“Your Campari and soda, Miss Arcast.”
The bartender presented Leah with her drink.
“What do I owe you?” Leah asked.
“Open bar, Miss.” the bartender said. “But, if you’re so inclined…”
The bartender pointed to a large fishbowl at the end of the counter, stuffed with various denominations of US currency.
“Of course.” Leah said.
She sipped her drink as the bartender went back to work on the other side of the bar.
A few people approached Leah. They didn’t have much to say. Mostly pleasantries.
“You look gorgeous. Simply gorgeous. I love the dress. Red is your color.” one person said.
“Well, thank you. I hope you’re enjoying the festivities.” Leah replied.
“Yes, we are.” The person replied.
“I think the next speaker is starting soon up front at the stage.” Leah said.
“Ooh! Gotta go! Pleasure to meet you, Miss Arcast!”
The person ran off in a hurry towards the bar exit.
Leah sat and drank her cocktail, even as more people started piling up around the bar.
“Did you mean it?” A person approached Leah and asked her from behind.
“Hm?” Leah turned around.
“Did you mean it all? Your speech?” the person asked.
Leah sipped her drink.
“…Of course. I funded this charity drive with my own money. I would like to give back as much as I’ve been given in the past decade.”
“That’s nice. Good for you. But what about your company’s plans for the future?”
“What do you mean?”
“The Arcast Exceed. Any hints on when we’re going to see a prototype?”
“…That’s a question better left for our brand representatives. Adam and Allison are located on the main floor, and they’d be happy to…”
“Nothing? No details?”
“Not from me, sorry.”
Leah looked at the person for a second.
“…I didn’t catch your name.” Leah said.
The person looked around the area at the crowds of people engaged in their drinks and their conversations.
A looming presence came up from behind the man.
“Oh, Colin. Everything alright?” Leah said.
The man turned around to see Colin staring at him, two security guards trailing behind him.
“Did you really think you could crash a private party and not have someone find you out?” Colin asked the man.
“I, uh… How did you find me?” the man asked.
Colin grabbed the man by the shoulders.
“You went in through a side door and nearly sprinted around trying to get here. I don’t even know how you found Leah at the bar.” Colin said.
“What’s the problem?”
“…Are you serious? That is a hell of a red flag.”
“Yeah! It’s my, uh, right. As a journalist…”
“Journalist? Got a media badge?”
The man felt around in his jacket pocket for his media badge, which he presented to Colin. Colin stared at the credentials, which were for a local television station, then proceeded to grab the man and secure him against the bar.
“What are you doing?” The journalist asked.
“You crashed a private event.” Colin said.
“I’m a journalist, man! I have a right-”
“I guarantee you that you don’t have a proper invite to this event, and since this is technically private property, you’re breaking and entering.” Colin said.
“Who are you?” The journalist asked.
Colin grabbed the man and gave him a slight push towards the two security guards.
“I’m a lot of things here. Right now, I’m head of security for Arcast Technologies. And if you don’t play nice and let these security guards escort you out of the building, you and I are going to have a bigger problem than you’re able to handle.”
The journalist gulped and allowed the security guards to take him away.
As the journalist was taken away, all of the people at the bar stopped to stare. Many couldn’t believe it happened.
After the security left the building, all eyes were on Colin and Leah.
Colin spoke up.
“Go back to your drinks, people. It was just a nut who wanted to get some info on a new smartphone.”
The crowd remained silent. Colin tried again.
“If you’re curious about our upcoming products, talk to Aly in the main ballroom.”
Still silent. Colin sighed.
“Drink, people! It’s New Year’s Eve. Auld Lang Syne and all that stuff. You don’t waste an open bar.”
Finally, the crowd started listening.
“That’s better.” Colin said.
“That was impressive. A little embarrassing, but impressive.” Leah said, her face slightly flushed.
“An open bar is a gift from the gods. People shouldn’t take it for granted.” Colin said.
“I wasn’t talking about that.” Leah said.
“People can be crazy, Colin.”
“Yep. They sure can. But that’s why you have a security team as good as you do. The president doesn’t have a team like the Arcast Tech security workers.”
Leah sipped her drink and stirred it around with a cocktail straw.
“Actually, they do. A few of our security officials worked for the White House in some capacity.” Leah said.
“How’d you get them on-board?” Colin asked.
“When your brother is running for senator, you tend to make government connections.” Leah said.
“Is that legal?” Colin asked.
Leah continued enjoying her drink. Colin pulled up a seat next to her and ordered a negroni from the bartender after waving him down.
“How’ve the crowds been?” Colin asked.
“They’ve subsided.” Leah said.
“That’s good to know.”
“I guess. I hear and see a lot of people commenting from across the way.”
“What are they saying?”
“Nothing substantial. Just stuff like ‘Did you see her? Did you see her hair?'”
Leah finished her drink.
“My dad always warned me to not let any success I have go to my head. ‘You be careful, it’s contagious.’ he’d say.” Leah said.
“But I bet it feels nice on some level.” Colin said.
Leah motioned around to the rest of the bar, which was packed. Most of the patrons were drinking champagne or champagne cocktails.
“This? Oh, yes. It feels so good. We launched a hell of a charity event for the city and for a really, really good cause. I couldn’t be happier. I love speaking to people after events like this, because I just feel like I’m on cloud nine. I just wish other people here actually wanted to talk about that. Not just small talk…” Leah said.
“I bet that makes it a little rough to know that the people you’re talking to don’t share that same enthusiasm.” Colin said.
“A little bit, yeah.” Leah said.
Colin finished his drink.
“You know that feeling?” Leah asked.
“Kinda feels like you’re drowning, huh?” Colin answered.
“Face down. In shallow-” Leah was interrupted.
“Water?” Colin asked, hoping to finish Leah’s thought.
“People. Shallow people.” Leah said.
Colin got up off of his bar stool next to Leah.
“How about I throw you a rope, then?” Colin asked.
“What do you mean?” Leah asked.
Colin motioned for Leah to follow him.
“I’ve got a surprise for you.” Colin said.
Colin waited for Leah to get off of her bar stool, and then headed outside with Leah in tow. Out at the valet parking area was a limousine.
“I talked with Allison and your receptionist. Cleared your schedule for the next week.” Colin said.
“What? Why?” Leah asked.
“You’re heading home for a week.”
Colin opened the back door of the limo.
“I know you haven’t been able to get back to Massachusetts for a while. I had your receptionist clear your schedule for the first week of January and then some, so you can actually take some time off. You’ve been redlining pretty hard lately, you need a break.”
Leah moved in and gave Colin a very tight embrace.
“Colin, I’m floored. Absolutely floored.”
“I thought you would be.”
“Who’s going to my meetings when I’m gone?”
“Allison and Adam are taking care of that.”
“I’m going with you. I’ve had a trip to Boston planned for a little while, myself.”
“I remember you telling me. I was jealous.”
“Now you don’t have to be.”
“…I don’t have a bag packed.”
“I’m sure the driver can make a quick stop.”
“And after that?”
“We’re taking the Arcast One over. It’s faster. I called the pilot, he’s ready and waiting.”
“We land at Logan. BOS, I think. I’m not too familiar with my airport callsigns.”
“That’s a start.”
“Indeed, it is.”
Leah stepped into the limo, Colin followed suit.
“You shouldn’t have, Colin.”
“Leah, you and your company gave me another chance at having a real life. Between you and my therapist, I owe more than I could ever repay. But I can try.”
“Thank you, Colin.”
Leah rested her head on Colin’s shoulder as the limo pulled out of the complex and into the streets of Pinnacle City, CA. They almost immediately hit a stoplight once on the main road.
“So. Are we going our separate ways once we get to Boston?” Leah asked.
“That’s entirely up to you.” Colin said.
“I think we could spend some time together. I know a few really nice nightclubs in the city. I’ll have to check to see if any bands are playing…”
“There will be plenty of time to do that on the plane, Leah.”
Colin reached over to a small compartment on the right inside the limousine, near the window. It was a small bar area. Inside a container of ice was a fully stocked chest of plastic containers of cranberry juice and miniature glass Perrier bottles.
“It’s not exactly champagne, but it’ll do. I figured you’d be through with booze at this time of night anyway.” Colin said.
“I’m fine with it.” Leah said.
Colin opened two bottles of Perrier and gave one to Leah. They clinked the bottles together, with Colin saying a few words after:
“Happy New Year, Leah. Let’s make this year one to brag about.”
(The title of this story and a lot of the dialogue was cribbed from the song “Bright Red” by Butterfly Boucher, which you can hear here. Many thanks to her for making such an amazing song! And if for some reason you’re here because you googled it, welcome!)