Home > November 9(4)

November 9(4)
Colleen Hoover

Why do I always stoop to his level? I’m better than this.

His eyes fall to my cheek and then quickly drop to the table.

He actually looks remorseful, and I contemplate laying off the bitterness and being a little nicer to him. However, before anything nice can come out of my mouth, the guy in the booth behind my father begins to stand up and my attention span is shot to hell. I try to pull my hair back in front of my face before he turns around, but it’s too late. He’s already staring at me again.

The same smile he shot at me earlier is still affixed to his face, but this time I don’t look away from him. In fact, my eyes don’t leave his as he makes his way to our booth. Before I can react, he’s sliding into the seat with me.

Holy shit. What is he doing?

“Sorry I’m late, babe,” he says, wrapping his arm around my shoulders.

He just called me babe. This random dude just put his arm around me and called me babe.

What the hell is going on?

I glance at my father, thinking he’s in on this somehow, but he’s looking at the stranger next to me with even more confusion than I probably am.

I stiffen beneath the guy’s arm when I feel his lips press against the side of my head. “Damn L.A. traffic,” he mutters.

Random Dude just put his lips in my hair.

What.

Is going.

On.

The guy reaches across the table for my father’s hand. “I’m Ben,” he says. “Benton James Kessler. Your daughter’s boyfriend.”

Your daughter’s . . . what?

My father returns the handshake. I’m pretty sure my mouth is hanging open, so I immediately clamp it shut. I don’t want my father to know I have no idea who this guy is. I also don’t want this Benton guy to think my jaw is touching the floor because I like his attention. I’m only looking at him like this because . . . well . . . because he’s obviously a lunatic.

He releases my father’s hand and settles against the booth. He gives me a quick wink and leans toward me, bringing his mouth close enough to my ear to warrant being punched.

“Just go with it,” he whispers.

He pulls back, still smiling.

Just go with it?

What is this, his improv class assignment?

And then it hits me.

He overheard our entire conversation. He must be pretending to be my boyfriend as some weird way to stick it to my father.

Huh. I think I like my new fake boyfriend.

Now that I know he’s toying with my father, I smile at him affectionately. “I didn’t think you’d make it.” I lean into Ben and look at my father.

“Babe, you know I’ve been wanting to meet your father. You hardly ever get to see him. No amount of traffic could have kept me from showing up today.”

I shoot my new fake boyfriend a satisfied grin for that dig. Ben must have an asshole for a father, too, because he seems to know just what to say.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Ben says, focusing on my father again. “I didn’t catch your name.”

My father is already eyeing Ben with disapproval. God, I love it.

“Donovan O’Neil,” my father says. “You’ve probably heard the name before. I was the star of—”

“Nope,” Ben interrupts. “Doesn’t ring a bell.” He turns to me and winks. “But Fallon here has told me a lot about you.” He pinches my chin and looks back at my father. “And speaking of our girl, what do you think of her moving all the way to New York?” He looks back down at me and frowns. “I don’t want my ladybug running off to another city, but if it means she’s following her dream, I’ll be the first to make sure she’s on her flight.”

Ladybug? He better be glad he’s my fake boyfriend, because I feel like punching him in his fake nuts for that cheesy moniker.

My dad clears his throat, obviously uncomfortable with our new lunch guest. “I can think of a few dreams an eighteen-year-old should follow, but Broadway isn’t one of them. Especially with the career she’s already had. Broadway is a step down, in my opinion.”

Ben adjusts his position in his seat. He smells really good. I think. It’s been so long since I sat this close to a guy, he may smell completely normal.

“Good thing she’s eighteen,” Ben says in response. “Parental opinions on what she does with her life don’t really matter much at this point.”

I know he’s only putting on an act, but no one has ever taken up for me like this before. It’s making my lungs feel like they’re seizing up. Stupid lungs.

“It’s not an opinion when it comes from an industry professional,” my father says. “It’s a fact. I’ve been in this business long enough to know when someone needs to bow out.”

I snap my head toward my father at the same time Ben’s arm tenses around my shoulders.

“Bow out?” Ben says. “Did you really just say—out loud—that your daughter needs to give up?”

My father rolls his eyes and crosses both arms over his chest as he glares at Ben. Ben removes his arm from around my shoulders and mirrors my father’s movements, glaring right back at him.

God, this is so uncomfortable. And so amazing. I’ve never seen my father act like this. I’ve never seen him dislike someone instantly.

“Listen, Ben.” He says his name with a mouthful of distaste. “Fallon doesn’t need you filling her head with nonsense simply because you’re excited about the prospect of having a booty-call on the East Coast.”

Oh, my God. Did my father just refer to me as this guy’s booty call? My mouth is agape as he continues.

“My daughter is smart. She’s tough. She accepts that the career she worked her whole life for is out of the question now that . . .” He flicks his hand toward me. “Now that she . . .”

He’s unable to finish his own sentence, and a look of regret washes over his face. I know exactly what he was about to say. He’s been saying everything but that for two years now.

I was one of the fastest up-and-coming teen actresses just two years ago, and the moment the fire burned away my looks, the studio pulled my contract. I think he mourns the idea that he’s not the father of an actress more than he mourns almost losing his daughter to a fire that was caused by his carelessness.

Once my contract was canceled, we never spoke about the possibility of me acting again. We never really speak at all anymore. He’s gone from being the father who spent his entire days on set with me for a year and a half, to the father whom I see maybe once a month.

So I’ll be damned if he doesn’t finish what he was about to say. I’ve been waiting two years to hear him admit that my looks are why I no longer have a career. Until today, it’s always just been a silent assumption. We never talk about why I no longer act. We only talk about the fact that I don’t. And while he’s at it, it would also be nice to hear him admit that the fire also destroyed our relationship. He has absolutely no idea how to be a father to me now that he’s no longer my acting coach and manager.

I narrow my eyes in his direction. “Finish your sentence, Dad.”

He shakes his head, trying to dismiss the subject entirely. I arch an eyebrow, daring him to continue.

“Do you really want to do this right now?” He glances in the direction of Ben, hoping to use my pretend boyfriend as a buffer.

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