BEFORE WE GO INSIDE the restaurant, I give Fuzzy some more water. He looks pretty cozy, curled up on his small self-heating cat bed. The cage is even big enough for him to walk around in, so I think he’ll be fine until we get to the hotel.
“Half an hour and the kitchen is closed, darlin’,” the waitress tells a small group of guys at a table as we walk by to find a table of our own.
As soon as we sit down, Ethan’s phone rings. “I gotta take this. It’s Yule Ryan. Order me whatever. I’ll be right back.” He gets up and hurries to the door.
But I guess when the D.A. calls, you better answer.
A cute girl in matching black shirt and jeans with long dark hair that’s pulled into a high ponytail comes up to me. “Hi, there. Welcome to The Fallin’ Star Bar and Grille. What do ya want, honey?”
“Uhhh...” I glance down, quickly skimming the laminate one sheet menu in front of me. “Two bison burgers with everything, steak fries on the side.”
“What to drink? We’re short staffed at the moment, so if you want you can help yourself to the bar and get your drinks there.”
“Oh, ok. But can we have a couple waters too?”
“Sure. Thank you and your order will be ready in a jiff,” she says, scribbling on her green notepad before walking off.
Loosening my scarf, I unbutton my navy peacoat, letting it hang on the back of the squeaky wooden chair. My long hair frizzes and clings to my light grey sweater, so I smooth it all to the side over my left shoulder.
Ethan’s still not back yet, and I’m beginning to get a little anxious. I hope nothing’s wrong back in North Carolina, I think as I shake my head. Even after all this time, I’m still not used to calling North Carolina home and now I have yet another home, since my dad gave me my own cabin here. Mom is going to be flip when she finds out. Or she might take it as I’m going to move back here and get married to Ethan. It’s not too farfetched for her to make that assumption, but I’m just not ready to get married.
Maybe I could use a drink.
As I make my way to the crowded bar, I start to rethink my thirst for some liquid courage. But I see an empty stool and slide on up.
“What can I get’cha lil’ lady?” asks the tall, bearded young bartender, wearing an oversized cowboy hat that makes him look (to me) more funny than cool (which I’m pretty sure he was going for instead).
I don’t know what drink would relax me, but wouldn’t get me full on drunk. “Umm...something that’s not too strong.” I bite my lip and shrug.
The bartender blinks a couple times then tips his hat to me. “Oookkkaayy. I think I got just thing.” He turns around and steps to the side, grabbing a short fat glass.
“Hey, sweetie. I’m strong, but I can be real gentle too—if that’s what you like,” the guy sitting next to me purrs.
I ignore him, but out of the corner of my eye I see him suddenly sit straight up as he turns his whole body towards me.
My head jerks to the side and my heart nearly stops. Reality stands still.
“Austin,” I barely breathe out.
For what feels like eternity is only a couple seconds, we stare into each other’s eyes. His deep blues are clouded and bloodshot as I watch an array of emotion flash across his face (I’m sure he’s doing the same to me). There’s sadness, mostly surprise, confusion, and then nothing.
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