Once upon a time there was a guy, and he was awesome. He had a perfect life—good-looking, a great job, money to burn, and woman tripping over themselves to f**k him. He was the ace in the hole. A number one. Mr. No Apologies, I know exactly what I want and I get it, if you’re not with me, you’re against me, get on board or get the f**k out.
I liked that guy. He called the shots. He was in control. And there was never a time he felt as bad as I do right now. About anything.
I know what he would’ve said at a time like this: Stella can lick Chomper’s balls; Drew is the one who needs to get his groove back. Then he would’ve grabbed a stripper and paid for a raunchy lap dance—maybe paid for more. To even the score.
But if you think you know how this goes, you’re f**king wrong.
’Cause I’m not going to do any of that stuff.
As shitty as this is, as sick and jealous as seeing those pictures makes me feel? I know something that feels even worse.
Letting Kate down. Breaking her trust. Making her cry.
Kate has forgiven me my screwups and she trusts me, even when I don’t always give her a reason to. Mercy is a gift—given out of love, not worthiness. And that’s what Kate will always be to me.
She’s my mercy.
And I will be damned if I punk out and fail to be the man she adores—the man I know I can be. For her. For James.
I rub my eyes and take a breath. The guys watch me as I walk to the bar and sit down.
“What are you going to do?” Warren asks.
“What do you think I’m going to do?”
“Try and make yourself feel better? Hook up with a stripper?” Matthew offers.
I just shrug. “Been there, done that—it never ends well.”
Besides, you know as well as I do that she didn’t get that lap dance ’cause she wanted it—any more than I wanted a goddamn thong in my mouth. The girls put her up to it, and she was just going with the flow.
Still sucks, though. Which is why when Jack repeats Warren’s question, I say, “I’m going to do what any guy in my shoes would do. I’m gonna f**king drink.”
The perky bartender appears before me, smiling. “What can I get you, Mr. Evans?”
I shrug. “You got anything that will erase the last five minutes from my brain?”
I meant it as a joke, but she smiles thoughtfully. “Actually, I think I have just what you’re looking for.”
She walks to the end of the bar and retrieves a long-necked, glittery, sparkling bottle. Someone went a little crazy with the BeDazzler. She holds it up. “This is Pandora. It’s part of an in-house contest. Eight hundred dollars a bottle. If you’re able to drink the entire contents without passing out, vomiting, or requiring medical intervention, you win an I DOMINATED PANDORA IN PARADISE T-shirt. And we put your name and picture on the Wall of Studs.”
She points behind the bar, where WALL OF STUDS is hung on a glowing neon sign. With no pictures underneath.
“If you fail to drink the contents or engage in any of the aforementioned behaviors, your picture and name are relegated to the Wall of Pussies.” She gestures to the opposite wall. Where a shitload of pictures hang. Every one featuring some poor slob who’s passed out or puking—sometimes both. One guy looks as if he’s having a seizure.
I stare at the bottle. “What’s in it?”
“Our own blend. I can’t tell you the exact proof, but I must warn you, it’s quite high. So what do you say, Mr. Evans? Up for the Pandora Challenge?”
Here’s a fact for you—men will do practically anything for a T-shirt. Free throws till our backs give out, hot-dog eating until our stomachs rupture. If there’s a chance to acquire a cheap cotton garment that proclaims our accomplishment? We’re helpless to resist.
“Hell, yeah.” I smack the money down on the bar. She hands me the bottle and offers a glass, which I turn down.
I uncork the top and toast the guys. “Party on!”
The liquid is sweet, warm. Not the bitter, burning taste of most hard liquors. I’m sure that I’ve got this in the bag. Might as well put my T-shirt on right now.
I look at Matthew, who smiles back. “What’s the worst that could happen, right?”
Your body’s ability to absorb alcohol and still function depends on several factors: weight, liver health, past patterns of consumption. Most adults already have this figured out, but just in case you’re one of those who don’t know—I’ll tell you. There are different levels of intoxication.
First, there’s that warm, happy feeling the average person gets after a drink or two. Most could still operate a car safely and, unless you have a low body mass index, would probably pass a Breathalyzer. We’ll call this buzzed.
Then, in the three-to-five-drink range, some people get a little silly. Talkative. Possibly annoying. You’re beyond happy at this point, and even the most mundane events seem hilarious. This is often referred to as tipsy.
Next, there’s actual drunkenness. By now, you’ve lost count of the number of drinks you’ve had. You could bite a hole through your tongue, but you wouldn’t feel it. You’re slurring your words, and swaying on your feet. We’ll call this shitfaced.
The final level of intoxication is completely f**king obliterated. Coherent thought is pretty much gone. Coordination—nonexistent. And your self-awareness equals that of a fruit fly.
About an hour after popping that cork from Pandora’s mouth, I am f**king obliterated. Moving is a bit of a challenge. It’s similar to those nightmares when the ax murderer is chasing you, and no matter how hard you try, you can’t get your legs to move? It feels like a thick, invisible force field of Jell-O is encasing my body—every action is slow and strenuous.