Author: Katie Mae

Chapter 2
A Rose by Any Other Name

"Do not ask the name of the person who seeks a bed for the night. He who is reluctant to give his name is the one who most needs shelter." ~ Victor Hugo


She awoke the next day sometime just before noon. The jacket she had been wearing, along with her shoes, had been tossed upon the floor without care. She was in a bed that she had never seen before in an apartment she had never been to, and she didn't know how she had gotten there. Her head ached, screamed at her within the walls of her skull, pleading her to go back to sleep. Unfortunately, sleep would be impossible; between the pain in her head and the sunlight pouring in from a window on the side of the room, she knew sleep wouldn't come again if she wanted it to. Looking at the window, she realized that there was a bottle of aspirin and a small glass of water on the nightstand. She looked at the door across the room, which was closed shut, and looked back at the aspirin. Without anymore hesitation, she grabbed the bottle and opened it, taking two - and then another, after realizing how badly her head hurt - pills out into her hand. She swallowed all three of them at once, sipping some of the water that had been sitting next to the aspirin bottle.

The situation she was currently in made her remember the first time she awoke in her former lover's apartment. She hadn't had a lot to drink the night before, since he already had her within his grasp and alcohol was unnecessary, but she'd had enough for a headache the following morning. When she awoke, the melodious sound of his fingers picking at the strings of his acoustic guitar filled her ears; it was the most pleasant wake-up call she had ever received. It was also the first time she had ever really heard him sing. She smiled at him from the bed and he realized she was awake. His big brown eyes met her baby blues, and her smile grew.

"You're amazing," she told him happily, sitting up in bed, covering her nude form with the sheet on the bed. She could have sworn there had been a blanket on there at some point during the night, but it had probably gotten moved - she was sure of it.

"You think so?" he asked with a small smile, more than happy to take a break from composing his music to talk to her. "You are, too."

She blushed. It was the first time he had ever made her blush, and she quickly tried to cover it up by saying, "I've never seen you play. You tell me about your gigs, you play me your songs, but I've never actually been invited to see you play."

He looked at her curiously. "Do you want to see me play?"

"Of course."

"Tonight," he responded, standing up and setting the guitar on the floor, leaned up against the wall. "Tonight at Taurus. It's a little hole in the wall downtown on Main Street. It's for all those poet-types, you know?"

She nodded. "You're not really a 'poet.'"

He shrugged and took a few steps toward the bed. She couldn't help but give him a once-over, and she noticed how he looked in the light. His bright red boxers were almost too big on his small hips; his white T-shirt had a stain on it toward the bottom, probably from the coffee he drank on a daily basis; and his legs were just as pale as his arms.

"But I'm a musician," he told her. "There's poetry in that."

"But the music you create is better than any poetry someone could write."

He took one more step before he fell onto the bed and the two of them fell into each other's arms, wasting the rest of the day playing beneath the sheets. It was the first time the two of them had slept together, and it certainly hadn't been the last. Everything had been so perfect then, their feelings for each other so rare, and she still couldn't figure out what had happened. Those were happier times then, when they were a happy couple, when they held hands in public and had picnics under the stars and kissed until their lips were numb. They were sickeningly cute. Single people hated them, the way they would be all over each other in the most public of places, and couples just wanted to be them. She couldn't think of a time when she had been happier.

But here she was now, without him, in another man's bed.

She pulled herself out of the memories and back to the strange bed she was in. She wasn't quite sure where she was or why she was there. She could remember the bar, the whiskey, the cigarettes - but she couldn't remember much else. She couldn't get into specifics because she didn't even know them herself. What she did know, however, was that this was not the first time she had woken up in a strange bed in a place, somewhere she had no recollection of, with memories of the night before faded somewhere within the walls of her mind. No, this had happened to her time and time again before, and she expected this time to be no different than any other.

She expected to get out of bed, stretch her limbs in a catlike manner in an effort to wake her up from her hangover, grab her things, and head on out into the hallway; this was usually followed by an awkward meeting with a man whose head was probably pounding just as much as hers. Perhaps he would offer her some breakfast, but she would decline. Perhaps he wouldn't be there at all, in which case she could slip out without him ever learning her name or remembering her face. Maybe she could avoid the humiliation of having slept with a man she had met just the night before, running into him the next morning while he attempted a pathetic excuse at why he had to hurry out of the apartment - he would make up some business meeting, some luncheon he had to attend, a family emergency that needed his attention. She had heard them all before, and she had been known to use an excuse or two when it was necessary.

This morning would be no different than any of those times. At least, that was what she told herself.

The bartender from the night before was in the kitchen when she came down the hallway, her jacket on and her purse in hand. She peered around the corner, watching him whistle away while he cooked something - it smelled an awful lot like grilled cheese, and she loved grilled cheese - and the whistling made her head ache more, made her teeth clench, and she was ready to turn around and crawl back into that strange bed. Just for a moment of complete solace, a peaceful serenity to fall back asleep in. Instead, she stood there, listening to his cheerful whistling, watching him poke and prod whatever was in the pan in front of him; she couldn't bring herself to do anything else. She was in amazement, really. She had never been around anyone who was this cheery in the morning after a night of drinking - or ever, now that she thought of it - and when she woke up in a strange man's apartment, the strange man was
often just as grumpy, achy, irritable, and exhausted as she was.

But not this strange man. That nice, thick, light brown hair on top of his head was even combed nicely - and she wondered what man honestly cared about what his hair looked like when he got out of bed.

The man must have felt like he was being watched, because the whistling suddenly stopped. He poked at the pan with his spatula again, tossing the grilled cheese onto a plate next to the stove. He didn't turn around at first, but intently looked at his sandwich, cutting it with a knife he had nearby. She noticed how the knife was so close in proximity to his hand, the way his fingertips grazed the handle that he held in his grasp, and she secretly hoped he wasn't a serial killer. That would be the perfect way to end the six-month slump she had been in. She could imagine the headlines now, what they would say about the "stupid woman" who "fell" for the killer's charm.

"Are you hungry?" the man asked, pulling the woman out of her thoughts. Almost in a startled manner, she looked at him with wide eyes - perhaps wondering if he was going to take that knife and come after her, cutting her abdomen open and ripping her insides out - and he finally turned to look at her. At least he was cute, but he was awfully young for her. Barely legal? He must have been. "Are you hungry?" he asked again, holding the plate up. It smelled so good, but at the same time she became nauseous.

She only shook her head.

He nodded. "Okay," he said quietly, coming around the counter and stepping only feet away to the sofa in the living room. It was a dull gray, and it stood out among the hospital-white walls. She had never seen such cleanliness out of a man. She began wondering if he was gay - had she slept with a gay man?

"You were pretty trashed last night," he told her, as if that would explain everything that had happened in the last twelve hours. To be quite honest, it didn't. He glanced at her, seeing the confused look on her face. As he took the first bite of his grilled cheese, he winced upon burning his tongue, and then said, "Nothing happened. You drank too much, and I didn't think you'd make it home on your own - I'm not sure you knew where home was last night. I slept on the couch. Nothing happened."

She stared at him, not saying a word. In response, he stared back.

"Are you okay?" he asked her after a few moments.

"Your voice is annoying," she told him groggily, narrowing her eyes and rubbing her forehead with the hand that wasn't currently holding her purse. "It hurts my head."

"If I had a nickel every time a woman said that to me," he said with a small smile, but she wasn't amused. Taking another bite of the grilled cheese - the sight of which made the woman sick to her stomach - he asked, "You got a name?"

"Yeah," she responded quietly.

"Okay," he said after a moment, prodding her for it, and she cursed the day she ever decided to drink. This was one of those awkward meetings she had hoped to avoid, and she especially wanted to avoid the name exchange. It made things feel a little more real, as though waking up in this nightmare hadn't seemed real enough, and she wished she had just crawled back into bed to sleep. Even if it wasn't her bed.

"My name?"

He nodded.

"Why does it matter?"

He chuckled and said, "I guess it doesn't. I'm just curious."

She gazed at him for a few moments, tilting her head slightly when he went in for another bite of his sandwich. She cringed, feeling her stomach in her throat, and took a deep breath. "Rose," she answered, but it wasn't the truth. When she was questioned about her name the morning after, no matter what may or may not have happened the night before, she never wanted to give out her real name. She rarely ever gave a name, but when she did, it was always the same: Rose.

"I'm Casey," the man told her, and she rolled her eyes. She hadn't asked because she didn't care. "I'm the - "

"Bartender from last night," she finished his sentence. She could recognize him now. She had seen his face before, just the few times she had been to that place.

"You remember?"

"Barely," she said, sounding annoyed. She glanced around the apartment awkwardly before her eyes fell upon him again. She shifted her weight from her left foot to the right and back again. "I just remember drinking mostly."

"Most people do."

She nodded. "Well, thanks for letting me stay - and, uh, offering me something to eat, I guess." Her eyes scanned the grilled cheese and she cringed again, swallowing hard in an effort to keep the contents of her stomach where they belonged - in her stomach. Not only did she feel sick, her head hurt and her body was achy, and she was stuck in an awkward situation she just wanted to get out of.

"It wasn't a problem," Casey told her with a shrug, taking a bite of his sandwich hungrily. The woman felt her stomach lurch again. "You okay?"

She nodded. "I have to go."

"Are you sure you don't want something to eat?"

"Unless you want me to puke all over this nice rug of yours, I suggest you keep your food to yourself," she warned him, and the thought of a vomit stain made him shut up about the food. "I'm going to go. Thanks again."

"See you around?"

"Sure," she told him, but the truth was, she never expected to see him again.


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