Kori wasn’t lying when she said she would party hard, but that’s getting ahead of the story.
The next day, Kaiden started his first job. He was the locker room attendant for the Llamacorns and was so excited to be working for his favorite team. His schedule was a bit weird, but it didn’t matter at the time. He was young and single without attachments and could work whenever he needed to. Shortly after 9 p.m., he got home and headed straight for the shower. Before he could take off his clothes, Kori called. “Hey, what’s up?”
“I have something to ask, and I need you to keep an open mind.”
He chuckled nervously. “Uhh, ok?”
“Phoenix wants to hang out for her birthday.”
He groaned. They had a pleasant exchange last time they saw each other, but he wasn’t sure if she still liked him or not. What if she knew he and Breanne were over? Nah. He didn’t need any drama in his life right now. “I don’t think so.”
“Come on, Kaiden! She’s cool!”
Maybe Kori forgot about her feelings, but how could she? They were such good friends. Surely Phoenix went on and on about him all the time. “Is this some sort of hook up thing?”
“Nope! Her mom threw her a party between the family, and now she wants a real party. It’ll just be me, you, her, Nick, and Billie.”
Three girls and two guys. Well, at least no one would be pairing up. And, he had seen her eyeing Nick from time to time. Maybe she was finally over Kaiden. “Ok, fine. I need to shower.”
“Yes! Meet us at the Narwahl Arms in Windenburg.”
He hung up and took a deep breath before hopping in the shower. This night could be a recipe for disaster, and he wouldn’t be able to handle it gracefully if things went south. Please let this be a drama free night, he prayed.
Winter had only just settled in a couple of days ago, but Windenburg was so cold already. Kaiden had to dig out his winter wear from the back of the closet. As he neared the club, the excitement inside him grew. He wasn’t a big party person and never snuck out to clubs in school. It seemed that Tuesday was a day of many firsts. All the friends seemed excited to be there as they huddled at the door and took in the place. It was as if they all had the same feeling. Finally, their teen years were behind them, and they were free to do as they pleased. This party was the first of many adult decisions they would make in their new lives.
They shed their coats in the closet and settled in at the bar to catch up…or something. Everyone basically looked the same with minor touches to their new look. Nick rocked a man bun and a little stubble. Billie… Well, she still insisted on not wearing many clothes. There was no guessing what she would be after that night.
Phoenix was exactly the same. She had her own quirky style, but it worked for her. Kori, though. She looked amazing. Apart from prom night, he had never seen her look so good, and it was hard to stop looking at her. She seemed to have the same problem.
Before things got weird, Kaiden decided to get the party started. “Uhh, Phoenix. I got you a cake. And, in honor of me starting my job today, the first round of drinks are on me!”
Everyone cheered in approval of his announcement.
“Give us something strong,” Nick yelled.
“Really strong,” Kori added.
Kaiden laughed at his silly friends. “One round of Hot ‘n Smokey coming up!” He may not have been a party guy, but growing up in a bartender’s house, he definitely knew his drinks.
The bartender made their drinks, and Kaiden distributed them to everyone. They toasted to Phoenix, and he slid next to her for the obligatory congratulations. “Happy birthday!”
She grinned harder than a nerd at Geek Con. “Did you really get me a cake?”
He felt a little uneasy and began to consider he had gone a bit overboard. “Uhhh, y-yeah! We can’t have a party without cake, right?”
“I already had cake, but there’s no such thing as too much cake, right?”
“Well, as long as you plan to work it off, of course.”
She punched him in the shoulder. “If I didn’t know you, I’d think you were trying to tell me something!”
The others engaged in conversation while Phoenix told him about her birthday party and how it was so weird having her parents together again. “They were soooo cold, and I could tell they were just playing nice. I don’t know what they fought about when mom came over the other week, but they hate each other now. They used to be really friendly! Whatever, you don’t wanna here about my messed up family. I’ll blame this really hot drink for my loose lips, hee hee.”
Kaiden saw Nick and Kori order more drinks and hoped they would get crazy with it. That was the thing with Asia. She never told them they couldn’t drink and even let them try new cocktails she made. Drinking was never this elephant in the room no one could talk about. They could do it if they wanted as long as they drank responsibly. That was her rule. If any of them ever got drunk, she’d put a stop to it. Kids like Kori who were so sheltered didn’t know what to do with themselves outside of their parents’ jurisdictions.
Billie and Kaiden got caught up while Phoenix took a few turns on the dance floor. Nick and Kori must have joined her because they weren’t sitting at the bar anymore, but he didn’t bother looking for them.
Phoenix worked up an appetite and gathered everyone around for cake. “This chocolate is calling my name!”
They sang to her, and she looked so happy.
“You guys are the best!”
Kori and Billie stumbled over to get cake. Their faces were as red as Kori’s hot outfit. They were wasted, and Kaiden couldn’t help but laugh. “You guys look terrible! You better eat some cake.”
How many Hot ‘n Smokeys did they have? That drink did have some heat to it, but he’d never seen anyone’s face get so hot it glowed.
Phoenix came back over to get another slice of cake and saw their conditions for the first time. “Are you guys drunk?? I can’t believe you’re drunk at my party!”
Kaiden laughed under his breath. Billie looked like she got caught stealing. He wanted a drama free night, but this particular brand of drama was quite entertaining.
After he had enough cake, he figured he needed to dance off some calories before he went home and slept on all that sugar. There were so many people out that night. He had to wade through and sidestep them like a minefield to find a space to dance. All the beautiful ladies seemed to be out that night. Maybe whenever he felt ready for a relationship he’d come back to that club to see if they were still there.
Up ahead, he spotted Nick doing the penguin walk toward the bathrooms. He definitely had too much to drink. Too bad he was too encumbered to strike up a conversation with the beauty who was totally checking him out.
Kaiden caught up to him just to heckle him a bit, but when he turned his head to say something, he saw the most beautiful girl dancing by herself.
He didn’t want to be caught staring at her, so he kept walking toward the back of the club. But, she was so pretty! He couldn’t stop looking at her.
“Why don’t you go say hello?” Nick said.
He nodded toward the angel. “The girl. Go say hi. You know you want to. You deserve it.”
Kaiden wasn’t quite sure of what he deserved or didn’t deserve, but he did want to meet her. She looked like a sweet person, but looks could be deceiving. Breanne didn’t look like a crazy person.
Whether or not he was ready to entertain a real relationship, the fact remained that he couldn’t spend the rest of his life comparing every woman to Breanne or being afraid of them turning out like her. Life was risky sometimes.
She seemed startled. After all, he did kind of interrupt her flow.
“Kelly,” she said suspiciously.
Maybe it was a good sign that she was suspicious of him. It could mean she was normal. “It’s nice to meet you.”
She only nodded and kept dancing. Maybe she wasn’t interested. Or, maybe she had a boyfriend. At least he tried. That’s all he could do, right?
“Sorry if I’m bothering you. I’ll go dance somewhere else.”
“No! I mean–sorry. Please, stay. I’m sorry.”
“Ok. Sure? I really don’t mean to bother you.”
“No, you’re not bothering me. It’s just that this isn’t really my thing. My sister dragged me out here.” She nodded behind her to the woman who was checking out Nick earlier. “She says I need to get out more.” She shrugged and rolled her eyes.
Kaiden smiled. “She sounds like my mom.”
Kelly grinned. “So you know what I’m dealing with.”
“Yeah. I, uhhh,” he looked around to see if anyone near them were eavesdropping, “I’ve actually never been to a club before.”
She chuckled. “Really? How cute.”
He blushed. “Well, my birthday was a week ago, and it’s not really my thing either.”
“You’ll get no judgement from me, Kaiden.”
He was glad. “So, what is your thing then?”
She blushed that time and looked around for eavesdroppers. “I’d rather be at home reading curled up on the couch.”
“Yeah? What do you like to read?”
“A little something of everything. I just love to learn.”
He felt the same way but had been afraid to express it to anyone. Everyone put him in a box and assumed what he would be good at. But the truth was he had so many more interests outside of athletics. Working out was what he did for fun. He never intended to make a career out of bodybuilding or even sports. But, for now, it was an easy career to get his feet wet while he figured out what to do next.
He motioned for her to step to the side for a more private conversation. “Can I tell you something?”
She nodded nervously.
“My dad is an astronaut, and when I was a kid I wanted to meet an alien.”
Her face lit up. “Your dad is an astronaut? That’s so cool.”
“Yeah. It is. I used to ask him to bring me little aliens home for pets. He, uhh, he actually still does.”
“No way! What do you do with them?”
He shrugged. “I stare at them and wonder where they came from and how they ended up in a terrarium.”
“I guess there’s not a whole lot you can do with them, huh?”
“So, do you and your dad work on his rocket together and talk space talk?”
It never occurred to him that was something he could do, honestly. He wasn’t afraid of his father, of course, but something about approaching him about his work made Kaiden nervous. Maybe he assumed Jared’s work was something he didn’t want to share with anyone else.
“I guess I assumed he wouldn’t want to.”
“Of course he would. I think every father dreams of passing on his trade to his son. You should try.”
“I think I’ll do that. Thank you, Kelly.” He became aware of the lateness of the hour and the fact that he wasn’t alone. “I should get back to my friends and get them home. They are totally wasted.”
She laughed. “Oh no. You’re on D.D. duty, huh?”
“Not really, but I can’t send them off by themselves.”
“That’s sweet of you.”
He shrugged. “Hey… Do you think you might wanna hang out sometime?”
Her cheeks became flushed and her smile glistened in the dark corner. “Yeah. I think I might.”
They exchanged numbers, said goodnight, and Kaiden proceeded to collect his friends. Billie had left already, so that left Kaiden and Phoenix to get the other two drunks home. Naturally, she volunteered for Nick which was great because that would have been awkward for Kaiden. He was the most concerned about Kori anyway and was glad to escort her home. She was more sober than she was before, but she was still pretty smashed. Even her eyes still looked glazed over. Hopefully she would learn from this night.
Kori seemed to have trouble saying goodnight once they arrived at her doorstep. She looked upset, and it worried him. “What happened?”
“I did a bad thing.”
So much for a drama free evening. At least the drama saved itself for the end. “What did you do?”
“I woohooed with Nick. In the closet! I woohooed with my friend’s crush. At her party! I’m a terrible person!”
“Oh, Kori. You didn’t.”
“I did! I’m sorry.” She began to cry. “I didn’t mean to. I swear! I don’t even really like him that much.”
“It’s ok. Ok, it’s not really ok, but it won’t happen again, right?”
“Never! You’re not gonna tell her, are you?”
“I won’t tell. But what if she already knows? Or, she finds out?”
“Just don’t tell her, Kaiden. Please? Promise?”
He sighed. “Ok. I promise.”