Fiction Romance

By: Danie Reynolds

A headache had already started to pulse behind Tilly’s forehead, and she pinched her fingers to it attempting to quench the dull pain, but to no avail. What was in that punch? 

The music didn’t help, either. Incoherent raps and other words were being spat out from the speakers, and Tilly could feel her consciousness slowly slipping away, as her head slipped down her arm, resting on the tabletop. At least nobody here had seen her before, or at least, didn’t care about her. Unless he showed up.

A large thump on the table startled her out of her daze, and she jerked up, pushing loose strands of hair behind her ears. 

“You still here?” The man behind the bar opened the box he’d been carrying, unloading bottles of soda and shoving them into the small fridge beside him. 

She frowned. “What kind of question is that?” 

The man scratched his cheek, below his mustache. He relinquished his crouched position, standing up again, and Tilly glanced at his well-worn apron, covered in stains and fraying at the corners. 

“It’s the kind of question that one asks after watching a lovely young woman, such as yourself, sit alone at a party for over three hours.” 

“Oh, that kind of question.” She glanced up at the clock, grumbling when she noted that still had another three hours to go. 

“Why come here if you intended to sit alone the whole time?” The man smiled gently, sympathetic. Tilly squinted, for the first time noticing that he did indeed have a small name tag pinned to the left strap of his apron. Leo, it announced. 

“Because it’s my dad’s stupid New Year’s Eve work party, and I’ve been so honored to be chosen to represent him,” She scowled as she pumped a fist into the air. “Yay.” 

“I do not mean to pry, but why is your father not present?” Leo asked, still stocking up the fridge. 

She coughed, trying to clear her throat and calm her anger before it showed in her words. “He and my mom are actually on a business trip. Which overlaps his business party. Ironic, huh?” 

He nodded, face hidden behind the fridge door. “It does seem a little counter-intuitive.” 

“Yup. So he sent me to represent him. It would’ve given him a bad rep if nobody was here in his place, I guess. I stopped listening to what he was saying after he told me I had to come to this thing. Now we just need Mystery Boy to show up, and it’ll be perfect.” Her words dripped with sarcasm, and Leo quirked an eyebrow at her statement. 

“Mystery Boy?” He stopped restocking the fridge so he could fold his hands and look at her across the table. “Please, do go on.” He waved his hand.

Tilly rolled her eyes. “My dad’s boss has this son, he’s 23 or something, a year or so older than me. Every year since I turned nineteen, my dad’s been dragging me to this thing and trying to hook us up.” She gagged, hand dramatically grasping her throat. 

Leo laughed. 

“When I’m not here alone it’s not too bad, because I can just excuse myself and go hide in some corner while my dad talks to people. But now that I’m here alone, I’m expected to be present. I can’t just go off and hide somewhere. It’s terrible, and now if Mystery Boy shows up, I’m gonna have to…to talk to him.” She gagged again. “We're basically still strangers, although we’ve bumped into each other at this party ever since I’ve been coming.” 

Tilly folded her hands in her lap, shoulders hunched. 

“You poor, poor thing. A well-off man wants to get to know you.” Leo shook his head. 

Tilly smiled a bit at how much she’d just spilled about herself. “I just don’t want to be forced into a relationship.” 

Leo nodded. “I understand.” 

She sighed. “Thank you, really, Leo. You might be my only friend tonight.”

He smiled back. “The honor is mine. And you know, I might-“ His gaze drifted over her head and into the crowd, where they caught on something. He waved his hand over his head, shouting, “Will, over here!” 

Tilly perked up, recognizing the name. Why does that sound so familiar? 

When she turned, she found out why. A tall, dark-skinned man was making his way towards them. He was quite handsome, his features even more so when dressed as he was, in a dark blue three-piece suit with a tie around his neck. “Mystery Boy?” she choked out, turning towards Leo in alarm. 

Leo’s eyes widened in surprise. “What? You mean, my cousin?” 

“Your…your..” Her voice trailed off into a squeak of panic. She turned to make a mad dash for the door, despite her constrictive dress and heels. 

But it was too late. The man sat down beside her, taking off his jacket and hanging it on the back of his chair. Tilly tried not to notice his relaxed, but very large, muscles. 

“Leo!” He exclaimed, clapping his “cousin” on the shoulder. “How are you?” 

Leo smiled, though it seemed painfully awkward. “I’m doing well. Thanks for getting me this job!”

  Will shrugged. “It was the least I could do. My dad thought it was a great idea, too.” 

Leo nodded, still smiling, although now he’d gone back to restocking the fridge, trying to avoid both of their gazes. 

Tilly swiveled her chair around quickly, hoping to slip into the crowd before Will could see her face, but he glanced over at her, seeming to only notice her presence at that moment, and gave her a surprised smile. 

She froze. Her heart seemed to drop into the pit of her stomach. The warmth in his expression made her cheeks heat up, one side of his mouth slightly higher than the other, more charming than Tilly would have ever thought possible. 

“Um, hello,” he said, seeming confused at the fact that she hadn’t moved at all. “It’s nice to see you again.” 

Another squeak would have escaped Tilly’s mouth if she hadn’t swallowed right beforehand. 

He remembered her. 

“It’s nice to see you as well.” The words fell from her lips, and she barely comprehend their meaning. He held her gaze, and her tongue seemed heavier in her mouth as his blue eyes pierced her green ones. 

“Will, this is Miss Tilly. Apparently, you two have already met.” Leo smiled encouragingly, his awkwardness seeming to fade away. 

Tilly bit her lip, but Will laughed and nodded. But it seemed that Leo wasn’t finished. 

“She’s been sitting here all night. Get her off that chair and go dancing or something.” 

Tilly’s jaw dropped, heat rushing to her cheeks again. When Will turned to her, his smile was still intact, but he had a flush of pink on his face as well. 

He stood from his chair and held out his hand. 

Tilly stared at it a moment, then smiled, matching his expression. She placed her hand in his, and his eyes brightened. 

“Shall we?” 

December 27, 2021 21:20

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