This story begins with a bar, a few drinks, two best friends, and one jerk of an ex-boyfriend.

And like in many stories that begin with bars, I wasn't looking my best. Only this time it had nothing to do with alcohol.

"Ehhhhh," I wailed unattractively into my best friend Whitney's shoulder. I knew that she had winced, but it was a testament to Whitney's love for me that she did not draw away, even if my tears and who knows what else was dripping on her dress. "I just don't, ehhhh, I just don't understand."

I felt Whitney pat my head awkwardly. She was never good with this stuff. Gorgeous? Yes. Classy? Always. But be comforting? Never learned how to do it.

"There, there," she said, patting my head some more. She removed the napkin from underneath the apple martini she was drinking—no doubt bought by some poor chap that she had ditched once he had turned his head—and handed it to me. It was slightly wet from the glass, but I blew my nose on it nonetheless.

I could see my other friend Michael give me a look from across the table.

"Really, Kayla," he said, frowning. "You are looking very unattractive right now."

Okay, so neither of my two best friends was good at this comforting people stuff, but I could only let out another loud wail in response.

"Yeah, you don't look that great, girl," some random guy walking by slurred to me, already wasted at 11pm at night. He leaned on our table for support. I recognized him from my psychology class from a year ago. He was the one that had always shown up five minutes late to class every day.

"Hey!" Michael snapped at him in disgust. "Don't talk to her like that. Only I get to talk to her like that. She looks better with snot dripping down her face than you look at your best day, okay?"

Random guy muttered something incoherent, attempted to make an indignant glare at Michael but only succeeded in looking drunk, and limped on, no doubt to hit on some poor girl at the end of the bar.

"Thanks," I told Michael, dabbing the corners of my eyes with my napkin. "I know I'm not looking very attractive though."

"Which is ridiculous, because you are effing gorgeous," Michael said. He looked very attractive. A black vest over a V-neck shirt and jeans that I knew he had just bought the day before. But Michael always looked very nice. His style of dress and his manner of talking had prompted many people to ask me whether or not he was gay. But even though I had known him since freshman year of college, I could not say for sure. Michael's sexuality was something we never really discussed. It didn't matter to me, but I figured that he would tell me if he wanted to.

"I'm not," I sobbed, rubbing my eyes and blowing my nose once more. "Whitney's the pretty one."

Michael frowned and handed me the napkin under his drink too, because the one in my hand needed to be thrown away at this point. "Don't be ridiculous, Kayla," he said. He always used my name when he thought I was being unreasonable. "You can have any guy here that you want."

"But, but," I wailed. "I don't want anybody here. I just want, just want, I just want Ja-Jake." And the mere mention of that name made me dissolve into a fresh round of tears.

Whitney glared at Michael, who looked helpless. "What?" he mouthed to her, and she only shook her head at him in response.

"He's a jerk," she said to me. "He doesn't know what he's missing."

"Um, no," I told her flatly. My nose was all stuffed and I knew that I sounded ridiculous. Plus my eyes were swollen and red. "He dumped me to be with his ex-girlfriend. I'm pretty sure he's missing nothing." I wiped away a few more tears.

"She's probably a tramp," Whitney said, rolling her eyes. At that exact moment, the guy from the table next to us who had been eyeing her for the past hour made his move and walked over to our table.

"Hey pretty lady," he said to Whitney, leaning down so that his forearms rested on the table. "How 'bout you and me—

"Are you kidding me?" Whitney raised her hand to silence the man. She gave him a disdainful look of disbelief. "I'm trying to comfort my friend right now. And 'Hey pretty lady?' Hit on me when you have a better line."

The man looked at a loss for words, but he slinked away after a split second of shock.

"Anyways," said Whitney, whipping her hair over her shoulder as she turned back towards me. "I was saying that—

"Oh shit!" I jumped out of my seat. At that moment, I could not possibly hear what Whitney was saying, because at that moment, Jake Peterson had just walked into the bar. "Shit, shit, shit!" I said, scrambling to get under the table.

Before I could do that though, Michael grabbed my arm and pulled me up.

"Are you kidding me right now?" he hissed at me as he plopped me back into my chair, but I only wanted to shrivel up and disappear. "Were you seriously going to crawl under this table?"

"He's not even that attractive," Whitney added, twisting her head to look at Jake.

"Don't look, don't look!" I hissed, blocking my face with my palm. "Shit, does he see me?"

"Uh, no," Whitney replied. "We're in the middle of a really crowded bar. Kayla, can you please calm down?"

But I couldn't.

"I can see him!" I protested. "Crap, I look like crap. I don't want him to see me. I'm all gross and stuff. And he looks nice. And plus he just dumped me. For his ex-girlfriend. His ex-girlfriend!" I had to stop because my nose was getting all stuffed up again.

"He does not look nice," Whitney said, but I still bent my head a little lower so that Jake was less likely to see me. He might not be as handsome as the guys that Whitney dates tend to be, but he was the most gorgeous guy in the world to me. He had dimples when he smiled.

The thought of Jake Peterson's dimples brought me to tears again. I felt unbelievably pathetic, which, judging by the look that Michael was giving me, was no doubt what he was thinking.

"I look bad, don't I?" I asked him. Michael's face contorted into that look he always gave me when he did not want to answer a question directly, and I knew that I must look terrible.

"I don't want him to see me like this," I said, or more accurately, sobbed.

I saw Whitney and Michael exchange a look with one another. Then, Whitney patted my back gently.

"Come on," she told me. "I'll take you to the restroom. We'll fix your makeup."

And because the restroom was a way to avoid Jake, I practically jumped up to follow her. We squeezed our way through the crowd and finally to the ladies' room.

Surprisingly, there was no line for once. Bar Nine was usually pretty crowded on Friday nights, but everyone must be so busy mingling out at the bar that the bathroom was still relatively vacant.

Whitney dragged me over to the sink. I was right. I did look terrible. Mascara was running down my face, and my hair was all messed up.

I pulled my skirt down a little bit. When we started the night, I must have looked somewhat attractive. Whitney had lent me her outfits. A shimmery blue tank top and a tight, figure hugging black skirt that I had paired with my favorite pair of heels. She was a bit taller than me, but that was fine with me, because that meant the skirt fell a little longer on me than it usually did on her.

We had meant to go out so I could forget about Jake for a night. It was August, and Midtown was filled with people. The plan had succeeded until two of my other friends that had come with us, Carla and Tiffany, got a little sick from too much pre-gaming and had to go back. And then we ran into a burger place that Jake had taken me to on one of our very first dates, and it was all downhill from there.

I washed my face as Whitney reapplied her lipstick. She was unbelievably gorgeous. When Whitney went out, it was simply not fair to the other girls.

"I'm sorry," I mumbled as I wiped my face on a paper towel. It felt horribly rough against my skin, but when I was done, I at least didn't look like a raccoon. My eyes were still a bit puffy though.

Whitney looked at me, raising her eyebrows in surprise. "For what?" she asked.

"You could be out there getting hit on by all these guys, and instead you're listening to me wail about my ex-boyfriend. Who I know you never really liked," I told her.

She shrugged, not even denying that last part, and smiled briefly at me. "Eh, most of those guys out there aren't that cute anyways." She said.

"What about Gum Chewing Guy?" I asked. We had given all these nicknames to guys we saw sometimes at the bars that we went to the most. Gum Chewing Guy often came to Bar Nine, and he had an impeccable jaw line.

"Too drunk," Whitney shrugged, and I couldn't help but chuckle at her nonchalant manner. We had been assigned as roommates our freshman year, and while we had been an unlikely pair, it had worked. But in all the three years that I've known her, I have never known Whitney to be genuinely interested in someone for more than a week.

"Thin Tie Guy?" I tried again.

"He goes to Anvil, not Bar Nine," Whitney said. "Come on, Kayla. Get your random guys that we make up nicknames for straight."

I laughed. "Okay, what about One Hand in His Pocket Guy?"

"Oh, he's here tonight," Whitney said, now reapplying her mascara. "Not too drunk either. But in the two times that we've seen him here, he's never really been too interested in talking to people though, has he?"

She was right. There was a particularly attractive guy who always had one hand hooked into the pocket of his jeans, and he always seemed to be more interested in drinking his beer and watching people mingle around than he was in actually hitting on any girls. He usually came with a friend, though, but that friend always left pretty early on to hit on girls.

I reapplied my eye makeup as Whitney put her tube of mascara back in the purse. She turned to me again.

"Why are you so beat up on Jake anyways?" she asked. "What was so special about him anyways?"

"Dimples," I murmured almost instinctively. I could see Whitney give me a look out of the corners of her eyes. She thought I was ridiculous, because Jake Peterson was definitely not her type, but I had been in love with this guy. "We just got along so well, you know?"

Whitney sighed. "Hey, you know what you need?" she suddenly brightened up and asked me.

I frowned. "What?"

"The N.A.H.G," she replied matter-of-factly.

"The what?" I stared at her.

"The N.A.H.G," she repeated.

"The what? The nag? Nog? Is this some crazy new diet fad that's been going around, because you know I don't believe in those—

"No," Whitney shook her head impatiently. "The next available hot guy."

I stared at her in disbelief. There was a brief moment of silence during which we could hear the music blasting from the bar.

"Did you…did you just make up an acronym for that?" I asked her, incredulous.

"So what if I did?" Whitney gave me a mischievous smile. "That's what you need. Come on, let's go before Michael gets too worried."

As she ushered me out of the bathroom, I replied, "I don't need a nag, or naug, or whatever you call it. That's ridiculous."

"It's a rebound," Whitney said as we made our way back to our old table and sat down again. Jake was nowhere to be seen now, but I still whipped my head around, searching for him.

"At the bar," Michael replied, rolling his eyes. And there indeed, was Jake. His back was facing us and he was ordering a drink from the bartender.

"Stop looking," Michael said, snapping my attention back to the table. "Also, what's a rebound?"

"The next available hot guy," Whitney explained. "That's what Kayla needs right now."

"No I don't," I protested. But Michael didn't seem to hear that. In fact, his eyes positively brightened at what Whitney had just said.

"That's…" he began.

"Ridiculous? Preposterous? Unnecessary?" I filled in the blanks, glaring at my two friends.

"Brilliant!" Michael finished, and I had to roll my eyes. "Single though. The next available single hot guy. Because we all know what happened when Whitney made out with that guy who turned out to be not so single." He gave Whitney a look.

"Yeah, what a sleaze ball," Whitney rolled her eyes. "If you have a girlfriend, don't hit on some other girl! It's not that hard, people."

Michael chuckled, but he quickly turned to look at me again. "But seriously, and as much as it pains me to say this, Whitney's right."

Whitney rolled her eyes, but now I thought they both were crazy.

"I don't need a rebound," I said, frowning at both of them. "Since when was that a good idea?"

"It helps you get over a guy," Whitney said.

"No it doesn't!" I replied. "It only leads to complications, and problems, and things that you'd rather not remember. Plus where am I supposed to get a rebound anyways?"

"Uh…I could think of a lot of potential candidates," Michael butt in.

"Yeah," Whitney was equally enthusiastic. "Lots of people at school. Like Paul Sheller."

"Nathan Wellington," Michael added.

"Evan Hendricks."

"Kevin Hanson."

"Luke Sullivan."

"Or his brother Lance."

"Or you can just go for One Hand in His Pocket Guy," Whitney concluded, pointing to the bar.

Following her finger, I saw said guy sitting at the bar, drinking a bottle of beer. His friend was trying to chat up the girl around the corner, and was rather unsuccessful at that, but One Hand in His Pocket Guy was simply glancing at them, looking amused.

He was pretty handsome, I couldn't deny that part. He was looking casually around the room. Whitney was right. I had seen him twice here at Bar Nine before, but both times, he had never seemed to be much for mingling around with the ladies.

Suddenly, his gaze fell on me, and I quickly turned away so that my back was facing him again. I fought down a blush at having been caught staring, and glared at my friends instead.

"Okay, all of those guys you just listed are either friends, or classmates, or random guys at bars that I don't even know," I hissed as I jerked my thumb at One Hand in His Pocket Guy.

Whitney tapped my arm lightly so that my hand fell as she leaned over. "I think he's still looking at you, she told me. My back was to the guy, but Whitney could still see him in her peripheral vision. I fought down another blush. Oh no, what if that guy thought I was interested or something?

I could see a smile form on Whitney's face. "Hey, he is still looking at you!" she exclaimed excitedly. "Dude, Kayla, I think he's interested."

"I doubt it," I muttered. "Plus, even if he's interested in someone this way, it's probably you."

Whitney rolled her eyes. "Don't be ridiculous," she said. "You should totally make out with him."

"Whitney!" I glared at her. "Stop it with all these crazy ideas."

"You should," Michael added. "And I think he is still looking your way. Wait, wait. I think he's walking over here!"

I dug my nails into my forearms. I doubted that he was walking over here, doubted that he was interested, but still, I felt a slight bit of nervousness.

"Remember, next available hot guy," Whitney repeated to me. "Next available hot guy."

I opened my mouth to retort at her, but the next thing I knew, I felt a tap on my shoulder. Turning to look, I saw One Hand in His Pocket guy standing behind me. He was wearing a white button down and dark jeans that fitted his frame quite nicely. He smiled down at me.

"Hey," he said, and I was surprised to hear that he sounded a little nervous. "Would you like a drink? Or want to grab one with me?"

Not the smoothest of lines, but somehow the slight uncertainty in his voice made it somewhat appealing. Still, I was in no mood to drink.

"Actually, I—

"Would love to!" Whitney practically shouted from behind me. I turned around to give her a glare, but she wasn't even looking at me. Instead, she was smiling at the guy. "She would love to."

And then she practically pushed me off my chair until I was standing up.

I looked at the guy. He gave me another smile that seemed to hint at a mixture of nervousness and eagerness, and I sighed. I wasn't going to make out with him, but how much could one drink hurt, really?

As I let him lead me towards the bar, I turned around and glared at Whitney and Michael once more. Whitney, however, only smiled and mouthed something to me. At first, I couldn't catch it, but when I did, I realized that she was mouthing the letters N.A.H.G. It made me even more annoyed. How had she made an acronym out of that stupid phrase?

"What do you want?" the guy asked me as we got to the bar and the bartender walked up to us.

"Uh…Long Island, please?" I told the bartender. I wasn't really here to drink, but one drink wouldn't be too bad. I knew I could handle my alcohol.

The bartender nodded at me and turned towards the guy.

"Rum and coke," the guy said. He then turned towards me. "I'm Nick, by the way."

"Kayla," I said over the music. "Nice to meet you."

"Likewise," Nick said. He then leaned toward me slightly just so I could hear him more easily above the roar of the music. "I saw you earlier tonight. You looked a bit down."

I was surprised that he had noticed me earlier. I had not noticed him. But then again, that was probably because I had spent most of the earlier part of the night sobbing. A bit down was an understatement.

I sighed. If this guy was trying to hit on me, then I might as well just let him have it and drive him away. I didn't feel like being hit on anyways. I really just felt like being sad and pathetic over Jake, who had dumped me for his ex-girlfriend from over a year ago. I could practically hear Whitney's words of disapproval at me and see the scowl on Michael's face, but I plunged on anyways.

"Well Nick," I began, "the truth is that I—"

I paused, because suddenly I saw Jake at the other side of the bar. He was leaning on the bar, his forearms propped against the glass, and he was whispering in the ear of another girl that I recognized from old pictures. Although I had never met her myself, I knew that it was his ex-girlfriend.

"The truth is that, what?" Nick asked me. I knew that he was waiting for me to finish the sentence, but at that moment, I simply couldn't tell him about being dumped and hung up on my ex-boyfriend. I felt like my heart had shattered into another million little pieces.

Then, Jake raised his head just slightly and caught my eye. He seemed momentarily shocked to see me there, but I couldn't hold the gaze for more than just that split second.

I gasped and turned away. I was facing Nick again, and I could feel the tears prickling at my eyes, threatening to break through. And suddenly, I felt just a little bit crazy.

"Hey," I said, talking louder now, just to make sure that Nick could hear me. "Do you want to make out?"

Nick looked at me, caught off guard. He seemed like he thought he had heard me wrong, so I repeated my words.

"Do you want to make out?" I asked again.

Still, he didn't reply but only looked at me, that surprised expression still on his face. He was indeed very attractive, even if he did look like a deer caught in headlights at this moment.

So instead, I leaned forward, stood on my tiptoes, and pressed my lips against his.

I could practically hear Michael and Whitney's jaws drop in disbelief. Despite pushing me to go make out with someone, they had never expected that me, the safe, predictable Kayla Williams, could actually do something like this.

But now that I was kissing a random stranger that I had met at a bar, I wondered if it was a good idea. He wasn't responding and must still be surprised at how forward I was. I wondered briefly if Jake was watching.

Just when I was starting to feel dumb for doing it, I felt myself lose my balance a little bit. I put my hand on Nick's arm for support and felt his arm move. Swiftly, deftly, he slipped his arms around my waist and leaned in to respond to the kiss.

His mouth parted just ever so slightly and I felt his lips catch my bottom lip. His tongue darted out to trace to my lower lip and I gasped a little in surprise, opening my mouth just a bit more for him to kiss me even deeper. The kiss was slow and sensual and unbelievable. Man, this guy was good.

He pressed his palm against the small of my back to draw me in closer until I was flush against his chest. I could feel the contour of his body and I could feel that underneath his shirt, it was all muscle. I wrapped my arms around his neck as he pressed us back against the table of the bar, so that his arm was sandwiched between my back and the table.

He leaned a little deeper into the kiss, and I felt my knees go weak as he nibbled on my lower lip. His hands moved against the small of my back in a gentle, circular motion and I couldn't help but lean into the hunger for more of that kiss from him.

"Okay!" Whitney's voice suddenly pierced that haze that was clouding my mind and we broke apart. I looked at Nick. Both of us were breathing pretty hard. He looked slightly dazed at what had just happened, and I certainly felt dazed.

"Well, it was really nice to meet you, but we've got to go now," Whitney said chirpily, clasping her hand on my forearm. "Come on, Kayla!"

And with that, she promptly dragged me out of the bar with Michael tailing along before I could say another word. The last thing I saw was Nick's look of confusion as Whitney tugged me away from him.

Once we got outside, Whitney started hailing for a taxi.

"What was that?" I asked her. "Why'd you stop me?"

She looked at me in disbelief, and then she laughed. "Oh my gosh, you wanted to keep kissing him, didn't you? You crazy girl, I knew you had it in you!" She gave me a thump on the back in encouragement.

I was confused.

"Wait," I said. "Then why'd you guys drag me away?" I turned to look at Michael, because Whitney had finally hailed down a cab and was opening backseat door.

"We thought you needed to be rescued from some sleaze ball who had his tongue down your throat," Michael said with a chuckle. "Who knew you were actually enjoying it?"

"Well I wasn't," I replied, getting into the car. "I mean, I was. But it wasn't like the type of enjoyment you get out of kissing someone you're in love with, you know? It was the type of enjoyment you get from kissing a really good kisser."

"So he's a really good kisser?" Whitney gave me a sly smile. "You gonna go for future make out sessions with this guy?"

"School's starting next week, Whitney," I rolled my eyes as I buckled my seatbelt and the taxi drove off. "We won't have time for bars. So I doubt I'd see him again."

But boy was I wrong.


/ I've had the idea in my head for this story for quite some time now. It's a different crowd and age group than Bollinger, but I thought it would be fun to write this too. Let me know what you think! Meanwhile, I'll be writing this story and Bollinger in parallel.