A glittering array of beautiful people, and there I was staring, with my hands stuffed into my pockets. Some preppy, short-haired boy in a tight button-down danced by and winked at me. He smelled overpoweringly of body spray and clutched an orange cocktail.
I grinned, but all I could think was: Get off my lawn, you little bastard.
Susanne grabbed my arm. "Etienne, drink. Let's get your blood flowing."
I let her drag me around, since that's what big sisters are for. That and forcing you to be sociable, even after you've told them repeatedly that you don't need to "get back out there."
My blood was already flowing, though. The speakers spewed questionable remixes but of songs I liked, at least. (Currently "Atomic" by Blondie. Everyone loves a stereotype.) The people-watching was good too, all that jumping and grinding and great hormonal stupidity. It was mostly men, though there was a handful of straight girls looking to dance without getting hit on, lesbians on the prowl, and couples like Susanne and Lucy.
Suse was in jeans and a girly Steelers T-shirt, but Lucy was, as she called it, tarted up. While she ordered drinks, I glanced around for some new people to watch. A few couples caught my eye at one end of the bar--new, flirting, horny, awkward.
I didn't miss the game, but I was surprised that it called up as many good memories as bad. The red-hot look. The first kiss. The promise of something new, maybe something better--or maybe just an experience.
My last first kiss had been with Paul. Almost three years ago.
"I feel old," I said.
Susanne glared. "Um, I just turned thirty."
She punched my arm.
I looked to the other end of the bar. Now those guys didn't belong. Black and white clothes, hair gel, skinny pants, and tattoos for all, metal in their faces for some. One of the metal-free guys looked up, eyes flashing with the electric blue glow above the bar, and caught my glance. He smiled, wolfish and cunning, his long bangs falling artfully over his face, tight gray T-shirt stenciled in black spray paint to read RIOT GEAR.
An old trick from the Clash--good taste. I was out of practice with the eye-fucking, but it's funny how fast it comes back when someone's worth a good, hard look. Handsome somewhere under that hair, all hard lines and broad shoulders but lean like a panther. Took me a good five seconds to realize his eyes were so striking because they were painted up with black liner.
"Don't flirt with the gutter trash, Et." Susanne elbowed me in the ribs.
"You introduced me to punk at twelve. If I'm looking at--"
"It was a phase."
Lucy shoved a martini into my hand.
"Thanks," I said, eyeing the drink. "Guess it's better than that orange crap I just saw some kid drinking."
"James Bond drinks this crap, so stuff it." Lucy pursed her lips.
Susanne said, "Now find someone less dirty to get up on, little brother, and I will be on the floor with my hot girlfriend."
Our older brother, Marcel? Possibly the straightest man in the world. Susanne suspects Mom dropped him on his head.
"For the record, Bond does vodka martinis," I said. But I took her advice--or halfway took it, at least--and stopped eying riot boy. Not that he'd be interested; I usually attracted the baby-faced businessmen with hard-ons for douchey singer-songwriters, not the blazingly hot punk rock idolaters.
I floated around the edges of the floor, slowly warming to room temperature, literally and figuratively, until the buzz and hormones began to feel like a homecoming. Eventually some old friends waved me over for a drink in a corner--which was great until they asked what happened with Paul.
I lied and said the split had been amicable, but I made my excuses soon after that. I was on my way back to the bar when someone grabbed my hand. When I looked over my shoulder, I met pale, charcoal-lined eyes and an insouciant smirk.
Riot boy. He nodded in the direction of the dance floor.
My mind faltered. My response was automatic. I nodded.
He pulled me into the throng, his long, cool fingers twisting between mine with strange familiarity. Black tattoos snaked around his lean, muscled arms--a half sleeve on the upper right and words, half-hidden by his T-shirt, down the triceps of the left. Everyone was beautiful under those lights, but no one wore a T-shirt and ratty jeans quite like him. They clung like he was wet, highlighting his perfect V shape. This close, I could see that my initial panther analogy had been dead-on; long cords of muscle played down his back, and his ass was too perfect to be real--plenty of definition, rounded just right. I idly imagined sidling up to him and fitting it into the curve of my hips.
Yes, I suddenly saw the world through that blue-green haze particular to the situation. Alcohol: check. Strange hot guy: check. Loud music: check. The smell of sweat, desperation, and bad decisions: check.
When he found a good spot, he turned and came close, one arm snaking around my neck. He started to move, laying the other hand against my chest, then trailing his fingers up to my shoulder. It stayed there, palm flattened, appreciative.
My ego, which had been half convinced this was all a cruel joke, inflated just enough to stand on its own. I thought about trying to talk, to ask his name and what the hell he was doing, but the music didn't allow for it. The track transitioned--Depeche Mode, God help us all--and he smirked again. Whether that meant he approved or thought it was crap didn't really matter.
He pressed closer, his whole hard front against me and his arm tightening around my neck. The cold metal of his belt buckle pushed up my shirt, clinking against the button of my fly. He smelled like cigarettes, shampoo, and bourbon. I put my arm around his waist without even realizing it, and he felt like--
Like an armful of beautiful guy. An unexpected thought surprised me: Who cares what his name is?
When the bass started its heavy, regular pulse, one of his legs slipped between mine. His thigh pushed against my crotch, and my blood roared. My cock swelled, warm against someone else for the first time in too long. I couldn't hide it, not with him plastered all over me.
He felt it. He angled his hips so I could feel him filling out his supertight pants too. His breath on my face when he put his forehead to mine was cold, somehow, and had that same smell of smoke and liquor.
I heard his voice then, low and soft. "You are fucking hot, boy."
Then he kissed me. Kissed me like you kiss someone you've known forever but haven't seen in years, his hand now in my back pocket. His lower lip was full and soft, his mouth pliable; his bourbon-smoke tongue licked at mine, then gently along the edge of my bottom lip. It was slow, deliberate. A demonstration.
He grabbed my ass and shifted tight against me, tongue curling to tickle the roof of my mouth. Unthinking, I sucked at it, tilting my head to get nearer. God, how did my hand get into his back pocket? There wasn't even room for what he was packing, and it felt even better than it looked.
He closed off the kiss, then, his lips just barely touching mine, said, "Oh, sweetheart."
Paul used to say I was too much of a sweetheart. But I didn't feel so sweet just then. I felt kind of ridiculous, actually, but it was nice to be reminded it was possible.
He pulled back and met my eyes, licking his lips with that clever pink tongue. Then his attention darted to something over my shoulder. He grimaced. Before I could follow his gaze, he leaned forward again, lips to my ear, saying, "Gotta go for a second, sweetheart. I'll find you later."
"Yeah," I said, disappointment twisting my guts. He kissed me one last time, close-mouthed but lingering, and swatted my ass as he started through the crowd. I turned to follow him with my eyes. To my surprise, someone was actually waving for him at the edge of the floor, an older guy wearing, of all idiotic things, sunglasses.
That was either an insult or a relief, depending on whether he started making out with the guy. Then again, he'd looked pretty unhappy to see--
"Jesus, Et!" Susanne tugged at my arm, and I ducked so she could speak into my ear. "You're gonna need deloused."
I rolled my eyes and stood straight again, but riot boy had disappeared with his sunglasses-at-night friend. The only thing left to reassure me I wasn't losing my mind was a lingering tightness across the crotch of my pants and the phantom imprint of his lips on mine.
"Come on, this is gross tonight. Let's get out of here and go to Penny's for drinks."
"You're the one who wanted to go dancing."
She pulled me to the bar, that Mom Look on her face. She waved for another drink and, when I went for my wallet, waved me off. "I'm buying, kid. That was the deal. Now, what were you saying?"
"I said, you wanted to come in the first place."
"And you didn't, until that little skank got up on you. Did I really see you making out with him?"
"Don't be gross, Suse."
"You're the one who was tongue-wrestling a dirtball."
"No, I mean, don't be gross by making me talk to you about it. Let's just hang out for a while. Since we're here."
She rolled her eyes. Not that it took someone who'd known me in diapers to see through me. "Okay, one more drink and we're out, right?"
"Whatever you say, princess."
She made a face, paid the bartender, and tried to keep me from watching for riot boy for the next twenty minutes.
I had a raging headache the next morning, of course. I didn't have to work until eleven, but I liked to get up, head to the Main Street Cafe, and read my paper without feeling rushed. When Paul had been around, it had been my only real hour to myself. I'd have to settle for a half hour today, but at least I was just in time to grab the last copy of the Post-Gazette.
And thank God I had cash, because my credit card was gone.
I paid, took my customary table next to the window, and turned out the contents of my wallet. Bank card was good--not that there was much in the account, after my fourth month of paying rent on my own, but enough to be a relief all the same. License, no problem. Pictures of the niece and nephew just where I'd left them. Library card, super-special grocery card, every other useless card in the world stowed safely in its little slot. Hell, I hadn't even lost any money.
But my MasterCard was just gone. I racked my brain as I put everything away again, trying to recall when I'd seen it last. I hadn't even gotten it out at the club--or had I? That had been a lot of gin, as my head was reminding me, but I was pretty sure I hadn't bought any of it myse--
I looked up. My mouth fell open.
And unlike most people the morning after, he looked even better now than he had in the shadowy, drunken haze of the club. Lean and long-limbed, mad dark hair, bright eyes outlined in black. Today he wore a tight, faded TOWN CALLED MALICE T-shirt with the sleeves ripped off, showing off his tattoos. Not to mention his arms.
I couldn't believe I'd actually made out with him, brief though it had been. I tried to fight it, but I flushed like a teenager.
He swung into the chair across the table; the smell of cigarettes and hair product followed. "What kinda name is that?"
He leaned one elbow on the table, the one with a sleeve on the upper half of the arm. It was just twisting designs, all black, dizzying spirals, but more nouveau than tribal. "Etienne."
"Well, you're pronouncing it like you know." I smiled. And then I wondered why the hell I was smiling and how the hell this had happened. As in, why would we run into each other this morning, of all mornings, when I was pretty sure I'd never seen him before? I would've remembered him. Or I would've remembered his ass in those pants, anyhow.
Hang on. What were we talking about? "But, uh--"
He reached into his back pocket and pulled out a little black card, which he put on the table between us. "Think you dropped this."
Sure, I could've just dropped it somewhere, and in the writhing crush of the late-night zombie horde, he might've just happened to be the one to pick it up. And someone who knew me might've just happened to tell him who I was and how to find me.
But all I could think of was his hand in my back pocket. The one where I kept my wallet.
He leaned back, crossing his arms over his chest and tossing his head as if to get his hair out of his eyes. Absurd, seeing as his hair probably wouldn't have moved in a hurricane. "No, don't thank me, really."
"Thanks," I said automatically.
That same grin.
Now I remembered the taste of his tongue, the feeling of his heavy belt buckle clinking against the button of my fly. I shifted in my seat. "How--"
"How'd you know it was mine?"
"Because you left it right where you were sitting. I asked the bartender if it belonged to the Abercrombie and Fitch brunet. He knew exactly who I meant."
I stuttered, first trying to find a reason to believe him. Then, once I realized I was only doing so because I was flattered, trying to find a reason not to believe him. Even if I had, in my near stupor, gotten out my card while talking to Susanne, what kind of bartender wouldn't have just assumed I'd come back for it? Why would he let some random punk ass walk out with it?
But if said random punk ass really had stolen it, why the hell would he bring it back to me? In person?
Finally I said, "Oh. Right. I mean, thanks."
He smirked yet again. His lips were pale pink in the sunlight through the picture window, bowed with that sensitive plumpness that had made kissing him so damn delicious. His eyes crinkled at the corners, just the faintest hint of lines to come. "Who'd you leave with last night?"
I was surprised into telling the absolute truth. "Um, no one. What's your name again?"
"I never told you."
"I know it's kinda trite, but you can't ask for my name again when I never told you what it was in the first place."
My mouth fell open, but not because I had anything to say.
He held out one hand, grinning again. "Brady Sinclair."
I took it. It was long-fingered and strong and cold--I remembered that from last night too. "What kind of name is that?"
"Always thought it was kinda hot, myself."
Caught off guard, I laughed. This guy was either completely insane or completely fascinating. Not that the two were mutually exclusive. Just that one was always dangerous, the other only mostly dangerous.
Bearing that in mind, I declined to rise to the bait. I slipped my card into my wallet and asked, "You here for coffee or...?"
"Or to bother you while you try to read your paper? Some from column A, some from column B. So who'd you leave with, really?"
"Does my sister count?"
His eyes narrowed.
Beyond weird. The guy had probably picked my pocket, and here I was asking, "Why? Who'd you leave with?"
"No one. Guy I wanted to leave with left early. Walked right out the door with a couple o' rug-munchers and left me high and dry. Motherfucker had a body to die for too."
I didn't bother wondering why he'd asked me with whom I'd left if he'd seen me walk out with Suse and Lucy. Just like that, I knew exactly why I was still having this idiotic conversation: it was the most sustained attention I'd had from a man since that last god-awful night with Paul.
The night when we'd had the most incredible sex ever. Right before he told me he'd been cheating on me.
Brady asked, "You got a job?"
"Yeah. Manager at Henderson's." I nodded out the window.
"Books, that's cool. What you got there?" He pointed at my coffee.
"Americano. Uh, want some?"
"Thanks." He took it, sipped, and smiled. "Black, huh? I think I like you, Etienne."
"I'm flattered." But I had reached my threshold. It had been a bizarre twenty-four hours, and I couldn't handle much more before my head finally exploded. "I should probably get to the store, though."
"Okay." He leaned back again, eyeing me over my own coffee. "But I'm only gonna track you down once, Etienne Fletcher. Twice would just be creepy and desperate."
Don't do it, don't do it, don't-- "You...want my number?"
Yep. I did it.
"Thought you'd never ask." Still holding my coffee, he approached a middle-aged woman pecking away at a laptop nearby. "Excuse me. Can I borrow your pen?"
She obliged, and he swaggered back to me with a heavy clomp-clomp of his Docs. He held out the inside of his right forearm and put the pen in my hand. "I got some blank space right here. Go for it."
I stood, tucked my wallet into my pocket, and wrote my number--my actual number--down his radial artery, thinking the whole time that this guy was trouble. Trouble like I'd never seen before.
Then again, that was probably why I did it. Well, that and the obvious. The smell beneath the cigarette smoke reminded me of last night, of that clean hair-product smell. And he had some really fine arms. Kind of like those long legs. Wouldn't mind having those wrapped around my--
Focus, Etienne. "You got a job, Brady?"
"Yeah, I got a job."
I finished writing and looked up.
"I'm in a band." He raised black eyebrows and stuck out his sharp chin, as if daring me to argue that this was not, in fact, a job.
But it was the only one I could imagine him having, really. "You the singer?"
Waste of an attitude, but I said, "Nice." I handed the pen back, this time paying better attention to his hands. I couldn't see the fingertips of the left--he still held my coffee in it--but it was a likely story, judging by their size and shape. Explained the arms too.
He tucked the pen into his back pocket.
"Uh, you gonna give that back?"
"Right. Habit." He fixed me with a predatory grin that made my blood rush everywhere but my brain. "Check you later, Etienne."
He turned around, laid the pen on the older lady's table with a polite, "Thanks, ma'am," and sauntered out, sipping contentedly at my cafe Americano.
I belatedly remembered to look at his left triceps, now that he was conveniently sleeveless. It said, in stencil-style lettering: You Really Got Me.
That and the five seconds I got to watch that tight little ass before he got to the door were definitely worth the three bucks I'd spent on the coffee. Maybe even worth the hangover.