The sound of his name had the stranger baffled. “How do you know my name?”
“It’s been a while. The last time I saw you, you were running with Daniel behind some girls.”
Skeptical, he raised a brow, drawing his lips in before widening them into a smile. “Darzsa?”
“Got it on your first try,” he purred. “Want a prize?”
Josiah steeled, wide-eyed, before chuckling lightly, placing his hands on the table. “I haven’t seen you since before we left for basic training. I found out you...left after we got home. You’ve been doing well for yourself?”
“Tiger’s spots,” Darzsa forced through a smile. “So you traveled down here with Daniel, then? He wrote me a letter saying he’d be visiting me.”
Josiah’s eyes flickered, landing everywhere but making contact with Darzsa’s before he answered.
“I’m afraid I haven’t spoken to him in some time.”
“You two beefing or something?” Darzsa chuckled, but Josiah’s expression darkened. “I wouldn’t blame you if you did. You know how he can be, never knew how to keep friends.”
Josiah knocked on the table before Darzsa could mention Daniel again. He didn’t have to be told twice before he got the hint. If Daniel could break ties with one of his oldest friends, it was less likely Darzsa could hold him to the promises made in his letter. No matter, he didn’t expect much to come from receiving it and wasn’t going to believe Daniel wanted to see him until he saw him face to face.
“Tell me, Jo, what’s a cat like you doing down here in The Big Easy? In a place like this, no less.”
“Seemed like a decent place to get a fresh start in—a new person when you’re in a new city.” He scanned the room and glanced at the stage. “I’ve heard good things about this club since I’ve been down here and wanted to see some of the talents.” His eyes landed on Darzsa. “Among other things.”
“Anything in particular pique your interest?” Darzsa crossed his leg and nudged his toe against Josiah’s calf.
“I’ll wager I have to come by more often to find out.”
No tension from those sturdy leg muscles the harder Darzsa pressed. When they were younger, Daniel and Josiah would chase skirts until sunset. Those girls loved Daniel’s wavy hair and Jo’s tall stature. Darzsa would listen through the door at one of their bull sessions—more like Daniel beating his gums and Josiah going along with what he said.
“Surprised, weren’t you?” Darzsa pushed his luck and rested his elbows on the table, leaning into Josiah’s space. “Didn’t expect to see me like this?”
“I almost didn’t recognize you.” Josiah pulled at his sleeves. “But it’s a pleasant surprise.”
Josiah’s friend approached the table with two glasses in hand but scurried back to the bar after one look from Darzsa. Josiah’s lips stretched into a faint smile, eyes low and tracing over the strobing light across Darzsa’s exposed skin. Not going unnoticed, Darzsa snaked his hand across the table, luring it closer to Josiah’s balled fist.
“He always a wet blanket?” Darzsa jerked his head toward the bar. “Was he the one who told you about this, or did you drag him here?”
“Henry likes the bands and invited me tonight. I convinced him to see what was so keen in the back.” Josiah relaxed his hand. “We came on a good night.”
Darzsa’s fingertips would have graced a feathery touch across that hand, but Josiah chose that exact moment to adjust his tie. A little too convenient for Darzsa’s liking, but that’s where wishful thinking got him. Darzsa retracted his foot, folded his arms, and reclined against the back of the chair, his eyes darting across the room.
Chill hands stroked Darzsa’s shoulder. He whipped his head around to see who was daring to ruin his night further. Josiah caressed the length of Darzsa’s arm while he watched the stage. That simply wouldn’t do if Josiah was going to set his sights elsewhere. Darzsa twisted out of Josiah’s reach. “If you want a better look, you can find a closer seat.”
“Actually, I was thinking about if you ever got on stage. You weren’t in the front.”
Well, he wasn’t going to admit he didn’t perform or that he wasn’t allowed in the front of the club. Darzsa searched Josiah’s face for the intention behind his question. All these mixed signals were either irritating or enticing Darzsa, but it was worth inquiring further.
“Come by more often to find out,” Darzsa hummed. “If you want something more intimate than what happens on stage. Gotta blouse.”
All wasn’t lost on this dull evening. Darzsa sidled up to the men and women at the bar to catch the show he’d missed all night. Many came and went, offered him drinks that he turned down. Every now and again, one of the girls would ask him to cover for them while they snuck out the back door with a drunk customer, but he refused them all.
Over in that corner was a part of home he didn’t know he was missing. And he wasn’t going to let it go.