“I’ve been waiting here for fifteen frigging minutes,” the man snapped, his face far too close to Olivia’s as she stood next to his table in the Keegan’s dining room.
“I know,” she said quickly. “And I’m sorry. We’re understaffed and trying to do things as quickly as we can, but I understand. Please let me comp you a couple drinks.”
The man narrowed his eyes as he clearly considered what else he could get out of her right now. “And these apps,” he said, gesturing at the plates in front of him.
Bret was going to yell at her for food costs. But the other option was to let this guy continue to yell at her and then put a nasty review online that Bret would yell at her for later anyway. So she forced a smile onto her face. “And the apps,” she agreed. “I’m truly sorry you’ve been waiting so long.”
The guy rolled his eyes as his embarrassed companion looked on. “Whatever,” he said. “Just bring the drinks over, my girlfriend’s been waiting way too long.”
Olivia’s eyes flicked over to the girlfriend, who looked like she wanted to sink into the floor. She grimaced apologetically to Olivia behind her boyfriend’s back, but didn’t say anything.
Olivia kept her face neutral as she made her way up to the bar. Hugh was there, chatting with a woman as he poured her drink. He looked up as she walked up and his smile faded. “Olivia,” he said. “What’s up?”
“We need a couple beers for that high top over there,” she said quietly, not liking the way the bitterness was seeping into her voice, but not caring enough to stop it. “I’m comping the drinks and the apps, so don’t ring them in. I’ll do it later.”
“The apps too?” Hugh asked.
She wasn’t in the headspace for a debate, so she just nodded. He clearly caught on, because he just nodded back. “I’ll bring them over,” he said.
“Thanks,” Olivia said. “I have to go do the two orders that are back there now. Woman in the booth over there has been watching me like a hawk since I brought out the apps for the first guy, so I think she might be planning to request a comp too.”
At the look on Hugh’s face, Olivia shook her head. “I know, I know they’re taking advantage of me. But Bret yelling at me for the food cost is way better than him yelling at me for driving away customers.”
Hugh nodded, though he still looked skeptical. “You’re the boss,” he said.
“Yeah, I guess I am. Whatever that means.”
With that, she started walking back toward the kitchen again, where she could see two more tickets hanging over the grill. She’d forgotten about the nachos going to the bar, even though she’d been the one to take the order.
Crying would just waste time. So instead, she pulled on gloves and thought about how, if that guy ever came into her coffee shop, she could toss him out on his ass.
Hours later, Olivia walked into her living room and fell onto the couch, not even bothering to take off her jacket and shoes.
It was two in the morning. Why was Andrew possibly awake right now? Olivia opened one eye and looked over. He was lying on the other couch, Mia snuggled up against him.
Olivia sat up. “What happened?” she asked. “Is she okay? Teething’s been-”
“It’s fine,” he said softly. “She fell asleep watching The Lion King and I ended up falling asleep for a bit with her on top of me. Just haven’t bothered getting up to put her to bed yet. As for my question?”
She sighed. “I’m fine.”
Olivia rolled her eyes. “It’s nothing new,” she said, adjusting on the couch. “I have a crappy job that I hate. What else can I say? It was another crappy night at my crappy job where my crappy manager calls to yell at me because our numbers are down. And our numbers are down because people don’t want to wait for our understaffed bar to serve them. Oh, and then they yell at me too.”
Olivia looked over at his somewhat uncertain tone. “Yeah?”
“Listen, I don’t mean to pry. But is there a reason you haven’t been looking for something new?”
Olivia sighed. “Who says I haven’t?” she said. “I’ve been looking all over the place. But everything I’m finding either pays much less than Keegan’s or is at least an hour away. And I’m not going to commit to a two hour commute when I have free babysitting. I’m not throwing that on you or my mom.”
“That’s fair,” he said, shifting a little under Mia’s curled up form.
They sat silently for a moment. Olivia thought maybe Andrew had fallen back to sleep, but then he spoke.
“What would you want to do?”
“What do you mean?”
“If you didn’t have to worry about it. If you had your choice of anything in the world, what would you do?”
Olivia paused. “Honestly?” she asked.
“You know that old Limerick building just off Main Street?”
“The little brick one?”
“That’s the one,” she said. “It was a tea shop for a year and a half about four years ago. The owner closed it down but still owns the building. If I could do anything in the world, I’d buy it off of him and open a coffee shop.”
Andrew looked a little surprised. “What?” she asked, trying not to feel foolish.
“Nothing,” he said. “Just – that’s extremely reasonable.”
“If you’re not a single mother on welfare.”
“Fair,” Andrew admitted. “But seriously.”
“It’s already owned by someone who’s made it clear they don’t want anything to do with New Winslow,” Olivia continued. “So I’ve made my peace with the fact it’ll never happen. But that’s what I’d do, given the option to do anything at all. Open up my own coffee shop. Sell light food and pastries, brew different drinks. Be my own boss. I’d love that.”
They sat quietly for another moment. “Alright,” Olivia said after a long silence. “Let me grab that baby from you. I’ll put her to bed.”
She walked over and pulled Mia out of Andrew’s grip. He sat up and stretched.
“Go get some sleep,” Olivia said. “Good night.”
She walked into her room and closed the door. Mia’s night light glowed pink beside her little cot as Olivia set her down. Then she pulled off her work clothes and got into her own bed.
A coffee shop. Something a little different from the general store or the House of Pizza. She could do whatever she wanted with the menu and hire whoever she wanted to work there. And no one would be breathing down her neck or backing her into impossible positions.
She fell asleep already dreaming of intricate drink orders and Hugh behind the espresso machine.
The blaring sound of Noah’s phone was trying to pull him out of a heavy dream. He forced his eyes open and saw that he was laying on his living room floor, still in the clothes he’d been wearing last night.
The phone sat on the floor next to his head, still ringing cheerfully. Closing his eyes again, Noah slid a hand up and answered it. “Hmm?” he managed to grunt out as he put it to his ear.
His throat felt like he’d been gargling glass shards, and his wrist was throbbing as he held the phone to his ear. “Erin?” he choked out, opening his eyes and sitting up slowly. “What’s wrong?”
She didn’t answer for a moment. He sat up against the side of the recliner and rested his throbbing head on the arm. Sunlight was pouring in through the cracks in the window shades he hadn’t pulled up in weeks.
“Are you okay?” Noah murmured, closing his eyes again.
He couldn’t tell if he was hungover or still drunk. Probably a hellish mix of both.
“Yeah, Noah, I’m fine,” Erin said, but her voice sounded off.
He waited a second, pressing the fingers of his good hand into his eyes until spots appeared in his vision. Something important must have happened if she was calling. They weren’t the type of family to have casual chats.
“Are you okay?” Erin asked finally.
There was a weight behind the words that told him she wasn’t just making polite small talk. “I’m fine,” he said.
He glanced around the room for something to drink, even if just to soothe his jagged throat. The water glass was long empty and his stomach sank as he realized his flask had spilled on the rug at some point in the night.
“Listen…” she started, and even through the fog he could tell she was nervous. “I just want to check on you. I was talking to Olivia the other night-”
“Since when do you and Olivia talk?”
“Since when do you drink so much that your friends call me for help?” Erin snapped back.
The bile rose in Noah’s throat, hot and even more painful than before. “They’re overreacting,” he muttered. “I’m fine.”
“Are you sure?” Erin asked. “Noah, they’re really worried about you.”
Noah laughed bitterly. “They need to worry about themselves and back off.”
His stomach flipped and he knew he was going to throw up in the next thirty seconds. “Erin, listen,” he managed to force out. “I’m fine. So back off. I don’t need Olivia worrying about me, I don’t need you worrying about me, and I sure as shit don’t need the two of you talking about me behind my back.”
Erin started to say something, but he was already about to vomit. “I have to go,” he said, then hung up and ran for the bathroom.