Olivia had always found it funny to set the same cheesy nineties country song on the jukebox every Friday night. She’d done it for years and despite the confused and irritated looks she’d see across Noah’s face when the first chords started, she had never told him it was her. And he’d never figured it out.
She hadn’t played that song in months, not since January at least. At first it had just been because of his standoffish behavior, but eventually it became too painful to even try to have any kind of fun with him at work. And when he’d quit and apparently tanked their friendship, she couldn’t even listen to the song without wanting to throw up.
Hugh had his back to her as she walked up from the basement, carefully balancing three small boxes in her arms. For a split second, she thought he was Noah. There was no reason to do so. Hugh and Noah looked nothing alike. But out of some cruel force of habit, her brain had inserted Noah into her vision just long enough to make it hurt. Then she saw Hugh’s brawny shoulders and light brown hair.
Shaking her head, Olivia dropped the boxes of silverware on the high top table and sat down. For the next couple hours, it would be fairly quiet here. So now was the perfect time to at least attempt to get ahead of tonight’s madness.
Charlie wouldn’t be on until six so it was just Olivia and Hugh through the beginning of dinner service. Thankfully Hugh had already proven himself to be perfectly capable of dealing with the bar, so that left her with the kitchen and serving meals to anyone outside the bar. If she could just get enough prep work done, she could probably do fine tonight without worrying about falling behind.
Sure, there’d be complaints about slow or brusque service when she had to run back out for the check. But Bret was going to have to deal with that if he wasn’t going to let her schedule anybody else until after dinner began.
Olivia pulled out a fork and knife and rolled them into a paper napkin. Repetitive work like this was the closest she got to a lunch break some days. And she was almost okay with it. It was easy enough to let her mind wander as her hands worked automatically.
Mia was with her mother again while Andrew was at Iris’s. She wasn’t sure if he was officially working a shift or at a research meeting. Or maybe there wasn’t really any difference between the two. Either way, he’d probably beat her home. She’d get home to him sitting on the sofa with a cup of tea, maybe a notebook beside him. He’d either be jotting scenes for the novel he still maintained he wanted to write or else reading over some of the oddest notes about herbs and the moon, notes that made perfect sense to him and nobody else.
“Want some help?”
Hugh’s easy voice broke through her thoughts. He was standing beside the jukebox, just a few feet away. “I finished up my work,” he said. “Thought maybe I could help with yours.”
“Um, sure,” Olivia said. “Yeah, thanks. If you don’t mind? Did you take your lunch break yet?”
“I just got here an hour ago,” Hugh said with a patient smile.
Olivia felt her face get hot. “Right,” she said, shaking her head. “Sorry. I’m a little out of it.”
“No problem,” Hugh said, pulling out the chair opposite her.
He took a napkin, fork, and knife out of the boxes and effortlessly rolled them together. “So no one else until six, huh?” he asked as he set the napkin roll aside and took out more parts.
“Nope,” Olivia said, folding her own napkin roll and setting it into the pile. “And Charlie’s going to do what he can, but he’s got his own work cut out for him. Even on a Wednesday.”
“I wouldn’t mess with that kid,” Hugh said with a laugh. “That’s crap though. Any special reason why hours are cut so hard?”
Olivia glanced at the door as though Bret would deign to walk in at any moment. “Honestly?” she said, her voice lowering automatically. “Bret’s company is trying to squeeze every dime out of these bars that they can. Keegan’s, Devonshire over in Barre, and I guess he’s putting in an offer for some place in Turner’s Falls. But our profit margins aren’t up for the empire he’s trying to create, so he’s making cuts everywhere he can. Cheaper food, cheaper liquor, fewer hours. We used to have a decent-sized staff. Even last year we had a couple part time servers on, plus a part-time bartender that would work alongside our full-time guy. All of them are gone and you’re the only person Bret’s brought on as an actual replacement.”
“I’m no businessman,” Hugh began, rolling his fourth or fifth napkin roll. “But that doesn’t seem like a very good way to run your company.”
“If you can even call it that,” Olivia said bitterly.
She knew she was crossing a line of professionalism here, but she didn’t care. It felt good to sit here and talk to Hugh like a couple of adults.
“So what makes you stick around?” Hugh asked.
He stopped and winced. “I’m sorry,” he said. “That was extremely rude of me. And absolutely none of my business.”
“No, it’s fine,” she said. “I ask myself that every day.”
Olivia paused in her silverware rolling and looked toward the empty bar. “I don’t know,” she said. “I’ve been looking, but there’s nothing in town that would pay enough. And I don’t want to look too far away when my mom and my roommate are giving me free babysitting, you know?”
Hugh nodded. “I get it,” he said. “Not that I don’t wake up every morning excited to go to work, but the fact that it’s near my parents is what really appealed to me when I applied.”
“How are you liking it?” she asked, trying to get herself back into manager mode. “Is it at least bearable?”
“It’s fine,” he said. “Some parts are better than others.”
He smiled, and she hated herself for blushing.