The bar was full of people – Friday night. Sweaty punters losing their inhibitions slowly in the friday night crush.
Esca idly looked over the crowd. No-one caught his eye tonight. No surprises there. Same old crowd as most weekends, but occasionally he got lucky. It wasn't a big town but there were often a few people who were passing through – this was the only place to come and really let your hair down at the weekends.
His friends were teasing each other. The boys were all macho to start off, but he knew they'd mellow as the night wore on; the girls were slow to warm up, but gradually they started to take the piss out of the boys and each other, the atmosphere slowly warming with the actual temperature.
Most of the dynamics had long played out amongst his friends – everyone who was going to get off with each other had done it at some point in the last 6 years since high school. Now they were all pretty comfortable and the sexual tension only usually came up when new people were introduced. It all led to a pretty bland time if you were really in the market for something hotter. And Esca was in the mood tonight.
It had been a hard week at work – his job was driving him slowly insane, but he needed to do it to keep his mother and himself going, and have some chance of getting out of here; maybe eventually going to college.
His immediate manager was a bit of a douche, always finding fault and nit-picking his work. The overall department manager had been replaced last week with someone from a different state. He'd just seen the guy sitting in the managers' office this afternoon, slowly working through all the middle managers discussing their portfolios. His name was Marcus Aquila – kind of a fancy name - and he'd yet to venture out of that office. Esca just hoped that Marcus had some sense and would see through the gobshite that was his manager and not be taken in by Alex's sales patter – self-selling an art-form.
He returned to the end of his drink as his friend Luke jostled his elbow and indicated his bottle – universal sign for “do you want another?” He nodded. Tonight he was not going to worry about units, or calories or any other safer/healthier/sensible-r messages. Tonight he was going to get wasted enough to forget that he worked in a shit department in a shitty company in a shittier town. His mother was keeping him here and she was the best – he could do it for her, but he needed some kind of safety valve.
Luke came back with four bottles and two glasses and handed them round. They clinked glasses and bottles, and went back to detailing all the ways that their lives were worse than each other's. It was after Cottia had been telling them a story about the supermarket checkout queue that he noticed the girls' body language change. Both Cottia and Valery were sitting on the far side of the table, and they both suddenly looked more alert and more – sort of perky. He was puzzled and looked round to see what was going on.
Couldn't see anything. Some guys were playing over the pool table, but they looked like the average intake of a Friday, nothing special. He turned back to the table to see the two women trade a look and smiles. Both of them kept casting glances behind him. He took a swig of beer and looked round again, half-listening to Billy describing the plot of a film he'd taken a woman from work to see; not terribly successfully as it turned out. Never a good idea to take someone to a horror movie on the first date; Esca could vouch for that.
He caught Cottia's eye and she smiled at him, and then bent over the table towards him. He bent towards her, letting her speak into his ear above the noisy bar. “New guy, four o'clock. Totally my type. Totally your type too.” She leant back, holding his eyes as she smiled, licking the top of her beer bottle. He resisted turning around – she was always doing this, goading him, trying to get him to … fix on something, do something about his sad lack of a lovelife. Ever since they'd gone out in 10th grade, she'd seen it as her mission to either improve or thwart him. He wasn't sure that she had his best interests at heart or was just having fun bating him as competition. Whatever, he could always go into the city and pick someone up if he really needed to. He didn't need other people to underpin his idea of himself, he didn't need romance, and he certainly didn't need her help to get someone interested.
On the other hand... He turned again to look where she'd indicated. Nope, no-one that could have generated the kind of interest that they were displaying; the guys playing pool were the usual older crowd that he'd seen in here before. He turned back and watched as Valery suddenly looked up and knocked Cottia's elbow. Cottia glanced up and smiled, and then looked at Esca and raised her eyebrows. He looked round again. Joining the guys at the table was a tall, dark-haired white guy. He had seen him before, but not in here. He was the department manager. Esca supposed that even managers had to have some fun from time to time, and this one looked like he might be a mean pool player. He looked back at Cottia, and raised his bottle to her. The guy was pretty nice-looking, but so far out of their league.
On his way to the bathrooms he took a detour past the pool table. Yep, that was definitely Marcus Aquila, laughing and joking with Casey Birchow like he'd been here for ever. As Esca strolled past, Marcus looked up. Esca was caught staring. He hadn't quite meant for that to happen. He hurried into the washrooms and took a few breaths whilst he had a piss. OK, now he was interested, and it was all Cottia's fault. This guy was from work, he was a senior manager, he was new and he was probably as straight as a laser.
He went back out. Marcus was looking straight at him. Esca swallowed and looked steadfastly at his group of friends, but Marcus caught his hand as he walked past. Esca looked at him startled. Marcus dropped his hand and said, “Aren't you from Dents – I think I've seen you there?”
“Yeah” Esca was not going to make it easy.
“Hi. I'll get round to meeting everyone next week I hope. Properly. “ When Esca said nothing, Marcus continued, “This seems like the place everyone comes?” It was unmistakably phrased as a question but Esca couldn't quite work out what was going on.
“Yeah, there aren't many places in town to hang out.”
“I like it.” Marcus was being unrelentingly nice. It was a bit creepy. Esca bolted, waving a little to make it seem less rude.
Marucs was pressed against him, all crammed into the lift to the fourth floor. Esca tried the breathing exercises that the physio had taught him that time. No luck, if really wasn't working. He needed his asthma medication. Or to get laid more often. That would help. Marcus smelt lovely – some kind of woody aftershave. It also didn't help that he was almost a whole head taller, and incredibly broad shouldered. Those muscles were real under that suit; he felt as solid as a quarterback. Esca felt like driftwood and prayed for the lift to arrive. Like always when you really want something, it wasn't going to happen. The lift stopped at every floor and unbelievably more people got in. In the end he kind of leant back against the man and closed his eyes, pretending he was somewhere else, anywhere else. Finally it pinged again, and Marcus moved behind him pressing forwards. There was a moment when he could have sworn he felt something pressed to his buttock that wasn't a pen, and then Marcus was putting his arm round Esca and pressing them both forwards out of the lift, asking everyone to get out of the way in his easy drawl. Esca had never felt more British.
Marcus was looking straight at him and his eyes were soft. He was almost certainly asking a question but Esca had spaced for a moment. Someone else came into the hallway – he didn't know who it was; possibly a brown-noser staying late to impress someone. Marcus turned away and Esca had a moment of disappointment, hidden only by his low expectations: of course he wouldn't hang around to speak to Esca, a lowly accounts clerk; why would he. Then he felt his shoulder taken in a strong-armed grip and he was almost force-marched off towards the executive balcony. He felt his eyes widen as Marcus literally pushed him out of the door and into the clammy air. “Stay there.” He really didn't have a clue what was going on, until Marcus came back a couple of minutes later with a mug that he thrust at Esca. “Drink this.” He was so surprised he almost did, until he smelt it. “Coffee?” he asked, puzzled.
“I don't drink coffee.” He said, in a vain attempt to assert himself over the situation. Marcus took the mug off him and took a big gulp. “Do you drink other things? Would you...,” Marcus looked unsure for a moment. “Will you come out for a drink with me, show me the town?”
Esca stared at him. The view was marvellous from up here. “Do you mean... like a date?”
“Yeah. I mean, if that's OK?” Marcus looked seriously unsure of himself. “I know it's unorthodox, but. I asked around, and people seemed to think you weren't seeing anyone so, I thought it might be OK.”
“You're a manager.”
“I am. Is that a problem?”
“I don't know.” Marcus's eyes were green in this light.
Esca was dreaming. It was the only explanation. Either that or there really was a God after all, and that was seriously going to piss off his uncle.