Home > The Plus One Pact(9)

The Plus One Pact(9)
Author: Portia MacIntosh

The man narrows his eyes at me.

‘You’re in,’ he says. ‘Chop-chop.’

‘Oh, right, OK,’ I babble as I hurry past him.

Just like that, I am inside the most exclusive nightclub in Leeds, and completely on my own merit too. I might not have been good enough for Chad, but I’m good enough for Hades, and the validation from that gives me a surge of self-confidence.

As the name suggests, Hades exudes wealth. Actually, does the name suggest that, or am I just being geeky, knowing that Hades was the God of hidden wealth? The wealth in this place is absolutely not hidden; everyone here is literally wearing their designer logos on their sleeve. I imagine the place is also called Hades as a reference to the underworld, and the potentially devilish goings-on that take place here.

As soon as you walk through the door you are greeted by an overly bronzed, buff bloke wearing very loose-fitting white robes that don’t leave much to the imagination. He carries a sceptre, just like Hades himself, but it only seems to prevent him from doing his hosting job properly.

As I walk through the large golden gates that lead into the main room I am thrown straight into the heart of the action.

Despite it being a dimly lit room, with dark, almost black walls, the sheer volume of golden furnishings and the fire machines pushing out real flames dotted all around give the place a warm and unusual brightness. There is a woman going around in a gold bikini, swigging from a container before breathing fire in the direction of patrons who seem surprisingly indifferent about her presence. I’m in awe but I don’t show it, just in case it’s against the rules.

I wade through a sea of beautiful people, finally reaching the large circular bar in the middle of the room. I have a look around for Millsy but he’s nowhere to be seen. Then again, I came straight here and he was walking his friend home first, so I can’t realistically expect him to be here just yet.

I squeeze my way to the front and try to look at the menu on the bar top. Yet another cocktail menu that means nothing to me.

‘You doing OK there?’ a friendly barman asks me over the music.

‘Oh, yes,’ I say, pleasantly surprised. I don’t know why but I wasn’t expecting him to be friendly, I imagined the staff here being as hostile as the doormen. ‘Just wondering what to have.’

‘First time here?’ he asks.

‘Does it show?’ I reply.

‘Nah,’ he says. ‘Shall I surprise you?’

‘Sure.’

‘I’ll pay for this,’ I hear a dreamy-sounding Australian man’s voice next to me.

I look right, to make sure it’s me he’s talking to.

‘My drink?’ I say.

‘Sure,’ he replies. ‘I’m buying a round for my mates. I might as well pay for yours while I’m here. You look a little nervous…’

‘Oh, thank you,’ I reply with a smile. ‘That’s very nice of you.’

Is everyone in here so rich they’re just throwing their money around? Everyone but me, obviously.

‘I’m Jackson,’ he says.

‘I’m Cara,’ I reply.

As Jackson and I shake hands we have a few seconds where we just stare at each other and smile. Jackson is tall and muscular, he has quite short, dirty-blond hair that looks effortlessly but intentionally messy, and a pair of eyes so blue they send a chill down my spine.

‘You’re not from around here,’ I say, rather pointlessly. I’m sure he knows.

‘What gave me away?’ he asks in the strongest Aussie accent I’ve ever heard in real life.

I just smile.

The barman places my drink down in front of me as the hot Aussie hands over his card. I look down at my drink, which is served in a golden cup, and inhale the strong fruity scent. I can’t resist having a sip straight away. As always I have no idea what it is, but it tastes like champagne with some sort of mango jelly inside. It even comes with a cute little golden spoon.

‘I’m over from Australia, for work,’ the man explains.

‘Oh, what do you do?’ I ask curiously before taking another sip of my drink. It’s incredible.

‘I play rugby,’ he tells me. ‘I’m here celebrating with my teammates – we won today.’

Jackson gestures behind us, to a table overflowing with large-framed men.

‘Congratulations,’ I reply. I’m not really into any sports. I have a basic understanding of football to the extent where I could watch a game, but with rugby, I have no idea. I wouldn’t have a clue what was going on, even if I did watch a game.

‘Thank you,’ he replies. ‘You here alone? You wanna join us?’

‘Oh, I’m meeting someone,’ I reply, wondering if I shouldn’t have accepted a drink from him, knowing that.

‘Perhaps I could take you out for a drink another evening, then,’ he suggests. ‘One that we could actually drink together.’

‘I’d really like that,’ I reply.

We swap phones, adding our numbers to each other’s contacts. Is this actually happening? Am I swapping numbers with a man in a bar? A real one – not one from a dating app – with friends and a job. Why on earth is he talking to me? Is this what happens when you go to bars, or is this a thing that happens in nice bars? Perhaps, because the entrance policy is so strict, people feel as if their fellow patrons have been sort of pre-vetted, so it’s safe to just strike up a conversation with whoever you feel like talking to. So the opposite of Matcher, I suppose, where my general rule was to assume everyone was a murderer until they proved otherwise.

Jackson heads back over to his friends’ table. I hug my cocktail with my hands, grinning from ear to ear, because I can’t believe a man just approached me in a bar, but I have no one to tell.

I was in a WhatsApp group chat with the four other girls I was in a clique with at school until a couple of months ago, when I was unceremoniously kicked out by my old friend, Christina. Things started changing after school was over. I went to university while the rest of the gang gravitated towards getting married and starting families. As far as I was concerned, both routes were perfectly valid life choices, each to their own… My friends didn’t quite feel the same way, often excluding me from meet-ups because I was missing one must-have accessory: a baby. It’s great that they love being mums, and doing mummy things, but they made it impossible for me to join in. The same goes for the group chat. I didn’t have a baby to post daily selfies with, or pregnancy complaints everyone understood but me, and without being able to join in, it got harder and harder for me to talk. Christina decided I wasn’t being chatty enough, or that I thought I was better than them, or some rubbish. She pulled the trigger, but I think they all decided they had outgrown me.

‘You’re not allowed to look so glum in here,’ Millsy tells me, sidling up next to me at the bar.

‘I saw a girl get turned away for smiling,’ I tell him.

‘Yeah, there’s a sweet spot somewhere between the two emotions we’re all expected to maintain.’

I laugh.

‘Sorry, I got lost in my thoughts,’ I explain. ‘I’m actually in a really good mood. A guy bought me a drink – and he gave me his number.’

‘Ooh, check you out,’ Millsy teases. ‘I didn’t think you were here. Your name wasn’t crossed off.’

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