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Author Note: This story was a collaboration between myself and another. He started the story, and then we switched off, the asteriks noting our switches. It’s a bit slow in the beginning, it was our first combined effort story, so we didn’t really know where we were taking it at first.
* * *
A cold, stiff wind was blowing down the dark suburban street, the kind of wind that blows past the nooks and crannies so that you don’t feel it until you step out and it blows right into you, making your breath catch. Colm was standing on the porch smoking a cigarette, not in the direct path but not entirely out of it either, one hand in his pocket and the other perched on the cigarette. He took a drag and exhaled and watched the smoke disappear almost instantly, torn to pieces and blown away. He could have smoked in the garage but it was full of people and he needed a moment alone. The urge to smoke had dissipated in that wind as quickly as the smoke itself, but he felt uncomfortable at the thought of just standing on the porch, for no set amount of time, no task to complete, nothing to do, just standing there for no reason until he decided to go in. He couldn’t do that. So he smoked, puffing quickly, until he had smoked about two-thirds of the cigarette and then stepped to the edge of the porch and flicked the butt toward the driveway. The wind took it and threw it down in the grass on the far side of the yard where it rolled, embers flying, into the neighbor’s yard, and then on. Well, he wasn’t going to chase it.
He went back inside and it was another world. His cheeks stung in the warmth and light of the house. The music was loud, coming from the living room, and people were spread out all over the living room and the kitchen and the garage and a back bedroom full of instruments where a few guys were jamming and there were even a few diehards in the backyard gathered in a huddle around a joint that the wind kept trying to murder. He made his way to the kitchen and through the tangle of people there to the cooler and got a fresh beer, then went back to the living room to look for a place to sit.
The chairs were full but the sofa had an open seat, but there was a conversation going between some people he had never met and he didn’t feel like sitting down in the middle of it, so he sat on the hearth. He was nearing the end of his beer and was somewhat dreading threading his way back to the cooler, balancing his discomfort against his desire for the means to relieve his discomfort, when Sarah floated by.
“Hey darlin’, what are you doing sitting on the fireplace?”
“Yeah. I’m just not so much in the party mood, I guess.”
“Well you need to liven up, man.” She gave him a playful shove. “Getcha ‘nother fuckin’ DRINK, man.” She laughed. She wasn’t as drunk as she was playing at, but she liked playing drunk and she was funny, a tiny little woman with great big eyes and an enormous voice. It was her house, her party, and she was almost the only one he knew. Her cheer was virtually invincible and it never failed to infect him, at least a little.
“I think you’re right, I need another beer.” He stood and as he walked past she slapped him heartily on his ass. He yowled and jumped.
“That’s the spirit!” He could still hear her gasping, twittering giggle when he got to the kitchen.
The heads had given up and come in from the backyard and were now warming themselves on the girls and the beer in the kitchen, making it even more impassable. He accidentally elbowed one girl, nearly stepped on another’s foot, and some guy with a Cossack beard grabbed his ass before he made it to the cooler.
If there’s not a beer in there I’m going to fucking kill somebody, or everybody.
He opened the cooler and found someone had restocked it. He reached down below the fresh ones on top and his fingers felt and wrapped around the neck of a cold bottle. As he was rising again he heard a gasp and a wave of hair bounced off his head. He looked up and a girl was staggering back a bit.
“Are you ok?”
“Yeah, I was just peeking over you to see if there was beer in there and you started to stand up and I wasn’t ready, you almost got me.”
He looked at her. She was pretty, with long brown hair and wearing a black dress. He held out his beer.
“Well here, you can have this one.”
“Are you sure? Is there more?”
“It’s full. Go ahead.”
He went back into the cooler and when he came back up all he saw was a swirl of hair and a black skirt being swallowed by the crush at the door leading to the music room.
The music was of a mind-numbing, teeth-aching intensity. The bass pounded in time to the pulse in her temple as she maneuvered herself through the crowd of strangers, back across the room to the group of people she knew from work. She almost sighed with relief as she took her place back in the circle of women, and twisted off the top of the long-neck she canlı bahis had just been handed. She put the bottle to her lips, closed her eyes, and tilted her head back, thinking of nothing as the cool liquid flooded her mouth, and then trickled down her throat. She stood for a moment, sipping on her beer, as she silently observed the conversation going on around her.
Leah looked around the crowded room, and through the doorway into the kitchen, at all the people she didn’t know. She barely knew Sarah at all, whose house was the focal point of the party, even though they worked together. She wouldn’t have normally come, either, had Beth not bullied her into it.
“You need to get out more”, she had said.
“I don’t know anybody, it would be awkward”, Leah had protested, but Beth had insisted, and then resorted to thinly veiled, half-teasing threats about scheduling her to work every weekend for the next 2 months if she didn’t come to the party tonight. So, agreeing at the last minute, she didn’t really have any clothes to change into, like the other girls did, and she lived too far away to be trusted to go home and come back. So, she was dressed in her work clothes, a black dress that she wore today, somewhat dressed up by knee-high boots, on loaner from Beth. She looked out the window again over her beer bottle, cursing the rapid change in weather. It was a balmy 75 this afternoon, and now the chill wind was enough to take the flesh off of bones. She didn’t even have a jacket; she shuddered at the thought of the cold outside.
She hardly noticed as her group dwindled in size, until she glanced around and noticed Beth was no longer there. She made a quick survey of the room, but she wasn’t any where to be seen. She saw Sarah running around, and she leapt forward to get her attention.
“Sarah, did you see which way Beth went? I swear she was just here…” she started.
“Oh, hon, Beth left a while ago! She usually finds someone to hook up with here, there are lots of people here usually, and she either has a special someone she meets up with, or just picks someone new, I don’t know! But she’s gone…” Sarah gushed, and then she was running off, leaving Leah to stand in the living room, alone.
“Great, now how am I supposed to get home?” She muttered softly to herself.
She tried not to get too upset, but as she glanced around the ever changing crowd, she saw no one she knew who could help her out. She set her beer bottle down on the mantle of the fireplace, and squeezed her way around the bodies in the living room, scouring the faces of those she didn’t know for a familiar one.
Stupid, stupid, stupid, he thought. There was an opportunity to talk to a pretty girl and you just let her walk away. I guess it’s all for the best. She’s probably got a boyfriend anyway. And she’ll be enjoying the party, maybe dancing, talking with a pile of friends. I’m just the guy in the corner waiting to leave.
The beers he’d drunk so far had little effect, which surprised him as he was a lightweight. He looked at the beer in his hand and then did his best to chug it down, but it was a trick he had never learned and so it took him half a dozen big swallows. His insides burbled and tickled with beer. He pulled out another and picked what looked like the path of least resistance out of the kitchen, toward the living room. It was fairly clear but for one girl who was standing dead center of the walk space. She was sexy and wore clothes so tight she appeared to have simply been dipped into paint. Under other circumstances he would have enjoyed brushing past her but now all he wanted was for her to move. He stood and waited, then after being unnoticed he began to say, “Excuse me. Excuse me.” His voice got louder but she was drunk and didn’t seem to hear, so he reached and took her by the waist and walked her right into the guy she’d been talking to. She hardly even seemed to notice that, but the guy winked at Colm as he slid past.
As he came into the living room he saw the flash of hair and skirt, again departing through the other doorway. Suddenly he wanted to find her, have a better look at her, see who she was here with, see if maybe he could talk to her. He saw Sarah talking among a cluster and grabbed her arm.
“Hey sweetie, are you having some fun yet?”
“We’ll see. Do you know that girl with the really long hair, wearing the black dress and leather boots?”
Sarah knitted her brow and thought.
“She was just in here.”
Her eyes widened. “Oh, that’s Leah. I work with her.”
“Is she here with anyone?”
“Well, I don’t think she has a boyfriend if that’s what you’re asking, but I’m not sure. She did come with Beth but Beth just split a little while ago.”
He made for the door she had disappeared into, a new certainty in his step. He saw an opening and made a kind of lunge for it. As he gained the hallway he felt something soft glance off his shoulder and saw a cascade of hair and when he looked it was her, stumbling back against bahis siteleri the wall.
She felt the air whoosh out of her when she hit the wall, and she put a hand to her head, closing her eyes and leaning against the wall for a bit. The sudden change in direction made her slightly vertiginous, and she tried to gain her bearings slowly. She opened her eyes to see the guy from the kitchen, the one that had given her his beer, standing there with a look of pure horror on his face.
“Where you going in such a hurry?” she wisecracked.
He ducked his head in embarrassment. “I’m so sorry,” he said.
She tried to push herself off the wall, and he extended his hand to help her. She took his hand in hers, holding it to help her stay steady. His hand was warm, and encompassed hers with ease. She stumbled a bit, and he moved to catch her. She looked up into his concerned eyes, framed by dark lashes, and smiled. She stood up straight, and cleared her throat.
“Guess I have had a few too many, huh?” She said, trying to brush off her dizziness. He smiled and nodded in agreement, but didn’t really say anything.
She stood there awkwardly for a second or two, then said, “Well, thanks…” then started to move passed him.
“Uh, Sarah said you were looking for a ride home,” he said quickly, before she could go too far.
Leah furrowed her brow, and stared at him. Why would Sarah tell this man, a stranger to her, that she needed a ride home? He seemed courteous enough; he had given her a beer, and was helpful when knocking her into walls, but she didn’t know him, and wasn’t sure she was comfortable having him drive her the long trek home, not to mention knowing where she lived. She must have taken too long to respond, because he sort of backed up, and put his hands in his pockets.
“I mean, you know, I could call you a cab if you like…” and he turned his head, looking around the room.
Wow, I am really paranoid, she thought. Sarah wouldn’t offer her up to a psycho; and besides that, she didn’t have the money for the 20-mile cab drive home.
“Sorry, no, yeah, that would be great, I mean, if you really don’t mind. I live pretty far out there, and I was kind of looking to go now. I didn’t know if you wanted to stay longer…” she stumbled, trying to make up for her lack of finesse to someone who had been nothing but nice to her.
He looked at her, crooking his eyebrow. “Are you kidding me? You’re giving me an excellent reason to leave early. I don’t know anyone here except Sarah, it’s really crowded, and everyone’s just going to get drunker.”
She smiled, and nodded her affirmation. He stood there for a minute, staring at her. “Do you need to get your things; your coat?” He asked her. She gave a small smile, and shook her head.
“No, I don’t have a coat. It was 75 this afternoon, and I never went home after work.” She shrugged her shoulders, as if to say, what can I say, and he nodded his head.
“Alright, then, lets go,” and he took her by the elbow, and lead her out the front door.
When he opened the door, a gust of chill wind ripped right through her, as if she were not wearing anything at all. It made her catch her breath, and wrap her arms around herself. The wind whipped her hair up and around her head, and she stood there, clenching her teeth in the bitterness of it all. Her eyes watered, and her cheeks hurt from the fierceness of it. He shut the front door behind them, and took off his leather jacket, handing it to her. She shook her head no, but he just crooked his eyebrow at her again, and held it out to her, waiting for her to take it.
“How is that fair, just because I’m the girl that I get to be warm?” she asked.
He looked down at her very thin black dress, and down at his boots, jeans, and sweater. She got the hint, and nodded her head, and took his jacket and put it on.
“Thanks,” she grumbled, wrapping it around her as best as she could. Then, he led her to his car.
He felt grateful that he’d recently been in one of his bi-monthly cleaning moods. The car was free of any debris but books, everything was vacuumed and wiped down and it looked as nice as it possibly could, which still wasn’t saying much but at least it wasn’t trashed. The heater got warmed up quickly, which was a nice winter-time consolation for his air conditioner not working in the summer.
He hadn’t really had a chance to look at her before now. She was stunning. With a tinge of guilty regret he reached into the back seat and grabbed a chambray button-up he kept back there and offered it to her.
“Here, for your legs. It’ll just take a minute to get the heater going, but it works great.”
“No, no, no, you need it, it’s freezing.” Her jaw was chattering as she spoke.
“Please take it. I’m not that cold, you’re shaking and you’ve got goose bumps. We’ll be roasting in just a minute, so it’s ok.”
That seemed to satisfy her and she pulled the shirt over her legs. All the windows were fogged and the engine was hiccupping bahis şirketleri so they sat in the car waiting for it to warm up. He was trying to think of something to say but found himself only able to dredge up the usual, boring questions. It was better than saying nothing though…
“So you work with Sarah?”
“Yeah. I don’t know her all that well, though. Somebody else got me to come out.”
“And she bailed on you?”
He looked at the windshield and saw the faintest beginning of transparent windshield at the bottom edge. “Sarah said your name is Leah?”
“I like that. It’s unusual. Irish?”
“I’m not sure. Sarah didn’t tell me your name, though.”
“Colm? Where’s that from?”
“It’s Irish.” He gave her a sheepish grin and she laughed. Her laugh was musical, he liked it.
“So you said you live pretty far out there? Where’s ‘pretty far out there?'”
“Kind of in the country, out off 20. I was going to stay with Beth tonight but even if she actually went home, I don’t really want to go there if she’s going to be trashed and crawling all over some guy.”
“Yeah, that’s no good. Well, I really don’t mind taking you. I like driving at night, especially when it’s cold enough to need the heater.” He looked at her. “And especially when I’ve got good company.”
She gave a half-laugh. “Don’t make any assumptions.”
He laughed with her and it set him more at ease. For some reason, he felt more comfortable around her than he usually did around beautiful women he didn’t know. The windows were sufficiently defogged enough to drive and the heater was working on thawing their toes, so he hooked his seatbelt and rolled away from the house.
She sat rigidly in the seat, trying to get warm. The heater was on full blast, but that damn wind had gotten into her bones, and it was a long time seeping back out. They sat in a comfortable silence for a while, and she concentrated on getting warm.
“Be sure to let me know if I pass up a turn off or anything,” he said, and she startled at the sound of his voice. She glanced sideways at him to see if he noticed, and of course, he did. He was grinning at her, and she smiled back, sheepishly.
“Sorry, I must have dozed off a bit,” she said, trying to sit up straighter in the seat, and trying to concentrate on the scenery, so she didn’t doze off again. How embarrassing, she thought.
“That’s okay; it makes me feel better to know you’re comfortable enough around me to doze off. You can rest if you need to,” he said, and she shifted in her seat again.
Or you now know how drunk I really am, she thought to herself, as she fought to stay focused. She didn’t really think he would take advantage of her, but her cynicism told her that she didn’t know him very well, and she couldn’t just relax around him because he was being so nice.
They sat in silence a bit longer, before he broke it again. “So, how is it that you wound up at Sarah’s house with no ride? I know you and Sarah said that you showed up with Beth, and that you were going to go home with Beth; and you said you came straight from work, but, where’s your car?”
She rolled her eyes and threw her head back against the seat. “Ugh, it’s a long story. Basically, my car is in the shop, and I was getting a ride to and from work by my neighbor, who is still about a mile away from me. I’m supposed to go get it tomorrow, which is why I was going to stay with Beth tonight; she bullied me into going to the party with her. I wouldn’t have normally gone.” She answered, opting for the short and sweet version of the horrifying situation with her car and the mechanic.
“Well, lucky for me then,” he said, and she giggled a bit.
“You probably won’t think so in about an hour after you’ve gotten me home, and you realize you have a long way to go to get back,” she said, smiling nervously.
They managed to pass the time amicably. She was surprised that he managed to think of enough topics to keep them occupied; he must not be as drunk as she was. She tried to be very conscientious about her actions and responses, she knew she was well and truly drunk, and she knew she could get a bit flirty when she was drunk. She liked him, but she did not want to give off the wrong impression, since they were alone together.
She directed him through the appropriate turns, and they finally made it to her house. It was a nice sized house for 1 or 2 people to live there comfortably; the kitchen, dining area, living room, office, bathroom, laundry room, and 1 bedroom were downstairs; the entire upstairs was a bedroom/bathroom combo. She loved her house. She bought it from her aunt and uncle, who decided to retire in their RV, traveling the states.
He pulled into the driveway, and put the car in park. They sat there for a minute, not sure of what to do next. She didn’t want to get out of the car into the cold wind, and she definitely didn’t want to give him back his jacket before doing it. She wondered if he expected to be invited in, and she wanted to repay him for bringing her home, so far out from wherever it was that he lived. She didn’t want to give the wrong impression, but she couldn’t just send him on his way without some sort of thank you.
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