Fake Boyfriend Breakaways: A Short Story Collection, page 11
“Forgetting about Taylor isn’t really the issue,” I say.
“I guess spending the night with one ex to forget the other isn’t the best idea,” Mom says. “I’ll let them know you can’t make it.”
That’s not why I don’t want to go over there. I can’t get Max out of my head.
This is the guy I followed around like a fucking puppy since adolescence. While Ollie was following me, I was following Max, and Max was chasing anything in a skirt.
It’s the circle of puberty. Fun times. Heartache and unrequited love all around.
It was only when he got together with Laura our senior year of college that my heart finally caught up with my brain. Max didn’t want me, and he never would. I reminded myself of that even after he and Laura split and he was heartbroken. And when that stopped working, I turned to someone I shouldn’t have.
That summer, something clicked. Max would never love me, but Ollie could. And I could love him.
I huff a humorless laugh. I spent four years being mad at Ollie for putting me second, when in reality, I did it to him first.
It’s not that I didn’t love Ollie in that way. I fell hard for him. Once I’d let Max go, it was amazing how fast I was open to being with Ollie.
We had the real deal. We cared for each other. But he was never the guy I was supposed to end up with, and I hate it took us so long to figure that out. The idea of our relationship ruining my chance with someone who could be my soul mate … it makes it worse. Makes every happy memory with Ollie tainted. Which is unfair. To me, to Ollie, and to our relationship.
Fuck, I can’t do this to myself or I’ll go crazy.
My phone pings, and I don’t want to look at who’s messaging me. Taylor, Ollie, or Max—all of who I don’t want to deal with right now. But with an unhealthy need to know who it is, I look anyway.
Max: Please come save me. No shit, Ma has put out a penis piñata …
I bite my lip to stop from laughing, but it breaks free. Poor Max. I contemplate going over there to rescue him, I really do. But I just can’t. Everything is so messed up. As if reading my mind, Max sends through another message.
Max: I know it’s super weird now, and the last few weeks have been shit, but you’re still my best friend. It’s your job to make these torturous events less painful. Maybe if we pretend things are as they’ve always been, we can go back to normal faster?
I don’t want that though. I don’t think I’ll ever want to go back to normal. I reread the text and then notice something …
Me: Fuck, you’re drunk, aren’t you?
Max: How’d you know?
Me: You can spell when you’re drunk. That text is too perfect for you to be sober.
Me: I don’t think it’s a good idea. If I go over there, I’m probably gonna make a scene, and I don’t want to ruin your party.
Max: Please make a scene. Ruin my party. Please, please, please.
This is the thing with Max and me. No matter what we’re going through—breakups, money problems, just pure bitchiness at the world because let’s face it, sometimes the universe sucks—bottom line is, we’ve always put each other before ourselves. Where all my other relationships have felt an uneven balance of power, things between Max and me have always been equal. Always.
Forever and ever.
Me: I’ll be over in five.
I can do this. I can go over there and try to see Max in the same light I always have—as the unobtainable guy I need to swallow my feelings for. Easy peasy. Been doing it since I was eleven years old.
Rolling out of bed, I amble downstairs and head out, not bothering to freshen up or even fix my bed-messed hair. The street is packed with Strömberg cars, and it looks like the entire extended family turned out for this.
Most likely, everyone’s in the backyard, so that’s why I go through the front door and not around the side of the house. I might be here to support Max, but I don’t really want to face a mob of Strömbergs. They’re gonna stare at me. I wasn’t good enough for Max when we were teenagers, and now he’s out and I’m still not good enough for him.
After making my way through the dark and empty living room, I hit the dining area only to find Max and one of his brothers, Leo, in the kitchen leaning against the counter and talking.
“I see you escaped on your own,” I say, startling them apart.
“Ashy!” Max yells and his face brightens.
Leo laughs and claps me on the shoulder. “Good luck, buddy. I lost count of his drinks after the penis piñata came out.”
“No way, there really is a penis piñata?” I go to the bay windows overlooking the backyard.
Max stumbles over to me and throws his arm around my shoulders. “Ma bought it when Ollie came out publicly. The only reason he convinced her not to use it for him is because he said he couldn’t risk those types of photos being leaked because he’s the biiiig, important hockey player. I’m not famous enough to have to worry about that.”
I snort. “You’re not famous at all.”
“Hey, we’re famous in our own world. People pay us a shit ton of money to tattoo them. Because we’re awesome.”
“We are pretty badass,” I agree with a smile. “But I’m pretty sure none of our clientele will care if you’re photographed whacking a dick with a stick.”
“Heeey, that rhymes!”
My smile drops when I see my dad step up to the low-hanging penis … And there’s a sentence I never thought would enter my mind. I groan. “Oh, God, I can’t watch.”
“I can’t tear my eyes away,” Max says.
We stay like that—Max’s arm around me, although, I think it’s more to hold himself up than an embrace of affection—and watch my dad. This is the guy who gave me the silent treatment for three days after I came out. He accepts me and loves me and all that, but he admitted it took a while to adjust to the idea. He talked about the way he was raised and realizing how his generation needs to start thinking differently. Still, compared to the Strömbergs and Mom, he’s straitlaced and a tad conservative. And right now, he’s beating the shit out of a papier-mâché cock. He’s come far in ten years.
Yet, watching him makes the reality of why we’re here that much more apparent.
A pit of want, longing, and anger settles in my stomach.
Max is acting like nothing has changed between us. His hand on my shoulder isn’t out of the ordinary. His warm smile and natural glow aren’t either. But there’s definitely something different in the way I look at him.
I haven’t had the shiver run down my spine when Max has touched me in years, but now there’s no holding it back. There’s no pulling it in.
Max kissing Jordan opened Pandora’s box, and now all hell’s breaking loose on my insides. I’m back to where I was as an awkward teenager, realizing I had a crush on my best friend.
You’d think the sixteen years of telling myself no would’ve cured me of it. Nope. It’s like my teenage hormones have taken over, and all I want to do is throw myself at him.
Which, of course, I can’t. And I won’t. Because I won’t disrespect Ollie that way.
When Max meets my gaze, my stomach does a flip. From his brown hair, tanned skin, and the edges of his ink sticking out of his shirt collar, he’s more man on the outside than the last time I had this crush, but those warm, brown eyes … they’re the eyes of the boy I fell in love with when I was eleven years old.
Why did it take him so long to figure out? Why didn’t he say something sooner?
Everyone has a right to come to terms with their sexuality at their own pace, but … gah, it’s just so frustrating that timing has fucked us over.
Max’s brow furrows. “Why do you look mad?”
“Still pissed you didn’t tell me.”
“You were with my brother, Ash.” His tone has lost any sign of inebriation and only holds defeat.
“So? You still could’v
“Why do you and he keep saying that? I like Jordan fine.”
“Plenty fine, it turns out.” Yeah, can’t keep the bitterness out of my tone even if I tried.
“The only thing I’ve ever held against him is he got to have you in a way I didn’t. And it turns out he’s known about me since fucking college. He knew from the way I stared at you.”
All this time …
The unease hits harder. “Maybe we shouldn’t talk about this. It’s not making me feel any better.”
Max turns and grips my shoulders so we’re facing each other and he’s leaning over me with his stupid tallness that’s tall. “I am so sorry. I didn’t plan on you finding out that way. Hell, I hadn’t planned on you finding out at all, because I knew this would happen. It’s all weird, and it’s like … I don’t know. Now that it’s been said out loud, I can’t put it back in, and all I want to do is show you how much I’ve cared about you and wanted you for the last six years. I can’t have you as just my best friend anymore, but I can’t have you as more, and it’s already killing me. It’s only been a few weeks.”
His breath smells like he’s brewing alcohol in his mouth. Normally that’d be a turnoff, but all I want to do is taste it. Taste him. “I shouldn’t have come here.”
When I step back, a throat clears behind us, and we both freeze, expecting the worst.
I let out a breath of relief when it’s not Ollie or his boyfriend as Max and I step apart. It’s Max’s cousin, Cruz.
“You guys aren’t allowed to get together for two more weeks,” he says. “So back away.”
Max and I share a glance. “Huh?” we say in unison.
“There’s a pool going.”
“On us?” Max asks. “Just because I’m bi, that doesn’t mean I’m going to fuck the nearest gay guy.”
Ouch. I know he’s saving face and trying to cover, and it’s not true, but … ouch.
“And you only bet two weeks?” Max asks. “Dude, he’s my brother’s ex-boyfriend.”
Cruz shrugs. “Not a big deal. Did you know Lucy and I went on a date before she married my bonehead brother?”
“A date isn’t four years together,” I point out.
“Have you even spoken to Ollie about the possibility? Because seriously, everyone out there just thinks it’s a given you two are gonna end up together now.”
“There’s nothing to discuss,” Max says. “There’s no way Ollie would be cool with this.”
Cruz smirks. “So there is something between you two. Awesome. Just remember though”—he waves a finger between us both—“two weeks. Got it? The prize money is up to like a thousand bucks.”
Cruz takes a beer from the fridge and goes back outside.
I scoff. “Your family is the coolest.”
“And the weirdest,” Max mumbles. “You don’t really think Ollie would be okay with us, do you? I mean, it’s just always been a firm no in my head.”
“Honestly? I don’t know. I’m an only child, so I have no idea what having a brother feels like.”
“Not true. You have all of us. You practically grew up in this house with us. What if, say, Ollie wanted to hook up with Leo?”
I burst out laughing. “Apart from the whole incest thing, you mean?”
“Pretend we’re not related. If Ollie was to date someone as close to you as Leo, or Nic, or Vic, how would you feel?”
I sigh in defeat. “Pretty fucking shitty.” Even so, I don’t think I’d stop him. We have no right to each other anymore.
“Exactly. Cruz is wrong.” Max goes to walk off, but I catch his arm.
He spins back toward me, our bodies pressing against each other.
My question hangs heavy in the air. “Max? What if he’s not?”
Ash is so close. So fucking close yet still out of my reach. Not physically—I could literally drag him against me, press his smaller body to mine, and ravish his mouth without even a step.
His lips part, and my cock stirs as if urging me to go for it.
My heart pounds. From the alcohol, from adrenaline, or from being pressed against Ash, I don’t know, but I want him so bad.
The last six years have shown me that no one could live up to his mere presence, and I’ve hated myself every day, because I let him get away. I let him chase my brother instead of having the balls to tell him how I felt.
This past year has done nothing but test my strength. It’s like the minute he broke up with my brother, my heart’s been beating a rhythm that keeps repeating Ash’s name. I hoped when he’d got together with Taylor, my brain screaming about us being platonic would come back—like it did when he was with Ollie. All it did was complain about Taylor being so wrong for him.
Here, right now, there’s a chance. It’s the closest I’ve ever been to getting him, and I can’t let it go.
“I need to find Ollie” falls out of my mouth, and before I can stop myself, I force myself away from temptation.
I charge into the backyard and look in every direction, but I can’t see him anywhere. Or Clark.
My aunt, Ma’s sister, cuts me off before I can weave my way through the hordes of Strömbergs to find them.
“I’m looking for Ollie,” I say before she can get a word out.
“Oh, umm, I think he and Clark left already.”
“Wait, what? Weren’t they staying here the night?”
“Umm, I don’t know … I didn’t think so.”
My heart sinks.
My brother’s gone, and I can’t have this conversation with him over the phone.
I glance back toward the house and see Ash on the back porch. His arms are folded, but his face looks hopeful.
I shake my head, and I see the moment all that hope deflates.
If I wasn’t too drunk to drive, I’d chase after Ollie. If we didn’t have a full schedule at the shop for the next few days, I’d get Ash to drive us to New York.
Ash points to his parents’ house, and I give him a nod. It’s probably best he leaves before I’m tempted to cross lines I refuse to before being able to talk to my brother.
I’ll go see Ollie next weekend.
I’ve waited over six years for the possibility of Ash. I can wait a few more days.
I don’t think I can wait a few more days.
My brother Leo dropped me home last night, and after the room stopped spinning, all I could think about was the possibility of Ollie being okay with Ash and me. It was on a repeating loop all night. I kept thinking of course he wouldn’t be okay with it … but what if he was?
I owed it to Ash, and owed it to us, to try.
Tired, hungover, and looking a little worse for wear, I drag my ass downstairs to work.
The second Ash steps into the shop, my eyes track his every move. He’s wearing a loose white tank top and black ripped skinny jeans, and the colorful tattoos stand out along his pale skin.
Fuck, I want him.
My gaze snaps to his when he laughs.
“How hungover are you?”
“On a scale of one to ten? Spring break senior year.”
Ash winces. “Ouch. I’ll go for a coffee and bacon run as soon as we’re set up for the day.”
This is why I love you almost runs off the tip of my tongue, but that holds too much weight between us now. It’s not the same way it’s always been between us—the I love yous and worshipping of friendly actions like getting me a bacon-and-egg sandwich to cure my hangover. Extra bacon. Because, hello, it’s bacon.
Ash and I share a look, and I wonder what he sees in my gaze. I imagine he can see the kind of hope and possibilities that are running through my head, but instead, he smirks.
“You’re totally forgetting about the penis piñata, aren’t you?”
I groan. “Oh my God, that actually happened?”
Ash laughs again.
I haven’t heard that sound in weeks, so I close
“Feeling sick?” he asks.
I step closer to him. “Feeling helpless. I can’t stop thinking about Ollie and—”
Ash shakes his head and steps back. “We can’t. We both don’t want to hurt Ollie that way, so until we get a chance to talk to him, I think we should still keep our distance. We have to. Because even though I really want Ollie to be okay with this, I don’t think he will be. And if that’s the case … we can’t let anything happen.”
Damn it. I know he’s right.
That doesn’t stop me from dwelling on it. All day.
Time slows so much that I have to ask one of my clients if I’m moving at a sloth’s pace. They think I’m joking.
Ironically, my next client wants a sloth tattoo.
I think I’m being punked.
The entire day is agonizing, only made worse by knowing I can’t get to New York until next Sunday because that’s my next day off.
When it’s finally time for my last client to leave, I can’t wait to get upstairs and go to bed, but when cleaning up my workstation, I come across Ash’s sketches in my drawer—the one of the lake at Camp Frottage. The same image he wanted to cover his Ollie tattoo with.
“They were the best summers of my life.” His words ring through my head.
The best summers he had were with me.
Not my brother.
Ash and I deserve this chance because we never got it when we were younger.
If something as small as bad timing is what has kept us apart all these years, I’m going to be pissed.
Ash and Ollie never belonged together.
Ash belongs to me.
And I need to fight for him the way he deserves to be fought for.
Suddenly I’m not so tired anymore. I need to see Ollie, and I need to see him now.
I leave a giant mess in the shop for Ash to clean up so I can drive three and a half hours in traffic to ask Ollie for permission to date his ex-boyfriend.
Doubt starts to creep in somewhere in Connecticut.
With one tattoo stencil, I was out the door ready to plead with my baby brother to let me have this one selfish act.