I slammed my tiny shot glass down hard on the bar top. It earned me a dirty look from what’s-his-face, the bartender.
“Hey… hey! Yeah, another one over here, please.” My words weren’t quite slurred yet, but I was getting there fast. Bloody fuck.
I swiveled on the barstool, just enough to get a real good look at the people who were milling around the crowded Glasgow bar. Which bar was I at again… Prince Edward? Prince Charles? Some royal name.
I was past being discreet. I craned my neck and checked out every booth and table just to make sure they were really gone. The bartender nudged my arm with my new drink and I felt for it blindly, never taking my eyes off the tiny dance floor.
“It’s Rupert,” he grunted.
“Whatever.” I pulled the tequila hard and fast, barely grimacing as it burned its way down.
“Och. Tha’ looks painful. I might have to try that.”
The voice came from my left, a slightly slurred Scottish burr. I turned slowly, wiping my mouth rather sloppily with the back of my hand. I squinted in the dim light.
His hair was the first thing I noticed. It was an attractive mess, and I couldn’t tell if it was the shitty lighting or his natural color, but it was so red it looked fake.
I realized I’d been staring at the top of this lad’s head like an idiot, before finally meeting his gaze. Deep blue eyes—a rare form of sapphire—looked back at me, also squinting through the haze of cigarette smoke and dim lighting.
Bloody fuck, he was a hot mess. I felt a twinge of equal parts guilt and self-righteous anger. I thought maybe it was a bit too soon for me to notice other attractive men, but the anger spoke up even louder. Why shouldn’t I engage in interesting conversations with random, gorgeous men? The anger in me won.
Wait, he’d said something. What was it? He wanted to do a shot?
“Um, it’s Cuervo. I think I might go blind if I keep drinking this, but that’s okay. Then I won’t have to see that arsehole walking around with that stroppy cow.”
Oops, overshare. At least I hadn’t hurled tequila and pub mix all over him. Yet.
Attractive blue-eyed lad raised his eyebrows. He was just as shit-faced as I was, maybe even a bit more. “Arsehole? Who would that be?”
Oh, might as well. “My ex. Turns out those late-night work meetings that went on for months were late-night sex marathons with Sandy. The arm-candy.”
“Sandy? The stroppy cow, I assume?” He smirked and tossed back the remainder of his own drink. “Which would make you…?”
“Claire. Spurned but pissed ex-girlfriend.” I held out my hand.
He took it in his and squeezed it gently. “Jamie, spurned and sad ex-boyfriend.” The tequila must have kicked in; my hand and arm felt all tingly and a warmth sparked in my belly.
“So. Any particular sorrows you’re drowning in cheap liquor?” I faced the bar again, looking at him out of the corner of my eye.
“Och, aye. But I daresay they’re halfway gone now.” Jamie shook his empty glass and the ice clinked. “My third.”
I snorted. “Fourth.” I held up my own shot glass in Ronald’s—or was it Reuben’s?—direction. “My good man, two please.” I glanced at Jamie, smiling wickedly. “You need to catch up.”
“Aye, but I really dinna want to risk going blind.” He called out to Rodolfo (Riley?), “Make it Patron, please.”
“Patron, huh? Is she worth it?” I caught his gaze.
Jamie’s eyes hardened, but I could tell it wasn’t towards me. “No. But I am.”
“Fair enough.” The glasses were placed in front of us and I raised mine to his. I stood, wobbling a bit and he did the same. “A toast—to Jamie and Claire. May their exes catch amoebic dysentery and shit till they die.”
“Amen.” He held his own shot aloft and touched the rim to mine. We looked at each other for a moment before we downed the golden liquid.
“Argh!” Jamie shook his head, making a face and coughing once. “Nice.”
“What were you drinking?” I nodded towards the chunky tumbler filling fast with melted ice.
“Whisky. I probably shouldna be mixing Laphroaig and Patron, but fuck it. I dinna care.”
Now both our eyes were kind of swimming and I stumbled into him as I tried to hike myself back onto the barstool.
“Easy there,” he chuckled. I straightened up, pushing away slightly. I gripped the bar top. The world was tilting crazily now. Bloody hell.
“I think that last shot was a mistake.” Now my words were blending together in strange ways.
“Aye, for me too.” His Scots accent had broadened more over the past minute.
I laid my head on the bar, not caring if my hair got dirty. I groaned, and I felt Jamie pat my back gently. “Um, thanks.” I managed to raise my head off the surface after a few minutes.
“Anytime.” He hoisted himself onto the stool next to mine. We endured silence for a bit until he grabbed a nearby salt shaker, tapping it rhythmically on the bar top. I waited.
The music suddenly changed; slow, mellow notes filled the air. I was about to make a snarky comment about the DJ’s song choice when I noticed Jamie’s hand next to me, palm up.
“Dance?” he asked softly.
“Only if you promise not to twirl me,” I found myself answering.
We made our way onto the makeshift dance area in the corner. He pulled me close, his hand at my back and the other clutched mine tightly against his chest. My left hand went on his shoulder as he led me expertly around the floor. My head threatened to drop, nestling perfectly into the center of his chest. God, he was tall. The alcohol was finally achieving its purpose, numbing me.
We swayed back and forth; I was still trying not to vomit as we danced. I found that the scent coming off Jamie’s skin was helping—something fresh like citrus, tinged with his own male musk.
“I proposed to her.” His warm breath tickled the shell of my ear.
I gripped his shoulder hard. He proposed? Jamie’s story sounded more fucked up than mine. He took my touch as a sign to continue.
“It was our 2-year anniversary. Fancy restaurant, candles, romantic shite—ye ken? Movie style.”
“What’s your ex called?” I slurred, surprised I could focus on a question.
“Annalise.” Jamie’s voice had a sneering quality as he pronounced her name with a French accent. “We’d met when I studied a semester abroad in Paris, but she actually lived here. After I’d pulled the ring from my pocket, and knelt in front of the entire restaurant—she said she didna want to hurt me, but that we should remain friends.”
“Friends. Classic. Only if being friends means you get to punch them in the mouth after a speech like that,” I laughed bitterly and he joined me.
“That was exactly a year ago—tonight. I just found out she’s dating some arsehole—something something Saint Germain. Hence, whisky.”
The song ended and Jamie looped my arm through his, and we collapsed at a table; barstools were a little complicated in our current state. I took a deep breath and reciprocated my own sob story.
“I walked in on Frank and Sandy a few months ago. In our bed. Bloody hell, we’d known each other since we were teenagers. We were living together. Was ‘I think we should see other people’ so hard to say?” I flagged a waitress, holding up two fingers.
“Och, lass, another one?” Jamie looked concerned. I was no lightweight, but I was really feeling the previous shots.
“Yeah. I need it.” I sucked on a lime and upended the shot glass. I barely acknowledged the burn this time.
“That bad, eh?”
“It is.” I winced, remembering how I still hadn’t managed to take down the pictures of us. That was just bloody unhealthy.
“Oh. It’s really no’ my place, since, well… I’m completely pissed too, but… do ye drink this much every weekend, just to forget? I mean, I worry about yer liver and all.”
“No. It’s just I ran into the Frank and Sandy here tonight, who’s sporting a rock the size of a peach pit on her finger.” I swallowed hard. “And very, very pregnant.” Much too pregnant for their affair to have begun only a few months ago. She looked ready to pop.
“Och.” Jamie looked chagrined. “Aye.” He downed his own shot and gestured for more. He raised his glass in a toast like I had.
“To ye. Because at this point, I think yer story sounds worse than mine. And ye’re still standing.” We slammed a few more shots, until finally, sweet oblivion.
No more pain, no more misplaced guilt, no more what-ifs. A moment’s peace.
It could be found at the bottom of a glass.
- - -
Sunlight streamed through the pale, gauzy curtains. It felt like a fucking drill through my eyes.
“Oh God,” I mumbled, rolling over and trying to ignore the pounding like a sledgehammer between my temples.
I hit something soft and warm beside me.
My eyes flew open, light hitting me painfully. As they adjusted, I caught sight of a tousled red head peeking over the top of the covers.
Oh my God. Oh my God.
How did this happen?