The pub was small and quiet as I slid onto the stool, putting the fancy Gucci purse on the bar’s wooden surface. I looked much too posh for a place like this in my current attire of Prada cocktail dress, matching black high heels and my hair pulled elegantly into a ponytail, gliding softly in waist-long gold locks. The only thing that ruined the stupidly rich look for me was my face.
I had panda eyes, the mascara and eyeliner smeared all around them. That wasn’t the worst of it; my plump cherry-red lipstick was smeared and mixed with dry blood from a recently-given bruise in my upper lip. My cheek was still stinging from the slap that bitch landed on me, sporting an unnatural shade of pink.
A mess. I looked like a mess. And when the barman came over and took one look at my face, he blanched. “Are you okay, Miss?” he asked, eyes wide.
“Peachy,” I said dryly, my voice rasp, “I just need a glass of Whiskey.”
The barman, who seemed like he only recently turned twenty-one, was still a little pale as he nodded and attempted a smile. “Coming right up.”
Boys, I thought in irritation as he hurried to fetch me my much-deserved liquor, didn’t need to grow up to be men. Because when they were just boys, they were innocent enough to be forgiven. The moment they fully fledged into men, they turned into slimy assholes.
Tonight had been a blow to remind me of this fact, which I’d so easily forgotten. Well, not anymore.
My Whiskey came and I ignored the barman as I drowned it all in almost one shot and asked for refill. The boy asked if I wanted to open a tab, I said yes – it had been a long night and I deserved to break free for a few hours with my true beloved; alcohol – and so I spent the next hour drinking so much Whiskey, I began feeling funny. But I was still a long way from oblivion, and stopping was not acceptable.
Dimly, as I got my fifteenth glass or something (I lost count after six), I was dimly aware of someone slipping into the stool next to me. Whether it was man or woman, I didn’t care. I wasn’t here to get hit on or make friends. I was here because the alternative made my skin crawl.
The barman came over and his eyes turned shimmery, and not with tears. The boy was looking at the person who was sitting next to me with such an awestruck expression, I was curious despite myself. As the boy tried to quickly collect himself (and doing a poor job at that, I daresay) he asked with a slight hitch in his voice, “What can I bring you, M-Mr Knight?”
A low male voice replied, “The usual, Tyler. Please.”
The boy, Tyler, flushed in what could only be pride. What could he proud of? That whoever was sitting next to me remembered his name? I scowled to my Whiskey glass. Correction of my state of mind: All male population, no matter what age, were irrevocably, inherently stupid.
As Tyler scattered off to get “the usual” for my stool neighbor, that very same neighbor said, “Hey there.”
That was a wrong thing to say to me in that specific moment with my specific state. My scowl deepened and I was ready to bite his head off when I turned to give him a glare and got an actual look at him. He was good looking. Very good looking. Extremely good looking. Short dark hair, gray eyes, and a hunky figure which, from what I could see, was tall, toned, sturdy and strong. Then there were his broad shoulders and that enviable natural tan that made me feel like my skin wasn’t just pale but alabaster – and not in a the good, shiny way. He also had a handsome, masculine face that were now sporting a small grin and a devil-may-care glint in his eyes.
Men who looked like this were the worst of the lot. They were usually cocky, know-it-all, aware of their good looks and using it for all kinds of stupid things, like being assholes to so-called ugly women who even dared looking at them, or acting all aloof and unreachable so they would be more desired. Men like this one pulled stunts and played games like these all the freaking time. I knew it because I didn’t just grow up with someone like that, but I also date one. Until tonight.
The guy was looking at my face, now that I was staring, or rather glaring, back at him. I saw his idiotically mischievous eyes taking notes of my cut lip, panda eyes, and red cheek, but he said nothing. Instead he returned his vivid eyes back to my still glaring ones and waited for my move.
Unfortunately for him, he came to the wrong prey. Because I was done being the prey. “Not interested,” I told him through gritted teeth, stopping myself shortly from snapping. Despite this guy being a man, and a hot one at that, which probably meant he was the worst kind of man, I didn’t know him, so taking all of my pent-up rage on him, while tempting, would be wrong. If he didn’t get the message, however...
As I turned back to the Whiskey and took a deep sip, the man spoke again, and my short trigger felt close to snapping. “I must admit,” he said, voice a low murmur that would’ve been sexy if I wasn’t so mad right now, “ever since I got my new job, women of all kinds and ages didn’t reject me. At least not as flatly as you just did.”
I couldn’t help but roll my eyes that. Why did men who looked good – and knew it – felt the need to say shit like that to women who rejected them? That wouldn’t make me reconsider. It would just make them look even more like assholes. Because every good asshole loved a challenge, since they were “intrigued.” Fuck men and fuck this one specifically for grating on my nerves.
So, to put an end to this stupid conversation, I turned fully to him and gave him my best glower in the arsenal. To his credit, he didn’t cower in fear, but his eyes did widen a notch. “I’m not interested in talking to you. So stop talking to me and both of us will be much happier.”
The slight grin he had on his face faded and was replaced by a surprisingly serious look. I tensed in reaction to an unknown threat. “You don’t look happy,” he said, and our eyes met, his boring into mine, “and I thought I could perhaps help a girl who’s just been through some tough night.”
I narrowed my eyes, my warning flags rising up. “So you’re just playing the good Samaritan? Is that what you’re saying?”
He shrugged, and I just noticed how bulky his arms were. He had some major biceps. “Maybe I am. Is that so hard to believe?”
My finger tapped on the bar. It tended to do so when I felt out of place, venturing cautiously into unfamiliar waters. “Guys who look like you aren’t Mama Teresa in my book. Guys who look like you are players, grabbing whatever nice ass they see, banging it, then leave a broken heart behind. Of course,” I added, “you could be one of those extremely straightforward ones who do tell the girls you’re only into sex, which will make you believe you’re a good, honest guy, when in the end you’ll still leave and they still will be heartbroken.”
He cocked his head. “You’re judging me because I’m good-looking? Two can play this game.” He gave me a lazy once over, light eyes roaming slowly down my body, draped in that damn cocktail dress, and up again, lingering on my open neck. “You’re a beautiful woman with trust issues, and you probably jingle with men’s feelings while thinking they’re the ones who don’t open up to you. Then you find out they cheat on you, and not because you’re not enough for them, but because you never let any of them in and they needed to find someone else who opened up to them while keeping you close, because they can’t get enough of you and will never get everything.”
I stared at this complete stranger in shock. “So you’re saying men cheat on me because I don’t open up?” I asked, my voice rising with anger. That was just too close to home in regard of what happened earlier tonight.
He sighed and grabbed a sip from his drink, which had arrived earlier by the faithful barman. “Typical woman,” he murmured, “I call you beautiful, say you’re the kind of girl men would kill for, and all you hear is the cheating part.”
“That’s because you shouldn’t have said that!” I yelled, and then flushed when I saw I dragged looks from all across the pub. Pursing my lips, I grabbed my purse, grabbed my wallet, and fished for cash. “I’m done with this nonsense,” I said as I pulled a few dollars out.
The man grabbed my wrist, halting me. “Wait,” he said, and when I raised my eyes, which were now misty because of everything that happened tonight and kept going downhill, his face softened. “Let me help. I promise I’m not a serial killer. I genuinely just want to make your night better. No flirting or sex involved,” he added the last part in a rush when I glared at him.
Everything in me wanted to go back to my apartment, crawl into bed, and cry all the shit out of my system. Instead, I found myself studying him. He did look like he had no ulterior motives, but after the night I’d just had, I began doubting my observation skills. Maybe he was a rapist, or a psycho? Or maybe he was just your average wacko stalker? I couldn’t know that. He could turn this night into an even more catastrophic one and I would walk right into that as well.
“Give me one good reason why I should trust some stranger in a pub,” I said, and from the slight narrow of his eyes I saw he heard the challenge. It was money-time. He wanted to help so bad, he might as well earn it.
After he gave me a long look, he finally left my wrist and hailed the barman, Tyler. He put a fifty and smiled at him. “For both of us. Keep the change.”
The boy gave him a huge hero-worship smile and said, “T-Thank you so much!”
When the boy left, I looked at him. “I could’ve paid for that, you know.”
He glanced at me and I saw him noting the contemplation in my eyes. I hadn’t said that just because I was a “typical woman” like he claimed me to be. I actually didn’t care when people paid for stuff I should’ve paid. But I wanted to hear his response. The challenge was still on.
Giving me a serious look again, he said, “I can only prove to you what you want me to prove is if you let me take you somewhere. Will you allow me that?” he held his hand up for me after he jumped off the stool.
When I looked at the hand, then at his face, then back at his hand, I realized that I’d already made my decision. I had kept talking to him even though I asked him not to. I was no longer as angry or depressed as I was before he appeared out of nowhere. Somehow, this cliché of a guy managed to get me far away from my dark mood.
I was a hardheaded woman, a tough one to handle. I knew that about myself, accepted it too; I was who I was after all. It took everyone a lot to move past my suspicion and walls, and not all of them succeeded. I was a tough nut to crack, and even tougher when I was in a bad mood. There hadn’t been a person who managed to break through my icy barrier when I was in that specific mood.
Tonight’s mood had been worse than usual. And this guy, whoever the fuck he was, managed to sneak under that shield. Because when I said to someone I didn’t want to talk to them, I usually stood behind that with all of my might. When he talked to me, however, I talked back. I didn’t ignore him snottily like I was known for doing.
My gaze found his as I contemplated all that, and I assessed his face again. He kept an open, accepting, welcoming expression and despite myself I was drawn to that. Guys usually kept themselves on guard around me, cautious. This one didn’t. Whether he was brave or stupid, I didn’t know.
No longer glaring, I looked back at his hand. After tonight, I knew I needed a change. That’s why I went to a pub instead of right home; I knew that I needed to be somewhere, anywhere with people, because if I didn’t, I would’ve broken down. And I was not the type of woman to break down. No one had made me stoop so low as to cry over them. No one. And tonight had almost changed it.
Because tonight, I’d felt humiliated. Everything I’d done, everything I’d achieved, it had all been erased when that bitch came from nowhere and told me everything I didn’t want to know. I needed a change, to return back to the confident woman I was. And this hand, this hand held up for me to take by man who managed to break through my dark mood... Maybe he was the one to make that change happen.
Looking back up, this time with determination, I took his hand.