Bethany hated bars. She hated the music, the inescapable smell of alcohol, but most of all, she hated the pressing bodies touching her. Every time a sweat-soaked drunk pushed past her, her stomach turned. Thankfully, Sarah, one of the girls she came out with, noticed her discomfort and leaned close to whisper, “Smoke break?”
Bethany nodded and they made their way through the intoxicated crowd to the back exit of the venue. When they stepped outside, Bethany took a deep breath.
“Honestly, I don’t know why I even bother going out. I never have a good time,” she said as Sarah lit her own cig then hers.
“The band is pretty cool,” Sarah mumbled around the stick in her mouth. Bethany wrinkled her nose. The only reason she agreed to go out was because it was Trisha’s birthday, and Sarah guilted her into it. They all knew Bethany’s aversion to bars but always insisted on dragging her along with them. She knew in their minds they were ‘including her’ and ‘being good friends’ but good friends would know she was better off at home, tucked into bed, and her cat curled up between her legs. Any type of social interaction exhausted her. Sarah was the only person Bethany could stand for long periods of time.
A loud cheer came from inside the bar, and Bethany saw Sarah sigh and look at the door behind them. Guilt curled in Bethany’s stomach. She made a scene of sitting down in one of the random chairs placed outside and plopping her purse on the table, “I’m going to stay out here, you can go ahead and go back.”
Sarah stared at her for a long minute, “You sure?”
Bethany shrugged and pulled out her phone, no longer looking, as Sarah stubbed out her cig and leaned down to kiss Bethany’s cheek.
“Text me if you need me,” she said.
Bethany hummed, still scrolling through her phone. Things like this happened all the time. Sarah would want her to go out, even though Bethany knew she wouldn’t have a good time, and Sarah would end up sacrificing her fun.
Bethany sucked at her cigarette bitterly.
The back door opened and Bethany looked up, expecting Sarah, but paused. A man had stepped outside. He didn’t even acknowledge her presence and just leaned against the wall across from her. She watched as he tipped his head back against the wall and fished a pack of cigarettes out of his pocket. Bethany hadn’t realized she was blatantly staring until he met her eyes, and she gave him a quick, awkward smile and looked back at her phone.
She eyed her cigarette debating on how willing she was to waste half of it because some drunk guy was being weird. Not willing enough, she decided and took a long drag.
“You got a light?” the sudden rasp of his voice surprised her so much she flinched. She looked up at him. He was just blinking at her with his unlit cig positioned between his teeth. Bethany thought about saying no, but the orange glow of her own burned up at her critically.
“Sure,” she said and handed it to him. The tips of his fingers brushed her hand and the softness was surprising to her.
“Thanks,” he muttered around his cig. She gave him a tight smile. While he lit it, she examined him more. He seemed older than her - judging by the lines in his face around his eyes and mouth. Almost handsome if not for how haggard he looked. Bags under his eyes, and stubble lining his cheeks. He offered her lighter back to her with a smile on his face, making him look younger for a moment.
They smoked in silence, Bethany sneaking glances up at him. He was looking down the alleyway, but from the glazed look on his face, he seemed like he was lost in thought. Bethany wondered what about. Maybe he was regretting coming out, maybe he was hiding from the good time, just like she was. She doubted it - most adults don’t get bullied into going out like her.
Bethany sighed and put out her cigarette, but the chorus of voices inside the bar made her break out into a cold sweat. She made no move to stand up.
“Too much?” The man asked tipping his head towards the door, and she shrugged.
“There are other ways I could be spending my Friday night,” Bethany said picking on a piece of fuzz on her jeans.
A chill ran through her shoulders, and she flicked her eyes up to him. He was completely focused on her now, his dark eyes squinting slightly, and she felt the urge to run but tampered it down.
“Any ideas?” she asked. Blood rushed to her face at the smile he gave her. He took a long drag on the cigarette still lit in his hand.
“A few,” he said flicking his cigarette into the pebbled grunge beneath them. He started walking down the alleyway towards the busy street. Bethany texted Sarah then counted to ten in her head. She stood up and followed him.
They ended up at a small coffee shop a block away. It was a warm place, a few people scattered throughout the tables and booths, the walls black and decorated in small painting easels. Most of them were really colorful and stood out against the dark walls. She noticed that some of them were blank.
“They sell the spots to amateur artists,” He said following her eyes, “they don’t always turn out good, but that’s not really the point of creative freedom.”
The pair settled into a booth. A waitress sat down two cups and a steaming pot on their table. It was at that moment, the gnawing panic really began to set in as Bethany stared at the stranger across from her. The stranger she followed into a coffee shop. She didn’t even know his first name. She had lost her goddamn mind.
“Um,’ she said and he raised one of his dark eyebrows. Bethany thought about just getting up and leaving, but she took in a shaky breath.
“I don’t usually do this,” she said. He poured him a drink and then her.
“What? Follow strange men to strange places?” he asked when he set the pot down. She didn’t want to trust how relaxed he looked leaning over his coffee mug, but she couldn’t help herself. Her shoulders lost some of their tension.
“That,” she said and settled back into the booth, “and ditch my friends.”
“They probably miss you,” he said and she couldn’t help the way her nose twitched upwards. She picked up the mug and held it in front of her face.
“Fat chance,” she said and sipped on her coffee. It was more bitter than she usually liked it, but for some reason, she felt like showing off. She was always more impressed by people who drank their coffee plain. It was a lot like people who drank liquor straight.
Her phone buzzed against the table and lit up.
Sarah: did you go back inside?
Bethany didn’t know what to say to her. The scolding she knew was coming sounded like the opposite of what she wanted right then.
“See, they miss you,” he said and she brushed it off with a shrug and another sip.
“Is this one of your regular spots?” She asked looking around the quaint place.
“The owner and I go way back. We met in college,” he said and she nodded. Her head felt slightly heavier with the warm drink filling her up. The sound of people talking around her dimmed down significantly. He came into sharp focus.
“What did you go for?” she asked and rubbed her eyes. She suddenly didn’t feel heavy anymore. In fact, she felt light as a feather.
“Why don’t I tell you at my place,” he said and stood up. Her eyes were slightly glistening when she looked up at him. She couldn’t think of a single reason not to. She stood up and held his hand so she wouldn’t float away. She almost couldn’t even feel her feet as they left the coffee shop. They took a left down the alley where his car was parked. Bethany giggled breathlessly when he opened the door for her. He’s a gentleman, she thought.
She leaned her head against the window as he got in on the driver’s side. The heater felt good against her knees and she melted back against the seat.
Her phone, back inside the coffee shop, vibrated twice. She had three missed calls and two texts.
Sarah: where the fuck are you ?
Sarah: Beth this isn’t funny. Answer your phone.
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