When It's Real
“Vaughn Bennett. She’s the perfect candidate to play your fake girlfriend. We need her.”
“Yeah, in the way I need an enema. Did you see the mouth on that chick?”
“Oakley. I’m warning you.”
“About what?” I roll my eyes and flop into the huge leather chair behind the massive desk.
He doesn’t say a word about me sitting in his chair. He can’t, because I’m Oakley fuckin’ Ford.
“Number one,” Jim begins, “don’t flirt with her—”
“Isn’t that kind of the point? We’re supposed to be dating.”
“The point is to rehab your image. Vaughn’s going to play a pivotal role in that, which brings me to number two—don’t antagonize her.”
She started it, I almost say, but that would just make me sound like a five-year-old. It’s true, though. Vaughn Bennett was the one acting all rude and giving me lip. All I did was point out that her boyfriend sounds like a pretentious douche. Not my fault some people can’t handle a helpful truth bomb.
“Couldn’t you have hired someone who’s a little less...bitchy?” I grumble.
“You mean someone who’s a little more adoring?” Jim replies, and his knowing smile grates on my nerves.
Fine, so maybe I’m pissed about Vaughn’s total lack of...respect, I guess? I don’t expect every girl I meet to throw herself at my feet and declare her undying love for me, but come on, she could’ve at least said she liked my music or something. Or congratulated me on my last Grammy.
Where does this chick get off, acting like she’s doing me a favor just by sitting in the same conference room as me? I’m Oakley Ford.
“You’ve changed your mind about working with King, then?” Jim asks.
I glare at him. “There’s got to be another way. Let’s call him up again.”
“Sure.” Jim pulls out his phone and tosses it down the desk. It slides to a halt halfway between us. “Call him. He’s number ten on my favorites.”
This feels like a dare. I grab the phone and start to press Dial when I realize I’m looking at Jim’s recent call list. About every fifth call is to King. My eyes flick up to meet Jim’s, and what I see in his gaze doesn’t sit well in my gut. It’s a mix of regret and resignation.
He dips his head. “I’ve tried to call him. He won’t take my calls about you. He’s not interested, not until you show him you’re not a spoiled little jerk who’d rather party at nightclubs than make good music. So if you have a better idea, I’m all ears, but short of taking him to a cabin and going all Misery on his ass, he’s not going to work with you.”
I can’t maintain eye contact anymore, because I don’t have a different idea. I rub my throat and wonder how I lost my mojo.
If pretending to date a girl I don’t know, who doesn’t like me, gets it back, then I’ll be the best boyfriend that this chick has ever had.
Which can’t be hard considering her current one is named W.
* * *
I get home an hour later to find a half-dressed couple making out on my bed.
I stand there in the doorway for a second, trying to figure out what the hell is going on, but the skinny blonde on my California king mattress notices me and unleashes an ear-piercing shriek.
“Oh! My! God! You’re Oakley Ford!”
Then, wearing nothing but a short skirt and skimpy bra, she flies off the bed and launches herself at me.
My man Tyrese appears out of nowhere and steps in her path.
Anger and annoyance swirl in my gut as I peer at the guy on the bed. I vaguely recognize him—I think it’s one of Luke’s friends. But why is he in my bedroom?
He zips up his pants and scrambles off the bed. He’s either drunk or high or both as he slurs, “Oak, bro. You’re home early. Luke said you wouldna be back for a couple hours.”
As if that makes it okay that he’s fooling around on my bed?
I’m so disgusted I can’t even answer. I just jerk my head at Tyrese, who clamps one meaty hand on the girl’s arm and his other meaty hand around the guy’s shoulder.
“Time to go,” my bodyguard announces in his baritone voice.
“No, wait!” the blonde whines. “I just wanna get a picture with Oakley! Oakley, I’m your biggest fan! I love you! Can I please get—”
Her pleas fade away as Tyrese drags the couple down the sweeping marble staircase.
I hear a door click and turn to find a member of my cleaning staff stepping out of one of the guest rooms. “Is everything all right, Mr. Ford?” she asks with a timid expression.
“Everything’s fine.” I hook my thumb at my bedroom. “Burn those sheets,” I say curtly, and then I stalk past her toward the east wing, where Luke has been crashing for the past few days.
I throw his door open without knocking. “Get out,” I snap.
Luke was sprawled on the bed watching TV, but now he bolts to his feet, his panicky gaze finding mine. “Oak,” he says weakly. “You’re back early.”
“Yeah, I am,” I bite out. “And now it’s time for you to go.”
“But...” He’s visibly gulping. “Come on, man, I already told you, I’ve got nowhere else to stay while my place is being fumigated.”
“Not my problem anymore.”
“Why the hell are there strangers in my room, Luke? We had an agreement. I give you a place to crash, you don’t invite people over without running it by me first.”
“I know, I’m sorry. It was a stupid thing to do, bro. But Charlie’s girl is, like, obsessed with you, and it’s her birthday, and Charlie just wanted to show her your room. You know,” he says feebly, “like a birthday present.”
I gape at him. Does he expect me to buy that?
“How much and how many times?” I ask in a flat voice.
Luke gulps again. “Wh-what?”
“How much do you charge ’em for the experience of screwing in Oakley Ford’s bedroom, and how many times have you done it?”
When the tips of his ears turn red, I know I’m right. And now all the disgust I feel is directed at myself. I should’ve known Luke would screw me over eventually. They always do.
I met him a couple years ago at the studio. I was rehearsing with the house band, he was playing bass guitar, and we hit it off instantly. We liked the same music, same video games, same everything. The two of us ran wild in the LA club scene for a while there. I invited him to go on tour with me. But these last few months, Luke’s turned into a leech. Borrowing money from me, getting me to sign stuff he can sell online.