The Mysterious Stranger – Part 6

Tessa and the three girls who had invited her made their way through the throngs of dancers and partiers. The club was packed for opening night and it seemed like half of the college student body was there to celebrate. To blend in, she let out a wild scream when the DJ started playing a familiar song. She and the girls swung their hips to the rhythm, bumping and grinding like they always did.

The motions made her uncomfortable and she would have rather been swimming in dead bodies riddled with the Black Plague than dancing amongst the wriggling bodies of the strangers around her. But with her face half covered in glitter and her own body clad in the preposterously provocative outfit she often wore out on the town, she looked the part and played it perfectly. The greatest actresses in Hollywood had nothing on her ability to be someone she wasn’t.

When the song was over, Jessica – the girl whom she had seen helping the nerd girl earlier today – suggested they migrate to the bar for drinks. Tessa followed, feeling sweat drip down her spine and seep in places they shouldn’t.

Having convinced the bouncers at the entrance that she was of age with her fake ID, she didn’t have to show the bartender the neon orange bracelet that some of the minors were given. The only condition was that they couldn’t take the drinks away from the bar.

The other girls ordered fruity cocktails and Tessa did the same, continuing her role as “one of the crowd”. When she slid up onto the leather covered barstool, the coolness of the material pressed against the bits of skin that her black mini-skirt and fishnet tights didn’t cover. Just to lean on the bar counter, she had to push aside the dozens of bead bracelets and bangles that covered her arms. And even then, she couldn’t lean too far or her breast might pop out through her plunging neckline. It was an impractical outfit, but Jessica and the rest seemed comfortable in their getups.

Once they were sipping on their exotic, vibrantly colored drinks, they swiveled around to survey the crowd. Tessa listened to them point out single hotties with their boys chilling on the walls, watching the girls on the dance floor twerk and pop to the new song.

Somehow this time was different for Tessa. She had too much on her mind and too much had happened between now and the last time she went out. Things were different and although the only explanation was the appearance of Christopher in her life, she didn’t believe that was entirely the cause.

What she saw earlier that day, when Jessica helped that nameless nerd in the halls after she took a spill with her mountain of text books, it made Tessa begin to think if what she was doing was completely necessary or not. If Jessica, a party girl, had the heart to take time out of her day to help someone so completely opposite, then maybe Tessa could be herself without fear of rejection. Maybe she could still have friends, even if she didn’t go to clubs and participate in underage drinking. Maybe she could show her commitment to her school work without being called names and ridiculed like she had been in high school. A whole new world of possibilities opened up, not just because of Christopher.

“What do you think?” Jessica asked her, raising her voice over the booming bass that flooded from the speakers around the club.

Tessa swayed and turned confused eyes on her friends who all were staring at her, waiting. “What?”                 “We were just talking about going and recruiting those boys for some dancing. What do you think?”

Tessa looked to the boys they were talking about, who suddenly were paying attention to them as well. She looked between their faces, but shook her head. “Nah. You go without me. I’m good.”

It was the honest truth. None of them appealed to her. None could compare to Christopher.

They gave her a look like she just grew a second head, but shrugged it off and slid from their perches. “Suit yourself.” And they walked away, leaving their drinks for her to guard until they returned with their conquests.

She understood why they would be confused. Tessa was normally the first one to waltz up to a boy and lead him onto the floor. Through playing her part, she learned how to be superficially seductive, even when she wanted nothing to do with them. The boys being dumb and buzzed, they followed without trouble.

It was some time before she felt like she was being watched. It wasn’t an uncommon sensation. Being in a crowded room, it was a given that someone would be looking at her. But this was different. The hairs on the back of her neck stood on end and despite the warm, claustrophobic air, a chill ran through her body like a flood of spring water.

“Hello,” he said. Tessa turned and saw a man approach her, squeezing past a chatty couple to stand next to her.

The man was handsome and young, probably a little older than herself. His dark hair glistened with gel and his face lined with a shallow layer of beard that made him look dangerous and rugged. His eyes were the most captivating of all. Preferring light eyes, Tessa was startled to find she liked the soil colored eyes that stared at her so intensely. Flecked with lighter shades of gold around the pupils, he was stunning. Almost as stunning as Christopher.

He wore a pair of torn jeans and a black shirt sleeve shirt that showed off his ripped body a little too well. And by the way he moved so fluidly, she could tell that he wasn’t at all uncomfortable in this setting. Judging by the way he approached her first, Tessa thought he must be one of the kind of guys who picked up girls at bars and clubs for a little midnight fun. Tessa wasn’t buying.

She smiled politely and sipped her drink, beginning to feel the buzz of the alcohol tantalize her brain. She looked away and tried to ignore him, watching the crowd as he smoothly moved into the barstool beside her and leaned back against the bar like he owned it.

“Nice opening night, isn’t it?” he asked, oblivious to her brush-off.

“Sure is,” she mumbled, hoping that he didn’t hear her.

“And you would rather be anywhere else, huh?”

Tessa slid a glance sideways at him. That wasn’t the usual pickup line. Maybe he was getting to the same point, but it was a different way of saying it. Whether it was the alcohol or his good looks that prompted her, she wasn’t sure,  but she replied, “How could you tell?”

He edge closer, their shoulders almost touching now. “You don’t seem interested in what’s going on and you’re not moving to the music like everyone else is. And I just saw you turn down your friends when they invited you to hit on those guys over there.” He nodded towards the corner of the dance floor where Jessica managed to get her target off the wall.

She had to admit that he was good at reading people, but not so good at thinking she would be flattered by his attention. By what he just admitted, he had been checking her out for at least ten minutes before making his move. Either he was secretly shy or studying her for some reason.

“And I suppose you were going to invite me to go someplace a little more quiet? Your apartment or the alley behind the building?” Tessa grinned at her own wittiness. If that wasn’t a hint to this guy to lay off, she didn’t know what would.

“No,” he replied after a pause. “I was just going to keep you company before you made the decision to go home. And I might have offered to escort you there, but if you declined, I would disappear into the night and you would never see me again.”

It was hard to not laugh at his poetic scenario. “So you would just sit here for half of the night like a wallflower while there were plenty of eligible ladies to dance with?”

He shrugged and pulled a expression of mild disgust. “Dancing is so over rated. You can’t get to know one another that way. Especially nowadays. Back when dancing was a form of art, it meant something. This,” he gestured to the dance floor, “is nothing but humping on hardwood.”

Tessa turned and regarded him with a fleeting notion of respect. “So you came to a club  and you’re not even going to dance?”

He looked to her and she could see the genuine attraction in his eyes. Not lust, but interest. Maybe this guy was the real deal. “Would it be to honest of me to say that I came in because you did?”

Tessa set her drink down on the bar and slid off the stool, being careful not to let her skirt slid up. “I’ve got to go.”

The game was over. If this guy was stalking her, then he wasn’t worth her time. Interest or no interest. She wasn’t into those kind of guys.

He grabbed her wrist before she could get to far. “Whoah, hold on!”

Tessa twisted her wrist like she had learned in self defense class and wrenched out of his grasp easily. He wasn’t holding on tight, but the earnestness in his voice made her pause. Keeping out of reach, she looked back at him and glared. “If you were following me, I’d suggest you leave me alone.”

He held up his hands in a sign of submission and copied her, moving a few steps forward. “I wasn’t following you. I was having a smoke across the street and saw you come in with your friends. I’m new in town and you seemed pretty interesting.”

“Oh, because I’m dressed like a hoe? Sorry, but this isn’t the real me.” It was a bold confession, especially since others could have been listening.

“No, not at all.” Before she realized it, he was close enough to reach out and touch. “I saw the way you dropped a few dollar bills into the hobo’s hat outside. I haven’t seen anyone do that. Not tonight anyway. It was a generous thing you did and I began to wonder what made you different.”

Tessa wasn’t sure what to do anymore. His story checked out. She had given a few bucks to the homeless man sitting outside before they came in. It was a habit she grew up with. If you had money, extra food, or anything of disposable value, you gave it to those who needed it. Now her childhood was coming back to bite her in the butt. If she hadn’t done that, this guy wouldn’t be trying so hard.

Yet, if he wanted to get to know her because of her character and not because she was wearing a slutty outfit, then maybe there was something there worth looking into.

She took a calming breath. “So, what do you want to know?”

The guy smiled and Tessa realized that she didn’t even know his name. “What are you drinking? I’ll buy you another. But just one.”

Tessa bit her lip and looked back to her half empty glass that she abandoned. She could easily finish that off and hit her limit. She told him what she had been drinking anyway and they resumed their places at the bar.

“What’s your name?” they asked at the same time, rising a laugh out of both of them.

He placed a hand on his chest and bowed his head like it was the eighteenth century. “My name is Lance.”

There was no way she would be able to curtsy, so Tessa perched herself up on the stool again. “Tessa.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Tessa.”

While she peered out over the crowd to see if her friends would come rescue her soon, Lance took her drink from the bartender and handed it to her.

“So, you said you’re new in town? So am I,” she said, taking the initiative in the conversation. She sipped her drink.

“I am. So, do you go to the college?”

Small talk continued. Lance was from the next town over and worked at a lumber yard. He had two brothers, but his parents died a long time ago. From what he began to describe, he had a huge extended family.

But as he started listing off the numbers and some names that didn’t matter in the least, Tessa began to feel a little dizzy. Forgetting that she was wearing heavy makeup,  she pressed her forehead into her palm to make the room stop spinning. The lights and loud noises weren’t a help either and she began to feel nauseous.

“Are you alright?” Lance asked, his voice sounding so far away.

She shook her head, not trusting that words would be the only thing coming out of her mouth. After that seemed a blur. Lance helped her down from the stool and they were weaving through the crowd easily. They must have seen the way her face turned a light shade of green.

When they were finally outside, she realized too late that something was no right. Either Lance or the bartender must have put something in her drink. She never got this sick so suddenly. When she stumbled in the dark alley, Tessa tried to push Lance away, but it might as well have been like pushing against a brick wall.

They traveled deep down the alley, past the garbage cans filled with rotting compost to where it was the darkest. She could hardly see anything.

Tessa opened her mouth to scream, but she started dry heaving instead. Lance braced her against the brick siding of the building. She could almost feet the pulsing beat of the music inside the club. Or was that her own heart throbbing in her chest and threatening to burst through?

Lance covered her mouth and she could feel his body pressed against her. Vomit surged up her throat and spilled into his hand and down her chin. Thankfully, she didn’t eat much before leaving the house, but her blouse would be stained for sure.

Tessa mumbled feebly against his hand, but she couldn’t make sounds loud enough to travel any farther. In the darkness, she saw something else that made her fearful heart race. Lance’s brown eyes turned a menacing gold and he grinned, showing a pair of vicious fangs. It must have been a hallucinogenic effect of the drug.

She felt his hand slide up her skirt just as she felt her consciousness slip.

But as suddenly as all of this happened, Lance was gone and Tessa crumbled to the damp concrete. She lifted her head and could have sworn she saw two figures, two silhouettes in the darkness fighting. But they didn’t grunt or shout like men. The sounds were like something out of a nature documentary. Growls, yips, roars, whimpers, everything that one wouldn’t expect to come out of a human mouth.

But the drugs were working too fast and Tessa couldn’t keep her eyes open for much longer. She passed out just as the fight had decided its victor. Whoever won rushed towards her, but she still caught a glimpse of the golden eyes.

TO BE CONTINUED…

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