Annie led the way to the crowded bar; her silhouette moved in effortless strides that I couldn’t help but admire. When we pushed our way to the front, she glanced at me, “What do you want? I’m buying.”
“A rum and coke is fine.” I spit out the first drink that popped into my mind. Having a girls’ night out with Jason’s ex was never on my to-do list, but there I was, with post-sex hair and a million unaskable questions.
The stud-covered dominatrix in front of me repeated the order to an entranced bartender. “-and a Red Headed Slut.”
“Anything for you, darlin’.” A soft southern twang coated the bartender’s voice as he met Annie’s eyes. I glanced between them, taking in the tension and attempting to ignore it.
Before I could turn away, Annie beat me to it and started gliding towards the faded wood tables across the room. I followed despite the hesitation forming in the pit of my stomach. I wondered how Jason would react if he heard about our chat.
One foot after the other. I shrugged off the hesitation clambering up my spine and took a seat in front of the alluring dominatrix as she pulled her long hair into a high ponytail.
I shifted in my chair and tried to avoid direct eye contact, but her magnetic gaze made that increasingly difficult. After a few uncomfortable moments passed, Annie cleared her throat.
“Look, I know this is weird, but I’m still close to Kitty, and I don’t want there to be resentment between us.”
My foot tapped against the dark tile floor while I struggled to respond. Why did I start this? “I don’t resent you,” I frowned at the thought, “I’ve just heard conflicting sides to the same story.”
“So, what do you want from me?” There was a twinge of pain in her voice. Her bold facade dropped for a split second and regret filled my throat.
Annie paused; Her furrowed eyebrows and stern expression lifted when the southern bartender appeared beside our table. He gingerly set down our drinks with a charming gleam in his pale eyes.
“I love it when you serve me, Jesse.”
The raven-haired Jesse rolled his eyes with a grin rapidly overtaking his tan face, “Don’t get used to it.” He strolled away before she could sling a witty response his way.
Annie’s understandably flushed face remained fixed on Jesse’s departure. She watched him walk away for a moment too long before remembering. “Jason and I dated our Sophomore year of college.”
I nodded, “I know that much.”
“Right,” Annie took a sip of her drink, savoring Jesse’s handiwork no doubt, “Well, we broke up because Ethan convinced me that Jason was cheating.”
“And you believed him?”
“There was some pretty damming evidence.”
I remembered Wendy and Jason’s tango from hell. “Why would he do that?”
Annie shrugged, “We were young, and I always figured that he just didn’t want to see anyone else happy.” The regret in her eyes told me that they were happy. Maybe happier than we could ever be.
“But you figured it out?”
Annie frowned, “It didn’t matter. After Ethan got into my head, our whole relationship spiraled.” The stage lights flickered to our left, but while I turned to catch a glimpse of the erotic events beginning just feet away, Annie remained focused. “We broke up before I figured out what happened.”
I nodded, attempting to look solemn, and took a large sip of my drink. The bitter taste smoothed the edges of nerves but heightened the curiosity pooling into my mind.
“But don’t worry, we’re over for good.”
I raised my eyebrows at the certainty in her voice.
“I thought-” She sighed, “well, I don’t know what I was thinking, but Jason was clear.”
“It was stupid.” Annie brushed a strand of hair off her face, “but it’s done. Feel better now?”
“I know you asked because you like him and wanted to see if I’m a threat. I’m not,”
“Oh c’mon,” Annie snickered, “Look at where I work. I know all about girls marking their territory.”
I opened my mouth and then shut it back.
“I’m not judging. I mean, when Jason was my sub I would have fought with any girl who stared a little too long.”
When Jason was her what?
I furrowed my eyebrows, “What do you mean?”
Annie’s face fell, “I mean when we were together, I was protective.” She backtracked with regret quickly overtaking her striking features.
“Were you his domme?”
Annie nodded, “You aren’t his?”
“I-” Not the point. “He never told me.”
A light flickered on Annie’s lap. She glanced down and scanned her phone screen. “I’m sorry but I need to go.” She jumped to her feet and told Jesse to put the drinks on her tab as she passed the crowded bar.
I dragged myself up the stairs and tucked away the maddening thoughts flying through my mind. According to Annie and Jason, Ethan sabotaged their relationship. With everything that happened after starting to work at Pink Cherry, it wasn’t the hardest concept to believe.
He did tell me Jason was bad news.
Before I entered, I could hear Sarah’s drunk ramblings about how putting “just looking for friends” in a Tinder profile is equivalent to wanting a dramatic friends-to-lovers romance.
The girls cheered as I entered, Jade’s dark hair in the messiest french braid I had seen since kindergarten. Frayed ribbon ends were weaved into her haphazard hair.
“Finally,” Sarah grinned, “Were your keys tucked up someone’s ass?”
Kitty scrunched her nose, “Ew.”
“Oh don’t be a prude.” Sarah rolled her eyes and turned her attention back to me.
“I actually never found them. So maybe.”
“You can stay on the couch tonight.” Kitty offered while Jade pestered her for the hot glue gun.
I started taking off my coat just as she reached for the bottle of wine. “Your plate is in the microwave. Eat up so you can catch up.” She swirled the leftover wine in the bottle. Should we be mixing hot glue with alcohol?
The thought of food made my stomach churn. Kitty noticed the revulsion scrawled over my face and furrowed her eyebrows, “What’s wrong?”
I shook my head, “Nothing. Why?”
“You look like your mom just saw your nudes,” Jade said before tossing a grape into her mouth. Apparently, they had already broken out the drunk snacks.
I laughed, “It was just a long walk in the cold. My heart is still thawing.”
“Oh,” Sarah brushed it off, “Then we’ll be waiting a while.”
I dropped my jaw for dramatic effect and the room returned to normal. Close one. Kitty glanced at me every couple of minutes but didn’t press me for any more answers. Instead, Jade handed me the supplies I needed to complete a golden centerpiece.
“By the way, Jason stopped by,” Kitty said while keeping an eye on my reaction. I tried to stabilize the nausea gathering in my stomach. “He found these.” My keys dangled off her fingers.
“Oh shit, is that who came to the door?” Sarah took a sip out of her glass.
Relief washed over me, “Thank God,” The couch was covered in glue sticks and stray glitter. I would have looked like a Cullen by morning.
Kitty tossed the keys to me and much to my surprise, I caught them.
“You didn’t see him at the club?” She asked with a puzzled expression.
I shook my head, “Should I have?”
“When I told him you went to search for your keys and you didn’t answer your phone, he said he’d go back and tell you.” Oh shit.
I hurried to my phone and saw the missed text notifications. I kicked myself for leaving it on silent all night while scrolling through Sarah’s drunk gibberish. My heartbeat came to a sudden halt when I saw Jason’s messages.
“You forgot your keys. I’m bringing them to you.”
I shut my eyes and sighed.
“What’s up with you?” Jade asked.
“I kind of fucked up tonight,” I turned around to face my friend’s worried expressions, “and I think Jason saw it.”