“Your clothes are all over the bathroom. Again.”
With a heavy sigh, I rolled over in my bed—the same lumpy twin mattress that I’d slept on as a teenager. “I’m sleeping, Liam,” I growled at him still rubbing my eyes so that I couldn’t see him. I knew he was standing in my doorway, though. Probably with one hand on the doorknob and the other one rammed into his pocket.
“If you were sleeping, you wouldn’t be able to talk to me.”
I blew out a breath and dropped my hand in exasperation. “Okay, fine. I was sleeping until you rudely decided to barge into my room and wake me up.” What the hell was this? Weirdly it was like I’d time-traveled back to the year I was thirteen and had come to California live with Liam’s Dad, my uncle.
“You know what else is rude? Leaving your dirty clothes all over the bathroom floor. Socks. Underwear. It’s gross.”
“They aren’t my clothes. They’re probably Jordan’s.”
I finally cracked my lids open and looked at the clock. Eight a.m. Shit. I’d been up working until five. Nothing like the irate cousin to get you going again after three hours sleep. Better than any cup of coffee.
Liam moved into the room, folding his arms over his chest. “That’s another thing. How long is he going to be living on our den couch? When you both moved in, you said it would only be a couple of months. A ‘couple of months’ means two. Two months means sixty days. You have now both been living here eighty-two days.”
Jesus Christ. “Drop it, okay? You know damn well that I’m in escrow on the condo. It’s not even finished being built yet. Your dad was more than happy to grant me the favor when I moved back from San Diego. I’m sorry it’s such a huge imposition—”
“Is Jordan going too? When you move out?”
I heaved a sigh, wondering why I even bothered to try getting rid of him. “Probably. He’ll move in with me or maybe find his own place. He’s broke. He had to quit business school.”
“No, he didn’t have to quit. He chose to quit.”
I sighed again. There was no subtle way to do this when it came to my cousin. Subtlety was completely lost on him.
“So much judgement from the kid who quit art school. Give him a break.”
Liam huffed. “I didn’t quit studying art. I quit college. There’s a difference.”
I sat up, finally resigned to the fact that he wasn’t going to leave unless I shoved him out the door. I’d have to remember to lock that fucking thing tonight so I could have some peace and quiet. “So in all that studying have you managed to finish my concept art yet? I need that if I’m going to go around and start begging for money from investors.”
Liam’s shoulders hunched, suddenly on the defensive. “I told you that it takes time. I have sketches of possibilities to show you but I need your okay on certain stylistic choices.”
I raked my fingers through my hair in order to settle it from looking like bed hair. “Fine. Good. As long as you have something for me to look at, finally.”
He stiffened. “Good work takes time, Adam. You should know that. Programming is a much an art as it is math and a bunch of numbers.”
God, sometimes I just wanted to punch him. Not hard. Not enough to hurt him or break a bone. Just in the mouth, so he’d shut up and go away for a while. I loved my cousin, in many ways like a brother I’d never had. But damn he could be annoying when he got something stuck in his craw.
And apparently the fact that Jordan and I had invaded the haven that was his home was too much for him to bear.
“Yes, I’m aware that creating anything good takes a lot of time, which is the exact reason why I was up until five working on the game concepts. I worked until my vision got blurry and I had to pass out. That was three hours ago, by the way.”
Liam made a sour face. “Fine. I’ll let you go back to sleep. But there’s no way Jordan was up that late and I’m going into the kitchen right now to make my breakfast and I don’t care how noisy I am when I do it.”
I shrugged. “That’s fine. What do you say I buy you some lunch later today and you can show me the sketches, okay?”
He grunted something unintelligible and then left in a huff, slamming the door. Gawd. It was going to be a long few months while I waited for the condo to be finished so I could move in. Moving back in with the family once you were an adult and had been on your own was murder on the mental health. It also wasn’t terribly great for the sex life, either, god damnit.
* * *
Hours later, when I’d, mercifully, been allowed more sleep, I sat at the table of the local pizza place. It was mostly empty and we had all but devoured two large pizzas between the three of us. Jordan was leaning back against the wall sipping his beer and amusing us with his long and sonorous belching.
Liam was contemplating the desert menu. He was thin and, apparently, now a bottomless pit when it came to food. Ah the metabolism of youth. He was just over a year younger than me, but I rarely saw him work out. Me, on the other hand, I ran every day and lifted weights—which I tripped over constantly in my tiny room. I couldn’t wait to get my own place and a brand new gym membership, for that matter.
As it was, in all the push to get this game design demo working for the big startup conference next month, I had barely left that tiny little hole of a room for days on end. The only way I knew when it was night or day was the two times a day my uncle poked his head in to check on me. Yesterday, he had insisted on opening up the window and the door to air the place out.
I ran my hand over my three-day stubble, scratching at my jaw and waiting for Liam to become bored with the dessert menu so I could get his attention. He got pissy when I interrupted him.
When his gaze met mine I tilted my head at him. “So, you said you had some stuff for us to look at? I’m excited to see it. So is Jordan.”
Jordan nodded and added his two cents with a particularly obnoxious belch. I slugged his arm hard in response. “Knock it off.”
“Ow,” Jordan complained, rubbing his bicep. “That was harsh.”
All we needed was for Liam to get annoyed and take all his toys and go home. But I needed him. I needed his very talented artistic eye and vision. And eventually, Liam would need me… for a job.
Liam had brought his sketch pad inside a zippered portfolio carrier. He pulled it off the ground and stood to unzip it. “Wipe your hands thoroughly, please. I don’t want pizza grease on these drawings.
Jordan dutifully grabbed a fistful of napkins and did as William asked. My hands were already clean as I’d just returned from the restroom. I held my palms out as if to show him proof.
With one last dour warning glance at Jordan, Liam excused himself to the bathroom. I figured he’d be in there while we looked over the drawings. He hated being present when anyone first saw his work. It was a thing of his…like he didn’t want to witness the initial, untampered reactions to his work.
Which was silly because his work was very, very good.
I opened the folder and pulled out his sketch pad and Jordan and I paged through it slowly. The first page had some concept art for the game cover. We hadn’t finalized the name of the game, yet, but had it narrowed down to three personalities that Jordan was in the process of researching for trademarks and the business angle. Once we had a few good concepts, we’d hire an independent contractor to start the market research.
But long before any of that happened, we needed money. I had my savings but that wouldn’t be enough to pay the salaries of the people we’d need to bring on board to get this off the ground. Even if we just started by renting some cheap warehouse space.
Jordan made some appreciative comments as we continued to page through the drawings. There were two dragons, wings out and claws bared, embroiled in a battle with piles of jewels, gold and wooden treasure trunks under their feet. There was an idyllic fairy city in a deeply forested land.
And there were women. Lots of scantily clad, big-breasted women—women in action poses, women standing demurely, bathing in hidden pools in the forest, warrior women, noble women. Of course Jordan liked those images the best, whistling appreciatively. “I think our Liam is a bit sexually frustrated, wouldn’t you say?”
But I elbowed him hard because my cousin had just emerged from the bathroom and was watching us warily as he slowly made his way back to our table. He sat down without a word and I proceeded to tell him everything I liked about the drawings.
As usual, he took the flattery completely stoically, nodding carefully. Then I added my carefully worded critique so as to not scare him off or send him off in a huff. Made suggestions on what specifically I wanted to see. Then I paged back to the image with the battling dragons. “This is amazing and I want this to be the cover for the game. This image. Maybe with some bones and skeletons and rusted armor at their feet, lots of flame coming from the dragons. Maybe even a burning village in the background. And we should definitely go with a game name that has ‘Dragon’ in it. I think if you can get those and maybe the fairy village and the aftermath huge battle scene colorized on a presentation-sized palate, in time for the SmartTech Future conference, I’ll have enough to show investors. I could use some other concept sketches but we could talk about that later.”
Liam nodded, then reached out for the sketch pad, flipped it over and began to scrawl out some notes to himself based on what I was telling him.
“And more scantily-clad women,” Jordan added. “These women have too many clothes on—” That earned him another hard jab. Jordan shot me a pissed off look and pointedly rubbed his ribs.
“Stop fucking around.”
“Jesus,” he muttered.
My eyes flew back to Liam who had still not said a word since sitting down at the table. Liam had tremendous talent and a solid work ethic but he was moody and you had to handle him just right or he’d refuse to cooperate. It was a delicate balance that I’d been learning since my early teen years.
“What’s with these names and phone numbers?” Jordan pointed to the back of the pad, on which Liam was still writing his notes. There were three—no four different names and numbers on the back. All the names were female.
As he continued to write, Liam said. “Those are just some fellow students who wanted to get together and work on some collaborative efforts.”
“They’re all women…”
Liam shrugged. “I study with a lot of women.”
I blinked. “And do they usually give you their phone numbers to…collaborate?”
“And does this collaboration involve getting naked?”
Jab. “Ow.” Another dirty look from my former college roommate and would-be CFO.
“On artistic endeavors. To further our studies.” Liam continued in that same calm monotone. But he very decidedly whipped the pad away from our view and back into his zippered portfolio carrier.
Jordan and I shared a look. Oh hell, if I left the subject up to him, he’d do or say something stupid. I turned back to my cousin. “You don’t think they were, ah, asking you out?”
Liam blinked. “Asking me out to what?”
“Like on a date,” Jordan added.
Liam looked at us both like we were out of our minds. “We study art together. Where on earth would they get the idea of going out on dates?”
I gestured with my hand as if that would make the observation more casual, less threatening. “You know…maybe they’re interested in you. For more than just being a study partner.” After all, Liam was a good looking guy. It wasn’t that unreasonable to assume.
But he shook his head, refusing this hypothesis. “I think you’re both wrong. They just want to collaborate.”
“Yeah….collaborate,” Jordan said. “With no clothes on—” And yes, one last time, I jabbed my friend right in the ribs.
“We’ve probably got it all wrong,” I said while Jordan scowled at me and muttered about how he was going to turn on all the hot water the next time I was in the shower. “I’m sure they just wanted to learn from your techniques.” And as a warning sign before he could even open his damn mouth, I stomped on Jordan’s foot.
This time he hit back with a slug in my arm. I rubbed at it, cussing him out while Liam’s gaze went from one of us to the other. “I just don’t see how a serious business partnership between you two is going to work.”
I sobered. “Gee thanks for the confidence, Liam!”
As we boxed up the few slices that remained, Jordan turned to me. “Oh hey, before I forget, I need a good lawyer for a…private legal matter. Can I get Lindsay Walker’s number?”
I raised a brow at him. “What, is some woman coming after you for a paternity suit again?”
He made the sign of the cross with his fingers in front of him as if to ward me off. “Don’t even speak of something like that, dude. You’re going to curse me.”
I shrugged. “Well we all know how… prolific you are. It might happen sooner or later.”
He crossed himself again. “No way. Just give me Lindsay’s number and cut the shit.”
“Yeah, yeah fine. Just call my uncle’s office. That’s where she works. I’m sure he’s got one of his cards lying around on the kitchen counter.”
Jordan nodded. “Okay… good.”
“You’re not going to tell me what that’s all about, are you?” I asked as we followed Liam out the door of the pizza joint.
He shook his head. “It may be nothing. It may be something big… We’ll see.”
I arced a brow at his vagueness but didn’t respond.
With a sigh, as I settled in behind the wheel of my classic Mustang, handing Jordan the pizza box to hold while Liam grumbled about the lack of legroom in the back seat. I appeased him by promising him he could have all the pizza leftovers while Jordan bitched about that.
And I wondered….if in fact Liam was right and there was a possibility this partnership would come to nothing.
It had been long hours of slogging—working harder than I’d ever worked for my bosses at Sony Online.
But damn, it had to amount to something. Please, God, let it amount to something.