After I wrap up the guitar and put it away in my room for safekeeping until I can figure out how to return it to Lark Blackwood, Aiden convinces me to join him and a bunch of friends at a Mexican dive for an evening of fun and celebration. I try to forget about Lark Blackwood and her baffling too-expensive gifts, and concentrate on my job interview, on laughing and having fun with our pals.
The bar is loud and noisy, and we’re all crowded around a high-top table, pitchers of margaritas flowing freely. A couple of Aiden’s friends from Club Coffee are there, and we’re easily the liveliest table in the place.
I normally don’t imbibe, but thinking about that martini the other day–and the blue of Lark Blackwood’s penetrating gaze–makes me want to indulge more than usual. Throwing caution to the wind, I down several drinks.
“I’m so glad your job interview went well. I hope this is the beginning of more wonderful things for you, Bash!” cheers Chloe Huang, close to my ear.
I sling an arm around her shoulder. “You said it!” I shout back, laughing. “If I get a job like this, maybe I can score us a recording contract, you know!”
Chloe shakes her head, her straight, silky black hair dancing around her face as she laughs. Her Asian features are pert and pretty, and I can tell that she’s put on a little more makeup than usual since we’re all going out. “That’s not the point,” she tells me. “The point is… the future! This is the future!”
“To the future!” I agree, clanking my empty tumbler against hers.
The roar of the restaurant is deafening, but Chloe’s voice suddenly goes all soft. “We’ll still play together though, won’t we? Even if you’re becoming some music mogul?”
“ ‘Course we will!” I assure her, nodding. I pat her on the back. “You betcha.”
Next to us, Aiden’s ordering a round of tequila shots. “Bash, you’re in for this, right?”
“Sure!” I declare. I think of a pair of unsettling blue eyes, and something rebellious grows inside me. “Sure!” I repeat, and when the shot glasses show up, I down mine, and then accept a liberal squirt of lime in my mouth from Chloe’s hand, while all around us, our friends laugh.
A welcome fuzziness is softening my brain.
“You want another one, Bash?” Chloe asks me, taking another full shot glass from the center of the table.
“Uh uh. Not yet,” I mutter, and she giggles. “C’mon… just one more?”
“God, Chloe, are you trying to get me drunk?” I ask her, and we both snort with laughter.
“Are you trying to get me drunk?” she parries, and we all fall about again.
“No way,” I insist earnestly. “You’re just my best bud, Chlo. Yeah?”
“Yeah,” she says, but she says it wistfully.
A huge plate of nachos shows up on the table, and some kind of spicy chicken wings. I haven’t eaten anything since half a bagel for breakfast, and I reach for a plate.
Chloe sloshes more bright green margarita into my glass, and then hers. “No,” she says mock-playfully, slapping at my hand. “No nachos for you until you do another shot!”
I rise to the challenge, and lick salt from my wrist, then pound from a shot glass once more. Chloe feeds me another lime, and I grimace at the sharp sourness. She laughs again.
Aiden leans close, holding his fifth beer bottle up like a toast. “Sooo! Is tonight the night you see if you and Chloe are more than just friends?” he whispers in my ear, too loud. “It might be just the way to forget about you-know-who.”
“No, dude, no way. ’S not like that,” I insist… even though it’s clear from the look in Chloe’s wistful dark eyes that she, at least, thinks it might be.
Fuck. I have to fix this. Set her straight.
I have to set a lot of things straight, I realize, as my brain swims through its sea of liquor. Everything’s a mess.
“I gotta think of the future, right?” I say to Aiden, but he’s not paying attention. He’s too busy scamming on a hot, tall drink of blonde a couple tables over.
I have to fix things, I think, and I tap Chloe on the arm.
“Hey, Chlo,” I say, “meet me outside in, like, five minutes? I gotta talk to you, ‘kay?”
Her exotically tip-tilted eyes go wide. “Sure, Bash. Okay.”
“First things first, though,” I mumble, holding up a finger. Weaving slightly, I stagger away from the table.
Miraculously, there is a quiet nook in the back of the restaurant, away from the bar, by the door to the back patio.
Fumbling in my pocket, I take out my phone and my wallet. Tucked in one pocket is an elegant business card. On the front is the professional, intimidating printing, L.E. Blackwood, with office phone and email address.
But on the back, in the same handwriting as the Dylan lyrics enclosed with that guitar this afternoon, is another number.
I punch it into my phone, and, breathing heavily, I listen to the rings.
“Sebastian?” she answers, and I’m momentarily thrown.
“How’d y’ know it was me?” I blurt into the phone. “And hey, why’d you send me that guitar, huh? ‘S this a weird game you’re playing with me, Ms. CEO?”
“Sebastian, where are you?” she demands.
“You can’t do that,” I slur into the phone. “Hundred dollar bills and million dollar guitars. You can’t do that!”
“Where are you?” Her voice sounds urgent now.
“Why do you care? You want me to stay away from you, doncha?”
“Are you… drunk?” she asks, and the tone in her voice pitches lower.
“So?” I huff. “You surprised someone as naive as me can get drunk?”
“Sebastian, tell me where you are, now!”
“You’re not the boss of me. You might be the boss of everyone and everything else, but not me,” I sing into the phone, and laugh.
“So help me God, Sebastian, where the fuck are you?”
“I didn’t know you knew that word,” I snicker, and lean back against the wall as I laugh harder.
“This isn’t funny, Sebastian,” she snaps into the phone, hard, cold, in charge. “Tell me where you are right now. If you’re drunk, it’s not safe for you to be out in public like this!”
“How come you sent me that guitar?” I ask her. “And how come you knew where I worked? How come you came into Powell’s yesterday? How come you keep telling me to leave you alone? How come you gave me that hundred dollar bill? How come you are so goddamned tyrannical, Mistress of the Million Dollar Gifts?”
“Where are you and who are you with?” she almost hisses into the phone.
“No more playing games with my head! Adios, muchacha,” I say with another snort of laughter, and hang up the phone.
Oh, wow. I actually did it! I called Lark Blackwood and told her off. Both my Id and my Superego are, for once, united in standing and applauding me.
That’s one thing taken care of-
But my phone is immediately ringing again. “What?”
“Don’t move,” she snaps into the phone. “I’m coming to get you before you hurt yourself!” The line goes dead again.
“Sure you are, sure you are,” I mutter. My head is still pitching… and my stomach is starting to join in… but I have one more important thing to take care of.
First, I go into the men’s room and splash some cold water on my face, but it doesn’t help much. Then I stagger out to the side patio, which is almost empty, since all of the hardcore partiers are inside by the bar. Chloe is there waiting for me, just like I asked, and I grin at her.
“Hey, Chlo,” I say, heading over, but I bump into a patio table. “Oops.”
Wow, I am really drunk. So this is what it’s like… all like the inside of my head is turned into a bounce-house or something.
“Hey, Bash,” she answers sweetly. “You okay? Come over here,” she says, patting the spot next to her.
“No,” I say, knowing I have to put a stop to all of this, too. “I gotta talk to you ‘bout that, Chloe,” I tell her. “Before anything gets too weird. You and me-”
“Bash,” she whispers again, and her hand is on my arm.
I try to focus, but the lights are spinning, and there are two Chloes, wavering in front of my eyes.
“It’s not weird, Bash,” she’s saying as I shake my head. I can’t seem to make the words come.
“Are you okay?” she asks me again.
“Think I’m really, really drunk,” I admit.
She giggles softly. “Here. Let’s sit. I’m kinda drunk, too.”
We sit on a bench by the wall, and I lean back in the corner against the cool plaster.
“Just take a few deep breaths,” Chloe instructs me.
I do. After a few minutes, I feel marginally more clear-headed… at least, enough to remember why I’m here, and what this is all about.
Holy smokes, her arm’s around me. And she’s leaning against me, actually… snuggling. When did that happen?
“No, Chloe,” I protest, feebly trying to wriggle away from her.
But she doesn’t let go. “It’s okay, Bash,” she whispers. “You know how I feel about you. You know how long I’ve loved you-”
“But you can’t,” I protest. “That’s what I mean!”
Her lips are already against my neck. “I love you, Bash. And I know, deep down, you care for me, too.”
“I do, Chlo, but not like that-”
“Why not give it a chance?” she keeps whispering between soft little kisses along my throat. She’s drunk, too, and I can smell the tequila on her breath as she nuzzles my face. “I may never be brave enough for this again,” she tells me. “I’ve wanted to do this for years.”
Her hands are sliding up my chest, and I’m pinned between her and the wall of the restaurant, no escape.
“Chloe, don’t-” I say again. Panic is surging in my stomach.
“No one will ever love you like I do,” she’s telling me now. “Please, Sebastian, can’t you try to love me back? Even just a little? I care so much….”
Her lips are moving too close to mine, and I turn my head away, trying to push her away from me, but she’s too determined.
“Chloe, I only like you as a friend, only a friend. That’s all. That’s what I was trying to tell you,” I’m saying. Maybe if I keep talking, she’ll stop?
“No, Bash, that’s not why you asked me to come out here with you, all alone, where it’s quiet and romantic. Deep down inside, you know you want more, too-”
“No! Chloe, you’re just my friend, that’s all…. Stop-”
Her mouth is on my cheek now, moving closer, but my stomach is about to turn inside out-
“I’m going to be sick,” I mutter.
“I’m here for you, Bash,” Chloe whispers as if she didn’t hear me.
“No….” I say weakly again, trying to shift away from her.
“He said no!” a new voice, a cold and autocratic voice, interjects firmly.
“Huh?” Chloe says, and looks up, her arms slackening.
Oh, holy fuck. Lark Blackwood is here. She’s here on the patio of this Mexican dive bar, and I’m about to-
I stagger and start to heave out several tequila shots and who knows how many margaritas.
“God, Bash!” Chloe cries out in revulsion, jumping up.
“Enough!” Lark snaps at her, glaring. Lark steers me toward the bushes, and I bend over and, to my complete mortification, throw up all over the place.
“Here,” Lark says, pressing a couple of napkins into my hand.
“No,” I say weakly to her, but another wave hits me, then another, and I keep puking like something out of a horror movie.
“Bash, are you okay?” Chloe asks, but Lark cuts her off. “You should go back inside,” she says curtly, and Chloe slinks away.
Lark is gripping me hard by the shoulders so I don’t completely fall over. I groan.
Oh, this is humiliating. I thought it was bad enough when Lark Blackwood rejected me, before, but now? Seeing her witness my complete lack of dignity and decorum?
A million times worse.
I thought I was done vomiting, but more comes up, just bile at this point, and my eyes are watering. Although I’m not at all sober, I’m nowhere near as drunk as I was before.
“I swear, I will never drink again,” I mumble, coughing.
“Here,” she says again, passing me the napkins she must have taken from a nearby table. I wipe my mouth, in part as an excuse so I don’t have to look at her.
I am filled with self loathing.
“Sorry,” I finally murmur, sagging back onto the bench.
“Whatever are you sorry for?” she asks me, silkily.
Ugh, she’s going to make me say it. “I’m sorry I called you and… and said the things I did. I’m sorry I got so drunk. I’m sorry that I’m… all of this,” I gesture hopelessly at my jeans, flannel, and t-shirt, now decorated with unsightly splotches from my recent barf-fest.
God, I’m just disgusting.
I take a risk and peek at Lark. As usual, the contrast between she and I could not be greater. She is wearing a pair of slim-fitting navy trousers that skim her long, slender legs, and a soft-looking cream-colored sweater. Her red-gold hair is drawn back away from her perfect face, and it only emphasizes her beautiful blue eyes. Clusters of sapphires hang on her ears.
“Hope I didn’t interrupt a hot date,” I mutter, something I’d never say if I wasn’t still drunk.
“I was at a family dinner,” she says drily. “Maybe I should thank you for getting me out of it?” But then she frowns at me. “I’m certainly no prude, Sebastian, but there is something to be said for recognizing necessary limits. How often do you do this sort of thing?”
“What’d’y mean?” I sound truculent to my own ears.
“Get this inebriated. Find yourself entangled with rather persistent suitors. That was your good friend the musical partner, was it not?”
“Uh huh, but I was trying to explain to her-” I end on a groan. The whole world is whirling around, and I can’t keep my thoughts straight.
“Don’t you know how dangerous a position you’ve put yourself in?” Lark continues to reprimand me. I feel like I’m about fifteen years younger than my actual age as she does. “I shudder to think what might have happened between you and that girl if I hadn’t gotten here when I did,” she shakes her head.
I have an urge to tell her that it’s none of her business what I do, and who I do it with. But the liquid courage that gave me the nerve to call her in the first place is rapidly dissipating under the combination of the cool air outside, and her equally chilly admonitions.
“Is this something you do regularly?” she repeats.
“No,” I whisper. “I’ve never gotten drunk before. And Chloe’s never… acted like that before, either.” I close my eyes, so ashamed, so regretful. “I don’t ever want to be again.” I try to get up, but I feel like some sort of bobble-head doll, and stumble again, dizzy.
Lark grabs me and holds me up before I end up sprawled all over the patio floor. “Come on,” she says, gentler, “let me take you home. You’re in no condition to be out like this.”
“Why are you here?” I mumble as she puts an arm around my waist to help me stay upright. Oh, holy smokes, I can feel warmth from her body against mine….
“Let’s go to my car,” she says, helping me walk back into the restaurant and through to the front.
“I have to tell Aiden,” I say, but my head is reeling not from the booze anymore, but from her nearness.
“My half-sister can tell him for you.”
“Half-sister?” I repeat, as if the word doesn’t make sense.
“I told you I was at a family dinner. Ariana wanted me to take her home, but when we got here, she started chatting with your friend the coffee mogul.”
“Oh.” I remember the other thing that has been niggling me. “But how did you know I was here?”
“I traced your phone,” she says matter-of-factly. “You were in trouble, Sebastian. You gave me no real choice in the matter.”
She what? my muddled brain tries to make sense of that. That’s not legal, is it?
I should be mad at her for that, but instead, I feel a sweet warmth, different but not entirely unlike an alcohol buzz, spreading inside me. My Id has perked up, eyes wide. She was worried about you because she cares about you! It’s like Aiden said about the Dylan guitar: she’s not acting like someone who wants to stay away from you, or wants you to stay away from her!
Even my Superego is studying the situation with furrowed brows. She’s not indifferent, just what Aiden said, he points out logically.
I’m too drunk to try to reason with either of them.
Lark is holding me up, keeping me steady, helping me keep my feet under me, since I’m still legless from drinking. She takes me not to Aiden’s table, but to the corner of the bar. “Water,” she tells the bartender, who looks dumbstruck by her beauty. I can’t blame you, buddy, I think. “A large glass, cold, but no ice.” When the glass arrives, she hands it to me. “Drink,” she orders.
She’s so authoritative. I scowl at her, but obediently down some of the cold beverage. My stomach roils at the new influx of liquid, but, thankfully, it stays down. “I need to find Aiden,” I tell her, putting down the half-full glass.
“Not until you finish that. Drink the rest, Sebastian. It will help you sober up and stave off dehydration. Especially after all of that vomiting you did,” she adds, but, unlike Chloe, she doesn’t sound disgusted. A little ironic, maybe.
And even kind of… concerned?
“You were drinking on an empty stomach, weren’t you?” she asks me.
“… Yeah. How…?”
“It was obvious when you vomited,” she says, almost like she’s amused. “You should have eaten something before consuming so much tequila. That was your first mistake. Now drink more of that water. It will help prevent a bad hangover.”
Once the glass is empty, she takes my hand–takes my hand!–and leads me around the bar. Even though my vision is still blurry around the edges, I can still see plenty of male heads swivel as she walks past. A gauntlet of eyes for me to traverse.
I can see Aiden at our table. There’s no sign of Chloe, thankfully. But Aiden is now keeping company with a girl who must be Lark’s half-sister. She’s even blonder as Aiden, with bouncy curls, and impish, sparkling, teasing eyes. Their heads are close together as they talk, and I can see Aiden is giving her his megawatt smile, unloading all of his copious charms at once. The girl, Ariana, throws back her head, laughing at something he’s said, and wraps an arm around his shoulder as he pours her a drink.
Oh, God, I’m going to be in for another one of Aiden Anderson’s Love-at-First-Sight recitals… followed predictably in two weeks by the All-Women-Suck mope-fest when the whole thing comes crashing down.
Aiden looks up and catches sight of us, and gives me a big grin and wave, then a thumbs up.
“They seem to be making friends,” Lark says in that same ironical, dry way, leaning her head close to mine.
The scent of her skin, her sweet breath, her hair, is making me feel dizzy all over again… a new, different kind of dizziness, spreading through my whole body like electrical currents. In the dim light of the restaurant, as she looks at me with her face cast in shadows, she looks half-angelic, half-nefarious.
I think I’m drunk on her now.
“Come,” she murmurs, steering me towards the restaurant’s exit, “let’s get you home, Sebastian. You need to be somewhere safe and quiet to sleep this off.”
“Lark…” I start to say, aware that it’s the first time I’ve addressed her by her first name. Why? Nothing is making sense, but I don’t want it to. With the lights spinning, loud voices and music pounding my head from every direction, and my drunkenness coloring it all, I might as well be Alice in Wonderland.
I sway on my feet, and I hear Lark Blackwood exclaiming “Oh, goddammit!” as I plunge into dizzying blackness.
MBO playlist, The Postal Service, “This Place is a Prison”