I walked out of my aeronautics class at MIT knowing that I would remember the day I finally made it to the finish line for the rest of my life, and not because graduation was just a week away or I had a 4.0 grade point average, but because I had the worst pain in my young life; a sore neck.
As I rolled my shoulders and shifted my heavy bag to the opposite side, my best friend Tanner Barnhart appeared and fell into step with me. “You’re probably the first person to ever walk out of that class with a perfect average, my friend.”
I glanced over and winced. Dammit. “I doubt that. Surely, it’s been done before.”
Tanner chuckled and gave me a pat on the back that nearly caused me to whimper like a little girl.
“Careful,” I said, wincing like a pussy.
“Damn, man. What’s wrong with you?”
I groaned and tried not to look his way. “I have a sore neck. It’s worse when I turn it.” I had the occasional crick—it was nothing new since I slept in my car—but this one was the worst ever, and I wasn’t sure I’d be able to manage much longer without taking something for the pain.
Tanner shook his head. “That’s what living in your car will get you, if it doesn’t get you killed.”
“I’ve been doing it for four years, give or take a month or two, and nothing horrible has happened yet.”
Tanner scoffed as we walked out of the building and down the front steps. “Yeah, except you look like you need a hospital.”
Tanner had a way of overreacting, and while I usually found it humorous, it was easy not to laugh. Laughing hurt. “I need some Tylenol and a long nap. I’ll go buy a new pillow later; something with some support, and I’ll be fine.”
“Or you’ll look like Quasimodo for graduation. Come on, just one night, man. Get your neck pain sorted before it gets serious.”
As we walked across the lawn to the student parking, I could tell that Tanner wasn’t going to let it go, with his pensive looks. He’d just have to get over it. I didn’t like to take charity from anyone. I was a strong, capable man who could make it on my own, even if I walked like someone had tried to behead me.
We stopped at his car, which was worth more than I’d made in four years, and worse than that, his rich father had bought for him. “I’m good,” I said, holding out my fist which he promptly bumped with his own. “But thanks for looking out, man. It means a lot.”
Tanner had been a good friend and the closest thing to a family I had. We came from two different worlds but had been fast friends.
With an abusive father who drank himself to death, and a mother who ran off with a man who’d eventually beat her to death, I had seen enough of bad homelife to know that I was going to have to make something of myself if I ever wanted to get anywhere. But I’d also taken enough abuse from my father to know I had to stand on my own two feet and do things for myself.
Living in my car was necessary if I wanted to save as much money as possible, and thankfully, I’d saved up enough from washing dishes at the local diner to not only finish paying for my car but my schooling too. College had been a long road, and I was glad to come to the end of it.
Tanner leaned against his Porsche and twirled the keyring on his finger. “So, what’s next for your stubborn ass besides being a cripple?”
“Apparently you’re going to be a comedian. Me? I can’t decide. I’ll either develop a plane to use a new biofuel for aircrafts or see if I can break the record for the longest consecutive flight in a solar-powered plane.”
Tanner’s eyes widened in surprise. “I thought you just wanted to build new planes, not fly them.”
I gave a shrug. “It doesn’t hurt to dream, right?”
He gave me a grin. “That’s true, my friend. And one day, I’ll be saying I knew him when he stood upright.”
Tanner had so much privilege that he could probably take the next five years off to decide what he wanted to do and then take his time doing it.
I checked my watch, remembering that some of us had to work for a living. “I appreciate your offer, but I have a late night at the diner anyway.”
“I still wish you’d consider the master plan.” He gave me a look and I shook my head.
“No. I’ll get a job with my degree and try to make the money I need, and if that dream becomes a reality, then at least I’ll know I’ve done it on my own.”
“Well, the offer still stands, and if you change your mind and decide you’d like to try sleeping horizontal, give me a call. I know it will be late, but it’s no trouble. I worry about you being on the streets, Cole. You’re too brilliant to insist on living so stupidly.”
I knew better than to argue with him. He didn’t come from the streets, so it only made sense that he would be afraid, and while I had to admit it was pretty tough, especially in the part of Boston I grew up in, it was also all I’d ever known. I also still had too much pride and wanted to show my father, who had been dead for years, that I could make it all on my own.
“Thanks. I’ll keep it in mind.”
“And don’t forget about the luncheon Saturday.” He pointed his keys at me. “My mother wanted me to make sure you’ll show.”
“I’ll be there. Tell your mother thanks.” As I gave a thumbs-up, Tanner opened his door and slid in behind the steering wheel. With another look of uncertainty, he shut the door. I walked across the lot to find my own car as he drove away.
I may not have had a Porsche, but I was just as proud of my Ford, even if it was already two years old when I bought it. I unlocked the doors of my Explorer and got in to head to work.
Once I got to Pal’s Diner where I worked and made my way back to the kitchen, my boss Vinny tossed me my apron. “We’ve got a madhouse already. I’ll need you bussing tables, Brains, and if we get behind, I may have you help out Cheeks and flip a patty or two.”
Vinny always called me Brains, and that was because he prided himself on being the brawn. At six foot three and three hundred fifty pounds of bald-headed bulk that was more muscle than flab, I wasn’t going to argue with him, and neither would anyone else.
“Anything you need, Vinny.” I hurried over to the sink and got busy clearing out the plates and tossing them in the sink.
“Don’t tell him that, man,” said Cheeks. “He’ll have you putting on a skirt and waiting tables.”
Vinny chuckled. “Don’t worry, Cheeks. If I need someone to dress in drag and wait tables, I know you’re the man for the job.”
Cheeks flipped Vinny the bird and then tossed another bun on the grill. He was about as open as a man could get without ever actually coming out of the closet, and Vinny, being his oldest friend, liked to give him a hard time about it. He had a soft look to him, with big rosy cheeks that turned even redder when he blushed.
Both had been good enough to keep me around, and while I loved them both like brothers, I couldn’t wait until the day I no longer had to wash Pal’s unhealthy menu off the plates and bus the tables.
“Hey, Vinny. I just wanted to remind you about my graduation next Saturday. I need off so I can walk across the stage.”
Vinny turned around from the counter. “You got it, kid. Let me know if you need anything else, all right?” He had understood for some time that I slept in my car at night, and since Vinny lived right above Pal’s, which used to be his family’s diner, he’d offered me a shower and shave more times than I could count.
“Thanks, man. But I’m supposed to go to a friend’s house that day. We’re having a big luncheon thrown by his parents before we go to graduation. I’m sure I can get ready there.”
“Sounds swanky,” said Cheeks.
Before I could answer, Margie from out front stuck her head in the swinging door. “Hey, Cole, thank God you’re here. We’ve got a huge mess in the round booth, and there’s three other tables clearing out with more at the door.”
“On it.” I left the sink, went over to fetch a bin, and tossed a rag over my shoulder.
The floor was crowded, and there were all kinds there tonight. Even the air had a soupy smell, and it wasn’t just coming from the back.
As I cleaned up the round booth, removing the plates of half-eaten portions and crumbs and tossing them into the bin, Margie and her trainee, Samantha, welcomed new guests. I stacked all the glasses, making two rows of four, and then tossed them together in the bin as well, making sure to move faster than usual, and moved to the next table.
“Who do we have here, boys?” asked a familiar voice. I looked up to see Mickey Carson from my old neighborhood. With him were a few other guys I’d never seen and one skinny, bleached-blonde who looked like she needed another fix.
“Hey, how’s it going, Mickey?” I gave a polite smile and picked up my bin to leave as they sat at the round booth I’d just cleaned. I’d always hated to run into people I knew when I was bussing the tables, and while I didn’t think I was any better than anyone else, or too good for my job, it was the next question that everyone asked that had me cringing.
Mickey didn’t disappoint. “Where the hell you been staying, man? I haven’t seen you around in years. What have you been up to?”
“Been going to MIT, working here.” My hands stayed busy wiping the table.
“Yeah? How’s that going for you, man?”
“I graduate this Saturday.” I wasn’t about to go too far into my business, to tell them how I was living in my car and struggling so I could afford what my scholarships had failed to pick up at the end of my education.
“Got us a big college man here, boys.” Mickey could be a real asshole when he wanted to be, always could, and I started to walk away. He didn’t like it very much. “Hey, wait a minute, college man. We’re catching up here.”
I tried to be as sincere as possible, but I was in a bit too much pain to truly care if he was offended. “Sorry, man, I have to get back to work. It was good to see you.”
Mickey wasn’t impressed and slapped on a fake smile. “I see how it is. You’re too good for me, now. Can’t talk to me now that you’re graduating. Going to have a big fancy education; a nice fat degree to feed your wallet.”
I could have stayed and kissed his ass, but I wasn’t interested. Instead, I gave a big grin. “I’ll see you around, Mickey. Take care, man.” I moved on to the back, and while I didn’t think much of the encounter, Cheeks noticed something I didn’t.
“Hey, kid, you know those guys?” His steaks were sizzling on the grill across the room, and he looked out into the restaurant where he had a small view across the countertops.
“Yeah, from my old neighborhood,” I said with a shrug. I got back to my dishes and didn’t think much of it.
“They sure are looking back here,” he said. “And the one you were talking to, he doesn’t look happy.”
“They just came in to eat, Cheeks. I’m not too worried about them. They’re from the old hood. I’m sure they’ll go back where they come from long before I leave tonight.”
Cheeks stared a minute longer and went back to his grill with a worried look on his face. But I stopped thinking about them after another few minutes, and after they had their order, they left.
I spent the rest of the night scrubbing and suffering with my neck pain, and when the crowd finally thinned enough, Vinny stopped taking orders and shut the place down. He walked to the front and turned off the neon open sign, and then he walked across the room to join me as Cheeks slipped out the back door. “You were moving a little slow tonight, my friend.”
“Yeah, I’ve had a sore neck all day. It’s killing me.”
Vinny walked around the counter. “You need something to take the edge off, and I got just the thing.” He bent down and pulled out a box, and inside that, he dug out an old bottle of pills. “Here, take one of these. It’s a muscle relaxer. Should do the trick.”
“I don’t want to be knocked on my ass, man.” I’d taken a pill once that put me down for hours, and I needed to function for the next morning’s shift.
“That’s why I said take one. A big guy like me, I used to take two at a time, but you taking one, you’ll be good. I hurt my back once, and those things saved my life. You’ll feel better, I promise.”
I took the bottle, and he walked over to the time clock and punched my card. “Take the pie if you want and a soda. It will help keep your gut sound, and if you need me, I’ll be in the bar down the street.”
“Thanks, man.” I took the rest of the apple pie and grabbed a large to-go glass of soda. After securing the lid, I went ahead and popped one of the pills and decided to sit in my car and eat the pie and then try to get some sleep.
I walked out to my car, and while I was fishing the keys from my pocket, I heard footsteps behind me. When I turned to look, thinking it was Vinny, I was surprised to see Mickey Carson had come back to see me. But before I could say anything, he pushed me against the car. I managed to hold onto my food and drink, but my keys fell to the ground. I put my foot over the top of them and kicked them under the car as he laughed.
“I wasn’t done talking to you, college boy.” Something had triggered Mickey, but I didn’t understand what he thought he’d gain by pushing me around.
“What are you doing here, man?” I looked up in time to see his friends were nearby, and when they started to crowd around me, I knew I was in trouble.
Mickey pushed me again, this time knocking my food to the ground. The soda exploded as it hit the concrete.
I put my hands up and prepared for a fight, but I wasn’t as seasoned as someone like Mickey, and while guys like him had always used their fists, I’d used my brains. That didn’t mean I couldn’t fight or that I’d never thrown a punch, and if Mickey wanted to brawl, I wouldn’t back down.
Mickey smiled. “Look at him. He thinks he can really take us all on.”
The other men laughed, and before I could do anything, Mickey threw a punch. I turned, and as his fist flew at me, taking me off-guard, his buddies grabbed my arms, and the others took turns beating my ass.
The blonde they had with them stood across the lot watching like she hadn’t ever seen anything so exciting, and when they finally had me down in a puddle of soda, Mickey reached down and searched my pockets. “What you got, college boy? You seem like a hard worker. Surely, you got money on you.”
He found my wallet, and thankfully, I had just enough cash and no cards that he took the money and tossed my wallet to the ground with my ID inside.
“You got more?” He patted down my pockets and found the small bottle of pills and tossed them to the blonde. “Here, honey, here’s something for you.”
I was barely hanging on to consciousness and wondered if the muscle relaxers had kicked in. I was going numb, and with one last kick, I passed out.
Sometime later, I woke up, still on the wet concrete. My keys were still where I’d kicked them, and I found my wallet with my ID still tucked inside. I took a minute to find myself, and when I thought I had all my marbles, I got up and got in my car. Thankfully, Mickey didn’t know I lived out of the thing, or he would have found my bank book and all of my personal records in regard to the small amount of money I’d saved. I might have been a homeless fuck, but I wasn’t stupid. I had my money well-secured in the bank, and even if it wasn’t much, at least he hadn’t taken it from me.
I couldn’t go on like this. I looked in the mirror and cringed. The pain was well justified by the looks of it.
I considered going down to the bar and finding Vinny, but there was a good chance Mickey and his friends were there, and I needed to get the hell out of this neighborhood for the night, and possibly the rest of my life.
My life was never going to change if I didn’t get off the streets and into a good job somewhere. I hated taking help or handouts, but even I knew when I’d been defeated.
I started my car and drove out to Tanner’s parents’ estate and stopped outside of the gates. He’d known I could call late but had no idea what shape I’d be in when I arrived.
“Good god,” he said when he saw my face. “I knew you were going to be killed out there. What the hell happened?” He had come out to greet me at the car and now led me inside the guest house where he stayed. “You smell like apples.”
“It’s pie. Those fuckers made me drop it.”
“Who?” he asked as we stopped near his kitchen island.
I felt like a filthy rag in a fresh pile of laundry just being in his fancy house. “The ones who smashed my face. Some guys, one I knew from the old neighborhood. Look, it’s not important, man. What is important is I think I’ve had a breakthrough.”
Tanner narrowed his eyes. “Yeah?”
“Yeah, and if I’m going to do this, I’ll need your help.”
Tanner smiled. “Does this mean the master plan is in effect?”
“Yeah, man. Let’s do this.” I put my hand out, and he was about to shake it when he noticed the blood.
Tanner cringed. “Let’s do the shake later, my friend. Once you’ve had time to clean up. And, no more sleeping in the car. Consider this your new home. I won’t have my business partner sleeping on the streets.”
“Fine, you have a deal.” I knew that I couldn’t live my life the way my father had, and while he had used his fists to barely survive, I realized that I wanted more and I wasn’t like him. I was smarter.
“This house is so much bigger than I thought it would be,” said Leslie as she turned a circle in my living room. It was the first time she’d seen my place since I’d gotten all of my furniture in place, and both of us were excited about my new chapter in life.
I rubbed my baby bump and smiled. “I think the open concept is what does it. When Cam talked about taking down the wall, I wasn’t sure, but I’m glad he did it.” We’d taken extra time to get into the house, but it was well worth it.
“It doesn’t look anything like it did before. And I can’t believe Cam managed to get it done just in time for the baby.” She walked past me to the nursery that still needed a little work. “So, I guess we better get started with this.” She pointed to the stack of bedding and the pieces of furniture that had just been placed into the room wherever we could stack them.
“Thanks again for coming over to help me. With Cam working late, he hasn’t had time to help me in here yet.”
She fluffed her red hair and then waved her hand dismissively. “Think nothing of it. I’m happy to help, and not only happy, but honored. It’s not every day that one gets to design the room where their little godson will be living. I want to help you make it special.”
“Thanks, Leslie, and since I know you usually don’t work for free, I’ll order a pizza.”
“And I’ll let you, not because I want to get paid, but because I’m starving.” Leslie had started design school a few years back, and while she’d had a rocky patch with her relationship, which caused her to drop out, she still worked in the profession whenever she could.
I took out my phone and dialed the number. Leslie walked over and looked through the boxes as I placed the order. “These are amazing!” she said as she looked through the framed photographs I created for the walls.
I hung up the phone and joined her across the room. “I’m glad you like them. I have been collecting those for a while now. Anytime I’d see an animal I thought I might one day want to show a son or daughter. I call it the menagerie collection.” I giggled.
“It’s extraordinary, Jess. You are so talented. I mean, I know you enjoy the wedding photography, but this? They are special.”
“Thanks. It’s too bad I can’t make money taking pictures of monkeys at Franklin Park. The weddings pay, and they pay me more than I’m worth, really.”
“Come on, if you can make this old ape look good, you’re bound to make some of the Bostonian brides look like a million bucks. I’m sure you’re worth it.” She’d seen a little of my work, and I had a lot of photographs that I kept for my portfolio.
“I just want to take photographs of different things and not always someone’s fat aunt Matilda.”
“So, take them. In your spare time. Then you can decide later what you want to do with them.” Leslie was always so supportive and like a big sister to me. I’d met her my freshman year of high school when she moved in down the street. We’d been friends ever since, even though she was a few years older.
“I do. I like to mix up my subject matter a bit. Experiment. I think astral photography would be fun sometime, too. Cam says he’s going to get me into a gallery one day so that people can see my work. And when that happens, I want to have a wide variety of subjects.”
“Then we’ll make this your first gallery, and that sweet baby can grow up knowing how talented his mother is.”
“Thanks. So, where do we start?”
She reached over and placed her hand on my stomach. “You grab the light stuff, since you’re already carrying quite a load, and I’ll get the heavier things. We’ll stack them out in the hall until we can get this furniture arranged, and then I want to measure the window, and we’ll slowly move things back in.”
“You’re so good at this stuff.” I walked over and picked up a few small items and moved them into the hallway.
“Thanks, and with any luck, I’ll be going back to school soon. I’m determined to finish this time.” She let out a long sigh. “To think I could already be finished if I hadn’t let that asshole slow me down.”
She had never referred to her ex as any name other than “asshole” since their ugly breakup. She’d been working her ass off in school and working nights only to come in early one night and find him with one of her old friends.
“You can do it. Isn’t that what you always tell me?”
“Yes, and of course I can.” She bent her knees and lifted a heavy box. “Both of us can do any damned thing we want to.”
“Cam and I have been talking about me expanding the wedding business. He thinks I should advertise more and create a bigger portfolio to include other events like graduations and birthdays.”
“I don’t know. It would mean starting to focus on that full-time, and with the baby, I’m not sure it’s possible. I can’t exactly drag him along, and I’m not sure when I’ll be ready to be away from him.”
“You’ll figure it out, Jessica. You’ve always got me to help, and Cameron, of course. How could you have better support? You got lucky with that man. There’s not many like him.”
I thought about how sweet and caring he was. How much he encouraged me in all of my dreams and pushed me to do my best to take every opportunity that came my way.
“He’s been working late evenings for the past two weeks just to get in a little overtime to help us out, and he’s missed his weekly poker nights since I’ve gotten further along with the baby.”
She walked back over to grab another box. “Yeah, not many men would give up poker night.”
I held my belly and laughed. “He had awful luck and said it’s a bad time to lose money.”
Leslie chuckled. “When will he be in? I might get him to help with the dresser, unless you want to leave it on that wall.”
“Shouldn’t be too long now, but what about the dresser? Do you think it needs to be moved?”
“It would look better on the opposite wall, especially with me putting the crib here.” She pointed to the corner of the room.
“Out in the corner?” I didn’t know how that would be. “Won’t it make the room smaller?”
She shook her head, walked to the space, and stood gesturing around herself to show me where she meant. “No. Think about it. You’ll both want to look in on the little fellow, and this way, you’ll have more room. Besides, we don’t want him crowded against the wall or window.”
What she said made total sense for the area. “I can see why I needed your help.” I shrugged and took a deep breath. “Looks like we know where the bed goes. Cam will help with the dresser, and then where do you want the changing table?”
“Over there.” She pointed across the room, and I gave a nod to agree. “Your window will be left open for the rocker, and that will be a nice little place to look out into the yard while you rock little Cam-Cam to sleep.”
“Don’t call him Cam-Cam. It reminds me of the Flintstones.”
Leslie laughed. “That was Bam-Bam, and I’m his godmother, so I can call him whatever I want. And I’m going to spoil him rotten.”
“Not you too. Cam says the same thing. He has a list a mile long of the things he wants to buy, and I tried telling him that our son might not even be into the same things.”
Leslie pushed the rocker into its place and then moved some other boxes out. “How’d he take that news?”
“He refuses to believe it. Says there’s no way the kid won’t be a Sox fan, and he’s already bought them matching jerseys and caps. He says that he’s going to take him to every game when he’s older.”
We shared a laugh and then tried to figure out what our next steps were. After getting everything cleared out and all of the furniture set, with Leslie still doing all of the heavier work, we started moving the boxes in and unpacking them where they belonged.
As I hung a few of the clothes I’d gotten at the baby shower in the closet, the doorbell rang. “I think that’s our pizza. I should really make a salad to go with it. Cam will be home soon, and I know he’ll be hungry too.”
Leslie followed me out. “I’ll take a break and help you.”
“Thanks.” I opened the door while she went to the kitchen, and I paid the delivery guy. After I closed the door, I walked into the next room to join her and put the hot box on the counter. “I think I’ll call Cam and see how long he has before he gets home.”
“Tell him if he doesn’t hurry, I’m going to eat his. This thing smells delicious.” Leslie stood over the box, wafting the aroma toward her.
I tried to call, and when I got no answer, I thought little of it. “He must still be hard at it.”
“Or he’s on the road and can’t answer.” She opened the fridge and took out the salad fixings.
“I’m so ready for him to get home. I miss him being around. We’ve gotten so used to the way our schedules were, and now he’s always late. I loved taking walks in the evening, but we haven’t in weeks with his schedule. He’s been really upset as it is, though. He misses me too, so I didn’t want to tell him how I feel.”
“You two are so cute. You still have those longing feelings for each other. I don’t want to tell you that those fade in time, but they do. So, enjoy them now while it’s all still new.”
“No way. I can’t imagine not being totally and madly in love with Cam. I always miss him when he’s gone, and our passion hasn’t even begun to die like you said it would a year ago.” We’d fallen for each other fast and were still just as much in love as we were two years before when we’d met. We’d had a huge wedding six months later, and before we knew it, I was expecting. Cam had told me he’d never been happier than the moment he found out. He was going to make an amazing father.
I finished helping to make the salad and was beginning to worry about Cam. Usually, if he was going to be a little later than normal, he would call and let me know, but I still hadn’t heard a peep out of him. “Let’s go ahead and eat, and I guess he can heat his up.”
The pizza smelled too good to let it go cold. Although if I didn’t have a guest, I would have waited anyway. Instead, we fixed out plates and took them to the table. “I saw a new maternity dress that I thought I’d pick up. I’ve gotten so big that it’s hard to dress nice for the weddings I’m working.”
“Oh? I’ll go with you tomorrow if you want.”
“Yeah, that would be great. I’m going to talk to Cam and make sure it’s okay. It’s a little pricier than the one I bought last time, and I hate buying clothes I’m not going to wear but for another month or two.”
The phone rang, and when I glanced down and saw the caller, I felt all the blood rush from my face. “It’s the hospital.” I quickly answered. “Hello?”
“Yes, I’m looking for a Mrs. Cameron Hyde.” It wasn’t often that she heard her married name be called so formally, and she knew it wasn’t good news.
“Yes, this is she.”
“Mrs. Hyde, this is Dr. Meadows with Boston General. I’m afraid your husband was brought in a short time ago via ambulance. He was involved in an auto accident.”
“Is he okay? I’ll come right down.” All of a sudden, it was like my body didn’t know what end was up, and as my world spun, I felt Leslie’s hand on my back to offer support.
“I’m afraid he didn’t make it, ma’am. If you could have someone come with you, there’s no need to get in a hurry. I’m very sorry for your loss.” With that, the man hung up the phone.
I sat there a minute, unable to speak as the lump in my throat grew larger and larger by the second. I placed my hand on my stomach and looked over at Leslie. “He’s gone.”
Seven years later…
The fire performer blew a big ball of flames from his lips, and the crowd went wild. I looked across the sea of people who had showed up for my company party and wondered why I hadn’t done something like this sooner. Everyone was having a good time and laughing, and for all their hard work, they deserved it.
I wanted to do something to celebrate another fiscal year of outstanding growth and had always wanted to host something fun for my employees to show my appreciation. A banquet dinner seemed boring on its own, but I’d decided to host it at my house and hire performers to entertain us while we ate expensive food, enjoyed a drink or two or more, and mingled.
“Don’t you think you might have overdone it a bit?” asked a voice from behind me. I turned to see Tanner, who held a drink in one hand and a gorgeous woman in the other.
I smiled and looked back over the crowd. “No, I think it’s perfect. Ask yourself, have you ever seen these men and women so loose? And the food?” I shook my head and looked across the room to see if there were more of the crab cakes. “You can’t deny it’s the best part.”
“Okay, I have to admit that the food is perfect. But if that man burns your patio to the ground, you’ll wish you’d hosted a formal banquet instead.”
“Never. And loosen up, my friend. You’re used to those stuffy cocktail parties your mother used to host, but this? This is the closest thing to a real party some of these people have seen since college.”
“I’m surprised you didn’t order a few kegs. Maybe hang some bras and panties from the balcony and light fixtures.” He was describing a few of the parties we’d been to in our days.
My days of slumming were done. “No, nothing but the best to celebrate with my people. They’ve worked hard for me, and they deserve a release.” I grabbed another drink from the waiter as he walked by.
Tanner’s friend whispered in his ear and then hurried across the room where she disappeared with some of her friends. Tanner was preoccupied watching her go, and when she was gone, he turned to me and moaned. “Mm, she’s amazing, isn’t she? Did you notice that ass? She’s blessed.”
“Yes. Who knew that our receptionist had such a sexy sister?” It wasn’t that Becky wasn’t pretty too, but she didn’t have the same type of sex appeal. As a matter of fact, I wasn’t sure she’d ever had sex. She seemed to blush at all the office jokes and was more of a wallflower than anything. Although she was hammering back the drinks pretty hard.
“So, how’s the project going?” asked Tanner. “Are you still in talks with the laboratory?”
“Yes, and they think they’ve figured out how I can get the most bang for my buck. There’s a certain type of algae that makes a better fuel. It grows at a much better rate and will yield twenty to a hundred times more fuel per unit than the type most of the other companies are producing with.”
“Sounds like it could be cost-effective at that rate. Is it going to cost us an arm and a leg to get involved?”
“Everything takes sacrifice, and if we want this to succeed, we’ll go with it. I know my new system will work with the engine, and with the best type of algae, we’ll have no problem creating the most efficient running plane in the world.” I turned up my drink, and he did the same.
We looked out across the pool and then walked over to stand a bit closer to the contortionists who were supposed to be brother and sister, although their routine made them look like lovers.
“Can you believe all of this?” Tanner nudged me. “The company is a huge success, and I know you have to be proud. You really made it happen, Cole. I always knew you had it in you.”
He had helped me come so far, and I knew if it hadn’t been for him and his money helping me every step of the way, I’d still have nothing.
That night Mickey Carson whipped my ass and scared some sense into me was the best day of my life. It was the turning point, the moment I decided to take my knowledge and really apply it for myself instead of waiting for the perfect job or the right opportunity.
I’d started my business, knowing that I wanted to develop a plane that could not only outperform others, but be the most cost-effective and efficient while doing so and still managing to be safe on the environment.
“You really changed your stars with this company, and not many men in the world can say that. You should be very proud of yourself.” He had always been my biggest fan, since way back when we’d met in college.
“I did well with your money,” I said with a laugh as the firebreather blew another ball of flames into the air.
Tanner snickered. “I’d say. You still hold the controlling interest, and you managed to pay me back in the first year. I’m only glad I was able to land a job with you.”
I grinned. “It helps that you’re friends with the boss.”
“Speaking of which, boss man, I can’t believe you’re standing back here. You should get out there and mingle. Sasha has a hot friend here with her, too.” He moved forward, and I followed.
“Sasha?” I gave him a puzzled look. I hadn’t met any Sasha.
“Yeah, Becky’s sister. The gorgeous woman who was just with me.”
I’d already forgotten about her. There were tons of beauties at the party, and while I’d mostly only invited my workers, I’d had Tanner help me include some of our other friends for fun. Tanner and I had slept with a few of them, and it looked like several of my single associates were about to get lucky.
“She’s special,” said Tanner in a daze.
“Oh, right. The third one of the week.” He had been getting more pussy than me lately, and that wasn’t usually the case. He usually let the ladies trip him up with strings, and I had no desire to be tied down to a woman like that. Or any woman for that matter. It wasn’t that I didn’t want a deeper relationship, but I knew finding the perfect person who was made for me would be a challenge. It would take just as much hard work as starting my business if it was possible at all. “I’m good, man.”
“Come on, man. You haven’t dated a woman in way too long. There’s a running bet at the office that you’re into men, and in case you haven’t noticed, Becky is having more fun than you.”
That made me laugh. He knew damned well I liked to keep my personal life private, and while I’d been with many women lately, I hadn’t officially dated any of them. I also didn’t have cause to invite any of the women I’d been with to my job and preferred that most didn’t know a whole lot about me. That was something they had to earn.
“You should go find Sasha and make sure that she’s not already moved on to another.” I liked to fuck with him, and the look on his face was worth it.
He looked out across the crowd, and sure enough, sexy Sasha was standing with the contortionist who was wrapped around her like a snake.
“Dammit,” he said. “I really like her.” We both watched as Sasha moved her body slowly, grinding against the human rubber band like he was her biggest fantasy. She looked across the room to Tanner and curled her finger, but he shook his head.
The music changed, and few of my wilder guests started dancing around the fire breather. When I looked up, Becky laughed as he rubbed his face in her tits. The crowd cheered, and before I knew it, there were others grinding on the man, and they had all started chanting.
Some of the associates grabbed Tanner and pulled him over to the makeshift dance floor with them, including Sasha who wrapped her arms around him and kissed him hard and deep.
I looked around the room and realized I had eyes all over me, and while I could take my pick of any of the ladies in the room, I wasn’t about to dip my toes in the company water. Not only did I have to work with these people, but I had to lead them. Besides, I was growing tired of the same old hookups with shallow women whose only talent was putting their whole fist in their mouth or tying cherry stems with their tongues. Boring.
I needed something deeper. Maybe it was because I was seeing that one dream had come true, and I couldn’t stop wondering what was coming next. My projects were all on track, and life was good. Too bad I didn’t have anyone to truly share it with.