My phone pinged, and I picked it up, hoping it was Kama. It was Nick. I dropped it without reading his message. Nothing to talk to Mr. Happy in Love about. He wouldn’t get it. I closed my eyes and willed myself to sleep, but my brain wouldn’t shut off. That’s when my condo door burst open and two giants came in, talking way too loud.
“See? Told you he’d still be asleep,” Josh said.
“Looks like he’s awake to me. Get dressed, little brother. We’re taking you out for breakfast,” said Nick.
“I thought we’d agreed we were taking him to the gym to beat the shit out of him.”
“After breakfast. I’m starving.”
“Not hungry. Not a good time,” I mumbled.
“Yeah, well, too bad. I drove an hour to come cheer you up, so you’ll drag your sorry ass off the couch, take a quick shower, and come for breakfast with us.”
“And pack your gym gear because we’re not letting Nick leave the city without getting in a few good punches for ditching us to live in the middle of nowhere.”
“You’re just jealous because Sophie is way cooler than both of you two put together,” Nick said.
“Seriously, guys, I’m not in the mood.”
“Seriously, Dylan, we don’t give a shit what you’re in the mood for. You had the perfect thing going with Kama, and you blew it. We’re here to make sure you know it.”
“I thought we were going to help him feel better,” Nick said.
“Jesus, Nick, have you totally forgotten how to be the big brother? We have to get you away from Sophie more often. She’s a terrible influence on you. First we make him feel worse, so he doesn’t do this again. Then we cheer him up,” Josh said.
“You love Sophie and her influence on me,” Nick said. He and Josh continued talking as if I weren’t there. I buried my head under a throw cushion.
“It’s true. I do. And I also love Kama and her influence on this idiot.” Josh kicked my leg, “So, idiot, get up, get showered, and let’s get going. This is your wake-up call. You don’t get to opt out.”
I knew there was no way these guys would leave without me, so I showered and got dressed in shorts and a T-shirt, like they were.
Nick and Josh helped themselves to the leftover ribs and coleslaw in my fridge. They also let me know I was out of juice, which I hadn’t been before they’d arrived.
“I’m not hungry anymore. How about you, Nick?”
“Actually, quite full. Great ribs, bro. Did you make them, or did Kama?”
I shook my head at him and gave him my best ‘don’t go there’ death stare.
“Wallet and keys secure in those pockets, Dylan? We decided you don’t deserve breakfast. We’re going jogging. Seawall. Just five miles.”
“I hate you both,” I said.
“Feeling’s mutual,” they said together.
The entrance to Stanley Park and the seawall was an easy jog from my place, and they weren’t kidding. We ran the entire trail. There was no talking. At points I could barely breathe. They cut me no slack. This was not a hangover walk or even a jog. It was a run. When we got back to the entrance, instead of walking back to my place, Nick pointed to the parking lot.
“My car’s here. Let’s go, boys.”
“Where are we going?” I managed to say between gasps.
“Shut up and get in,” Josh said.
When Nick pulled into the parking lot of the gym where Josh and I sparred, I moaned. “I can’t. I’m wasted. Josh, I don’t even know how you’re functioning today. You drank as much as I did last night.”
Josh laughed. “I had three beers and switched to Coke. You had three beers and switched to, let’s see, tequila, then vodka, then rum. And you should thank me. I saved you from spending a month’s mortgage on the scotch you kept trying to order.”
“Thanks but maybe you could have stopped me from ordering anything at all. I feel like puking.”
“Get out of my car!” Nick yelled.
I dragged my ass into the gym, planning just to shower and watch them go a few rounds in the ring. But when I headed toward the change room, Nick grabbed my arm and pulled me back toward the lockers.
“Not happening,” I growled.
“Not an option,” he said, mimicking my tone.
Josh had three pairs of gloves in his hands. Nick waved to Dominic, the owner of the gym, to come and tie them on for us. He did Nick’s first, and while he waited for Josh and I, Nick warmed up with a punching bag. Several minutes later, Nick, Josh, and I stood in the ring.
“So how’s this work? You two just going to beat the shit out of me?” I asked, holding my arms in the air in surrender.
“Just like old times,” Josh laughed.
I swung at him, but he moved too quickly. While I was regaining my balance, Nick threw a punch and connected with my left pec.
“Cheap shot, asshole.”
“You want to talk cheap shots? What you did to Kama. That was a cheap shot,” Nick said.
I drew my left arm back to hit him, but he was fast and I was moving in hangover slow motion. I decided not to bother fighting back, figuring they’d get bored and have fun pounding each other instead. It didn’t go down that way.
“So, does it feel good being a partner in a fancy law firm, Mr. King of Shit? Everything you always wanted and more?” Josh spoke and swung, connecting with my side ribs.
“Fuck you,” I exhaled as I fell toward the ropes, where Nick met me. I braced myself for a punch, but he planted his gloves moderately gently on either side of my head and said really slowly, “Stop living your life for Dad.”
Then he punched me. Hard in the gut. I fell to my knees and had a flashback of us as teens during a high-school rugby game. It was right at the start of the second half. Nick was on the field, and I was on the sideline. A bunch of kids were half watching from the bleachers, and I heard this jackass, a grade ahead of me, announce to a buddy—across a distance of several people—that he’d nailed one of the nicest girls in my grade. A girl I knew would never have slept with him.
I turned and gave him a challenging look. “Like hell you did. She’s too good for you,” I said.
“I never said she did it willingly,” he called back, laughing.
I lost my shit and ran into the bleachers. We both threw some good punches, and I broke the guy’s nose. That earned me a one-week school suspension which, whatever. But it also earned me a month grounded, which included a week-long family vacation that I didn’t get to go on.
Dad told me it didn’t matter that I’d done the right thing. He even agreed that the kid needed a good ass-kicking. But he said that I shouldn’t have been the one to give it to him because my actions reflected badly on him. I’d made him look like a father with an out-of-control son.
“You getting up?” Josh asked, reaching out an arm to help me up.
I accepted it. “Which one of you wants to stand in for Dad?” I said, anger overriding my hangover.
“There he is! That’s the brother I know and love. I mean hate,” Nick said, raising his arms to protect his core.
We only sparred for twenty minutes before I was done, wiped out. It was exactly what I needed, and those guys were exactly the people I needed to be with.
“Back to my place to change, and then lunch? My treat. Because Mr. King of Shit just got a raise, and since I don’t have anyone else to spend my new riches on, you guys are it.”
“I’m in,” said Josh.
“Me too, but on one condition,” said Nick. “You text Kama and tell her you’re a shithead.”
“Actually, tell her, ‘Josh says I’m a shithead.’ I want her to know I’m on Team Kama.”
I grabbed my phone and texted Kama.
All the brothers agree. Dylan Rhodes is a shithead. I’m sorry you ever had to meet me.
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