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In the year 2007, somewhere in Tacoma, Washington, people were pouring in the hip club Red Tiger to watch a famous band do a free gig, being dear friends with the owner.
When the band started playing, customers drifted from the bar counter to join the jam. Prue Strauss, an attractive twenty-year old barmaid seized this opportunity to sneak a text to her brother.
“That is a violation.”
Prue jumped in surprise and hid her phone in her back pocket immediately.
“I’m hoping you didn't give your number to a customer," said a deep, very manly boss, "or I’d be really upset.”
It was her twenty-seven year old, young and gorgeous grey-eyed boss, Red Klein. He was smiling. He always did so genuinely.
You know how the saying goes human beings need inspiration to get by? Well, Red Klein was Prue’s, but only in her thoughts.
“I’m sorry, Sir,” she said, red in the face. “It’s my brother. I'm...”
Red held out a hand to stop Prue from apologizing again. “I’m kidding.”
“Can I get you a drink?” Prue asked, embarrassed. “The usual?” she guessed.
“I’m not in the mood for gin tonight…how about a beer?”
“Bud,” Red agreed, “bottle.”
This was what Prue liked about Red, his simplicity despite of being extremely rich, coming from one of the wealthiest clans in America.
Prue set the beer down and Red drank straight up from the bottle. “So, you filed a weekend leave,” he said, “How come, Ms. Strauss?"
"Visiting a boyfriend, perhaps?”
“I’m going to Sacramento to visit my friends.” It’s been four years too long, she thought.
“Oh. Well then I’ll give you a ride,” Red insisted. “I’m driving home tomorrow.”
Prue remembered that the Kleins all came from Los Angeles. “No, thank you,” she said all this quickly. Not to be rude, but a long ride with Red Klein would be a talk about.
“Have you a plane ticket?”
“A train ticket?” he went on.
“No,” Prue admitted grudgingly.
Red fought a smile. “A car ride is better. Holiday rush is the worst. Trust me.”
“Sir, I don’t think that’s a very good idea.” Prue twisted her fingers behind her back. “I really don’t.” She motioned her head to the side where bar manager Anton was listening with a disapproving form of his lips.
“I insist.” Red finished his drink, watching the band while he did so. “I’ll pick you up at eight in the morning. Or would you rather we start early?”
“Eight it is,” Red finalized.
Anton approached and asked. "Another beer, Red?"
The bar manager could call the boss Red because they were friends for a long time, they were room mates in college.
"No, thank you. I'll be driving will Ms. Strauss tomorrow."
Prue must have imagined it but she saw the bar manager and Red exchange a private look, like Anton was teasing the boss.
"He waved and winked before disappearing in the crowd while the band played the chorus to The Great Escape.
Prue sighed, defeated. She turned around to see her co-bartender, Ian staring at her with a malicious smile. “What?” she asked him grumpily.
“I knew it,” Ian teased in a sing-song tone. “The boss likes you, Ms. Strauss.”
“He’s just kind. And please stop calling me that.”
“Do you prefer him say it?”
“Shut up, Ian,” Prue said but not harshly. Prue could never be harsh. She could try but not really.
Everyone called her Sweet Prue. She’s petite and gentle in words and actions. That’s why everybody liked her.
“Do you prefer Mrs. Klein?” Ian went on.
“I prefer you stop saying that, please.”
“He let you go for texting.” Ian leaned closer to Prue and dropped his voice. “Last week Sir Anton suspended me for an hour because my phone beeped!”
Prue laughed. “It’s just an hour. And frankly, I think he suspended you for being louder than the customers.”
“So back to Red…”
“Back to a segment called Ian-Should-Mind-His-Own-Business,” Prue interrupted snappishly.
Ian gave her a smirk and said more seriously, “I am here every day, Prue. So trust me when I say that Sir Red is very much in love—”
“Love is a pretty strong word,” Prue cut in because she didn't want where the conversation was going.
Prue thought about home again and how weird it would feel to be back after she left four years ago and never looked back. She wondered how her friends were doing right now.
Exactly 721.5 miles from Tacoma was where Prue’s friends all still lived, and for four years they had build a life without her but everyday they never stopped missing her. If only she would allow them to see her.
The most irksome part of being an agent is that your phone will keep buzzing all day and you’re accustomed to jump nervously every time it does.
Heidi Washington, a travel agent to celebrities, will be meeting her third client tonight. This one’s an actress and new to her agency. That’s why she was super stressed to make an impression.
Heidi picked up her phone and saw the caller was Austin Strauss, her boyfriend-slash-loyal-client. Austin‘s an NBA rookie, one of Phoenix Suns. “Yes, honey?” she tried her best to sound enthusiastic.
“I’m on my way. I have Chinese take-outs.”
“I already had dinner and also I’m seeing a special client in an hour.”
“What about afterwards? I want to celebrate with you even though I didn't want Rookie of the Month.”
Austin was handsome and young, making him an instant star when he got picked in the NBA Draft.
"It's fine, honey," she cooed. "You're still a very good player. It's just that Seattle have this year."
"Yes," Austin said rather bitterly. "So, you want anything else?"
Heidi sighed inwardly. It’s so hard to say no to someone as sweet as Austin but she knew this time she had to. And Austin’s not going to like it. “I’m tired,” she explained. “I’ve been running errands all day.”
She heard him sigh. And when he spoke he was mad. “Just tell me if you don’t want to see me. It hurts when you’re pushing me away.” And then he hung up. Heidi screamed muffled and then when she couldn’t hold her anger any longer, threw her phone across the room.
The doorbell rang and she expected it would be Austin begging for an apology, but as usual she expected too much from her boyfriend.
“Vincent Irons, my word!” she yelped. She hugged her old friend, the author. He had his two novels published the last following years. The first was about his happy years with Prue and the second was the bitterness. Both of it were best sellers for teenagers who could totally relate.
But since he got published, Vincent couldn’t lift a pen to write more.
Vincent gave Heidi a small smile, nothing personal but Vincent Iron wasn’t well known for his jolliness. “Heidi, you look fine. You cut your hair pixie cut, looks nice.” He figured Heidi will always be the tall, clever, platinum-blonde woman he was friends with since childhood—and normally he was right. “I went to Austin’s but he wasn’t there. Where is he?”
Vincent chuckled and Heidi let him in. “So I guess you guys are fighting again?” he guessed right as she served him tea and some pound cake. “This is so British,” he added in an after comment.
“He’s just so...” Heidi sighed. “Immature.”
“Well, that’s the Austin you love.”
Heidi pursed her lips. “You can stay here as long as you like, okay? But I have a meeting later, very important client. You can stay upstairs while I’m at it but mind you, I can't chat after.” She leaned forwards and said seriously, "I'm just really tired."
Vincent put down his cup after first sip. He never liked Heidi’s tea. “No, it’s fine. I left my stuff at Austin’s door anyway. So I have to go back. I don’t want his fans mistaking my underwear for his.”
Heidi laughed, studying him for a while. Back in high school boys were forced to wear their hair neat and Vincent had always wanted to grow his hair. Now that he did, he looked like Mort Rainey. He had dirty blonde hair trimmed at neck length, he had hair in his chin and above his thin lips, and he always wore reading glasses which perfectly complimented his hard features. Vincent also always had a cigarette behind his left ear. He didn’t smoke; it’s just a fashion statement.
“You don’t look tan,” she told him.
“I’ve always been pale, Heidi,” Vincent pointed out.
“You said you were in Arizona trying to cure your writer’s block.”
Vincent averted his eyes. “You’re smart. You tell me where I’ve really been.”
“I’m not trying to hurt you…but we’re your friends. It’s okay that you miss Prue. It’s okay you’ve been in Tacoma after you left college. And”—Heidi reached to pat Vincent on the arm—“it’s just okay.”
“It’s not okay,” Vincent argued snappishly. “I was there, yes! I watched her everyday while she worked. I make sure she’s always home safe. But I never talked to her. All I was is a creepy ex-boyfriend stalker.”
“You’ve been together since high school. It’s not that hard to understand why.” Heidi then asked when Vincent didn’t comment, “How is she?”
“I see her sometimes cry while she walked home. Sometimes I wanted to tell her it’s okay…when it’s totally not—for both of us.”
Kirsten Evans, often mistaken as a model because of her 6”1 height, voluptuous and natural tanned body, and flowing shiny blonde hair, ate dinner alone in her dad’s home. She was feeling rather cheerful more than usual because the holidays had begun. She could rest from being a strict Math teacher for a while. Many modeling agents saw her as a shame, being a public school Geometry teacher, but Kirsten had always loved kids...and Math for that matter.
Kirsten screamed and when she saw her attacker she slapped him on and on but Austin just kept on laughing his lungs out.
“Austin Strauss! You do that every time!” she yelled at him, clutching her chest.
“What?” Austin sniggered. “It’s not my fault your senses are clouded.”
“I don’t care if you're Phoenix Suns’ star—or whatever! I’ll kill you!”
Austin kept on laughing until he sat down beside Kirsten. He put the Chinese take outs on the food counter. “I hope you’re not full yet. Heidi’s busy again.”
“Are you sad?” Kirsten asked. Austin pretended to whimper and nodded slowly.
Kirsten rolled her eyes and then grabbed her share. “Fine, I’ll eat the dumplings…just the dumplings.”
Austin rejoiced. It’s so easy to make him happy sometimes. “This is why I like you.” True, he had always liked Kirsten. She’s outgoing and much boyish than Vincent. Austin would go shooting hoops and she’ll be there scoring twice as much as him.
“Don’t let Heidi hear you say that. She can be a little jealous.”
“And she said I’m the jealous one.”
“You’re the over jealous one,” Kirsten corrected. “Where is she anyway?”
Kirsten looked at him, reproachful, but dropped the subject. “Prue’s really coming?” she wanted to know. Prue Strauss had always been a good friend and she’s really missed.
“Yes. She and Heidi are staying at the house for the holidays. So is Vincent…are you too?”
“Dad isn’t coming until the 2nd of January, so no. I have to look after the house.”
“It’s 2 kilometers from here,” Austin pointed out amused.
Kirsten shrugged. “So Vincent’s really coming?”
“He said he would...if he doesn’t lose his balls.”
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