“If they need me to, I will. Otherwise I’ll see you guys there.” I chug my water and pull my shirt off my shoulder.
“I’m hitting up that country bar with some friends from class. You know, it’s okay to go out on a school night… we’re not twelve anymore,” I chide.
“I bet those Pre-med guys can really let loose,” he laughs.
Em sits straight up. “Jace, when did you get a bunch of new tattoos?” she asks, sounding surprised.
“He’s been filling up on those all summer, babe,” Jax answers her. I shrug my shoulder while pulling the black t-shirt over my head.
Her bottom lip pouts out and I ask, “What’s wrong?”
“It’s about damn time,” I exclaim. That was probably a dick thing to say, but I’m so damn tired of getting confused for my brother. This summer I went a little crazy with the ink. It was a blast. Everything about Jax and I is identical. We have the same build, same height, same hair, and the same eye color. We even have the same damn teeth. Our voices differ, but not many notice. Lately, I’ve been having some kind of identity crisis and have been craving to mark myself apart from him.
The jarring tone of OneRepublic’s “Apologize” blares from a cell phone and startles all three of us. Em snatches it up from the coffee table and heads for the door.
“I have to take this. I’ll just be next door.” She points toward her apartment and walks out.
I give Jax a puzzled look and he asks, “So it’s not just me that thinks that was bizarre?”
“It was bizarre, but Em is weird like that sometimes.” I try to shrug it off because, knowing my brother, he’s brooding over who’s on the other end of that call.
“No, she’s been doing that shit all week. Who the hell do you think she’s talking to? You haven’t seen her with any guys, have you?” he begins to ramble.
“No, calm down, crazy,” I sigh. “If you don’t trust her, you should probably talk to her.”
“You’re right, I’m going f**king crazy. I do trust her, but...what if she’s just done with this whole relationship thing?” As he starts to overthink his words, his face changes to a sickly pale color. As per usual, I get a sinking feeling deep in my gut when Jax feels sick. My mom always calls it our twin bond; it’s freaky shit is what it is.
Before I can tell him that people don’t usually up and decide to be done with the person they love, Em walks back in the door. She no longer has her phone, so she must have left it at her place. I see Jaxon staring at her empty hand, and I know this is not lost on him.
With a big grin, she jumps on top of him. Em sure as hell doesn’t look like a chick that’s done to me. When she lands in his lap, her hands automatically graze up his chest. Then she pulls back when she sees his face.
“Are you sick, babe?” she asks, concerned. “I’m really hoping you’re not, because I thought we had plans tonight.” She leans in close to his ear. Now I feel like I’m interrupting.
He stands up with her legs wrapped around his waist and holds onto each side of her face. “You’re mine, right?”
“Considering I got this, I damn well better be.” I watch as she points to the inside of her right palm.
Shortly after returning from her internship in Africa, Emerson had the word “Mine” in Jax’s handwriting tattooed on her palm. He had the same thing tattooed on his chest, except the mirror image. I don’t fully understand it, and it seems really f**king corny, but I can’t say I’m not envious of what they have together.
I leave the room before their show becomes unsuitable for all audiences. They often forget where they are and who else is around. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve had to ask Em to try and not take off my brother’s pants while I’m still in the damn room. Quinn and Cole aren’t any better. Being the fifth wheel really f**king blows.
I was hoping to use this time to talk to Jaxon about certain issues that have been weighing heavily on me, but I guess that’s not happening again tonight. I make my way to Cole’s room, so I can try and unload some of this shit before heading out.
I know they don’t mean to, but it’s really taken a beating on me to have to squeeze in time to talk to my own friends lately. I shouldn’t have to f**king schedule appointments with them. Whatever happened to ‘bros before hoes’? Not that Quinn and Em are hoes. Well, Quinn never was and Em’s not anymore.
I knock twice and hear Cole’s deep voice call out, “What’s up?”
“Everyone decent?” I ask, covering my eyes and pushing the door open.
“Get in here, douchebag,” he replies.
Cole and Quinn are lounging on his bed. She’s reading a book and he’s typing away on his laptop. It’s so… simple. I never thought I’d see the day that Cole West would be in for the night before two a.m., let alone nine p.m.
“Is the doctor available?” I ask, in reference to an old joke.
“Uh-oh, what’s up man?” Cole responds and immediately and sets his laptop aside.
“The doctor?” Quinn asks, confusion written all over her face.
“Cole used to be our therapist, I guess. We called him ‘Doc’ because he was the guy to go to with problems.”
“Yeah, he is great like that.” She stares up at him dreamily. Freaking nauseating. “When can I be a patient?” she whispers while rolling closer to him. That’s my cue to leave. Yet again. I turn on my heel and grab for the doorknob.
“Stop, man,” Cole says with a laugh. “We’re just messing around.”
“Nah, I’m so sick of this shit. I can’t ever say two words to you or Jax anymore without interrupting some kind of love fest.” I’m ranting like a pu**y now.
“Aw, I’m sorry, Jace.” Quinn pats the bed next to her and I park my pathetic sorry-ass down. “I can leave if you guys want to talk.”
“No, I don’t care if you’re here. I just need one conversation where someone isn’t down someone else’s throat.”
“Deal,” she says. “Give them a break though,” she says, pointing to the door. “She just got back, so they’re in the honeymoon phase again.”
“I know, I know.” I hold my hands up in surrender. “That’s why I haven’t blown a fuse in front of them yet.”
“What’s up, son?” Cole smarts off again. I stare at him, not saying a word. “Okay, okay, I’m sorry. I’m done f**king with you, for real this time.”
“I dropped Pre-med.” With Cole, it’s best to get straight to the point. He doesn’t have the attention span for beating around the bush.
Quinn’s mouth drops open and Cole looks equally stunned. “Uh… what? You dropped out of school? It’s your senior f**king year, man. You couldn’t go one more year?” he scolds.
“I didn’t say I dropped out of school. I said I dropped Pre-med.”
“What the hell else are you going to do now? Changing your major this late in the game is not going to be easy.”
“I never wanted to be a doctor. Okay… well, I did once when I was sixteen and my dad and Jax stuck to the idea like glue. When Pops died, I just felt it was… right, you know?”
“What’s your alternate major?” Quinn encourages me to continue.
“Finance and Business Economics. Business, basically,” I reply with a shrug. “Okay guys, seriously. The stunned faces don’t f**king help.”
“Go on… tell me the reasoning behind all of this,” Cole requests.
“Look, I always saw myself taking over my dad’s business one day. I used to talk about it all the time with him. Then I spoke of being a doctor for like a week, and he acted like I walked on water for something I hadn’t even accomplished. Jax later took over that notion for him. I hear the way he talks about me to people, like I’m going to cure cancer.”
“Fuck no, I was actually pretty good at it. I just don’t want to do it. I gave it a shot; I tried to love it. What I want to do is take over Pop’s company when my uncle retires.”
“I’ve never even heard you say what your father did,” Quinn reflects.
“The Riley Group.” I smile with pride at all my dad and uncle achieved together.
The Riley Group began as a small business meant for personal and corporate security in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex. Together they built a humble empire due to their high success rate and numerous government contracts. I love that it still has that small business feel though, and I hope to maintain that.
My uncle Logan, who coincidently is my dad’s twin, has been responsible for all of the executive work since my dad’s death. The past couple of years he’s been keeping me up to speed on the company and trying to recruit me to take over when he retires. Seeing as the company is called The Riley Group, he wants it to stay in the family.
It’s always interested me, but I thought I needed to follow through with medical school. I finally recognized how absurd I was, trying to be something I had no desire to be. The day I walked into the Registrar’s office and dropped Pre-med, it felt like a thousand-ton weight had been lifted from my shoulders. Logan was thrilled, and has been in constant communication, trying to teach me the ropes.
Even though it wasn’t a question, I answer, “Yeah. I don’t want to disappoint him and I’m hoping he’ll join me. I haven’t heard him talk about the company once since dad…” I trail off. “So I don’t think he has any interest.” Here’s the kicker… “I want you to join as well.”
Quinn’s smile lights up the room and if Cole was hesitant before, her smile just shifted his focus away from anything negative.
“Dude, I’d take any opportunity to work with you,” Cole says with a smile. “I never imagined we’d have the chance to.”
“I know you and Jax are majoring in Business Journalism, so this is stretching the usefulness of that degree. But it just wouldn’t be the same to do this without you guys.”
“Stop worrying about what Jax will think, Jace. He just wants to you to be happy. Whether he shows it lately or not,” Cole adds. “You also don’t need to try and hire us to keep us close. Although, I’ll definitely take you up on the offer.”
“Aww, you guys really are like brothers. Like triplets, except Cole is the hot one.” And Quinn ruins it all.
Cole’s bedroom eyes immediately lock down on her. I swiftly get up, kiss Quinn on the cheek, and tap knuckles with Cole. “We’ll talk more later. Thanks, Doc,” I say, as I head for the door. “Love ya, Quinny.”
“Anytime,” he says through a mouthful of Quinn. At least they let me get halfway to the door this time.
The guys from class have been trying to coax me into going out with them since last year. However, most of my days were spent studying for two majors and squeezing in time with my brother and Cole. There never were enough hours in the day. Another reason I’m excited to drop Pre-med; more time to have fun and be an actual f**king college kid.
I still need to call Ma and talk to her about all of this, which stresses me the hell out. Although right now I need to stop thinking about that. I promised Max I would go check out this “country” bar close to the tattoo shop I’ve been frequenting. Max has done the majority of my tats. I won’t lie, he does some pretty badass work. I’m not sure about his taste in venues though. I mean, a country bar in southern California?
“Fucking Riley! You actually showed.” Max slaps me on the shoulder as I squeeze past the crowd.
“Hey, Texas! You feel like you’re at home now?” Danny asks, while passing me a beer. I shake my head and scoot it back. When I promised Audrey I wouldn’t drink again, I meant it. Even if I hadn’t promised, the hangover the next morning would have been enough to convince me it was a terrible idea.
“You do understand that we don’t all wear cowboy hats, ride horses to work, and line dance, right?” I laugh.
“I’m gonna grab a drink,” I point to the bar. The thing I’ve learned from the few times I’ve been able to hang out with these guys is to always have a drink in your hand. If you’re not drinking, they’ll pester the living shit out of you until you get one. I shoulder my way through the people up to the bar.
I catch the cute bartender’s attention and call out, “Coke in a short glass.”
I lean up against the bar with my elbows bent and take in the crowded room. This place isn’t bad. I notice a set of pool tables upstairs, a dance floor on the first floor, and tall tables surrounding it for people to hang out and drink. The music is obviously country, which I prefer. And the girls are all wearing short dresses and cowboy boots, which I love.
“Y’all are sweet, but I don’t drink,” I hear a sultry female voice say over the music. An honest-to-God southern accent pulls me from my people watching. At that moment, the bartender comes back with my drink in a tumbler. Perfect, this could easily pass for a Jack and Coke. I hand her a ten and tell her to keep the change. She tries to chat me up but now that I’ve heard it, I’m on the hunt for that voice.