|The strong grip attached to my hand pulls me to standing with ease. I meet the pale blue eyes of my rescuer and study him for a moment, observing his dirty-blond hair and light stubbled beard.
“Are you OK?” He asks kindly.
“Yeah, I think so,” I mumble, making sure my phone is in my hand. “Thanks for giving me a hand— literally.”
“No problem,” he says. “Mind if I ask how you ended up on the floor?”
I sigh inwardly, relieved he didn’t see the humiliating way in which I fell. “I lost my balance,” I admit sheepishly. “I’m not used to being around this many people.”
“I get it.” He nods, placing his hands in the pockets of his gray utility jacket. “You look really familiar…” he continues, cocking his head to the side. “Have we met before?”
“Uh.” My eyes squint in concentration, searching for his strong brow and square jawline in my memories. “No, I don’t think so.”
“Well, anyway, my name’s Josh,” he says reaching out once more.
“Ally,” I say, shaking his rough hand. “Nice to meet you.”
“Same…Be careful tonight,” he warns. “This place can get pretty wild and reckless.”
“I can see that. Thanks. You be careful too.”
Josh laughs as if I just said something really funny. His broad shoulders and fit frame make me think he isn’t the type to worry about his own safety. As he saunters away, I notice the way he carries himself is familiar…
My thoughts are interrupted by a girl, with tight dark curls, speaking on her phone. Her loud call reminds my brain of Bryce and our unfinished conversation.
“You still there?” I ask, holding my phone to my ear.
“Yes, I’m here,” he answers, voice still humming with worry. “What happened? I heard a loud thud.”
“I fell but I’m fine now,” I brush off, parading through a cluster of euphoric looking people. “I see Sam…Hold on.”
I hear Bryce sigh loudly before I lower my phone to my side. I’m clearly testing his patience tonight. I almost feel bad. Almost.
As I approach Sam, my eyes are drawn to her hips, swaying to the song, “Red Red Wine.” It’s one 80’s song I know well. My parents adored it. Danced to it. Possibly made love to it. But hearing it tonight only reminds me of their absence.
“Hey,” I say, tapping her shoulder. “Bryce is on the phone. He’s really worried about you.”
“Seriously? Just hang up,” she says adamantly.
My eyes narrow in frustration. “I can’t do that.”
Her voice sharpens. “Why? Because he’s your boss?”
“No, because he’s genuinely concerned.”
She rolls her eyes. “He’ll be fine.”
“I don’t think I should hang up until you at least hear what he has to say,” I suggest, lifting my phone closer to her.
With fierce determination, Sam swipes my phone out of my palm. “Fine. I’ll do it for you,” she says, quickly tapping the screen. “There. Problem solved.”
I shake my head in disbelief. “If you say so,” I say, taking my phone back. “Listen, I’m going to the restroom—hopefully for real this time. But when I get back, I want to hear everything that happened with Bryce. Deal?”
Sam nods reluctantly.
Once I’m able to relieve myself, I can think more clearly. I wash my hands thoroughly in the hot pink sink, reflecting on Sam’s relationship with Bryce. Three weeks is not a long time, but it’s long enough to get attached. Long enough to be invested in someone.
Until tonight, they’ve both been seemingly happy. Not once has either of them mentioned an issue or complication. I guess I’m wondering if Sam’s continued affliction for Ayden is surfacing in an untimely manner. The process in which she grieved was short lived. And just maybe, her displaced anger with Bryce is a result of that unfinished grief.
A part of me hopes I’m right. Not that I want Sam to suffer further in her sorrows. I just don’t want Bryce to be the bad guy. But if he truly is, I won’t hesitate to unleash my fury. Without a doubt, he’ll have hell to pay. From me and a line of several others.
Bryce tries my cell again. I watch it buzz in my purse as I wave my hands under the air dryer. My curiosity demands I return his call the moment I leave the restroom. I need answers. With a more quiet conversation in my mind, I aim my steps to the entrance. I open the door and see the line is still long and rambunctious. Steven is preoccupied with a few disgruntled hipster dudes.
As soon as I step into the cool night air, I retrieve Bryce’s eager voice.
“Hey, thanks for calling me back,” he says. “I know I’m interrupting your girls night. I promise I’ll be brief.”
“Good, because I’m cold,” I answer, crossing my legs to keep warm.
“I need you to tell me where you are so I can come and talk to Sam.”
“Bryce, I can’t. Sam would be furious with me. She hung up on you earlier if you didn’t notice.”
“Yeah, I caught that.” He sighs. “I won’t stay long. I just need a few minutes to explain something to her.”
“And you couldn’t do this earlier? Before you dropped her off?” I ask, leaning against the concrete wall.
“Ally, I never dropped Sam off anywhere. She slipped away while I was on the phone. She must’ve taken an Uber or something.”
My face frowns in confusion. “She said you gave her a ride to my house.”
“Then she lied,” He says, confirming my thought.
“Why is she so upset with you?” I ask.
“She didn’t tell you?” He asks, genuinely surprised.
“No. She told me nothing—just that you had an argument.”
“I see…Hopefully she’ll open up soon. In the mean time, I can at least tell you my side….”
I take a deep breath and prepare myself for the worst.
“I picked Sam up around five and took her to an early dinner. She was all dressed up, beautiful as ever. We got to my house and we’re having a great time. As she helped me set up for a poker night, she expressed how thrilled she was to have a girls night. I loved hearing her animation and excitement, but it also surprised me, so I mentioned it. That was my first mistake…”
“I don’t get it,” I say sweeping my hair back. “Why was that a mistake?”
“Sam took offense to my observation. To my perception of her.”
“OK, but I still don’t—“
“Let me finish,” he cuts in. “The last few weeks have been incredible. I wouldn’t change a thing. But tonight, before Sam was upset, I saw a different side of her. A more happier, lively side. Pointing that out seemed to ignite a downward spiral of emotions. She decided to come clean about some bottled-up feelings she was having for Ayden. I didn’t say much—just listened. I held her as she balled her eyes out, debating on whether she was even emotionally ready for a relationship at this point. That was my second mistake…”
“What was?” I ask in haste, desperate for him to continue.
“I suggested we take a break so she could focus on herself. But it was only meant as heartfelt concern. I wanted her to know I respected her well-being above everything else.”
“Oh no,” I groan.
Bryce sighs ruefully, adding to the sympathy I already have for him.
“She assumed I didn’t want her. Called herself broken and damaged. We argued on this nonsense for awhile, until she locked herself in my bathroom. I let her be, hoping some time alone would help. Then I answered a phone call, and when I finished, she was gone.”
“I’m sorry,” I say, moving away from the protruding door. A boisterous group of four—two guys and two girls—enter the club, distracting my thoughts for a moment.
Relentless in his quest, Bryce doesn’t miss a beat.“If I could talk to her, even for a few minutes, I know I can fix this. But she won’t answer my calls, so can you please tell me where you are?”
“We’re at a club,” I explain, peering down the line of anxious people. “Even if you came here, there’s no way you’re getting in. The line is longer than it was when we got here.”
“Then how did you get in?” He asks, his voice suddenly intrigued.
I feel myself blush. “That’s not important…But I have an idea, if you’re interested.”
As expected, he answers swiftly, “Yes, I’m interested.”
“I’m not making any promises,” I say, tapping my feet together. “But if you send me your address, I can see if Lexi will drop by on our way home. You can meet us at the car. That’s the best I can do.”
“I’ll take it.”
“OK, I’ll text you later.”
The gratitude in Bryce’s voice is evident as he leaves me with a true statement. “I owe you big time, kid.”
My lips curl into a smile as I hang up.
Grabbing my attention once more, the door flings open and two girls about my age walk inside the resounding building. Knowing they are entering all alone, no male testosterone to protect them, redirects my concern to my friends. If anyone were to violate them I don’t know what I’d do. My unfortunate experience earlier has my mind imagining the worst.
As I attempt to renter the club, my movements are immediately suspended by a grimacing bouncer.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Steven inquires rudely, his burly frame guarding the entrance.
“I’m going back inside,” I answer, a hint of irritation in my voice.
I flinch hard as his hand thwacks at a taped sign on the door.
“Once you leave, there’s no reentry,” he barks. “House rules.”
“But I didn’t know that,” I complain loudly. “My friends are still inside.”
He shakes his shiny bald head. “Not my problem.”
The hard expression on his face irritates me. Why is he suddenly being a puffed-up jerk? If he thought I was determined before, then he’s in for a rude awakening.
“I’m not leaving my friends,” I fume, crossing my arms. “I will annoy the crap out of you until you let me inside.”
My body is scared stiff as Steven grabs a hold of me at the elbow.
“You try anything, and you’ll regret it,” he snaps, tightening his grip, eyes piercing.
I gulp at his warning, remaining speechless and unsure of my next move. Honestly, I’m scared to move an inch. If he so desired, his strong arm could easily break my arm.
“You’re going to want to remove that hand,” I hear a gruff voice threaten from behind.
I glance over my shoulder and gaze into my favorite pair of brown eyes. Christian doesn’t appear as thrilled to see me as I him. But then again, his carefully aimed focus is on the stubborn bouncer refusing to concede to his request.
“I’m not going to say it again,” Christian warns, advancing his taut physique beside me. I watch his biceps pulse at the sleeves of his black Guns N’ Roses T-shirt. They’re an impressive statement all on their own.
“You need to keep your girl in check,” Steven says, finally releasing his grip on me. “There are rules I’m obligated to enforce. And just so know, the cops respond quickly when I call.”
I chuckle under my breath. I can’t help myself. The irony is too much.
“Did I say something funny?” Steven asks, apparently annoyed with my decorum.
“Actually yes…,” I begin confident. My eyes shift to Christian and notice a worried frown line on his forehead. He nods slightly as if to hush me. I scowl in confusion, caught of guard by his silent request. Why wouldn’t he announce he’s a cop? Why let this guy have any power over us?
Then it hits me. He’s working undercover and trying to keep a low profile.
“You were saying?” Steven presses, eager to hear my justification.
“Never mind.” I sigh.
“Yeah. That’s what I thought,” he scoffs.
“You’re an idiot,” I fire back, heat rising to my cheeks. “Bouncers aren’t even allowed to touch people unless someone provokes them physically. I never touched you. So I should be the one calling the cops.”
“Go ahead,” he incites, stirring the pot so to speak. “You’ll be the one in handcuffs by the end of it.”
“You wanna bet,” I counter, raising my voice.
My right hip is met with Christian’s firm hand, instantly halting my rage.
I’m the real idiot. That’s what Christian must be thinking as I get worked up over this bouncers egotistical behavior.
“You both need to leave. Immediately,” Steven demands.
“How does a hundred bucks sound?” Christian offers.
“Too little too late,” he responds.
I roll my eyes.
Christian sighs loudly.
Now what, I think to myself. How are we getting inside?
I glance to Christian and gasp at his unexpected action.
“Actually I can enter at any time,” he explains, holding his badge in full display.
Steven takes a step closer to examine Christian’s gold symbol of authority. His broad face softens in response.
“OK then, I, uh… thanks for clearing that up,” he stammers. “Let me know if you need anything.” Steven leaves us be and heads to his designated spot—hopefully with a big smack of humility.
Facing me head on, Christian begins rubbing my arms up and down in a rhythmic fashion. “You Ok?” He asks, keeping his voice even.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” I say soft and low, my face apologetic. “I’m sorry I made you blow your cover.”
He shrugs. “It’s not your fault.”
“Yeah, it sort of is,” I argue. “Were you in line earlier?”
“Yep. I was slowing working my way up when I heard your voice.”
“Working your way up how?” I ask curious.
A playful smirk appears on his lips. “I have a few tricks,” he admits allusively.
“Hmm,” I murmur, “For some reason I’m picturing you flashing your rock hard abs at people.”
He bursts into a laugh. “I guess that’s a fair assumption…Is Sam inside?”
“Yes, and Lexi and Jordan,” I confirm.
Christian’s jaw tightens as if I just added to his growing burden.
“So just the four of you?” He presses.
Yes,” I answer, presenting him a peculiar look.
I can’t help but notice the shift in topic is quickly changing the tone of our conversation.
His hand moves to the back of my shoulder as he says, “Let’s go inside and find them so we can get you out of here.”
“Hold on…” My hand lifts to his chest, resting on his solid anatomy for a moment. “You want us to leave?”
“Ally, clubs are not a safe place for you and your friends. Half the homicides I’ve seen have been in bars and nightclubs. Alcohol is a dangerous drug. Fights start over something as stupid as seeing someone with an ex-girlfriend. Even arguments about football end in murder in a place like this.”
I don’t know why it surprises me that Christian has seen people murdered. He’s a been a cop for several years now. But because he never talks about his time on the job, I really don’t know much about it. It pains me to know he purposely excludes me from probably the hardest moments in his life. I guess tonight he’s making an exception.
“How many people have seen be killed?” I ask tentatively.
“Too many,” he says, scratching under his chin. “And it’s not something you get used to. It’s heartbreaking every time.”
“It sounds awful.” I frown.
“It is,” he mumbles. “It’s also not the only drawback of clubs. Hardcore drugs are being passed out like candy. And girls have to be constantly aware of their drinks. It’s easy to get roofied.”
“Is that why you’re here? Are you making a narcotics bust or something?”
“Or something,” he answers vaguely.
“Well, I’m fine with leaving. I don’t know about the rest of them.”
“Let me worry about convincing them,” Christian insists, his shoulders thrusting back as he opens the door.
Entering the club for a second time isn’t any better than the first. My temples once again pulsate from the loud music. The crowd size is about the same, but now everyone is stumbling, creating a more claustrophobic atmosphere. And no matter what I do, the intermittent neon lights find my eyes and blind me.
I do feel safer with Christian by my side. Though I wish he’d relax a little. His solemn face and clenched fists are making me a little anxious.
“I think I see Jordan getting a water,” I say, peering to my left.
“Alright,” Christian acknowledges, waiting for me to lead the way.
The bar is only about fifty feet away. But getting there is like walking through an overgrown wilderness trail, except the branches and shrubs make unsteady movements. Some even yell out unintelligible sounds.
I don’t mind when Christian guides my waist to help me maneuver around certain unstable people.
Once we’re close enough to see drinks being poured, he stops and scans the area. “Do you see her?” He asks, keeping his eyes peeled.
“No,” I say, glancing around. “Maybe it wasn’t her.”
An altercation between two drunken men breaks out near us. A stalky man, with ink black hair, demands a blond headed guy next to him leave him alone. I tense up as the blond guy screams in his face.
A moment later, the furious dark-haired man grabs the guys neck and pulls it to his face. Another scream emits, and the smaller one really goes off on him.
“You bit me!” He cries. “If I turn into a black vampire tomorrow, I’m going to hunt you down! I will sue everyone in this building! I better not get herpes or some shit!”
Once the shoving and swinging begins, Christian gives me a strained look.
“I need you to go stand by that railing and wait for me,” He calmly urges, but with grave conviction in his tone.
With no argument from me, I nod and go to the spot he points at. The last thing I want is to be in the crossfire of flying fists and jagged elbows. I’ve already hit the ground once tonight.
I watch Christian attempt to extinguish the fight with his words, while also moving people back to a safer distance with hand gestures. I cringe at the thought of him getting hurt from these idiots.
He’s able to grab the attention of both men using his deep authoritative voice, but only for a second. I gasp at the wild punch to his jaw, courtesy of the bigger of the two men. It doesn’t even faze him, but I wince for the both of us. He also doesn’t strike back, even though a part of me wishes he would. His evasive blocks keep him from further impact, as he simultaneously keeps both men busy. I can tell the drunken men are losing steam by their weak and dopey movements.
“You’re back,” a voice startles me from the left.
I turn my head and see Josh resting a hand on the metal railing, a faint smile relaxing on his lips.
“Yeah, I stepped outside for a little bit.”
“And they let you back in?” He asks in a teasing manner.
“Not exactly,” I answer.
“Come on…who in there right mind would deny access to a beautiful girl in a sexy red dress.”
“You’d be surprised,” I say, hiding my blush.
“I don’t know. Not much surprises me these days,” he says rather peculiar.
I move closer to him and ask. “Why’s that?”
“Oh, a combination of things. My past, my career, my complicated relationships. All the good stuff.”
“I feel that,” I say, frowning. “Why does all the good stuff have to be so complicated?”
He laughs. “Because that’s what makes it so good. The more passionate you are about something, the more you’re willing to risk. And with risk, complications almost always arise.”
My smile widens with his sage words. “I couldn’t agree more.”
A second later, his initial greeting sinks in. “Wait—how did you know I left earlier?” I ask. “Were you watching me?””
“I kept my eye out—just as a precaution,” he explains.
“Oh. Well, I didn’t mean to sound paranoid,” I say truthful. “You give off a warm and supportive vibe so it’s all good.”
He bends over slightly and laughs. “Good to know. Thanks…So are you looking for someone?” he asks.
“I was, but now I’m waiting for a friend. He’s a little preoccupied at the moment,” I point.
“Let me guess, your friend is the one pinning two unruly men to a humiliating defeat.”
I realize he’s right. Christian is using his knee to hold one guy down, while his stronger arm acts as a vice, twisting the other man’s arm behind his back. My impressed state of mind gawks at the scene before us.
I’m not the only one overcome by astonishment. Several people are cheering at Christian’s accomplishment. But most are holding their phones, filming in silence.
Finally, two large security people arrive to help Christian out. But I’m not inspired—their paid services are a little late.
“How did you know it was him?” I ask, swaying my hips back and forth.
Josh smiles oddly as if to imply something. “Lucky guess.”
I stare at him with a suspicious thought. “Are you…”I start to ask, then change my question mid thought. “Are you waiting for someone, too?”
“Actually I’m waiting for the same friend as you.”
I narrow my eyes and smirk. “I knew it. You’re a cop aren’t you?”
He doesn’t vocalize an answer—only grins and nods.
“I remembered why you look familiar,” he says, leaning his backside against the rail. “There’s a picture of the two of you on his desk.”
“Really?” I say surprised.
“Yep. Most of the guys like to tease him about it because of the girly, pink frame.”
I giggle at his highly amusing intel and feel my heart flood with so many feelings. Good feelings. Conflicting feelings. I start to picture Christian and I together again… Then my conscience drops in for a visit, and I have to remind myself of the current situation—of my current reality. I shouldn’t be this excited over a picture. I have a boyfriend. A boyfriend that is NOT Christian. But why does that suddenly sound so depressing?
“I guess he hasn’t had time to replace it yet,” I suggest. “I’m sure you know we’re not together anymore.”
“Yeah, I know. But you’re obviously still friends. I see no reason to remove it.“
“Good point,” I say, watching “our” friend trek over to us, sweat dripping from his face.
As Christian approaches, his eyebrows twitch up at me and a small smile quickly follows. I’m not sure if it’s out of amusement or skepticism. Or both.
“Hey, nice work there, buddy,” Josh appraises.
“Yeah. Nice of you to get off your ass and help me out,” Christian replies smugly, standing beside him.
“I knew you had it covered. Besides one of has to keep a low profile…You clearly can’t.”
Christian sighs in defeat. But he quickly gets a hard shoulder squeeze from Josh.
“You can never just let things play out, can you? Always gotta be the hero,
“Shut up.” Christian punches him in the arm, a smile tugging on his lips. “You know you would’ve done the same thing. And you served our country, man. That officially makes you the real hero.”
“Nah, I’m no better than you,” Josh says, rubbing his thin beard with his palm.”Maybe slightly more handsome, but that’s about it.”
I snort, and Christian just shakes his head.
“How do you two already seem to know each other?” Christian asks.
“Oh, we go way back,” I say, pulling out my phone and checking the time. “About an hour now, wouldn’t you say, Josh?”
Josh winks at me. “Pretty darn close,” he says, peering at his imaginary watch.
“Nice,” Christian admits. “Seriously, though. What did I miss?”
“Ally was on the ground earlier, pinned in by a group of people. All I did was lend her a helping hand.”
“You were on the ground?” Christian inquires.
“For a second,” I answer, drifting my gaze away from his concerned brow. “Should we split up and look for my friends?”
Christian doesn’t hesitate with his response.“Yes to looking for friends. No to splitting up. Where did you last see Sam?”
“On the dance floor. I’ll show you.”
As I guide them to the liveliest part of the club, I feel as though I’m suddenly a person of interest—like a celebrity with two body guards closely following behind. It’s an odd feeling, but also a highly amusing one.
The air is cooler on the main floor, despite the sardine packed crowd. But the sticky scent of sweat and body odor is wafting in every direction. I have told my breath a few times to escape the cesspool of nasty smells.
Our original black table is surrounded by giggling strangers. I glance around the area, scanning vigorously for my friends. All of them are gone. But I do see a familiar face…
Dragon tattoo guy approaches me unexpectedly, his chains swaying around his neck like before—but now he’s got a fiercer lust in eyes, probably due to his intoxication level.
“Hey gorgeous,” he mutters, struggling to stand straight. “How you like that bump and grind action earlier?”
I try to hold in a gasp and fail. “That was you?” I say wide eyed.
“Yeah, didn’t mean for you to fall though.” He smirks suggestively and adds, “But you like being on your knees, don’t you?”
The gurgling part of my stomach is ready to vomit. I can’t believe I ever found him attractive. The dirty floor has more sex appeal.
“You need to back off before you get hurt,” I warn him.
“Ooooh is this your cop boyfriend,” he says, fluttering his arm at Christian. “Where’s your gun, dude?”
Before I can explain the part Sam tactfully played regarding his statement about us, Christian is already in the guy’s face, his voice calm but intense. “You say one more word to her, and you’ll be leaving here with two black eyes.”
“Uh…I think he should start with one.” He says stupidly, aiming his sour, bile breath in my face.
Josh chuckles as if he already knows what’s coming.
Drunk, fluffy-haired guy receives a sucker-punch to the face from my protective Ex. The blow is louder than I expect, considering our noisy surroundings. It’s painful to watch as he cringes forward, instinctively covering his eye with one hand.
After the shock wears off, there’s a few seconds of excessive swearing and nonexistent threats. Then he wanders off, his nose and eyes both watering from the hit.
I imagine Christian’s hand received a jolt of pain from the impact. Thinking about it creates an ache in my chest; I don’t want him hurt on my behalf.
“Was that really necessary?” I ask, gazing at Christian’s pressed lips.
“Yes,” he answers coldly. “And you should’ve told me what happened earlier.”
My heart drops at his response. Why is he suddenly upset with me?
“Christian, I didn’t tell you because it was humiliating. And I had no idea he was the reason I ended up on the ground.”
“OK,” He says, softening his face. “But trust me, that piece of garbage deserved much more than a punch to the face. He got off easy.”
I peer to Josh, observing his nod of approval. Apparently I’m out numbered. The guy was clearly in the wrong, but I still don’t like being the reason for someone else’s suffering.
As Christian and Josh discuss the situation further, I try calling each of my friends. No one answers. Finding them is starting to feel hopeless.
A fine mist begins to shoot from the stage corners, changing colors as the light beams strike. The crowd erupts with joy and amazement. I grumble in frustration. Mostly because the fog like substance spreads quickly around the dance floor, making it even more difficult to see and discern faces.
“I can’t get a hold of any of them,” I say, putting my phone away.
“You could give her a boost,” Josh suggests. “Just lift her to your shoulder so she can see further.”
Christian meets my intrigued gaze, contemplating his friends idea. “What do you think?” He asks me.
“Sure, why not?” I answer with a shrug.
My lips twitch into a smile as Christian positions his arm securely under my bottom. He quickly hoists me to one side and spins slowly, panning the room like a panoramic photo shot.
The view is incredible. I see a diverse unified crowd, all moving in a similar rhythm. There’s something ceremonial and aesthetic about the unmeasured swaying of arms. It’s as if I’m watching a vast and expressive style of dance—so many unique and beautiful movements, in a rainbow of smoke.
Lexi’s red hair is easy to spot, and I’m thankful.
“Stop!” I shout. “I see them!”
With ease, I’m set down carefully, anxious to speak. “Top right corner,” I explain, already heading that way. “Let’s go.”
“Woah, hold up.” Christian pulls me at the hips and directs me back to him. “I want you to stay here with Josh. Maneuvering through this mass of intoxicated people can be viscous.”
“I thought we weren’t splitting up,” I point out, frustrated.
“This is a matter of safety, and I’m not risking yours.”
“Oh, it’ll be fine.” I crack a smile in an attempt to lighten his mood, then pat his stiff chest. “I can sandwich between the two of you.”
He shakes his head and remains a pillar of inflexibility. “No, and we’re not debating this. Josh, can you meet me by the entrance?”
“Yeah. You got it.”
I sigh in aggravation as I watch Christian leave us. His stubbornness is in full display tonight.
“Damn…that was quite the eye roll you just granted,” Josh says, breaking into a smile.
“Sorry, I’m just irritated…more with myself than anyone,” I clarify, adjusting one of my straps.
“He’s not upset with you—if that’s what you’re thinking.”
“I don’t know about that.” My head lowers.
“Listen, Christian’s usually pretty chill at the precinct, but whenever he’s in a working environment as dicey as this one, his frame of mind shifts. He can be intense at times. You add someone he deeply cares for to the mix and that intensity is bound to swell and fluster.”
“So you’re basically telling me not to take his mood personal,”
Josh grins as if I should be rewarded a gold star. “That’s exactly what I’m telling you.”
My lips spread into a smile. “Thanks. I needed to hear that, more than you know.”
“No problem. Let’s go meet your friends.”
The three of them are glistening with sweat. That’s what I notice first about my friends. Lexi and Jordan have droopy eyes and slumped postures. While Sam appears to be wincing, putting all her weight on one foot. The fatigue and stillness shown in their faces makes me think Christian didn’t have to do much convincing.
After introductions are made, I realize all my friends seem to be captivated by Josh. But I’m not surprised. His kind disposition is easy to admire.
As Lexi bombards him with law enforcement questions, I notice she’s unable to take her cat eyes off him.
He’s so patient with her, informing us all as he speaks. “So because some drugs are colorless, tasteless, and odorless, they can be added inconspicuously to drinks, making it easier to intoxicate or sedate a person. That’s one of the reasons sexual assault is such a high-risk in clubs.”
“Earlier, Jordan and I saw a girl passing out something called Molly,,” Lexi says in a whisper, leaning forward. “We could find her and point her out to you.”
“That’s a kind offer, sweetness, but unnecessary,” Josh declines. Christian and I got it covered. You girls go and enjoy the rest of your night.”
“But wouldn’t it be helpful if you knew one of the dealers?” Jordan asks, tucking her sweaty brown hair back.
“Well, yes, but…” Josh hesitates.
“But it’s not safe for you to help,” Christian cuts in.
That’s his nice way of saying, it’s never going to happen—I know that now.
Jordan sighs and offers her regrets. “It sucks that we can’t help, but I understand.”
I want to input my thoughts, but I keep my mouth shut for once. I’m too tired to play devils advocate.
“I’m going to walk them out,” Christian says to his relieved colleague.
Once we’re outside, my friends walk ahead, purposely giving Christian and I some space to talk. I catch him staring at my backside as we move away from the club. He doesn’t say anything though. I keep thinking he’s going to acknowledge my dress, but nope. Not one mention of my appearance tonight, and my heart aches because of it.
“Do me a favor,” He insists, stopping on the sidewalk. “Text me when you’re home safe.”
I smirk at him, tilting my head slightly. “Only if you promise to do the same.”
“Ally, it’ll be really late when I…”
“I don’t care,” I interrupt. “You’re not the only one that worries. So promise me.”
With a shadow of a smile, he says, “Alright, I promise…be safe.”
“You too,” I say on my slow-moving departure.
I hate to leave, especially after sensing a different vibe from him. Even though Josh explained Christian’s temperament, I still feel as if we’re in a different place now. A colder, less intimate place. But I hope I’m wrong. I hope I’m horribly wrong.