Jorie laughed. Her long, platinum blond hair fell in loose waves past her shoulders, with a few black peekaboo strands. She wore a black minidress and combat boots, and was pushing buttons on the cash register to ring someone up while she talked to us. We had all learned to multitask and move like every tip was a hundred-dollar bill. If you could bartend fast enough, you stood a chance of working the east bar, and the tips made there could pay a month’s worth of bills in a weekend.
That was where I’d been tending bar for a year, placed just three months after I was hired at the Red Door. Raegan worked right beside me, and together we kept that machine greased like a stripper in a plastic pool full of baby oil. Jorie and the other bartender, Blia, worked the south bar at the entrance. It was basically a kiosk, and they loved it when Raegan or I were out of town.
“So? What are you drinking?” Jorie asked.
Raegan looked at me, and then back at Jorie. “Whiskey sours.”
Once Jorie passed us our drinks, Raegan and I found an empty table and sat, shocked at our luck. Weekends were always packed, and an open table at ten thirty wasn’t common.
I held a brand-new pack of cigarettes in my hand and hit the end of it against my palm to pack them, then tore off the plastic, flipping the top. Even though the Red was so smoky that just sitting there made me feel like I was smoking an entire pack of cigarettes, it was nice to sit at a table and relax. When I was working, I usually had time for one drag and the rest burned away, unsmoked.
Raegan watched me light it. “I want one.”
“You haven’t smoked in two months, Raegan. You’ll blame me tomorrow for ruining your streak.”
She gestured at the room. “I’m smoking! Right now!”
I narrowed my eyes at her. Raegan was exotically beautiful, with long, chestnut-brown hair, bronze skin, and honey-brown eyes. Her nose was perfectly small, not too round or too pointy, and her skin made her look like she came fresh off of a Neutrogena commercial. We met in elementary school, and I was instantly drawn to her brutal honesty. Raegan could be incredibly intimidating, even for Kody, who, at six foot four, was over a foot taller than she was. Her personality was charming to those she loved, and repellent to those she didn’t.
I was the opposite of exotic. My tousled brown bob and heavy bangs were easy to maintain, but not a lot of men found it sexy. Not a lot of men found me sexy in general. I was the girl next door, your brother’s best friend. Growing up with three brothers and our cousin Colin, I could have been a tomboy if my subtle but still present curves hadn’t ousted me from the boys-only clubhouse at fourteen.
“Don’t be that girl,” I said. “If you want one, go buy your own.”
She crossed her arms, pouting. “That’s why I quit. They’re f**king expensive.”
I stared at the burning paper and tobacco nestled between my fingers. “That is a fact my broke ass continues to make note of.”
The song switched from something everyone wanted to dance to, to a song no one wanted to dance to, and dozens of people began making their way off the dance floor. Two girls walked up to our table and traded glances.
“That’s our table,” the blonde said.
“Excuse me, bitch, she’s talking to you,” the brunette said, setting her beer on the table.
Raegan looked at me with a blank face, and then up at the girl with the same expression. “It was your table. Now it’s ours.”
“We were here first,” the blonde hissed.
“And now you’re not,” Raegan said. She picked up the unwelcome beer bottle and tossed it across the floor. It spilled out onto the dark, tightly stitched carpet. “Fetch.”
The brunette watched her beer slide across the floor, and then took a step toward Raegan, but her friend grabbed both of her arms. Raegan offered an unimpressed laugh, and then turned her gaze toward the dance floor. The brunette finally followed her friend to the bar.
I took a drag from my cigarette. “I thought we were going to have a good time tonight.”
I shook my head, stifling a smile. Raegan was a great friend, but I wouldn’t cross her. Growing up with so many boys in the house, I’d had enough fighting to last a lifetime. They didn’t baby me. If I didn’t fight back, they’d just fight dirtier until I did. And I always did.
Raegan didn’t have an excuse. She was just a scrappy bitch. “Oh, look. Megan’s here,” she said, pointing to the blue-eyed, crow-headed beauty on the dance floor. I shook my head. She was out there with Travis Maddox, basically getting screwed in front of everyone on the dance floor.
“Yeah,” I said, downing my whiskey. “This was a bad idea. I’m not feeling clubby tonight.”
“Oh, stop.” Raegan gulped her whiskey sour and then stood. “The whine bags are still eyeing this table. I’m going to get us another round. You know the beginning of the night starts off slow.”
She took my glass and hers and left me for the bar.
I turned, seeing the girls staring at me, clearly hoping I would step away from the table. I wasn’t about to stand up. Raegan would get the table back if they tried to take it, and that would only cause trouble.
When I turned around, a boy was sitting in Raegan’s chair. At first I thought Travis had somehow made his way over, but when I realized my mistake, I smiled. Trenton Maddox was leaning toward me, his tattooed arms crossed, his elbows resting on the table across from me. He rubbed the five o’clock shadow that peppered his square jaw with his fingers, his shoulder muscles bulging through his T-shirt. He had as much stubble on his face as he did on the top of his head, except for the absence of hair from one small scar near his left temple.
I raised an eyebrow. “Really? You walk all the way over here and sit down, and that’s the best you’ve got?”
He made a show of running his eyes over every part of me. “You don’t have any tattoos, that I can see. I’m guessing we haven’t met at the shop.”
He smiled, a deep dimple appearing in the center of his left cheek. “I knew we’ve met before.”
“We haven’t.” I turned to watch the women on the dance floor, laughing and smiling and watching Travis and Megan vertically dry f**king. But the second the song was over, he left and walked straight over to the blonde who claimed ownership over my table. Even though she’d seen Travis running his hands all over Megan’s sweaty skin two seconds earlier, she was grinning like an idiot, hoping she was next.
“Did we go to school together?” he asked.
“Do you remember if you went to Eakins at any time between kindergarten through twelfth grade?”
Trenton’s left dimple sunk in when he grinned. “Then we know each other.”