Fake Out: Chapter 25

MADDOX

I shouldn’t be nervous. After all, I’m not the one who has to walk across a stage today. Nope, I just have to sit with my boyfriend’s parents and watch as Damon graduates law school.

“It’s so cute you’re scared of Mom and Dad,” Stacy says beside me. Damon just left us to go sit with the rest of his class, while we wait for his parents to turn up before we take our own seats.

“I’m not scared,” I lie. I lie my ass off. I want them to love me.

“You don’t need to be. It helps I’ve been talking you up for years. Hey, maybe I’m psychic and knew you were going to end up with my brother.”

“Maybe you should join my crazy birth mother on the road with her psychic fair.”

“Stacy,” a feminine voice says from behind us.

“Hi, Mom.”

Here we go.

After Stacy’s parents hug her, they make their way over to me. And smile.

“Maddox,” Mrs. King says and hugs me. “It’s good to see you again.”

“You too,” I murmur.

Mr. King shakes my hand and squeezes my shoulder with his other hand. “If you boys need help moving Damon into your apartment next month, let me know. I can drive into the city.”

“Uh … I … oh, okay. Thank you, sir.”

Damon’s father grins. “Call us Henry and Cindy.”

I manage a nod.

“Sir,” Stacy mocks beside me.

“Shut up.” I nudge her.

Cindy purses her lips. “Maddox, I hope you don’t mind, but … we … umm … We invited the Davidsons.”

“Why would I mind?”

“Well, Eric’s not coming, but Denise and Jeff are. They weren’t sure you’d be okay with it after—”

“I have nothing against them at all. But, uh, it’s probably good Eric’s not coming. Damon doesn’t need that today.”

“I still don’t know why he didn’t tell us,” Henry says.

“You know how overprotective Damon can be. He didn’t want Eric to be treated like the bad guy for making a mistake.”

“Doesn’t make what Eric did right,” Stacy says.

“Never said it did, but I can’t help feeling sorry for him.”

“Let’s not get into it here,” Cindy says. “We’re here to celebrate.”

Stacy and I follow her family into the crowd to find some seats.

“You don’t really mean that, do you?” she whispers.

“That I feel sorry for Eric? Yeah, I do. I accepted my feelings for Damon easily, but I struggled with it at first—putting a label on it and defining it. Doesn’t give Eric a right to act like a dick, and if he comes near Damon again, I might have to get violent, but I understand where he was coming from.”

Stacy scoffs. “You? Violent? Okay.”

“You’re forgetting my form of violence—I get you to do it for me. My little attack dog, you.” I wrap my arm around her and give her a noogie.

“Careful or I’ll turn my violence onto you.”

“Never. You love me.”

“I do. I’m happy to have you in my life.”

My eyes narrow. “But?”

“No but. You’re my best friend.” Tears pool in her eyes.

“Are you dying?”

She shoves me. “I can’t be serious every once in a while?”

“No.”

“Whatever, I hate you again.”

“There’s my Stacy.”

We watch the commencement speech and wait three hundred hours for Damon to take the stage. My leg goes dead at one point as pins and needles shoot down to my feet. Stacy laughs at my pain. Yeah, she really loves me. But not as much as the guy claiming his degree right now. The pride I have for Damon rivals that of his parents.

“Wait for it,” Stacy says.

Dread replaces the proud feeling warming my stomach. “What did you do?”

She grins.

“Stacy …”

As Damon crosses the stage to accept his diploma, the world slows down. It’s like a scene from a movie where the hero knows what’s going to happen but can’t stop it in time.

A confetti cannon goes off early.

Stacy jumps up and down and claps. She’s not seeing what I am. The cannon is too close to the stage. Yeah, it’s shooting paper, but put that much pressure behind it and it can turn into the weight of a baseball. And that weight launches itself at my boyfriend’s head.

Stacy pales when her brother drops to the stage. Gasps come from the audience, but I’m already halfway through the crowd to get to him.

Damon’s out cold.

“Babe,” I say frantically. Weird, I never call him babe—that’s his thing—but in my panicked state, it slips out.

My hand cradles his cheek. With a groan, he leans into my hand but doesn’t open his eyes.

“Someone call an ambulance,” I say.

“Ambulance?” Stacy croaks next to me. She followed me up here.

“What did you do?” I yell at her.

“It was a … it was a prank. I paid a guy to set off the confetti early so it happened when Damon was called. It wasn’t meant to—”

“Goddamn it, Stacy.”

“I’m okay,” Damon says, suddenly awake. He tries to sit up. “But the ground is upside down.” He lies back and closes his eyes.

“Shit, he probably has a concussion,” I say.

When the paramedics arrive, which takes way too fucking long for my liking, I don’t hesitate climbing in the back of the ambulance with him. He’s in and out of consciousness the whole way, complaining of the bright light every time he opens his eyes.

As soon as we get to the hospital, they take him for a CT scan, and I’m told to wait in the ER.

Illogical and selfish as it is, all I can think about is the fact Damon and I are going to miss the hockey game tonight. I was going to surprise him and finally get him that meet and greet with my brother-in-law—the hockey god, or whatever.

I take out my phone and message my sister what happened, letting her know we wouldn’t make the game, but the King clan enters the ER waiting room before she can respond.

For the first time since I’ve known Stacy, she looks sheepish. “I’m sorry. It wasn’t meant to do that. It was a ‘Yay, Damon!’ type thing. No one else got confetti with their names. I wanted to do it for him.”

“Maybe no one got confetti because no one should’ve been on stage when the cannons went off,” I say.

“How was I to know that?” she whines. “The guy I paid off should have.”

I can’t be mad at her. This is who Stacy is.

“This does make me think I should ease up on the pranks.”

“Ya think?” I ask.

“I mean, paying off people costs a lot these days.”

I shake my head. “You’re a horrible human being.”

“Yep.” She smiles but it falls quickly. “Is he going to be okay? I do have half a heart and know it’s inappropriate to joke about this if I accidentally killed my brother.”

“Paramedics said he’s showing signs of a concussion but should be fine,” I say.

“But they’re not doctors,” Stacy says. “EMTs know shit all.”

“Makes me feel a lot better. Thanks, Stace,” I say.

“Shit. Sorry. I’m sure he’s going to be fine.”

We wait in that waiting room for over an hour. In that time, I pace, drink acid-flavored coffee, and glare at Stacy.

“King family?” A doctor asks, coming into the waiting area. We all stand. “Damon’s got a mild concussion—a lot less serious than we originally thought.”

I release a loud breath of relief.

“We need to keep him overnight for observation, but he can have visitors. Who’s first?”

I look at his parents but they’re looking at me. “I guess that’s, uh, me. I’m his partner.”

“Aww,” Stacy croons. “That’s the first time I’ve heard you refer to him as your partner.”

“Shut it,” I say through gritted teeth.

I’m led back to a room where Damon’s fully conscious. His graduation gown is folded on the seat next to him, and he’s in his regular clothes.

“What, no sexy hospital gown for me to perv on you?”

“I’m going to kill my sister,” he says.

“Get in line.” I approach and kiss his cheek. “So, concussion, huh? Is that one of those conditions where I’m not allowed to give you bad news?”

“Don’t think so. Why? What’s the bad news?”

“I was going to surprise you tonight. Tommy gave me tickets to the New York versus Boston game.”

“I’m fine.” He tries to get out of bed but as soon as he sits up, he wobbles. “I’m good. Seriously. I wanna go to the game.”

I push him back down. “You’re not fine. You have a concussion. We can’t go where there’s bright lights and lots of noise. You can meet Tommy another time.”

“Or right now.”

My brother-in-law stands at the entrance to Damon’s room, along with one of his teammates and my sister.

“Jacie told us what happened,” Tommy says.

“Holy shit,” Damon says. “You’re …” His gaze flits between Tommy and his teammate. “And you’re Ollie Strömberg. Do concussions cause hallucinations? Don’t you two have a game right now?”

“We’re not due at the rink for another hour,” Tommy says.

“I’ve had a concussion before,” Ollie says. “When I was on the farm team. Almost cost me my career. When Tommy said what happened, I said I’d tag along. Tough break, man.”

Tommy puts his arm around Ollie. “And this guy is also interested in setting up a meeting when you’re back on your feet.”

“My current agency is screwing me on a contract extension, and there’s been rumors of a trade,” Ollie says.

“Uh … umm …” Damon stammers.

I lean in and whisper, “Dude, you’re a sports agent. Be cool. One would think you’ve never met a famous athlete before.”

Damon shakes his head and then winces. “Sorry. Kinda wish this wasn’t happening while I had tiny jackhammers going off in my head, but yeah, definitely. Meeting.”

While they talk over the details of when they can meet, Jacie comes to me and wraps her arms around me. “Hey, little brother.”

“Don’t you mean cuz?”

“Whatever. You’ll always be my weird little brother.”

I laugh. “Thanks, Jacie. I see you managed to dump the kids for the night.”

“Mom and Dad are happy to see the grandkids, and Tommy and I got a hotel room. You want to come out for drinks after the game and catch up?”

I glance at Damon in bed and hesitate. “I should probably—”

“Yes, he’ll go out,” Damon says. “Visiting hours will be over by then, and you never see your sister. All I’m going to be doing is getting woken up every two hours to make sure I don’t die.”

“My boyfriend’s a little dramatic,” I say to the others, and they snicker.

“Seriously, Maddy. Go out. I’ll be fine.”

I turn to Jacie. “Text me where to meet you after the game.”

The conversation turns to hockey, so my sister turns to me. “You know, I always thought the gay thing was a lie to break up with your crazy high school girlfriend.”

I laugh. Hard. “Here I thought I’d fooled the entire town when I’m starting to think no one believed me. I don’t know if Mom and Dad told you, but I’m not gay. I’m bi. It’s a long confusing story.”

“As long as Damon makes you happy, we’ll all love him.”

“He does.”

“We better get to the rink,” Tommy says after a while. “Feel better, and we’ll see you at the next family get-together.”

“Like there’s many of them,” I say.

“Maybe you all could come to Boston for Thanksgiving,” Jacie says.

“Okay, I’ll see you in six months,” I say dryly.

“We’ll organize something in the off season,” Tommy says.

“Sounds good,” Damon says, and I love that he immediately knows it includes him too. When they leave, Damon slumps back in his hospital bed. “I need to get my sister back for this.”

“Oh no. He’s gone to the dark side. Fight it! Don’t stoop to our level. Save yourself!” My dramatic crying has a nurse coming to check on Damon.

I chuckle and wave her off. She tells me to keep the noise down.

“I bet she’s fun at parties,” I say.

Damon ignores me. “I could be hanging out with Tommy-fucking-Novak and Ollie-fucking-Strömberg tonight instead of being stuck here. Vengeance needs to be served cold, and I have the perfect plan.” He turns to me and grabs hold of my hand. “I had a surprise for you tonight too. Where’s my phone?”

“I have it. They gave it to me in the ambulance.” I pull it out and hand it to him. It takes him a while to find what he’s looking for because he can’t focus on the screen without wincing. He gives up and hands it to me. “It’s in my email. First one in the starred file.”

“A cruise? To Bermuda?”

“You know how Matt signed with OTS?”

“Yeah?”

“We hired a PR firm to help his case. Part of his marketing strategy is to clean up his image. We figured the best way to do that is to get himself a boyfriend.”

“I’m so confused. What’s this got to do with the cruise?”

“It’s a setup and a PR stunt. Matt will be there with his new boyfriend. They’ll be photographed together, and it’ll be leaked to the press. We’re going to spin it so he’s a good ol’ wholesome gay man in love, instead of what that gossip rag made him out to be which was … well, a dirty manwhore and the abomination all those crazy church people claim we are.”

“Okay, so who’s going to be his boyfriend?”

Damon grins. “Noah.”

A laugh escapes. “Noah? Poor Matt.”

“As un-PC as this is, they hit all the targets. Gay, interracial, and Noah’s from a prominent family, so they can’t accuse him of being a gold-digger after Matt’s money. They’re kind of a PR’s wet dream.”

“How did you get Noah to agree to this?”

“I reminded him how bored he is being the rich trust-fund guy. Plus, he finds Matt hot. I get to go along with them on this cruise to oversee everything, and I bought an extra ticket for you, because I know how much you wanted to travel and see the world. It’s only Bermuda, but hey, it’s not Canada.”

“That should be a tourism slogan. It’d work for anywhere. ‘Come to West Shittyville, Ohio. There’s nothin’ to do, but at least it ain’t Canada.”

Damon winces. “Fuck, don’t make me laugh.”

I lean in and press my lips to his. “Thank you.”

“I’ve had it organized for weeks, because I wanted to do this for you. If I had the choice between following you wherever you wanted to go or pitching a no hitter in a Major League Baseball game, I’d choose you. Every time.”

“Shit, that was practically a marriage proposal coming from you.” I kiss him again until I realize … “Wait. How exactly are we using the cruise to get back at Stacy?”

“When I asked her to organize the week off from work for you so I could surprise you, she said how much she wanted to come. I might be sending her an early birthday present in the form of her own room on board.”

My eyes narrow. “I still don’t get it.”

Damon cocks his eyebrow. “What’s your high school friend Jared up to lately? Think he’ll be interested in a free cruise?”

A smile breaks out. “You’re more evil than both me and Stacy combined.”

“Yeah, I am. Don’t mess with the Dik.”

I almost choke on my laughter. “You’re the best fake boyfriend a guy could’ve ever asked for, and after tonight, you’ll be the biggest sports agent in town. I’ll do some recon for you with all of Tommy’s teammates and see if anyone else needs a new agent.”

“If you keep finding me clients, I may have to hire you as my assistant.”

I shake my head. “Bad idea. We’d never get any work done.”

“True. I love you, Maddy.”

No matter how many times he says it, I can’t hear it enough. It doesn’t freak me out, and the idea of being with him forever doesn’t make me antsy. I crave him, more than I’ve ever craved anyone or anything in my life. I always used to think relationships meant compromising what you want for something somebody else wants, but I never realized that when you meet that one person who becomes your priority it’s not compromising because you’d willingly do anything to make them happy. Just like I know Damon would do the same for me.

I kiss him again. “You remember when we first met and I told you I felt like I don’t belong?”

Damon nods.

“I found it—where I’m supposed to be. It’s with you.”


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