“Hey, baby, you here alone?”
Her runaway thoughts evaporated and she looked up to a man holding a beer bottle. He didn’t ask before dropping into the seat across from her. Far from her usual type, the mid- to late- twenty-something man wasn’t bad-looking. He stood at about six feet tall with slicked back hair and a grin that ate up half his face. His smug vibe betrayed him as the type to finesse and smooth talk.
“I’m here with a friend. He’ll be back any minute.”
“Shit, hope I’m not in his seat. He won’t mind if I join y’all, would he? Name’s Chuck,” he said casually. He invaded more space, folding his elbows onto the table with his bottle in hand. “Between me and you, I’m waiting on someone. First date.”
“That sounds nice,” she humored. “But my friend and I were leaving soon, so you should probably find someone else to wait it out with.”
“I don’t mind if y’all leave. Hell, this booth’ll be ours if you do. I come here all the time, but I’ve never seen you here. You new in town?”
“I’m passing through. I’m headed home for winter break.” The beer stirred a candor out of her that made her flinch upon second thought. She doubled down on keeping her next replies ambiguous.
“Ahhh, a college gal. I thought you looked young. Where do you go? Graduated from Tennessee U myself.”
“I don’t think it matters, does it?” She gave him her best polite smile.
“You’re right. It’s none of my business. Just saw a pretty girl sitting by herself and figured I’d come over to say hi.”
“And your date?”
“Alright,” he said, holding up his hands and chuckling. “You caught me. There is no date. That was a pick-up line. Pretty good, eh?”
“It’s better than what’s your sign. But it’s still a fail. And I was serious about my friend. He’s coming back.”
“You’re spoken for. I get it. I can take a hint. Figured I’d shoot my shot. It can never hurt,” he said, leaning forward. “How about I buy you a drink? That one’s almost done for.”
“What’s going on?”
Mariah and Chuck looked up to find Mason standing in front of the booth. His face rivaled stone, the opposite of Chuck’s broad grin.
“Guess this is the friend. I’m Chuck.” The tall man held out his hand and chuckled. “I was just telling your gorgeous lady friend here that I ought to buy y’all a round of drinks. What’s your poison?”
“You’re in my seat,” snapped Mason.
Chuck’s eyes darted from Mason to Mariah and back again. His grin widened. “Buddy, I come in peace. I’m just tryna enjoy my night. Mingle and make some friends. Swear I was only coming by to say hello—”
“Nobody asked you to. Get outta my seat and go. Now.”