Take Back the Night

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Chapter I: And So We Begin

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I walked around the table deep in thought, exploring every option, looking into every choice left to me; there was just the one. A bank shot. And I hated bank shots. I could pull them off, sure. But there was just so much math involved in getting the shot home. You had to consider angles, power, spin, momentum, acceleration. Physics and geometry. And more than bank shots, I hated math. What a situation.

"Come on, Sidney," my buddy Tyler nagged from somewhere behind me. I could hear the smile in his voice. He knew I hated bank shots; was counting on it being why after so many turns of chasing the eight ball around the table it would be the reason I lost, finally.

Not likely.

"Shut up, will ya? I'm trying to concentrate on my shot," I threw back at him easily, continuing my prowl around the table, cue in hand, considering, calculating.

"You're just putting off the inevitable," he argued loudly, coming around to stand beside me as I lined up the shot that would win me the game. "Losing. To me."

I sighed exaggeratedly and shifted a bit to accommodate for the awkwardness long shots like this afforded me and my five-foot, 3-inch short stature. As I drew back I worried at my lip, eyes trained on the cue ball. Steady, I told myself, and this game's in the bag.

Just as I slammed the cue forward I felt something prod me in the side and I shrieked, jumping up in shock. Anger replaced the initial embarrassment as I watched the cue ball fly ungracefully into the edge of a pocket and bounce over the corner of the table and onto the floor with a loud clack before rolling away.

Beside me, between loud guffawing laughter, Tyler was screaming, "Scratch! Scratch on the eight ball! I win!" like the idiot he was.

"Only because you cheated," I snapped angrily, rubbing my side and mentally cursing my skittishness at having them touched. "You poked me!"

At this he got in my face, leaning forward so that his nose was maybe an inch from mine, his wavy auburn hair puffing in my face as he breathed, and replied with a crooked grin, "you know you liked it," in a faux-seductive voice.

I jabbed the fat end of my stick into his foot, taking immense pleasure in his yelp of pain, and stomped off to track down the cue ball that had rolled lazily under a table at the far end of the hall. I grabbed it and straightened up to return to our table, digging a quarter out of my pocket as I plunked the ball into one of the pockets.

"Aw Sid, don't be like that!" he whined when I shot a glare at him as I dropped the quarter in the collection bucket — labeled Drop a Ball, Drop a Quarter — that was duct taped around the center pillar in the crowded room.

The rule in here was that if you shot a ball off the table you paid up a quarter. It wasn't just good insurance that people wouldn't needlessly go around trying to destroy the gaming equipment, but it was also the bi-monthly jackpot to the regular tourney winners; amazingly, it paid out pretty well. So I guess the money went to a good cause. But he had cost me my last game without having to break a bill, and it irritated me.

"You owe me a quarter and a rematch," I told him moodily, passing off my cue to Erika since she and I used the same weight for our shots. "Anyway, I'm getting a beer, anybody want one?"

"Yeah, me," Erika called as I began to head towards the bar, digging a ten out of my pocket, and a second later, Ty seconded the thought. I threw my free hand behind me in a dismissive wave, signaling that I had heard, and pulled up a stool to wait for service.

Rhonda, the owner of the place and the nicest old lady in the world, if a bit eccentric, hurried up to me with a smile on her face. She had been friends with my parents for a long time, so we got along pretty well. I smiled back and handed her the ten. She took it and with her other hand brushed a strand of graying-but-dyed-purple hair behind her ear. "The usual?" she asked, knowingly.

"For Ty and Erika, I guess," I told her, assuming as much because they hadn't told me otherwise. "And I want an MGD, too… but, you have the Lime, right?"

She smiled at me. "I'd hafta run back and get it out of the back, dear, and it might be a bit warm, but I do have some left," she assured me, ringing in the purchase on the decrepit cash register she had on hand. It was a horrible thing, old, loud, cantankerous as an old woman — but she'd gotten it for a steal at a yard sale and just adored the thing.

"I'll wait," I told her leaning against the warm leather buffering of the bar and getting comfortable.

She nodded and turned, hurrying into the back storage room. I knew the room wasn't big; Ty and I had worked with her a few times after the place opened and we knew it was a tiny space. But it was packed so full of stock and various paraphernalia that I knew she would be a while in searching.

"You don't look twenty-one," a voice to my left informed me, not disapproving so much as conversational.

I just mumbled the generally accepted, "it's a small town. Everybody knows everybody and nobody cares if we drink, as long as we're responsible."

"That so?" replied the voice, truly intrigued by this concept of 'trust in the youth' in this little old, in-the-middle-of-nowhere, town.

"Yep," I replied easily, plucking a stray strand of hair from behind my ear and starting to braid it out of boredom.

"Interesting…" The voice tapered off at the end of the word and finally my curiosity got the better of me and I turned to the sound of it.

When I turned to look at him he gave me a smile, wide, ear-splitting, and totally goofy. And it would have been sweet if it didn't look so out of place with the rest of his features. He had an angular face but they were sharp, like he hadn't quite grown into the bone structure. He had gorgeous blue eyes too, but the glasses he had on were atrocious and just detracted from their appeal; they sat funny on the bridge of his nose which didn't help, either. And his haircut was not doing his head any favors. The sides had been shaved down and maybe an inch of brownish-blonde hair tufted along the top. It was the most ridiculous thing I had seen in a while. And to top it off, he was wearing a baggy shirt that had a host of Final Fantasy characters printed across the front of it.

I gave him a forced smile — I know it was rude — and turned quickly back to staring into the half-open doorway that Rhonda had disappeared into. What a weird guy, I mused idly.

"Are my looks really so hot that you have to turn away before you succumb to mad passion in my mere presence?" he asked after a moment, his voice, far from angry, was teasing.

Then I felt bad and turned back to him, another half-mustered smile on my face. "No, of course not," a told him, apologetically. "Sorry, though."

"It's all good," he assured me, running a hand over his oddly shaven head as he added, "believe me, I know the look is far from flattering."

That caught me off guard, and I argued automatically, hating that this complete stranger already seemed to think of me as some shallow harlot. "What? Oh don't be ridiculous! I'm not—"

"—Shallow?" he interrupted, eyes raised so that one of his eyebrows quirked up at a harsh angle. "I never said you were."

"But — what?" I stammered, flustered as I regarded him wondering just who he was and what his deal was.

"I don't think you're shallow," he assured me lightly as I noticed Rhonda poke her way back out of the storage room with a case of Lime in hand that was headed for the coolers.

"Sure," I grumbled, hurrying to stand up. Rhonda would be back in a minute with my order and I was betting Erika was losing pretty badly to Ty right now and would probably be eager for the sweet narcotic that was her beer.

"Nah, you aren't," he hedged, accepting his own beer — an MGD, go figure — from Rhonda before she passed three long necks towards me. "You're just in awe of my greatness," he decided.

"Thanks, Rhonda," I grinned, accepting the bottles she handed off to me and ignoring the man at my left entirely. "Sorry to be such a pain about my tastes."

"Not an issue, dear," she assured me, wiping at a streak of dust that ran down the length of her cheek. "I should keep them up front; I know you drink them from time to time."

"It's no big deal, I don't drink them that much," I shrugged, popping the cap on my own beer and pinning the other two necks between my fingers to carry away.

"Wow, Rhonda," came the unfamiliar man's voice again. "You can get the girl to talk. She hardly said more than ten words to me the whole time you were gone. What's you're secret?"

"Oh Alden, you hush," Rhonda scolded playfully, batting him on the arm he had resting against the bar as he worried at his own beer. I guessed she knew him, despite my never having seen him around before.

He sighed at this and took a noisy drink of beer, gulping audibly as he wondered aloud, "Yeah, maybe she just doesn't like me," with a grin in the words.

And rather than let him think this, I assured him, "No — I just don't speak to heretics. Final Fantasy? It sucks," with a quick backward glance and then headed to the booth where my friends were waiting eagerly for the golden elixir I had to offer.

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Author's Ramblings: So, this is my latest shot of original writing. I'm still toying around a bit with names and locales and such, but this is a concept for what I'm hoping to eventually feed a publisher. Ah, the life of the aspiring author, ne? Rather -- oh the toils of a soon-to-be twisted romance.

Anyway, ConCrit and honest opinions are greatly appreciated and may tempt the muse to update more frequently than she has been. So please leave your name at the door, honest opinion intact, yes?

Danke!

L. Sherman