Andrew is on the other side of the table grinning wide at me.
“You’re good, babe,” he says racking the balls again. “I guess you’re free now.”
I can’t help but notice that he seems a little sad about that fact. His face may be smiling, but he can’t hide the disappointment in his eyes.
“Nah,” I say, “I don’t want that freedom unless it comes to eating bugs or hanging my ass out the car window—I kind of like you being in control of the rest.”
WE PLAY ANOTHER GAME, which he wins fairly, and afterwards I decide to sit back down at our table before these new shoes start rubbing blisters on my feet. I’m on my second Heineken and still am only feeling it in my toes and the bottom of my stomach. It’ll take another one to get me a good buzz.
“Want a game, man?” a guy asks stepping up to Andrew just as he starts to sit down with me.
Andrew looks over and I wave him on.
“Go on, I’m fine—gonna check my messages and rest my feet for a while.”
“Alright, babe,” he says, “just let me know if you’re ready to go before I’m done and we’ll go.”
“I’m good,” I say, urging him, “go on and play.”
He smiles in at me and walks back over to the table not more than fifteen feet away. I get my purse from underneath the table and set it in front of me, rummaging inside in search of my phone.
Just as I suspected: Natalie has blown my phone up with text messages, sixteen in all, but at least she hasn’t tried to call. My mom hasn’t called, either, but I remember she was going on that cruise with her new boyfriend this weekend. I hope she’s having a great time. I hope she’s having as great of a time as I am.
A new song starts funneling through the speakers in the ceiling and I notice the amount of people inside the bar have tripled since we got here. Even though Andrew isn’t that far away, I can only see his lips moving when he says anything to the guy he’s shooting pool with. The waitress comes back and I ask for another beer and she goes off to get it, leaving me to the Text Message Queen. Natalie and I go back and forth a few times about what she did today and where she’s going tonight, but I know it’s all just filler-conversation, taking place of what she’s dying to know more about: me in New Orleans with this ‘mystery guy’, who he looks like (not ‘what’ because she always compares guys to famous people) and if I’ve ‘bent over for him’ yet. I keep everything vague just to torture her. She still deserves it, after all. Besides, I’m still not ready to go into Andrew with her. Not with anyone, really. It’s like if I talk about him at all, even just to confirm he exists and that I’m with him, that this whole experience will go up in a puff of smoke. I’ll jinx it. Or, I’ll wake up and realize that Blake slipped something in one of the drinks he served me that night before I went out onto the roof with him and I’ve just been hallucinating this entire road trip with Andrew.
“I’m Mitchell,” a voice says above me, accompanied by a strong waft of whiskey and cheap men’s cologne.
The guy is of average build, the buff-but-not-too-buff kind. His eyes are bloodshot like the blond-haired guy standing next to him.
I smile back squeamishly and glance at Andrew who is already walking this way.
“I’m with someone,” I say gently.
The buff guy looks at the other chair and then back at me as if to make note of how empty it is.
“Camryn?” Andrew says standing behind them. “Are you alright?”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” I say.
The buff guy turns at the waist to see Andrew.
“She said she’s fine,” he says and I hear the challenge in his voice.
I didn’t mean ‘I’m fine, leave me alone, Andrew’ and Andrew knows as much, but these guys apparently do not.
“She’s with me,” Andrew says, trying to remain calm, though probably only for my sake—he already has that unmistakable look of aggression in his eyes.
The blond guy laughs.
The buff guy looks at me again, a bottle of Budweiser in one hand. “Is he your boyfriend or something?”
“No, but we’re—”
The buff guy smiles tauntingly and looks back at Andrew, cutting me off. “You’re not her boyfriend, so back off, man.”
Aggression just shifted into murderous rampage. Andrew isn’t going to be able to hold back much longer.
I stand up.
“Maybe she wants to talk to us,” the buff guy says and takes another swig of his beer. He doesn’t look drunk, just buzzed.
Andrew steps up closer and cocks his head to one side, staring the guy down. Then he looks at me:
“Camryn, do you want to talk them?”
He knows that I don’t, but this is his way of adding vinegar to the wound he’s about to give this guy.
“No, I don’t.”
Andrew rounds his chin and I can see his nostrils flare as he gets in the buff guy’s face and says, “Back the f**k off or you’re eatin’ your teeth.”
The small crowd from around the pool tables is gathering at a distance.
The blond guy, the smarter one of the two, puts his hand on his shoulder. “Come on, man, let’s head back over.” He nods toward wherever they must’ve been sitting before.
The buff guy pushes his hand off him and steps up in Andrew’s face further.
That’s all it took.
Andrew rears back with the pool stick and bashes it across the guy’s chest, knocking him from his feet and the breath from his lungs. The guy stumbles backward, narrowly missing my table but reaches out to grab the edge of it to keep him on his feet. I yelp and yank my purse from the top of it just before it goes crashing onto the floor with him. My beer shatters against the floor. Before the guy can get up, Andrew is on top him, standing over him raining his fists down on his face.
I push myself farther away and closer to the end of the staircase, but other people are rushing in to see now and they create a barrier behind me.
The blond guy jumps on Andrew from behind, grabbing him around the neck to pull him off his friend. Then I jump on him, beating the side of his face with my flimsy little fist, my purse wrapped tightly around my shoulder hindering my blows as it flops around behind me. But Andrew gets out of the blond guy’s hold easily, swings around behind him and kicks him square in the back, sending him onto the floor face-first.
Andrew grabs my wrist.
“Move out of the way, baby!” He shoves me back toward the crowd behind me and turns back to the two guys in a split-second.
The buff guy has finally gotten back to his feet, but not for long when Andrew comes around with two fast punches to both sides of his jaw and then one blood-splattering uppercut to the underside. I see a bloody tooth fall onto the floor. I cringe. The guy falls backward into another small table, knocking it from its metal base, too. And when the blond guy comes at Andrew again, the guy Andrew had been playing pool with jumps in and takes him on, leaving Andrew to the buff guy.
By the time the bouncers get through the crowd to break up the fight, Andrew has already blackened both the buff guy’s eyes and blood is draining from his nostrils. The buff guy stumbles, holding his hand over his nose as the bouncer pulls him by the shoulder toward the crowd.
Andrew pushes away the other bouncer’s hand that comes after him. “I got it,” he threatens, putting up one hand telling the bouncer to back off, and wiping a trickle of blood from his nose with the other. “I’m out of here, no need to help me see the door.”
I run over to him and he takes my hand.
“Camryn, are you OK? Did you get hit?” He’s looking me over everywhere, his eyes fierce and uncontrolled.
“No, I’m fine. Let’s just go.”
He tightens his hand around mine and pulls me beside him, pushing our way through the parting crowd.
When we make it outside into the night air, the funneling music from the bar shuts off once the door closes. The two idiot guys from the fight are already outside walking down the street, the buff guy still with his hand pressed over his bloodied face. I’m convinced Andrew broke his nose.
Andrew stops me on the sidewalk and takes my upper-arms into his hands. “Don’t lie to me, baby, did you get hurt anywhere? I swear to f**king God if you did I’m going after them.”
He’s melting my heart, calling me ‘baby’. And that concerned, fierce look in his eyes…I just want to kiss him.
“I mean it,” I say, “I’m fine. I actually hit that one guy a few times myself when he jumped you from behind.”
He moves his hands from my arms and cups my face in his palms, looking me all over as if he still doesn’t believe me.
“I’m not hurt,” I say one last time.
He presses his lips hard against my forehead.
Then he grabs my hand. “We’re going back to the hotel.”
“No,” I argue, “we were having a good time and dammit I lost my buzz because of that.”
He tilts his head to one side and softens his gaze.
“Where do you want to go then?”
“Let’s go to another club,” I suggest. “I don’t know, maybe a more laid back one?”
Andrew sighs heavily and squeezes my hand. Then he looks me up and down again: first my feet where my painted toenails are peeking through the front of my heels and then up my body straight to my tight strapless black top that could use a little adjusting.
I pull my hand from his and grasp the fabric above my boobs and pull the top up a little so that it feels better in place.
“I love you in that,” he says, “but you have to admit, it’s a distraction for douchebags.”
“Well, I don’t want to walk all the way back to the hotel just to change my top.”
“No, you don’t have to do that,” he says, reaching for my hand again. “But if you want to go to another club, you’re gonna have to do something for me, alright?”
“Just pretend you’re my girlfriend,” he says and a little smile spreads across my lips. “At least that way no one will f**k with you, or they’re less likely to try, anyway.”
He pauses and looks at me and says, “Unless you want guys to hit on you?”
It takes no time at all for my head to start shaking. “No. I do not want any guys to hit on me. Innocent flirting, fine—it does wonders for my confidence—but not douchebags.”
“Good, then it’s settled. You’re my sexy girlfriend for the night, which means I get to take you back to the room later and make you squeal a little.” There’s that boyish grin of his again that I love so much.
I’m tingling between the legs now. I swallow hard and play it off by playfully narrowing my eyes at him.
I’m just glad to see his dimples again, as opposed to that wrathful—although incredibly sexy—expression that consumed his features moments ago.
“As much as I like it—well, ‘like’ is really putting it lightly—I’m not going to let you do that anymore.”