The Eyes of the Awakened

The stars of the black night stare down below
Sneering at a quietly broken man
Watching him slouch in defeat to the world
His shattered sword lay in pieces on the ground
As he rests with hollow eyes to the sky
Tranced breathing his only sounds, mouth agape 

His furtive eyes scan every single star
To whom does his misery owe its thanks?
The trees, stars, and stones all watch him in pairs
Even they can find partners in lifelessness
He treads alone, then, now, and forever
Ignoring all tales of the lies of love 

An unknown wind blows through his open sill
A rejuvenating scent murders the ache,
Fertilizing his lungs with faith and friendship
New beliefs scatter and connect his mind
An aged puzzle remade for his triumph
The world has robbed him, it’s time for revenge 

Spitting out the mournful pain that drowned him
He jumps up, retributive repercussions in mind
In place of his sword, he retrieves a pen
Paints his reality in truthful words
The emotion, beauty, and pain he shares
Now a landmark for the starlight, not a corpse

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Catastrophic Complacency

Andrew kissed his girlfriend before her front door.  He made a gentle fist with some of her hair in the back of her head with one hand and pulled her in by the hip with the other.  His hand glided up and down her side above her pelvis and found its way to the small of her back.  He continued to pull her closer and let his hand squeeze her rear. 

Melissa released her body into his grip and wrapped both arms around Andrew’s torso.  She used her hands to explore his taut backside.  Feeling his robust body made her throb inside.  Her breath grew heavy, so she withdrew one hand and started to massage the curves of his chest.  His panting aroused her – she felt like Andrew had a deep craving that only she had the recipe to suppress.  Each of them drew the other closer and closer and brushed their lips with exponential passion.  Both breathed restlessly through their noses.

“I want you,” he said, eager and breathless.

Andrew and Melissa were together for a five and a half months now and have been intimate with each other for five of those months.  They met online and things haven’t stopped going well since the first date.  Both in their mid-twenties, they were just starting to grow into a routine with each other around their hectic jobs, so they were growing very comfortable around each other.  They weren’t afraid to share secrets with one another and held a tight companionship.  Andrew told her that he loved her for the first time just two weeks earlier.

“Not tonight,” she said, embarassed.  She dropped her head and put a big smile on her face.  “My parents are home.”

“That hasn’t stopped us before.”

She laughed.  “Yeah, but we didn’t have to walk in while they were waiting for me any of those times.”  Melissa brushed her hair behind her ear and looked into his eyes.  “Listen, there’s something I need to tell you.”

Andrew thought Melissa a beautiful specimen, truly one of God’s masterpieces.  She was short at five foot three and her brown hair flowed with an irreplaceable sexual ambience.  Her blue eyes reminded him of his own and her tight behind blended well with her ample breasts and thin build.  She was very attractive physically, but even more impressive was the fact that she graduated college with honors as a physics major.  She worked in a professional lab helping her collegues operate neutron scattering studies of different materials.  Best of all, she was easy to get along with.  She often surprised Andrew by paying for meals, giving him tickets to new major league baseball parks (seeing all of them was always one of his dreams), and supporting him every time he made any kind of decision.  Andrew found her to be irresistible physically, intellectually, and emotionally.

“What’s up?” he asked, his body still tingling, shaking, and trembling with arousal.

Melissa sighed and diverted her eyes from his.  “I’m not really sure how to say it, but I don’t think this is working out.”

Andrew tilted his head in curiosity.  “What do you mean?”

“Andrew, I’m busy with work and I’ve been trying to get into graduate school and I really feel like I need some time to myself for a while.”  She said.  “I get panic attacks everyday and am always worried about what’s gonna happen.  I just don’t feel like I have room in my life for this right now.”

Andrew watched Melissa’s eyes circle around all of the space around him and never fully make contact with him as she spoke.  It was almost like he suddenly became a piece of furniture to her.  He observed her lips part and come together again, like she was kissing each word that came out of her mouth.  Her tongue licked her upper teeth and whipped back down and he imagined massaging his tongue with hers as he did all those other times before.  She scratched the back of her neck the same way she did when he first met her, when she acted shy and was flush red in the face speaking to him.

“You are right,” he said, very much to her surprise.  “We should stop seeing each other.”

Melissa’s jaw hung open and stood speechless as she tried to account for the miscaclulation.  “What do you mean?” she asked.  She found herself repeating his question.

“My being with you was always a sin under the eyes of God,” he said.  “When my eyes first came upon you, I knew that you were a transcendent creature; beautiful in the light of both sun and moon.  You were like the end of the universe, out of everyone’s reach, but always a thought to dwell and ponder upon.  How do I accomplish that which no man has ever achieved?  How can I fuel the rocket of my desire to have you, to hold you, to love you, and to tell the world about you?  How do I find the words to tell them that you’re even more spectacular up close and that you still manage to blush when you get a peck on the cheek, right on the corner of your lips?  Even your blushing tells me that the absolute best need to feel wanted and desired, like part of a set rather than isolated in superiority.  The star doesn’t make the Christmas tree, the Christmas tree makes the star and I’m your tree.”

Melissa watched him with wonder in her eyes.  She couldn’t believe any of what he had to say.  Did he really want to break up with her when he clearly felt so passionately about her?  Why did he agree with her decision?  Melissa memorized each and every word he said like they composed the best poem ever written – and it was written specially for her.  She finally found to courage to look up at him and his eyes drooled emotion all over her body.  She leaped forward, threw her arms around him, and gave him a big kiss in a way she never had before.

“I love you,” she said for the first time.  Then she let his arms consume her and continued to kiss him with renewed ardor.

Andrew inhaled the steam emanating from her body and succumbed to his addiction of her tobacco kiss.

Spring of Rejuvenation

Exan and company were traveling to the Spring of Rejuvenation.  According to fellow adventurers, the Spring bore the ability to restore men and women to the prime of their lives, when their strength, vigor, and confidence was high and they felt most immortal in lieu of their humanity.  Exan and his friends lost a battle to the Warlords of Wipson, where they were cast under a spell of accelerated aging.  He, along with Iyra, Bergg, and Caas were forced to flee because their now sixty-five year old muscles and minds couldn’t support the speeds of wartime fighting.

In order to get there, they needed to pass through the Dungeon of Agony, a seemingly endless labyrinth of caged souls eternally trying to squeeze through the world of the dead back into living beings.  It is said that their cries carry so much anguish that their sadness preys on every adventurers’ greatest fears and weaknesses.  The pain grows so heavy that many kill themselves or literally fall into the reaching grip of those that died, only to join them in wailing death.  The problems were that only a small handful of travelers around the globe actually survived the journey through the Dungeon into the Spring and those that did were viewed as cynical and crazy.  Thus, the Spring of Rejuvenation was only a myth, a distant afterthought in the minds of the curious.  Exan and his friends vowed to either regain their best abilities and reclaim their enslaved armies or to finish what the Warlords started.

There were only a few clouds in the sky and the autumn breeze cooled the company beneath what little armor they could wear.  They set out as soon as they escaped from battle in the open plains due east of Lansur’s Keep, their former stronghold.  After two hours of travel southeast, they nearly arrived at the Dungeon of Agony.  All that remained was to cross the forest surrounding it.

“Where exactly is this place?” Bergg asked.

Exan stopped the group in front of the tree line at the forest entrance.  “I don’t think anyone knows,” he said.  “Travelers have reported hearing despondent voices in their heads while traveling through this forest.  Maybe they’ve been the closest without actually going in or actively looking for it.”

Exan didn’t hesitate jumping into the forest.  Time was essential to the survival of the armies in Lansur, so the others followed behind him.  The dense trees mostly covered the bright sky above, so the forest had an eerie gloom to it.  One or two birds rustled between the branches high above, adding to the effect of spook.

As the company traversed the depths of the forest, Caas would occasionally swing around his backside thinking he heard something dangerous in the near distance.  And why shouldn’t he?  They were heading off to risk their shortened lives to get revenge on the Warlords for the spell they cast.  They were cheaters.  They couldn’t rely on their own strength to find victory.  Only magic.

But now they were the ones defeated.  They had to run away to survive.  They were just as cowardly as the Warlords.

“I think we’re near,” Caas said.  “I’m hearing strange thoughts in my head.”

Exan stopped.  “Imagine the expression on most travelers’ faces when they die from their own mental nightmare.”

The company came to a clearing in the forest.  The towers at the top of the Dungeon of Agony were in sight just over the trees there.  Exan moved forward cautiously and stopped in front of the dungeon’s entrance.  A zigzagging staircase, some two or three hundred steps in length, led to a gaping black doorway.

“Don’t believe anything you hear in there,” Iyra said.  She stepped forward and began walking up the stairs in twos.  Her company, weary from the aches of age and the tires of travel, ignored the exhaustion and followed her.  The large number of steps didn’t make the journey any easier on them, but they were at the top sooner than they anticipated.

“I just realized something,” Bergg said standing before the labyrinth’s foyer, a dark corridor lit by one torch on each wall.  “If we do find the Spring of Rejuvenation, that means we’ll have to travel back through these depths in order to return home.  That means more scary voices in our heads.”

“Yes,” Exan agreed, “but we’ll also have half our lives back, so overcoming them a second time should be easier with strength of mind.”

No one heard anything in the dungeon’s corridor.  The main path broke off on both sides into many rooms and chambers, but the company maintained the direct path without diverging into new and unknown dangers.  The dungeon was quiet.  After half an hour of walking, the main path came to an ornately carved closed doorway.  A single frieze was carved into the post and lintels, depicting kings in bejeweled thrones, knights standing victoriously in empty battlefields, and civilian workers helping each other along bustling markets.  The company looked to each other in confusion, but Exan placed his hand upon the golden doorknob and turned.

Like rolling thunder, the cries of the dead spilled beyond the door into the labyrinth’s main corridor.  Everyone covered their ears and fell to their knees and the door opened up the rest of the way on its own.  The dead were waiting in cages on both sides of the hallway on the other side.  Many hands and skeleton bones, covered in deathly brown cloths, reached out of the cages toward all of the companions.  Each face of the dead didn’t have eyes.  Their mouths dropped down to their chests and bellowed with revenge for the living.

“Maybe the fool before us should have left the door open as warning,” Caas shouted.  “Even the quiet creeped me out.”

The hall of death stretched so far they could only see a tiny square of darkness on the other side.  Iyra grabbed one of the torches along the wall and got in front of everyone.  “The longer we’re here,” she said, “the worse this will get.  Let’s move.”  She strutted forward into the deafening wails. 

The others didn’t want to abandon her, so they rushed out of the doorway.  As soon as they did, the flame of Iyra’s torch blew out, then vanished from her hand and reappeared behind the doorway.  Bergg, closest to the door, turned around to retrieve it, but the door slammed itself shut.  The glowing corpses around them lit the hall.  He swallowed and turned back toward his friends, who immediately resumed their pace onward.

Caas couldn’t resist looking to both sides of the hall out of both fear one of the hands might actualy reach him and pull him into death and lingering curiosity for what might deliver him.

“Best not to look at them,” Exan said.  “It could make things worse.”

Caas nodded quietly and wrapped his fingers around his sword for safety.  Though he knew it wouldn’t do him any good, it gave him a glimmer of safety.  He wanted to give himself comfort.  He was shivering from the howls all around him.

“It’s hard to imagine that people actually die like this,” Exan said.  “This place is ripe with emotions; yearning, lust, hate, lost loves.  Every one of these souls lost something important to them in their lives.  And because they only desire retribution, the gods banish them into this place.”

“And what better place than the citadel protecting a treasure to steal from death and evade the gods’ judgment?”  Iyra inquired.  “Not all of us lead happy lives.  There exist those of us who fall prey to inner demons.  Turmoil amongst the grace of the world.  It seems some people just have a hard time seeing through the black.”

“So, these are people who have died of suicide, homicide, and broken hearts?”  Bergg asked.

“The worst things you could imagine,” Iyra responded.

Caas wondered if things could have been worse than this.  He considered his loneliness.  What did he have in his life outside of the army?  A place to live in solitude where he could write his books undisturbed.  But that was it.  His family abandoned him by dumping him in the military to aid his maturity.  That was seven years ago and no one ever wrote him since.   Any friends he had all left him for the things he had to say.  He never knew the touch of a woman, not to mention how he was too afraid to say hello and approach one.  Who or what did he have in his life?  Only stories to fill the voids in his own life.

He was alone.  He was always alone.  Maybe he was just too afraid to admit it to himself.  Sure, he knew people from the army, but that security was fleeting.  He didn’t have anyone to open up to.  To share his immense pain with.  How could he survive if he didn’t have any support?  Who would help heal him?  Even worse, what woman would even bear this calamity of a man?

Caas scratched his gray beard and looked off toward the walls of the hallway again.  A bright white light emanated from each wall.  Behind the cages were kings, queens, and sterling silver knights.  Many had welcoming wings that kept them afloat and they all had orange halos above their heads.

Caas stopped and looked up in amazement.  The others saw the awe in his eyes and shouted his name.  They shook his body to wake him from his visions, but he began to walk toward the divine beings.  With newfound energy, he dodged his enemies grips and was pulled in by the hands of his new friends.  Friends.  That comforted him.

Caas’s body squeezed perfectly through the cage bars and he smiled up at his new family.  Just before the end, his eyes came clear and he saw what was really happening around him.  When is body was fully ensnared by the demons around him, he died.  In his final breath he screamed louder than any of the monsters around him.

Iyra, Exan, and Bergg all ran down the hallway now and stayed as close to the center of the path as they could.  Exan, in the front, held Iyra tightly in his left hand and Bergg just as tightly in his right.  All of them each heard their own voices in their head, same as Caas, but he was unaware they were communicating to each other what had been happening  to them.

So they ran and ran until the hallway turned toward the left, where even more of the dead waited around the bend.  After a much shorter amount of time, a white door waited  for them at the end of the hall and sunlight eked through the creasing of the doorway.  All three of them used their collective momentum and jumped for the door in one motion.  Surprisingly unchallenged, the company flew through the door easily and landed in the forest outside.  The door slowly closed itself because of the weakness in its hinges, but never locked.  A powerful stream of water flowed directly in front of them.

“Do we drink or do we swim?”  Bergg asked.

“It doesn’t matter,” Iyra responded desperately.  “Just jump in and do both.”

The company struggled to their feet and ran for the spring.  There was no current, so everyone dunked their bodies into the water and when they came up, they cupped their hands and drank until they felt uneasy inside.  They remained afloat for a time, but nothing happened.  Disappointed, they all returned to flat land and sat upon the ground.  All around, the dungeon’s walls encapsulated the section of forest they were in.

“This can’t be right,” Exan said.  “This has to be the Spring of Rejuvenation.  We’re still trapped in this nefarious dungeon!”  He jumped to his feet and held his fist in the air.

Just as he was about to curse the gods, Iyra stopped him.  “Look at your hand,” she exclaimed.

The gray hairs on Exan’s knuckles returned to a dark brown color.  Inside, he felt warm, like he just drank a fine liquer.  Slowly, his hair grew back to its previous length and strength returned to his jaw bones.  He suddenly felt like his voice could carry through the forest around the Dungeon of Agony.  He turned to Iyra, whose red hair regained its long, cascaded flow and Bergg returned to his former six foot four inch stature.  The company looked around.

“It doesn’t look like there’s any way out other than back in,” Bergg said.

Iyra emptied one of her canteens and filled it with spring water.  Bergg and Exan looked at her astonished.  “We’ll need this if we are going to fight the Warlords again.”  Agreeing with her point, they emptied a canteen of their own and filled it with spring water.

“Let’s head back,” Exan said.  “This should be easier with our youth restored, but let’s do the same as the way in and leave nothing to chance.  This time, just run through.”

Exan turned back toward the Dungeon of Agony.  Before he could open the door himself, it swung open.  Caas was standing before him, a walking corpse with holes in his skin and glowing yellow eyes.  Behind him stood an army of the dead, all released from their cages.  They stood tall and organized and were strikingly silent.

“The waters of life belong to the dead,” Caas said in a hollow voice.  He licked his purple lips.  “Return your preserves or suffer us.”

With their youth, magic, and minds restored, Iyra unsheathed her lance, Bergg readied his staff, and Exan drew his blade from his baldric.  The company was forced to decide between being cheated by death through the Warlords and cheating death themselves.

Journal of the Omitted Man

It was 10:30 on Saturday night and Carl was in the passenger seat of Aaron’s car, talking to him about some of the troubles he’d been experiencing.  It was dark outside, doubly so because of the intense overcast in the sky.  The black clouds viciously circled above, like snakes waiting for the opportune moment to strike their prey.

Carl was recently dumped by a girl in favor of another man.  Normally, he wouldn’t call his best friend for advice, but the number of times it was happening to him was starting to wear his confidence.  It wasn’t that simple, though.  Carl had a girlfriend once, briefly.  And she left him because he wasn’t serious in their relationship.  A few years prior to when he met her, Carl stumbled across some helpful self-improvement material to help his dating life.  He’s able to get three or four dates with many girls without issue now, but that’s about it.  After that, girls just grow bored of him.

He traced his fingers along the folds of his palm in Aaron’s car, listening to the thunder countdown the impending storm. 

“I’m tired of girls,” he said.  “Every girl I date strings me along with a fleeting sense of security when, in reality, every one of them is fantasizing about the other guy they’re seeing behind my back.”

“Girls aren’t easy,” Aaron agreed.  “But it’s no reason for you to get depressed because another girl didn’t like you.”

“No, it’s not, but I’m just losing faith, man.”  Carl looked up from his clammy fingers and wiped them on each leg of his jeans.  “Most of these girls think I have no idea about these other guys, even though their eyes reveal the shattering truth about how much of a regular guy I am to them.  These girls make their choice and all the other men they’re seeing are forgotten like smoke in the air.  I become the man these ‘better’ guys never were; alone, hopeless, grim, depressed.  Then multiply that feeling by every single girl you meet.  It wears on a man.

“And then these girls boast about seeing their men and how great they all are individually while me and all the other guys like me sit at home thinking about how another girl we liked lost attraction for us in favor of this prick we don’t even know, but hate everything about.  And when they boast, it’s about ordinary things like a funny joke or a nice restaurant they’re going to for dinner.  Ordinary things men like me are more than capable of and succeed at doing while we’re seeing these girls.

“It bothers me that girls can openly tell their dates that they’re seeing other men to spark competition and can choose among who she finds more attractive,” he continued.  “It bothers me that if a guy dated two or three girls, he’d have to keep it secret from all of them because if he was honest, every girl would just lose interest.  Plus, he’d just be labeled a player.  He’s not keeping his options open like she is, he’s just an untrustworthy player.  I’ve been on both ends of this.  And it’s only one of the many double standards I’ve experienced.

“Then there are the guys that were too nice to their girlfriends so the girls leave them for ‘alpha males’ that know how to make her loins tingle with desire.  Guys that only care about tomorrow night’s lay.  I’ve been the asshole.  I’ve been the nice guy.  Neither one seems to win out.  And I can’t be myself because the real me is too sensitive, boring, insecure, and lacks conversational depth – every quality girls, and everyone else on the planet, gets grossed out by.  That’s why none of them maintain attraction.  So what the fuck am I supposed to do?”

“What can you do man?” Aaron asked coolly.  “Just keep your head up and keep fighting.”

“I’ve been trying.”

“You haven’t been the same since Sandy left you,” Aaron said.  “Don’t try to word your way around it, but that’s what this is about.  You feel like you got lucky because you met one girl that liked you.  She was your first major fuckup.”

“You imply that there’ll be more.”

“Likely, yes.”

“I can’t handle more fuckups.  I’m just giving up hope man,” Carl said.  “Sandy and I were great together and I made the foolish mistake of not opening up my feelings to her.  Sure, it’s a mistake I’ll never make again, but fucking a.  Why couldn’t anyone just teach me more about relationships instead of just the goddamn pickup, which covers the span of dates I can hold a girl?  Or how to handle things better?  I can’t keep learning how to do things the hard way.  It just hurts too much.  What really bothers me, though, is that these girls that boast about their men are really cute.  The girls that do treat me that way aren’t as physically attractive, so why should I feel like I have to settle for less?  Men instinctively want good looks and I’m not about to surrender my masculinity when these other guys aren’t.”

“There’s more to it,” Aaron said. “We’re alone in my car in a Montclair parking garage.  You’re too afraid to go outside because the world has hurt you so many times.  That’s why you never go out.  You’re missing out on a ton of opportunities to meet new people.  That and you never chase your hobbies.  There are girls in every profession except browsing the fuckin’ internet by yourself on the weekends.”

“We’re 27,” Carl said.  “All around me for the past few years girls and guys our age have been getting married left and right.  Most are totally happy.  Most know what they want out of life and already built the foundation for it.  I’ve had one girlfriend and it lasted a few weeks.”

Carl was an attractive guy too.  He was tall, with blue eyes and always walked confidently with his shoulders back and chest out.  He certainly felt like he deserved more with good looks, a stable job, and his own apartment, but things never found his favor.  He grew angry with his age.  Resentful.  Worse yet, he knew he had to hide those feelings from everyone because then he’d just be viewed as misogynist or sexist.  How was he supposed to get a girl to even like him, let alone be attracted to him, when he was in so much pain? It kills him that he wakes up alone every morning while every girl he ever wanted to sleep with is off in bed with other guys.

“Sandy’s downside was that she was slutty,” Aaron said.  “Sluts move on fast and they don’t care about the wreckage they leave behind them. Sandy’s been with over twenty guys and she’s in her early twenties.  That’s like five or six guys a year if you consider when she lost her virginity.  Eventually her fickle attitude would have ended your relationship anyway.”

Carl knew that wasn’t true.  In his time with Sandy, he found that she was very aware of her past behaviors and was actively working on ending them.  That’s why they were even in a relationship to begin with.  He saw the very self-improvement process he was going through in her.  That’s why he always had faith in her.  “Does that mean she’ll never get married or find someone to love her?” he asked.

“It doesn’t matter right now.  She disappeared.  You need to find someone who will love you.”

“Maybe I already did,” Carl suggested.  Sandy said he loved him before he found the chance.  And then she dumped him the very next week.  It couldn’t be more obvious to him that she just grew sick of the jokes.  He looked out into the looming storm.  “I’m sick of Hollywood lies.  Every movie has a happy ending.  Every guy gets his girl and vice versa.  Everyone achieves their goals and accomplishments.  But what about those of us with harder lives and worse luck?  I’m not gonna live under their conceited fantasy.  People fuck up.  Mistakes are made.  In today’s short attention spanned society, we throw away what’s broken instead of fixing it.  And so that agony endures until time claims either it or you.

“Like you said, I do feel like I got lucky,” Carl said, “Sandy slept with me on the first date, from the rebound she never told me about.  And she kept coming back for more until she realized I was a pretty likable guy.  But is it true?  Did I really get lucky because she used me in lieu of what she concealed?  Am I truly unattractive to girls?”

Outside the parking garage, the first sheets of intense rain began to fall and pummel the ground below.  Carl stared at it derisively through his eyebrows, then turned back to Aaron who continued his effort to soothe his friend’s struggles.

The Man at the Bar

Amanda sat alone in the middle of the bar wearing her brand new summer dress and black high heels.  She was waiting for her two closest friends to show up so they could all go dancing together.  She spent her time drinking little sips of her SoCo and Lime and distracting herself on her cell phone to avoid catching the intrigue of too many men.  Still, as pretty as she was, a few of the younger guys still found the courage to work some polished pickup line on her.  It was only 9:30 and she was already approached five times by guys who couldn’t hold their own, even in conversation with her.  She admired their courage, but that’s about it.

Amanda was in her early twenties, so most of the men in the bar noticed her when she came walking in by herself.  The few that actually did find something to say visibly drooled themselves over the blessing that they were actually given the opportunity to speak to such a beautiful girl.  But, having heard all of it before, she read through their rehearsed lines and chewed them up with some verbal sparring.  Who were these cocky milquetoasts?

When her friends arrived, they immediately grabbed a drink and all three of them jumped to the dance floor.  As the night aged, the music got louder and the bodies drew closer.  Many of those in the bar had already found their champion for trophy sex.  Some of the guys who didn’t have a partner just circled around recycling the same opener on every girl in the bar, including Amanda and her friends even though they were in a group.

As the girls danced and their bodies glistened with sweat, Amanda noticed a different kind of man at the bar.  He was just a young as her, maybe a year or two older, but something about his countenance was different than the other boys.  He sat alone in front of the bar, a white woven shirt unbuttoned at the top two buttons and the sleeves were rolled up to his forearms.  He sat back patiently in his chair, looking around coolly and calmly with controlled movements.  He was slow and nonthreatening.  And definitely more confident than the others.  He caught a glimpse of Amanda and her friends, but she immediately turned away to avoid the fact she was staring at the stranger.

When the girls’ drinks ran low, Amanda offered to head to the bar for refiills.  When she squeezed through the inconsiderate, twisting bodies, she leaned her elbows on the bar and stood expectant.  She looked to her left and saw the man in the white shirt.  He smiled at her when she noticed him, but she immediately turned away again in nervousness.

He stood up and slowly approached her.  He took the empty seat right next to her and when she saw him – only out of the corner of her eye for fear of being too direct – he greeted her with a casual, “Whaddup?”  Amanda cracked a smile at his charm.  She turned toward him.  Even though he was right next to her, he still just leaned back coolly in his chair and gave her a friendly smile.  There was something different about him.  He hadn’t offered her a drink like all the other men that approached her that night, expecting to impress her with a monetary investment.  He wasn’t hanging over her, acting loud and obnoxious, or doing anything that came across as unnatural or uncomfortable for either of them.

Before Amanda could say a word, he inspected her thoroughly from head to toe and said, “I haven’t been here long, but I can already tell a few guys have already spilled some beer all over you given the stains on your dress, but I just wanted to see what you were like.”  Amanda looked at him for a moment, his sly smile left her guessing what he was really trying to say to her.  Then, unlike the boys who were too smitten to look at her face, she noticed that he locked eyes with her.