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Dirty Deeds

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Is that an overweight man walking his dog? Why's he not wearing a shirt? Is it that hot outside? *click* Man-Boob Mania!

Ooh, look at the blonde bombshell wheeling a baby stroller. The stroller is empty. I see no baby in there. *click* That's No Baby!

A has-been celebrity, who has tipped the scales recently, just walked out of the corner store, looking fat yet rather frail. Is that a honey bun in her hand? Two? Three? *click* Eating Herself to an Early Grave?

My name is Farkle Minkus. I'm a scientist. I'm also a photographer. I see the world through a different set of lenses. *click* #FarkleNation

I've been using my photography skills to capture the essence of life and society. Some of these photos have been published in the tabloid magazine Dirty Deeds. The staff loves my work. I've broken up numerous relationships because of my work. Nobody ever came to me to give me a what-for. They respect Farkle Minkus.

Guess who just got promoted to editor in chief? Yep. That's right. My best friend and soulmate since the first grade, Riley Amy Matthews. It's a heavy weight to carry, but if anyone can do it, Riley was the person for the job. Only one problem, though: she knows what she wants and won't settle for anything less. The only person above Riley's rank is the publisher, Brett Barricklow. Rumor has it that Dirty Deeds is Barricklow's last chance at any magazine-publishing job. If it will be, Riley's next in line should something happen, but let's not tempt that! Barricklow. Ugh. Him and his perv 'stache. He should just leave already... or at least get off my nerves.


I sat in Riley's new office, watching her pace back and forth in her black heels. I tried to focus on her words, but her outfit... oh, god, her outfit: a red button-down shirt tied over a white camisole tucked into a black pencil skirt. Her perfectly messy ballerina bun was just the cherry on top. Authority can be so gorgeous sometimes that it almost hurts. Man, I can't wait to get my hands all over her—

"Farkle? Farkle?!" she snapped her fingers in my awe-struck face.

"What? I'm sorry. What?" I reacted, natch.

"She's obviously hiding something."

"Who is?"

"Connie Haley. Her relationship with Dominic J. Dean is on the rocks, and I need photographic evidence of any signs of abuse. There's a 'NO TRESPASSING' sign on the property, so I can't go. That's why I'm hiring you, and Uncle Josh and Lucas will be your lookouts."

Ah, yes, her Uncle Josh. He's a good-looking guy, but I don't think he's my type. And Freak-Face? Do you want to see me get fucked in the ass with a cactus, Riley? I don't think so.

"When do you need me at Connie's house?" I asked.

"We're looking at the wee hours of the morning tonight. She'll be returning from a rave at around 2:00 am, and that's when you'll snap the photos if you see anything worthy of publishing. Have the photos developed and on my desk in a few days. I would say asap, but I respect your work schedule too much to do that to you, Farkle."

"Thank you, Riley. Do you need anything else from me?"

With a thoughtful look on her face, she dug into her purse and pulled out a taser. Why carry a taser around, Riles?

"Riley, what is that?" I asked with a scared and concerned look on my face.

"You're gonna need this if security gets in your way."

"What is it?"

"It's a stun-gun. It's got 300,000 volts," she placed the weapon into my hand.

Hesitating to accept it, I said, "No, Riley, you keep it." I returned the gun, but she wouldn't take it back. TAKE IT BACK.

"Oh, that's okay. I've got a spare."

Well, fuck you.

"Riley," Lucas walked in the office with a file folder in his hand. "Your 3:00 is here."

"Thanks, Lucas. Send him in," Riley said. Lucas threw the folder onto Riley's desk and disappeared from my view.

In walked a tall, tan, and handsome supermodel with a tall body more chiseled than Freak-Face over there. He had blond hair and eyes that can't decide if they're hazel or blue. This is Matt Truskin, a famous actor who is the Marilyn Monroe of this generation. Did anyone care if he could act? No, but why did his movies win the Cinematography Oscar three years in a row? He wasn't even kept in focus half the time!

"Uh, do you need me to leave, Riley?" I asked.

"No, no, Farkle, you stay for this," she answered.

"Um, I was hoping for this meeting to be just the two of us, Miss Matthews," Matt jumped in.

"No, Mr. Truskin, this is important. He's my best friend. He has an eidetic memory, meaning he will be my eyes and ears. He'll type out the transcript directly from memory later tonight as I have done for all my previous appointments. Ya with me?" Riley sassed.

"Yes."

Looks like someone's not happy to see me. Suck it, Matt Truskin.

"You know what we love here at Dirty Deeds? A good old-fashioned fucking," Riley surprised both me and Truskin.

"What are you saying?" he asked, not knowing what's going on.

I, on the other hand, have a strange feeling. I'm having a flashback...

Last year's Christmas party turned out to be one huge orgy. Riley and I were each other's "dates" to the party, but we agreed not to exercise PDA. Why? We weren't dating at the time. Anyway, Dirty Deeds held a Christmas party at the old editor-in-chief's apartment complex. Some actors from a movie that was filming a few blocks from said complex heard about a party and crashed it. Matt Truskin, hottie patottie who can't act nor react, had one too many drinks that night as did his steady girlfriend, the beautiful and talented (almost gave me a run for my money in Trivial Pursuit at a prior Fourth of July party) Evani Farrow.

...I witnessed her cheating on Matt Truskin. A look of "Riley, don't do this" painted my face; I could feel it. Damn you, eidetic memory!

"...homemade porn, Mr. Truskin. Know anything about it?" Riley questioned.

"No," he scoffs.

Riley turned on her TV to reveal a video, "So, tell me, who is that lady right there receiving a gift from a young brunette man in that frame?"

His eyes went wide. It's a screenshot of a brunette Evani Farrow sitting on a couch, naked. Her legs were spread out, yet her private area was covered by a man's head. This is a man who is not her boyfriend. Matt Truskin has blonde hair. The man who is performing cunnilingus on Farrow has soft curly brown hair, a little darker than Riley's. This is Matt Truskin's archenemy in the acting world: Wade Capra. Capra is Farrow's other man! Wait, what? Capra is Farrow's other man?

"That's Evani Farrow, my girlfriend. She and I were drunk that night. We couldn't find each other that night, so I texted her, told her I was going to get some rest, so I walked to my trailer across the street," Truskin observed.

"Huh," Riley observed the screen, surprised at Truskin's words. How do you remember being drunk? Nobody remembers.

"What's she doing, getting eaten out by Wade Capra?" he asked.

I paused the tape.

"I was just about to ask you. What's she doing, getting eaten out by Wade Capra?" Ooh, good counter, Riley.

Trying to formulate an answer, he stammers and can't come up with anything.

"Farkle, show him what's next," Riley interrupted Truskin's stammer.

I clicked the play button on the remote. More oral, more oral, boring, boring, blah, blah, Capra sits on the couch with his erection for everyone to squint and see. Capra puts on a pink condom. There's Evani Farrow, straddling his thighs. Is she going for the penetration? BOOM. There it is. Capra and Farrow are engaging in coitus. Yep. Straight up vanilla sex. Doggone it.

Truskin's face read shock. Shook is more like it. Matt Truskin's girlfriend banged Wade Capra! Now, what do we do with Truskin? Truskin knows something about our cover story. He's friends with Connie Haley, right?

Riley spoke up, "I'm calling this 'Fapra.'"

Fapra? Not bad. Not bad at all. Farkle really likes where this is going.

"I honestly don't want to leak this. It'll ruin your reputation, something Dirty Deeds takes pride in. But, in exchange for keeping this video a secret, I need information regarding one Connie Haley and her beau, Dominic J. Dean. The tape goes online in 24 hours if you don't say anything."

Is that a worse ultimatum than that time I kept pushing for Riley to tell Lucas she was still in love with him by the New Year, or I would? Riley Matthews wouldn't dare. If this is what she wants, then it's what she gets. She must've learned from the best.

"How could you do this to me? I've only ever wanted to be an actor," Truskin lamented.

"Uh-uh. You wanted to be famous. There's a fine line between being an actor and being famous," Riley corrected him. "Listen, Truskin. I worked my ass off for this promotion, and I wanna start hot. I wanna set the bar higher than Heaven, deeper than Hell, and further than Pluto. I need the truth about Dominic J. Dean and Connie Haley, and I know you've got it. Question is, is it worthy of Dirty Deeds? Or should I leak the tape now and have Evani Farrow and Wade Capra blackballed?"

Truskin thought long and hard about this dilemma. He had this angry look on his face as if he didn't have a choice. There was no bargaining. With a deep sigh, Truskin finally spoke.

"Dominic's being abused."

Huh?

Riley furrowed her eyebrows at the revelation, "Abused? How?"

"It's Connie. She's full of rage. Anything that doesn't go her way triggers her. Dominic has received the brunt of her abuse. It's not pretty. Dominic can't get out of the relationship unless it's mutual," Truskin said.

Riley and I both looked at each other like two go-getting best friends who have a lead in their mission. This is perfect! It's a hot story!

"This is a hot story. It's gold," Riley admitted to Truskin with a firm tone. She then turned to me, "Farkle, go get my story tonight with your camera. I'll have the house wired." Turning to Truskin, she tells him, "Truskin, don't let any of this out. You're a source now. You protect me. I protect you. It's a simple process that hadn't been understood when the old editor was in charge here. Matt Truskin, do we have a deal or no?"

"My name cannot be used," Truskin answered.

"That's the least I can do," Riley responded.

"Then you have yourself a deal."

"Wonderful. Have a nice day, Matt. Farkle, show Mr. Truskin the door, please."

I walked over to the door and opened it, "It's here, Matt," I said as I showed him.

Truskin walked out of the office, but I knew he wasn't happy.

I followed suit and left the office. I have pap photos to shoot, but it's still early. I needed to see someone first.


Maya Hunter, famous artist from the New York Metro, doesn't have it easy here. Her artwork is to die for. Seriously, I've got about ten of her pieces hanging on the walls of my penthouse. Why is her work great, but her life... isn't? I've been speaking with Maya recently, and she's stuck with man trouble. Nope, no triangle, but it's a love quadrilateral.

The blonde bombshell's current flame is Mr. Freak Face himself, Lucas Friar. I don't know what they see in each other, but they do love each other. The question is, are they in love with each other? Nobody knows. I see them more as a companionship than anything else, much like Isadora Smackle and I were once.

While Maya has her companionship with Lucas, she has an FWB on the side with "Boing" Josh Matthews. Their relationship's pages aren't even in the same book. Maya seeks a sexual release from Josh. Josh thinks he's in love with Maya, but I am already visualizing an unrequited love in that relationship. Maya must think he's not that good in bed. I mean, I would do him too, but we just went over this. He's not my type. Erm, did I mention I was het today? Whoops.

I face-timed Maya to see what she was up to now. Talking to her would pass the time before I head out to Connie Haley's property for the night. Maya, pick up. PICK UP!

"Farkle, what brings you to my screen?"

"I've been thinking about you, and I wanted to talk."

"What about?"

"Well, I know you're going to be alone tonight, and I just wanted to send a minor care package your way."

"Yes, Josh told me he was helping you catch someone tonight. Is that still on?"

"Riley's orders. She got the promotion, remember?"

"And she's assigning Boing to be your lookout? Real class, Riley."

"Lucas has been called to tag along, too."

"You've gotta be kidding me. That's why he canceled our date to the art show?"

"I told you, I'm sending you a minor care package. Pizza, ice cream, chocolate candies, wine, and your personal favorite..."

"You bought me another vibe?"

"Hah! Close!" I answered with a smirk on my face and showed her a folded magazine in my hand. "I bought you a copy of Playgirl. I thought you might need some extra stimuli for your night in."

"Thank you, Farkle. You can just drop the box off at my door."

"You're welcome, Maya."

There was a delay, and I thought to myself... Hey? She hasn't done anything with me yet. Why not me? Uh oh, don't drag yourself into this, Farkle. Don't ask. Don't ask. Don't say anything.

"You know, Maya, I still exist to you, right?"

GOD DAMN IT, FARKLE. Now, how are you going to tell everyone that you've had sex with Maya Penelope Hunter? I need an escape route.

"Of course, you do, Farkle. Why would you not?"

"Because I know how you see Lucas and Josh. Even Zay sometimes, but never me."

"Farkle, you and I both know that it would alter our friendship if we did anything sexual."

"No, it won't. Just two friends helping each other out."

"Do you know how wasted I would have to be to even want to fuck you, Minkus?"

Excuuuuuse me?! I don't have time for this. That's just low.

"I'm gonna go..." I proceeded to press END, but Maya's words stopped me from doing so.

"No, don't go, Farkle. Farkle? I was just kidding. Farkle, maybe you should come over with the care package. If Lucas and Josh aren't going to see me tonight, and Zay's out of town, then maybe I do need to see you. Just for a little bit?"

"No, it's okay, Maya." Is Maya that desperate for sex? Then again, what am I? Don't do this, Farkle.

"No, Farkle. I insist. Magazines and comfort food aren't going to cover my misery."

Is this what I get for wishful thinking?

"Let me think about it."

"See you, Farkle."

"Bye."

Finally, I press END. I guess I'm headed over to Maya's apartment. Oh god, I wonder what she's gonna do to me this time. Bring on the sweet smell of acrylic paints and Maya's sex. As if they aren't sweet enough!

I parked in Maya's driveway and turned my vehicle off. I opened the trunk to retrieve her big box of goodies for her night in, but she wanted more than just comfort food and naked male centerfolds. I carried the box to her door before I rang the doorbell. Damn girl opened the door and beat me to it.


(excerpt from Maya Hunter, Maya Hunter)

I opened the door to see a giant box adorned with Farkley arms. I can't see a face, but I know it's Farkle. I just know it. I took the box from him and set it down on my coffee table.

After the greeting, I pretty much lost all my inhibitions and memory. If I can remember correctly, we basically repeated the conversation we had over face-time. That, and I played a sexy instrumental from my iPhone. Our intimacy was a slow burn, but like he said, it was a friend helping a friend. I knew I wasn't going to be denied a release from a real human being. Food, toys, and pictures of men? Sometimes they don't cut it for me. I made sure Farkle protected himself. Because our sex life (or lack thereof) is a joke! But he's really good behind closed doors. He may be a nerd, but he knows how to please a woman.


(now back to Dirty Deeds)

Once I set the care package down on the coffee table, I took a seat on her sectional couch. She stood before me, pacing back and forth, searching for the right words to say.

Maya and I had the same conversation from our Face-Time, but this time we were in the same room, face to face. I know now why Maya doesn't want sex from me until now. She is that desperate. However, I do have some limits like using condoms. It's stupid, but I always carry condoms with me.

"I think it would affect our friendship if we let it."

"What? I don't understand?"

"Maya, our emotions can get in the way of certain things, and I know we've been best friends for about 20 years now. At our age, sex is just sex; that just requires effort and a goal. Making love is making love; emotion is added onto the sex. See what I'm saying here? I love you, but not like that, you know? I don't want to catch any feelings."

"I love you too, Farkle..." she paused. "But not like that, either. I just want a minor FWB relationship with you. Is that okay with you?" Good save, Maya.

Walking over to her sound system, the blonde took her phone out, and plugged it into the loudspeaker. The first sound out of the speakers? The opening notes to one of my favorite pieces, Piano Quartet in A Minor by Widor. What I want to know is how did she know?

She walked behind the couch and caressed my jawline from behind. The girl has soft hands. I like it!

She bent over the couch, so she could whisper in my ear, "I'll be right back." Then she fled to her bedroom. I'm eager to know why she went there. All I could think about was that touch. Damn, she's good.

Maya walked out wearing an oversized button-down dress shirt a la Risky Business. The hem of the shirt covered her bare ass perfectly, so it rode up with every step she took. Her hair was tied up in a messy bun with some loose strands poking out. Why am I starting to have doubts? Fuck, I can't do this.

She straddled my lap and wrapped her arms around my neck. I gulped before the blonde planted a kiss on my lips. Our lips tangled, tossed, and turned until she tongued my bottom lip. Of course, I let her in. Then we engaged in a tongue war. I didn't care if I won or lost. The kissing was great there for a while, but my conscience kicked in. I really can't do this.

"Mmm, Maya, I can't do this," I blurt out, breaking the kiss while she kissed down my jawline and neck.

"What?" she replied as she stopped kissing and faced me.

I stammered, trying to form the perfect excuse to bail on sex with Maya.

"You're pushing. I would love to fuck you again, just not like this. I know I'm the one who pushed for this, but I don't think I can." Whew! I feel better.

Maya looked me dead in the eye, and with a deep voice, she firmly declared, "Farkle, you are going to fuck me, and you are going to like it."

"I can't! It doesn't feel right!" I fought back.

"Of course, it doesn't feel right, but it's a start."

I can't win with her. Since I didn't want to see or feel myself do this, I covered my eyes with my hand and hoped to be continuing foreplay with Maya. I'm so dead. I'm so dead.

Maya took my hand off my face and asked me, "Farkle, are you okay?"

I momentarily blanked.

"Farkle," she said, snapped me out of my daze, and took a breath before asking, "what do you want from me?"

Just the way her voice sounded from that question made my erection... you know, harden... I'm 27 fucking years old and still not good at words about sex. I do know that I'm starting to get my sex drive back. We know each other's limits. I need this release now, or I'm gonna have blue balls on the job tonight.

"Do it," I murmured, placing my hands on her hips.

The blonde smirked as I let her take the lead. She kissed my lips, my cheek, jaw, neck, and collarbone. Her hands reached for the hem of my shirt, but I wouldn't let her take it off. I like to at least keep my shirt on during sex because it keeps me warm. She settled for running her soft, small hands underneath the fabric. Her manicured fingernails left no signs of hard scratches on my back. She knew I liked light scratches as opposed to being dug into. Once her lips returned to mine, I let her have me. She kissed me all over my body and through my shirt until her face stopped down there. Again, I gulped before she slowly undid my jeans, pulled them down to my thighs along with my briefs, and helped free my hardening cock from its confines.

Seven and a half inches. That's how long my shaft is. I pray to God that Maya doesn't take it all into her mouth. No girl I've ever been with ended up swallowing swords for a living!

Maya kept ghosting her breath all over my shaft. I really wish she would get it over with. I gotta be somewhere! She planted baby kisses down my cock and nipped at the skin of my balls. Starting from the scrotum, she traced the vein upward with her pointed tongue and stopped at the slit atop the head. Unnfff, I let out as I lay my head back on the couch. Dear God, woman, enough with the teasing!

I felt Maya's lips envelop my manhood like a lollipop. She sucked at different speeds and pressures while bobbing up and down my shaft. God, she looked gorgeous doing it. She wrapped her hand around my cock and started pumping along with her sucking and bobbing. Her voice sent a vibration to my cock, and I just lost it. I squirmed as I held her by her hair. I was getting ready to blow, no pun intended.

"Dear god, Maya, I'm so close. I can't hold on much longer!"

She pulled off with a pop but kept on pumping me.

"You like that, Minkus? You gonna cum for me, baby?"

"Pleeeeease, Maya, I'm gonna cum."

Her mouth returned to the head of my cock, and for the next minute, my vision got blurry. I'm dead. Rest in peace, Farkle J. Minkus. You will be missed.

As I returned from my high, I can honestly say: I think I just came in Maya's mouth. Did I just hear her swallow?

She crawled back onto me and straddled my lap, just hovering over my cock, ready for me to enter. I placed my hand on her chest to stop her from going any further. I dug into the back pocket of my jeans for a Magnum, found it, tore open the wrapper, took out its contents, and correctly rolled it onto my cock. Okay, now I'm ready. Maya lowered herself and let me in. I watched her adjust to my hardness. She's tight, yet she's just right.

My hands wandered to Maya's hips, but she grabbed my wrists and pinned them to the back of the couch behind me, never letting go. Good god, woman, loosen your grip! When she rode me like the wind, I knew I was gone again. She attached her forehead to mine to make her climax easier. Maya was practically bouncing on my shaft.

The girl doesn't know when to quit! She ground her hips against mine, giving me a signal to thrust with her. I mean, I love this girl, but, just like Riley can be a bit of a handful in real life, Maya can be too much in a sexual encounter. That's when things started getting hot. She was getting close, and I was about to come again. Her walls began constricting around my shaft, milking every ounce of sperm that my body was willing to release. I'm gone again. I just came. When she also came, she buried her head in my neck, screaming and panting as she plateaued. Maya clung to me for dear life. She's hugging me, and naturally, I returned it.

"I feel better. Thank you," she said, continuing her thrusts slowly.

"You're welcome."

The blonde beauty eased off me and lowered herself to the floor. To the floor? What's on the floor that she needed?

Suddenly, I felt hands around my lower calves where my jeans had bunched up. Oh, no. We're not going another round, Maya. I gotta be somewhere, Maya. Damn, damn, damn it, Maya. She lifted my feet to take off my shoes, socks, and jeans. We're gonna be here for a while. I'm gonna need more Magnums.

She then joined me on the couch again and posed on all fours. Maya, what now? The blonde positioned her ass right by my face. Oh no, I'm not eating you out. I did what I thought was necessary: place chaste kisses all over her bubbly behind. I found my jeans and reached in the pocket for another condom. I always put on the condom. Otherwise, I'll hit rock bottom.

I got up on my knees, grabbed her hips, aligned my cock with her entrance, and penetrated her from behind. Damn, she loved it. And that was the initial thrust! I went ahead and pumped in and out of Maya's dripping wet... GOD DAMN IT, LET IT OUT, FARKLE. It was perfect. Maya was definitely aroused, but her face was faking it. Milk the fucking orgasm for what it's worth, why don't ya?

Only she wasn't faking it. Something tells me she's a bit... sex happy. Like a person is trigger-happy with a gun, Maya is sex happy with my tommy gun. Did I just say that? Ouch!

"Damn, Farkle, you're good at this," Maya complimented me.

"Thank... you..." I breathed out while trying not to climax. I was hoping we'd climax together and topple over.

"Farkle, take me there again. Please?"

She wants me to make her come. A climax means you've reached some sort of promised land. To me, the promised land is a bunch of bullshit in context. They're these floaters and flashing stars that collectively hinder your vision when your blood flow momentarily shies away from your brain. It's the greatest feeling ever, but they sure give this feeling an unusual name.

I sped up my thrusts and gave Maya everything I've got. Maya squealed as I kept pushing. I grabbed her hair with one hand and gripped her hip harder with the other. I want to take us there. It only took so much out of me because I don't love her like that. The stream spilled out of me and into the Magnum. Maya's walls tightened up as she came. I did not "die" this time around. I just felt ecstatic.

"Got any more Magnums?"

She snapped me out of my daze. God damn it. No. No. Fuck no. I can't go another round. My body can't take it anymore, Maya. I can only carry so many condoms at a time.

My eyes caught sign of the clock. It's almost one in the morning, and it takes a half-hour to drive and another half-hour for setup. THANK YOU, JESUS! I needed to meet Lucas and Josh at the Haley property. I'm gonna be late.

"Maya... Maya?" I tapped her on the shoulder, signaling her to get up.

"Huh? What?" she still must be coming down from her high.

"I have to go," I muttered under my breath.

"Oh."

I slowly pulled out, tied off the condom, and trashed it. Maya went to the bathroom for a washcloth. As I redressed my lower half, Maya returned.

"So, what do you think?" Maya asked.

"Shouldn't you do the FWB's thing with somebody else?" I replied.

"Well, you are somebody else," she said as she wrapped an arm around me. "Somebody else who comes to me when I'm not feeling the best. We didn't have to have sex, but I know you'd do anything for me, Farkle."

She hugged me and kissed my cheek in thanks.

"I'll see you at Riley's office later this week. Go get 'em, Farkle," she opened the door and let me leave.

Ooh, encouragement from the artist. How sweet of her. Now I know I'm getting the shot. I got in my car, turned on the ignition, and shifted into reverse. As I pull out of the driveway, I shift to drive. Just when my thoughts were cleared, something lingered in the back of my mind.

Whaddya mean, "We didn't have to have sex?"


I sat in the back seat of Josh's black Dodge Challenger while he and Lucas rode up front. This was a risky thing Riley wanted me to do, but this is what she wants. I am really eager to get the shot as proof that Dominic J. Dean, famed actor and comedian, could be a domestic violence victim. Scratch that; he is a domestic violence victim. What do I care what body a victim is in? Abuse is abuse.

"So, how's Maya doing? You said you stopped by her place. What's going on?" Josh had to ask.

"I stopped by to check on her. She's bitter that you're on assignment tonight. She said it was okay, though. No big deal," I answered.

"No big deal how? What did you and Maya plan to do, Josh?" Lucas asked.

"She was taking me to an art show in SoHo. Don't get so defensive, now, Tex," Josh replied.

"Defensive?! Don't get me started on defensive..."

This was getting good. Those two are fighting over Maya, and I'm just keeping my mouth shut because neither of them deserves to know of our tete-a-tete. How long until the Freak Face finds out that Boing is FWB's with Maya? How long till they realize that I'm FWB's with Maya?

"She told me the art show was on all weekend. We'll go Sunday," I suggested.

"Make sure Maya's cool with it," Lucas said.

We parked on the curb across the street, stopping in front of a house for sale. Lucky us. The Haley property was gated. Secured. Josh gave me a small piece of paper with a number on it. It was the passcode to the gates. I grabbed my bag of equipment and stepped out of the car.

"You good to go, Farkle-tography?" Josh asked.

I'm not amused. "Ha-ha, very funny. I'll let you know when I'm situated. Keep the speakers on at all times, so you can hear me, and I can hear you in my left earpiece. Riley had the house wired, so I can not only see, but hear with my right earpiece. If Con and Dom say anything, shut up."

"Farkle, don't worry. You're gonna get the shot. Go get set up!" Freak Face encouraged.

With my belongings in my black backpack, I crossed the street and faced the silver gates of Connie Haley's mansion. I looked to the right to see a keypad that said ENTER CODE in all capital letters. I had the writing on the paper memorized. What was so significant about this four-digit code? They're just random numbers. Are they not? I punched in the numbers, and the screen said APPROVED. The gates split open, so I can enter the property. There was a pathway to the front door, but my place on the property is in the tree to the left. It's a damn sycamore.

I finally get the gear set up and my camera is ready. Just focus on the bedroom window, and... boom. I'm ready to go. I turn on my hidden mic to communicate with the others. Old fashioned communication with code names.

"Squeak to Freak Face and Boing in the Challenger. Squeak to Freak Face and Boing in the Challenger, do you copy? Over."

"The Challenger to Squeak the Mouse, this is Freak Face speaking. Over," I heard in my right ear.

"Squeak to Freak. I'm all set up. If you look high enough, you'll see the camo in the second row of tree branches. Over."

"Boing to Squeak. We see you, Squeak. You're barely noticeable from a distance."

I saw a beautiful buxom brunette park her car outside the back garage. It's Crazy Connie. She exited her car and locked up. I snap a few shots just to see her normal behavior before she flips out on Dominic, like Truskin claimed.

"Squeak to Challenger, Connie just entered the property through the alley. Over," I whispered, keeping my volume low enough to avoid Connie.

"Boing to Squeak. Did you get some shots yet? We don't want you running out of film. Over."

"Relax, guys. I got a few shots of her getting out of her car. I'll let you know when I see something major. Over."

"Copy that. Over," said Josh.

Connie walked in the door and turned the lights on. As soon as Connie entered the kitchen to grab some medicine, Dominic was sitting on the couch in the living room. He slammed her with questions.

I heard some static and minor conversation between Lucas and Josh, so I shushed them to listen to Dominic and Connie.

"Constance Haley Cotton, where are you going? Where have you been?" Dominic asked, audible in my left ear.

"What are you saying, Dom?" Connie asked nervously.

"You were out partying again, weren't you?"

"Dom, stop."

"You need to stop going out with the girls. You know I'm important to you. Why make them a higher priority?"

I snapped a few pictures of Dominic's charade. He stood 6'1" and weighed 160 pounds, all muscle. And I do mean all muscle. He works out like two hours a day, six days a week. The concern he had for Miss Connie showed in his body language.

"Because you've been a bit of a pig lately."

He scoffed, "I'm a pig? You're the one who's been completely absurd. What? With your dirty behavior at the clubs. I'm surprised the paps ain't snapped a photo to show how promiscuous you can get. To tell you the truth, I'm sick of it. What you're doing is gross."

"So, what? Are you calling me a hypocrite?!"

"I'm just telling you that if you truly care about me, you'd do the right thing and get help. I want you to stop partying!"

"And what if I don't want to stop?"

"Then that's your decision. I'm sick and tired of it. Connie doesn't go out and party to get high. Connie is very headstrong, sometimes too headstrong. And, the Connie I know would give up anything for me. I don't want you partying anymore."

"Well then, fuck you!"

And out of nowhere, Connie slapped Dominic loud enough, and I snapped the play-by-play. These photos are too good to pass up once they get developed in my darkroom. I saw Connie leave the house with her pills and her keys.

"I'm leaving you, Dominic J. Dean!"

She planned to drive off to the club again to dirty dance until dawn. How do they live with themselves? Backspace it. How is Connie going to live with herself when, not if, this story gets published?

"Squeak to Challenger, I got the shot. Once Connie leaves the property, I'm packing up my belongings, so I can return to the car. Over," I whispered to avoid suspicion.

"Boing to Squeak, over and out."

I turned my mic off. I waited for Connie's car to pull out of her driveway. She left the same direction she came in. Thank goodness, she didn't take the front road. I would've been caught and sued. I packed everything into my backpack and wrapped myself with my camouflage blanket. It sure is chilly up in that tree. As I climbed down, I noticed that Lucas was standing below to catch me if I missed a step. It's only 3:00 AM, and no lights are on in the neighborhood. Everything went so smoothly. I cannot wait to show and tell Riley what I managed to capture.

Paparazzi has a name, and it's Farkle fucking Minkus.

Chapter Text

Hey, it's me, Farkle Minkus, resident scientist and part-time photographer for a magazine called Dirty Deeds. My best friend, Riley Matthews, got promoted to editor-in-chief. First off, she had an appointment with actor Matt Truskin to reveal to him that his girlfriend, Evani Farrow, is a two-timer despite her good-girl persona. Farrow's other man in the video evidence is Wade Capra, Truskin's friendly rival in the movie business.

"I'm calling it 'Fapra.'"

In lieu of keeping Evani Farrow's video affair a secret, Riley gave me her first assignment to find out what comedian Connie Haley is hiding. Truskin was right. Connie's full of fury. I found out in the middle of the night that she has been physically and verbally abusing her ex-boyfriend, actor/model Dominic J. Dean, and I took the pics for proof.

"Dominic's being abused."

"I'm leaving you, Dominic!"

*CLICK*

Lucas is my right-hand partner who helps me with my pap outings. He's seeing Maya Hunter. She's an artist of many styles. She's seeing Lucas while still in a friends-with-benefits relationship with Riley's uncle, Josh Matthews. Maya also has a steady in Lucas's best friend, Zay Babineaux. That's a lotta guys to go around.

None of that mattered when she and I had a rendezvous like a "voulez vous coucher avec moi ce soir" kind of thing before work last week. She went ape shit and had her way with me.

"Farkle, what do you really want from me?"

"Do it."

*CLICK*

It was a wonderful first week with Riley as the EIC of Dirty Deeds. I cannot wait to see what else she has in store for me. See how dumb these celebrities would be to give into our demands. Hah, dumb.

*CLICK*


(excerpt from Maya Hunter, Maya Hunter)

I know I've been rejected before, but I'm okay with it now. I've become numb to rejection. This rejection, however, was for good intention. It's called work, and there are no greater men dedicated to their jobs than Dr. Farklestein, Ranger Rick, and Uncle Boing. I had all the faith in the world that they were going to meet the deadlines that Riley had set for them. This deadline was killer.

During my conversation with Farkle, he told me that Riley assigned him to snap some photos of the home life regarding one of the power couples in show business: Dominic J. Dean (Lord, have mercy) and Connie Haley (Please, God, do NOT get me started on her). Everyone who reads magazines knows that Connie is a party animal, and Dominic is more reserved. That's what we all love about Dominic. Now, magazines are looking for answers to Connie's reckless behavior.

I'm working on a sketch right now. It's a depiction of a woman slapping a man. I found a fresh sketch pad underneath Farkle's care package. I began working on the sketch right after Farkle left. This sketch, called "No such thing as a double standard," is nothing, really. If a man slapped a woman, he'd get arrested. Why can't a violent woman get charged for domestic violence on a man for once? I'm not violent, I swear. Those days are over.

I should've mentioned: I just fucked Farkle Minkus. Again. That's how I know my life is going all over the place, and I kinda like it that way.


(and now, we return to Dirty Deeds)

It was Riley's day off, but her mind was still on work, so I invited her to my place to show her the process in developing photos from film. I stick with the old-fashioned photography because it's too easy to photoshop and manipulate scenarios these days. Film photography makes it more fun to capture the candid moments. And, based on what I had captured that night at Connie Haley's house, Riley is going to love what I snapped.

I reacquainted Riley with my bachelor pad. I recently invested in an outdoor shed for my photo laboratory. One of my old flames, a Smackle who shall not be named, whoops, took notice of the intoxicating fumes from the chemicals in the house. Naturally, I had to air out the house for a few days. Anyhow, as Riley familiarized herself with my place, I planned to show her where I develop my photos.

Riley stopped at the French patio doors that led to my backyard. In the northeast corner of the yard stood my laboratory. She was surprised that I would buy something like a tiny eight-by-ten barn. I later explained to her that I didn't know where to put a work station, so I bought a shed. What she doesn't know won't hurt her. Anyway, Riley complimented the place and wanted to see my lab. I had strict rules for the lab. Always wear your personal protective equipment. Time is valuable. Results may vary. My least strict rule was that I developed photographs my way.

"...and P.S., you may want to pull your hair into a bun. The rubber bands are in the second desk drawer in the den if you need them. Meet me at the lab when you're ready."

"Will do, Farkle. Hey, Farkle?"

I turned around as I tied my apron and looked at her.

"Have you ever shown anyone your lab before?" she asked.

"You're the first," I answered.

"Funny," was all she spat out as she furrowed her eyebrows in confusion and awe.

Funny? What's funny about being the first person, let alone girl, other than myself, to see photographic Farkle in his natural habitat?

I walked out the double doors to my lab. I had the doors to my shed padlocked for safety purposes. As I unlocked and opened the door, I turned on the light. Riley was right behind me, looking beautiful in that messy bun tied together with a red rubber band. I couldn't help but look at how the blue apron hugged her curves, and how her hands looked the same after being covered with red latex gloves. Remember, Farkle, you have to show her the shot.

I already had my sheet trays prepared for development. As soon as Riley stepped inside, I turned off the lights, so we saw red. Riley always asked questions, and I was more than happy to answer them. I grabbed the sheet containing Connie's slap from the tray and placed it in the developer. Why did developing the sheet take the longest minute of my life? Riley's touch can't have that kind of effect on me, can it? After a long minute, I transferred the sheet to the stopper for another minute. Then came the fixer. Lastly, the water rinse. Riley didn't sneak a peek at the final shot. I explained to Riley that rinsing the photo clean of the chemicals will finally reveal what happened at Connie's house. She will love it when I hang it dry. As I pinned the photo to the line above the water tray, Riley reminded me of my deadline. I hate deadlines, especially if I'm the one who had to give them.

"It takes time and patience to go through this. Most times, it takes me a whole day to get a roll of film developed. I can't make this my job forever, Riley."

"I know that. It'll be bumming to know that you'll have to retire 50 years from now."

"A lot of us will be lucky to be alive 50 years from now. Dirty Deeds will still be around with one of your proteges at the helm," I said, turning on the light.

Riley stood there in silence, looking at the picture of Connie slapping Dominic. She looked like she wanted to cry, and she did.

"It's... it's..." Riley couldn't say anything.

"Let it out, Riley. Tell me. Do you not like it? Or should I plan for another night? Because I'm open until the issue after this comes out," I said because I never know.

Riley had her hallelujah moment. Her debts were paid off. She had just purchased her Porsche. She bought an expensive Victorian mansion. She had reached her own damn promised land. She fell in love with the shot. And I fell in love with her.

"I might have a new permanent photographer for Dirty Deeds. How did you get this?" Riley asked, still looking at the picture.

"It was easy once I situated myself in the sycamore," I answered.

"I think I just came a little," Riley murmured, followed by many sobs and a head-desk into her arms.

"Wow, uhm, why don't we let this picture dry, and we'll go back in the house, okay? I'll fax you a copy if you'd like," I nervously dragged her out of the lab because honestly, I was excited, and I use the term loosely.

"Farkle, it's the perfect picture. It was exactly what I had in mind, right down to the angle of impact on Dominic's body! Why so nervous?" she asked as she stopped me outside the French doors of my house.

Don't let her see your excitement in your pants, Farkle. Don't let her see.

"I, uh," I stammered as I used my free hand to cover my "problem."

"Farkle, are you okay?" Riley's starting to notice something wrong with me now.

I just looked her brown eyes in the face and opened the door, making a beeline for the bathroom. On the way, I hit play on my loudspeaker to break the silence. I don't know what kind of look she had on her face, and I don't care. I am not ready for this. I love this woman, but why?

I shut the bathroom door, pushed my pants to my knees, and began to stroke myself over the bathtub. I used the wall on the opposite side as my leverage. I hated that I sprung an erection at the wrong time, and the only way to make it go away is to fucking take care of it. This kind of feeling was for one woman who had my heart since I was six. I was nearing my orgasm when I felt a tear stream down my face. That's how I knew I was in love. Love hurts, and it gives me that kind of ache that never leaves. I had these visions of Riley going down on me, and that was it. I let out a breathy grunt as I bit my lower lip, and three ropes of cum spurt onto the marble of the tub's floor. I looked down at the sperm that graced the bathtub. Goodness. Riley Matthews. Why Riley? Why not?

I pulled up my pants, cleaned up my mess, and washed my hands. As I dried my hands, I walked out the bathroom door and returned to Riley, who was lounging on my couch. She heard my footsteps and asked me what happened in the bathroom. Was I out of breath or something?

"Farkle, are you okay? Did you need to go to the bathroom that bad?"

"No, I'm fine, Riley. I just... lost myself for a moment there."

"Oh, I see," she said, realizing that I needed a brief private time.

It's only been a few days since I had sex with Maya. I wanted to get the blonde off my mind before I can do anything with Riley. I just don't want her to know that.

"Farkle, is there something you did that I don't know about?" Riley asked out of the blue.

Shit. Busted. She caught me. Deny, deny, deny.

"It was on a whim," I answered.

GOD DAMN IT! Now the rest of the story needs to come out.

"What was on a whim? Did you fuck some girl?" I didn't answer. "You fucked some girl. I knew it." She shouted, "Farkle Minkus fucked some girl, and he liked it!" with happiness as she tickled my sides. Is she really proud of me?

"Riley, it wasn't just some girl."

"No?" she pondered with a guessing face. "Did you and the Doctor get back together for old time's sake?" She's referring to Isadora. "Or how about Sarah? She's one of the most observant women I know, which is why I hired her as a second-in-command investigator. Or Darby? She's a screamer! Why wouldn't she come to me first? She's always telling everybody on everyone..."

"Riley, stop," I interrupted her. She stopped talking. "I need you to not freak out when I tell you who I might've done the deed with, okay?"

"Farkle, please, if you're gonna preface the reveal with that," she's onto something. I think she already figured it out.

"I had sex with Maya." Whew.

"Farkle, you didn't."

"I gave her a care package one night before the guys and I were out, and then we talked, and one thing led to another, and..."

"Farkle, stop," she covered my mouth with her hand. "I've heard enough. I hope you used a Trojan."

"Magnum," I muffled into her hand.

"Oh, thank God," she sighed as she released me. She spoke again, "Farkle, as heartbreaking as that is, I can't stop you from making love to anybody who isn't me unless you want me to."

I looked away from her because now I regret banging Maya. No, you don't, you nit-wit! Riley was my first true love and first time, even though we both decided to break up during college. I wonder what she meant by "unless you want me to." Does she want to reconcile our relationship? She can't do it to spite the single life. We must have it made before we can. So far, neither of us are where we want to be. I'm a bachelor photographer who makes his bank from Minkus International shares. She's a bachelorette on the verge of ruling the entertainment world in New York City. One would think a journalist climbing her way to the top of the ladder would be married by now. We're nearing the 2030s for crying out loud!

"Riley, I–"

"Farkle, can we forget about Maya for a second? You got the shot! Have it on my desk by tomorrow morning. Okay?" She snapped me out of my daze again by hugging me. "I love you, Farkle. Don't damage yourself too much to get one shot."

The beautiful brunette kissed the corner of my mouth and peppered a line to the skin of my mandible (the corner of my jaw) before pulling away. She got up from the couch and offered her hand, asking for a dance. Riley Amy Matthews, what am I gonna do with you?


(excerpt from Riley's Rebellion)

Ever since I took that editor-in-chief position at Dirty Deeds, I knew what kind of headline I wanted to publish. I had assigned my friends and colleagues different tasks revolving around the hottest story I came up with. This story I picked up from Matt Truskin, God bless him, is his "shut up and remain anonymous" payment. I won't go into detail, but Truskin's soon-to-be ex-girlfriend is in a sex tape that someone sent me. It's the ultimate blackmail weapon until I find something better.

Blackmail doesn't come easy in my life. Now that I know how it works, I just use that as a motivation to be the ultimate journalist of the New York tabloid business. What matters is that I make this world mine. Mine!

I invited Maya over to my apartment for a lunch. I ordered pizza to be delivered at 1:30 on the dot. Maya showed up with her briefcase (for her laptop and sketches) as I was placing the order on the phone. I motioned for her to sit at the kitchen counter. I then pressed END on my phone to go sit with Maya and talk about business and the goings-on in life.

"Farkle told me you got promoted to Editor in Chief at Dirty Deeds. How's that going for you?"

"It's wonderful. Farkle invited me to his place yesterday to show me the developing process in photography. Photography is a beautiful thing, Maya."

"I know," she smiled at me. "Did he show you the shot he said he was going to get?"

"Oh yeah," I answered, emphasizing the 'oh.'

"No way!"

"Yeah way! It was exactly how I imagined it to a T!"

"Riley, you are unstoppable. Is he gonna fax you the photo for the cover?"

I pulled the photo from my manila folder and showed Maya. Her jaw dropped to the floor.

"This is just the fax copy, not the original. Do you have a mock-up sketch?" I asked.

She opened her briefcase and ran her fingers through a couple of papers before pulling out one of a mock-up cover of Dirty Deeds, now under a new chief editor. I couldn't believe my eyes when she showed me a pencil sketch of a woman slapping a man. The logo was sketched out perfectly. The blurb in an exploding box in front of the man's torso read, "No such thing as a double standard!" I am amazed. I found my Porsche. This is my Ferrari. Everything is falling into place. My jaw dropped, and I felt my mouth drool from my chin to the floor within a half second.

"MAYA!" I screamed as if I were looking for her, but I already knew where she was.

She just laughed at me. That's expected.

"I'm right here, Riley. What's wrong? Do you not like the mock-up?" Maya asked.

"I. Love it," I said with honesty. "I want to know how you thought of this. Did Farkle show you the shot before me?" I then asked curiously.

"Farkle stopped by my house that night with a care package as an apology for stealing my dates. He then made it up to me by letting me have my way with him," she murmured to a mute with that last sentence.

"Maya, if you had sex with Farkle, you can tell me, you know," I reassured her, no matter how much it hurt me.

"I know. He and I were just so vulnerable over petty things, so I thought, 'why not be vulnerable together?' Stupid thought of the night. After he left, I found a sketch pad underneath the toys. I started drawing everything Farkle told me," she paused as she sipped her seltzer water. "Mm, paper after paper. Scenario after scenario. I felt like I predicted it. You become editor-in-chief. You assign Farkle to capture a shot of Connie Haley and Dominic J. Dean. I drew a picture to answer the question 'what if Dominic really is being abused?' That's the outcome. The mock-up, that you see before you, is the original sketch. Do not lose this, Riley. This will launch you to the top."

Maya showed me every sketch in a timeline of that day's events. I thought it was kinda cute when I was sitting on my desk, talking to Farkle, and hearts were blooming from his head. I then fixated my eyes on a sketch where Maya and Farkle were having clothed doggy-style sex, and both had weirdly worried looks on their faces as if she were in pain or something from her bun being yanked. That's an image that's going into the Rileytown Naughty Files. Next picture was one of Lucas and Josh eating donuts in the car. Their eyes were focused in the center, possibly keeping an eye on Farkle. Then there was Farkle in a bird's nest, taking a picture with a giant camera. Finally, the shot! The lady, representing Connie Haley, had her mouth wide open and her hand firm on her man's face from the slap. The man, Dominic J. Dean, just took the blow with the skin of his face absorbing the shock.

I heard the two notes of the doorbell, the first note followed by a minor third. It's the ring that never ages. I walked over to open the door, and there's my other gal-pal, Isadora... ahem, Doctor Isadora Smackle, with the pizza that I ordered a half hour ago. That was sweet of her to cover the tab from the delivery guy. Awh, I was hoping the delivery guy would be cute!

"Dr. Smackle, just in time for lunch!" I greeted as I took the pizza box from her to welcome her.

I heard her pull up a chair next to Maya. As I set the large pepperoni pineapple pizza down on the island, Smackle looked at Maya's sketches. If there were a single trait or ability that Smackle had picked up over the years, it would be her gift of being observant. Her observations were then turned into research papers that got published in all the good psychology magazines and periodicals. She rightfully earned her degrees in all the major sciences.

Smackle saw the final drawing where the female abuses the male. She asked permission to give input, and we let her.

"The surprising thing about this is, there aren't that many domestic abuse shelters for male victims. The society has pressured the woman into always playing the victim. For the last ten years, men have finally stepped forward. Some were laughed at. Some were taken seriously. I should know. Farkle's mother was the same way; only, she was more verbally abusive. Some women out there do not want to admit the truth. They've become compulsive liars to their own victimization, and it's sickening. I've valued my life too much to listen to their bullshit during therapy sessions."

"What does that mean, doc?" Maya asked with her mouth full of pizza.

"It sounds low, and it sounds rather hypocritical, but these women in question keep paying for therapy sessions. In laymen's terms, mo' money, mo' problems!" Isadora explained.

Maya and I giggled at that line because it just sounded funny. Doctor Smackle hates her practice with patients who fail to realize that they are the root of their own problems, but if she makes money off it, more power to her!

"There has to be an underlying cause to this woman's anger and why she takes it out on this man. Is this supposed to represent something here?" the doctor asked, confused about what these pictures mean.

"Dr. Smackle, these are actual events that happened," I explained.

"Yeah, last week," Maya noted.

"You know, the slapper looks an awful lot like that comedian, Connie Haley. She's one of my patients in my psychology practice," Smackle observed.

"You know Connie Haley?" Maya asked.

They continued to discuss how much Connie was a "whiner" and a "classic sob story." I just watched and listened as I ate my slice of pizza and drank my lemon water. Everything I needed to know for the final draft of my headline is right in front of me. Of course, I won't use their names, but I still need permission.

"I hate to interrupt, but I have this deadline for my headline. Dr. Smackle, if you don't mind, I'd like to take what you said about Connie Haley into consideration for my article. I won't use your name," I said.

"Of course, Riley. I won't be mad," Smackle said.

"But someone will," Maya said.

"I know, but this is the kind of story that will knock Slutville off the charts," I said.

"Slutville as in Missy Bradford Slutville?" Maya asked with her mouth full.

I only nodded.

Slutville is the rival tabloid magazine run by Melissa Suarez. At least, that's what the credits in the table of contents says. My friends and I once knew her as Missy Bradford. Ugh, I still shudder at that name. She grew up to marry Nigel, God bless him. For the last five years, she has dominated the tabloid world. None of the stories she published turned out to be true, but people still read them because she stretches the truth. Now, it's my turn. Missy couldn't get the truth of this story if she tried.

Maya, Isadora, and I wrapped up our lunch. I stored the leftover pizza in my fridge. I didn't care what the other two were talking about. Ever since I mentioned Slutville, my blood began to boil. Maya was the first to notice.

"Riley, you seem tense. Something wrong?"

I didn't want to speak about it.

"I'm okay, Maya. I just..." I stuttered and stammered.

"Let it out, honey," she interrupted.

"I can only hope that this issue flies off the shelves."

Honesty. Brutal honesty. That's how I plan to get by in this world. Because, the truth shall set you free.


(we now return to Dirty Deeds)

I received a text from Riley's brother. I guess the little guy wanted me to stop by his apartment in Greenwich Village. What does he know?! More importantly, what did I do?

I buzzed Auggie's apartment, and he told me to come on up. The elevator was broken, and I took the stairs. He lives on the fifth floor! Then again, I'm still in shape, so it's not a big deal.

I knocked on Auggie's door three times. Then another three times. And another three times... I give up.

I was about to take the first step of walking away when Auggie answered the door.

"Farkle, hey, let's go to the stairs at the entryway."

"Fine by me," I said.

So, we trekked down the many flights of stairs. He didn't want to say anything until we sat down on the stairs of the porch. I guess he wanted to confide in me about something important.

"Did you know that Ava's pushing me to marry her?"

"I'm aware. What about it?"

"I want to wait until I had a steady job. We're still living in that apartment, paycheck to paycheck. It's complicated. I am still looking for a ring."

"There's nothing complicated about living check to check. It's life. We all have our difficulties. I trust that you know what you want to do. Your sister always brags about how much you and Ava love each other. She's also confident that you'll be the one to follow in your mother's footsteps. How's that going, by the way?"

"Awesome. I have three more semesters left of my undergrad, and I'll be on my way to law school."

"Any law school of choice?"

"NYU is still number one, man."

"Awesome."

"What made you decide that you wanted to pursue photography as a career?"

"I didn't. My love of science and the study of chemicals pushed me all sorts of directions. Photography just fell into my lap, and I've been doing it since I turned 20. I've shown major magazines my works, and they paid me top dollar for more. Dirty Deeds wanted me as a photographer before Riley was promoted to Editor-in-Chief. Now, your sister wants me as the photographer. Her go-to guy."

"Maybe it's because she's in love with you."

"Riley is not in love with me like she used to be, Auggie."

"How do you know if she really is in love with you? Farkle, my big sister loves you. You and Maya are her best friends. I mean, you love both girls. Hell, you even bragged about banging them when you were drunk a couple years ago."

"Don't remind me," I said, realizing that we're going off base. "So, what else is new? You're still seeing Ava..."

"Yes, but I'm stuck. I feel like I've hit a crossroads in my life. I need some direction. Before, it was 'Where's our next payment gonna go?' Now, based on our work schedules, it's 'When's our next night to be intimate?' Do you know what I mean?"

"Yes, unfortunately. You can only work so much. If you really love her, I suggest you propose to her."

"With what money? I told you, I'm still in the hunt for a ring."

"You could do some internship for my father's company. Lots of cute girls and money. These cute girls are already in relationships, but that doesn't stop them from talking to you. It's strictly business. Ava's got her Greek business, and you're now part of Minkus International."

"I'll take you up on that offer, Farkle. Thanks for stopping by. I love you, man," Auggie cried into my shoulder, hugging me.

I knew Auggie was down in the dumps lately, but I didn't know his troubles were that huge. He was out of a job until I offered him an internship at Minkus International. I'll take a hug of gratitude any day.


(excerpt from Dr. Smackle's Boys)

Isadora Smackle is all about learning behaviors, even if she can't mimic them on her own. Oh, who am I kidding? I'm Isadora Smackle, Ph.D. That's right. I have a degree in just about everything. This chapter of my life, I'm focusing on a practice in couples' therapy and psychology. What two suckers do I have lined up for today? I check the schedule, and it's Connie and Dominic. I remember going over to Riley's for lunch, and the subject was brought up. I do not want to listen to these so-called "comedians" bicker about their hatred for each other. I thought couples were supposed to love each other.

"Constance, Dr. Smackle will see you now," the receptionist said to the couple in the waiting room.

The bitter blonde lady and the hunky-dory brunet walked into my office and shut the door behind them.

"Miss Cotton, Mr. Dean, how have things been since our last meeting?" I asked.

"Awful," Connie started. "Dominic doesn't trust me anymore, so I slammed the door in his face in the wee hours of Sunday morning!"

"You were losing your sanity after clubbing," Dominic angrily said.

"Oh, don't you get started with me. You knew what kind of relationship you were getting into with me..."

"No, I didn't!"

"Because guys don't normally go for party girls, but that's how I do, Dominic..."

"Party girls certainly don't take pills to hide their tracks, Connie..."

I was becoming irritated upon hearing these two arguing. It's as if that's all they do! I reached out my hand limply, rolled my eyes, and brought it back to my mouth, like I was thinking of something. Luckily, one of my skills came in handy when I realized that my hand was covering my mouth. I suddenly remembered that I can finger-whistle. So, I whistled through my fingers loud, long, and hard.

"That oughta get your attention, you two," I firmly said.

"Sorry, doc, but this girl is a lunatic," Dominic said.

"Lunatic?! You're the one who is a loony, you... Fucky McFuck Face!" Connie shot back.

They went at it again. My face looked like I was about to cry, but I just ran my hands through my face. I then took my candy bowl and hid under the desk while I listened to their quarrel.

Chocolate candy. Peanut butter cup. Caramel bite. Kit Kat. Gumdrop. Gummi Bear. Water. After about three rounds of candies and a gurgling stomach noise, Dominic said something that caught my attention.

"You haven't been the same since you started drinking!"

"Whoa, whoa, whoa, hold it!" I exclaimed, raising my hand out of my desk.

I climbed back into my chair with my half-empty bowl of candies placed in the same corner of the desk. I think I may have found the root of the couple's problems. It's an aha! moment, but I found it rather concerning that Connie could be an alcoholic.

"Miss Cotton, is this true? Have you been drinking?" I asked, pen in hand.

"A little bit," she answered.

"Connie," Dominic drug out.

"Okay, I'm an alcoholic. I've been using half my money to binge drink. That's why I hired a driver to take me to and from the clubs. The girls, they miss me," Connie admitted.

"Is there another cause to your drinking, Miss Cotton?" I asked.

"I have this... tendency to... 'flare up,'" she said, using air quotes, "at the drop of a hat, if you know what I mean?"

I knew exactly what she meant.

"Knowing that alcohol is a good cover-up," she began...

Errrrp. No, it's not.

"I thought the alcohol would hide my anger. It turns out that it seeks it. I get angrier! As an alcoholic, my temper is hair-triggered, and if I don't get what I want, you pay the price," she confessed in a tell-all.

Wait till Riley gets a load of this!

"I will order this for you now, Miss Cotton, and you may not like it. Hell, you WILL not like it when I order you to attend meetings at Alcoholics Anonymous," I said, jotting down the order exactly.

"NO!" Connie cried into Dominic's arms. It's about time they showed signs of love with Dominic's gesture of hugging her crying, sobbing form.


(and now, back to Dirty Deeds)

The release of the first issue under new management was making us anxious, to say the least. Riley spent her weekends scrambling together articles and adding pictures to sell the stories. The mock-up that Maya gave showed exactly what Riley was looking for. The new logo, new management, and fresh-from-the-lab photograph helped make this issue perfect. Now, I can only hope that I don't get sued, harassed, and/or blackmailed at my own game.

I sat opposite Riley at the Dirty Deeds final draft meeting. She displayed the magazine cover on the projected screen, and everyone gasped. Does that mean they love it?

"That," Riley shouted as she pointed behind her from her laptop, "is going out to the press TONIGHT. You've all done a wonderful job in writing these stories, but this is only the beginning. I want these follow-ups to be bigger and better than the first! We'll have a brainstorming meeting on Monday afternoon, and everybody better be awake for that. We don't want a repeat of five months ago, do we?"

"No!" everyone answered.

"Somebody oughta tell the prank master that boggy water is not a good substitute for coffee," Sarah followed.

And yet, we still have to find this prank master who not only dirtied the coffee, but also put mayonnaise in everyone's lotion jars. I smiled as everyone was hooting over the new issue cover. I took that picture. I did. Me! Farkle Minkus took that picture! I'm feeling so giddy.

"Everyone, give your thanks and regards to Farkle. If it weren't for him, we'd be back at square one from the last editor-in-chief's first day," Riley said before concluding the meeting.

I was overwhelmed with a slew of thank yous, good jobs, and pats on the back. Farkle, you're the best! Farkle, awesome pics, dude. Farkle, I want you to have my babies!

Wait, what?!

If everyone is happy over this new issue, then the readers will want to know more once they buy from the stands or subscribe. I think whoever wants my babies is in charge of the subscription list. Where do we go from here? The lives of New York celebrities have prices, and we're willing to pay.

Victory, thy name is Farkle!

Chapter Text

Guess who? Yep, Farkle Minkus, scientist and part-time photographer for Dirty Deeds.

Dirty Deeds just published its first issue under the new editor in chief, Riley Matthews. Riley Matthews, the girl who's had my heart since we were six, worked her ass off in turning this magazine around. I showed her some of the photos from an old outing, and she showed interest because she knew the pictures would sell! Is "Fat Frieda" nearing death by overeating? What about that fake baby? Who knows about that jogger with man-boobs that you can't unsee? Not to mention, people everywhere are on edge about the relationship of Dominic J. Dean and Connie Haley.

*CLICK*

Riley's little brother, Auggie, summoned me for some advice.

"Before, it was 'where's our next payment headed?' Now, it's 'when's our next night to be intimate?' See what I mean?"

He's hit a crossroads with his girlfriend, Ava Morgenstern. Ava's the president of some undergrad sorority at NYU, and their organization has done well for themselves in charity. She can be controlling, but not as controlling as Connie Haley.

"As an alcoholic, my temper is hair-triggered, and if I don't get what I want, you pay the price."

Danger! Danger! The spoiled is strong with this one! Learn some humility, girl!

*CLICK*

Now that the first Riley issue of Dirty Deeds is out, I have been asked to announce that business for the 'zine is booming! Sales are up. Subscriptions have doubled, no, tripled. We haven't been sued. Riley is firm in her demands. I've gone through Hell and back to capture the shot that graced the cover. I honestly wish I could say the same for Riley's evil publisher, Brett Barricklow. However, if this profit increase motivates the staff to do more, we'll not only do more. We'll do better. That's the only way we can be better. If there's one thing I've learned in the last two weeks, it's this:

The truth: you cannot escape it.

I am Farkle!

*CLICK*


"Ask yourself, what do you think about us? I was in the station, cooking up something for us." (Pete Yorn - "For Us" 2006-07)

I stopped by my father's work to ask a favor on Riley's behalf. Since it was nearing the end of summer, she wanted an outdoor party, and I knew the place. I had to ask my dad.

First, security stopped me. Damn you, metal detectors. I pass through the doorway and BEEP. Wonder what's gonna happen now.

The guard whipped out a wand that made this high-pitched wee-woo noise, like scoping an extraterrestrial. She waved the wand around my head. It beeped at my lips.

"I have my tongue pierced," I said and stuck out my tongue. Don't ask.

She waved the wand down my body, searching for more metal. Why is it fucking beeping at my crotch now? The security guard gave me that look. With a huff, I pulled my keys out of my pocket and shook them right in front of her smug face. I walked right past the guard, shaking my damn head. They were just keys!

I stopped at the elevator and pushed the button. As it opened, Sarah and Darby walked out, said hello, and left. I entered the elevator and pushed the button for the 23rd floor. On the way up, the elevator stopped at floors 4, 6, 18, and my final stop, 23. Some of these people were on their way to a meeting on the same floor, but the opposite wing of my father's office, and some wanted to speak with my father directly. I exited the elevator and made a beeline for my dad's office. I'm first in line, even if I must cut in line because Farkle always goes first!

I looked through his glass door to see him turned away, facing his computer. I knocked on the door, and my father raised his hand, signaling me to enter.

My father heard me walk in and addressed me, "Farkle, I got your text. What's up?"

"I need to reserve the roof of the building for a party," I answered as I shut the door.

"What kind of party?" he asked as he turned around in his desk chair.

"It's a celebration dance party. Riley's first issue as the new editor-in-chief of Dirty Deeds sold millions of copies last week, and she wanted a rooftop party with club music and punch."

"You know there's a $1500 down payment if you want to have this party on the roof of Minkus International."

"Did you not hear that Riley is the editor-in-chief now? I'm her go-to photographer! Her first issue flew every copy off the shelves! After totaling the revenue in the books, my salary is practically doubled! I'm rolling in it because she asked me to get a shot that she'd been DYING to get. Dad, I'm finally getting somewhere with this, and if I'm lucky, Riley would want me to be hers again. You always said that Riley was the perfect girl for me, and that's not just because you were friends with her parents. You're pushing 50, and you still have a crush on her mother! If this is the next best thing–" Dad stopped me with his hand. I couldn't stop rambling.

"When do you plan on having this party?"

"Tomorrow night, sundown."

"You got it."

"Are you serious?"

"Consider this a free pass. After all, if your heart aches for Riley, go for her."

"Thank you, Dad. I'll be in touch," I said, shaking his hand.

"You're welcome, son," he returned the firm shake.

I walked out of his office, feeling happier than ever. I got the okay from my dad to hold the Dirty Deeds party atop the headquarters. I can't wait to tell Riley. I turned the corner to the main hall and noticed a quintet of cute female interns leaving the office: a humble rich girl with maroon hair, a ginger with freckles whom I recognize from somewhere, a baby blonde pigtailed Harley Quinn wanna-be, a gorgeous ethnic girl with a caramel-highlighted afro, and a girl with split-dyed hair. They were about to pass me.

Dear God, please give me the courage to talk to girls through my words, not my dick. Thank you. Amen.

"Ladies," I greeted them.

"Farkle," the womanly quintet returned in unison.

Wow, it's been awhile since I've had that reaction. I just nodded afterward and walked my way toward the elevator.

"Farkle, wait up!" one of the girls stopped me on my walk.

I turned around and noticed one of the interns shying away from her group, on a dare, I hope. If this is the same girl who grabbed my attention by telling me to wait, then I'll be damned if she wants to ask me out on a date.

It's obvious that she tans at the beach; that's my first observation about her. She had a long pixie cut that was half platinum blonde and half chocolate brown. It was slicked back so her high cheekbones showed. How does she do it, accentuating the cheekbones to complement her bright blue eyes? This girl usually wore button-down blouses (sometimes) tucked into cotton slacks, very professional. Her feet were dressed in low-cut black Chuck Taylors. The sneakers helped show off her sexy ankle tattoo of a tiny four-leaf clover, roughly less than a square inch coverage. I smiled at her because, well, I thought she was cute.

"Hi, um..." damn, I forgot her name!

"Rolanda."

"Rolanda, right."

"You can call me Ro, like the Greek letter, except..."

"It's spelled R-O," we said in unison, and it just came naturally to me as I said it. I remember her now. She had long red hair last time we talked. Damn, that half and half dye job did her wonders. I'm smiling. She looks great! And, she did say "Hey, Farkle."

"Almost didn't recognize you, Ro," I acknowledged with a chuckle.

"I don't think I recognized myself!" she said.

"Yeah," I chuckled.

"I saw your work in the Dirty Deeds magazine out at the front lobby. How did you do it?" She asked, curious to know my secret.

"Do what?" I asked in return, furrowing my eyebrows.

"Take the candids! You snapped a picture of my celebrity crush being slapped in the face by his abusive girlfriend. How did you do it?"

Oh, Dominic and Connie, huh? She stared at me with her piercing crystal blue eyes, wanting to know. That's all she has going for her. Her bright blue eyes. Shit, I can't stop staring at them now. I gestured a little "come hither" with my hand. She took the hint.

"Between you and me," I said to her in a husky voice, to which she leant closer toward me, "the really juicy stuff happens in the middle of the night."

"Farkle, you're a genius!" she laughed at me and playfully shoved me. In addition, she walked past me, rejoining her group, and said, "Hey, I heard you're throwing a party on the rooftop. Can't wait. It's gonna be fun stuff! Save me and my girls a dance!"

Not even five minutes out of my father's office, and at least one person, a beautiful and gorgeous one whom I barely know, knows about the rooftop party. GOD DAMN IT!

I hit the elevator button to enter and head for the ground floor. It's just my luck, too, as a trio of even cuter female interns waited for the elevator, too. As we entered, I asked what floors' buttons to push. They all said the ground floor. Since we were stuck in the elevator until we hit the ground, I would figure that someone would start talking. I guess it's my nervous vibe I'm giving off.

"So, what is this I hear about a party?" asked the blue-eyed, short-haired brunette with a deep voice.

"My father runs this place. I got his permission to host a party for my... friend."

I couldn't let these girls know that I had a thing for Riley (again). Then again, they were curious about how this party was going to come about.

"If Stuart is your father, then you must be Farkle," the same brunette said in awe, putting two and two together.

"Yeah, I am Farkle," I smiled, raising my arms in power, then realizing how awkward that move was. "Sorry."

Damn you – no. Fuck you, muscle memory.

"Don't be sorry," said this girl with vanilla skin and hazel eyes.

"We know who you are," said the third girl with an obvious Jamaican accent.

"Y-you do?" I asked nervously. I don't come by my father's office that often... do I?

"Ya, we're subscribers to the Dirty Deeds," said Jamaican girl.

"You photographed Connie Haley giving Dominic J. Dean the business," Vanilla Latte said matter-of-factly. I guess that's one way of putting it.

"Cut the chit-chat, girls," said the Brunette Blues. "Who came up with the thing, 'There's No Such Thing as a Double Standard?'"

"Oh, that would be my friend, Maya. She's one of the creative forces, and we are very close," I responded, to which Vanilla and Jamaica giggled.

"Anyway, about this party. Where and when is it, and can we come?" asked Brunetty.

"Rooftop, tomorrow night at sundown, and sure. It's a $5 entry fee to cover my down payment. Capacity is 500 people."

"Girls, we are so there!" said the Vanilla girl with sass.

The girls high-fived each other in excitement, but I could not wait to get out of there and head out to Zay's apartment. It's the weekly "Billiards and Darts Day at Zay's." I can only pray that Zay doesn't bet for the big loser to get a body part pierced. Again.


Once a week at Zay's apartment, the guys and I shoot pool and throw darts. Once a month, Zay throws in a silly little idea of what the big loser should do.

"Let's make this game a little more interesting. We'll do a quadrangular. The biggest loser must do something pretty humiliating," Zay said.

I groaned, "Guys, last time we did this, you made me pierce my tongue!" I raised my voice, "I haven't given girls the time of day since March because I needed time for my tongue to heal!"

We've been doing this for the last year. Some of the punishments we've endured, oh, where do I begin? I got my tongue pierced. That wasn't so bad because the exhale technique worked. The aftermath sucked because I like doing things with my tongue that aren't friendly. Lucas had to streak at a Native American rally wearing nothing but this ridiculous mask that Maya had designed. He only received a citation and a stern lecture from the security guard. Zay flaked as a flying monkey in a haphazard children's production of The Wizard of Oz. Let's just say that it'll leave those poor kids with either traumatic memories or funny ones. And Josh? Josh can't lose.

"So, what's this I hear about a party tomorrow night? A little impromptu, don't you think?" Zay snapped me out of my reverie of reminiscing.

"Riley got promoted to Editor-in-Chief, remember?" I replied.

"Is that going to be the occasion?"

"You know it. Someone's keeping track of the sales this week. We should have the final number by Monday when we head back to work."

"Farkle, you're not having this party just to get Riley back, are you?" Lucas asked.

Break my heart and punch me in the gut, why don't ya?

"Riley fell in love with the cover shot. She's also read everyone's articles. This issue is going to kick ass," I said. I never answered his question because I cannot clarify how much Riley wants me back.

"So, you're throwing a party to celebrate her first issue as the new editor-in-chief?" Josh countered.

"Thank you!" I answered with sarcasm.

"I also heard that you invited a lot of girls from your father's company. Did you not?" Zay asked.

"Girls that I know about, but I'm sure there will be plenty more," I said with a certain tone of voice.

"And Smackle?" Lucas asked curiously.

"Eh... Smackle's not coming," I said with worry.

"Why not?"

"She's tied down with work."

"On a Saturday night?"

"Yes. On Saturdays, she finishes her patient notes from her practice, and on Sundays, she conducts autopsies."

"I did not know that," Josh jumped in.

Not a lot of people do, Josh. Not a lot of people do.

Zay had set up a game of 9-ball, and since nobody wanted to do teams, we just thought a round robin would be best for us. Six 9-ball matches, best two out of three. Whoever loses the most, endures a punishment. Old show, right?

Freak-Face and I drew the lowest numbered balls from the pockets, so we were going first. On an office chalkboard, Zay wrote our names in blue chalk and drew a chart to tally our wins and losses. In another space on the board, he listed the matchups starting with Lucas and myself.

I had the lower number than Lucas, so it was decided that I would take first break. As I broke, I sunk three balls. Just my luck, too. The lowest numbered ball on the table was still the 1-Ball. I can't win. I wanted to prolong my turn and beat Lucas without giving him a chance, so I used my vision to calculate the possible angles, precisions, and accuracies of this next shot. It was almost too easy.

"One-ball, side pocket," I called as I leaned over the pool table.

...

"So what kind of party is it?" Lucas asked as he attempted his shot of the six-ball. He didn't quite make it.

"Small get-together. Dance party. With a DJ. I've already paid him, and I reserved the rooftop for free," I answered as I analyzed my next shot. "Six to the nine, going in."

That's two, Lucas. You better not lose to Josh and Zay.

"Awesome. Can we come?" Zay asked.

"Sure. It's five dollars to get in, but you guys are on the VIP list, so you get in for free. Just tell the bouncer your name," I answered with a smile on my face.

"Wow. Who's all on the VIP list?" Josh asked.

"Just my closest friends. You three," I pointed to Josh, Zay, and Lucas. "Maya, Charlie, everyone I've known since high school, myself, and the guest of honor."

"Guest of honor?" Lucas asked, confused.

"Riley," Zay said, beating me to the punch.

"A-ha..." Josh had that intriguing look on his face. It's like he knows something's up. I'll leave it to him to figure that out. As if it weren't that obvious.

"How do you know she's going to be there?" Lucas asked.

"How do you know if anybody's going to be there?" Zay followed.

"I texted everyone except for Riley. I kinda left a little special note for her in her office while she wasn't in," I said, feeling so giddy that I couldn't concentrate on what was going on until it was my turn to play again.


(excerpt from Riley's Rebellion)

"Miss Matthews, a word, please?" Oh shit, it's my publisher.

Brett Barricklow is the evilest of evil. He won't publish an issue unless he likes every article in the issue. He must have a problem with one of them if it's that bad. I thought I wanted to set the bar higher than heaven and further than Pluto, but the man won't budge. With Barricklow as publisher, I won't get very far. I mean, look. Would he really approve of "The Slap Heard 'Round the World?"

I would.

Brett had a lookover of the mock-up and loved the cover. He just didn't like the articles, so he stuck notes all over some of the pages with his ideas and edits. The staff and I fought tooth and nail to keep the stories as they are. When he tried to make a change, I went along with it, but my friends were helpful enough to sneak the real story back in before he caught it.

Now, he's disappointed. The change that he wanted didn't make the final print. Small victory for Riley, one giant victory over Missy Bradford. I just know that I want to beat that skank Missy Bradford in the journalism world.

"Brett, what is it?" I asked him as I stood in his office doorway.

"Matthews, are you crazy?"

"No, I'm happy being Riley," I answered back. He gave me a death stare and silence. I don't know what kind of game he's playing, but he's losing. Miserably. "The celebrities we photographed and documented are not dumb. We're just playing it smart."

He flipped through the pages and showed me Sarah's quiz section that involved various candid shots of celebrities doing rather gross things. One's taking a piss. Another is shooting a snot rocket out of his nose. The homely lady in the bottom right corner? Shame-eater mouth-breather. I gotta remember to add that to my list of Riley-isms.

"You think these will take you to the top? You blackmailed a top-shot celebrity for research. How did you think of that?"

"I didn't. My photographer taught me that. I was 14. He kept my secret until I tried to escape one night. Never again. I forgave him because I love him. I also learned not to hold my secrets so long that tensions become worse. I learn from the very best. I believe in the very best. If you don't like my best, my all, everything, every ounce of my being, then you can kiss my ass, Barricklow," I raised my voice as I rambled on about Sparkly Farkly.

"I don't get you sometimes, Matthews. How do you get through the night?"

"I take these things called vitamins. Sometimes pills. Oh, and I have the Rileytown committee. How do you get through the week?"

No answer. Silence again. So, I gave him what he wanted.

"Brett, I'm just trying to give the people what they want. And what they want, is the truth. We have the technology. We're practically spies. We're going to be shitting all over Slutville if we play our cards right. You never approve of my work, but someone's gotta find a way to work around it."

"Do you know what corporate's gonna say about this?" he asked as he showed me a picture of what appeared to be a man getting pegged (gross), and he didn't like it.

"That what you're showing me is more painful than Hell? I'm aware," I shot back with a disgusted look on my face because, well, it's true. Even I didn't want to see that, so I walked away to return to my office.

As I sat down, back in my office, I saw a purple note on my desk.

Riley,

Saturday's your night at the Minkus International Rooftop. 9:00 PM. Be there. Don't be square. You'll always be a-round!

Farkle.


(and now, we return to Dirty Deeds)

The rooftop of Minkus International wasn't exactly flooding with patrons because I wanted the important people to be here. Maya showed up with Sarah and Darby. The guys made it to the party. The interns I met yesterday said they'd be here, and they are! God, those girls look so gorgeous. Since it was still warm out, everyone just wore comfortable clothes. This wasn't anything fancy. I did all of this for Riley, who never did get back to me after that note I left on her desk.

I talked to the disc jockey and told him to get the playlist up and running, so the party can be in full-swing when Riley arrives. I then walked over to the guys at the punch table to talk about the interns. Who's going to dance with whom?

"Lots of girls at this party, Farkle," Lucas said.

"Thanks. I invited them, albeit not exactly how I should have," I said. "They sort of overheard my father and I, discussing the payment plans yesterday."

"I don't know how they do it. The old man's door is always locked shut, is it not?" Zay asked.

"He sent me a text last night saying that one of the girls planted a microphone in a plant he received from her as, like, a 'thanks for hiring me' gift."

"She must have good spying skills."

"I don't even know who gave my father the plant!"

The guys and I observed the interns dancing to Santigold. Josh fixed his eyes on the magenta-haired girl with the black cocktail dress that hugged her curves perfectly. Lucas snuck a second look at the Harley Quinn wannabe with her hair down, hoping her powder blue slinky dress would ride up just a little bit more. Zay took a liking to the girl with the caramelly afro adorned with a wired headband; the girl wore a black crop top with yellow zebra print skinny jeans. I wouldn't stop looking at Rolanda, the athletic one. She wore a loose racerback tank top with black capris from a souvenir shop. Her outfit was complete with running shoes. I don't blame her if she's gonna be on her feet all night.

And the fifth girl. I recognize her...

"Hey, Farkle! Wait up!" Rolanda shouted my way.

I turned around to see that Rolanda looked toward her auburn-haired friend for a reassurance that she won't make a fool out of herself in asking me out.

...she's not an auburn-haired friend. That was Erica Bionx, and she's dating Wade Capra, who had an affair with Evani Farrow, who's with Matt Truskin. Okay, enough of this love chain. Let me pose a few questions: Why would Capra's girlfriend, a famous comedian, work for Minkus International? Why would she be at the dance? Could she be the one who gave my father the ivy plant? Her avoiding my gaze answered all of that. It's a sign.

I was snapped out of my daze again by the opening bars to this song that Rolanda put in my playlist.

Rolanda found me and dragged me by the hand to her group for a dance. Since I didn't know how to properly handle myself with hot girl strangers, I just let Ro take lead. She pushed my hand upward to make me lead her into a spin, so we can dance closer together. This felt... intimate? I barely know this girl. I could only go through the motions. My hands held her hips as hers took hold of my forearms. She looked me in my good eye and let me lead her.

"Don't say a word while we danced with the devil. You brought a fire to a world so cold. We're out of time on the highway to never. Hold on. Hold on."

Soon, I felt cocktail girl's ass against mine. My peripheral vision quickly picked up her maroon bob and little black dress. Next thing I know, the Caramel girl and not-Harley Quinn sans pigtails were on either side of me, carelessly dancing the night away. I'm fine. I'm cool as a cucumber. Cucumber, my ass! Psh, more of a ghost pepper! The girls would not stop shaking their asses in my direction. The female quartet frolicked around my body until I felt someone's breath on my left earlobe. It's Erica Bionx. I didn't realize until now that she's a major flirt when she's not around Capra. Is every entertainer in New York a dirty cheater?

I pulled Erica by her hand, letting her know that she's coming on too strong. She knew to take the hint, but I'll still dance with her. Is she humping my leg like a dog? Okay, safe word. Safe word.

Ro told the other girls to meet her by the punch table when the song rolled out.

We slow-danced to this mid-tempo song. I led Ro wherever my hands and feet wanted to take me. I care for Rolanda, but Riley occupied my mind all night. When she stopped mid-move, she admitted to me that she wanted to kiss me, and I didn't have to return the kiss if I didn't want to. I just couldn't.

"I have a girlfriend," I said.

"I don't see her. Who's the lucky girl?" she asked.

I stammered, trying to find the right words to say.

"It's Riley, isn't it?" she asked with understanding.

"Riley's not my girlfriend. She's just a friend. She deserves this party."

"Cut the crap. Erica put a microphone in a plant to give to your father, and we all heard that you like this girl, Riley, and your father has a crush on her mother."

Shit. What else does Erica have on me?

"What else did she hear? How much did she hear?" I've got nothing.

"There was a shot that Riley had been dying to get, and you got it for her. It was in the magazine, and we all saw it. Erica feels like it's her fault that the picture came out. She has this 'gut feeling' that her boyfriend may have an alibi in this. I just read the magazine for the crappy-quality pictures and the articles, but your pictures are the best, Farkle. Everyone at Minkus International loves your work. I'm torn because Erica's my friend," Ro confided in me while we were dancing.

Now I'm torn about what other truths could be out there. I can feel it in my face.

"Listen, I'll give Erica your number, and she'll call you later," Ro said as the end of the song came about, kissing me on the cheek as I kissed her cheek. She walked towards the punch table where the guys are. And that foundation, pfffffft, ugh. How do they put up with the smell, let alone taste?!

...

The elevator girls dragged me to their area, and... oh, damn. What are their names? I only know them as Jamaica, Brunette, and Vanilla Latte.

The Jamaican girl caught my attention first with her booty shaking and twerking. Hot damn, where do they learn to dance like that? Nobody truly knows, but I sure am glad they do. The Vanilla Latte stood behind Jamaica and lazily shook her body as she leaned back, aiming her hips for that Jamaican booty. It's like they're in tune with each other. The Brunette Blue Eyes just watched with a knowing look shooting in my direction.

I loved the gyrations their hips made. Every beat and phrase, they popped and locked their bodies. All over my body, too, I might add. It seemed to me that the trio wanted me to go toe to toe with them. Umm, my body ain't capable of that kind of poppin' and lockin'. But, I am willing to show what moves I still have left. Making eye contact with Brunette Blue Eyes, I raised my hand and slowly drug it down an imaginary wall. Then, I spun around a perfect 360 degrees. Finally, I threw my hands up and drew them down the same wall. Brunette Blues threw herself at me. Our hipbones made contact, so I placed one hand on her hip and the other around her waist at the small of her back. We danced in this loose embrace, still popping and locking.

"Lucky for you, that's what I like. That's what I like."

"You're good at this, Farkle," she said, her blue eyes never leaving mine.

"Thanks, uhm..." This is what happens when I forget names: I make a "duh..." kind of noise.

"Undarma. Like the Mongolian contortionist from Vegas? I'm named after her."

That is the most exotic name if I've ever heard one.

"Undarma, huh? What about the rest of your clique?" I asked.

The Jamaican and Vanilla Latte jumped in to introduce themselves as they gyrated their bodies around me and Undarma. I soon learned that Renetta is the Jamaican girl with that booty, and Eliza was the Vanilla Latte with hazel eyes. Damn, these girls know how to dance. I didn't realize I could measure up when my hips went more of a salsa route. But, that's okay. The girls didn't seem to mind because I lost myself in the dance. I didn't make a fool of myself. Yay!

As the song ended, the girls gave me a group hug and said that they'd see me at work. Girls, I don't work there! I just stop by occasionally to see my father, who runs this shindig!

...

Someone tapped me on the shoulder and asked me to dance with her when she heard the opening bars to this song. I turned around. Hot damn, she looked so beautiful. She wore a simple white tank top tucked into a pair of navy blue high-waisted shorts. Her hair was loosely curled, with some hair pulled back and fastened with a silver barrette. Riley Matthews, I was kind of waiting for the guest of honor. She wants to dance with me?

I, of course, accepted. She grabbed my hand, and I spun her around so her back faced me. I gripped her waist by the sides, and we were practically dirty dancing from there. She loved it. While we rolled our hips in time with another, I was imagining myself as the star in a music video. I was Usher, and she, Nicki. In the video, Maya and Smackle were my other groupies. I mean, I can't just half-ass my way through the first verse.

"If you're comin' with me, really comin' with me, you go get some girls and bring 'em to me."

If my imagination serves me right, my Usher character and Riley's Nicki character were just as much head over heels lusting over each other as reality-Riley and I were. Also, imaginary-Maya and Smackle crumped, twerked, and flexed on me in front of the imaginary-Riley. My imagination ran wild as I mouthed the words close to a whisper.

"I'm about to have a ménage with these here ladies, looking little freaks at the bar who like fucking with a star, I told her."

It also helps that what I'm doing is working for Riley. I take it that Riley's liking where I'm going with this if I'm breathing on her neck right. She kept gyrating her hips to the rhythm against my own hips. I tried so hard not to spring an erection. Why I gotta keep losing? She used a free hand to grab onto my chin, bringing my face closer hers. Our lips were almost touching. Oh, the sexual tension I'm feeling right now. How do I get rid of this sexual tension?!

The only thing I could do was to roll my own hips with hers, so our bodies fit like missing pieces of a puzzle. I felt my upper lip sweating. Then she pulled me in for a kiss as we both closed our eyes. Oh god, why did she do that? Was she caught up in the moment? She's just so sultry. So sexy. I can't complain. Our lips entwined with one another. As I inhaled during the kiss, I could smell her perfume. Very floral. Her unpigmented lips were soft and tasted like black cherries. I missed her kisses. It was perfect.

Perhaps, a little too perfect.

At the fade-out of the song, she broke the kiss, turned to face me, and said into my ear, "Save me a dance for the last song. It's really important."

As Riley walked away, I wondered why she fled so fast. Nerves? That time? A secret?

...

"Gasolina" played over the loudspeaker. Maya walked up and asked me to grind with her. She lives for this kind of dancing with me. Then again, she'll grind with anybody. I don't understand what's so fun about that.

"Por favor?" she asked, and my hand naturally rose up.

She took my hand, turned herself around with her back facing me, and guided my hand to her bony hips. She also reached for my own ass and pushed my hips toward hers. As we were in full swing, our little freak dance soon turned into twerking when the blonde leaned forward, bouncing her bubbly ass against my crotch. God damn it, Maya! I had to shift my focus to the music and lyrics to avoid pitching a tent. I saw her head turn right, trying to look at me. She made a face of having a good time and smiling at every "awkward" stare that we caught from each other. Just the fact that she was having a good time, as was I, put a smile on my face. A smile of satisfaction, that is. Makes me think she's living for the moment, which is bad.

However, it didn't turn me on as much as Riley did tonight. Sorry, Maya.

...

Since I had been tasked to close out the party with a final song, I walked up to the DJ booth and took the mic from him.

"Thank you for your presence at this, the Dirty Deeds New Editor release party. Tonight, we'll close out with a slow dance per the guest of honor's request. Thank you," I bowed, "I am Farkle!" I raised my free arm gloriously, "Goodnight!" Mic-drop.

I walked off the stage and saw Riley. I promised her that I'd dance the last song with her. Once again, I took her hand and led her back onto the dance floor. She wrapped her arms around my neck, and mine wrapped around her waist as we held each other closely. This is her favorite song. Favorite color. Favorite weather. My favorite girl.

"I never meant to cause you any sorrow. I never meant to cause you any pain."

"What's going on?" I asked.

"Remember when I said that I thought your picture was perfect?" Riley asked in return.

"Yes..." I was anxious to see where this was going.

"I had a revelation. I know you'd do anything for me, yet you won't do everything I say, and that's okay with me. I've always wanted loyalty in my relationships. You're the one who knows me best. I don't want to go through what I went through with Lucas. I can't bottle things up anymore. You taught me that. Now that my first issue has flown off the shelves, I feel like I can spill. I want to explode. I'm starting with you, Farkle. I love you. I'd like to see you again, start back up again," she confessed.

So, she does want me back. I don't want to start over.

"Why start over when we can pick up where we left off?"

"It's complicated. I never stopped loving you. When I'm far away from you, I hear that you're with another girl. It pisses me off that you danced with every girl at this party, and that includes Maya! I hate it! Are you using her to make me jealous? Don't get me started on all those girls you let crawl all over you," she raised her voice, getting firmer.

"They're just girls. They think I'm hot, so I just roll with it. No more. If anything happens, I'll need a bulk supply of whiskey," I said. But, I had backtracked in my thoughts a bit, "Or some cabernet sauvignon to forget I ever did anything with them."

She giggled at my alcoholic crack as she avoided my gaze. Oh god, that giggle. My favorite sound in the world. Music to my ears. A musical orgasm, even. I smiled back at her, but she wouldn't look at me. Being shy, much? I didn't want to let her out of my hold, so I spoke.

"I only wanted to see you bathing in the Purple Rain."

"So, what else is new?" I broke the ice again.

"I'm miserable. Stuck," she answered.

Miserable? Riley Matthews is never miserable.

"How so? What happened?" I asked.

"I don't have much needed support from my publisher. Everyone takes my assignments to heart, and Barricklow treats this as a joke," she sighed and looked down at our feet. "This is going to be harder than I thought."

On the verge of lament, Riley had just poured her soul to me. She told me the major downfall about her new position at Dirty Deeds. She just needs the right support system. I'll be there 100% of the way.

"Riley?"

She slowly looked up at me with those brown eyes that make my heart melt every time.

"You can't seem to make up your mind. I think you better close it, and let me guide you to the Purple Rain."

"You know, if you need me, I'm here. You come to me if you need anything. And I, you. Even if it's for a release."

I was soft, yet serious. She listened to me. I just knew it.

"I'm here, too," she said, eyes glossing from her nerves.

Our slow dance turned into a loose embrace. She inched closer to my body and rested her head on my shoulder. Could this be a breaking point in our newfound relationship? I still wasn't sure, and we're not official... are we?

At the climax of the song, I turned her around as she pressed her back against me. Riley's hair smelled like jasmine and vanilla. As I wrapped my arms around her waist, she started singing along to what she calls "the best part of the song." I can't disagree to that. It's just a bunch of "oohs" in the same chorus and chord progressions. I didn't know what else to do except join her in singing. Except, my voice can't hit those high notes anymore. When I didn't sing with her, I kissed her bare shoulder. I then rested my head upon her shoulder until the song went out. We didn't even notice that everyone had left.

"Can I come over to your place? My house is being fumigated, and my duffel is in one of your dad's locker rooms," she said without turning around.

"Absolutely," I said solemnly.

...

Riley and I were arm-in-arm all the way down to the locker room once the party was over. I unlocked and opened the door, gesturing her to go in and grab her duffel. I then shut the door because I needed to make an important phone call.


(excerpt from Dr. Smackle's Boys)

Change can be a good thing, but sometimes it's not.

"You are a royal fuck-up."

"No, you're the fuck-up, Connie."

My tape player cannot comprehend the two bickering comedians. With my Asperger's Syndrome, it was super hard to separate one voice from the other. That's why I initially hid under my desk with my candy bowl until I heard something important that changed the direction of my therapy sessions with them. My brain was going into overdrive, so I shut off the tape player and threw it towards the wall. I then massaged my temples to alleviate the tension.

As I typed my notes onto my computer, I have come to a revelation that Connie and Dominic will continue to use me (very much to my chagrin), but if it puts more money in my account, then so be it. It sounds so wrong, but until they see the roots of their faults, I'll be rolling in it! They probably won't see the roots of their faults, even if I must explain it to them constantly. I'll give them until the end of February. That oughta shake things up.

Bzzz!

I looked on the screen of my phone to see Farkle, calling me. I swiped right and answered...

"Former dearest, what troubles you at this time of night?"

"Do you know of a group of girls who party with Connie Haley?"

"Yes. Why do you ask?"

"Rolanda Heiferschmidt is thinking about asking me out. Rolanda is one of Connie Haley's best friends. Do you think I can get more information about Connie, since you won't?"

"Why are you asking me, Farkle? Shouldn't you be asking Riley if you can get darker secrets from Connie Haley since I'm neither legally allowed nor obliged?" I countered with awareness. "Rolanda Heiferschmidt is just an intern at your dad's work. It should stay that way."

"Riley is jealous of those girls. They were all over me at the party tonight until Riley showed up. Riley won't want to hear anything from them unless I'm the one dishing the dirt," Farkle rambled on. "Rolanda confided in me, Isadora! She knows I'll keep a secret, but I can't keep a secret to save my own life."

"True," I replied.

"I don't want to use her, Smackle. This is where I'm torn," Farkle groaned.

"Tell you what. Come see me Thursday. I have the day off, but I'll always make room for you, honey-buckets," I slipped. Curses.

I felt my face cringe when I called Farkle honey-buckets. Maybe it was me smiling inside, or maybe I still have feelings for him, but I'm happier and more content with him as a friend and challenger than a significant other.

"I miss it when you call me that," Farkle said after a long pause.

"Me, too, Farkle. Me, too," I murmured.

I pressed the red circle on my screen to hang up. I then looked at the screen before letting out a frustrating curse.

DAAAAAMN!


(and now, we return to Dirty Deeds)

I am stuck. Riley's the only girl I can talk to about my situation with Rolanda. Smackle won't help until Thursday. I don't see the interns again until Friday. It was Saturday going on Sunday, and I had just wrapped up the party I threw for Riley. Riley told me she wanted to be with me again. So, I just told her I'll think about it because I don't even know what I'm ready for anymore. I know she loves me. I just know, but what about me? Do I love Riley?

You motherfucking bet I do.

I opened the door to my house and let Riley inside. She walked in as I followed her and shut the door. The brunette dropped her bag by my couch and made a beeline for my bedroom. I guess she didn't bring any sleepwear for the night. That's okay. She's always looked beautiful, even in my clothes. As she walked towards my dresser drawer, she took her shoes off and stripped herself of her denim shorts and white tank top. Her undergarments matched her skin tone. She took off her strapless bra, leaving her in her flesh-colored hipsters. She then searched my drawer for a shirt. I didn't realize she exited my room when she donned my old Abigail Adams baseball shirt. That was almost ten years ago.

"Abigail Adams. Your dad still teach there?"

"Of course, he does. Absolutely."

"Why my baseball shirt?"

"You used Avogadro's number as your last name for a joke, and I thought it was the most adorable thing you've done. Look. See?" she turned around.

And there it was, vinyl still intact after all these years. Across the upper back read in blue, basic typeface: 6.0221409e23. My uniform number was 8, a reference to my birth month, but Avogadro's number as my last name was funnier. I wanted the fans to know that science always came first in my life.

Riley walked over to the TV and turned it on, wanting to watch a movie. I'm guessing she doesn't want to do anything naughty tonight, and I don't blame her. She's bitter about the girls who danced with me. I'm equally bitter because of my unawareness that Riley and I were together-together. Anyway, I walked to my kitchenette to find a bag of popcorn in my snack cabinet. I stuck the bag in the microwave and timed it as it cooked. Riley looked at me in awe. I don't know why she's amazed at everything I do. She must be happy to be with me for one night.

When the popcorn finished, I emptied the bag into a large midnight blue bowl and carried the bowl to the couch. I took a seat next to Riley, and she snuggled into my body. On the television was a black and white motion picture about a has-been actress trying to find fame again. As the movie drug on, and we fell asleep on the couch underneath a throw blanket, I could've sworn I heard something sounding sexy from Riley.

"Okay, Mr. Minkus. I'm ready for my closeup."

Chapter Text

F-F-F-Farkle Time! Last week was just excellent!

I threw a party for Riley atop my father's headquarters. She confided in me how she truly feels about her job.

"Miserable. Stuck."

Life can be strangely merciful. And sometimes, it's not. That means there is one person in her life who won't give her a break. Starts with Brett. Ends with Barricklow.

"Do you know what corporate's gonna say about this?"

"That what you're showing me is more painful than Hell? I'm aware."

"How do you get through the night?"

"I have the Rileytown Committee. How do you get through the week?"

It's all about staying one step ahead, baby.

*CLICK*

Maya's got a lot of nerve to be confiding in her guy friends lately. I'm more afraid that she'll say something to someone, and then the next person will tell, and then the next one, and the next one, and a chain of mutually mutual friends will have known by now about my one-time fling with Maya. God damn it.

However, I don't think she's been up to much lately. Methinks I'll find out later somehow. Our latest interactions involved her ass... her ass... and our laughing.

*CLICK*

Now that Riley's first issue of Dirty Deeds as editor-in-chief has achieved success, we're looking to step up our game. We've set that bar higher than Heaven, deeper than the pits of Hades, and farther than this damn galaxy. This means follow-ups to "The Slap Heard 'Round the World" by comedian Connie Haley...

"I'm leaving you, Dominic J. Dean!"

And digging more dirt dished by the hottest interns employed by Minkus International...

"Erica feels like it's her fault that the picture came out... I'm torn because Erica's my friend."

I have a sneaking suspicion that Miss Erica Bionx has the weight of the world on her shoulders, and that world's full of secrets about Connie. The only secret I plan on exploiting is where Connie will go next.

*CLICK*

Remember when I said the greatest mystery of the universe was who would get to be the first Mrs. Farkle? It still is, but I've found another great mystery of the universe. The lives in which we're living: why am I flying high in this lovesickness? Riley's happy that I gave her something she wanted. I'm happy that I did my job right, and the superiors won't settle for anything less. Our quality control has been wonderful, but if we're going to stand a chance against Brett Barricklow and not plan the sneak attack, we must do better to be better.

So, what about Riley's "close-up, Mr. Minkus?"

*CLICK*


Riley and I had fallen asleep on the couch last night, watching Sunset Boulevard. When I woke up, Riley was in the kitchen, making coffee. I didn't realize I was wearing the same clothes from the dance party last night, so I snuck off to my bedroom to change into something more comfortable since today is Sunday. It wasn't until I stepped out of my pants when I looked down, and not again.

I walked to the bathroom and shut the door, so I can alleviate this tension that I call morning wood. Only, it wasn't like any other ordinary morning wood. Riley and I fell asleep. Could she have caused this? Time will tell. I pushed my briefs down to my ankles and began stroking myself over the bathtub again, holding on to the wall across the floor. I didn't want to think about how Riley would look going down on me. I honestly hated thinking about her going down on me, but it sprang into my mind. Soon, that thought escalated into her taking every inch of my member into her core. It felt like we were making love, and she was in control. It was beautiful. I can feel it in my heart as I pumped my member to orgasm. Explosions of clear white sperm burst onto the marble of the bathtub's floor base. Amazing.

As I cleaned up my mess, I kicked off my briefs and just left the bathroom naked. I needed that. My walk back to the bedroom was perfectly inconspicuous. Riley just continued making and drinking the coffee. I hope she poured me a cup as soon as I left the bedroom with my clean clothes on.

"Good morning, Farkle."

"Good morning, Riley."

"I had a great time last night," she admitted before taking a sip of her coffee.

"Oh yeah?" I answered as I took my coffee mug from the counter. Yes!

"Farkle, why did you do it?"

I do not want to answer her question. I love her. She can't know now.

"The first issue sold millions of copies. I've been getting email notifications, asking for follow-ups. You know what I'll be doing this week," I stated. "Riley, you deserved a party in your dedication. Any other guy would just send you flowers, and I know the ones you like are hard to find. I know you like chocolates, but you would just eat them all in one sitting, and that's not good for you. I care about you, Riley. You deserve the very best."

Riley walked around the counter to give me, what I think is, a hug. But, no. She put one hand on my shoulder and her lips on mine. A simple peck can just confirm everything now.

"Farkle, when you said I deserve the very best, you don't really mean that, do you?" she asked as she wrapped the other arm around my neck.

"I do mean it, Riles, because I care," I answered as I leaned in to kiss her.

When we kissed, she could only give so much. I, too, gave the same effort because, to be honest, we're still trying to wake up and recover from a dancing hangover. She brushed her tongue across my bottom lip, but I was shy and couldn't let her in. I don't think I've ever told Riley about my tongue ring. Maya might've said something to Riley, but I'm not sure. Riley broke away.

"Farkle, what's the matter?" she released me from her arms.

Come up with something, damn it!

"Nothing. I, uh, just want to, uh, take it slow," Nice dodge, doo-brain.

"Farkle, come on. It's just me. Talk to me. Why are you so nervous all of a sudden? It's not like you're hiding something from me." Bingo, Princess. "Oh my gosh, you're hiding something from me, and I'm dying to know. Show me!" she enthusiastically proclaimed and poked my belly.

Her belly poking was making me laugh, but honestly, it was scaring me. Laughter is my natural mechanism to fear until I adapt to it. I tried to push her away, but she wouldn't repel. I've had enough, so I grabbed her wrists and raised my voice.

"Riley, stop!" I firmly said, giving her eye contact.

She focused on my mouth. Oh, no, she saw it.

"What's in your mouth, Farkle?" Riley asked, demanding to know.

Just play coy, Minkus.

"What are you talking about?" I asked as I let go. Not that coy!

"I asked you, Farkle. Open up," she commanded, tapping the corner of my mouth with her hand.

I had fear written all over my face. The anxiety was eating me alive, so I had to show her. I opened my mouth and showed her the shiny neon orange stud that lances my tongue. Then I felt her thumb and forefinger on my tongue as if she were examining it.

"How long, Farkle?" she questioned, perplexed.

"Since March," I said while my tongue was out.

"What?" she followed, shocked as she let go of my tongue. Thank you.

"Yes, Riley. I lost a bet to the guys, and they made me pierce my tongue as a result. We've been doing these embarrassing punishments at least twice a month since then."

"Did it hurt?"

"Not as bad as I thought it would, but that's because the lady told me to breathe out when she stuck the needle through."

"Oh, wow. You've been taking care of it well?"

"Yes. The guys said I couldn't remove it until it fully healed, but I don't think I want to, now. I've come to embrace it. I just changed the stud about a few weeks ago before you took the job as editor-in-chief."

Riley was more shocked than amazed, but I could feel the latter emotion from her words.

"Wow, um, that is awfully risky of you. I don't know what to say. It's like this side of you that I've never seen before. That's a step up for you, Farkle."

"Thank you," I mumbled.

We chuckled and shared another quick kiss before resuming our coffee drinking.

Riley's phone buzzed from her counter. She received a text from Maya, stating that we need to meet her for brunch. I told Riley to get dressed fast, so we can leave as soon as possible.

...

Maya and Lucas had been waiting for us at the corner booth of Topanga's. I let Riley slide in first, followed by myself, as we took a seat. I wonder what Maya will bring up at the table.

"I've got an idea on what you could do for your next cover story," Maya said with her mouth full of scrambled eggs.

"Shoot," Riley said.

"Whatever happened to that teen pop artist, Charlotte Kincaid? She, like, disappeared or something," Maya then followed up.

I haven't heard from Charlotte in years. She was the teen singing sensation of the early 2020s. She wrote every song which she recorded and never used auto-tune. Never. I had photographed her for various teen magazines, including her cover story for Seventeen back in 2021. Next thing we knew, she dropped off the face of the earth, never to be seen or heard again. I'm sure that tomorrow, the staff at Dirty Deeds will have all the possible theories and rumors. It'll be up to me to confirm one of them to be true or all, false.

"Last I heard, Charlotte was in the recording studio laying down some new tracks. Of course, that was five years ago," Lucas stated.

"Charlotte Kincaid has been relatively low-key. She's been homeschooled all her life, so she doesn't have much time for things other than writing and recording songs," Riley gossiped. "Farkle, didn't you shoot her Seventeen Magazine cover a few years ago?"

"I did. I just took the photos. I never did any interviews with her. She's a cool chick to work with. Very humble, down to earth, you know the drill. The next year when she was scheduled to do a shoot with me, she cancelled without an excuse," I answered.

We continued with our brunch with that story on our minds. Now we just need some directions at the brainstorming first thing in the morning.


Riley led the writers' room brainstorming session. With Maya's suggestion for a cover story from the morning before, something's got to be brought up. I took my seat opposite Riley at the long table. Surrounding my half of the table were Sarah, Charlie, Lucas, and Yindra. Riley's side had Darby, Chai, and Corn Chip Dave. Riley shows us the cover of the previous issue on the projected screen.

"I am so proud of you guys for bringing your A-game since I took the throne as editor-in-chief. Now, I present a new challenge for you, the staff," she clicked the remote, signaling a new slide in her presentation. This slide had the inside story of Connie and Dominic.

"It is up to you to find out more to this story. Right now, we're getting by with a little bit of hearsay. Our first cover was a little bit of saw-say," Riley demanded. "I want concrete evidence. Farkle has provided enough concrete evidence. I'm expecting so much more in the issues to come. While I would like to prolong these stories for the next few publications, it won't hurt to throw in a new story or two in there. So, talk to me. Whatcha got?!" she clicked for the next slide, properly titled "IDEAS."

"I have a prediction on the relationship between Erica Bionx and Wade Capra," Sarah spoke.

"Shoot," Riley commanded.

"They ain't gonna make it," Sarah said with confidence.

"Well, we all know that," Riley responded knowingly. "The question is, how is the break up gonna break down? Sarah and Charlie, you're working together to get the scoop."

Riley clicked her remote again to show an image of Charlotte Kincaid in her prime. It was the photo used on her cover of Teen Vogue, circa 2022. A bunch of oohs and ahs left the writers' mouths.

"Why do you have Charlotte Kincaid on the screen?" Yindra asked, confused.

"It was brought to my attention earlier that Miss Kincaid may or may not be returning to the spotlight. How we will know, will be found out within the next two weeks. You guys have all the time in the world. Do not waste it. This shot is one I'd give my left nut for, you hear?!" Riley stated.

I raised my hand.

"Farkle?" Riley pointed to me.

"Farkle time, ma'am?" I asked, being ever the gentleman.

"You know I love Farkle time," she smiled at me.

Riley and I traded spots. I took the front of the classroom to talk a little bit about some of the Minkus International interns. This is more like advice than it is a lecture.

"If you want the truth about the celebrities we profile," I said as I slapped my hands on the table to startle Chai and Darby. "There are tons of girls at Minkus International, waiting to gossip to strangers. Some of them love our magazine. Others hate us and would rather read Slutville. Then there are those who won't suspect a thing if you're an undercover intern," I lowered my voice an octave to make Darby shiver. "Too bad, sweetheart. They're mine," I apologized to Darby. The girls at Minkus International technically belong to my father. Riley shot a look my way. Backtrack, Farkle. Backtrack. "They're my father's." Whew, good save.

Riley chimed in, "That is a wonderful editorial for a future issue. After we get the dirt on Charlotte Kincaid and the follow-up to the last publication, we'll do a story on the Minkus International interns."

"They'll be ready for us. Let's just say that time will never mend the careless whispers of dear friends. Because you can never escape the truth. Thank you," I bow, "I am Farkle!" I claimed as I raised my arms coming up from my bow.

I walked out of that classroom feeling like nothing can stop me. Along my path, I spotted a familiar Minkus intern: the lovely Rolanda Heiferschmidt.

"Farkle, what's up?"

"Just heading home. Lots of work that needs to be done," I said.

"You wanna go out sometime? Like a date, but not anywhere fancy? I don't want my girlfriends jealous of me."

"Um, sure. How about the penthouse? Privacy is probably the best policy, don't you think?"

"Yeah. Wednesday night okay with you?"

"Sounds like an odd day to have a first date, but sure, Ro. Meet me at the building, say, eight o'clock?"

"Works for me," she smiled.


The next night, friends and I hit up the local bar to listen to some amateurs on an open mic night. Josh, Zay, and I prepared something embarrassing for Lucas to sing to the ladies. After all, this is for the ladies. We thought Sir Mix-a-Lot would be cliché. We also thought Whitney and Celine would be out of his league. We didn't tell him that we picked the most embarrassing song to sing about and to a woman.

"Okay, everyone. It's open mic night with our band, The Beat Nix! Next up is a local vet tech and magazine columnist whose best friends put him up to sing a hot one tonight. So, give it up for Lucas Friar!"

Everyone clapped their hands until the drummer in the very back of the stage clicked his sticks four times. The bass player, on cue, plucked a string rhythmically along the drummer's beats. Lucas's face went from nervous to beyond embarrassed when the opening notes to "Strokin'" played from the amplifiers. He buried his face in his hands, using his palms to stretch out his face. Then he stepped up to the mic stand. He gulped before some feedback made everyone plug their ears. Josh, Zay, and I were waiting for Lucas to start asking the first question in the song. Lucas looked at me from the stage, and I nodded, giving him the okay to "sing" away.

"Let me ask you something," Lucas started nervously. The girls at the front tables were dying to know. What was Lucas going to ask?

"What time of the day do you like to make love?" The girls just laughed at him. The look on his face... he knows something's up.

"Have you ever made love just before breakfast?" Here come the mixed reactions now. Some ladies laughed. Others blushed and looked away when Lucas signaled the ASL for 'red,' (pointer finger intersecting lips, drag finger down once or twice) meaning he's guilty as charged. It was my idea to tell him to give some sort of guilty signal.

"How about during the Late, Late Show with James Corden?"

Red. Squeals. Womanly squeals!

"Okay, well, let me ask you this," Lucas started pulling himself together from the inside. "You ever make love on the couch?" Red.

The girls were giving him mixed signals. The guys and I just sat there, smiles plastering our faces, waiting for Lucas to keep spitting out the words.

"Well, let me ask you this," he swallowed, straightening himself out. "Have you ever made love on the back seat of a car?" Red. He took the wireless microphone out of the stand and started pacing the stage. "I did that once. I made love in the back seat of a car one time, and then the cops came to shine their flashlight on me, and I said I was strokin'!" He burst out the chorus as he hopped and thrust his hips forward as he landed, as if he were saying 'suck it' or something. "That's what I'm doing, I be strokin'!" he repeated the motions.

Zay and Josh laughed out loud, and I, quietly to myself. Riley, Maya, and Smackle stared at Lucas dumbfoundedly. Mainly because they've all dated him at one point in their lives, it's like they didn't even want to know what he does in bed these days.

"I stroke it to the east, and I stroke it to the west, and I stroke it to the woman that I love the best! I'm strokin'!" Lucas sang as he finally got into the rhythm.

Lucas turned around and signaled to the band to resume to the verse where just the drums and bass played. He then returned to facing the crowd, laughing nervously.

"Wow, um, okay. How long has it been since you made love, huh?" he asked, pointing to some of the cougar ladies with obvious dye jobs sitting stage right. "Did you make love yesterday?" The group of ladies giggled as one, presumably their leader, nodded. Red. "How about last week?" More laughter. More admitting the truth. Red. "Really?" And the leader nodded. "Did you make love last year?!"

Everyone was laughing at this point. The cougars have no shame! Lucas breathed a whew, feeling that this was going to be easy... until Josh walked up on stage, tapped him on the shoulder to get his attention, and pointed towards our girls. Lucas then realized that his performance was going down the drain as soon as Josh walked off stage.

"Or maybe it might be that you're planning on making love tonight. Am I right?"

Every female in the crowd fox-whistled and cheered because at least someone's planning on it! Maya was not happy with Lucas. Does Maya think that Lucas may be cheating? Or does Maya feel guilty that she cheated on Freak Face with me?

"Now, just remember when y'all makin' love, make it hard. Make it long. Make it soft. Short. And be strokin'!"

Maya huffed before gathering her belongings and heading out the door. I felt bad for Lucas. His punishment drove his girlfriend away. Girlfriend or no, he still had to complete the song.

As he sang the chorus, his mood shifted. I took another sip of my Corona and gave Lucas another nod, giving him permission to cut the song short. He repeated the chorus and held a fist up to tell the band to finish out. The crowd applauded Lucas, despite his embarrassment. Lucas walked off the stage, making a beeline for the bathroom which was by the entrance. I followed Lucas.


(excerpt from Maya Hunter, Maya Hunter)

How dare my Huckleberry openly admit what he does in the bedroom with me?! That's embarrassing! I walked away because I had enough. If anything, I can see why it was a punishment for Lucas. That was nothing. I've been through a worse punishment. I gave myself to Farkle, of all people, out of desperation (no, that's not a punishment). We both kept quiet last week at the art gallery when I took the guys there. Boing and Huckleberry never suspected a thing. However, Zay might be onto us.

Whose bright idea was it to put Huckleberry up on stage to sing a raunchy song written by a blind man? I'll bet it was Farkle's idea. Lucas gave a sign to every question he asked on that stage, meaning he's done everything. When he said yes to making love in the back seat of the car, I could only remember one time that happened, and we didn't get caught by the police. So, who was he with if he got caught with his pants down? I'll bet it was probably Riley.

Thinking about Lucas doing it in the car with another woman made me so angry that I had to break out the sketch book and draw lines wherever my hand guides me. Maybe this will be a sketch of what that other woman looked like.

There's a hand. There's what looks like a pen, could be a syringe. Arm. Body. I scribbled whatever I could, and my final product is, drum roll please...

A girl giving herself a shot? Is she shooting herself up with heroin? Oh gosh, I can't be that jealous. I guess that's what I think of the girl who slept with Lucas in the back of the Challenger when the police caught 'em.

Speak of the devil, he just walked in my door.

"Maya, are you okay? I'm sorry that I might've offended you and the girls, but Josh, Zay, and Farkle made me do it."

"Oh, I know that now. So, what about the girl you banged in the back of your car, and the police caught you? You said you did."

Lucas looked like he was trying to remember who. If he didn't, he'd have to lie to me. I do not appreciate being deceived.

"They told me I had to say yes to everything. I've never been caught by the police before!"

"How am I supposed to trust that? Ha-hurr! Ha-hurr! Ha-hurrrr–"

He grabbed my face and kissed my lips long and hard. He's too Texas tough for me to fight back, so I let him have his way. However, something lingered in the back of my mind. All I could think about was Farkle. Then I thought about Josh. Lucas never lingered in my mind. He was just there. I couldn't. I gave up.

In my distress, I hunger for a caress. Upon my lips, not my cheek. Eyes up here, not down there. I am losing my sanity. This isn't going anywhere.


(we now return to Dirty Deeds)

I ran into Rolanda on my way out of the Dirty Deeds office, and she asked me out on a date. She couldn't decide on a place, so I suggested one of my places: the penthouse at my dad's work. It's the only place that's off limits at Minkus International. I unlocked the door and allowed her to enter first. She was awestruck. The writing was on the wall and all over her face.

"So, you, like, live in this penthouse? Stuart always said the penthouse was off limits. Didn't know it was yours," Ro started talking as we walked inside. She observed the paintings on the walls, "You paint that?"

"Nah. My friend painted these," I said. "She's very talented," I murmured.

I took a seat on the couch. Ro was a little nervous. I could tell by the way she ran her hand through the blonde side of her hair and smiled at me. When she sat next to me, it was like watching an awkward teenager figuring out what to do. She had this ethereal beauty that could captivate anyone, but her body language screamed yikes. I was just as nervous as Ro, but I have conditioned my body to avoid emanating the yips and shakes. Finally, she sat next to me.

"So, let's talk," she said with confidence, throwing herself at me.

"What about?" I asked, not minding the proximity.

"Remember the dance party last weekend, and I told you how bad I feel for Erica?"

"Yes," I was curious to see where this was going. She's gotta have some dirt now that we're in a private area, and she can confide in me.

"I think Erica's taking drugs."

"Like...?"

"Illegal drugs, Farkle. I've noticed some weird things on Monday when she, like, comes into work. She shows up, thinking everything is fine until she looks in the mirror, BOOM," she claps in my face, "nosebleed, and she didn't even know it was there."

I immediately was drawn back to that night atop the Minkus International roof. While my body was focused on Rolanda, I used my other senses to see the faces of the other girls. I knew something was up with Erica by the way she smelled and went commando. That was why I held her hand and told her no. Not only could I not put up with so many girls, but the extra girl that was Erica, oh my fucking gosh, she smelled worse than skunk spray. Worse than skunk spray... from below.

"You know, I thought she smelled funny," I answered.

"And every Tuesday when her boyfriend, Wade, comes to take her out to lunch, Erica returns to work, and the girls and I know something happened between her and Wade. She just covers it up by going to the bathroom and doing a line. She told me because she knows I'm best at keeping secrets. Truth is, I would've said something, so I can save her ass... albeit indirectly."

Nobody can keep secrets to save their own lives anymore. I can't sit there and let these things fester. Riley ought to know about Erica. So far, Riley's doing well in not leaking the sex tape between Wade Capra and Evani Farrow. My question is, when will she leak it? I'm not doing her favors this time.

"You know, Ro, I'm glad you told me. When I'm trusted to keep a secret, I can only hold it in for so long."

"Tell me what I need to do," she said seductively.

How could I deny that?

"It's all about the deadlines, Rolanda. Give everyone a strict deadline, and if they don't follow through, you have no choice but to say as they try to leave," I said, feeling relaxed around her for the first time.

She turned her body towards me. She's got more dirt than I had anticipated. I could tell by the way she wrapped her arms around me, aiming her lips toward my neck.

"What she doesn't know is that I know a secret about her that shouldn't be exposed by Dirty Deeds, but rather questioned," she said.

I just gave her that look, telling her that she can tell me anything.

"I believe she's cheating on Wade Capra. Every day after work, she tells me and the girls that she's seeing a guy about a project, but I know she's hooking up with the Latino porn star Dane Delatorre in the break room on the sixth floor. Worse than that! I caught her twice, and she caught me, catching her in the act! I've been sworn to secrecy because Erica can be a bully sometimes. She tells me that if I say anything about Dane, she'll cut me," she cried on my shoulder, getting mascara all over my white lightning tee. Ro then muffled in my shoulder, "Orcas arty first two interns unff mnkff inter nathinal buh thlandern thm. Don't letter kick meow, Frkl!"

This is gold. Erica Bionx and Dane Delatorre? Not to mention, those who have caught her in the act have been fired by MY FATHER?! Oh, damn!

"It's okay, Ro," I murmured as I hugged her. "What else do you know?" I asked.

"Erica's thinking about leaving Minkus International," she sniffled and wiped a tear away from catching her breath. "There's this lady named Melissa Suarez who's paying her money to go work for Slutville. They want her to write editorials that stretch the truth about the true sluts and whores in New York City. Slutville's always been after Maya Hunter, the artist. I don't know Maya personally, and I read a lot about her. I don't think Slutville is a reliable source."

My heart sank. Maya Hunter is not a slut. And Melissa Suarez is better known to me and my friends as Missy Bradford. Ugh, I still shudder to hear that name. Slutville and Dirty Deeds established a new rivalry since Missy Bradford took the reins as Editor in Chief. She has done nothing but slander celebrities in the fine arts field. She's accused Maya of sleeping around. I hate to admit this. Missy's not wrong per se, but Maya's pretty exclusive to a few guys. And me!

"Maya doesn't sleep around?" Ro's voice caught my attention. She must've seen the look on my face.

I shook my head no.

"I knew there was some falsifying to Melissa's claim about Maya Hunter," she said, confirming her fears about Slutville.

"Let's just say that Maya knows what she wants, and won't settle for less. I should know," I admitted.

"Are you and Maya, like, a thi–"

"No!" I suddenly blurted with honesty. "Well, we used to be. Now, we're just..." Eh, fuhgeddaboudit, Farkle. Ro doesn't deserve to know. "Nevermind."

Rolanda giggled at my little foot-in-mouth crack. I can't believe I told someone ELSE that I had sex with Maya.

"It's not that uncommon, Farkle. A guy with eyes like yours must have had his share," she flirted and laughed.

"Uh, thank you," I said nervously. It took me a moment to learn what she meant by that.

"You want to turn on some music? I'm a classical music kind of person."

"Same here."

I grabbed the remote from the coffee table and turned on the satellite radio from my entertainment center. Only one thing crossed my mind: I cannot be falling in love with Rolanda. I just can't. I do know that she may be lusting after me. I don't know if I can handle that. Riley Matthews is the one for me, but that's out the window tonight when I saw Rolanda take off her white low-cut sneakers to reveal her naked and beautiful feet. I felt my eyes grow wide. I can also feel something happening to my face. She lay back on the opposite end of the couch, placing her bare feet on my lap.

"I've been on my feet all day, running errands for your father. Could you massage them? Please?" she said in that flirtatious voice.

I took her left foot into my hands. With my thumbs moving in an upward motion, I firmly rubbed the medial and lateral arches of her foot, kneading out the kinks that were once there. I worked my way up to the ball and anterior arch, mimicking the same treatment.

"Just tell me if it hurts, okay, Ro?" I murmured as I massaged her feet. "So, talk to me."

I paid no attention to her babbling about Erica's drug use and other friends of hers. I could only focus on the tootsies. Her feet were smooth. Her toenails were very red, like seductive and deep instead of bright and blinding, which I thought complemented her skin tone. I used my thumb and forefinger to smooth out the kinks in each toe. I switched to her right foot, giving it the exact same treatment that I gave to her left. I felt Ro flinch, flail, and wail on certain syllables as I massaged her feet. I will not do anything more. I think Rolanda likes having her feet played with. She probably has a foot fetish. Think it might be her Achilles' heel? Booooo! Just boohoo! Tre lame!

Once Rolanda mentioned the name Connie Haley, my focus shifted to her words. I put her foot down and turned toward her.

"So, Connie recently turned to alcohol to cover up her drop-of-a-hat anger, but knowing that alcohol is a depressant, it just worsens the anger. Dominic doesn't even do anything to make Connie crack. She just does! Connie has gone nuts. She refuses any medication prescribed to her. She keeps seeing this shrink..."

"Dr. Smackle." I chimed in.

"Yes, Dr. Smackle. I used to be her receptionist when Connie first started seeing her in 2024. Wait, you know her?"

"She and I were a thing before 'doctor' was added to her name," I admitted.

"Small world, huh? I told you; guys with eyes like yours have had girlfriends. I'm surprised you remember them all," she giggled sheepishly.

Kill me.

"Anyway, Connie keeps flinging her money to Dr. Smackle's office, hoping she would be 'cured' of her anger. Connie always lies to herself about her true state. She's blind to her own anger. There is something in that twisted little mind of hers that kickstarts her anger," Ro said after she calmed down.

Rolanda told me what I had been dying to hear. Connie is raging with unknown madness. Smackle wouldn't want to know. Riley would want to know more. I'm super curious now. The question is, do I tell Smackle, Riley, or Connie, that I know?

The silence between us lingered until the second movement of Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata began. Rolanda was thinking of something to say. She probably was done talking about her "friends." I want to know about Rolanda. Then again, I'd rather stare at her intently because she had to ask.

"Do you wanna see a scar?"

Oh, GOD!


(from the audio files of Dr. Smackle & Mr. Meaner)

Today, I performed an autopsy in front of hundreds of A&P students at NYU. This was my first autopsy in front of a crowd. I had to curb my anxiety by envisioning myself in the coroner's office. My victim today is Allison Stewart, a 25-year-old model who shot to fame on America's Next Top Model Next-Gen. Since my partner, Professor Sonny Meaner, bailed on me today, I figured it's better to do it alone than to make the students wait. Let's see what I found in Miss Stewart when I play the tape...

Miss Allison Danielle Stewart, born on February 2, 2002, died on September 23, 2027. She was 25. Her cause of death is listed as acute alcohol intoxication. Prior to death, she had been struggling with drug and alcohol abuse, and the deceased had never sought treatment nor rehabilitation. It is alleged that her body was found in her home. A family member came to check on her well-being, and it was determined that she was dead at the scene.

Body is not embalmed. Caucasian female of at least 25 years. Weight is 110 pounds. Measures 68 inches in length. Body type, slim and slender, in-shape. No skin pigment abnormalities aside from one lower back tattoo resembling angel wings. Only one major abrasion found upon back of the head. Rigor Mortis and Livor Mortis intact. Head, normocephalic, covered in bleach blonde hair. Eyes, blue irises. No hemorrhages in eyes. Nasal passages intact without obstruction. All teeth are present. No marks on neck. No chest deformities. No increase of anterior-posterior chest diameter. No scars on chest. Flat abdomen. Genitalia identifies patient as female. No perineal or genital trauma seems to be present. No needle tracks. Edema extremities are not present. Also, no presence in joint deformities or abnormal mobility. That concludes the external examination.

When Miss Stewart's body was found, she was wearing a beige camisole and bright pink athletic spandex shorts. She was also wearing prescription glasses. She had no shoes on when her body was found. When Professor Meaner and Dr. Smackle received the body, she wore no clothes.

I turned off the tape out of boredom. The external exam says her body was fine except her head because it broke her fall as she collapsed. I cut her body open and was more surprised at what I didn't find. She would've been a perfectly healthy woman if alcohol hadn't played a prominent role in her life. Her blood alcohol level was five times the legal limit! Five times! I could tell the students were scared straight. Well, the men were already crying by the time I closed her up. Maybe it's because beauty is never appreciated. Or, beauty tarnishes when drugs overtake one's system. It's not about one drink or two. It's an addiction. Alcoholism unfortunately will never die. Someone out there will always be brewing.

Speaking of brewing, I've been dying to tell Dirty Deeds what else is brewing in my therapy sessions with Dominic J. Dean and Connie Haley.

"That's enough, Smackle."

Damn it, Sonny, I was just getting started!


(we now return to Dirty Deeds)

"So how was your date with Lil Miss Swirly?" Charlie asked while he shuffled and dealt for a game of Omaha.

"She would not. Stop. Talking," I angrily answered, but calmed down when I spoke again. "Everything she told me coincides with Riley's first cover story. You guys know about the video tape Riley showed Truskin, right? Riley said she'd leak the tape if Truskin didn't have information about Dominic J. Dean," I said, picking up my cards.

A series of yesses and head-nods followed from the guys.

"Well, Truskin's dating Evani Farrow, and she cheated on him with Wade Capra," I said.

"Isn't Wade Capra going out with that red-head girl Erica?" Lucas asked, folding.

"Yes. Rolanda told me that Erica knows about the tape. Erica's trying to hide the image and her reaction by snorting cocaine. Rolanda doesn't know what to do about it, but at least she's doing something about it in my mind," I answered, calling.

"Which is–?" Zay questioned, calling.

"She talked to me about it," I said as Charlie revealed the flop. Ouch.

"Wait, wait, wait," Zay said. "Connie and Dominic have a lot of issues to work out. The love square among Truskin, Farrow, Capra, and Bionx needs to be resolved. How does all of this," he circled with his free hand, "coincide with each other? Two," Zay said, betting two blue chips to open the betting round.

"Connie and Erica were in a comedy troupe together. Everyone was friends with everyone at some point in their lives. It's just a matter of time before they patch things up or rip themselves apart," I predicted while I threw in two blue chips.

...

I've been having my ass handed to me every single hand we played. Lucas was doing no better. We haven't had solid hands when the river card showed up. Every time! Since it was Zay's turn to deal a hand of Texas, I thought it'd be funny to ask.

"You got anything wild you want the loser to do this time around, Zay?" I asked, deadpan.

"I thought about it. I'm thinking someone else should arrange the punishment. You know, to shake things up," he said, folding his hand.

"The first two losers out of the game will have to accompany Maya to the clubs this Saturday night. Erica Bionx is gonna be there, and someone will be supplying her the cocaine that Farkle's date talked about," Josh said.

Oh, great. Working will be the punishment. Smooth move, Josh. I rolled my eyes.

"But! There is a 'but,' guys," he said.

"I'm listening," I said as I folded my hand.

"To play it safe, Maya's gonna need some company for her Saturday night. Some girl company," Josh said as everyone raised their brows. "The two losers will have to get all dolled up like the ladies, so nobody suspects Maya of her past behaviors. So, while you're looking pretty, you've still got to scope Erica out; make sure to snap mental pictures or concrete photos of her, doing coke in the corners."

Now the guys have a motivation to win this poker game, but I think I'd want to lose if this punishment involves one Erica Bionx. I just don't like dressing up like a girl. I'd look like Back of the Class Brenda. Lord, help me. Help us all.

"Number one rule: you cannot chicken out. Should something traumatic happen between now and Saturday, you gotta make room for that priority," Josh stated, throwing in a few blue chips, to which everyone folded.

I lost. Lucas was the first person to run out of chips during Omaha Hi-Lo. Then I, with two sixes in my hand and a six with two jacks on the board, was confident in my hand. I was betting big until the river card, where suddenly, Charlie raises me every chance he got. He had pocket jacks. Four of a kind. How was I supposed to know his fourth jack was found on the river card?! Charlie ended up winning the whole shebang, and I was stuck with Freak-Face for a double drag punishment for Saturday night.


Charlie Gardner picked me up from my house at around the three o'clock hour, shortly before school lets out for the day, and the traffic worsens for three hours. We stopped by Greenwich Village, which housed the hyper-observant Sarah Carpenter. Together, we traveled to the Bronx to find out if Rolanda is telling me the truth about Erica, and what the aftermath of Sarah's break-up theory is. I've got a feeling that the Capra-Bionx bout will be feisty.

Riley said she'd have the household bugged again, so I won't doubt her abilities for a moment. Sarah applied blackeye to my face and Charlie's. We exited the Challenger to hide in the big... sycamore tree across the street from the house. Man, I hate sycamores. They hurt!

I opened the radio app on my phone and plugged the headphones in. Tuning into the clearest frequency on FM radio, I finally found some audible conversation between Wade Capra and Erica Bionx.

"Hey, guys, I got something," I told Charlie and Sarah.

Sarah was in charge of snapping the photos after I gave her a quick lesson on focusing. Charlie sought after any body language cues that may impact the conversation and/or the shot. Oh, wait, I'm getting something good.

"I think you're dying out there, baby," said Capra to his girlfriend.

"I'm tired of you telling me this, Wade. When will you stop?" Erica countered.

"When you stop, baby. You know, ever since you went to that party at Minkus, you've been acting strange. Is something wrong, baby?"

"Nothing. Nothing's wrong," Erica said, but Charlie was quick to catch her in that lie.

Sarah couldn't figure out how to work the camera, so we traded techs. I got my camera back. She recorded the Capra-Bionx conversation. I thought I felt something weird in my left hand, but I ignored it when I heard Erica start to cry.

"I've known you were with that whore Evani for some time. I've been retaliating, Wade," she sobbed. "I've been wi-hith somebo-hody else!"

"Oh, no, please don't tell me? It's that persistent Minkus son, isn't it?"

Excuuuuuse me?! Erica comes on too strong for a guy like me.

"No, it's another intern. His name is Johnny."

When Erica mentioned the intern named Johnny, my mind zapped to my conversation with Ro...

"I know she's hooking up with the Latino porn star Dane Delatorre in the break room on the sixth floor."

...and I suddenly realized that "Johnny" is Johnny Aguirre, the real name of porn star Dane Delatorre. He's only half Latino, and his accent is fake. He's just a regular guy outside of porn. My father knows of his pornographic endeavors, and frankly, he doesn't care. Most of us are concerned with income. Everyone I've come to know in life, they're concerned with the outcome. Just ask the doctor.

Erica and Wade were crying and screaming at each other as I snapped more photos. Not that this was an exciting outing, but we got something to go on.

As I climbed down the tree with Charlie and Sarah, Charlie tapped me on the shoulder.

"Um, Farkle, are you okay?" Charlie asked.

"Yeah, why?" I nodded and asked, very annoyed.

"Your hand!" Sarah screamed and almost fainted.

"What about my hand?" I countered as I looked at my left hand, which was missing its pinky finger.

I just rolled my eyes. I'm not in pain... I'm not in...


(excerpt from Riley's Rebellion)

Brett Barricklow seems like the kind of guy who won't let pranks like ours slide. We got the stories that we wanted published. The sales have tripled, and our subscriber rate has skyrocketed. So, what's his problem?

"Okay, Matthews, you got me. Where do you plan to go with your next issue?" he asked.

"Oh, you know. Standard follow-ups, finding celebrities who've left the spotlight, answers to last issue's quizzes, etcetera," I answered.

"Well, I may not like what's going on because I still like my ideas better, but you've got a good thing going, Miss Matthews."

"Thank you, Mr. Barricklow," I said with confused sincerity.

"Riley, there's a call for you," Lucas interrupted my conversation with Brett.

"Not now, Lucas, I'm busy. I'll call them back," I said.

"It's Farkle," he said. Oh no. "He's in the hospital," Lucas continued.

"Oh, god, no, no, no, no, no... NO!"

I felt my heart drop dead. I cannot count the no's that came out from the time I heard, during my walk through the building, and to my car. Farkle is in trouble! I am almost afraid to ask. Did he get attacked on the job? Did something go wrong on the job? What the hell happened?!

As I'm trying to beat the New York traffic to the hospital, I have shifted my priorities around. Farkle is at the top of my list of things to worry about. The stories for the magazine can wait.

Farkle, I hope you're okay.

Chapter Text

I'm just gonna skip the intro since everyone is probably up to speed by now.

My name is Farkle Minkus. I'm a scientist, photographer, and Riley's best friend. Riley's the editor-in-chief of Dirty Deeds magazine, and she's stepping up by putting her foot down.

"This shot is one I'd give my left nut for, you hear?!" Riley said.

Riley is talking about Charlotte Kincaid, the teen pop superstar who called it quits without a warning. Nobody knows where she is, but the staff and I are working on it.

*CLICK*

The guys and I embarrassed Lucas at an open mic night, but like any actions, whether punishable or not, they have consequences. Maya was peeved off. Maya and Lucas were intimate later that night, but the guilt of having slept with me is slowly creeping up on her. I have that gut feeling.

"That's what I'm doing! I be strokin'!"

Why do I not feel guilty about sleeping with Maya? Because I'm not one to catch feelings that easily.

"I love you, but not like that, you know?" I told Maya.

Plus, I think Maya needs a different direction in life. I just don't want to be the one to push her.

"Maya doesn't sleep around?" Rolanda asked.

At least Rolanda knows that. Everything she knows, she's always on the down-low. Or is it lowdown?

*CLICK*

Remind me to never bet the gender-bender with the guys again! Every poker hand was a different poker game, and everything I thought I had won, I lost. Lucas lost his chips first, so he'll be joining me in channeling RuPaul on Saturday night to scope out my least favorite Minkus International intern.

"I think Erica's taking drugs... I believe she's cheating on Wade Capra," said Rolanda on our date.

My partners and I didn't find much when we spied on Erica and Wade. The only lead is that of intern infidelity and cocaine.

"His name is John."

Dear Erica, the folks at Dirty Deeds and I need a little more truth to what you're really doing. If you were at fault for two interns' firings, then it is you who should be ashamed. If Rolanda is slandering you about your behavior at work, she should be ashamed. For all I know, fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me thrice, shame on both of us. We've made assholes out of each other. Yours, Farkle Minkus.

*CLICK*

Ladies and gentlemen, I have been bedridden and hooked to machines. I fainted after seeing a lost appendage in my left pinky. I guess it's the closest thing to giving a left nut for the truth. I know the truth is out there. Even in this hospital, I'll find something. Riley has faith in me, so I will.

"Number one rule: you cannot chicken out."

And, chicken out, I did not.

*CLICK*


So, here I am in the hospital. My left hand is all wrapped up, and I'm wearing a hospital gown that bares my pasty white ass. I'm watching the television that I'm apparently sharing with a roommate whom I've never met. I heard crying. I got up out of my bed to meet this mysterious person on the other side of the curtain.

This was unexpected. It was a lady. She had chocolate brown hair that didn't go well with her skin. Her skin was being treated for burns. How could something so horrible happen to someone so beautiful? Judging the burns alone, I would say the root of the problem is most definitely electric. I knew it was electric when I looked at her waking face...

"After we get the dirt on Charlotte Kincaid, we'll do a story on the Minkus International interns."

...I will be damned. It's Charlotte Kincaid on the verge of tears, and she's being treated for burns. And I'm being treated for a lost pinky. Why would the hospital pair us together?

My camera of choice was hidden in my black-framed eyeglasses that graced my face. I adjusted the temple of my glasses cam to focus. The wireless remote was secured in my hand.

"You poor, poor thing. What happened to you?" I asked sympathetically in a low tone.

No answer. Just tears.

"I cut off my pinky," I said, showing her my bandaged left hand.

"I purposely pulled the plug and got zapped in my tanning bed. I took some tanning pills and naproxen," she cried real tears. "I'll bet you're one of the many fans who are wondering what I've been doing since dropping off the face of the earth," here comes her normal voice. She sounds healthy but doesn't look it. "Fame finally got to me. I've been trying to kill myself for the last five years. I don't want to live anymore!" she cried.

I feel for her. I really do, but her condition is just too good to forget. Lucky for me, Riley brought my glasses cam and contacts last night while I was asleep. Charlotte didn't recognize my voice, and judging by the direction of her eyes, the burns must have blinded her.

"I'm so ugly!" she sobbed.

"No, you're beautiful. I'm so sorry," I murmured.

I held the remote in my hand behind my back. I pulled the trigger.

*CLICK, CLICK, CLICK*

The nurse knocked on my sliding window door and bellowed, "Mr. Minkus, you've got company."

I walked over to my side of the room and laid back down in my bed. I know who's coming.

"Send her in," I told the nurse.

Riley and Maya walked in with worried looks on their faces.

"Farkle, thank goodness you're all right," Riley ran to me and hugged me, careful not to squeeze my left arm between our bodies.

"When they said sacrificing your life for your friends, they weren't kidding," Maya said.

"Seriously, Farkle, how are you doing?" Riley asked.

"Charlie found my fallen pinky after the ambulance whisked me away. It's intact, and the surgeons are going to reattach it in about six hours. As for the image that is forever engraved in my mind," I said, looking at my bandaged hand.

"Don't worry about it. I'll call your father later to discuss the medical expenses," Riley interrupted me.

"It's a good thing the hospital will discharge me after surgery," I chuckled. "Maya, are you still up for Saturday night?"

"No, no, absolutely not, Farkle," Riley answered for Maya. "You need to rest. It's a major hand surgery, and you need to keep that above your heart, Farkle," she said, raising my left hand to my right shoulder.

"No, Riley, you don't understand," I tried to tell her.

"No, Farkle, allow me," Maya interjected, placing her palm on my good shoulder. "Riley, Farkle lost another bet, and part of his punishment is that he'll be with me on Saturday night." Riley gave her that look. "Don't worry, Honey, I'll be taking care of him." Another worried Riley look on her face. "Oh, come on, we won't be doing anything sexual. Uncle Boing will be by your apartment later today with the details."

"Well, there goes my streak of Saturday night dates. This punishment better be good, Farkle," Riley firmly said to my face. Yep, she's mad. She's cute when she's mad.


The surgery was a success, but the doctors are making me wear a splint to make sure that the tendons heal. It's not that noticeable if I'm going to be on the job tonight. Unfortunately, due to my crappy poker skills the other night, I must dress like a girl. I did find a bright side to this: nobody will recognize me! There was one more thing bugging me about it, and Josh of all people had to break it to me.

I was walking with Josh to Maya's apartment. My mind had been in and out, and Josh seemed to notice that when he was lecturing me on taking breathers from commitments.

"You have every right to bow out now, but you still have to make time to pay up. Farkle? Farkle?!"

"Huh? What?" I asked. I'm a little distracted.

"There's no wrong for you to take a break, but remember your deal," Josh told me before we stopped at Maya's door.

"I will, but you said I can't back out of a punishment," I said as I knocked on the door.

"It'll be just between us if and only if it happens again," Josh said.

Maya opened the door and greeted us as we stepped inside. She was sporting a blue New York Mets hoodie with ashy sweatpants. Her hair was tied up in a messy bun, much like that one night. She wore mismatched socks, but it wasn't like she cared. I thought beauty took time, but I understand why she'd focus on me and Lucas.

She had set up two easels in front of her sectional couch. The easel on the left had "Lucas!" written in cursive on a giant paper that was covering a sketch. Lucas was already sitting by his easel. The easel on the right had "Farkle!" on giant paper, also written in cursive. The way they were written, they looked like the airbrushed writing on white tank tops or tees at the mall. I took my respective seat on the couch next to Lucas as Maya stood between the easels.

"Now that I have your attention," she said, slamming a teaching stick onto my easel, "I have spent countless hours and $5,000 on you two for this punishment at Shambala."

"Five thousand dollars? Maya, we can just go to some cheapo wig store and nab a dress at the Hot Topic. Why you gotta shell out so much?" Lucas asked, flabbergasted.

"Anything that cheesy a disguise would have the girls know exactly who you are, Huckleberry," Maya said.

"She's right, you know," I murmured to Lucas.

"The $5,000 was a gift from one of the museums who bought my three latest oil paintings. I used it to raid beauty shops and makeup stores, finding the perfect shades and the perfect colors," she pulled a package of fake hair the same shade of Lucas's; probably a wig. "If you want to be undercover girls, you're going to have to think bigger than cheapo wigs and Hot Topic dresses," she stated as she tossed Lucas the pack of hair.

"Fake hair, makeup, and wardrobe don't cost five grand," I questioned Maya.

"You're right. Those things won't total five grand. That's why I invested in something that you two are going to need if you're going to pull off this look," she said with a smile, about to reveal something weird.

I'm almost afraid to ask. Hair, makeup, clothes, and... everything a woman needs to look beautiful. Fuck me.

"You guys are familiar with manscaping, right?" Maya asked as she retrieved two boxes of instant waxing strips, showing them off.

Lucas's eyes just bulged, and mine rolled upward. I believed that ripping hair out of the body is a lesser pain than shoving a needle through a human tongue. I will not be cocky, though. Maya was right about the disguise process. If we're going as women, then we'd have to look and feel like women. Josh and Maya must've thought this thoroughly. Kudos to them.

"Underarms, legs, chest, and, uh," Maya swirled a pointed finger at us, "thingies that I've already seen from the two of you," Maya resumed. Lucas just looked at his girlfriend dumbfoundedly. So, I'm guessing he knows. Now. Maybe not. Oh well.

This is probably going to be the second, maybe third, most painful thing I've had to endure in my 27 years of life.

...

Game rule priorities in life: do the hard things first. Now I know why they say it. Except for my head and face of hair, I've got no hair on my body. I feel like a newborn child just came out of a vagina!

Maya sat me down in front of her vanity mirror, decorated with standard light bulbs. She wanted to do my makeup since Lucas wanted Josh to do his makeup. The blonde-haired blue-eyed beauty opened a tube of liquid foundation that oozed out a pigment that looked like the color of my chest when it's out in the sun. Then came that smell... a smell that danced in the air...

"I'll give Erica your number, and she'll call you later," Rolanda spoke in my ear as we kissed each other on the cheek. Pfft. Foundation. Not the best smell nor taste, ladies!

...now I know where some of the interns go shopping for beauty supplies. I'll have to remember that when I'm blackmailing Erica's ass at work on Monday.

Maya dabbed the liquid on my face and worked her blending magic. I was nervous because I've never seen myself as a woman before. I was most afraid of looking like Back of the Class Brenda...

"I always thought he'd wind up with Back of the Class Brenda," 12-year-old Riley said, and everyone turned their heads.

She wore vintage clothes and dorky glasses. Whenever we looked her way, she waved and smiled like a giddy fangirl. She was just too, too much.

...I only said I'm afraid because I went to the wig store on a whim once. I thought I saw her in the mirror when I tried on a platinum blonde bob wig. It was just my imagination, but the image still lingers.

Maya dipped a sponge into some brown powder and painted a line below each cheekbone and around either side of my nose. She used the highlighting powder for the rest of my face. Finally, she blended everything into my face to give it a womanly aesthetic and set the foundation with a powder of the same shade as the liquid. The mirror was covered, so I couldn't see the progress by catching glances.

Maya used her fingers to dip into a pink putty-like substance that I guess is supposed to be a blusher? Like I don't naturally blush under all this foundation?! She rubbed the apple of my cheeks and brushed them outward. Then Josh, Lucas, and Maya were debating on which shade was best for me. I'll give you shade, Freak-Face.

Maya decided that I'd be better off with earth tones, so I'll have different shades of brown, thrown onto the canvases which they call, my eyelids. I closed my eyes and let Maya have at it again. She used a soft brush to tickle my eyelids and leave behind a cocoa brown residue of some sort. The process was repeated three times with increasingly lighter shades of brown. Maya then dabbed her finger in some black eyeshadow and rubbed the inner corners of my eyes. Since she didn't want to apply the mascara to my eyelashes, she and Lucas thought it'd be better if they stuck me with false lashes. Once she pasted the adhesive to the lash line, she meticulously placed the falsies along the glue, making sure to keep them aligned and life-like.

"Okay, Farkle, open your eyes," Maya said.

I fluttered my eyes open to see the mirror still covered with curtains. She had a little spray can in her hand, aiming for my face.

"Close your eyes again," Maya commanded as she sprayed this mist all over my face. That didn't taste great, but it doesn't smell, either.

"Can I open my eyes now?" I asked, raising my eyebrows.

"Yes, you can open them," she giggled.

Maya then placed a wig cap over my hair, and Lucas gave me my wig. I placed the wig on my head and adjusted accordingly. I saw the curtain-covered mirror and Lucas and Maya, harboring either side. Lucas looks good with that Jennifer Aniston-esque wig. I can't wait to see his makeup done. Maya held the rope, meaning that she was ready to pull the curtains.

"You ready?" Lucas asked.

"I'm ready," I answered, acting confident and feeling awkward.

"On three," Maya said.

"One..." I started.

"Two..." Lucas followed.

"Three," Maya finished as she yanked the rope to open the curtains to her lit mirror.

I saw a woman in my reflection. Only, it wasn't a woman. It was me. All dolled up. I'm... beautiful? And, I don't look like Brenda?

"I look like Back of the Class Brenda," I muttered. First thing out of my mouth. Sue me.

"No, you don't!" Lucas said.

"You're gorgeous," Maya complimented me. "You're beautiful and radiant. You probably didn't even feel your face light up."

"Thank you," I murmured.

Maya thought it would be a great idea to play some tunes over her stereo. Knowing my best friend, she always plays the best songs for the mood. I was très énervé with the opening seconds to Roy Orbison's "Oh, Pretty Woman." God, help me. HELP! And, as usual, music at Maya's involves removing clothes and putting some back on again... Wait a minute. Please, don't let this be a sign.

I yanked my wig off to go change in Maya's bedroom. It's a bitch to change clothes with one hand wrapped up, so Josh followed me inside. He taped my dick down with bondage tape, so nobody suspects I'm really a man. He gave me some undergarments with lots of padding. This white underwear is supposed to make my hips look bigger. And this white bra? Oh gosh, C-cups. This is ridiculous! But if this is what Josh and Maya want, then this is what I must do. It's for a good cause. Losing my left pinky was never going to stop me from taking care of business tonight, even if I'm all dolled up. Ugh.

For me, Josh had picked out a gold sequined party dress framed with black silk. Maya had told Josh that it was too big for her. Lucas received a one-armed dark green minidress that was more for showing off his toned tan body. To hide our manly legs, Maya gave us black pantyhose. I can't take this anymore. Since Maya knows firsthand that stiletto heels are not good dancing shoes, she hooked us up with glittered black Converse sneakers that were low-cut. To be honest, I think the shoes were perfect matches for our dresses.

Finally, it was Maya's turn to show me and the guys what she was wearing to the party. She modeled three dresses for us. She had a changing wall to prevent us guys from having unwanted erections. It was better than her changing in front of us, and that made at least one of us uncomfortable.

The first dress she modeled was a bright red halter dress that flowed to her knees. While it showed her cleavage a little bit, the guys and I were not feeling her. Then she went behind her divider to change into another dress. This one was a simple mini dress; it was a weird reddish-pinkish-purplish shade that came with a bright gray belt to accentuate her curves. It didn't work out so well when I could tell she wasn't feeling it. She returned to the changing wall and threw a bunch of clothes over it. About five minutes later, she spoke.

"How about this one?" Maya asked as she walked out modeling a sleeveless dodger blue dress that didn't show off her figure, but it accentuated the best part of her figure. Our jaws dropped.

"Okay, since you guys have no words to say," she snapped me out of my gawk, "I'm going with this one. I'm gonna grab a shower, so wait in the living room, okay?" she rushed as she stripped herself from the dress.

"Yeah, sure," Lucas said, even though he probably didn't hear her.

"Does someone want to help me wash my back?" she asked the three of us.

"Oh, I'll help you, Maya," Josh jumped in before Lucas could volunteer.


(excerpt from Maya Hunter, Maya Hunter)

Farkle shouldn't be partaking in his own punishment, not in his condition. My big mouth just had to say why not tonight? If anything, it'll save him a month's worth of misery. And he just had to let slip about that night before the slap. I just hope and pray that our little get-together was the last time we do it with each other. I thought we had something together, but I guess not. That little spat was all it took for me to realize... Farkle is just my friend.

Uncle Boing followed me to my bathroom, so he can watch me take a shower. I stripped myself of my blue Mets hoodie and gray sweatpants, wearing a matching black bra and panty ensemble underneath. I reached behind my back to unhook my bra, but Josh startled me when he spoke.

"Mind if I help?" he volunteered.

I chuckled, "Come on, Boing. You're only in here to wash my back. Nothing else," I said, freeing my body from my clothes.

"Okay, okay, okay," he smiled back.

I bent over to turn the knobs above the faucet. Once I adjusted the temperature to perfection, I pulled the plug, and the shower just rained down on my head, frightening me a little bit. It's embarrassing to be jump-scared. It's more embarrassing to be jump-scared in the nude in front of Uncle Boing.

"Don't laugh at me, Boing," I got mad.

I cupped my hands to collect some water. I threw it at Josh as he flinched and ran away. Why is he still smiling at me? I think it's because I missed horribly.

I stepped in the shower and closed the sliding glass door. As I placed my head under the spraying shower head, I felt this rush of warmth flowing through my skin. I ran my fingers through my hair, making sure each strand got saturated with water. And then I heard a fox whistle – low enough in volume, not low enough for me to hear.

"Take a picture. It'll last longer," I said as I looked behind me.

"Don't need to," he purred, taking off his clothes one garment per step.

He opened the glass door, baring it all for me. I know I shouldn't do anything with him. We broke up a long time ago. However, the way his silver cross necklace contrasted his skin tone drove me wild. I stared at that cross, blessing myself inside my mind that I will be forgiven for what I'm about to do once Boing steps inside.

I looked up into Josh's blue eyes as he looked into mine. I felt his hands grab my waist, bringing our bodies closer together under the pouring water. He let me hug his waist and place my head on his chest. I can hear his heartbeat speed up. Then I felt something else rise up.

"Someone's excited," I murmured.

"Let's go," he said, echoing my tone.

"Now?"

"Yeah, why not?"

"Condom?"

"Birth control?"

"Damn it," I said, knowing that I'm about to take a huge risk in my first condom-less fuck. I was too excited myself to turn him down and tell him no.

"What? You can always say no. Or, we do it, and I'll pull out," he suggested.

I looked up to him and nodded, walking backward until my back hit the wall. He walked toward me with that look in his icy blue eyes. He threaded his fingers into my hair and kissed my lips. I was quick to open my mouth and allow him to have me. I smiled into his kiss, feeling a little tingly in my core. Josh moved his lips to the base of my neck, sucking on the pulse point which he knows makes me weak in the knees. And then he touched me down there.

I gasped, barely grinding myself against his palm. I felt his smile on my neck before he grazed that pulse point with his teeth and pushed two fingers into me. I didn't want to make too much noise because of someone else in the house. So, I covered my mouth and held onto Josh's muscular shoulder. And I lost myself again. I just... became more aware of my impending orgasms that I wouldn't call it edging. I've just... gotten used to it?

He lifted my leg over his shoulder. Then he pushed himself inside... I've never taken it raw before, so it was a new and unusual feeling. I held onto him with everything I had as he thrust into me. He does it so well. It didn't scare me at all. However, I just can't reach that promised land. Not here, anyway.

"Where do you want it?" he asked, loading up.

"Anywhere but in there," I answered, praying he doesn't shoot inside me.

So, he pulled out and aimed for my torso. His seed was the best feeling ever on my wet skin. I marveled at the sight and bit my lip. I brought Josh in for a tender kiss as we washed up together. I gave into the temptation, and I shouldn't have. But, we might have something together if I read his body language right. Something tells me he wasn't happy to hear about me and Farkle.


(now, back to Dirty Deeds)

I will not let the sounds that came from Maya's shower haunt me forever. Josh must've been turned on by naked Maya that he had to jump on the chance. I, on the other hand, would have not.

With our disguises, I have assumed the identity of Farrah Farkelle, and Lucas became Lucy Luxe. Maya, Lucas, and I, along with a couple other girlfriends who are aware of our gimmick, greeted the bouncer with some cold hard cash, letting him know that we're on a top-secret mission, and he let us in. I cannot believe the bouncer bought it. He doesn't know we're men.

We walked in to hear booming club music. If we're going to party hard and find even dirtier secrets from the celebrities, we've gotta get to the bottom of this. That means the party is in the basement. However, all this trance music makes me want to let loose and have fun. I don't care what I'm wearing. If I can casually dance and get the scoop on the actresses, it should be a great night.

The opening bars of my favorite disco song played, and Maya squealed in excitement.

"I love this song!" Maya screamed.

"That's 'cause we sang it!" I replied. Not now.

We trekked downstairs to join the throng. These patrons are totally on their way to the emergency room with the way they're gyrating and frolicking and twisting their bodies. Some people's abnormalities make me wanna gag. What. Are. They. Wearing?!

It's called expression.

Just like the song is singing, we should be dancing. And, we are! It's the kind of dancing that everyone likes, and there's no subtlety to it. It's just... me, Freak-Face, Maya, Darby, and Yindra. We're having a wonderful time. Maya made everyone clear out a spot, so we could do a minor group dance during the trumpet solo. Well, it was her idea.

The crowd loved us! It was the booty shaking. We were en fuego. As we moved to the music and let the song fade into the next one, I had turned around. I thought that my life had flashed before my eyes, but it turns out somebody caught me off guard with a flashing camera. I lost my balance and vision for a moment before my arms broke my fall onto this huge and muscular bald guy.

"You know, ever since you walked in, I've been wanting to know more," his deep voice startled me as I unintentionally turned around and focused on his big mouth.

"Listen, mate, I'm not who you think I am," I chuckled and raised my voice for him to hear over this crowd.

"Don't care," he said as he tried to make a pass at me.

"I'm a pap!" I sassed at him, waving a thing of pepper spray (that's actually a camera) in his face.

He stuck 'em up and walked away. Works every time.

...

Maya didn't mind that I asked her for a dance, especially since I'm still dolled up. For some reason, the guys were whoopin' and hollerin' like it was a damn hootenanny. At an angle, we look like two women intimately dancing to an annoying dancehall song. I was talking in Maya's ear about that guy who was brave enough to make a pass at me. As we turned, I noticed my prime target Erica Bionx, snorting some cocaine on the glass table in front of some hot girl. I whipped out my pepper spray camera and snapped some pictures to save for later.

Lucas snuck up behind Maya, so we became a dirty-dancing threesome. Freak-Face had something to tell me. I hope it's good.

"I found out something interesting on the job today," he began, grabbing my attention. "Wade Capra's parents have been fiddling with his wedding funds to keep Erica Bionx out of the family."

"That must be why she's coking it up over there," I joked, pointing toward a wall where Erica just did a line.

Lucas turned his head around to see hazy Erica not knowing where she is. That big beefy guy who hit on me is trying to get Erica's number, but she's too high to know what and where it is. Burn.

In walked Evani Farrow, without Matt Truskin. She was looking great. She had little to no makeup on, but with the black halter top and mint green mini skirt she donned, she lit up the room. Sometimes natural beauty is appreciated.

"Maya Hunter!" she waved and ran to us.

"Evani, what are you doing here?" Maya greeted her with a European kiss.

"Matt's in a funk," she said in a bummed tone.

"Again?" Maya questioned, confused.

"What's wrong?" I followed.

"He wouldn't say," Evani answered. "Let's just say, I'm happy to be out of his clutches for the night, and he should be happy out of mine."

Maya, Lucas, and I looked at each other because we're really confused. What about the sex tape of her and Capra? Is Matt Truskin going to keep his word? Who's overseeing the magazine?!

"Oh, I almost forgot. Evani, this is Farrah, and this is Lucy. They're my doll-faces," Maya introduced us.

Everything felt like it was starting to fall apart. Then I had a weird feeling in my stomach. I needed to go to the bathroom, but how could I with my package taped down to hide my well-endowed appendage? Luckily, Maya and I had thought of a backup plan on the way to the club...

Maya slipped a note in my clutch with some magic words. They're like safe words, but cooler. The pink paper, scented with one of her perfumes, read in red ink, "Hide somewhere in the lounge after doing your business in the bathroom. Once your pawns leave the club, I will come find you. Lucas or I will say, 'The purple cat pounces on the pink panther. Purr, purr, purr.' Your response is, 'The pink panther perpetrates the pummeling of the purple cat. Purr, purr, purr.' We'll follow the sound of your voice. Love, Maya."

...at least I had an excuse to go to the bathroom. We knew Erica hung around in the upstairs lounge every other Saturday night. This just happened to fall perfectly.

"Oh, look, there's Erica. We're gonna go upstairs to the lounge. Wanna come with?" Evani asked.

"No, we'll be fine, but, uh," Maya answered, then grabbed my hand to throw me Evani's direction. "Take Farrah to the private bathroom up there. She's been holding in her pee since we got here, and she hates lines." Great excuse for me, Maya.

"No, it's okay, Evani," I chuckled under my nerves. I thought my real voice almost gave away my identity.

"No, I insist," Evani said, taking me by my hand upstairs to the private lounge with a bathroom.

She must be in a rush. We're walking too fast. As we walked up the stairs, we opened the door to see lamps. The wall lamps lit up the room. This lounge had a circle bed and a couch. It was beautiful for a studio apartment. Wait, this is a studio apartment. Evani threw me into the bathroom and shut the door, so I could at least get this bondage tape off me. I'm afraid. What's gonna happen when Evani finds out that Farrah is Farkle? She knocked on the door, scaring me.

"OH shit."

"Farrah, honey, Erica and I will be back in five with some stuff!" Evani bellowed through the door.

When I removed the tape, the boys and I could finally breathe. My balls have never been so constricted like that. Now that they're free, I don't care anymore. I am not jeopardizing my health nor my reproductive organs' will to live to go through what I just went through. Never. Again.

I exhaled long and hard as I pissed in the toilet. I've never felt more alive. Never felt emptier. As I exited the bathroom, I shut the door, so they would think I have a bad bathroom problem. I have come to see an empty lounge and nobody who wants to see me right now. I hear footsteps, so I've got to hide somewhere. I look around and spot the circle bed with lots of fluffy blankets. Bed!

Maya shot me a text, confirming that Erica and Evani are on their way upstairs. I texted her that I'm all situated and blended in, and they won't suspect a thing. I will have a conversation recorded and maybe some pictures snapped. Who knows?

The two actresses walked in and sat down on beanbag chairs. Erica broke down and started crying.

"What's wrong, baby?" asked Evani.

Erica hesitated to speak. I quietly grabbed my phone and hit the audio record button. Let's pray that my breathing doesn't override their conversation.

"I think I'm pregnant," Erica said.

"What? Why? How? When? Where? Who?" Evani asked every question in the book. "Please tell me that it's Wade's baby?"

"It's Johnny's."

"Johnny who?"

"Johnny Aguirre. He's one of the interns where I work. We've been hooking up at least three times a week in the break room on the sixth floor. It's been a secret that I've been hiding. You're the only one who knows this, so far," Erica sobbed.

Riley is going to looooove this!

"Oh, honey... does he know?" Evani asked sympathetically, even though she was told that she's the lone confidante.

"No," here come the water works now. "Neither does Wade."

"Aww, baby, come here," Evani cooed and brought Erica in for a hug. "Your secret is safe with me, Erica."

Erica let the pregnancy tears flow. She's so done. Sarah was right about Wade and Erica ending, but needed the how. Unfortunately, Riley is going to need a little less sob story and a little more concrete evidence. My pepper spray camera was the perfect weapon.

*CLICK*

I flashed back to my last date with Rolanda. I may have zoned out when she ranted, but I have retained everything she said to me. This is a process known as a forensic rhetoric...

I translated Ro's muffled sobs to a sentence that reads, "Erica has already forced out two interns at Minkus International by slandering them. Don't let her kick me out, Farkle!"

...I could not help but feel for Rolanda. She values hard work, and catching her friend in the act can ruin that for her. What's the next thing Erica's going to do? Kill somebody?

"Hey, do you hear clicking?" Erica asked Evani.

"It's one of Maya's friends. She's in the bathroom. Must've had a bad batch of the hors d'oeuvres. Much worse when it's that time of the month," Evani answered, covering for me. "So, what are you going to do?"

"My family will disown me. We are super-duper Christian. If my father finds out I'm pregnant out of wedlock, he'll lose his shit. Our family name will be stained because I cheated! I hope Wade's family is happy. They hate me!" Erica continued crying.

"Come on, honey," Evani said, standing up to help Erica stand up. "We'll go to my place to talk about it."

As Erica and Evani left the lounge, Maya and Lucas walked in hopes of finding me. When they heard the two actresses close the main door, Maya started talking.

"Pssssst. The purple cat pounces on the pink panther. Purr, purr, purr," was Maya's secret phrase to summon my reaction. I heard her.

"The pink panther perpetrates the pummeling of the purple cat. Purr, purr, purr," I responded.

They couldn't find me. They had to follow my voice.

"The purple cat pounces on the pink panther. Purr, purr, purr," Lucas said.

"The pink panther perpetrates..."

Lucas uncovered the fluffy fuchsia blanket and found me. Thank goodness, I can breathe fresh air again. He pulled me up by the hand, and I stood to my feet. Maya adjusted my hair and clothes to make sure I looked presentable and not like I got out of bed. Or laid.

"Did you get the dirt?" Maya asked.

"Oh, hell yeah," I said with a nod.

"So, what's the scoop? Don't worry, Erica and Evani are already out the door. They won't see or hear you," Maya continued.

"I feel like I overdosed on the gossip," I deadpanned.

"You okay, though?" Lucas asked me.

"Yeah," I acknowledged my status after blanking out. "You're never gonna believe this, and neither is Riley," I followed.


(excerpt from Dr. Smackle's Boys)

I never have patients come in on Saturday nights, but this one was calling to me. He has hit the midlife crisis at 32 years old. He is turning to me, the psychoanalyst to the stars of New York. Why must these hot-shot celebrities be so persistent?

"You know, Mr. Truskin, your persistence got you here tonight," I said.

"My friends told me that you were the best doctor to deal with my kind of problem," Matt Truskin said.

"I wouldn't say I'm the best, but I'm aware of how well I'm doing because of outcome when doctors and therapists like me are way more concerned with the income. So, what's with you?"

"I'm an actor. I act. That's what I do. People tell me how I should act and look. Acting... is a job. Jobs bring in money. Money... supports. I have a girlfriend. She's... also in the entertainment industry. My question is... how do you know... when you're ready... to give up?"

"Give up acting? Or give up life?" I questioned the actor.

"I don't know, doc. I don't know."

"There's a difference between wanting everything you've ever wanted. Once you have that, you'll realize that you can't put a price on your most valuable possessions: those whom you love. What else is going on?"

"I know... that my girlfriend... cheated on me... while she... filmed a movie... last Christmas."

Why must you talk like Captain Kirk?

I'm not pleased. So, I questioned him, "Unless you have concrete evidence that isn't telling me exactly what you saw, then how do you know?"

"Video tape."

"You saw a video tape of your girlfriend with another man? Doing what?"

"It," he air-quoted as he answered.

"How did that make you feel?"

"Given normal circumstances, I'd feel pretty shitty. And, I do. This is different. Someone is using that tape to blackmail me for information that I'm not at liberty to give."

I know the story. So, why are you here?

"So, why are you here?" I asked.

"I need to know what to do. My girlfriend is a mistress, and I'm a wreck."

"This is a common problem with guys who have had the brunt of infidelity. Since you are not legally married, you're the one who must break it to her, or she beats you to the punch. It's your decision, Matt. Take it from a woman who had been scorned many a time. Or you can leave now, and forever hold your peace."

"She doesn't even like him. She was drunk. She thought that guy was me!"

"Wow, you must've studied that tape. Have you ever heard of an eidetic memory?"

"What, like a photographic memory?"

"Exactly, but this is an eidetic tonal memory that we're talking about. This has a more concise and keen approach. You know, you remind me of someone I know. He has that same eidetic tonal memory. Whatever he sees, it's ingrained in his mind. It's like the Chekhov weapon. Suddenly, you remember how, where, and why it happened. Except you, you're not that guy I remember."

"So, what do I do?"

"I strongly suggest you tell her, but if you tell her who told you or who knows, she'll go after whoever told you."

That session didn't end very well, but it was worth the Benjamin I got out of it. Matt Truskin disappeared from my sight before I could manually unlock my car. As I opened the driver-side door to my car, I saw red and blue lights in the window reflection. I followed the angle of the lights to find that two dead bodies on gurneys were being wheeled out of a cottage. That can't be good.


(we now return to Dirty Deeds)

Shambala had closed for the night, and Maya, Lucas, and I were the last ones out. Since the penthouse was a shorter walk from the club than my own house, I let Maya and Lucas take a taxi to her house on my dime. It wasn't that bad in the middle of the night, or so, they say.

Except, these two large and muscular guys tried to jump me. What they didn't know is that I've grown stronger and smarter. I took one guy's wrist and forced it into the core of flipping him to make him land on his head. I then high kicked the other guy's head and used my foot from the initial kick to bring his head back down to the ground, effectively rendering him unconscious. Ten seconds is all it takes for a "girl" like me to fight.

I cannot believe I just went through the night looking like a woman, just to get some dirt. Lucas told me that he's glad that night's over. He'll never have to relive that again. Well, I wish I could say the same. This disguise is perfect for digging dirt on the celebrities. I wouldn't tell Maya until a situation warrants such.

Home at last. My father's headquarters... with a penthouse just for me. I took the elevator all the way up. As I was patiently waiting, I could only think of Riley.

"Listen. I worked my ass off for this promotion, and I wanna start hot. I wanna set the bar higher than Heaven, deeper than Hell, and further than Pluto."

"Is there something you did that I don't know about?"

"Oh my gosh, you're hiding something from me, and I'm dying to know!"

The elevator's ding rang me out of my thoughts. As I exited, I speed-walked to the penthouse door. I enter the door, and everything is where it is. Nobody is in here, so I turn on the lights, found a mirror, and stripped myself of my girlishness with my only able hand. I ripped off my fake eyelashes. I yanked off my wig and the cap that came with it. Maya also left some makeup-removing wipes in my purse. They worked well when I wiped all this gunk off my face.

I was left only in my birthday suit and the cast, so I found a pair of greenish bluish flannel pajama pants that I slipped into. They were very comfortable, so I sat down on the couch and turned on the classical music station.

I heard a knock on my door. Augh, this late? This better be good. I reluctantly got up and took a deep breath when I stopped at the door. I opened it and saw Rolanda wearing a tight orange dress and hair all mussed.

"Rolanda, come in," I said, concerned for her safety.

"Thanks, Farkle," she said, limping her way in.

I noticed that not only was she walking funky, but I also saw which leg she had been favoring. It was the same one she told me about...

"Do you wanna see a scar?"

Oh, GOD!

Just when I thought she was going to show me a not-safe-for-work scar, she pushed her right pant leg up and drew a line where the scar decorated her knee. She explained to me that she was the most popular athlete in her high school, but her senior year got cut short when she tore her ACL as she stuck a perfect landing in the uneven bars during a meet. If she had taken that stutter-step after the landing, she would've been fine. What made the injury worse was that they forced her to red-shirt in college when she signed with NYU to be on the gymnastics team. As time wore on, and she sat out her freshman year of college gymnastics, she found her true calling in coaching and interpreting sign language for some of the deaf athletes on campus. If she has a knack for sports and communication, why is she a business major? Could that be why she's interning for Minkus International?

...because her bad knee looked like it had bumps and bruises forming to the side. It's common to fear tearing the same ACL.

"My goodness, what happened to you?" I shut the door and rushed over to Ro.

With my good arm, I maneuvered her body until she sat upright, so I could pull the lever that pops the recliner up. She made my job easier when she grabbed the throw pillows and stuffed them under her bruised knee. I then ran to the freezer and found a gel pack already wrapped in a paper towel. When I rushed back and placed the pack on her knee, she let out the hugest sigh of relief.

"Oh, gosh, you have no idea, Farkle... I've got so much to tell you," she said, still out of breath.

"Then talk to me," I said. "I've got all night."

"It's okay, Farkle. I just fell, and my knee popped again, but that's the least of my worries. There's been something on my mind since that night we had our date." she stared blankly at the turned-off television.

"You forgot to tell me something?" I asked as I calmly ran my good hand down her back through the fabric of her dress.

"It's about Erica."

Jackpot.

"Go on," I whispered as I played with the baby hairs at the nape of her neck.

"Remember when I told you that I had caught Erica and that porn star in the break room on the sixth floor?"

"Yes, twice," I confirmed my memory.

"Well, do you think you can relay this to Riley? I'm not 100% certain, but I remember Dane wasn't wearing a condom when I had caught them the second time. Then Erica started acting frantic at work. She had all the telltale signs, but she just brushed them off as a stomach bug or something when I confronted her," she said, looking at me.

Rolanda's suspicion of Erica's pregnancy makes her the third person to know. Then Riley will be the fourth, and the staff at Dirty Deeds will be next in line. I will take bets now – will her parents be the first or last to know? Question is, will the soon-to-be grandparents know before the story gets published?

"So, you know," I nodded.

"Mm-hmm!" she nodded in return. "She's pregnant and scared shitless!"

I was too busy listening to the victory sirens in my head to notice Rolanda's squeals as she pushed me down to the couch. The half-blonde half-brunette then grabbed the remote to turn on the classic radio network. When Nino Rota's "Love Theme" from Godfather played, she fell on her side, and her head accidentally landed on my crotch.

"Ow–!"

"How much are you willing to pay for this story?" she asked.

"Don't ask me," I sounded indignant, even if I didn't mean to. "Ask Riley. She oversees the stories." I then yanked Rolanda's hair, forcing her to sit upright again. "Okay. Up-se-daisy," I said as she sat up again. She then favored her face that had taken a hit from my nether region. "All right, all right, okay. Um... if I can swing it, I will ask my father cover your medical expenses."

"Deal!"

"Um, wow, um, why don't you go take a shower? It comes with a retractable seat, so you don't have to stand and pressure your knee, okay?" I said out of nervousness.

Rolanda kicked the pillows to the side and used her good leg to kick the recliner to rest position. She and I stood up on our own accord, and I let her arm drape over my shoulders. I walked the half-blonde half-brunette girl to my bathroom and sat her down on the edge of the tub. She took care of the rest as she stripped in front of me, so I walked out of the bathroom and took a seat on the couch again. I heard her turn on the water, so I know she's okay now. She took a shower to wash herself of the dirt that caked her wounds. Ro then limped into the living room wearing a white towel. I couldn't let her sleep the rest of the night naked.

"Need some clothes?" I asked.

"Please," she confirmed.


While Rolanda had taken a shower, I snooped through her phone to find Erica's number. I programmed it into my phone through my alternate number application and began a process that will shake things up for Riley's magazine. I then realized that I didn't have to do that, but maybe I did because the phone number that Rolanda has for Erica matched what Erica had written in her job application for Minkus International.

Placing Ro's phone exactly where it was, I used my phone to call Erica, even if it was 4:00 in the morning. I'll let this one go to voicemail, but it doesn't mean I won't leave one.

Hi, you've reached the mailbox of Erica Leigh Bionx. Please leave a message at the beep, and I'll get back to you as soon as I can! Danke Schoen! *beep*

"Erica, it's Minkie," I began, using my nickname that she gave me. I stuttered my first words, damn my nerves, "I-I know your secret, and you have to do what I say. You cannot tell a soul, or I'll have yours. Your actions have taken two innocent souls already. Do not let your best friend be the third. Just show up to work on Monday looking like yourself, but no makeup. I want to show the world your true colors. I'll be there. Have a good one, Erica," I closed as I tapped the red button on my phone and threw it across the room.

What am I doing?

Although blackmailing was the wrong way to go through this, I had to make Erica come clean. I have thousands of dollars' worth of hospital bills invested in this. It's not like my ass is on the line because it is. This is Dirty Deeds for crying out loud! We don't just give our left nut to get the truth. We lay down our lives for it.

Chapter Text

Farkle Minkus, photographer, scientist, Dirty Deeds. My best friend and editor, Riley Matthews, came to me while I was in the hospital. What Riley doesn't know yet is that I have snapped numerous pictures regarding her stories.

"I'm so ugly!" Charlotte Kincaid, former teen idol said of her burn scars.

"No, you're beautiful. I'm sorry," I said in a deep, somber voice

*CLICK*

"Farkle? Farkle?" Josh tried to grab my attention.

Maya dolled me and Lucas up in disguise to confirm that what happens in the club stays in the club unless Farkle Minkus has mace.

"I'm a pap!" I yelled at a guy who tried to hit on my girly self.

*CLICK*

I've been nursing Rolanda back to health at the penthouse for the last 12 hours. Ro may be flirty, but she was too much in pain to come onto me.

*CLICK*

I don't understand why I take my best pictures while I'm in a damn sycamore tree. Sycamores are the worst. I have lost track of how many scrapes, bruises, and lost pinkies have colored my body.

"Your hand!" Sarah screamed at the sight of my lost left pinky.

*CLICK*

Riley wasn't kidding when she said that the staff at Dirty Deeds are putting their lives on the line. So far, I feel like my life is at risk if Erica can trace my number back to me.

That's a scary thought.

*CLICK*


(excerpt from Maya Hunter, Maya Hunter)

I had helped Lucas out of his garb when we returned to my place. He was first to the showers to wash himself from the perfume and body spray that he said was "wimpy." I don't blame him. Ranger Rick knows what he likes, but I'm afraid he won't like what I have done to him soon.

Ready for bed at 1:00 AM Sunday morning, I saw a manila envelope with my name on it. It's a mystery to me. Who's the sender? Why is it for me?

As I closed the door, I opened the envelope to pull out some pictures. These were pictures of me, having sex with Lucas. There was another picture of me, walking around in my underwear. The next picture was of me and Farkle at the dance last night. How did they get developed so fast?

Who's doing this to me?!

I pulled out my phone from my purse and called Josh. I'm panicking.

"Hello?"

"Josh, where are you right now?"

"I'm on my way to Greenwich Village. Why? What's up?"

"Well, you know that Riley's office was robbed..."

"Yeah, they stole a tape. What else?"

"Someone left pictures at my front door. I don't know who's sending them," I teared up.

"What kind of pictures?"

"Intimate pictures, Josh! My most private moments have been developed. There's no note, no fingerprints... could someone be stalking me?"

Someone is stalking me.

"It's one in the morning, Maya. You need to go to bed and let ME get some sleep before we can figure it out, okay?"

With a huff, I muttered, "Fine. Goodnight, Josh."

"Goodnight, May–"

I pressed END and threw my phone on the bed. It hit one of the posts and fell on the floor. Luckily, it didn't break.

Why would someone stalk me? It's not like Josh to blow me off and sleep on my question. Who is stalking me? Who's blackmailing me?

Unfortunately, Josh was right. I need sleep. It was the only way I can focus and think clearly about the pictures. With Lucas in bed, I don't think I can sleep through the night.


(welcome back to Dirty Deeds)

I spent my entire Sunday developing the photos from all my cameras that I've used within the last week. That included my time at the hospital. So much film, so little time.

I received a text reply from Erica Bionx later that night. I wanted to keep myself on the lowdown. It was best not to say anything. Just leave her be and sleep on it. I knew I couldn't keep this to myself, either.

I'm a little pissed that Rolanda didn't go to the emergency room last night when she should've. Why did she come to me?! I'm guessing that Rolanda isn't that bright. However, she is a great listener. She stayed put at the Minkus International penthouse until I was awake enough and took her to the doctor and have someone look at her knee. I can only hope that her ACL is still intact.

I walked into Minkus International, ready for Erica to surrender herself. With a backpack on my back, I took the elevator to the 23rd floor. On the way up, some of my father's coworkers acknowledged my presence and asked me how I'd been doing. I didn't want to talk to anybody. I wasn't in the mood. If it'll get them out of my hair, then so be it. At the 17th floor, that one girl with the red and blue-ended blonde hair entered the elevator and stood next to me. If I can remember right, her name was Keilani. She's one of Rolanda's best friends.

She whispered into my ear, "I just saw Erica park her car. She's not looking good. She lost her breakfast in one of the good bushes."

"That's good to hear," I murmured as I looked her in the eyes.

Eh, that's not good to hear.

"Rolanda texted me from the hospital that you're working on a plan to make Erica come clean. Don't worry, Sonny," she called me by her nickname for me. "Your secret is safe with me."

Oh, so she knows about my plan.

"Thanks, Kei," I told her. "How's Ro?"

"They x-rayed her and did an MRI. Tests came back negative for a re-torn ACL. They did find some contusions, so she'll be on ice and crutches for two weeks."

"Excellent."

Thank you, Jesus!

When the elevator dinged on the 23rd floor, we both walked to the lounge to meet Maroon hair and Caramel Macchiato. They were both playing puzzle games on their smart phones. I coughed an "ahem" to get their attention, and they paid it.

"Erica is not feeling well, but I told her to come in anyway. Rolanda and I think that Erica might be pregnant, so I urge you not to say anything until I can come up with something better."

"So, she is pregnant?" the girl with the afro wanted to know.

"Shh..." I shushed her with my finger to her lips, telling her to shut it. "Riley will be the first to publish the story. Don't say a word!"

"Good luck with that, Amber. You've got the biggest mouth out of all of us," Maroon laughed.

"I thought Erica was a big-mouth," Keilani corrected.

"Oh, she is. It's just... whenever dirt is about Erica, Amber's first in line," Maroon retorted.

I looked over to the girl with the maroon hair and noticed that she wore the same outfit from the day when I interviewed her. She flirted with me, and it worked. Even if she didn't, I still would've given her the job. Her name is Courtney. She mentioned in her first interview with my father that she spent her college years living off her Minkus International stock market dividends. People thought she was spoiled, but she bought and sold them fair and square. Everyone was jealous of her, but she just rolled her eyes at the people who talked shit about her.

"Farkle?" Courtney snapped me out of my minor flashback.

I don't have time for this.

"You know what? I'll see you later, ladies," I said as I left the room.

"Bye, Farkle!"

"Call me!"

"Text me!"

Who cares whose voice is whose? Urgh! I walked out of the lounge to find my father's office. It upset me that he wasn't there. Then I headed for the elevator. When it opened, I saw the number one person on my crap list.

"You look good, Erica," I complimented her natural beauty.

She walked out, hook-dragged me to my dad's office, and picked the lock to open it. I liked being dragged. I hated that Erica had to sneak me in. When she shut the door, she clawed the collar of my shirt and pushed my back against the door.

"What do you want?" she asked with a deep voice, keeping herself on the lowdown.

"For you to let go of me first, lady," I snapped back.

She released me and started pacing.

"How do you know I was doing a line Saturday night at the club?"

"It's not just about your coke habits, BiBi," I called her by her nickname. It was our thing.

"You sent someone to spy on me?" Wrong. Guess again.

"Oh, no, I was there. You just didn't know I was there," my voice got firm. "Just tell your friends exactly what has been going on with you for the last month, and I'll let you go," I said.

"It's not that easy, Minkie," she said. It always turned me on when she called me "Minkie." Don't ask.

"What? It's not a secret that you're using cocaine, but there finally is photographic evidence that is in my hands. I feel so obligated to give them to Riley," I said with a knowing voice, "and verify my sources who have told me what you've done to have two employees fired. Two employees who loved working here. You hated them, so you'd do anything to be above them. That's just wrong. Why can't you work harder and take what you get? After all, I know the cherry on top of your secret life, and Riley's waiting."

"You wouldn't dare, Minkie," she hissed.

"Oh, I would," I said as I raised my hand to swear by it. "I can't count how many secrets have escaped these lips over the years. I've done it to my best friends and worst enemies...

"Riley still loves Lucas.

"Perhaps my dear friend Maya Penelope Hart can help me out.

"He dies in the end.

"...and you're just caught in the middle, BiBi. What else do you have to say?"

"Johnny's condom broke, and we had nothing else. The damn pharmacy couldn't refill my damn depo shots in time, so I'm probably pregnant with his baby."

"Probably? You ARE pregnant with his baby!" I got furious with her.

"Shhh!" she placed a hand on my mouth. "Not so loud!" she whispered... whimpered... whatever.

"Anything else?" I muffled into her hand.

"That if you have the slightest bit of compassion, you'd let me be," she pleaded with me as she let me go.

"Yeah, you're probably right," I murmured, admitting my defeat, thinking of the potential... psyche. "Hah!"

And I left my dad's office. As luck would have it, my dad was passing by. He stopped me in my tracks.

"Farkle, you're not supposed to come in till Friday to interview potential interns," my dad told me.

Crap, it's only Monday, and my father isn't expecting to see me. Gotta cover for Erica. Gotta be something else. Oh shit.

"Uh, Erica asked me to come in early to discuss trades for Grover Corporation. You know, the company that owns Dirty Deeds?"

"I know Grover Corp, son. They are very fair friends, and I hope you gave her the right tips on investing in the company," he said.

"I did, thank you. So, uh, got any tips for today, Dad?"

He looked both ways before wrapping his arm around my side, keeping quiet, and not looking at me directly, "The Capra Family Foundation tucked away a million dollars for a wedding that got cancelled. Buy while they're still low. They'll bounce back," he finished as he released me.

Since when did Capra embezzle a million? I traced my thoughts to a few different stories...

"Wade Capra's parents have been fiddling with his wedding funds to keep Erica Bionx out of the family," a girly Lucas told me while we were sandwiching Maya at Shambala.

"I hope Wade's family is happy! They hate me!" Erica cried in Evani Farrow's shoulders, but they still think it's just them in the studio apartment lounge above Shambala.

"I was just about to ask you. What's she doing getting eaten out by Wade Capra?" Riley had echoed Matt Truskin's question regarding a sex tape.

...I could feel my eyes starting to spin.

"Farkle? Son?" my father snapped me out of my trance.

"Huh?" I turned to him.

"Are you okay? You looked like you were having a flashback."

"Let's just say that I'm aware of Capra's embezzlement, and it's for good reason, too," I answered as my vision returned to normal.

"Well, whatever it is, you let me know at the bridging campaigns later this week," he told me.

"Thanks, Dad. I'll be seeing you again," I shook his hand, and I was on my way out.

"Bye, son," he said.

In the elevator, someone had dropped a pregnancy test. A positive pregnancy test! I secretly picked it up and stuffed it in my shoe. As the elevator dinged down more floors, I walked out of the doors and the building...

"You look good, Erica," I complimented her. I looked around that image of her in my head. Something had fallen out of her full and heavy black purse. It looked like a pregnancy test or a thermometer. It fell on the floor of the elevator, and nobody bothered to pick it up until I spotted it.

...I think, no. I know whose test it is.


I'm sitting inside Riley's office with two file folders in hand. The red folder had her next cover story about Charlotte Kincaid. The blue folder contained snapshots of Erica Bionx. I knew Riley was going to be angry because I didn't listen to her advice about my left hand, and she had to take her anger out on me of all people...

"How could you do this to me?" 14-year-old Riley questioned me after I told her that her time to tell Lucas the truth was running out.

"What matters is us, Farkle. We don't leave!" she once told me after our lousy first day of high school.

"Why don't you want me to get better?" she and the girls confronted me in the whole sludge-ball debate.

I looked up at Riley to see her pacing back and forth.

"You know, you've got a lot of nerve to go through with your punishment as you were Saturday night. You should've been home keeping your left hand on your right shoulder, but do you listen? Nooooo," Riley scolded me as she turned around and sat on the desk in front of me. "You lost a bet to Uncle Josh, and he forced you to party it up with Maya at the nightclub. What is wrong with you?"

"I had a commitment to honor," I mumbled.

"How come Maya didn't post any photos of the party on her Twitter? She always posts them on her Twitter before she goes to bed that night. Farkle, do we have to go through another 'is there something that I don't know' conversation? Because I'm – OH, MY GOD, FARKLE."

While she was talking, I gave her the red folder containing pictures of Charlotte Kincaid. She opened it up and shut up.

"Charlotte's..." Riley keened.

"Dying. She intentionally burned herself in her tanning bed. Said she didn't want to live anymore," I murmured as Riley stared at the photos in awe.

"Did she say what she was taking other than tanning pills?"

"I overheard the nurses give Charlotte her blood and urine test results. She had more in her system than what she told me."

"These are amazing," she hugged me and started crying happy tears.

Caught off-guard, I returned the hug. I had so much more to tell her. I waited until she released me.

"Uh, thank you. Remember when I was out with Maya on Saturday night?" Riley nodded. "She knew who was going to be at the club that night. I went prepared," I said as I gave her the blue folder.

She opened the blue folder and saw the pictures of Erica Bionx, snorting the cocaine, baring her bosom in the light.

"I cannot believe that Erica Bionx would damage her own body," she said, shaking her head with a smile.

"She's not only damaging herself. She's damaging..."

Riley flipped through the photos to see crying-Erica hugging Evani. She had that knowing look in her eyes that looked right back into mine.

"Is she pregnant?" she guessed; I nodded.

I took a huge breath before letting slip, "It's not Capra's."

I watched her face light up. Her eyes began to gloss, bringing her to the verge of tears. Her lips quivered. How much surprise can one photo bring?

"I think something's happening to my face," Riley said.

"You're smiling," I whispered.

Remember when they said, "be careful what you wish for; you just might get it?" Well, Riley got what she wanted and then some. Now comes the hard part: which story to publish first. It's like she got everything she ever wanted... well, not everything. We've hit a critical point in Riley's term as editor-in-chief.


(excerpt from Riley's Rebellion)

Once Farkle had shown me my next two cover stories, I was rolling in it. During a staff meeting, I showed them a mockup of Charlotte Kincaid on the next cover. Since I was good with names, I was going to name it "Charred-lotte Kincaid" or "Charlotte Kin-BAKED."

"Guys, I am stuck here. Since Maya isn't here to help me name the next cover, I thought I'd step in and name this one myself. My problem is that I've got two," I held two fingers, "names for the Charlotte Kincaid cover." Sarah raised her hand. "Sarah?"

"Any updates on the Erica Bionx fallout?" she asked.

"It'll be on the next cover. I'll page Dr. Smackle and see if Erica has a bun in the oven. Her time is valuable, but she always makes time for me and the Deeds." Charlie raised his hand next. "Charlie?"

"How about 'Charred and Baked: Charlotte Kincaid's Career Falling Out' for the title? Farkle lost his pinky to room with her," he said.

"God damn it, yes!" I slapped the table. "We'll edit the mockup to have that title, and close the book! You're dismissed," I happily said.

I closed my laptop and headed for my office. Unfortunately, my publisher stopped me in my tracks. I am afraid to ask.

"Miss Matthews, now that your team is off the clock, what do you plan to do for the next cover? Please don't tell me it's about that ginger Bionx?" he asked me.

"She's a pregnant coke whore. The story is solid, and my sources have backed me up. Anything else you'd like to know?" I answered and countered.

"Are any of your writers available?" he asked in a whisper.

"The only one who doesn't have a significant other is Charlie, and I'm pretty sure he's straighter than a ruler. You couldn't draw a straight line with a ruler, now, could you?" I smiled at him.

"I've had my eye on Walker and Carpenter since I brought them in. Why did you not tell me they were taken?"

"Because I wasn't editor at the time, and I've known them for a long time. Darby talks too much, and Sarah is afraid of things that she doesn't know. You don't want them, and they sure as hell do not want you. Not even I would let you take me on a date. Are we clear?"

After our stare-down, he caved.

"Fine. Yes, we're clear. Good day, Miss Matthews," he admitted defeat and walked away.

"Oh," I had one more stipulation, "and Brett?"

He turned around.

"I'm liable to market the Erica Bionx story as 'Pregnant Coke Whores.' If you don't approve it by the next wall closing, I'm scrapping it. And I know how much you love to hate Erica Bionx the comedian."

He just turned and walked away after that. Nothing to say and walking away means admitting defeat. I think he reached the point where he just doesn't care anymore.

I looked to the side and noticed my reflection in the window. I looked like I haven't slept for days, and it's true. If I sleep, it's for a good half hour, and then I'm ready to go. It's not fair.

Where is Farkle when I need him?


(we now return to Dirty Deeds)

When I took Riley to the doctors for her sleeping problems, it was stressful to say the least. The doctors said that Riley had been battling insomnia since she took that editor-in-chief position at the Deeds. And news to me, she had been on a three-day hunger strike for no reason other than not having the time to eat. So, she has been ordered a stress leave. Riley then told the doctors off. She'll eat and sleep on her own time. She has stories to edit and publish for the magazine. I don't want to fight with her on this, but she needs a break! The woman I want to be with for the rest of my life... she shouldn't handle everything at once, but she is. That pisses me off to an extent. I can't afford to see her stressed out.

After taking Riley to the hospital as her moral support, I went home, got some rest, and walked to Dad's office. I needed to relieve some stress, so I hung out with the maroon-haired girl Courtney before the bridge meetings on the 15th floor. I told her about Riley's predicament, and she couldn't blame Riley.

"Do you wanna make out later?" she asked me on a whim. Wow, she's direct. Just take her up on the offer. Or don't.

"What? No! I have a girlfriend. You know, Riley. She freaked out when she found out that you were part of the 'Farkle Sandwich Casserole' debacle at the dance! I only ever turned one girl away," I said, beginning my rant. "I rejected Erica because she went commando, smelled skunky, and came on too strong," I continued before Courtney pointed a finger in my direction. "What are you pointing at?"

"BiBi at six o'clock."

Courtney pointed at six o'clock in my vision, so I turned around. As luck would have it, Erica had the audacity to show up to work. I'm ready to spill her secret. It's just a matter of when and where.

"Speak of the devil," I murmured and dashed, taking Courtney with me to the elevator.

After the elevator closed, Courtney got a little agitated. I, on the other hand, was anxious, nervous, petrified, craving a beer, etcetera...

"Quick, let's make out," I offered.

"What? But you said– mmmff–"

I cut her off by slamming my mouth onto hers. I know this may be sketchy, but she put the offer on the table. A Farkle can only kiss so many girls in life. Better start now before I get committed.

I was thankful that Courtney didn't douse her hair with hairspray. I don't like it when I thread my fingers through a girl's hair only to feel gunk in it. Courtney's fading maroon hair had mousse in it, which was less sticky, and that was okay. She may have been surprised, but she went with it and gained her own advantage when she pushed my back to the wall. With one soft hand pressed into my chest and the other in my hair, she gladly invaded my mouth, reveling in our minty, metallic tastes. It wasn't until she grabbed my crotch when I stopped her. I'm like, okay. Bad girl. Turn around, lady.

"Hey!" I said after she groped me.

I then pushed her off me, turned her around, so her back faced me, and held her wrists behind her back. I do this with a lot of girls who initiate the first move. She also happened to be someone whom I won't bed.

...and the damn elevator dinged me out of my impure thought. Oh well.

Sitting in one of the board rooms on the 15th floor, Erica stated her case about a promotion from intern to either a broker or a teller. I could not keep my mouth shut any longer. My dad, his board members, and select interns were present at this meeting. Erica Bionx was one of six interns giving speeches, testifying why they should bridge to higher ranks at this establishment. I'm a consultant to the employment committee. She is an intern employed by Minkus. I'm ranked above Erica, but now that I have dirt on her, I will make damn sure she will always rank below me.

Everyone loved her speech. She didn't persuade me per se, but it was a compelling argument on why she should be hirable as a financial advisor. Or did she say broker? She may have not uttered any "ums" or "likes," but some of her words were not coherent. That concerned me.

As the clapping settled down, and before Erica took her seat by the door, I slipped.

"Erica's pregnant."

I heard a downward pitch in my head after I said that. She stood there like a deer in the headlights. Some of the interns were shocked. My father looked surprised, but he found the fact to be not that surprising. The board members looked at me like I was crazy. I am crazy, but I know I did the right thing. It was just... at the wrong time.

"I'm sorry, Erica, I had to. I did the right thing. Please forgive me before I can forgive myself," I pled.

The red-haired woman stared down everyone in the room in silence. Since Erica was the last speech of the day, everyone decided to leave after my father had adjourned the meeting. I was the last person to leave, and I wasn't going to leave the room without leaving Erica with a notice. I brushed her hand with a piece of purple paper in my hand, and she grabbed it as I left the room. When she read it, was she surprised?

"Dear BiBi,

You're dead meat.

Love, but not really,

Farkle."

I looked like I was on top of the world after my slip of the tongue at the promotions meeting. Truth is, I am not happy. Did I make a mistake? Should I have waited longer? My conscience is fighting with itself, and it's killing me inside. As I walked downstairs (because the good elevator broke down shortly after Court and I took it, and nobody liked the bad one, so they didn't ride it), I crossed floors in happy-outside-panic-inside mode. I saw Rolanda, who was wearing a knee brace over her brown slacks; her white fleece hoodie went well with them because it's cold on this floor. Her half-and-half hair was easy to point out, and the crutches' aiding her limp made her most noticeable. I would normally hear a "Hey, Farkle, I..." before we were within talking range, but I was just too pissed at myself today to even care.

"Hey, Farkle, I was just – whoa!"

We brushed shoulders. In that contact, I turned around, turned her around by her waist, and kissed her lips like I fucking meant it. And then I walked away and left her standing there. That was it. Nothing to see here. She kisses so well.

"COME BACK WITH MY GUM, FARKLE!" Ro screamed before I turned the corner, never looking back as I blew and popped a big bubble.

Sorry, Ro, it's for your own good. Gotta see a coroner about an autopsy.


(from the files of Dr. Smackle & Mr. Meaner)

Jane Doe, about 30 years old, female, was found dead in her apartment. Initial cause of death: overdose. Inhalants and opioids were found at the scene. After assessing the body, found as it was, attention was focused on the bruises and markings around her head and neck area as well as prints in her wrists. Conducting the autopsy and transcribing will be Dr. Isadora Smackle, M.D., Sc.D., Ph.D., D.B.A. Farkle Minkus of Dirty Deeds Magazine will be directing photography.

Despite the markings around her head, neck, and wrists, the rest of the body is intact after assessment. Rigor mortis, livor mortis, developed. Body measures 69 inches, weighs 125 pounds, slim and slender, well in shape. Skin color is normal, save for abrasions of the head, neck, and wrists. Everything else looks normal externally.

The markings surrounding the nostril area resemble those of towel prints. When her body was found, her cheeks were covered with dried tears, borderline black from the mascara and eyeliner surrounding her eyes. The bruises on her neck indicate the shape of fingers, and the fingers resemble those belonging to the deceased. The fingers themselves were soaked in saliva, and the saliva is a match also belonging to the deceased. As for the wrists, there are abrasions surrounding them. Prints are consistent to latex gloves, perhaps a pair used for dishwashing.

The forensics department will return with a DNA match to establish a cause of death. I have also collected samples from the visceral organs to send off to toxicology labs. Based on the bruises found around the wrists, I will currently deduce that the deceased committed suicide. However, homicide will not be ruled out yet.


(we now return to Dirty Deeds)

Smackle had hired me to take pictures of an unidentified female's dead body. Every inch of her cold skin was defined by what was there and what wasn't. I made sure to focus on the glove prints on her neck and the dried drool around her fingers. How could a dead body look so... dead? For some reason, I thought I saw her breathe. My mood must be getting to me.

That's why Riley had been in my care since her doctor visit. Her house wasn't safe for her since she found photos of herself, wearing intimates and playing with herself under the covers. She told me that someone is out to get her. Not that the photos which she showed me flattered her, but they're grainy, blurry, and my least favorite of all, filtered. I'm worried about Riley. I know I would never stalk Riley like that. That's why I turned to old-fashioned film – too easy to manipulate.

To take our minds off the stresses of the last two days, we developed the film in my lab out back. Riley got distracted by the big sycamore tree on the other side of the yard. I figured I'd let her be and develop the autopsy photos myself. Then again, I need her input. No distractions, either.

When we were inside the lab, I gave my input on Dr. Smackle's Jane Doe autopsy. I am unsure how to tell Riley about her exact cause of death. If it slips like it did about Erica's future love child, then I hope it doesn't fall on its ass.

"Smackle talked a lot during the autopsy, and that's kinda what kept her focused. All the non-sequitur she spews out becomes fascinating," I continued, transferring the sheet from the developer to the stopper.

"That's what we love about Dr. Smackle," Riley smiled as she placed the next sheet in the developer at the same time.

As I hung my photo on the line to drip dry, I watched Riley eyeing that clock. I didn't see things clicking in her mind. I felt it.

"Yes," I answered and left it be.

We continued working on the film development and conversated about her magazine stories, her friends, and our lives. That's when Riley began talking about us. Where will our relationship be going at this rate? I hope we can just slow things down. No revisiting old memories or jumping straight into sex. I just want to spend time with her, care for her, get to know her, and, eventually, marry her. If she wants the same, then that's what she will get.

"I want someone who I can be myself with. I'd like someone to care for me in my time of need like you've been doing for the last few days. I need someone loyal. Someone who honors and values his life too much to damage a relationship. I want what we have right now. Closure. Clarity." Time's up. "Chemistry," she said, completing the last task for her photo development.

"One more minute?" I begged her to close the gap between our bodies.

Without saying anything, she rinsed her picture with water and hung it on the line to dry. She then wrapped her arms around my neck. I placed my arms around her waist. Although no music was playing, we swayed back and forth to our own beat. One of us had to make the next move. In the dark red light, I saw Riley's beautiful brown eyes fill with everything I've ever wanted in a girl: intelligence, humor, passion, headstrong, and selflessness. Some of those traits may be a bit contradictive, but that's what makes Riley who she is. They make her the woman of my dreams.

I studied her soft lips for a moment. When Riley noticed where my eyes were directed, she combed her fingers into the hair on the back of my neck and pulled me in for a slow kiss. It was obvious that she didn't want to go very far. Our lips barely tangled. My body was flying through a current. I rode a steeper than steep roller coaster. I went car surfing. Sky diving. Cry diving. Our lips were together until the timer went off.

We stood in our embrace for about half an hour. As the photos finished developing, we stepped outside for some fresh air. Riley and I looked at the sycamore tree on the other side of the backyard. She admired how the light of the sunset sky hit the branches and rough bark of the tree. The leaves have fallen. The grass began its stages of ochre. It was time for us to ponder everything that went horribly right today. We sat down with our backs against the tree and picked at the blades of grass in front of me.

"You remember 'Colors of the Wind' from Pocahontas, right?" Riley asked.

"What about it?" I answered with a question.

"The song mentions the sycamore. If you cut down the sycamore now, you'll never know the end of it if it grows back because trees take forever to grow," she said.

"I suppose that is true. What does that mean?"

"I think if we stop our relationship now, we won't know about what could've been until we're gone. When I said I love you, Farkle, I meant it. I meant it for the rest of my life. I'll always love you. Wherever you are," she said, resting her head on my shoulder as I wrapped my arm around her shoulder.

"I love you, too, Riley," I responded.

We sat there in silence until the sky was dark. Then the air grew colder. We kept each other warm, but we knew we needed to go inside, so we did. Riley and I stood up and walked inside to warm our bodies up. She offered to sleep on the couch tonight since she didn't want to go home. She's afraid that she'll find unwanted intimate pictures of herself, and I don't blame her. I wouldn't want to find naked pictures of myself that I don't remember taking either. Someone is stalking us one by one, and they're playing us at our own game.

If these guys are gonna play dirty, we're gonna play smarter.

Chapter Text

What time is it? It's Farkle Time!

Riley got what she wanted and then some. To deal with the stresses post-first issue, she had been doctor-ordered to rest. Does she listen? No. She knows what she wants, and won't settle for less. Luckily, she's got all the backup she needs.

"You guys have all the time in the world. Don't waste it," she lectured during a brainstorming session.

*CLICK*

The situation at Minkus International regarding Erica Bionx didn't go so well.

"Erica's pregnant," I said aloud in the conference room.

She's got some 'splaining to do when she and Wade Capra see us for an appointment later this week. Will she spill about the pornographic actor who doubles as another Minkus intern who hooks up with her periodically?

*CLICK*

Maya found some not-safe-for-work pictures after our night out at the club. She's got a stalker, and now she's scared. The question is, who will come rescue her, comfort her?

"Goodnight, Josh."

She's at the point where she can't even anymore. Now that I'm eliminated from her love quadrilateral, her love life has reduced to triangular status between...

"It's Lucas, ma'am.

"Ha-HURRRRRRR!

"I'm already making t-shirts!"

...and...

"Boing?

"I'm in it for the long game.

"It's you, I like."

I am taking bets right now that her decision will hurt one or the other... or both. That's why I chose neither Riley nor Maya when Lucas had his own dilemma in the ninth grade. I had Smackle then. Of course, that was then. This is now.

*CLICK*

We cannot lose at our own game. We must learn how to get smarter. Question is, who is our next target? And did they intentionally cause any harm?

"I plead the fifth!"

Not now!

*CLICK*


It was another manic Monday meeting in the writers' room. Riley wanted a stronger follow-up to what we've already got! To give the writers an idea of approaching the topic, the screen behind Riley showed what appeared to be multiple baby whales inside the womb of a mother whale. Not that many of us are squeamish, but when a baby inside the womb eats his brethren like he owns them, then something's gotta be wrong...

"You've got a lot of nerve to go through with your punishment as you were Saturday night.

"That's a step up for you, Farkle.

"I think I just came a little."

...or go horribly right.

"Ladies and gentlemen, this is a process called ovophagy. That's 'Oh no you don't; Vo-technicalities, Fay kit nightly, and Gee, aren't you the seventh letter of the alphabet?' if you need a phonetician," Riley began her lecture. "Ovophagy. It's one of the grossest things about life that's never appreciated in the aquatic world. When a baby eats his or her siblings inside the womb, it means only that baby wants to be born, and not the others. It's like a race against time. You either get there first, or you lose. Your decision, guys."

Riley clicked her remote to transition slides. This slide showed the mock-up cover of a coked-up Erica Bionx at Shambala. With the caption "PREGNANT COKE WHORES," some of us writers were on the fence about the whole situation.

"Wow, she's pregnant and doing cocaine," Yindra observed.

"Wonder who the daddy is," Zay said.

"Yes, Charlie?" Riley addressed Charlie, who raised his hand.

"Who's your source?" he asked.

"Don't question me. I'll verify her later this week before this goes to press," she confirmed.

"Who's the daddy?" Zay asked.

"My sources say it's the pornographic actor Dane Delatorre, whose real name is Johnny Aguirre, who is masquerading as an intern at Minkus International. Erica Bionx had also been working at Minkus International. Just ask Farkle. They have connections," Riley answered Zay's question, followed by a death stare in my direction. "We'll figure out our next move after this wall fills up. So, tell me, what should we tack onto the next cover story? Give me a head start here," Riley asked. "Come on, guys. We're all adults. Where's the pizazz? Where's the drama? Where's the sex? Guys, I'm waiting," she grew impatient.

"What about bulges? Which New York actors are packing downstairs, and the ones who aren't?" Sarah chimed in.

"Who is more likely to put out?" Charlie followed up with a finger point.

"Yes, yes, a hundred times, yes!" Riley slammed the table. "Lucas, what you got?"

"What about key parties? Some of my clients in my vet practice often go to those," Lucas answered. Not bad, Freak-Face.

"That's not bad at all," Riley smiled and shook her head.

"Hookers!" Chai shouted.

"Yes, but only the high-class ones because I can smell a sleaze from a mile away," she murmured that last part, hinting that she's been in that part of New York before. "What about you, Farkle?" she pointed to me in the back of the room. I didn't even raise my hand! She mad?

"Riley, you know I'm not one to–"

"Say it!" she interrupted me sternly. Oh, she mad.

"The interns at Minkus International: some of them are just as slutty as the ideas you're spewing out. I've been told that some of the female interns could be gold diggers," I said halfheartedly.

"These are all solid ideas. Work on your follow-ups, and we'll tackle the new ideas tomorrow," she continued before addressing everyone. "Don't think that you're not ballsy enough to find information. I know you've got it in you. If you must, think like the baby whales. If you don't like them, eat them! I want my wall full by the end of the week. Right now, it is naked," Riley said before I raised my hand. "Farkle?"

"Farkle time?" I asked.

"No," she rejected me.

WHAT?!

Everyone gasped as if they had never heard a rejected Farkle time. Is Riley mad? If I've gotta Farkle, I've gotta Farkle! I thought anyone who was a Matthews loved Farkle Time. What's gotten into Riley?

"Cool it, guys. Get to work," Riley dismissed everyone. "Farkle, Lucas, in my office, asap," Riley commanded.

Lucas looked at me, and I looked at him. I am afraid to ask what we did to cause trouble for Riley. However, I have a strange feeling that she may have found out what I did not even 24 hours out of my pinky reattachment surgery. This isn't looking good.

So, Lucas and I followed Riley to her office to talk to her. She sounded mad. Even if she's cute when she's mad, it's not pretty. Most other times, she would be mad over petty things, but this was anything but.

"What's going on?" Lucas asked.

"I was wondering if I could get a couple autographs from you two," Riley answered as she slammed a photocopy of a Slutville mockup cover onto my chest.

"Um, sure, Riley, I don't see why – hahhh?!"

My jaw dropped through the floor as Lucas and I froze at the sight of our dolled-up selves, on the cover of Slutville with the tag "MAYA'S HUNTIES" in bright white letters. Someone must've taken pictures of us at the club...

I was taken back to that night at the club, precisely that moment after we showed off our dance moves set to "You Should Be Dancing." When I turned my body to face Maya, a flash stunned me and fucked up my equilibrium. I then stumbled upon a macabre man whose chest was a great landing spot for my hands. He hit on me, so I hit back with my weapon of choice: the pepper spray cam.

...how did I get myself into this mess?!

"Whoa," Lucas whispered.

"How did this happen? I mean it's just a little blurb. Dear god, Riley, how did you know it was us, anyway?" I asked.

"I know those eyes and jawline anywhere, Farkle," she caressed my face hard. "Your fucked-up hand was also a dead giveaway." True. "And don't think I've seen Lucas's green eyes before, either," Riley yelled as she poked Lucas in the chest.

"Why are you upset at us? We were just doing our jobs," Lucas defended me.

"Your job is to not get caught. Especially by Slutville, who's trying to beat us at our own game. They've already offered Matt Truskin a cover deal," Riley said in a firm tone.

"How much?" Lucas asked again, habitually.

"Thirty grand," Riley rolled her eyes.

"So, triple the offer!" I suggested. "Matt Truskin's name is worth a lot more than $30,000. Missy is only offering that much because it's within the magazine's budget. She's borrowing more from Grover Corp than the magazine can handle. That's why their stocks have dwindled in the last two months," I answered.

"And we know Missy has been wanting to trap Matt Truskin into her clutches," Riley said. "I'm gonna need a loan. I can take $50,000 out of our current budget. Farkle," she turned to me. "Do you think you can take out a loan on my behalf?"

"I will see what I can do," I said.

"And guys?" she asked, stopping me and Lucas at the doorway.

"Yeah?" Lucas said as we stopped.

"Rip Missy's head off for me," Riley was firm in that demand, and we don't blame her.

Lucas and I smiled at her favor as we walked out the door. Much to my dismay, he started talking to me.

"Which one of us should text Maya and tell her to meet one of us at Grover Corp?" Lucas asked.

"Already on it," I grabbed my phone from my pocket and texted Maya the details.

"I'm afraid of Missy," he admitted as he sat down at his computer. "Been afraid of her since she came onto me in middle school."

"Me, too," I muttered as I pressed SEND.

To Maya Hunter:

You and me. Grover Corp. Noon. No ifs, ands, or buts. Be there.

Farkle.

I walked out of the building feeling livid. I should've known that camera man was a Slutville worker. I am mad at myself for not disclosing my whereabouts to Riley, and she had to find out the hard way.


(excerpt from Maya Hunter, Maya Hunter)

They are stalking me. They are blackmailing me. Where they came from, I don't know. Whoever is doing this, I will find them. They will have hell to pay. My stress over this got worse when Farkle texted me about meeting him at Grover Corp for a power lunch. If this has to do with our night at the club, I swear, I will fuck shit up if I have to.

So, Farkle and I are at Grover Corp, the company that owns Dirty Deeds, Slutville, and many other print media outlets in the New York metro. We are so screwed. Since I didn't want to be awake, I wore my big black sunglasses to hide my distress. I knew that our power outing had that Saturday night written all over it.

"Why did you call me here?" I asked as we sat at a table on the second floor's lanai.

"Missy sent Riley a mockup of the next Slutville with a note," Farkle began.

"That... wouldn't happen to... have a private photo of any of us... does it?" I panicked because maybe it wasn't about Saturday night.

"Not quite," Farkle said.

Farkle then pulled out a piece of notebook paper scrawled in red ink. I knew Missy Bradford's handwriting like the back of my hand. While her handwriting is artistic enough to design her own typefaces, the context of the note was not a good sign.

Riley,

Whenever your friends go out,

The people start to shout,

There go Maya, Farkle, and Lucas to the streets!

HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

XOXO, Missy.

"What does this even mean?" I asked.

"You tell me," Farkle said with a fond voice as he gave me a mockup cover photo of Slutville.

I smiled at the picture because, wow, that's just slander. I make Farkle and Lucas dress as women to spy on a drugged-up celebrity, and we still get caught looking like fools. I am not surprised, but I do have a score to settle with Missy.

"Maya's Hunties: Has she gone bi?" I read aloud, laughing. "God bless Missy Bradford. She would. She totally would."

"You're just gonna laugh at this?" Farkle questioned my reaction.

"It's just a mockup. Corporate's not gonna approve," I answered.

"You could just tell them the truth. Tell them you're not bi, and confirm a new relationship. I don't know what else to tell you that will save you."

"Farkle, it's just slander. Not everybody reads Slutville. They read the Deeds. Besides, Missy is always after me. It's her number one goal in life to derail my art career. She hasn't even taken the first step."

"Should I tell you that Erica Bionx is considering a job transfer to Slutville?"

"Don't say it, Farkle," I shook my head, ready to hear about it even if I didn't want to.

"I don't need to, Maya. I've got enough dirt on her to keep her away from Slutville," Farkle said. "Because Slutville won't hire an addict who is pregnant."

"You know, I thought her face looked somewhat flush-fresh Saturday night," I recalled my observation from Saturday night. "Geez, Farkle, what are you trying to do, ruin her career?" I had to ask.

"If it ruins her career, then it ruins her career. I'm conspiring with Lucas and Josh to expose her. She's a cheater. Her boyfriend's a cheater. We're all cheaters in a way, Maya, and don't tell me I'm wrong," Farkle pointed at me in that last statement.

"You're not wrong, Farkle; it's just..."

This guilt I have for sleeping with Farkle... it's trying to kill me.

"I made a mistake, Farkle," I admitted.

"I know, Maya. What we did was a mistake. We know that. And I know you and Josh were getting steamy in the shower that Saturday before we went out. Just tell Lucas the truth and break up with him," Farkle was firm with me, and I kinda like that.

"It's not that easy, Dr. Farklestein," I answered.

"Josh cares for you, and so does Lucas. Josh has wanted you to be in his life since he told you about your growing up gorgeous. He played the long game with you, and you, him. As far as I'm concerned, maybe you two have some reparations that need to be... I don't know, fixed?" he stated. "First, you have to do some damage control regarding Freak Face. Just be honest with him. Do it for me," he told me.

"If I can be honest with myself, I'll know what I'm looking for," I murmured, but I knew Farkle heard me.

We stood up and hugged it out. Farkle's one of the best friends I've ever had. He's too good to me. He's someone I'll never forget.

So, Farkle and I walked together to Missy's office in the east wing of Grover Corp, where she works for Slutville. We were pissed. If there were a single person whom we've hated after all these years, it was Missy Bradford. She grew up too fast, and she still hasn't found herself. She thinks she'll be at the top of the world if she beats Riley at her game. It's not safe to say, but once Farkle and I give Missy a piece of our minds, she'll surrender.

The security guard led us to her office that had its door open. I walked straight to her desk and slammed the fake cover photograph on her desk.

"I know it's you, Missy," I said.

"Whatever do you mean, Maya?" Missy asked with blatant denial written all over her face.

"How did you get into the party the other night? You weren't even at the party that night! Fess up!" I yelled at her.

"To be honest, the writers are the ones doing all the dirty work. I just edit the articles and approve the covers. Once I saw you on the cover, I said 'absolutely' without even thinking!" she stammered. Still don't know when to trust her.

Farkle and I looked at each other before one of us spoke.

"You do realize that the headline is a bit misleading, don't you think?" Farkle chimed in.

"I know, but once they read the article of attraction, they'll realize that Maya has a transvestite fetish. My readers would want to know more. All the more reason to collect the dividends, yes?" Missy elaborated with an excuse.

"No! They'll realize that you'll do anything to screw me over. I mean, your photographer caught Farkle in a vulnerable moment," I use the term loosely, "what, fresh out of pinky reattachment surgery and still fulfills a commitment because he and Lucas lost a lot of rounds of poker. Do you think he's happy that he even went to the club party in the first place?" I rambled.

"I, uh, I–" Missy stammered again.

"Newsflash, Missy! It was better to get it over with than to wait. I couldn't let Farkle wallow in his misery for a month, not knowing what his punishment is going to be. We were there, on a mission! And you still had the nerve to slander us. Why are you trying to bring me down, Missy?" I yelled at her again.

"Why are you trying to bring any of us down?" Farkle questioned her.

The bitch had nothing to say. Maybe she's told to stay silent.

"Who's your next cover star?" Farkle asked after looking around at her cover posters.

"I've got $30,000 on the line to interview Matt Truskin exclusively," Missy answered.

"Well, take it back, Missy. Riley's tripling what you're coughing up. I know you've been taking out loans from Mr. Grover, and I know that you don't pay him back because you'll just do him 'favors' as usual. Trust me, it'll save your magazine if you hold off on Truskin," Farkle was firm with Missy, and she didn't like that.

Missy was at a loss for words. Farkle and Maya: 1. Missy Bradford: 0.

"I'll drop the cover and the interview," the brunette bitch muttered.

"Thank you, Melissa," I said briskly as I left.

"Yes, thank you, Melissa," Farkle followed me out the door.


(and now, back to Dirty Deeds)

I sat in Riley's office again. She had called me during her lunch break to meet her here, and I couldn't be happier to oblige.

"Hi, Farkle," she greeted me with a kiss on the lips.

"Riley," I said after I kissed her back.

"I have some news," she said as she dropped her bags by her closet and sat down in her desk chair.

"What's going on?"

"Matt Truskin just called," she said as she grabbed a bottle of water from her mini fridge behind her desk. "He wants to speak with me today, but I couldn't squeeze him in."

"And?"

"Wade Capra and Erica Bionx are scheduled to see me right when I come back from my lunch break. It'll shake them up when they find out that I'm putting all three of them in the same room."

Oh no.

"Oh, wow... don't you think that's going overboard with them?" I asked.

"I don't think of it as going overboard; I just think of it as a means to continue this story in the direction that it deserves," she answered.

Oh no!

"What do you mean by that?" I questioned her.

"Think about it, Farkle. If Truskin throws somebody else under the bus, it might as well be Wade and Erica. And, when better to do it than after my lunch break?"

OH FUCK!

I pinched the bridge of my nose, signaling that I'm slowly losing faith in her.

"Farkle, this is a huge happening for my magazine. I need all the dirt that an issue can handle. You know I will do whatever it takes, do you not?" Riley questioned me.

"I know," I admitted, "I'm sorry. It's just... one of these days I hope you don't go overboard and do things the right way. Take it a little at a time, just once?" I suggested.

"When monkeys fly out of my ass, then we'll talk," she sarcastically rejected my offer. "You have to remember, Farkle. Truskin, Capra, and Bionx? They're not people. They are products."

We stared each other down. How could we be so bitter with each other? While we each proved a good point, we struggled in the listening department.

"Riley, Matt Truskin just checked in," Lucas knocked on the open door, picking a good time to stop the madness between me and Riley.

"Send him in," she confirmed.

I took my seat at the corner of Riley's office. Once again, I was Riley's "scribe" meaning that I will, in the future, type every single word spoken in the upcoming conversation. It's not a photographic memory. It's an eidetic tonal memory... although I've heard it both ways.

As soon as Matt Truskin walked in, the first words out of his mouth were, "I'm not doing this anymore. I'm not giving you any more stories."

"Oh, I know that, and you don't have to," Riley replied as Matt shut the door.

"I want to be marketed as the actor's actor. I want stories in your magazines," the blonde actor paced back and forth.

"Well, if you got your ass out there for every single audition and casting call, then I'll market you in my magazine as such. Unless you want to tell Dominic that you ratted Connie out, you're stuck with us. Ya with me?" she meant business.

Truskin sighed, admitting defeat once more as he rolled his eyes.

"You remember the former teen idol, Charlotte Kincaid, right?" Riley asked.

"She sings about her life, her sex life, and her religious life. Why? What's up?" Truskin answered to his best knowledge, and I will confirm the honesty in his voice and body language.

Riley thought of the perfect way to word what she was about to say, but it didn't sound right no matter which way it came out.

"I think she has a drug dealer," she let slip.

"Who, Upgrade?" Matt immediately shot up.

"Who's Upgrade?" Riley asked.

"He's a drug dealer," obviously. "Upgrade is just a nickname because his real name will be tainted if he's outed as a drug dealer. He's worked with everyone, including Connie Haley, Erica Bionx and Evani's sister, Lyric," the blonde actor answered.

"I've heard of him," I chimed in, to which Riley turned toward me. "He's got a doctorate in chemistry and uses his knowledge to create mixtures of barbiturates and opiates. He's a smart guy, makes a lot of money."

"Well, I will contact Dr. Smackle and have her schedule an appointment with Upgrade," Riley said as she scribbled in her desk calendar. "What else do you know about Upgrade?"

Riley's office phone rang in that specific tone, meaning that someone in the building is calling, and she picked up.

"Riley Matthews' office," she answered. "Oh, hi, Dave... uh-huh... uh-huh... yes..." she continued scribbling in a notebook. "Have them come in," she said. "Thank you, Dave," she hung up.

That smile on her face can only mean one thing. Capra and Bionx are here.

When I heard the knock on the door, I was quick to stand up and run to the door. And here they are, red-head bed-head Erica Bionx and hunky-dory brunet Wade Capra. Erica was wearing a worn-out lavender hooded sweatshirt that had a high contrast photograph of herself in black ink, blue jeans with black Chucks, and sunglasses to hide her tired eyes. Capra wore a white button-down dress shirt with a pair of brown pants and matching Chucks. Once they walked in, one of them wanted to walk right out, but I wouldn't let that happen. I only did it for Riley.

"Nah-ah-ah," I threw my arm across the gap in the door to stop Erica. "What did we talk about at the office, Erica?" I winked at her to make her sit down.

Wade was nice enough to take a seat next to Matt Truskin. Erica reluctantly sat next to her boyfriend. I locked the door and took my seat, this time at the bay window.

"So, is it true? You're pregnant?" Riley asked, looking directly at Erica.

Everyone gasped in shock. She did not just ask that. Erica looked at me, and I, her. The red-haired green-eyed woman was shaking. It was up to her to tell the truth. I couldn't let her lie. Then again, I couldn't let myself slip again.

Erica grabbed the trash can on the side of Riley's desk and vomited her stomach's contents, or what's left in there anyway. I don't know if it was morning sickness (even if it's three in the afternoon), stress, or both. Riley's face grimaced at the sight of Erica's head in a bin. As Erica set the trash can on the floor in front of her feet, she wiped her nose and mouth with the sleeve of her lavender hoodie. Riley and I were further grossed out.

"Erica, care to answer Riley's question?" Wade asked his girlfriend.

"Mntprgnt," Erica muffled into her sleeve.

"What do you mean, you're not pregnant?!" Riley shot back.

FUCK!

"I'm not pregnant," Erica admitted. "I had bloodwork done. Doctor says I'm not pregnant. I did further research into the brand of pregnancy tests that my personal shopper buys for me. They didn't get recalled or anything," Erica huffed.

"Well, that clears the air for what we were going to say about you. If you were pregnant, you would've gone to get a DNA test before the baby is born. What would've happened then? Huh?" Riley followed up.

"Even if Wade weren't the father, I'd still carry the baby to term. Wade and I would still raise it, and Johnny would have equal visitation rights," Erica answered.

Riley and I aren't buying it. We looked at each other, confused, as if to ask each other if we're understanding Little Red.

"Because I'm trying to right my wrongs, guys! I mean, Johnny called me a "booty call," and I don't blame him for thinking that about me, now that I think about it. Wade has been better to me, and I've given up the coke. I know things aren't supposed to happen like that," she snapped her fingers, "but I've found my help."

After she ranted, she hiccuped. Then she hiccuped again. And there goes her lunch. Wade was sweet enough to place a hand on Erica's back as she tossed her cookies. And tossed them. And tossed them.

"Remind me to have a word with Upgrade," she coughed before her last hurl.

"Will do," Riley said in disgust before looking away. "Farkle?" she looked my direction. "You take over. If I watch her, I'll lose it."

Riley and I switched places. I sat in her good desk chair to begin my own interrogation. Are Truskin and Capra aware that they've slept with Evani Farrow? Do Capra and Bionx know that their wedding will never happen, nor will their marriage? How can Bionx report a false positive?

"Truskin, did Evani tell you she ever cheated on you? Obviously, you've seen the tape. Did she ever tell you before you saw the tape?" I began with the blonde actor. "You're brave to take her back, you know."

"Who's telling you this?" he countered.

"You are. So why aren't you after Capra?" I asked him.

"Yeah, why aren't you after–?" Erica chimed in.

"Because Capra's not the only one," Truskin interrupted.

Wade Capra sat there between his mistress's boyfriend and his own girlfriend. He's embarrassed yet relieved to know that Truskin won't beat the crap out of him.

I then turned to Capra, the brunette actor, "Capra, Bionx, you two are going to have to find out what's going on regarding your wedding plans. Someone close to you is embezzling money and preventing your marriage. I think if you two can stay loyal to each other, nothing should break you two up now. Erica, get a second opinion on that pregnancy test. I'm the one who found your test that you accidentally dropped in the elevator."

Erica and Riley both gasped.

"Pregnancy tests are about 98% accurate. Are you sure you want to take that 2% chance of a false positive? I had it tested and traced back to you, which is why I attacked you after you dragged me to my dad's office. You know, my father has had his eye on you as if he didn't trust you. He knows you've bugged his office three times already, but he was too afraid to confront you because you scare him, and he doesn't know how to handle that. Your looks of intimidation have forced two of Minkus International's best employees out of the force. Do you think my father has caught onto your antics yet? Heiferschmidt said she was next unless you have a reason to make her stay," I said. Rant over.

"You leave Rolanda out of this. You made me look like a fool at the meetings the other day! The only reason I didn't say anything was because I didn't want to start a fight and make headline news! Your father would've fired me!" Erica shot back at me.

"You're a smart woman not to make a scene, BiBi. Thank you for respecting my father," I thanked her. "Welp, I'm done. Riley, care to finish your statements?" I asked as I stood up, and so did Riley.

"Sure, Farkle," Riley was happy to finish my interview for me.

"I will see you later," I said, and she kissed the corner of my lips.

"Later."

I walked my way out of Riley's office, but not without sneaking a mental image of the vomit-filled trash can. I somewhat deduced that Erica doesn't like chicken noodle soup from a can, but after seeing what I just saw, ugh, I was wrong about Erica. She was never pregnant. From that split-second image alone, I just realized that noodles aren't supposed move like that. Noodles never move like that.

"Oh, by the way, BiBi, you've got worms."

*door slam*


(excerpt from Riley's Rebellion)

Farkle had enough of Erica Bionx's little tics, so he left me alone with two actors and a sick comedian in denial. I've got to keep my head straight and patience thick. I smiled at the three celebrities who sat before me. One is sick. One is broke. One is about to be single.

"Worms?" I questioned Miss Bionx.

"I don't have much to pay for an MRI upfront. Minkus doesn't process the payroll for another week," she answered.

"I know," I sighed, "they changed the payment processes at the hospital. If I give you $5,000 cash for a cover inset, telling my readers that you've got worms, would you go tomorrow night to the emergency room to have Dr. Smackle take a look? She's a lifelong friend of mine, and I trust her opinion more than anyone else's when it comes to... the people's medical field," I stalled there because I had to remember Lucas is an animal doctor.

"Dr. Smackle, that psychoanalyst? What does she know about emergency room needs?" Erica scoffed.

"Well, for starters, like I said, she's a lifelong friend of mine. She is a doctor of internal medicine. She is also a certified coroner and performed many an autopsy. Psychology, psychiatric services, ENT, neurology, endocrinology, dental surgery, you name it, she can help you. That's why she has all those letters after her name," I bragged about Smackle.

"Okay, I'll take it," she said after she had enough.

"You will have to sign a consent form for Dr. Smackle, so she can relay information to my writers, who will turn your illness into a hot editorial," I verified.

"You got it," she said before hacking in the trash can again.

"So, changing the subject here, you three have a minor quadrilateral to solve. Might I suggest that you consult a psychic or a hotline? What about a Ouija Board? Spirits are good for answers," I got sarcastic with them.

And then here comes Brett Barricklow, knocking on my door with a manila envelope.

"Miss Matthews, these just came in from the fax. Connie Haley's press release. She's going to rehab," he said as he tossed the envelope onto my desk.

"Has she mentioned Dominic's name?" I asked as I ripped open the envelope to empty its contents onto my desk.

"Yes, but the staff theorizes that Dominic didn't have a say in Connie's decision," he confirmed with me before seeing three celebrities sitting across from me. "Hello, everyone. I'm Brett, the publisher," he was getting nervous.

"Hi, Brett," the three said in unison like they were attending an AA meeting.

Brett then took a look at a washed-out Erica.

"You're prettier than I thought you'd be," Brett pointed to her.

Erica scoffed, "Are you kidding?!" Erica seemed offended. "I'm not wearing any makeup, and you have the audacity to call me something I'm not? I'm only makeup free because Farkle told me it was a better look for me now that I'm sick! He thought I was pregnant, but it turns out that I have a bunch of parasitic babies yet to birth!" she's had enough.

Farkle WHAT?!

"You have my apologies," Brett said in a low tone. Then he looked at Wade Capra and guessed, "You're coulrophobic, aren't you?"

"Afraid of being uncool?" Wade had spaced out, so he probably heard wrong.

"What he means is that you're afraid of clowns," I chimed in, "which is why you hate circuses and children's birthday parties."

"Not to mention, you turned down the role of Pennywise the Dancing Clown in a Netflix production of Stephen King's It," Barry reminded him, matter-of-factly.

That's right, I thought because I had forgotten. Capra was offered the villainous role of a lifetime, and he turned it down because he's afraid of clowns. Erica was chuckling at her fiancé because... shit's funny.

"You're afraid of clowns," Erica laughed.

"Don't get me started, Erica. I trusted that clown!" Wade said in his defense.

"Shit's kinda funny, man," Truskin jumped in as he, too, laughed.

"As much as I'd like to join you in your laughter, need I remind you that your asses are on the line here? I've got a six-fig payout riding on this cover, and if I don't have a story, then dick-head over here," I pointed to my publisher, "is going to chew my ass out!"

"Whoa, whoa, whoa, Riley, we didn't agree on this," Brett said.

"Of course, we didn't. I'm using some of my trade profits from Minkus International to cover my end of the deal. Then, I had 'Pregnant Coke Whores.' Now, I've got "Half Woman, Half Worm?' Only idiots would read such a thing."

"You might want to try and take the focus off the not-pregnancy," he inquired, "and leave a little leeway with the funds!"

"I can't help it! Missy Bradford is offering Matt Truskin a tandem cover for $30,000. She's been fiddling with Grover Corp's budget lately. I know what I'm doing, Barry," I confronted him before an audience.

"Do we have to go through the publisher-editor lecture again, Miss Matthews?" Brett countered.

"Yes, Barry, I'm aware. You say 'jump.' I say, 'how high do I have to be to listen to your bullshit?' Kind of like that," I said.

"Ooh, that burned, Miss Mathews," Brett retorted coldly as he walked out of the office. "And by the way, her name is Missy Suarez, and yes, I know she's toying with Grover's money. Ta-ta for now," he said goodbye as he left.

"Don't think I don't know who I'm talking about, Barry! You haven't won this battle yet!" I yelled loud enough for everyone in the building to hear me.

I scared my three "customers" and felt little remorse, but I still owe an apology.

"Damn, Matthews, what does porn-stache over there have against you?" Capra curiously asked.

"Let's just say ever since I was named editor-in-chief, he's been fighting with me on everything I publish. You see that cover behind you?" The three turned around to see Maya's designed cover called No Such Thing as a Double Standard! and returned to me. "My best friend came up with the blurb. She even titled the article that went along with it. When that issue hit the stands, I sold out the vending machines. It's still not enough to prove to my publisher that I know what's what. I don't want to be another rumor-spreader. I don't!"

"I think he hates you enough to get into your pants," Truskin said.

"That's true," I rolled my eyes. "But it still hurts. Intimidation never turned me on sexually."

I paused and eyed that poster behind the three stars. Then I contemplated the files in front of me. My emotions are toying with me right now. Happy and Fear say go for it. Angry says really go for it. Disgust and Sadness are uneasy. Maybe it's just the beauty of the outcome. People will like it. People won't like it.

"If the three of you can find me information on Dominic J. Dean's whereabouts, I promise you, you'll get a full cover deal soon. I knew this was going to be a stressful meeting, but I don't care anymore. I've got everything I needed to know. You three are dismissed. Best of luck to you, goodbye!"

As the three stars left the building (because they stopped for some autographs), I had closed my blinds to the bay window and turned off the A/C. I locked my safe that held all my blackmailing material. Knowing that everything is safe and secure, I picked up my bag and was ready to walk out the door.


(now, back to Dirty Deeds)

I texted Riley, telling her I'd be home. Then I heard the doorbell ring. I ran over to the door, peeped through the hole to see Riley who was wearing the same outfit from work. On her shoulder, she held a neon pink duffel that seemed to be full of clothes. I didn't plan to ask her to stay the night.

"Riley, come on in," I greeted her at the door.

"Thanks, Farkle," she said briskly.

She dropped the duffel and made a beeline for my liquor cabinet. I keep that thing locked for a reason, and right-now-Riley adds onto the list.

"Farkle, your cabinets are padlocked. Where are the keys?" she asked after yanking on the master locks.

"Can't tell you," I answered, walking toward her. "Be careful with that, Riley. It's expensive."

"What do you know about expensive? You're the richest among us!" she blabbed as she kept fiddling with the padlocks.

"It's an heirloom, and I can't afford to have any part of it fixed nor replaced. Come on, Riley, you don't need a drink. I've got takeout on the way," I told her.

She turned around to be startled by my proximity again.

"You've gotta stop that, Farkle."

"Stop what?" I said, trying to... start something? with her.

"Nevermind," she sighed as she shook her head. She walked past me before I hooked my arm with hers.

"You're scared of something. I wanna know," I firmly told her as I got her to look me in the eye.

She huffed before confirming a part of my biggest fear. It wasn't pretty.

"I'm trying not to let everything that's happening take a toll on my well-being. I'm taking this one step at a time. Now, if you'll move out of the way, I need a freaking drink," she said, shoving me out of the way to fidget with the liquor cabinet locks again.

"Riley, no!" I yelled and grabbed her hand that covered the lock.

She gasped and looked at me. The look on her face broke my heart. She didn't break anything, but it felt like she did. She doesn't need a drink.

"You don't need a drink, Riley. Alcohol won't solve your problems. Remember Connie," I said, looking in her beautiful brown eyes.

"You're right," she admitted, even if she didn't want to.

Riley grabbed my head and kissed me. I was surprised to find myself kissing her back. I combed my fingers through her soft brunette locks as we brought ourselves together. I couldn't tell if she pushed. I had forgotten how well she kisses. After my mind cleared and questioned what I was doing, I broke the kiss.

"Riley, what are you doing?"

"You said alcohol won't solve my problems. I still need an escape," she answered, unsure of herself as she bit her lip.

It was the same look on her face when we had sex last time. She put me in this position to tell her no. I lost.

"Riley, please, you don't have to do this," I said. "We," I pointed back and forth between us, "don't have to do this."

"Farkle," she breathed out, "I want you to take me to the bedroom. Now."

Riley? In charge of me? She wants me to take her to my bedroom? Okay.

"Sure," was all I could muster.

If a girl wanted me, Farkle Minkus, then damn it, Farkle, you give her yourself! It's a bad idea to take advantage of a woman who is vulnerable, but if she needs sex, then she needs sex.

I took her hand, unsure of what I'm dragging her and myself into. I led her into my bedroom where she walked in first. I followed her and shut the door behind me. Once she heard me lock the door, it was on. She grabbed my head and kissed me with fervor. My hands wrapped around her waist, one of them resting on the small of her back. Our tongues had battled for dominance. Damn, she's good. Perhaps, too good if she's focusing solely on my tongue ring. The toe of her black peep-toe pump pushed into the canvas of my Chucks, and that dug into my foot hard. I winced in pain before I took control and pushed her onto my huge bed. I also made time to kick off my sneakers and socks to air out that bruise on my foot.

Riley landed on her back. Without missing a beat, she propped herself up on her elbows and looked at me seductively. It was like her eyes were telling me something. Something like...

Take me, Farkle. Take me now.

Did she just say that? Nevermind. She lifted a leg and allowed me to remove the peep-toe pump off her foot. I knelt and gripped her right ankle with my left hand. With my right hand, I pulled the shiny leather shoe off her gorgeous foot. I repeated the same process for the other foot. The girl would not keep her eyes off me the entire time. I looked up at her, trying to hide my obvious lip biting. Riley smiled at me as I grabbed her right foot and massaged it. I wanted to show her that I recently discovered a fetish for feet. She probably would've known anyway that I like feet and looking at them. Giving feet pleasure was a whole new level. As soon as I kissed the ball of her right foot with my mouth open, she let out an intriguing sound.

"Ooh, Farkle, how did you know?" Riley asked. How did I know what?

"I don't; that's the beauty of it," I answered as I took two of her toes into my mouth.

She moaned and squealed as she took in my animalistic side. I licked my way between her toes, making sure I had taken care of every part of Riley's sexy feet. Her feet had perfect arches. Everything on her feet is where they're supposed to be. They're so beautiful. Every part of Riley is beautiful. That's why they deserve my attention and love.

I licked a line up her medial arch and closed my mouth around the ball of her foot. I traced another trail up her lateral arch, surrounding the bone below her pinky toe with my tingling lips. Her purring became more evident as I pressed my nose into the anterior arch. My foot massages have improved, to say the least. Riley kept her eyes on mine the whole time. When I felt her retreat her foot that I had been pleasuring, I knew to stop because she was satisfied.

I stood up to crawl over Riley's body on my bed. She grabbed my face to kiss me again. Naturally, I returned the kiss as I aligned my hips with hers. I felt my erection growing in my jeans, but that became the least of my worries when I realized that this is Riley Matthews. Riley Matthews wants Farkle Minkus.

She established her dominance when she rolled me onto my back, never breaking our kiss. I felt her hips grind into mine, and my body just reacted naturally. I let my hands wander around her back. Riley straddled my hips to control the tempo. My hands grabbed her ass as she rolled her hips against my obvious erection. I didn't have time to question myself about her feeling my throbbing member that begged for freedom.

I helped her remove her top to reveal a strapless baby pink bra with a black lace fringe lining the top of the cups. The shade of pink perfectly complemented her complexion. I was awestruck. I was reminded of something: Every time I have fucked and/or made love to Riley, I fell deeper in love with her. With us.

I let our bodies continue moving with each other. Riley's back was so warm and smooth. As I reached the small of her back, my fingers brushed the waist of her blue jeans. My hands then traced around her waist to meet at the button. I undid her jeans easily. As I pushed her jeans down, I noticed something. Please don't tell me...

"You're not wearing any underwear," I observed.

"Don't ask," she breathed.

As she took off her bra and kicked off her jeans, I could not help but admire the naked beauty before me. Riley kissed me as she pinned my arms down to the bed. It's wonderful that she has this control over me, but if she wanted me, she needed me to take the lead. So, I broke the kiss and pushed her off my body, forcing her onto her back. I rolled over and topped the brunette.

I peppered a trail of kisses from the corner of her lips to the base of her neck. Then my hand traveled to a familiar place on Riley's body. Dear God, she's soaking wet.

"Hmmm, somebody's excited," my voice had gone lower than low. It happens.

"That's not even half of it," she smiled on the edge of laughter.

As I massaged her wetness, I continued kissing her neck. She whimpered in a tone that set my senses on fire.

"You like that? You want that?" I murmured, but I made sure she heard me.

"I've been wanting this," she said as I looked at her blissful face, "since that night we danced," she confessed.

Riley's hands had grazed, then squeezed, the bulge in my blue jeans. I felt my voice deepening. When she pushed her hand underneath my dark Calvin Klein underwear... oh, fuck, I don't think I've ever felt this much euphoria before. She palmed my hardness as I pushed a finger into her entrance. It's a mystery to me why Riley is always so damn tight, but I don't care if I ever solve it. She feels so warm.

I couldn't let Riley's moans fill the room, and she knew that. We both got off better if we engaged in small talk.

"So, talk to me," I said while fingering her. "You're stressed at work. I'm stressed at work," then I heard Riley moan when I hit her g-spot, "You said... I should be... less compassionate... what... about... you?" I said between kisses on her neck.

"What about me, Farkle?" she breathed out in a higher tone than normal. "I'm fine, really."

"Mmhmm," I acknowledged, breathing into her neck as I pushed another finger into her and pressed my thumb into her pearl. I pumped her g-spot until she couldn't speak.

"I just think–oh! that maybe if–oh! we keep up with our consistencies–god, fuck! that you get pictures as I ask for them and–mother fucker! every time you do, you make me come in my pants –oh god Farkle! Don't stop! I'm not joking. Keep going!" she keened as I kept a consistently high pace.

"Just say when, Riley. Say when," I said, taking a breath of fresh air as I watched her face.

I rapidly pumped her until juices sprinkled out her body, but she wasn't ready to release. She was always afraid to squirt if she were in someone else's bed but her own. I think it's time to give her the memo:

I can always wash the blankets. Oh, and it's just water. It dries.

"Good GOD I'm gonna come!" she screamed as I tried to match her "oh" moaning.

Her walls constricted around my fingers. Her pearl had throbbed on my thumb. Juices sputtered everywhere until Riley said the magic word...

"NOW!"

...I pulled my fingers out, and a fountain of gush stained my shiny black and brown comforter. That was the most powerful orgasm I had ever given her. It was beautiful to watch her come undone. Just her doing that is sexy.

I sucked my juice-coated fingers clean. Riley slowly breathed and returned to her pre-arousal state. Then she raked her fingers in my hair to bring me in for a kiss. About every other peck, she prodded her tongue at my lips, and what else was there to do? I had to let her in. There was no fighting this time. She gets to dominate for a moment. I get my turn. We're a match made in heaven!

Riley's hands grazed my waist. She started unbuckling the belt that held my jeans in place. I assisted her in removing my jeans. As I kicked my jeans somewhere to be forgotten, she fingered the bottom of my t-shirt to peel it off, but I wouldn't let her do that. Our borderline-nude and fully nude bodies met again for a round of tongue war. Soon enough, Riley groped my clothed erection and started to tickle my perineum, that area between by balls and my anus. I hitched a breath when she, once again, stuck her hand inside my underwear. The beautiful brunette wrapped a hand around my erection, and my mind immediately wanted me to tell her to touch me, touch me more.

I pushed my underwear down my legs and threw them aside. She grabbed my face and kissed me again. I love it when she kisses me. I love it more when she kisses me before, during, and after sex. I rolled away from her beautiful body to grab a condom from the nightstand. As I ripped the package open, took out the condom, and carefully rolled it onto my shaft. Riley eyed my cock and was surprised.

"Wow, I forgot you were a grower. What's it? Like, seven inches?" she asked as she touched my protected cock.

"Seven and a half," I replied as I rolled onto her body and situated myself between her legs.

"Perfect," she smiled as she wrapped her arms around me.

I pushed myself into Riley, and by looking at her face, she loved that full feeling from the get-go. She threaded her fingers into my hair and kissed me again. It made me wish that I never stopped. I found my rhythm with Riley and kept that pace. Did I forget to breathe?

I moaned into her kiss when her hands firmly grabbed each cheek of my bony ass. She was guiding my pace. As I had said before, every time I have given myself to Riley, we've grown closer. Our bond became tighter. We were not just best friends, nor were we boyfriend and girlfriend. We were soulmates.

"This... feels... amazing... don't... stop... baby..." Riley keened between thrusts. "Fuck me... like... you've always... wanted to..." she begged me. "Please?"

Okay, Riley, you asked for it.

I eased myself up onto my knees. She rested her feet on my shoulders, so I wrapped my arms around her long legs. I kissed up her feet and planted baby kisses on her toes before taking her left big toe into my mouth and sucked on it. I looked deep into her dark brown eyes, and I felt her love. As I thrust in and out of the brunette goddess below me, her moaning increased in volume. Sure, this position made Riley feel tighter, but it was grounds for giving her the best possible orgasm. She and I locked eyes, and soon, I found myself thrusting faster. I didn't know how long I was going to last, but I knew she was coming first.

"You... fucking... would... Farkle... don't... fucking... stop!" she shouted as she clawed hard into the bed sheets.

My thrusts were erratic and off beat. I released my mouth from her toe as I felt her walls clench around my cock. I threw my head back in ecstasy. For some strange reason, the gravelly moans we made together harmonized perfectly, making a more intense high for us. I felt my fluids empty into the condom while I was still inside her. As I came, she shuddered. Unnnffff.

When Riley came down from her high, she placed her long legs back onto the bed on either side of my body. She then yanked me by my shoulders to plant her lips upon mine. That's when I thrust slowly as my member had gradually softened. The taste of her cold tongue drove me wild. Her supple lips tangoed with mine. I did not want this to end, but if wants were dreams, wishes would fly. Alas, came the end of our sexual encounter.

I pulled out and tied off the condom before trashing it. If I had known this was what Riley wanted, I would've never said yes. Did I just give into the temptation?

Everyone and their dog knows the answer to that, Minkus.

...

Riley, Riley, Riley. Where do I begin? I missed being with her. I missed loving her. I missed her. What have I ever done to deserve a wonderful woman like Riley Matthews? What did I do?

We had cuddled under the comforter and enjoyed each other's company. Riley had drifted in and out of sleep. I stroked her hair to keep her asleep if she slept. However, a tinge of regret may have hit her. If she regretted it, that means I did, too. God damn it.

Just when I think things are going well, they take a fork in the road. However, this wasn't an ordinary fork. It was a scenic route. Nothing bad, really, just takes longer to drive it home. And it's a route the Deeds are willing to take.

I rolled onto my back to relax. Sadly, I couldn't sleep. I'm not happy that things aren't going well while I'm taking pictures, but if the final result satisfies Riley, then I'm satisfied. It's always about the outcome rather than income.

Riley returned to my bed that we now share. We had finally fallen asleep after an hour of fighting it. If there is one thing we've both had on our minds, it's this:

We know what we're looking for, and we will not settle for less.

Chapter Text

Hello, and welcome to Farkle Time. I'm Farkle Minkus, a photographer and scientist. I have spent the better part of two months taking pictures of everyday life. Society has been broken because of me. New York entertainers have either risen to the top or crumbled to rock bottom. My career is in great shape, and I have Riley Matthews and Dirty Deeds to thank.

Where do I begin?

*CLICK*

Tall blonde actor Matt Truskin was dating the gorgeous Evani Farrow. Truskin was summoned to Dirty Deeds to leak information about the comedian couple Dominic J. Dean and Connie Haley. It was either leak or be leaked for Truskin.

"My name can never be used."

*CLICK*

In exchange for secrets, Riley has been keeping blackmail-worthy video tapes of celebrities. That's where Evani comes in. She was seen copulating with actor Wade Capra at last year's Christmas party.

Capra is dating comedienne/Minkus intern Erica Bionx. Just when I thought she might've been expecting, her predicament made a major U-turn.

"Are you kidding?!"

Erica's got worms. She had been forcing Minkus International interns out of their jobs, and karma is coming back to bite her in the ass... no. It's eating her from the inside out.

Burn.

*CLICK*

As far as I'm concerned, I have Riley. And I got her. I'm afraid that I might lose her if she isn't careful with our assignments. Something tells me I may need a break. I just don't want it to be in vain.

*CLICK*


Now that Riley and I are officially together, the beautiful brunette wanted to set some standards regarding our romance and the business. It's hard to figure out which one is more important. Is it because we'd have to find that out the hard way?

Riley had gotten up in the middle of the night to piece her cover story together. After she told me about Barricklow's suggestion of covering a love quadrilateral, I had to agree with that publishing pervert. I know love chains are cheesy, but at least someone out there wants to know...

"You, me, Lucas, and Zay. We're better than a triangle. We're a quadrilateral!" Smackle once declared after the guys and I inadvertently flirted with her.

...and I don't! I slid on a pair of clean basketball shorts without putting on any underwear. I knew they were going to be gone soon depending on Riley's mood. When I walked out of the bedroom, I noticed a light coming from the corner of my eye. Riley was working on her magazine. She would normally spend her weekends at home working on the final drafts, but she's here at my house where nobody will spy on us.

I walked over to the table where Riley, wearing one of my good robes, had laid her open laptop, phone, numerous paper stacks, and a coffee mug. No wonder she's overwhelmed. When I checked my watch and looked at the words on the papers, I had to ask.

"Don't you think this is a bit of a setback?" I asked Riley while she was still working.

"The whole worms thing threw me in for a loop," she said, hands pressed to her temples.

"I thought she was supposed to see Smackle about that," I replied.

"Smackle didn't get my message!" she threw her hands up. "It's almost five in the morning, and I won't go back to sleep until I hear back from her."

Then her phone buzzed, and Smackle's picture showed up. Wonderful timing.

"Dr. Smackle, hi," Riley put on a cheery façade.

"Riley, I'm glad I caught you. I got the test results you asked for," she said.

"Hold on, I'll put you on speaker," Riley interrupted, pushing the speaker button on her phone, and set it on the table next to her paperwork. "Say hi to Farkle. I'm staying at his place indefinitely," she said, and I waved my arms to tell her not to mention me.

"Hello, former dearest," she greeted me.

"He's not very talkative this morning," Riley covered for me, saving my ass. "It happens when he doesn't sleep well," she lied for me. "Anyway, about the test results?"

"You were right. Erica Bionx has worms," the doctor diagnosed.

"Could you be more specific?" Riley wanted Smackle to elaborate.

"Her primary doctor administered a blood test, but there was a mix-up in the labs. She went to get a second opinion from me, and here I go. The hormones in her bloodstream detect that she is indeed pregnant, and it is confirmed through the ultrasound. I've also collected DNA samples for a paternity test. I just gotta hear back from Wade Capra and a mister... John Aguirre with their samples. As for Miss Bionx, she's contracted a threadworm that should die out after she takes a pill, but the pill could potentially harm the baby. She's already two months along."

My eyes widened when Smackle said that Erica indeed is pregnant. I was right all along. Now, I need another motive to keep Erica grounded.

Riley was at a loss for words, "Wow, okay, um, thanks, Dr. Smackle. I think we've got enough information–"

"Hold on, I'm not finished yet. The worms were sexually transmitted. Whoever gave her the worms, must've had a bad batch of meat. It is probably the grossest way to contract worms, but Miss Bionx didn't exactly deny her sexual activity, either."

Riley and I were just shocked. We had the right information all along. We didn't know how lucky we were to have a reliable friend like the doctor. Riley can finally breathe because she goes to press in a few days.

"Riley, are you there?"

"Uhm, yeah," Riley snapped out of it. "You fax me the full report by Wednesday, okay Dr. Smackle?"

"Sure thing, Riley."

"Thank you, Dr. Smackle. Love ya. Bye-bye," Riley said.

When she pressed END, she looked at me like that, and I was gone. She stood up, kissed me, and ...oh fuck!


NEWSBREAK

New York comedienne Erica Bionx announces that she's expecting a child, due in the summer. Dirty Deeds has agreed to publishing rights. Other magazines of the Grover Corporation will soon follow. Bionx is having pregnancy complications after she was diagnosed with ascariasis, a disease where worms have harbored the digestive system. According to Bionx's agent, she is resting comfortably in a private hospital.

Star couple Matt Truskin and Evani Farrow are in stable condition after a freak car accident. Truskin, the driver, was behind the wheel of a 2025 Jaguar XJ when he failed to yield in a construction zone. The Jaguar sped up a ramp, sending Truskin and Farrow airborne. Then it came to rest about 90 feet from the ramp. Photographers at the scene were able to snap pictures of Truskin, carrying a passed-out Farrow bridal style before the Jaguar spontaneously combusted. Neither actors' agents were available for comment.


(we now return to Dirty Deeds)

Now, it is Monday, and we all returned to work. Riley was looking so much better; it was like she was glowing. If I had anything to do with it, I would be one proud man. I took a seat across from Riley

"The Bionx cover goes to press this week. I'm taking this week to get a jump start on the next issue. What we got? Sarah?" Riley pointed to Sarah.

"More pop stars who have fallen off the radar, like that one guy who was a one-hit wonder a long time ago. He has transitioned to woman, but fell off the face of the earth afterward. Nothing on his..." Sarah paused to correct herself, "her social media accounts. I've tried searching for phone numbers connecting to families, friends, and agents. No luck."

"I'll be pairing you up with Farkle for that assignment. Josh will also do some investigating because our sources are finite from this location. Stay on the down low. Expect an email within two to three days," Riley advised, and oh, great, I hope I don't scare the crap out of Sarah with a missing pinky. "Charlie?"

"Are we gonna follow up on Lucas's key parties?" the smiley-faced guy asked... he never stops smiling.

"You know you gotta follow up on the key parties. Rumor has it that one of Lucas's patients is a partial owner of Shambala," Riley answered. "What's next?" she then asked, but remembered the newsflash from earlier. "Gosh, can we get a follow-up on the Matt Truskin and Evani Farrow car accident? Ever since I saw it on TMZ, the hidden truth is eating away at me. I think I can swing a couple of arrangements with their agents. If they won't say anything, I know someone who'll make them," she followed in an aside. "Chai?"

"Figure out what's up with this new series that Lyric Farrow is shooting: Dark-Hearted Damsels. The creator must have a dark mind," the girl who once didn't like Riley said.

"I've read up on that show," Riley confessed. "It's deep. If that show doesn't win any awards, the forum will be pissed," Riley offered her opinion. "Get an interview with the creator. Due in two," she told Chai. Two weeks, Chai has to nail that interview. She's lucky! "Farkle, any word on the Minkus interns? Preferably interns who aren't Erica Bionx and Dane Delatorre?" Riley specified.

"It'll be a while before I can get a solid story. I would like a weekend off to tend to the Minkus girls if you don't mind," I answered her question.

"Aww, I was hoping we would spend a weekend together," she said.

We already did.

"We will," I lied. "I promise," I told the truth.

"Okay, so our next issue is all set. The final pages for the Bionx cover must be on the wall in 24 hours. Go get 'em guys," Riley dismissed the class, but they didn't know it until she stopped at the door. "Oh, and guys? Have fun!" Riley smiled and hooked my arm, dragging me to her office.

She slammed the door after I walked in, and once again, she controlled the tempo of our making out. However, I can play, too! So, I locked the door and made work with the buttons on her dark red blouse. Dear god, Riley, calm down. It's only Monday, and you're already mad.

"Are you okay?" I asked, out of breath.

"I'm just a little jittery, don't worry about it," she said before pulling me in again.

I may have failed to mention that Riley Matthews turns into an insatiable nymphomaniac when she's mad. Oh well.


NEWSBREAK

An anonymous reporter for TMZ recently conducted an interview with comedian Connie Haley after Dirty Deeds outed her as an abuser. When asked if the interview will be aired on television, TMZ declined to comment.


(we now return to Dirty Deeds)

Rolanda and I had been talking about Riley. I explained to Ro that Riley had been wanting to write a cover story about the interns of Minkus International. Ro said that it would be a perfect opportunity, but she'd have to scramble together a few colleagues for a sleepover. She then begged me to let her use the penthouse as the location. I only agreed if it weren't the weekend, and I got invited. She said yes.

I had called Riley that evening to tell her that I'm working on the Minkus Girls. Although she wasn't happy about my seeing other girls, she did give me specific instructions for the many interviews I will be conducting. Don't condescend. Don't belittle. Don't torment. Be kind. Be courteous. Be passionless. Don't sympathize. Don't bring anybody down.

"Most importantly, don't screw yourself over!"

Later that night, the girls knocked on the door of the penthouse, and I was a little anxious to see what these girls do at slumber parties. College girls. They're young. They're innocent. They're hip. They're mine. However, my heart is still with one woman. But what do I do? It's hard to tell myself that I'm only in it for the story. Please don't be tempted, Farkle. They're just the sources. You can let them down gently sometime later, okay? Okay. Good luck. God speed.

I opened the door, and the girls squealed, startling me.

"Ladies," I greeted them with an unintentionally uninviting tone.

"Farkle," they said in unison.

I cleared my throat and made room for the girls to enter. They carried sleeping bags, ice cream, popcorn, licorice, and hair supplies. Amber, Courtney, and Keilani rushed in with their supplies. Rolanda was the last to enter, and we greeted each other with a kiss on the cheek.

"You look better, Farkle," she complimented me. Me? Farkle? I look better? Okay, I'll take it.

"Thank you, Ro. Everything good?" I murmured, smiling at her.

She nodded as she passed me, not saying anything.

"Turn on the TV, Ro. I don't want to miss 'Ow! My Balls!'" one of the girls said.

As soon as Rolanda found the remote and turned on the television, I walked to the kitchen to make some beverages for the girls. When I turned around, I watched the girls, watching guys get kicked in the nuts on national television. They were intrigued, disgusted, and entertained at the same time. It's a sign.

God, if you send me Dr. Kevorkian, I'll give you Dr. Ruth.

I then noticed that the girls wore pajamas that suited their personalities. Keilani wore an oversized dark teal t-shirt with a giant printed bunny face on it. I say oversized because I assumed she wore black yoga capris to accentuate her proportioned booty. She had recently chopped off the dyed ends that made her resemble a feminine super villain who happened to be her favorite. I'll miss the red and blue, but the all-blonde with short braided pigtails looked so much better for the company. Rolanda sported a tight red camisole and gray sweat pants. Very comfortable since she could've asked me for a wife-beater and pajama pants. Her tousled vanilla-chocolate hair, free of her usual mousse, was the cherry on top to her night-time aesthetic. Amber the afro wore a white undershirt and brown leopard print pajamas. I should also mention that she's not wearing a bra. Then again, I have heard that bras are uncomfortable. Courtney sported a silk nightie that matched her hair. Why does maroon have to be her favorite color? Suppose all that bleach and color seeps into her scalp, making her stupider, but I digress.

"Farkle, come join us!" Rolanda said over the TV and beckoned me to sit with her.

I took the tray of drinks to the coffee table and sat down on the couch behind Rolanda, who was on the floor. I looked at the top of her head, admiring how the strands of her hair could easily have its picture taken with a microscope, and then it would resemble a sea anemone. When my eyes scrolled over her right shoulder, I noticed a tattoo that I haven't seen on her before. Then again, this is weird seeing her with less clothing, or I haven't paid much attention. I have only ever seen that clover on her left ankle.

"Nice tattoo," I complimented her.

"Thanks," she looked back at me. "Just got it done, too to celebrate my knee healing after my fall. The aftercare worked out perfectly, and I'm happy with the finished product."

I nodded in silence before a cheesy announcer's voice caught my attention.

"On an all new 'Ow! My Balls!': We bruise. We bleed. We let it all out."

"Owwwwwww my baaaaaalllllllllllssss!"

I was shocked that someone out there had seen Idiocracy and produced a television series very much inspired by that. The show sounded like something someone would watch when they're high. My eyes were glued to the television, but I really wish they weren't. It was that bad of a show.

Guy falls off his skateboard down the stairs. Happens.

Soccer goalie takes a penalty shot. Happens.

Teenager greets best friend with a handshake fake-out. Yeah, that happens, too. Unfortunately.

"Farkle, would you please rub my shoulders?" Rolanda asked me as she turned around at the commercial.

"Sure," I answered.

"Hey, Kei, toss it here," she said, and Keilani threw her the remote, so she could mute the sound. "I have a question," Rolanda began her speech to the girls as I started rubbing her shoulders. "What does it mean when you've got a really great guy friend?" Wonderful, she's talking about me. "Not you, Farkle, someone at work," she interjected quickly, "this guy is such a good friend, but his girlfriend is a total bitch. He doesn't want to be with her. He wants to be with you. I mean, he said so! But you secretly wish you were the one he'd look at, and not that ugly skank who's trapping him in her cage."

"I think it means she hates you," maroon-hair Courtney answered.

"Well, we know that," blondie Keilani said.

"I just want to know how I can take what's rightfully mine. Ow! Easy on the tattoo, man!" Rolanda said after I grazed her newly inked skin on her round shoulder.

"Sorry, Ro," I apologized.

"It's okay. You wouldn't happen to have any lotion laying around, would you? Preferably aloe and minty cool?" Rolanda asked.

"Uh, yeah, it's, um..." in the bathroom, Farkle. Say it.

"In the bathroom, got it," Ro finished for me and trekked to the bathroom.

"IN THE BATHROOM!" the other three girls sang together in unison, followed by giggles.

I placed my hand on my forehead, sighing in disbelief. This is going to be a long night, and I'm gonna need some coffee. When Rolanda shut the bathroom door, she went about, doing her business. It gave me the chance to get to know the other girls. However, the question I had in mind was rather cruel.

"So, do you always engage in schadenfreude every chance you get?" I asked the girls out of curiosity, but it came off sounding like a crude joke.

"Not every chance. We don't want to be bored with our lives alone, so we bore ourselves together until that show," Keilani pointed to the TV, "came on. That show and Impractical Jokers, they're life-changers."

That was deep. People going out of their own way to entertain somebody and change their lives, now, that's one of the coolest things anybody could do.

"And we go to the clubs once a month," Amber said.

"Found it!" Rolanda returned to us with a bottle of aloe mint gel in her hand.

The half-blonde-half-brown-haired girl with the floral shoulder tattoo placed the gel bottle in my hand as she sat down on the floor, nestling her back between my legs. I squirted some jelly into my hands and rubbed them together to even the coolness of the gel. Rolanda had moved the spaghetti straps of her red camisole to her underarms, so it appeared she was wearing a strapless top. She told me to iron out the kinks in her shoulders and back. She also said to leave her girls alone. Unfair, much? No. Yes, I will leave her girls alone. Not that I have a reason to touch them because I don't!

The girls continued eating their snacks. Keilani sat next to me on the couch, and Amber sat beside Rolanda. Courtney took a seat next to Keilani as we watched more montages of male humans' miseries. Amber handed Keilani a rattail comb and kept lots of little rubber bands in her palm. I think they're going to style hair now. Okay, fine by me. Then they talked about nonsense. I did not say a word because I can remember everything.

"Hey, I have a question for you," Rolanda asked me.

"What's up?" I answered.

"How did you figure out that Erica was pregnant?" Rolanda asked.

"Oh, my god, Rolanda, you did not just ask that question!" Amber jumped in.

"That's a dumb question, Ro. You can't just go and ask how he found out!" Keilani followed.

Then the girls started bickering about Rolanda's question, and I'm just sitting here like stop it now! I just played it cool, telling them to settle down. I grew impatient after five seconds. Then I whistled loudly to shut them up. And, they did. Stupid lotion. Pffft.

"How does he do that?" Courtney murmured her thoughts aloud.

"Erica is pregnant because I heard her say so myself," I finally answered. "Back when I had a splint on my finger, I lost a bet. Whoever lost all their money in a Wild Card Poker game must cross-dress for a night at the club. Check out what happened to me that night," I said, showing them a picture of that fake Slutville cover on my phone.

"Dude, that's Maya Hunter!" Rolanda grabbed my phone and showed the other girls.

The girls crowded around me and Rolanda as they looked at the mockup. They observed everyone in the picture. I was so caught off-guard that I looked like a deer in the headlights.

"Is that you, Farkle?" Rolanda pointed at me as a girl.

"Unfortunately," I answered.

"Dude, you look hot as a girl!" Courtney followed, taking the words straight from Rolanda's mouth.

"That lady with the green eyes looks awfully familiar," Keilani said as she saw girly-Lucas.

"What the hell was the editor thinking, slandering Maya like that?" Rolanda said.

"She wasn't," I answered. "I've known the editor since the Quincy days, and she's just as bad today as she was then."

"What the heck does that mean?" Keilani blondie asked.

"They went to school with each other," Ro answered for me. "Melissa Suarez is the kind of person who is ambitious, but goes about it the wrong way. She'll lie, cheat, and steal to earn her throne. When she's caught in the act, she retaliates by sending someone to spy on the people on her crap list."

I realized now why Riley had been wanting to stay with me. She's being stalked. Maya is, too. I will be damned if Smackle is next in line. Or worse, the entire staff of Dirty Deeds.

"Um, ladies, why don't you make yourselves at home, and when it's time for you to go to sleep, just leave the lamps on, okay?" I said, standing up.

"Farkle, are you okay?" Rolanda asked.

"I'm fine, Ro. I'll be in the bedroom if you need me," I ran to the bedroom and slammed the door.

I stared into space, wondering what Riley could be doing now. She doesn't want to go back to her apartment. Then I wondered what Maya could be up to. She is scared out of her mind and doesn't know who to turn to. I'm beginning to think that Maya doesn't want people watching her every move, and that includes sex. And not least importantly, where does that put me if I'm on Missy Bradford's crap list?


(excerpt from Riley's Rebellion)

Since my boyfriend was out for the night, I needed to meet with someone on the Deeds' crap list. This man is my last resort, and according to my staff, he's a tough one to crack. I used a text phone booth to send forth a text to this man, telling him to meet me in the alleyway behind Minkus International. I'd be waiting for him in a black Dodge Challenger. I'm wearing a purple hooded zip-up jacket and jeans. And I'm a woman.

A knock on the window startled me out of my thoughts. I quickly pressed a button to roll down my window. I was hoping for a big black man in a yellow fur coat and a gray fedora. Instead, this white man, a bit too pale for my liking, donned an old-timey business suit of tan, white, and powder blue. His fedora was brown with a matching tan strip around it.

"Hello," I greeted the man. "You must be Upgrade."

"That, I am. Mind if I join you?" he asked.

"Come sit by me," I acquiesced.

I watched this man walk across the bumper of my car while I pressed the unlock button. I didn't trust this man, nor did I trust myself. However, I have some scores to settle. As Upgrade let himself in, he sat shotgun and waited for me to speak. I wouldn't say anything until he does.

"Who are you?" he asked me.

"I'm Riley Matthews. I'm with Dirty Deeds magazine. It is my understanding that you run your own private apothecary in the outskirts of Upstate, New York," I began.

"That's right," he acknowledged.

"Uh-huh," I said, not knowing I'd get this far. "May I ask what kind of clientele you have?"

"I mainly cater to the entertainers who need an escape. Anyone in particular you'd like information about, Miss Matthews?"

"Well, I know that Charlotte Kincaid nearly baked herself to death. And Erica Bionx is still using while pregnant."

"Bionx got knocked up? Hoo-hoo-hoo," he chuckled. "Who's the father? I gave her drugs because she wanted to forget about her affairs."

"I have been told that Erica may have multiple possibilities for the baby's father. It either belongs to her boyfriend," I began.

"Capra, right?" he interrupted me, and I nodded.

"Or the porn star Dane Delatorre," I finished. "I've already backed up my sources, and the issue has gone to press, ready for release. That's not why I'm here, Upgrade."

"Well, what's going on, Miss Matthews?"

"I need information on the socialite, Lona Marbury, who had been missing since July. When the old editor approved the story back then, the plans for interviewing the parents fell through. That was my story. Now that I'm the editor, I've got a spot to fill. Whatever happened to Lona Marbury?" I asked the man. I knew I wasn't going to get the answer right away.

"Miss Matthews, that's a question I can't answer," he smirked.

"You can't answer as if you're not able to answer? Or you won't answer? A refusal," I got firm with him by using his words against him.

We stared into each other's dark eyes for a long time until a hint of glimmering sadness glazed over his eyes. Whether this news is sad or sadder, it is good news.

"Lona Marbury is dead," Upgrade admitted.

Lona's what?!

"How long?" I asked.

"Since August 13th," he answered. "Something went wrong with the drugs she took when she was out. She found another dealer, and he killed her. This dealer had her body frozen in a hidden cellar. It's a one-floor, no-basement house. He disposed the body out at the Hudson. The body could only be identified as Jane Doe."

"What's this dealer's name?"

"I'm not telling you," he smirked again, shaking his head.

"That's better than saying you can't tell me," I answered, thinking to myself. "But I still want to know. You're friends with my publisher, Brett Barricklow, right?" I asked, pulling a blue folder from my briefcase.

"Yes... what does that have to do with...?"

Once he saw the pictures of himself and Barry engaging in a threesome with the porn star Maribel Monet, he stopped talking. I know what I am liable to do now. The question is, how? And what good will come out of his business relationships?

"Where did you get these?" he asked, skimming through the unsightly photos.

"My photographer and I paid her off to market her masquerade about a month before I took over. It wasn't a secret that she slept around outside of porn, but with my publisher and you, that's an all-time low," I conversated. "I have no choice but to publish these unless you tell me who this man in question is. It'll only be a cover inset, but a major editorial. Maribel knows. She's expecting something soon," I finished.

"You're a feisty girl, Miss Matthews," he smiled at me, showing off his glowing pearly whites. "Whatever floats your boat, ma'am," he chuckled. He started to get serious now.

"What's his name?" I asked with concern although I was growing impatient.

"They call him Gable. Those who truly know him, know that he is as evil as they come. He is stealthy. Whenever he loses someone close to him, and they're buried in a casket, he'll dig them up and cut off their heads. He then places them in giant pickle jars. Then he covers them and names them. Hides them in his basement to be forgotten. Did I mention that nobody knows about his basement? They think he doesn't have one," he elaborated.

It hit me. One of my interviewees, before I took the editor-in-chief position, spoke fondly of Gable. That was a great story until said subject mentioned a secret basement.

"I know about Gable," I confirmed, even if I didn't want to hear about Gable's secret life. "The photos are yours to keep. I recommend that you burn them before my photographer finds the negatives," I told Upgrade, giving him the blue folder.

"You're playing a dangerous game, Miss Matthews," he hissed.

"Gable's never gonna be a good guy, is he? Whatever became of the bodies he dug up? Obviously, they ain't ghosts running around like decapitated chickens!" I went off on a tangent.

"Calm down, Miss Matthews," he placed his hand on mine, making me feel things that I shouldn't.

"You're right. I'm sorry. Anything else you want to know or are viable to give me?" I concluded my meeting with him.

"I should ask you because I've got nothing else," he squeezed my hand, trying to flirt with me.

"Don't do that," I immediately said, and I snatched my hand away. "Tell Erica Bionx she's cut off, and we'll be in business."

Upgrade shook my hand and kissed it before he fled the alley, nowhere to be seen. Not that I'm immature or anything, but I got my next story! I'm smiling because I'm ready to assign Farkle to something a little more dangerous.


(and now, we return to Dirty Deeds)

To cool off, I stripped myself of my t-shirt. As I tossed the garment into my laundry basket, I saw some flickering light outside the bedroom window. When I opened the curtains, I looked down. What's the Challenger doing in the alleyway? Josh is supposed to be home right now. Unless he's trysting with Maya, I don't want to know.

I saw a white man in a fedora and a business suit. He's well younger than my father, but a few years older than Josh. Why is he getting in the car? More importantly, who's driving the damn car?

A knock on the door startled me out of my thoughts. As I was walking toward the door, I heard Rolanda speak.

"Farkle, it's me. Open up," she said.

When I opened the door, she walked straight to the window.

"What the hell is Upgrade doing here? Stuart will have a cow!" she panicked as she peeked out the window...

"Remind me to call Upgrade," Erica coughed into the bin.

...I had the strangest feeling that Riley is meeting with Upgrade. Upgrade is smart. Upgrade needs a better name.

"I think he must be meeting with someone, probably selling some of those anti-anxiety inhalers, but I could be wrong," I theorized towards a white lie.

"Well, whoever is in that car is about to get fucked," Ro said, scaring the living daylights out of me.

"What's that supposed to mean?" I turned around and walked toward my dresser drawer for an undershirt.

"Oh, you know, screwed over? Betrayed?" she answered. "You don't know what kind of concoctions he can brew. He once gave me a swig of absinthe, and I fainted on the spot. This man is dangerous. He's sick! He'll flirt with you at first just to get your attention. Once he spikes your drink, you're date raped."

As I put on my tank top, I had heard Rolanda's words and relayed them in a fictitious daydream...

Riley and I were sitting at the bar next to a businessman who had asked Riley about her job at Dirty Deeds. This man flirted with her, but she brushed him off. Once Riley was looking at me, we started talking. The bartender served us two shaken martinis. Then we started speaking French, trying to ward off this perverted businessman. Riley's line of sight veered right, and I had just caught this man spiking her drink. He seriously thought that nobody was watching. Um, hello? Farkle knows about everything around him!

"Um, hello?!" Rolanda nudged my bare shoulder.

"Huh?" I said after my vision returned to normal.

"Upgrade is a ladies' man! Unless it's about business other than drugs, he's serious. I won't be surprised if the police pull that car over for drug possession," Ro said.

"You don't know that, Rolanda," I said, becoming indignant, but not letting her know that Riley is possibly in that car, and I'm trying to defend her. "Why not drive your ass into the alleyway of this facility and wait for Upgrade to give you another dose of absinthe?" Whoops.

Her jaw dropped. She wasn't about to cry. However, her reaction did scare me.

"Oh, my god!"

"I'm sorry," I apologized.

"Oh, no, don't apologize. I deserved that burn. I'm just surprised that you finally grew some balls in front of me," she echoed my previous mood.

"I grew some balls?" my eyebrows raised. "You're not the one whose ass is on the line for the next issue of the Deeds!"

"Oh, is she giving you a deadline, too? With what? You're supposed to expose our lives for the next 24 hours. Y'ain't got nothin' but killjoys and boredom," she started sassing me.

"Boredom?!" I questioned that last word. "This is the most exciting part of the story: interfacing with the boss's son," I placed my hands in front of me like a picture frame. "How one intern grew some balls, working the hard way up the ladder and finally getting noticed," I crossed my arms now. "Maybe I can get Riley to market you as the intern who has no time for a life!"

"What?!" she was confused now. "I have a life," she said. "I work for your father. I hang out with my friends. I take care of myself. What else is there?"

"I know, but all I've seen you do is eat, sleep, and fetch coffee for the bankers. And when you're on your lunch break, you're with the other girls talking about God knows what. You don't talk to them outside of work. I'm starting to wonder, Rolanda. Did you ask me out because–" I stopped to think because maybe she is lonely. She likes me, and I like her. I don't love her. "I think you're in love with me?" I questioned her.

"If I were in love with you, I'd tell you," she replied. "But I'm not," she admitted, about to cry.

"What?" I was shocked. At least she proved me wrong in my presence; that makes it less shocking.

"Mmhmm," she nodded. "I thought I was, but it turns out that I wanted to go the way of the friends with benefits, and I don't want that. It's going to take time for me to accept that we're not going to happen," she elaborated and began to cry. She walked towards me and let the tears fall on my shoulder. I think we just broke up?

"I can't believe it. You're breaking up with me," I said with no certain intention of tone.

"I'm 22 fucking years old, and I've got nothing going for me except this business," she said after collecting herself and breaking our hug. "I don't know where my brothers and sisters are, and I don't think they care," she wiped a tear with her hand. "I've been killing myself for your father, and do you think he notices me? Without Minkus, I'm going back to my parents' house, and they told me to never come back. Working for Minkus and investing my money in the company, it's all I've got! That's the secret life of a Minkus Girl. How much you want for the story?"

Now, that is how you grow some balls.

"No charge," I said, taking a camera out of a dresser drawer to take a picture of a broken-down Rolanda for one of Riley's next covers.

*CLICK, CLICK, CLICK*

"Now, if you'll excuse me," I said, returning my camera to the drawer, tossing my locked cell phone onto my bed.

I then walked to the bathroom and sat down. The white tile floor, cold and bleachy, was the best remedy for my mood as I lay down. I was stressed out. My anxiety went through the roof. Rolanda had finally cracked, and I am strangely proud to take one for the team. That sigh left my mouth tasting like vinegar. And I hate vinegar!

"Farkle, are you okay? I'm sorry if I got upset and lashed out at you. Are you okay?" Rolanda asked.

"Am I okay? Sure, I am. Can I get a second opinion?" I got sarcastic to make myself feel better.

"That I'd kill myself if I had Riley's job or Brett's?" she threw my sarcasm back.

"Huh?" I couldn't form a coherent thought if I tried.

"Think about it. She oversees all the articles for Dirty Deeds. She approves the ones that will sell, even if she doesn't like them. If she approves the stories which she only likes, then it won't bring enough bread to the staff's family members. If I had to approve a story for the money, I'd be that guy from the movie where he wishes he were never born," the half-blonde-half-brunette girl elaborated. "And another thing, Brett used to be my boss. I've worked for Brett before he took the publisher position. He's a pervert." She then paced when I ran her words through my head. "Did you know he touched me, and I didn't ask for it? He came onto me when he was drunk. The next day I was available to work, he paid me $5,000 not to say anything to anybody," she admitted as she helped me stand up. She continued her anecdote as we walked back into the bedroom and sat on the bed together. "He forced me to take the money. I still told somebody. Does that make me bad?"

"Did Brett ask for his money back?" I asked.

"I haven't seen him since that day. He paid in cash, so it's harder to track it down. I stashed it away, never to be seen until 2030 when they start printing money again!" and she cried again, leaning on my freckled shoulder. "I am a bad person! I kept the money and told my parents. Mommy and Daddy did nothing about it because they wouldn't believe me," she sobbed, and I naturally hugged her tightly.

Rolanda's story has me wondering if the rumor about Riley's publisher is true. The story was so touching that even I wanted to cry with her, but I had to be strong.


NEWSBREAK

Two female pornographic actresses, who chose to remain anonymous for privacy purposes, have come forward and stated that they were recently treated for ascariasis, or worms in the body. Earlier this week, comedic actress Erica Bionx checked herself into a hospital for similar treatments. It is too soon to tell if there will be a spike in medication sales to entertainers in any industry.


(we now return to Dirty Deeds)

I sat in Riley's office, waiting for her to come in. She was looking great earlier this week, but today was just not her day. Does Riley need me to do some recon? Do I need to photograph another dangerous drug dealer? Has Riley's job taken a toll on her? One of those better be the right answer.

"Everything okay?" I asked her as she sat down with her face in her hands.

"Something's wrong with you, something bad. What's got you so riled up, Riles?" I asked, concerned.

"I'm stressed out," she admitted, standing up.

"How stressed out are you?" I asked, and we started pacing across each other in her office.

"I don't know," she chimed, chirping up. "Some things aren't adding up. I have invested time for my next article, and I'm afraid I'll lose it if I'm not careful. I think it will get to a point where I won't have time for anybody anymore, especially you," she answered, breaking the hug. What next article?

"Don't say that," I comforted her. "Don't go so far out of the way that you lose yourself in the process. I hid in sycamore trees," I said, reminding her what I did to get her stories and pictures. "I accidentally cut off my pinky," I continued. "I dress as a woman. I've kissed other women. I was so close to sleeping with a woman for a story, but I backed off out of respect for you. It's risky stepping outside the comfort zone, Riley. You're the only writer who hasn't reached that point yet. What's the craziest thing you've done for a story?" I countered, trying to relay a message to Riley.

"Have you forgotten what I've done before I took the helm?" Riley fired away with questions.

"I remember," I answered, fuming. "You subjected yourself to a sex dungeon and had to spend the next two weeks taking ice baths for your contusions."

"That wasn't all," she said. "Not even my parents and brother know what I did for this story. I'm beginning to regret it, but maybe not. If I tell you, you'll know, and you'll tell everyone. God knows you can't keep a secret to save your life."

"Sure, I can," I said, trying to reassure her that whatever happened with her will be between us.

"I don't think it's something you can promise, either," she sighed.

That hurt. Hurt like a bitch, like a motherfucker. She's right. I have made promises that I couldn't keep. Now, I don't know whether to tell a soul in front of Riley or to let her figure this out on her own time, will, and accord. Did she cheat? How is she hiding this secret so well? What else am I supposed to do? I love this woman. I care about her so much. Well-beings are at stake here, and that's why I caved.

"Okay," I sighed, dejectedly. "But, you know I can only hold out for so long. I'm not going to sit here and let you let it fester," I said with emotion, anger pouring out.

"I can do this," she nodded, sounding unsure, showing that she's sure, but I'm not sure.

"We'll see about that. It's a race against time, Riley. You either get there first, or you lose. It's your decision, Riley. Take it or leave it," I said.

I kissed her because I was so angry with her. Riley and I are going through this again. Damn me and my big mouth. I had walked out of the office before I heard...

"I love you," she said.

Chapter Text

Hi, I'm Farkle Minkus. That's Farkle. Minkus. With the lowdown.

*CLICK*

It was a chaotic period since Riley took the editor-in-chief position at Dirty Deeds magazine. She's caught in a pickle because the stories she wants are not at all what she expected. Riley may be my girlfriend and all, but she still struggles to tell the truth about how she feels deep inside herself.

"I just need some more time," her 13-year-old self said.

"I'm here for you," my 13-year-old post-turtleneck-self told her.

*CLICK*

Maya Hunter, Riley's best friend, has yet to tell Lucas that she's breaking up with him. Part of her dilemma revolves around Josh Matthews, Riley's uncle.

"There's no wrong for you to take a break, but remember your deal," Josh told me after I lost a bet and my pinky finger in the same week.

A huge weight lifted off my shoulders when Maya and I came to terms about our rendezvous.

"If I can be honest with myself, I'll know what I'm looking for," Maya said to me in confidence.

Who will be carrying the weight now? I wonder.

*CLICK*

Dr. Isadora Smackle, my amicable ex-girlfriend, is taking a break from her practice in celebrity psychotherapy. She took a job offer, doing the late shift at the same-day care unit. Her first patient, Erica Bionx, came in with worms. She's also pregnant. The publicist's statement won't give full details, but Smackle already had Erica sign for release of information. The full diagnosis will be in the next issue.

"What else is new?" the doctor asked her patient.

*CLICK*

As far as my missions go, I am focused on the assignments given to me. Riley wanted me to work on this former teen idol who changed sexes. However, my mind wandered to the Minkus International interns who were the subjects of my next assignment. These interns have no lives outside of Minkus International other than each other.

"They're life-changers," Keilani said about a schadenfreudian show.

One intern let slip of a potential sexual harassment case. Just when I thought I was ready to put her on the back burner, she had cracked.

"He paid me $5,000 not to say anything to anybody," Rolanda cried. "They wouldn't believe me!"

Now that I got everything out of the way, it's time for me to see some friends. I need a break!

*CLICK*


At Charlie Gardner's house, Charlie, Lucas, Zay, Josh, and I were playing cards. Since we're too strung out about the chaos, we've decided to hold off on planned punishments indefinitely, starting at midnight. I do not blame them one bit. I just question how worried they are about Riley. My Riley.

"Alright, five-card draw with blinds. Highest hand wins the round, chooses the next game. Loser plays shot roulette," Charlie stated the rules of tonight's card games. Since the punishment involved fear and taking chances, I'm game, and everyone else is, too.

I pick up my cards, and I'm happy with what I have already, so I don't have to draw twice. It wasn't one of those luck-of-the-draw or what-are-the-odds kind of hands. I just liked what I saw.

The others looked like they had good hands, too. Save for Josh, he's quick to fold when his mind whirrs a thousand miles an hour trying to count cards. Riley's uncle knows the lowdown of poker, and I hate to be the one matching his wits.

"Take my hand, man, you know I can't play this shit," Josh said, handing his cards to Charlie.

"I call," Zay said, doubling his small blind.

"And I check," Lucas said, smirking, not needing to bump the bet.

"Okay, Farkle, Zay, and Lucas are in. How many, Farkle?" Charlie quickly asked me, ready with the deck face down in his palm.

"I'm not taking any," I answered. "Zay?" I looked to Lucas's best friend.

"Two, please," Zay said, throwing away two of his cards in exchange for two from Charlie's deck.

"Just one, Chuck," Lucas said, and the two exchanged a single card.

"Three," I said, tossing three blue chips into the pot.

"Call," Zay said and did.

"Ditto," Lucas followed.

"Farkle?" Charlie asked me.

"Nope," I said, still confident in my hand.

"Zay?" Charlie asked.

"One, please," Zay said, throwing away one of his cards in exchange for a new card.

"I'm staying," Lucas said.

"Okay, that's two rounds, guys. Show me what you got," Charlie said, concluding the game.

"Three jacks," Zay said.

Lucas mucked, leaving me to reveal my hand that I stayed strong in.

"Oh, three jacks, that's good Zay. Just... not good enough," I said before the big reveal. "Three queens," I said, flipping my cards over and taking the pot.

"Ah, you lose, Zay. Shot roulette time," Charlie said because he's the host.

Charlie walked to his kitchen to grab a tray full of random shots of rainbow colors. Some had alcohol. Some didn't. That's what makes this kind of roulette fun. Zay wasn't nervous... until he chose the blue drink from the rainbow line. And then he grimaced at the taste after swallowing.

"Mm, that's some vodka!" Zay said as he choked out the rest of his breath.

The guys and I laughed before I chose Indian Poker, which is a one-card blind draw, as our next game. Since I sat next to Charlie, he dealt one card to each player, and we bet before the big reveal. Once again, Josh folded. Charlie, too, folded. Once again, it was down to two Texans and a Farkle.

"Two," I said, on fire.

"Two? Are you crazy?" Zay asked, following suit.

"No, I'm Farkle," I joked, raising my hands in power.

"Oh, come on!" Zay rolled his eyes, and everyone groaned at my joke.

Someone threw a used napkin at me, too.

"Well, I'm out," Lucas folded.

"I win," I said, showing my ace of spades.

"Damn!" Zay said, revealing a card slightly lower than face value.

"Gotta do the shot skis," Charlie said, pointing towards the opposite wall of the room.

The wall had a shot ski mounted to it, resembling a bookshelf. In four of the five shot glasses was whiskey. The fifth glass, whichever it is, had apple juice. In this light, it was hard to tell. Poor Zay.

He picked the third shot glass and lucked out. It was apple juice, and he was lucky to have escaped the punishment.

I chose Hearts as the next game, letting the other four guys play one hand for points because my phone buzzed in my pocket, and Rolanda wanted to talk to me. I excused myself, stood up, and walked outside the door to answer her call.

"Farkle," I answered.

"Farkle, thank goodness you answered. I need a favor."

"Sure, anything," I said, peeking inside the house to see how Hearts is going.

"Wanna meet at the penthouse sometime next week, just us two? I've got more dirt on Barricklow and nobody to tell except you," she wants to confide in me.

"Of course. I'll text you when I have time," I confirmed.

"Thank you."

"You're welcome. Bye."

That was easy.

I pressed END as I walked inside. When I took my seat, the guys started asking questions; none of which I was ready to answer.

"Who's on the phone?" Lucas asked.

"Eh, just one of my interns. They made me tag along in their slumber party the other night," I answered in disgust.

"What's wrong with that? Cheers," Charlie said as he and Lucas clinked shot glasses of whiskey. Hah, losers. Wonder who had the queen of spades, and the other, all hearts.

"These girls are bored with their lives. I am grateful that I got a story out of one of them, but it's not the kind of story we were looking for, you know?"

"What is the story?" Charlie asked after he swallowed.

"The Secret Lives of Minkus Girls," I answered. "They don't have secret lives. They're just trying to get by in this world, and they don't feel that they're worthy. Because for someone to survive in this world, they must thrive. To thrive in this world, they must flourish. So far, they gossip and indulge in schadenfreude," I confirmed.

"Schadenfreude?" Zay questioned as if he didn't know.

"It's where you enjoy watching other people get hurt, whether it's accidental or by masochism. Some of it's funny. What they did was not," I said.

"Let me guess," Josh jumped in. "They watch 'Ow! My Balls!' on the weekends?" he asked sarcastically as he shuffled the cards.

"Uh-huh," I nodded.

"Oh!" Josh raised his eyebrows in surprise, dealing the cards for another round of five-card stud.

"These girls are in their early 20s. They should be doing more age-appropriate things, don't you think? I mean, they pick one weekend a month to go clubbing. Do you think Riley will be disappointed if I tell her I have nothing on the Minkus Girls?" I questioned.

"Relax, kid," Josh said. "Riley wants something that's an honest sell. If you tell that to your girls, they'll start roasting each other behind their backs. Like the maroon-haired girl I saw at your rooftop party," he cited as an example. "She's hot! Why's she hot? How is she hot and intimidating? What's her background?"

"She once spent her junior year of college solely off Minkus International stocks. She did it to prove to her parents that she didn't need their hard-earned money. And she hates her natural hair color," I said. "That's why she colors it maroon. Oh, and she took time off from work to audition for Dark-Hearted Damsels. I think she got the part that she auditioned for."

"And the blonde?" Lucas questioned about Keilani.

"She chopped off her dyed ends. Other than being babyish, there isn't more I can tell you about her. You might have to find out for yourself," I answered. "Oh, and she's the one who suggested watching 'Ow, My Balls.'"

"What about the girl with the curly brown afro?" Zay asked about Amber.

"She doesn't stop talking," I was quick to answer that one.

"And that girl who's onto you? Soft serve?" Charlie asked.

"She used to work for Hightower Media as an intern before a sexual harassment forced her to quit," I answered.

"Didn't Brett Barricklow work for Hightower at one point?" Charlie followed.

"He ran the company, and he was the one who got handsy with Rolanda and paid her to keep quiet about the sexual harassment," I confirmed.

We sat there quietly, running my last phrase through our heads. I believe we've found a motivation to get the publisher of Dirty Deeds fired from his job. When a publisher gets fired, the editor-in-chief is always the first candidate for the interim.

"Farkle? Farkle?" Josh snapped his fingers in my face.

"Huh? What? Huh?" I shooed the thoughts away.

"Why didn't Rolanda say anything until now?" Josh asked.


(excerpt from Riley's Rebellion)

I had been keeping a low profile since I found those pictures of myself in my apartment. Maya is being stalked. Josh and Lucas have also received unwanted photos. Farkle wouldn't do such a thing. Who would want to send us candid photos of ourselves?

To clear my mind from the gutter, I accepted an invitation to accompany my little brother to the Great American Bistro for dinner. Any news from Auggie is better than no news. I do not hear things about him, but I can assume them sometimes.

"So, I hear you're proposing to Ava soon?" I asked my brother after the waitress took our orders.

"I'm working on it. Farkle offered me a job at Minkus International, but I didn't have the heart to tell him that I wouldn't take it," Auggie said.

"Why not?"

"I want to study up on that BAR exam. I have three semesters left before law school. I just want them out of the way."

"Don't stress yourself out. Don't do what I did just to make someone happy."

"What did you do this time?" he stressed the question.

"I may have struck a deal with Upgrade," I answered giddily. "Are you familiar with the 'Good Cop, Bad Cop' game?"

"Which one's Upgrade?"

"He's the good cop. Runs his own pharmacy in Upstate. Nobody truly knows who he is... except for Farkle, but maybe that's because Upgrade is this professor's alias," I rambled.

"Professor Goolagong," he said through his mouthful.

"How did you know that?"

"He was my chemistry professor. Well, he used to be for half a semester before the chancellor discovered that he was a drug dealer on the side," Auggie answered after swallowing his food.

The silence lingered between my brother and me as we ate our dinner. Even with other patrons chattering about, I could still hear and feel. Auggie knew of Professor Goolagong before I? How dare he! Then again... it helped.

"You look better," Auggie broke the silence, changing the direction of our conversation.

"I do?" my eyebrows furrowed in confusion.

"You're smiling more. Your complexion is glowing. Something good happened to you. Are you dating again?"

"I am, actually," I admitted. "We've dated before, but something tells me this one will stick around for a long time," I smiled.

"Well, I hope he does. If it's the person I think it is, then I hope he gets to marry you and have little baby Minkii," he spoiled my surprise, but I couldn't blame him.

"Yeah," I just nodded fondly.

Another silence slowly crept upon us, but it felt a million times better than the last. I have Auggie to thank for that. Auggie's proposing to Ava soon, provided he could still afford a ring. I'm with Farkle, resuming the dating life. Dad just renewed his teaching contract for two more years. Mom will be presiding over a major murder trial. This is good, but as life predicts for anybody, it could go either way.

From: Sparkly Farkley

The guys and I found a motive to fire your publisher. Something was fishy about him from the start, and we've got him right where we want him.

Farkle.

I had a shocked look on my face, but I kept running those words through my head. As much as I hate quick-turn conversations, Farkle was right to take the wheel.

"You okay, sis?" Auggie snapped me out of my thoughts.

I looked to Auggie before I realized what was going on.

"Yeah," I said. "I've got things to do and people to work with," I continued as I collected my things and covered the tab. "I'll see you later, Auggie," I hugged him goodbye and speed-walked to the door.


NEWSBREAK

Pornographic actress Maribel Monet announces retirement from the porn industry. From the source herself, the 32-year-old veteran stated, "I made a promise to stop doing porn when it either got too good, or I paid off my student loans and debts. Both just happened to hit at the same time, and it was the right time, too, I believe." However, when asked where her source of income will be in the future, Monet replied, "I still have my lingerie and intimates' line as well as my sex toy collection. As for real work, a couple of print media outlets are in line to hire me." Monet, 32, began her adult career after graduating from Syracuse with a degree in business marketing. More to develop when we hear from Monet's agent.


(excerpt from Maya Hunter, Maya Hunter)

I called Lucas to my house because I needed to tell him the truth. Everything that has happened within the last two months has finally come back to haunt me. I slept with two different men in vain, and that's upsetting. I am not sorry for what I did. I am more afraid of Lucas's reaction than I am being apologetic.

We're sitting in his pickup truck, cruising the night away. When he found a stop outside of town, he killed the engine. He knows I'm nervous. He knows something's wrong with me. I just need to find the courage to let it all out without letting my stomach purge.

"Maya, something's on your mind, and I'm curious," he said, questioning my body language.

"I'm fine. I just haven't been myself lately," I answered.

"I know that. Does this have to do with the pictures from the front door?"

"That's part of it," I admitted. "But it's not all."

"There's more," he realized. "Isn't there?"

I stalled, trying to find the right words to say. I couldn't handle it.

"Maya, talk to me," Lucas commanded.

"I'm sorry, Lucas... it's nothing against you, but... I just couldn't help myself," I teared up.

"Who was it?" he asked, knowing that I've already cheated.

"You don't want to know, and don't make me answer your next question," I admitted, but the weight is finally lifted.

"You know, when you say that, it makes me think that you went behind my back and slept with someone we both know, someone close," he said with a smile before realizing the truth, nodding, and sighing, "did you have sex with Farkle again?"

"How did you know?" I couldn't let him know I was in shock, so I deadpanned.

"I don't. Farkle didn't exactly tell me, but he had been closer to you since Riley took the editor job. When you two danced atop the roof and at Shambala, you were all over him," he said.

"Because he likes me!" I reacted. "It would be a huge letdown to his ego if I gave him less than 84%. You know that," I said before clarifying. "I've been having a problem lately. I want to know why this is happening to me," I said.

"What's going on now?"

"I can't climax. The last few times I've had sex... it was rather anticlimactic. I'm starting to think sex has become meaningless. Remember when Riley told her boss that we'd have to do some things to find stories? Like things-things?" I asked him; he nodded. "That's how I've been feeling. I do these things before getting a story or helping Farkle get his story. That night when you and Josh took him to Connie Haley's house to take a picture of Connie slapping Dominic? Did you ever notice how happy Farkle seemed? It's because I had sex with him, and that was the last time I was able to come. And that afternoon when you came home to Farkle in drag? Josh was there, and we had an affair before you showed up. I may have let him take advantage of me earlier this week," I chuckled to the point of crying. "I haven't had my time of day since I found those explicit pictures of myself. I want to enjoy myself, but I'm not safe in my own home, Lucas. Someone is out there, and my escapes are either art or sex, and I can't even think about sex without thinking that somebody is watching me!"

"That's disappointing, Maya," Lucas said sternly, and as much as I like guys being firm with me, I couldn't bring myself to enjoy feeling the burn. I deserved it.

"I know. You hate me now," I said, wiping a tear away.

"I don't hate you, Maya. You're just... too much for me. And since you're getting things off your chest, I guess I should tell you what's been on my mind that I, too, have been harboring for two months," Lucas said.

Oh, how the tables have turned.

"Are you cheating on me, too?" I questioned innocently.

"No," he said after looking at me funny.

"Well, you're sitting on a gold mine, Ranger Rick!" I joked.


(and now, back to Dirty Deeds)

Lucas and Maya broke up. About. Damn. Time. Josh, Zay, Charlie, and I had been waiting for them to break up for six months now. Now that the break up has happened, we are now ready to take Lucas to another promised land.

That night, we arrived at an underground gentlemen's club called Lil Mama Roma's. The music wasn't all too bad. The guys and I just ordered the appetizer sampler before the main event. Two ladies were set to take center stage, and we were front table patrons. Normally, strip club strippers weren't any different from other girls whom I've befriended or dated, and they certainly don't look like the strippers in the movies. The guys were eager to cheer up Lucas, and we just thank the performers, whoever and wherever they are.

As our food arrived, the waitress said that our drinks are on the house because it's just us tonight. How did we luck out?

"Take my drink, man. I'm still hungover from last night," Zay said, offering his shot to Josh.

"Okay," Josh accepted the drink. "Since you're not drinking, why don't you look behind you, Zay," Josh said.

"Why? What's up?" Zay said, turned around, and received a gift.

A topless woman grabbed Zay's head and rubbed his face all over her bare bosom. Her natural breasts were easily double-D's, but that came with having a little more weight on her. Still looked healthy as fuck, though. I'd do her, but it's one of them "Wham, Bam, Thank You, I am Farkle" kind of situations...

"I don't want that," Rolanda said about our "relationship" a few nights ago.

...but that woman's ass, though... we couldn't stop staring. Ew, get it together, Farkle.

Charlie tapped me on the shoulder to get my attention. Thanks, Chuck. When I turned around, he motioned for me to propose a toast.

"Gentlemen, I'd like to propose a toast," I raised my glass. "To Brett Barricklow, one step closer to his firing!"

"Ah, fuck Barricklow!" everyone said and touched glasses.

The stage floor filled with smoke, and the opening bars to "Hot for Teacher" played over the sound system. A tall blonde schoolgirl in uniform strutted the runway and blew a kiss somewhere far. A short brunette schoolmarm in glasses, dressed in a woman's black business suit, emerged on stage, and smacked the blonde's bottom with her teaching stick. The blonde's face contorted into fake pain as she rubbed the red area of her bottom. They began a dance routine, and in the process, slowly took their clothes off until they were wearing nothing but a flesh-colored G-string. The blonde and brunette then assumed cheesy couples' dance poses and milked the sexiness for what it's worth.

It wasn't until another chorus when I recognized the two girls. When they made eye contact with the guys and me, oh boy, were we all embarrassed.

"Dude, that's Darby!" Charlie said.

"Is that Sarah?!" Zay questioned.

The girls covered their bosoms in shyness until Josh started cheering them on to continue their routine. I joined Josh in the applause next, and naturally, everyone started clapping again. Soon enough, they gained the confidence to dance again. Darby walked back to the pole and wrapped her leg around it, smacking her own ass. Sarah threw off her glasses and did the splits. I wish we had cash to throw at them.

When their show was over, they headed backstage to their dressing rooms. The manager told us that we can speak with them in five minutes. Once our plates were empty, the waitress brought out five mugs of beer and two dry martinis. Then the girls stepped out of their dressing rooms, wearing black tank tops, skinny jeans, and black high-heeled pumps.

"How did you guys find us here?" Darby asked in my ear before she took a seat next to me.

"We didn't," I answered her.

"This was just a guys' night out," Lucas said. "Pure coincidence."

"Maya dumped you, didn't she?" Sarah knew.

"Got that right," Lucas said.

"Well, now that you're here, do you guys promise not to tell anyone, especially Riley?" Darby smiled at us.

"Don't worry, Darby. It'll be our little secret," I said, looking at her forehead.

"You're going to tell her, aren't you?" Darby knew I wasn't exactly honest.

"Oh, I'm not going to tell her," I shook my head and smiled, "you are."

"Farkle, why?"

"I've got enough ladies and rumors on my mind. If the strippers worked at Minkus International during the day, then I'd have my camera ready. I'd watch your back if I were you," I told Darby. "You never know if a photographer in here works for Slutville."

"What's wrong with Slutville?"

"Missy Bradford? She's going after anyone who is close to Maya," I answered, turning to Lucas. "Did you know she won't even have sex anymore?" I asked Freak-Face.

"Blessing in disguise," Lucas said. "It'll give her time to re-evaluate her life, and when these photos stop coming to her house, she'll either come back or fly solo."

"I should've guessed," Sarah chuckled at someone's comment, snapping me out of my thoughts.

"Should've guessed what?" I chimed in.

"Oh, nothing," she answered. "So, when are we going to see that one celebrity that I was talking about at the Monday meeting?"

I haven't thought of that yet. I had been so busy catering to my interns that I had another job to do. Thank you, Sarah. Riley is sending us to this one musician's place. The weird thing is, I don't know whether to call this person a he or a she. Sarah and I will find that out later. I'm going home.


Sarah and I were outside this temple-like place. Walls of rough stone and concrete secluded these peaceful patrons. These religious practitioners wore robes of white as they exited their mass. They came in all shapes and sizes. The nervous girl and I were looking for a special person. I'm still not versed in pronouns, but I was so lucky this person had a unisex name. We spotted a tall and slender blue-eyed person with a long, dark, bone-straight ponytail. I think his (her?) bone structure and five-o'clock shadow gave it away.

"Excuse me, Jamie Coffey?" Sarah addressed the transgender former teen idol.

"Yes?" Jamie's deep voice confirmed it. He's a he.

"I'm Sarah Carpenter with Dirty Deeds. This is my work partner, Farkle Minkus. We spoke with your agent?" she confirmed with Jamie.

"Of course. Let's go to the tables," he pointed toward the patio tables.

The star, best known for writing a song about how he would break out of his shell to profess his love for a girl, led us to a rusted patio table with benches. Sarah sat opposite Jamie, and I just lingered while standing, ready to photograph anything worthy of the magazine.

"What would you like to know?" Jamie asked.

"I had a feeling you might've let a few fans down, including myself, when you announced that you were transitioning. What I want to know is, why wait until recently to come out of the closet? If your true self was hidden the entire time, why didn't we get hints of anything during your prime?" Sarah fired away with the questions.

"I am not becoming a woman in vain," Jamie answered firmly. "I will never tire of being a biological man. Because, to tell you the truth in all this confusion, hormone therapy is a sham."

"A sham?" Sarah asked, getting somewhat confused.

"For the first week, things had changed. Each week, I had felt my transition progress doubly. The second week, things were twice as intense. The third week, things were twice as intense as the second week–"

"Okay, okay, okay," Sarah didn't want to hear the redundancy. "Is there something that clicked in your mind? Did something convince you to detransition?"

"Once my voice lightened up, and my chest started growing, I looked in the mirror. That person in the reflection was not who I wanted to be eventually. I still wanted to be Jamie Coffey. The transition process that I went through turned out to be a phase of life. I can't believe I was so stupid enough to go through with it," he started tearing up. "Now, I have to reverse the effects with what little of my royalties I have left," he wiped a single tear with his hand.

*click*

Sarah finally found the answer to her article. Her works have flown under the radar lately. Now, this piece about Jamie Coffey is going to be gold! This will probably be the hottest story that has ever been written by Sarah Carpenter. I'm so proud of her.


I was watching TV alone in my bedroom at the Minkus International penthouse. Nobody is here with me, and Riley was at my house taking shelter. With the interns out of my sight for one night, I watched this show called "Ladies of Improv" where ladies improvise scenes based on audience suggestions. This segment that I stumbled on was that question-answer, answer-question show parody.

"'Tastes like disappointment' for a hundred," a bottle-blonde girl acting as a ditzy Southern Belle selected the next category.

"Tastes like disappointment," the host echoed to the audience, who supplied a subject pertaining to the taste of disappointment. The audience shouted many answers, and the clearest one from the host's hearing will be the answer.

"Avocado," she repeated what she had heard. "Avocado is the answer. What is the question?"

"Wamp!" a statuesque brunette shouted to ring in.

"Yes, do you have the response to avocado?"

"Yeah, uhm, who lent his name to the molar mass equation of my favorite element?"

I see why this show is a hit now. They make fun of people. They make fun of words. They instantly make up things, and that's what makes them funny and insanely talented. The smiles on their faces as they're having a good time makes them most attractive.

I shouldn't have that feeling in my pants, but I do now. Luckily, I was not wearing a shirt, but a pair of jeans had covered my lower half. As I undid my jeans and pushed them down, I saw that I was hard through dark briefs. I braced myself for seven and a half inches of naughty.

Then the bedside phone rang, frightening me out of my view of attractive and funny women. I muted the TV with the remote and picked up the phone, placing the receiver to my ear... and they pick the wrong damn time to call!

"Thank you for calling the Minkus International Hotline, this is–"

"Farkle! I'm glad I caught you," Maya's voice interrupted me on the other end, sounding serious.

"Um, hello," I said after being interrupted. I'm not happy. "This better be good, Maya."

"I need your help," she said.

"Go ahead," I obliged.

"Have you been taking pictures of me behind my back?" the blonde went straight to the point.

WHAT? WHAT? Oh. Ouch. Ow! That blows. That fucking blows. Being accused of stalking.

"What pictures? I've only ever been on assignment. I'd only take pictures of you if you asked me to," I said. "And you know this, Maya. Why are you accusing me?" I was too tired to sound mad.

"I'm not, Farkle. I just... Where are these pictures coming from? Who's after me?" she sounded desperate.

I laid there in bed, watching a bunch of women improvising scenes and singing instantly-made-up songs on a muted television set. I had blanked again until Maya snapped me out of it.

"Farkle? Farkle?"

"Sorry, did I nod off again?" I immediately snapped back into reality.

"Who is taking pictures of me if you're not?" she was close to crying.

"I don't know," I murmured. "I have no idea. Goodnight, Maya."

"Goodnight, Farkle," I heard her cry before sobbing as I slowly returned the phone to its base.

What the hell was she thinking, going off and accusing me like that? Maya knows I'm dedicated to my job. I have no time for games! I know she's being stalked, but I sure ain't the one doing it! If she showed me the pictures, she could give me a lead. However, she should be turning to a certain private investigator whom she dubs "Uncle Boing."

As I unmuted the TV and returned to my "activity," all I heard was laughter and female voices. While they were hot and attractive, only one gorgeous girl graced my mind. I had reminisced the last few times we had done it. Even if regret had laden our minds, it was something that we desperately needed. I think that after that encounter, I can never have sex in vain again. It may be a risky resolution, but it is what I want.

I stroked myself to full hardness. Thoughts of Riley, and only Riley, plagued my soul. My imagination had run wild. I wanted Riley to take me. For once, it wasn't a thought that I could be so bitter about. I then thought of her face... that time she made that face when I told her that whatever she let out can be taken care of later. When she screamed "NOW!" I had quickly grabbed a tissue from my bedside stand and emptied myself into it. I did not cry. I choked. Remembering how beautiful sex with Riley was... it almost hurt. It hurt so much that it wore me out. I needed to rest.

I turned off the TV, so I can fall asleep. However, millions of thoughts flooded my head...

"What the heck does that mean?" Keilani asked at the penthouse slumber party about my past with Missy Bradford AKA Melissa Suarez.

"Melissa Suarez is the kind of person who is ambitious, but goes about it the wrong way. She'll lie, cheat, and steal to earn her throne. When she's caught in the act, she retaliates by sending someone to spy on the people on her crap list," Rolanda elaborated for me.

"Riley, stop!" I held Riley firmly by her wrists one morning at my house.

"If I can be honest with myself, I'll know what I'm looking for," Maya told me during a power brunch.

"I kept the money and told my parents... they wouldn't believe me!" Rolanda cried the other night about her being sexually assaulted.

"Ooh, Farkle, how did you know?" Riley asked after I began pleasing and teasing her foot.

"Let me guess. They watch 'Ow! My Balls!' on the weekends?" Josh asked sarcastically, to which I answered affirmatively.

"I don't wanna miss 'Ow! My Balls!'" Keilani said as she rushed inside the penthouse the other night.

"Come back with my gum, Farkle!" Rolanda screamed at me after I planted one on her in the hallway.

"Farkle, is there something you did that I don't know?" Riley asked me.

"Cheers," Charlie and Lucas clinked glasses after tying for a loss in the game of Hearts.

"Oh, I'm not going to tell her. You are," I felt a smug smile creep upon my face when Darby questioned my ability to keep a secret, especially one about the tall tattletale herself.

"I wanna know," I confronted Riley when I knew something was bugging her.

"How long?" Riley questioned when I pierced my tongue.

"You can back out anytime."

"I did it for you!"

"Don't sell yourself so short, kiddo."

"To my dearest son," she wrote to me as the clock ticked. "I am doing this for you. You will thank me later." I saw the note and walked to the closet and saw her, hanging from the ceiling. I just imagined the same thing happening to me. Someone was hanging me from the balcony.

Stop, stop, just STOP IT!

...I woke up and was out of breath. Now I know where Riley was coming from when she said she was stressed out. The stress is eating away at her because she's withholding information from me that mustn't be let out. What has she done that makes her not want to forgive herself? How could her unforgivable act impact me? Is this the part where our unconditional love becomes conditional? I, too, have been keeping some information to myself, but I'm working on letting Riley find out the hard way. If she heard it from me, then someone will deny it. I just hope these secrets don't eat away so much of us that we take them to our graves. Like my mom.

It has been hard to keep my mind focused lately. I've discovered more secrets. Secrets, I didn't even want to know, but I do. My question is, which way is the right way to go forward? And which way will Riley wander?

Chapter Text

It's me again!

*CLICK*

I'm dating Riley Matthews, editor of Dirty Deeds magazine. She's in a pickle with her publisher, Brett Barricklow.

"Okay, Matthews. Where do you plan to go with your next issue?" he asked.

"Oh, you know. Standard follow-ups, finding celebrities who've left the spotlight, answers to last issue's quizzes, etcetera," she answered.

"You've got a good thing going, Miss Matthews," he complimented her efforts.

*CLICK*

She struck a deal with Upgrade, a personal pharmacy to the stars.

"You can't answer as if you're not able to answer? Or you won't answer? A refusal?" Riley used his words against him.

*CLICK*

Maya Hunter broke off her relationship with Lucas Friar.

"Blessing in disguise," Lucas said during a guys' night out.

Not only are her affairs haunting her, but someone is also haunting her with explicit pictures. She went as far as accusing me of snapping the photos, and she should've known better.

"Have you been taking pictures behind my back?" Maya asked over the phone.

"I'd only take pictures of you if you asked me to," I answered.

If only she would listen to me...

*CLICK*

As far as my concerns go, I have some more bridges to burn before I can go about my life. The hardest part is letting go. It's been nine years.

"I am doing this for you. You will thank me later."

Why did she do this? Why did I have to see it? Why do I see this happening to me?

*CLICK*


I could not sleep through the night.

Mom would still be here today if she hadn't gotten into a fight with Dad. Almost ten years later, and I still don't understand the note left for me. "I am doing this for you?" Why did she do it for me? That's the worst thing she could've done, and it bites.

I had returned to my house that Sunday morning. Riley was still asleep on my couch, so I had to sneak by her. When I entered my bedroom, I hit the lights and walked to the closet. The closet harbored many boxes, one of which contained photographic memories of my late mother. I remembered the good times. I still remember stealing her wedding ring, so I could propose to Maya. I remember her supporting me when we learned that I could've had a form of autism.

She always had that penguin trinket adorning her keychain. Mom loved penguins. I also found a family photo of the three of us. Mom, Dad, and Farkle. We looked so happy, but we somehow weren't. I looked at the red ukulele and found folded papers held down by the first and third strings. When I opened them, everything hit me.

"To my dearest son, I did it for you. Someday, you will thank me. Love, Mom."

"Dear Stuart, I've always loved you. However, I cannot continue living like this. The only way out is making you a widow. I am so sorry. I hope you can forgive me someday. Love, Jen."

"Dear Farkle, I love you. Don't forget that. Love, Mom."

These were pages from a diary. Under the ukulele was a brown leather-bound book. It was easy to access, and the pages were filled. Written in different ink colors, my mother recounted many events leading up to my leaving for college. I did turn a few pages to find some missing toward the end. The page before the ripped ones got me.

"Dated August 13, 2020. This is the last from me. Soon, I will hang myself. I've already written my eulogies. I will make sure Stuart and Farkle back every word. I hope Stuart will find love again, but hopefully not with Topanga Matthews. He should've given it up by now. I wish Farkle the very best of luck. He has my ability to remember. He has learned to be humble beneath spoiled parents. If I tear these next pages, those will be my suicide notes. Thank you, diary, for keeping my memories. Goodbye, world."

I distinctly remember that night. It was in August, and my friends and I were all moving to NYU for a semester. When I had to load some things onto the bed of Lucas's pickup truck, I needed to borrow another suitcase from my mom. Knowing where she kept them, I walked straight to her room and expected to just take a bag. I just wanted to tell my mom that I was finally leaving, but it was she who left.

Suddenly, I was whisked away to the outskirts of nowhere. Sunny. Deserted. Dry. Where am I? Riley, why are you wearing a nightie right now? It's freaking daylight out! And that makeup? Too dark. Why do you have Barry the Bear-Bear fully intact? I thought Auggie bit off the head or something. Lucas, what the hell? Oh, my gosh, you look so emaciated. And old. Why are you smoking a cigarette? Those are horrible. I thought those were abolished eons ago! Maya, you're a zombie. You look like you, but paler.

"Farkle, you know what you have to do," ghostly-Riley said.

"What's going on?" I asked, and my voice echoed to the horizon.

"You know what you've gotta do, Farkle," Lucas said.

And then I saw myself in zombie form. I was wearing the same clothes from that night Riley and I had a sexual encounter. I told her she couldn't have a drink without justifying her reasoning. Zombie-Farkle also scared me.

"Who are you?" I asked my doppelganger.

"Who'm I? Who're you?" he questioned me back, speaking in a hard Scottish accent. "It's all your fault, Minkus."

"It's not my fault. I didn't do anything. She was sick!"

"Sick? You're sick. I'm sick. We're all sick. You know what you need to do now, don't you buddy?"

His accent was really bothering me, but the words were haunting me worse. The zombies cornered me. They echoed the mantra. What is it that I need to do?

"You know what you have to do, Farkle."

Somebody stop the madness! Please!

"Farkle?"

STOP!

"Farkle?"

QUIT!

"Farkle?!"

NO! LEAVE ME ALONE!

"FARKLE?!" Riley shouted in my ear and squeezed my body from behind to snap me out of my nightmarish reverie.

Until I regained my breath, I could only continue what had happened.

"I didn't do it," I shook my head, crying. "They killed her," I broke down, turning around into Riley's embrace.

"Who?" she asked, but her question was answered when she saw the Mom box. "No, Farkle. Your mother was mentally and terminally ill, remember? She found out she had cancer, so she had to end it immediately. How could you not remember that?"

The diary had closed on my finger where the torn pages were. I felt an inkling of writing on the current page, so I reopened the book. There it was.

"Dearest Jennifer, I am at a loss for words. On top of your anxiety and depression, lung cancer had to show up. If you had the correct support, you could've beaten cancer. I'm sorry you had to choose the wrong way out. Now, I am alone with my son. Life won't be the same. I do have support from friends, but you're the major support which I need daily. Love you. Miss you. My world is shattered, but it will piece itself together when I see you again. Love, Stuart."

I remember it all now. I remember everything. I've been so blind to it after all these years. After all this time! How am I alive? Why am I alive?

"I had a dream last night. Someone was trying to hang me. Just like my mom did to herself. I still think it's my fault, and they came for me," I said, trying not to cry.

I then turned to Riley, who was right there in my face. I knew she was real. It has been harder for me to distinguish fantasy from reality, but with Riley, I know I'm alive. She's real. I'm real. We are not figments of our own imaginations.

"You had nothing to do with it. Your mother was a little selfish, but that doesn't override the fact that she loved you more than she loved herself," Riley comforted me and hugged me tighter.

Who loves someone more than themselves?


NEWSBREAK

An anonymous source accuses Dirty Deeds publisher Brett Barricklow of sexual assault. Whether this occurred recently or years ago, this source claims to have been paid to keep quiet. Now, the source plans to return the money to Barricklow in hopes of making the Grover publisher confess.

Elsewhere today, former NYU professor Edwin Goolagong is hospitalized after two men attempted to murder him. Among the injuries to Goolagong are broken bones and torn ligaments. The professor is currently in a medically-induced coma. More to come as the stories develop.


(excerpt from Dr. Smackle's Boys)

I am closing my psychology practice for two weeks while I tend to the emergency room patients. If this will bring in more dough, then I'm ready to go.

Paging Dr. Smackle to the third floor. Paging Dr. Smackle to the third floor.

Oh, great. The psychiatric unit. At least I get to deal with patients of my caliber. First up on the list is the former teen idol Charlotte Kincaid. She attempted suicide by fake-baking herself to death after overdosing on painkillers. Not the right way to go, but it is always better to attempt the escape (from suicide).

"If you want to set yourself on fire, first off, don't cover yourself in oil. Your best bet would've been to seek solace in loved ones. Self-harm has been a growing epidemic in the last couple of decades. Stop selling yourself so short to make it appear so."

I am a hard-ass. I don't care what my patients say. I can't sugarcoat things. These people deserve my personal opinion, and sadly, I come across as brash. Hopefully, Miss Kincaid will take my advice to heart.

Paging Dr. Smackle to Room 409; Dr. Smackle, you are needed in Room 409.

The ground floor, special diseases unit. My nurses gave me the charts on Erica Bionx, who came to me for a second opinion on her supposed pregnancy. Her tests came back positive, but she had to know who was fathering her baby. Looking at the two potential candidates... she's out of luck.

"Good news! We looked at your charts, and we can surgically remove the worms without harming the baby! Bad news is, you'll have to go under the knife within 48 hours, so sign away, lady," I said as I handed her some forms.

"Can I stay overnight?" Erica asked me as she gave me her signature.

"Oh, I won't be doing your surgery," I confirmed before I left. Before I shut the door behind me, I let slip, "P.S. – you're in deep shit regarding the paternity test of your child. Figure out how to tell Capra, or I know someone who'll tell him for you," I said as I left the rest of the charts on the counter.

Dr. Smackle, paging Dr. Smackle to A & E. Dr. Smackle to A & E.

I may have forgotten to mention that I'm a doctor of everything... I work too hard. As I headed toward the ICU, the nurses gave me information about an actress who was in a car accident. After examining her, her wounds were the least of my worries and hers.

"Something in that air sack force must have defected somewhere else. Unless Matt broke his arm from saving yours, you got lucky," I addressed Evani Farrow.

"Psst! Dr. Smackle," a nurse peeped outside the curtained doorway.

"Yes?" I replied as I filled out the chart.

"He's waitin' for you," she said.

"Thank you," I said, walking out of Evani's room.

The nurse and I walked side by side to our next patient's room. According to the charts, he was severely beaten. Bruises in both eyes, broken nose, twisted wrists, dislocated fingers, torn ligaments in knees and ankles... why should he not be in traction?

"Does this man have an alias?" I skimmed the charts of an Edwin Goolagong.

"They call him Upgrade. He's the good cop of the good-cop/bad-cop drug dealers. Assault and battery victim," the nurse replied.

"Did they find the suspect or suspects?"

"Nah. Completely unscathed."

"Wow..."

We entered Upgrade's room together. He done fucked up, that's for sure. He can't talk because he's on a respirator. That drug-induced coma is doing him wonders. All his joints and broken limbs have been reset. Everything is in traction. Right above the heart.

"My goodness, what happened to you? Don't tell me... you let out a secret about someone you know, and now, you're paying the price? You're lucky that you're still alive, sir," I took a guess.

"Did you just... you can say that?!" the nurse whispered in exasperation.

"Have you met me?" I counter-questioned.

"Just today, ma'am, but your processes are too concise and straightforward. No doctor has ever done that. Certainly makes my job easier!"

Paging Dr. Smackle to the Maternity Ward. Dr. Smackle, you must report to the Maternity Ward.

"Welp, I'm needed to birth some babies," I checked my watch, then turned to the patient. "Rest well, Mister Goolagong. You'll need it. Dr. Whatsajipser will be checking on you shortly. Have a nice day."

The nurse and I walked out of Goolagong's room. She stayed behind as I made my way to the maternity ward.

"Hey, Doc!" the nurse yelled as I walked away.

I had walked miles in this hospital. Everyone needs me, and it's only the second day. I turned around to see the nurse still standing there with her clipboard.

"Five bucks says Mrs. Johnson's having a boy," she said nervously.

I didn't know how to respond to a bet. I didn't even know hospital workers did this, so I did what I thought was logical: up the ante.

"Ten if it's a girl," I replied, smiling.

"You're on!" she confirmed the bet.


(we now return to Dirty Deeds)

The nightmares have been plaguing me since I had them. I don't even know what the worst part about it is. Is someone trying to kill me? Is someone trying to kill Riley? Or Maya? Smackle, Lucas, Zay, Josh, Dad, everyone else I know? Where else was there to go?

I took the elevator to my dad's office. I didn't want to talk to anybody. Not even the girl who had been pining for me until she told me she wasn't in love anymore. I couldn't talk to her, but she tried to stop me.

"Hey, Farkle, I was wondering if–" Rolanda was ecstatic to see me, all bubbly and smiley in her new brown pantsuit.

"I can't talk right now," I interrupted her in a murmur as I passed her.

"Okay," she sounded dejected, but still cheery. "Don't forget about our date!"

Yet another commitment I made when I wasn't thinking about death. I don't even know what I was thinking then. I don't want to think about it now.

I knocked on the door with my father's back turned in that lucky chair of his. When he raised his hand, beckoning me to enter, I turned the knob and pushed the door open.

"I'll have the numbers faxed to you by Friday. No, thank you. You bet. Mmhmm. Bye," Dad hung up the phone then turned around. "Farkle, you rang again," he said, concerned after that urgent text I sent him.

"I'm ready," I said.

After running through his head all the possible things I could be "ready" for, he found the one thing: Mom. He nodded and pushed a button on a remote to lock the door and close the blinds.

"Yes, it's true that your mother had cancer. She did hang herself, but I'm skeptical because I still don't know why she did it. Do you know what she wrote in her diary?" he asked me, and I was prepared to answer. He beat me to the punch. "She loved all of us, son. She just thought it would be better for us if she weren't in the picture if she were ill. She didn't have the patience. She didn't have time. And the sad part is, I still think it just happened. I don't like people leaving this world in a snap. That's why I vowed to die naturally and not by the hands of someone, even my own."

"I had a strange dream. I was taking the blame for Mom's death. They tried to hang me," I confessed.

"Who tried?"

"My friends, but they were zombies, and I saw myself as a sick man. How sick was Mom? And why am I having nightmares now?"

"I don't know, son. Is someone coming after you? What about your girlfriends? Is someone after them?" he inquired.

Girlfriends. That word, true as it may be, triggered last night's conversation...

"Have you been taking pictures behind my back?" Maya asked over the phone.

...do I have to answer my father's question? Is now a good time to back out? C'mon, Farkle... tell the truth because it'll set you free...

I struggled to find the right thing to say. It was easy when I outed Riley for still being in love with Lucas, but this was harder because neither Riley nor Maya are in my presence. I breathed in to say something, but I stopped myself. I repeated that process five times until my father got tired.

"Out with it, Farkle," he grew impatient.

"Someone is taking provocative pictures of Maya. Maya came after me on the phone last night, accusing me of taking those pictures. Riley is also being stalked with pictures, and I can't figure out where they're coming from. What if I'm next?" I ranted.

"Farkle, relax!" he suddenly got firm. "I can tell you now that this is a safe and secured building. Nobody comes in without an identification from the business or a key card. The property is gated, and nobody jumps the fence. If anybody did, I would know. It's as simple as that. Protect yourself. Don't reject yourself."

Protection. It's all I needed after all. Nobody can kill me if I'm protected. I've got all the protection I need, and it took me that conversation to realize that.

"Thank you, Dad. I'll be in touch. And I love you. Don't forget that," I stood up and shook his hand.

"Love you too, son. See you again," he pulled me in for a hug.

I wish I could feel better. I was more shocked if anything. A dream about my mother turned out to be a dream about fear. I have been afraid of losing those who are close to me. Someone is coming close to taking everything I live for away from me. I've got to stop them, wherever they are.


(excerpt from Maya Hunter, Maya Hunter)

I had spent the last few days at my house. I looked over every photo that had been anonymously sent to me. Something is just not adding up. Riley's been attacked by the pictures, too. Also, Lucas and Josh have received some unwanted photographs. Who is after us? Since nobody would help me out, I decided to help myself.

I researched every single photography business in the metro. I wrote down all the numbers on a notepad. I would think that not all of them keep records of customers who pay to have their photos developed. That helped narrow my search. It also helped wonders that Missy Bradford pulled the plug on my tabloid cover featuring me and two guys in drag. Could she still be after me?

One name did stick out to me, and the research checks out. I decided to call up the place and ask for information.

"Bradford Photography?"

"Hi, I've got a question for you," I opened.

"Yes, ma'am?"

"Do you keep a record of customers who rent out a developing booth? Like, someone comes in with a can of film, and they get developed for a fair price?"

"We do keep records, but that's privileged information."

"Do you know if someone came in working for Slutville magazine? Say... about... a month ago?"

"What's your name, young lady?"

"Maya."

"Maya, and your last name?"

"Butt-reeks," I got sarcastic and impatient with the man on the phone because I refuse to reveal my real name. "This is the closest business to Slutville since a woman known as Missy Bradford runs the magazine. She's been after me since she started, and you're related to her!"

"Now, now, hold your horses, ma'am. I pulled up the records on the computer. I have four instances of Slutville employees coming in for development. For a small fee, I can give you their names and numbers."

For a small fee? How small? Like ten, twenty dollars small? Or a few hundred? I'm anxious to ask.

"I'm listening," I laid back on my couch.

He then proceeded to give me the names of these people that match my criteria. I wrote all their info down on my notepad and read them back. None of those guys sounded familiar to me, but I was willing to chew every single one of them out.

"Are you friends or relatives with these people?"

"I can tell you that I do not recognize anybody on this list, sir."

"Stop by tomorrow, and we'll discuss your payment."

"Thank you, sir."

"Have a good one."

"You, too. Bye."

He said bye out of my earshot as I pressed END. I finally have my lead. I just have to tell Riley, Josh, and Lucas. Would I tell Farkle, though? I feel awful for accusing him out of the blue when I knew better. I called him, but I was most afraid that he wouldn't answer. My fear rang true, so I texted Josh a picture of that list.

To Josh Matthews:

What do you know about these guys?

Maya

I turned on the TV to see the news channel about Riley's publisher being accused of sexual assault, and that could go to trial soon if he doesn't come clean. Also, an NYU chemistry professor was attacked at his own home. That's gotta be scary since Riley's little brother probably looked up to him.

My phone buzzed again.

From Uncle Boing:

Meet you at your house.

Josh

This could be either good or bad. I should also convince him not to lay me.

To Uncle Boing:

I'll be here.

Maya

I watched more television until he showed up at my front door. I had forgotten to unlock it when he knocked. Whoops.

"So, you made a list?" he asked as soon as I opened the door to greet him.

"Yeah, come on in," I said, gesturing him to walk inside.


(welcome back to Dirty Deeds)

I had been without my phone for a few days now. I couldn't fathom taking calls from anybody since that nightmare. After talking with my father, I'm feeling better, but it's more about clarity. At the meeting, Riley introduced a new writer to the staff: Maribel Monet, a thirty-something retired porn star who is starting her life anew, fresh out of debt. While this bottle-blonde with green eyes for days most likely "persuaded" the publisher to hire her, her credentials were too good to pass up.

"Everybody, this is Maribel. Yes, I know she used to moonlight as an adult film star, but you guys have to realize that once they're retired, they don't get royalties from the companies unless they are their own. Farkle?" Riley addressed, gesturing to me.

"May the record show that Miss Monet also has a degree in English Literature and has written several award-winning articles for the magazines within the Grover Corporation, including our very own Dirty Deeds," I followed.

The crowd clapped their hands at Maribel's accolades.

I looked around the room as the applause dwindled to a mute. I eyed Riley's pager that was hooked to her belt, and it was beeping red, but silenced. When she saw me looking at her beeper, she walked towards me and hooked my arm with hers, dragging me out with a quick exit speech to the writers.

"I must apologize, but I'm cutting the meeting short," she said. "Jot down every single idea that you have for the next issue. I'll figure out the assignments after I take care of some business regarding the Erica Bionx pregnancy," she said as we walked out the door.

She rushed me to her office where she slammed the door shut behind us. Running to the desk, she picks up the phone and pushes one of the buttons.

"Riley Matthews," she answered. "Did you get the results?" she asked next.

She then put the phone on speaker, so we both could listen.

"Are you ready for this? I've got good news and bad news."

That's Smackle. She's got more dirt now that she's working at the hospital.

"Go ahead, Doc," Riley said, anticipating the results. "Good news," she confirmed first.

"Wade Capra is not the father of Erica Bionx's baby."

Riley felt a smile crawl on her face. I think I felt it, too.

"Is it Johnny's?" I asked, curious to know.

"It doesn't belong to Johnny, either," she chuckled.

Riley and I looked at each other as if we had Erica in our trap. No, it was because we had Erica in our trap. I've been itching to take more pictures of her. Now that her secret's out, I intend to expose it.

"What's the bad news?" Riley asked, hoping this doesn't destroy what we've worked for.

"The NYU professor who moonlights as a pharmacist, Edwin Goolagong, alias Upgrade, is in traction. I don't know how it happened, but after speaking with him, one-sided, mind you, he uttered the word 'Gable.' What is a 'Gable' and where do I find one?"

Riley's heart sank when Gable was mentioned. I saw her body language change in a split second. First, she was happy, now she's afraid. Or is she furious?

She speed-walked past me and left the office abruptly, slamming the door. She's furious.

"Was it something I said?"

"No, Smackle. Apparently, Riley knows of this 'Gable' and is going to chew out her publisher," I answered nonchalantly. "If you have anything else, text me, and I'll relay to Riley, okay? Thank you, buh-bye," I rushed my words then slammed the phone on the receiver.

I worried about Riley. Barricklow is in for it now.


NEWSBREAK

A break in the case of Dr. Goolagong, former chemistry professor at NYU, who was attacked by two masked men at his Upstate home: Goolagong is awake and breathing. When asked to describe the two men who brutally attacked him, Goolagong could only respond with "Gable." Whether this is the surname of several citizens or an alias, it's a start for any private investigators who are interested in the case.


(excerpt from Riley's Rebellion)

Goolagong's only word was "Gable?!" Can this get any worse? I have a gut feeling I know who may have had a hand in this. I marched straight into his office where he was reading that same damn headline and gave that piece of shit a piece of my mind.

"You, son of a BITCH!" I cried.

"No, you listen to me!" he shouted at me to get my attention. "They came to my condo. They were going to cut my dick and balls off. Then they were going to feed them to me," he said, but I didn't care.

"You gave up a source!" I retorted.

"Gable was going to kill me!"

"And you let him off with a clean getaway," I fumed, close to tears. "He's done. They don't know if he's going to live, and you had the audacity to turn him loose."

"Oh, come on, Matthews. You would've done the same thing if they came to your house and cut your dick off, would you?" he tried to make a comeback. Didn't work.

"But I wasn't at my house, was I? If I were at my house, and Gable stopped by, I would've stood up to that piece of shit and taser him where the sun don't shine!" I elaborated, hoping Barry would take the hint to stand up for himself.

"Be serious, Matthews," he shot back.

"You're a riot, Brett Barricklow. You know I would give my left nut and sanity to protect my sources, and you failed at the most basic way to know how. I want to know how the fuck you live with yourself," I gave my publisher my two cents.

"Pardon me?" he followed, having that look on his face that I did not like at all. "You and your staff, your tactic involves blackmailing celebrities. Then it's their careers on the line. Through the shitstorm that you made, how am I still the son of a bitch here? Where are you in this?"

"I sure as hell didn't give up the source," I burned him and walked away.

He wasn't happy. He wasn't thinking things through when Gable came for him. I'm just as infuriated as he was. He slammed his fists on the desk and gave me one more piece of advice that I wish I hadn't taken.

"Remember a few months ago when I nominated you to be the new editor-in-chief, and I gave out questionnaires for the other candidates? One of the questions read, 'If you were to move into the old editor's office after your confirmation, what would be the first thing you would want done?' You said to build a bay window. And we did," he lectured me.

What does my bay window have to do with this?

"So?" I questioned.

"It's going to take way more than a bay window and some friends to make you wonder where in Hell your humanity has gone. I'm looking to restore that antique mirror that you made us remove from your office, so you can take a good look at yourself in the process."

"Okay," I said, taking the advice in vain.

I walked out of the office, feeling like a weird weight was lifted off my shoulders. I confronted Barricklow because he lost my source. He fired back with questions about my staff's writing and interviewing process. On my way to my office, Sarah was on the phone with Jamie Coffey's manager, threatening to publish the interview about his detransition. Darby put her call on hold to sign me that Sarah is finally breaking out of her shell. It wasn't sarcasm, either.

And who is Brett Barricklow to tell me how to run my magazine? He's just a publisher.


(back to Dirty Deeds)

Riley fired off on all cylinders at her publisher. Everything she worked her ass off for, is now lost.

"Are you okay?" I asked Riley after she stormed into her office, and I was waiting for her.

"If Gable came to your house, wanting to know who was outing him, would you let him castrate you in order to keep my secrets?" Riley asked out of nowhere, slamming the door.

"I don't know," I answered honestly. "If I had secrets about you, I wouldn't tell anybody until it's too late."

"It was too late," she chimed in unison.

"Unless somebody did ask me, there is a fair price to pay if it's for the magazine," I elaborated.

"But this is my magazine on the line, here. I got the information I wanted, but he blew it. He lost it," she cried.

I wanted to feel for Riley, but the truth is about to come out.

"That's because Gable is always a step ahead of us," I said. "I don't know how he knows where we are, or what we're doing, but he's always one–"

"Why is he one step ahead?" she interrupted me.

She finally asked the number one question. Why? Forget the rest of the words. It was always "why?" Why is Gable retaliating after being outed? Why is Riley afraid for her life? Why?

For a long time, Riley just wanted to be happy. Sometimes the journey to eternal joy involved speed bumps, chasms for days, and hitting rock bottom. The hardest part just hit her now. Truth and happiness: they are not to infringe upon each other. If the truth hinders happiness, then what are reality and fantasy? What is that road block?

"You know, I don't know why. It is possible that Gable could be a 'win at all costs' kind of guy. You're the woman who goes the right way," I answered.

Riley must have gone through every major emotion within the last hour. This is a problem which she cannot solve. It is too painful for her to bear. I don't know if I could deal with her problems if I had them. But it is an adversity we can overcome if we play our cards right.

"There is no right way through this," she murmured.

These demons are overtaking Riley. I can see it in her body language. She wants to avenge Upgrade's attack. The impulses tell her to beat Gable at his own game, the way he plays "fair." Just what is fair, anyway? Riley is furious, and damn my testosterone-laden mind for seeing her so passionate about this scenario.

"When's your next pap outing?" she asked, breaking the lingering silence between us.

"Why do you ask?" I curiously countered. No way was I going to get out of this one unless she wanted me to.

"You've gotta find Gable."

"Riley, I'm not doing this–"

"Stop! Talking," she interrupted me. "Dirty Deeds hired you at my recommendation because you're the best fucking pap in New York. Now that I'm editor, I am ordering you to find Gable and take pictures," she heightened the tone of her voice.

I did not want to hear that, but she was right. The editor has authority over the photographer. This was a crucial assignment, and the world knows I'm up for the challenge.

"But be sneaky," she switched to a concerned tone. "It may smell like death at his house, so snap from afar. We don't want you getting arrested or caught with film in your esophagus," she reminded me of my very second assignment for the Deeds.

I mulled so long over this decision. I couldn't escape it, so I thought of the next best thing.

"Okay, I'll go, but it will cost you," I told her.

"Did you raise your prices again?" she asked nonchalantly.

"I don't want your money, Riley. I want your time," I echoed her tone.

She furrowed her brows, questioning my motive. She's confused.

"My time?" she asked.

"I want to be with you," I elaborated, closing the gap between our bodies.

"You mean you want to be inside me?" she caught on.

Damn. What else can I say? Might as well be honest with her.

"Yeah," I confirmed. "Why did you ask that?"

"Because sometimes you have to bring yourself to say it, so I can bring myself to hear you," her words came out like the feel of silk. Smooth. Gorgeous. Dear God, I'm fucked.

"You know I hate being privy to that kind of communication," I whispered.

Immediately, I grabbed her face and kissed her soft cherry lips. I refused to let go. She held onto my elbows and guided me to the wall behind me, but I think she was just trying to escape my clutches. With my strength, I switched our positions, so I now had the upper hand. Her round shoulders were in my grasp as I pushed her against the wall. At this point, I cared nothing for her libido or the whims inside her head. Seeing her anger added fuel to the fire that was going on in my mind. With her between the wall and myself, I pressed my hips against hers. By the tone of her gasp and the way she yelped my name, I knew I had her under my control.

"Mmmff. Farkle," she tried to break away to speak. "Please, now is not the time!" she quietly screamed, barely above a whisper.

"It's not?" I teased, breathing heavily below her ear.

"For fuck's sake, Farkle, it's not that I don't want to, because I really want to, but it's just a really bad time. I can't! I have to close up the off–"

"Shh," I shushed her. "You either keep quiet, or I'll make you be quiet," I said as I covered her mouth, enforcing the latter choice for her.

And she screamed in my hand. She cried before looking at me, and I shook my head at her. I gave her that stern look. I shushed her again, easing her tension.

I moved her hand to the part of my body that ached the most. When she touched me, I felt the world stop spinning. I wish she felt the same. How did that ring true?

"You feel that?" I whispered in her ear, and then I nibbled on her earlobe.

"Mmhmm," she nodded and muffled into my hand, looking at me with glossy eyes.

"You did this," I snapped, but kept my volume low.

Riley mumbled something into my hand, but I couldn't comprehend her words. I massaged that spot below her earlobe with my tongue, making sure my tongue ring was touching her earlobe. I longed to hear and feel the shudder of my sweet, beautiful brunette... even if it was involuntary.

She tried to push me away. It took every ounce of my patience not to relent and let her win. This was my time. I wanted control. The hand that was touching my package pushed harder, making the pain unbearable, but I toughed it out. Her other hand was wrapped around my wrist, attempting to pry my hand from her mouth.

"Frkl pleez ltmgo!" she cried into my hand.

"I'm sorry, what was that?" I paused, making sure I heard her correctly.

"Ltmgo!" she cried.

"Let you go?" I formulated.

"Ysss!" she confirmed, screaming until I shushed her again.

"No," I answered.

"Plsfrkl," her tears hit my hand.

Feeling somewhat sympathetic, I released her because I hated to see her cry. She walked past me, and I closely followed. I wouldn't let her leave because I wasn't finished with her. I wrapped my arms around her arms and waist tightly from behind. I dragged her into her vault where she kept a loveseat across the room. As I picked her up, she kicked, screamed, and protested to be released. Once I found a spot beside the couch, I pushed her over the arm, bending her over.

I held Riley's arms behind her back with one hand and ripped her black lace panties beneath her skirt with the other. Then I started to tease her. My goodness, she loves this. I can tell. That wet for me? Who would have known? After a few touches, I immediately placed two fingers into her entrance and milked her sweet spot ad infinitum.

Her moans became intermittent. Then her legs shook like an earthquake. To prevent any noise from leaving the office, let alone the vault, she stuffed her face in a brown velvet throw pillow. When the juices flowed, I knew she was done and gone. I, however, am not quite satisfied.

With my body, I pinned Riley to the couch. From the back pocket of my jeans, I pulled out a condom and opened the wrapper. I unbuckled my belt, unbuttoned my jeans, and pushed my underwear down with them to my ankles. I took out the condom from the package, rolled it onto my stiff cock, aimed for Riley's entrance from behind, and just went for it, no holding back. Damn, she's so tight. I let out a pretty guttural moan, and she sighed into the pillow. Gently, now...

"Hands behind your back," I commanded although it sounded more like a request in the form of a question.

She complied, and I pinned both her wrists to her back with one hand. With my other hand, I grabbed her hair, yanking her head up, so she'd be at attention. Then I resumed my merciless thrusts. The look on her face... she had cracked, but she was still beautiful. A single line of a mascara tear track adorned each cheek of her beautiful face. Her dark pink lip gloss was smudged, thanks to me. As her features changed from fear to pleasure, I finally had her.

I continued fucking Riley until I found a very steady pace where I can go smoothly without surprises. I let go of Riley's hands and hair, and she wrapped her arms around the pillow that cradled her head. I pushed my hands under Riley's top to garner access to her bosom, knowing that playing with them a little bit would turn her on. Strangely enough, her top came with built-in bra pads, so she didn't have to wear a bra underneath. She didn't need to! My pace sped up when I rolled each respective nipple between my forefingers and thumbs. The louder she moaned from my balls tapping her clit on every thrust, the harder my pinching of her bronze nubs got.

"You like that? You like that?!" I grunted, pushing Riley to her limit.

"Yes, sir!" she seethed through gritted teeth.

My thrusts got faster and sloppier, and Riley's core tightened up at the perfect time. I, too, felt my core bubbling up. I had no time to debate if I should ejaculate in the rubber or anywhere on her skin.

I pulled out, letting Riley go. She rolled onto her back and propped herself up onto her elbows. I hurdled over the arm of the couch to straddle the brunette's waist. Riley then eyed my cock, yanked the condom off, and pumped me to my orgasm with both hands. She took the head into her mouth as she squeezed me. One look into her dark eyes, and I came undone. My sperm shot out, landing safely in her mouth. She blinked every time the cum hit her uvula. As she felt me soften, she released my cock with a pop. With her mouth open and wondrous eyes, she stuck her tongue out to show me what she hadn't swallowed. And then she swallowed. God, mother, fucking, shit...

As I got off Riley, I redressed myself and secured everything. Riley just lay there, panting, wondering what the fuck she had gotten herself into. I had to leave and prepare for my next few assignments. She knew I couldn't leave her alone without saying my goodbyes.

I kneeled at Riley's body as she remained on her back, shaking and heavily breathing. I wiped the dark tears off her face with my thumbs and ran my fingers through her matted hair. Why am I regretting this when I shouldn't?

"You..." she breathed, "fucked me silly."

"Considered this paid in full and advance. Don't call me unless it's a major emergency. See you in a week," I said, somewhat intimidating her. "I love you," I followed, retracting my previous emotion.

"Love you, too," she said.

Something's wrong, she said. You're still here, she said. You shouldn't be here, she said. You really shouldn't have done that, they said. But I did that.

I left Riley's office. Never once did I feel on top of the world. I told her I was not going to screwing her over, and then I fucking screwed her over. I want to be on my way, but with the assignment that Riley gave me? Now, I'm being betrayed...

Chapter Text

Today, I fucked up. A photographer's only intention is to tell a story. As of now, I've got nothing but a guilt-ridden conscience and a screwed-over girlfriend.

*CLICK*

She asked me for a picture of a woman slapping a man. Then it was a picture of an infidelity debacle. Soon after, one of the subjects used cocaine. An aspiring white collar woman had been scorned, and she took her anger out on me. Later on, a no-longer-relevant singer-songwriter, who moonlighted as a male-to-female transgender, announced his detransition. Coming up next, it's "where is my next photograph going to?"

If there is a risk that I am willing to take, it sure isn't snapping a shot of the anonymous drug dealer who keeps his deceased clientele 30 feet below sea level. However, I must. I shouldn't have to because we paid the price in the dirtiest way possible. I'm gonna die.

*CLICK*


(excerpt from Maya Hunter, Maya Hunter)

Soon, I will be going to Bradford Photography to investigate their records for any Slutville photographers who have ruined my life. I would sue the magazine for libel, but I've got family and friends who refuse to defend me if I stand trial. I just don't want to enter the place looking like my nerves are going to make me lose whatever I just ate.

Just as I walked out the door, Josh's car pulled up into my driveway. As he stepped out of his Challenger, I wanted to know why he was here. Did he have to show up at the most inopportune time? Fuck my life...

"Josh," I said as he shut the door. "What are you doing here?"

"I want to help you through these dilemmas you're having," he said as he pushed the button on his remote keychain to lock his car.

"Now is not the time, Josh. I have to go to Bradford's," I got irritated with him before he stopped in front of me. "Josh, what are you doing? Seriously."

"Didn't I tell you? I'm here to help you," he persisted.

"I'm not going to have sex with you. At least... not until I find out why someone is blackmailing me," I said, thinking over my problems.

"Let's go inside," he gestured toward the door behind me.

So, we walked inside my house. I almost tripped over my own feet on a misstep. Josh's muscular arms broke my fall. I just thank God that Uncle Boing was wearing a black leather jacket over a long-sleeve tee. It must've been colder to him than it was to me.

"Go sit in my chair," he said, and I walked over to the single-person recliner that Josh normally occupied.

Josh was thinking of something dangerous, and it isn't about sex. At least, I hope not.

"Josh, you better have a hell of an explanation for this," I shouted across the living room to the kitchenette where Josh was making some coffee.

"Relax, Maya," he said with a smile.

He sat in the spare reclining chair, fiddling with his phone. After touching the screen numerous times, he turned the volume up and let numerous clicks play forever. Then he tossed the phone onto the ottoman before him. As he sat across the coffee table from me, he looked me square in the eye and inquired some personal (and I use the term loosely) information about me.

"I want you to stay with me on this, Maya. I'm going to delve into your mind and figure out why you're struggling. Stressing," he assured me. "Rest your arms on either side of the chair," I did as I was told. "Now, relax," he said, and I let out a deep breath.

He led me through some breathing exercises and relaxing imagine spots like a beach or a rooftop of a cottage. This was working so far until he went straightforward mode.

"Could you say that you are sexually active?" Josh asked me.

"Not anymore," I responded, creeped out. "If you're going to ask questions like that, then I can't answer them especially if they're about us!"

"It's not about us. It's about you. I'm doing this for you, Maya," he got concerned and offended.

"Sorry," I said, but didn't mean it.

"Now relax, close your eyes, and focus," he said, forcing me to focus.

"Okay, I'm focusing," I said, relaxing.

"Work with me, Maya," he said with a soothing voice as he sipped his coffee. "Could you say that you are sexually active with me?"

"Yes, but it has been subdued lately," I began until Josh shushed me.

"Shh, Maya. Only yes or no answers, please," Josh spoke lowly as I heard him place his mug on the coffee table. "So, you and I have been sexually active lately, but it hasn't been good for you," Josh confirmed; I nodded. "So, talk to me," he said. "Who was the last person to make you feel great sexually? It could be anybody. Think back to that last person."

"Do you have to ask?" I countered, scratching at the posts.

Oh, great. The last person to make me come was... no. I won't answer that.

"Yes, I do. I want you to recall that last sexual encounter where you have truly come," he commanded. "What were you thinking about then?"

I had thought about my time with... must I state his name? We were both vulnerable, and we guilted each other into doing it. What's the point here? And why is that ticking noise still here?

"I wasn't," I answered honestly.

"Okay, answer me this. Who did you really want to be in his place? Picture how that would've turned out," he then told me to think about that as I sunk and dreamt.

In my trance, I saw my photographer friend. He felt wonderful inside me, even if he was using protection. I was thinking one of these days if we slept together again, he needed to take control like that second round. Women would come harder if they let their man get handsy and rough with them. During our second round, he pulled my hair by the bun, and I was in tears of joy. On the inside, anyway. But Josh was asking me who I secretly wish were sleeping with me when I had a vain sexual encounter with... I didn't wish it were with anybody at the time. It could've been Lucas, since we were in that kind-of-together-but-not-really phase. However, if Josh had fucked me that night, my dilemma with Missy Bradford probably would've never happened, and I'd be happy. However, it was... If I could break out of my shell and tell Josh to fuck me better than... oh, man, I would be in Heaven.

I was shaking my head 'no.'

"There's a clause in the playing field of your life, encouraging some healthy competition among men and women. Tell me, Maya. Who is he?" he asked, begging to know. It's going to break our trust one way or the other.

My eyes began watering. I tried to control my thoughts, but Josh kept prodding into them. It was like I could see him standing behind Josh, depending on me to confess. I couldn't hold it in anymore. Now I can't think of hooking up without hearing a ticking clock. Why can't I get out of it? Why didn't I say no?

"Farkle," I admitted in a whispered choke as I let one tear fall out of my good eye.

"Did you come?" he followed.

"I can't... move..." I answered in a whisper, still slowly crying. The clicking... ticking... picking... dicking...

I was so still and choked up that I couldn't move. My subconscious guilt was ready to explode. But, I was under Josh's spell. I was stuck in that trance. Everything was coming back to haunt me.

I should've said no to Farkle, but I didn't. Everything we did was in vain, and that's what made it regrettable. What made it fun was that we both came. Where is the silver lining? Was I living out some fantasy with Farkle? Was I wishing that Josh were in Farkle's place? What about Lucas? What kind of lesson is this supposed to teach me?!

"Picture me in his place," his soothing voice commanded, making me quiver in the middle of my little dream. "Would you still reach the promised land?"

PROMISED LAND.

I just came. I felt like Josh was fucking my brains out. I saw Josh. When I switched up the vision to substitute Josh for Farkle, it didn't quite work until Josh scored the bullseye.

"Take me there again, please?" I begged Farkle to make me come, but I wasn't addressing him. It was Josh. Josh could've been the one pounding me into the promised land. I could only scream and cry as my legs began to quake. It made me realize one thing. I never wanted Farkle in the same vein of wanting Josh. Josh should be the one to touch me in those places that drive me wild. Josh should be the one who cares for me, the one who will embrace me until I'm sane again. He should be the one plunging his love into me with meaning and passion. I want to feel Josh. I want to feel him inside me on the good, bad, and ugly days and nights. He's the only one I've ever felt like I loved.

"Josh, please, take me there again. I can almost feel it," I cried in remorse, feeling everything in my body tingle. I still couldn't move.

"You want it?" he inquired.

"Please," I sobbed.

I could hear strange, eerie music play even though the only "music" that was playing came from Josh's phone.

"Will you come for me?" he murmured in a husky voice that I loved hearing.

I only nodded since I couldn't quite move the rest of my body.

"Come," he spoke firmly, his voice forcing me to sink into the chair.

My vision had blurred to black. My body gave out as if I had the greatest sex of my life. I sunk into that chair, letting the blue velvet-covered memory foam swallow me whole. Closing my eyes, I let myself fall into the abyss known as the promised land.

"Maya?"

I was slowly coming to. Josh was kneeling next to me with a towel in one hand and an ice pack in the other. Maybe I was crazy to think that I was dreaming, but this was surreal. I felt physically exhausted. I thank Josh for snapping me back into reality. Now, I must question what I've done. What happened in that dream? Why am I learning of this now?

"I'm awake?" I breathed out and looked at Josh.

"It's okay, Maya. You're going to be okay," he reassured me.

And I broke down. I let my vulnerable side show for once. It felt like I had confessed to committing adultery, but all parties were not in intimate relationships (with me) at the time. Only one man, I would let into my life. If he lets me back into his life, I don't think I'll be ready to start fresh. I hurt myself emotionally. Josh did this for me. He brought me to an understanding and a forgiving embrace. I wanted to be Maya Hunter, an artist who was living a stable life, the Maya Hunter I want to be, the one all my friends and Josh want me to be. The Maya Hunter from the Missy Bradford tabloids is no more. Actually, she never was.

I continued sobbing until I wanted breathing room.

"I'm sorry, Josh," I chuckled after seeing tear tracks on his navy blue tee.

"It's okay, Maya. You're going to be okay," he reassured me, wiping a tear away from my cheek. "Now, go to your room and change your clothes," he pointed toward my jeans which were soaked between my legs. Awkward. "You also might want to plug cotton into your ears," he finished. "I stopped the metronome, but the clock at Bradford's is a little loud."

You WHAT?!


(we now return to Dirty Deeds)

"We've done the research. We have all the tools. You've got the power. I've got the bait," I lectured my willing pawn, "and we have each other. Are you ready?" I finished, looking her straight in her blue eyes.

She gulped, followed by an unwilling nod. She's nervous.

"One last go-through," I said, grabbing an item list.

"Oh, Farkle, do we have to?" she whined.

"Stay with me, Girl," I addressed her by her code name.

"Sorry," she apologized.

"Okay. Glasses, inhaler, pepper spray, earrings, hearing aide, radio, car, and Girl?" I rushed the laundry list.

"Check. Times ten. Can we go now?" she asked, growing impatient.

Her blue eyes were more lit up than our last few encounters combined. This was the riskiest investment I was going to make. But, she's ready. She'll do anything for me.

"Let's go, Girl," I declared.

On the way to Gable's, we stopped by Josh's place to pick him up. He wants as much dirt on this story as his niece does. God, bless him. When he hopped into the back seat, I reacquainted him with my "spy girl."

"You remember her, right?" I asked Josh.

"Yeah, you were at that rooftop party," he remembered and confirmed.

"And remember, my code name is Girl. You guys got code names?" she asked us.

"Uh... Uncle Boing," Josh answered.

"Squeak," I was embarrassed to confirm.

"I won't ask," she chuckled, adjusting her white-hooded sweatshirt.

The drive to Gable's property was no joyride. I was on a mission, and my spy was too excited that she alleviated her anxiousness by dancing to some cheesy 90s hip hop and reggae. It wasn't safe for her to stand up in her seat and shake that brown denim-covered bony booty against the windshield. I just washed that windshield! Everything she did on the way to Gable's made me want to slam my forehead onto the honking horn. However, I did find it most surprising that she knew every word to every song that played on the radio station. And Josh is just sitting there, laughing his ass off quietly to himself.

"Girl, this ain't The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Sit down!" I fumed, yanking her back to her seat by the string of her hoodie.

"Sorry," she immediately sat down and timidly closed herself. "I... like... this song."

"Hey, Farkle, she's just havin' some fun. Cut her some slack," Josh chimed in.

"I know," I sounded mad, but I couldn't stay mad at her. "Just wanted to keep it safe. It's Josh's car."

"Hey!" Riley's uncle retorted.

We parked across the street from Gable's property. The so-called Banksy of drug dealers lived in a two-story Tudor house, a little smaller than normal. It had the perfect aesthetic of the white picket fence surrounding the house.

"Is this the place?" I asked.

"Yep," my recon spy confirmed.

"Josh and I are gonna make sure you have everything on before you head inside, okay?"

"Okay."

"Glasses, inhaler, pepper spray, earrings, hearing aide, radio, car, and Girl?"

She looked through the many keys on her key chain before checking her "inhaler" and "pepper spray" off my little laundry list. Except for the radio and the car, she's wearing everything.

"I think I got everything," she said, double-checking her body for any lost items.

"Well, then, you're on your way," Josh said.

One Mississippi. She leans in with her smooth pink lips puckered. Her eyes are closed. Though her hair has grown a little longer since I last saw her, it wasn't in the way. Two Mississippi. Although she admitted that she loved me, she wasn't in love with me. Why are we still kissing? Why do her lips look so soft? Three Mississippi. Our lips meet at some awkward position. It's like the fine line was at the joint of a perpendicular intersection. She caught my chin, and I managed to find the corner. Four Mississippi. The kiss is over. Someone inside my head thinks she could be knocked up because of one kiss. Two other people are fighting each other about enhancing the kiss, wanting to further break the girl's mouth open. Then there are a few others reminding each other that I am very much taken. Another person reminded everybody that we still had company.

"Good luck," I whispered, leaving a breath on her lips.

"Thank you," she breathed with a smile.

She exited the car and headed straight for Gable's house. As soon as she opened the fence by reaching on the other side for a sliding lock, I maneuvered my way inside the car to sit where she once sat. It's one of the basic paparazzi rules: never sit in the driver's seat of a car. People will think they are being stalked. Truth in story.

Josh opened his laptop to load the live video feed from Girl's glasses camera. He had to click buttons and type random keys to retrieve the live audio, though. The girl was hasty enough to leave the handheld radio on the floor, but I don't blame her. She was in a hurry.

To prevent our pawn from seeing us, we pulled down screens to block the windows. On the outside, the screen resembles what the inside of the car looks like empty. On the inside, our knees are shaking. We just have to pick the right time to zoom in through the window and snap the right shot.

We then heard a door squeak open. It's working!

"Hello, you must be Rolanda. Come on in," a balding rich man, possibly younger than 40, greeted my recon spy.

"We're in," I said as I took a sip of my drink.

"Awesome. Girl, just go with the flow. If he asks you to see his basement, come up with legitimate reasons to get the fuck out of there," Josh reiterated.

So far, everything is bland. Nothing exciting is happening. However, it didn't stop the appetites that Josh and I had, so we had some movie theatre popcorn in handy. Then things kicked in.

"I've been considering a relocation to Hawaii," he conversed.

"Long time since I've been to Hawaii," I said as I fed myself some popcorn.

"You know, I've been to Hawaii," Rolanda said as if on cue. Oh no...

"Oh yeah?" Gable questioned. "Which island?"

"The Kamanawanalaya," she said.

Oh, geez, I pinched the bridge of my nose, cringing hard at that come-on.

"Is that so?" the dealer's voice piped up. "Any other islands or locale? Waikiki? Oahu? Or my ex-girlfriend's cat's favorite, Maui?" he chuckled, trying to break the ice, and Josh and I are groaning at the lame jokes.

"No," she groaned in the same tone, "but it's on my bucket list," she smiled nervously. I could feel it in her voice.

Josh grabbed the walkie-talkie and went for it.

"Boing to Girl, relax. Once he shows you his den, you have every right, rhyme, and reason to get out of there. Figure out a way to casually mention Upgrade," he commanded. "Over."

"Hold on, I'm seeing something," Rolanda murmured loud enough, and the video feed was moving a little to the left before focusing on a magazine stack.

"I'm sorry, what was that?" Gable pardoned.

"You're subscribed to Dirty Deeds," she observed a magazine with herself on the cover. Yes! Going straight for the jugular.

"A friend of mine's the publisher," Gable admitted.

Gable is FRIENDS with Barricklow?

"You don't say," Rolanda said dejectedly.

"Well, we used to be tight. A couple of weeks ago, we had a little scuffle after he found out my dirty little secret through somebody else. I made him pay," he boasted.

"Pay for it, how?" she acted curious, but I can sense the dread in her voice. I can just sense it.

"Beat the living shit out of him, that's how!" his voice sounded too cocky.

"Who, the publisher or that guy who knew your secret?" she missed the point.

"Yes!" he answered both choices. "I had to be sneaky. Don't want my reputation ruined by Dirty Deeds. You know, this is why I love being anonymous. Nobody knows who I truly am. And you're not going to know either once I reveal my secret," he said as he unlocked a door, revealing a stairwell.

"Oh, whoa, something smells like dead fish," Rolanda whiffed. The audio feed got a little beat up because she had covered her nose and mouth. "If it's okay with you, I would like to pass on this basement tour," she tried to get out.

"No, no, stick around. Hang out with me. Once you're done in there, you'll be out of here. Okay?" he's coercing her now. Get out, Rolanda. Please, for the love of God, get the fuck out!

"No, seriously, sir," she addressed him politely, "I'm not cut out for this," she said as he gently led her down the stairs to see the truth.

It's a wine cellar? And why are the jugs of wine so... huge?

"Holy Hell, it's beautiful in here," she got awestruck at a lame-ass wine cellar.

"These aren't just your average everyday wines. Each bottle, handcrafted by my minions in New Jersey, contains the medications frequently needed to survive and stay alive in the celebrity world. It'll cost you if you're looking to be less nervous around me," he presented.

"I think he's trying to get into her pants!" I whispered aloud in exasperation.

"I think you're trying to get into my pants, sir!" Rolanda suddenly said as if she stood up for herself. God, damn it, motherfucking shit, Girl, stop copying me!

"I beg your pardon?" Gable was shocked.

"Sorry," she apologized. "Tourette's," she thought on her feet. "It's the worst at this time," oh, great, now she's got another charade to keep up.

"Ouch!" Josh said in an exaggeration. "This is gonna be harder than I thought."

"This is harder than I thought," Rolanda echoed.

As we watched our recon spy engage in conversation with Gable about God knows what, I saw something wrong with the handheld radio. I knew it was a bad idea to buy a secondhand communication device.

"For fuck's sake, Josh, the button on the radio is stuck! She's been echoing us the entire time!" I discovered as I examined the walkie-talkie and fixed the button.

"For fuck's sake, Josh, the button on the radio is stuck! She's been echoing us the entire time!" she said.

"Excuse me?" Gable once again pardoned. "Who is Josh?"

"Uh, sorry," she apologized again. "I have a manageable form of schizophrenia. I'm supposed to take my medication at this time, but I didn't remember to bring it with me," she lied. Again. She's good. "My imaginary friend, Josh, who is a human mannequin of pickles, is standing right behind you, and I'd like to bail out, now." Really good.

"It's all good. Look, before you go, I'd like to take a picture of you, if that's all right with you," Gable forgave.

"Uhm, sure!" Rolanda acquiesced.

"I'll go find my camera. You just hold tight, okay?"

"Yeah."

After we watched Gable walk upstairs to find a camera, Rolanda took off her glasses and set them down on a table, making sure we could see her. In the frame of the feed, she was using her sign language to communicate as a means to mute herself and avoid Gable's suspicions. She began to sign "help me" and panicked. Lucky for Josh and me, we scrounged up a brilliant plan.

"Maintain position," Josh said into the radio. "If there is a flash in that camera, pretend you've been hypnotized."

"Hypnotized?" I asked, surprised. "That wasn't part of the deal!"

"I know, but Gable's gonna kill her!" Josh reminded me.

Rolanda then signed, "What do I do when the flash goes off?"

Josh and I thought of many different scenarios in our minds. Until our faces lit up, and we looked at each other, we've found a safe word.

"Get out," we said in unison.

She frantically grabbed the glasses cam and placed them back onto her face, focusing her vision on Gable, who arrived with a camera.

"It's ready to go," Gable said as he entered the basement.

"Well, I'm ready," Rolanda tried to sound enthusiastic, but I couldn't buy it.

"Okay, stand there by the ceramic bottles," he ordered.

My vision flashed back to Rolanda's panicky situation just moments before. The "ceramic bottles" that Gable mentioned were the size of propane tanks used for outdoor grilling. Who knows what is really in there? It could be liquor, but who is going to need that much? Then I noticed that the bottoms of the tanks weren't curved the right way. They're just cut bluntly...

"Gable is evil, but charming. If someone he loves dies, he's gonna behead them and keep them in bulk pickle jars. The jars are nowhere to be seen in his house. Could these jarred heads be hiding?" One of Riley's drafts once mentioned.

...then it hit me. The jars. They are right behind–

"Cheese!"

The flash went off. I could feel Rolanda's demeanor drop. She then gulped.

"Are you okay, Miss Rolanda?" Gable asked.

"Still," she whispered. "Smells," she continued. "Fishy," she concluded.

"I beg your pardon?"

"I have to go," she said.

"Why? What's the matt–? Rolanda, what's going on?"

"GAAAAAAAAAAHHHHH!" she screamed super loud in his face, interrupting his question.

Ro then proceeded to yank her glasses off and slam them on the table, focusing the video on herself instead of Gable. As she stood by the giant wine bottles, Gable approached her, ready to lay it on her. However, the pint-sized woman attacked the drug-dealing dumbass with a wine bottle from the bottom shelf. At least that one had some wine in it. As she knocked him upside the head, breaking the glass, he was knocked out. There was no mercy. She wanted to get out alive, and she did.

Before she retrieved her glasses, she looked around to make sure Gable was still unconscious and/or unable to move. As she viewed the winery, she knocked off the solid-colored propane tanks. It was true. She uncovered bulk pickle jars containing severed heads of famous people with whom Gable was in intimate relations. That, right there, was the perfect shot. The perfect cover. Exposing Gable for who he is: an endearing psychopath who'll never let anybody leave him. I just hope Riley bags the covers. Sales will dwindle if we go the uncensored route.

*CLICK, CLICK, CLICK*

When Josh and I saw Ro run out of the front door with her glasses on, we frantically moved around in the car to our original seats. We also popped the screens up, so we could fully see out the windows. Just like Gable to Upgrade, Rolanda's getaway was clean.

"Come on, come on, come on!" Josh said, hurrying the process.

When she got in the car after I started it, she was surprised at herself more than she surprised us.

"Holy SHIT!" she began as she closed the door and buckled her seat belt. "Step on it, step on it, step on it!"

I proceeded to shift to drive and make a loud uey before driving off into the darkness. She kept looking behind her to see if Gable made it outside, but he didn't. She lingered like that until we made the first turn on our route to Minkus International.

"It took courage to do what you did there, Girl," Josh said to break the silence among us.

"Where did you learn to fight like that? You're gonna be charged with assault and battery," I counterargued.

"That was a nice cover, using our banter to distract Gable," Josh said about her echoing everything we said before we fixed the handheld radio button.

"My father will find out about this, and when he does, he's going to not only flip, but fire you for that misconduct," I infuriatingly declared.

"Guys, relax!" she shut us up. "It's bad enough that I saw heads in jars, but the police will figure out his game once they find his body."

"You mean, he's dead?" Josh asked.

"I've already placed a call," she said as an ambulance on the other side of the freeway flashed its sirens.

The remainder of the drive was silent. Nobody spoke until we reached Minkus International in one piece. As we reached the elevator to my penthouse, we wouldn't even look at each other on the way up. At the door to the penthouse, Rolanda ran straight to the bathroom and purged hardcore.

Josh and I looked at each other, deciding who should comfort our spy in her time of need. I thought that since I was closer to Rolanda in terms of friendship, I would help her clean up her mess if she made one. Was there a thud after the retching?

I rushed toward the direction of the sound and stopped at the bathroom door. As I opened the door, I was a bit frightened at first. In the bathroom, my favorite Minkus intern lay somewhat lifeless on the cold tile floor. When I saw her breathing through her nose, I knew she would be okay. I helped her stand up and escorted her to my bed. More like dragged her! When we stopped at the bed, I laid her down gently, not to give her whiplash and make her want to lose whatever was left of her dinner. For what it's worth, I placed a cup of warm water and a basin on the bedside table.

Now that Rolanda was resting comfortably, Josh and I resumed our duties to edit and render the video feed. We have the evidence that Riley wanted, but it wasn't pretty as she had promised. That was a hefty price to pay, but was it worth it? Maybe when we render the video and synchronize it to an SD card, it will be.


(excerpt from Riley's Rebellion)

Farkle had mailed me the SD card containing the live feed of one of his paparazzi outings. I will be damned to Hell if it's footage for which I am hoping. This had better be, anyway. Otherwise, I'll be asking him for a talk.

I didn't even bother looking at the other junk mail in the pile. I opened the vanilla envelope and dug through the bubble wrap to find a black SD card promptly labeled "R vs. G." I know the "G" stands for Gable, but who or what is "R," and how did they infiltrate Gable's drug emporium?

I opened the little SD case and took out the card to insert it into a computer slot. Five seconds later, a popup asked me what I would like to do. Isn't it obvious? I want to view the files, computer!

Of three major files, the largest file had to contain the video footage. As I clicked it, it immediately opened a video window, and Gable is the opening act. It's a first-person video?

"Hello, you must be Rolanda, come on in," Gable said.

I recognized Gable's voice right away. Then I heard other voices in the background. Farkle's voice was easy to identify, even though he was eating popcorn. The other voice sounded a lot like Uncle Josh, especially when he said, "Get the fuck out." As for Rolanda, I don't think Farkle could have picked a better candidate for a reconnaissance mission.

"I've been considering a relocation to Hawaii," Gable said.

Farkle mumbled something about having been to Hawaii through his popcorn...

"You know, I've been to Hawaii," Rolanda responded.

"Oh yeah? Which island?"

"The Kamanawanalaya."

Kamanawana... Good God, girl!

"Is that so? Any other islands or locale? Waikiki? Oahu? Or my ex-girlfriend's cat's favorite, Maui?" Gable laughed after that lame joke.

"No, but it's on my bucket list," Rolanda answered in disdain.

Josh's muffled voice sounded something like that one guy at the drive-thru of a fast food joint.

"Hold on, I'm seeing something..." she zoned in on a copy of Dirty Deeds. I didn't know Gable was a subscriber. "You're subscribed to Dirty Deeds?" she observed.

I paused the video at a frame where I can see the name and address on Rolanda's cover issue. I wrote down the information verbatim on my notepad and stored it in the drawer labeled "Important!"

Can I cut to the part where he shows her the basement? Does she know that I'm the only girl in existence to have ever escaped Gable's clutches? Will she be the second?

I fast-forwarded through the open door and the coercions to find Rolanda's line of sight focused on these matte propane tanks with blunt-cut bases. I could only hope those bases are solidified because if they're empty, then Gable's got something to hide.

"Each bottle, handcrafted by my minions in New Jersey, contains the medications frequently needed to survive and stay alive in the celebrity world. It'll cost you if you're looking to be less nervous around me," Gable commented.

Some loud whisper among the guys fizzled the audio.

"I think you're trying to get into my pants, sir!" Rolanda blurted confidently.

"I beg your pardon?" Gable reacted as if he hadn't heard that before.

"Sorry, Tourette's," she said. Rolanda doesn't have Tourette's Syndrome. She's a perfectly mentally stable woman. I think she may have found her calling as an actress.

Then Farkle and Josh found a problem with the audio and tried to fix it. Unfortunately, it seems like every time the guys talk, Rolanda would repeat aloud the banter verbatim. Luckily, she caught herself. Every. Single. Time.

"For fuck's sake, Josh, the button on the radio is stuck! She's been echoing us the entire time!" she shouted as if she had an imaginary friend named Josh.

"Excuse me? Who is Josh?"

"Uh, sorry, I have a manageable form of schizophrenia..."

I fast-forwarded through the part where Gable leaves the room to retrieve his flash camera. Rolanda took the camera out of her view and put herself in the frame. She's communicating in American Sign Language and taking responses from Farkle and Josh in her earbud. Right behind Rolanda, the tanks were in plain sight. If only she could reveal what was inside...

She panicked and the camera panned around to a stable view of the stairs. Gable had a camera in his hands, ready to snap a photo.

"Cheese!"

The flash in the camera went off, and Rolanda started breathing heavily as if she were birthing her own Heiferschmidt. She immediately knew something was wrong and knocked Gable out cold with a stray wine bottle which, thank God, it was empty.

She took the camera and focused the frame on the tanks. She then opened the tank-sized wine bottles. My suspicions were true. The heads of his loved ones, stored on the shelf for his own gratification, censored by well-crafted propane tanks that had been emptied.

When the video blacked out, I just sat there until I heard a knock on the door.

"Yeah?" I answered, but I couldn't quite move.

"Riley, there's a call for you," Lucas knocked and entered, catching me in the middle of a gulp. "Are you okay?"

"I just threw up a little," I murmured, not changing my direction of vision.

"Line two," he said before closing the door and leaving.

"Thank you," I nodded as I turned to my phone and picked it up, "Riley Matthews," I answered.

"Miss Matthews, are you out of your mind?!" Barricklow calls me on his day off just to shout in my ear, making me distance my good ear from the phone.

"What happened? What have I done now?" I questioned, perplexed, but somehow I knew what this was about.

"My attacker is in the hospital, and I know you're the one behind this. Knock it off!" he stated.

"Gable's in the hospital?" I had to act clueless to hide my tracks.

"Shut up!" the publisher slammed his fists on the desk, making me deduce that I'm on his speaker phone.

"Sorry, I didn't know, okay?" Didn't know he was in the hospital; I thought he was dead after watching that video. "When you come back, you're probably going to want to see my next cover," I told him nervously.

"Send the photo to me via fax or e-mail, okay?" he responded accordingly, but I was unwilling for all the right reasons.

"I, uh, can't do that," I tried to be sneaky.

"Why not?"

"This is huge. If our cover gets tracked, he will crack and never look back," I got poetic.

And judging by his response, he knows. I heard him pick up the phone to give me that ultimatum.

"You've got more than just your job on the line, Matthews. Good. Fucking. Luck," he hung up.

I hung up my phone and reopened the file folder on my computer to see a photo file aptly named "this is the one." As soon as I clicked on it, it was a freeze frame of that moment before the video faded to that black abyss. Now, if only I could find Maya and ask her to design and devise a cover story for me, it just might work. If Gable ends up looking for a fight, he will lose. Bet on it.

I opened the "Important" drawer to grab that piece of paper that I had just put in there. The name of the subscriber does not ring a bell because there are plenty of them, but the address sure does. I'm going to see what Sarah knows.

"Hi, Sarah, it's Riley. I need you to look through our subscriber list for a 'John Smith.' There are so many of them, so rattle off the addresses for me until I tell you to stop... That's the one. Wow, first one on the list. Find out how many issues he has remaining in his deal. Something tells me that I may have to change his subscription status. Oh, he lives there, all right. He's just... dead," I told her on the phone, unsure how to put the scenario into words. "Once Maya and Farkle confirm my next cover story, you'll be next in line to see it before it gets the censor-bag... What's that? ... I knew that... Darby told me. She said if she didn't, then Farkle would've told me, and we know all too well how that unfolds before our eyes... We'll put the Jamie Coffey update on the cover inset. Contact his PR manager and give him the lowdown. I've a strange feeling that they're next."


(and now, back to Dirty Deeds)

Keeping a recon spy company had proved difficult over the last few days. She screamed herself awake too many times. Seeing the heads in bulk pickle jars up close and personal took its toll on a sweet, innocent intern. I wonder why she never had any emotional breakdowns since I opened up my penthouse to her. The stress of looking after her kept me awake after Josh left.

However, Ro wasn't my only problem.

From: Erica "BiBi" Bionx:

Farkle, I swear to God, if you had anything to do with Johnny's hospital treatment, I don't think I can ever forgive you! XOXO, EB.

From: Evani Farrow:

Remember that party at that director's apartment? I just remembered that you were the one who was filming me and Wade in swinger mode. If a hard copy of that video is out there, I want that video, so it can be put to rest. Please? For me and Matt? I can't promise letting off my game in another Trivial Pursuit bout, but it'll bring Matt and me closer than before. I'll never ask for anything else. ELF.

From: Riley Matthews:

My publisher just called, saying that Gable is in the hospital. He called at the wrong time because I had just watched the video you and Josh sent me. Your job was to expose the jar heads, not hire an airheaded hitwoman! Now, everyone's asses are on the line at Deeds, and that includes yours.

R.M.

P.S. The perfect cover: "He couldn't stand to let loved ones go, so he keeps them." Thank you. I love you.

From Maya Hunter:

You and Boing. My house. Saturday morning. Bring your cameras. This is personal.

Love, Maya.

When they say a man has girl trouble, it usually means that his girlfriend isn't speaking to him. In my case, my girl trouble came to me in spades. Some knew about my recon mission regarding a murderous drug dealer, and they don't seem very happy about it. Others want favors from me about their own personal problems. Maybe I'm the one who needs some rest. On top of that, how do I get Rolanda out of my bed, so I can make it and lie in it?

From Riley Matthews:

I remember that girl in the video... she was at the rooftop dance. As if the hair wasn't a dead giveaway... but I digress. Just... don't sleep with her. You're mine.

R.M.

Oh, gee, thanks, Riley. I love you so much that you know I would never sleep with an intern. Forgetful, foolish, female. Sometimes women make me wanna throw up. Speaking of which...

"Ehhhhhh-hehhh," the intern retched into the echoing porcelain bowl. "God, he's such a sick monster. BLUHHHHH!" she then belched, followed by splashing sounds.

...Sweet Jesus, we may need hypnotherapy. Little Rolanda continued crying, sobbing, and vomiting until it wore her out. As soon as I heard a little kerplop, I let her lay there on the cold floor, but not without a throw blanket and a pillow.

"Goodnight, Girl," I murmured and kissed her sweaty forehead. Ick! Pffft. Ptooie! Makeup.

I returned to my bed that I can finally sleep in alone. It was a tough night, but I stuck with Rolanda all the way. I turned on the television, and the Ladies of Improv was running a 72-hour marathon. This episode, I haven't seen before. I kept the volume low for Rolanda's sake, but I heard well enough to chuckle at some of the good jokes.

As I dozed off, I heard Rolanda stumble to the bed, probably joining me. I slowly opened my eyes to see her, naked as the day she was born. With it being a bit drafty in this place, I could see her headlights in this light. The bathroom light was turned off, and she did the same to the TV. She crawled into the bed, and I immediately felt her cold skin as her limbs brushed my exposed arms. It's just a bed, Farkle. Remember Riley's text. Nighty-night! Did I want to turn away? Well, I did not want to smell the breath of an intern who lost three days' worth of food in six hours. I did not want to feel tousled hair and cold mocha skin with ink. I did not want to see her face nor hear her snore. I only did what was logical – plug my ears with cotton. Then it was to not give a care about Rolanda. She's safe and okay, and that's all I care about. I had willed myself to not pitch a tent, and no pun intended, but it was the hardest thing I've had to do.

But, I did it for Riley.

Chapter Text

Today is a lovely day...

*CLICK*

Fuhgeddaboudit! It's hard to count how many people are stressing over their jobs and duties. One girl is traumatized after seeing heads in jars. Another girl is pregnant and mulling over the paternal truth. Some other girl is using drugs for suicide, and that backfired when she baked herself in a tanning bed. Another girl should be in a mental rehabilitation after she assaulted a man (and we know it was all on her, never his fault). Then there's the posh party prank princess on television, not in real life. The other Minkus interns shouldn't be counted out, either.

*CLICK*

How are select women getting by? Drugs? Sex? Why can't they use their money to see a real doctor, hmm?! We're in a society where everyone has issues. People have dirty little secrets, and that includes celebrities residing in New York. It's my girlfriend's job to expose them, and she uses the most resourceful tools to make it happen. I pride myself on being her most resourceful tool.

*CLICK*

The girls may be stressed out, but I still have my own problems, too. I hate that I don't have much help around the place. I'm supposed to return to my own house, but here I am at the Minkus International penthouse, tending to an intern who will never look at a head the same way.

*CLICK*


I am... awake? I should not be awake. It's only seven in the morning. Sleeping for three to four hours should make me still tired, but I'm not. I can feel the circles under my eyes, but I don't want to sleep. Once again, a man named Mr. Happy came to greet me in the form of seven and a half inches that needs attention.

As I closed my eyes, I imagined that Riley's mouth was my hand. Remembering that last time that I came, she took the head in her mouth despite her looking and feeling wrecked from my doing. Now I know why mad sex is good sex. It can get tiring, however. That can't be why I still feel tired. Stroking up and down, the warmth slowly rose and oozed from the head. My thumb smeared the clear stuff around, making sure to lubricate the most sensitive spot. The image that burned in my head was that of Riley, and I could not wait to see her again.

What I heard almost killed the mood.

The girl in my bed, Rolanda, groaned as she turned over, but she was still asleep. Black tears stained her mocha face, much like Riley's face was when I last had sex with her. Her half-and-half hair was disheveled. It's like everything she does reminds me of Riley. I can't win. The mixed feelings of wanting someone to fuck and belonging to someone were hurting me. I couldn't bear the thought of betrayal, even though that is part of my job... indirectly.

I turned away on my side to face away from the girl and focus on suffocating my snake. Remembering to show it who's boss, I gripped it, changing the color of the head from pinkish red to bruisy purple. As I returned to stroking, it struck me. While it may have been the white ropes of sperm that graced my abdomen and left pectoral, the reality is that love is love, and sex is sex. I know who loves me, and it's the girl whom I wish were in bed with me, not some copycat.

I grabbed a tissue and cleaned the minor mess from my midsection and manhood. This was probably the least painful session that I've had in quite some time, and I feel strangely grateful. The blood flow returned to normal, and Rolanda had disappeared somewhere.

"BLLEECCCCHHH."

As I heard a beeyou in my head, I grabbed the telephone and dialed a telephone number that this situation was warranting. After 30 seconds, someone answered, and I responded in return.

"Hi, may I speak with Isadora, please? Yes, I'll hold."

My tired eyes rolled around the room, and I noticed the light still turned on in the bathroom. Then I heard water running. She can't be running a bath now...

"Smackle, it's me," I responded, and she knew immediately. "Are you certified to do hypnotherapy? I just want to know if you can do it or not. It's not for me. It's for–" I stopped short in my speech.

The water shut off, and Rolanda stepped into the tub. I was ready to rid myself of the girl with hair akin to a split personality. What would be the best way to tell her that she means nothing to me now? How would she take it? Pffft, Minkus, if she's nothing, why do you care how she reacts? Mulling long and hard over what my answer was in regards of my relation to her, I took the first step. Okay, fine.

"She's neither."


(excerpt from Maya Hunter, Maya Hunter)

Josh and I drove to Bradford Photography to find answers to questions that still linger in my mind. While the shotgun of his Challenger provided some comfort to my well-being, I had fought myself tooth and nail to feel like I look presentable. I'm at that point where I hate my life, and I have Missy Bradford to thank. And Josh... before he hypnotized me.

We entered the outlet and noticed the atmosphere right away. It smelled secondhand-store musky. My nose inhaled the chemicals. Photographic evolution painted the walls, yet everything shaded brown. Bradford Photography sunk to a low for studios. Even Farkle's private shed in his backyard is superior to this place.

"Welcome to Bradford's, can I help you two with anything?" the owner, a 40-something dud gamer guy with a dad-bod and an unwashed ponytail wearing a Bradford polo and khakis, entered and asked.

"Hi," I began. "I spoke with your manager on the phone the other day about your records and Slutville?"

"Oh, Maya Butt-reeks," he remembered me, but as he blurted my little pseudonym, Josh and I kept our laughing stifled. "How did I not know Maya Hunter was on the phone?" he then recognized me. "What brings you to Bradford?"

"Did you know that Missy Bradford has been slandering me? A while ago, she threatened to publish a picture of me dancing with two of my friends on the cover. Guess who got in trouble? My friends. One had just got out of the ICU, and the other is a resident huckleberry. They were guys. Have you any idea why she has been taking pictures behind my back AND in front of my face?" I let myself loose.

"When did you first notice your pictures being taken without your permission? No, no, don't answer that. When were these photos brought to your attention?" the owner asked.

"In October? November?" I wasn't quite sure when. Maybe it's something Farkle can confirm later.

Josh stepped ahead of me to show the owner a photograph of that dreaded night. While the owner was not surprised at the least, he knew exactly what was next.

"Do you know who took this photo, sir?" Josh asked.

"Big," the owner examined the picture, "bald man," he kept pausing, "well in shape," he continued, "tried to hit on the girl with the bandaged pinky, but he was then threatened with pepper spray," he smiled as he finished the last sentence.

"How do you know this?" I questioned his answer. Maybe he was there that night?

"I was working security that night, monitoring the surveillance footage. Lots of paps were on the loose, and 'Baldy' was one of them," the owner confirmed.

"You got his number?" I suddenly asked.

The owner took to his computer to search for this so-called "Baldy" and where to find him. I then heard Josh whisper in my ear something about said photographer who most likely is picking a bone with me. I guess Uncle Boing and I will find out about that later.

Once we gathered the information, we were on our way out of that dusty place. A breath of fresh air made me feel a million percent better. However, Josh took a new job at the hospital that Smackle is working at, and I was going to be left alone with no one to comfort me. The car ride to my house was a big fat blur because I need Josh's help.


(we now come back to Dirty Deeds)

"Welcome, everyone, to the premiere of The Forsaken Separatists, starring Wade Capra and Evani Farrow. The movie, directed by Capra, centers around the themes of religion and abandonment. If there were anything to look forward to tonight, Farrow suggests that the cinematography is high-caliber. Coming from the actress's actress, that's saying a lot about the movie. Will it be nominated for the Oscars or the Golden Globes in a year and a half? We'll see when the time comes."

And here I am, snapping pictures for the magazine. So far, I've seen some of the crew members, some family members of the cast, and the cast's significant others. Brett Barricklow was also in attendance for tonight's little black tie affair. He has been walking around the dining area, trying to spike the champagne glasses before they've received their carbonated fill.

*CLICK*

"Hey, Wade, over here!" said one photographer.

Wade Capra just arrived, wearing a black button-down shirt untucked from charcoal gray slacks. His cuffs were rolled up to his elbows to display his tattoos. I cannot comprehend what he inked into his inner wrists. It's worth a try.

*CLICK*

To my surprise, here is the resident cheating girlfriend, Erica Bionx. She finally had the balls to show up to a public event! With Wade, no less! I eyed her up and down in her little black dress that defined her curves and little baby bump. Her shiny red peep-toe stilettos had that dissonant tone to her aesthetic. That's when I saw something on her ankle that looked like it was trailing a path. Does Erica realize that she's trickling blood between legs? I don't know if every other photographer can see what I'm seeing. The blood almost matches her orangish skin. Or is she peeing herself because she's pregnant? Nope, that's definitely blood.

*CLICK*

She lost the baby!

I called Erica toward me.

"BiBi, over here!" I bellowed.

She followed the sound of my voice until she saw my dark fedora. In a new twist, she was more than ecstatic to see me in the flesh.

"Farkle!" she ran to me and hugged me, almost crushing my camera between us.

"Oh, hey, there," I grunted, returning the embrace.

"How have you been?" she said in my ear.

"I'm good. Could you say the same?" I reciprocated.

"I am, Farkle. Why wouldn't I be?" she giggled, and we snapped a selfie.

*CLICK*

#InternLife

"I would head to the hospital after this," I murmured into her ear.

"Why? What's up, Minkie?" she asked cluelessly.

"I think you're hemorrhaging," I blurted.

"Thanks for letting me know," she said, breaking our embrace, trying to adjust herself until my words hit her. "Wait, WHAT?!" she looked at me upset as I prepared to take another picture.

*CLICK*

I snapped her reaction, and she fled. Capra was looking in the direction of her running, and he knew something was up. He can wait two, maybe three hours.

Arriving in a black limousine is the Hollywood couple of the New York cinema scene: Matt Truskin and Evani Farrow. They wore matching black suit-tie and pantsuit ensembles. Gotta love color coordination. They were never apart for a microsecond as they exited the limo and smiled at the cameras. Well, smiling and smirking. Matt Truskin was never known to say cheese in red carpet photos.

*CLICK*

Some jerk to my right blasphemously called Truskin out. What did Truskin ever do?

"Hey, you! Truskin! You, jackass!"

"Ha, ha, very funny," I read his lips.

*CLICK*

"Over here, Evani!"

Matt and Evani followed the voice of the next photographer, a roguish female with dark brown hair and a black baseball cap with the word "Sisters" embroidered in an Old English typeface, also colored black like the cap. Nice hat, I thought, but I needed to focus.

The photographers were eager to snap stills and publish them in their respective magazines that do not intrinsically stretch the truth. I, however, am not that kind of photographer. Those photographers want smiles and how-dos. Riley and I want candid accidents. I've found two tonight.

This one here makes three.

Amidst all the commotion, Matt Truskin and that jerk photographer are engaging in fisticuffs! I loves me the vicissitudes of some blasé cinematic debut.

*CLICK, CLICK, CLICKITY CLICK, CLICK, CLICK*

Security quickly ran to the two men and successfully separated them. I think they'll be facing charges soon, but someone named Attmay Uskintray will have the easier escape.

"Oh, my gosh, Farkle!"

I heard a familiar female voice from my left side. It's Evani.

"Evani!" I said, and we exchanged handshakes and cheek-kisses.

"You and me, we gotta play some Trivial Pursuit after the show tonight," she said.

"Oh, wow, you want a rematch already?" I replied immediately, only to regret as my words with girls fail me once again.

"We'll go back to our condo. No strings attached," she proposed.

Damn it, that last bit had to weave its way in the offer. With the star of the movie's offer still on the table, I had to be succinctly honest. It couldn't have been more bone-chilling than watching a baseball pitcher throw the change-up for a strikeout. I should know. I'm a witness.

"Thanks, but I have a girlfriend," I rejected.

"So, don't do anything naughty with us. It's that easy," she understood.

Thinking of all the possible scenarios of telling Riley about another "affair," I caved.

"We'll see," I answered.

"Save you a seat at the movie," she also offered me a ticket that looked like a business card. "Gotta bail Matt out. Later!"

Just like Erica, Evani ran off. God, bless her. Other stars who arrived at the premiere were celebrities who have fallen victim to the Deeds. Exhibit A: the former transgender musician who de-transitioned after an epiphany. Exhibit B: a comedy actor who suddenly became the face of female-on-male abuse victims. And finally, Exhibit C: the publisher who is about to get what's coming to him if it hasn't already.

"Ladies and gentlemen, please take your seats. The showing will begin in 15 minutes with previews for upcoming films and then the feature presentation."

I hope this movie is a good one. I've read some reviews about the cinematography. Let's hope that Capra's directorial debut lives up to the hype.


(excerpt from Dr. Smackle's Boys)

I, Dr. Isadora Smackle, have become Dr. Doormat. Isadora, do this. Isadora, do that. Isadora, could you? Would you? Should you? Fuhgeddaboudit! I know what I'm useful for, and after negotiating with the owner of the hospital properties, I will be working in the psychiatric unit. I decided correctly after learning that an old colleague of mine has been committed against her will by one Farkle Minkus.

She comes to me with mentally traumatizing images that have hindered her hierarchy of needs. Granted, this has happened most recently, her confuzzling backstory was the cherry on top to her admission.

When my cohort and I entered her private bedroom, the girl was shivering in an upward fetal position. Her skin paled whiter than her normal mocha tone. Icy blue eyes were dilated to the core. Pearly white teeth chattered. Sadly, the blankets helped little to satiate my patient. The half-washed hospital gown that she donned was what it was – a half-washed hospital gown that shall not belong on anybody's body.

"Rolanda, this is Josh Matthews. He's an apprentice of mine. We will be working with you through therapy until you feel that you are capable of leaving the facility to flourish alone," I addressed.

"You're the one who came up with that hypnosis idea," the half-blonde half-brown-haired woman murmured, puzzling me.

"Do you have anything to do with this?" I asked Josh, and he shushed me to plead the fifth. "Just don't fuck her. You're on your own, pal," I deadpanned before fleeing the scene. It was his turn to be confused.

I left Josh to take care of Rolanda. When I say, "take care," this time, I hope he uses his hypnosis techniques to bring Rolanda out of this post-traumatic funk. She's seen heads, cut off, in jars. To a medical professional, it shouldn't sound that bad. As a human being who happens to be a medical professional, heads in pickle jars already sound horrible as is! I can tolerate the occasional pair of tonsils, lost teeth, and even appendices. When there's a severed head in a jar like that futuristic cartoon show where that head wants to dominate the world, something had better be off about whomever is in possession.


NEWSBREAK

Actor Matt Truskin has been arrested after engaging in a brawl with an unknown photographer, who was also arrested, at the New York Premiere of The Forsaken Separatists. The charges pending include assault and battery. Truskin has just made bail. The photographer in question has yet to post bail.


(and now, we return to Dirty Deeds)

If there were a better drama than the movie I just saw, then may lightning strike me and end the debate right now.

I had taken Evani up on her offer and played a round of Trivial Pursuit, just the two of us in her apartment that she shared with Matt. Matt went to bed after being bailed out. I kept her company as if I had a choice. Then I kicked her ass to the curb.

"In Egyptian hieroglyphs, the symbol of a decorated eye most commonly represents the Eye of which god?" Evani read off the card to me.

I don't think I've been to Egypt before, but I do know my hieroglyphics like the back of my hand, thanks to Mr. Matthews aka Riley's father. A drawing of an eye with an eyelid, and a curly cue starting from the inner corner on its way out... too generic.

"Horus," I answered.

"Right," Evani sighed in disbelief. She knows I'm too good for this game.

Evani then took the dice and rolled doubles for a ten. She moved her circle ten spaces to land on a green space.

"Your turn to read?" Evani asked.

"Uh-huh," I murmured as I took a card to read the question from the green bullet point. "How many feet are there in a fathom?" Six.

"A fathom is, like, a wingspan, right?" she babbled in that girly voice of hers. Kill me. Kill me now. Airhead. "Given that my wingspan is almost six feet because I'm five-nine, give or take, I'd say six."

"You suck," I gave her the signature Farkle death glare.

"Thank you, Farkle," she smiled at me. Stupid shit-eating grin.

"You're up," Evani placed the dice in my palm. I rolled a seven, and landed on the blue wedge space.

"Why can't I ever send you to Abu Dhabi?" I sarcastically asked her as she picked up the card to read it.

"Because I will get whacked," she responded in the same tone akin to my sarcasm. Well played. "What country is Ulan Bator the capital of?" Evani asked.

"Mongolia," I said without missing a beat, placing a blue wedge into my circle to complete the pie.

She huffed loud enough to mimic a noisy circus elephant.

"Guess what? This game is over!" she flipped the board, sending our circles and wedges flying.

"But that's the answer, E. Face it. I won this game outright. Accept it. Live with it. Move on. Just like you forgot to when you banged Wade at his house party last summer," I said just when Matt walked in to get a glass of water. "And not to mention, I think there's someone else in the picture."

"Excuse me?!" Matt said, turning around to face me.

I looked around, trying to find something to distract them with, but no dice. Hah, oh, well.

"Bye!" I said, standing up and snapping a reaction photo before fleeing...

"Matt, I can explain," Evani began before I was out the door.

"Oh, honey, I've known about Wade for weeks! Then he told me that there's someone else! How could you?!" Matt stomped his feet.

Then Evani screamed something incoherent. Matt retaliated, maybe got physical with her... that's all I heard before the elevator closed. Hmph, it must be her medication from the car accident. However, I did leave behind that tape. Maybe that'll give her the closure she ached for.


 

After returning home, I spent time in the shed developing the film. I couldn't believe Riley wanted the premiere photos P.D.Q. Everything at my best, and it aches because it's not enough. Once all the film was developed, I nitpicked the good photos for the magazine to top the 8x10 stack, and left the rest to be another flipping page. Maybe those negatives will get Riley's attention if she decides to use them. The final products were placed in a Manila envelope labeled "P.D.Q." I called Lucas to my house so he can relay the photos to Riley at work. I'm too tired to even want to get into my car and drive the photos to the office myself. I can't believe that actually worked.

About an hour later, I said hello to my bed. As I slept and dreamt, I couldn't help but be grateful that I have Dirty Deeds. I know I made the right decision earlier. Now, herein lies the question: If the Deeds publishes the truth, no matter how much damage they do to themselves to get it, what would happen if someone came to their senses? They'd still get the truth, but at what price? A lost pinky? A dirty dance? Sex?! Why can they not value themselves anymore? I should be asking myself that. If my conscientious regret were coming to me too late, would I still have my job? Would I still have Riley? Would I have anybody?

My body had tangled up in the shiny black-brown comforter that smelled like a special brunette who must be next to me the next time we meet. After two hours of sleep, I fought sleep for the next.

Then my phone buzzed under my pillow. Dirty Deeds is calling me? Now? Well, the movie premiere did fill up their next issue, meaning writers had to work overtime. Usually, the overtime is two hours past closing. Not four. I pressed ANSWER.

"Hello?"


(from Riley's Rebellion)

Farkle let me down. He took the pictures, but developing the film will take more than a day. I don't have that long before the next issue goes to press! My ass is on the line here!

I sat at my desk, fingers pressed into my temples as my staff writers worked overtime to publish the red carpet drama from tonight's little movie premiere featuring two of my favorite play things, Evani Farrow (I hear she's about to have a falling out with Matt) and Wade Capra (whose girlfriend's legs had a line of blood inside either leg, meaning she probably lost the baby). Matt Truskin had his fair share of fighting, so much so he got arrested and bailed out within three hours. And then there's my publisher, Brett Barricklow, getting intoxicated while doing the same to others. What has this world come to?

One of my writers knocked on my open door, and I beckoned him to enter.

"Riley, these just came in for you," Lucas's voice brought me to attention. "Who, may I ask, is P.D.Q.?"

"It's an acronym," I briefly answered. "I figured it would get the attention of the sender instead of ASAP. I gave him specific directions because there were many photographers at that premiere. I can't get them mixed up, nor can they with me and the Deeds," I answered with elaboration, opening the envelope to spill the pictures.

"Well, Farkle wanted to stop by to give them to you personally, but you two aren't speaking, he said?" he questioned, not knowing the whole story.

"I kind of lost a bet and can't talk to him until my week is up," I summarized, looking at Lucas's facial hair.

"Oh, he's got you in on our game, too, huh?" Lucas quipped. "What game did you play, and why was I not involved?"

"Okay, you're missing the point, Lucas," I interrupted him, ready for him to leave. "Resume your writing. Nobody leaves until I can confirm the drafts," I commanded as I watched him exit my office.

Then I missed the point about the games until I recalled that night Lucas sang one of the most perverted and sexual songs to a majority of women audience. My mind also jumped to that image of Farkle and Lucas in drag, engaging in a grind with Maya. And now, I'm in the mix because I lied about Farkle. He just wanted a vain break from the drama! What will happen to me once I begin playing? What about Farkle?

Speaking of which, I hate talking about this because that tryst wasn't even supposed to occur, even though I felt much better afterwards. I shouldn't ever tell him that I've been dying to go back. The Promised Land is the only place that makes me want to flourish. He's the best at taking me there, and everyone knows it. I dreaded picking up that phone. My week hasn't run the course yet. Like a honeybee harboring honey from pollen, or whatever way that works, I needed Farkle right about now. Other than my hands and a purple plastic buzzing thing, his presence and embrace are the only things that will alleviate this stress.

I picked up the phone and dialed his cell phone number, hoping to God he's home. After two series of boops, he answered, and I sighed.

"I need to see you tonight."