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Rise by Piper Lawson (1)


Friends who move coke

That is one handsome dude. Sure he’s yours?” I looked from the baby to my best friend, Max. His eyes narrowed.

“There’s a very short visitors list at the nurses’ station, Ry. I can’t remember why we put you on it.”

Some babies are ugly. There’s no way around it. You still say nice things while channeling your inner Daniel-Day-Lewis-gunning-for-an-Oscar.

I didn’t have to fake it.

Sleepy, intelligent blue eyes peered back at me from his tiny face. He was all pale pink skin, with a smattering of dark hair on his head.

Nestled in his parents’ arms in the private hospital room, he looked extraordinarily chill for only having been on the planet about three hours.

As for his parents, Max’s electric blue eyes were soft, the tic in his jaw gone for the first time I could remember. Payton’s dark hair was pushed back from her heart-shaped face, and she looked beat but damned beautiful.

“How was the delivery?”

“About how you’d expect for pushing a volleyball out of your body. Did you bring it?” Payton asked hopefully.

I held out the watermelon slushy.

“You are a god, Riley McKay.”

“I love it when women tell me that.” I set the massive bouquet of flowers I’d bought on the way over—apparently less popular than Payton’s favorite drink—on the particleboard table next to the bed. Judging by the card next to the giant stuffed teddy bear, I was second on the scene after Payton’s mom.

Soon the place would be crawling with well-wishers.

The news had sent ripples through Titan Games once I’d announced the CEO’s girlfriend had gone into labor this afternoon. Our company of quirky developers had been whispering and giggling like teenage girls at a Justin Bieber concert.

I studied the new arrival. He had my friend’s chin but everything else was Payton. “So. This dude got a name? I’ve always liked Riley, if you're looking for

“Tristan.” I’d expected the word from Payton, but it was my best friend who met my gaze. “Tristan Taylor Donovan.”

I’d seen Max in a relationship before—married, in fact—but they never had this vibe that Max and Payton had.

Payton was as driven as Max. An account manager at a bank, she worked with entrepreneurs and business owners of every shape and size, which was how they’d met. How she’d tamed my cynical but good-hearted friend was still a mystery of X-Files proportions.

“What are you doing?” Max asked when I pulled out my phone.

“Documenting. Sharing.” Payton smiled, my friend frowned, and Tristan continued to breathe as I clicked the camera button. “This is the Lion King. I am digital Rafiki.”

I posted the photo to our team’s Slack channel, then pocketed the phone.

“You’re a softie, Ry,” Payton commented.

“I am a battle-hardened legal genius. I refuse to be described otherwise.”

The last time I was in a maternity ward was when my older sister Grace gave birth to her daughter four years ago. My parents and my younger sister Annie and I had sat anxiously waiting. Grace’s husband Jeremy was in with her, and I’d felt a physical relief when my brother-in-law had stuck his head out and said everything was all clear.

Now I was here with my best friend and the woman he loved.

I’d forgotten how babies had a way of bringing up all the feels.

“Just wait,” Payton told me. “This’ll be you soon.”

I pretended to look offended, even as I bent to stroke Tristan’s soft cheek. “What makes you think I’m gunning to expand the McKay family? I work sixteen-hour days playing Spock to this guy’s Kirk.” I nodded to Max. “When I’m done I barely have time to get to the gym and pay the mortgage.”

Her mouth twitched. “You say that as if ‘in a relationship’ isn’t your natural state. You love to be in love, but it's been months since you dated. Something’s gotta give.”

“Well, with Max off the market I might be Titan Games’ most eligible bachelor.”

I don't harbor misconceptions about being alone forever. I'm tall, I work out, and I dress like I give a shit. I laugh a lot and love to make other people laugh. I remember birthdays and anniversaries like it’s my job.

Which it’s not, because my real job is second-in-command at the world’s most cutting edge gaming company. That job pays for my suits, my Bentley, and my seven-figure-townhouse.

But I've never had a hard time finding women whose company I enjoy, and who enjoy mine.

When Maria broke up with me months ago, it looked from the outside like any of my other breakups: civilized, amicable, mutual.

In reality, I'd been floored when she’d said it wasn’t working.

“You don’t let people in, Riley.”

“What are you talking about? We've been on a cruise together. We stayed in a hundred-square-foot cabin for five days, how much closer can you get?”

“That's what I mean. You're charming—sometimes too much so—and easy to be around. But for all the time we spend together, you never talk about your past, or your fears, or what makes you sad. And you never talk about our future. I want someone to take the next step with. I know you're not ready to go there but I wonder if you ever will be.”

“That's not fair.”

“Isn't it? There’s part of you that you don’t show the world. And even when I'm with you, I don't get all of you. You hold some piece back. I’m not even sure you acknowledge it yourself. And I can’t be with someone who doesn’t show me all of him.”

“What do you want me to say. That I love you? I've told you.”

“I don't want that love, Riley. The kind that's always easy and smiling. I want love that's messy and honest. The kind that tears you apart and puts you back together again.”

It was bullshit. We’d never so much as had a fight. Wasn’t that what women wanted? Someone to take them out, to make them laugh? Someone to take care of them and enjoy doing it?

The breakup still bothered me. I was over Maria, but some mutinous part of me wondered if she was right. If there was something wrong with me.

Since Max and I started Titan Games years ago as a way to launch his first game, Oasis, business had grown.


We were two thirty-year-old guys from Boston who’d made millions on three bestselling games. We might not be household names, but Titan was.

But here, in this hospital room with the bad lighting and yellowing linoleum, none of that seemed to matter.

My best friend and the woman he adored more than anything had brought new life into the world.

I might’ve had the car, the house, the stock portfolio.

I didn’t have that. Someone who looked at me the way Payton looked at Max.

As quickly as the thought came, I shoved it away. Self-pity is an indulgent emotion, especially for people that have money, success, friends and family.

“Can I borrow him for a second?” I asked Payton.

“Max or Tristan?”

“The former.”

“It took all of three minutes until shop talk,” Payton teased.

“I’ll have him back before that little guy can blink.” She waved a hand and Max followed me out into the hall. I let the door close behind us so we wouldn’t disturb Payton and Tristan.

“I let the team know approvals would be slower than usual on the new version of the game. And…” I trailed off as his eyes glazed over. “Max. How’re you doing?”

“Good. Really fucking good.”

I threw myself at his tired frame, clapping him on the back. “Congrats, man. Listen. Don’t worry about Titan. I’ll take care of everything.”

“We’ve got to keep moving on Omega.”

“We will. I’ll keep you in the loop. But anything that needs doing, send to me. I’ll be your interim CEO.”

A twenty-something nurse strode down the hall, flicking her eyes in our direction—Max, stocky in his jeans and black t-shirt, and me, rangy in my custom suit—before glancing at the chart under her arm.

“I know you’re a control freak. But did we or did we not found this company together?”

“Yeah. We did.”

I nodded. “Good. Now, is there anything else I can do?”

Max hesitated. “There is one thing.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a check and handed it to me. I glanced at the number of zeros.

“Are we the kind of friends who move coke for each other? I think we need to talk about…” My gaze lingered on the addressee. “A gallery?”

“It’s a present for Payton.”

“Sure thing, Kanye.” His expression went blank. “You know, like a push present, for… never mind.”

“If I don't drop this off tonight, I lose my deposit.”

“Consider it done.” He gave me the address and I put it into my phone.

His brows drew together. “There’s something I should tell you first.”

“What, you think I’m going to embarrass you?” I glanced down at my suit. “I can fit in at an art gallery, Max. Ivy League graduates, alcohol, douchey jokes and hairpieces? It’s my natural habitat. You worry too damned much. Now get back to your girlfriend. And your baby. You need to take some embarrassing pictures for Tristan's high school yearbook.”

As I made my way to the parking garage, I took another look at the photo I'd snapped of the three of them. Despite Max’s awkward expression, they looked in tune. Connected.

In love.

Not the kind of love you fall into because it’s easy.

The kind you fall into because you can't do anything but fall.

I slid into the Bentley, shoving away the feeling in my gut.

I don't want that kind of love. Because what they don't tell you is after the fall

There's no one to pick you up.