When Lucas arrived at the bar that evening, Noah and Sam were already waiting for him.
“Hey, man! Long time, no see!” Noah smiled as Sam clapped Lucas on the back in greeting.
“Too long.” Lucas agreed.
“Still busy working on that secret cooking project, or whatever?” Sam asked, laughing.
“Oh… Heh… Yeah, kinda.” Lucas replied awkwardly, remembering the excuse he’d given his friends. “So, what’s up with you?” He asked, glancing at Sam a bit too expectantly.
Sam cleared his throat uncomfortably. “Well, uh… I guess I have some kinda big news…” He confessed. “I’m… gonna be a dad.” It sounded almost as though he couldn’t believe it himself.
“Shit, man! No way!” Lucas widened his eyes, feigning surprise. “Congrats!”
His friend stared at him for a few moments, as though studying his face. “Okay, seriously?” Sam rolled his eyes, annoyed. “Damn, Noah, I told you not to tell him!”
“Jeez, is my acting really that bad?” Lucas asked, unable to keep a straight face any longer.
“Terrible.” Noah burst into hysterics, and Lucas found himself quickly joining in.
Sam shook his head, but smiled. “Serves me right to trust you with anything.”
Noah shrugged, his laughter finally beginning to subside. “Sorry, I couldn’t resist.”
Lucas wiped a few tears of laughter from his eyes. “Seriously though… That’s big, Sam.” He smiled. “How’re you feeling?”
“Scared shitless.” His friend replied honestly. “But… kinda excited too, I guess. I think Laura’s been feelin’ the same.”
“Well if you guys are happy, I’m happy.” Lucas put a hand on his friend’s shoulder.
Sam smiled. “Thanks.”
“Alright ladies, enough with all that sappy crap.” Noah laughed, heading for the door and beckoning for the others to follow. “Are we here to chit-chat? Or to celebrate?”
Sam laughed softly, following his friend. But Lucas hung back a moment, too embarrassed to admit that he actually would have liked to talk a bit longer. Oh well. He thought, stepping through the glass double doors to catch up with his friends.
It was not long before Lucas remembered exactly why he didn’t like going out with his friends in the first place. Not long after they took their seats at the bar, Sam and Noah began throwing back drinks one right after the other. Soon, they descended into fits of laughter and deep, drunken conversations that did not include their sober friend.
Lucas sighed to himself, still nursing his first drink. Why had he thought this was a good idea again? He wondered. I should have told Noah I couldn’t make it…
He sat quietly for a several minutes longer, picking up bits and pieces of his friends’ conversation, turning down several offers to take a shot with them, and then finally doing one to get them to stop pestering him. It helped him feel a bit more relaxed, but did little to alleviate his boredom.
“Can I just get a water, please?” A very tired-sounding voice called from beside Lucas.
“Sure thing.” The bartender replied cheerfully as she finished pouring yet another drink for Lucas’ friends.
He looked over and saw that a pretty woman with short black hair had taken the seat beside him at the bar. “Thanks.” She replied to the smiling bartender.
Lucas couldn’t help but feel he could relate to this poor, bored-looking woman. “You look just about as excited to be here as I am.” He said to her, smiling slightly.
The woman laughed. “Did you get dragged here too?” She asked.
“Kind of.” Lucas shrugged. “See my friend over there?” He nodded toward Sam. “His girlfriend’s gonna have a baby.” He explained. “So I guess this is how we’re ‘celebrating’.”
She peered down the bar at him, smiling. “Well he looks pretty happy. Good for him!”
“Yeah.” Lucas smiled. “What about you?” He asked. “How’d you end up here?”
“Well… today’s my birthday.” The woman replied, laughing somewhat awkwardly.
“Oh, well, Happy Birthday, then!” Lucas laughed.
“Thanks.” She smiled. “It’s been a couple years since I’ve been out to a place like this.” The woman confessed. “But my friend insisted…” She glanced over her shoulder as she spoke.
Lucas followed her gaze and saw a blonde woman in a teal-colored dress flirting with a man over in the far corner of the room. Her body language and the faces she was making were so over-the-top that it was almost comical.
“Disgusting, isn’t it?” The woman sitting beside him laughed. “I had to get away before I got sick.” She said sarcastically, then sighed. “I dunno…. I guess in a weird way, it’s still kinda nice to get out of the house… Even if I’m not having as much fun as I thought I would.” Her shoulders shrugged.
Lucas laughed. “I know exactly what you mean.” It sounded like he and this woman had more in common than he’d thought. The more he talked to her, the more his mood had begun to lighten. Maybe going out tonight had been worth it after all.
“Why don’t I buy you a drink?” He offered. “Y’know, to make up for having such a lame birthday.”
The woman laughed. “I won’t say no to that!” She smiled. “But only if you let me buy you one too. To make up for being dragged out here by your friends.”
Lucas smiled. “Deal.”
“I’m Melanie, by the way. But most people are too lazy and just call me Mel.” She smirked. “But I don’t mind. And you are…?”
“Lucas.” He replied happily. “My friends like to be lazy and call me Luke… But I secretly hate it.” He confessed. “Don’t tell them I told you.”
Melanie giggled, and Lucas felt a warmth wash over him at the sound.
The two talked for the rest of the night, laughing and sharing stories. He learned her name was Melanie Bouchard. She was a low-level programmer for a software company, but she dreamed of starting her own business one day. Tonight was her 26th birthday.
He told her his name was Lucas Ainsworth. He worked for a fairly successful catering company, but dreamed of owning his own restaurant one day. He’d just turned 24 a few months ago. (Melanie saw through the lie immediately, of course. “22?” He’d tried. She just laughed sweetly in reply.).
“Hey, man.” Noah called out to him as the bar was preparing to close for the night. “You done tryin’a pick up chicks yet? We gotta go.” Behind him, a swaying Sam got to his feet rather ungracefully.
“Alright, but I’m driving.” Lucas said seriously. “I’ll bring you guys to get your cars in the morning if you need it, okay?”
“That’s sweet of you.” Melanie smiled, overhearing the conversation. “You’re a good friend.”
Lucas just shrugged. “I try.” He said with a laugh. “What about you, are you gonna be okay? It, uh… looks like your friend left with that guy a little while ago.”
Melanie shook her head, amused. “I figured as much. But don’t worry about me, I’ll be fine.” She reached into her purse, retrieving her cellphone. “Why don’t we trade numbers?” She suggested with a small smirk. “In case we get dragged out by our friends again, and need someone to commiserate with.”
“S-sure.” Lucas replied nervously, pulling out his own phone. They traded devices, each adding their own number to the other’s contact list. “But, you should know…” He said, tucking his phone back into his pocket. “I’m not really, y’know… looking for anything right now…”
She laughed softly. “Don’t worry, neither am I.” Melanie replied. “But I could always use a new friend.”
The way she smiled at him gave Lucas butterflies. He quickly willed the sensation away. “It was great talking to you.” He got to his feet. “I guess I’ll see you around…” Lucas started to walk away. “Oh, and uh… Happy Birthday.” He added awkwardly, calling over his shoulder.
The woman laughed. “Thanks. Have a great night!”
Lucas thought of her smile the entire way home.