Rachel always preferred staying at home. She liked to work from home, and when she wanted to have a good time, she liked to call her friends over, dim the lights, play some music, and unwind, rather than dressing up and going out. She always felt it was too much of a pain, even though she sometimes enjoyed it once she’d reach the place. She sure wasn't enjoying her current situation though!

Rachel believed in picking her battles, and when she had a whole host of people nagging her to come out somewhere for the evening, she didn’t put up too much of a fight. Losing battles are a waste of energy. So here she was, the first one of her group to arrive at the watering hole. She didn't like it too much, it intimidated her, it was unknown, unlike the couch in her living room that radiated warmth. She called Jack, but his phone was busy. “He’s the one who wanted to come here, and he’s the one who is making me wait! Wait till he gets here!” she thought to herself, a frown forming on her forehead. She’d asked for a booth for six, she’d told the whole gang that she’d make it, and one never knew who Jack would bring along, or how many! She liked Jack. Rachel always felt important when Jack was around; he was the perfect company. He liked to keep conversations running, but would readily pipe down when Rachel wanted center stage; she sometimes felt that he did it just for her, and somehow he always knew when she wanted him to. He probably borderline loved her but didn't do anything concrete because he knew she’d been dating Ben for more than two years. She loved Ben. And she was probably just overthinking about how Jack felt; she was being too narcissistic, Jack was just an energetic mad person who made everyone smile. But she still always wondered…

Jack had just sent her a text- he’d be there in another five minutes - he didn't even apologize! The nerve! - and Miranda was stuck in traffic. She might as well start without them, she thought. Etiquettes are reserved for those who are punctual! She ordered a nice cold pint for herself and involuntarily exhaled deeply after the first gulp. Refreshments after a long hard day’s work were always welcome! Rachel worked really hard. Her ambition was not only to attain success, but also to attain it in a way that was modern, chic, and glamorous. Her loyalty lied not with any specific industry of passion, but with growth from a source that inspired awe. She’d switched jobs on the fly and still hadn't found her calling but she was trying, moonlighting with various “cool ventures that could just be the next big thing”. Rachel had always been likable, it had always worked in her favor - networks were easily formed, and she was always invited everywhere, but the reasons didn't include her commitment to her work or her will to toil ceaselessly. This thought always worried her, but she always managed to bury it and just enjoy the opportunity, and she wasn't going to let this thought spoil her mood this time either.

Rachel always got her way, and it was generally pretty easy. She made friends everywhere easily, but they'd somehow always turn out to be chapters in her life instead of anchors. Perhaps her only true friend was Miranda who had always accepted her just the way she was. Rachel never thought that it was her fault that her friends fell wayward with time, she was just always too busy, or she just never remembered to stay in touch. “That doesn't mean I don’t love you”, she’d always say when they’d complain about her extended periods of absence, but it honestly just didn't affect her much, and she knew that she’d always be able to cajole them into not being angry whenever they were. She was always looking forward. Onward and Upward. And the frequent additions of new people in her life never let her feel alone. But she knew that deep down she was alone. Her life was free, and the price of that freedom was breaking all shackles of expectations, even of those who genuinely cared. Rachel looked around, she pitied the sight - she had never seen women out alone in this city at this hour before and this place was no different - groups of people, young couples and boys’ night-ers but no sex-and-the-city-ers, and she felt angry at the law and order situation of her city, “I’ll leave this town one day,” she’d always think to herself. She loved new places and she loved to travel, not because she loved to get intimate with nature- she liked nature and new cuisines and old buildings, but she was more attracted by the envy her stories about exotic locations aroused in her audience. And she’d move not to explore a new city and culture, but to get away from her current one.

It wasn't her fault though. She used to be the innocent one, untouched by the maligning sedation of the philosophies of image and perception, but she’d been broken too many times now, she had given up on the childish belief that people are free to do whatever they want in this world. They aren’t. They are always judged, and by everyone. So Rachel would just try and veil her real self, she’d build high walls beyond which she’d project whatever image was most suitable, and she wouldn't let anyone in- at least not completely.

Jack hadn’t reached yet, it had been more than “five minutes”, and she wasn't even surprised, it was very typical of Jack to be lost in his own world. She reached for her phone to check up on Ben but then changed her mind because it’d turn into a long conversation and then it'd be difficult to end if Miranda or her other friends suddenly showed up. She’d call him once she reaches home, when she would be able to talk at leisure. On ordering her second pint, and requesting to retain a six cover table a little longer, she rambled through her bag for a cigarette - she might as well smoke it before the rest of the party arrived, she only smoked while drinking, but it was still a point of big fuss with the others, and Lord knew she wouldn't be able to bare another one of Miranda’s lectures or Jack’s disapproving glances. His eyes always spoke more than his mouth when they were out in a group.

Barely had Rachel placed her pint on one of the tables in the smoking area that she saw Jack walking towards her waving his hand, with Miranda and a couple of unknown faces in tow. Oh well, Murphy’s Law. After exchanging pleasantries, a round of formal introductions, and a mini-tantrum-slash-crib-fest about everyone’s tardiness, Rachel realized that she didn't have a light. She leaned toward another ostracized member of society - a man smoking on the table next to theirs - only to be cut off by Jack, who borrowed the lighter for her and gave it to her along with the warning that passive smoking is harmful as well, and so she was essentially killing all of them a little bit. He knew what she was going to ask for without her even saying a word, and he was always protective about her, in his little gestures that he portrayed as cool chivalry but were actually mostly indulged in only for her, or women he fancied, this had always made her feel special. The man in question looked like a poet, lost in thought, alone, gazing into oblivion, but the strangest thing was that he looked familiar. Apparently, “mad happy hours” were on at a pub right next door so Jack had made reservations there, and that’s where rest of the gang was waiting, and it was common knowledge that racking one’s brain on a task as tolling as trying to place someone in one’s head was futile, so Rachel just used her better judgment and called for the check.

Right as they were leaving, Rachel overheard the man-with-the-lighter call for a cab; his name was Ryan.

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