Word Count: 3,467
He felt a little like a stalker and imagined if anyone noticed that the same guy was hanging around the neighborhood three days in a row now they’d call the police. That hadn’t happened yet and he wasn’t purposely wasting time, but he wanted to get a feel for the lay of the land before approaching her.
He already visited the gym and Mrs. Petrelli had been right, it was decent. Certainly better than he’d expected because after all she couldn’t really know that much about boxing and what he’d require from a gym. So he’d already gotten a few workouts in. It was the only thing he could do to pass time really. He was staying at one of those extended stay places, an apartment but not really. The matriarch of the Petrelli clan was picking up the tab for one month. So, to this point he had nothing to do anything with. He wasn’t going to sign a lease and move into an apartment immediately to find out things didn’t work out. If nothing else he could foot the bill himself for the extended stay place while looking for an apartment. With housekeeping done weekly by the hotel that left him with a lot of time on his hands, not that he was a slob. He knew how to clean a bathroom very capably. His mother would have it no other way while he was growing up.
He found a job to help pass the time. He’d need to earn cash while he was here, however long that would turn out to be. One thing about college towns, bars and clubs were always looking for a good bouncer. One who wasn’t college aged and going to let his friends in the door just because he was in the position to do so.
It wasn’t Taylor’s first choice in jobs. At least at the club in New York he’d been a cooler so didn’t have to stand at the door carding people all night long. Not knowing how long he’d be here it was a safe bet as far as temporary employment went. Once he knew what was going on he’d rethink things, but he also didn’t know when he’d get any actual fights in. With a trainer like he had now behind him he shouldn’t be hurting for work, but he didn’t know how things worked here to say for sure.
He could have used that time to approach her, but he didn’t think that was the best way to go about it. He wanted to see her in her element for a little bit before he intruded, and that was what he would be doing. So far he’d determined that she lived in a house with three, maybe four, other women. The fourth woman could have just been a frequent visitor. He’d seen who he presumed was the guy she was with. From what he gathered he didn’t spend the night with her and that made Taylor breathe a little easier. If she’d gotten to the point of sleeping with the guy it may have been trickier getting her to talk to him.
He hadn’t forgotten how pretty she was, but he’d sort of put it out of his mind. There was no sense sitting there dwelling and pining over something out of his reach. So, seeing her the past few days knocked him off kilter a bit, which answered a lot of the misgivings he had about coming here. If she still affected him this way he had to see it through. If he’d seen her and felt nothing he might have turned around and gone back home.
He’d stopped at a florist last night and paid for some flowers to be delivered to her today. He hadn’t signed the card and as far as he could remember she’d never seen his handwriting, so he doubted she’d guess they were from him.
He waited and watched until the delivery van showed up. She was still in the house, so she’d get them right away. Not that he expected flowers to be the cure all, but he hoped it’d soften her to him a little when he did get to the point of approaching her.
Thanksgiving or Christmas.
That deadline didn’t leave him with very much time to work, so he would have to approach her soon.
Why was he procrastinating? He wasn’t sure beyond the fact he didn’t know exactly what to say. It would be painfully obvious he wasn’t just passing through, so he’d come here for her. He slid his sunglasses off, peering at himself in the rearview mirror and knew part of why he was procrastinating. The guy she was with now didn’t look as though he’d lifted anything heavier than a beer can in his life. He’d never been self-conscious or not at home in his body, who he was. It’d served him well for the most part, gotten him most of what he wanted from life to this point. For some reason he wondered if skin and bones was what she wanted because Monroe wasn’t an overly big guy either.
She’d gotten the flowers, seemed excited at getting them. Probably thought they were from her guy, but he enjoyed the smile just the same before heading out of the area. He had to work on a plan to actually see her up close and personal.
He should have known that things wouldn’t go according to his plan. He was here on someone else’s dime, more or less.
Not knowing anyone in town yet beyond the few he’d met while at work, he went there after his workout to have a beer before heading home for the night. He wasn’t really friends with the bartender, but it made it seem a little less like drinking alone knowing the guy by name who was serving him his beer.
He was sitting at the end of the bar, a stool closest to the back area when she walked in with a group of friends. He spotted her right away. He wasn’t sure how because she was the shortest in her group by far. He balled his hand into a fist instinctively when he saw the guy he presumed to be the boyfriend put his arm around her as they walked in the other direction. They didn’t seem like the sit at the bar types and he was right as they found a table not far from the edge of the dance floor.
It would be easy to go over there and pound the shit out of the guy. He was pretty scrawny, but he didn’t think that would be the way to win her back.
“Hey, Dave,” he called to the bartender. He hadn’t come back for a while because Taylor’s beer wasn’t quite half empty.
“I want you to have a drink made special for me.”
“Okay,” he said, listening as Taylor told him exactly how to prepare the amaretto sour. They hadn’t gotten to know very many little things about one another, but he’d made enough of her favorite drink during their time together to have it memorized. She liked hers with a bit of grenadine syrup in it.
Taylor watched as Dave made the drink exactly to his specifications, topping it off with a maraschino cherry and an orange slice. She wouldn’t eat the orange slice, he knew, but she would let it sit in the drink and then suck on it when she’d finished.
“Now,” he said, “have it brought to the blonde in the yellow dress.” Taylor pointed out her table, easy enough to find because it was sort of a slow night.
“I was beginning to wonder about you drinking such a sissy drink,” Dave said.
“Not for me,” Taylor said with a low chuckle.
“Didn’t seem like your type of drink, but I’ve seen most everything here.”
“I bet you have,” Taylor said with an acknowledging nod.
Bartenders did indeed see a lot. Heard a lot, too. Taylor was always surprised more divorce attorneys or private investigators hired by divorce attorneys didn’t show up at clubs to catch one or the other spouse doing something they weren’t supposed to be doing until the ink was dry on the papers.
It was potentially a careless move sending her a drink like this. She’d know that it was from him, because she’d told him he was one of two people that knew she liked that particular drink. The other was Adam Monroe, and Taylor doubted he had to resort to this type of thing in order to see her. It wasn’t the first time he’d wondered why Mrs. Petrelli had sent Taylor on this mission and not Monroe. She seemed adamant that Monroe wasn’t the guy for Claire. At least right now.
“So, what do you do now?” Dave asked. “She’s with somebody.”
“Wait and see I guess,” he said, watching as the waitress delivered the drink.
It wasn’t Claire that looked around, though. The boyfriend did. Taylor was good at watching without being obvious that’s what he was doing so the guy would see a lone man sitting at the bar talking to the bartender, sipping on his now replenished beer.
It wasn’t until Claire sniffed and then took a sip of the drink that he allowed his attention to focus entirely on the table. On her. He doubted Monroe knew about the grenadine because it was something he’d added once and she liked it enough he kept doing it after that. He had no idea how many drinks Monroe made for her over the past year so it was possible he knew, but Taylor doubted it.
It was only when she finished the sip, taking a second one almost immediately after that her eyes shot up to look around. Maybe initially she’d thought it was Monroe sending her the drink, but the taste clued her in to the sender’s real identity. The boyfriend looked his way again and judging by Claire’s hand gripping his forearm he wanted to confront Taylor.
Points for him. Taylor would beat the hell out of anyone who sent a drink to his woman.
A short conversation between the two followed. The guy did not look happy at all as Claire stood from the table.
“Wow, I get front row seats to a slap.”
“Maybe,” Taylor said, taking a pull from his beer as she walked toward him.
“Aren’t on the receiving end of too many of those, I imagine.”
Taylor chuckled a little.
“A few in my time.”
Not from her, though. He probably deserved one tonight. Not for sending her the drink, but for some of the last things he’d said to her. They’d been heat of the moment. Hopefully she’d come to understand why he’d been so upset that night, even without the opportunity to talk it out.
She had his undivided attention from the moment she stepped onto the platform leading to the area of the bar he was sitting at. It’d been too long since he’d seen her this close and he thought for a moment he might be drooling. She wasn’t wearing anything especially glamorous, not like the gowns he’d seen her parading around in at Nathan’s house or at functions she’d attended with him.
Still, there was something about the color. Yellow. It reflected so much about her personality. He wondered if she knew that. Most of all, it was such a contrast to him. There was very little light and airy or sunshiny about his life.
“Make another drink, Dave,” he said when he noticed she’d left the other one at the table. “Same way,” he finished just as she got up to him.
He looked over her shoulder, glancing at her table of friends. They were watching as he expected they would be. She just stood there, not saying anything. Her surprise at seeing him after all this time seemed incredibly sincere, so he had to believe Mrs. Petrelli hadn’t warned her he was coming.
Dave set the new drink on the edge of the bar, not even bothering to hide the fact he was paying attention to them. Dave was one of two people here at the club Taylor had initiated a personal relationship with. Due mostly to the fact he was always working when Taylor came in here after his workouts or sparring, but also he seemed like a standup guy. He was from Boston, so they had the East Coast as their stomping grounds in common. And both were the oldest employees at the club.
So, she was waiting for him to say or do something it seemed. A final glance past her at her entourage told him they were still watching. The boyfriend more intently than the others, but they were all curious enough.
So, he did what he’d wanted to do since the day he’d left Nathan’s house and she’d kissed him goodbye as if she meant something more than goodbye. Like maybe I love you. He touched her. Hand at her hip. Possessive in his intent. He wondered if Lover Boy over there had yet to touch her like this. He seemed kind of shy, but Taylor knew looks could be deceiving. Johnny Marbles was the one everyone pegged for least likely to get in trouble outside of the Family Business.
“It’s been a while. Join me for a drink,” he said, putting a bit of his strength behind his touch and tugging her ever so slightly toward him.
“Reese, man,” Dave said with a shake of his head, draping his bar towel over his shoulder. “You didn’t say you knew her.”
“You think I just randomly ask you to mix drinks a certain way?”
“Well, yeah,” he said with a shrug. “Some guys do that.”
“Not this guy,” he said, returning his focus to Claire. “This guy just happens to know what this woman likes.”
“I could have changed my mind.”
Dave walked away then, toward the other end of the bar.
“Oh, I’m sure you haven’t had one in a while made that way, but the taste for it wouldn’t go away completely.”
She reached up to touch a bruise on his temple. It was a bad one. Not from sparring, but from someone falling into the punching bag he’d been working over.
“I’ll heal,” he said and then smirked. “Not as quickly as you, but you know. It comes with the territory.”
“Does a fish swim?”
“I guess so. At least tell me it’s in a ring.”
“Oh yeah, baby, no more street brawls for me.”
“That’s good,” she said, eyeing him closely now.
He knew what she saw. The time away had not been overly kind to him. No more street brawls did not count the many bar fights he’d started or joined in on shortly after he’d been terminated. Those weren’t in controlled environments with protective headgear or managers looking out for their prospects. Bar fights weren’t called because someone drew a broken bottle or a switchblade. So, he’d paid a pretty hefty price. Scars that weren’t there last she saw him were now.
As she touched him, her hand soothing his face like a medicated balm of some sort, he grew more confident and slid his hand to the small of her back. She wouldn’t be touching him like this if she at least didn’t feel something for him still.
At least he didn’t think so. What he knew about women could fit in a thimble. Women like Claire anyway. The type men wanted to bring home to their mother, grow old with, and make babies with. The women Chris hung out with. Those Taylor knew something about.
“You look good,” he said when silence hung in the air between them.
She smiled, blushing a little at the compliment. “Thanks.”
“I wasn’t expecting to see you here tonight.”
“No. I wasn’t following you if that’s what you think. I came here after my workout to get a drink before I went home.”
“Lucky you then.”
“Yeah,” he said and meaning it.
“You’re who the flowers were from.”
“Justin didn’t seem to know what I was talking about when I mentioned them.”
“I didn’t know who else would be sending me flowers. Assumed it was a mistake, but the florist insisted it was not.”
“You like them?”
“Like them? They’re beautiful. I’ve never gotten flowers before.”
“Listen. I should get back.”
“You don’t have to.”
“I kind of do. They’re my friends. I came with them. Him.” She squinted at him, glancing at the drink on the bar. “What did you think I’d go home with you?”
“I wasn’t thinking much further than talking to you some.”
She scrunched her nose. “Why don’t I believe that?”
“Believe what you want. It seems to me the first time we started we had sex quickly.”
“Whose fault is that?”
“I didn’t pick you up at a club, honey.”
She rolled her eyes.
“You’re missing my point. I should have taken the time to find out things like where you were, or were not, going to school.”
“So you came here to talk to me?”
“Yes, honesty would be nice.”
“I can’t get into this here. Not if you have going back to your group of friends in two seconds on your mind.”
He was surprised her boyfriend, Justin, hadn’t come over here yet.
“What did you say to him anyway?”
He tilted his chin toward her table of friends. “Your boyfriend. I saw someone touching you like I am currently I’d be in his face in a heartbeat telling him to get his hands off.”
“I didn’t tell him anything other than I’d handle it.”
“And are you?”
“I can’t just bail on them. Can I call you when I get home?”
“I guess that’d work.”
“I need your number.”
“You don’t have it?” he asked. He’d never deleted hers from his phone, so he wasn’t sure what that’d say if she had gotten rid of his.
“It hasn’t changed?”
“No,” he said.
“Neither has mine.”
“Yeah, well,” he said, letting the rest go unsaid.
“Yeah,” she said.
“You can call. Or you can come by,” he said, giving her the name of the extended stay place he was crashing at.
She stared at him for a minute.
“What? I want to see you. Is that a crime?”
“No, I guess not. I just wasn’t expecting.”
“Call or come by. Whatever works for you.”
“Okay,” she said.
“I should be questioning my sanity,” he muttered.
“Oh, doing stupid things.”
“How is this stupid?”
“Not about asking you to call me. No, that’s not the stupid part.”
He slid his other hand to her hip, tugging her closer to him. Him seated as he was they were closer in height than if he’d been standing. And so that made kissing her real easy. Too easy. She gave a soft whimper, but didn’t pull away immediately. Eventually she did, though, hands at his shoulders.
“Yeah, he didn’t like that at all,” he said. “Not that I care, because I liked it a lot.”
She turned then without a word and started to walk away.
“You going to call?”
She stopped for a moment. “I shouldn’t,” she said without turning to look at him.
“That’s not a no at least,” he said as she continued on her path back to her table.
He stood then, setting enough money on the bar to cover both of her drinks and what he’d had plus a tip for Dave.
“She went back to him,” Dave said as he cleared the drink and Taylor’s empties away.
“For now. They come in here a lot?” he asked.
“I see them a fair amount, yeah. The women she comes with, they’re all dancers.”
“Yeah, she likes to dance.”
“You were a smart man; you’d wait around and cut in.”
“I’m a man who’s going to go home and let her make the next move.”
“Be careful of him.”
“Him?” Taylor said, assessing eyes going to the boyfriend. “You’re kidding me, right?”
“Not him personally, no, but he’s got a few friends I’ve seen him with a few times. Rough looking bunch. He’s a local.”
“Ah,” Taylor said with a low chuckle as he thought of getting jumped by a group of Iowa boys who thought they were tough. “I think I can handle myself.”
“Just warning you, he’s not alone.”
“Thanks for the tip,” Taylor said, making his way toward the door with one final glance in Claire’s direction. She was watching him leave. Good. That meant he hadn’t irritated her too badly kissing her.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com