Thank Christ above!, I thought to myself as a tossed the cabbie a $20 and jumped out of the cab, making my way across the street to The Bin, a southside bar I had agreed to meet some friends at that Friday evening. Never in my life had I been more thankful to see the end of a work week. Starting bright and early on Monday morning when my computer died, losing several irreplaceable files in the process, the week had only spiraled to hellish depths. Thursday ended with me dumping my Mocha down the front of my white blouse on the way to meet the label heads who had flown out from Vancouver. By the time Friday rolled around, I half expected fate to add insult to injury by throwing a bus in my path as I crossed the street to the club.
Jen-1. Fate-Nothing, I thought with a smirk as I sidled my way through The Bin's large maplewood doors, unscathed. I couldn't help squinting as I entered the dark, incredibly packed bar. Oh, Man. This was going to be a man hunt.
"Well, well, well", I heard a familiar, teasing voice say. I turned to see Jake, the bar's owner standing next to me, a beautiful blond woman on his arm. "Thought you weren't into the whole 'meat market' vibe of the place, Jen? Finally came to your senses and lowered your standards to our lowly depths, I see?", he winked at me. "It's way more fun down here anyway."
"You are never gonna let me forget that one comment are you, Jake", I responded as rolled my eyes. "I was referring to one night, one wet-t-shirt contest, and many drunken frat boys. I've long since forgiven you", I joked.
"Hey, we got to make money somehow, and frat boys and women tend to do the trick!".
"Yeah, coz clearly you're hurting for that, what with how slow the place is", I replied sarcastically, motioning to the massive expanse of bodies occupying every square inch of space.
"Yeah, yeah, yeah. Chloe and Amy are upstairs in the lounge. Have fun" he admonished before disappearing into the crowd.
I slowly made my way up the stairs, manuoevering my way through the sweaty bodies, drunken couples, and half-clothed bar-stars until I spotted my friends occupying a plush booth near the back.
"Wow, guys. I guess I should really specify my idea of 'low-key' next time we make plans to meet up" I huffed as I sank into the booth, plopping my head down on the cool surface of the table. "I am exhausted and I really need a drink".
"Okay, you need to drop that attitude right now, get a drink in you, and get that fine ass of yours on the dance floor!", Chloe chirped happily, looking to Amy for agreement. "There are several definitely-maybe's here tonight, and you are way too hot to still be single", she said distractedly as she panned the room.
"Yep. C'mon, get a move on. You have some catching up to do", Amy added as she motioned the waitress over.
"Single, yes, but somehow still human. I swear", I laughed as I turned to the waitress.
"What can I get you, sweetie?"
"Can I get a rye and ginger with a lemon on the side instead of a lime", I asked. Judging by the look on the waitress's face, I knew I may as well have been speaking Chinese as I ordered my go-to drink of choice in Canada. "Scratch that", I smiled, "Ill just get a Heinekken".
I'd only had a sip of my drink when Chloe decided it was time to get on the dance floor. "Oh, my God. I love this song. Let's go!" she said, pulling on my arm.
"Nope. Not right now, Ladies!. Hate to be a buzz-kill, but my feet are killing me, and I am going to sit and savour this damn drink!. You two go, and I'll man the fort so no one swipes your purses", I joked.
They looked a little deflated, and I couldn't help but feel guilty for being in such a foul mood and possibly ruining their night.
"Fine. But don't think we're not coming to drag your ass up there soon. You need some Jen-on-male socialization, STAT", Chloe said over her shoulder as they sashayed through the crowd to the dance floor.
"And my credit cards better all still be there when I get back", Amy yelled jokingly behind her.
Cute. They meant well, I knew. I had been living in Pittsburgh for going on 7 months and hadn't had a date to speak of. In all honesty, I hadn't had the time or the desire to date, having moved to the Pennsylvanian city to spearhead an offshoot branch of an independent record label that I had worked for back in Vancouver, Canada. Why they chose Pittsburgh I'll never know, but it had definitely been a nice surprise. I had immersed myself in my work, knowing that a successful launch would mean possible promotion within the company. But the truth of the matter was that work provided a welcome distraction, having ended an incredibly unhealthy relationship back in Vancouver. So, when I was offered the opportunity to move across the continent and away from painful reminders, I had all but jumped at the chance. Though I had several friendly acquaintances here, Chloe and Amy were the first close friends I'd made since relocating. I'd met Chloe where she'd worked as an art-director for the same record label. She was as eccentric as she was beautiful with her 5"9 frame, blond hair, and high cheekbones, combined with an incredibly quirky, free, and dare I say, flaky spirit. Amy, on the other hand, was the polar opposite. She was comparatively reserved, stable and grounded, and worked as a technician at Mercy Hospital of Pittsburgh. We'd met in the laundry room of the apartment building we both lived in, bonding over shared stories of our insane, elderly landlord. She had a quiet, elegant beauty about her, more understated than Chloe's, but she had a warm, welcoming face, beautiful skin and thick, chestnut coloured hair. Despite our differences, we complimented each other's personalities perfectly and had been inseparable in the months since we had met.
I reached into Amy's purse, pulling out her cell-phone, thinking I could check my voicemail after my phone had died. Several minutes had gone by, and I was so immersed in trying to figure out the small lap-top that Amy called a 'phone' that I didn't even notice the young man that had seated himself across from me in the booth.
"You need some help with that?"
I had every intention of offering the owner of this voice the same pat answer that I would have given to any other man who seats himself next to a woman sitting alone at a bar. But when I looked up and came face to face with a pair of warm, hazel eyes, and a full-lipped, lopsided grin, the curt words stuck in my throat.
"Uh...no. No, it's not my phone, Maybe not such a..rad idea", I stammered out. Oh, God, had I actually just said 'rad'?, I cringed inwardly. I could feel a blush beginning to stain my cheeks and became instantly annoyed that this young man and his grin could so easily revert me back to my awkward teenage self. I wasn't necessarily a man-eater type, but I had certainly had my fair share of attention from the opposite sex. So, I was not not prepared or happy to be so easily knocked off my game by....a kid.
"Okay then", he laughed, revealing a beautiful, toothy smile that lit up his alabaster skin. My, God. Jen. Snap the hell out of it, I thought, mentally lecturing myself. He appeared to be a good 2-3 years younger than me. And the dark curls peeking out from around the edges of his baseball cap only served in making him look even younger than he probably was. Dangerous. And at 25, I certainly was not prepared to become a cougar in training. "So, what brings you here tonight" he asked, snapping me out of my thoughts.
"Oh, you know, just manning the fort while the friends are ripping up the dance floor...and trying my damndest to forget the disaster that was this week", I smiled ruefully.
"It couldn't have been that bad. What happened?", he pressed, seeming genuinely interested in the answer.
So, I told him. For the life of me, I couldn't tell you why, but I spilled my guts to this virtual stranger in the middle of the dark, crowded bar. From the day plucked straight from the dungeons of hell, to my recent move to Pittsburgh and the stresses of the job, it just came pouring out--I told him everything without a second thought. Maybe I had just needed to vent, maybe it was the fact that he was a complete stranger and the chances of ever seeing him again were almost non-existent; but it was as if I had known him for years, and there was a calmness and kindness about that him allayed my normally suspicious nature.
We ordered a couple of more drinks from our waitress, who gave me a pointed look that I had trouble interpreting. And she wasn't the only one tossing slant-eyed looks in our direction. In fact, throughout the conversation I couldn't help but to have noticed several onlookers, both men and women, that had seemed to have congregated in our vicinity, taking a strange interest in our table. It was oddly unnerving, and I couldn't for the life of me understand what was so fascinating. Still, I ignored the looks and whispers, carrying on our conversation and chalking it up to oversensitivity, too many beers, or both.
"So", he asked, snapping me out of my thoughts, "these friends of yours, are they men or women?" The tone of his voice told me he was definitely flirting, but his confident tone did not match his shy body language. It was as if he was trying to be smooth, but did not have any actual confidence in his wooing ability. It was surprising, given his striking looks. He lacked any of the smarmy pretense that men his age usually appropriated when approaching women. He was none of that, and it was charming as hell.
"Oh, no. Just the girls. It's Friday night, ladies night, you know", I answered lightly, trying to make him feel at ease.
"Happy to hear that", he replied softly, averting his eyes and picking at the label on his beer. "It makes sense though. I wouldn't let a woman as beautiful as you out of my sight."
Oh, he was smoother than he thought, the little shit. But as I smiled back at him I could also see the blush start to creep up into his cheeks, tinting the tops of his ears. Absolutely fucking adorable. I definitely needed to tread carefully here.
"So being from Vancouver, you're a fellow Canadian then", he continued, filling the slightly awkward silence that hung in the air.
"I knew it!", I exclaimed, pointing at him, happy to be back on a topic that didn't make me want to imagine what he'd look like out of this bar. Like, say, in my apartment. "I could hear you have an accent, but I couldn't place it! Where you from?"
"Excuse me, Sidney?". I looked up to see two pretty, scantily-clad young women standing at the table, eyeing my stranger flirtatiously--and seemingly completely oblivious to my presence at the table. In fact, the brunette had all but turned her back to me, drawing a invisible but definitive line between me and them. And, more importantly, him . "Um, we were wondering if we could buy you a drink", the brunette offered, twirling her hair in her fingers, suggestively.
"Yeah, on us. The drink I mean", the blond giggled, offering an gleaming, over-whitened smile that appeared even more fluorescent when contrasted with her orange skin.
"Uh, no I think I'm okay for now", he answered, flashing that gorgeous smile. "Thanks though", he added politely before turning back to me, leaving the two of them standing there looking as if they'd just been bitch-slapped. They then followed suit, also turning their eyes on me with looks that could only be described as incinerating. 'If looks could kill', I thought, 'I would be but a puddle of plasma on the floor'.
"So, yeah. You ever hear of Cole Harbour?", he continued, the girls finally taking the hint and walking away, obviously stung by the gentle blow-off.
"Can't say that I have", I laughed.
"Well, it's not as big as Vancouver, but it IS a pretty big deal in Nova Scotia", he laughed.
"So what brings you to Pittsburgh then?", I asked innocently, immediately noticing an almost imperceptible raising of his eyebrows as his eyes darted up to meet mine. He just as quickly regained his composure.
"I, uh, was given the chance to work at a job that I love, and I jumped at the opportunity", he offered cryptically.
"Living the dream, then", I replied. "So wh--"
"No fucking way!! Sid the Kid!". An extremely drunk frat-boy sidled up to the table, offering my stranger a fist bump in return. The ill-timed interruptions were beginning to get a little frustrating." You were amazing tonight, man!", he slurred. "Way to represent the Burgh!".
"Thanks, Buddy", Sid responded politely, as the young man was whisked off by his more sober friends. He looked at me sheepishly from under the bill of his baseball cap that had a little black penguin on the front. Cute, I thought. "Sorry about that", he apologized.
"No worries", I laughed. "So, what is it that you do, exactly?", I asked slowly, narrowing my eyes a little.
"Sid, there you are! Where the fuck have you been, man? We've been looking for you everywhere", came a booming voice that belonged to an equally giant, incredibly inebriated blonde man. Sid just closed his eyes and shook his head in amusement. We hadn't managed to exchange more than a few words at a time before being interrupted, and at this point is was bordering on comical.
"You want a ride, Creature, we're leaving now", another man with a French accent offered. "Don't worry, he's not the driver", he continued, winking at me, and motioning to the taller man, obviously having noticed the incredulous look on my face.
"Just give me a second, guys", Sid continued, giving the men a loaded look. The guy with the french accent looked from Sid, to me, and back to Sid. You could practically hear the cogs in his head turning as a look of comprehension settled across his features when it finally dawned on him they had interrupted our conversation, thereby committing the cardinal sin of interrupting their friend's game. It was all I could do to not burst out laughing as I watched the exchange. "Ooohhh, whoops. Sorry, Creature. I mean, Sid. You know, if you wanna stay...", he continued with an amused smirk.
"No, it's cool. We've got to get going anyway. We have that meeting tomorrow morning. But give me a couple of minutes", Sid instructed. The two men retreated from the table, quickly becoming preoccupied with a gaggle of young women sitting close by.
"So, anyway", he sighed jokingly, shaking his head and extending his hand. "It was really great meeting you...?"
"Oh, my God. I'm so sorry. It's Jen", I replied taking his hand, completely embarrassed that I hadn't even formally exchanged names with this man I had been yammering at for the last hour.
"Sid", he smiled back.
"Yeah, I gathered as much", I joked, referring to the handful of random club-goers that had approached us throughout the night.
"Yeah, sorry about that", he laughed as he finally released my hand, and then before I could object, grabbed Amy's phone from the table. "Don't worry, I know what I'm doing. I actually have one of these", he reassured me as he punched at the phone's key pad for several seconds before handing it back to me.
"There you go", he said proudly. "Text to your heart's content."
"Thanks. I was just short of bashing it against the table caveman-style before you showed up. You saved my friend a phone", I grinned up at him, as he stood from the table, shadowed in the lights.
He laughed softly. "Listen, I mean it, it was great to meet you, Jen. I really enjoyed talking to you."
"Yeah, same" I grinned back. "Maybe I'll see you again sometime."
"I'm counting on it", he replied, flashing that 100 watt smile, before turning and grabbing his buddies, then disappearing into the crowd.
I managed to check my voicemail distractedly before Chloe and Amy bounced up to the table, much more drunk and sweaty than when the had left. "I am so sorry we took so long. We got so caught up we didn't even realize how much time had gone by", Amy apologized.
"So, what did we miss? Any cute guys come and sweep you off your feet while sitting like a d-bag at a table by yourself?" Chloe asked sarcastically, obviously still a little disappointed I hadn't joined in the fun.
Oh, they had no idea. But really, it dawned on me, neither did I. Who the hell was this guy?