My friends and I had a rule. The last one to arrive at any group get-together had to pick up the tab. That person was almost always Bart. I loved the guy, but for all his many good qualities, punctuality was not one of them.
Which was why, when I walked into the crowded sports bar and saw Bart, Shawn, Jeremiah, and Stephanie already crammed into a booth in the corner, I groaned. That’s just great. I’m never going to hear the end of this.
It had become a point of pride for me that I’d never shown up last, but I guessed that was over now. Sighing as I shoved the hood of my sweatshirt off my head, I shrugged out of my coat and hooked it on the rack near the door before shaking my arm to let my watch drop back to my wrist. The silver hands on it told me I was two minutes early.
What the hell?
Jeremiah looked up as I weaved my way through the crowd of hockey-jersey-wearing patrons. He grinned as I slid into the booth.
“You guys cheated, didn’t you?” I said. “I don’t know how, but I refuse to accept that I legitimately got here last.”
Shawn sucked in a gasp, his hand flying to his chest as he pretended to be insulted. “Us? Cheat? Never. Do you really think we’d do that to you?”
“Yes.” I stuck my watch in his face. “The stock markets aren’t even closed yet, it’s that early. No way all of you are here before me without something else going on.”
He shrugged, running his hand through his thick, dark hair. He glanced at Jeremiah, who shot him a wide-eyed glare, before he looked back at me. “I don’t know what to tell you, man. I’m a model. The stock markets don’t affect me much.”
Bart cleared his throat, leaning forward even though his gaze was still locked on the game being played on the TV above the bar. “Actually, the markets do affect you. Since they’re linked to the economy—”
Jeremiah cut him off with a loud groan. “It’s Friday afternoon. Let’s leave the stock market out of it.”
Someone scored in the game, and the crowd around us went wild. Jeremiah put his arms out to his sides and bowed his head like they were cheering for him. He grinned. “I’m taking that as the universe agreeing with me.”
Stephanie, Jeremiah’s girlfriend and the woman I was pretty sure he was going to marry one day very soon, laughed and poked him in the ribs. “Says the guy who checked his portfolio just before we came inside.”
“Hey, I needed to know how I did this week. If I was drinking tonight to celebrate or to forget.” He slung his arm around her shoulders and pulled her into his side, dropping a kiss on the top of her head. “Do I really need to remind you that you did the same thing?”
“Only because you made me feel like I had to,” she mumbled, but she was smiling as she rested her head against his arm. Bringing her gaze to mine, she picked up her beer but didn’t sip it yet. “When does spring training start? Are you excited?”
“Sure.” I shrugged, taking the bottle of water Bart offered me that they must’ve ordered when they got their drinks. “It’s going to be a heck of a season.”
Steph’s eyes moved from one of mine to the other. “You do realize that the expression on your face doesn’t match what you’re saying, right? You look about as excited as I do when I have to go over our financial statements.”
“I thought you loved our financial statements,” Jeremiah joked. She rolled her eyes at him and he laughed.
“I love the numbers I see on our statements, not having to spend days poring over them with a fine-tooth comb,” she replied without skipping a beat. “Anyway, this isn’t about our company. It’s about what’s going on with Tanner.”
“How is the company?” I asked, trying to redirect the conversation. “It’s been a busy couple months for you guys. Have you managed to integrate your operations with Williams Inc. yet?”
Jeremiah blew out a breath and shook his head. “Not completely. My relationship with my old man might’ve been complicated, but I sure would’ve liked to have been able to ask him about a few things.”
Shawn pointed at me with the bottle of beer in his hand. “Nope. We’re not talking about that right now. I’m starting to think Steph is right. If you’d rather talk about that than baseball, there’s something wrong. Why are you avoiding the question, Mr. Professional Baseball Player Who Got Recruited Right Out Of High School And Has Never Loved Anything More Than The Game?”
“That’s a really long title,” I said. “I’m not avoiding the question. There’s just not much more to say about it. I’m excited for spring training, but you all know that playing professionally has sucked a lot of joy out of the game for me. That’s all it is.”
“Okay, enough,” Jeremiah declared, grinning as he signaled their waiter. “The next person who says anything serious gets a shot.”
“I can’t.” I flexed my arm, curling my bicep and smirking at him. “I’ve got to be in tip-top shape in a couple weeks’ time. These guns don’t load themselves.”
He snorted. “Better not say anything that will earn you a shot, then. Otherwise, you and those guns will be marinating in tequila before the end of the night.”
Before I could reply, my phone started vibrating in my pocket. I pulled it out, frowning when my financial advisor’s name flashed on my screen. “Give me a second. I need to take this.”
Frank didn’t usually call this late, so it was probably important. I jumped up and cut through the hockey fans, stepping out into the back alley to take the call. It had stopped ringing and started up again in the time it took me to get out of the bar, reaffirming my belief that something big was happening. It was cold as balls outside and I’d left my coat near the main entrance, but as soon as Frank started talking, I froze for a whole different reason.
“Have you checked your investments lately?” he asked as soon as I answered.
“No. Why? I was just talking to some of my friends about the market, and I wanted to—”
“Tell me what you wanted later,” he said urgently, the words rushing out. “There’s been a huge spike in the cryptocurrency you invested in last year. Tanner, if we sell now, you’ll be a billionaire. All I need from you is the go-ahead.”
“Go ahead,” I said instantly. “Why are you even talking to me about it? Go. Sell.”
“Stay by your phone.” The call ended, but I kept staring at the device in my hand, my stomach tying itself in knots while I waited for it to ring again.
This can’t be real, can it? No, it can’t be. There’s just no way I’m about to become a fucking billionaire.
My brain went back and forth on the issue as I bounced on the balls of my feet, silently willing my phone to ring. If I didn’t break the thing from how hard I was gripping it before he could even call me back. I couldn’t believe this, though. I didn’t know how people usually found out about these things, but it didn’t feel like it could happen just like that. An unexpected phone call while a person was out watching a game with his friends.
As soon as my screen lit up again, I jabbed at the green circle and brought the device to my ear before it’d even started ringing. “Give me good news.”
“I sold everything,” he said, almost breathlessly. “I sold out the crypto accounts, and after taxes, you’ll have roughly five billion dollars to your name. I have to go, but I’ll call you on Monday to discuss re-investment and financial planning.”
His words were still ringing in my ears long after he’d hung up. I was still holding it to my ear, my entire body locked up as I tried to process what he had just said. Five. Billion. Dollars.
It was just too much for me to even begin wrapping my head around it. That puts me in Jeremiah’s fucking league, and his family have been at it for generations.
Stumbling back inside, I returned to our table shaken and feeling like I was moving in a daze. Steph took one look at me and paled. “What happened? It’s horrible, isn’t it? What’s wrong?”
Jeremiah, Bart, and Shawn had been locked in a debate about something, but as soon as they heard her questions, they stopped talking abruptly and turned toward me. All of their faces hardened when they saw whatever the look was on mine.
“Who are we fucking up?” Shawn made a fist with one hand and burrowed into his palm on the other. “Just point us in the right direction.”
“We’re not fucking anybody up,” I said, my voice sounding distant even to my own ears. “I just made five billion dollars.”
A hush fell around the table, but none of them questioned me before they started shouting and congratulating me. Bart, who was usually the most reserved member of our group, jumped over the back of the booth to get out and came back with a bottle of champagne and five flutes hooked between his fingers.
I didn’t usually drink before the season started, but fuck, this was hardly usual. When he popped open the bottle, I was the first to raise my glass for him to fill it. After telling them about the phone call while Bart poured the bubbly, I collapsed back in my seat, my head spinning all over again now that I’d said it all out loud.
“The next round is definitely on Tanner,” Jeremiah said jokingly. “He sure as shit can afford to pick up the tab tonight, even if we did trick him into getting here last.”
“I knew it,” I yelled over the din in the room. “I fucking knew you guys cheated.”
It seemed like such an insignificant thing in that moment, but I grabbed onto it with both hands because at least it was familiar. That one small comfort was short-lived, though. Not a minute later, Jeremiah cocked his head at me and grinned widely. “What are you going to do now? You’re a billionaire, man. How are you going to celebrate? A cruise around the world? A nice little collection of sports cars? Your own team?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know. I’m really not sure, but I might retire from playing and just live for a few months while I figure it out.”
Bart nodded and pushed the black-framed rectangles of his glasses back to the bridge of his nose. “All you’re missing now is a good woman to settle down with.”
Jeremiah’s spine shot straight, and I shook my head before he even said anything. I’d known the guy since kindergarten. Whenever he got the look in his eyes that he had right then, it meant he’d had some idea that was bound to end with me getting in trouble.
“Just hear me out,” he said. “We’re doing a charity event in a couple months. It’s to raise money for affordable housing for local low-income families. Now that you’re going to be joining the ranks of the ludicrously wealthy, you might be interested in participating.”
I looked at him warily. “What’s the catch?”
“It’s for a good cause,” Bart said, also shifting in his seat to look at Jeremiah. “But since it’s coming from you, there has to be a catch. He’s not just going to have to donate money, is he?”
Jer shrugged and spread his hands, pretending to be completely innocent. “There’s no catch. It’s just an auction-style event, where people can pay to spend a weekend with one of the millionaires or billionaires in the city.”
Steph linked her arm with his. “I’m going to be outbidding anyone who tries to buy him, of course, but you should do it. It’s a great charity.”
I laughed. “I’ll think about it, but I have a lot to think about, so don’t hold your breath for an answer.”
It was true. I was always up for supporting charities in any way I could, but even though I hadn’t by any means been poor until now, this sort of money was going to change my life in ways I couldn’t even imagine.
I wasn’t about to commit to putting myself up for auction a couple of months from now when I didn’t even know what was going to happen tomorrow.