When It's Real
“I don’t think it’s asking for too much,” he interrupts. “Because if I’m going to be without my girlfriend for a few months—”
“A year,” I whisper.
His jaw falls open. “A year? This fake breakup is going to last a year?” He throws up his hands in astonishment. “See? This is a huge sacrifice on my part! It’ll be way easier to deal with all this if I at least get a career opportunity out of it.”
And knowing you’d be helping me support my family isn’t enough?
I bite my tongue before the angry words can escape. I see his point, I guess. A year is a long time, and I’m pretty sure we’ll both get tired of sneaking around sooner rather than later. Besides, it’s not like Diamond is going to sign him, so maybe if he receives some constructive criticism from an actual authority, he’ll finally realize that this YouTube thing is a total waste of time.
“You’re right,” I agree. “We can’t pass up any career opportunities.”
His expression brightens.
“Email me whatever you want and I’ll give it to the right people.”
“Fuck yeah, baby! You’re the best!” He tugs me into his arms and kisses me until I’m breathless, and we’re both laughing when we finally pull apart.
Well, he’s laughing, and I’m faking it. Story of my life, I guess.
On Friday night, forty-eight hours after my trip to USC, W and I “break up.” Before I left his dorm that day, he kissed me, said he loved me, and promised to send me his clip reel as soon as possible. While I don’t feel entirely comfortable vouching for W’s stupid show to Jim Tolson, I’m worried that if I don’t, W won’t be on board with this Oakley job anymore and will break up with me for real. And I’m desperate for him to support me on this.
Since we don’t go on Facebook very often, our breakup is fed to the masses in two ways.
1) W removes my Twitter and Instagram handle from his bios. Both used to say “Madly in love with @VeryVaughn.” Now they say nothing.
2) I Tweet thirty-one characters of pure misery:
Vaughn Bennett @VeryVaughn
Breakups SUCK #heartbroken #fml
Within minutes, Tweets and Instagram DMs come pouring in from our friends. I sit on my bed with a carton of chocolate chip ice cream in my lap and a spoon sticking out the corner of my mouth, fighting back tears as I stare at my laptop screen.
@MandiHunt343 OMG, W! What happened to ur bio?? Did u and V break up??
@CarrieCarebearDawes YOU AND W BROKE UP?
@KikiSimpson omg vaughn. when did this happen?
@Tracyloves1D if that asshole W cheated on you, I am gonna KICK HIS ASSSSSS!
Carrie, Kiki and Tracy are friends of mine from high school. I’m closest with Carrie, so I shoot her a return message confirming that yes, W and I broke up. She instantly responds and offers to come over with some ice cream. I tell her I’m already good on the ice cream front and we agree to meet up for lunch on Sunday.
Since Oakley’s publicist told me I have to respond to any Tweets regarding the breakup, I force myself to answer Kiki and Tracy, but I don’t offer any details. W was adamant that he didn’t want to look (a) weak or (b) like a bad guy. Thus, the breakup was his idea and I’m not allowed to accuse him of any wrongdoing.
Our official story is that he dumped me because he didn’t want to be in a long-term relationship now that he’s in college. I make sure to tell Tracy there was no cheating involved. Then I shove another spoonful of chocolaty goodness in my mouth and force myself not to cry.
It’s not a real breakup, I remind myself, but it doesn’t ease the huge ball of pain in my stomach. I want so badly to text W. No, I want to call him and hear his voice assuring me that all these Tweets are just honest responses to a phony situation.
But I can’t. Claudia forbade any contact between the two of us for at least a week—“to give the breakup time to settle”—so I can’t pick up the phone and call him for reassurance. She claimed she was monitoring us closely. I don’t know what that means, but I’m a little afraid of her and Jim, so I don’t call him even though I’m dying to.
“Vaughn?” My sister knocks softly on my bedroom door.
“Yeah?” I call out in a shaky voice. The fake breakup feels all too real.
“Can I come in?”
Paisley walks inside, takes one look at the ice cream and my teary expression and joins me on the bed. Her brown eyes peer at the computer screen then fill with sympathy.
“I’m so sorry. I know this must be awful for you.” She bites her lip. “It’s not too late to back out.”
“Yeah, it is.” I can’t stop thinking about the money. “But the year will go by fast, right?”
I swallow another mouthful of ice cream. “You know what the worst part is? Well, the second worst part, because not being able to talk to W is the first one. But Oakley Ford is such a jerk. He wouldn’t even shake my hand at the meeting. How’s he going to bring himself to touch me in public?”
“He noticed you were hungry and got you food. That’s something. Plus, he’s pretty to look at,” Paisley points out.
Yeah, at least there’s that.
My sister slides off the bed. “I’m taking the twins to see a movie tonight. You wanna come?”
I shake my head. “Nah, I’m just going to stay home and wallow in my misery. I plan on gaining at least five pounds of ice cream weight.”
“Don’t gain too much,” she teases. “Otherwise Oakley Ford might change his mind about dating you.”
That doesn’t sound too bad, actually. Maybe I should open another carton of Ben & Jerry’s.
Paisley leans down to kiss my cheek. “You’re doing a good thing here. Seriously. This is going to help us more than you know.”
I do know. But that doesn’t mean I have to pretend to be happy about it. I miss W already, and it’s only been two days since I spoke to him.
After Paisley leaves I give myself over to ice cream therapy. I eat it slowly. So slowly that it’s sort of a soupy mess by the time I reach the bottom. I swirl the remains around as I rethink this Oakley plan for the hundredth time.
Did Paisley come to me because she knows, deep down, that I’m unprepared to face the real world? That I have no plans for myself? That unlike every other kid I went to school with, I’m hopelessly lost about my future and that playing make-believe with some random celebrity is right up my plastic existence?
The melted ice cream holds no answers. Sighing, I close all my web browsers and open my music library. I can either keep wallowing or I can follow this stupid course I’ve set for myself. I guess the latter is more productive, so I scroll until I find the album I’m looking for, click on the first track and then place the laptop beside me on the bed.
As I rummage through the bottom drawer of my desk for a sketchbook, the intro to one of Oakley Ford’s most popular singles, “Hold On,” wafts out of the computer speakers. The moment it comes on, I’m suddenly transported back to my sophomore year of high school. I was obsessed with this album. Weirdly enough, it doesn’t remind me of Oakley, but of W.
W and I started going out around the time Ford was released. He used to make fun of me for liking it, but then I heard him humming one of the songs once and got him to admit he liked it, too. Then I doodled two hands clasped together on my Vans to capture the moment.