The Not-Outcast

Page 5

Nothing appropriate for a work event, that’s for sure.

But I only upped my grin wattage. “I was going for a Daenerys theme. Felt like wanting to tame some dragons tonight.” Except I took my own liberty with the outfit. Instead of her flowing robes and dresses, I was wearing a leather, almost corset-like top, one that wrapped around my neck and hung off one of my shoulders. The bottom was more Daenerys theme, a chiffon skirt with a slit up one thigh. And high heels strapped to my feet.

It shouldn’t work, but it did. It so totally did, and I had woven colored threads in my hair so they were swinging free, free and lit.

He took another step back, looking me up and down again.

“You are,” a pause, “something.”

I scowled. “Dude. Insulting.”

He had to blink a few times because he hadn’t realized I spoke again, then he refocused. “Wait. You’re downtown. There’s no way you could’ve gotten here this fast, even if you were at the shelter, but I know you weren’t at the shelter. And your place is an hour out.”

Case in point, my outfit.

He was right.

Come Our Way. The name of our kitchen had been a marketing and genius ploy, one put in place by Deano himself, because while I wrote the grant that got us five million (not a common thing to happen for a start-up) and got us going, his job was actually to work on marketing and promotions to keep the money, spotlight, and volunteers streaming to our little kitchen. I maintained our grant, and I helped with literally everything else. I was the final say-so on all executive decisions, except for matters that we needed the board to oversee. We had another full-time staff member, but she liked to Netflix and chill (and really Netflix and chill with wine, not the other Netflix and chill) on her evenings. But all three of us manned our little kitchen that fed a lot of the downtown homeless in our corner in Kansas City.

And Dean knew I wasn’t known for one to partake in alcoholic libations, but we were here, and I was thirsty.

It was my last day on my medication vacation. I was taking advantage of it.

It was a thing that happened to help cut down on build-up immunity. Sometimes I enjoyed it, but it was usually a whole struggle to get back on and make sure everything was smooth running.

But that wasn’t something I was going to think about tonight, though my brain was already starting to go there. Tomorrow I’d go back to living almost like a saint.

Where were my girls with my drinkaloo?

Also, I was firmly not letting myself think of the he and that took mundo restraint because he had been a big major part of my daydreams since my junior year in high school through now—especially now since I’ve been living in the city where he was hockey royalty.

I didn’t answer Dean, but spying another Stanley Cup filled with cash, I asked instead, “What’s the funding for?”

“Oh!” He perked up, throwing his head back and finishing his drink. A waitress walked by with a tray loaded with fully filled champagne flutes. He snagged two, for himself. “That’s why I’m here. I got the final acceptance that the Mustangs are going to dedicate an entire two days to Come Our Way. Two days, Cheyenne. Two days? Can you believe that?” He leaned in, excited, and I could smell how excited he was.

Booze breath. It’s a thing.

I edged back a step. “Totally.”

So not totally.

“That’s awesome.”

Really so not awesome.

It was a great PR day for the kitchen and for the team, I was sure that’s why they agreed to do it. It wasn’t uncommon for Come Our Way to have local celebrities pop in for a day or an hour to volunteer, but the media that followed them was always too much for me. I either stayed in the back kitchen, or I took a personal day. Media days were something extra extra. Flashing cameras. Razor-sharp reporters. Sometimes you got a good one who just wanted to spread good news about our mission, but sometimes you got the reporters who wanted to swing things to a more controversial article for the click-baits.

I wasn’t down for that poundage.

Plus, the extra buzz in the entire building was like hay fever for my meds. I couldn’t handle it, and therapy had taught me to avoid those types of situations, so hence why I usually disappeared—and if the entire team was coming for two days, it’d be insane. I was already not looking forward to it, and yes, I wasn’t letting myself think of him being in my place of business. At all.

I thought he’d known me in high school, but that turned out to be a result of some slight delusions from my undiagnosed hyper disorder, so that was embarrassing, and then when college rolled around, I intentionally stayed in the background. But if he was going to be at my place for two days—forty-eight hours—there’s no way he wouldn’t see me, and that information was already bumbling through my head like an intoxicated bee hooked on coke and champagne. It just didn’t know what to do or where to sting. Super painful.

Dean was still talking. “...and that’s why I’m here. They reciprocated with an invite here, and by the way, it’s so on-the-down-low that there’s no security outside. Did you see that? To even get in here, you had to know about it.”

That made no sense.

Dean didn’t care. “And I’ve already met half the team. Oh!” His eyes were bouncing around just like my intoxicated inner bee. “I got tickets to their game on Sunday. They rocked preseason, did you see?” He kept edging closer and closer to me the more he talked, something that was so un-Dean-like that I was having a hard time processing all this newness of what was happening around me.

Dean was around the same age as me, a few years older. Coming straight from grad school with a masters in reinvigorating the world to give a fuck about homeless and runaways, he had an axe to grind and an agenda to save the world. He liked to cut loose. You had to in our profession because burn-out had the highest success rate, but seeing him this tricked out had that bee flying sideways. He didn’t know if he was in my bonnet or my hair braids.

Then I remembered; Dean was a hockey fan.

I was, too, but I kept my undying adoration on the down-low like a lot of things.

Not Dean. He was out of the closet and loud and proud about his love for the Kansas City Mustangs. He also turned traitor and was a Cans fan, as well as the Polars (boo, hiss), but both those teams weren’t in this current building or city. So yeah, it made sense now. He was geeking out on the full freak-out reader.

That, and I was wondering how much champagne he had already consumed because he just downed both those two flutes in front of me. He was so drunk that my own lit meter was heading down into the empty zone. Not cool. Not cool, indeed, and where were my girls?

Just then, I saw one of them.

And my lit meter skyrocketed right into the red zone.

The crowd parted. I had a clear view right smack to the bar, and there she was. And she wasn’t alone.

Sasha had her sultry and seductive pose out, clearly liking what she saw, gazing up at him.



This chick was saying she was Russian.

She wasn’t Russian. I knew this because one: she was seriously faking the worst accent in the world. It sounded more like she was trying to sound Australian mixed with a German flavor to it, and two: if she thought I didn’t remember her from college, she was fucking loco. I knew she went to Silvard, the same college I came from because she hooked up with my best friend in the year that I was there.

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