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We have the same middle name. That could be fate, you know.

“I have a tradition,” I tell her. I’m lying, but she seems like the type of girl who wouldn’t want to break a guy’s tradition. “My best friend is the bartender across the street. I always go have a drink with him after my showings are over. I want you to come with me.”

She glances at the bathroom once more. Based on her hesitation, I can only conclude that either she doesn’t frequent bars or she’s just not sure if she wants to go to one with me.

“They also serve food,” I say, attempting to downplay the fact that I just asked her to a bar for a drink. “Appetizers mostly, but they’re pretty good and I’m starving.”

She must be hungry because her eyes light up when I mention appetizers. “Do they have cheese sticks?” she asks.

I’m not sure if they have cheese sticks, but I’ll say anything at this point just to spend a few more minutes with her. “The best in town.”

Again, her expression is hesitant. She glances down at the phone in her hands and then looks back up at me. “I . . .” She bites her bottom lip, embarrassed. “I should probably call my roommate first. Just to let her know where I am. I’m usually home by now.”

“Of course.”

She looks down at her phone and dials a number. She waits for the other person to pick up.

“Hey,” she says into the phone. “It’s me.” She smiles at me reassuringly. “I’ll be late tonight, I’m having drinks with someone.” She pauses for a second and then looks up at me with a twisted expression. “Um . . . yeah, I guess. He’s right here.”

She holds the phone out toward me. “She wants to talk to you.”

I step toward her and take the phone.

“Hello?”

“What’s your name?” a girl on the other end of the line says.

“Owen Gentry.”

“Where are you taking my roommate?”

She’s grilling me in a monotone, authoritative voice. “To Harrison’s Bar.”

“What time will she be home?”

“I don’t know. A couple of hours from now, maybe?” I look to Auburn for confirmation, but she just shrugs her shoulders.

“Take care of her,” she says. “I’m giving her a secret phrase to use if she needs to call me for help. And if she doesn’t call me at midnight to let me know she’s home safe, I’m calling the police and reporting her murder.”

“Um . . . okay,” I say with a laugh.

“Let me talk to Auburn again,” she says.

I hand the phone back to Auburn, a little more nervous than before. I can tell by the confused expression on her face that she’s hearing about the secret-phrase rule for the first time. I’m guessing either she and this roommate haven’t been living together for very long, or Auburn never goes out.

“What?!” Auburn says into the phone. “What kind of secret phrase is ‘pencil dick’?”

She slaps her hand over her mouth and says, “Sorry,” after accidentally blurting it out. She’s quiet for a bit and then her face contorts into confusion. “Seriously? Why can’t you choose normal words, like raisin or rainbow?” She shakes her head with a quiet laugh. “Okay. I’ll call you at midnight.”

She ends the call and smiles. “Emory. She’s a little strange.”

I nod, agreeing with the strange part. She points to the bathroom. “Can I change first?”

I tell her to go ahead, relieved that she’ll be back in the clothes I found her in. When she disappears into the bathroom, I pull out my phone to text Harrison.

Me: I’m coming for a drink. Do you serve cheese sticks?

Harrison: Nope.

Me: Do me a favor. When I order cheese sticks, don’t say you don’t serve them. Just say you ran out.

Harrison: Okay. Random request, but whatever.

CHAPTER THREE

Auburn

Life is strange.

I have no idea how I went from working at the salon this morning, to an appointment at a law office this afternoon, to working at an art studio tonight, to walking into a bar for the first time in my life.

I was too embarrassed to tell Owen I’ve never been to a bar before, but I’m pretty sure he could tell by my hesitation at the door. I didn’t know what to expect when we walked in because I’m not yet twenty-one. I reminded Owen of this and he shook his head and told me not to mention it if Harrison asks for ID. “Just tell him you left it at the studio and I’ll vouch for you.”

It’s definitely not what I expected a bar would look like. I imagined disco balls and a huge, central dance floor, and John Travolta. In reality, this bar is much less dramatic than I imagined. It’s quiet, and I could probably count the number of occupants on both hands. There are more tables covering the floor than there is room to dance. And there’s no disco ball anywhere in sight. I’m a little disappointed by that.

Owen weaves through a few tables until he gets to the back of the dimly lit room. He pulls out a stool and motions for me to sit while he takes the one next to it.

There’s a guy at the other end of the bar who looks up at us just as I’m taking my seat, and I assume this is Harrison. He looks to be in his late twenties, with a head full of curly, red hair. The combination of his fair skin and the fact that there are four-leaf clovers on almost every sign in this place makes me wonder if he’s Irish or if he just wishes he were.

I know it shouldn’t surprise me that this guy owns a bar and appears this young, because if everyone around here is anything like Owen, this city must be full of young entrepreneurs. Great. Makes me feel even more out of place.

Harrison nods his head in Owen’s direction and then briefly glances at me. He doesn’t stare long, and then his eyes are back on Owen’s with a perplexed look. I don’t know what has this guy confused, but Owen ignores the look he shoots him and turns to face me.

“You were great tonight,” he says. His chin is resting in his hand and he’s smiling. His compliment makes me smile back, or maybe it’s just him. He’s got such an innocent, charming vibe. The way his eyes crinkle in the corners makes his smile seem more genuine than other people’s.

“So were you.”  We both just continue to smile at each other and I realize that although bars aren’t typically my scene, I’m actually enjoying myself. I haven’t in so long, and I don’t know why Owen seems to extract a whole different side of me, but I like it. I also know that I have so many other things I should be focusing on right now, but it’s one night. One drink. What harm can it do?

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