AJ Tyler (birth name: Alfie) Chris Reyes (birth name: Chrysler) "Aleks Belikov" (birth name: ???)
Absentmindedly, AJ went to his Instastory, droning out the girls’ chatter as they googly eyed the room and Aleks mentioned something about chocolate syrup. “Yeah, for sure.”
He mumbled in response. Once he put his camera into selfie LIVE mode, he pressed record to get a part of his face and the background, making sure that a certain Callaghan was the focal point of his story. He knew how Jamie got, especially in regards to social media and how open their generation could be, spilling all the tea . No doubt he’d be following everyone’s stories on this road trip. His ex craved that kind of shit, knowing what his sister was up to and seeing if his ex finally
moved on. Old habits die hard and AJ believed he could intrigue that side in Jamie that would never change. Plus, if he showed Jamie that he was having a good time, maybe the gossip boy would remember what he was missing. “Just got to our suite — gonna’ relax for a few before we get buckwild!”
He dramatically zoomed into the hot girls’ faces, resting it a second too long on Katie while making a dumb frat boy call ‘ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh’ while sticking out his tongue. Jumping on the bar counter, beside Aleks, he grinned at his audience, “First stop in the most epic, most dope, most baller journey of the century. Road trip across America! Chapter 1. Viva Las Vegas! No clocks. No locks. No restrictions! Now remember, home is where you park it. Stay safe insta, and I’ll check back in tonight. ajdose, out!”
When he finished his live video, he turned to one of his best friends and asked, “What were you saying about chocolate syrup?”
But before anyone could say anything, AJ’s phone vibrated and the person calling was his ‘Valentine’. “Did he get lost or something?”
He quizzically peered down at the Caller ID and then brought his gaze to Aleks.
Shrugging, putting Chris on speaker, AJ curiously questioned, “What’s up, babes? You okay?” “Hey man, can you come down?”Oh snap, I should’ve told him the rooms were under my aunt’s name… my b. “Yeah, coming now.” *Click* “Time to save our damsel in distress. See you ladies later. If you need us, give us a call.”
This comment was directed to Chloe and Ivy, the girls he had the least anger towards, even if it was said out loud to all of them.
AJ’s shadow sensed that it was time to follow.
Aleks slid off the counter with his hands in his pockets, only removing them to give the girls a friendly wave goodbye and then wrap the offending hand around the back of his neck. He could only barely hear what was going on through his earbuds, but he got the gist of what was happening due to AJ’s phone call. He could already sense the approaching storm, like a sailor, hopelessly adrift in his best friend’s wake; he had hoped that the three of them, bereft of any potential irritants, might be able to cruise all the way through lunch without anything going rogue. Chris getting lost in the lobby was a bad start already.“Yes. Don’t do anything I would do,”
he told the girls with a tight-lipped smile, gliding along the floor with such delicacy that one would believe the Bellagio floors were made of parchment paper. When he was inside the elevator, though, he sat up on the railing, slender figure making it a tight but not impossible squeeze on. His shoe tapped against the button for the ground floor and then lowered, kicking back against the back of the lift.
He was humming for a second before he realized AJ had repeated his question back to him.“Chocolate syrup,”
he repeated, shrugging lazily. “Doesn’t matter how cheap, I just need it for cocktails. Still trying to think of name for White Russian with choco. Maybe Dagestani.”
His gaze drifted over to AJ. “A little racist, actually. Not Dagestani. Brown Bolshevik? Too long.”
He took a deep breath, mulling over names.“Maybe I should just name it after somebody. Girls like when you name cocktails after them, in my experience. Even if you’re bullshitting. I think we and Sami - only ones at school with know-how to make cocktails. That makes lying about them easier. One time Chris and I--”
The elevator dinged, and Aleks saw the problem immediately. The aforementioned Chris was being held up at the desk by the receptionist, which caused the rest of the breath Aleks was going to use to tell his story to leave him in one giant, disappointed exhale. He had really
been hoping to avoid this.
Unhooking his sunglasses off his shirt, AJ took out a cleaning wipe to remove the smudges, while speaking to the new face, a blondie, at the front desk, “I’m not going to pull a Karen on you, but please enlighten me, how long have you worked here...”
He looked at her name tag and then focused his sly glare on her fake face, “... Rachelle?”
Purposely, he enunciated her name, dragging out the vowels, to make her feel small, and that he was indeed better than her. When she answered with a seasoned customer service reply, AJ chortled in pretentious annoyance, “Then you should know my cous’, Trent, who wears dorky ass sweatshirts and gamer tees that you can get under twenty bucks or oh! Sonya! Who barely wears anything. I can’t say much for Joseph, since he’s the only one who seems to care about his looks, but you get my point.”
Finishing cleaning his glasses, he pocketed the wipe and delicately held his shades in one of his hands, “It’s funny. A place like Las Vegas, one of the greatest cities in the world, wouldn’t usually allow people, such as yourself, to be prejudiced, biased, or downright fucked up. People come here to enjoy the city that never sleeps and regardless how much my BEST FRIEND makes, that’s none of your goddamn business. He’s here, with a room, under Theresa Kable, btdubs, and is a GUEST at this motherfuckin’ hotel. He better be treated just like me, the nephew of the person who could cost you your whole career, or we will stay at a crappy motel. I don’t give a fuck!”
Times like these, one could tell that AJ Tyler was his mother’s son. From being a sassy bitch to an over-the-top drama queen, he learned from one of the most savage bosses who left no room for discussion. After putting his shades on, he pointed to Chris’ face, “Remember him. Have those that work with you remember him. If this shit happens again, we’re out and I don’t say that lightly.”
The last thing he said was a suggestive threat and anyone with a single brain cell would know better than to upset a kid connected to the ‘royal’ family of this honest fake kingdom. A paradise where money talks and in this moment, based on the woman’s shocked expression, money indeed did the talking. “Alright babes, let’s get outta here. I’m starving.”
Chris looked pissed, and that’s because he was, on multiple levels. Pissed that he got singled out for looking like the kid that didn’t belong. The poor kid. The troubled youth
. Did he seriously have to put on a polo shirt and khaki pants just to be taken seriously? And he was pissed that he had to be saved by AJ. He wasn’t a fucking victim — a damsel in distress that needed saving! “Man, fuck all y’all.”
Chris hissed through gritted teeth and moved his shoulder out of the path of AJ’s incoming arm. He didn’t need to be fucking coddled, he needed lunch and to get out of this ritzy bitch hotel.I am so sorry,
Aleks mouthed over AJ’s shoulder at the receptionist, who looked as though AJ had unzipped his jacket and revealed he’d carried an AK-47 out of the lobby. Apart from that, though, he was unable to throw cold water on the very-much-Karenesque
rant that his basically-adopted-brother was letting loose on the poor woman. She didn’t look much older than the trio themselves; the thought of her whole career being gunned down like the mob still owned the city must have been terrifying to her.
His hand that wasn’t holding his phone to his ear turned, as though he was tilting back the temperature dial on a stove. He made a little whistle, like a boiling tea kettle, through his teeth to try and communicate to AJ that he was coming on a little strong. Not that AJ did well with such subtle imagery.“Papa,”
he said into the phone. “I’m glad you’re still awake.”“Aleksei.”
His father’s curt Russian accent was a relief to hear for once. He continued in the same Russian, so slow and measured that Aleks could translate in his head while keeping an ear out for AJ. “You have arrived in Vegas? How was traffic? Your mother wants to hear your voice, she says you are screening calls--”“I’ll call later,”
Aleks insisted hurriedly. “We’re going for lunch. Can you place a call to Caesar’s, get us your table at Rao’s? Chris has never been. AJ either, I don’t think.””Rao’s? Rao’s is for celebrities and gangsters, not for business. Your mother likes Rao’s. Besides, you get table last year, they know you there. Do not call me asking again for the reservations.””We just want Italian, that’s all. Next year I’ll ask for myself, Papa. Please?”“--He better be treated just like me, the nephew of the person who could cost you your whole career, or we will stay at a crappy motel. I don’t give a fuck!”
The imaginary dial between Aleks’ fingers turned faster and faster. As always, it seemed AJ was ignoring his plea for sense and sensibility.“I swear they will behave,”
he continued on the line with his dad, even though he doubted they would behave very fucking much. “We’re at the Bellagio, it’s, like, fifteen minutes away on foot. If we can’t walk to wherever we’re going I will--”
Aleks shot a quick look at the receptionist, even though she was mostly focused on AJ’s unhinged rant, and switched to Russian.“--If we can’t walk to wherever we’re going, I will just have to steal a car from valet,”
Aleks said in fluent Russian. His father sighed.“Aleksei, Aleksei.”
Another sigh. ”Very well. But if I do this thing for you, you call your mother this evening and tell her how trip goes so far. She wants to talk to Chloe, too. So do not ghost.”Jesus fucking Christ.“I swear, Papa,”
Aleks sighed, switching to English. ”I will call tonight. Talk later.”“Oh, and Aleksei. You mention the cars,”
Osip Belikov said sternly. Aleks’ heart sank into his stomach. ”You are in school no longer, and consequences of actions will only grow greater and greater. This business with Tyler man, the stealing and the robberies--“I’ll talk later.”
Aleks hung up before he had to hear another word, and shoved his phone into his pocket. By now the receptionist looked thoroughly terrified of AJ’s very presence, and it looked like Chris was allowed freedom of the entire hotel. Again, Aleks mouthed a wry apology over AJ’s shoulder at the traumatized employee before he spoke up to his friends.“It took some doing,”
he said, although internally he acknowledged that getting to eat at a five star, exclusive restaurant for the low low price of calling his mom wasn’t so bad. “But I got us table at Rao’s, just across street at Caesar’s. Chris, you will like this. I went to original Rao’s in New York when I touched down in this country, and no place like it. Especially not in London. Such crap, crap fucking food in London.”
Chris spent the trip to the restaurant in extreme silence. Had it been a cartoon, there would have been literal steam billowing out of his ears, but instead he just tapped his fingers against his thigh rhythmically. Caesar’s Palace was massive, he’d seen it before in movies and stuff but it was larger than life in person. “Shit… it’s like it’s own fucking city.”
Chris remarked and shook his head.
The eatery they were headed to was across the way and… it looked nothing like what Chris had expected. The entrance was small, set in the corner of a brick building. The red facade boasted the name of the joint in simple white font: “Rao’s”. Surrounded by all of the grandeur of the strip, it looked like a quaint diner in comparison — certainly not some five star place that Aleks had to pull strings to get into. “This… is the place? It looks so normal.”“I did too, in freshman year,”
Aleks Belikov said tersely, his voice slightly quiet. Granted, the Las Vegas location had none of the history of the New York original, where presidents and mafia dons preferred to dine with each other on a first name basis - but it was still a mecca of Italian food, with all the exclusivity you would expect from a place that could turn down those presidents and mafiosos. “Four years later you know better, da? Da. Pay respect.”
Chris raised his hands in mock surrender. “If they got food, that’s all I care about. Respects paid, brother.”
He walked in quietly, and it was as though a change went over Aleks too when he went through the doors. When he introduced himself to the front of house, his words became broken, his accent more Russian than English, and his own surname came up more in conversation than it did during BHHS roll call. When he was done with conversation, though, he gestured for Chris and AJ to enter too, pulling out chairs for both of them to sit beside each other. Aleks, knowing his place in the hierarchy, sat by himself facing the doorway. “To us, motherfuckers,”
he toasted with a sly smile on his face, speaking with his normal Russian-based creole. Whenever the three of them ate together, it was his go-to blessing for the meal - be it at somewhere exclusive like this or at an In-N-Out at 1 in the morning. “May no one ever come between us.”“Not even a bitchy front desk worker.”
Chris toasted with the complimentary glass of ice water at the table. “Damn, that is fresh as fuck. I normally don’t even like water.”
Setting the glass down he perused the menu. The prices were steep, but not so steep that they didn’t even bother putting them on the menu. Chris had heard that’s what the super bougie places did, there were like ten things total on the menu and no prices, you just had to pull the trigger and hope to not go bankrupt. Well, rich people probably didn’t need to worry about that. “Twenty two dollars… for meatballs.”
He peered over the menu at his friends. “And I don’t think the spaghetti is even included.” “Don’t worry about the cost, I gotchu.”
AJ didn’t bother looking at the menu, already knowing exactly what he was getting. Now that the awkward walk was over, where everyone was silent as hell, and they were finally alone, away from everyone else, he could focus on the more pressing matter. Being respectful to the place, he took his sunglasses and pushed them up, to rest on his head. Once he was done, he folded his hands together, staring at some of his closest friends, one annoyed him more than the other, but they were still hella’ tight, “Who the hell invited Katie-fucking-Callaghan on my road trip?”
Aleks sipped his water pensively, eyes squarely meeting AJ’s. His shoulders did a little shrug as he set his glass down.“I was with you last night,”
he answered. “I heard nothing about it, and if it was Chloe she would have given me warning.”
That seemed like a suitable enough answer to establish his own bona fides, but the question still gave him pause. He looked over at Chris, who seemed to have more of an idea of what was happening than he did. Knowing Ivy, it was likely she couldn’t give a fuck about whatever mob war was going on between AJ and the Callaghans, but he couldn’t see any reason to keep it a secret from AJ. Given the disproportionate amount of times he’d been on the receiving end of his friend’s temper lately, Aleks knew that AJ’s anger took longer to simmer than it did to explode. Given time, it was likely that he would have gotten over it - mostly - by the time they had all met in the parking lot. Ensuring that she surprised him there seemed like a recipe for disaster. It was uncharacteristic of Ivy - but exactly the kind of shit Chloe would pull. Did she have a bigger role in this than Aleks had thought?No.
She still would have told Aleks if she’d been the mastermind. Katie’s face flashed behind his eyes, and he bit down on the edge of his lip thoughtfully.“For what it’s worth,”
he said cautiously, hands spread out on the table to signal diplomacy, “Katie seems like she has a lot to leave behind in Los Angeles herself. I doubt she wants to talk about herself any more than you do. Clean slate seems possible to me. Agreeable, even. Maybe just try and bury hatchet.”
Left unsaid was the fact that he’d noticed Katie’s eyes on him since they’d left Los Angeles, but Aleks didn’t see any need to burden AJ with the possibility of something between them. If it came down to picking sides directly, obviously he would pick the imperfect, temperamental boy before him over a fling with Katie. But it was better to leave that debate off the table entirely.
Chris knew who was behind Katie’s presence, of course. And Aleks knew that Chris knew the details, and he was being his typical sneaky self about it. If it wouldn’t totally blow his cover, Chris would have glared. Instead, he dodged AJ’s question and took a different kind of shot at his bratan
. “Aka, Aleksei here is trying to get it in… and bury something besides a hatchet.”
Chris raised a mischievous brow and sipped at his water. “Which will be much easier to do if we all get along. But I’m also in favor of the get along plan, because this is supposed to be fun and SO FAR it has been anything but, fam.”
Aleks exhaled.“If you had asked me yesterday, I would have told you I wouldn’t invite Katie Callaghan if I was throwing a fucking suicide bombing,”
he said calmly. “That would have been before I talked to her. My sole concern is road trip, same as yours. If that was not the case I would have kicked Val’s teeth to Luxembourg where they belong when she ran from that RV. But then, as now, playing nice is easier. And healthier for all of us.”“I get it, we all want peace. We all want to have a good time. I do too, which I’ve been trying, but that wasn’t my question.”
Unlatching his hands, AJ leaned back, furrowing his eyebrows, “Someone did something without telling me, and that, I have a problem with.”
Snapping his finger, he came to a realization, disregarding most of what his friends were spewing about, “I bet it was Reyna. She was trying to butter us all up with those pancakes. See, I can put up with people I don’t like. I invited her. If someone was so desperate and wanted Katie to come so bad, I would’ve said sure, but shit. There’s a snake here and I gotta watch what I say to them or it’s going to come and bite me in the ass.”
Yes, it had to be her. There was no one else, aside from Chloe who would do it for shits and giggles, that would do something so sus in his mind. “Fucking—”
Trash. “— Reyna. I’ll need to talk to her.”“Seems like it. Try to do so without the dramatic flair maybe, we’re all pretty tired of the drama. Sami might tie you up if you lose your shit too bad.”
Chris chuckled, man did Ivy and Chloe owe him after this masterful swerve. “On second thought, go for it, that sounds funny.”“I thought the rolls were better than the pancakes,”
Aleks said idly to himself, head buried in his menu. “They made too many.”