City Lights was located at the top of one of the buildings in the city and overlooked the rambling megastructures that populated the metropolis. Light emanated from each structure and seemed to hug the building next to it, spreading its twilight and providing an artificial warmth to the city. It was warm enough to be on the outside terrace of the club, but cold enough that Mattie had to hug her leather jacket around her shoulders. Anna returned with two drinks from the bar and handed one to her sister before taking a sip.
“Oh, that’s sweet!” she exclaimed, scrunching up her nose. Mattie took a tentative taste of the mixed drink and found that it wasn’t as sweet as the cake she had finished prepping at the bakery earlier that day.
“It’s not bad. Rum?”
“I think? What’s in a bay breeze?”
Mattie laughed at her sister’s lack of awareness, “yes, rum.” She half expected that this was the reason Anna had gotten herself into so much trouble when they were younger. She didn’t take the time to find out how things would impact her before making decisions and then she would end up in trouble.
“When are Chris and his friends coming?”
“They should be here soon,” Anna said, checking her phone. It was quarter to nine and well past the time Mattie would usually be getting ready to go to bed. “One of his friends had to drive in from out of town. He lives about thirty minutes away.”
“Hey, Mattie? Thanks for coming out. I know this isn’t your thing and we are still working on stuff, but...I appreciate it.”
Mattie reached out and grabbed Anna’s hand. She gave it a light squeeze and replied, “I’m here for you Anna. We’ll work it out.”
“Good. Now, let’s go dance.”
Before Mattie could protest, Anna had taken the opportunity and pulled her by the hand back into the club. She dragged her big sister toward the dance floor and turned around, abruptly striking a pose and beckoning Mattie with her forefinger. Mattie rolled her eyes and shook her head, silently communicating that dancing was out of the question. She moved away from the dance floor, but before she could put enough distance between herself and her sister, Anna’s hand had found her wrist and she was jerked onto the floor. Anna looked at Mattie with puppy-dog eyes and mouthed “please” at her sister.
“What? I can’t hear you.” Anna leaned closer to Mattie, turning her head so she could hear better over the music.
“Fine!” Mattie projected. She downed the remainder of her drink and shuddered as she felt the alcohol slip down her throat and relax her limbs to the music. She placed her empty glass on a high top table and rejoined her sister on the dance floor.
Anna had cleared space around her as she danced and drew her sister into the circle. She twirled Mattie and sang along to the song blasting through the speakers. Mattie hadn’t heard this particular tune before, but was lulled into a sense of comfort by its repetitive tones. She could feel the bass through her shoes as it shimmied up her legs and caused her ears to ring.
The beat changed smoothly as the DJ seamlessly transitioned from one song to the next. This one was a bit faster and soon Mattie could feel sweat collect around her temples. She felt lighter now as the stress from the week lifted away from her shoulders and her drink settled deeper into her bloodstream. She certainly wasn’t drunk, but was happy to feel carefree for a few moments and enjoy having fun with her little sister.
Lost in the music, she almost didn’t notice the feeling of someone sidling up alongside her inviting her to dance. She gave a friendly smile in the man’s direction and shook her head “no” before turning back to her sister. Anna’s eyes widened and she giggled a little bit watching Mattie try to dance-escape from the man whose attention she had caught. Again, Mattie found herself being touched on the arm by her pursuer and looked back at him. He pointed to her and then to himself before holding his hands up in a shrug. She shook her head again and moved toward her sister. Anna, taking the hint, inserted herself between Mattie and the stranger who finally seemed to understand that his advances were unwanted.
Mattie danced to a couple more songs before needing a break. She worked to get her sister focused and yelled near Anna’s ear, “I need to get another drink!”
“I’ll come with you,” her sister replied and they both left the dance floor.
They made their way to the bar and soon found themselves squashed up against the counter. The bartender finished helping one customer before his eyes settled on the two women and he moved to help them.
“What are you having?” he asked.
“I’ll take a bay breeze,” Anna stated. “Mattie, what do you want?”
“I’ll have a whiskey, neat,” Mattie punctuated the last word of her request as if her ordering that drink was the most normal thing in the world.
Anna turned to her sister as the bartender started to prepare their respective drinks and asked, “since when do you drink whiskey?”
Mattie shrugged, “I’ve always liked it. I drink it at home sometimes.”
She took out her wallet to pay, but Anna stopped her, “No, I’ve got the first two tonight. You can get the third if we make it there.”
“Thank you, Anna. I’m gonna run to the bathroom. Can you make sure to grab mine and I will be right back?” Anna nodded and Mattie turned away, looking for the bathroom. When she found it, she groaned at the sight of the line to the ladies. She got in the line and pulled out her phone to check her messages. Seeing nothing, she glanced backup to see how many women were in front of her.
“How long have you been waiting?” She asked the woman in line before her.
“About ten minutes. They’re single stalls, so only one person can go at a time. Or, you know three friends can go in at once and then take forever.”
“I know what you mean,” Mattie empathized while glancing over at the men’s bathroom. There were no men in line at all and there wasn’t any light coming out from under the door. Her bladder protested and she made a choice. It was unlikely that anyone was in the men’s room, so she quickly hurried over, muttering a “good luck” to the woman that was in front of her. Turning the handle, she found the bathroom was blissfully unoccupied. After using the toilet and washing her hands, she took out her lipstick and reapplied it being careful to stay inside the lines. She ran a hand through her long brown hair and shook out the knots that had formed while dancing. Even through the sweating, her hair still seemed to look neat and she was happy she had taken the time to make it look specifically carefree before leaving the house.
When she opened the door to the bathroom, she found that a line of men had formed. She grinned at them and apologized, “sorry, guys. I couldn’t wait.” They stared at her dumbfounded, wondering how she had gotten in there to begin with. She turned and started to walk away, but was abruptly halted by what felt like a brick wall. She began to stumble back but was stopped when two hands shot out and grabbed her to hold her steady.
“Are you okay?” A pair of brown eyes looked into hers searching for a response.
“Yeah. Yeah, I’m fine,” she muttered, “Just didn’t expect to run into anyone.”
“Well, I didn’t expect to see a woman coming out of the men’s bathroom.”
Mattie rolled her eyes, “what does it matter? I had to pee.”
His eyes lit up with mirth, “I guess you’re right.” He held out his hand to her and introduced himself, “My name is Derek Tate. Nice to meet you.”
“Mattie Clancy,” she drawled moving past him without taking his hand, “charmed.”
For a moment, Derek stood still in disbelief. The men in line for the restroom were staring. Some were trying to control their laughter, others were commiserating, and a couple were staring at the floor trying not to feel awkward. The one closest to the bathroom looked to Derek and offered, “Hey man, that was rough. You can cut the line.”
“Thanks,” he mumbled, moving to the front.
“You’ll get ’em next time, buddy,” the man clapped his hand down on Derek’s shoulder and laughed. Derek shook his head back and forth, clearing the fogginess that seemed to infest his mind from being so blatantly dismissed by a woman. He shook it off and stared straight ahead, waiting for the door to open to the bathroom, committing himself to having a fun night.
* * *
Mattie found her sister chatting with Chris when she get back to the bar.
“Where are your friends?” she asked, accepting her drink from Anna.
“I think one went to the bathroom and the other stopped to talk to a friend he saw when we first came into the bar,” Chris replied, “How are you, Mattie?”
Mattie felt a flood of things she would like to say to Chris cascade to the tip of her tongue on a wave of the alcohol she had consumed. Luckily, she found the will to suppress her inclination to let him know exactly how she felt. Instead, she tipped her head and replied, “I’m good. Thanks.” She felt the alcohol slip down her throat and coat her belly. Warmth spread throughout her body and she remembered that she had promised her sister that she would try. “How are you?”
“I’m well. Thanks for asking,” he replied, “Work is busy and the wedding has us pretty occupied, as you can imagine.” He laughed lightly a looked to Anna who was beaming. Mattie felt herself begin to soften to their relationship a bit upon seeing her sister’s happiness. Chris’s focus moved away from Mattie to a spot above her head. “Here comes one of my friends.” He lifted his hand in acknowledgement and beckoned the person over.
“Hello, again,” the stranger’s voice rang in Mattie’s ear. She turned to see Derek and smiled.
“You’ve met?” Anna’s eyebrows lifted to her hairline as she stared at the two of them.
“In line for the restroom,” Mattie supplied, “it was riveting.” Derek’s eyes narrowed at Mattie and he brushed off the remark while she smiled innocently up at him and took a sip of her whiskey. “It was nice to meet you, Derek.”
The bartender came by and Derek ordered a round of shots for the four of them. Mattie noticed how his gaze lingered on the bartenders chest as she shook a cocktail and poured it into four shot glasses.
“That’ll be thirty, even.” Derek handed her a card. “Want me to keep it open or close it out?”
“You can keep it open for now,” he replied handing out the shots, “cheers, everybody. To making new friends.” He tipped his drink in Mattie’s direction and downed the shot. The rest of the party followed suit and Mattie found herself enjoying a butterscotch flavor coat the inside of her mouth. She swallowed and eyed the shot glass appreciatively.
“What kind of drink was that?”
“A buttery nipple,” Derek quipped and added with a wink, “my favorite kind.” Mattie assumed he didn’t just mean his favorite kind of drink, but was happy not to ask him for clarification.
“I guess I will have to remember that for next time.”
“No one ordered me a shot? I’m hurt, Derek.”
“Listen, Lawson, you weren’t here...”
Mattie couldn’t really hear the rest of the conversation, but knew that Derek had continued to speak. Instead, the world seemed to slow down around her and the music became a dull, far away sound as she found herself gazing up into a familiar face. One that she had seen consistently for the last few weeks. One that she had told no multiple times when asked for a date. One that, regardless of her rejection, kept showing back up in her life. She watched as he talked animatedly to Derek and saw as his head turned in her direction and realization spread throughout his features. His hazel eyes widened in surprise before settling into an expression that looked like satisfaction. The left side of his mouth slowly curved into a smirk and suddenly, the world was moving quickly again and the music invaded her senses.
“How’s it going, Mattie?”