Esse Quam Videri Part 2

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It's amazing how many thoughts can go through your mind in a matter of milliseconds. From the time Jeff first spotted Ellen to the time his legs kicked into overdrive and propelled him around the nearest corridor, no more than 1.3 seconds elapsed. And yet, in that time, Jeff entertained the following questions, in no particular order: What is she doing here? Is she looking for me? Why is she looking for me? What if she's not here for me and is on a date? Why is God punishing me? Is there a nearby speeding train I can hurl myself either in front of or under?

Before Jeff can ponder the answer to any of the above questions, he finds himself standing in front of the washrooms, safely out of sight, but seriously out of breath. Ashley, Niko and Louie soon join him. Ashley eyes him up down. "You aren't hiding from her, are you?"

"Absolutely not. I'm simply pondering the best course of action."

"You're going to sneak out."

"Out the nearest open window."

For all their ridiculously self-absorbed tendencies, Louie and Niko are still able to step up for a buddy in a crisis situation. One look into Jeff's wide, panicked eyes was all they needed to spring into action. One advantage of being bar regulars is knowing the floorplan by heart. This is not the first time a surprise visitor triggered an emergency evacuation. In fact, for Niko, this happens at a greater frequency than Margarita Monday's. They both quickly bolt for the door to the back entrance. Within seconds Niko returns shaking his head.

"No open windows, the back door is chained. We're going to have to get you out the front door," Niko concludes.

"We're going to need a diversion," Jeff says.

Whether they were genuinely considering other options, or just going through the motions, it wasn't long before the guys all came to the same conclusion. They all stand there with their gazes fixed on Ashley. She immediately shakes her head repeatedly in protest.

"No. No. No. I don't even know her. What would I do?"

A few seconds of silence elapse before Niko offers a solution. "Hit on her."

Louie is immediately on board. "Ooooh, yeah!" As his words hang in the air, it is clear the response blew well past "enthusiastic support" and crossed into "unhealthy perversion."

Not surprisingly, the plan did not have unanimous buy-in. "I'm not going to hit on her!"

It is only moments before Ellen will discover their presence and they don't have the luxury of time to continue this debate. One can only guess that's what Niko tells himself to justify what he's about to do next. "Well, you better think of something," he says as he shoves Ashley out into the main bar area and blocks her path to return to the safety of the washroom corridor. Ashley shoots Niko the female death glare that often reduces men to grovelling masses of jelly. Clearly, Ashley intends to pick this up at a later date. For now, without another plan to follow, she reluctantly, approaches Ellen who is standing at the front bar.

She sidles right up to Ellen, looks directly at her, but says nothing. Ellen finally notices the strange woman staring at her.

"Hello?" Ellen says in a can-I-help-you manner.

In the background, Niko and Louie emerge with Jeff who has a jacket draped over his head. Clearly, this represents their best attempt at remaining inconspicuous. From her angle, Ashley can see the guys but Ellen cannot. Ashley does her best to sound casual. "Hi."

Awkward silence for a few seconds. "Can I help you with something?" Ellen asks. She starts to glance around the room so Ashley quickly recaptures her attention. She starts rubbing Ellen's blouse.

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