Liam enjoyed watching people and learning more about them, sometimes the way they acted surprised him.
Some people were obvious – like Taera and Jiah – maybe because he had known them forever. They always sang at the top of their lungs at concerts, much like they were doing then as Coldplay performed. And then later they would both complain about their throats hurting and sound like they were losing their voice for the next two days.
He also knew that Demi was quieter than the two of them, she hummed and sang along at parts she particularly liked and got louder as the crowd around her did. But she would be the one that would continue to hum songs into the coming months and look at the pictures and videos she was taking then.
The rest of the crowd was new to him, but not surprising in their actions for the most part.
William was a listener and a head bopper, he occasionally hummed along but mostly just laughed and smiled at his girlfriend. Taera was jumping up and down and she occasionally turned to give him a kiss, he lit up like a Christmas tree when she did. And when she needed a break, she just turned into him and wrapped herself around him, swaying to the slower songs.
Daniel was the surprising one, he sang along, and was apparently an avid Coldplay fan. He didn’t engage in the jumping and the yelling though, he danced though, it was amusing because he stood firm when everyone around him jumped and screamed but he randomly danced at some parts. He often wrapped himself around Jiah, holding her close as she swayed to the music.
Irene was super loud, yelling and screaming, she made friends with everyone around them. And jumped between people singing at the top of her lungs, she was adorable and when she turned towards him and smiled, his heart thumped happily.
Henry was a singer, and when he didn’t know all the words, he danced – rather weirdly but in a way that had everyone laughing. He broke out all the dance moves that characterized horrible dancing, from the sprinkler to the robot.
It was a fun night, and by the end of it, they consumed too many drinks and not enough food. Taera, who had always been the lightweight of the group, insisted on being carried piggy-back by a slightly tipsy William from the concert venue towards a place to get food.
That was all fine, except for the fact that every thirty seconds she would peck William’s cheek multiple times and wrap herself around him tighter, squeezing him and telling him that he was the absolute best boyfriend in the whole wide world.
“Stop the PDA!” Henry whined when she did it for the tenth time.
“You’re just jealous because William is hotter than you.” Taera yelled before kissing William’s cheek again – resting her chin on his shoulder permanently, her arms tightening around him.
“He is not!” Henry whined.
“Better men than you have lost this battle.” Liam said to him.
“Me, she said he’s hotter.”
“So much hotter!” Taera yelled.
“Baby, just a little quieter, please.” William said to Taera.
“Sorry.” She mumbled while burrowing into his neck.
Liam wondered how the man was not tired, he had been carrying her for a while, her arms thrown around his neck and legs wrapped around his waist, apparently she was a sloth and William her tree. But he looked perfectly content between the kisses she kept giving him and whatever she was muttering into his ear.
He looked back towards Irene and sighed, she was preoccupied and talking with Demi, the two of them going through their phones and the pictures they took.
At the tail end of the party were Daniel and Jiah, Jiah just kept giggling, she always did when she was tipsy but she was even more giggly than usual. And Liam knew that he really didn’t want to know what Daniel was telling her. So, he slowed down until he was in step with Irene and Demi, Henry seemed to follow suit.
He smiled when Demi took to his baiting and the two of them started bickering, leaving Irene to chat with him.
“I WANT ICE-CREAM!” Jiah suddenly yelled from behind them, pointing towards the ice-cream place in the distance.
“Me too!” Taera yelled. “Someone volunteer as tribute!” She added.
Liam couldn’t help but snicker.
“I’ll go with Demi.” Henry said. “She knows what you like?”
“Pistachio if they have it, if not then pecan or caramel.”
“Bougie tastes for a bougie boy.” Taera giggled.
“Will?” Henry asked.
“He’s going to share with me! Get me two scoops because he always says he’s not going to eat it and then eats all of mine, right?” Tera said before kissing William’s cheek again.
William laughed and nodded. “Two scoops of cookies and cream then.”
“Make sure it doesn’t touch anything with peanuts!” Taera said.
“I’ll see if they have sugar free ice-cream for Daniel.” Demi said.
“It’s California, they have everything here.” Liam said.
“Jiah, mango?” Demi asked.
“Yes please.” Jiah said.
“We’ll go sit there.” Liam said pointing across the street where there was a fountain and benches.
“Onwards!” Taera yelled before kissing William’s cheek again.
“They’re nauseating.” Liam said to Irene who laughed.
“It’s actually adorable.”
“Do you want a piggyback ride?” He teased.
“No.” She laughed as William ran across the street to the bench, putting Taera down on it before sitting beside her. Daniel pulled Jiah beside him, leaving Liam to sit beside Irene. He didn’t miss the glare that William sent his way, but he seemed to forget about it as Taera lay her head on his shoulder and grabbed his hand.
“Sing me to sleep.” She yawned.
“She really needs to drink less.” Liam sighed.
“I lost count of how many cocktails she had.” Jiah laughed.
“She always manages to pick the ones with the highest alcohol content too.” Liam added.
“I didn’t think you’d be a lightweight.” William teased. “But it makes sense, you’re so small.”
“I AM PLENTY BIG I AM 5’6 YOU ARE A GIANT!” Taera yelled.
Liam couldn’t help but laugh.
“One time she beat up a kid in our class that called her small all the time.” Jiah shared.
“Jiah-Bug, noooooooo!” Taera whined as William’s face lit up.
“The list of questionable actions grows.” He grinned.
“It was one time. He was a bully.”
“I think he had a crush on Taera and just wanted her attention.” Jiah teased.
“JIAH HAD A CRUSH ON A GUY WHO NEVER TALKED IN GRADE 7!” Taera yelled.
“He was shy!” Jiah snapped.
“Pre-goth.” Both Liam and Taera said at the same time.
“He makes more sense now.” Liam said motioning towards Daniel who narrowed his eyes.
“I am not pre-goth.” He defended.
“Sightly nonverbal.” Liam shrugged.
“Emotionally stunted.” Taera added.
“Brooding.” Liam added.
“Liam thought chocolate milk came from brown cows until he was ten!” Jiah said, causing everyone to snicker, even Irene giggled.
“Taera told me that it did.” Liam whined.
“The list of questionable childhood actions grows again.” William muttered causing Taera to whack him.
Jiah just shrugged.
“She’s the one who said it!” Liam said pointing to Taera.
“She was retaliating, you were just adding.”
“I think that’s cute.” Irene said to him.
He couldn’t help but grin, as long as she thought it was cute.
William glared at him again.
Taera told him to stop, reminding him of a promise that made no sense.
Daniel looked confused.
“I want Korean BBQ after ice-cream!” Taera yelled.
“That should come before.” Jiah whined.
“You shouldn’t have said ice-cream then.” Taera sighed.
“What’s the goal for BARE?” Liam asked as he sat across William and Daniel on a couch in the lounge of Equinox after breakfast.
“Locations all over the USA and worldwide. But catering to a clientele that will splurge on what BARE offers - the additional meal planning, support, and group training. So mostly in high paying dense areas, big cities and growing cities.” William said.
“So, you’re not looking to become the next LA Fitness?”
“No, we’re not interested in repurposing or buying out existing gyms, I think quality matters more than quantity.”
“I think BARE has become synonymous with luxury in a way, with our brand partnerships as well, the image has already been curated. Going the way of acquiring older gyms and upgrading them will not be cost effective. Small towns will not generate revenue and having too many locations reduces the exclusivity.”
Liam nodded. “Are you looking for investors?”
Liam watched as Daniel looked over at William with a hesitant look, one that told him that they weren’t sure if they should be sharing information, but William nodded.
He was the one to speak. “We’re hoping to secure more investors, we have currently secured Coombes as a partner, and all our initial locations were personal investments through banks and partly through Venture.”
“Coombes is notorious for payouts divided over years and a high percentage cut.” Liam said.
“Unfortunately, yes.” Daniel sighed.
“I am looking to invest into something, and I really like the BARE business model, it’s clearer than most I’ve seen. A specific crowd that would be willing to pay, locations in key strategic areas and an established image to ensure its success with that crowd and in those locations. I started scouting out BARE when Taera mentioned it, I use the New York location frequently, and surprisingly the Charleston one is almost identical.”
“What kind of investment were you thinking?” Daniel asked.
“$500 million to start, with the potential of $1B depending on the ROI.”
“Market is 15-35%, I usually take 18%.”
“Why so low?” Daniel asked.
“I invest in businesses I believe in and people I like.” He shrugged.
“Conditions?” Daniel inquired.
“Major decision making as to where the money is being spent and strategic changes, annual ROI deposits and reports. I assume you want to say private? You wouldn’t have gone to Coombes otherwise.”
“It’s not likely that BARE will garner enough interest from the general public and going public is expensive.” William shrugged.
Liam nodded. That made sense, going public usually only worked for larger companies that could afford to pay the costs required to go public without affecting their bottom line too much. Staying private helped, especially with a vision like they had for BARE.
“Why the interest apart from what you’ve mentioned?” Daniel asked, he seemed rather wary.
“Future planning for Equinox.” He said, the confused look on both Daniel and William’s face made him smile. “The gym here is not great, we have guests that stay for the long term and use our facilities, a lot of them opt to go elsewhere. If you’ve noticed Equinox is located in the same areas that you’re targeting…apart from Charleston but that’s home, I get it. In the long run, it might be beneficial to both of us if BARE locations opened up within or around Equinox. You get a built-in clientele with the possibility they’ll like it enough to sign up when they get back to wherever they’re visiting from, and Equinox continues to provide the services their guests require and expect.”
Daniel and William looked at each other, Daniel nodded. “We’d like some time to think about it.” William said.
“It is one of those too good to be true situations if I am honest.” Daniel mused.
Liam nodded. “I understand, take your time to decide. The offer is on the table without a time limit, if you’re interested, we can get into the nitty-gritty legal stuff. And even at that time, if you feel it’s unfair in anyway, you can feel free to scrap it.”
Jiah watched as Daniel paced the length of the hotel room, back and forth, instead of packing for their flight the next day.
Liam was staying back in California, having received his official offer letter for Google two hours earlier as they all lounged by the pool. They had an impromptu celebration by the pool, copious amounts of champagne flowing for the heir of the hotel.
They were going out to dinner to celebrate, but Daniel was off. He kept pacing and was deep in thought. She heard him on the phone earlier that day, shortly after breakfast, asking for his employees to look into the LPK Group of Companies and into Liam.
She knew that Liam must have broached the subject of investing into BARE, he had teasingly mentioned it to Taera once – your boytoy has a clear vision, I should invest. Liam said a lot of things without reason, but it seemed like the BARE investment was true.
Not that anyone had told her, she could just tell from the way Daniel was pacing, the way he looked at Liam, and the orders he had given on the phone. She didn’t want to say anything, really, but she couldn’t help herself. Daniel made it sound like Liam was some kind of con artist over the phone, and she had to step in before he ruined the evening for everyone.
“Daniel, stop.” She sighed, grabbing his hand, and stopping the pacing. She pulled him towards the seating area in the room and forced him to sit on the couch. He sighed and rolled up the sleeves of his white shirt – wrinkled and paired with the swimming shorts that he had yet to change out of.
She sat by him but turned her body sideways so she could see him. “Liam wants to invest in BARE?” She asked while grabbing his hand, letting him play with her fingers, his nervous habit.
“Did you know about it?” He asked, sounding a bit surprised.
“Kind of, he mentioned it in the passing once, and I heard you on the phone earlier.”
Daniel sighed. “It’s too good to be true, he wants to invest $500 million, with just a 18% ROI, on top of that he says he is willing to invest more, and partner BARE with Equinox.”
“Liam loaned Taera and I money for Sorelle for a 5% cut of the profit, and only after we insisted he had to take a cut.”
“You’re his childhood friends.” Daniel pointed out.
“The search you instructed your staff to look into will tell you that he invests in multiple businesses with a low percentage cut. He just looks for things he believes in and genuinely wants them to succeed, Liam has more money than anyone can use in a lifetime, and he makes millions a week based on his investments alone, not counting what LPK makes. At the end of the day, the difference between 15% and 25% isn’t great to him.”
“He uses the money his mother left him, his approach is to help businesses and appease his father. Diversifying his investment portfolio appeases his father, and helping people makes Liam happy. And it’s not like investing in BARE is not beneficial to him, he sees the potential, and he has a different vision for Equinox and the international resorts, he’s probably working towards it.”
“What is the plan?” Daniel asked, curiosity evident in his voice.
“Ask Liam.” She prompted. “I don’t know if I should have interfered with this, it’s ultimately your decision but maybe try not to be as cynical as you usually are, Daniel.” She said before running her fingers through his hair, pushing it away from his face.
He nodded, grabbing her hand and placing a kiss on the back of it. “Thank you.” He whispered.
“You have time to think about it, so maybe try to enjoy our last night here.” She prompted, he nodded.
“You look much too distracted.” Taera said as she walked out of the bathroom, dressed for dinner, William had stepped out of the bathroom before her and he was still shirtless and siting on the couch, just in a pair of black slacks.
“And that looks gorgeous on you.” He said, as she stepped in front of him. She had opted for an all-black outfit, a cropped half-sleeve jacket and high waisted black pants. It got chilly at night.
She straddled him on the couch and cupped his face. “What’s wrong?” She asked, eyes searching his face.
“Why do you assume something is wrong?” He asked as he ran his hands up her back, under the top.
“You have that look about you.”
“Liam wants to invest in BARE.”
Taera snickered. “He has a business crush on it.”
“A business crush?”
“Hm, Liam invests in anything that has a clear vision, potential to grow and a coherent plan for growth. He joined BARE to nitpick it and loved it, he kept talking about it when he first came to Charleston.”
William hummed. “It is a too good to be true deal.”
“It’s good to be cautious, but I can vouch for Liam, he’s not out to get you or anything, he won’t attempt to take over or anything villain-like.”
“He wants to invest half a billion.”
Taera whistled and then got a speculative look on her face. “ROI?”
“18% annually, unusually low.”
Taera rolled her eyes. “That’s his birth date. He loves the number 18.”
Taera nodded. “One thing I have learnt is that the rich have their eccentricities. Priests, shamans, magic numbers, it’s fascinating really.” She mused. “Anything else?”
“He also said that perhaps in the future BARE can be something that operates within or around Equinox since the areas of interest and clientele overlap.”
Taera hummed. “Then how is it too good to be true? Sounds mutually beneficial to me.”
“Skewed more in the favor of BARE.”
“I wouldn’t say so. Equinox has a few competitors, and one of the areas they’re all lacking is hopping on this recent trend of health centres. Having BARE here – already an established name - means a leg up on the competition.”
William nodded, a speculative look on his face.
“Is it not like your partnerships with Nike, Tag Heuer and Hugo Boss? Mutually beneficial, in that you promote them, they promote you. They’re bigger companies with more to spend on marketing, so it seems like it’s more beneficial to you in a way, but to them you’re just one of the businesses they partner with, maybe the only gym but they also have multiple other areas to target. You’ve built up BARE to be easily recognizable. My first thought when I saw that BARE was opening across the street was ‘that gym where all the celebrities work out in New York’. Liam wants in on that. Anyone with a brain would want in on BARE.”
“Why does he want to work at Google then?” William sighed.
“Imposter Syndrome, he thinks he’s not worth taking over Equinox yet. He thinks he has gotten everything just because of who is father is, he wants to do something for himself, to see what he’s capable of. The whole BARE partnership might be his way of working towards it too, he wants to have a plan for improvement. And I am not saying say yes because I said so. Take your time, think about it, if you want to do, then you should and if you don’t that’s fine too.”
“I think Daniel might be a harder sell than I am.” William sighed.
“I am sure you can convince him.” She said, before pecking his lips. “You two have built something great together, let the world reward you for it. But ask Liam all the questions you want to ask, go in with all eyes open like you would with any other offer, it’ll help Daniel feel better.”
“You’re good at everything aren’t you?” He smiled, his hand still rubbing her back.
“But of course.” She shrugged teasingly before leaning in to peck his lips. “Especially with you.”
He smiled at her then, that wide-eyed smile with his teeth showing and her heart thumped. “What did I do to deserve you?”
“Not run me over?” She said, causing him to laugh. “You deserve the world, William.” She whispered while running her fingers through his hair.
The way he was looking at her was a little overwhelming, and hard to unpack considering they were to meet everyone down in the lobby soon.
“As much as I love the current state you’re in- ” She said as she ran her hands down his bare chest. “-get dressed so we can head out.”
“Or we could be late.”
“Tempting, but no.” She laughed.
There were some nights that lasted forever.
In the moment, you never wanted the night to end.
And it lived in your memories forever.
That night at a small Korean BBQ in San Francisco was one of those nights. It was a night that they would talk about for years to come, and the picture the waiter took of them sitting on their table was one they would share with their children years down the road. It would be one that would be proudly on display in their homes.
Maybe they would point to William and Taera, his chin resting on her shoulder, both of them holding their soju glasses towards the camera with huge smiles on their faces.
Or maybe at Jiah who was laughing, her head thrown back, and Daniel who was looking at her with a smile that indicated he was about to burst into laughter.
Or maybe at Demi who had her eyes closed and a huge smile on her face.
Or maybe Henry, who was making bunny ears over Demi’s head.
Or maybe Irene who was smiling at the camera while holding her glass to her lips.
And definitely Liam, who had a flower crown on his head and was wearing a huge white Google shirt.
They would tell stories about that night, stories that would get somewhat distorted as time went on, but the feelings wouldn’t. They would remember that the restaurant they had a reservation at said they didn’t have a reservation for them, and how disappointed they all had been until Daniel of all people suggested they just walk down the street and walk into the next place they saw.
They would talk about the store that sold souvenirs and how Taera had insisted that Liam buy and wear the oversized white shirt that had the Google logo – stuffing his expensive Balenciaga t-shirt into her bag. And the flower crown that Irene put on his head because he was the guest of honor at the dinner.
They would talk about how Daniel almost dropped Jiah because she was squirming as he tried to pick her up after she scared him by jumping up behind him randomly, causing him to scream rather loudly. And how Jiah had whacked his arm about a hundred times for almost killing her.
They would talk about how the first Korean BBQ place they walked across looked like it was going to collapse any second, but they had been in the mood for adventure. And how William was insistent that the food would be good because of the smell.
They would always laugh about how the table had been a little sticky and William had been at a loss until Taera pulled out mini Clorox wipes from her bag and wiped the whole table down. She always carried them because Liam, like William, was a germaphobe. Henry had dubbed them a match made in germaphobe heaven.
And they would definitely talk about how the food had been delicious, and that they ate too much. And how William and Taera still stole food from each other’s plate even though there was food laid out on the whole table.
They would share that they had the whole restaurant to themselves and were much too loud, but the very generous tip they left at the end hopefully made up for it.
It would also be the night that Henry almost died, they were all a little tipsy off the soju and he thought it was a good idea to pick up Demi and throw her over his shoulder. A screaming Demi had pinched him rather hard and he had fallen, bringing them both crashing down even as William tried to help. Demi had chased Henry down the street out for his blood while he yelled for them to save him.
Jiah and Taera would always remember how they had kept William and Daniel distracted as Irene and Liam whispered to each other, walking behind them all, holding hands. Liam would always remember how annoying they had been with the giggles and eyebrow waggles in his direction.
Taera would remember it mostly as the night where she felt utterly content with all her friends around her and William glued to her side. A bright-eyed William had laughed and talked a lot, and whispered to her that the trip had been the most fun he remembered ever having as they took a streetcar back towards Equinox, all of them squeezed into a corner and laughing much too loud.
Jiah would remember it mostly as the night that felt like it was right out of a K-Drama, the end credits would show up as the camera panned out on a happy group that had gotten through whatever it is that they needed to get through to get there. Those satisfying endings that told you that they would continue to live their lives happily after the show ended.
Because it wasn’t the end.
Things were going to change though.
Liam was staying back in California, having no reason to come back to Charleston.
Demi was planning to go back to New York in December, to prepare for interviews at the programs she was applying to.
Irene was going to fly away to Europe.
Henry’s work term at Coombes was finishing in December, he was relocating to Atlanta for a while for another internship.
Charleston was going to be quieter without them all.
But Taera and Jiah were excited to go back home.
Charleston had become just that. Home.
Home was no longer in New York.
Home was where Sorelle was right across the street from BARE.