I gave it a standing ovation.
Then, the five of us went back to the game room for a dart tournament. See us there? Jack’s taking his turn, Steven’s watching another member of the Stripper Lollipop Guild play peekaboo with the Blow Pop across the room, while Matthew, Warren, and I lean against the wall nursing our drinks.
Warren’s phone pings with an incoming message. He looks down at it for a few seconds and laughs.
For no particular reason, I ask, “What’s funny?”
His reaction piques my interest. He drops the hand holding his phone to his side and wipes the grin off his face. “Nothing.”
I push off the wall and stand in front of him. “Let me see your phone.”
He puts it behind his back. “It’s stupid. Nothing you want to see.”
“Well, now I f**king do.”
Looking like a cornered rat, he calls to Steven, “Reinhart—think fast.” And tosses the phone in the air. Steven catches it, but because he always did love a good game of Monkey in the Middle, when I get close to him, he throws it to Matthew. Matthew gets Jack into the game. I take three steps back to Warren, so I’m right in front of him when he catches his phone.
Then I end the game—with a not-too-hard punch to Warren’s gut.
He doubles over, holding his midsection. The phone falls from his hands and clatters to the floor. I pick it up and access the main screen. Warren rasps out, “Evans—I’m telling you as a friend—you shouldn’t look at the pictures.”
I ignore him.
With the push of a button, the images pop up in all their disgustingly vivid, high-resolution, multi-megapixel splendor. This is a historic day—mark it on your f**king calendar. For once in his life, Warren was right.
I shouldn’t have looked.
The guys peer over my shoulder as I scroll through the pictures—clearly from tonight. The first is of Kate on the shoulders of some nameless, bare-chested bastard, surrounded by the outstretched hands of several other dickheads who all bear a strong resemblance to Tarzan. I don’t like it, but I can live with it.
The next one shows Kate cradled in the muscular arms of a different thong-wearing prick. Her hands rest on his shoulders, and her skirt has risen up high on her thighs. High enough that, if you look closely, you can spot the pink-and-black-lace panties that caused me so much concern earlier.
I now plan to burn them like toxic waste as soon as we get back to the hotel.
My grip on the phone tightens. If I were a superhero, it’d be dust by now. But I manage to keep my shit together.
Steven comments from behind me, “Buck up, little camper—they’re not so bad.”
Then I slide to the final image.
Jack says, “Oh, that one’s bad.”
Bad? Bad is a kid who wipes out on his bike, taking off several layers of skin. Bad is Derek Jeter getting sidelined with an injury during the play-offs. This photo isn’t bad. It’s a blasphemy.
She’s leaning back on a dark-upholstered couch, with a guy on top of her—lined up just right to dry-hump her through his black, shiny thong.
If he put her legs on his shoulders, they’d be in one of her favorite positions. And she’s smiling. She’s looking away from the camera, off to the side, but her mouth is open. Frozen in a wide, laughing scream.
Not exactly the picture of the loyal, devoted fiancée is it?
Every muscle in my body demands that I reach into the device, grab the son of a bitch on top of her, and choke him the f**k out. But the final blow is when I see the writing under the picture. The message Dee-Dee probably gleefully sent. Take a look:
Drew who? :D
Remember what I was saying before? About how when you’re in love, the choices you make can have huge effects on the person you love? Well, I wasn’t just talking about my choices. I meant Kate’s too.
Something inside me cracks. Breaks. Matthew—the only one who senses just how perilously close to the edge I am—tries to pull me back. “It’s just a lap dance, dude. It’s her bachelorette party. Tomorrow everything goes back to normal.”
I laugh and my mouth tastes bitter. My movements are dangerous and desperate. I shove Matthew’s hand away and toss Warren’s phone back to him.
“You’re right, Matthew, it doesn’t mean shit. None of it’s real, right? It’s Cinderella’s motherfucking coach, a one-night freebie—then tomorrow, it’ll be like it never even happened.”
Matthew frowns. “Drew—”
Warren interrupts, “Would you stop being such a f**king hypocrite?” He holds his hands out wide. “Do you see where we are right now?”
I don’t think about how he’s once again correct. I don’t think about all the wrongs I’ve committed, or all the promises I’ve made.
Because back in the caveman days? They didn’t have time to consider the ramifications of their actions when a woolly mammoth was bearing down on them. All they could do was react. That same primal instinct is pushing me now. Driving me to do something—anything—to get rid of the jealousy that’s burning through my chest.
Once upon a time there was a guy, and he was awesome. He had a perfect life—good-looking, a great job, money to burn, and woman tripping over themselves to f**k him. He was the ace in the hole. A number one. Mr. No Apologies, I know exactly what I want and I get it, if you’re not with me, you’re against me, get on board or get the f**k out.
I liked that guy. He called the shots. He was in control. And there was never a time he felt as bad as I do right now. About anything.
I know what he would’ve said at a time like this: Stella can lick Chomper’s balls; Drew is the one who needs to get his groove back. Then he would’ve grabbed a stripper and paid for a raunchy lap dance—maybe paid for more. To even the score.
But if you think you know how this goes, you’re f**king wrong.
’Cause I’m not going to do any of that stuff.
As shitty as this is, as sick and jealous as seeing those pictures makes me feel? I know something that feels even worse.
Letting Kate down. Breaking her trust. Making her cry.
Kate has forgiven me my screwups and she trusts me, even when I don’t always give her a reason to. Mercy is a gift—given out of love, not worthiness. And that’s what Kate will always be to me.
She’s my mercy.
And I will be damned if I punk out and fail to be the man she adores—the man I know I can be. For her. For James.
I rub my eyes and take a breath. The guys watch me as I walk to the bar and sit down.