The rest of the early evening that we spent amongst our colleagues luckily passed without further incidents. I met some more new people, and now Lauren and I are getting ready for some more socializing at the pub while Ben and Isaac already go ahead.
We’re in one of the restrooms at work, and Lauren is currently rummaging through her bag. She pulls out a red dress and holds it in front of her body. “What do you think?” she asks me.
“That’s a nice dress.”
Lauren raises an eyebrow. “Nice? I’m not going for nice. Here, hold this.” She gives me her dress and takes another one out of her bag; a short blue one that’s definitely not nice.
I chuckle. “Okay, yes, that is sexy.”
She grins at me. “That’s more like it.” She looks at me still holding the red dress. “Why aren’t you changing?”
I give her a forced smile. “I didn’t bring any spare clothes.”
Lauren shakes her head. “Honey, you can’t go out wearing your work clothes. Who knows who you’ll meet tonight.” She narrows her eyes at me. “I just realized we never talked about you and other men. Did you leave anyone behind when you came here?”
I swallow the small lump I suddenly have in my throat. “Uhm, no. I didn’t. My last relationship ended a while back.”
Lauren smiles mischievously and claps her hands. “Then we’re going to look out for a sweet guy for you!”
Her enthusiasm makes me chuckle. “I’m not interested in meeting anyone.”
She rolls her eyes and laughs. “Come on! A little bit of flirting won’t hurt.”
A little bit of flirting? Lauren has no idea how true her words are. At some point, what happened between Ben and me did feel like flirting. And all these moments we had last week made me wonder if he was somehow attracted to me too. But then he made a stupid joke or said something silly which made me question my sanity a little. So all I’m sure of is that I’ll only have eyes for him tonight.
“Amy, you have to stop zoning out. What are you thinking about so hard?” Lauren laughs and points to the dress in my hand. “Are you trying that on or what?”
And even though that red dress turns out to be a little more than nice, I let Lauren convince me to wear it. Because as she said, a little bit of flirting won’t hurt. She didn’t say who with, after all.
When we walk into O’Reilly’s a little while later, I’m at once captivated by the laid-back and friendly atmosphere that’s so typical for an Irish Pub. Lively chatter fills the air along with the scent of beer and lots of people.
As we make our way through the crowd, Lauren spots Isaac at a booth in the back. “Where’s Ben?” she asks when we sit down.
“He’s gone over to talk to Paul,” Isaac explains. “He’ll be back in a minute.”
I take another look around and catch sight of Ben, who’s talking to a tall guy with a full beard over at the other side of the pub. There’s a small stage where the bearded guy and two others are getting ready to play.
I finally get an idea of what Lauren told me about. A girl is standing next to them, looking at Ben like he was her dessert, but he doesn’t seem to notice it, or her for that matter.
While I’m still taking in the ongoings, a guy I haven’t met yet comes up to our table. “Hello people,” he says with a wide smile.
“Oh, hey!” Lauren says. “I didn’t know you were coming today.”
He nods to Isaac and then looks at me as he sits down on the chair opposite to where I sit. “I invited myself. Who is your lovely friend?” he asks as he gives me a charming smile.
Lauren rolls her eyes and sighs, “Aaron, seriously?” She points to me. “That’s Amy. She’s our new colleague. Amy, this is Aaron.”
Aaron holds out his hand. “Ah, Amy. Wow, Ben didn’t tell me how gorgeous you are.”
I look at him with wide eyes. He knows who I am? Who is this guy? Now that he mentions Ben, I realize that my first thought was that Aaron looked somewhat familiar.
Lauren finally enlightens me. “Aaron is Ben’s little brother.”
That explains it then. But judging from my first impression, they seem to be two totally different characters—as much as they look alike.
“But unlike Ben, Aaron is after anyone wearing a skirt,” Lauren supports my theory.
Aaron glares at her before he focuses his attention back to me with another one of those dazzling smiles. “Don’t listen to her. I’m a nice guy.”
I cross my arms in front of my chest. “I guess I’ll have to make up my own mind then.”
He winks at me. “With pleasure. How about I invite you for a drink at the bar later?”
I laugh. “You don’t waste any time.”
“Is that a yes?”
Even though I find him a little pushy, I feel flattered for some reason. “We’ll see,” I tell him. “But why hasn’t Ben mentioned that he has a brother?”
Aaron shrugs. “I guess I’m not the perfect sibling to be proud of.” He smiles and winks at me. “Well, where is my beloved brother anyways?”
Ben approaches our table and gives his brother a cool look before he sits down next to me. “So you girls finally made it here,” he says with a smirk. “Took you long enough.”
“Hey!” Lauren snarls. “Looking this good takes time.” She waves her hand in front of her body before she rests it on my arm. “Right, Amy?”
“Uh, sure,” I say with a small shrug.
“You’re right,” Ben says as his eyes wander down my body, and I swear I feel that gaze in every fiber of my body. It sends hot shivers down my spine and makes goosebumps erupt all over my skin. “You look—uhm—stunning,” he adds when his eyes meet mine. We stare at each other for a moment before his gaze falls on my lips. I clench my teeth to keep in the moan that wants to escape my mouth, and I have to restrain myself from leaning in. Damn, I didn’t know I was in this deep already.
But before I completely lose my mind, Aaron clears his throat—thus interrupting our little moment. “Did you deliberately conceal how pretty your new colleague is?”
Ben rolls his eyes. “Ease up, Aaron.”
“Oh, stop it, guys!” Lauren says with an annoyed puff as she shoves me out of the booth. “Come on, Amy. Let’s go get a drink.” Once we are out of earshot, she turns to me. “Ignore them. They bicker a lot.”
I look over my shoulder to where Ben and Aaron are talking. “So they don’t get along too well?”
Lauren shrugs. “That’s quite alternating. Those two couldn’t be more different. Aaron is an extrovert, and he has a way of getting into trouble a lot. Ben often has to get him out of some shit.”
“What kind of trouble?”
“Ben doesn’t talk much about it. All I know is they both have a difficult past, and Aaron is still involved somehow. But Ben should tell you about it himself.”
Once we have our drinks, we go back to the boys. “By the way,” Lauren says. “Ben was very impressed with your outfit. I don’t think we’ll have a problem with finding a nice guy for you tonight.” She winks at me meaningfully again, and I laugh.
I look over to our table where Ben and Aaron are in the middle of a heated discussion, and I inevitably come up with more than one wild theory about what Lauren just told me. Of course, they stop arguing once we join them again.
“So, Amy,” Aaron says as Lauren and I sit back down. “Tell me something about yourself. Are you new to the city?”
Even without looking at Ben, I sense his irritation. Out of the corner of my eye, I see him roll his eyes again, and he looks ready to punch his brother. I start to wonder what his problem is.
I nod. “Yes, I moved here from the west coast just a few weeks ago.”
“That’s a long way to go. All alone? Or did you bring your boyfriend?”
I laugh. “You’re quite nosy, aren’t you?”
Aaron winks at me. “I’m just interested in my conversational partner. But you’re welcome to ask me a few questions.”
Before I can take him up on his offer, a guy, who according to Lauren is Bryan O’Reilly and owner of this pub, steps onto the small stage and announces tonight’s musical guest. Lauren also tells me that Paul, the guy with the full beard, and his two bandmates, Henry and Jack, usually play here every Friday.
We all get up and join the crowd in front of the stage. And it doesn’t take long until I realize Lauren was right when she said they were great. Paul, the lead singer and guitarist, has a fantastic voice, and their style is an awesome mix of pop and rock.
While we cheer along with the crowd, I look over to Ben and Aaron every once in a while and catch them glaring at each other. They must be going through a bad phase.
Some time later, I’ve lost sight of Lauren, who said she wanted to go to the bathroom, but she hasn’t returned yet. I look over to the bar, and there she is, talking to a guy.
Next to me, Ben notices me looking around and follows my gaze. He sees Lauren and grins. Then he suddenly puts his arm around my waist and comes closer. His mouth is next to my ear, and I have to concentrate really hard to understand what he’s saying. “See? Lauren never has a problem meeting a guy.”
I chuckle. “Yes, obviously. And she wanted to find a guy for me tonight.” I wink at Ben.
He looks at me questioningly for a moment. “Really? I didn’t know you were looking.”
“I’m not. But Lauren thought a little flirting would do me good.”
This conversation suddenly makes me really uncomfortable. I have no clue why I said something this stupid at all. Plus, I can’t focus on what exactly Ben is saying because he still has his hand on my waist, and his face is very close to mine. If I turned my head just a little, our lips would touch. Damn, how I would like to touch those lips with mine.
Suddenly, Ben takes a step back and looks at me. Did he ask me a question? I signal to him that I can’t hear him over the noise.
He nods and mouths, “Later,” and then he lets go.
It suddenly feels cold where his hand was, but the heat that Ben’s touch caused spreads through the rest of my body. I take a deep breath and try to focus on the music to hold onto that little bit of sanity I have left.
After Paul, Henry, and Jack played their last song and the crowd rages and cheers, Lauren turns up next to me. “Hey, Amy,” she says with an apologetic smile. “Sorry, I know we had other plans, but–”
I laugh. “No problem, Lauren. I understand. Go have fun.”
She falls around my neck. “Thanks, Amy. I owe you one.”
I whisper in her ear, “But you have to tell me everything afterward. And be safe.” I wink at her. She grins and raises her thumb, and then she’s gone.
I look around for Ben, who wanted to see Paul. But I only discover Aaron, who walks toward me. “Why are you standing here all alone?” he asks when he stands next to me. “Doesn’t my brother have any manners?”
I point to the stage. “He’ll be back shortly. He went to talk to Paul.”
He nods and leans a little closer. “May I invite you for a drink now? Somewhere a little quieter and more comfortable?” He looks at me expectantly.
Before I can answer, Ben comes over and glares at his brother once again. “Sorry it took so long.” He smiles at me. “Listen, Paul asked me if I could help them pack up. Are you going home with Lauren?”
I grimace. “She just left with a guy.”
“Oh,” is all he says, and he seems to be thinking hard. He apparently doesn’t want to abandon me, let alone leave me alone with his brother.
I smile at him. “It’s okay. I can go home alone. I’m a big girl.”
Aaron puts his arm around my shoulder. “I will take you home.”
Ben snorts. “That’s what I was afraid of.”
Aaron pulls me into him a little more. “Hey, as Amy just said, she’s a big girl. I won’t do anything she doesn’t want.”
Even without looking at Aaron, I can imagine his cocky grin very well. Ben tenses up, and I think he’s grinding his teeth. Wow, this is really pissing him off, but he has no choice.
I put my hand on his arm. “Ben, go. I’ll be fine. I think I can handle your brother.”
Ben nods. With a sigh, he hugs me. “Send me a text when you’re home, okay?”
“I will.” I give him a peck on the cheek before he disappears.
Aaron clears his throat. “Okay, are you ready?” He puts his hand on my lower back and gently ushers me toward the door.