I poured another shot of tequila and sighed as it burned down my throat. Numbness, blessed numbness—that was all that I wanted. I think that was my sixth…wait…seventh…no…sixth. Fuck it. I gave up.
There wasn’t enough alcohol to burn this pain away. I’d once foolishly thought that the Rachel/Landon shit was the worst I’d ever feel. But on the pain scale, that was a stubbed toe. This was the decimation of my fucking heart.
She had to believe me, didn’t she? She had to see how much I loved her, that she wasn’t just some tool to get Landon and Rachel back together. She knew me, right? Hadn’t I let her in? Let her see how much she meant to me? But she was right, I’d put Landon’s happiness above my own, and that meant I’d put it above hers, too.
Now that Rachel was here, was there a way to prove my love to Leah? To show her that she—and not the love life of my best friend—was my priority? I couldn’t even tell Landon that Rachel was here, not until she’d made her choice. I wasn’t going to fuck with his head just to have her tuck tail and run. God, I only wanted everyone to have it all, for everyone to be happy.
This isn’t a fucking sitcom.
“So are you going to tell me what this fight with Leah is about, or are you going to make me guess?” Landon asked, pouring himself a shot.
“None of your business.”
He threw the shot back and leaned against the bar, no doubt judging my unshaved face and general lack of hygiene. “You ready for finals tomorrow?”
I shrugged. I’d studied all day, gone to every class in preparation, sat next to Leah, unable to touch her and hating every single second of it. She’d been polite but hadn’t even met my eyes. Ironic, since that’s the relationship we should have had in the first place.
I’d had my bones broken, joints ripped apart, hundreds of stitches through my skin, but nothing had ever felt like Leah breaking my heart.
Fuck that. I broke my own heart. Maybe that’s why it hurt even more.
“Okay, well this has been a nice talk. Guess I should get some sleep,” Landon said. There was a knock at the door. “Saved by the knock…or whatever.”
I headed outside, bracing my weight on the deck railing.
“You look like shit,” Brandon said, leaning against the rail next to me.
“Thank you, Captain Obvious.”
“I like your ship,” he said, looking out over the water. “I’ve been exploring during my mini-cruise. Thanks for letting me stay until Abu Dhabi.”
“It’s Dad’s ship,” I countered. “And you’re welcome. You saved my ass, remember?”
He shook his head. “Leah saved your ass. If she’d waited to call me you’d have been left behind. She’s quite a woman.”
“It’s your ship, Pax. Dad signed it over to you.”
He shrugged. “He divested certain assets before he submitted the paperwork to take the company public. This, and the house in Aspen, they’re yours. He figured you’d need them for this crazy life you lead. Well, the ship was more an income source. The house was his indulgence.”
“I own the ship,” I said slowly, trying to wrap my head around it.
“Yep,” Brandon popped the P. “I tried to talk him out of it. Let’s face it, you fuck up pretty much everything you touch, but he’d already done it. The papers are in your fire safe.”
“Yeah, I said the same thing.”
“Did you…?” I started, but couldn’t finish.
He half smiled. “We were gifted equally, don’t get your panties in a wad on my account. Look, that shit you pulled—hitting the cop…” He put up his hands when I glared at him. “Whether or not he deserved it for putting his hands on Leah, the arrest nullified your contract with Dad to fund the documentary.”
“What?” I nearly shouted. “So you come down here saying you’re going to save my ass, and then instead stab me in the back?”
He shook his head. “You stabbed yourself. That temper of yours could jeopardize everything Dad is working for.”
“And he said that he’s pulling the funding? It’s primarily his decision, isn’t it?”
“He has final say, but I think it should be brought to the board. I love you, brother, but you’re anything but a sound investment while we’re going through this right now. If it was at any other time, I wouldn’t press it, but your reach is down, you’re not posting as much to your channel, and what you are posting isn’t getting the hits that you’re used to. You gave up the tour for this year, so your sponsors aren’t hanging around, and you don’t know if you’ll be allowed to compete in the X Games if your program here says no. You’ve got too much going against you to be a sure bet.”
“I’ve never been a sure bet, Brandon. That’s why I win the medals. You don’t get those things by sitting on the sidelines waiting for the safe time. You do it by grabbing your balls and going for it, but I’d never expect you to understand.” Anger overtook every other emotion except fear, which was running neck and neck to keep up.
“You have always had an edge I didn’t get, Pax. I think you’re a reckless, stupid son of a… Well, that’s our mother, so I won’t finish that.” He sighed. “But you are so much of Mom, and I envy that. I always have. Do you think you could promo the documentary with what you have?”
I thought through the footage we’d gathered since boarding. “Not the full film, but I could put together a kick-ass trailer.”
“I need something concrete for the board. Numbers.”
“What kind of numbers?” I asked, hating that, as usual, Brandon’s pound of flesh might be more than I could give.
“You have six days until the live expo?”
“Yeah. Three more days at sea, and then two days to practice.”
“How long to cut the trailer?”
My mind scrambled, calculating who we had on board. “At least a day.”
“That leaves you five days to get a million hits.”
I damn near choked on air. “That’s impossible.”
“Every pop star pulls it off fairly quickly.”
“Right, well, I’ll let you know when we have Adele jumping a motocross bike, okay? Shit like that is harder than it sounds.”
“I know exactly how hard it is. And I’m talking legit views, Paxton. Not paid subscriber crap.”
“How would you even—?”
“You’re my little brother. No matter what happens between us at home, out here we’re on the same team. I know exactly what it takes to make your business go. I want you to succeed. I just don’t want you taking Wilder Enterprises down while you’re doing it. You hit one million views by the time you take the stage at the live expo, or the board will vote to yank your funding. Hell, even with the million hits, they might vote to yank it.”
“Fucking great,” I said. The six—or seven—shots hadn’t been nearly enough.
“It will be.” He slapped me on the back. “Good luck. I think you might need it.”
I stayed out there long after he left, mentally going over what footage we had, what would be sensational enough to warrant getting one million views. At least we had the jump footage, but what would make the best highlight reel?
I came back inside, flopping onto the couch, my head telling me I was still moving long after I stopped.
“What did the grim reaper want?”
“We have to edit a trailer in the next twenty-four hours and hit a million views before the live expo in Abu Dhabi.”
“Or we could call up Santa Claus and have him deliver early. I mean, we’re only five weeks or so out, right?”
I grunted in response, my mind trying to fight through the haze of alcohol to function.
“I guess you’re right, most of the people around us are just waiting to watch us fall,” he said, pouring another shot.
It was the same thing I said to Leah, ironically as I was falling…for her.
“Wake up Bobby and tell him to get the production crew in here,” I ordered.
“Pax, you’re pretty drunk. Do you think this is the time to call a production meeting?”
“With this kind of idea? If this works, we’ll serve shots at the production meetings,” I answered as Penna came in with a suitcase. I’d almost forgotten how much she and Rachel hadn’t gotten along.
“Were you going to tell me?” she snapped at me, tossing her bag on the floor.
“What?” Landon asked.
“Oh, Leah’s roommate showed up a week early, so I’m back in here with the boys,” she answered.
“It’s okay,” I said to her. “I think I’ve figured out how to get Leah back.”
It might cost me my documentary, but it would be worth it.
She was worth everything.