The Publicist's Plight (Book I in The Harrison Inc. Series)

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Chapter 24

The bar is like a completely different world.

Maybe it’s because I’ve never been inside of a bar such as this, with the rustic, dark setting, loud blues music and bar filled with drinks I’ve never heard of. Forget ordering a dry martini unless you want to look prissy.

On the left across from the drink bar are tables and booths with a few pool tables scattered about. The one next to the jukebox is the most populated, while the last pool table in the room in the back is practically empty. I look at the scene, mostly men with tight jeans and sweat-stained tank tops and women with short-shorts and cheap heels. I notice a sign right by one of the plenty of signs in the establishment: “NO SHOES, NO SHIRT, NO PANTS, NO SERVICE.”

I take my shoes out of my purse and put them on, regardless of the pain that plague my feet.

I huddle even closer to Sebastian and wonder how he can remain so calm and collected. There are ruffians and possibly criminals drinking alcohol while playing billiards all around us and he can’t even muster up a curious eye?

Sebastian sits at the bar and I sit next to him. The bartender is an older man with a button up shirt, unbuttoned to show of the same type of tank top the other men have on. On my left a few seats down is a man passed out with a loud snore amplifying out of him. His shot glass is licked clean, and I find it safe to assume it wasn’t his first and only.

“What’ll it be?” the Bartender asks us, eyeing us up and down most definitely because of our less than clean appearance.

“One beer,” Sebastian says while pulling out his wallet

The bartender nods and pulls out an ice cold beer from beneath the counter, dripping from melted ice. He snaps it open for Sebastian after looking at his identification and cash, then looks at me.

“And for you?”

“Um…Ginger Ale is fine. No ice, please.”

Both Sebastian and the bartender exchange a judgmental eyebrow arch that is then put on me.

“What?”

“Are you serious?” Sebastian refrains from laughing.

I nod, “Yes. I just…I’d rather focus on getting back home than drinking.”

“Well it’s going to be a while until anyone comes for us, Leslie. Might as well have a drink. I’ll pay.”

“That’s very generous of you, Sebastian, but I’m going to pass. As a matter of fact, I should make a phone call right about now. Where is your telephone?”

The bartender points to a wall with an old telephone wedged in between two photos of a woman half naked on a motorcycle.

“Thank you very much,” I tell him before jumping off of my seat and powerwalking towards the destination. Upon walking there, two women coming from around the corner ahead from what I believe is the restroom both plant their eyes on me, down to my shoes, and say something under their breath accompanied by a laugh. I tighten my grip around my purse.

When I make it to the phone, I think about who I am to call. I’m very sure that they know we’re missing by now, and in addition to that, both of our phones are as dead as dead can be, so who knows what they’re doing right now to look for us. With that fact in mind, I want to rely on someone who won’t blow this all out of proportion while still being able to keep quiet on all the details about what happened today.

A light bulb goes off in my head. Sarah.

I look through my purse until I find a quarter and place it into the telephone. Disinfecting the phone with my sanitizing wipes I keep handy in my bag, I wait along with the long ringing until I hear the familiar sassy voice.

“Hello?”

“Sarah! It’s me, Leslie!”

“Leslie!” she gasps. “Oh, thank God! Where are you guys!?”

I’m surprised at the concern lacing her voice. “We’re at a bar, in a town called…Bakersfield, I think. Yeah, that seems to be the name from the signs that read Bakersfield, TN, so I’m betting on it. We’re both fine, by the way. Well…I cut my foot on a rock but other than that we’re fine.”

I hear Lucas in the background asking frantically if it’s Sebastian and I.

“Lucas shut up and calm the fuck down!” Sarah yells before speaking to me. “Why are you all the way in Bakersfield?”

“It’s a really, really long story,” I tell her truthfully.

“Well I’m just glad you guys are safe. Jesus,” she pauses for a moment. “Fiona called us today while we were in Memphis freaking out. Apparently, Collingwood called her and told her his driver had reported you two missing after you ventured off and never came back.”

“Did they send out a search party?”

“No. I guess Patrick persuaded her not to, as it would ‘bring unwanted attention if the situation got out.’”

I shake my head. It isn’t shocking to know of Patrick’s concern with situational stability with the media rather than the safety of us both.

“We’re on our way to the manner from Memphis right now. Do you want me to call Fiona?”

“No, no, don’t call anyone yet. Just come down here and pick us up, and we’ll tell her when we get back. I don’t want this whole thing to blow up too badly.”

“Well it already has, Leslie.”

“Just trust me. Please? We’re in a bar called “The Devil’s Minstrel,” and we won’t be leaving anytime soon, I promise.”

“Alright. Hey Lucas,” Sarah yells. “Looks like you’re going on a road trip with me!”

Lucas’s loud whining blares through the phone before she hangs up. When she does, I decide to head to the bathroom before going back to the bar. I follow the path the women took until I’m at a door with the familiar “women’s restroom” sign. Inside, I’m taken back to find the bathroom not as disgusting as I thought. The brightest form of light comes from a dim lamp hanging from the ceiling, but the floor is clean, the sinks aren’t clogged, and the only bugs are moths and mosquitos gathering around the light.

After going to the restroom, I come out to wash my hands and look at myself in the mirror. I don’t even know who I’m looking at—my face is flushed, most likely sun-burned which is something I’m going to feel tomorrow despite the sun screen I put on this morning and the extra layer I put on the last hours of Sebastian and I’s expedition through the forest.

“24-hour protection, my ass,” I mumble to myself.

After washing my hands, I take a napkin from the dispenser and wet it with cool water. The cold stuns my skin when I place it on my face, and for a minute all I want to do is sit here with a cool napkin on my face, but after a moment to myself, I wipe the sweat and dirt off my face. Repeating the process a few times, I reconstruct my bun and dab my underarms and neck. I look at myself again. It’s not a huge transformation, but considering what I looked like before, it’s something.

I walk back to the bar with shaking fingers when I am welcomed back to the scene. We’re stuck here, for the next few hours until Sarah and Lucas show up. At least we’re inside somewhere, with actual people in an actual town, but this bar is far from friendly and inviting, and frankly any other place to stop and wait for them is not on the top of Sebastian’s priority list because if it was, we wouldn’t be in here.

I sit back down at the bar next to Sebastian, “I just talked to Sarah. She’s on her way.”

Sebastian is overcome with relief as he drinks the last of his beer, “Thank God.”

“Which means we’re stuck here for a while.”

“Then in that case, go get us that booth over there.”

Sebastian points to a booth in the far back, away from the bar-goers and drunken townspeople, one of them dancing intoxicatingly to the new song that has come on.

I nod and begin to make my way over there. The loud pounding of the bass of blues attacks my ears and the crowded assembly of people make me want to pull my hair out. I manage to squeeze myself through about three men at least a foot taller than I with around one hundred pounds against my own weight. One drunk man almost spills his whiskey on me after being pushed by his friend.

“I’m shorry,” he slurs before landing on a table, stomach first.

“Got damn, Jebbie get a hold a ya ass!” a man laughs.

On that note, I rush through the crowd as fast as I can, gliding through another room half as populated as the first until I am in the back room, where only two heavy-set women sit and laugh by the empty pool table area. I notice a few other bar goers conversing at booths and tables, but they are much tamer and quieter compared to their bar-counterparts in the other room.

I pick the empty booth Sebastian pointed to and sit down. This room happens to be much hotter than the rest of the bar; the moths flying around look exhausted themselves. I fan myself with my hands until Sebastian walks into the room and sits down at the booth. A few people’s eyes linger on him for a while before they resume their conversation.

“Sebastian,” I whisper.

“What?”

“Those people were staring at you.”

He shrugs, “And?”

“And?” I scoff, “you can’t let anyone recognize you!”

“I doubt anyone is going to recognize me here.”

He gestures to the bustling group of people a few rooms away and the amount of their drunkenness. I give him an apprehending look before sighing at letting it go.

A woman suddenly approaches our booth. There is a tray in her hand filled with beers and a platter of French fries, and my mouth immediately starts salivating at the smell of salt and oil.

“Here you are,” she says as she sets everything down.

“Thank you,” Sebastian says. I try to keep my hands underneath the table because if I don’t, my proper manners will be out of the window with these French fries.

“No problem,” she replies, and as soon as she leaves I dive into the food as if Sebastian doesn’t even exist. I take a handful of fries and stuff them into my mouth. I’m unsure whether or not my starvation or the execution of the dish did it for me, but whatever it is, my taste buds are in heaven.

In my trance, I hear chuckling across from me. I open my eyes only to find Sebastian laughing at me with amused eyes. I blush before licking my lips and wiping my hands on my skirt.

“Sorry.”

Sebastian takes a few fries and pops them into his mouth, “Don’t apologize.”

I try to ignore my embarrassment by reaching for my Ginger Ale. Except all the drinks on the table are varieties of beer.

“Um, there’s no Ginger Ale.”

“I know,” he replies as he picks up a beer and opens it with the bottle opener the waitress set down.

“Sebastian!”

“What? You act as if ‘worker’s professionalism’ still applies in the condition we’re in.”

“I told you I’m not drinking. I need to stay alert, especially in here.”

“What, you think someone’s going to try and threaten you for your lunch money? Relax.”

“I can’t relax! Look at the situation we’re i—”

“Ah, ah, ah!” he holds an index finger between us to silence me. “Relax.”

I scowl at him, but eventually I relax my brows and pout at my defeat.

“Soften the shoulders, too,” he says.

I do exactly that. It almost hurts to.

He smiles, “Good. Feel better?”

“No. I don’t.”

Sebastian takes a drink of his beer, “Well…maybe we should play a game to pass the time.”

I can’t help but scoff, “A game? We aren’t children.”

“I never said it was a children’s game.”

My breath gets caught in my throat. I meet his eyes and find a considerable amount of mischief and slyness in them, paired with a twitch on his mouth hinting at a smile. I grab one of the unopened beer bottles and drag my fingers down the damp sides.

“Um…okay. Wh-what game did you have in mind?”

He leans back and sighs, “How about a…a…I don’t know, like a twenty questions game.”

“Alright. Innocent enough.”

“Alright, cool.”

“So I can ask you whatever I want?”

Sebastian rolls his eyes at the wide grin surfacing on my face, “Within reason.”

“Yes!” I beam with a clap of my hands. I take the bottle opener and open the bottle in front of me. When I sip the beer, I wince at the strong, bitter taste that’s ultimately unfamiliar.

“So now you want to be a party animal?” he laughs.

I nod against the beer coursing through my system, “Mhm, I sure do,” I reply with sarcasm in my voice.

“Okay, okay, understandable. But there’s one condition. Whatever you ask me, you have to answer too. And vice versa.”

I’m about to protest until I realize his conditions are fair. Besides that, there is no rule to this “game” he wants to play. And I’m given the opportunity to ask Sebastian Harrison whatever I want.

I’m tempted to write his responses down.

“But we have to agree to be honest with each other,” I say. “Honest answers, okay?”

“Alright.”

I hold out my pinky to him, and all he does it look down at it and chuckle. I raise my eyebrows in seriousness until he clasps his pinky around mine, sealing the deal.

I get comfortable in my seat, pick up a few fries and put them into my mouth as I think of a good question. After a minute of only a long guitar solo playing Sebastian vocalizes his impatience with a loud groan.

“What? I’m trying to think of a good one,” I defend myself through a full fry-mouth.

He taps his fingers on the table while I continue to think, but I hadn’t realized just how hard this is. There is a plethora of questions I want to ask that I don’t want to answer for myself. Not to mention the questions that might make him uncomfortable.

Sebastian sits up when he sees the happiness appear on my face at my brilliant question.

“Ha! I’ve got one. Okay…if you were stranded on a deserted island and could only have one thing with you from home, what would it be?”

His face falls, “Really?”

“What? It’s a great question.”

“It’s a question you’re comfortable answering.”

“Regardless of the motive, you still have to answer it.”

He rubs his eyes and actually thinks hard about the answer he wants to give me.

“Um…weed, Budweiser and my Russian carving knife.”

“Oh, give me a break.”

I reach for more fries as Sebastian laughs at my reaction.

“I’m just being honest.”

“Yeah, I see that. Well for myself I would bring Austin Hale’s ‘Key Points for Understanding Life,’ a pot to boil water, and my pocket knife.”

“Well at least we know who’s dying first.”

I roll my eyes at him, “Ha, ha, very funny.”

“Alright, well now that’s out of the way, it’s time for my question. Are you a virgin?”

I choke on my beer at his question. Did he seriously just ask me that?

He waits patiently as I catch my breath, and when I do I give him the dirtiest look I can muster up.

“Are you serious? What kind of question is that?”

“What? All you said was to be honest, you never put any restrictions on what type of questions we can ask.”

He’s right. And I hate it. I would think that I, out of all people, would limit the type of questions we are able to ask. But me being so eager to ask Sebastian any questions I want, I didn’t think of it.

I think hard down at my beer bottle, trying to avoid his eyes that are peering deviously at me. Of course he would ask a question like this, but what do I have to lose anyway?

I sigh, “No. I’m...I’m not”

“Elaborate.”

I crack a smile, “Really? You’re such a pervert.”

He smiles too, “What? I like the details.”

My face grows hot, “What do you want to know?”

“Who, when, where, and why?”

I’m burdened with the memory of when I lost my virginity, in a typical college-boy decorated sorority house room during a party I was oddly invited to...well, a party my roommate was invited to that she secondly invited me to because she needed moral support during her escapade with the popular and vocal Josh Tanner. That night was full of uncomfortable apologies and unknown discomfort that I immediately regretted; he didn’t even know my name:

Aw man, Amber you feel so fucking good.

Um...my name is Leslie.

...oh.

“His name was Alex” I explain with an increasingly blushed face. “He was twenty-two and a senior in college and I was twenty years old in my junior year of college. As for where, I was at a sorority party with my friend. And why? He was drunk and said I was pretty even though it was the alcohol speaking for him. And then...yeah.”

“And then yeah?”

“God, you’re so insistent.”

“How was it?”

I groan, “It was horrible. So horrible. His smell was positively putrid and he was so drunk. And I didn’t even co—,” I stop myself when I realize I’m going too far. “I…never mind.”

“Wait, you didn’t what?”

“Nothing. It’s nothing. And besides, it’s your turn to answer the question even though there’s no point in me asking.”

He smirks, drinking his beer again and staring at me above the rim through his thick lashes. I shake my head and bite into a fry.

“Well, you’re right. That would be completely pointless since the entire world knows I’m not,” he drags a hand over his jaw. “But, I can spare the details if you’d like.”

I lean forward with peaked interest.

“I was fourteen. And it was with a friend I had. Sonya. And it was awful because one, I didn’t know what I was doing, and two, she was a lesbian so she didn’t even like it.”

I can’t help but chuckle, “She was a lesbian?”

He nods, “She found out I was a virgin and wanted to try it out. Man, it was horrible. So bad. She tried to make me feel better by reminding me that she liked girls anyway so it wasn’t my fault.”

He laughs to himself, letting it trail off a bit as he engrosses himself in the memory. He then blinks the flashback away a few times before looking back at me. I stare back at him, getting caught in his eyes which have a tendency of sucking you in without you even knowing it. The blues music tunes out a bit as we gaze at each other.

“Next question?” he asks while taking a few fries into his mouth.

I think for a bit, “Okay, I’ve got one. Do you want kids? And if so, what are your ideal names?”

Sebastian grimaces with the predictable reaction I had expected from him when I mentioned the word “kids,” especially after the fair incident with baby Cash. But I see the disgust waver as the silence continues.

“You’re lying, huh?”

He shakes his head, “I didn’t even say anything.”

“No, but you gave me a nasty look that went away, like you were thinking of telling me the truth.”

Sebastian looks around quickly at a few bar-goers drinking and talking quietly amongst themselves. The two women by the billiard table start playing a game of pool while laughing and toying with each other.

“Oh, c’mon, it’s not like your reputation will be tainted if you tell me. And I’m your publicist now, I should know these things about you.”

“Eh…no. Next question.”

“So that is a yes!?”

He starts blushing through his damp face, “No, it wasn’t.”

“Sebastian, we took care of a baby deer together today, telling me one of your ‘secrets’ seriously isn’t a big deal at this point, if you get my drift.”

I gesture to the deteriorating southern bar around us with an obvious look. He taps his fingers on the table a few times before giving in.

“Alright. I…I guess maybe…one day I’d like to have kids. Yeah, one day.”

“See? That wasn’t so hard. Do you have any names?”

He sighs and looks up at a few photos handing on the walls, “Um…I do but I don’t know, I think it’s kind of corny, actually.”

“No, just tell me. I won’t judge, I swear.”

“God, you’re just trying to pry me open like a treasure chest, aren’t you?”

“I sure am.”

He pouts his lips at his beer, then meets my eyes, “Okay. But this stays between us.”

“Oh, trust me this whole day stays between us, Mister.”

“Well I don’t have a boy name because I never really thought about having a son. But I do have a girl name.”

“Which is?”

He looks down at the table and plays with the platter, spinning it around in slow circles.

“Emily,” he finally answers

I gasp like an idiot, “Aw!

“Yeah, yeah, whatever,” he mumbles while I squeal from excitement. “What about you?”

I remember once again that I have to answer the question, too. My smile falls a bit, Sebastian noticing the change in my expression.

“I don’t want kids,” I say.

“Really? Why not?”

“I mean…I don’t know it’s just…I find it foolish for me to take care of another life when I can’t even take care of myself half of the time, you know? And plus I just don’t like children. Never have.”

“You don’t even have a baby name? Nothing?”

I shake my head, “Nope.”

“Hm. Well I don’t blame you. If you were my mom I don’t think I could handle it.”

I grab a fry and throw it right at his face as he laughs, “Yeah, very funny. I’m practically like your mom since I’m babysitting you all the time.”

“Which is completely your choice, by the way. I don’t think mothers really have a choice.”

“They do,” I add. “Mothers do have a choice. I mean of course they didn’t really choose to give birth to you. It just happens, and you can’t stop seven pounds of human being wanting to get out of you when the time comes. But after you’re born it’s all based on choices. People tend to think that mothers have this obligation to love their children. But really, they don’t. All they have to do is give birth to you. Everything else is…a choice.”

Choices. Who am I to talk about the privilege of choices? Lately, I’ve made some horrible ones, including choosing to go the opposite way in the forest because I was too stubborn to listen to Sebastian. So it seems very foolish of me to preach about choices when I don’t deserve them anymore based on the ones I have made in my life.

“You know what I find funny about mothers who make bad choices?” Sebastian says. “They expect you to be indebted to them because they brought you into the world. I mean, forget the countless times they forgot you even existed or the other times they couldn’t even comfort you while you cried, it’s all about the gift of life they have bestowed upon you.”

“Exactly! Oh, God that’s the nail on the coffin right there. An-and also, they think they’re doing you a favor; ‘preparing you for the cold world’ by being so loveless.”

“And don’t forget the piano lessons and football practices they hold over your head—”

“And the ballet recitals and tutoring sessions they pay for because you aren’t graceful or smart enough—”

“Thinking that’s supposed to substitute for the times they’ve treated you like—”

“Nothing?” I finish.

“Yeah,” Sebastian’s face is serious and in deep thought. “Nothing. Like prized possessions. A-a physical embodiment of an…achievement to show off to their friends at Tea Time. It’s like we’re trophies: left alone to collect dust on the shelf but only paid attention to when they need validation and a feeling of self-worth and a justified reasoning for their actions. Because no one hugs and kisses a trophy. It’s just there to make you feel good about yourself only when you need it.”

“And when that trophy rusts and only becomes a memory of what used to be or what could have been…it’s useless.”

And then it is silent. We drink our beer at the same time, mine going down much harder than his, and stare at our hands in silence. An odd feeling plagued me when Sebastian actually understood what I was talking about. Growing up and even now, I’m surrounded by people with the most perfect mothers. The mothers that cook your favorite dishes and call you every day to ask how you are. My mother hasn’t even had an actual conversation with me since I was fifteen, unless she calls, drunk, telling me about how I’m the reason the divorce happened and I should feel disgusted by my reflection. However, when Sebastian actually understands the words coming out of my mouth, there is undoubtedly a connection of some sorts in that sense. Sure, it’s hard to picture Fiona as anything but the kindest woman on earth, but who was she five, ten years ago? Who was Sebastian five, ten years ago?

Sebastian raises his drink towards me, “To our mothers: ruining our hopes and dreams since 1985.”

“Amen to that,” I reply as I tap my glass against his.


It’s been an hour and a half since we’ve arrived at the bar, and by now Sebastian and I have moved on from our question game to pure, almost unfiltered conversation. We’ve ordered another platter of fries (with chicken wings) and devoured that in record time. And as for myself, I’ve consumed more beer than I planned and if I may admit it, may be a little on the tipsy side.

Just a little. Because Leslie King does not get drunk.

Ever.

“No, I’m serious I just…love…food,” I giggle. “I love food. I used to hate it…but now I love it.”

“Same! I love food, too! Holy fucking shit!” Sebastian yells. I notice he looks to be tipsier than I.

“No! But it’s different for you!” I groan as I lay my head on the table. “You can eat like…a whole platter of chicken wings and no one says anything. But like…if I do it, I get the weird looks like I’m eating too much. Like I’m a pig.”

Sebastian laughs extremely loud when I start making oink noises.

“You know what this reminds me of?” He says.

“What?”

“My Prom, scarfing down food with our dates as some Denny’s after the dance. Did you ever do that?”

I pucker my lips at the reality—the reality that I didn’t go to prom.

“Actually I…no, I didn’t.”

Sebastian’s amusement leaves his face, “Oh. Well what restaurant did you go to after?”

“I…I didn’t really go to prom,” I admit.

“Really?”

I nod. I can feel him staring at me as I trace patters on the table. Me not attending Prom is something I like to keep buried and forgotten. But the memory of staying home by myself as my classmates had their magical experiences makes it feel as if weights are in my chest.

“Why didn’t you go?” He asks.

“I didn’t…I didn’t have a date,” I give him a smug smile. “It was that Sadie Hawkins tradition where the girls ask the guys and I asked one guy I liked to the dance. But after being…rudely rejected I decided not to give it a second try.”

The pity in Sebastian’s eyes makes me want to forget I even said anything.

“Well you could have gone with friends?”

I chuckle in an attempt to lighten the mood, “Yeah, well that would have been helpful if I had friends to go with at the time; they all had dates so that wouldn’t have worked out.”

The awkwardness at our booth is painful. Sebastian, used to having an “acquaintance” every function, party and event he goes to probably doesn’t know the meaning of not going because of a lack of a date. But that’s what happens when you’re an insanely attractive man with a charming tongue, right?

“I didn’t even wanna go anyway,” I say in a nonchalant tone. “Prom is…expensive and time consuming and plus I had to get ready for college. And I heard it wasn’t even that great. And-and, I didn’t even have a dress so there was no point, right?”

“Right!” Sebastian nods surely. “Prom was stupid anyway. Trust me. Nothing interesting.”

I know he’s only agreeing to make me feel better. And although I appreciate the gesture, it makes me feel pathetic. A once in a lifetime dance and I didn’t go.

“C’mon,” Sebastian randomly says as he scoots out of his seat and stands up, stretching his legs with a groan.

“Where are you going?”

“Let’s go play a game of pool.”

I look at the green pool table, dimly lit by an orange light above. The billiard balls are scattered above while the cue sticks are in the hands of the women socializing by the table.

“Oh no, Sebastian, I-I don’t know how to play that.”

“That’s why I’m going to teach you.”

I look at the pool table again and back at the empty platter of food that will ultimately make me feel guilty about myself if I sit near it. Slowly, I get up and walk to his side. He walks to the pool table, and immediately the women end their conversation when Sebastian approaches them. Both of them look to be in their late thirties, with big boobs, bright makeup and expressive hair.

“Ladies,” Sebastian greets. “Is it alright if we take over for a bit?”

The black woman eyes Sebastian up and down with absolutely no restraint in her eyes.

“Sure thing, sugar,” she answers. The words slide off her tongue in a sweet southern accent.

Her friend fluffs her short blonde hair before handing him the cue stick in her hand.

“Thank you.”

“No problem,” the first woman says. “And by the way, my name’s Ada. Like ‘aye-duh.’ And this is Cindy. Like ‘sin-dee.’”

Cindy, fixing her hair again, winks at him.

“Nice meeting you two,” Sebastian replies.

“Likewise. Listen, what’s a fine…young fellow like yourself wanderin’ this side of Tennessee? You don’t look like a Bakersfield native.”

These women don’t recognize Sebastian, either?

Sebastian leans his weight on the cue stick, “I’m a tourist. Just thought I’d pop in, get a feel of what a real bar is like with my friend.”

Ada and Cindy simultaneously lean over Sebastian’s frame to find me standing shyly in the background.

“Oh hey, Sugar!” Ada yells! “I ain’t even seen’t you there, you so quiet!”

All I do is smile.

Ada gestures her cue stick out to me. I walk over to her, getting a whiff of her potent floral perfume and take the stick.

“Oh, this is really shiny. And heavy,” I marvel. “It’s kind of like a light saber!”

And then, like the uneducated southern-bar aficionado I am, sway the cue stick above my head in a circular motion. Sebastian, Ada and Cindy duck in time for me not to smack them in their heads as the cue whistles through the air at my swing. Ada and Cindy wail in their ducked-down position.

Sebastian snatches the cue stick from me as they finish screaming.

“Sorry,” I say in a small voice up at his stern look. He huffs and begins setting up the game as Cindy holds both cue sticks, giving me a watchful eye. Sebastian takes the ball rack and starts assembling the billiard balls inside; the ball with the label “1” on it at the top, the black eight ball in the middle, a solid on the right and a striped on the left, all before placing the rest of the pool balls in the empty spaces. Then, he places the solid white ball outside of the rack, right in front of the “1” ball about two feet away.

“You’ve never played pool? Ever? Haven’t even seen a game?”

I shake my head.

He sighs, “Well, then. We’re going to have to start from scratch.”

Sebastian politely takes the cue sticks from Cindy and hands me one while giving me a look that reads “don’t swing it,” in his eyes. He picks up a small box-shaped thing from the edge of the table and rubs the concave end over the tip of the cue stick.

“What is that?” I ask.

“It’s just chalk. Easier execution.”

He does the same to my cue stick before he sets it down and pans the table. He reaches over, carefully removes the rack from around the billiard balls and places it on the side.

“Alright. The basic objective is to get every ball into those side pockets except for the cue ball. We’re going to do a really watered down version and play a game that consist of just that: getting the billiard balls in all of the pockets without getting the white one mixed in. After that, we can play one-on-one with actual legitimate rules.”

“Okay. Sounds easy enough.”

Sebastian raises an eyebrow at me at my confident reply.

“Alright, then. So um…lean over a bit so your eyes are leveled with the table.”

I follow his instructions until the cue ball is in my central vision. Tapping into my limited memory of billiard games I’ve seen on TV, I mimic their stance.

“Okay. What’s next?”

“Now there’s a certain way you have to hold it. You’re right handed, right?”

“Mhm.”

“Okay, so that means you’re going to be gripping the base with your right hand, elevating your elbow to raise the cue stick so that way the tip is making sharp contact with the pathway of the cue ball for your first shot. Then place your left hand below here, right between your index finger and your thumb. It should slide easily across your hand.”

I go over the steps in my head and still manage to do everything wrong. But even though I can hear Ada and Cindy whispering about how my elbow is too high and see Sebastian frowning and my left hand placement, I still decide to take the shot with the notion that I’ll be lucky enough to get it right, and completely miss the cue ball.

“Okay, this is hard. This is way too hard and this doesn’t make sense!”

“No, it makes perfect sense, you’ve just got to relax and fix your posture. For starters—”

I try to take the shot once more but only end up jabbing the table.

“Goddammit!”

“Leslie, your hips aren’t aligned.”

I wipe the sweat off of my forehead with my shoulder, “My hips are fine, thank you very much.”

“No they aren’t.”

And before I know it, amidst the slow, soothing sounds of guitar and bass playing from the jukebox and the clacking sounds of the pool table in the other room, Sebastian is at my side with his hand on my left hip. I tense up when I feel his contact, and for a moment his hand hovers over my side, but then quickly is placed firmly on my hip again as he pushes my body into his. I suck in a breath when I feel his chest pressed into my back, his hip pushing into my ass, and something else pushing onto my ass.

Is his dick on my ass? I think to myself. It has to be, because there is no way in hell he can be this close to me without me feeling anything. It isn’t like he’s hard or anything…yet, but I definitely feel him against me. And it’s making me sweat. Badly.

Shit, I’m going to pass out.

“First of all,” he whispers, his lips grazing my ear ever so slightly. “You’re too tense and too determined. Relax your shoulders…this being the second time I told you to do this tonight.”

I relax my shoulders and force myself not to look to my right, for his eyes are directly leveled and neighboring with mine.

Holy fuck.

“Great. Second of all, your hips aren’t aligned.”

Sebastian grabs my hips with both of his hands on either side, gently yet firmly. My hands hold the cue stick so tightly my knuckles redden the same color as my blouse. My eyes wander, uncertain of where to look, until Sebastian’s hands accidentally land on my ass and make my eyes wider than marbles.

Both of us stiffen like statues before Sebastian removes his hands and places them on the sides of the pool table, between my torso.

“Um, sorry,” he croaks.

“It’s fine.” I can see his Adam’s apple bobbing up and down uncomfortably out of the corner of my eye. And it doesn’t make sense to me, since he’s the most comfortable person around women I know.

“Now, lower your elbow a bit,” he says. Chills course through my arms. “That should add some clarity to your shot.”

I lower my elbow as he says, but can’t bring myself to shoot again. I kind of know what to do; pull back, pull forward harder. But when I try to move my arms nothing happens.

“I’m sorry, am I making you nervous?”

Is water wet?

“No,” I answer bluntly before drawing the cue stick back and pushing it into the cue ball, making it fly into the billiard balls that later scatter across the green table.

“Ha! I did it!” I beam. Sebastian faces me with a slight smile at my achievement, and I face him with the widest smile my face will allow. But our eyes don’t break. We just stare at each other until our smiles are gone and it’s only our eyes speaking for us.

Damn, this is hot.”

Sebastian and I turn to face Ada, staring at both of us with seductive eyes. I feel my face burning when I realize what she’s talking about.

“Goddammit, Ada you ruined the moment!” Cindy yells.

“What, I ain’t lyin’! Best three minutes I’ve had t’day!”

Ada and Cindy laugh in agreement with a distinct handshake they exchange. Sebastian and I back away from each other and avoid our eyes.

“I need to pee,” I blurt out.

“Um…o-okay?” Sebastian replies.

I shuffle in my heels to our booth, grab my purse, and rush through the room until I’m sure I’ve disappeared in between the crowd.

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