Below are the first three chapters of Played, a standalone novel.

1. Weston

This is the worst date I’ve gone on in my entire life.

Sitting across from me is likely the world’s most uptight, stereotypical daddy’s little girl turned adult I’ve ever come in contact with, hands down.

There’s no denying she’s gorgeous, but if I have to listen to her tell one more story about makeup, shopping, or something she did with her father or “gal-pals” from high school, I’ll stab myself in the eye with the salad fork.

Wait, we’re not even to the main course yet? A look at my watch verifies the order for our entrees only took place a mere five minutes ago. 

Fucking hell.

The woman currently boring me to death is none other than Alicia Hamish. She comes from old money, which is the exact reason my mother set up this lovely date without my input.

My phone buzzes, and while generally, I won’t check it during a date, it isn’t as though Alicia will notice. She hasn’t bothered taking her eyes off of her phone for more than a couple seconds at a time.

Glancing down, I’m wishing I hadn’t bothered upon seeing the cringe-worthy text from my mother, “Hope everything is going well! You two would make pretty grand-babies ;)…”

I’m definitely not going to respond to that text message, finding it hard to believe she thinks this woman perfect for a motherly role.

Admittedly, I went on this date with optimism, despite the fact my mother set it up, as she normally has fabulous taste in pretty much everything. However, there’s no fucking doubt we share vastly different tastes in spousal appeal — not that I have any intention of getting married anytime soon.

I enjoy the single life, and it will take a special woman to make me consider relinquishing my bachelor status.

Yet, I glance at Alicia, attempting to find something appealing about her, if only for my mother’s sake, as she’ll instinctively know whether or not I’ve given the woman a fair shot.

Fair is to admit how attractive Alicia is — sexy even. She has long brunette hair with not a single hair out of place and a face most women I’m acquainted with would pay to possess. Her fingers are perfectly manicured, nails matching the gorgeous designer dress clinging to her perfectly curvaceous form.

The kind of woman people would expect a self-made billionaire such as me to marry? Undoubtedly. It’s her personality that’s questionable and makes it unlikely we’ll have more than tonight’s dinner together.

“Oh, wow, Weston,” she says suddenly, face turning red as her gaze boldly meets his.  “How rude of me to talk about myself this whole time. I would love to know more about what you do, so perhaps you’ll tell me more about your work?”

Usually, I like when a woman talks about her life and interests, but the way Alicia’s done it so far this evening has been incredibly off-putting. 

So, grateful she’s finished yammering on about herself as if trying to sell something to me, I take a deep breath and smile at her despite my desire to escape from her presence without delay. “Absolutely. Covington Industries is a tech start-up company. Studying the market and investing in projects we believe will have broad appeal is our primary focus.”

“Anything I’d recognize?”

With a chuckle, I nod, because most people have no idea about the number of companies getting their start with an investment from Covington Industries. “I’ll bet you have a few of our apps on your phone. We do a little of everything, though, not just apps. We’re leading the way in software engineering, and even beginning to dabble in the astrological field, as well as designing some things for NASA now too.”

“Impressive,” she says, leaning forward slightly to stare at me.  “I had a roommate in college who wanted to work for NASA as an engineer.”

“That’s a great goal. Did she achieve it?”

“I don’t know.” She pulls out a compact of makeup to re-powder her nose. “We lost touch after I dropped out.”

Of course, she did. College degrees have nothing to do with landing a wealthy husband. “I see.”

She doesn’t seem to notice the disdain in my tone, smiling brightly as she drops the compact back into her purse and goes back to talking about herself once more.

I barely register the stories she tells about her brief days at University and her sorority. Naturally, she has many stories to tell there.

When my phone goes off again, I choose to ignore it, as there’s nothing reassuring I can say to my mother if she’s the one texting me once again. She’ll be disappointed when I veto her choice in a potential daughter-in-law.

Alicia is a joke. At the minimum, she’s annoying; a spoiled lifelong daddy’s girl now seeking a substitute man to continue overindulging her, and she won’t find what she’s looking for with me.

Finally, the entrees arrived, and I resist the urge to roll my eyes at the small dish she ordered; she should’ve just eaten a larger salad.

She picks at her plate, while I dig into my food just so my mouth will be too full to engage in any conversation — as if I’m getting a word in edgewise.

She regales me with the time her father took her sailing as a kid, and how much she loved it, which is why she had gotten her own boat on her thirteenth birthday.

“You sail?” I ask when she pauses, thinking this will at least be a more interesting topic of conversation and perhaps sailing together will be a more interesting date than tonight has been.

But she says, “Oh, no. When I wanted to go out on the bay, my daddy hired someone to take me.”

It takes all the self-control I have to once again not roll my eyes at her, even more so when she flicks her eyes down at my phone and points a finger at it. “It’s blinking.”

Obviously, not immediately answering a text message seems like absolute madness to her, and although I don’t give a shit, I pick up my phone just to avoid dealing with her for another minute or two.

The message isn’t from my mother, but Shayne Barre, my buoyant intern-turned-assistant. Shayne had been an intern at Covington Industries and excelled at his position. So, in his junior year of college, I hired him as a part-time assistant, and he went to full-time after graduating two years ago.

His text makes me smile. “So? Need that rescue tonight?”

I like this kid. He’s smart, helpful, and hilarious when necessary. “Yes, please. Do what you do best.”

Even better, his response is instant. “I’ll make it good. Turn up your phone, so she doesn’t miss the show.”

Biting my tongue to keep from laughing, I turn up the ringer volume so Alicia can’t miss Shayne’s theatrics. I would just put it on speakerphone for the full effect, but I’m not sure what he has in mind, and there are a lot of other people inside the restaurant having dinner who may not be as amused.

The phone starts ringing, and I cut Alicia off mid-sentence to say, “I’m sorry, my assistant is calling. Do you mind if I take this call?”

She flips her hair over her shoulder and gives a casual wave of her hand. “Of course not. Go on.”

The moment I answer the phone, a hysterical sounding Shayne begins sobbing in my ear.  “Oh my God, Mr. Covington! I’m afraid you’re needed at the office right away!”

“Shayne, calm down.” It’s hard not to smile as Shayne’s real sounding panic, especially when Alicia perks ups in an attempt to hear the conversation. “Why are you calling me? What’s wrong?”

“This shit is crazy!” Shayne takes in a shuddering breath, playing his part well to the point I really need to consider giving him another raise for a job well done. “A man is here, claiming we stole an idea from him. He’s causing a huge scene, and now he’s threatening to call the police, as well as hire a team of lawyers to — and I quote — ‘sue our sorry little asses off!’ What should I do?”

“All right, Shayne, take a breath and try to remain calm. I’ll take care of it — you let him know the CEO is on his way. Give me twenty minutes.” I hang up the phone and focus on Alicia with a fake frown, relieved to have a reason to escape her company without coming up with a valid excuse.  “Much as I hate to cut our evening short, there is a crisis at work only I can take care of.”

“I understand.” Alicia shrugs and stabs at her food with the fork, a cheerful smile gracing her face. “Your assistant seemed pretty upset.”

“Yes, well, Shayne tends to overreact at times, but I want to make certain everything is fine.”

“Of course. We’ll speak later?”

Even with no intention of going on another date with her, I do appreciate her understanding, and for that, I agree to something I probably shouldn’t. “Yes. You have my number.”

Again, another brilliant smile from her as she stands and grabs her jacket from the back of her chair. “I do. Have a good night, Weston.”

“Goodnight.”

After quickly paying the check, I thank Alicia for the date, grab her a cab, and then hurry over to where Shayne stands waiting in the parking lot by the company car.

“She looked dull,” Shayne says as I clasp his shoulder in my hand with a grin.

“I owe you, kid.” Laughing, I slide into the passenger’s seat of the car, and Shayne starts up the engine. I find it difficult to stop laughing, unable to believe how crazy Shayne can sometimes be. “Honestly, you sounded like you were legitimately crying from panic.”

Shayne winks. “I minored in theater, remember?”

“Yeah, why exactly did you do that?” I ask while leaning back in my seat, thankful to be away from Alicia Hamish for the time being.

“Those improv lessons are really beneficial whenever I screw up at work and need help figuring out something to tell you,” he jokes, and I give him a friendly punch in the arm.

We head straight for Covington Industries, and I can’t possibly be more thankful for the emergency rescue; I’m ready to get back to the office after such a disastrous date and hope there aren’t any more run-ins with her after tonight.

2.Weston

I check my Rolex for what is probably the ninth time in the past hour, my despise for flying commercial growing by the second.

It always feels as if time stands still whenever I’m squished so close to other people. My personal jet is in for annual maintenance, so I had to book an actual flight, go through security and deal with the TSA.

Thankfully, Shayne’s beside me instead of some random stranger, keeping me somewhat sane; I can’t believe we weren’t able to get first class ones even with such short notice. Worse, some woman got the aisle seat beside me, and she’s been snoring the entire flight, something I’m unable to ignore despite my best efforts.

“Relax, man,” Shayne says, gently nudging me in the side. “You’ve seriously never flown coach before?”

“Don’t start, Shayne.” I glare at him and lean back in my seat. This trip to my hometown isn’t exactly something I’m looking forward to, and Shayne knows that. “I don’t even see why I need to be there for this thing.”

Covington Industries is opening up a homeless shelter in my hometown as a sort of charity PR stunt. Not only will it be a shelter, but also a soup kitchen as well as a place where the homeless can collect donated clothing.

Shayne set the entire thing up along with my business partner and best friend, Mark Vernor. I had virtually nothing to do with the operation, but the PR stunt is pretty much to fix my reputation.

“Well,” Shayne continues with a shrug despite my warning, “if you weren’t such a damn party boy, you wouldn’t need to do anything to remind everyone you’re not really a bad guy.”

“Screw you, Shayne,” I snap, even while silently acknowledging that he’s right.

My twenties are behind me, and I spent most of those years acting like a complete fool. Now I’m a thirty-year-old man-child who just so happens to be considered a business genius.  Drinking, partying, and bringing home random women’s not something I’ve been willing to give up just yet, despite my mother’s constant efforts to get me hitched.

The public knows me all too well as the rich guy who likes to flaunt my money to impress anyone who will sleep with me, only to turn around and be the predictable heartbreaker. The public is getting tired of reading about in my acts in the tabloids, so putting some positive light on my company is well needed if investors were ever going to take me seriously.

In truth, being professional had always been more of my father’s forte. When he died via a hit and run driver, he left a note behind for me in the event of a sudden passing. The letter told me to get my act together, because when my mother passes every last dime will be going straight to charity, and he wanted me to make something of myself on my own.

At first, my father’s plans left me feeling betrayed, but now I’m quite thankful. He hadn’t left me hanging completely — a small trust fund had been set up to help me get started, and I had wisely invested it into a tech company, eventually buying out the original owners and turning the small business into a billion-dollar corporation.

If my father hadn’t warned me about where the family fortune would be going, I assume I never would’ve done much of anything with my life outside of wasteful party boy spending.  Now, I have my own company; my own name to uphold and I’ve doing a damn good job of ruining it quite quickly.  

I’m thankful for hires like Shayne who actually seem to care about me and the business. Like the homeless shelter — it had been almost entirely Shayne’s creation, and I almost feel terrible stamping my name on it. In fact, I intend to give Shayne a pretty serious pay raise if all goes well because he’s a hard worker and has been since day one.

Even now, he’s on his tablet, reading some emails, and glances over at me as if I hadn’t snapped at him just moments ago. “Okay, seems everything is in place for the opening tomorrow.  You’ll be speaking to the local media.”

“Whoa.” I sit upright and lift a brow in his direction. “No one mentioned anything about this, and I’m not prepared—”

Shayne chuckles and hands me a small handful of index cards, ready for everything as always. “First one is your speech. The other cards have pre-approved questions for the media and include your answers. You'll be all right as long as you memorize them before tomorrow.”

Yep, he definitely deserves a raise.

“Thanks, kid,” I say, taking the cards from his hands with a smile and begin skimming through his notes for me.

I try not to chuckle at the answer to the question, What inspired you to open up a shelter here?

Obviously, the answer is nothing but hogwash, since the shelter hadn’t been my idea, and I’ve had almost nothing to do with it.

Shayne planned everything, but my notes certainly make it sound like I was the mastermind and that I had been compassionately moved into creating the shelter.

It isn’t that I don’t care about the homeless — I certainly do, but I’ve never thought much about doing anything about it before. I’ve donated money to charities, of course, but there is a big difference between writing a check and getting my hands dirty.

Finally, the plane lands, and we both rush to escape the confined space. The moment we get our luggage from baggage claim, my phone goes off. I cringe at the sight of my mother’s face smiling at me from the screen.

“You should answer that,” Shayne says, laughing. “She left me a nasty voicemail at the office, so you probably don’t want to make it worse.”

“Great,” Grumbling, I swipe the screen to answer with the chirpiest tone there is to use. “Hey, Mom.”

“Weston David Covington,” my mother’s voice screeches into the phone. “Are you trying to send me to an early grave?”

Dramatic, as always. “Good to hear from you, too, Mom.”

“Did you ditch Alicia? And don’t you dare lie to me, you know I’ll find out the truth one way or another.”

As if she doesn’t already, so I answer her question honestly. “Yes, I did. The woman was obnoxious.”

“She is not obnoxious! She’s a sweetheart and comes from a good family. How could you just abruptly end the date and not even call her to reschedule? Honestly, Weston, I raised you with better manners than that.”

I go to grab my suitcase, but Shayne takes it instead. The kid will look ridiculous trying to drag around all of the luggage on his own, but I’m going to let him so I can focus on this highly unpleasant conversation.

“Look, you need to stop setting me up.” Not necessary to sugarcoat this any longer for her. “You and I have different tastes in what kind of woman will be a suitable partner.”

“Weston, I want grandchildren,” she whines, the sound grating to my ears. “And Alicia is someone your father would have loved!”

“Do you want me to hang up?” My voice rises slightly, as I hate when she tries to use my dad against me, which is a pretty regular occurrence with her the last few years. “You’re not going to guilt trip me by playing that card, got it?”

“Fine, Weston.” My mother’s voice calms, understanding she crossing a line by bringing up my father, and she changes the topic. “At least come over to my place this Saturday. I’m hosting dinner and Alicia along with her family are going to be there, and we both know you owe the girl an apology.”

Perhaps I do, but I’m not a fool. She’s going to try and use the party to set up me up with Alicia again. This time, however, I have an excuse not to attend.

“Sorry, Mom, I’m in New York for the next two weeks. Remember?”

“And why are you there?” she asked, no doubt silently seething.

Perhaps I hadn’t told her. Either way, I tell her again. “I’m here for the grand opening of the homeless shelter my company is sponsoring.”

“And why are you there? Why can’t that little intern of yours handle it for you?”

“Shayne isn’t an intern anymore, and no, I need to be here, all right?” My mother is pushing her luck, so to avoid raising my voice at her bullish antics, I only say, “I’ll have to talk to you later. We’ve just gotten off the plane, and there’s a lot to get done this evening.”

“Of course, Weston. I guess I’ll be the one to apologize for you and your behavior once again since you can’t be bothered to do it yourself.” She huffs, and I grin while tugging my tie loose as she finishes with, “Enjoy your trip. And I will see you when you return to town.”

As I hang up the phone, Shayne laughs and asks, “So, what did ya talk about?”

“Let’s just go,” I say, punching him in the arm before we climb into the rental car.

I won’t voice it out loud, but I almost wish I would meet someone just so my mother would get off my back. Not that meeting someone would do any good, considering I’ve no intention of settling down anytime soon, and for now I’m just glad that phone call was the end of the conversation if only for a little while.

3. Weston

We pull around to the back of the shelter — a small, barren parking lot that is shared with the local pet shop.

Sharing a parking lot doesn’t bother me: I can’t imagine a homeless shelter needing a lot of parking except during the grand opening, which is when the media will be hanging around.

“So this is your pride and joy, huh?” I said, climbing out of the car and stretching my back.  “Wish we could have gone to the hotel first, man.”

“Mark is already here,” Shayne says, locking the car up tight before leading the way towards the back entrance.

I smile at that since I haven’t seen Mark in a week. Mark Vernor is my long-time business partner, and we’ve been friends since we were kids, and Mark had even been there when my father died.

We started Covington Industries together; I won the namesake of the company via coin flip and an extra share that put me in the CEO’s seat. It had been a two-headed coin, but Mark hadn’t known that at the time.

I chuckle under my breath while reliving the moment Mark found out he lost out on an extra zero at the end of his paycheck every year due to an old parlor trick; we hadn’t spoken for months after that.

Things had cooled off, though, because no matter what I did or vice versa, we were old friends and we always have a hard time staying angry at one another.

We enter through the kitchen entrance where a team of volunteers is already at work getting the place organized for the big day.

Shayne makes a few introductions on my behalf before ushering me into the next room — a large, open area full of tables and chairs on one side and lines of beds on the other.  Mark’s chit-chatting it up with some ladies who are wearing the volunteer logos on their white t-shirts.

I roll my eyes since Mark is just as bad as I am when it comes to letting the wrong head lead the thinking.

“Excuse me for a moment, ladies,” Mark says in his usual charming tone as he steps away to greet Shayne and me. He sticks out his hand and shakes mine, completely bypassing my young assistant as he often does. “So, looks like everything is starting to come together and it’s all ready for the big opening tomorrow.”

“Good to hear,” I say while sliding my hands into my pockets.  “You’ve been out this way for a week now. How is New York treating you?”

“There’s a reason neither of us lives here anymore,” Mark grumbles. “I hate this town. I prefer California…you know, where there’s plenty of sun and hot weather.”

“I’m right there with you.” And I am. Getting out of this town had been one of the best days of my life. “So now that I’ve taken a little tour of the place, are you ready to bolt?”

“Hell yeah,” Mark says and looks down at his watch. “Four o’clock.  That’s late enough to start drinking, right?”

Shayne pipes up quickly.  “Oh no, you two don’t!” He glares dead at me, making me feel like a naughty child. “Especially not you! You have to give a speech tomorrow morning, and you need to deliver it without a hangover.”

“Relax, kid,” Mark waves a hand in Shayne’s face. “It’s not like we’re planning on getting wasted. Just a couple of drinks while you go get Weston checked into his hotel room.”

“Just a couple of drinks?” Shayne questions, eyeing us both with a disapproving expression. “I’ve been around you two long enough to know it’s never just a couple of drinks.”

I clasp my hand on Shayne’s shoulder. “Everything is going to go off tomorrow without a hitch. You need to relax a little. Why don’t you come with us and have a drink, huh?”

“Someone has got to get you checked into the hotel,” Mark reminds us.

“Believe me, I’d rather go to the hotel than watch you two get hammered while I try to drag you back to the hotel all night.” Shayne rolls his eyes. “Mr. Covington, you need to at least meet the head volunteers who are going to be running this place when we’re all gone before you go off partying tonight with your lesser half.”

Mark grumbles at Shayne’s remark but doesn’t say anything, and I really can’t disagree with that.

So Shayne drags me all over the shelter introducing me to more people than I can possibly bother to remember. Mark watches from afar, shaking his head, both of us aware Shayne’s just trying to tire me out so that I’ll choose to go get some rest at the hotel.

He’s not that lucky, however. Eventually, he runs out of people to introduce me to, and someone has to get back to the hotel.

Shayne gripes at the two of us one more time before heading out to bring my rental car and luggage to the hotel while I stand in the parking lot waiting for Mark to finish off a cigarette.

“Those things are going to kill you one day,” I tell him, stepping away from the unpleasant scent.

“No faster than the drinking is going to kill you,” Mark retorts, putting out the cigarette beneath his heel before we head toward his car. “I’m just glad I’m going back to California in a couple of days while your ass is stuck here a little longer.”

“You really hate being back in our hometown that much, huh?” I ask, grabbing a seat on the passenger’s side and promptly buckling up, as Mark is a terrible driver.

“Man, I drove through our old neighborhood from before your old man struck it rich and dragged mine into the gig.” Mark huffs. “Nothing but a shit-hole. Can’t believe we used to live in that dump.”

We were each barely ten years old when our fathers got into the big leagues through investing and moved both of our families to California. It's a bit strange for us both to be back where it all began.

“It’s not so bad,” I remind him. “How about the skate park?  You and I would go there just about every day after school.”

“I remember the two of us sharing one skateboard because some punk stole mine,” Mark snarls, then adds, “Fuck this place.”

All right. Most places here are relatively nice, but like all big cities there are slums — and that’s where we are from. Our time there had only been a brief period in our lives, but it was one with both fond and detrimental memories.

I am a little less resentful than Mark, but I do agree that California has been a lot better to us. But, I’m not going to linger on the topic with his attitude, so we head straight for a local club that, by the time we arrive, is already popping with live music, dance, and a lot of drinking.

Almost instantly I spot a beautiful red head sitting by herself at the bar, and decide it is time to do what I do best, and spend the rest of the night forgetting about everything except finding pleasure where I can.

* * *

I talk to the redheaded woman at the bar while Mark makes his way through the club; it takes less than half an hour before I’ve lost track of him, but I don’t mind as we’ve found ourselves a gold mine of potential one night stands at this club.

The redhead has certainly gotten my attention and kept it, but she’s playing hard to get — nothing a little alcohol and smooth talking can’t fix.

This is a rather typical night on the town for me; just as it has been since my early twenties, with me and Mark always being one another’s wingman.

On this particular night, though, we don’t seem to need one another. The redhead woman is quickly falling under my spell. I’ve relied on his good looks for years now, and thus far it has paid off, as the stranger at the bar is destined to become nothing but another notch on my belt.

“So what is it you do exactly?” she asks, her voice slightly slurred.

I throw back another shot and grin at her. “Tech investments, mainly. We market and brand ideas that spawn within our company. A lot of technical stuff. Apps mostly.”

Her eyes linger toward my Rolex. Then, she looks me up and down, studying my suit and carefully trimmed, chestnut brown hair.

I like to keep myself well-shaven; it’s fairly standard in my business area. Despite my attempt at maintaining a constant professional appeal, I’ve been told there’s always a sort of playfulness behind my eyes that makes me seem younger than I am and also makes it easier for someone to approach me.

It’s one reason why my cheesy pick-up lines tend to work and why I’ve never gotten a drink thrown in my face for being too forward.

By this point in the conversation, I’ve learned the redhead’s name is Sydney — not that I’ll remember it come morning.  She works a boring desk job, one I don’t care to recall what exactly she does. All I know is she’s come to the bar alone on a Friday night wearing a short, black dress designed to show off her cleavage and I’m hoping she’s looking for the kind of attention I am more than happy to give her.

The conversation goes from work to pleasure very rapidly. Before long, I’ve persuaded the woman to let me take a shot with a glass she holds tightly between her breasts, and soon we’re both stammering drunk and sneaking off to find a more private setting.

My companion for the evening is able to locate an unlocked broom closet. I would’ve been more than pleased to have done it in the bathroom, but she wasn’t so satisfied with that suggestion.

We slip into the closet and shut the door behind us. There’s no light inside, so I rely heavily on muscle memory to assist me as I hike up her dress, and she leans back onto one of the walls of the closet. I’m certainly not the only one who came to the club with the intention of trying to score when my lingering hand discovers she’s not wearing anything under that incredibly short dress of hers.

I press my lips tightly against hers, pinning her against the wall. She moans excitedly as I caress her with my fingers and nibble on her neck — working my way down her chest until I’ve reached cloth. Pulling her dress back with my teeth, I yank one breast free, so I can gently bite down on one of her nipples.  Then, I unzip my pants, eager to get inside of her, but I’m not granted such satisfaction as the door to the broom closet flings open.

A tall, well-built gentleman in a white t-shirt and jeans stares at us, his chest heaving as he roars, “Sydney!”

I rush to zip my pants back up — not realizing I should have been readying to block a punch.

Evidently, the redheaded woman hadn’t come to the club alone as I initially thought. And as I’d been drinking with her for nearly an hour, I naturally assumed she was alone.  

The punch comes hard and quick against my left cheekbone and sends me falling down into the closet.

Of course, the woman shrieks and begins having a verbal fight with the man all while I attempt to regain my composure. I rub my cheek where the man’s fist made contact and assess rather quickly that the gentleman will absolutely out-do me if things escalate.

I’m not a weak man by any means, but the not-so-gentle giant standing before me isn’t someone I’m willing to take on the day before I’m supposed to be appearing on television. I’m trying to improve my image, and a bruise covered face definitely won’t help.

Instead, I remain on the ground and hold up my hands, swallowing his pride to say, “My bad, man! I didn’t know she was with anyone!”

My words slurred slightly as I prayed the man would not take out the betrayal on me. Thankfully, the man and his cheating redheaded girl are too busy arguing with one another for the man to pay me much thought.

I decide to just remain seated, hoping for the arguing to calm down before it draws too much attention. It doesn’t, and the club's bouncers certainly take notice, which means it isn’t long before I’m sitting on the curb outside of the club under a streetlight waiting for Shayne to pick me up after I was unable to locate Mark.

I’ve definitely had more than one drink too many, and now I’m wishing I had heeded Shayne’s advice, especially when the familiar rental car pulls up and Shayne’s yanking me off the curb.

“Honestly!” Shayne shouts at me after getting me into the car and sliding into the driver’s seat. “You’re a grown ass man, Wes, that I shouldn’t have to babysit.”

Shayne’s not normally this vocal; I figure he’s assuming I’m drunk enough I’ll forget the conversation tomorrow and perhaps that’s likely.

“You’re useless. Completely useless!” Shayne continues on, banging on the steering wheel a few times before pulling away from the curb. “It’s three in the morning, and I bet you haven’t even studied those cards I gave you. You’re going to make a real ass of yourself tomorrow at the opening, which defeats the whole purpose of opening this damn shelter.”

I’m way too drunk to respond, hanging my head out the window and dry heaving for a moment. I know I’ve messed up; I’m lucky Shayne isn’t picking me up with a broken nose and black eye.

And I know it is time to commit to leaving my party days behind. I’m getting too old to continue like this, and the fifteen missed calls from my mother are a reminder that at least one other person thinks I need to calm down, as well.

I have to, and I know it — I'm just not ready to admit it yet.

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