.

“You call everything doomsday,” Farrow says, his gaze flitting to me more often.

“No I don’t.”

“Toaster broke last week, you said doomsday. You ran out of hangers, you said doomsday. It was raining, you said

“Thank you for that short summary.” I have no idea what to do with myself in the passenger seat. I lean forward. I lean back. Rake my hands through my thick hair, stretch my arms over my chest

“Just take a breath, Maximoff. I’m not going to run you off the road. I enjoy your blow jobs too much.”

I break into a smile. How is he making me smile right now? I inhale and lean further back, ignoring the incessant vibrating messages on my phone. I turn my head to him.

Our eyes caress.

Farrow reaches out with his right hand, but he can’t physically touch me. Just on the slim chance that anyone in a passing car sees and snaps a picture. Sometimes I wonder if he’s silently disappointed by the lack of PDA. For me, it’s all the same. I’m not missing what I never had.

But being overly cautious is what’ll make this last.

Farrow commits to a safe action. He grips the back of my seat. “I bet I can distract you all the way home.” His voice falls to an even huskier octave. “Without touching you. Hell, I bet I can make you hard without talking dirty.”

“You must like to lose bets often.”

Grinning, Farrow rotates the wheel with one hand. Turning onto another street. “Who and what did you fantasize about when you were a teenager?”

Fuck. I adjust in my seat, my cock constricted against my jeans. Fuck me.

“Hard already?” He lifts his aviators to his head, pushing back his white hair. His mannerisms, the way the corner of his mouth quirks—fucking grips my dick.

“Agitated, mostly.”

“I can tell. It’s that little grimace-smile thing.” Farrow laughs as I flip him off, and he adds, “Come on, Maximoff. What’d you jerk off to?”

“Tell me your favorite gay porn categories, and maybe I’ll answer.”

Maybe you’ll answer,” he says, brows raised. “Okay…my favorite gay porn…” he trails off in thought. “I like big dick and rough sex.” He flicks on his blinker to take a left turn. “Have you watched any porn before?”

“Only a few times.” I can see how my mom was addicted to porn, and that’s partly why I think I stopped logging onto porn sites after the third session. “What’d you rub one out to as a teenager?”

“The Olympic male swim team,” he says and off my knotted brows, he laughs, “I’m fucking with you. I didn’t have anyone in mind specifically.” Farrow evades paparazzi in the distance by driving onto a side street. His next glance is knowing. “Not like you.”

He knows my fantasy is him.

Bluntly, Farrow emphasizes, “You can say me.”

I give him a look. “How are you not freaked out?”

“Because I wasn’t the one with the crush.”

My face contorts in a series of emotions, landing on a cringe. “I could’ve sworn the bet was to make me hard, not want to push you out of the car.”

Farrow laughs. “Tell me your fantasy. In detail.” His gaze drips down me in a searing wave before fixing on the street. “I want to hear it.”

Now his bet makes sense. He said he wouldn’t have to talk dirty. Because he planned for me to. This shouldn’t be that difficult. Every single night, we fuck in my bedroom, and then we fall asleep together. He sets his alarm for 5:40 a.m. on the dot and leaves my townhouse before Quinn wakes.

My one-night stand routine has been replaced with a Farrow Redford Keene routine—and it’s better. Hotter. But it’s inherently different.

Like right now, I can verbally describe a fantasy at noon. I’m around someone I can fuck the brains out of twenty-four-hours a day. Uninhibited, unrestricted access to the most intoxicating, euphoric experience alive. With someone I care about.

I lick my lips slowly. If I’m unleashing my fantasy to Farrow, I’m going all in. No restraint. “I have a fantasy that plays on loop.”

Farrow listens, his eyes on me every other second.

“I’m in the shower,” I continue, “and I’ve thought a ton about what that location means. So I’ll save you the trouble of psychoanalyzing me and just tell you.” I sit up straighter. “I never let anyone stay the morning and shower with me. I never trusted someone to linger like that, but my brain—for whatever damn reason—always, always lets you stay.”

Farrow has this look in his eye. Like he wants to kiss me. But knows he can’t. He grips my seat tighter.

Lower. I crave for that hand to drop lower. On me. Unzipping me. Stroking me—I shake my head once, and then just continue on, “So I’m in the shower alone, and then the door opens. And there stands…” I feign surprise. “My mortal enemy.”

He rolls his eyes. “For fuck’s sake. I may lose this shit bet if you keep cutting yourself off.” Neither of us brings up how the bet has no stakes, no odds or payouts. Except for bragging rights.

I try to be more serious. “You’re buck-ass naked.”

“Getting better.”

I shift somewhat in my seat, just visualizing the next part. “You enter the shower, shut the door, and you come up behind me.”

Farrow goes still. “Behind you?” Maybe he expected me to bend him over and pound the fuck out of him—and while that’s a good one, it’s not the one.

“Yeah.” Our breaths are heavier, my skin flush. Veins pulse in my semi-hard cock. “I’m rubbing myself, and your palm usually encases my fist on the wall. Your chest up against my back.”

Farrow has to drop his hand off my seat. He rests it on his thigh by the bulge in his black pants.

I stretch my head back, my muscles flexed and burning. I keep hardening. “After that, you do different things every time. Jerking me off, kneeling down, and sometimes I have you against the wall and I take you from behind. But occasionally…” I shift again. “You’re inside of me.”

“Wow,” Farrow breathes, “I rocked your teenage world, didn’t I?”

I flash him an annoyed smile. “I’m limp now. Thank you for that.”

Farrow glances at the hard outline in my jeans. “Your erection says you’re a fucking liar.

“Don’t speak for my cock,” I retort, trying not to smile. He’s near-laughter, and then he drives onto our street.

We’re in the garage in a matter of seconds. Closed and secure. Hidden from the public. The only threat is Quinn in the security’s townhouse.

Farrow shuts off the ignition. We unbuckle our seatbelts. As we turn, our eyes collide first, unrestrained and pulsing with want and need—our lips meet. My tongue parting his, and I edge deeper. Our hands wrestling with each other’s buttons and zippers.

He seizes my shaft in the best grip known to man. Farrow has a way with his hands that completely, utterly, massively annihilates me. I break the kiss just to mutter, “Fuck.”

He sucks the base of my neck and nips my flesh. Yes.

Fuck yes.

I stroke his impressive, literal mouth-watering length, pre-cum slick against my palm. I catch a glimpse of his tattooed fingers wrapped around me—my mouth opens, a guttural groan plastered in my lungs.

Fuck me.

Farrow clutches my jaw with his other hand, and he eats up my expression. Consuming my narrowed forest-greens that growl fuck me. He grits down, nose flaring. His chest rising and falling heavily.

Our pace increases, the friction like a blissful scorching hell. My head tries to loll back. Fuckfuckfuck. I come, and as a deep groan rumbles through Farrow, I realize that he comes by watching me hit peak.

BOTH OF US SHIRTLESS, pants zipped and cleaned up, I tell Farrow to wait before he climbs out of my Audi. He eases his door closed and plants his ass back on the seat. What I’m about to do—I’ve never done before. It seems so small and infinitesimal compared to sex, but it’s not to me.

Farrow’s brows furrow. “What is it?”

I gather all the confidence I own. Which is a hell of a lot. “I got you something.”

“You got me something?” he repeats.

“Based on every romantic movie ever, it seemed like the right thing to do.” I pop open my glove compartment, and I collect a black box about the size of a necklace case. “It’s not expensive, so lower your expectations.”

“Hey, I have no expectations.” Farrow rubs the back of his neck and then takes the box from me. “I’m genuinely shocked right now.” His mouth starts curving. “How did you even get this without me noticing?”

“There’s this thing called online shopping,” I say, “and they deliver the goods to your house, and then when security rifles through my mail—namely you—they don’t touch anything postmarked Maximoff Hale X.” Creepy bastards send me mail under my name, so I always add the to my personal purchases.

His smile expands. “Such a precious smartass.” He pops the lid off the box, and he laughs. “As I was saying.” He lifts up a gray and black triangular patch.

The stitched words read: Asshole Merit Badge.

I motion to the patch. “For the amount of awards you’ve given me: valorhonestyintegrityresourcefulnesshumility—I thought you must’ve been feeling lonely with zero of your own.”

He can’t stop smiling. He rubs his mouth a few times, but that smile is not vanishing any fucking time soon. He laughs and nods repeatedly. “You want me to join your little wolf scout club.”

“Maybe.” I breathe fully, happiness spreading across my face. Clear and free. Something light lives inside of me.

Farrow edges near, his thank you written all over his gaze. Even before we kiss.

I SKATEBOARD into my kitchen while dialing a number on my phone. Farrow and I split apart for lunch. He’s back in his townhouse. Keeping up appearances with Quinn. Accomplishing a few other security tasks. Like filling out his logs.

I open my cabinet and grab a bag of flaxseed chips. FaceTime rings and rings. I have no problem calling my fourteen-year-old brother twenty or fifty more times until he fucking answers.

Right when I think the call drops, the screen switches to an image of a packed freezer.

My brows bunch. “What am I looking at?” I ask, not needing to say a greeting to Xander. If my siblings don’t call me, I call them every day. Even if it’s just for two or three minutes.

“I’m trying to find my breakfast; I just woke up.”

I dump chips in a bowl. “It’s two p.m.”

“It’s Saturday. I would’ve slept till four if Kinney didn’t blast her screamo music in my bedroom.” In the video chat, his hand shifts the frozen chicken. I can’t lie—I miss being at home whenever I hear these small stories. Miss seeing them firsthand.

But that’s the thing about growing up, getting older—for whatever and however much I lose, I gain something new with someone new.

“What are you looking for?” I ask while skateboarding to my refrigerator.

“Mom just bought more Toaster Strudles, and Luna keeps hiding them.”

Toaster Strudle War is a real Hale thing. Luna thinks that Xander purposefully chomps down all of them, but he usually saves her two that just get eaten by Kinney.

Xander asks, “What are you eating?”

I flip my camera as I grab a bag of shredded cheese and skateboard to my bowl of chips. “Nachos.”

All of a sudden, twenty frozen items cascade out of his freezer and thud to the floorboards. I hear our family dog scamper off in the background.

Fuuuuck,” Xander curses. The camera is pointed at the mess for literally a full minute while he contemplates putting it all back. “Ughhhh.”

I’d clean it for him if I were there. “Just make your breakfast. Pick it up after, Summers.”

My nickname for my brother is a play on his X-Men namesake: Alexander Summers. Likewise, my namesake is also X-Men related.

Pietro Maximoff.

As in Quicksilver.

Xander has the Strudle box in hand and heads to the toaster.

I rotate my camera back to my face and sprinkle cheese on my chips. “So I heard you haven’t been outside in weeks.”

“Do you blame me? No one will tell me how Mom and Dad ended up being photographed from the backyard, Moffy. The backyard, in a gated neighborhood. I’m not going out there.”

I know how they were photographed.

Farrow shared the security info with me. I get why my parents would want to keep this secret from Xander. They’re worried the truth will ramp up his anxiety.

I have the fucking power to unveil the curtains. And I have the power to hurt my brother. One choice. I could say, hey, Summers, paparazzi’s remote-controlled drones flew over the house. There may be more flying overhead if security doesn’t catch them in enough time. There’s no guarantee.

So I set the whole truth aside and say, “I don’t blame you. But you have to face the fucking world. Even if it sucks sometimes.”

“All the time,” he corrects and rips the plastic off his frozen pastry and puts it in the toaster. I slide my bowl of chips in my microwave.

“Flip your camera,” say.

With a sigh, Xander rotates his camera, the screen showing his face for the first time. Sharp jaw structure, messy brown hair, expressive amber eyes, and a Hobbit T-shirt over checkered boxers. As a child, he was lauded as a “classic beauty” and that hasn’t changed.

You know Xander Hale as the most beautiful fourteen-year-old boy in the entire world. As said by you. You swoon over him like he’s the lead singer in a boy band or a famous social media star. You covet any photos you find online and cause his name to trend weekly. You’ve made his money-shots worth quadruple what mine sell for—and in effect, paparazzi stalk him like he’s the rarest, most hidden antelope of the pack. When in reality, he’s an endangered, timid bird.

I know him as my little brother. An amazing human being who speaks Elfish if you hang around him long enough. Who’s just trying to live in a world that’s a little too big for him. Who I’ll never give up on.

I just want him to be able to feel the light now and then. If I have to wrangle the sun out of the fucking sky with my bare hands, then I’ll withstand the burn. I’d give it all to him if I could.

Fair warning: imagine your toes being sawed off, and that’s what’ll happen if you fuck with my brother.

“You look like shit,” I say honestly. “You know what would help that?”

“Two more hours of sleep.”

“Swimming in the backyard pool with your big brother.”

Xander sighs into a glare. “Just come here and play video games with me. Stop trying to make me so…”

“Healthy, thriving, a human who goes outside

“Alright, alright,” he says. “Jesus, you’re relentless.”

My microwave beeps. I pull out the bowl of chips, and when I return to my phone, I notice Xander squinting at the screen.

I give him a look. “You picking your nose?” I eat chip.

He scratches his cellphone like he’s trying to wipe a smudge off the screen. “What…what is that on your neck? Is that a hickey?”

I cough on my chip. Fuck. I drop my phone on the counter and fill a cup of water under the faucet. I down the water while Xander yells, “What, where’d you go—I need details!”

What’s the chance that Farrow would be that careless and give me a grade-school hickey? Slim. Maybe it’s not that bad.

I return to my phone and examine my neck in the screen. A dime-sized spot is faintly red. Probably because it happened recently. I doubt it’ll last. “What kind of details do you want?” I ask my brother.

He contemplates my question for a long moment and he settles on this: “Is the other person alive?”

I smile. I love my family.

Xander explains, “Luna says that whoever you hook up with instantly disintegrates into astral particles. Never to be seen or heard from again.”

“That’s a fucking terrible superpower.”

“No kidding.” Xander hot-potatoes his toasted pastry. “P.S. Dad is throwing a party in honor of your license suspension today. Everyone is pretty happy.”

“I saw the group-text.” The party is parents only which is kind of bullshit since it’s about me. I eat another chip. “Are you happy about it too?” ask.

He shrugs and then looks at his pastry. Xander reaches some pretty low lows, and our parents hawk-eye him a lot. They’re even more aware of his health than I can be.

Xander barely lifts his gaze to the camera. “I overheard Thatcher saying the Camp-Away’s new format is ‘life-threateningly’ dangerous.” Thatcher Moretti is his 24/7 bodyguard, but young girls bombard Xander so often that Banks Moretti, Thatcher’s identical twin, is also on my brother’s detail.

“Thatcher is one of the stricter guys,” I remind Xander. “He’s probably overreacting.”

“Yeah but…” A tense beat passes before he tells me, “I need you to live long, Moffy.” He pauses, his eyes glassing a little bit. He scratches his nose and then rotates the camera to face his paper plate.

I stare hard at the phone.

My whole life, I’ve seen the media and nameless, faceless human beings shit on the people I love. Over and over. Clawing with no end in sight. Trying desperately to tear them apart. Ripping at the jugular. I walked on a sidewalk at ten-years-old and heard the word rape thrown at my mom in threat.

You wonder why I didn’t become bitter at the world.

You wonder why I don’t resent the world.

Because I knew I needed to become something that could withstand the world.

For my siblings, for my family, for anyone who’d grow up after me and need someone to defend them when they can’t defend themselves; when they need a shoulder to cry on or a safety net to fall in—I’m here. I’ve been here.

I’m always here.

Strongly, I tell my brother, “I’m not going anywhere, Summers.”


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