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Atlanta, GA, United States
I am the New York Times, USA Today, and Amazon Best Selling author of The Proposition, Proposal, Music of the Heart, and Nets and Lies. I am represented by Jane Dystel of Dystel and Goderich for all books except for Proposition and Proposal.
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The Proposition

The Proposition



Sunday, April 28, 2013

Chapter 2 & Part of Chapter 3 from Don't Hate the Player

Here's some more Don't Hate the Player for you before Tuesday's release. Hope you enjoy it. You can read Chapter One here:
                                                             Chapter Two
         I spent the rest of the afternoon walking in the thicket of woods behind my house. I didn’t want anyone seeing me in my manic state. I cried, I screamed, I kicked down a dead tree, and I laughed as old random memories flickered through my mind. I don’t know why I thought I could escape to the woods and leave my grief behind as easily as stripping off my clothes or something. Suffocating and somber, it hung around me—a silent specter taunting and goading me. It draped over me like a heavy coat, weighing me down. The usually easy trek up the small hills felt like trudging through thick mud. My chest constricted so tightly every breath was agonizing. While over and over in my mind, the words echoed Jake is dead. Jake is dead. Jake is dead.
 When I finally swept through the back door shortly before six, I found my mom pacing around in the kitchen. She was out of her usual blue or green scrubs along with her pristine white doctor’s coat. Instead, she wore one of her dark and somber “funeral dresses”. With her long, dark hair swept back in a twist, it made her blue eyes, which were sparkling with tears, stand out. I’d barely made it two more steps before she leapt at me, wrapping her arms around me. Her wet cheeks dampened my shirt, and I knew then she had been crying for a long time. “Oh Noah, when I heard, all I could think about was what if it had been you. Just the thought of losing you…” her voice choked off with her sobs.
            “I know,” I croaked, although I wasn’t sure I did. Patting her back absentmindedly, I tried in my own fumbling way to comfort her.
            “Thank God, you’re all right.” She then began rubbing comforting circles over my back just like she had done my entire life when I was hurt physically or emotionally. “I’m so sorry, sweetie,” she murmured over and over in my ear.
            I pushed myself away from her, giving her skeptical look. “Oh, come on, Mom. You know you hated Jake.”
            “That’s not true!” she protested.
            I cocked one eyebrow at her. “Really?”
            “Okay, maybe I disliked what he became later in life, but I never hated him,” she admitted.
            I knew that was probably closer to the truth. She hated that Jake as a manwhoring player because it hit too close to home with her when it came to my father.
            Mom exhaled a sad, defeated sigh. “I like to think of Jake when he was younger—that mischievous little boy with the crooked grin.” A hesitant smile played on the corners of her lips. “Remember when you guys were little how he always acted like Eddie Haskell from those old Leave it to Beaver reruns whenever he was around me?”
            I couldn’t help laughing. Before he hit puberty, Jake was forever helping her carry in groceries, straightening up the kitchen, or telling her she looked pretty or smelled nice. Basically, he hung on to her every word like a lovesick puppy.   
            But then the way my mother felt about Jake began to change when we got to high school. It was then that that Jake informed me my mom was a MILF. I was well acquainted with the term from the movie American Pie. The moment the words left his lips I almost punched his face in. So what if it’s a well-known fact my mother is beautiful? She’s a dead ringer for the late Elizabeth Taylor. So much so, that all her friends nicknamed her Liz, which wasn’t too far off since her middle name was Elizabeth. Growing up, I never got the analogy since my only frame of reference was the old chick in the really airbrushed White Diamonds perfume commercials. My mom’s mom, or Grammy as I call her, swears when I was three, I saw one of Elizabeth’s earliest movies, National Velvet, on TV and cried, “Mommy!”  
            It wouldn’t have mattered to me if she looked just like Angelina Jolie cause no self-respecting male wants to acknowledge the fact their mom is hot. It’s freakin’ sick and warped.
            Mom snapped me out of my thoughts. “Did you hear me, Noah?”
            “I spoke with Jake’s mom earlier while you were gone to the woods. She wanted you to come over tonight.”
            Shit. That explained Mom’s mourning attire. Damn, the last thing on earth I wanted to do was go over to Jake’s house and face his parents.
            Mom noticed my hesitation. She ran her hand over my cheek. “It would mean a lot to Mrs. Nelson, Noah.”
            I nodded. “I’ll go change.”
            “When you get done, come help me load the car, okay?” She motioned towards the table that was loaded down with food for the Nelson’s.
            “Whatever,” I replied, and then pounded up the stairs.
            I knew that deep down my mom hated Jake because he reminded her too much of my father. Though I guess sperm donor would be a better way of describing my dear old dad. You see, my mom got pregnant with me when she was seventeen. It was a major shock to everyone considering my mom was the angel of the family. As the only girl with five brothers what the hell could you possibly get away with anyway?
            My uncles were legendary at Creekview High School. They were known as the Mighty M Sullivan’s because of their athletic ability. There wasn’t a sport there they didn’t dominate, and surprisingly, they each had one that was their specialty. Mark was a Golden Glove in baseball, Mike was the quarterback of the football team, Matt was an all-state guard in basketball, Mitch was a wrestler, and Mason was lighting in track.
            By the time my mom entered high school, their reputation was enough to steer every horny asshole away from her. Once any panty chaser found out she was Maggie Sullivan, they ran the other way with their tail between their legs. But it really didn’t matter to my mom because she was the ultimate goody girl, Straight A’s, National Honors Society, Academic Team—any brainiac thing, she did it because she had her eye set on medical school and becoming a doctor.  
            Like Jake, Joe Preston was a major player A real smooth operator who weaseled himself into the good graces of all my uncles and my grandparents and made the entire family believe he walked on water.  He was my Uncle Mark’s best friend all through high school, and then they both ended up at the University of Georgia with a full ride in baseball. 
            By senior year, Joe and my Uncle Mike were both being scouted by major league teams. Because his family wasn’t the lovey dovey type that my mom’s was, Joe spent occasional holidays at the house—a Thanksgiving, an Easter, an odd weekend here or there. But this time, he spent the entire month of August at my grandparents’ cabin in the mountains.
            Now my mother’s never told me any of this. All my information has come from my uncles or older cousins over the years. The way they told the story read like some NC-17 rated fairy tale: oversexed wolf charms innocent lamb resulting in an unexpected pregnancy.
            I guess it goes without saying that at twenty-one with a major league career ahead of him filled with money, fast cars, parties and women my dad wasn’t ready to settle down. He bolted, and basically he’s never looked back.
            Sometimes I personally think it’s easier for some kids to have a dead beat dad. Yeah, the pain is there, but you can push it to the backburner cause you don’t see the asshole much. For me, my douchebag dad was shoved in my face constantly. The worst was April through October—the months of the major league baseball season. I had to see and hear my father’s stats constantly. Even now at thirty-eight, he’s still one of the most sought after pitchers in the National League. He’s currently playing for the San Diego Padres, but he’s been with some of the biggies all over the country.
            So for a while my mom was the black sheep of the family. A kind of conspicuous black sheep who had been the Salutatorian of her graduating class and was slated to start medical school. But she didn’t remain that way for long for two reasons. One was that my Uncle Matt went on a mission trip to Brazil, met a girl, and got married all within eight weeks. To my very Southern, old-school family, marrying a foreigner was some pretty heavy shit. But just like my mom, they got over it. That’s where my cousin, Alex, comes in, or I guess I should say Alejandro Matthew Sullivan. Seriously, there’s nothing like a Brazilian Irishman! Of course, Alex has always been more of a brother to me than just a cousin. We didn’t go to the same elementary or middle schools, but luckily by the time high school rolled around, we were back together. Jake took an instant liking to Alex, and during the summers, we were a lot like the Three Musketeers hanging out together.  
            The other reason was my mom worked her ass off to make her dream of becoming a doctor a reality. Fortunately for her, one of the best medical schools in the country, Emory University, was practically in her backyard. Because of her love of babies, she became an OB/GYN, and she was now part of one of the biggest practices in town.
            My eyes rolled towards the ceiling as I thought about how Jake always found my mom’s profession fascinating. Whenever I would shrug my shoulders and be like, “So?”
He’d roll his eyes. “Dude,” he’d say. “Don’t you get the beauty of it? She looks at tits and ass all day long!”            
Yeah, that was Jake.
            At the thought of him, the burning ache I was growing accustomed to seared its way through my chest like bad heartburn after an all-night beer and pizza binge. He wouldn’t be making any more pervy comments about my mom being a MILF or that she specialized in looking at vaginas.  
Because he was dead.
I shook my head wildly back and forth so fast I thought I might get whiplash. No, I couldn’t start with the bullshit emotions again. I had to keep it together, especially now that Mom was dragging me over to Jake’s house.  Just the thought of being over there without Jake sent a shiver down my spine. There hadn’t been a single time in my life that I’d been over there without him.
            With a heavy sigh, I dragged myself over to the closet. Swinging open the door, I stepped inside and scanned the racks. I knew Mom wanted me looking nice and respectable, so I grabbed a pair of khaki pants and a nice blue button down shirt. After I slicked my usually out-of-control dark hair back, I hurried back downstairs and met my mom in the kitchen.
            Rolling a silver tube of lipstick across her lips, she nodded in approval at the sight of me. “You always look so handsome in blue,” she mused. “It brings out those beautiful blue eyes.”
            “Whatever, Mom,” I grumbled as I eyed the feast on the table. “So, when did you do all this?”
            She smiled shyly. “I didn’t. Grammy did.”
            I picked up the Pot Roast and nodded. I hadn’t seriously considered Mom had done the cooking. Besides the fact she had some crazy batshit hours, she’d also never quite learned to cook like her mom, the fabulous Southern diva who put Paula Deen to shame.             
             By the time we finished loading, the back of my mom’s SUV was packed with food. Mom closed the hatch and threw me a glance. “Ready?”
            I wanted to say, “Ready? Are you freakin’ crazy? There’s nothing on earth I want to do less than going to Jake’s house!”
            But instead, I gave Mom a weak smile. “Yeah, let’s go.”

                                                         Chapter Three

            I drew in a deep breath as I rang the doorbell. Jake’s older brother, Jonathan, answered it. With a nod of his head, he then gave me a slight smile. “Hey Noah. Ms. Sullivan,” he said politely.  He then swung the door open for us.
            We exchanged a sort of awkward hug—the kind guys give who are afraid of showing too much emotion. He was just two years older than Jake so most of the memories I had with Jake were connected to Jonathan too. I guess I connected with him more than Jason, their oldest brother. Like a true middle child, Jonathan did the sports thing, but he also played the drums in a band. He and I used to have some awesome jam sessions until Mr. Nelson would run us out of the basement for being too loud.
            He was a sophomore at Georgia Tech where Jake and I had been accepted. I guess he’d made it home as soon as he’d heard the news. Jason, on the other hand, was a senior at Duke, and I knew it would take him awhile to catch a plane.
            Mom and I didn’t wait for Jonathan to lead us. We headed through the foyer, past the living room, towards the kitchen. I knew the layout by heart. Jake had lived in the same house the entire time we’d been friends, so I probably could have made it blindfolded. Until we’d moved out of my grandparent’s house two years ago, Jake and I had lived two streets over from each other—just a short walk or bike ride away. The hours, minutes, and seconds I’d spent in this house were too innumerable to count. Every room, every floorboard and practically every wall held a memory connected to Jake.
            Mom and I were just putting the food down on the table when a voice behind me made me jump. “Noah,” Mrs. Nelson said in a somewhat strangled voice. I whirled around to see her standing at the edge of the living room.  She suddenly looked a lot older than I remember. Her blonde bob looked grayer, and there were blackened circles under her usually warm hazel eyes.
            She didn’t have to beckon me to go to her. Instead, I crossed the rest of the kitchen in two long strides. As she pulled me into her arms, I whispered the only thing I could think of into her ear. “I’m so sorry.” 
            She hugged me tight against her—as if she was afraid I might disappear or get away from her. And then she lost it. Her body shuddered so hard that it shook the both of us. I bit down on my lip, willing myself not to cry. I couldn’t do that to her. I had be strong for her because men are supposed to be strong, right? They’re not supposed to collapse in hysterics like flamers.
            Towering over her petite form, Mrs. Nelson’s breath hovered over my chest. “You were such a good friend to him, Noah. You can’t possibly know how much he admired you and appreciated your friendship. He really…loved you.”
            I tensed in her arms as the metallic taste of blood rushed into my mouth. I’d bit down so hard on my lip that I’d drawn blood. Please God, make her shut up! Then I realized more than I wanted her to stop talking, I wanted her to let me go. I wanted to get the hell out of there and never look back. But I couldn’t. My feet were rooted to the floor.
            Finally after what seemed like a painfully agonizing eternity, she let her arms drop from my waist. Her body went limp like a deflated balloon. I steadied her and helped her over to a chair by the table. Mom sat down beside her and took Mrs. Nelson’s hands in hers.
            Jonathan hung back in the doorway. When our eyes met, I knew he could see right through me. Past the bullshit tough guy exterior to the candy ass who didn’t know how to handle his emotions. But then again, he was the same way. He didn’t bother going to comfort his mother. He hovered as if one false step could be his drop off into emotional chaos.
            I wanted to laugh—manically—at the pure stupidity of it all. I mean, my best friend and Jonathan’s brother had just died, but neither one of us were willing to give ourselves over to the grief. Neither one of us were willing to shed one ounce of our assumed masculinity to show emotion. What did that say about our feelings for Jake? Could we not afford him a tear? Maybe a little sob? I thought back to earlier that day when I’d actually let my guard down. But I realized it was a sham. I’d only shed tears for Jake when I was sure no one was around to see me crying. Then I’d been scared to death that Avery would see me, so I’d even gone to the extreme of running away.
Yeah, I was a bastard.
            Mrs. Nelson’s voice brought me out of my self-deprecating tirade. “Noah, Mr. Nelson, Jonathan, and I have been discussing the funeral plans. We want you to sing Free Bird. It was Jake’s favorite, and we think—well I know—that’s what he’d want.”
            I didn’t know what to say. Sure, I’d sung Free Bird millions of times. I’d even sung it around Jake dozens of times—usually when he was highly inebriated. Course, he never failed to find a cigarette lighter and hold it up throughout the song while slurring through the lyrics with me. It became a competition between him and my old hound dog, Boo Radley, to see who could howl the loudest—Jake usually won.
            But Jake wouldn’t be howling this time. I’d be singing it in front of a packed crowd of mourners at his funeral. Damn, it was such intense thought that for a few seconds I couldn’t find my voice. Finally, I replied, “Um, yeah, sure Mrs. Nelson.”
            She smiled. “Thank you, sweetie.” She turned to my mom. “I’ve got to get some of Jake’s things together to take down to the funeral home. They said they’d set them up for me before the wake tomorrow. It’s just…”
            Mom and I exchanged a glance when Mrs. Nelson trailed off. Mom squeezed her hand reassuringly. Mrs. Nelson wiped the tears from her eyes. “It’s just I can’t bear to make myself go into his room,” she replied in a pained whisper.
“You don’t need to do that, Evelyn. I’m sure Martin or one of the boys will do it,” Mom said.
            Mrs. Nelson jerked her head up like a light bulb had gone off in her mind. “Noah, would you mind getting some of Jake’s things together? Jonathan is supposed to go to the airport in a little while to pick up Jason.”
            I glanced over at Jonathan. He momentarily wore an expression of pure relief. When he met my gaze, he quickly wiped it away.
            What was I supposed to say? “No thank you, Mrs. Nelson. I’d prefer to be a self-centered prick today cause, you know, I’m not really feeling the whole ‘going up and rummaging through my dead best friends stuff’ vibe”
            I didn’t say that. Instead, I tried clearing my throat of the continuous massive lump of emotion that seemed clogged there . “Yeah, I can do that. What exactly do you want?”
            “Just some things to set out around the urn. Things that Jake was interested in,” she replied.
            I fought the urge to reply, “Why don’t we just decorate the table with condoms, lube, and thongs since that was what Jake was mainly interested in?”
             “Like some of his trophies and stuff?” I asked.
            “Yes, that would be wonderful. Anything you think Jake would want. You knew him so much better than I did.”
            I almost choked over the last line. I wasn’t sure if I really ever knew Jake. Have you ever had friends like that? Friends you spent every waking minute with, but when it came down to it if the police asked you deeply personal questions, you might not be able to answer them?  Jake and I were guys—we didn’t let a lot people in. When I wracked my brain, there were maybe five or ten times throughout our friendship that I could remember really seeing his guard down. But who knows, maybe that was enough. Maybe that’s all that anybody had with their friends. And maybe Dr. Phil had screwed a whole generation into thinking we had to “think and feel” too much and “say what we meant”. Ugh. 
            It was then that Mr. Nelson breezed through the garage door and into the kitchen. He shot an aggravated look at Jonathan. “I thought you would have already left by now. Don’t tell me you’ve managed to forget about picking up Jason?”
            Jonathan rolled his eyes. “No, Dad, I haven’t.”
Mr. Nelson clenched his jaw back and forth before speaking again. “Hartsfield-Jackson is gonna be a madhouse this time of day. I would hope in a situation like this, you wouldn’t make your brother wait!”
Jonathan held up his hands in surrender. “Fine, I’m on my way!” He grabbed his keys off the table and swept past his dad with a scowl on his face. After the garage door slammed, Mr. Nelson merely nodded his head at Mom and me. Finally his face softened a little when he glanced at his wife.  
“Martin, Noah’s going to help you get together some of Jake’s things to take the funeral home,” Mrs. Nelson said.
            “Whatever. I just want to get it over with,” he grumbled. Without another word to me, he stalked out of the kitchen. I practically had to jog to catch up with him at the staircase. 
            I gotta say I’ve never been a big fan of Jake’s dad. The main reason being he’s a major asshole. Seriously, he’s a chauvinistic jerk-off. He’s one of those macho douchebags who believes his boys came out the womb playing sports, and he expected perfection on the field and court. As I followed him up the stairs, pictures lined the walls of Jake and his brothers playing baseball, football, and basketball from when they were practically in diapers.
            Back in the day, Mr. Nelson had been an uber-jock, too. He’d gone all the way in basketball until his senior year when he’d busted his knee, and his hopes of the NBA and his scholarship went down the toilet.
            I’ve never thought Mr. Nelson had much use for me since I wasn’t an athlete. He probably considered me a failure to the male species, and I’m sure he harbored questions about my sexuality. To him, I was some artsy-fartsy guitar playing fairy. Like I said, the man was an asshole.
            While Mr. Nelson blew through the door of Jake’s room and started snatching and grabbing, I hesitated. Something just didn’t seem right about going in there without Jake. Mr. Nelson glanced back at me. “Coming?” he asked sarcastically.  
            I nodded and stepped through the threshold. I might as well be a pansy and admit that the memories hit me like a ton of bricks. It was like a harsh kick to the gut—or groin for that matter. I’d never been in this room without Jake. It was like his presence was everywhere.  
            My stroll down memory lane was interrupted by Mr. Nelson’s gasp. “What the hell?” he demanded.
            Oh, shit! I thought. My mind was flooded with possibilities. He’d stumbled onto Jake’s porn collection. Worse, he’d found Jake’s stash of pot. Jake and I had once joked that if something happened to one of us, the other was supposed to go get rid of anything incriminating in our rooms. Great, I’d let him down.
            I turned around. “What’s wrong?”  
            The world slowed to a crawl as Mr. Nelson extended his hand. I drew in a deep breath as he opened his fingers.
            I stared at a small, black box. I exhaled slowly since it wasn’t pot, porn, or anything else shock-worthy. But the look on Mr. Nelson’s face caused my breath to hitch. “What is it?”
            “You don’t know what this is?”
            Duh, would I have asked you if I did, asswipe? I wanted to say, but I managed just to shake my head.
            Mr. Nelson sighed and stalked across the room to me. He thrust the velvet box into my hands. I cracked the box, and the sound echoed through the room. A glittering diamond stared back at me. But it wasn’t just any diamond. It was two carats of commitment in a platinum setting.
            Wow, even I could tell the man-whore had taste. I didn’t know much about diamonds, but I did know it glittered like it cost a fortune. That made me wonder where in the hell Jake had gotten the coins for such a ring. He was probably dealing drugs for all I knew. Mr. Nelson jolted me out of my thoughts.
            “Did Jake have a steady girlfriend?” he asked.
            I gave him a dumbfounded look. The words “Jake” and “relationship” just didn’t mix unless it was combined with multiple sexual relationships. 
            I staggered backwards. The mere fact I was standing in the middle of Jake’s bedroom with an engagement ring in my hand made me dizzy.
            “Noah?” Mr. Nelson questioned.
            “I’m fine,” I murmured. He continued staring at me, so I cleared my throat. “No, Jake didn’t have a steady girlfriend. I mean, he and Avery were off and on again, and he and Presley…” I glanced up at Mr. Nelson, and he nodded.
            “What about this? Do you know what it means?”
            He handed me a piece of paper. It was the song lyrics to You Were Always On My Mind.  As I read over the lyrics, I remembered a couple of months ago when I’d gotten into Jake’s truck after one of the basketball games.
            When Jake cranked the car, music came blasting out of the speakers.
            “Dude, what the hell is this shit?” I’d asked.
            “It’s Willie Nelson man,” he replied, turning the heater on.
            “That’s freakin’ fabulous, but why are we listening to it?”
            “Cause I like it.”
            “Don’t you think it’s a little hokey?”
            Jake grinned. “I like hokey. Besides, it’s my song.”
            I snorted. “I thought your song was more 50 Cent’s Pimp or JT’s Sexy Back!”
            “Yeah, I am kinda a pimp, aren’t I?” Jake mused. Then he laughed. “No man, you’re wrong. This is a song to warm a girl up.”
            I raised my eyebrows skeptically. “Warm one up? I thought all you had to do was look in their direction, and they’d fling their clothes off and fall over.”
            Jake laughed. “Usually…but not this girl. She needs a little work, and trust me, it’s sexy as hell.”
            I had scoffed at the thought and dropped the subject. Funny, how the most ridiculous conversations could have some deep seeded meaning. Now that I looked back, it was a private moment between two friends—one I wasn’t willing to share.
            So, I looked at Mr. Nelson and shook my head.
            He opened his mouth to say something, but the doorbell rang. Mr. Nelson rolled his eyes. “That would be Pastor Dan,” he grumbled.
            Dan Parker was the pastor of the church Mrs. Nelson attended, and the one Jake had been court-appointed to attend after one of his sophomore year stunts. Well, the judge hadn’t actually mandated he attend church—just the rehabilitation program that Pastor Dan ran for wayward teens who did dumbass things like get drunk and drive a lawnmower naked down to the school and mow grass into the shape of a penis on the football field.
            I handed the velvet box back to Mr. Nelson. He glanced at it and then back up at me. “Don’t say a word about the ring to my wife, Noah. Not until we get through all this funeral bullshit.”
            Asshole. “Whatever,” I mumbled.
            As I went out the doorway, I glanced back at Jake’s room one last time, and then I followed Mr. Nelson downstairs. 
Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Teaser Tuesday from Don't Hate the Player

So here's another teaser from Don't Hate the Player. The previous night Noah, along with Jake's father, made a startling discovery in Jake's room--they found a diamond engagement ring along with the song lyrics "You Were Always on My Mind". This scene picks up the morning after.

*This is a rough draft, subject to change, and please remember that Don't Hate the Player is YA...there won't be the level of naughtiness like in my other books!

            With Mom’s blessing to skip school, Alex, and I went over to Jake’s house to hang out with his brothers and his two cousins from out in the sticks—twins he liked to refer to as “Bubba”. Their names were actually Sean and Ryan, but Jake loved to call them just “Bubba”.
            Jonathan brought a cooler out of the apartment above the garage. We popped a few beers and lounged around by the pool. By noon, we were positively shitfaced. It took us all being drunk off our asses before we dared to bring up Jake.
            Bubba, aka Ryan and Sean, were with Jake when he died. After his seventh beer, Jonathan grabbed Ryan’s shoulder and slurred, “Dude, can you tell me how the hell it’s possible that my baby brother blew his ass up on a tractor?”
            My breath caught in my chest. I eased the can away from my lips, awaiting Bubba’s response.
            Ryan gulped down his swig of beer and shook his head. “We were all hanging out in the pasture—bored as hell. Sean and Travis (one of their other hillbilly relations) had brought along some rifles. So we started shooting beer cans off the fence,” Ryan stopped and glanced around us. “I mean, we tried shooting at them, but we were too fucking wasted.”
            Sean nodded. “Jake was pretty quiet. He kept mumbling something about falling off the wagon and ‘she’s gonna be disappointed in me’. About ten, he climbed up on Pawpaw’s tractor to get a better vantage point for the cans, or so he claimed. Travis said, “Hey dumbass, you better get off Papaw’s tractor, or he’ll wear out your hide!” But Jake just shrugged and started firing over and over again. One nicked the barbwire, ricocheted off, and…”
            Ryan noticed Sean’s hesitation. “It happened so quick. I mean, boom, and he was gone,” he muttered forlornly.
            We sat in stunned silence, staring at the sunlight glimmering on the pool water.
            Jonathan chugged the rest of his beer. Finally, in a strangled voice, he murmured, “Fuck me.”
            The sound of loud voices snapped us out of our daze. It was Mr. and Mrs. Nelson arguing.
            “Did you think you could hide it from me?” Mrs. Nelson shrieked.
            “Of course not. I just wanted you to get through the funeral first before I told you.”
            “And what is that supposed to mean, Martin? Am I such a nut job you don’t think I could handle it?”
            “No, Ev, that’s not what I thought.”
            As the voices got closer, we threw horrified glances at each other. In a drunken stupor, we stumbled around, hiding the evidence of our binge. Course, anyone with brains would have taken one look or one whiff at us and known we were totally plastered. But when you’re shitfaced, you’re not known for having very many coherent thoughts.
            Mrs. Nelson threw open the patio with such a force I thought she’d rip it off the hinges.    “Noah!” she called.
            The other guys swiveled their heads toward me.

            Shit. Damn. Hell. I straightened up in my lawn chair. “Yes, Mrs. Nelson?” I called in the

most sober voice I could conjure.

            It took me only a second to notice the velvet ring box in her hand. Double Shit, Damn, Hell….
            “Do you know about this?” she demanded. 
            Mr. Nelson joined her at the railing. I exchanged a glance with him before I replied. “Um, yes, Mrs. Nelson. We found it last night in Jake’s room.” Wanting to stay on her good side, I quickly added, “Mr. Nelson thought it would be best to wait to tell you.”
            While the Asshole shot me a death glare, Mrs. Nelson bobbed her head. “Good. Then you’ll be willing to help me.”
            “Um, help you?”
            “Yes,” she said, as she started over to us. I would’ve committed high crimes for a mint at that moment. I covered my mouth with my hand, trying to appear like I was deep in thought to mask my alcohol breath from hell.
            “Obviously, there’s a girl out there who my Jake truly loved—enough to want to be married to her. I want to know who she is, and I want you to find her.”
            Forgetting all about my heinous beer breath, I let my mouth drop open in disbelief. “Y-You want me to do what?”
            “I want you to find the girl who this ring belongs to. Even though Jake didn’t get the chance to give it to her, I want her to have it.”
            I stopped myself from blurting, “Are you insane, Mrs. Nelson? I know you loved your little boy, but he was a major panty chasing manwhore! I’d have better luck finding all the girls he deflowered or potentially gave an STD to than the one girl he might actually have had feelings for!”
            But at the desperate look on her face, I drew in a resigned breath. “Sure, Mrs. Nelson. I’ll try my best.”
            She smiled. “Thank you, Noah. I appreciate that.” She threw a wary glance at the others before she flounced back in the house and slammed the door. Mr. Nelson rolled his eyes and followed her.
            As soon as his parents were safely inside, Jason punched me on the arm. Hard.
            “Ow, what the hell was that for?” I cried.
            “Man, why didn’t you tell us about the ring?” he demanded.
            Uh, oh, I hadn’t thought about that one. Yeah the Asshole made me promise not to tell Mrs. Nelson, but he hadn’t mentioned anything about Jason and Jonathan. At the expectant look on his face, I decided to fudge the truth a little. “You heard me. Your dad said not to tell anyone.”     
            Jonathan snorted. “Figures.”
            Jason rolled his eyes. “Could we focus here for a minute, Johnny Boy? You do realize our brother must’ve thrown down a hunk of change to buy that ring!”
            I knew Jason was right. A ring like that must’ve cost a small fortune. Sure, the Nelson’s were fairly wealthy—the Asshole was an executive with Coke, but at the same time, they weren’t giving their sons thousand dollar monthly allowances or anything. With Jake’s sports schedule, he didn’t get in a lot of work hours either.
            Suddenly, Jonathan smacked himself on the forehead. “Baseball cards!”
            We all exchanged looks. “What the hell are you talking about, bro?” Jason asked.
            “Remember like a month ago when Jake decided to sell some of his baseball cards on EBay?”
            Jason nodded.
            “I bet that’s where he got the money. I mean, he had some that were worth a lot of money that Grandpa Nelson had given him.”
            “I’ll be damned,” Jason muttered.
            Jonathan sighed. “Course, we’re forgetting something.”
            “What’s that?” Jason asked.
            “Um, how about the fact our baby brother was thinking about marriage? That’s pretty damn near shocking if you ask me!” Jonathan replied.
            Alex, who had been quiet for most of the morning, cleared his throat. “Yeah, I was pretty shocked when I saw that ring. I mean, Jake didn’t impress me as the marrying kind—well, at least not until he was thirty or forty.”
            Jason grunted. “I figured he’d be more like some Hugh Hefner and have about three women living with him.”
            Jonathan laughed. “Me too, man.”
            I shook my head. “Forget about marriage. I can’t believe he was actually in love for once!”
            The others murmured in agreement. “Knowing Jake, it wasn’t about love,” Sean said.
            “What do you mean?” I asked. Nibbling my lip, I debated telling the guys about the flashback I’d had the night before about Jake being in love.
            “Probably some chick heard about his reputation and told him she wouldn’t sleep with him without a ring on her finger—you know to prove she wasn’t just some conquest. Since there wasn’t a piece of ass Jake couldn’t have, he probably liked the idea, so he bought the ring.”
            “Man, that’s a pretty screwed up theory and screwed up view of Jake!” Ryan argued.
            Jonathan shook his head. “Yeah, it is, but it also sounds like something Jake would do. Hell, he’d probably let the chick keep the ring in the end, too.”
            Scratching the back of my neck, I said, “Nah, I don’t think so.”
            Jason raised his eyebrows. “Oh really? You think Jake actually had a conscience and wouldn’t do something like that?”
            I nodded.
            Jason snorted. “Words of wisdom coming from the kid Jake duct taped to his chair in kindergarten!”
            While the others howled in laughter, I merely shook my head. “I think he was changing. You know—like maturing or something.”
            “Are you serious?” Jonathan asked.
            I thought of the brilliantly vivid flashback I’d had last night. “I know he was sincere about the ring because he told me he’d fallen in love with a girl.”
            “Really?” Jason asked.
            “Yeah. But he wouldn’t tell me who she was because he hadn’t had the chance to tell her first. He thought she deserved to know before I did. So like I said, he really was changing into this caring and compassionate dude.”
            “Wow, that’s deep,” Jonathan replied. He stared out over the water. “Deep like the deep end of the pool…”
            I exchanged a glance with Alex. “Um, Jonathan, what the hell are you talking about?”
            He turned back at me and then blinked his eyes a few times to clear his head. “No, you’re right. Jake really was good guy sometimes.” Jason coughed next to him. “No, man, he was. You and I both know that. He was better than the both of us put together.”
            Jason sighed. “Yeah, maybe you’re right.” He shook his head. “Sure as hell doesn’t say much for us, does it?”
            “So, just how do you propose to find this girl?” Jonathan asked.
            I shrugged. “I don’t know.”
            He snorted. “It’s not gonna be easy!”
            “I realize that.”
            “Jake may have been changing like you say, but man was he ever a player. Hell, he got more ass than Jason and I combined!”
            Jason nodded. “I don’t know what it was about him. I mean, yeah he was good-looking and all, but man, did he have the way with women.”
            Alex started laughing with the others. When I shot him an exasperated look, he abruptly stopped. Once he’d regained his composure, he leaned forward in his pool chair. “So what are you going to do? Start taking depositions from girls like some whacked out Law and Order or CSI show?”
            I refused to answer him. Instead, I fumbled under my chair for the beer I was drinking before Mrs. Nelson’s appearance. It was half full. I quickly chugged it down. I cut my eyes over to the guys who were waiting expectantly for my answer.
            I sighed. “Look, I haven’t a freaking’ clue how I’m going to do it, but I do know it’d be nice if you guys had my back a little more.”
            Jonathan nodded. “Hey man, you’re right. We all need to be in on this for Jake.” He grabbed his beer can out of its hiding place. “For Jake,” he said and raised his can.
            We all brought our cans together—even mine that was empty. “For Jake,” we murmured in unison.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Chapter One of Don't Hate the Player

As some of you might know, I taught MS and HS English for 11 1/2 years before quitting to write full-time in January.  Four years ago this February, I lost my first student. I'd been blessed to teach eight years before I had to go through that type of loss. It was miraculous considering I taught MS and HS students. I'll never forget that February morning when I was called into the principal's office and notified that one of my Freshman had dropped dead at the basketball game he was playing in the night before due to a pacemaker malfunction.

That experience brought up memories from the past when two good guy friends were killed in car accidents six months apart when I was a junior in HS. Travis, who died in September, would have been the next Adam Sandler or Andy Samburg, I have no doubt. David, who died in March, was a sweetheart who excelled at baseball and basketball.

Exploring how males grieve, what it must've been like for Cooper's guy friends, along with Travis and David's, is what fueled me to write Don't Hate the Player...Hate the Game. It's also combines my own experiences with grief. It is special to me not only because it honors the memory's of three special guys, but because of what it meant to my writing career as well. Don't Hate the Player was the first book I got agented with and I almost sold to traditional New York publisher.

I'm excited to finally get it out to the world, and there are so many people anxious to read it. It is Young Adult, rather than New Adult, so I feel I should make that disclaimer.

When I first wrote the book, I saw a different actor as Noah, but now I'm leaning towards Nicholas D’Agosto. Noah has shaggy dark hair and a slight build. He's rejected sports because his biological father abandoned his mother when he got to her pregnant to become a Major League Baseball Player. He is gifted at guitar and singing. 

And for Jake--the eyes, the smile, the body that makes girls drop their panties in an instant, Chace Crawford.

And here's Chapter One....


                                                                 Chapter One

            As I slowly drifted back into consciousness, my knee jerked upward, banging against the desk. “SHIT!” flashed like neon in my mind, and I had to bite my lip to keep it from escaping out my mouth. Instead, I peered around the room, trying to gage whether the noise alerted anybody to my nap.
            Nope. The coast was clear. Everyone else in the classroom looked stoned or spaced out. Mr. Jones, a man who was a cross between Clay Aiken and Pee Wee Herman, was perched on his stool in the front of the room, droning on and on about the evils of Big Brother in 1984.
            I rolled my eyes towards the ceiling. Jesus, the man must have a screw loose. I mean, it was the first day back after Spring Break and what was he doing? Lecturing.
What a dumbass.
            I could have assured Mr. Jones that no one gave a flying shit about George Orwell. Half the class was still hung over from the previous week’s antics. Even the usual goody two shoes wore expressions of pure boredom as their pens hung in midair over their notebooks. 
              I ran a hand through my dark hair, hoping to smooth down some of the places that looked like “desk hair’ where I’d been napping. My mouth felt the way I imagined a moldy gym sock would taste, so I rifled through my pockets to find a piece of gum. I chewed on it as I glanced down at my cell phone. No new messages.
            Where the hell is Jake? I couldn’t help wondering. Jake Slater was the biggest douchebag I’ve ever known. He was the prankster who always gave Freshman swirlies in the toilets or shanked them, leaving them bare-assed and humiliated in front of the entire school. He was the somewhat illiterate jock who always wanted to copy off your homework or cheat off your test. He was the idiot who could never hold his alcohol and always ended up puking in the back seat of your car before slurring an “I looove you, man!” Yeah, he was all those things and more.
Most of all he was my best friend.
            Our friendship was cemented in kindergarten. That’s when Jake decided to duct tape me to my chair before recess. There’s a saying in the South that “Duct tape’ll fix anything.” Yeah, I’m a living testament to that. It will certainly render a five year old captive to a plastic chair until hostage negotiators—or your teacher—comes to the rescue. Once the tape was removed, along with the first layer of my epidermis, I had a new friend.
            Years later, the story of how we met was one of Jake's favorite stories to tell. Usually it was right after some hot as hell girl asked about that distorted patch of skin on my right arm where hair refused to grow because the follicles had been damaged by duct-tape.
            "What happened?" she'd ask, eyes wide with compassion as she traced the area playfully with a finger. They always hoped for a good story – I'd been burned in a fire trying to save the neighbor's newborn baby, or it was from the time I skidded out on my motorcycle trying to outrun the State Troopers. But like the true douchebag he was, Jake always shot that fantasy down within seconds.
            "Dude," he'd say, sloshing his beer out of the cheap plastic cup that seemed permanently attached to his hand from Friday night til Sunday morning.
            "Jake…" I’d begin, my eyes pleading with him to drop it and not go there for the hundredth time.
            "Get this. I duct taped him to his chair when we were five."
            "Jake, shut the fuck up!"
            Ignoring me, Jake would snicker. "He like, practically pissed himself he was so scared when Mrs. Cook ripped that shit off."
            I rolled my eyes thinking about him. He was supposed to get home from his grandparent’s farm late last night, but instead, he’d sent me a text around ten saying he was blowing off the first day back and would be home around three if I wanted to hang out after school. It was ironic that Jake, the unofficial King of Partying, spent his Spring Break off chillin’ in the mountains among rolling pastures filled with steaming cow patties rather than hitting the sandy white beaches and orgies of Panama City or Daytona. Of course, he always managed to raise some hell while he was away or take advantage of some hillbilly girl high off moonshine.
            The last time I’d heard from him was around eight this morning when he’d sent me a cryptic text during first period that read I fucked up. She’s gonna be pissed! I took it to mean he’d done something stupid to piss his mom off. But after my last few Dude, WTF? texts had gone unanswered, I was seriously beginning to think he was in major trouble—like blue lights and handcuffs trouble. 
            Suddenly, a voice came over the intercom.
            “Mr. Jones?”
            “Yes,” Mr. Jones answered impatiently, clearly pissed that the powers that be had dared to interrupt his literary ramblings. 
            “We need Noah Sullivan to Administrative Services, please.”
            At the sound of my name, I shot upright in my chair, straightening my slouching posture. Administrative Services? Once again, SHIT! flashed in my mind as I frantically tried to figure out what I’d done wrong.
            “I’ll send him up,” Mr. Jones replied, giving me a disapproving look.
            Without a word, I gathered up my books and left the room. Part of me was thrilled to be spared one more minute of British Lit, but at the same time, I was a little concerned that I’d been summoned to administration.
            Out in the hallway, I ran into my cousin, Alex. He raised his dark eyebrows at me. “You got called up too?”
            I nodded. “What do you think is up?”
            Alex shrugged while his dark eyes twinkled. “Beats the shit outta me. I’m just stoked to be getting outta AP Government right now!”
            I laughed. “Tell me about it. Jones is on one of his freakin’ tirades again.”
            “Damn, I gotta sit through that shit next period,” Alex moaned, and then he shuddered. “Having Brit Lit with Jones the last period of the day blows.”
            Before we could get to the administrators’ suite, Mr. Elliot, one of the assistant principals, rerouted us to the auditorium. When Alex and I strolled through the double doors, there were twenty or so kids scattered throughout the first three rows. I noticed immediately that they were some of Creekview’s A-crowd of popularity—football and basketball players, cheerleaders. It was most of the “crew”, so to speak, that Jake and I hung out with on a daily basis.   
            Dr. Blake, the principal, and three counselors stood solemnly at the edge of the stage.
            “Damn. Must be something pretty serious,” Alex murmured. 
            “I’m so whipping Jake’s ass if this has anything to do with us skipping out on Friday,” I hissed.
            Since most of the “the crew” had different plans for our week off, Jake had thrown what he called a Pre-Break Binge on the Friday we got out of school. When it was just us, he’d called it his “Going Out of Partying Party” since he claimed to be turning over a new leaf. I didn’t believe him for one minute, but I let him think I did. Jake always had a way of coming up with these bat-shit crazy ideas that seemed cool to him in the moment, but in the end, he’d always abandon them. He struggled with the follow through.
So, we’d basically all skipped school right after lunch and went over to his house. By three, the party was completely out of hand with drunken beer pong, half-naked people, and one fist fight. Luckily, everyone spilt before Jake’s parents got home at six.          
            Alex and I slid into a seat on the front row. The Homecoming Queen and reigning Ice Princess, Avery Moore, glanced up at me and smiled. “Hey,” she whispered.
            “Where’s Jake?”
            I shrugged. “On his way home from the mountains I guess.”
            Dr. Blake interrupted our conversation by clearing her throat. She then took a tentative step forward. “I’ve just been informed of some very distressing news,” she began.
            I cringed. I didn’t know how in the hell she’d gotten wind of the Pre Spring Break Binge, but by the look on her face, she had the goods on all of us. Great, I was going to be in deep shit at school but even worse at home when my mom found out.
            Dr. Blake stared down at the auditorium tile for a few minutes, trying to gain her composure. Finally, she glanced back up at us. “In this age of technology, it’s hard to keep news of this kind a secret for long. Since we were only notified thirty minutes ago, the counselors and I have tried to find the easiest and least detrimental way to tell you all. Sadly, there’s not a strategic plan in place that we can follow when something like this happens.” Dr. Blake drew in a ragged breath. “More than anything, I wish that there was an easier way for you to find out—that there had been time to call your parents and families to have them here to temper the tragic news by comforting you all.”
            Hmm, okay, maybe this wasn’t about the Spring Break Binge. Furrowing my brows, I turned to Alex who shrugged his broad shoulders.
            “What happened Dr. Blake?” Avery demanded from my other side.
            Chewing her bottom lip, Dr. Blake’s gaze flickered to one of the counselors who bobbed their head. “I regret to inform you that Jake Slater was killed this afternoon.”
            A collective gasp of pure horror rang throughout the auditorium. I jolted back in my seat like I’d been shot with a taser gun. An icy feeling pricked and stung its way over my body like I’d never experienced before in my life, causing me to shudder. Jake was…dead. No, no, no! Someone had to be fucking with us. Guys like Jake didn’t die.  
            Like in some freaky outta body experience, I heard my voice croak, “What the fuck?”
            Dr. Blake glanced over at me. Instead of riding my ass for cussing, she just gave me a sad look. Slowly, I found my voice again. “Are you positive it was Jake? I mean, he’s not even in town, so it might not have been him. I mean, when did it happen? Where did it happen?” The questions seemed to continuously fumble out, and I began to wonder if I should clap my hand over my mouth to stop them.
            “I’m so very sorry, Noah, but I was notified by Jake’s father.” She drew in a deep breath before she continued. “It seems that Jake and some of his friends were hanging out, shooting at cans when a bullet ricocheted—”
            “Jake was shot?” I demanded. In my mind, I pictured a group of hillbilly vigilantes or the Dixie Mafia taking him out.
            Dr. Blake’s expression became pained. “No—it seems he was sitting on his grandfather’s tractor when the bullet ricocheted off a tree, hitting the fuel tank.”
            At the realization of Jake’s fiery end, I fought the bile rising in my throat. I pinched my eyes shut and willed myself not to blow chunks on the auditorium floor. Jake had been blown up. Jesus, that was too horrible to even imagine. A car accident was one thing, but to be blown up…fuck, that was gruesome. The girls around me gasped, and some began crying. Avery reached out and grabbed my hand in hers. She started doing this horrible hiccupping, hyperventilating cry. Her frantic eyes met mine. Momentarily my own grief and potential freak-out were forgotten as I focused on the fact Avery was seriously about to lose her shit.
Without a word between us, I got up and led her out of the auditorium. Alex followed close on my heels. We stood out into the hallway. Mr. Elliot saw the state Avery was in. He motioned us inside the counseling suite across the hall.  
            Presley Patterson was already inside with several of her friends. Presley was Avery’s rival in everything from popularity to, most importantly, Jake. But it wasn’t her personality that necessarily made her popular or notorious at Creekview. It was the fact she slept around. 
            Through her tears, Avery shot Presley one of her icy stares. In retaliation, Presley jerked her chin up and wiped the tears from her blue eyes.
            I steered Avery over to one of the chairs. The minute she sat down she buried her head on the table and began sobbing uncontrollably. Her tiny frame shook so hard I was afraid she might break under the strain. It wasn’t long before an eerie and unnerving chorus of wailing echoed off the walls of the room. As the lone guys in the room, Alex and I glanced at each other. Neither one of us really knew what to do.
            We stared helplessly at Mr. Santos, the head counselor, but he was useless. He’d spent years immersed in the business side of high school counseling. Where Little Johnny was going to college and what Little Susie needed on her SAT to get into Brown. I think the man was dried up of any shred of psychobabble spin. He did manage to pat Avery on the back and say, “There, there, honey.”
            Geez, what an asshat!
            At that moment, the most random memory I could fathom wormed its way into my mind, cloaking me with its intensity. When I was ten, I’d gone on a camping trip with Jake and his family. We’d picnicked by some waterfalls, and after lunch, we started messing around in the water. Somehow I managed to step in a mammoth hole in the rocks. Within seconds, I got tangled up in some willowy weeds, and I couldn’t break free of their viselike grip.
            When I realized I was trapped and would likely drown, panic crept from my chest up through my throat. I wanted to scream, but I couldn’t. I could see sunlight breaking through the surface of the water as I flailed and jerked around.
            Suddenly, an arm grabbed hold of my t-shirt and pulled me forward. Coughing and sputtering, I tried clearing my eyes to see my savior while expecting nothing short of miraculous like Jesus himself standing there with arms outstretched.
            But it was just Jake.
            He was ashen and trembling worse than me. As I sputtered and vomited up water, he did something so unexpected I almost fell back in the water.
            He hugged me. Not just a quick, “Hey, man, you okay?” kinda hug. It was a full on bear hug that took my breath. “Jake,” I’d wheezed. “Can’t breathe!”
            When he’d released me, there were tears in his eyes. “I-I thought you were dead.” He shook his head wildly back and forth. “Don’t you EVER do that to me again!”
            I was so taken back by his emotion that I could only nod my head. At the sound of voices behind us, he quickly wiped his eyes with the backs of his hands. “If you tell anyone I was crying, I’ll beat the shit outta you!” he’d warned.
           Since I knew Jake would do it, I’d kept silent all these years. I’d never told anyone.But now closed in that tiny room with the girls all sobbing around me, I felt the same panic of impending death. I was under the surface of the water again, and I couldn’t breathe. Even when I tried sucking in air, my chest constricted, and I felt like I was slowly suffocating. My eyes honed in on the door—my one escape from the churning sea of grief and loss enveloping me.  
            Without another thought, I bolted from my seat. I ignored my name being called over and over as I sprinted out the office and then burst through the double doors leading out of the school. I didn’t stop until I ran around the side of the building. I gulped in the air the same way as if I were breaking the surface of water.  I bent double, trying to calm myself of the emotions coursing through me. My hands on my knees trembled against my jeans, and I realized then my entire boy was jerking all over. Jesus, Noah would you get a grip? I could almost hear Jake’s voice echoing through my head. “Dude, quit acting like a total pussy!”
            As I stood there trying desperately to steady myself, a realization washed over me. This time I didn’t bother fighting the bile rising in my throat. Instead, I heaved the entire contents of the cafeteria’s shitty lunch onto the emerald grass. Over and over again, I threw up as if I were trying to purge myself of the dark feelings overtaking me.
            Jake is dead.
           My best friend is dead.
          I was never going to drink beers with him around a bonfire down by the lake or scope out chicks at the mall. We weren’t going to share a dorm room together at Georgia Tech like we’d planned or rush the fraternity that his brother and some of my uncles had been in.
          Not only was he dead, but he’d been blown up on his grandfather’s tractor. I mean, what the hell? Car accidents, accidental shootings, illness—I could get that, but to be blown up on your grandfather’s tractor? My mind just couldn’t comprehend that. I shook my head as I thought of what Jake would’ve said about the situation. “Hey man, you know I always meant to go out in a blaze of glory! And damn if I really didn’t!”
            No, no, no. This couldn’t be real. It all had to be just a bad dream. Pinching my arm, I willed myself to wake up and to start the day all over again. But it didn’t work. In another act of desperation, I grabbed my cell phone out of my pocket and began furiously texting.
            Come on, Jake! Answer me you sorry fucker!
            Tell me you being dead is just a joke you’re pulling to keep from getting in trouble for skipping out today.
            Please Jake…
            When no reply came, I sank to my knees on the grass. Oh God, it was really true. Jake was dead. He was gone and never, ever coming back again. Before I realized it, I was crying. Not just silent tears streaking down my cheek, but sobbing hysterically. Gut wrenching sobs that caused my body to spasm. The harder I tried to stop, the harder the sobs came. It was a crazy, manic feeling not to be able to control my emotions. I hadn’t cried in years—at least not when I was sober. When I was drunk, I usually cried about old girlfriends. The last time I’d cried like this was when I was fifteen and my grandfather, who had been a father to me, died.
            Suck it up, dickweed! A voice repeated over and over in my head. In a snot-filled finish, I wiped my nose on the back of my hand and shook my head. Quickly, I threw a panicked glance over my shoulder, hoping I was safe where no one could see me.
            I was wrong.
            Cold fear washed over me as Avery came striding out the double doors. Dammit, I couldn’t let her see me like this—a blubbering pansy with tear streaked cheeks down on his knees in the grass. Men were supposed to control their emotions—be strong and comfort chicks when they were upset.
            In a fluid movement, I pulled myself to my feet and sprinted around the side of the building. I could hear Avery calling my name, but once again, I ignored her. My phone buzzed in my pocket. I knew it was Alex or one of the other guys asking where the fuck I was. But I didn’t care. I had to get away. I was no good to myself or anyone else at that moment.
            Unless I was with Jake, I usually played by all the rules. But now that he was gone, I just didn’t give a shit, so I bypassed the front office and headed straight for the parking lot. When I slid across the scorching seats of my Jeep, I tried stilling my erratic breaths.
            Jake is dead. Jake is dead. Jake is dead. Jake is dead….
            As that thought played over and over in my mind, I brought a shaky hand to the steering ignition and cranked up. Squealing out of my parking spot, all I could think of was getting away. Where I was going, I didn’t know or where I could go to let go of the suffocating pain, I didn’t know.
            I just knew I had to try.