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Damaged Like Us: Chapter 40

MAXIMOFF HALE

JANE, Farrow, and I only have about ten minutes to talk before my parents, her parents, and our aunt and uncle show up at the camp. All six of them drove over as soon as they saw the article.

Maximoff Hale and Jane Cobalt: The Secret Love Affair!

It’s fake.

You shouldn’t believe it either.

Fake articles always pop up online. We process. We put out a public statement. And we deal with it. This isn’t any different as far as I’m concerned.

Alright, it’s a little damn different.

I’ve never been accused of incest. Never even thought that could be swung my way, but as soon as we tell our side of the story—everything will be as it was.

“They’re waiting in there for us?” Janie asks an Alpha bodyguard who exits a camp cabin named Green Willow. He nods tensely, face stoic.

I climb up the short stairs with Jane, and we pause on the porch.

“Everything’s fine,” I remind her. “We’ll deal with it like we always do. My publicist is on speed dial, and I’m sure your dad wants us to coordinate with his people.”

Damage control. We’re all seasoned pros.

Jane inhales a tight breath, and nods reassuringly. I glance back.

Farrow has one foot on the step and looks between us. “If you two need anything, I’ll be right here.” Chatter in his earpiece distracts him. His jaw tics before he touches his mic on his collar.

I can’t distinguish his hushed words.

I move forward, grabbing Jane’s hand.

Right when Jane and I enter the cabin, hand-in-hand, the energy shifts. Our parents and aunt and uncle grow eerily quiet all of a sudden.

We take seats on two wooden chairs. Facing a wall of bunks and some of the people we love most in our lives. The six people who’ve influenced us. Raised us.

Who shaped us.

And protected us.

On a top bunk bed, Uncle Ryke sits beside his wife—my Aunt Daisy, the owner of Camp Calloway and Sulli’s mom: blonde hair chopped unevenly and a long scar down her cheek. She swings her legs over the side of the bunk, and her bright eyes flit to Ryke’s darkened ones.

He looks pissed. But I don’t know…that’s his usual expression.

Below him, on the ground, my mom rests on a black trunk. Plastic baggie of trail mix on her lap, she shovels a handful in her mouth. Nervous. She’s nervous.

My mom tugs at my dad’s crew-neck shirt. Like she wants him to sit, too. He shakes his head, leaning against the post of another bunk bed. Arms crossed.

Eyes daggered.

I look to Jane’s parents. Uncle Connor and Aunt Rose stand all-powerful. Side-by-side, hand-in-hand, armored for battle like a king and queen.

Only, I can’t tell who they prepare to fight. I glance at each of them again. About how they positioned two chairs for us to face them.

Is this an interrogation?

“I’m glad all of you are here,” I say, giving them the benefit of the doubt. “We should talk about how to deal with the article.” I pause when they remain quiet.

My mom shoots her sister Rose a cagey look. Jesus.

Ryke is staring hard at my hand in Jane’s—Jane shakes her hand out of mine. What.

I whip my head to each of them. Not able to glare at all six fast enough. “It’s false. Christ, I shouldn’t even have to say that.”

Connor takes the reins. “We just have some questions.” Jane’s dad is the voice of reason. He’ll be the first one to understand. Everyone else is dramatic—but still, how the fuck could they believe this, even for a second?

Or maybe they don’t believe it.

Maybe their doubt is just my paranoia leaking into common sense. They’re family. They’d never combat us.

Jane straightens, her chair creaking. “What kind of questions?”

“Nous avons besoin d’explications, mon coeur.” We need explanations, my heart.

“No French,” my dad tells him.

Rose speaks, voice icy. “We all need to be on the same page. We can’t let this divide us.” Her piercing yellow-green eyes drill holes into pretty much everyone. Even her husband.

“That’s what we want,” I say, my shoulders squared. I’m ready to resolve this and move on.

“Good.” Connor nods. “Let’s start with the night the cats escaped. Why were you in your underwear?”

Why the fuck would that need clarification? “We were playing a drinking game.”

Jane adds, “Sober participants had to strip instead of take sip.”

“And we were using your rules.” My gaze swings up to Uncle Ryke.

Ryke rocks back like I sucker-punched him. “My rules? No fucking way. You can thank Cobalt for that one.”

I grimace at Uncle Connor. “You came up with the stripping rule?” He’s the polished one—and he drinks. I always thought it had to be either my dad or Ryke.

“We’re one question in and this is already being derailed,” he says, “and yes, I did. Back to that same night

“Hallow Friends Eve,” Lily clarifies.

“Such a cute name,” her little sister Daisy smiles.

“You’re only saying that because your daughter coined it,” Rose rebuts.

Daisy mock gasps.

Connor ignores the sisters, and he asks me point-blank, “Why did you have bite marks?”

My mom’s eyes dart to Jane. I start shaking my head. No. She can’t actually believe that Jane is the one who bit me. Aunt Daisy eyes us both. So does Aunt Rose.

I blink slowly like my world is starting to spin, and I’m gripping hard to hang on.

My dad’s jaw sharpens with each passing beat. New uncomfortable tension vacuums the air from the cabin. I sense the shift again.

I sense the unease.

I crack my knuckles, my back achingly straight. “How much do you guys not believe us?” Pressure packs on my chest. “You’re not just asking these questions for publicists. You’re asking for yourselves, aren’t you?”

Jane’s hand returns to mine, and our fingers intertwine. They’re all watching with suspicion.

It knives my ribcage.

“Before we make a decision, we need to hear your side of things,” my dad tells me.

I disentangle my fingers from Jane. Not able to sit any longer, I stand as tall as my dad. Glowering. “You honestly believe I could be having sex with Jane?”

“I don’t know what to think, Moffy.” His eyes flash hot. “It’s incest, for Christ’s sake. That’s not something you’d come to me and talk about!”

“I’m your son.” I motion angrily at him. “You know me. You know me better than most people ever will. How could you even think…” My words stick to the back of my raw throat. He doesn’t even look sympathetic.

He’s still on guard like I’m straight up lying to his face.

I want to scream at the top of my goddamn lungs, I’m not fucking Jane! But I can’t even unleash the words. The wind is knocked out of my chest. Stunned in the face of their doubt.

Jane’s mom takes over. “When I was your age, I thought I knew my sister, but for years Lily hid her sex addiction from me,” Rose tells me. “She was lying. She was sneaking around. I missed every sign.” I hear the guilt in her voice. She wishes she’d been there for my mom earlier.

And she thinks I’m lying like my mom.

Fuck. I run my hands through my hair and growl, “I’m not an addict. We’re not lying!” But their experiences shaped them.

They’ve shaped us. And how many times did my parents tell Rose, Connor, Ryke, and Daisy, we’re not lying. How many times were they caught in one?

Goddammit.

“We’re not lying,” Jane says more clearly, less hostile. “I promise, we’re not.”

I nod over and over and fucking over.

“It’s fucking incest, Mof,” Ryke says, his rough voice strained. “Like your dad says, it’s not something you’re going to willingly admit.”

“So then what?” I question. “You want to catch us in a lie until we’re forced to admit it? Is that the goal here?”

They don’t say anything.

“Jesus,” I murmur.

“Here…” My mom gets up, watery eyes. “Have some trail mix.”

I glare. “I don’t want your trail mix, Mom.” Instantly, I feel like an asshole. I don’t think I’ve ever snapped at my mom in my life. She sinks back onto the trunk, her chin quivering. She sniffs and tries to raise her chin.

“I’ll take some trail mix, love.” My dad snatches her bag.

“Dad,” Jane says, her voice soft and wary. “We are telling the truth.”

Connor barely blinks. “I have to stick with the facts.” He pauses. “And I want you two to realize the health risks if

“Stop.” Rose covers his mouth with her hand.

My mom bursts into tears. Aunt Daisy wipes her eyes with the edge of her shirt.

“Fucking A, Cobalt,” Ryke growls.

My dad looks sick.

“We’re not having sex!” I yell, veins almost protruding in my neck. I set my hands on my head, breathing hard. Farrow.

I almost turn to my right. Expecting him to be there. He’s always next to me, but he’s outside the closed door. Listening to my frustration and fury.

Ryke points to me. “Explain the fucking bite marks.”

“It wasn’t me,” Jane says, still sitting, but confidence and power boosts her words. The truth.

It’s the goddamn truth.

“Then who the fuck was it?” Ryke asks me.

Shit.

Shit.

Shit.

Jane, Farrow, and I already talked about the secret. The real one. Where I’m sleeping with my bodyguard. Jane said, “I’m not going to be the reason you two go public.”

She was adamant that we not expose our secret to the world. She’s intelligent and calculated and she told me, “There’s no certainty the media will even believe you and Farrow were dating. They’ll most likely say it’s a ploy to hide our supposed love affair. The timing is suspicious. And then what, Moffy? Farrow loses his job and his privacy. You get a new bodyguard. And everyone will still believe we’re having sex.”

There’s no evidence of Farrow and I hooking up. We have no texts to leak. No email thread. No photos from the past. No video footage. Us being so damn careful—I never thought that’d work against us.

Compare that load of nothing to the countless photographs and evidence of Jane and me together. All the times we’ve hugged. Where we’ve kissed each other’s cheeks. My arms wrapped around her shoulders. Her head on my chest.

We’re close.

We’ve always been close, but now every photograph can be twisted. Add in the hours of We Are Calloway footage where we both talk about how much we love each other. Platonic love—but that can be distorted too.

Even the Hallow Friends Eve is now packaged as evidence. Media posted the photo of me cradling Jane in my arms. I’m practically naked. She’s in her pajamas. They say it’s too close for cousins.

For the first time in my life, I feel isolated. Alone. Like Jane and I have boarded a lifeboat and been pushed out into a swelling ocean.

“Maximoff,” Ryke forces. “Who bit you?”

I prepared myself to deal with tabloids, the world. Not my family. And while you may think the world would be a worse battle—it’s not.

This is worse. This is gut-wrenching.

“Not Jane,” I say strongly.

“The bite marks can’t be from a one-night stand though,” my dad says.

I frown, wondering how they would’ve drawn that conclusion.

Ryke tells me, “You haven’t been going to clubs for four fucking months. I called Price, asking for the NDAs, and he doesn’t have any.”

“Which means that you haven’t had any one-night stands,” Connor continues, “or any random hookups. Do you follow the logic, Moffy?”

I remember the lie Farrow told the security team. “You think I’m seeing one girl.”

“Price told me,” Ryke says. Price. I shake my head repeatedly. “He said you’ve been sleeping with the same girl, and you refused to get an NDA because she’s not someone your parents would fucking approve of.”

They all look to Jane.

Dammit.

“It’s not me,” Jane says stiffly.

My dad gestures to my chest. “Who else would we not approve of? I can’t think of one goddamn name other than your cousin.”

Farrow Redford Keene.

I stare off, haunted. Morality is a demanding beast that asks me, pleads with me, begs me to do the right thing. What’s right anymore? I’m searching for the sword that I need to fall on. I just don’t want to hurt Jane or Farrow in the process.

I can’t hurt him.

can’t.

Just let it slice through me.

“Maybe it’s not a love affair,” Ryke says. “Are you drinking? Are you having any fucking problems?”

No,” I say firmly.

“Are you?” Ryke turns on Jane.

“No,” she says adamantly.

“We just want to help,” my mom chimes in, wet tears streaking her cheeks. “If you both would be honest, we can all work this out.” They think we’re lying.

And I am lying.

The truth is standing just outside the door. And I remember what Farrow once said. “You just need to know that I’m going to get banged up and you can’t run and save me, wolf scout. You have to let it happen.” I’m not supposed to protect him. As much as it’s killing me. As much as it’s driving knots in my damn stomach.

We’re supposed to stand side-by-side. And we need to take this hit together.

Go get the truth.

I turn my head.

“Do you sleep in the same bed together?” my dad asks, voice stilted.

I go rigid. The room grows hot.

My head swerves back to him. I’m not burying myself beneath another lie. “Sometimes,” I say. “It’s always platonic.”

My mom sits on the very edge of the trunk. “But you sleep in the same bed,” she says as though she needs extra confirmation. Like she didn’t hear right.

Yeah.”

My mom touches her chest with two hands. “Your dad and I—we used to sleep in the same bed when we were just friends.”

Oh shit.

I lick my dry lips. “You were attracted to each other. I’m not attracted to Jane.”

“Likewise,” Jane says, shifting in her chair. “I’m not attracted to Moffy.”

“We were also liars,” my dad tells me.

Right now, I am a liar, too. They spot it like blood in the water. They’re sharks. I’m prey. And I’m being ripped open.

My dad keeps eye contact with me, looking broken and pained. “We love you,” he tells me. “We’d love you no matter what. But we can’t help you unless you’re honest with us.”

“I don’t need help,” I tell him. “I’m fine.”

He nods. “I’ve said that one before.” His words practically ice. He gives me his classic, bitter smile. “Congratulations, Maximoff, you got what you wanted. You’re more like me.” His disappointment is a tsunami crashing through my chest.

I stare at my dad. Right in the eyes, and I say the words that I’ve never wanted to utter in my damn life. It takes every ounce of power inside of me to admit this to myself and to him and to the room—and even to you.

And I tell my dad, “I’m not like you.”

I would never hurt people I love with a lie, and that’s what’s happening now. I’m hurting him, my mom, aunts and uncles—and even Jane. I can handle the world’s doubt. That’s commonplace. But I can’t live with theirs.

Go get the truth.

I turn to the door. And I suddenly freeze.

Farrow approaches me. Already inside the cabin, his lips rise like know.


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