Change of Heart - By S.E. Edwards

Chapter One

I’m pissed. Seriously, I’m pissed.

I push my way to the bar at the end of the smoky room, not caring how many people I have to shoulder though to get there. Cries of “Bitch!” and “Watch where you’re going!” trail after me. I filter them out.

Right now, I have only one thing on my mind : a drink. A strong one. After six months of abstinence, I’m long overdue. And right now, I need something particularly potent to take my mind off the disaster of tonight.

I get to the bar, and place my hands wide on the sticky counter. I feel like taking up space. I know I should probably be grossed out by the semi-dry paste of liquor that clings to my fingers, but I’m way beyond caring about that now. I make eye contact with the bartender and nod him over. He’s busy serving somebody else. He raises his hand in acknowledgement, letting me know he’ll attend to me soon.

But soon can’t come soon enough. As I wait, irritation about everything that has happened tonight flaring within me, I find my eyes moving over his body. I can’t help it. Even though he’s facing away from me now, I can make out the outline of his strong shoulders and lean, cut arms from beneath a black V-neck tee shirt. He’s not bad looking, with close-cropped dark hair and a jeweled stud in one ear. When he finally turns away from his customers and walks over to me, the features of his face become clearer in the dark. He’s clean-shaven, with a strong, square jaw and hard, black eyes that seem to pierce the hazy air. He flashes an easy smile, revealing perfectly-white-but-slightly-crooked teeth. Despite my mood, I can’t help but give a little sigh. I’m a sucker for those types of imperfections.

“And what can I get you, pretty lady?” he asks.

His southern accent catches me off-guard. It’s completely out of place in the small-time Oregon college bar. It’s not at all what I would expect from someone who looks like him. I recover quickly, and spit out the first drink that comes to mind. “A Dry Manhattan. On the rocks.”

“A Dry Manhattan,” he repeats with a smirk. “On the rocks. That’s a pretty strong drink for a lady your size.”

I roll my eyes. Strike one, I think, you’re out. “I’m tougher than I look.” He perks a curious eyebrow at me in a way that is probably meant to be flirtatious. If he hadn’t made the comment, I might have even smiled back. But I don’t. I’m in no mood for small talk. Not now.

The bartender catches my ill humor, shrugs, and reaches over to right a clean mixing glass from his side of the bar. Bending down, he scoops a handle of ice into it, then sets the half-filled glass on the counter in front of me.

“You have your ID on you?”

“My ID?” I repeat, incredulous. This is the last thing I need right now. “You’re not serious.”

“Serious as can be. You see the sign.” He points to the side, where the words, “NO WRISTBAND – NO DRINKING!” are scrawled in thick black Sharpie on a bright yellow sheet of paper. He makes a point of looking down at my wrists. Both are empty.

“I’ll just pretend you let yours slip off that delicate little arm of yours,” he continues, “not that you couldn’t get one when you came in. But I’ll still need to see your ID before I can serve you.”

I narrow my lips in displeasure. The wristband rule is a vestige from the time this bar was still sponsored by the college administration. Anybody was allowed in, but only those students of drinking age would get their wristbands at the door. I always thought the rule was ridiculous. It is super easy to swap with someone, or have a friend buy you drinks. Never before have I heard of the student bartenders caring enough to check IDs.

To prove my point, I look behind me. The space in front of the bar has transformed into an impromptu dance floor, with some indie DJ pumping out his personal remixes of top 40 tunes from the corner. There are drunk coeds and frat boys everywhere. There must be at least five girls within ten paces of me who are obviously underage and sloshed out of their minds.

“Well?” He picks up the glass he set down in front of me and hovers it over the sink. “You have it,