“So, tomorrow’s the big fucking day, hot shot. How’s it feel?”
Cole chuckled into the receiver of his Blackberry and dropped a ten dollar bill on the bar. He didn’t have the heart to tell Jake the truth, about how he contemplated hopping on the next bus back to Saysville every night since arriving in Mason. He never cared for the overcrowded surroundings of the big city just north of Cincinnati, but there were people back home counting on him to live the life they never had the chance to, including his best friend.
Cole listened while Jake professed his jealousy at length, sipping at the pint of Samuel Adams the bartender set down in front of him and growing more homesick by the second. Thank fuck, beer remained relatively constant no matter where you lived. The cool bitterness flowed down his throat with each swallow, a balm to his anxiety about tomorrow, while he silently clung to the sound of his best friend’s voice as if it was his last connection to all he’d ever known. All he ever wanted to know.
Cole left his job at Jacobson’s, the family owned lumber company, by request of his uncle. His father started the business about 15 years ago with hopes to pass it down to one of his sons when he chose to retire. But he only lived to witness the birth of one son. When his father died, Cole offered to turn down his college scholarship to RCIT and get the struggling business back on its feet. However, his uncle had different ideas, swooping in to give his mother monetary aid as long as Cole promised to honor a favor when his uncle asked. How could he refuse? The shop was all they had left of his father.
Cole graduated from the Ross County Institute of Technology with a bachelor’s in architecture. Instead of moving to the big city and getting a job with a corporate firm like the rest of his classmates, he returned home and started to design custom furniture on the side, while helping manage the now thriving family business. His mother had remarried and gave birth to his little sister, Lacey. Everyone got along fairly well and Cole was actually the happiest he’d been since his father’s death. At least, that was until his uncle showed up to collect on his debt.
“Are you still there?”
Cole disembarked from his train ride down memory junction and chuckled, “yeah. Still here, for now.”
Jake groaned. “Dammit, Cole! I would trade places with you in a heartbeat. I would kill to get the fuck up out of this small town, and the opportunity to leave is literally dropped in your lap.”
More like forced. Cole let out a sigh, the reoccurring knot of guilt twisting in his gut. “Sorry, man.”
“Don’t be sorry, just…”
Cole forced a smile even though his best friend wasn’t there to see right through it. “Keep an eye on my little sister. And I mean, just an eye.” His last comment managed to get a much needed laugh from the both of them. “I’m going to finish my beer and get some sleep.”
“Where are you staying?” The tense direction of the conversation not quite abandoned fully.
“One of my uncle’s apartments. He’s subletting it to me.”
Jake snorted, “you truly are one lucky bastard.”
“Yeah, yeah. Take care, Jake.” Cole couldn’t derail the now awkward call soon enough.
Cole hit end and set his phone down next to his half empty glass of beer.
“Someone kick your dog?” He glanced over his shoulder, struck speechless by a beautiful brunette in a red dress that hugged her curves better than an Italian sports car. Full lips, a shade deeper than her dress, curved and opened slightly, revealing a set of perfect, pearly whites. A dark, slender brow arched upwards, beckoning an answer from him.
“Oh… uh… no.” Cole cleared his throat, unable to take his eyes off the woman who slid into the tight space between him and the next stool over. Inhaling the soft sweetness of her perfume, she summoned the bartender with a flick of a delicate hand, tipped with short, jet black nails. No wedding band.
“Check,” she replied curtly to the bartender before he could even ask the question.
“Allow me,” Cole blurted out, not sure what the hell possessed him to offer to pay her tab, but there was no taking back the words dripping in a fresh coat of asinine sauce now.
The woman laughed, obviously sharing his brain’s opinion on the matter. “Thanks, but you don’t want to do that. Trust me.”
Ego stepping up to the plate to pinch hit for stupidity, if there was any real difference, Cole attempted to insist only to be interrupted by a second female voice.
“What are you doing?” A bare, cafe au lait colored shoulder brushing his, the brunette turned and Cole’s head followed. The voice originated from a statuesque blond who looked a lot like Erin Heatherton posing at the end of a Victoria Secret fashion show runway, hands planted on her narrow hips. In fact, he blinked a few times to make sure the blond wasn’t actually the well known model in the flesh.
“I’m paying and leaving.” The brunette glanced sideways at him, visibly agitated by the Erin look-a-like’s lack of discretion.
“That’s it? That’s how you want to end it?”
The bartender set the tab down in front of the brunette, hidden inside of a small, leather folder. “What I want doesn’t matter when it comes to you, Liv.” She opened the folder and Cole couldn’t help but sneak a peak at the total, choking on his sip of beer. The brunette looked up at him and gave a lopsided smile, “told you.” She pulled four, crisp one hundred dollar bills from her small handbag and closed them inside the folder for the bartender to scoop up. “Have a good evening.”
The brunette left without another word to the blond who stalked off in the opposite direction, cursing. Figures a woman like that would be out of his league in ways he didn’t have the slightest idea how to compete with, Cole thought, downing the rest of his beer and watching the brunette’s graceful departure. He stood and pulled on his jacket unable to shake the exotic beauty out of his mind. Not wanting to, really. With a nod to the guy behind the bar, he started in the direction of the door, the soft, sweetness of the brunette’s scent still lingering in the air. When he made his way through the growing crowd outside, he shoved his hands into his pockets and trekked the several blocks to his uncle’s walk up apartment. Tomorrow was his first day at his the contracting firm and he would need all the sleep he could get, if he could clear his mind enough to even sleep at all.