Authors: Farita Surdare
Rogue didn't take a slow sip of his drink this time. He stood up, put the glass to those luscious lips of his and drained it in two swallows. He set the glass back on the bar and pulled out his wallet. He dropped some bills beside the glass and headed out the door, pulling the collar of his leather jacket up as he went out into the storm.
I ran to the bar and grabbed the bills. He'd already paid for his drink! I ran to the door and stopped short under the flimsy green-striped awning that flapped in the wind.
"WAIT!" I yelled, squinting into the howling dark to see which direction he'd gone. I couldn't see anything or anyone. Lightning lit the sky up like a Christmas tree. I shrieked and dashed back inside. If the crazy man wanted to leave money for a drink he'd already paid for, let him. I wasn't going to chase him through this!
I went back inside, shaking my head. Pedro eyed me as I came back into the room.
"What was that about?" he asked.
I showed him the bills in my hand. Two brand new $20s. "The guy already paid for his drink AND tipped me. Now he leaves and drops $40 on the bar? What's with that?"
"Double tip! Nice! He must have liked you. Were you extra nice to him or something?" asked Pedro.
I shook my head. "This is more than a tip. This is, uh, this is nuts. If I see him again, I'll be sure and return it."
"Why would you do that?" asked Pedro. "The guy obviously wanted you to have it. Be kinda rude to give it back to him. Besides, what makes you think you'll see him again?"
I shrugged. "I probably won't. I haven't seen him before. Unless he just moved here or something."
"Maybe that's it then," Pedro said. "Maybe he's making up for drinks he would have had if he lived here. Whatever he did it for, just call it a good night and pocket it. Jenny's going to be pissed she left early. Half of that would have been hers, huh?"
I nodded. We shared tips at the bar. The waitresses kept their own, but the bartenders shared. It was just easier.
"I doubt he'd have done it if Jenny'd been here," I said, shaking my head. I went back to the bar and got a clean rag and started helping Pedro finish cleaning. The power stayed on while we finished up, and no one else came in. We closed things down and huddled together under the fabric awning that didn't do a thing to keep the rain off us while I locked the door.
"You okay to get home?" Pedro asked.
"Mmmhmm." I nodded my head. "What about you? Need a ride home?"
Pedro shook his head. "I've got my other job in the morning, so I'm crashing with Miguel. It's only a couple blocks away. I can run."
"Pedro, it's cold, dark and stormy. Let me drive you!" I protested.
He shook his head again and leaned to peck my cheek. I smiled and blushed.
"You're sweet," he said. "But you don't have to worry about me. You just get home safe. I'll see you tomorrow."
"OK," I said. "Don't run too fast or the lightning might think you're challenging it and come after you!"
Pedro laughed. "Nah. It won't even see me, I'll be so quick! Night!"
With that he took off running into the night. I sighed and shook my head. There was no getting out of it. I had to run to my car in the pouring rain. I clutched the keys tight in my hand and took a deep breath. I looked long at my car, gathering up my courage to dash out to it. I counted to 10 and made a run for it.
I was soaked long before I got to my car, even though it took me less than 30 seconds to get to the door. My blond hair was plastered to my face and neck in long, wet ropes. I fumbled with the slippery keys in my hand and finally got the door open. I jumped in the seat and slammed the door behind me, panting hard. Lightning lit the sky up again. I squeezed my eyes shut tight and buried my face in my arms across the steering wheel. Thunder rolled, vibrating my car with the noise. When it was gone I put the key in the ignition with shaking hands and started the car. I backed out of my space and began the long drive back to my apartment half an hour away.
The storm seemed to be letting up by the time I got to my place, but it was still pouring. I parked the car under the little carport in front of my apartment and went inside. It was cold and dark inside, so I snapped on some lights and went to my bedroom to get out of my wet clothes. What a weird night it had been!
I tossed my wet shirt on the floor and looked at myself in my dresser mirror. I turned around and looked at my naked back and sighed. I shook my head and pulled open a drawer. I found a long flannel nightgown I usually wore in the winter, but I was so cold that the warmth of it sounded wonderful. I peeled off my wet jeans and pulled the nightgown over my head. I slipped off my soaked socks and gathered up all my wet clothes and tossed them at the hamper. I went to the bathroom to get a towel for my wet hair. Lightning lit the bathroom window up and I yelped and hid my face in my towel as the thunder rolled. When it subsided I sighed and looked at myself in the bathroom mirror. I was such a baby.
The memory of Rogue's strong protective arms around me warmed me through and through, making my flannel nightgown seem almost too hot. I closed my eyes and thought back to those wonderful few moments. So that was what it was like to be held. A strange tingle radiated from my middle down toward my thighs as I thought of Rogue's dark chocolate eyes and the way his drink had rested against his lips.
I shivered and shook my head. I wrapped the towel around my wet hair and went to my fridge. I got a glass of milk and made myself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. They were my favorite! I ate it fast right there at the kitchen counter and headed to bed. It was already late and I was tired. Who knew how much sleep I'd get with the storm outside. I didn't want to go to my bedroom. Instead I went to the living room and flopped down on the couch. I pulled a fuzzy blanket down off the back of it and plumped one of the throw pillows under my neck. I closed my eyes and tried to sleep, but the rain outside kept waking me up when a gust of wind would pelt the windows. I pulled the blanket up over my head and tried to think happy thoughts but nothing was coming. Rogue's face flashed across my mind again. That had been a really weird experience, but it was so nice.
I fell asleep, my last thought of Rogue's strong arms around my back.
Three weeks had passed and I didn't see Rogue again. For several days after our first meeting, every time the bar door opened late I expected it to be him and it wasn't. It was always some college kids or a regular. I was beginning to think I'd made him up, but a one night after a big party left Pedro made a crack about no one leaving a big tip for me like Rogue had, and I shushed him and glanced over at Jenny. She was on her phone and didn't hear what Pedro had said. I glared at him. Pedro just grinned and went back to the kitchen.
So I hadn't made him up, but he hadn't been back. Maybe he'd just been passing through and I'd never see him again. And so what if I never did? People came in here all the time and I never saw them again.
Him, though, I wanted to see again. I didn't know why. Every night I saw his big brown eyes when I closed mine. I felt his strong arms around me. I felt safe and warm whenever I thought of him.
A poke on my arm brought me back to reality. I looked around to see Jenny holding a rag out to me.
"Earth to Em! Wake up! Let's get this place shut down and go home. I'm so looking forward to tonight! The start of a whole week off! We should remodel more often. Of course, that would be bad for the bank account, but I can't say I'm not ready for a little vacay. What have you got planned for your time off?"
I shrugged. "Sleep mostly." When I slept, I saw Rogue. "Then probably some cleaning. My apartment is horrible. You know what a horrible housekeeper I am. Maybe do a little shopping. I could use a few more outfits. Classes start at the U in a few weeks."
"Sounds like a plan. I'm going to do the same thing, except the cleaning part. Sleep and shopping sound wonderful, though! How many classes you taking this semester?" she asked.
"4. Maybe 5 if the Tues/Thurs theology class isn't full," I answered.
"What's your major again?" she asked.
"Religious Studies," I said, smiling.
Jenny shook her head at me. "I don't get you, Ems. You don't even go to church, yet you're making a career out of studying God."
"Gods," I corrected. "I study religion. Just because I study it doesn't mean I believe any of it. Besides, I'm focusing on a specific area of religions, remember."
"Right. Angels. I forgot. Anything new for the collection recently?" she asked.
I shook my head. "Not yet. The glass ornament you got me for the tree at Christmas was the latest. Maybe I'll find something out shopping this week."
"Good luck with that!" she said and turned back to wipe the bar down.
I joined her and we got the place cleaned in no time. Pedro helped us stack the chairs and carry them in the back and move all the tables to one side and cover them with a drop cloth. The painters were coming first thing in the morning and we'd been given specific instructions to have things ready for them.
"Well, goodnight!" Jenny called to both me and Pedro as we all headed out of the bar and locked up behind us. She got in her car and left. Before I went to my car, Pedro pulled me back by my arm.
"Hey," he said. "Why'd you shush me in there about the guy who left you a big tip? What, you didn't tell Jenny about him?"
I bit my bottom lip and shook my head guiltily.
Pedro grinned. "You've got a thing for him."
"I do not!" I protested, my cheeks flushing. "I don't even know him! And I haven't seen him again!"
"Yeah, whatever. You've got a thing for the Mystery Man and you don't want Jenny to know. I gotcha. You could have just said something!" he laughed.
"Well, now you know, so just drop it!" I ordered, blushing even more.
"If I see him, I'll tell him you're looking for him!" Pedro teased, and danced out of my way when I made a grab for his middle.
He took off running in the direction of his other job and I sighed and shook my head. I went to my car and headed back home.
The following day I woke up to bright and cheerful sunshine earlier than usual. For a second I almost panicked because I thought I'd be late for work, then I remembered I was off for the whole week while they remodeled. I had no classes and nothing to do but whatever I wanted.
That was a problem for me. I wasn't good with free time. I laid there looking up at the ceiling above my bed wondering what to do with myself. My stomach growled. I sighed and sat up. I stretched and took a deep morning breath as I got out of bed and headed for the shower.
I stayed in the shower until the hot water ran cold. I loved standing in the shower, the water cascading over my bare skin. I only got out when I absolutely had to. I dried off and put on some clothes, letting my wet hair dry naturally. I went into the kitchen and made myself a toasted English muffin slathered with peanut butter and jelly. I took it and a big glass of milk to my breakfast bar and ate it as I glanced through a catalog that had come in the mail the other day. Nothing in it was interesting. I finished my breakfast and put the dishes in the sink to do later. I got my purse and headed out to the mall to do the shopping I told Jenny I was going to do.
I spent time browsing through stores. I picked up a few new outfits and got lunch at the food court. Just as I was about to leave, I noticed a new frozen yogurt place had opened on the end of the food court and the ad on the metal stand next to it looked so good I shrugged my shoulders and got in line to order a cone.
I walked back to my car and tossed my bags in the back seat before I walked to the park across from the mall. It was a nice, big park with a fountain in the middle. I liked to walk in it sometimes, but usually before work when the sun was going down. Going there during the day would be different. Besides, it was hot and my frozen yogurt cone was melting. I licked a drip cascading down the side of it as I walked toward the park.
There was a cement path that meandered around the mowed lawns and landscaped flowerbeds. I sat down on a bench beneath a gorgeous tree in front of the fountain and watched families and people walk by. There weren't that many people, but-
Omigod. Was that...? It couldn't be. But there was no mistaking it. Tall, dark haired, wearing a tight black tshirt that showed off his muscular chest and arms. It was Rogue. My mouth went dry. What was he doing here? My eyes finally registered the fact that he was holding a leash. I followed it down to...what kind of dog was that? My brow furrowed as I squinted to see.
It wasn't a dog! It was a PIG! On a leash! Wearing a harness! Who had a pig on a leash? I couldn't help myself. I got up and went toward him.
He looked toward me. His dark chocolate eyes met mine. I stopped where I was. How could someone's eyes do that? I bit my bottom lip and took another step toward him. I swallowed hard and took another step. He didn't move. When I got close enough, I smiled.
"Hi," I said.
"Hi," he said back.
"I've, uh, never seen a pig on a leash before," I said lamely. I blushed and looked down at the pig. "What's his name?"
"Her," he said. "And her name is Muffin."
I opened my mouth to say something, but no words would come out, so I shut it again and nodded.
"She's a pot-bellied pig," he continued. "She belonged to my wife."
He was married? That figures.
"Belonged? What happened to your wife?" I blurted, still awestruck by the pig on a leash held by the most gorgeous man I'd ever laid eyes on.
"She left almost a year ago," he said, matter-of-factly.
"Oh, I'm sorry to hear that. Will she be back soon?" I asked.
He just looked at me with raised eyebrows. "She left. As in, she left me."
I shook my head. "I don't understand."
"You told me you don't have a boyfriend or girlfriend. When you did-" he said.
"I've never had one," I interrupted.
He looked surprised. "Never? You've never been left?"
I shook my head.
"You've never been...well...with anyone?" he asked.
"You mean intimacy? No," I said.
"Never?" he asked incredulously.
I shook my head again and shrugged. "What's so surprising about that?" I asked.
"Well, you're...what? At least 21 to work in a bar. Never had a boyfriend, or girlfriend, or been intimate with anyone. How did you manage to get through puberty without dating? Experimenting? You're pretty enough. Too pretty to still be a virgin," he said.
I blushed and looked at the ground. Muffin the pig was sniffing my shoes.
"Let's just say I had something of a sheltered upbringing," I said, embarrassed. "And I don't exactly know what to do. With, you know...people."
"Surely there are a hundred guys who want to teach you," he said. "Why don't you take one of them up on their interest? You must get hit on all the time at work."
I nodded my head. "Yeah, but like I said, I don't exactly know what to do. People kinda scare me." I looked up at him. "But I'm not scared of you."
He snorted and rolled his eyes. "You should be."
He began to walk away. Muffin trailed along after him obediently, just like a dog.
"Wait-" I called after him.
He turned on his heel and glared at me. "Stay away from me!" he growled.
I started, shocked, and stopped in my tracks. I watched as he disappeared into a grove of trees along a path that led to the parking lot on the other side of the park.
Now what had that been about? He seemed so...nice. I shrugged and shook my head. At least I knew he was still around town.
I went back to my car and drove home. I put my new clothes in the laundry and took a load to the laundry room in my complex. I thought about Rogue and his weird behavior as I did my laundry.
Why did he say should I be afraid of him? What did he mean when he said his wife left him? Left him to do what? Why? Who would leave a guy who looked like that? I know if I was with him, I'd never go anywhere!
I left my laundry to wash and went back to my apartment and flipped open my laptop. I went to Google and typed in WIFE LEFT ME and stared at the search results.
So...he wasn't married anymore? Or was he? He hadn't been wearing a wedding ring, but to be honest I didn't really pay that much attention. Still, the way he said it and him taking care of Muffin the pig made me think that when he said his wife left him, he was divorced and not...what did Google call it? A windower? A man whose wife had died.
I closed the laptop even more confused. If she didn't die, why would she leave him? And why did he say I should be scared of him? Maybe that's why his wife left. Because she got scared. But what was it about him that scared her?
I may not have much of anything from my dad left, but one thing I did have was a good sense of character, and Rogue didn't scare me a bit.
All he did was make me want to be close to him. Now that was a new and unusual feeling for me. Most people didn't even register to me. Him, though? My god. I'd never felt anything like what he did to my insides, and I really, really wanted to feel it again.
I opened my laptop again and typed the name "Stevain Rogers" and the name of my town into Google.