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Chapter 3 - O Mrs. Bozo

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Chapter 3

GREAT, SO now I was pretending to be a stranger's wife — me, who never even had a serious relationship in my life.

At Maxwell's insistence, Dr. Alexeev eventually left the hospital room. After she was gone, I got a flurry of texts on my phone from her.

Convince him to sign over the company to you as his wife!

If you can't, at least find out what Bobby has over him.

Five minutes later, I got another text.

It was a wedding photo in Vegas of Maxwell and me. The Photoshop job was pretty bad, but I guess it was enough to convince a guy with brain damage that I was his wife. I got a smiley face and a thumbs-up emoticon from my lab mate Andrew Jaeger. I guessed that he was the artist behind the wedding photos. Soon I got another text that there were more coming, even if it took Andrew all night to create an entire fake wedding for us.

Well, at least I could comfort myself with the thought that I wasn't the only graduate student involved in this charade. My phone pinged with another text from Dr. Alexeev.

If he asks why no one knows about it, tell him he married you in secret in Vegas because his father didn't approve. Your day job is waitressing.

I rolled my eyes. Wow, I had just been demoted from pretend wife to unwanted secret pretend wife. I was insulted on behalf of my alter ego, Scarlett, the gold-digger, Vegas showgirl.

"Are you sure you're my wife?" Maxwell blurted out as I came back from the vending machine. It was Thanksgiving night, and I was spending it eating out of a hospital vending machine. I should win an award or something for the most dedicated anthropology Ph.D. candidate of all time.

"Of course, I'm your wife, silly," I said and threw a bag of M&Ms and a diet coke onto his lap. "How else would I know what your favorite foods are?"

Maxwell finally smiled as he opened up the diet coke and squeezed the packet of M&Ms.

"I haven't had these since I was a kid. My mom never let me have them because it would get all over my hands, and I would stain her expensive clothes," Maxwell laughed softly and somehow, just a little sadly. "You really are my soulmate."

He opened up the M&Ms and popped two into his mouth. I stared at the way his jaw moved as he chewed and swallowed. It should be illegal to be that beautiful.

"There's one thing I can't figure out," Maxwell said as he shifted the blanket on his lap to cover his cast as though he was trying to hide it from me. "Why aren't you more upset about this? I was out drag racing on Thanksgiving. Do you love me? Or is this one of those arrangement kinds of marriages?"

"Of course, I'm upset!" I said, throwing my hands up. "I'm just relieved you're not dead! You have a broken leg, and now at least you're bed-bound. I hope that accident teaches you a lesson!"

I prayed by yelling at him in a progressively louder voice; I sounded more convincing. The truth was, I didn't know the first thing about pretending to be some rich guy's wife. How does an angry wife act? Should I throw something at him? Take his Amex Black Card and go on a shopping spree? 

"Okay, okay, you don't have to scream," Maxwell said and shrank back into his pillow. "When I first woke up from surgery, the first thing I saw was the Christmas decorations. All I could think about was how lonely I felt. My parents died on Christmas day, you know."

"Yeah, they put the Christmas decorations up earlier and earlier every year," I noted in agreement. I wasn't sure how to react to his sad story. I guess that if I were his wife, I would be empathetic. Maybe I should take his hand and squeeze it comfortingly.

I stared at his hand and did nothing.

"I'm so happy you showed up," Maxwell said as he wrapped his arms around my shoulders. It was an utterly foreign sensation to me. It was so weird; I just wanted to laugh like it was a terrible joke. This was all a really, really bad joke. I bit my tongue to keep myself from giggling. I think I moaned a little in shock as he gave me a reassuring squeeze. I hope he didn't interpret it as anything sexual. "I felt so alone. I wondered what the hell I was doing with my life. All the booze, gambling, and women. As I laid on that stretcher, looking back on my years on this planet, it just made me feel so empty."

"Well, you just confessed to your wife that you were gallivanting with other women. So maybe you should be prepared to meet your maker."

He chuckled.

"No, I would never cheat on you. I'm not like my dad. That's the one thing I promised myself growing up. I'm not going to do any of the things he did. Don't worry, this idiotic broken buffoon sitting here belongs entirely to you."

Oh fuck.

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