The Plus One

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Summary

For Annie, nothing can get much worse than running into Jack, her ex almost-fiancée. After two years, she thought she had moved on from him. Now he’s getting married and Annie can’t help but panic. So what’s a girl to do? For Annie, the answer is simple. Accept the invitation to the weekend ceremony, figure out her complicated feelings for Jack, and hide behind her lumberjack of a plus one, Dane, in an attempt to deflect Jack’s friends and family’s hostility towards her. It’s going to be a long weekend...

Genre:
Romance / Humor
Author:
JN Ras
Status:
Ongoing
Chapters:
4
Rating:
n/a
Age Rating:
16+

Chapter 1

This bar really liked its peanuts. That was the only thing that I could really focus on at the moment, given the fact that I’d been sitting here for an hour and a half, staring at each individual bowl for about five minutes until my eyes started to water, and then I’d move my gaze over to the next bowl and take a sip of my warm, mediocre beer. At this point, I thought that I had counted roughly fifty-five bowls. Or maybe I’d just been counting the same few peanut bowls over and over and over again. The latter was entirely possible, seeing as I was currently working on my sixth consecutive beer in that span of ninety minutes.

I hadn’t planned my Wednesday night to go like this. Listening to terrible karaoke while getting drunk and staring at nuts at seven p.m. was not, surprisingly, occupying the top of my to-do list when I woke up this morning. Sure, I went to work at my crap intern job with about as much enthusiasm as a potato, but I didn’t hate my life that much to consider starting the path to alcoholism. Well, this particular morning at least.

No, as far as mornings went, this one was unspectacular. I got up, I went to work, and I even attempted to break my resting bitch face in front of my boss. But this afternoon? God. Fucking. Damnit.

There I was, on my lunch break, contemplating other uses for my degree when it happened. My ex, in a business suit of all the things, catches me in a moment of weakness. I’m sitting outside, enjoying the lovely weather and trying to not be bothered by the cumulating exhaust fumes. I’m eating these amazing Thai noodles from this really authentic place just down the street. They were basically dirt cheap too, and spicy as hell. Just the way I liked them. So, I’m sucking down some really long noodles and chugging water like it’s going out of style—

God, Jesus, anybody, it’s like I’m making sweet love to these noodles. I mean, come on, it’s the only thirty minutes of my whole day I get to myself. These are really, truly amazing noodles. I’m making noises, my breathing is a little heated—it’s embarrassing.

“Annie?”

I look up, mouth full of Thai noodles, hunched over my bowl like I’m supposed to be Gollum hovering over his precious ring and I think I might have hissed in that voice too, now that I think of it. And then I recognize him. It’s Jack. The exact same Jack that I left two years ago. And by left I mean, fled his immediate vicinity in a matter of minutes. It was probably the most heartless thing I’d ever done. We were crazy about each other, young, so, so in love… I’d essentially moved in to his place in the few short months we’d been together. I thought I’d stay in New Mexico forever. I thought I knew what I wanted. But then he had to go and ask me to marry him. It was so perfect! He’d even taken the time to light some candles, make us a picnic… he took me stargazing. I loved getting out of the city to look at the stars and he knew that. I thought he knew everything about me. But he asked me to marry him with this beautiful ring—it took my breath away. But then… I left. I ran away with all my belongings shoved hastily in my one suitcase with a one way ticket on a Greyhound bus.

He’s standing in front of me, expecting me to say something. He looks so good, nothing like that dirty auto-crazed guy I used to know. God, I can’t get over the fact that he’s wearing a suit and carrying a suitcase. He looks so trimmed up, that patchy beard is gone and the uneven ends of his hair are smoothed down and all in order. His eyes are the same as they’ve always been. Kind, blue, and just a little bloodshot.

I’ve got two choices at this point. I could continue sucking down the noodles that are already in my mouth, which seems awkward and gross, or I could spit them out, which also seems awkward and gross. I decide to spit them out, considering the fact that I’ve suddenly lost all my appetite.

“Jack!” I say, cringing inwardly at how scratchy my voice sounds. I stand to shake his hand, hug him, anything other than sit there, gawking. I immediately regret my decision to stand because it’s even weirder just standing next to him and he clearly isn’t interested in a hug, let alone a handshake. But I can’t sit back down and not look like a spaz.

“W-what are you doing here,” I cough, “ah, here, in Portland? I thought you hated it here up north, here.” I’ve said ‘here’ too many times, he’s going to think I’m an idiot—if he doesn’t already.

Who am I kidding, of course he thinks I’m an idiot. I never even gave him an answer for that marriage proposal. And what kind of brainless idiot would say no or even say nothing at all to a guy like that? Well, I did, but that’s not the point.

“I got a job,” he says, looking at me like he’s worried about me which is ridiculous. He probably hates me and if you hate a person you certainly don’t become worried about said person.

Unless, you’re a really, really good person. I forgot how good of a person he was. I bet he’d save a kitten from a tree right now just to make me feel even worse.

“What are you doing here?” he asks. I grunt noncommittally, shrug and grumble, “I’ve also got a job.” That’s a lie, I have an internship. I don’t tell him that.

I clear my throat, “So, ah, what do you do now? What’s um, new?”

He narrows his gaze a little, like he’s zooming in on my face, “I moved here with my fiancé and we work for the same architecture firm. We’re getting married next month and she always said how much she loves it up here, so I thought why not?”

Married. Fiancé. These words are coming at me too fast and I can’t keep up. What did he say? Architecture? Firm? Married? To who? It’s only been two years, how did he move on that fast?

I rock back on my heels. “Wow,” I manage to say, “That’s quite a bit. You said you’re getting married in a month? Wow.” I cross my arms, “so what’s her name? What’s she like?” I realize I’m breathing too fast and take a step back and compose myself. I shake my head and cut him off, “You know what, never—never mind. You don’t have to answer that. I’m sorry.”

His jaw starts to tick, “Sorry for what, Annie?” His words are soft and smooth but it feels like a slap. I do know, I know that what I did was wrong. I never planned on seeing him again.

“Nothing! No—I mean,” I sigh, recoiling, “God, everything? I’m sorry. Sorry I asked. It’s none of my business, and you know what?” I’m picking my takeout bowl up and slinging my purse over one shoulder, retreating as fast as I possibly can. “Congratulations, and I really am truly happy that you’re happy. I’ve got to get back, so, ah, I’ll just—see you around I guess.” I turn on my heel and toss my amazing Thai noodles into the trash and take off at a sprint towards the publishing house where I only intern at.

By the time I get into the building I’m huffing and puffing. I bury my head in my hands, wondering what the hell is wrong with me. I’m always running from him, in one way or another.

“Annie! What’s that on your shirt?” I hear.

God. Fucking. Dammit.

That entire time I had Thai sauce on my shirt. Just icing on the cake.

And so now, here I sit, buzzed in a tiny dive bar, counting peanuts and listening to an awful rendition of Don’t Stop Believin’ for the third time this evening. My ears are bleeding and begging for the sweet release of death.

“Enjoying yourself, I see,” a roughly male-shaped body says from beside me.

I grunt.

He takes that as an invitation to sit next to me. A beer slides down the bar next to him and he nods at the bartender. From my peripheral I can see a lumberjack looking man complete with flannel and a short-trimmed beard. “You might want to liven up a little bit, sunshine. People are starting to think you’re a modern art statue.”

I roll my eyes and scowl, “I don’t want company, thanks.”

He laughs, “Didn’t ask. But I’m tired of standing and this seat next to you is the only one left in here. So I sit. You don’t have to stay, though, if you insist on being alone.”

I sigh, “Fine, stay. But I’m warning you, I’ve had a shit day and—”

“Boo, hoo,” he fake cries and for a moment, I’m so offended that I actually turn to look at him. He smiles a little, warm brown eyes crinkling at the corners. “Did you think that anyone in here on a Wednesday getting drunk actually had a great day?” he scoffs and take a swig of his beer, “Please, try again.”

I stare, openmouthed at him.

He shrugs. “Well, from what I can tell, you don’t really want to be alone, otherwise you’d have left by now. So I’ll tell you what. You buy me another drink and you can tell me all about your day. Promise that I’ll even stay until the end of your story.”

“What?” I ask, flabbergasted.

“Pinky promise it is then,” and this big man leans into me, pinky out. Since you just don’t leave a guy hanging when he’s offering to pinky promise you, I lean into him and give his pinky a squeeze with my own.

“You obviously don’t want to hear about my day… Paul Bunion, or whoever you are.” I turn back to my drink and pick at the label.

He turns to face me with his whole body, sticking his calloused hand in my face, “My name’s actually Eugene, thanks for noticing.”

“What? Your name’s Eugene? Are you kidding?” this man is mystifying.

He cracks a smile, “yeah, you got me. I’m Dane.”

I laugh, surprised. “What?”

He shrugs, “Just trying to make a pretty girl laugh, can you blame me? And I do want to hear about your day, as long as there’s alcohol involved. I’ll let you tell me anything that you want to in fact.”

“Are you flirting with me?” I’m taken aback.

He chuckles and strokes his chin and says, “I’m glad you noticed, Sunshine.” He leans against the bar’s counter and takes a long swig of his beer, “Now, how’s about you pay the bartender for my drink and get started telling that story you keep replaying in that little head of yours?”

My cheeks warm and I glance at the bartender, standing still as a statue, one hand on one hip while the other rests on the counter, fingers tapping in a slow, impatient metronome. I rifle through my purse I slung on my feet and produce a few wadded bills, not even pausing to glance at them before I practically throw them at ‘Ben’. He takes them, counts them, and satisfied, pockets them and moves along to tend to another customer.

The karaoke signer finishes singing about a small town girl, living in a lonely world and hurtles off the stage to thunderous applause.

“Are you going to let me call you sunshine forever or are you going to give me your name?” Dane asks, looking surprisingly casual from his barstool.

“Annie,” I respond, mystified at the turn of events. He sends me a smirk and twists his body to face mine just as another karaoke singer climbs up the stage on their hands and knees, too drunk to do much walking. A horrible rendition of I Want It That Way begins, the intoxicated singer manically trying to sing all the parts at once.

I wince and sip my warm beer and sigh. I pinch the fabric of my shirt and point at the offending stain, saying, “This was a brand new shirt, you know.”

Dane’s eyebrows shoot to his hairline as he takes in my first problem. He dips his head in mock sorrow and dramatically replies, “Well then, darlin’. I suppose that’s more than enough to land you in a place like this in the middle of the week.”

I glower at him, “Well there’s obviously more, you lumberjack.”

He stifles a laugh with a cough and waves me on to continue.

Sighing, I turn from him and continue to pick at the label of my drink, “I ran into my ex today.” I pause, expecting another smart-ass answer and to my utter surprise, there is none. Dane is sitting perfectly still, waiting for me to tell him the rest of my troubles.

“And?” he probes.

The dam inside of me breaks and I spill, “He was such a nice guy, you know? I’m such an idiot.” I bury my head in my hands and semi-intelligibly garble out, “You know, he asked me to marry him? If I wasn’t such a colossal idiot, it could be me that he’s marrying. But, no. I ran like an idiot and what have I got to show for it? Nothing!”

Allowing my head to fall heavily on the bar, I murmur, “I’m such a failure. I mean, it’s not even like we were that great together anyways! She’s probably amazing.” A pit formed in the bottom of my stomach as I imagined the type of woman Jack should be with. Beautiful, smart, talented, funny—the kind of woman who would give him a boost into a tree to save more kittens. She probably volunteers at a soup kitchen. God, his parents probably love her.

“And?” asked Dane.

I sat up abruptly, shooting him my most intimidating glare, “What do you mean, “and”?” I ask, throwing a casual set of air-quotes I made with my fingers at him. What am I, twelve?

He shrugs, sliding my warm beer away from me, “You love him?”

“No!” I shake my head. After a moment of consideration, I whisper, “Yes?” I flop my head back on the bar and groan, “Ugh, I don’t know!”

“Listen to me,” he drawls and I can’t help but look at him again. “If you loved him, wouldn’t you still be together?”

“It’s complicated,” I say noncommittally, reaching for my beer as he slides it even further out of my reach.

“Water first,” he reprimands. I sneer at the sweating glass before me and take a sip to satiate Mr. Lumberjack Dictator. “How is it complicated?” he asks patiently, taking another long swig of his beer afterwards.

“Well,” I huff, trying my best to come up with a good bullshit answer when he cuts me off.

“It doesn’t sound complicated to me.”

“I didn’t even get a chance to explain!” I whine stiffly. Reaching for my beer once again, he swipes it even further from my reach. I think I growl at him, but I can’t be sure since drunk Annie doesn’t exactly pay attention to everything she does. “Just give me the damn thing!” I exclaim.

“Don’t you have to work tomorrow?” he asks. I glower at him from my stool, willing this guy to magically turn to dust and float away from me.

“And if I do?” I answer brattily.

Dane waits for the shitty expression I’m wearing to slide off my face before he decides to grace me with an answer, “Then you’ll probably want to be in the best shape for it. Unless you’d rather show up for work hungover at best, and still drunk at the worst?”

He’s right, damn him. I huff and roll my eyes but no longer protest. “Fine,” I say snidely, “Water from here on out.”

He’s still staring at me like he expects me to spill my guts, which I decide I might as well do. “Have you ever been in love?” I ask, leaning towards him with an elbow clumsily placed on the bar.

“Mmhm,” he murmurs but doesn’t elaborate.

“It’s like…” I begin, staring at the ceiling for miraculous and spontaneous inspiration for an adequate description. “It’s like when you look at them, the sun shines. And when they leave, it’s cloudy and gloomy. And you wonder how you ever could have lived a life without them in the first place.” I can’t help myself—I start to feel really sad. “I just—“ I stutter, “I just wonder if we’re only made to ever love one person, you know? Like maybe he’s it for me? I loved him so much but I just got scared. You think he really loved me too?” I ask softly.

Dane’s eyes somehow get warmer and browner when he answers, “I have no doubt. He asked the big question, didn’t he? Why else would he do that?”

I think on that for a moment, unable to come up with a concrete answer, “I don’t know. I guess I just feel like… like it was too easy for him to replace me. My pride hurts more than anything. I guess I deserve that.”

He touches his fingertips to my elbow and reassures me, “You’ll be okay. It’ll all work out and you’ll find someone again when you’re ready.”

“That’s so sweet,” is what I meant to say. What really happened next was a thousand percent more mortifying than anything I had ever done before in my life. Instead, I open my mouth and vomit onto Dane’s shoes.

Great.

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