Perfect Illusion

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Chapter 56: My Damnation and My Salvation

“So, Daniel told Simon and Simon told me that Daniel’s going on the Charlize Matson show tonight for the New Year’s Eve special.” Cara tells me as I clean up the mess that my mom made in the kitchen last night. She has attempted, yet again, to cook us some spaghetti, but she left it on the stove too long, and it’s too overcooked to be eaten.

I hold my phone and adjust it so I can hear her better. I don’t think I heard Cara right. “What did you just say?”

She sighs. “Stop doing what you’re doing and actually listen to me, you little twat. I said that Daniel’s going on the Charlize Matson show tonight.”

“Why? What for?” I’m doomed. My interest is definitely piqued.

I can still remember going on the show with Daniel just little over three months ago in order to announce our ‘engagement’ to the press. It seemed like such a long time ago.

“I’m not sure. Apparently, Daniel had personally requested an interview with her. Not the other way around.” Cara tells me. “Don’t know why he would do that, though. Maybe I’ll try to ask him.”

“You still think something’s going on, do you?” I roll my eyes and turn on the tap to wash my hands.

“I don’t think so. I know so.” She corrects me confidently. “Daniel’s been acting weird lately. I’ve been watching him. I mean, not in the stalker-ish way, but well, okay… Maybe the stalker-ish way. I can’t help it. Lately, I’ve been seeing him heading to bars, drinking. At first I thought that maybe he’s going back to his usual ways again, you know. Picking up chicks and everything. But he doesn’t.” She pauses to let me sink everything in. “He just sits alone and drinks. And then, he drives back home. Sometimes, when he’s not sober, he’d call Simon to pick him up.”

“Wow.” Is the only thing I can say. “Okay.”

“Okay? Just okay? Your ex-boyfriend is still pining over you and all you can say is okay?”

“He is not pining for me, Cara. He made that very clear he won’t when he dumped me.”

“He totally is pining for you!” She nearly shrieks over the phone. And then I hear background noise from her side. ”Not now, Simon. I... Okay. Dibs on being player one... Wait for me! Don’t cheat!”

I roll my eyes and laugh. “Okay. I get it, Cara. You’re probably busy with your boyfriend-”

“No! Simon can wait!” She yells. “What was I saying again? Oh yeah. Daniel can’t get over you, and I doubt he wants to. He still loves you, Alex. I know it.”

“He doesn’t love me.” I shake my head. “He didn’t even say it when we’re together. It made me think that maybe I was the only one in the relationship.”

“Don’t say that. Wait, I’m going to ask Simon.” Then I hear her yell, “Simon! Does Daniel love Alex? ... See told you so! He said yes!”

Upstairs, I hear my mom calling me. “Alex?” “I gotta go.” I tell Cara over the phone.

“Fine,” she says dejectedly, “just tune in tonight for the show okay?”

“I highly doubt so.”

“Don’t be such a pessimist! And he still loooooves you!”

“Don’t be such an optimist! And Simon neeeeeds you!” I say before hanging up on her.

Sometimes, I don’t understand how we became best friends in the first place.

“Who were you talking to, Alex?” My mom materializes by the stairs, wearing her morning robe and her fluffy slippers.

I’m still not that used to seeing her like this. So mom-like. It will probably take a while to get used to this, and not the woman in her blue blouse and pencil skirt, always dashing back and forth to the office like her ass in on fire.

“Just Cara.” I quickly put my phone away.

“Oh, Cara. Gosh, it’s been a while since I’ve seen her.” She gushes and makes her way down the stairs. “How is she?”

“She’s great.” I grab a mug from the top cabinet and pour her a steaming cup of coffee. I hand it over to her and she casts me a grateful smile. “Well, apart from me leaving her, she’s fine. She’s got a boyfriend.”

“Oooh. Is he going to stick around longer than a month?” Mom asks me with humor lacing her tone.

“I think so.” I chuckle. “Cara’s changed since the last time you saw her, mom. I think she’s capable of hanging on to a man longer than you think.”

“I’m sorry, baby. I guess it’s been a while.” She sighs and takes a sip of her coffee. “So, what does he look like?”

I show her a picture of Simon and her from my phone. My mom nods in approval.

“Hmmm. That red hair though... let’s see... easy on the eyes, high cheekbones... well, I guess they look okay together.”

“Mom.” I laugh. “It’s more about the looks, and you know it.”

“Please.” She rolls her eyes. I think I get that trait from her too. “It’s all about looks these days. That’s what attracted me to your father in the first place. He was, at that time, very, very good looking-”

“Okay mom. TMI.” I put my hands up in surrender. “I want out on this conversation now before I regret it.”

Mom throws her head back and laughs. I think this is probably the first time I’ve ever hear her laugh. Not the I’m-laughing-just-to-be-polite kind of way. It’s the Ireally-think-this-is-hilarious kind of laugh.

The rest of the day goes by so quickly. Mom and I spend the afternoon prettying up the place even though it’s not technically ours. Mom decides to go asian and make some dumplings, and of course, fails miserably at it, which resulted in us getting takeout again. I unpack some of my things, and continue to finish up the last few chapters of ‘Blankets’, then proceed to read my anticipated novel of the month.

When it’s time for dinner, mom gives up in trying to fry eggs so she asks me to order pizza. We lay the pizza boxes in front of the television and debate on what to watch. Mom got the remote, so she got to pick, which sucked.

She’s flipping through channels as fast as I fly through my books. “No. No. Ugrh... Kardashians, again.... Gross... they still have that on?... ”

“Do you like, want to watch a movie or something?” I ask her and she shakes her head, then continues to flip through channels.

Suddenly, she stops at one of the channels, her eyes widened and her mouth gaping open. “What?” I stare at her, and follow her gaze towards the television.

Oh my god.

It’s the Charlize Matson show.

She’s there, sitting on that leather chair of hers, her stupid smile stretched out on the entire screen. “Hello hello hello! Welcome to the Charlize Matson show!” The audience roars in approval and she blushes slightly. “Today, for our New Year’s special, we have someone with us that everyone’s been dying to meet again. Please welcome on stage, Mr. Daniel Kerrington!”

The audience screams and some women even whistle as Daniel comes on stage, in a gorgeous black suit, his blonde hair gelled back.

“Oh god.” I say. Mom just stares at me, searching my face for answers, but I just shrug and continue watching the show.

Daniel finally takes his place on the seat beside Charlize after shaking her hand.

“Welcome back, Daniel!” She clasps her hands together. “You’re looking very dashing today.”

“Only today? You wound me, Charlize.” He casts her one of his smirks. His smirk, my my.

I didn’t realize I miss it until now.

Charlize laughs, or in my opinion, cackles. “Oh, you’re hilarious. Just hilarious. Anyways!” She adjusts herself properly. “Let’s get to business, shall we? How are you doing since the last time you came here?”

“I’m… great.” He says, but he hesitates. Charlize takes notice on this.

“You hesitate.” She notes, like she’s the most perceptive human being in the world. “What’s the matter? You know you can tell me anything.”

Daniel’s face shows no emotion. His gaze flickers ever so quickly to the cameras, like he knows that I’m watching.

“How’s your fiancé, Daniel? Alexandria, right?” Charlize asks. “She was such a lovely woman. I notice she’s not here with us tonight.”

“No, she’s not.” He clenches his jaw tightly. “That’s what’s bothering me, actually. Alex and I... we decided to break off our engagement.”

The audience gasps. Everyone looks shocked. Even Charlize’s jaw just dropped.

“What!?” She presses her hand over her heart like she can’t bear the news. “But... the last time the both of you came on, you guys looked so in love.” Daniel shakes his head.

“We were acting.” He states. “We had to do it. The both of us. We had to fake being in love if we wanted to sell the engagement to people.”

What.

WHAT.

WHAT IN GOD’S NAME IS HE DOING?!

My mom stares at the screen in shock, her hand covering her mouth.

“Oh my god.” My heart stammers wildly against my chest. I don’t know what the hell is going on. Did Daniel actually just announce to the entire world that our engagement was fake?

Why the hell would he even do that? It would ruin his reputation and his father’s because now everyone knows that his father is behind all of this.

It doesn’t make sense. Nothing makes sense anymore.

I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one that’s thinking that because the entire audience gasps out of shock. I’m think Charlize did not expect those words to come out of Daniel’s mouth because she looks like she’s about to faint.

“Well isn’t this a revelation,” She tsks. “I don’t think anyone was expecting that from you.”

He shrugs. “I’m tired of keeping it from people.”

She crosses her legs and leans forward. “So tell me, how did this fake engagement happen?”

“Well, it was my father’s idea obviously. In order for you to fully understand what is happening, I need to start from the beginning.” He says. I can’t believe he’s going to do it.

He’s going to blow up all the lies until there’s nothing left.

I don’t know whether to kick him in the balls for being this stupid or be proud of him for finally standing up to the truth and his father.

“My father has always disapproved of my err... scandalous ways with women, as all of you would know.” Daniel begins. “And he needed me to step up as Kerrington and Co’s CEO in the future when he retires, and that can’t happen when I have a tarnished reputation and no one would trust me. So when he heard that Woods and Co was nearly bankrupt and the company’s owners had a daughter... well, he immediately came up with a plan.”

“And that is to set up a fake engagement for you and Alex.” Charlize finally catches on. Daniel nods.

“It was quite brilliant actually,” He continues, without a single pause. “Alex’s parents needed the money, and I needed something… or perhaps someone to show the world that I am responsible and trustworthy enough to take on after my father. Alex didn’t want to go through with it, but she did it anyway for her parents.”

“For the first month of our ‘engagement’, we hated each other.” Daniel chuckled softly to himself. “We drove each other crazy. Alex and I made it very clear that we wanted nothing to do with each other and the minute the engagement was over, we were going to leave. No complications. No strings.”

Charlize nods. “And then, what happened?”

Daniel hesitates at telling her. I hold my breath. “At first... we grew to tolerate each other. That was after the first time the both of us went on your talk show three months back. And then, the more time we spent with each other, the more we realized that our feelings run deeper than just mutual friendship.”

Charlize smiles, liking what she’s hearing. “You fell in love with her.”

“I did.” He doesn’t hesitate to say it this time. “I do. I love her so much. When I’m with her, I don’t think about the bad things I’ve done, I think about the good things I want to do for her. She’s both my damnation and my salvation. She... ruined me for anyone else.”

I think my heart just flew out of my body.

“Oh god.” My mother murmurs beside me. “Daniel... loves you…?”

I don’t answer. Because even though he’s declared his love for me live on television, there’s still millions of questions running through my mind that I wish he would answer.

Charlize sighs, swooning. “That’s so romantic of you, Daniel.”

He shrugs. “I didn’t say it for the views, Charlize. I say it because it’s true.” Then, he leans forward and looks straight into the camera, and I lost count of the number of times my breath stops at the sight of him.

“Alex, I hope you’re watching this because I don’t know what other way I can get through to you.” He says, his voice breaking. “I love you so damn much and I was a fool to not say it then, when you need to hear it. And I know I’ve put you through so much hurt after everything you’ve been through and I’m going to explain everything to you now when I have the balls to.”

Charlize eyes widen and she whispers off stage, “Is this part of the script?”

Daniel completely ignores her. He just focuses on the camera, or in this case, me. “That night when we went to my dad’s Christmas party and you told me to talk to my dad after he found out we were together ‘together’, I followed your advice. We talked, alright. I told him I loved you. And his reaction was the worst thing ever. He was angry at me for ‘taking advantage’ of the whole situation, which got me angry too. I told him that you were the best fucking thing that has ever happened to me and I said that I wasn’t going to hide under his shadow anymore. I wasn’t going to take his place as CEO. I was going to make a name for myself without him.”

He pauses briefly then continues. “That got my father furious. We got into a heated argument about it but before I could settle it, you called me about your dad.” He closes his eyes like the mere thought of it pained him. “You were going through this horrible thing and I didn’t want to tell you about what happened with my dad. Everything was going so fast with the funeral and everything. Then, one day, my dad had invited me over to dinner. I thought he was going to support my decision about choosing my own path and being with you. But it was the opposite.”

My lip trembles.

“I knew he was envious that I have found someone I was determined to spend my life with while he had no one. He used the excuse that I was straying away from my original path because you had influenced me. So, he blackmailed me, Alex.” Daniel says, faltering. “My own father blackmailed me. He knew your mom was going to get thrown out of the company and he knew about your father’s piling debts. He told me that he could settle everything for you and your mom. For the life you truly deserve. A comfortable life with your mom. He said he would provide the aid for your family with the condition that I have to break up with you.” Tears start to form in my eyes.

“I didn’t want to, Alex. You know I would have never done it by my own will.” He says. “I did it because you’ve been fucked over so many times and it’s not your fault that everything has gone to shit. You didn’t deserve that sort of life. And my dad knew it too. He knew that I’d go to great lengths to make sure you’re happy. And... the least I could do was provide you financial stability. For both you and your mom.”

Daniel clenches his jaw so tightly. “I’m sorry. So sorry. You have no idea. I just...” His voice trails off. “I don’t know what I want. Maybe for you to understand. For you to forgive me. For you to come back...” He shakes his head. “All I know is that I’m tired of playing by my father’s rules. He’s a bully, and he deserves every single crap that’s thrown his way after this show.”

Then, as if nothing happened, he turns away from the camera and stares at Charlize.

Charlize just stares at him, wide eyed, mouth gaping open. Once she realised that he’s done, she quickly recovers herself and puts on one of her fakest smiles yet.

“Well,” She clasp her hands. “That’s um, informative. And... unusual. Soo... I guess that’s it for our special new year’s edition for the Charlize Matson Show. Um, yeah. Stay tuned.”

And then the screen goes blank.

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