It was Hugh’s third week at Keegan’s and already things were running more smoothly than they had in months. Olivia knew she should feel some sort of conflict about this, like maybe she’s being disloyal to Noah by being so enthusiastic about Hugh. But honestly, Hugh was a huge upgrade. He was sober, nice to her, and actually did his fucking job. She knew she didn’t have to go home every night worrying about something going horribly wrong tomorrow.
So even though the food order came late (and incorrectly) and Bret had left a message in the communications log saying that the bathrooms need to be cleaned and sanitized every hour – with no excuse, including short staffing – she was still feeling confident.
The customers seemed to like Hugh just fine too. One woman had pulled Olivia aside and asked what had happened to Noah. Olivia hadn’t quite lied, just said he quit without elaborating. The woman had accepted that answer without question, though Olivia could see the concern in her eyes.
But for the most part, everything involving Hugh was going great. He was a large man who moved with grace behind the bar, clearly comfortable in his skill and knowledge. He’d chat with the customers and more often than not, Olivia found herself lingering just a little longer than usual before going back to the kitchen. One time he busted her hanging around and flashed her a wink. On one hand, it was such a Noah-like move that her stomach clenched. But on the other, that clench was quickly replaced by butterflies.
That was the only downside to Hugh. He was cute. And warm. And friendly and charming and good at his job and fun to talk to and oh no, she was so screwed. The last thing Olivia needed right now was a crush. And yet, here one was, settled in and making itself at home.
Charlie was working tonight too. Rafaela had dropped him off and walked in with baby Edward in her arms. Five months old now, Eddie was all giggles and rolls. Charlie had been beaming when they’d come in together.
Now, a few hours later, he looked tired. He stood by the front door, leaning against the old wooden partition and wearing a black t-shirt with SECURITY written across the front. Bret had recently insisted that they get uniforms for the bouncers in his bars. Charlie hadn’t complained, though he’d raised an eyebrow at Bret’s first suggestion that the bouncers should also buy these shirts out of their own pockets. His silence had apparently been enough to get his point across and his size enough of an intimidation factor for even Bret, because that suggestion was quickly forgotten as Bret said that his company would be happy to buy these shirts for the sake of the business.
“Hey boss,” Charlie said as Olivia approached him. “How’s it going?”
“Fine,” she said, shrugging. “Just another day, you know?”
“I feel that.”
“So, Eddie’s five months old now?”
“Just about,” Charlie said with a smile. “Unbelievable, isn’t it?”
“Seriously,” Olivia said, leaning against the corner of the same partition. “I’m still not sure how mine is already one and a half.”
“Oh, you have a kid?”
Hugh’s voice came from behind her and she jumped and spun around. He held up his hands. “Sorry, didn’t mean to startle you,” he said. “Just coming over to say hi. I didn’t know you had a kid, Charlie.”
“It’s fine,” Olivia said, standing up straight. “Yeah, he’s got a five-month-old and I’ve got a one-year-old.”
“You got any?” Charlie asked.
Hugh shook his head. “Nah,” he said. “I want some someday but it hasn’t happened yet.”
Olivia mentally thanked Charlie for asking the questions she wanted to ask. While she and Hugh had talked plenty over the past few weeks, they’d kept the conversation light. She was almost certain he was single, but she hadn’t had the guts to ask.
“No,” Hugh said. “I was engaged at one point, but it didn’t work out. You?”
“Engaged,” Charlie replied.
“Nice,” Hugh said.
He turned to Olivia. “So you have a one-year-old?”
“Got any pictures?”
She pulled her phone out of her pocket, flipped to a recent photo, and held it out to Hugh. “She looks like you,” he said with a smile.
“Yeah, I guess she does.”
Her face got warm at that. “So was that her dad that picked you up last night?” Hugh asked.
Charlie laughed as Olivia shook her head. “No, it was – what’s so funny?”
“Sorry,” he said. “But I assume it was either Noah or Andrew that picked you up last night, so…”
“It was Andrew,” she said with as much dignity as she could muster. “And while he’s wonderful, he is not my kid’s father.”
Hugh looked a little embarrassed. “Sorry,” he said. “I wasn’t trying to assume anything. You said a couple weeks ago that he was your roommate, so…”
“It’s fine,” she reassured him. “Nope. One kid, no husband. I’m living with a friend of mine right now.”
“No kid, no husband here,” Hugh said. “Or wife, for that matter. And I live alone, but next door to my parents.”
Charlie looked meaningfully over at Olivia, who ignored him. Was he trying to take Noah’s spot as her bar wingman? Not that she needed anybody to do that right now. She was fine.
And she was saved by a party of six coming up to the door.
Hugh gave her a smile, then made his way back to the bar. Charlie kept looking at her.
“What?” Olivia demanded.
“Nothing,” Charlie said, still smiling. “Nothing at all, boss.”
When Minnie laughed, she almost seemed like her old self again. So Roman wanted to keep her laughing.
“It was good,” he said. “I felt for Andrew, I swear! But it was kinda funny to see someone else falling on their ass at the town line for once.”
Minnie broke into peals of scratchy laughter that quickly dissolved into coughs. Roman reached over to the bedside table and picked up a fresh handkerchief, handing it to her and then looking away to give her privacy.
Maybe he should lay off the jokes for now.
It was early evening, and she was in bed while he sat in the rocking chair beside her. An untouched piece of pizza sat on a plate beside her. He’d known she probably wouldn’t eat more than a nibble, but she’d requested he bring pizza for the first time in weeks. So he wasn’t about to say no.
“I do hope you get out.”
She was still smiling, but he could feel the smile sliding off his own face as she looked at him. She reached over and took his hand. “You’re still young and that boy is even younger. I’ve had a good life, but I want the two of you to get out while you’re still young enough to enjoy it.”
Roman’s stomach went cold, but she didn’t seem to notice any difference. He should be working harder to get her out of here while there was still time. What was he doing putting anything ahead of that?
“You too,” he said, hoping she didn’t notice the catch in his voice. “I want to get you out of here.”
Now her smile faded just a little. “Sweetheart,” she said softly.
She squeezed his hand, but it was almost too light for him to feel.