With a heavy sigh, he tugged off the padlock and rustled around in his personal locker. There was probably a joke in there about a cop needing to rely on a piece of steel in a room filled with other cops, but… The concept of brotherhood rusted to a dingy green in his past. Call on God, but lock the back door.
After hanging up the empty holster and belt, Colton moved to unbutton his work blues, when his hand glanced across the front pocket. Right, he forgot about the damn pad. Tugging it free, he plopped it onto the bench behind him when his eyes caught the scrap of white tucked inside reams of unwritten tickets. Two days since he stumbled across the woman by the side of the road. He thought about calling Kristen, practically giddy for the first few hours, but as time wore on it grew heavy with impossibility.
What would be the point? To reminisce? As if he wanted to talk about how his life turned out with anyone who knew him when he was nothing more than one of the Davies. No. No, it was foolish. It was doubtful she even cared to hear from him again. No doubt she’d already put him from her mind, a happenstance to mention to friends and nothing more.
He moved to snatch up the receipt and finally toss it away, when another hand beat him to it. “That my pad?” the gravelly voice belonging to the hand asked as he twisted it around to his face.
“Ah, yeah,” Colton reached behind his neck, trying to find anything to do with his hand while the receipt was wrested from his grasp.
Officer Samson pursed his lips a bit while looking over the numbers, “Got quite a few there, Davies.”
“Nah,” the more grizzled man smiled and shook his head, “it’s great. Thanks for the assist, this damn leg…” He jerked his chin towards the braced up ankle that would flare up often. “You got lucky, ya know,” he chuckled while yanking open his locker and fishing inside, “Three tours in the marines and all you walk away with is that little face gash. Me?”
With an experienced hand, Samson threw three pills into his mouth and swallowed them dry. He winced at the end before puckering his nose. “I get to limp every day for the rest of my life. What a reward. They should put it on a poster. Serve your country. Become a real man. Learn how to buy special shoes that can fit over a brace.”
Colton smiled at the thought, turning back to his civvies. He didn’t serve with Samson, but the fact they were in the same branch was enough for the pair to bond quickly. Even after he was promoted off the street beat, he’d still chip in to help Samson when he could. It wasn’t much of a bother, not as if he had a real life to get back to.
“Let’s see,” Samson mused, standing unconcernedly in nothing but a towel tucked against him. “Fifth Avenue speeding. 65 no less. Brazen.”
“They usually are,” Colton sighed while sliding into his t-shirt. Before he hung up his work shirt on the hook, he took a quick sniff. Nah, it was good for another day at least.
Samson heard the jangle of the closing locker and glanced up from the pad, “Got big plans tonight, Davies?”
“Uh, sure.” Go home, microwave the first thing he yanked out of the freezer, and dig through a backlog of schlocky tv shows about home repair. His damn sister got him onto it, Mia more interested in the buying ones while he gravitated towards watching contractors muck things up. It was nice to watch someone else flounder for an hour or so.
Samson smiled, “Well, have…hello. What’s this?” Damn it! The man tugged out the receipt and turned it around in his fingers. Colton tried to shake off the blush on his cheeks, sneering in order to cling to any stratum he could find.
“Stopped out by the cliffs for a fill-up and…a cherry chai latte?” Samson finished reading and arched an eyebrow at him. “Funny, you always struck me more as a decaffeinated tea guy myself.”
“Ha,” Colton spat out, his hand lashing through the air, “give it here.”
“In a second, it seems there’s a series of numbers back here. Not lotto numbers. Not a gate code. Could it be…?”
“Yes, fine, it’s a phone number,” he growled, regretting not tossing it into the garbage can a day ago. Somehow the cursed thing kept on him for two changes of clothes.
“From…?” Samson was clearly enjoying this chance to toy with him.
“A woman, someone from high school who’s new in town that I stumbled upon. She…she asked me to show her around.”
“So,” he rifled the receipt through the air drawing Colton’s eye right to it. “Did you?”
“No,” Colton insisted.
“I…I rather doubt that she’d, I mean that she’d have any interest in…” his voice fell to the floor while he glared at the shoes he forgot to change.
Samson clicked his tongue and sighed, “She gave you her number. Not a much bigger sign a woman can give, short of her unzipping your fly right then and there.”
He snapped his head up and glared but Samson was rolling his eyes at Colton’s obvious discomfort. After busying himself with changing out the towel for pants, Samson glanced over. “How long ago was it?”
The man who seemed to think himself the spreader of love smiled, “Plenty of time to make amends. Take her somewhere nice…and dark. And loaded with alcohol. Boom, off go the pants.” Colton glared at a poster on the wall telling them about the five steps to properly file on the ancient computer system.
Samson scooted a bit closer and deposited the purloined receipt in his fingers. Colton didn’t even realize he took it until the man left. Every blue, fading number taunted him. Do it. Call her. Or crumple us, throw us into the trash, or a toilet. What’s the point of trying if you know you’ll fail?
“She cute?” Samson asked while buffeting up his hair with the towel. From between the folds of terry cloth, he peeked out, “Or is that why you’re waffling? Dogface but you want to be polite?”
“No, she’s…” She was cute in a sort of snuggled up by the fire while wearing large sweaters kind of way. And she’d been easy to talk to in the car, as easy as one can be when they had their keys locked in the car. But there was something else, something that kept sticking in the back of his mind making it hard for him to forget that chance encounter. Running down the pavement, plucking at a keyboard, laying flat in bed — her eyes kept floating through his mind.
“She’s cute, and adorable.”
“Kittens in baskets of yarn are adorable,” Samson sighed. “What you need is a woman you take one look at and ache to fuck her until she can’t walk straight.”
Colton flinched at the vulgarity, but in the back of his mind struck up an image of lace covered cleavage. God’s breath, that chasm looked warm and inviting, his fingers begging to plumb its depths. No, he shook his head to try and purge the thoughts. He’d been waffling because he knew how it would go, how it always went. They gave in to a date, maybe two, but sitting in silence because he ran out of things to say killed the mood dead. Colton abandoned the thought of dating months ago and had been…not happy, but less growly at least.
“Is this about the witch?” Samson asked, causing Colton to shudder.
“No, it’s not…her. I’ve, I haven’t done a lot of dating.” Ever. It wasn’t his strong suit.
“Ya know ya got to get out there. Dig around a bit. There’s some fine options in this city, who are all begging to get handcuffed by an officer of the law.” He jabbed a finger at the receipt, “Try your ‘adorable’ one. Get your feet wet, then other parts. Shake off the cobwebs. Once you’re seen with someone, no matter how plain, all the hot ones will come a running.”
“She’s not…” Colton began before Samson waved at him and slipped out the door. With a sigh, he stared down at the numbers. Fairly normal digits, he recognized the DC area code right away having had to make too many calls to try and get paperwork through. Just put them into your phone.
He fished it out, waking the screen away from an image of a lake by sunset. The number pad taunted him. Go ahead, tap them in, have her stumble in confusion on the other end then insist she’s washing her hair that night. Or that she has to stay in. Or learn she was really with someone else the whole time. How could he even think she might have a passing interest?
No. His fist crumpled around the receipt which he then flinched at. Smoothing it out, he quickly tapped in the first five numbers without pause. At the sixth he froze, his finger dangling above the phone that was patiently waiting for him to make up his damn mind.
Do it. Don’t do it. What’s the worst that could happen? This city was huge, even if she laughed in his face the chances of him ever running into her again were minimal. And there you go assuming the worst. Because it always is.
Biting his lip, Colton moved to touch the next number when he glanced up at the sound of a dozen other lockers opening and closing. This was not the place to call a girl, especially when he feared he would strike out instantly. Grabbing up his fading jacket, he worked out the door towards the back parking lot. The entire way, Colton kept a lightning tight focus on his phone. It kept waiting for the next number in the special sequence and was getting a bit angry that he ignored it. Two reminders that the number wasn’t complete flashed over top, Colton darting them away.
With his back bent against a concrete retaining wall, Colton jabbed in the last part. He had to shut his eyes to will his finger over the green phone button. With a plunge, he damned himself and held the phone to his ear. It rang twice, Colton crushing his face tighter. What if it went to voicemail?
Shit! He hadn’t thought of anything to say if…
“Is!” he shouted, his voice pitched too high. Shaking it off, he brought it down to ask, “Is this Kristen?”
“Yeah,” she sounded like she was smiling but there was an odd sound in the background, like a chainsaw gargling.
“This is Officer Davies. I assisted you when you locked your keys in the car on…”
A gentle laugh broke through his technical jargon, “I remember. I don’t tend to lock my keys in that often.”
“Right, right.” Great start, accuse her of being sloppy. Colton wrapped a hand over his forehead as much to try and wick away the flop sweat as to assure himself he wasn’t about to spontaneously combust. “I was calling about, wondering if you would like me to…”
The grating sound of metal gnashing into metal finally bit into him and he sneered, “What is that noise?”
“Oh sorry, I’m near a construction crew. They probably won’t stop if I ask nice. Let me just…” her voice faded but he could hear what sounded like the phone bouncing up and down against a shirt. “Better?” she asked, the background transformed to a soft whine of machinery in the distance.
“Much,” he smiled at the thought, before remembering he had yet to ask her a damn thing. What was he supposed to say? Hi, I want to take you somewhere. Somewhere nice. Not too nice, there’s way too expensive nice here. But, ya know, a place with people doing things and food. Maybe drink. Blighted God. “Would you…like me to show you around town?”
His entire body cringed at how pathetic that sounded. She’d laugh. She’d tell him that she was busy. She’d turn him down less gently and flat out say she wasn’t interested.
“That sounds wonderful,” Kristen laughed and Colton’s entire body unwound. She said yes? Holy shit, she agreed. “When and where?”
Shit. He’d been so certain that she’d turn him down he hadn’t even thought of a time or a place. Crap, crap, crap, crap. What would he do… “Tuesday, 8, at Mulligan’s Pub.” He spat out the first thing he could think of.
“Tuesday huh? Okay,” Kristen said and Colton winced. It was on his mind because he had the next two days off after. Now, instead of planning to get some errands done he could be fretting about a date then licking his wounds. Who goes out on a Tuesday to a bar? Hard drinkers. That’ll look sparkling to her.
“Do you, do you need directions? It’s located at…”
“Corner of a hundred and seventieth and Mistral. Hey, that’s walking distance to me, I think,” Kristen didn’t dampen for a moment while the question hung in the air of how quickly she figured it out. “GPS, and pirating some wifi off of a coffee shop,” she said before a slapping sound echoed over the phone. “Or was I not supposed to admit to borrowing wifi to a cop?”
“I’ll…let you off with a warning,” Colton said, barely able to stop the swell of music in his heart.
“Good, so, see you at Mulligan’s on Tuesday,” her voice sang out.
“Goodbye,” Colton intoned.
“Bye,” she cheerily called out once more before the line fell dead.
She said yes. He had a date. He had a date in two days time. Shit. What was he supposed to do? Or…did he have to wear something fancy? Did he even own anything fancy? Mulligan’s wasn’t known for having a black tie requirement, but it might be good to try and gussy up a bit.
Colton made it a step down towards his truck when he froze. He offered to show her around the town. He didn’t say a damn thing about it being a date. “Ah shit.”
This was stupid.
He was best remaining at home, slumped over in the armchair and trying to get to the end of the last season of Fatal Wars before the next premiered. That was a far better use of his time than, than…
“Blighted hell, what was I thinking?” Colton moaned while reverberating his forehead against the mirror. The edges remained fogged up from a far too hot shower where he thought to try and burn some sense into himself. When that didn’t work, he begrudgingly began to get ready for this maybe date. Maybe it was just friends, barely even that. Not as if he could remember her.
Which bugged him so much he actually logged onto his old Battalion account and did some hunting. Sure enough, there was a Kristen Trevelyan who was friends with a few of the old classmates he willingly agreed to link up with before realizing that he didn’t like anyone in his past knowing about his current life. Her profile was minimal, the last address pointing her back towards DC, and a handful of pictures. Also no mention of a relationship one way or the other.
He’d find it odd, but Colton’s gave away nothing save his name, a single picture half bleached out by the sun, a mention he was in the police force, and a few re-shares of dog pictures. Anything more seemed too much work to bother with. Maybe she was of the same mind and preferred to keep herself to herself.
Which would make her accepting a date with the first fool to bump into her rather out of character. It wasn’t a date. It was what he said, showing a woman around.
He snatched up the grey t-shirt and tugged that down over his head, destroying his half-assed attempts at combing his hair. It was clean, but not fancy. Last thing he wanted was to show up overdressed with aspirations of anything romantic and watch her eyes fall as she realized the truth. But what if it was a date?
If he arrived at the pub in nothing but a t-shirt and jeans, she’d probably consider him sloppy or inattentive. That wouldn’t make a good first impression either. “Shit, why is this so hard?” he cursed to himself while glaring back at the eyes of the whining man in the mirror.
Yanking up his clean red and gold flannel, without patches on the elbows or grease stains embedded into the fibers, he tugged the button-up over his arms and tried that look on. It was relaxed, to most it’d seem as if he was stopping by to check on the game or snag a pint. Tuck it in? Colton jammed the hems deep into his dark washed jeans, suddenly aware that he had a hole on his black briefs.
At that thought, he snickered. As if that’d matter. This always ends with an awkward, “Yeah, so I’ll call you later maybe.” Followed up with crickets. It’d been… He dug into the back of his neck to try and chew the cramp away. A long time, he settled on. He knew the number but didn’t want to think it, already embarrassed by how he wadded himself up into a safe nest and refused to come out.
Right. Okay. He could work with the somewhat cobbled together man in the mirror. The tucked in shirt said ‘I tried’ while it wasn’t anything too fancy to send her scampering for the door. And, if he got in and she was dressed in a pair of yoga pants then he could slip off to the bathroom and untuck it. Good friends, easy way to let it all go. Not a problem at all.
“I’m such an idiot,” he whispered, watching the scar he could have had fixed shift in the harsh bathroom light. After the shower it glowed like the red light of a brothel. One of many scars across his body, not that, again, anyone would be checking tonight.
He glanced down at his watch, the silver frame wrapped around a traditional clock face of onyx. 7:30. Probably best to head out in case traffic’s bad. And if he’s too early, circle the block a few times. That wouldn’t be weird. Colton moved to flip off the light when he caught an old amber bottle sitting beside his half downed bottle of mouthwash.
Before the naysayer in his head put up a fight, he snatched up the bottle and gave a quick splash of cologne against his neck. He winced a moment, not remembering what it was or even where he got it from. Twisting the aging paper label around, he read ‘Oakmoss and Elderberry.’
“Sounds like a terrible drink for the gluten-free crowd,” he grumbled to himself. Accepting that it was time to face his doom, he grabbed his keys, checked to make certain he moved over his wallet, and headed towards the pub.
To drown out the voice insisting he turn around home, call Kristen, and feign an illness, he played whatever music he could find as loud as possible. In the old speakers, the radio hissed while a storm moved through. The thought of jamming in an MP3 made him laugh as he glanced over at the old cassette deck crammed in his truck’s dashboard. Even that was a hard sell to get his father to agree to. A fancy compact disc player was out of the question.
The streets were quieting, a late storm leaving the pavement black as the river of death but also still. Most anyone who had anywhere to be was already there, leaving the desperate and lonely to wander through the red and green lights. By the time he pulled into a parking spot at the rear of the pub, he tipped his head back and felt a headache burrowing into his skull.
Samson laughed when he found out that Colton was going on a maybe-date. Only he could make it that difficult for no good reason. Colton was concerned he’d be fumbling through the whole night, uncertain if he should make any attempt at a move until learning at the end he was completely wrong. The advice Samson gave: if she’s in jeans and a t-shirt, you’re screwed. If she’s in those tight jeans and tighter blouse, you’re good to go.
“What if she’s in a skirt?”
“Depends on the length. Past her knees, she wants you to help her raise a barn.”
That bastard grinned like no tomorrow, “You’re liable to get screwed.”
Then he sent him on his way with a loving pat to the head. Because it’s all so simple. Well, at least he wasn’t wandering into the tenth teeth-grating date based upon a picture and a pithy one-liner from his phone. After the last great blowup, Mia swore to stay out of his love life forever. Which was probably why he’d been suckered to his couch for the past three months. It wasn’t happy, but it was peaceful.
His watch beeped, a gentle chime from ages past. Eight o’clock. Moment of truth. Sighing, he yanked on the car door’s handle and began the long walk to the pub. Mulligan’s embraced its namesake, the sign decked out with four playing cards: a two of clubs, a five of spades, a three of diamonds, and a seven of hearts. One of the worst hands to be dealt, and an auspicious sign to begin things.
Grabbing onto the door handle, he rolled his head around once, thought of rushing back home, then tugged on it to walk inside. Moment of truth.