You are my sunshine, my only sunshine.
You make me happy when skies are gray . . .
In her sweet, adorably garbled voice, she tries to sing the words with me. After two verses, my eyes are misty and my voice cracks. Because I miss her so much.
I miss them.
I clear my throat. “Time for bed. Sweet dreams.”
Jenny comes back on the line. “Good luck with your exam tomorrow.”
“Good night, Stanton.”
I toss the phone to the foot of the bed and stare at the ceiling. From somewhere down below, there’s raucous laughter and calls to chug—most likely from the marathon beer-pong game that started two days ago. In my first week at Columbia I learned that careers aren’t just built on what you know. They’re built on who you know.
So I pledged a fraternity—to make those lifelong connections. Psi Kappa Epsilon. It’s a good frat, filled with white-collar majors—business, economics, prelaw. Most come from money, but still good people, boys who work hard, study hard, and play hard.
Last semester a member graduated early, then got shipped abroad by his Fortune 500 company. My fraternity big brother lobbied strongly for me to get a room here in the house. A big brother is the guy you’re paired with when you’re pledging a frat. He’s the guy who gives you the hardest time. You’re his bitch—his slave.
But after you become a brother he’s your best friend. Your mentor.
As self-loathing threatens to swamp me, my big brother just happens to walk past my open door. Out of the corner of my eye I see his dark head pass, pause, and back up.
Then Drew Evans strolls into my room.
Drew is like no one I’ve ever known. It’s as if there’s a spotlight on him that never dims—he demands your notice. Claims your full attention. He acts like he owns the world, and when you’re with him? You feel like you own it too.
Deep blue eyes that all the girls go stupid for look down on me disapprovingly.
“What’s wrong with you?”
I wipe my nose. “Nothin’.”
His eyebrows rise. “Doesn’t look like nothing. You’re practically crying into your pillow, for Christ’s sake. I’m fucking embarrassed for you.”
Drew is relentless. Whether it’s pussy or answers he’s going after, he doesn’t let up until he gets his way. It’s a quality I admire.
My phone pings with incoming email—the pictures Jenny sent me of the party. With a resigned sigh I sit up and access the photos. “You know my daughter, Presley?”
He nods. “Sure. Cute kid, hot mom. Unfortunate name.”
“Today was her birthday.” I flash him one particularly endearing shot of my little angel with a face full of cake. “Her first birthday.”
He smiles. “Looks like she had fun.”
I don’t smile. “She did. But I missed it.” I scrub my eyes with the palms of my hands. “What the fuck am I doin’ here, man? It’s hard . . . harder than I ever thought it’d be.”
I’m good at everything I do—always have been. Football, school, bein’ a kick-ass boyfriend. In high school all the girls envied Jenny. Every one wanted to screw me and all the guys wanted to be me. And everything about it was too easy.
“I just feel . . . I feel like I’m failin’ . . . everythin’,” I confess. “Maybe I should throw in the towel, go to a shit community college back home. At least then I’d see them more than three times a year.” With anger I bite out, “What kind of father misses his child’s first fuckin’ birthday?”
Not all guys feel like I do. I know boys back home who knocked up girls and were perfectly content to walk away and never look back. They send a check only after their asses get hauled into court, sometimes not even then. Hell, neither of Ruby’s kids’ fathers have seen their children more than once.
But that could never be me.
“Jesus, you’re a mess,” Drew exclaims, his face horrified. “You’re not going to start singing John Denver songs, are you?”
I stew in silence.
He sighs. And perches himself on the edge of my bed. “You want the truth, Shaw?”
Evans is big on the truth—the harsh, crude, dick-in-your-face truth. Another quality I respect, though it’s not much fun when his critical eye is aimed at you.
“I guess,” I reply hesitantly.
“My old man is the best father I know, no contest. I don’t remember if he was at my first birthday party, or my second . . . and I really don’t give a shit either way. He put an awesome roof over my head, he’s proud of me when I deserve it, and kicks my ass when I deserve that too. He took us on fantastic family vacations and pays for my tuition here—pretty much setting me up for life.