The jukebox was playing the same song it did every Friday night around this time. Noah didn’t know which regular thought this was so funny and honestly, he was too busy to investigate. But that didn’t stop the twanging guitars from pounding into his skull.
He set down a couple of heavy plates on the bar. “Alright,” he said, “We’ve got the nachos and tater tots here. Look out for the nachos, the plate is still wicked hot. Anything else? Refill for you, Doris?”
He took Doris’s empty glass before she could answer and walked away to get a fresh one. As he made his way to the tap, Charlie slipped up to the bar and rolled his eyes.
“Hey chief,” Charlie said. “You got a Sam for that table over there? Guy is starting to make some noise about how long his drink is taking.”
Noah had totally forgotten about that drink. “Hang on, man,” he said, halfway through Doris’s refill. “Give me a sec and I’ll grab it.”
He finished filling the beer, then held it out to Charlie, who stared at him.
“No, Noah,” he said patiently. “I’m waiting on the Sam.”
“Oh, right!” Noah exclaimed. “Sorry.”
He pulled out another glass and started filling it.
“Thanks,” Charlie said. “I’ll keep an eye on him, this should probably be his last.”
Noah gave him a thumbs up. “Appreciate it,” he said.
Charlie gave him an odd look, but only for a second. Then he took the beer and walked away while Noah dropped off Doris’s refill. His hands were a little shaky as he set it down. There were no drinks waiting, so he poured a shot and ducked into the empty back room. He tossed it back, shook himself, and walked back out to where two more customers had just sat down at the bar.
“Hey folks,” Noah said brightly, his hands feeling less shaky already. “What can I get you?”
Olivia was darting between orders in the kitchen as Charlie walked in. She flipped a couple of burger patties, tossed fries in one fryolator while lifting the other to drain, then whirled back around to chop up the chicken breast waiting to go on top of a salad.
“What’s up, Charlie?” she asked, barely glancing at him.
“Um, I don’t want to pry into anything that’s not my business,” he began, shuffling awkwardly in a way that suddenly made him appear very young. “But do you know if Noah’s okay?”
Olivia frowned and looked up at him. “What do you mean?” she asked.
“I don’t know, it’s probably nothing,” Charlie continued. “But he’s just acting kind of weird. Distracted or something?”
Olivia shrugged. “It’s probably nothing,” she said, plating the fries that had now finished draining. “I’ll talk to him later and see if there’s something up.”
“I swear, I’m not trying to pry,” Charlie insisted. “I was just a little concerned. I know he’s…”
He didn’t finish, but Olivia understood where he was coming from. “I know,” she said. “Don’t worry, I’m sure he’s fine.”
She handed him a tray holding a couple of burgers and fries. “Can you do me a favor and bring these to table eight?” she asked. “I just need an extra minute to catch up on the rest of these.”
“No problem, boss,” Charlie said, and ducked out of the kitchen.
Andrew would never say he was intimidated by Keegan’s at any point after his teenage years. But he’d never felt any desire to actually go inside the bar. There were a few people hanging out in the parking lot, smoking cigarettes as he and Cleo parked and got out of the car. No one seemed to recognize them as they walked up to the front door and he was very okay with that.
The music blasted them as soon as they opened the door. It wasn’t packed in the way that Boston bars got on Friday nights, but it was still crowded, loud, and cheerful inside the dim bar.
“Jesus,” Andrew said, flinching a little at the music. “You’re sure she said Keegan’s?”
“Yeah,” Cleo said, closing the door behind them. “She told me she’s the manager now.”
“Wow, good for her, I suppose,” Andrew said, scanning the crowd. He could see the back of a bartender, but no Olivia. “I don’t see her anywhere.”
“She said she’s working til midnight,” Cleo said, also looking through the packed room. “And it’s almost eleven. So maybe she’s out back or something?”
Andrew’s comment about maybe just leaving died on his lips as Olivia dashed through the crowd, nimbly avoiding stepping on any feet as she rushed toward them. She looked exactly the same as she always had, long brown hair, a wide smile, and eyes sparkling at the sight of them.
“Liv!” Cleo exclaimed beside him, all hesitation apparently gone. She darted toward Olivia, catching her in a hard embrace.
“Oh my God!” she exclaimed. “It’s been so long! You look amazing!”
“No, you look amazing!” Olivia yelled over the music. She let go of Cleo for a second, looked at her hard like she was taking her in, then grabbed her again. “Your hair! Those tattoos! Oh my God, it’s so good to see you!”
She let go of Cleo again, then turned and grabbed Andrew in a huge hug. “I’ve missed you guys so much!” she said, her voice muffled into his shoulder. She let go, giving his arms a squeeze as she did so. The music switched to something slightly quieter, a mercy. “Come on in! Noah’s working the bar so let’s get you some drinks.”
She started leading them through the crowd before her words could sink in.
“Noah!” she called.
Noah was behind the bar, serving a large group that were clustered at the end. “Here we go,” he said as he started passing out drinks. “Three cosmos, three beers. Give me a sec and I’ll get that round of waters out to-”
He stopped short as he saw them approach. “Noah, look who’s here!” Olivia exclaimed.
Cleo grinned. “I didn’t know you worked here too!”
Noah cleared his throat. “Yeah, I’m the local bartender these days,” he said with a crooked grin. “You guys want anything? Andrew?”
Andrew’s throat was suddenly dry. Noah looked straight at him with polite, professional interest. “Uh, I’m good,” he managed to force out. “How are you, Noah?”
“Good, good,” Noah said casually. “Hang on, I gotta get these waters. We’ll talk later, yeah?”
He walked off before Andrew could say anything. Not entirely sure what had just happened, Andrew stood and watched.