I have to make this right. I have to make her understand I’m not the guy she thinks I am.
Well – maybe I am the guy she thinks I am, but what she doesn’t get is that she really wouldn’t be my girlfriend. She’d be able to go to grad school. I’d be able to stay with the Hawks. How does that make it a bad thing?
Hell, I’d write her a contract spelling it out if that’s what it takes.
I look around the clubhouse. I have to save my career. Failure is not an option.
As soon as we’re done viewing the tapes, I send a text to my lawyer – the one who’s had to help me out of some sticky situations over the past few years. She’s good. She’ll know how to handle this.
“What an asshole,” Bass says, as he shovels a forkful of spaghetti into his mouth.
I nod in agreement. “Except the thing is, last night he wasn’t. He was the perfect gentleman. It was one of the best nights I’ve had, and after the day I had yesterday, that’s saying something.”
“Maybe you were right about it being an audition. Maybe he was putting on an act last night and the guy who came to your door this morning was the real Sawyer.” He points at me with his fork. “And, really, Penny? You didn’t even get the guy’s last name? Are you trying to end up getting robbed or left in a ditch somewhere?”
I sigh knowing he’s absolutely right. “It was stupid. But I needed a little crazy after what happened with my brother.”
“It’s a good thing you have me, then. Because it sounds like between Denver and this Sawyer guy, you’re surrounded by crazy.”
I reach over and give him a hug. “I’m lucky to have you.”
He runs a hand down my back and gives my ass a squeeze. “Maybe you should go out with me again so I can see what all the fuss is about, I mean the guy offered you a half-million to be his girlfriend.”
I swat his hand away. “Hey, you had your chance four years ago. And it’s not like he was serious about the half-million.”
He shovels more food into his mouth. “You never know,” he says with a mouthful. “There are some rich douchebags in this city. Maybe he’s an investment banker or something. Hell, maybe you should have heard the guy out. There are worse things you could do for five hundred K.”
I roll my eyes. “Are you trying to pimp me out, Bass?”
He laughs. “No, not trying to pimp you out. Just trying to figure out how to get you to stay in the city. Think about it for a minute. You’re going to give up your graduate degree to move back home and work three jobs just so you can pay off Denver’s bad debts. But what will you get out of it?”
“You mean other than my brother not going to jail?”
“Of course you don’t want him going to jail, Aspen. But you have to look out for your future. Do you really want to teach piano to little kids for the rest of your life? Because you know as well as I do that is all you’ll be doing with a pile of shit BM.”
I cringe knowing he’s speaking the truth. Juilliard or not, it’s a joke among music students that a BM, or bachelor of music, isn’t good for much. The first week there, we learned the age-old joke, ‘What’s the shittiest degree you can get? – A BM.’
Everyone knows going into it that you have to continue on to get your MM – master of music, or even your PhD if you want to do anything more than teach kids. Teaching is what I want to do, but not the kind of teaching where you go to rich people’s homes and try to teach spoiled, un-teachable kids how to play chopsticks.
My dream is to teach at the collegiate level. Teach students who love the piano so much, they play it in their sleep like I do. Students who would rather stroke the black and white keys until 2:00 AM than party with their friends. People who might even settle for teaching snotty-nosed kids, because even doing that is better than sitting at a desk typing on a computer all day long.
“I’ve already looked into the University of Missouri – they have an MM degree there.”
Bass tilts his head and studies me. “That’s bullshit, Penny. You know an MM is a full-time program. There is no way you could help Denver pay off his debts and afford to pay for grad school. And while I’m sure Missouri is a fine school, nothing compares to Juilliard. They only accept one hundred and fifty people into the master’s program. That’s one damn exclusive club you could belong to.”
“What about ‘my brother has to pay four hundred thousand dollars in retribution’ do you not understand? I can’t go to Juilliard, Bass. It’s not going to happen.”
“I’m just saying it could if you took the guy up on his offer.”
“Ten minutes ago he was an asshole and now he’s my savior?” I get up and put my plate in the sink. “What is wrong with you?”
“Why can’t he be both?” he asks. “Why can’t he be an asshole and your savior?”
“I’m not sleeping with anyone for money, Bass. Not even that much money.”
“Maybe you wouldn’t have to. You said he needed a girlfriend for appearances. Maybe he can get his rocks off somewhere else and just use you for the eye candy.”
“First off, I was too busy kicking his ass out of our apartment to get all the details. And second, even if I wanted to consider it, I have no idea who he is or where to find him.” I clear his plate off the table. “And third … just … gross.”
Bass walks over and kisses my forehead. “That’s my roommate, squeaky clean Snow White.”
I slap him playfully and look at the clock. “Aren’t you going to be late?”
He backs away and heads for his room. “Last shift,” he says. “I’m so fucking stoked to start fire school next week.”
“Don’t you ever miss it?” I ask, nodding to his collection of guitars in the corner.
“I play every damn day, Penny. You of all people should know that. It’ll always be my passion, just not how I pay the bills. Helping people gives me so much more gratification than entertaining them.”
He shuts his bedroom door to change his clothes. Then two minutes later, he emerges looking quite attractive in his paramedic uniform. Some girl is going to be lucky to land him someday.
He puts his arm around my shoulder. “Everything’s going to work out, Penny. One way or another.”
I nod my head, holding in the tears as he walks out our front door.
I stare at his guitars. Sebastian was the first person I met at Juilliard during freshman orientation. We hit it off instantly, almost like Sawyer and I did last night. We tried dating, but realized we were better as friends. We’ve been joined at the hip ever since, even after he quit school to pursue becoming a firefighter/paramedic. After freshman year, we got an apartment together. He’s as close to me as anyone ever has been with the exception of Denver.
I walk over to the window and look down on the streets of the city I’ve tried so hard to love. Why did Denver have to blow our inheritance? Why did he have to get caught up in all that crooked shit? He was a cop for crying out loud.
My tears finally fall when I think about his trial last month. While I was there, he pleaded with me to believe him. He said he had no idea the investments weren’t legitimate. He genuinely thought he was going to make money for us and all those other people. He was used by some higher-ups in the police department who threw him under the bus when things went south. What they did was untraceable, but my brother left a money trail that lead right back to him. And now he’s not allowed to leave Missouri, and according to his sentencing that was just handed down yesterday, if he doesn’t make regular restitution payments he’ll be put in jail. And not just jail. Prison.
A cop in prison is a death sentence. Even if I thought he had known he was scamming all those people, I still would never wish jail on him. He’s my brother. My other half. The only person in the world I would do anything for.
A knock on the door startles me. I look through the peephole, not sure I’m seeing correctly. Because I think I’m seeing the asshole. I back away and wipe my tears, checking my appearance in the nearby mirror as my brain tries to tell me it’s not the asshole, it’s my savior.
I pull my hair free of the messy bun it was in and give it a fluff. Then I scold my reflection before I open the door.
Sawyer takes a few steps back like he thinks I’ll lunge at him and put my fist through his chest. Not that I could. I felt his abs in the alley when we kissed. They’re practically made of steel.
I raise my eyebrows at him.
“Give me five minutes to explain. That’s all I’m asking. Please, Aspen?”
I look him up and down. He’s not particularly tall. I’d be surprised if he’s six feet. But he’s pure muscle. I contemplate my choices here, thinking if he wanted to chop me up into little pieces and hide me under the floorboards, he already had a chance to do it.
I step back and walk into the living room, leaving the door open for him to follow. I sit down on my couch. “Don’t expect me to offer you a drink.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it,” he says, walking around the coffee table to sit in the chair opposite me.
He looks around my place. “Is your roommate here?”
“No, but he could be back any second,” I lie.
Sawyer smirks like he knows I’m full of shit. “Let me cut to the chase,” he says. “I believe we are both in need of something we don’t have. I need to look like I have a steady girlfriend. And you need money. I can help you go to Juilliard and you can help save my career. This arrangement would be mutually beneficial.”
I cross my arms over my chest defensively. “How do I know you even have the money to pay me?”
I cringe after the words come out of my mouth, hating myself for a second that I’m even considering considering it. But then I think of Denver, and know I at least need to hear this guy out.
He laughs an arrogant laugh. “I have it.” He fishes a business card out of his pocket and hands it to me. “This is my lawyer. If you can meet me at her office for lunch tomorrow, we can go over everything.”