I had a new suit, my game design document in hand and a VIP ticket to the SmartTech Future conference clipped to my lapel. Stepping into that crowded conference center, I was confident that everyone wanted to listen to what I had to say. I was, after all, scheduled to speak on one of the first panels—a trio of developers—to discuss work on my debut game, Mission Accomplished.
For the first fifteen minutes of the conference, I was feeling cocky as hell.
Until I realized I was just a nobody in a sea of other nobodies. A nobody in a not-so-cheap suit, to boot. I wasn’t here as a boy wonder—there were plenty of those in the room with me—nor as the brash youngest dev ever hired by Sony Online.
I was just another kid with a portfolio of concept art and an amazing idea to pitch to investors. And I was far from being the only one of those, either.
Fortunately I had my very outgoing business partner with me to handle the schmoozing. And schmooze he did, with all of his gifts of charismatic extroversion. Which was great, as long as we were together.
But I was on my own as soon as my panel was over. Jordan was soon off chasing investors, or—more likely for him—chasing skirts. Both seemed to be top priority and it was difficult to tell which one won out at any given time.
So I was the one stuck carting the ridiculously outsized portfolio around with time on my hands to burn until our first appointment to pitch to a Silicon Valley venture capitalist. My first order of business was to ditch the gigantic portfolio case.
Unfortunately, I’d picked up the fanboy I never knew I needed along the way.
“Adam, uh—Adam Drake?” A voice said behind me as I finished checking the portfolio at the registration desk. Thankfully, Liam wasn’t with us and thus I didn’t have to endure his scolding for trusting his hard work with rando hotel employees.
I turned around to face a kid who was a few years younger than me, obviously a young college student wearing a Berkeley t-shirt. At least he was attending an impressive school. Either he was smart or his parents had a lot of money.
“Uh, hi,” he held out his hand to shake mine. Good eye contact, at least—a quality that was seriously lacking in my professional field.
I took his proffered hand and shook it. “Hello, there.” I scanned his lapel area for a conference badge to read his name. Only he wasn’t wearing a suit. Yeah I was a bit overdressed for this. But hell, I was a twenty-three year old CEO of a business I’d just filed the corporation paperwork on, so I had to up my game. Hopefully I didn’t just look like a wet-behind-the-ears college kid in his first business suit, despite feeling like I was exactly that.
He followed my gaze and then pulled his hand back. “Oh, sorry. I should have told you my name. I’m Lucas Walker and I’m a huge fan of your game, Mission Accomplished.”
I smirked. Him and about five others. Okay that wasn’t exactly true. The game had gotten me noticed in the industry but it hadn’t managed to make me a runaway star. Though the cult following was impressive and still growing. “Glad you enjoy the game.”
A beat passed. He stared at me and I bounced from one foot to the other, waiting for him to say something.
Finally he shook himself. “Yeah, so, I’m studying game development right now.”
He blinked, confused that I would know that until I pointed to his shirt. Then he laughed. “Yeah, free advertisement.”
“You shopping for a job?” I raised a skeptical brow. The guy couldn’t have been more than late teens or early twenties. I’d lay bets he wasn’t even old enough to drink yet.
“That depends on if you’re hiring.” He shot that back with a grin and still that confident eye contact.
“Who said I was hiring?” I clenched a jaw, then released it. I’d been keeping a tight lid on my current dealings—for more reasons than just keeping under the radar from Sony executives who hadn’t taken as kindly to my departure as David Weiss had. No, until I was ready to unveil my next step and do it in a manner that aided the foundations of a new brand, I wasn’t shooting my mouth off about any of my future plans. In fact, I’d decidedly sidestepped the question when it had been put to me on the panel.
He took a deep breath and nodded, as if acknowledging that he was going to play my game. “Well, no one has said anything but… math says otherwise.”
I frowned. “Math?” I turned and headed for the bathroom. That would likely shake the fanboy loose to go find the rest of his flock. He appeared at my shoulder, having taken my shift in movement as an invitation to join me. Great.
“The announcement that you had left Sony—presumably ahead of a contract. Plus your appearance here with an associate—”
“My friend, actually. People do come to these things with friends. Don’t you have some around?”
He matched my quick pace stride for stride, ignoring my question. He was determined, I had to hand it to him.
“In addition, the way you’re dressed and the large portfolio you’ve been carrying around? That reeks of VC meetings.”
Hmm. I guess we hadn’t been all that stealthy, had we?
But there was always a fine line between appearing to have your s**t together for the benefit of getting investors and appearing like you had something new and exciting in the works to attract all the wannabes who couldn’t wait to work for me, non-existent game or not.
“Okay and you’ve noted all this because…?” Despite the possibility of this getting weird real fast, I had to say that I was more flattered than creeped out.
“Because I want to work with you—for you, actually. I want to learn from the best.”
Okay, I wasn’t above a good ego stroke every once in a while but it was always best to at least try to play it humble. Kind of like that song that said it was hard to do—especially when you were perfect in every way. Heh.
“Well, assuming I even had something I needed an employee for—and I’m not saying that I do, just being hypothetical—what even could a college student with zero experience do for me?”
He hesitated just as we hit the bathrooms and, to head off any more discussion made more awkward by the typical waltz of the urinals, I headed for one of the two empty stalls instead. He’d checked me out in every other way, no need to expose my junk for inspection, too. Next thing I knew, I’d probably have my stats listed out on 4Chan or one of the other garbage gamer troll sites.
My new tagalong headed for the stall right beside mine. Before I could even whip it out to take a p*ss, he was passing a sheet of paper under the stall divider. A proposition?
Sorry dude, I don’t swing that way. But you’re young and handsome, I’m sure you’d find someone to make you happy someday soon.
I bent down to get a closer look without touching it. The words came into focus.
I couldn’t help it. I bust out laughing. Had to give the guy credit. He had a pair of brass ones.
“I prefer the double-ply and extra-soft type of toilet paper,” I muttered through the wall at him.
“Just take it. Please. I guarantee you’ll need it someday. Probably someday soon if the general predictions about you are true.”
Muttering some not-so-choice words under my breath, I snatched the damn thing out of his hand, folded it into quarters and stuffed it inside my suit jacket. The tie was already strangling me and I had a full day of business ahead of me. G*dd*mn it. I hated wearing suits.
“You guarantee it, do you? Well unless you shut up for the next five minutes while I take a p*ss, I’m flushing this thing.”
I got crickets in response. Wise of him. He wasn’t quite on my nerves yet, but the resume thing…yeah This might end up getting awkward.
I whipped out my phone to text Jordan, at once realizing how ridiculous it was to call him as my white knight to the rescue. The problem was, even if this kid did have the potential of becoming a pest for the rest of this event, I kind of liked him in spite of it. And this made me reluctant to act like a d*ck to him.
I could identify with his ambition, after all.
He was at my side again while we washed our hands but he didn’t ask whether or not I’d bothered to look at his resume. Maybe I would or maybe I’d’ use it for scratch paper later.
“You can’t be more than a freshman anyway,” I said as I dried my hands, throwing him a sidelong glance.
“Half way through my sophomore year.”
“Okay, so that’s years away from anything I might need.”
Without even missing a beat, he fired back, “The same amount of time you’re going to need to develop whatever the VCs are funding. I just want you to know that whatever it is, I’m in and I work my a** off.”
I shook the excess moisture from my hands to avoid the temptation to rub them across my suit pants. “In this industry, you better be prepared to work your a** off, and more. But don’t quit school. I’ll….have a look.”
I had no idea why I promised that. I had no intention of hiring the guy.
He beamed at me. “Thanks. Where are you headed next?”
Like I’d tell him that. One whiff of what was actually going on here and who knew who he’d spread it to.
But he surprised me again, almost reading my thoughts. “Don’t worry, I don’t gossip and I came to all my conclusions myself. Just saying. If you’ve got secrets…”
“Then they’re safe with me,” I concluded with a wicked smile.
Thankfully, Jordan was talking to someone nearby when we exited the bathroom. When I caught his eye, I waved him over while Lucas chattered away about some exciting new game theory stats he was learning about.
Unfortunately, Jordan provided little to no help with shaking my friendly stalker. When he finally showed up, he took one look at Lucas’s Berkeley t-shirt, then pumped a fist and said, “Go Cardinal.”
Ah well sh*t, that’s just what I needed—a bay area university pissing contest. “That would have been more meaningful had you actually graduated from Stanford,” I muttered after we took our leave, finally, of Lucas.
“Too soon, Adam. Besides, it was your dropout influence working on me that caused me to become a dropout too”
“And don’t think I’m not going to make you pay highly for the truckload of bullshit I’ve had to endure from my father over it.”
I shrugged. “Your dad was p*ssed at you long before you dropped out of Stanford. Besides you know you were itching for any excuse to leave school and take all kinds of risks with me.”
Jordan threw me a sidelong glance. “Only the risks that will make me rich as f**k. Can’t wait to see the old man’s face then.”
I laughed. He was some psych student’s wet dream of parental resentment. Of course, since I’d never known my own father, I had no idea what that relationship would be like. I liked to imagine that it might have been similar to my relationship to his brother, my Uncle Peter. He was the only paternal figure in I’d really ever had in my life, and never in any significant way until I’d gone to live with him as a young teen.
But my actual father? He’d died when I was barely out of toddlerhood. So I didn’t know. And I had my own set of issues with my remaining living parent, to whom I hadn’t spoken in almost a decade. So who was I to judge Jordan and his ongoing struggles with his dad?
I only caught sight of the fanboy once or twice after that. I never maintained eye contact long enough to encourage him to approach me again, though. Fortunately, he was persistent but not dumb. Maybe it would be worthwhile to have a second look—when the time was right, of course.
Our VC meetings took up the majority of time and because of that encounter with Lucas, I learned to be more discrete with my dealings. Jordan had amassed a plethora of contacts for us. Some were pure bullsh*t wastes of time but some looked promising.
By the time the weekend ended, we were both exhausted.
“I’m never sharing a room with you again,” I moaned as my head fell back against the airplane seat headrest during takeoff.
“Why’s that? I don’t snore, do I?”
“You had too many lady friends over. Jesus, guy, learn to keep it in your pants once in a while. Or it’s going to fall off from an STD.” Seriously, he’d had s*x with at least three different women over the weekend. For which I’d been, thankfully, absent from the room.
The only thing keeping him back while we lived at Peter’s place was the lack of funds. And lack of privacy. But God help all of single lady-kind once he established himself.
And we were well on the way to doing that, both of us learning the adulting thing together. A few days later, after the recovery, we met with our lawyer, who just happened to be Lindsay, a former paramour of mine but more importantly—a very accomplished contracts lawyer despite only barely being thirty.
We were filing the final paperwork on the S-Corp and discussing the venture capitalist possibilities with her. She was cutting us a huge deal with her fees—not because of our onetime relationship, but because I was related to Peter, one of the firm’s partners.
“Hmm,” she reviewed our signatures, tapping a dark red fingernail against her perfectly matching lips. “It all looks good, guys.”
“Everything looks good from where I’m sitting.” Jordan winked at Lindsay and they shared a smile. The two had been flirting almost constantly since we’d walked in here a half hour before.
Lindsay let out a sigh and seemed to have to physically rip herself away from checking Jordan out—yet again. I glanced between the two of them. I wasn’t jealous, to be honest. Lindsay and I had been over for two years now and she was engaged to some Hollywood producer. But this thing between Jordan and her was just…weird and I couldn’t put my finger on why.
After witnessing our signatures, Lindsay set the paperwork aside, then handed Jordan a large and mysterious envelope She told him to review the contents and call her. I raised my brows but Jordan gave me a minute shake of the head and broke eye contact.
“Adam.” Lindsay laid a hand on my arm as we headed out. Jordan excused himself and I turned back to her.
“What’s up?” I asked as she closed the door all but a crack.
“Do you recall meeting someone named Lucas at that tech conference last weekend?”
My brows shot up. So he was stalking my lawyer now?
“Uh, yeah. Very ambitious, not very experienced.”
She nodded. “I hope you went easy on him.”
I blinked. “Am I known for being some kind of ogre or something?”
She rolled her eyes and pulled her hand off my arm. “I’m going to plead the fifth on answering that.”
I shot her a meaningful look. “You used to like the ogre in me.”
Her jaw tensed and she placed a fingertip in the middle of my chest. “Listen, when and if you ever meet Jerome, there was never any history between you and me, got that?”
I pulled my best innocent face. “What history?”
She retracted her figurative claws with a satisfied smile. “Good boy. Now, about my cousin.”
“Who’s your cousin?”
She sighed. “Keep up. Lucas. Lucas Walker is my cousin.”
I frowned, vaguely recalling that he’d introduced himself as Lucas Walker but not having linked his last name with Lindsay’s. “Ah okay, so that’s why you’re bringing him up.”
“Just, go easy on him okay? He’s been through a lot in the past little while. He’s a really good guy. Just don’t squash his hopes and dreams.”
“Did he ask you to put in a good word for him?”
She shook her head. “He has no idea. But my aunt said something when I had lunch with her yesterday. I figured I’d talk to you.”
I shrugged. “Well, I told him not to quit college anytime soon. But I’ll keep him in mind down the line if I can use him for anything.”
She smiled. “That’s all I can ask. And if you do, please don’t tell him I put in a word for him. He might not take it the right way.”
I shrugged. “You keep cutting me the deals on legal services then I’m happy to consider your relatives—as long as they aren’t the deadbeat ones.”
She shook her head. “Oh he’s the complete opposite of deadbeat.”
I’d already gathered that. So I mentally tucked Lucas Walker’s name away in my file of people I might hire if I someday got there.
I threw Jordan some side-eye as we pulled out of the parking lot from Lindsay’s office. “Not that I care for my own reasons but I hope you aren’t planning on making Lindsay one of your conquests, given the business relationship and also the fact that she’s engaged.”
He laughed. “Pfft. Not to worry, Adam, but not for either of those reasons. She’s hot but I’d never hit that. It’d be too weird to sleep with a chick you used to sleep with regularly—and in our college dorm room.”
“I guess your tossing me out of our hotel room last weekend was revenge?”
He laughed. “Don’t worry about Lindsay, man. It’s all just harmless flirting.” Still, I wondered what sort of business was going on between them and what was in that mysterious envelope. But he wasn’t talking.
That night, after another late night of revising my design document and sending off several follow-up emails to our VC meetings, I pulled out Lucas’s folded up resume and looked it over.
Impressive. He had some minor design credits of his own, had done a year and a half at Cambridge before transferring to Berkeley. He’d rowed crew there, too.
In the brief email, I urged him to stay in college and promised him consideration when he’d graduated. It was the most I could say without giving up any details of exactly what it was I was working on.
That would all be out soon enough.
Chapter 3 | Chapter 5