Casper came into the pub about ten minutes but stayed at the bar in conversation with strangers rather than join me. I don’t mind, I’d rather be alone and I must look sulky hunched over in the corner. I’m feeling better than I’ve felt all week, in a weird kind of way. At least I feel something’s been resolved. However I feel about what I’ve done, at least it is done now. It’s a fact not a decision. I can accept it and move on, I mean, it’s not like I can change anything anyway.
Right now Casper’s chatting up some girl. I’m not sure why. She’s average, okay, admittedly she’s not ugly but she’s still dull. I guess she could be pretty in a traditional, quite nice at the time though quickly forgettable kind of way. He starts walking towards me and the girl turns to follow. Seeing her face properly now, I realise I recognise her. It seems Clay is having more luck with the one I tried to kiss earlier. The first female ever to resist me. When I kiss a girl, she kisses me back. That’s how it works. Except this time it didn’t. And if Clay finds that out, I am so stuffed. He’ll tell Vinn and then playful teasing will get spiteful. Unfortunately Vinn doesn’t have another face for me to break.
I make a promise to myself not to talk to her. She seems sober enough so my hope she won’t recognise me is slim indeed. Looking at her, I can’t understand why she slapped me. I can get way hotter girls than that. Better lookers than her are all over me but she isn’t even flattered when I actually pay her attention.
Her expression haughty, she sits near me without looking at me. Everything she does appears deliberate. Perhaps it’s my imagination and she isn’t actually thinking about the tilt of her head. Maybe the movement of her eyebrows isn’t calculated. There is, I admit, the possibility that her hands fell on her lap, clasped and demure, by mere chance.
Clay stands next to her, it’s a busy night and there aren’t as many stools as people at the bar. Clay’s being a gentleman. Even if I could be bothered with all that, I’m not sure how long I could stay on two feet anyway. The beer’s taking its toll.
“Hey, Roebai, this is Anna,” Casper says, sensing the awkwardness though not understanding it. I grunt in response. She looks at me for the first time. Fine, I confess I was a tiny bit impressed by that glare. It’s nothing on my famous Roebai scowl but it wasn’t bad either. Clay looked thoroughly confused. I’m only too glad when Anna opens her mouth to speak, I don’t want to have to explain this situation to him when it means telling Clay I got rejected.
“Yeah, I already know your friend better than I want.” She can’t be telling the truth. I might not be Prince Charming but I am such a good kisser.
“Is that right?” I say, raising an eyebrow pointedly, “You know, I think you’re just playing hard to get.” For a moment she doesn’t reply. Instead she stares at me casually, without words screaming that she doesn’t care.
“I’m not even going to acknowledge that suggestion with a response.”
“Saying you’re not responding is still responding. Not responding would be shutting your little gob and believe me I really wouldn’t mind that in the least.” She looks at me like I’d said something incredibly stupid which is funny when she’s the one being dumb. The fact she rejected me is bothering me less and less. When I called her average looking, I was being remarkably generous. Watching her pout she strikes me as being particularly ugly. So now the girl who I thought to be alright though unremarkable has sunk even lower in my estimation.
While we were sat, ignoring each other aside from a few glances, something happened. Before I knew what, people were noticeably gathering in clusters around the room. These clusters, as they grew larger, were merging until everyone was swept into one great, shapeless blob of people.
My head is fuzzy from the drink. Why now? I can't run. I have to. Have I left it too late? Once the panic kicks in properly, there won't be an escape. Cursing that “one more” beer, I try to find a way onto my feet. Up but unsteady, I wish I'd stayed alert.
Must get out. Gas. Main door: blocked. Window: too small. Move quicker. Crowds gathering. Moving. Back door now blocked. In a series of still images I’m processing the events either past or present, I’m not sure which.
Through the ever thickening haze, I can see Anna spluttering and feeling for her surroundings. I run towards the girl who’s so quickly gone from the proud, aloof Anna I so hated to this vulnerable, frightened child I can’t abandon. I grab her hand and pull her out the crowds. Dragging her over to the bar, I lift her up and over it then follow myself. Ducking so I can’t be seen from the main room, (I don’t want the crowd pressing in) I gesture for Anna to do the same. I lead her out into the kitchen, certain I’ll find a fire door. A smaller crowd has already had that bright idea but the crush is at its most passable here.
The other people are two slow. They’re stood around making obstacles of themselves whilst achieving absolutely nothing. I don’t know what this gas is but I don’t want to stick around and find out so I shove anyone who gets in my way aside. At last I pull Anna through the door and into the fresh air. Fresh ish. There’s more gas. More chaos. Not being in a confined space neither of these are nearly so intense.
“We need to get out of here. I think we should try to find some place to stay on the outskirts of the city. It should be safe there but it’s not too far to try to navigate through all these people.” When she spoke, I was stunned at the transformation. Her voice was totally different, it was a kid who squeaked back, terrified.
“What happened? I don’t understand any of this. And I don’t know my way around. Stay close, I’m scared the crowds are going to separate us and then I’ll be lost.” Her eyes were big and searching. I didn’t want to but I felt sorry for her.
“Hold my hand. Then we can’t get pushed apart.” I offered my hand. She accepted it, hesitating only briefly. I was tempted to put my arm round her to keep her closer and steer her as well as for warmth. I decided against it in case she interpreted it the wrong way and did something stupid.
“We’re not going to get back to the camp tonight. If we find a cheap hostel, do you have any money on you?” As it happened she had rather a lot of money on her. I knew better than to ask questions.
It was so late once we reached the hostel that I considered saving the money and staying up for the last few hours before dawn. I would have done if it wasn’t for Anna. She looked exhausted and was hardly dressed to be outside at night. Besides which, the streets were buzzing with a whole mix of shaken up people. Some were angry, they seemed to know what was happening, others were the drunk kind of angry, some were caught up in the chaos and acting crazy others were just plain scared. It wasn’t a pleasant atmosphere.
In the end I had to go to the bathroom. I puked until there was nothing more to bring up and then went to bed in a vain effort to lessen tomorrow’s hangover. I can’t sleep, I have to sit up or I’ll choke on my on my own insides.