Текст книги

Erin Watt
When It's Real

“Why not?”

There’s a note of betrayal in his tone. W and his roommates started up a YouTube channel back in September, where they post videos of themselves talking about sports highlights. Their show is called the Bro Hards, and it’s...argh, okay, it’s kind of dumb.

But because I’m a supportive girlfriend, I diligently watch every video and make sure to leave an encouraging comment even though I don’t find it at all entertaining.

“I don’t know. It didn’t come up,” I answer, suddenly wishing I’d bargained for that.

After all, it would’ve been easy enough and it would go a long way toward making W more comfortable with my deal with Oakley. I make a mental note to talk to Jim the next time I see him.

“Anyway, our relationship is a bit of a problem for the agency. It interferes with some of my...duties. I can’t have a boyfriend that people know about, so they want us to break up publicly—” when he frowns, I hurry on “—but not for real. For real, we’ll still date. Except...” I grimace. “We can’t be seen together in public.”

W stares at me blankly. “You want me to break up with you but not really?”

“Yes.” Oh, gosh. It sounds monumentally stupid.

“Is this you wanting to break up with me, V? Because I didn’t even know we were having problems. If you don’t want to go out anymore, just tell me.” He says it so matter-of-factly, like breaking up wouldn’t kill him.

It would kill me, though. “Do you want to break up with me?” I blurt out, frantic with worry.

W’s my anchor. We started dating before my parents died, and through that grief-stricken summer, he’d stood by me the whole time, despite my tendency to burst out in tears at random moments. Like when we were at the mall and I saw the Father’s Day advertisement in the Hallmark store window. I’d gone home that night and resolved to be the fun girlfriend again, and I haven’t cried in front of him since.

I was so worried he’d break up with me once he started college without me, but he didn’t. He told me he loved me and that he was going to stick with me, even if it meant dialing back some of the plans he’d made for both of us.

“Of course not.” He pulls me down on his lap, another frown creasing his face. “But how’s this supposed to work?” His hands run up under my shirt. “We’re supposed to be having fun together this year.”

“I know,” I say miserably. “But it’s a lot of money.”

W frowns. “You and Paisley are doing fine. Didn’t you say she earns enough now not to have to work two jobs?”

“Yes, but—”

“And didn’t you delay coming to school this year because you had to work?”

“Yes, but—”

“Then you don’t need this one,” he says with the confidence of someone who’s never worried about a bill in his life.

W’s family has money. They even sprang for him to have a dorm room at De Neve Plaza, where he has a two-room suite and a private bathroom he shares with only three other guys. When I looked up how much this suite costs each semester, I nearly swallowed my gum.

“I do, W. I need this job. My family needs it.” I take his hands, the ones he’s using to try to take my shirt off, and press them between mine.

“Is this Paisley’s idea? Because you know she hates me.”

“She doesn’t hate you.”

W grunts in disbelief. His fingers brush the top of the waistband of my jeans and I force myself not to flinch away. This is W. I love W. Therefore I should love his touch, not tense up when I see it moving toward me.

My sister hasn’t ever flat-out said I shouldn’t have sex with W, but I know she thinks I’m too young. Part of her reluctance comes from her own first time, which she willingly—and vocally—says was terrible. After our parents’ funeral, Paisley was lonely, depressed and worried about how she was going to take care of us. So she ended up sleeping with someone she didn’t know very well because she needed some comfort. And it was so horrible, I found her crying the next day. I’m not saying that scarred me, but I definitely didn’t want to rush into things with W after that.

“Fine, let’s pretend I go along with it,” W says slowly. “Who would be doing the breaking up?”

His complete one-eighty startles me. I guess I should be relieved that W is agreeable to this, but instead, his casual attitude rubs me the wrong way. One of the great things about W is that he’s so easygoing. He never hassles me about my lack of ambition or the fact that I have zero clue what I’m supposed to be doing with my life. If I can’t make a date because I want to be with my family or I’m working extra shifts, he never complains. I tell myself that’s healthy and good. In the months after my parents’ deaths, his laid-back attitude was just what I needed.

And since I need him to be cool with this, it shouldn’t irritate me that he’s asking about how our fake breakup is going to shake down as casually as if he’s checking on the weather.

“How do you want it to happen?” I counter.

He shrugs. “I should probably do it, but I don’t want any of your friends accusing me of cheating. We’ll just say that it wasn’t working out anymore.”

Cheating? Do I tell him now or later that I’m supposed to kiss Oakley Ford? Not that either option is available to me, because I’m forbidden from telling W that Oakley is involved. Obviously he’ll find out soon enough, but the agreement I signed forbids me from saying Oakley’s name.

This is all so screwed up.

“I’ll make sure everyone knows that you didn’t do anything wrong,” I promise, all the while fighting my growing unease.

“Good.” He pauses. “And...we can still see each other in secret?”

I get the feeling that’s not the question he wanted to ask—he hesitated too long before voicing it. But I nod anyway. “It’ll have to be at my house, though. And we’re not allowed to text at all during the breakup. We can talk on the phone, but there can’t be any paper trails. So no texts, Snapchats, Instagram comments, all that stuff.”

“That’s like some real James Bond shit right there.” He wiggles his eyebrows. “So I’ll be having a secret affair with my girlfriend? That’s kinda hot.”

I swallow my relief. This is good. He’s joking about it already, and for some reason, that tells me we’re going to be okay.

“Sneaking around will totally be hot,” I say enticingly.

That gets me a devilish grin in response. “What else?”

Crap. This is the hard part. “I might be photographed with certain celebrities—”

His eyes light up. “Like who?”

“I don’t know yet,” I lie. “But if you do see any pictures of me on the internet, you need to know they’re not real.” I throw in another lie. “Most of them will probably be Photoshopped. Seriously, anything I do this year will not be real. It’ll all be staged, like...think of it as a reality TV show that Diamond is producing.”

He nods. “Speaking of television shows...”

My uneasiness grows as I wait for him to continue.

“If I give you, like, a clip reel of my show, can you pass it along to one of the agents?” he asks hopefully. “I never asked Paisley because we both know she won’t do it, but now her contacts are your contacts, too, right?”

The request rubs me the wrong way, even though I’d already made up my mind to mention it to Jim. I force myself to swallow my annoyance.

“I mean, you’re going to be spending a lot of time with all these Hollywood types, industry people, and you know how hard the boys and I work on this show.” There’s something defiant in his eyes now. “This is a chance for us to get our foot in the door. And you said so yourself—you could totally see us getting our own TV show.”

I rue the day I ever wrote that YouTube comment. “Don’t you want to concentrate on getting your communications degree?” I point out, hoping the reminder will derail him.

But W waves his hand dismissively. “The only reason I’m a comm major is to get into broadcasting. I want to be a sportscaster. You know that. So if I can fast-track that goal, why not?” When I don’t answer, he flattens his lips unhappily. “Are you saying you don’t want to do this for me?”

“That’s not what—”