And it is, at least from James and Owen. James comes in and gives me a curt nod, wishes me a happy birthday and then nods at Owen. His jaw is tense and he’s acting a lot like Owen is, full of antagonistic suspicion. They eye each other like two lions over the remains of a meal and I’m kind of surprised to see that coming from James. Usually James is a subdued figure in the background.
Maybe it’s because James looks like he has this antagonistic way about him to begin with. He’s got shaggy black hair, tattoos, a slim, pale build and a few piercings. He’s not as tough or rebellious as he appears to be – in fact, he’s a giant softie who cares deeply about what everyone thinks – but you have to get to know him to know that.
I’ll admit, that’s what attracted me to James in the first place – the person I thought he was. The reality of us didn’t work so well together.
Linden, though. He bursts into the room and scoops me up into a giant bear hug, holding me tight. He smells like sage and woodsy stuff. His arms feel like hot steel. He feels so unbelievably safe that a part of me suddenly mourns the fact that I haven’t seen him for a long time.
“Happy belated, baby blue,” he murmurs into my neck and I briefly close my eyes. When we break apart, I’m aware of James and Owen both staring at us. The suspicious looks have only deepened.
“Thanks,” I tell him, clearing my throat as if I’ve briefly come undone while he strides over to Owen with his hand out.
“Nice to see you again, aye,” Linden says to him. It takes Owen a moment to react and shake his hand right back, quick, light and impersonal.
“You too,” Owen says, then his lips clamp into a hard line.
We go to a speakeasy in Japantown. Linden apparently “knows” the hostess and was able to secure us a reservation when we would normally have to wait for weeks. We find the unmarked door beside a dingy diner full of green lighting and sad faces. There is no secret knock but there is a phone number you’re supposed to text.
A few minutes with the four us standing around outside rather awkwardly while a few homeless men trundle past with their shopping carts full of blankets and beer cans, the door finally opens. There is the hostess in all her tall, leggy glory.
“Hi Linden,” she says, batting her heavily made up eyes. The makeup is done tastefully though, so it looks sultry, not slutty, and I don’t know why that bothers me more, or why it even bothers me at all.
Linden looks her up and down with that gunslinger squint of his, that half-cocked smile. “Emily,” he greets. “How are ya?” I love the way his “R”s roll off his tongue.
She puts a hand on her hip, showcasing the cut of her dress over her slim thighs. No cellulite on her. “I’ve been just fine. Not waiting for you to call me or anything.”
I rub my lips together, supressing a smile. Who actually says shit like that?
Apparently Emily does. Linden only grins at her. “Well, does this count as me calling on ya?”
Emily narrows her eyes, not impressed. “Come this way.”
She leads us down a dark, narrow hallway that goes on for so long that I start to think perhaps this was all a clever ruse on her behalf, a way to attack Linden with her feminine wiles, until we hear muffled chatter and low bass. To the right of us a small rectangle of a room opens up, all gold skulls and low white velvet benches and young, steampunk-ish bartenders slinging brightly colored drinks.
Not at all like the classic speakeasy I had in mind, but it’s still pretty cool.
Emily leads us to a table in the back and Owen and I secure the booth side. You can take me to the shittiest restaurant or bar and I’ll seriously be happy if I can sit at a booth. I don’t even have to drink. Sitting is one of life’s most underrated pleasures. The velvet cushions feel extra padded and I sink right in, laying my head back against the padded back before it disappears into the wall of skulls. I sigh, happily.