Neanderthal by Avery Flynn
Griff Beckett had lost the art of conversation sometime around middle school, when his legit genius dad took every opportunity to tell him how stupid he sounded every time he opened his mouth. But honestly, he’d never understood everyone’s love of flapping their gums in the first place. You could solve so many more problems if you just kept your trap shut and focused on the solutions.
Which was why he was currently doing his favorite thing: juggling fifteen problems at once.
Straddling the narrow wood bench in the locker room at Vera’s Gym, two phones and an iPad laid out in front of him while fellow gym rats talked loudly and gave each other shit as they changed or showered, Griff Beckett was a man dealing with ninety-nine problems and solving all of them—except one.
The holdup wasn’t on the solution to the seating chart disaster for the next Beckett Cosmetics family stockholder meeting that his cousins, Nash and Dixon, were debating via group text. That one was easy: hold the damn thing via Zoom and everyone gets a front-row seat.
It wasn’t the hiccups about the protective packaging measures for the new line of serums launching next year that his deputy at the Beckett Cosmetics R&D Department had just emailed about. Keeping the serums on dry ice would meet the temperature requirements and give marketing that visual pop they were always after.
Questions about the best bidding strategy to get the rare vintage Lego set off eBay (swooping in at the last moment was always the best option) or just how much to up his hops percentage for his next home brew (a solid 23 percent) or whether to add hot yoga to his workout routine (he was going to sweat his balls off, but yes) were a blip on his mental radar.
“Heads up!” someone yelled.
He barely glanced over before shooting his hand into the air and catching the half-filled water bottle in midair.
“Sorry,” one of the newer guys said. “I meant for that to go into recycling.”
Griff didn’t answer, just adjusted the trajectory and sent it flying. It landed in the blue bin with a thunk.
The phone closest to him buzzed with an incoming text.
DIXON: You’re up, Griff. Don’t let Nash win.
Yeah. That was the problem he couldn’t quite unwind.
The Last Man Standing bet. How in the hell was he supposed to get through six dates with a stranger when he barely felt comfortable talking to people he did know? He was going to have to make small talk and do the whole getting to know you chatter?
Kill him fucking now.
NASH: Don’t get his hopes up. He doesn’t have a chance. Anyway, my mom just did G’s reading. All she would say is that love chooses you and he’s been chosen.
Great. Now Aunt Celeste was doing tarot readings about this hell bet? It just kept getting worse.
The whole bet was ridiculous. The stupidest thing he’d ever agreed to do. So why had he done it? Because Grandma Betty’s death last year had sucker punched him right in the kidneys and followed up with a rusty shiv to the jugular.
Summers with his cousins and Grandma at Gable House had saved him growing up.
There was no one like Grandma Betty, and when she’d died, she’d left behind one last gift for the oldest Beckett cousins who’d spent every summer with her as kids—the only snag being that she didn’t specify whether it was for Dixon, Griff, or Nash. Nash was the one who’d come up with the Last Man Standing bet. Each of them had to go out on six Bramble dates, and the last man still single at the end of the year got the present. Agreeing had been a moment of sheer lunacy at the corner of the first Christmas without Grandma and way too much whiskey to be good for his liver.
Whatever was inside the box wrapped in fat-Santa paper with a huge silver bow on it wasn’t important. That wasn’t what had all three of them determined to win it. The fact was, it was from Grandma Betty, and it was one last memory they’d have of her. So, bet or not, he was in it to win it. Lucky for him, he had an advantage neither of his cousins had.
Cold, hard logic. Love only caused problems; it never solved them.
GRIFF: You’re both assholes.
DIXON: Am I supposed to disagree with that?
The alert dinged on his iPad. Thirty seconds to go on the auction. He updated his bid, waited, and smiled when the notification popped up that he’d won the first edition Lego Taj Mahal. It had almost six thousand pieces, was still in the sealed box, and was the perfect addition to his collection. He couldn’t fucking wait to build it.
Another text made his phone buzz.
NASH: You agreed to the bet fair and square, Griff. It’s mano a mano time since Dixon went down in flames of luuuuuve.
The jackass drew out the last word like a character in a campy movie, which was appropriate considering the ridiculousness of the bet they’d all agreed to. Of all the probability scenarios he’d run when Nash had proposed it, Dixon falling in love with the first woman to answer his Bramble bio had happened in less than a percentage of them. And yet, here they were, with Dixon acting like he’d won by losing and Nash as smug as if his winning was a given.
Well, Nash was about to find out how wrong he was.
GRIFF: You don’t stand a chance.
He grabbed his work phone and finished the email with the packaging solution to his number two. No doubt she’d take it (yes, and make it better) and come up with something the marketing folks would get all hand-clapping giddy about.
His other phone vibrated with his cousin’s reply.
NASH: You’re only saying that because you haven’t seen your dating bio yet.
After the shit Dixon had pulled when he’d tried to bend the odds of staying forever single in his favor with a shit dating bio, Nash had added an addendum to the rules. Not that Dixon’s attempt at subterfuge had worked. He was currently coupled up with Fiona Hartigan and counting the days until they were walking to the altar.
DIXON:It’s a work of fucking art.
NASH: Morgan helped.
Griff ground his molars down another few millimeters. What the hell? His sister had joined in on this farce? Of course she had. As soon as she’d heard about the bet, she’d probably rubbed her hands together with absolute glee the way only a younger sibling could do.
He waited a second, then the bio popped up.
He read it.
Then he read it again.
He had a full-body cringe all the way down to his nuts, which had all but crawled up inside his body. His cousins were such dicks, and Morgan was buying at their weekly lunch for the foreseeable future.
Strong and Silent Type No More
Want to talk for hours about everything under the sun? Looking forward to a guy who really wants to deep dive into feelings and emotions? Ready to settle back and just enjoy doing nothing but living in the moment for hours on end? Reforming Neanderthal type seeks extrovert for conversation and love.
Just when he’d thought this whole Last Man Standing bet couldn’t get worse. Emotions? Feelings? Small talk? Doing nothing? LOVE?!? This was pure nightmare fuel. Were they trying to sabotage the bet in his favor? There was no way this would fly. He was not that guy. He’d never be that guy.
NASH: I was ready to go another direction, but Morgan convinced me that this would be your downfall. Get ready to fall for the yin to your yang.
GRIFF: Not gonna happen.
DIXON: Morgan says this is the kind of woman you need in your life.
Yeah. No. This was how to send him over the edge.
He liked his life. He had his job. He had his million and one hobbies. He had his family. He didn’t need anything or anyone else. Additional variables would just complicate things. Griff was a simple man—not simple in the head like his father had always told him, but content. That was enough. He didn’t need anything—or anyone—else.
GRIFF: My little sister doesn’t know what she’s talking about.
NASH: Wow. More than four words at a time? You’re getting chattier by the moment.
DIXON: Back to one-word answers, huh?
He was going to kill Dixon for putting him in the position where Nash got to write his bio as well as plan all his dates.
NASH: Like it or not, this is your dating bio. You have to post it.
GRIFF: I’m at the gym.
He checked the time on the digital clock above the locker room door. It never had the right time, but it was the only clock his corner man Eggsy would use—and according to it, Griff had seventy-five seconds to get out to the ring.
GRIFF: Hard to text and box at the same time.
NASH:And yet you’re texting right now.
GRIFF:eBay auction. Just won.
He got up from the bench and opened the locker that had been his at Vera’s Gym for the past ten years. It didn’t have a lock or personal photos—only his name written in black Sharpie on a piece of beige masking tape stuck to the front of the door. His phone buzzed again.
NASH: Post the Bramble bio.
He put both phones and the iPad in his locker and grabbed his boxing gloves. Avoidance was not a solution but, at the moment, it was the only one he had.
He’d figure out the answer to winning the bet without talking about his feelings for six dates; he always did. And nothing was going to change that.