Alone With Everybody

 

Tuesday night, singles bar, and she's nursing a drink - some fancy cocktail that Kate can't remember the name of - and the room's starting to get a little fuzzy around the edges. She's had four hours sleep, slipping into bed this morning and up again at 8am for work. She came here straight after a quick shower and a bite to eat and the tiredness is pressing behind her eyes.

Guys in loud shirts keep offering to buy her drinks and she keeps turning them down flat. She wants . . . a connection, not tequila or whatever crudely named concoctions are the staple of this place. She's just one of a number of women perched at the bar, all lined up in a row, their skirts short and hair down, perfectly poised as they sip at their drinks and watch the men watching them.

Meat market. And she's so tired of this.

She keeps thinking about Angel and feels so embarrassed still. Not five minutes after being introduced, she'd asked him to come home with her. Since when did she become so desperate? When, exactly, did she start coming here nearly every night? The same faces, night after night. She's one of *them* - one of those pathetic individuals that they make fun of in shiny, happy, twentysomething sitcoms. Except that there's no laughter track here and her life just isn't all that amusing. Apart from drunkenly throwing herself at strangers, *that* is funny.

She's about to grab her purse and leave, even though she hasn't finished her drink, when a woman smoothly takes the bar stool next to her. Kate gives her a cursory glance, in the way that every woman checks out the competition in a place like this, and the woman returns it.

The first thing that Kate notices is her legs, long and gazelle-like, sheathed in black sheer stockings. She follows the slim expanse of calves and thighs up to an expensive black business suit, some designer label that Kate has no idea about because Kate's interest in clothing doesn't go beyond plain and functional - the few dresses or smart things in her closet don't really suit her. The natural result of growing up without a mother and being raised by a father who lives every moment as a cop, never once lifting his eyes from case files and rap sheets to say how beautiful his daughter is. . . More than that, she doesn't have any female friends, just guys from the force whose respect she's had to earn by not being a 'typical' woman and giving as good as she gets with the banter.

Maybe that's the reason she finds the whole dating experience such a trial. How does 'one of the boys' go about finding a guy? The men at the precinct are either intimidated by her or are at the other end of the spectrum, all macho pride trying to proposition her. So she makes it a personal policy never to date someone from work, which doesn't leave a whole lot else. Just places like this that stink of desperation.

She's conscious, through the tipsy haze, that the woman next to her is watching her. It makes the back of her neck prickle, the way it always does when someone is checking her out. Kate wets her lips. Well - this is something new and unexpected. The woman inclines her head slightly, a confident smile playing around the corners of her mouth.

The bartender approaches the woman. He must be new because Kate doesn't recognise him. "Vodka martini," the woman says smoothly and glances towards Kate, lifting her brow. "Same again?"

Kate thinks about refusing but she looks down at her glass and realises, somehow, that it's empty now. She could make an excuse and leave. Actually, she doesn't even need an excuse. But she finds herself nodding and she stays.

The woman smirks at her, all high cheekbones and knowing glint in her dark eyes. She tucks shoulder-length waves of chestnut brown hair - hint of lowlights under the gaudy lighting -- behind one ear as the barman serves their drinks.

"Thanks," Kate says awkwardly and takes a sip of her cocktail, trying to hide her distaste at the over sweetness of it. Bacardi in there, and she hates rum. "I, uh, haven't seen you in here before." Haven't looked at the other women before, she thinks in a cold snap of realisation. She wonders if she should have given that much information away, admitting to this stranger that she's a regular in this dive. Strangely, she doesn't care.

The woman's smirk spreads a little. It sounded like a line, even though it wasn't intended that way. "No," she pauses to down her martini in one elegant flick of her wrist, depositing the empty glass on the bar top. "I don't normally . . ." Flash of pearly teeth and a small rueful laugh. "I was bored."

Kate raises an eyebrow and stares into the dubiously green contents of her glass. "Aren't we all?" she says, all hard cynicism.

A moment's hesitation and the woman reaches across and touches Kate's hand, just resting fingertips on top of Kate's. The woman dips her head, gazing up through thick eyelashes, her eyes playful. "What do you say we get out of here?" With a nod of her head, she gestures to the room. "Leave them to it?"

Hundreds of excuses rise in Kate's throat, ready to trip off her tongue but, somehow, nothing comes out. She looks at the other woman's fingers, beautifully manicured, resting lightly on her own half-chewed nails. Just makes her feel inferior, jealous even, and something else. She wonders what those slender fingers would feel like splayed over her skin, and imagines they'd feel like silk.

She isn't shocked, necessarily, by these unbidden thoughts. Her mind just approaches it the way she would a new case - analytical, examining every angle for motivations. The only one here is potentially getting laid.

A smile touches Kate's lips as she holds the other woman's even stare. "Your place or mine?"

******

She wakes the next morning, the insistent bleat of the alarm clock shattering the peace of dreams instantly forgotten. Damn hangover nips and pinches at her temple and she wants to roll over and die. She's aware of the emptiness of the bed; the receding warmth of the heat of another person in that suddenly too-huge space.

She watches her own slightly trembling fingertips as they pluck a lost strand of chestnut hair from the pillow. Smiles, despite herself.

And, later, as she rushes around fresh from the shower, one arm in her coat, the other reaching for a slice of toast, she sees the card on the table. There's a rush of almost adolescent glee as she reads the message: 'Call me. Anytime.' She flicks the card over and commits the rest to memory. 'Lilah Morgan, associate, Wolfram & Hart."


The End