It’s the second beer that finally hits me, relaxing muscles that have been tense the last two hours since I finished my 48-hour shift at the firehouse. I should be heading home and hitting the sack but when the guys asked me to join them for a beer, I figured, why not? It’s not like we haven’t just spent the last 48 hours together. So what’s two more hours (or more) hanging out with friends after work even if work is the only thing we talk about.
“You put in a transfer for the Rescue Squad yet?” Kev nudges my arm. “You’d make a good lieutenant if you ask me.”
“You getting rid of me already?”
Kev scoffs. “I’d never do that, man, but I know it’s what you’ve always wanted so I’m not gonna stop you from going after what you want.”
“I’m thinking about doing it, and if I get transferred, great. If not, then I don’t. I’ll still be seeing your ugly ass faces at every shift.” I make it seem like it’s no big deal but I’m lying. Of course, I want the transfer but I don’t want to broadcast it. Certainly not to my father who once led the Rescue Squad and with a phone call, can easily put my name first on the list. No, I want to earn this on my own which means I put in for the transfer quietly.
“You driving up to see your sister tomorrow?” Brad asks and I nod. Brad, Jerry, and Kev spent the last forty-eight hour-shift with me at the station and I’ve worked them for the last four years. They’re like my brothers even if they annoy the hell out of me most days.
“Yup, and don’t worry. I’ll get her recipe for that teriyaki chicken you’ve been wanting for ages.”
The recipe is really from Candy’s husband, Jerry who hails from the Philippines. It’s a miracle Candy hasn’t gained weight from Jerry’s delicious cooking, but ever since Brad and the guys at the firehouse tasted the grilled chicken I brought to one of our cookouts last summer, the guys have been trying to get their hands on Jerry’s now-famous marinade, but not after trying out their own versions first. Lucky for them, I just might be able to score the real thing tomorrow.
I finish my beer and get up from the table. “Bathroom break,” I mutter as the guys keep talking, this time about the current video game they’re playing online.
The bar is getting crowded, the Friday crowd of professionals done with their day jobs in the city filling the booths and tables, some of them filtering into the next room where a baseball game is playing on the big screen TV. But after this last shift, I’m tired, and I have a feeling the guys are, too, since they haven’t made an effort to meet any women like they usually do or even mention a single one. But then, not everything in life is about getting laid.
I see her on my way back to the table, her long brown hair falling over her shoulders. There’s also that skipping of my heart followed by the clenching of my belly when she raises her hand to tuck her hair behind her ear and I see her face.
“Hayley?” The name emerges from my mouth before I can stop myself and she looks up, her eyes narrowing before they widen in surprise. “It’s me, Shane. We met last year at…” I pause, struggling to remember the name of the bar where we’d met.
“The Tipsy Cat.”
“Yeah, that one.” I grin, my mouth turning dry. “So how are you doing?”
“I’m good. Catching up on paperwork?”
“In a bar?”
She shrugs. “Why not? What about you?”
“I’m doing great. I’m here with my buddies over there.” I don’t bother to point for the guys make their presence known by hooting and hollering. “They’re crazy.”
For a few moments, her gaze moves from my face down to my broad chest and the muscled arms under my white shirt sleeves. When her eyes land on my flat abs, I see her lips part. My throat turns dry.
“That’s okay. It’s really nice seeing you again, Shane.” As she plays with her pen, I notice the open file folder next to her cell phone.
“I didn’t realize you were working. Sorry to bother you.”
“I was just about done,” Hayley says as her phone vibrates, its display flashing.
“Well, see you around,” I mutter before making my way back to the table, the guys watching me knowingly. I know I’m not going to hear the end of it—who is she, how did we meet, what’s the status—but I ignore their looks and sip my beer.
“So you gonna tell us who she is?” Kevin asks. “She’s hot.”
“Not wearing a ring, too,” Brad says. “Older though. Maybe forty?”
“Who the hell cares how old she is? She’s still hot as hell, man,” Jerry says, elbowing him. “Did you know women get hornier the older they get?”
“Come on, guys, are we really gonna do this?” Reduce her to words like hot and older and whatever else they were about to say before I cut them short, I almost add but I don’t. I realize too late I just sounded defensive. “She’s just a friend of a friend, alright? I wasn’t about to pretend I didn’t know her.”
Kevin’s eyes narrow. “So I gather she doesn’t have your number?”
I shake my head incredulously although it’s more defensive than anything. “Why would she? She’s a friend of a friend.”
“You sure didn’t look at her like she was a friend of a friend, man. I saw the way she was looking at you.” Kevin pulls out his wallet. He takes out a ten-dollar bill and slides across the table. “Ten bucks says you don’t have the guts to walk over there and give her your number.”
I scoff. “What do you think I am, chicken?”
“I’m in,” Brad says, resting a ten-dollar bill on top of Kevin’s. “If you weren’t turning as red as a tomato right now, man, I’d stay out of it. But you and this chick got something going on even if you’re not saying anything.”
“Why would I tell you guys anything?” Another deflection. Too bad we’ve all worked with each other too long for them not to recognize what I’m doing.
“Ah, hell,” Jerry mutters, peeling a ten from his wallet and sliding it toward the two other bills.
“You guys know you’re each gonna be ten bucks short tonight, right? Because this is gonna be the easiest thirty I’ll make in ten seconds flat,” I scoff, wishing my face isn’t burning with embarrassment the way it is now. Too bad being the youngest guy in the firehouse has its price and this is one of them.
“Like we care about that, kid. It’s only money,” Kevin says, laughing as I take a napkin from the holder and Jerry hands me a pen. “But watching you hand your phone number to that classy lady over there that had you bugging your eyes the moment you saw her… now that’d be priceless.”
“You guys need to get out more,” I mutter as I scribble my name and my phone number down and get up from the table.
From the corner of my eye, I can see Hayley slipping the file folders into her briefcase. While a part of me wishes she’d left minutes before the guys dared me to hand her my phone number, another part of me is thanking them. Sure, a year has passed since we first met but maybe that’s the way life works. Some people simply show up again in your life and it’s up to you to figure out what you’re going to do about it. In my case, the guys did it for me.
“Hey, Hayley,” I say, my voice almost cracking as I approach her table. I don’t know why my heart is racing but it is, just as it did the moment I saw her. “Thought maybe you and I could get together sometime.”
She frowns, almost surprised. “Shane, I…”
“But instead of me asking for your number, I figured I’d leave you mine.” I slide the napkin over the table toward her before she can continue. “You don’t have to do anything. You can leave it here, toss it on your way out. Or you can keep it in case you’d like to call me.”
As her gaze goes to the napkin on the table, I don’t wait to find out if she picks it up or not. I turn around and walk back to the table where the guys are surprisingly quiet. As I sit back down on my chair, I’m glad my back is to her so I don’t have to see what she does with my number.
Suddenly the guys explode in cheers and I can only hope that Hayley has left. “She took it,” Brad says, slapping my shoulder as I turn around to look at the spot where Hayley had been minding her own business. “She fucking took your number, kid.”
And he’s right. As I finally turn around to look at the booth where Hayley had been minding her own business, the napkin I left at the middle of the table is gone.