As he slammed the passenger seat door of the taxi shut, Mark hunched his shoulders as the wind howled and the rain swirled around him. With luck, there was only a few metres of ground to cover before his group of friends reached the entrance to the bar.

It was a nod to their determination to have a few drinks after work on a Friday evening that they even ventured out into such horrible weather. Mark hadn’t sprinted since he was a high school student, but he made his way through the puddles at an impressive pace. He caught up with his group just as they made their way through the entrance, each of them relieved to be free of the elements.

The group was six-strong, with Mark and his girlfriend, Jess, joined by four of her closest friends she’d kept since childhood.

He’d long since grown comfortable in their company and each of the girls had forged lasting friendships with him. So much so that their collective social life had settled into a familiar groove. Each Friday night, they’d frequent their favourite pub in the city and stay there until last orders.

But this evening had already forced a change to their well-established routine. The group’s favourite bar was undergoing renovations so they had to decide on an alternative. After trying a few other venues, the capacity had already been reached in each of them. Each time, the group returned to their seven-seater taxi and drove off to continue their search. It was after the third different pub couldn’t accommodate them that the taxi driver suggested a small rock bar on the outskirts of the City Centre. The group didn’t take much convincing as their search had become frustrating and instructed the driver to take them there.

Jess was the first to make her way into the bar and took in the sights around her. There was a real bustling atmosphere with the queue for the bar at least three rows deep. All of the tables and booths were occupied, but there was a significant amount of space for the group to stand at the furthest end of the bar. Jess realised that the area afforded them close proximity to the bar, so seized the opportunity to lead her troops across to it. Their usual haunt was much better lit, this bar was dark and more than a little grubby. The walls were adorned with old posters promoting live music and events from over a year ago, with the paint on the wall having started to flake.

The majority of the customers were sporting jeans and t-shirts, to Jess they seemed to be mainly students. Plenty were tattooed, pierced and quite boisterous. Turning her head to scan the room, there was plenty of raucous laughter from the different tables and booths which dominated the sound of guitar and drums that was playing through the speakers. But it was fine, she figured, they’d be back at their regular venue as soon as it reopened in a few weeks.

Mark used both hands to brush the heaviest raindrops from the chest and sleeves of his coat, reaching to the strap of his shoulder bag and lifting it above his head and sitting it on the floor pressed against the wall. He stood 6’1″ tall and was in reasonably good shape. His short brown hair sported a longer fringe which he swept back, offering a clear view of his piercing blue eyes. He rarely worked out as he preferred to focus his energies on his office job, but he remained slim. It was Mark’s face that garnered the most attention, with a cheeky smile that women had always complimented. Indeed, it was that smile coupled with a cheesy pick-up line that secured his first date with Jess four years prior. Their relationship had reached the point where his friends and family were starting to anticipate news of a potential engagement.

Their discomfort didn’t last for long as they slipped their coats off and gathered their bags in a little pile on the floor with Mark’s. Jess and their friend, Anella, snuck into a small gap in the queue for the bar and managed to get served their first round of drinks. Before long, they had settled and started catching up with events of the last week since they last met together.

An hour had passed before Mark noticed the time on his phone when queuing at the bar, it was just after 7:00 pm. He quite liked the change in venue even if it was a bit louder than he was accustomed to. It was then that he noticed that there was a theme to how the bar staff were dressed. There were four of them tending the bar, two guys and two girls. The guys were wearing a black t-shirt with the bar’s name and logo on the chest, while the girls wore matching black hoodies with a far smaller logo on the upper left sleeve. Both of the guys were busy serving customers but he couldn’t get a good look at the girls as they had their backs to the bar as they restocked trays of glasses.

Jess had kept her eye on Mark at the bar as she grew impatient waiting on her next drink. From the corner of her eye, she was relieved to spot Mark getting served and resumed her conversation with her friends. It was at that point that a stranger went to lift his bag from close to the group’s pile, before Jess spoke up.

“Oh, be careful, that’s my boyfriend’s bag. Sorry…”, she chirped. Trying to thread the needle between being helpful and overbearing.

Immediately, her friends Anella and Lucy started to giggle and roll their eyes. Lucy even dug an elbow into Pauline’s side and repeated what Jess said in a mocking manner. After a few seconds, the stranger had retrieved his own bag from the floor and wandered off, allowing Anella to speak freely.

“Jesus, Jess. Can you even go one night without telling random people about your boyfriend?” Anella’s tone was playful and it wasn’t the first time that she’d poked fun at Jess’ seeming overenthusiasm to bring up her relationship with Mark.

As her friends gleefully piled-in on top of Anella’s joke, Jess felt a familiar tinge of embarrassment in her chest as she realised that she’d been caught out once more. “Come on, I just didn’t want him walking away with the wrong bag, I can hardly see in the dark of this place.” Jess took a sip of her vodka and lemonade and sat her drink on a thin wooden shelf that ran along the length of the wall.

Pauline smiled, sensing the opportunity to stir the pot. “Yeah, yeah. We know. You just love telling any random stranger all about your perfect man, don’t you?” Before glancing towards Anella and Emily and hoping that they’d jump in too.

Jess allowed a smile to form across her face before setting the group straight. “Shut up, Pauline. I don’t do it anywhere near as often as you guys say.”

While the group were all close, it was Anella who Jess would consider to be her best friend. She was the one she’d known the longest and they had so much in common. Both short, slim, petite 25-year-old blondes. They worked at the same accounting firm and studied at university together having went to the same high school. Jess and Anella were good girls, high achievers who rarely ever got into trouble and retained a laser focus on their careers. Each was pretty, but they weren’t ringers for one another. Anella was the more confident of the two and, prior to Jess meeting Mark, enjoyed the more active love life. But if there was a habit of Jess’ that got on Anella’s nerves, it was her eagerness to drop hints as to how perfect her life was.

But Jess was everything to Mark. When he met her, he was blown away by the way she smiled with her shoulder length blonde hair and stunning green eyes. The first time they had sex, Mark couldn’t get enough of the way she rode him with her lithe, supple body. She didn’t have a thick, heart-shaped ass, but it was small and tight. Any frustration that he harboured concerning her small breasts were always appeased by how attractive her nipples were. Hard pink buds that never required much touch before they’d stand to attention. Her thighs were perhaps his favourite of Jess’ assets. For a slim girl, they were thick and juicy. He loved nothing more than spending an evening softly kissing and biting them as Jess would plead with him to stop teasing her.

Anella stirred her vodka and coke with her short straw, took a small sip from the glass and retorted. “It was only last weekend that you told the guy who served us our food that you were in a relationship, when he only asked if you were waiting on someone!”

That revelation drew howls of laughter from the four girls stood huddled around Jess as Mark made his way back to the group. He made two short journeys from the bar and handed each of the girls their drinks in turn, before returning to his spot by Jess’ side.

“What did I miss, you guys are having a ball over here.” Mark enquired, curiously. The fact that the others were laughing while Jess sported an awkward grin tipped him off that she was being teased.

Lucy spoke above the laughter. “Just reminding Jess that she doesn’t need to tell every Tom, Dick & Harry that she’s practically wifed-up to her amaaaaazing boyfriend.”

Jess playfully stuck her right foot out and softly kicked Lucy’s foot. “You know that’s not true; I was just trying to help the guy find his bag when he couldn’t see his hand in front of his face.”

It was at this point that Emily leaned into Anella’s right ear and started whispering, at length, eventually soliciting an excited gasp from her lips. Anella’s eyes widened and couldn’t swallow the sip of her drink fast enough before speaking up.

“That’s such a great idea. Emily was just saying that we should celebrate our first Friday night away from our usual bar with a new resolution…a chance to get rid of some of our worst habits.” Anella took a further sip and scanned the faces of the rest of the group.

Meanwhile, the two girls working the bar had finished stacking the glasses and returned to serving customers. By chance, Jess was stood amongst her group facing the bar and instantly noticed the brunette who came over to serve the customers queued only a few feet away.

The girl looked so out of place in such a grimy little bar like this. Jess reckoned that she must only have been about 5’2″, with gorgeous straight black hair that ran all the way down to the small of her back. Every feature on her face was flawless. Stunning brown eyes accentuated by her dark, smoky eyeshadow. Enviable lips with a perfect jawline and immaculate eyebrows. She looked like she was in her early twenties, maybe she was a student, working here part-time at the weekends?

What made Jess take a sharp intake of breath was her body. The girl’s black hoodie was hardly zipped, allowing a healthy view of her unbelievable cleavage. As she bent forward slightly, the black lace of her bra was clearly visible to the customers in the queue at the bar. It was a bold, confident display that there was nothing under that hoodie but her underwear. Her breasts hardly jiggled at all as she moved, which for their apparent size, prompted Jess to wonder if her incredible bust was natural. As Anella was talking, Jess had only zoned out for a few seconds taking this girl in as she moved to serve another customer.

Anella continued. “In fact, Emily and I have a proposal to make. We don’t think you’re capable of lasting the rest of the night without telling another stranger about your relationship.”

Jess shook the cobwebs and focused back on Anella’s jibes. “Don’t exaggerate, Anella. Of course, I could last the next few hours without putting my foot in my mouth again. Please, that’s hardly a challenge.” She smiled with the sense that she’d shot down their angle and sucked the momentum from it.

Mark’s eyes were drawn to Emily who had a cheekier smile on her face than usual as she prepared to assert herself.

Emily sat her drink on the shelf to the side and took a half step forward. “Well let’s forget about a new resolution, let’s make this a challenge that you don’t think is so easy.” Turning to Anella with a glint in her eye, Emily turned back to face Jess. “How about a friendly bet?”

Jess shook her head almost as soon as the words had left her friend’s mouth, but Pauline pressed a finger to her own lips and gestured to Jess to remain silent.

“Yes! A bet, that’s exactly what you need. No better way to kick that silly habit, Jess, if you know there’s a forfeit waiting for you if you fuck it up.” Pauline was overjoyed at the idea as the girls took turns reinforcing the idea amongst themselves.

Anella took the opportunity to seal the deal. “We need to come up with the perfect way to frame this. Seeing as you’re only too happy to volunteer the information to random strangers…how about we turn the issue on its head?

This wasn’t the first time Mark had heard the girls give Jess some grief about how she brought him up in conversation. He didn’t mind, if anything he thought it was endearing that his girlfriend was still so demonstrably enthused about him after four years of being together. On that basis, he was always content to let the girls have their fun. Especially as Jess was normally so accurate when slapping the criticism down.

Emily whispered into Anella’s ear once again, laughing mischievously as she did. Anella clutched Emily’s arm with glee. “That’s it, oh my God, Emily. That’s it, you’ve nailed it.

The sound of Anella’s voice carried the short distance to the brunette behind the bar, who was taking a moment to dry a glass with a small dish cloth. She’d only worked as a barmaid for a few months, but she’d perfected the ability to eavesdrop without making it obvious.

After a deliberate glance around the rest of the group, seeking their fullest attention, Anella blurted out the details. “I bet…for the rest of the night…that every time you introduce Mark to a stranger…” Anella let the moment stretch out as if to add strength to the proposal. “You have to introduce him as just a friend…”

Mark let out a groan as if to imply that the terms of the bet were a dud. “Are you serious, Anella? Emily? That’s the best you’ve got? The way you were acting it was as if you’d come up with something much, much better than that.”

Something about the proposal caught Jess off guard and she felt her lips starting to get dry. She thought about what Anella had said and told herself two things. That the bet was going to be easy and harmless…and that it was fucking stupid. But something about it was eating at her and she felt it in her chest. After listening to Mark’s dismissal, she decided to bring this to a head.

“Well, I’m not gonna lie, that sounds like a piece of cake. Which is a nice way of saying that it’ll be easy as fuck.” Jess took a longer sip this time. “But I’m curious, what’s in it for me? What do I get when I make this look simple?”

Pauline almost fell over herself to be heard. Focusing on her own idea for Jess’ forfeit first. “You told us about that bonus you received last month, if you can’t get through the rest of the night without a slip up…you should pay for all our drinks next Friday night.”

Jess knew that the forfeit meant that she’d be out of pocket to the tune of at least £200, and likely to be more. There was no way she had any interest in risking her bonus, but the terms of the bet were so innocuous. So easy. Where was the room for her to make a mistake?

Seeing the quizzical look on Jess’ face, Pauline continued. “And if you think it’s so easy, and you introduce Mark as Anella stipulated…as just a friend…then the four of us will pay for both you and Mark’s drinks for the next month.”

Lucy, Anella and Emily looked at one another and nodded agreeably. The bet did seem a little on the light side, if anything they could have some fun at Jess’ expense tonight and buy them their drinks in the future to make up for it.

Once Jess had taken a moment to size up the terms, she had an addition of her own to make. “Ok…but if I win, neither of you can bring this up ever again. No more teasing about this, and you know I don’t do it as often as you’ve suggested.”

Anella stuck her tongue out and sighed, suggesting that she knew that little adjustment was coming. Smiling once more, she made sure everyone in the group was paying attention before slowly offering her hand to Jess. “That seems fine…then you’re prepared to shake on it?”

It wasn’t often that Jess placed herself into socially awkward situations, at least on purpose. But the beating in her chest had gotten a little stronger and peaked when Anella offered her hand. It was going to be so straightforward, wasn’t it? She looked Anella in the eye and bit the bullet, meeting her hand with her own and shaking it, with Mark and the three girls bearing witness.

“I am, you’ve got yourself a bet.”

Pauline and Lucy offered an excited little clap and started whispering to each other, before hurriedly turning to queue for more drinks at the bar. Jess felt some pride after she shook Anella’s hand and told herself that she and Mark would be drinking for free for the next month.

Mark allowed himself a chuckle and addressed Emily and Anella. “You two are so childish, I swear to God.” He shifted his hip and offered a supporting nudge to Jess, before turning to her. “These morons will be buying our drinks and they’re clapping like seals.”

As the music played and the different groups all tried to be heard over the sound, the atmosphere in the bar remained good as the night went by. The conversation started to shift as Emily filled the rest of the group in on the latest guy she’d been seeing and how tired she was of him after only a few weeks. Jess was telling Anella about a new flat that she wanted her and Mark to move into and all she was waiting on was a promotion that she felt she was overdue.

Only a half-hour had passed since Jess shook Anella’s hand when Jess and Mark joined Pauline at the jukebox. Indie rock wasn’t ideal for either of them and the playlists were almost exclusively guitar bands. Mark was critiquing the lack of dance tracks when Pauline took a step back and inadvertently bumped into a girl standing behind her. Pauline was quick to apologise and the girl laughed it off. After seeing her smile, Pauline felt relieved but then remembered the bet and decided to test the waters.

“I’m so sorry, honestly. I’m amazed I don’t fall over my own feet more often. I’m Pauline and this is one of my best friends, Jess.” Pauline turned to face Jess and couldn’t conceal her grin. The girl nodded to them both as an acknowledgement, but turned to face Mark and sensed the awkwardness of why she didn’t introduce him too.

“Yeah, I’m Michelle, it’s nice to meet you.” Now staring at Mark. “And…you are?”

The sharp grab at Jess’ wrist was from Pauline, who was doing her best to remind her of the bet while not bursting into laughter. Jess looked at the girl, the stranger, and took a sharp intake of breath.

“…this is Mark…and we’re…just friends…”

Michelle raised an eyebrow at the mention of being just friends and sensed it was a little off. A little unnecessary. It was extra. She felt herself offering an exaggerated nod.

“Cool, well…I didn’t mean anything by it. I’m going to get another drink; it was nice to meet you guys.” Taking the opportunity to slip away, Pauline waited until Michelle had left before allowing an exaggerated gasp.

“I can’t believe you actually did it! See…how hard was that? You were right…this is going to be easy.”

It didn’t take long for the pang of apprehension to return to Jess’ chest. She didn’t find that easy at all. Michelle was a few years younger, seemingly, but she was cute. Attractive. Did she really just tell a cute girl that Mark was just her friend? She realised just how fucking stupid and pointless this bet was going to be.

After returning to the group, Pauline filled the other girls in and they were whipped into a relative frenzy. Lucy, Anella and Emily each took turns asking Pauline for the details on just how awkward it was for Jess, while Mark and Jess mocked them.