The bar was crowded and loud, not really Andy's scene. In fact, she wouldn't go to bars if she could help it. Unfortunately for her, Mike, the so-called boyfriend, had asked her to meet him here—Andy checked her phone—half an hour ago. She sipped her cranberry and club soda while she scanned the room. The bar ran the perimeter around several smaller tables and chairs for groups to gather. The center tables were full of riotous fellow college students.
They were all ruddy faced from drinking, laughing way too hard at one another, sending representatives to squeeze their way between her and the desultory drunk to her right to order another round for their table.
The theory was yet unproven, but Andy felt herself part of a misplaced alien race. No scales, though. She'd checked.
It was probably the artistic perspective to feel so apart, so disconnected from the world in order to observe and record. Or she could be a sociopath. However, she hadn't gone on a mass killing spree and didn't care to.
Alien it was, then.
She twirled her bright purple hair around her finger as she watched a particular table that caught her eye. If she were an alien, then that table was filled with the most human people humanity had to offer. Three men and two women, none of whom was less than six feet tall. Each thin and graceful like gazelles, with bright blue eyes. The men each had the perfect amount of stubble, a humbling untidiness to their hair, and fashionably distressed jeans. The women wore short skirts that never rode up, had long legs that never needed shaving, and silky hair cascading down their backs.
The women and two of the men seemed actively engaged in conversation. Andy tried to imagine what their discussions would be like."I'm so perfect. Look at me. My shoes could pay two months' rent.""You think you're perfect? Look at my teeth! I don't even brush.""Oh, but me. Look at me! I won the genetic lottery, and I'm probably smart too. The rest of you are my bitches."
A blond man sat with his elbow on the table, his other arm actively engaged in pouring beer into his mouth. He never had to buy a drink. When he finished his mug, he set it on the table and his friends passed him theirs.
He at least had the decency to look depressed. Just look at him sitting there drinking beer after beer, looking drunk and bored. How tedious being perfect must be.
Andy sighed and checked her phone again. Not a call. Not a text. Not even an e-mail from Mike. And here she sat in this bar with people giddy to be alive. The jerks.
She smirked to herself and dropped her phone back into her pocket. When she looked up, the blond guy stood up. Or rather, he tried to stand up. Mr. Perfect must need to pee. Nice to know the future of humanity still had bodily functions.
Then he started patting himself down. Did Mr. Perfect need mace
to keep the hoi polloi from bothering him in the bathroom? Or was it disinfectant spray to keep from contracting evil normal-people germs?
Apparently finding what he was looking for, Mr. Perfect pulled out a set of keys.He had better have those out to give to his friends.
But no. His friends looked up at him and gave their good-byes.
"Bye. See you later," she heard one of them say.Or you won't see him later because he's drunk and will probably kill himself on the road, you jackholes.
The icy blonde girl jumped up and gave the drunken man a kiss and a hug.That's right. Say your final good-byes. Make it good. It's the last you're going to see of him.
The blonde girl held him by his shoulders and said something else. Andy sighed in relief. Finally someone noticed and was giving him a proper telling off. But no. The blonde kissed him again and returned to her friends and conversation as if nothing tragic was about to happen.
Mr. Not Perfect Because He Was Clearly An Idiot Who Was Going To Kill Someone staggered to the door.
Andy turned around to look at the bartenders—mixologists
, whatever—who she thought were legally obligated to keep an eye out for this sort of behavior, but none of them appeared interested, let alone alarmed.
She returned to observing the drunk. Perfect looking, sure. But thick as a brick if he was going to drive drunk. And his friends were dumb enough to let him. The future of humanity was either stupid or full of sociopaths.
Andy hopped off the barstool. As if on cue, a mass of people rushed the bar like someone had unleashed the masses to block her way to the dimwit exiting the bar.
She grumbled, shoving her way through the throng. "I'm going to start punching you twits if you don't get the fuck
out of my way."
They laughed as if she were joking, continuing on their merry way.Idiots. When the revolution comes, you will be the first with your backs against the wall.
Not that a revolution was coming that she knew of. Certainly not one started by her, but crowds inspired such ideas.
With enough not-so-gentle persuasion from her shoulder and elbows, she negotiated her way through the press of bodies just in time to see the door swing shut behind Mr. Involuntary Manslaughter.
It caused her to stop and reevaluate. What was she going to do, throw herself in front of a car with a drunk behind the wheel?
Not the most sensible plan, but she was running out of options. She propelled herself at the door. It swung open to a narrow lot with cars crammed together with barely enough room to get in or out of the vehicle. The man stood between two of them, pointing his fob at an expensive-looking silver car.
He wasn't just an asshole; he was a rich asshole. Life came so easily to him that he must not value others' lives—not even his own.
Stop!" Andy waved her arms from the top of the short set of steps leading to the asphalt.
The man looked at her, brows furrowed in confusion as if to say, Who is this peasant who dares speak to me?
"Yes, I mean you
, asshole!" Andy tripped down the steps in her platform shoes, barely managing to catch her balance before she went face-first onto the ground.
When she looked up, expecting to see the man laughing at her misfortune, she found him staring at her as if she were from another planet for real. He pointed at himself. "Me?"
She held her arm out to the empty parking lot. "You're the only asshole here!"
He jolted as if the words were a physical blow. His lips flattened, and he squinted like he was processing a thought. "You're the one shouting."
Andy paused. Wit? No, had to be denial. Drunken luck. Something. No one with any wits would drive in this condition. She took advantage of the man's confusion to finish the final steps to him and snatch the keys away.
He looked at his empty hand and then at her. "Hey! What are you doing?"
"Preventing a suicide." She stuffed them down her shirt in case he got any ideas about trying to grab them back. "Shit, cold!" Andy wiggled around as the cold keys jiggled over her breasts.
The man laughed. "You're a really bad mugger."You're a really bad drunk.
The keys settled between her breasts. After all of her good intentions, she got laughed at, called a mugger, and chilly tits. At least someone found it funny. A mugger. Honestly.
"I get that a lot."
"Maybe you should try another line of work." He leaned against his car, eyeing her cleavage.
Normally she would've said something about her eyes being up here, but she was pretty sure he just wanted his keys back. She would accommodate him after he sobered up. "You should um…go inside and get some water or something. I'll give you your keys back in an hour or so."
He looked at the door like he was a refugee and the bar was Guantánamo Bay. "Back in there
"Yeah, you know, that place you just came from
? The building that contains your friends
He reached for her chest. "I'll take my chances."
She dodged. "I'll scream rape."
The look he gave her told her how likely he found the scenario in which he would sexually assault her.
Andy considered smacking him. "Don't look so fucking superior. It could happen. Rape is about power, not about who you find attractive."
"I know that." He clapped a hand over his mouth, looking green. "I'm not feeling so good."
"Oh!" She looked around as if she could find a good place for him to vomit. Before she could sort somewhere out, he dropped to his knees and tossed his cookies, or whatever he'd eaten, onto her shoes.Warm, gooey grossness. No good deed goes unpunished.
Andy sighed. Ah, well. No use crying over spilled spew. At least her shoes were plastic.
The man's hair was chin-length, long enough to fall into the stream, so she leaned over to hold it back from his face. Didn't help the shoe situation, but there was no point in everyone being a mess.
After a few more heaves, he seemed to be done. He sat on his heels, eyes fixed on her shoes like he couldn't bear to look into her eyes. "Shit. I'm sorry."
She pulled a few wet wipes out of the bottom of her purse. Prepackaged moistened towelettes always came in handy. This was the first time she'd used one to blot vomit from a stranger's face, though. "It's okay. They're PVC plastic. I can rinse them off."
"They're shiny." He looked up at her, blue eyes wide and almost helpless.
"As PVC is made to be." Drunken vomit wasn't new to her, unfortunately. She was annoyed, partially with herself for getting this involved, partially that she had
to get involved. At least he wasn't a violent drunk.
His breath was foul. She dug some gum from her purse and popped a piece into his mouth. Then she unwrapped another wet towelette to wipe off her shoes.
The man took the napkin from her and wiped down her shoes. "You're being really nice about this. I don't know anyone who would be so nice to me after I barfed on their shoes."
"You need to meet a better class of people." Andy hated how judgmental she sounded. Then again, he was talking about the same people who let him leave in this condition in the first place. Still, she didn't know them. "I'm sure your friends would do this for you. That blonde girl seems to like you."Not enough to keep you from killing yourself, but whatever.
The man winced. "Jessica. Yeah."
He finished cleaning her shoes and wadded up the napkin. He wobbled as he turned his head looking for somewhere to put it.
She took the wad and bundled it with the wet wipe she already had, wrapping the gross parts inside. "Maybe if you got to know her a little better, she'd do this for you."
He snorted. "She's my girlfriend."
Andy looked back at the door as if she'd be standing there. His girlfriend. Let him leave the bar blackout drunk. To drive. So she could continue a conversation with other
Maybe he didn't
know anyone who would do this for him.
She was being judgmental again, and she really had no right. At least his girlfriend showed up. She turned her attention back on him. "You really don't want to go back in there?"
He pulled himself up using the door handle and leaned against his car. He looked at the door. "I really don't."
"All right." But it really wasn't all right. Standing outside entertaining a drunk stranger so he wouldn't have to rejoin his friends was downright weird. She didn't know this guy from Adam and didn't really want to. Attractive as he was, he was a big damn mess. She'd had her fill of that.
But she couldn't in good conscience just leave him there. She had his keys and couldn't give them back without risking him driving somewhere. So maybe there was somewhere to get coffee or something. She scanned the streets around them. All the buildings around them were dark. There wasn't even a convenience store in sight.
This neighborhood was unfamiliar. The buildings looked modern and well kept. The street was empty of people. She could check her phone for local businesses that would still be open, but not knowing the area, she could walk through dangerous territory. She sized up her new companion. Even if he were in any sort of shape to put up a fight, a strong wind would probably blow him over.
She'd ridden the subway here, and she could take him home, but then he'd know where she lived. Plus her place was tiny and centered around her bed. He'd get the wrong impression for sure.
A cab would expect to be paid, and she didn't have money. He might, but she didn't want to dig around in his pockets.
Plus, he had a car there, and she knew how to drive.
She took her phone from her pocket. "Give me your address."
He looked up at her like he'd forgotten she was there. "What?"
, do you have one?"
He gave her his address, and she typed it into her phone and mapped a route.
He held out his hand. It was dusty from the asphalt. "My name's Brandon."
She eyed his hand but took it, giving it a firm shake. "Okay, Brandon. I'm going to drive you home."
She hadn't driven much in the past couple of years. Living in the city, she didn't need to.
Brandon looked at his car, then back at her, searching her face. "It's a stick."
Many men seemed to assume women couldn't drive a standard. Why men believed this escaped her. But, since he appeared to fall into that camp, she figured she might as well have some fun with the drunk guy. She grinned maliciously. "I hope you have a good warranty on your gears."
The statement appeared to sober him up. "What?"
She dug the keys from between her breasts and then hit the button on his key fob so the passenger door would unlock. "Get in."
"You can drive a stick, right?"
Andy narrowed her eyes. "Better than you can at this moment even if I hadn't learned on one. Now get in, or I'm leaving without you."
He walked to the other side of the car and opened the door. "Tell me your name."
"Just get in the car." She opened the door and got in as if to demonstrate to him how it was done. Then she set about adjusting the seat and mirrors.
Brandon ducked his head in. "Not until you tell me your name."
"God, you are so needy. Would you just get in?"
He flashed a devilish smile that showed the barest hint of dimples. He was adorable when not vomiting. "Uh-uh."
He dropped into the seat next to her and shut the door.
Andy pulled her seat belt on and glared at him when he didn't do the same. "Seat belt."
Pulling his on, he said, "You're really into safety. I thought with the purple hair and all the makeup, you'd be all 'fuck the rules.'"
"I thought with such a pretty face you'd want to preserve it. Guess we're both bad at superficial judgments."
He rubbed his face with both hands and frowned. "It's just skin."
The sentiment was odd for someone who drove a car like this and looked like he did. The sort of guy who had a girlfriend who looked airbrushed when she was just sitting around in a bar. But whatever. "We all look a little tidier when we keep our skin intact."
She started the car and flicked a control to lower the passenger-side window. "You feel sick, you know where to direct it."
Throwing the car into gear, she followed the directions her phone dictated. It only took about fifteen minutes to arrive at an imposingly modern building with its own parking garage.
He had his own parking spot. Of course he did. Why wouldn't he? Her expression must have read as reproach because he started to apologize. "The spot came with the apartment. I hardly ever drive the car in town."
"The subway really is more convenient for heavy drinking." She tossed him his keys and got out of the car. Ahead there were lights for the pedestrian exit to the parking garage.
After making it almost to that exit, she heard him call, "Where are you going?"
When she turned, she found him leaning against the car as if he needed it to stand. He hadn't seemed that
drunk on the drive.
"Home. You're not the only one who has one."
"Help me upstairs. I really don't feel good." He whined like a puppy, tilting his head to the side with his eyes wide.
Andy shook her head. "Jeez, does that actually work?"
Brandon pressed his lips together to suppress a smile. Then he sniffed. "That's fine. I'm sure I'll be…fine."
"Cycling through your mother's greatest passive-aggressive hits isn't going to work on me." What was his deal? If he could quip, surely he could walk. He did look pretty green, though.
As if to prove that point, he vanished behind the car and heaved again. A dry heave, but still. "Please?" He sounded miserable.
Already relenting, as if the word actually was magic, she started walking toward him. "No."
He rested his chin on the roof of the car. "Pretty please?"
"Give me a break." This was a pathetic display. Making him beg was fun, though a little evil since he was sick.
But he'd barfed on her shoes, so she called it even.
He whined. "I'll be your best friend."
"I have one."
He folded his arms. "I'll be a better
"Impossible." She walked around the car to him.
He lifted his chin up. "I'll be your boyfriend
Just what she needed, another boyfriend. Besides, hadn't he mentioned having a girlfriend? Hot guys thought women wanted to hop on their dicks. That possibility needed to be removed from the equation, especially if she was going into his apartment. "I like girls."
His face lit up. "Really? That's so cool!"
"Yeah, cool. That's why I do it." Why were guys so into lesbians?
She slipped her shoulder under his and helped him stand up straight. He shut the door. After a few false starts, they made it into the elevator.
They rode up to his apartment, and she took his keys when he fumbled them. The apartment had wooden floors and modern brushed-steel light fixtures. It was probably quite nice, but there were discarded clothes everywhere. Books, pizza boxes, and beer cans littered a modern red couch. At least she thought it was red. She dumped him off at a dining table cluttered with a laptop, papers, and a big video camera. "Film school?"
She made her way to the kitchen, kicking aside a pair of boxers.
"While you're in there, can you grab me a beer?"
"No." She rifled through the cupboards until she found where the glasses were hidden. There was a thin film of dust on them. "Did you know that there are fluids that don't come in cans or bottles?"
She peered out at him. He was smiling, leaning over the back of the chair. He did still look green. She rinsed the glass out before filling it with water. "No, it's called wa-ter. Some people drink it between beers."
He laughed, then rubbed his forehead. "You're really funny."
She handed him the glass. "Drink it; it's the first of many."
While he drank, she answered. "Because you're dehydrated. You'll thank me in the morning when you don't have a massive hangover." Then he'd curse her when he tried to use his car again and couldn't get in because the seat was so far up.
Brandon handed her the emptied glass, and she refilled it. "How do you know this? You used to be a drinker?"
Andy frowned and considered letting him think she was some crazy Goth chick with a drinking problem in her past. The topic of her childhood wasn't something she wanted to get into with anyone, let alone a drunk stranger. "No, my parents were alcoholics."
"Oh. I'm sorry. That's gotta be rough." He swigged down the glass.
She snatched it away to refill it. Her jaw clenched in irritation, but she controlled her voice, trying to give her tone a finality to end this line of conversation. "It was."
Brandon took the glass, oblivious to how she shoved it at him. "Was… Are your parents dead?"
Andy pursed her lips, glaring down at him. He looked so innocently interested.
Given why she was here, why she'd had to take him home, this was something he needed to hear. She dumped the papers out of the chair across from Brandon and sat down. "Yes. They're dead. They went to a bar one night, drank way too much, and tried to drive home. They didn't make it. The young mother and her two children in the oncoming lane didn't make it either."
Brandon gasped. "Shit. Oh shit. Damn."
His hand shook, so he set the glass down on the table. He kept his gaze timidly on the table, like a child who had been told off. "I'm sorry. That's…awful. Is that why you were staring at me? Because I was drunk?"
"Staring at you? I wasn't staring at you
." Obviously he'd noticed her looking at him, but she was hardly staring. Waiting on Mike left her with no one to talk to. Maybe she did stare at that table more than the others; they were very beautiful people all clustered together. "I was keeping my eye on your table in case you were planning a master race of tall, drunk people."
He blinked. Slowly, his expression evolved from a strange shock to the realization that she'd turned to levity to change the subject. At least, she hoped he caught on that she didn't want to keep talking about her parents or the possibility that she was staring at him. "Damn. You really are funny."
"Drink your water, Aryan." Now that he'd pointed out she had been looking at him, she tried to look everywhere but at him.
"Does it really matter that much?" He took a swig of water. "Being attractive, I mean."
What kind of question was that? Better yet, what kind of question was that from a guy as attractive as he was? She gave it some thought, then shrugged. "Yeah. Being attractive gets you noticed. Those of us who aren't so genetically blessed have to do other things to get attention."
She pointed to her hair and smiled wryly. Truthfully, she just liked purple and didn't want to look like everyone else, because she felt like she didn't belong, but her hair got her some attention—mostly from people she didn't want attention from, but hey, attention.
Brandon grumbled, "You could've lied and told me it didn't matter."
"I could've, I guess. I didn't see the point. Did you want to be lied to?"
The question seemed to occupy him. She watched him processing it, rolling it over in his mind. The alcohol must be making him philosophical. Why else ask a question like that?
"Yeah, I guess I did." He finished the glass of water and dropped it on the table.
She started to take it, but he put his hand over her wrist. "If I have another, my bladder is going to burst."
Andy pulled her hand away. "I guess I can't have that on my conscience."
He toyed with his camera, messing with buttons. He pulled it into his lap and flipped some switches. "Sometimes I wonder if people watch the movies I make because they like them or because they want to feel like they're close to me."
She laughed. That had to be the most obnoxiously self-centered thing she'd ever heard anyone say out loud.
Andy covered her mouth. "Sorry. I mean, no, I'm sure your movies are great. I really don't know why people go to your movies. They could be awesome. I've never seen them."
"Do you think you would've noticed I was drunk if I wasn't pretty?"
She exhaled and looked at the ceiling. "I don't know. If I was looking at you in particular, it was because you looked so bored. You looked like the only other person there who was as bored as me."
He eyed her suspiciously.
"The guy who was sitting next to you was hotter anyway." Rude, but he was asking for it.
Brandon put his camera back on the table, brows furrowed. "Jake? No way. No way he's hotter than me. You should see me when I'm not drunk."
What the hell was with this guy? Drunk. Right. "Look, as adorable as your poor-little-rich-boy pity party is, I didn't come here to stroke your ego. Or anything else. If you're okay now, I'm going to head home."
Instead of answering, he gave her a hurt look. "Really, Jake is hotter than me? Do you think Jessica thinks so?"
"Oh for fuck's sake, ask your girlfriend." She grabbed her purse and was ready to head out when her phone rang. After fishing it out of her bag, she read the time. Well after midnight. Mike's smiling face taunted her. She shouldn't answer. He was a jerk. He should wonder and worry.
Except he wouldn't wonder or worry. She pressed Talk. "Yeah?"
The sound of a bar made it difficult to make out Mike's words. "Hey, where are you?"
"I left." She tried to sound defiant but only managed petulant.
"Well come back! I'm here!"
"I don't want
to go back. I waited for you for an hour!"
Brandon sat up and leaned in. She turned her back to him as if that would make it harder for him to hear her.
Mike sounded inebriated. Not as much as Brandon had been, but he'd obviously been there long enough to have a couple of drinks before wondering where she was. "I'm sorry; I got hung up. You know how it is."
Brandon's chair scraped the floor. "That sounds like a guy's voice. Is that a guy?"
She covered the phone with her hand to address Brandon. "Shut up.
Mike's tinny voice said, "Hey, who are you talking to? Is that a guy?"
Andy rubbed her forehead. Everyone was very interested in the gender of whom she was talking to. To answer them both, she said, "Yes, it's a guy."
The voice on the phone said, "That doesn't sound like Davis."
Davis was one of her best friends. Since he was gay, it was permissible for her to hang out with him after midnight. Evidently.
He sounded jealous. She wouldn't go out of her way to make him jealous, but she had to admit satisfaction that he felt some. "That's because it's not
Brandon stood in front of her. "A guy
stood you up? I thought you liked girls
She tried to wave Brandon off. When that didn't work, she spun and ducked around him.
"Seriously, Andy, who are you with?" Now Mike sounded irritated. The background noise was fading as well, like he was stepping away from the bar.
There was a possibility that Mike had a legitimate reason for being late, but after so many instances of this, she lacked sufficient sympathy for his worry. "It doesn't matter who I'm with. Where were
Whether Mike would answer or not, Andy would never know.
Brandon snatched the phone from her. She had been so focused on what was going on with Mike that she didn't notice Brandon sneaking up on her.
He held it up, looking victorious.
And she'd saved his life. Ingrate.
Brandon brought the phone to his ear. "She's with me."
He gestured for Andy to come closer. His eyes were bright and filled with mischief, a testimony to the healing power of good old H2O.
Brandon bent down so she could put her ear on the other side of the phone to hear Mike speak. "And just who in the fuck are you?"
"I'm Brandon Campbell, and she came home with me from the bar. Maybe next time you'll consider showing up on time." He hung up and handed the phone back to Andy.
Andy pressed her lips together, trying not to laugh, because that male territorial-behavior shit was so not funny.
Okay, maybe in this case, it was kind of
funny and sort of
a nice thing for Brandon to do. Still, he didn't know what kind of person Mike was or how he'd react. "You're an ass."
Brandon gestured dismissively. "He's an ass. I hate waiting for people. Especially at bars. Pisses me off. He shouldn't leave a hottie like you waiting. Maybe he'll think twice."
The phone started ringing again. Mike.
Brandon did have a point. She was so accommodating when it came to Mike, and he did leave her waiting a lot. She shut the phone off. "Yeah, he is kind of an ass lately."
"So, this lesbian thing, is that a going-both-ways thing? Are you bisexual?" He held his fingers up and pointed them in opposite directions.
Oh God. Back to this. Men forgot a woman's birthday, but any mention of carpet munching was never forgotten. "It was an I don't want to sleep with you
"What?" His brows rose, jaw dropped.