“Attention everybody! I just want to say one thing real quick!”
I looked attentively at Lawrence as he tried to corral the attention of our co-workers. It was a feat to do so on a regular day, let alone in a bar with pounding music, voices layering over each other as people strained to hear their own conversations. I nudged Courtney and motioned towards Lawrence. Slowly, people focused on him.
“I’ll be quick, I’ll be quick!” he promised. “I just wanted to give a big thank you to everyone for coming out. Today was Mindy’s last day in our office. She’s been a hell of a great junior associate, and we want to wish her the best as she goes on to her new job as an associate lawyer at Benefit Legal. Mindy, we’ll miss you, and you’ll be a hell of a great asset to your new firm!”
Everyone raised their glasses as Mindy smiled and thanked Lawrence. I took a sip of my water and went back to the shouted conversation the rest of the legal assistants were having.
“...with this big freakin’ stuffed octopus, I mean like the legs on the thing were the length of my arm—”
“Tentacles,” I interrupted.
Courtney stopped her story and looked at me. “Did you just say ‘testicles?’”
“No!” I shouted over both the general bar noise and laughter from the other legal assistants. “Tentacles! An octopus has tentacles, not legs.” My cheeks were reddening.
“Whatever, Jessica. The tentacles, then. So they’re like the length of my arm, and he’s just hauling this thing around and stumbles up to me and goes ‘I won this to give to the most beautiful girl at the fair,’ hands me the giant octopus, and just wanders away.”
“Oh my God,” hooted Laurie. “And then?”
Courtney grinned coyly. “Well, he was drunk out of his mind, obviously! But he was super fine. So I followed him back to his friends, and of course they’re just pissin’ themselves laughing at him. So I tell them what happened, thinking I’ll give one of them my number and they can give it to him when he sobers up so we can have this nice little meet-cute story, and then I got to chattin’ with his one pal, Lucas. And he was drinkin’ too, but he was still mostly coherent, so I banged him in my car while the gigantic octopus watched and now we’re going to dinner tomorrow night!”
I joined in on the raucous hollers and giggles that followed, only mildly jealous of Courtney’s story. “How do you even get yourself in these situations?” I asked. “It’s like something from a movie.”
“Well, you start by putting the books down and actually talking to people, Jess.” Courtney tapped the novel that was sticking out of my purse.
I took the teasing in stride, though I knew I was blushing. I knew what Courtney meant, but it was easier said than done. Courtney was traditionally pretty, and played up her good looks with makeup and hairstyles that I couldn’t pull off. Believe me, I had tried more than once. With a girlish face and big doe-eyes, I looked like a five year old playing with her mother’s makeup. Instead, I settled for cozy sweaters, ponytails, and the hope that eventually my features would morph into something more mature.
As the other legal assistants shared more tales of things I couldn’t relate to, I let my eyes wander. It was busy, but that was expected of a Friday night. Most of the patrons looked like us — business colleagues with loosened ties and blazers hanging off the backs of chairs as people began to shed their work personalities in favor of their weekend ones. I vaguely recognized some of the other people from our building, but the bar was popular, and the area had multiple high-rises that housed other law firms, businesses, and offices.
I focused on a small group dressed more casually than anyone else in the bar. Mostly clad in jeans and t-shirts, they were listening with rapt attention to the man in the center of their gathering. He was reasonably attractive and well-groomed, wearing a pair of expensive looking jeans with a plaid button-up over top, the sleeves rolled up to his elbows. I mused about what he was saying, and only realized I was staring when he happened to glance up and meet my eyes. His lips stopped moving momentarily and I felt my face burn. Turning back to my co-workers quickly, I joined in the laughter that erupted without knowing what we were laughing at.
“Who wants another round?” Courtney shouted. “Laurie? Karen? Okay, that’s six shots, then?”
“Five,” I corrected. “I’m designated driver. No shots for me.”
“And we love you for it!” Courtney dangled an arm around my shoulders and planted a kiss on my cheek. I smiled awkwardly.
The longer the night went on, the more left out I felt. I was close with the other legal assistants, but I wasn’t extroverted enough to keep up with their drunken conversations. As our co-workers started to leave and the group dwindled down, I found myself sitting alone at the table while everyone else mingled.
I glanced over at the group I’d noticed earlier, quickly catching sight of the attractive man. Their table was covered in empty glasses, and he was having an intense conversation with the person next to him. Their group seemed to be having fun, and I morosely wished I fit in, just like everybody else did.
It was no matter. While I waited for my co-workers to finish up so I could bring them home, I had my own entertainment. I pulled the novel out of my purse and flipped open to my bookmark. Shifting in my chair so I had enough light from the dim lamp above the table, I began to read.
The girls in my office knew me as the resident bookworm, and I think they assumed that I read modern, intelligent, dramatic literature. They were wrong. The book I had in front of me could hardly be called literature—polite people would call it a romance, and accurate people would call it smut. If anyone ever caught me reading some of the things I had in public, I’d probably melt into a puddle of slightly-aroused shame. I didn’t know how to explain how enjoyable it was to read these dirty, exciting, terribly inappropriate books in front of people, and not be able to do anything—not even be able to react—until I was home by myself later. I’d finished book after book of some of the most erotic and arousing stories while on the bus or in the waiting room at the dentist, and forced myself to wait until I was home to deal with my body’s reaction to the scenes that played through my imagination.
It didn’t take long for me to be fully engrossed in the latest one. I didn’t notice anyone approaching until a shadow fell across the table and blocked the light I was using. I glanced up, slightly annoyed, but prepared for the inevitable mocking at having pulled my book out in a bar.
I wasn’t expecting was the man from across the bar to be standing by the table, a half-smile playing across his lips.