TWELVE

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Eventually, Jeremy and Victor had come to find me and said that they were bored and ready to leave. I was more than happy to oblige.

     "Did you want to stay?" Jeremy asked, looking at the cup in my hand and probably noticing the slightly hazy look on my face.

     I shook my head. "Mostly just looking forward to getting this makeup off."

     It was one part of the night I hadn't anticipated – the discomfort of having to wear something nice. I missed my sweatpants and being able to take a sip of a drink or eat without worrying about if my lipstick would be taken off. I felt genuinely attractive and liked taking pride in it, but my desire to socialize had essentially evaporated.

     "Hey, Jeremy," Atticus said, leaning cooly against the bar. Despite how good the costume looked on him, it seemed incongruent with his usual demeanor. He struck me as someone who probably felt more comfortable in something looser fitter and more casual.

     "Yo!" Jeremy said, a wide smile splitting his face. "What's up, man? You're having a good ass season."

     Atticus chuckled. "I'm doing pretty well. Kind of bummed the season is almost over, but it'll be nice to have a life outside of soccer again."

     "Yeah, still regretting the choice to do a year-long commitment. I think I spend more time in the office writing about your team than I do anything else in the fall."

     "Hey, we can't complain. More than happy to see our pretty faces in print." He genuinely laughed, catching me off guard. I hadn't realized he and Jeremy were that friendly, but it made sense considering Jeremy had spent a significant time on staff talking to him and his team.

     Jeremy redirected his attention to me. "Ready?"

     "Yeah." I placed the cup back on the counter and – in an act that was probably more surprising me than it was to him – turned to Atticus. "See ya."

     "See ya," he responded, holding up the can in his hand in farewell.

     Victor, Jeremy and I made our way out of the way that we had arrived. When we finally exited the basement, the cold weather hit me almost immediately, making me shiver. I hadn't realized how hot it had been inside.

     My phone screen told me it was just past midnight, something I was okay with. It was about how long I had been anticipating I would stay – much longer and I probably would've just kept drinking to keep myself busy, a decision that probably would not have ended well.

     "Oh, shit," Victor said, his speech slurred and his cheeks a glowing pink in the dim lighting. "I forgot my phone in the bathroom. I'll be back."

     He disappeared back inside, leaving Jeremy and I with only the sounds of bass thumping from inside and people talking at low volume outside. Every once in awhile someone would laugh, breaking through the peaceful quiet.

     "So what's the real reason you came tonight?" Jeremy asked, inching over to me and nudging me with his shoulder.

     "What?"

     "I've given more than a few opportunities to hangout with me and – not being bitter, just stating the obvious – this is the first time you've actually come out. I hadn't asked because I didn't want to scare you away before, but now I'm curious."

     I sniffled, my nose struggling in the chilly weather. It was also a pretty good stalling technique, since I didn't really want to admit to Jeremy I wasn't entirely here for him. Even though he probably knew, it still sucked to have to admit. "I'm on assignment."

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