“Benefits of being friends with said legal counsel.”
He adopts a blank expression. “Friends? We’re friends?”
I roll my eyes. “Dickhead.”
He glances at his watch. “That’ll add another five minutes to your hour.”
“But it took less than five seconds to say.”
“Billing increments. You know how it goes.”
“Speaking of you working off the clock for a buddy, want to grab a beer tonight to celebrate the deal?”
He taps his chin. “Hmmm. In that case, add a full sixty minutes.”
“Then I’m rescinding the offer.”
“I suppose that’s only fair,” he says, then nods toward the street outside. “And yes, I would kill for a beer, but there’s a diaper at home needing changing. And then I have to play with my kid.” He rolls his eyes like toddler time is a drag, but I know it’s the opposite for Max. He’s crazy about his nearly two-year-old daughter, Penny.
“Sounds like a fun Friday night.”
“It’s my favorite kind,” he says, in a whisper. “Don’t tell anyone.”
“Your secret love of the dad life is safe with me.”
He taps his temple. “And all yours are safe in the vault.”
I laugh, then clap him on the shoulder. “Good thing I’m an open book.”
He takes off, and I wave goodbye, not really minding that we’re not grabbing a beer. Beneath the smart-ass, Max is relentlessly upbeat these days. He’s a lawyer happy with his practice, a man happy with his wife, and a dad over the moon to finally have the kid he and Theresa went through years of fertility treatments to conceive.
And hell, I’m glad he’s living the good life. That’s how it should be. We should all be happy in the jobs we pick, with the people we fall for, enjoying the lives we choose to live.
But sometimes his Zen gets under my skin.
No matter how proud I am of the things I’ve accomplished, I haven’t quite found my sweet spot.
By all counts, I should be on Cloud Nine. I’m a self-made man on the road to even bigger, brighter success thanks to this deal. It’s all I’ve ever wanted, so why does my gut feel . . . hollow?
Own up to it, man.
I have a pretty good fucking idea.
And, with the paperwork finished, that’s the only loose end left to tie up here.
It’s a big one.
But there’s no time like the present, especially when you’re already operating on borrowed time.
I fire off a text.
* * *
Jesse: Good luck this afternoon, Ruby. Big day for you, so here’s a huge congrats. Also, I’d love it if you could stop by later. I have something for you.
* * *
Ruby: Monkey wrench? Motor oil? New horn for my beach cruiser bike? Can it be one that sounds like an ice cream truck?
* * *
Jesse: Is this your way of telling me you’re getting into bike-based ice cream sales? So very you, with the side hustles.
* * *
Ruby: Ha. No way. I’m happy with a water bottle and a sketch book in my basket, thank you. But I’ll put that on my short list for alternative careers in case I get kicked out of the family business. And yes, I’ll stop by for the not-an-ice-cream-truck-horn surprise. Thank you.
* * *
Jesse: You’re welcome. I can throw in some motor oil too, if you want. Now that I think about it, that seems perfect for your big day. What newly sprung patient couldn’t use a big drum of motor oil sitting around the house? Good for keeping the arms buff, and you can use it as massage oil in a pinch.
* * *
Ruby: You’re so good to me. See ya later!
* * *
Her words fly through the chink in my armor.
I tuck my phone into my pocket and head back to finish organizing the parts room, my stomach suddenly sour.
I want to be good to Ruby. Always. But I’m not sure what she’s going to think about the bomb I’m ready to drop this afternoon.
I can guarantee one thing—this will be one helluva surprise.
It’s a beautiful day.
The sun shines in a clear blue sky and a cool summer breeze blows through the park, carrying the scent of barbecue and cotton candy from a carnival underway on the other side of the lake. Children are laughing at the splash pad, birds are singing, and I'm officially done. I’m whole. Free.
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