This quarter’s sales are profitable. Damn profitable. Buying into Lovibond Brewery as a partner four years ago has proven to be a wise decision. Oliver Thorn, Porter Beckman, and I are becoming three increasingly wealthy men.
The opportunity to financially back this company during its infancy couldn’t have presented itself at a better time. My life had been in a shambles.
Miserable in my business.
A failed marriage.
My wife and my business partner in love . . . with each other.
My world was a complete clusterfuck.
A knock on my office door steals my attention from the numbers. And the past. “Hey, Tap. You got a minute?”
Stout enters, shutting the door behind him. He never does that.
Oliver Thorn, aka Stout and my business partner, shrinks into the chair across from me. He’s hunched with his forearms resting on his thighs. His face is nearly hidden in his palms. This isn’t the typical carefree Stout who launches himself into the chair opposite me and kicks up his heels onto the edge of my desk to annoy the fuck out of me. The disheveled guy in front of me looks . . . defeated.
I’m silent as I wait for him to look up at me. But he doesn’t. This is weird. Stout never acts like this.
Maybe I should prompt him to say something. Anything. “I was just going over the numbers. They’re up again. This time by thirteen point nine percent. That’s almost two times what they were last quarter.” Unbelievable how quickly this company is growing.
It began with two college guys brewing beer in their apartment. They dreamed of turning their hobby into a multimillion-dollar company. I was taken aback when Porter approached me about buying in as a partner. I was his boss. Although I wasn’t much older, he and Stout had seemed like a pair of naïve college graduates with zero business experience. Dreamers. But then I sampled the product and knew these guys had something marketable on their hands.
That was four years and several million dollars ago.
The founding fathers of Lovibond Brewery have been called many things. Lords of the hops. Masters of the craft. Top hops. Brew brothers. Boot keggers. The list is endless. The pair know and understand the science and production behind manufacturing high-quality, good-tasting ale. Money-making beer. Interesting direction given their backgrounds in chemical engineering and graphic design. And that’s where I come in. I’m the business and finance guy. Supply and demand. Numbers. Dollars. Evaluation. Return. Those are the things I know and understand. They need me. And I need them.
I trust Stout and Porter to produce a top quality product. They have confidence in me to manage all business and financial aspects. Each of us does his part. That’s why we make a great trio.
Stout still isn’t talking. Guess I’ll have to probe. “I’m assuming you shut the door because you want to speak privately.”
“Yeah. I’ve been having a hard time since things ended with Eden.” No shit. He’s been on a three-month party streak. Booze and women.
“The last few months haven’t been your finest.” I’m pretty sure Stout has partied harder the last few months than his entire college career at Alabama.
“I have a problem.”
Stout turned to the party life to numb the pain of an ugly breakup. I guess most guys have done that at one time or another, but he took it beyond anything considered reasonable. Not the best way to deal when you have beer within your reach at any given time. “I’m glad to hear you’re taking charge before it spirals out of control.”
“Got a little out of control already. I spent the night in the slammer last weekend. Got a DUI.”
Oh, hell. A DUI conviction stays on your record for five years in the state of Alabama. “I can’t believe this shit, Stout. You’re a partner in a company advocating responsible drinking with a designated driver. Do you understand how that looks?”
“Trust me. I know.” He runs his hand through his hair and sighs. “I’m working with an attorney. He’s almost certain he’ll be able to get me out of it.”
“Avoiding a conviction only fixes part of the problem.” This could mean bad publicity for Lovibond if word gets out.
“My attorney says he’s certain we can divert my case out of the court system and avoid a criminal record if I go through a rehabilitation program.”
“That’s your only option?”
“I can fight it. Maybe I win. Maybe I don’t. But one thing’s for sure if I don’t do the program: I’m fucked if I lose the case.” That’s not good for anyone involved.
“Then you don’t have a choice.” Stout is going to rehab. Probably not a bad place for him, considering the amount of partying he’s been doing. He’ll have time to dry out.
“There’s a hitch.” Isn’t there always? “There isn’t a place for me in an outpatient program. I have to enter a thirty-day inpatient program.”
“Inpatient for thirty days?” Fuck.
Porter will have to pick up Stout’s load. I’m not sure how he’ll handle more work at this point; he’s already snowed under with his own responsibilities. We all are. “You think Porter can take on your work load as well?”
Southern Taste Beer Festival is just around the corner, and we’re in charge of hosting the event this year. Sixteen breweries will be traveling to our home turf in Birmingham for the festivities. It’s a ton of preparation even when we join forces. Being short a partner won’t be helpful.
“I’ve arranged to hire an assistant for him while I’m away, even if he doesn’t like it. Molly is working with a temp service to line up interviews.”
At least he’s making preparations for his absence. “We’ll do what it takes to make things work while you’re away. Just concentrate on getting your shit together.”
“That’s the plan.”
I’m no stranger to how a man can let his life spin out of control. “You’ll pull things together.”
“I have to. If not for myself, I have to do it for Lawrence.”
I try to place who he’s talking about but I’m stumped. “Lawrence?”
“My sister, Lawry.”
Lawrence. Lawry. I should have been able to make that connection. “Right. I’m sure you don’t want to disappoint her.”
“I don’t. And that’s why I’m not planning to let her know I’m in a substance abuse program. She’d freak if she knew.” I’ve always been under the impression he was close to his sister. I’m surprised he’d keep something like this from her.
All this time as his partner and I’ve not met his sister. Never even spoken to her. “You don’t have to worry about me saying a word. I’m sure Porter won’t tell her anything either.”
“I know neither of you will rat me out, but I have a kink in my plan. I can only have outside contact on visitation day so the program won’t allow me to bring my phone into the facility. That’s a problem because I text or talk to my sister almost every day. She’ll know something is up if I go radio silent.”
“What kind of shit program cuts you off from your friends and family?” That’s his support system.
“They don’t cut you off. I can make calls from the pay phone and have visitors on Sundays.” I can see how that’s going to be an issue if they have daily contact.
“Have you come up with an explanation to explain your disappearance?”
“I have but I’m not sure you’re going to like it.” Stout closes his eyes and peeks at me through a squint. “I need you to be me while I’m gone.”
Well, that’s just dumb as hell. I laugh aloud because the idea is so idiotic.
“You want me to be you? You must be drunk right now because that makes zero sense. No way I could pass myself off as you to your sister.” She knows his voice. Plus, I’m Cajun. She’d hear one word out of me and immediately know I’m not him.
“You won’t have to talk to Lawry. I just need you to pacify her with daily texts.”
Oh, fuck, no. “I hate texting women. And I loathe pacifying them more.”
“You hate being texted by women you’ve fucked and plan to never see again.”
Stout makes me sound like a colossal dickhead. But he isn’t wrong. I have a four-step routine when it comes to dating.
One: I fuck a woman.
Two: She clings. Every. Time. Because that’s what they do.
Three: I call it quits.
Four: End of story.
I’m not a manwhore. Well, maybe I am a little.
I was married to Bridgette for six years. We weren’t in love. Never were. She was my best friend and unfortunate circumstances forced us into a marriage neither of us wanted. I couldn’t love her the way a husband should, so our marriage was over before it ever began. We never had a chance at making it work. There was too much tragedy. Too much hurt.
But I did love her in a different kind of way. And I respected the vows we made to one another, even if we were only nineteen at the time. That means I didn’t fuck around on her. Until she asked me to open the doors of our marriage.
So, yeah. I guess I’ve used the time since our divorce to have as much sex as I wanted with many willing women. No harm in that.
Those looking in at my marriage from the outside probably saw a nasty love triangle destined to end poorly for me. That wasn’t the case at all. It wasn’t Bridgette’s or Warren’s fault they fell in love. It just happened. I wasn’t a husband to her so I didn’t feel betrayed. People couldn’t understand that or how I could be so forgiving. Especially after everything that happened.
As Bridgette’s husband, I was the partition between my two best friends. I was preventing two people I loved from being together. Damn, those were rough times. Fucking brutal.
I didn’t want to be the one standing in the way of their happiness so I did the only thing I could: step aside as Bridgette’s husband and as Warren’s business partner. Best decision of my life.
Fuck, I don’t know why I’m thinking of things long buried.
“I know I’m asking a lot of you.” Stout’s voice forces my thoughts back to the present.
Why ask me? “Porter knows your sister. Wouldn’t he be the better candidate?” That makes better sense to me.
Stout laughs. “Porter goes completely stupid when it comes to Lawry. He’d probably forget he was supposed to be texting as me and hit on her.” I’ve never known Porter to be interested in one particular woman. I have no idea what his type is. I guess the Lawrence type.
“I’m already putting my workload off on Porter. It would be pretty shitty to place double duty on him.” I can agree with that.
I lean back in my chair and tug my beard as I consider the task being asked of me. There is no way I could come off as Stout. We are so different.
He’s a dreamer. An idealist.
I’m a numbers man. Logistical.
I know nothing about his relationship with his sister or their history. This is nuts.
But Lovibond needs this problem to go away. And fast. If a thirty-day inpatient program is what it’ll take, then I have to help make that happen.
“Why do you feel the need to keep this from your sister? You’re an adult. Can’t you tell her what happened the same way you told me?”
“If she knows I was charged with DUI, she’ll immediately worry I’m an alcoholic. I’m not. I swear. I can lay it down today, never have another drink, and I’d be fine.”
Stout likes to have a good time, but it’s never caused a problem. “I know you’re not.”
“We have a strong family history with drug addiction so I don’t want to upset her.” He’s never mentioned that.
“You’re saying it would be like maybe a text a day or every other day? Something like that?”
“Probably more than one a day but still not a big deal. She mostly messages about random stuff happening in her life. Porter could help you out if you run into a problem.”
It’s texting. I hate that shit, but how bad can it be? “I’ll do it.”
Stout closes his eyes. He brings the top of his closed fist to his mouth and clears his throat before he chokes out, “Thank you.”
“No problem.” At least I hope there’s no problem. “When does the façade begin?”
“I’m scheduled to check in to the clinic tomorrow morning.”
“That soon, eh?”
“No reason to wait. The sooner this is behind me, the better, so I can get back to work.” He ain’t lying about that. Lovibond is going to suffer while he’s out.
“How are we going about doing this?” I need specifics if I’m going to pull this off without a hitch.
“We usually speak once or twice a week. When you don’t take her call, she’ll leave a message. She always does. You’ll need to be clever when you decide how to explain away why I’m unable to talk. You can’t bullshit Lawrence. Her meter is spot on.”
“What do you mean I can’t bullshit your sister? My understanding was that this whole thing was specifically about bullshitting her.”
“It is. I just meant you can’t give her any of that usual nonsense you feed women. Be genuine. Respond the way you would with your sister.”
I don’t have one of those. But I have Bridgette. She’s very much like a sister and I’d never bullshit her. “I’ll do my best.”
“And you have to tell her you love her at night. That I love her. You know what I mean.”
I have all the feels now. “Should I text her hearts as well?”
“I send the smiley faces blowing kisses. Or hearts. Either is fine.” I. Was. Fucking. Kidding.
I’ve never done hearts, flowers, or any of that other shit with a woman. Ever. Not even my mom. And definitely not Bridgette. It wasn’t how we were with one another. “All right. It’ll be hearts and kissies for sissy.”
“I owe you one, Tap.”
“Yeah, you do. A big one. And don’t you forget it.” But do you have debts with friends?
“Name what you want. I’ll make it happen.”
“I hope you know I plan to make this worth my while.”
“I’d expect no less out of you, Tap.”
Texting the sister. Hearts and flowers. I’m a smart guy. I can wing charm and brotherly love. I got this.