The Weight We Carry
The journey from friends to lovers is hard enough without baggage.
At twenty-four, Brady Whittington is stuck in a post-college rut, working a dead-end job and as single as they come. With every month that goes by, he’s falling further behind in the race to adulthood. Now, his comfort-food habit is packing the pounds onto his already ample frame. As the numbers on the scale climb, his self-confidence plummets. He’s given up on himself, convinced he’ll never land a career in his field or a boyfriend.
Josh Meyer hasn’t had an easy life. Cruelly outed by his high school girlfriend, he fled home, never to look back. Now he has a great job, good friends, Grindr hookups, and a fantastic roommate in Brady. Who needs more? But when his friend starts to pull away, Josh is forced to reevaluate the role Brady plays in his life.
When Brady asks for Josh’s help to lose weight, their running regimen draws the two even closer. Slowly, Brady builds up the endurance he needs to chase after Josh, but Josh’s past and his own self-esteem issues keep tossing out hurdles. If they want the future they’ve been dreaming of, they’ll both need to shed the real weight they’re carrying.
Reader discretion advised. This title contains the following sensitive themes:
Sexual Assault (in the past)
Caution: The following details may be considered spoilerish. Click on a label to reveal its content.
Josh’s fingertips dug into my shoulder as he marched me to my execution. The manner of my death—a painstakingly selected stack of denim and “fun but not too flashy” XXL shirts.
“Would you stop making that face?”
The corners of my mouth lost all structure at Josh’s chastising tone. When he wasn’t plotting death blows to my fledgling self-esteem, Josh Meyer doubled as my roommate and best friend.
“You’re going to look amazing.”
On the surface, Josh had the terminal optimism that rivaled most motivational speakers. After six years, I knew better. Don’t get me wrong: Josh was the best. He was generous, intelligent, and hardworking . . . but complicated. I liked to think we’d gotten past the need for him to mat talk me through this shopping trip, but here we were.
His perpetually sunny disposition didn’t bother me unless I thought he was forcing it, which he did occasionally, or I was irritable. And since I’d spent yet another month wasting my hard-earned degree as a glorified receptionist–slash–administrative assistant, irritable had been my default setting.
In the competition for things that annoyed me, Josh’s enthusiasm met its match at the back of a platinum-blonde woman in a skirt so short I wondered how she sat. She sorted through clothes, bobbed her head, and swayed to the in-store music. Her long ponytail oscillated back and forth like a pendulum ticking away moments of her obliviousness. I exchanged an amused acknowledgment with Josh, and when I rolled my eyes, Josh cleared his throat to cover my snicker.
She turned, and her eyes flew past me to focus on Josh. Typical.
“Oh. Hey.” She dropped her shoulder and pushed it forward, gaping her v-shaped neckline and expanding our view of her ample cleavage. Unashamed, I looked. Josh didn’t. He still carried some PTSD-like reactions to boobs. Not for the first time, I wondered why, but he hated talking about his straight-high-school-football-star days, and I respected that.
On the other hand, I liked them. I didn’t want to grope them or anything, but they sort of mesmerized me, and sometimes I fought the urge to bat them like a cat with a piece of string.
“He has twelve items.” Josh flashed his toothy smile standing right next to the sign that declared the limit was six.
She swooned, and I involuntarily scoffed, which might have been joined by a muttered, “For fuck’s sake,” or something equally inappropriate. I’d tired of Josh’s “too pretty for rules” nonsense, and honestly, I had zero control over my mouth. Not what came out of it and certainly not what went into it.
Two glares—one confused (Blondie) and one irritated (Josh)—turned my direction. I shifted the clothes to my left hand, taking a second to wiggle my fingers and restore the blood flow to my right. Fat jeans weighed a fuck-ton. Rolling my eyes, I pointed to the sign.
“Oh,” Josh drawled, then smiled again, his eyes wide and innocent, before dragging his lower lip between his irritatingly straight and white teeth. “What’s your name?”
“Misty.” She giggled, and the sharp jab of Josh’s elbow landed into my ribs, cutting off my annoyed huff midexhale. I coughed, and a little phlegm flew out of my mouth and landed on one of the shirts I surprisingly didn’t loathe. Totally worth ruining the last one like that in my size to see how far apart Misty’s eyes would go. Impressive.
“My friend has a big date in less than twelve hours. Do you think you might help us out and let us take these back to the dressing room?”
She glanced at me briefly with an ambiguous wave of her hand, like she didn’t care what I did, as long as I removed myself from her presence. Which, I would’ve happily obliged were it not for the fact that Josh’s eyeballs were warning me not to leave him alone with her.
“What about you? Do you have a date tonight?” Her eyes locked on Josh and I knew I couldn’t abandon him. When Josh flirted with girls, he wasn’t interested in bending anything but the rules, but Misty clearly hadn’t picked up on that.
Man or woman, young or old—Josh flirted. They always flirted back. The earth revolved around the sun. So on and so on. The only one spared from his charm offensive seemed to be me.
My stomach gurgled, and Misty scowled in my direction. I hadn’t eaten in preparation for this little self-flagellation, and a belly like mine tended to get a bit pissy when deprived of regular meals.
Her sardonic expression blossomed. Ugh. Of all the ways I’d been put down over the years, that look of revulsion still cut. If Josh’s stomach growled, she’d rub his belly and offer to make him a sandwich, but my stomach she treated like an IED about to explode.
“I just need a new shirt. I have jeans.” I launched the jeans at Misty, but Josh’s ninja reflexes snatched them back and pushed them against my chest.
“You cannot wear your jeans tonight. They are way too baggy. He won’t be able to see your ass.” Josh’s voice gained an octave and the sheer horror he displayed at my fashion choices sent out red flares of gay.
“Oh,” Misty breathed, and her expression landed somewhere between hard-ass professional and bona fide mean girl. “He’s right. The limit is six.”
Josh pouted, more at me than at Misty, but Josh’s puppy-dog eyes were gender neutral in their effectiveness.
Misty’s stance softened. “But there are two of you . . .” she hedged. Don’t give in, Misty. “So, I guess you could each take back six items.” She freed two plastic door hangers that bore a large number six on them. “Let me know if you need anything.”
I snatched the tags from her hand and beelined for the last dressing room—the accessible stall, which I know, I know . . . However, mild claustrophobia is a disability. Besides, none of the other rooms had a place to sit, and we’d been walking and standing for hours. I tossed the jeans on the floor and hung the shirts on one of the three hooks opposite the mirror. As I sat, Josh’s feet appeared under the stall door accompanied by a firm knock. “Brady, let me in.”
“No way,” I insisted. “If I’m doing this, I’m doing it alone.”
“Fine. But show me each pair. Your ass is thick. You need to show it off.”
Sighing, I stood and turned to check out my backside in the mirror. In most circles, thick implied muscular. Josh’s perky cheeks, for example, were firm and round and probably had sexy dimples on them when he flexed. My ass dimples were courtesy of cellulite. I unbuckled my belt, removed my shirt, and lowered my pants and, in an afterthought, my boxers. My task had zero use for bulky underwear. I tugged at and stretched my skin, but a Shar-Pei puppy had a better chance of pulling off a tight body.
What a ridiculous way to waste an afternoon. The jeans wouldn’t fit. My ass hadn’t been squeezed into a size forty-two in well over a year. The last time I’d tried, it required a prolonged fast, a thorough cleanse, and a warped sort of gymnastics to get them on. There remained one lonely pair in the someday pile in the back of my closet. Josh had always complimented me when I wore them, and I’d paid a small fortune for them, so I saved them in case I was lucky enough to contract a tapeworm or some tropical disease like dysentery. Is dysentery a tropical disease? I wasn’t sure. Regardless, forty-two was solidly in the “need a life-threatening illness to fit” category now.
I picked up the first pair and held them to my body, lifted my left leg, and slid it into the pants. The fabric pulled tight at my calf, and I inserted my right leg, then yanked at the denim. About midthigh, my legs bore an uncanny resemblance to sausages, and flab overflowed from the top. The blood flow cut off as I wiggled the fabric over my ass, and the zipper teeth bit into my skin while I struggled to protect the essential parts of my anatomy. Inhaling deeply, I tugged as hard as I could to bring the button to its hole. Within seconds, I was sweating profusely and still inches from my goal. I squatted to stretch the fabric, and an ominous ripping sound stole the last vestiges of my dignity.
No. No. NOOO.
I braced my hand on the wall and hovered midsquat, mouthing curse words. My thighs burned, and I tried to straighten my legs to minimize the damage, praying there was some defect in the fabric to blame.
One glance down and the herniated fat pushing through the inner thigh of the heavy denim gave me my answer. I closed my eyes, lost my balance, and collapsed onto the small triangular seat with a thud. Another prolonged ripping noise pierced my soul like a knife.
I stared at the pale, fleshy blob sandwiched between jagged denim edges with disgust. How had I let this happen? I didn’t have some trauma in my life I could point to and say, That! That’s why I have no willpower. That’s why I don’t take care of myself.
My previous go-to excuse had also expired. I’d mostly grown out of the childhood asthma that had put the kibosh on sports, and I’d ceased the daily steroid breathing treatments before high school. Face it. You’re lazy and have a weak character.
Slouching my five-foot-ten frame, I forced my abdominal rolls into tangible evidence to justify my self-loathing and jiggled it, wondering how much longer I had before I’d be one of those poor saps who couldn’t reach his own dick to jerk off.
A knock at the door startled me— “C’mon. I want to see. I know you have the first pair on.” Ugh. Josh.
“Almost,” I lied and rolled the denim down. I folded the jeans to hide the rip and yanked on my own jeans.
Josh huffed an inpatient sigh. “Christ, Brady. I can see your legs.”
I flung open the door. Josh’s face flashed irritation, then melted into concern. He opened his mouth, probably to say something encouraging, but I held up my hand.
“This is pointless. They aren’t gonna fit, Josh. I need a forty-four.” Actually, a forty-six because I preferred baggy clothes these days, but why quibble over semantics? The shredded jeans had become a metaphor for his fantasy of me walking out of the mall with a date-perfect outfit.
“Why didn’t you say so?” Josh’s face brightened. Too brightly. That was his I can fix this look. “I’ll go grab them.” Before I could object, he scurried away. Surely, he . . . Well, no. I guess he wouldn’t have any experience with a store not having his size. I debated letting him figure it out on his own, but after considering the likelihood that Misty would be involved in sorting it out, decided against it.
Josh rotated toward me. “Why?”
My humiliation rose to the surface, choking off my words. Josh’s carefree smile dimmed, and the second he realized I wasn’t okay he stepped toward me. “What’s wrong?”
I glanced around the empty dressing room and jerked my arm in a come-here motion. Josh returned to me, the usual bounce in his step noticeably absent. I tugged him inside the dressing room, and the momentum sent him stumbling into me. When he reached out to steady himself, a surprised breath sweetened by the fruit smoothie Josh had earlier mingled with my own.
“Sorry.” Josh’s hands slipped lower on my hips. Our eyes met, and a little spark of awareness sent a shiver up my spine. For a brief moment his expression changed, almost like he . . .
I shook my head to remove the thoughts. The lack of food was making me hallucinate. “No problem.” Josh released me, and I took a step back as my brain returned from fantasyland to real life.
Josh cleared his throat, shifting uncomfortably. “What’s up?”
“They don’t have a forty-four, Josh. This is the largest size they carry in this store.”
Admirably resisting his urge to be optimistic, Josh accepted my declaration with a furrowed brow and pursed lips. “Since when?”
I guffawed. “Since forever. Most stores in the mall don’t carry my size, which is why I’m gonna wear what I usually do. It won’t matter anyway. This guy isn’t going to be interested in me. I’m not good at dating. We’re going to dinner, so I’ll spend money I don’t have to eat a salad with kale or some shit like that and talk about the gym, so he’ll think maybe I’m trying to do something about myself.” Shame burned my cheeks as I detailed my inevitable humiliation. Josh’s eyes bugged out at my rambling, but I kept going, frustrated that he didn’t understand how hard dating was for me.
“Meanwhile, I’ll spill something on my new shirt like a total slob. Then this guy is going to make an excuse for why he needs to call it an early night, and I’ll never hear from him again. And that’s if I’m lucky and he doesn’t bolt before we get to dinner.”
Josh’s big hands closed on my head and massaged my temples. “I wish you wouldn’t get so down on yourself. You’re a great guy. Any man would be lucky to have you.”
Josh tugged me into his arms and squeezed. He didn’t understand. He had no idea how much he took for granted. I tried not to fault him. Guys like him? Sure. With rare exception, I begrudged anyone who sported a sculpted body. Never had that been in the cards for me. I came out of the womb weighing twelve pounds—double the average newborn. Even my baby clothes were too small.
“I’m sweaty,” I said, freeing a hand to wipe my nose and sniffled.
“I don’t care.” Josh laced a hand through my hair and petted me. The tension in my neck and shoulders eased at his touch, despite desperately wanting my shirt on and dreading the wet spot my chest would leave. To say I was “not a hugger” would be an understatement, but with Josh, I’d learned it was best to go with it.
I owed the gods a sacrifice for our roommate match. After being outed in his close-minded small town, Josh needed new friends and as his roommate, I was convenient, but through the years we became inseparable. Now, Josh’s hugs were some of the few I tolerated.
When my emotions threatened to turn liquid, I broke away and grabbed my shirt. “I’m starving,” I declared. “Let’s go to McDonald’s.”
Josh laughed and tussled my hair. Although I was older by two months, sometimes he treated me like a little brother. I never figured out how to process the affection he sent my way, and I was sure he didn’t realize how easily a guy like me could read something more into it, but I liked it enough that I didn’t say anything that might discourage him.
“How about we go home? I’ll make those turkey-stuffed peppers you like.”
A half smile crept onto my face. I did like Josh’s peppers. “Fine, but don’t skimp on the cheese this time, and I’ll know if you use that low-fat bullshit.”
“Deal.” Josh laughed. “But I’m making mine without cheese.”
“Whatever,” I muttered as I replaced my shirt and slipped on my shoes.
“What? I’ve put on weight too.” Josh lifted his shirt, and I nearly swallowed my tongue.
“Yeah. You should really increase the gym trips to seven times a week. Five clearly isn’t cutting it.”
Josh swatted the back of my head.
“Ouch,” I cried, before he smoothed my hair. He led me out of the dressing room, then the store.
A pang of nostalgia hit me. “This was nice,” I said suddenly. “Seems like it’s been forever since we hung out just the two of us.”
Josh’s face tensed like he thought I was blaming him instead of my empty wallet, so I added, “I wouldn’t want to deal with my grumpy ass either. I know you’re busy. You charge me next to nothing to live in your house, and I practically have the whole place to myself.”
Josh flashed a brief contrite smile. “It’s our house. And work should slow down for me.” When I gave him a questioning look, he sighed. “Ken reassigned the Peterson Furniture account to Larry.”
Larry was Josh’s work nemesis. Their boss, Ken, had been pitting them against each other since they were both interns and were told they were competing for the same job. I’d never met the guy, but I was duty-bound to hate him too. It pissed me off that anyone would try to get ahead by making Josh look bad. “You’re kidding? What did Ken say this time? You worked your ass off on that one.”
Josh shrugged. “It is what it is.”
I debated letting his nonanswer go. Josh struggled with anything he perceived as a failure, and the last thing I wanted to do was send him down a shame spiral. “I’m sure you’ll get the next one.”
“And I’m sure you’ll get a better job soon.”
“I hope so. If not, I’m going to have to sell a kidney.”
Josh shook his head. “Quit it with that.”
“I mean it, Josh. If it weren’t for you letting me live—”
“Brady, it’s fine. Stop, okay?”
Tension followed us to the car. His lower lip was tucked between his teeth as he walked. Ah, hell. He was working up the courage to say something else. Josh had two big problems: he had ridiculously high expectations of himself, and he hated disappointing people. Which basically guaranteed he’d put up with far more than most before complaining about anything. It was the main reason I’d been sweating the bills so much. I hated that money, or my lack of it, had become a factor in our friendship. I’d watched my mom struggle long enough that I wasn’t about to run up credit card debt trying to keep up. Every time I told him I couldn’t go out, he looked so hurt, but when I let him pay, I felt like I was taking advantage of him. All the stress was doing a number on my waistline, which in turn made me a cranky bastard.
We slid into the leather interior of my car, recently cleaned for my upcoming date. The air freshener Josh had picked tickled my nose. My airway bitched up a storm around certain chemicals and smells. I started the car and cracked the windows to air it out, then twisted to buckle my seat belt. Josh had his focus set on me, and his lip tucked between his teeth again.
Oh, boy. Here it comes.
“Come workout with me tomorrow.”
I couldn’t help the laugh that escaped. “I’m not going to your gym.”
“Why not?” His hand rested over mine on the gearshift, preventing us from going anywhere until I answered. “Look. I know you’re frustrated about the job hunt, but you have to find ways to relax. Exercise is great for stress relief. We can invite Adam if you want to.”
I rolled my eyes. Adam was our friend and my former obsession. Like being the fat guy at a gym wasn’t bad enough, I sure as hell didn’t want to be standing next to the two most attractive men in the room. “Canal Street Gym is a meat market, and I can’t afford it.”
Josh thought on that for a beat with a pensive expression. Great. I’d activated the problem-solving wheels in his brain. Should have just said no.
“Fine. Let’s go running, then. We can start slow.”
I glared at Josh as though he’d proposed climbing Mt. Everest. He laughed, breaking the tension momentarily, and making me laugh too.
“What? It’s something people do, Brady. It’s not as hard as you think.”
“No, thanks,” I deadpanned.
“Brady. Please. I hate seeing you so down on yourself. If you don’t like the way you feel, please do one thing to change it. You know you can talk to me, right?”
I hated the hesitation in Josh’s voice. I knew he’d always support me, but I’d been less than forthcoming about everything I was going through in the last few months. More for my sanity than anything. I couldn’t handle his disappointment along with my own. Interview after interview, I’d walk away thinking I’d nailed it only to find out I didn’t get the job. “I know. Can we please go eat? My blood sugar is dropping, and I’m getting cranky.”
“Fine.” Josh released an exasperated sigh and lifted his hand. I took advantage of the reprieve and put the car in reverse. After living together for six years, Josh and I were both clear on the location of each other’s red lines. However, as quickly as Josh retreated if I stepped near his, my date tonight was proof that he had no issues about kicking rocks over mine.
At six that evening, Josh’s persistent throat clearing risked causing him permanent damage. Yes, I needed to start getting ready. No, I didn’t want to stop playing the game I had used to distract myself thank you very much. I completed the mission I’d been stuck on for three days moments before Josh took matters into his own hands and switched off the television.
“Hey!” I objected.
“Brady. If you don’t get in the shower in the next thirty seconds, I’ll drag you in there myself. You haven’t dated in months.”
Technically, I’d reached the one-year mark three weeks before, but the clarification seemed unnecessary. With a sigh, I tossed my controller on the couch seat next to me. “Fine.”
I trudged to our shared bathroom and ignored the looming figure behind me. Twisting to conceal the stretch marks on my left love handle, I peeled off my shirt and held it over me for cover.
I turned on the water, sat on the edge of the tub, and toed off my shoes and socks. Josh hadn’t moved. “Am I in prison now? Gotta have a guard to watch me shower?” And now I was being an asshole. Great. “Sorry,” I grumbled.
Josh pouted and shook off my apology. “Just making sure you don’t flee out the window.”
I glanced above the tub at the small square window and huffed. “Like my ass would fit through that,” I mumbled. Steam began to fill the room, and I reached for the faucet.
“Brady. Enough.” The harshness of Josh’s tone was reminiscent of my stepfather’s tough-love voice.
I nudged the dial to adjust the water temperature then turned toward him. “Jesus, now what?”
A sheepish expression replaced his resting smile. “Sorry,” Josh muttered. “I thought you were going to turn it off.”
“Was that an option?”
“Please trust me. You need to do this. It’s one dinner.” Josh didn’t have to keep repeating the mantra. He was right. I was in a rut, and all a rut ever got me was a bigger clothing size. “I thought you liked him?”
“Yeah. He’s all right, I guess.” So far, chats with Matt had shown promise. He wasn’t anywhere close to as perfect as Josh, but then that was the point. Matt was obtainable.
I eyed Josh, allowing a moment to appreciate his physical attributes. It was hard to pinpoint exactly what made Josh so damn attractive. He was above-average height, his body rivaled Hollywood’s leading men, and he was blessed with skin that tanned easily, but lots of men had those things. His face though—that was the real draw. It was so symmetrical that even a small freckle on the right side of his angular jaw had a perfect match on the left.
Josh heaved an impatient sigh. “Is this still about Adam?”
“No.” Adam had been my excuse to not try to meet someone far longer than he’d been my reason for it. He’d made it abundantly clear he wasn’t interested in me, but my go-to move in college had been to pine wordlessly and fall on my mattress with angsty sighs, so I’d stuck with what I knew. It had sucked, but the idea of putting myself out there for real sucked ten times harder.
Josh’s skepticism was delivered with a pointed stare and a single arched eyebrow. “Great, then there is nothing keeping you from having a good time tonight.”
I sighed acquiescence. I would go on this date. Josh had the best of intentions. He always had the best intentions. He was near perfect in that way. I sort of owed it to him after the months of attitude I’d given him. Josh went through a lot of trouble to set up a dating profile for me and even managed to take some halfway decent photos. Not that I thought I was ugly. I had big blue eyes and a full head of mahogany-brown hair that was easy to style, straight teeth, and clear skin. Like the rest of my body, my face was too round, and only one of my chins was strong, but with a proper angle and lighting, I pulled off a decent headshot. Nothing was going to make me sexy—no Instagram filter was that good, but neck up wasn’t awful.
“Brady.” Josh’s plea drew me out of my contemplations.
I nodded and pulled the curtain back. “All right. Fine. You win. I’ll date Matt. I’ll fuck him. We’ll fall in love and get married and tell our future children how their Uncle Josh forced me to go on our first date. Happy now?”
Josh nodded with an expression that registered a far cry from happy, but before I could apologize for my outburst, he left and shut the door behind him. Not long after while brushing my teeth, I heard the garage door open and close, and came out of the bathroom to find an empty house and a note from Josh.
Good luck tonight. Have fun.
At seven on the nose, I entered Campriani’s Italian Restaurant still puzzled by Josh’s disappearing act. It’s not like I expected him to hand-hold me through getting ready, but he hadn’t mentioned having plans earlier. When I texted to see where he’d gone, he didn’t answer. Not even when I threatened to stay home. I considered that it might be Josh’s way of helping me not be nervous. Like maybe if he racked me with enough guilt for snapping at him, there’d be no room left for anxiety.
He wasn’t really pissed because, well, Josh never got mad at me. Frustrated? Sure. Exasperated? Often. Disappointed? More than I liked. But never angry. Plus, he left the note on one of my more flattering shirts, freshly ironed, on my bed with my jeans and his favorite Cole Haan loafers. Josh had an extensive shoe collection that had tripled since we’d left college. If I ever gained so much that we wore different shoe sizes . . . I shivered, unable to contemplate such a cruel world. I doubted I had worn one of the five pairs I owned in over a year. He’d also left his favorite cologne on my dresser. I hadn’t worn it. On the odd chance things between Matt and me turned toward sexy town, it would be hella-weird to smell Josh.
I made my way through the weekend-night crowd to the hostess stand. My phone vibrated with an incoming text. Across the room, Matt sat at the row of tables for two against the wall, alone, phone in hand. He glanced up and waved, and I bypassed the hostess and weaved my way toward him.
“Hey, Brady.” Matt stood and greeted me with a loose side hug. The forced intimacy sent my stomach acid racing up my throat. He motioned to my seat, which backed up to an occupied chair at the next table. I sized up the easement and froze. Even if I pulled the chair all the way back, I’d be eating with my gut heaved on the table or the table digging into my stomach. Neither sounded appetizing.
Matt smiled acknowledgment. “Will you be more comfortable over here?”
“Do you mind?”
“Of course not. I took this seat so I would see you walk in.” Matt placed his hands on my shoulders and squeezed affectionately. He slid past me and took the seat I’d rejected. Inwardly, I sighed relief, and a fleeting moment of optimism tickled my brain. Maybe my date wasn’t going to be a flaming pile of dog shit. I smiled, knowing Josh would be proud of me for that.
Once we were settled and had ordered our drinks, Matt kicked off the first-date conversation by exploring the menu options with me. He’d already decided on a dish from the specials list, but that menu had no prices. He highly recommended their Fettuccine Campriani.
I found the description and paused at the cream-based sauce. “Um. I’m trying to avoid white sauce. Anything else you’d suggest?”
Matt frowned as though I’d rejected him and not his suggestion.
“Or did you want to share?” I offered.
“No. I have some food restrictions to deal with and don’t want to limit you. Please get whatever you want. If you’re aiming for something on the lighter side, their chopped salad is pretty good, or you can get any of their penne options with whole wheat pasta. The arrabiata sauce is amazing, but I’ll warn you it is very spicy.”
I perused the menu on my own for a minute. By the time I eliminated the red sauce items for stain prevention and the white sauce options for fat-shaming prevention, I was down to the chopped salad and Chicken Caesar, which in a happy coincidence were the least-expensive items on the menu. The server arrived, and Matt ordered the shrimp special. The server seemed a little too surprised at my choice of the chopped salad with a light dressing. Yes, the fat man ordered a salad. Alert the media.
Matt and I had already discovered a shared interest in the Mission to Mars video game series, so we burned most of the conversation time before our meals arrived discussing the latest release. “Have you found the glitch on the Isidis basin mission?” I’d spent three weeks figuring out how best to exploit it.
“Not yet. I bought it last week but haven’t had much time to play.”
“It’s kind of complicated, but when you go into the room where you get the mission briefing, there’s a door on the right. If you go through it before the briefing is over, you can score an unlimited oxygen tank and everything you need to survive the Tharsis volcano eruption. If you wait until it’s over, you get a regular six-hour tank, and you have to upgrade your heat shield at least three times to survive.”
Matt flashed an amused smile and nodded. “Cool. Maybe when I get there, you can come over and talk me through it.”
“Sure,” I agreed, before his offer fully translated into a potential second date. As I considered the ramifications of that, our meals arrived.
I managed to contribute a few witty stories and some thoughtful questions, but Matt carried most of the conversation for the remainder of our meal. He was interesting and friendly. I liked him enough that I gave myself a moment to consider if I found him attractive. Matt reminded me of the men in the J.C. Penney’s catalogs my mom used to get—handsome, yet kind of meh about it too. For a guy like me, that should be #goals.
Matt’s body-type fell into the black hole of descriptions the app used: he lacked muscle tone, so athletic didn’t seem correct, but neither slender nor a few extra pounds would have been more accurate, so I didn’t fault him for his choice. I wagered he didn’t own a gym membership, but did something physical on the weekends, like playing golf. The app listed his eyes as green, but in the dim lighting, they appeared brown. His front teeth had a slight gap, which explained all the closed-mouth smiles in his profile pictures. Still, I liked that he was taller than me. And the way he regularly ran his fingers through his full head of product-free, silky brown hair. He laughed generously at my jokes and showed far more interest in what I said than what I ate.
At the end of the meal, the server cleared our plates and offered us dessert. Matt raised a questioning eyebrow at me but followed suit when I politely declined. About five minutes later, the server brought our check. Matt ignored the leather folder and continued his story unbothered. Usually, I could set my watch to a date ending the evening immediately following my last bite. My fingers twitched, and I suppressed the urge to reach for my . . . Oh, shit!
With a sudden jerk, I checked my pocket. Nothing.
“You okay?” Matt asked. My face heated and my deodorant failed. Matt and I had agreed in advance to split the bill. I glanced at the door, then back to Matt. The only dignified exit strategy was the truth.
“Um. So, this is super embarrassing, and I’m going to sound like a total tool, but I think I left my wallet at home. Maybe it’s in the car, but I kind of don’t remember leaving the house with it.”
Matt wiped his mouth and shifted. “Oh, that’s okay. I can get this one.” He picked up the folder.
“No,” I insisted too strongly and picked up my phone, noticing the low battery warning over the navigation app I’d used to find the restaurant “Damn. Stupid GPS kills my battery. What’s your Paypal? I’ll transfer it to you.” Trying not to panic, I raced to find the app. The screen froze and went black. “Fuck. It died. You wouldn’t happen to have a charger, would you?”
Matt shook his head and held up his phone. “I don’t have an iPhone. Sorry.”
“Then would you mind paying, then following me back to my house? I have the cash to pay you back. I’m so sorry about this.”
“It’s fine,” Matt said graciously, pulled out his wallet, and slipped his credit card into the folder. “You don’t have to pay me back, but I wouldn’t mind coming home with you if you want to continue this date somewhere more private.”
My heart entered my throat. Continue? In private? I swallowed hard. “I have a roommate.”
Matt stiffened. “Would he mind?”
“No,” I said. “I don’t think so. I’ve never actually brought a date home before.”
“How long have you lived together?”
“Let’s see. Freshman and sophomore year at Loman Hall, two and a half years in an apartment off-campus, and almost two in our house. Well, his house.”
“Ah. College roomies, huh? Must like each other to keep it going after graduation.”
“Yeah. Josh is great.”
“You’ve never discussed having dates over in six years, though? No boyfriends or . . . girlfriends?”
“Boyfriends,” I clarified. “And it hasn’t come up. Josh doesn’t want a relationship.”
“I see. And you?”
“It hasn’t come up,” I repeated. What could I say? I always fell for unobtainable guys? I was a glutton for rejection?
Matt nodded understanding and smiled. “So . . . Where does that leave us tonight?”
My heartbeat against my chest while the offer hung in the air between us. Matt reached for my hand and squeezed. “No pressure,” he said softly. “But I vote we go for it.”
Josh would kill me if I let the opportunity pass me by. He would also be a smug son of a bitch if he learned my date ended horizontally. I exhaled the breath I didn’t realize I was holding. What the hell. I was overdue for a win of some sort, right?
“Well, I should pay you back for picking up the check.”
Matt smiled from his pretty eyes, which now that he was closer, did appear to be, in fact, green. “I’m sure we can find something that will do the trick.”
I laughed it off, although my nerves and body responded with interest. My knee drifted over, and even through two layers of denim, the touch of our legs unleashed a wave of tingles under my skin.
The server returned Matt’s credit card, and with a hurried scribble, Matt added the tip and his signature to the sales slip and shoved the card into his wallet. “You ready?” he asked with a flirty wink.
I had no idea what I had committed to, but lacking any real desire to back out, I nodded, followed Matt out of the restaurant, and hoped like hell Josh wasn’t home.
I drove aimlessly, but the guilt and regrets swarmed around my brain like a colony of angry bees. Another text from Brady came in wondering why I’d left, but I didn’t answer him. I couldn’t. Not when the truth was that watching him leave for his date would probably lead to me confessing things I had no business thinking, let alone saying out loud. What had I done? It seemed like such a great plan a month ago.
The idea for the dating profile for Brady came to me from, of all things, a movie. The lead character, down on his luck, remarked that he didn’t feel like a total loser because of his hot girlfriend. Maybe I couldn’t help Brady land his perfect job, but he was such an amazing, thoughtful, funny guy. How hard could it be to find him a man to tell him that? Especially since he didn’t seem to take my word for it. Brady would feel better, our equilibrium would be restored, and all this tension from his crappy mood and bickering over money would go away.
I hadn’t considered the downside of my plan until Brady spelled out the natural consequences. My focus had been how meeting someone special would improve his self-esteem, usher back his fun-loving personality, and give him a much-needed confidence boost. Perhaps enough to be the edge he needed to score his dream job. However, the rest of it—love, marriage, kids—had never occurred to me.
This was such a mess.
Stopping for gas, I found myself across the street from a leather bar I’d learned about from a guy on Jack’d or Grindr, I didn’t recall which. I’d only been there the once, and we hadn’t stayed long, but Grizzlies had been less intimidating than other bars and clubs I’d explored in the area.
When a spot opened up on the busy street, I took it as a sign. A quick flash of my ID and I was inside.
Grizzlies wasn’t a dance club. The small interior consisted of a U-shaped bar and a handful of wobbly tables and chairs that had seen better days. The patrons had a “regulars” vibe to them, which tilted the bar’s ambiance away from pickup spot toward a social club. I drew a lot of curious, borderline-surprised stares on my way to order a drink.
Half of a Jack and Coke later, an older guy—early fifties, at least—hovered on the other side of the bar in my line of sight too long to be unintentional. He had a smooth head and bearded face and wore jeans with a black leather vest opened to reveal a shirtless paunch, hairy chest, and nicely muscled arms and pecs. His tongue made a small trace of his top lip as he started his approach.
“Hi there. Get you another?” He saddled up to the barstool next to mine and angled himself toward me.
“Sure, but I’m not interested in anything beyond conversation.”
He laughed. “That so?” He motioned to the bartender. “Get this young man another of whatever he’s having, and I’ll have another of that IPA.”
The bartender nodded and moved down the bar to fill our order.
“What’s your name?” he asked.
“Josh.” I offered my hand.
His palm was warm and his face friendly. “Nice to meet you, Josh. Name’s Barrett, but most folks call me Bare.” He lifted his nearly empty bottle to his mouth and drained it.
“A bear named Bare?” I laughed, and his smile reached his eyes. “Cute.”
“So, what brings you to our fine establishment? Usually a sweet, young thing like you comes in, they’re on the hunt for men or trouble.” Bare winked, and I couldn’t help another amused laugh that only encouraged him. Flirting was a reflex. I’d always put extra effort into my appearance and social interactions because, as my father would remind me, “Appearances matter, son.” Not that flirting with half-naked men was what he’d had in mind.
The bartender delivered our drinks and moved on. I lifted my glass as an answer and took a sip. “No trouble. Just this.”
“Never search for solutions at the bottom of a glass, young Josh.”
I huffed, because maintaining control was a constant struggle in my life already. I couldn’t imagine what a disaster I’d be with a drinking problem. “Nah. Have a lot on my mind and driving wasn’t working, so thought a drink might help.”
“I see.” Bare nodded. “Boy troubles?”
“Yep,” I answered hastily. “Wait. No.” My cheeks heated, but I met his questioning look head-on. “It’s not like that.”
Bare laughed boisterously and slapped the bar hard enough to rattle my glass. “Well, now we’re getting somewhere. Tell me what it is like and maybe old Bare can help you out.”
“It’s not boy troubles like you mean them.”
“Ahh. Well, get on with it. I love untangling a good mess.”
“He’s a friend,” I said, “and roommate.”
“We’re sort of drifting apart.”
Bare smiled at me, a sympathetic quirk of his mouth. “That happens.”
“I did something to try to stop it, but I think it might backfire.”
“Did you fuck him?”
“No,” I blurted and bit my lip to keep the nervous laughter from escaping.
“Why not? You’re not attracted to him?”
That was the thing. I liked stocky guys, and as far as my physical preferences were concerned, Brady checked all the boxes. “That’s not a problem,” I said. My heart sped up. I’d never admitted my attraction to Brady to anyone before. I slammed back my drink to distract myself with the burn. I couldn’t let myself think of Brady like that. I wasn’t a total masochist. Shaking my head cleared the thoughts that never entirely went away, not even after years of witnessing Brady’s tortured, unrequited crush on our friend Adam. He was my best friend. Family. That was enough. More than enough. “No. It’s not that. It’s, um . . . We’re friends.”
“Oh, so you’re both bottoms?” Bare nudged my shoulder with his own.
A surge of anxiety spiked through me. I mean, I was, but I didn’t like it when guys assumed. “How do you know I’m a bottom?”
Bare laughed, rolled his eyes, and quirked his eyebrow as if challenging me to deny it. Instead, I huffed. “That’s not the issue. We’ve always been friends. I don’t want more than that.”
“You’re awful young to be so cynical. Burned out on love at what . . .” He sized me up. “Twenty-two?”
“Twenty-four. It’s not so much burned out. I just . . . My ex ruined me for that.”
Bare sat back, and a protective veneer swept over his expression. “I’m sorry some asshole hurt you, baby. But don’t let that scare you off of love. Lots of good men out there. Give yourself time to heal.”
“You really think I’d allow some dude to hit me?” I scoffed and cracked my knuckles.
Bare frowned. “I didn’t mean physically, but victims of domestic abuse hardly allow it to happen to them.”
My face heated. “It wasn’t like . . . My ex was a girl. She did something . . . Look, it’s . . .” And now I sounded like a basket case. Fantastic. “Not something I want to talk about.”
Bare’s face screwed up tight, and a bemused grin overtook his earlier concern. “‘Girlfriend’? You bisexual, sugar?”
I pinched the bridge of my nose. Ugh. Would I ever say the words without getting anxious? “No. I’m gay.” There was a reason I didn’t go to gay bars often and always managed to have some work-related crisis when Pride rolled around. I wasn’t out at work and too embarrassed to admit that to my friends. Needless to say self-acceptance remained a struggle.
“Ahh. I see. Your beard outed you. I’m guessing she didn’t know she was a beard and was none too pleased to find out. That sucks, my young Josh, but it also means you’ve never had a boyfriend and that’s a shame.”
I wished I could explain the depths of Anna’s betrayal in a few pithy sentences, but it was the convoluted nature of her scheme that made it so evil. No one understood how far I’d been willing to go to keep my secret. Not even Brady.
“Look, Brady is a friend. I don’t even know why we’re talking about him. If I had a boyfriend, I wouldn’t be in here letting you buy me a drink. Now would I?”
Bare welcomed my subject change with a feral grin. “No, I guess you wouldn’t. Probably wouldn’t let me do this either.” He leaned in and brushed a thumb over my cheek, stroking me. A flush warmed my body. “I like the way you blush. It’s pretty.”
Bare continued to warm me up with sweet words. When I responded with smiles, his meaty hands took liberties, gentle touches I liked. He hit all my turn-ons like he’d been given a checklist of how to get me on my knees, but there was something about his energy that made it impossible to relax. I usually did all the back-and-forth banter on a chat screen so the live-action parts could stay safely within my razor-thin strike zone. I loved feeling sexy and desired but not used. Being on my knees, but not pushed there. If someone looked or acted like they might want to hold me down, it was game over. Something about Bare’s dominating vibe was throwing me off and making my stomach sour.
“Can I ask you something?”
“Sure,” Bare said, running a hand over my thigh, “you can ask me anything.” My lips flattened, and I forced a smile before shifting my leg away.
“How would you react if you had a friend you thought was trying to do something nice for you, but then you realized they only did it for a completely selfish reason?”
Bare’s blue eyes drifted up, and he took a sip of his drink before responding with too much alacrity. “I had a brother who used to watch my dog for me. Sweet little thing—the dog, not my brother.” He chuckled at his own joke, and I smiled reflexively. “Anyway, Beau used to take that dog out to pick up women. I only found out when the young woman who worked at my vet’s office told me after she’d recognized the old girl and gave Beau a good what for.”
I took a sip of my drink to avoid cringing. My attempt to be vague had landed me an unrelatable response and left me desperate for an exit strategy. It was a good reminder of why I didn’t go to bars much. There really should be a human interaction equivalent to the block feature. Bare stroked the outside of my bicep with one finger. I sighed.
“Not what you meant, huh?” Bare asked.
I closed my eyes, swallowed the lump in my throat. How could I explain what I’d almost done when I’d gone to Brady’s room to lay out his clothes?
His phone was right there, on his bed, charging. My heart was aching from Brady’s words.
“We’ll fall in love and get married . . .”
I keyed in my birthday and my thumb hovered over the small numeral one in the upper-right-hand corner of the app icon. Brady had an unread message. An idea tickled my brain. What if I canceled their date? Brady wouldn’t have to know.
I couldn’t believe I had almost violated Brady’s privacy like that. Brady trusted me, and I’d gone on his phone plenty of times, but for an expressed purpose and with his permission. Never to read his private messages and absolutely never to make a decision that wasn’t mine to make. After what Anna had done to me. How could I think of doing such a thing? What was wrong with me?
“No. Sorry. But thanks anyway.”
Bare dropped his hand to take a sip from his bottle and shifted uncomfortably, adding rigidity to his spine. “Maybe this will help. After I asked Beau to stop, he still offered to watch the dog. So perhaps the better question to ask isn’t what this friend of yours got out of the deal, but what would happen if that math changed? If you took away their part of the equation, what would they do? That should tell you where your friend’s motives truly lie.”
My pulse quickened. Would I still want Brady to meet someone special, someone that might make him happy, even if it meant things didn’t improve between us?
I tossed back the rest of my drink, thanked Bare, and said my goodbye.
On the drive home, I reexamined the evening’s events with my new understanding. It didn’t matter why I had done what I’d done, as long as I stayed clear on the objective. I’d nearly convinced myself I had it all figured out. I would encourage Brady to be happy, in whatever form that took. I was a nice guy. A good friend. A worthy friend. Yes. Everything fit together neatly in my head.
Right up until I was confronted by an unfamiliar car in my driveway.
You have got to be kidding me.
I had mentally prepared for Brady to not come home that night. As long as I’d known him, I’d suspected Brady had gotten physical with about five guys, which averaged to about one new guy a year. So, mathematically, the odds were in Matt’s favor. Brady was overdue for his annual one-night stand. So, I half expected him to go home with his date. Just not to our home. We never hosted our hookups. It was basically an unspoken rule.
Brady deserves to be happy.
“Good for him,” I said aloud and stiffened my upper lip. With renewed determination, I exited my car, prepared to greet them with stories of my fun night with a bear named Bare.
I tossed open the door between the garage and the house with a flourish, only to be greeted by a dark, empty kitchen. Maybe they’d taken an Uber somewhere. I collapsed on the couch and grabbed the remote, searching for a mindless comedy to clear my brain, but Brady’s rhythmically creaking bedframe sent a stray bullet directly into my plan.
Scanning the guide, I selected a movie title that promised gunfire and action sequences, then upped the volume. When the sounds of muffled laughter, followed by an unmistakable moan of pleasure drifted through the wall, I abandoned the movie for my bedroom and noise-canceling headphones, then willed myself to sleep.
I woke in the morning to the muffled sounds of Brady singing, “My, My, My,” in the shower. Although he had a fantastic voice, outside of the bathroom, Brady hummed, he never sang. Troye Sivan was his go-to for shower karaoke, but this song was new in the rotation. He probably danced in there as well. He was too self-conscious in public, but I’d caught him dancing when he thought he was alone enough times that I knew Brady had rhythm. Suddenly I had an image of a naked, wet Brady washing his hairy chest to the sexy track and . . . Oh, God. What if he wasn’t alone? Matt could be in there with him, running his hands over him. Brady could ask him to stay all weekend. Or what if Brady wanted to go to Matt’s place so they could be alone . . . Nope. Not going there.
I grabbed my laptop from my desk and returned to bed, answering emails to keep my mind from going any further down the anxiety rabbit hole. When a single set of footsteps emerged from the bathroom and walked down the hall, relief chased away enough of the what-ifs so I could try to get some more sleep.
By the time I got out of bed, Brady was on the couch alone, eating a bowl of cereal and playing Mission to Mars. I went directly to the coffeepot and filled my favorite mug.
He paused his game as I came into view. “Rough night?” Brady asked. I scratched my messy hair and adjusted the waistband of my boxer briefs that were askew from tossing and turning.
“Mauled by a bear,” I lied, with a wink.
Brady laughed. “You slept in late. I had to fix my own breakfast.” He held up his bowl. “It’s that Kashi cinnamon stuff you bought and almond milk. You’re right. It’s pretty good.”
Brady took another bite, then a sip of his coffee while I added almond milk to my own. “You need a warmup?”
Brady shook his head. “I poured this about ten minutes ago. I was surprised I slept so late. I figured you’d wake me up at the crack of dawn to ask me about my date.”
I offered him a blank stare while I took a sip of coffee. He was right. The last time he’d been on a date, I’d done a much better job pretending to want the details. “Didn’t need to. I heard how your date went.”
Brady, to his credit, blushed furiously. “Oh? Sorry about that.” He held up the controller. “You want to play?”
I shook my head. I didn’t share Brady’s affinity for video games. While we gamed together frequently, I had mostly played as a way to spend time with him or to clear the air about something that was bothering me. It was easier for me to talk with no one staring at me. Even with his focus on killing aliens, Brady had gleaned some fairly deep insights out of my rambling chatter. But lately, all he wanted to do was play. Now that I spent so much time at a desk, the last thing I wanted to do was sit around all weekend.
“It’s a nice day. I’m going to change and go for a run. Then I have some errands.” I started down the hall and paused at the bathroom to brush the scum out of my mouth. When I’d finished, I found Brady lurking in the hallway.
Our house was originally a one-bedroom, one-bath bungalow that the former owners had extended to a two-bedroom. Brady had to walk through the family room to access the bathroom next to my room. We loved the neighborhood so much, we’d been willing to overlook the wonky room configuration and the single bathroom. “Did you need to get in?” I asked.
Brady shook his head and shifted. “What’s wrong with you?”
Brady released a relieved breath. “So, we’re cool? About yesterday? Matt?”
“Yeah, Brady. We’re cool. I’m fine.” I slapped him on the shoulder.
“Okay. Good. Um . . . So, I thought about what you said, and maybe I would like to try it. Do you still want to help?”
I ended the standoff I had going with the Almighty and prayed for strength. Desperate times called for desperate measures. “You swipe right on the guys who you like. Left if you don’t. I think you can manage.”
To my relief, a glimmer of bewilderment crossed his face. “Um. Not that. I meant what you said at the mall. I don’t feel good about myself, and I should do something to change that. Will you help me? Maybe jogging at first, at least for now.”
“Really? Yes, Brady. That’s awesome.” My facial muscles stretched to accommodate my enormous grin, and I threw my arms around him for a quick hug. “Go get changed. I’m so proud of you. You’re going to feel amazing.” I wanted to wrap up every endorphin exercise had ever given me and infuse them into him. I wanted this for him so much, and I loved that he was coming to me for help. The residual anxiety from the previous day vanished. My plan had worked even better and faster than expected.
Brady’s expression soured, so I tamped down my enthusiasm. “It’s going to be fun,” I said. “You’ll see. Like old times. Go change. I’ll get us some waters.”
“Josh,” he warned. “Don’t set your expectations too high.”
Undeterred, I changed quickly into workout clothes and waited for Brady in the family room with an eager smile and two S’well bottles full of ice water. He would come around once he got into it. I was sure of it.
Brady emerged from his room wearing knee-length basketball shorts and an old Twilight T-shirt he’d gotten as a gag gift from our friend Sid. The sleeves pulled tightly around his biceps and over his chest. Brady rarely wore shorts, so his hairy legs were easily four shades lighter than his arms. I was about to crack a joke when he beat me to it.
“I know what you’re thinking. It’s a real challenge to pull off Jacob’s werewolf and Edward’s vampire at the same time.” He placed his hands behind his head, revealing a sliver of his belly and did a showgirl kick of his legs. “But try to control yourself.”
I laughed at first, but quickly sobered. If I didn’t know him so well, I might have missed the flicker of pure dread in his eyes. How could going for a little jog on a sunny day make anyone that miserable? “Aw, Brady. Come here.”
He grumbled something as he walked toward me. When he was within touching distance, I tugged him to me and squeezed hard. “I’m so proud of you. And you are a sexy beast, don’t forget it.”
“Don’t—” He tried to pull back, but I held him tighter.
“I know. My only expectation about this Brady is for you to feel better.”
“Look better,” Brady mumbled and shifted uncomfortably.
I released him to see his face. “Don’t say that.”
“Why?” Brady sniffled and fussed with his shirt, then as if sensing he’d been too defensive, forced a smile. I hoped my acting skills were better than his, because it was painful to watch. “I’m fat, Josh. It’s not a state secret.”
“I don’t like it when you put my best friend down.”
He slowly exhaled through his nose. “Can we not make this an Afterschool Special moment? It’s not an insult. It’s an adjective. A truthful one.”
“You are amazing, Brady. You’re handsome and smart. Not to mention incredibly talented. I love listening to you sing.” Brady’s voice was one of the things I loved most about him. If only there were a way to listen to him without being weird about it.
He snorted. “You have to say that. It’s like when my mother says it. It doesn’t count.”
I swallowed hard. “Well, that guy Matt must have thought so too. ’Cause it didn’t sound like you were playing Mission to Mars to me.” I waited for Brady’s inevitable joke about alien probing or exploring a dark hole, but he didn’t take the bait. He didn’t react at all. Brady passing up a chance to banter with me didn’t sit right.
“I don’t understand. It’s like you refuse to believe anything good about yourself these days. It’s exhausting.”
Brady’s shoulders slumped. “Look, I’m sorry, but I’m not trying to get into a philosophical debate with you. I want to lose weight. That is my motivation. We can say it’s so I’ll be healthier too if you want, but I’m doing it because I’m tired of being fat. I’m tired of having guys say, ‘You’re amazing, but . . .’ all the time. I’m tired of my clothes not fitting. I’m so tired of being me. So, are we doing this or what?”
Shocked by his outburst, I stepped back from him. The Brady I knew could be diffident, self-deprecating, and occasionally hangry, but never this . . . dejected. Anxiety sent my heart into my throat, but I swallowed my frustration and focused the whole of my mind on helping my disconsolate friend.
I scrutinized his body language, mentally comparing the present version of Brady to the man I’d come to admire. The light in his eyes wasn’t dim, it was gone. And while Brady had been a stocky, broad-shouldered man, he had always taken pride in trying to look his best—shiny hair, tweezed eyebrows, clean-shaven, buffed nails, and hydrated skin. When he went out, he dressed fashionably and to emphasize his best features. This version of Brady reeked of someone who didn’t care anymore. I didn’t know how I’d failed to appreciate the totality of the change, except I’d been too focused on me, and on building my career, to notice.
“Yeah, Brady. We’re doing this.” I wouldn’t let him down again.
Word Count: 94,000
Page Count: 292
Cover By: LC Chase
Release Date: 04/17/2021
Release Date: 04/19/2021