When I looked up, his deep blue eyes made my heart lurch like they always seemed to do.
“I’m sure I heard wrong. Check with your counselor, but don’t take my word for it, okay?” When I didn’t respond, he grasped my hands, giving them a quick squeeze. “Jess.”
“Sorry, I’m just silently freaking out here.”
“Don’t. I’m sure it’s nothing.” He waved a hand as if dismissing the entire idea. “So, tell me what you want to do in film production.”
My smile slowly returned.
“I’m not a hundred percent sure yet since I haven’t ever done any of it. I was thinking I might want to direct or produce, but there are so many other things that go into making a film, who knows which direction I’ll choose.” The possibilities seemed endless, and that filled me with hope. Hope that I’d follow my dreams and have a career I loved.
“What about you?” I asked.
“I’m a marketing major. My dad owns one of the top marketing firms in three states, so I’ll go to work for him as soon as I graduate.” His words seemed forced, not filled with the kind of excitement one would expect.
“You don’t want to work for your father?”
Nick’s brows pulled together briefly before relaxing, as if he wondered how I’d picked up on such a subtle detail. “No, I do. It’s just . . .”
When he didn’t continue, I asked, “What? It’s just what?”
“It’s just that there’s a part of me that really wants to work with my brothers. Working with my dad would be great, but . . .”
He stopped talking again, and I urged him on.
“Your brothers don’t work for your dad, right? They own a bunch of bars or something?” I’d heard they did, but since the information was secondhand, I wasn’t sure.
His face lit up. “They own one bar in Santa Monica. It’s called Sam’s.”
“So you said that working with your dad would be great, but . . . but what?”
“It’s just that if I could do anything, I’d work with Frank and Ryan, buy into the bar with them. I love being there. And I’m good at it.” His gaze finally raised and connected with mine. “I helped them create and design their new drink menu, and I’ve handled all their marketing to date.” A cocky grin emerged. “And I’m pretty good with people, in case you didn’t know.”
I laughed. “I’m well aware.”
Nick looked so happy talking about the bar, it made me wonder how he could just walk away from it. He didn’t seem to be the type of person who wouldn’t fight for the things he wanted, but then again, I didn’t really know him.
“Why don’t you work for them instead?”
At my question, his entire expression darkened.
He blew out a breath that was long and painfully slow as I waited for him to say something, anything. This was the kind of good stuff in a conversation that really let you peek inside the character of a person. And it was rare that a topic like this came up between two people so quickly.
“That was never in the plan, Jess. It’s been set in stone for as long as I can remember that I would work for my dad and run the company one day. I wasn’t really raised to question that, you know?”
“Not really. My parents are super encouraging, and they’re excited that I’m following my dreams.”
My parents were middle-class working people who raised me to hope and dream for whatever it was that I wanted. When I expressed an interest in film production a couple years ago, their attitude was Well, someone has to produce films, so why not our daughter? I used to believe that everyone’s parents were this way, but sitting here with Nick now, I realized just how naive my assumption had always been.
“Mine raised me to believe that his dreams were my dreams,” he said with a solemn expression that placed a tiny crack inside my heart.
“So, do it anyway,” I insisted as if that was an option.
“Do what exactly?” Nick looked at me, his eyes shadowed by the bill of his hat.
“Work with your brothers.”
He shook his head. “I can’t. At least, it feels like I can’t. Maybe at some point later on, but not right now. Maybe not ever. Hell, I don’t know.”
“Why not? I don’t mean to pry, but won’t your brothers stick up for you? What do they think about this? They didn’t have to work for your dad, so why do you?” I wanted to hear his answer, longed for it, held my breath waiting for it.
“My brothers never had to deal with any of this stuff. My dad’s company didn’t hit it big until about ten years ago. Both of them were out of the house already, doing their own thing. I never stood a chance with them gone.”
“So they get to own the bar and your dad doesn’t care? He doesn’t pressure them to quit and work for him?” None of this seemed fair to me as an outsider looking in.
“No. He’d never try to tell them that.”
He smiled. “Because neither one of them would take it. They’d tell my dad to fuck off. Which is something I couldn’t do if you paid me.” When I grimaced, he added, “Don’t get me wrong, I want to tell him to fuck off all the time.” He shrugged. “I just can’t.”
It wasn’t something I could relate to, but I’d never been in the kind of situation he was in. It felt awful for me to disappoint my parents, so I could only imagine the kind of pressure Nick felt.
“You need your brothers,” I said and he nodded. “To help you stand up for yourself.” I hoped I wasn’t crossing a line.
When he agreed, saying, “I hate that you’re right,” I wanted to take him into my arms and hug him.
“Tell me about them. Your brothers,” I said, not wanting our conversation to end. Ever.
Nick’s face lit up again, and I wanted him to see himself the way that I did. How just the mention of his brothers or their bar made his face come alive in a way nothing else had.
“Frank is the oldest,” he said with a smile. “He’s definitely the quietest of us three. He’s an observer, you know what I mean? He got a scholarship to Arizona to play baseball right out of high school. He played until he got hurt. I always thought he’d move back home after that, but he ended up staying there. Thank God Ryan wanted to buy that bar, because otherwise I think Frank would still be there.”