Olivia didn’t really plan on being alone forever. She wasn’t actively looking for someone right now, but when she pictured herself in twenty or thirty years, there was always someone there too. She couldn’t tell who they were (though Iris dropped cryptic hints every so often). But despite her hesitation and fear, she knew there’d be someone in the end.
Noah teased her regularly about all the men and women who made eyes at her in the bar. He’d point out women who were watching her from the bar or nod at a guy in with his buddies spending a little too long deciding on a drink and getting flustered when she took his order. He’d ask her if she was seeing anyone, dateless fucking hypocrite he was. When she said no – which he obviously knew before asking her – he’d roll his eyes and sigh loudly. Then she’d ask him who he was seeing, he’d tell her to shut up, and that would be the end of it until another attractive person showed even the most remote interest in her, when it would start all over.
Leo had left as soon as he could move beyond the town line and never answered any texts. Any other time, she wouldn’t care if they never saw each other again, but then she missed a period. She’d called him, texted, and tried to track him down on every social media she could, but he ignored her.
He knew what was going on. He just wasn’t interested in being part of it. So he never responded and eventually she gave up and focused on the things she could actually deal with.
She’d been too busy and too afraid to try again for a long time. But now, with Mia coming up on one, she thought maybe she might be ready soon. Maybe not right now. But soon.
Friday afternoon she was working. Noah was on the bar, and she was moving between the kitchen and scribbling out her paperwork. Cleo had said she and Andrew were coming home tonight, and Olivia hoped at least Cleo was still planning to stop by.
She decided to stretch her legs and take a round through the bar. It was getting boring back here alone.
The bar was full, but not frantically busy. It wouldn’t pick up for a few hours, and she hoped they’d be okay between the three of them tonight. So far they’d managed to keep things under control with less money and hours, which was a relief. But on the other hand, she hoped this didn’t encourage the new owner to cut things down even further.
Olivia was good, but she couldn’t work miracles and she was getting really sick of trying.
She went over to the bar, where Noah was refilling a few beers. “How’s it going?” she asked.
“Steady,” he replied. “But I’m keeping up.”
He turned to pass the beers to the customer who ordered them and suddenly Olivia felt her heart drop a little. The woman who took them was tall and gorgeous, with bright red hair. She was wearing skinny jeans and a t-shirt under a long cardigan, and when she made quick eye contact with Olivia, all Olivia could think about was how much she wanted to throw that cardigan on the floor.
Olivia smiled what she hoped was her winning manager smile. “How are you this afternoon?” she asked the woman.
The woman smiled, her deep purple lips parting to show shining, perfect teeth. “I’m great, thanks,” she said. She took the beers, thanked Noah, and walked off into the crowd.
Noah turned to Olivia and winked. “Want to pick your jaw up off the floor?” he teased.
Olivia blushed. “Fuck off.”
“Let me know if you want me to play wingman for you,” he offered.
Don’t brush it off. Don’t be afraid anymore. “I’m, yeah, actually. Um, if she’s available, that is.”
Noah looked proud. “Look at you,” he said. “Come talk to me in a little bit.”
Olivia grinned. It could be fun to get back out there, couldn’t it? Go out with someone hot and just be an adult for a few hours. Maybe get dinner? Hell, maybe just a hookup. She wouldn’t say no to either of those.
She continued her shift feeling lighter and more optimistic than she had in months. Eventually, she saw the woman she’d been watching walk out the door. Alone? That was promising.
The door had barely shut behind her when Olivia made her way to the bar. Noah had his back to her. He had no customers and was sipping from a glass of what she assumed was seltzer.
“So?” she said, trying and failing not to sound too eager.
Noah jumped about a foot in the air, sloshing his drink. He sputtered, coughed, and the scent of alcohol wafted toward her.
“What are you drinking?” she asked.
“Testing out some of the new bitters you ordered.”
Oh, that made sense. Olivia nodded. “Try not to get hammered on company time.”
He nodded back and took another sip. “This one tastes like a dusty Christmas tree.”
“Yeah, let’s put that on the menu then,” Olivia said. “But more importantly, did you talk to her?”
Noah looked around to make sure no one was waiting to order, then slowly nodded. “Oh yeah. And she is aaaall about the ladies.”
Hope blossomed in Olivia’s chest, then was dampened just slightly as he continued, “though she does live in Pennsylvania.”
“Pennsylvania?” Olivia repeated. “No!”
He nodded, taking another sip. “Yeah. She’s up here for a wedding. Buuuuuuut,” he drew it out with a dramatic flourish, “she’s here another couple days. Just saying.”
On second thought, maybe she wasn’t ready for a fling. She’d have to get a babysitter, make plans, put on makeup and a dress? Then get attached again and left behind.
“Maybe I’ll just leave it alone,” she said.
Noah smiled a little sadly, tilting his drink toward her. “I get it,” he said. And Olivia knew he did.
He set down the glass as a couple of guys slid up to the bar. “Hey, guys! What can we get you?”
“Two Buds please,” one of them said, sliding his credit card across the wooden bar toward Noah. The other man opened his mouth to protest, then said nothing. He instead just looked fondly at his companion.
Olivia picked up Noah’s mostly empty glass and began walking out back. She walked through the doors and dropped the glass in the sink before going to her desk.
It was a cheap, tiny desk in the corner of the old kitchen and it served her very well. The best part was that the kitchen had literally never been remodeled, so the desk was situated in a dark corner with dark wood paneling and another fireplace. She loved it and had claimed it as her corner. Maybe the assistant manager who came in part-time used it occasionally, but in reality, that corner belonged to Olivia.
A photo of Mia was pinned to the bulletin board above the desk. She looked at it and smiled.
Even if she didn’t have romance right now, she was still doing pretty well, all things considered. She would just wait and see what the future brought.
Roman had only winced a little when he realized his last order of the evening was again going to Minnie Jensen’s house. She was perfectly pleasant, if a little slow. But his ass was still smarting from the fall he’d taken there the other day, and he just wanted to go home.
He pulled up in front of her little home and turned off the car. His music cut off abruptly and he got out, picked up his delivery bag, and gingerly made his way up the walk. The stairs made an unhealthy creaking noise and sagged a little too much under his feet as he stepped up and rang the bell.
“Coming!” Minnie called from deep within the house.
A sharp wind cut through his coat. One of the boards on the steps was loose, almost falling off. He shifted over to avoid breaking it any further, just as Minnie opened the door.
“Oh, hi dear,” Minnie said. Roman noticed her arm was still in the bright pink cast, which today stood out against her yellow sweater. “Would you mind bringing it in again?”
“No problem,” Roman said, and again followed her into the house.
“Thank you for this,” Minnie said as she led him back to the kitchen. “I know it’s extra work for you, but this old arm still isn’t right. The cast won’t be off for a little while, but I’m worried about how it will be afterward. And those front stairs are wobbly, but there isn’t anyone who’s been able to take a look at them for me. Oh, you took a spill last time you were here, didn’t you? Are you alright?”
Roman was struggling to keep up with the stream of topics. “Wha-oh, I’m fine. Just some bruises, nothing much. Here, let me just set these down.”
He set the delivery bag on the table and began pulling out Minnie’s order.
“That walkway gets so icy,” Minnie continued as though she hadn’t heard him. “I try to throw down sand when I can, but again, this arm is just getting in the way of everything. Oh, thank you dear, that’s fine. Say, you’re Roman Beckett, aren’t you?”
Roman frowned a little. “Yes, that’s me,” he said cautiously.
“I’ve heard about you, but didn’t put the pieces together last time you were here,” Minnie said. “You’ve been cursed, haven’t you? The New Winslow curse got you, what, twenty years ago?”
Roman sighed. “Yes, ma’am, that’s me,” he said, not bothering to try to hide his reluctance. “But I don’t really like to talk about it, so if you wouldn’t mind-”
“I’m sorry, dear,” Minnie said, and it sounded like she meant it. “I know it must be a sensitive topic. But it’s just that I rarely meet others who have been cursed for a long time too.”
Roman stared at her. “You’re-”
Minnie smiled. “Seventy-seven years now,” she said. “It struck when I was six years old and never went away. I’ve never left New Winslow at any point when I was old enough to remember.”
Roman was speechless. He’d never actually met anyone else who had been cursed for more than a few years.
“I’ve always wanted to see the ocean again,” Minnie continued. “I saw it as a little girl, but I don’t really remember. It’s not too far away, but that’s not the problem, is it? It might as well be on the other side of the world. But I’ve made my peace with the fact that I’ll probably never leave New Winslow.”
She paused for a second, studying Roman. “How old are you?” she asked.
“Forty-two, ma’am,” he replied.
“Don’t make me tell you not to call me ma’am again,” Minnie said. “And it’s been twenty years?”
“Twenty-two,” he corrected.
“Did you live here before?”
Roman laughed bitterly. “I lived in Erving,” he said. “But I worked for a catering company near here. My boss knew the risk and didn’t want to get stuck himself. But he had no problem taking money from New Winslow. So when the town council ordered a Christmas party spread, he sent me over with it. I wasn’t supposed to be here for more than an hour. Deliver, set up, and be back to work by seven. But when I started driving back, my truck got stuck at the town line. And I haven’t been able to leave since.”
Minnie sighed sympathetically. “That must’ve been difficult. It must still be.”
Roman shrugged. “Yeah…well, I adapted,” he said. “Life is good. I have my wife, my kids, and my business. I’m good, I guess.”
“That’s good then,” Minnie said.
“Wouldn’t say no to seeing the ocean though.”
Minnie laughed and after a few seconds, Roman joined in. He was a little dazed at the idea of talking to someone who actually got it. It felt good.
“Oh, you have more deliveries, don’t you,” Minnie said suddenly. “And here I am, talking your ear off. Here’s the money and I don’t need any change.”
She stuffed too many bills in his hand. He shuffled them a little bit and asked, “Are you sure? This is-”
“I’m sure,” Minnie said firmly. “Thank you, dear.”
They were back to the door now. “Have a nice day,” Minnie said. “And be careful on those stairs. I’m going to need to get someone out here to fix them soon. Oh, and the walk. I don’t want you falling again. Next time you might not just get some bumps and bruises.”
Roman smiled as he opened the front door. “Right,” he said. “Have a good day, Mrs. Jensen.”
“Minnie,” she corrected. “Bye, dear.”
Roman walked out and closed the door. The streetlights seemed a little brighter, and everything was just slightly off-kilter. As he walked down the steps, he felt the deep sag on the rotten board.
Roman stooped down to look at the stairs. They weren’t as bad as he’d thought. An hour of work and a couple of boards would make them good as new.