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Rated: ASR · Draft · Romance/Love · #2164426
WIP; Aria meets with a coworker in Las Vegas.
BRIGHT LIGHTS

Aria waited until the motorcycle engine stopped purring underneath her before pushing her hair off her face. The mess of dark curls was most surely a lion's mane by now. Jesse kicked the stand on the bike and let Aria dismount first.
She wasn't sure what had made her go with him. One minute she had been alone in her Las Vegas hotel room waiting for Liam, her boyfriend of three years, to come back from a late night of gambling. The next she received a text from Jesse, asking her if she was, in fact, in Las Vegas. She answered yes, along with where she was staying. Jesse had only told her to meet him out front in ten minutes.
That was all it took. Aria threw on her coat and scratched out a note on hotel paper telling Liam she had gone out to look for him. Moments later, she was on the back of Jesse's bike as he wove through the insane traffic on the strip. She had desperately tried not to think about the broad shoulders under his leather jacket, or the muscles hot under her hands curled around his waist.
"Wow," she breathed out, now shrugging her jacket tighter around her. Jesse hadn't told her where they were headed, but it was soon clear he didn't intend to stay in the city. They'd turned off onto a dark two lane road that climbed up into the mountains. Now they stood on the edge of a precipice looking down at the city lights. All was quiet except for the wind.
Jesse handed her a beer bottle and ran his hand through his thick, dark, windblown hair. "Nice, huh?" he gave her a smirk while taking a swig of beer. "I used to come here a lot in school."
"Take all your girlfriends up here, huh?" she teased. He'd grown up here, and often returned to visit his parents, who never left. She assumed that's what he was doing this weekend, too.
He chuckled and scratched the new scruff on his chin, "My brothers and friends to drink, mostly."
"So not much has changed," Aria joked back, shoving her free hand into her jeans pocket. Teasing and joking was the only way she knew how to communicate with Jesse.
She first met him when she started a job with One, a large advertising firm in L.A. He worked in graphic design and Aria worked in copy, so they were thrown together on a fairly regular basis. They'd been working together for almost two years now, and they'd never been alone together outside of the office. They attended company happy hours on a few occasions and exchanged a non-work related text message here and there, but that was the extent of the friendship.
It was probably for the best, Aria thought as she glanced over at him. If she was single, Jesse would have been trouble. He was tall, handsome, and rode a motorcycle, for Christ's sake. For some reason she thought that both of them having long term relationships protected them. From what, she couldn't quite place. There was a chemistry, a current that moved between them. Was it attraction, or was it friendship? It had been so long since she made any new friends, and she had been with Liam for so long, she had no clue how to tell the difference anymore.
Jesse sat down on the cliff, dangling his feet over the edge. Aria joined him. "So," she nudged his foot with hers, "what brings you to Sin City on such a fine weekend?"
He sighed, "Just needed to get away, I guess."
"Where's your girlfriend?" the question came out sharper than she expected it to.
Jesse cocked an eyebrow at her and shot back, "Where's your boyfriend?"
"Out gambling and carousing, I expect," Aria took another swig of her beer.
"Why not you?"
She shrugged and joked, "You know that's not really my style."
He picked up a pebble and chucked it out into the darkness below. "Why are you in Vegas, then?"
"Once a year my whole family gets together. Vegas is just kind of a meeting point."
Jesse nodded and drank his beer.
She pulled her leg into her chest and rested her chin on her knee. "Thanks for the text," She sent him a sideways glance.
"Thanks for answering," his mouth turned up into a grin. He held out his beer. She clinked her bottle to his and they both drank.
They sat in silence for a while, finishing their beers. Jesse put his empty bottle in the dirt and told her, "I think my girlfriend wants me to propose."
"Do you want to?"
He shot Aria a long look that said, I'm in Vegas without her, aren't I?
She kept quiet, afraid to press the subject. Jesse didn't typically use her as a sounding board for his love life. It took him eight months to even mention he had a girlfriend. He didn't talk about it much at all, really.
Suffocating in the silence, she offered, "I think my boyfriend thinks I want him to propose, for what that's worth."
"Do you want him to?"
"I'll take another beer before I answer any more questions," Aria held up her empty bottle.
Jesse chuckled and went back to his bike to retrieve two more bottles from the saddlebags. When he settled back into his original position, he prodded, "So?"
She took a long drink of her beer. "I think my family wants him to, and I think his family wants him to."
"And you?"
She sighed, "Honest answer? I don't really think I'm the marrying type."
"Does he know that?"
"I hope so," was all Aria could come up with. "I'm just saying, maybe your girlfriend isn't thinking what you think she's thinking."
He let out a dark chuckle and took a drink. "We've been together for four years. We've lived together for two. I've caught her with bridal magazines. She says they're for friends, but then makes comments about how everyone is getting married."
"Four years is a long time," she nodded. "And everyone is getting married."
"You think it's time too, then?"
Aria shook her head, looked down at the city lights, and told him, "It's none of my business."
"Aria," Jesse scolded, nudging her with his elbow. "Come on. You can tell me."
"I think--" she tucked her hair behind her ears and started over, "do you love her?"
She watched his Adam's apple bob as he drank his beer. He smelled like leather, motorcycle exhaust, and some sort of wonderful cologne. It occurred to Aria that she didn't even know what his girlfriend looked like. Or her name. Or what she did for a living. To keep a man like Jesse for four years--she must be some kind of something, as Aria's father would say.
When Jesse wouldn't offer up any verbal response, Aria told him, "Listen, if you love her but you don't want to get married for whatever reason, let her know. If you're not in love, I would ask you why you're wasting your time."
Jesse cleared his throat.
Aria added, "Love isn't something you have to think about, you know? When you know, you really know."
Jesse gave her a small smile, which she returned. They finished their beers in a comfortable silence. At the bottom of the bottles, Jesse asked, "You hungry?"
"Starved," Aria replied, perhaps a little too enthusiastically.
Jesse chuckled and collected their empty bottles. "Come on," he said, offering a hand to help her up, "I know a place."


TREACHEROUS

The place Jesse knew was a dive well off the strip. He swore it had the best burgers in town and it only served craft beers. They sat at the nearly empty bar, chatting away about music, movies, and the beers on the menu. Aria spun the ring on her thumb as she listened to him. Anytime she was alone with him, even at the office, this almost magical thing happened. It felt like they were the only two people in the world, and everything else could wait. They joked, they laughed, and silence came just as easily as the conversation.
The beers were making her head buzz in the way that makes carefully constructed barriers tumble down. At one point Jesse reached over to wipe a speck of dirt from the road off her freckled cheek. She found her mind wandering to the strange thought of what it might be like to kiss him. Was he any good at it? He looked like he would be. He looked like he would know exactly what to do with her.
"Aria?" Jesse prodded her thigh with his fingers.
She closed her eyes tight and shook her head, "Sorry, long day." No way was she going to tell him where her mind had just wandered off to.
"Do you want me to take you back?"
"No," she offered him a small smile, "this is nice. And I want to try one of these famous burgers."
Jesse returned her smile and waved down the barkeep to take their orders. When they were alone again, Jesse asked, “So your boyfriend. What does he do for a living?”
“He’s a medical device sales rep,” she waved it off. “A lot of travel, pitching products, keeping doctors happy.”
Jesse nodded. “I have to ask--where does he think you are right now?" Suddenly the conversation was going down a path she hadn’t expected. Fantasized about in the last five minutes, maybe, but hadn’t expected. Or wanted. Right?
Aria polished off her pint of beer and admitted, "Not here and not with you. What about your girlfriend?"
“Marine biologist. Researching shark migration in the Pacific.”
Aria swallowed hard. That wasn’t something she had wanted to know. She’d half expected him to be with a stunning model, or some sort of powerhouse in investment banking. Either way, she had to be attractive, but to find out she was brainy too? Finally, Aria cleared her throat and clarified, “I meant, where does she think you are?”
"Here, but not with you."
Their eyes met for a moment, and there was that spark, that current again. Aria had never really spoken to Liam about Jesse, at least not specifically. She wondered now if maybe she'd done that on purpose, because she was afraid of the way she felt around him. It appeared that Jesse hadn't mentioned her either. Should she dare to hope his reasoning matched hers?
The moment was interrupted by the barkeep offering to refill their beers. They accepted the offer without hesitation. Aria suddenly felt like the air around her was slowly crushing her. She stood up, and wobbled a little. How much had she had to drink? And nothing to eat yet, either. She put a hand to her forehead to force herself to focus. She felt Jesse's hand hot on her waist and heard him ask if she was okay. She only nodded and walked towards the restrooms.
Inside one of the stalls, she pulled her phone out of her pocket. She didn't know what she was expecting to prove, but there were no missed calls or texts from Liam. Aria sighed and covered her face with her hands. What was she doing? Jesse was her coworker, a friend. He was involved with someone and so was she. But this whole night was very date-like, and her thoughts were wandering to inappropriate places. And Jesse looked amazing and smelled wonderful. "Fuck," she muttered to herself.
She emerged from the stall and stared at her reflection in the dingy mirror. She could still feel the heat on her waist where Jesse had touched her. It was the first touch they exchanged that wasn't a playful nudge or an accidental bump in the hallway. Aria liked it, she admitted to herself, and she wondered what else those hands could do. "Stupid, stupid, stupid," she told herself as a woman reeking of cigarette smoke stumbled into the bathroom.
Aria took that as her sign to return to the bar. So what? She decided. Why not let the night go where it was going? What had she expected when she got on that motorcycle? For nothing to change between them?
"You good?" Jesse asked her as she sat back down. Their food had arrived in her absence.
"Yeah," she shook her head to rid herself of the thoughts swirling inside it, "I just haven't eaten much today."
"Problem solved," he chomped on a fry and smirked.
Aria dug into her meal, feeling better from the first bite, at least from a physical standpoint. They continued their conversation between bites of food and swigs of beer.
Jesse paid the bill and offered to take Aria back to her hotel. This time she accepted without hesitation. They both stood up to leave at the same time, stuffed into the small space between two barstools. Aria laughed nervously, trying to diffuse the tension and trying to ignore the way their bodies were forced together.
Jesse was not so unruffled. He slipped a hand around her waist underneath her coat. Surprised, Aria met his gaze. Goddamn his eyes were a deep, dark, bottomless brown. Just as the thought scrolled through her head, their mouths collided. Despite all the confusion she'd struggled with earlier, she felt incredibly light. And she could answer her earlier question—Jesse kissed wonderfully, both eager and determined. He tasted of beer and salt.
She tangled her fingers in his hair, rising on her tiptoes to meet him. He clutched her hair in his fist and kissed her ferociously. Aria opened up to his attack of lips and tongue and teeth, responding in kind. She thought she could feel a low groan roll through Jesse’s chest, animalistic and raw. Could he hear her small gasps of desperation every time he caught her lips between his teeth? Flashes of him crushing her up against a wall fired through her synapses, and she wanted him to cross that line.
Had they really just been talking about getting married to their long term partners? She never would have guessed with the way they were carrying on in plain sight like this. But she also found that she didn't care. All she could focus on was Jesse's lips teasing hers and his hand on the small of her back pressing her into him. She could have gone on like that forever if there hadn't been a commotion from the kitchen as several plates dropped to the floor and shattered.
As it was, Jesse pulled away looking flustered and agitated. He said gruffly, "Let's go."
Aria only nodded and followed him out to the parking lot. Her head was spinning from much more than just the beer. She watched him climb on his bike and followed suit. He turned the engine over and said over the noise, "Aria, I..." But he couldn't finish the sentence. He only swallowed back whatever he had wanted to say.
Aria circled her hands around his waist and rested her chin on his shoulder. "I know," she told him.
He hesitated only a fraction of a second before hitting the throttle and heading back out towards the neon Vegas lights.
I know. The words had come to her easily. She knew that kiss was inappropriate, and she knew that she liked it anyway. She knew that they both had someone waiting on them at home, and she knew that maybe that didn't matter. She knew that this would certainly complicate things wherever they were headed, and she knew that they would figure it out one way or another. She knew that she enjoyed riding on Jesse's motorcycle far away from the calls of normal life. She knew she had no idea what she was doing.
Jesse pulled up to the brightly lit valet at Aria's hotel. She climbed off his bike and turned back to look at him. "When do you head back?" she asked him over the sounds of a bachelorette group stumbling out of a limo behind them.
"Couple days," he shrugged.
Aria dared to look him in the eyes again. "Thanks," she told him, hoping he understood. "I needed this."
Jesse gave her a flicker of a smile. His head was probably spinning as wildly as hers, she guessed. She didn't want to push the subject, mostly because she wanted to enjoy the moment untainted for a while. Perhaps he did, too, because he simply said, "Sleep well, Aria."
She smiled in return, offering a small nod, and watched him drive off before heading back up to her room. Aria sighed when she returned to the room; it looked just the same as she left it. She crumpled up the note she left for Liam and tossed it in the trash can. 1 AM the clock by the bed said. Feeling the long day of work and travel, she yawned and crawled into bed, body still buzzing from the switch Jesse had flicked on inside her.
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