Over the next few weeks, Evan rarely went to the gym, spending most of his free time with Emma. His company also sent him to a New York tradeshow for the weekend, which was a nice surprise, given that he hadn’t traveled with them for a year or so.
Evan and Emma hadn’t met each other’s friends yet. Truth be told, he didn’t have that many friends aside from his co-workers, whom he rarely hung out with outside of work. Evan hadn’t realized until that moment that the people he chose to spend quality time with were, in fact, the strangers that he met online. He wasn’t exactly sure why that was. Evan only figured it was to keep people at arm’s length, so the only impression they had of him was a flawless one. If they knew him, they would see his imperfections, which he had plenty of if you asked him. Yet, he was more than willing to let Emma get close to him because he had fallen in love with her. When Evan fell, he fell hard.
That evening, Evan was finally going to meet one of Emma’s best friends, who happened to be a male. For that reason, Evan already disliked him. Evan wasn’t one to consider himself the jealous type, but with Emma, he was. She was so perfect, so normal. Frankly, she could find someone better than Evan, somebody, who didn’t have such low self-esteem unless a woman stroked his ego, and certainly somebody who didn’t have an addiction problem. Evan made sure, though, that Emma never saw that side of him.
Evan arrived at Chatters Bar and Restaurant and parked alongside Emma’s silver SUV. He wondered what Tom drove. He got out of his car and made his way up the stairs to the second level, and immediately saw Emma chatting with, who he could only assume was Tom Skirrow. Evan’s apprehension about Emma having a male best friend subsided. The man talking with Emma was short and stalky, certainly nothing to write home about. But, what if looks don’t matter to Emma? he wondered. Evan pushed those thoughts aside when Emma suddenly saw him from the corner of her eye. It was clear she was excited to see him, and it gave Evan gratitude knowing that Tom saw her excitement too.
Emma wrapped her arms around Evan and kissed him before introducing him to Tom.
Tom reached out and shook his hand loosely, avoiding eye contact. In return, Evan gripped Tom’s hand tightly, making him flinch.
It was clear to Evan that Tom disapproved of him from the start. The feeling was mutual.
Emma went about her excitement, talking candidly to Evan about how she met Tom and talking to Tom about how she met Evan. It wasn’t until two hours into their evening that Emma’s excitement suddenly faded.
“What’s wrong, Emma?” Evan heard Tom say.
Evan glanced up to see Emma watching a fight break out in front of them at the bar. Assuming that she felt uncomfortable from the disturbance, Evan asked her if she wanted to leave. The distraught look on her face, however, told him there was more to it than that.
The man who caused the fight turned and Evan recognized him as Joe, the guy from his gym. Evan’s thoughts turned to the first conversation he’d had with Joe. It was about Joe’s girl, who was in real estate. Evan looked back to Emma again. She hadn’t taken her eyes off of Joe. Then he realized Emma was Joe’s “girl,” and it was evident that he wasn’t taking their break-up well.
Evan leaned into Emma and rubbed her leg. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
As if coming out of a trance, Emma turned to Evan with an awkward smile. “Sure, sorry. I just get uncomfortable around fights. Maybe we should go?”
“I’ll grab the server and get our tab.” Evan grasped his wallet and motioned for the server to come to their table with the check.
Emma stood and quickly left for the staircase, leaving Evan and Tom together at the table. They watched as Joe attempted to fight off two bar-backs through slurred words and fists of anger. It was clear he’d been drinking for the better part of the day.
Evan turned from Joe to Tom. “Why don’t you go downstairs to see if Emma’s okay. I got this.”
Tom eagerly agreed and left to find Emma.
Evan paid the server, then slipped his wallet securely into his back pocket. He waded through the small crowd surrounding the fight and came face to face with Joe, who was dripping with sweat. “Are you okay, man?”
Joe stopped being drunk and disorderly long enough to lock eyes with Evan. “Be good to her,” he whispered, through slurred words.
Before Evan could respond, a security guard grabbed Joe from behind and dragged him out of sight.