Flash Fiction: Outsider

Abigail is out of her depth at a party for the rich and famous until she meets someone else who seems to be an outsider.
For the allbingo “meet-ugly” prompt “accidental insult”

outsider

“Enjoying the party?”

Abigail shrugged. She’d come out onto the balcony for some air. Even in her short red dress she was hot, the atmosphere inside stifling both from the heat and the company. She was an outsider here, and while Claire could find a way feel at home amongst these people, Abigail could not.

“It’s not really my thing,” she said, lifting one tan hand to sip from the glass of wine.

“Parties?” he asked, before taking a sip from his whisky glass.

She turned her to the speaker. He was tall, broad shouldered, with blonde hair a little longer than was fashionable with this crowd. His suit looked the part but the inexpensive watch didn’t. Abigail had worked in a jewellery store for six months and had learnt more than she’d ever wanted to about watch brands and necklace clasps. He was probably as much out of his league here as she was.

“Not this kind of party. A few people I actually know, some snacks that I like, some music from this century. That’s a party.”

He laughed, came to lean on the railing alongside her. “You don’t appreciate classical music?”

“Sometimes. But it just makes this whole thing seem more formal. I don’t really do formal.”

He glanced around, leaned a little closer. “Can I tell you a secret?”

Abigail frowned, unnerved. “I guess.”

“I don’t really do formal either. You know what?” He tugged off his tie and tossed it over the balcony.

It fluttered in the breeze. Abigail watched it fall. It landed in the swimming pool below.

“Reckless,” she said, mildly impressed.

“That’s not something I often get called. So, what are you doing here if you don’t like the snacks?”

Abigail took another sip of her drink. “Enjoying the free booze.”

He laughed again and it was unnerving how much she liked his laugh. “Free is good.”

“Actually my friend Claire dragged me here. She’s dating some lawyer whose firm had a few invitations. I was her moral support except she’s now off pretending to care about currency fluctuations with a bunch of bankers her date is trying to impress. So I came out here for peace and quiet.”

“And I’ve disturbed you.” He bowed his head. “My apologies.”

“It’s fine.” Abigail glanced at the pool again. The discarded tie had sunk to the floor, a black mark against the stark white tiles. “You know the pretentious asshole who owns this place won’t like you littering. Though I guess he’s got a poolboy or several to clean up after him.”

He regarded her coolly. “You know him?”

“No. Claire said he’s some kind of tech genius. Made a fortune developing boilerplate code when the web was first taking off, got paid more in shares than money, sold at the right time before the tech bubble burst and used that money to heavily invest in cybersecurity firms and encryption software. Still raking it in.” Hence this mansion they were standing in.

He tipped his head. “You don’t sound impressed.”

“For writing the code, yes. The rest though…is investing in something the same as earning money? I don’t know. It’s luck, maybe.” Abigail sighed. “Without investment I suppose most inventions wouldn’t get very far. I suppose I appreciate wealth more when it’s been truly earned.”

He nodded, drained his glass and placed it on the floor. “I see that. But I still keep my hand in, as it were. Technology never stands still and neither do I.”

Abigail froze. “Excuse me?”

He held out his hand. “Ryan Maiker. Tech genius, house owner, pretentious asshole.”

Abigail felt her cheeks warm. She did not take his hand. “I – I’m so sorry. Excuse me.”

Before she could move, Ryan had taken a step. “Wait, I didn’t get your name.”

“That’s probably best,” she mumbled, refusing to make eye contact.

“I don’t think so.” Ryan ducked a little, trying to meet her gaze. “Hey, no hard feelings. You don’t know me. You just see this house and all those people and know that yes, some of my money comes from lucky guesses when it comes to investments. But I came from almost nothing. Wearing ties, glad-handing bankers, ridiculously expensive party food isn’t my thing either. I’ve learned to walk the walk but I don’t enjoy it anymore than you do.”

She risked a glance at him.

“Why do you think I was out on the balcony?” Ryan went on. “I needed some air, just like you did.”

“Okay,” Abigail said, lacking the ability to respond with anything more eloquent. “Sorry.”

“If you’re sorry then tell me your name. Please.”

She took a breath, looked him straight in the eye. “Abigail.”

“Abigail. Pleasure to meet you.” Ryan gestured to the door. “Will you allow a rich bastard to take you inside and get you a refill? Honestly it’s refreshing to have someone around who speaks their mind. I promise I can find you something to eat too. I know a guy in the kitchen.”

That drew a smile and she nodded. “All right. Thank you. And I am s-”

“Don’t apologise again. If you make a mistake, you make one sincere declaration and try to do better. The best advice my father ever gave me. Far better than ‘computers will never catch on’ anyway.” He glanced at the watch for a moment, expression softening. A treasured gift, then, its worth measured in sentiment rather than monetary value.

“I’ll try to do better,” Abigail said.

Ryan crooked his arm, offering her his elbow. “Shall we?”

They went back inside.

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