Chapter Eight

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Crowded pubs usually meant anonymity, and Cassidy had enjoyed a good twenty minutes of peace as she nursed a cold beer, idly running her fingers up the side of the glass and catching the condensation, tracing its path down onto the coaster as she let her mind drift to far off places and distant memories. While she often avoided being lost in moments – moments being unpredictable and uncertain things – she hadn't seen the harm in it when everyone else was invested in their own business and paid her no mind. What she hadn't considered was that she was an article of gossip and interest. It didn't matter that it was almost a year since her return; she was still the girl who'd disappeared into the night and had returned just as abruptly with no explanation as to her years away.

One man who wasn't shy about his interest was Jed.

He'd watched her from the other end of the bar, squashed around a table with two of his friends and their squawking girlfriends, shrouded in shadow and four beers into his night already. They'd occupied their table since the garage had closed for the day and had made effective use of their time by being a raucous nuisance to anyone they perceived to be a target of their lewdness, their vulgarity, and their ire. When Cassidy had arrived, Jed had spotted her at once. Not wanting to approach her while she was still sober and too sensible of her wit to drive him away, he'd waited until she herself was two drinks in. Halfway through her third, he'd clambered around his companions and imposed himself upon her.

'This seat taken?' he'd asked before dropping into it like a sack of potatoes, slumping, slouching, and spreading his legs to take up as much space as possible. His knee brushed her thigh, and Cassidy gave him a withering look. Undeterred by her unfriendly welcome, Jed leaned in, his elbows on the rickety, water-ring marked tabled, and asked, 'Want me to buy you the next one?'

'Piss off, Jed.'

'Go on, Cass',' he persisted. 'Belated welcome home drink, yeah?'

'Piss. Off.'

Jed clicked his tongue bar against his teeth. The direct approach wasn't working – it never had with her – but he had more tricks up his grimy sleeves. Nonchalantly, he began, 'That girl you work with...'

'Abigail.'

'She legal yet?'

At last, he had her undivided attention. Cassidy's head snapped to the side and her normally soft, round eyes narrowed pointedly. 'What the fuck did you just ask me?'

'Just thought – you know – if you're not going to have a drink with me, I might go ask her,' he said offhandedly. Jed reached out and brushed his fingers against her wrist. 'Course... if you let me buy you one, I might forget all about her.'

'I can't help but think you meant to say give me one instead of buy.'

'Well,' he smirked, 'we'll have to see how the night goes, won't we?'

The night didn't go well – at least – not for Cassidy. In a bid to protect Abigail who was still too young to understand that men like Jed were not rebels who needed love and understanding, but spots of black mould on the wall of society who needed to be doused with bleach until they shrivelled and died, she accepted the offer of a beer. Whenever it seemed to Jed that she was about to get up and walk away, he'd drop another crude comment about how Abigail had started to look more like a woman, and how he wondered if she had a boyfriend yet, and if she was into older men. He was a master of his art; Jed could seek out a person's weakness and would exploit it mercilessly until he emerged from any battles of wills victorious. In this case, it was a battle with Cassidy's sobriety. His friends joined them at the table, effectively trapping her in her seat, all of them jeering and plying her with alcohol whenever it appeared she might get up and attempt to stagger home. Through this barrier of men and haze of booze, Cassidy didn't notice that only a few tables away Finn and Oliver were trying to enjoy their meal, both casting worried glances in their direction.

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