The Wager

By: Calista Kyle

I brushed his hands away, and grabbed the stack of napkins the bartender held out to me. "Damnit!" I bit out, noticing the large dark wet stain on the front of my dress.

"Are you all right?" he asked again.

I finally looked up at him. I really got a good look and I could feel my blood beginning to boil. The man appeared to be in his early to mid thirties, with dirty blond hair that was cropped short at the sides and longer at the top. He was a little taller than me and would be considered handsome but for his smug expression and bloated face, probably due to a life of idleness and excess. He was also clearly drunk and even more clearly ogling me in my wet dress. As if I hadn't already had enough to deal with, I now had to add fending off drunk lechers to the list of ordeals I'd been subjected to already.

"I didn't mean to spill my drink on you," he said, smiling at me in what he probably thought was a charming manner, but just came off as creepy. "My name's Maxwell." He stood there and held out his hand for me to shake.

I ignored his hand and glared at him. "Maybe you should have thought about that before you go accosting people you obviously don't know. Did you think I'd melt at your feet or something with you whispering in my ear? You're not smooth, not remotely attractive to me and you're obviously drunk," I seethed.

As I continued my rant, I noticed a small crowd had gathered around us. Maxwell's face had turned a dark shade of red, from anger or embarrassment, I didn't know. A part of me cringed as I let the hateful words fly out of my mouth. I knew I'd regret it as soon I calmed down again, but I felt like I couldn't control myself. I'd been pushed past my breaking point and one look down at my ruined dress just got my blood pressure up even more. Without looking at anyone, I held my chin up and stalked out of the ballroom for the nearest restroom.

My dress wasn't the only thing that needed attending to at that moment. I needed time to get myself under control. Thankfully, the restrooms were empty when I entered. I was able to dry most of the drink off under the hand dryers. With the pleated folds in the front, I felt confident that no one could tell there'd been a stain there unless they looked closely.

Once I got the dress taken care of, I began to replay that scene over again in my mind. I knew I had overreacted and had lashed out in anger. The evening and everything about it reminded me so much of high school and being teased and taunted daily. When I turned around and saw Maxwell's smug smile after he had spilled his drink on me, it felt like he had done it on purpose--like he somehow knew I didn't belong and I was a big joke.

Rationally, I knew it was unlikely, but the paranoia was always there, even though sometimes it was more pronounced than others. That's why I hated going to these functions. I always felt too on edge, and on the lookout for any sign of mischief. I'd already been through my fair share of humiliation and I wasn't about to let it happen again.

While I was staring in the mirror, mentally bracing myself for going back out to the ballroom, the restroom doors opened and two giggling women entered arm and arm. They paused when they saw me. The pause was only brief before they went back to whispering and laughing in each other's ears.

I took it as my cue to leave, and as I walked back towards the ballroom, I resolved to find Maxwell and apologize. Even though he'd been mostly at fault, I knew I shouldn't have gone off on him like that. He just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. As I walked back to the ballroom, I was shocked to see how much bigger and louder the crowd was. It seemed like everyone had arrived while I was away. There was no way I could find Maxwell in this crowd.

I decided to head back to the bar and wait for Mel there. I had made up my mind that once I found her, I'd tell her I was done and leaving for the night. There was no way I could manage another hour in here.

As I made my way over, I could feel a hum in the crowd and a faint buzzing sound. People were whispering to each other as I walked by. I shook my head, thinking I must have been imagining it all. There'd be no reason for anyone to even know who I was, much less be talking about me. But something just didn't feel right.

Chapter Two: Roman

"Roman Conrad! Is that you?"

I turned my head at the sound of my name. The face staring back at me was unfamiliar, yet he acted like we were the best of friends. Then again, I was used to it. There were two reactions I normally got from people. It was either fearful deference or encroaching familiarity. This man had gone for the latter. The fact that he could stand there and look at me without an inkling of discomfort pushed him up a little in my estimation.

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