Small groups of people congregated at tables of the small, dimly lit club. Against the wall were black, leather, couch-like seats that stretched down the length of the wall and rounded a corner, stopped at the passageway that lead to the restrooms, and started again on the other side until it reached the caddy cornered bar. Square glass tables were positioned across from the seats; each table spread about three feet apart from each other. A few individuals stood around, leaning against a wall or the bar, moving their heads up and down to the beat of the soft rock music of an unknown band performing at the club. They sipped their drinks while self-consciously tugging at a piece of clothing or running a finger along the stem of their wine glasses absentmindedly. Others stood in tight knit circles in the center of the room, discussing their jobs or where they thought they were headed in life. Some chose to find a seat on the plush, black velvet couches and chairs located in the corner near the front window where the band was positioned. The place itself was not very big, and the dark burgundy walls created the illusion that the club was more crowded than it actually was. Thin clouds of cigarette smoke drifted up from a table in the back corner, and a young woman dressed in a posh outfit waved it away with her hand as she passed the table. Gretchen's eyes scanned the entire space slowly. She examined the faces that sipped overpriced cocktails or wines, quickly determining the eighteen to twenty eight age range. Colin stood next to her near the door of the club, looking for his friends. He glanced at Gretchen, once again wondering what she was thinking as he tried to decipher her impression of the club by the contemplative expression on her face.
She turned to him after absorbing her surroundings and flashed a sweet smile, "So are we going to stand here all night or are you going to introduce me to your friends?"
Colin laughed a little, "I'll introduce you." He said and led her through the crowd in the center of the room to the tables next to the bar.
"I feel so out of place." Gretchen forced a chuckle as she looked at all the beautiful people congregating.
"Why?" He asked, turning to face her, "because you're the prettiest girl here or because you don't know anyone but me?" His eyes met hers as she smiled before looking down, seeming to be embarrassed by the comment. "Modest, are we?"
Gretchen laughed and shrugged. "I guess so."
"I figured you'd be used to hearing things like that." He said softly, keeping his eyes on hers.
Gretchen stared back at him, momentarily mesmerized by the shimmer of gold in his green eyes. "There's something about you..." she blinked, "I feel like I've known you forever."
"I feel like I don't know you at all." He replied with the same breathy tone of voice.
This caused Gretchen to drop her gaze. They stood there a few moments, Colin again examining her countenance. She looked up after a second or two, "One day, Colin," she paused, "one day you will."
His lips curled up slightly and he nodded.
"We should..." Gretchen motioned towards the group that she suspected to be Colin's friends.
"Yeah...yeah." He nodded again, this time quickly.
The group that Gretchen thought would be Colin's friends indeed were his friends. Five people sat together; three were stylishly dressed men probably in their early twenties and two were women with perfect smiles and shiny blonde hair. They were laughing about something when Gretchen and Colin approached the table. The man sitting against the wall next to one of the girls raised his eyebrows at Colin as he noticed Gretchen, slyly checking her out.
"Hey guys." Colin said and pulled two chairs from the table next to them to the one his friends were sitting at. "This is my friend Gretchen."
The guys smiled at her and one of them gave Colin a thumbs up sign, a chorus of hellos and heys coming from the group. The women smiled sweetly at Gretchen, also checking her out, but not for the same reason as the men. It was something all women do. Secretly, they are always trying to see who they look better then, figuring out their competition for the evening.
"It's nice to meet you, Gretchen. I'm Andrew." He smiled at her.
Gretchen smiled at everyone and sat slowly in the chair Colin had pulled over for her. "And everyone else?" She laughed a little.
The group laughed and shook their heads, obviously feeling like idiots for not telling her their names. "Sorry," one of the women said, "we all have had a few drinks already. I'm Bridget."
Gretchen nodded and looked from person to person as they said their names.
Colin smiled a little at everyone, then looked around, as though he was searching for something. "Where's everyone else?"
"We're all here." Stephanie pushed a piece of her long blonde hair behind her ear and took a sip of her drink. "Scattered around...but were here."
"So, Gretchen," James looked at her, "how do you know Colin?"
"Well I went to get a room at the Holiday Inn and there he was, working ever so diligently at the desk." She grinned at him then looked back to everyone else, "and later that night he came up to my room to bring me extra towels, and we just ended up hanging out until midnight."
"Oh so you don't live in LA?" Bridget questioned.
"Nope I actually come from Massachusetts."
"Oh? We know someone from Massachusetts." Michael chimed in. "He's a pretty cool guy." He craned his neck, scanning the club. "He's around here somewhere...last I saw him he was flirting with Vanessa." He looked back to Gretchen, "She'll try to seduce him, but it won't work. None of the girls have been able too."
Gretchen laughed a little. "Is that a bad thing for him, or for the girls?"
"The girls." Stephanie said. "He's an incredible guy, but he's not the kind to jump into a relationship right away. We just have to give him time, I guess."
"Maybe I could charm him." Gretchen smiled. "I got Colin to fall at my feet pretty quickly, this other guy shouldn't be too hard." She joked, flashing a smile at Colin and elbowing him in the side playfully.
The group laughed lightly. "That's Colin for you," Andrew said, "a sucker for the mysterious ones."
Colin looked down uncomfortably. "I'm going to get a drink." He stood up quickly and took the few steps over to the bar. Gretchen watched him and raised her eyebrows curiously, then looked back to the group.
"I really love those boots, Gretchen. Where did you get them?" Bridget commented, looking down at Gretchen's feet.
"Oh, no where special..."
She was pressed up close next to him, running a finger along the crease that separated his lightly defined pectoral muscles. Her short dress now looked even shorter because it rid up on her thighs when she crossed her legs. With her free hand, she held a large glass, occasionally taking a small sip or two of the clear liquid. "Did you see that girl Colin walked in with?" She asked.
Dawson looked away from the band and to the attractive brunette, "Nope. You've had me too distracted." He grinned.
The girl smiled in relief. "Well good. Because she was very pretty."
"Oh?" Dawson raised his eyebrows, "and it's good that I didn't see her so I can devote all of my attention to you? Isn't that right, Vanessa?"
She laughed and looked away, biting her bottom lip. "You're too smart."
Dawson chuckled. "Are you kidding me? I may be good at figuring people out, but that's only because I spent the majority of my teen years over analyzing every person, event, and relationship. But when it comes to things like...meeting girls and making friends...I just dont have it."
Vanessa's face dropped. "Did you just hear yourself, Dawson?" She questioned, her deep blue eyes looking at him like he was crazy. "In the two weeks you've been here, you've had many girls proposition you, and you already have a close knit circle of friends. You attract people, and they can't help falling at your feet because there's just something in that shining personality of yours that everyone wants to have a piece of. It's obvious you have this big heart, and that when you give it to a person, you give it all. The thing is though, is that it seems like you give it to so few."
He let out a small breath of air, looking at the couch. "It's hard to give it away when its been broken so many times." He mumbled.
"You can't let that stop you though, Dawson. Just think of all the people you could touch if you just open up that heart of yours."
Dawson sighed, thinking she sounded almost like Gretchen for a moment, the way she told him how amazing he was and what a big hear he had, and then swallowed, looking back at Vanessa. "So where's that girl you were talking about?" He laughed and changed the subject quickly.
Vanessa sighed, slightly disappointed and looked around the club, pointing to Gretchen from across the room.
Dawson looked in the direction Vanessa pointed. "Well, she has nice hair." He joked, only being able to see the back of her head. It was so familiar, the blonde streaks in her auburn hair, the way her body curved before it was hidden behind the chair. It was probably just his imagination working in over drive, but from the back she looked so much like Gretchen it had his heart beating a mile a minute. "Do you know her name?" He asked, moving his head so he could still see her around all the people.
"Nope. I've never seen her before in my life." She looked at Gretchen as well, also unable to see her face.
Dawson kept his eyes on her, watching her movements for a few seconds. He shook the idea that it was Gretchen out of his head quickly and looked back to Vanessa. "We can go over there later. I'm fine right here for now."
She smiled. "Okay. I wasn't even suggesting we go over there anyway."
He laughed slightly. "Oh yeah, because you want all of my attention."
"Exactly." She nodded, giving him a flirty smile.
They were smiling, laughing, talking about normal everyday things. Gretchen felt at ease in the conversations, her mind clear from all the things that had been weighing it down these past few weeks. There was an aura of normalcy in the air, one that she hadn't felt in what seemed like ages. Even though she barely knew these people, their warm and unique personalities made it easy to feel like a part of them. The only one who seemed to be squeamish was Colin. He was uncharacteristically quiet, looking as though he was lost in thought. There was something on his mind; they could all sense it. Maybe he was daydreaming about something he was writing, like he sometimes did, or maybe he had bigger things to think about. Dawson and Gretchen were in the same club. Did he try to keep them away from each other? Or just go with the flow and see what happens? He felt like he had to keep them from knowing the other was there, and was hoping that no one else would say anything about Dawson around Gretchen. They had been talking about him before, but they didn't use his name. Colin was grateful for that. He really didn't want to have to see the look on Gretchen's face if they had mentioned Dawson. She had spoken of him in passing once or twice, saying that her friend Dawson was going to USC for film, and that now that she had seen LA, she was somewhat scared for him. She didn't know if he could handle such a competitive place. Colin also wondered what Dawson would think when he found out he knew her. And what would they say to each other? How would they react to meeting in such a random place at such an unexpected time? But what was also tugging at him was the fact that he really knew nothing about the relationship Dawson and Gretchen had, and he wondered if he even had the right to keep them apart when he didn't even know what he was keeping them from.
"So are you with anyone?" James asked, leaning in towards Gretchen.
"Um..." She shook her head slowly, glancing at the table, "no...not anymore." Her tone was sad and longing.
"It's clearly something she doesn't want to talk about, James." Colin snapped suddenly, noticing the sorrow in her voice.
The rest of his friends, including Gretchen, gave him a weird look in response to his sudden outburst, "I don't think he was asking for details, Colin. There's no need to get defensive for me."
Colin let out an annoyed breath and looked away. "Yeah...sorry."
"Okay...someone didn't get enough sleep last night," Stephanie turned away from Colin and towards Gretchen, "What exactly brings you to LA? Do you have family here or anything?"
"No...thats not it." She responded. "I took a year off from school last year, and in August I'm going back to take some classes I missed before the semester starts. But, I love to travel, and I'm sort of famous for my road trips with my friends, except this time I packed up on my own. Someone was going to come with me...but, I left with out him." She sighed, "I don't think he was going to come with me anyway, he just said he was. But, that's beside the point. I've just been driving around the country for two weeks, and here I am."
"Aw sweetie," Bridget said, "it seems like you're really torn up about this guy, you know, if you felt like you had to go on a road trip to get away from him."
Gretchen closed her eyes, half-smiling and letting out a small laugh. "That's not it really, I was the one who broke up with him but saying I'm torn up doesn't even cover it." She looked at her wine glass on the table, "People say it's hard coming out of horrible relationships, that it takes a long time to get over the pain that the person caused you, which is true, considering I've been through it too many times, but I think getting over an amazing relationship hurts even more. I mean," Gretchen looked up. "It's like you have this incredible romance, a romance that makes you feel a way you've never felt before, and then it ends, and G-d you miss that feeling so much that it's replaced with this horrendous aching that seems like it's never going to go away. And trust me...being on the open road for two weeks in solitude won't help the pain fade any faster."
"So that's why your eyes are so sad." Colin stated softly and simply, looking to Gretchen.
"Yeah, I guess it is."
He watched her from across the room, his eyes following her movements and body language. The only thing though, was that he couldn't see her face. She was leaning forward against the bar, obviously talking to the bartender. He looked her up and down, examining the curves of her body and the color of her hair. He wasnt sure if he was delusional, or if it was really her. He wanted to know, he needed to know, but he just wasn't going to go up to her then be completely embarrassed when it turned out it wasn't her after all. What would Gretchen be doing in Los Angeles anyway? Dawson shifted his body over on the couch, trying to get a glimpse of the girl's face. Every time he moved though, she moved. Her hair would fall in front of her face, or someone would stand next to her and block his view. When you know someone well enough, you can recognize them from any angle, and he could swear that the girl was Gretchen. There was a war going on inside of Dawson though. He wasn't sure if he wanted it to be Gretchen. One side of him was saying: Yes, you do. You're still in love with her. You want to be with her and hold her. You want to kiss her and love her. While the other screamed: You're supposed to be over her. You've moved on with your life, you don't want the past sneaking up on you. You have a new life now. The only thing that would determine which side won this war would be that girl. If it wasn't her, he'd feel like hitting himself and get over it quickly. But if it was Gretchen...well if it was Gretchen, he had no idea what he would do.
"What are you looking at?" Vanessa asked, causing Dawson to snap out of his stare.
"Huh?" He whipped his head around to her quickly.
"You were staring at something." She raised her tweezed eyebrows.
"Oh...sorry about that."
"It's okay," she laughed, "I just wanted to know what it was that had you so intrigued."
"That...that girl." Dawson looked back to where she was. She now sat back next to Colin, and he stretched an arm around her waist. The girl sat up straighter suddenly, and turned her head towards him, obviously surprised by the sudden touch. Dawson almost had a momentary view of her profile, but someone walked by and by the time he passed, her face was turned back towards the group again. "She looks so...familiar." He kept moving his eyes around in an attempt to catch a glance of her face. "But the weird thing is...I haven't seen her face all night."
"I think you just want it to be someone, that's why you're telling yourself she looks like her." Vanessa directed her gaze to where Dawsons was.
"I guess you're right."
"Why don't we go over there and prove it?" She suggested.
"Uh...not right now." He hesitated. "How about we dance first?" Dawson rose, holding out his hand for the curvy brunette.
"I'd like that." Vanessa smiled, taking Dawson's hand and leading him to the space in the center of the club where a few couples swayed to the ballad the band was playing.
Dawson stared over Vanessa's shoulder as they rocked back and forth to the music. All he wanted to do was see her face; he just wanted to prove to himself that it wasn't Gretchen, just a girl with the same colored hair and the same curvatures of her body. It was a plausible idea; many people could look like that.
Vanessa looked up at Dawson, noticing the far off look on his face. "Looking at that girl again?" She questioned, looking behind her.
"Yeah..." Dawson sighed. "But it really doesn't matter. It's probably just my imagination running away with me again."
Vanessa gave Dawson a comforting smile, "Probably."
"Shall we dance?" Colin asked Gretchen, looking back at the people dancing. All this time Colin had just wanted to get close to Gretchen. Even though he had only known her for about two days, he was unexplainably drawn to all aspects of her. First off it was her eyes, then wanting to know why her eyes were so sad. After that he was curious as to what she was doing in LA, up until he discovered Dawson knew her as well. When he found out she liked to travel, he wanted to know why, he wanted to know what made Gretchen love getting away and going on road trips so much. She had told him she could never stay in one place for too long, that she ends up feeling trapped, Colin wanted to know what made her feel this way. Of course he was also very physically attracted to her. He desired to place his arms around her small waist and feel her in his arms. Dancing with her was probably the only way hed be able to do that, considering she had recoiled at his touch earlier in the evening.
"Sure." She smiled, smoothing out her shirt and standing up.
Colin took her hand in his softly, and led her to where everyone was dancing.
A sudden rush of nervousness swept through Colin, and he turned Gretchen around quickly as he saw Dawson and Vanessa dancing a few feet away. She would have been in Dawson's view, and Colin wanted to keep them separate. Dawson had obviously hurt Gretchen, and having her get hurt again was the last thing he wanted to witness.
"What was that about?" She looked up at him, raising her eyebrows.
"What was what about?" Colin looked down at her.
"You turned me around...like...ultra fast."
"Oh," he laughed nervously, "sorry about that."
"It's okay." She smiled, then let out a sigh and placed her head on Colin's shoulder.
They swayed slowly to the music. Colin put his cheek up against the top of Gretchen's head, taking in the sweet smell of her hair. He wondered what she was thinking as her hand scratched the hair at the nape of his neck softly. He kept his eyes on Dawson, making sure that Gretchen's back was always facing him. Dawson looked like he was lost in thought, or bored, as he looked over Vanessa's shoulder. Gretchen sighed to herself lightly, tightening her grip around Colin's neck.
"Would you like to dance?" Dawson rose from the seat at his kitchen table, putting out his hand to Gretchen.
Gretchen laughed and looked around at the candle lit room, then back to Dawson. "Here?"
"Why not?" He questioned, smiling down at her. "My parents do it all the time."
She smiled. "Of course I'd like to dance." Gretchen placed her hand in his and he pulled her up to him. He kissed her pink lips tenderly, softly sucking on the bottom lip before pulling away. A chill ran up and down her spine, and she felt all the breath leave her body when his lips pressed against hers. She kept her eyes closed as he ended the kiss, reveling in the moment. "Wow." She said finally, opening her eyes.
A small smile curled up on Dawson's lips, and he looked into her eyes as he pulled her closer, wrapping his strong arms around her waist. She placed her arms around his neck, and he leaned down towards her, pushing his forehead against hers. His eyes slid shut, losing himself in the passion of the dance they were sharing. Gretchen closed her eyes as well and inhaled the fresh scent of Dawson's cologne deeply. He put a hand on her cheek, then ran his fingers down her neck, slightly tickling the soft skin. She drew in a breath of air, the sensation of Dawson's fingertips on her neck exciting her senses. "I love you," Gretchen whispered, keeping her eyes closed as they rocked to the soft music coming from the radio.
Dawson opened his eyes and looked at her. He gazed at the relaxed and absolutely content expression on her face. She appeared as though this is where she wanted to be forever, in his arms, in this relationship. "I love you too," He whispered back and closed his eyes again, touching his lips against the tip of her nose briefly.
Gretchen's mouth curled up in a modest smile and they both moved their bodies closer together, never wanting to let go.
Gretchen looked up at Colin, forcing herself out of her daydream. "This is a nice song." She commented softly.
"Yeah..." He nodded, glancing down at her, "It's sweet."
The truth was Gretchen hadn't even been listening to the lyrics of the song, she actually didn't care. For the first time that night, her mind had wandered to that place it always seemed to wander to. It drifted to times of pure happiness, to times of emotional orgasm. She missed that. She missed the feeling of being divinely contented with herself, and her life. She pined for that lighter then air feeling she got when Dawson kissed her, or even when he just smiled. But most of all, she yearned for him.
Dawson's eyes grew wide as Colin came into view on the dance floor. This would be his chance, he concluded. This would be his opportunity to see this girl, to prove to himself that he really was just imagining things. A part of him wanted it to be Gretchen so badly though. He longed to see her smile one more time, to hear her melodic laughter and taste the sweet gloss on her lips. The other part of him though, was over her. The other part of him did not regret a single thing about their relationship. He was fine with the way things ended, and to an extent he was happy that they did. She had helped him move on in his life, and now that he felt like he had, she was not necessary for his survival. But then he remembered the sparks that ran through his body when he was with her; he remembered the way she inspired him and loved him with all of her heart. Dawson was torn; before he made up his mind though, he decided that he should see if the girl was actually her.
He managed to catch Colin's eye from across the room, "Who is she?" Dawson mouthed.
Colin just shook his head, "It doesn't matter," he said back, "she's just a friend."
"Come on!" Dawson persisted, "just let me see her face."
Vanessa glanced up at Dawson, then looked back to Colin.
"Why do you care?" Colin answered back.
"Who are you talking to?" Gretchen raised her eyebrows at Colin.
"No one. It doesn't matter."
Dawson regained Colin"s attention, "Please," He shouted in a whisper, "how hard is it to turn the girl around?" Dawson needed to see her.
"Why does it matter?" He mouthed to Dawson.
"Why is this so hard?" Dawson answered.
Gretchen was curious by now. She wanted to know who it was that Colin was talking to, who it was Colin didn't want her to see, and who it was that Colin didn't want to see her. Gretchen started turning around, but Colin pulled her back.
"No, don't!" Colin urged her.
"What's the big deal?" She questioned, squirming out of his strong hold and spinning around.
Dawson couldn't believe his eyes, he felt like the wind had been knocked out of him; his expression turned pale like he had suddenly seen a ghost. Gretchen gasped instantly and put a hand up to her mouth. She felt her body go weak as their eyes locked, and her stomach felt like it had fallen to her feet as she searched his eyes for some meaning from across the room. A million questions raced through her head: What was he doing here? What should she say? What did this mean about their relationship? Was it some sort of sign, or just a freak coincidence? By the look on Dawson's face it was obvious he was wondering the same things. He had been right all evening; it was Gretchen. Suddenly he didn't want it to be her anymore though, but wished it was just some random girl who he had no attachment too, because now, he would actually have to make a decision about the battle waging war in his mind.