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Faking with Benefits : Chapter 82

LAYLA

Hands jammed into his pockets, Donny leads me to the corner of the gym, out of earshot of everybody else. I glance around, wrinkling my nose at the bins of deflated basketballs and broken hula hoops.

“Listen,” he says quietly. “You can’t put that stuff online.”

I check my nails. “Can’t I?”

“No!” His eyes are wide. “For God’s sake, I was a kid!”

“So was I. That didn’t stop you from making my life a living Hell.”

“I didn’t know what I was doing!” He insists. “It was ten years ago, Layla, can’t you just get over this stuff? I’ve worked hard to get where I am, why the Hell would you want to go and ruin it for me now?”

“I don’t,” I say honestly. “I don’t want to ruin anything for you. All I want to do is leave this behind me. So here’s what’s going to happen.” I take a step towards him, my high heels squeaking slightly on the ugly beige linoleum. “You’re going to drop the charges against Zack,” I order. “You’ll make a statement that you antagonised him. And then you’ll stay away from all of us. You won’t mention our names. You won’t subtweet us. You won’t tell anybody anything. Or all of the shit that I’ve got on you gets blasted onto our social media. I know the boys’ followers are dying to know why Zack hit you at the convention.” I smile at him. “I will tell everyone. I will do interviews. I’ll make entire episodes on the podcast. I’ll scream it from the rooftops. I’m sick of being quiet, and now there are people listening to me. I’m not a shy little sixteen-year-old anymore. I have a voice. Drop the charges, or I will use it.”

Donny’s nostrils flare. “That’s defamation. I could sue you.”

“It’s only defamation if it’s a lie. Maybe you’d know that, if you paid attention in PSHE instead of texting all of your mates about the imaginary handies I gave you in the loo.”

“It’s blackmail,” he counters, but his voice wobbles.

“Sure,” I say evenly. “Doesn’t make much of a difference to you though, does it? Either way, whenever anyone looks up your name online, the first thing they’ll see is a long list of all the disgusting, illegal things you did as a teenager. I doubt they’ll help your chances in the next election, will they?”

Donny swallows. He’s breathing hard. Sweat is beading on his forehead. “I’ll drop the charges,” he says eventually, his voice rasping.

“And make the statement,” I repeat patiently.

His face darkens. “And make the statement.”

I pat his cheek. “Good boy.” I nod at the sad little party. “Was that so hard? You can go play with your friends now.”

He turns to go, then hesitates, his eyes fixed on the floor.

“Yes?” I ask patiently. “Do you want something else?”

“I’m, like.” He rubs the back of his head, his mouth twisting. “Sorry. Or whatever. It’s not… it had nothing to do with you, like, as a person. You were just… there. You know? Everyone was doing it.”

For a second, I’m taken aback. I didn’t expect him to apologise, no matter how terrible the apology is.

But honestly, it’s much too little, much too late.

“You want to know the truth?” I ask. “I really, truly don’t care. I don’t care about any of you anymore. So piss off and leave me the Hell alone.”

Tossing one last glare over his shoulder, he goes to rejoin the rest of the group, his head dipped low. As he walks away, it feels like a weight is being lifted off my chest.

A warm arm wraps around my waist, and a soft beard tickles my cheek. “You’re so scary,” Zack says into my ear. “Where’s the bathroom? I need to jump out the window to get away from you.”

“Most of my dates feel a similar urge. Breathe deep, it’ll pass.”

“You did amazing,” Josh agrees, coming up to my other side and taking my hand.

I look up at him and smile, leaning back against Zack’s chest. “Thanks. Can we go get some real food now? Revenge is exhausting.”

Josh tucks a stray piece of hair behind my ear. “Of course. I think Luke is almost done yelling at Amy.”

My eyebrows raise. “He’s yelling at her? Seriously?”

He points to the corner of the room, and I turn to see Luke in a very heated argument with Amy. His cheeks are flushed red as he gesticulates furiously. She looks like she wants to crack his skull open.

I wince. “I’m sorry,” I say. “I should’ve told you what a harpy she was before your brother married her.”

Josh shakes his head. “Even if you had said something, he wouldn’t have listened. Rob can handle himself. He has a very low tolerance for BS.”

As we watch, Luke breaks off the argument, turning on his heel and stalking back to us. Amy shoots daggers at his back.

“Let’s get out of here,” he demands when he reaches us. “Before I start punching people.”

I pull a face. “That bad?”

“They haven’t even been logging student welfare complaints!” He bursts out. “I thought Emery had a low exclusion rate because there weren’t any issues with bullying here. But they’ve just been sweeping everything under the rug, because they don’t want to make the school look bad!”

He wipes a hand over his face. “I should’ve done this so much earlier. The way this place is being run is disgraceful.”

I reach up and rub at the frown lines between his eyebrows, smoothing them out. “You’re doing it now,” I remind him. “Now, finally, those students have someone who cares about them.” I link our fingers together. “And so do I.”

“I love you so much,” he says, and the sincerity in his voice makes my chest ache. “I am so, so sorry.”

Without leaving Zack’s grasp, I lean up and press my lips to his. He kisses me back hotly, pouring all of his anger and frustration and passion into the embrace. When we pull back for air, I twist, kissing Zack next, shivering when his tongue sweeps over my bottom lip. Then I do the same to Josh, going up on my tiptoes and trailing my lips over his cheek.

I can hear whispers go up around the hall. Someone gasps. I think I hear a phone camera click, and smile against Josh’s lips. I bet every person in this room is mentally calling me every gross name they can think of. Easy. Loose. A cheater. A slag.

And I don’t care. What they think doesn’t matter to me anymore.

I pull back and wipe the glossy red lipstick mark off Josh’s cheek with my thumb. “Let’s get out of here,” I say. “I’m done with these people. We’ve got shit to do.”


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