Jake slid the highball glass along the bar, brushing aside the peanut shells as he went. The fruity cocktail stopped in front of Arielle and Jake turned away before he could get a glare of disapproval.
He ran a dirty towel over the far end of the bar, trying to look busy, even though the towel did little to actually clean anything. The bar’s wood had been rubbed down over time from glasses being spun, its owner deep in thought, or from the elbows helping to hold up another drooping head.
Sure, it was a dive, but this place was. Jake’s home. This town, this bar, these people.
“Jake,” came Arielle’s voice. He jumped. Somehow she’d silently moved herself right next to him from the opposite end of the bar.
“What do you want? Why do you even come here?” Jake’s face flushed with heat. He’d had enough and he couldn’t take one more complaint. He slammed the towel onto the bar. Of the few people in the bar, only Roger looked up and merely shook his head and raised his eyebrows. Jake read his look. The old man was right. She wasn’t worth it.
But, he didn’t feel like heeding Roger’s advice or his own. He hesitated just for a moment, but it was because even though he’d never confronted Arielle, he felt like they’d done this before. It was almost like a flash of a forgotten memory.
“You always just complain. There’s not enough lime. Too much vodka.” He put up his hands and continued with a mocking tone. “The bathroom doesn’t have toilet paper. There’s a fingerprint on my glass. These peanuts are too salty.” He brought his hands back down firmly and looked hard at Arielle, who only gave a mixed look of humor and annoyance.
“Are you done then?”
Jake stood back and crossed his arms. “Why don’t you go to the upscale lounge a few doors down? That seems more your crowd.” He gestured to the dress Arielle wore that was on the border of slutty, but it had a bit of class, which was enhanced by Arielle’s standoffish manner.
Arielle smiled and Jake’s eyes widened in shock. She even gave a small laugh in response. “You serve the best Long Island Iced Tea. No one can touch it. It’s perfect. And no, it’s not an ideal location.”
Jake relaxed a little at the compliment. He gave a bit of a huff, as if to let Arielle know he acknowledged her, but that he hadn’t forgiven her.
“How’d you even find out about this place?”
“A friend of mine. He knows I’m a sucker for that drink, and I think he found it amusing to watch me step outside my comfort zone. He always thinks he can loosen me up a bit.”
“And did it work?” Jake was wondering who the “friend” was at the back of his mind. He began to find himself oddly attracted to her, as if it were rising up from some hidden space in his mind.
She shrugged. “Well, I’m talking to you, aren’t I? And I’m not complaining, so I suppose you can take that as a good sign if you’d like.” Her face had once again become stoic, with no trace of a smile. Jake wondered what it was she tried to hide.
“Why are you talking to me?” Jake looked at her suspiciously.
She looked conflicted, emotion creeping beneath her stony exterior. “I didn’t come to this place for a drink. I came because I needed to talk to you.”
“And you couldn’t have just asked me from the beginning instead of dragging me through months of complaining?”
“I had to make sure you were you. You can’t blame me, once you know. I hate being the bearer of bad news.”
“What news?” Then he held up his hands to prevent her from speaking. “You know what? No. You don’t know me. You’re just playing me right now.”
Arielle said nothing, letting the silence between them grow uncomfortable. Jake seemed to have run out of words and was waiting for her to speak.
“This isn’t your home.” Arielle said it slowly and intentionally, so not a single word could be missed.
Jake screwed up his face. “What are you talking about? I was born and raised here.”
Arielle pursed her lips in a look of pity. “This was never meant to be your home.” She reached out a hand and touched Jake’s, but he jerked away from the feeling a zing of pain and pleasure in her fingertips.
“I waited to see if you remembered me, but you didn’t. I thought if I could shake you up emotionally it would help drop things into place.” Her eyes searched his face for a response. “It just all went so wrong. This wasn’t supposed to happen.”
Jake’s expression remained dubious, but his voice was laced with anxiety and defensive sarcasm. “What happened? If you know me so well, where is my home?”
“Well, for starters, it’s not Earth.”