“I’m fine. But thanks for offering.” I hold out my hand. “I’m Aspen.”
He takes my hand in his and shakes it. His handshake is strong and confident. “Nice to meet you, Aspen. That’s an interesting name.”
The waitress brings our drinks over as I wait for him to introduce himself. But he never does.
“I’m not telepathic, you know,” I say.
He narrows his eyes at me.
“Your name. Am I supposed to guess it?”
“Oh.” He chuckles and stares at me like I’m supposed to know him or something. “It’s Sawyer.”
“As in Tom?”
“Yup. That’s the one,” he says. “My mom was a big fan.” His hand absentmindedly runs back and forth across his ribs. “And that’s not usually what comes to mind when people meet me.”
“Really? What does then?”
He laughs. “Nothing. It’s just refreshing.”
He shrugs. “You.”
I wiggle my toes around in my soaked shoes. “I don’t feel so refreshing.”
“Well, you are.”
“Thanks – I guess. So what do you do, Tom Sawyer?”
That crooked smile of his makes another appearance. “A little of this, a little of that.”
I can’t tell if he doesn’t want me to know what he does, or if maybe he’s out of a job and doesn’t want me thinking less of him.
“Sorry,” he says. “It’s just that my job is the reason I’m having a shitty day, and since we’re not talking about that …”
I nod. “Got it. Same for me. But not my job. I’m a student. But it’s the reason for my shitty day.”
“You go to college?”
“Yeah. Juilliard,” I say sadly.
“No shit? Are you some kind of prodigy or something?”
I wiggle all my fingers. “Hardly. I play piano.”
“I’d say you must play it pretty damn well to be there.”
I shrug. “I graduate in May.”
“Wow. Congrats. What are you going to do after?”
I take a long drink of my beer. “Can we talk about something else?”
“Sure. How about sports? Do you like sports?”
I shake my head. “No time. I spend every spare minute practicing.”
He raises his eyebrows. “I thought we weren’t talking about that.”
We sit in silence for a minute as I try to think of something to talk about. I look over at the other corner of the bar and see a band setting up. I look up at the silent television. I look down and examine my fingernails.
“Oh, my God,” I say, looking up in disgust. “I literally have nothing to talk about. The past four years I’ve done nothing but eat, sleep and live piano. Everything has been about Juilliard. I think I must be the most boring person alive. Sorry you ended up sitting with such a dud.”
He laughs. “Aspen, I have the feeling you are anything but boring. How about your family? Want to talk about that?”
“Ha! Family is exactly the reason I’m sitting here drowning my sorrows with you. So, no.”
“I thought school was why you were here.”
“It’s both,” I say. “But if you want to talk about your family, go right ahead.”
“Nothing there to talk about,” he says.
I take another drink of my beer to hide the awkwardness.
My phone rings. It’s Bass. I hold it up and apologize. “I’m sorry, I have to take this. I’ll be quick.” I swipe my finger across the screen.
“What the hell, Penny? They’re going to demo the whole building?”
“That’s what the notice said.”
“Three months? That’s not enough time to find a new place in the city.”
“You’ll be fine. I’m sure you’ll meet a ton of people in training who will need roommates. Plus, you never know where you’ll be stationed. I actually think the timing is good for you.”
“But what about you?”
I shrug. “I’m probably moving out of New York anyway.”
The waitress comes by asking if we want another round. Sawyer raises his eyebrows at me and I nod.
“Where are you? Who was that?”
“I’m just getting a drink.”
“A drink? Are you at a bar?”
“I might be.”
He laughs. “Aspen Andrews at a bar. Wait, did something happen? I mean, other than our impending eviction?”
I sigh into the phone.
“Where are you? I’ll come keep you company before my shift.”
“No, that’s okay. I already have company.”
I think I’ve stunned him into silence.
“Aspen, you’re at a bar and you have company? I know some shit had to happen. Tell me.”
“I have to go. I’m being rude. I’ll talk to you later.”
I hang up and put my phone away. “Sorry,” I tell Sawyer.
“That’s okay. I think you’re getting more interesting by the minute. Who’s Bass?”
“Another interesting name.”
“It’s short for Sebastian.”
“Is he going into the military?”
I look at him with questioning eyes.
“You said something about him going into training and not knowing where he’ll be stationed.”
“Oh. No, not the military. He’s going to firefighter school. He spent the past year becoming a certified EMT and paramedic and now he’s starting his firefighter training. That will take several months.”
“And he’s just a roommate?”
“Nothing else going on there?”
I laugh. “Well, we did mess around once, but it was awkward. Kind of like being with my brother. Ewww. We’re better as friends.”
“Does he think so?”
I shrug. “I’m sure he does. Why wouldn’t he?”
“Aspen, have you looked in a mirror lately?”
I scoff at him. “Oh, please.”
I feel my face heat up. I take a drink. “Thanks, I guess.”
“And I’m hot, too, right?”
“And far too modest,” I say, laughing.
The band starts playing a familiar tune and I sit up tall in my seat so I can see them.
“You like this song?” Sawyer asks.
He nods to the small dance floor. “Want to?”
“You should know I’m a terrible dancer.” I wiggle my fingers in the air. “These are the only parts of me that have rhythm.”
He laughs, standing up and pulling me out of the booth. He tugs his hat down even lower on his forehead as we reach the dance floor.
I discover that although my dancing leaves much to be desired, it’s a way to keep us from feeling the awkward silence. And I find that if I simply mimic what the other girls on the dance floor are doing, I might not look so much out of place.
“You’re not half bad,” Sawyer says, leaning close to speak in my ear.
“You’re not so bad yourself. You do this often?”
“Me neither. I can’t remember the last time I danced.”
Every time he leans in to talk to me, I smell him. Unlike someone who just got splattered with dirty street-water, he smells clean from a shower. His cologne permeates my senses. His hot words crossing my ear have me feeling things I haven’t felt in a long time.
Another song plays. A slower one this time. Sawyer looks at me with raised brows and holds out his arms. I walk into them, drawn like a moth to the flame. I’m not sure what it is about this man. I just met him less than an hour ago. He’s dark and mysterious. He’s handsome and inviting. He might just be everything I need, to forget about the day I had.
But he’s not going to sleep with me.
Suddenly, I feel a sense of loss.
His hands feel like hot lava on my sides. They work around to the small of my back. His thumbs caress me through the thin fabric of my shirt. His eyes take me in now that we’re closer.
He looks at me like I’m the flame.
“Shit,” he says, pulling away.
He grabs my hand and leads me back to the table. He calls out to the waitress to bring another round along the way.
I sit down and stare at him. “What was that about?”
“That was about me not sleeping with you.”
“Am I missing something?”
“I can’t sleep with you, Aspen. It’s against the rules.”
I look at his left hand. I don’t see a ring. I ask him anyway. “Are you married?”
His eyes snap to mine. “Hell, no.”
“Do you have a girlfriend?”
“What do you mean never?”
“I mean I don’t do girlfriends.”
I study him. He looks truthful but sorrowful.
“Are you a recovering sex addict or something?” I laugh.
He doesn’t laugh with me. “Or something,” he says.
The waitress brings our drinks. Sawyer stops her before she walks away. “We’d like some shots, please.” He turns to me. “Pick your poison.”
“Me? Uh, I don’t know.” I think back to when I had time to party. “Buttery nipple?”
Sawyer laughs and turns back to the waitress. “Bring four.”
“I haven’t done shots since the summer after my senior year in high school.”
“How old are you, Aspen?”
“Almost twenty-three. You?”
“A solid twenty-five. When’s the big day?”