A Dangerous Question
It was an old building, a theatre built in the 18th century but taken over for the evening for purposes other than performing. In the crowded, noisy room the man in the dark shirt sidled up to the blonde by the fireplace and leaned in close to her ear.
"Tongue?" he asked.
By way of reply he received a look of ice. The man edged away slightly, his eyes darting around to see if anyone had noticed. Nobody had. Conversations continued; laughter rolled across the sea of heads from one corner.
"It says here that it's a blonde, crisp ale with citrus notes," the man pressed, leaning in again. The blonde's shoulders relaxed a little and her face softened. "How about a Gobble?" he asked with a smile.
She slapped like she'd practiced slapping before. The crack across his face was loud and a few heads turned in the vicinity. The man pressed a hand to his reddening cheek and waved the brochure in his hand like someone surrendering.
"From the Great Oakley brewery in Northants," he sputtered. "A straw-coloured beer with a large smack of hops at the end." He grimaced as the word "smack" came out of his mouth, aware of the irony in what he'd described.
"I'm sorry," said the blonde. "I'm on edge tonight. All these people here. The noise. I don't cope well in these situations. I hope I didn't hurt you." She tried a smile but it was thin, forced, and cool.
The shirted man shook his head, rubbing his face gingerly. "I've had worse," he said. "Look, I didn't mean to offend you or anything. Hey, if you're on edge why not try a Public Rubbing?"
The blonde's fist clenched and her nostrils flared for one second before she caught herself. Taking a deep breath she closed her eyes and steadied herself. She looked at the man again. He'd flinched. She couldn't blame him. The blonde relaxed. "Why don't you describe that to me?" she asked.
The man let out the breath he'd been holding too and laughed. "Oh, it's not a beer," he said. "I'm just a ridiculously rude person seeking cheap thrills at other people's expense." He turned and darted through the crowd, lost almost instantly in the wake of bodies of shoved out of the way and angry heads flipping around.
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