Sucking in a breath, I took him in. Rhett was good-looking in the completely opposite way of Ben. Ben had been handsome in a clean-cut, manicured way. Then there was Rhett…who looked like he could have been a construction worker or a firefighter…or maybe a male stripper dressed up as a construction worker or a firefighter. He was lean, muscular, tan, rugged, and the very sight of him, even from a distance, brought heat to my cheeks.
Not to mention, the man was like catnip. The bar area was packed with hungry felines on the prowl. He moved fast, making drinks, smiling at the women he served, and embodying every frat-boy (minus the frat) image I could conjure in my mind. The memory of him from when I was sixteen wasn’t something easily forgotten, and a tingle touched my lips as my mind replayed the kiss we’d once shared.
Still…he wasn’t Ben.
Sadness washed over me like a bucket of ice water. I shook off the feeling. Rhett had made me feel better once before, and I had no reason to doubt the same thing couldn’t work for me a second time. The only difference now was, I wanted to take it to the next level. I wanted to give up my virginity to him…tonight. No point in saving myself for someone who wasn’t alive anymore.
“Holy shit,” I said aloud. Breaking my eyes away from Rhett, I brought my attention back to the table and to my drink. Feeling like I was buried ten feet deep in teenage hormones, grief, and God knows what else, I removed the straw, as it was only slowing me down, and I finished the remainder of my drink in a giant swallow. The alcohol burned going down, and I grimaced. “That man is not for the faint of heart,” I mumbled to myself as I set down a now empty glass. “And neither is my plan for him tonight.”
Kimberly sighed. “The teacher in me probably should warn you that this is a bad idea,” she said, shaking her head. “But the girlfriend in me is going to do the opposite.” She leaned closer and her face turned very sincere. “You deserve this—to be young and stupid and go for something you want. All we have is the present moment. The past is gone, and the future isn’t guaranteed. So have a little fun. Knock that boy off his feet.”
For the first time in a long time, I laughed. “He’s not going to remember me.”
She shrugged. “So what. Make a new memory.”
Convinced, though I’d made up my mind hours before coming here tonight, I stood up ready to go talk to Rhett, ready for whatever to happen.
Kimberly’s eyes went wide. “Yes,” she whispered. “You can do this.”
“I need to know something,” I said, lingering by the table. “Are you sure you’re okay with this? I kind of got the impression that you might have liked Rhett when you went to high school with him. I could find someone else—”
“No. Rhett is perfect for this. Sure, I had a crush on him like everyone else in high school, but that was ages ago. I’m with Cody now. I love Cody. I don’t need a man-child like Rhett, that’s for damn certain.” She smirked at me. “But you go get your man-child, honey. He should be fun for one night.”
“Fine.” Laughing, I left Kimberly. I’d lied to her a second ago. If she’d said no about Rhett than I wouldn’t be attempting this with someone random. Only Rhett would do.
Feeling surprisingly confident, I approached the bar. I wore a short beach dress that buttoned in the front and showed off my long legs. My platinum hair was curled in big waves, beauty pageant worthy, and it fell just past my shoulders. I’d even broken out the high heels for this. No matter who I was on the inside, outwardly I wasn’t the nerdy girl with glasses anymore.
There was exactly one open seat. Setting my purse on top of the bar, I sat down. I unbuttoned one more button on my cotton dress and waited to be noticed. Rhett’s back was to me so he wasn’t noticing anything.
Five minutes passed and nothing happened. I unbuttoned another button, but changed my mind and redid it when the older man sitting beside me started staring at my chest and winking at me between sips of his whiskey.
Oh God. My confidence began to falter.
The bar was chaos, with only two bartenders working, and they both struggled to keep up with their demand. Rhett moved more quickly than the girl working, but he worked the opposite end from where I sat and had yet to even glance in my direction. I realized I was crazy-pants for thinking I could just walk over here and he'd suddenly see me, remember me, and we'd have some magical repeat moment of the one we had shared years ago.
Yeah, not happening.
Another woman already had Rhett’s undivided attention. Brunette. Older than me. Ruby red lips with a leopard print bikini on under a sheer cover up. She was, without a doubt, a sure thing. Between every drink he poured, he'd return to her for a brief moment of flirting. I couldn't hear what they were saying, but the chemistry between them was enough to let me know that I had a better chance at winning the lottery tonight than ending up in his bed.
“What can I get ya, babe? Piña Coladas are on special tonight—three dollars.”
It took me a moment to realize someone was speaking to me. I had Rhett blinders on and had completely missed the woman bartender who waited impatiently for me to acknowledge her. My eyes focused on her name tag—Luce. When I finally realized how incredibly rude I was being, she had already started walking away from me, shaking her head and huffing under her breath.
"Rhett," she hollered, as she motioned towards me. “Your customer.”
At her words, Rhett glanced over his shoulder in my direction. He looked right through me as he called out, “One moment,” before returning to his brunette.
I wanted to run from the bar. My stomach felt queasy, and that vodka tonic threatened to come back up. “This was a stupid idea," I murmured to myself.
Rhett took his sweet-ass time finishing his conversation with the brunette before making his way toward me. It took him so damn long that by the time he came for my drink order, I no longer felt quite so nervous.
“Hello there, princess. What can I get for you?" he asked, smiling and cocking an eyebrow at me, charm oozing out of him. “Piña Coladas are on special tonight,” he told me, rubbing a hand over his closely shaved head and speaking fast. It was clear, even if he did it with a smile on his face, he was trying to hurry me into making a decision. “You look like a Piña Colada kind of girl. How ‘bout I get you one of those?”
He had a very nice smile, which he clearly used to his advantage. He did, after all, work for tips. But whether his charm and that smile were real or fake, they pissed me off. I was too much of a cynic, something I knew I’d picked up by being raised by my very straight-forward, realist of a brother, to put up with his bullshit.
“What the hell?” I snapped, my frustrations pouring out of me. “Do you all have a giant premade batch of Piña Colada that you need to sell before the end of the night? Because I happen to hate coconut.” I didn’t actually hate coconut. “Fifty percent of people hate coconut.” I made up that statistic. “If you’re going to offer something that half the population hates, you should at least have a second drink option on special as an alternative, otherwise you’re discriminating. Besides, do I look twenty-one? I’m eighteen—learn how to card.”
“Shit. You’re a cop.”
“No, I’m not a cop. I don’t even want a drink.” I started rummaging around in my purse for nothing in particular because I needed something to do with my hands. I was beyond annoyed and, frankly, a little hurt. “Can we pretend this conversation never happened? I would much rather keep my glorified memories intact. And—”
I stopped talking and digging when his fingers gently touched the underside of my chin. Swallowing, I looked up from my bag. Why the hell was he touching me?
“I know you," he whispered, the color draining from his face.
"No you don't," I said pulling away from his touch and standing from my seat.
"Yes, I do. You've changed, but those green eyes I haven’t forgotten.”
Everything slowed down. I stood there with my bag slung over my shoulder and my feet frozen to the floor. The noise of the chaotic bar faded into the background. He stared at me, and I stared at him. He recognized me, and with that recognition his whole demeanor changed. Sincerity, I suppose, was the difference I suddenly saw in him.
“You came back," he said after a moment, smiling.
This smile, I could tell, was genuine.