The new bartender was waiting in the booth with Bret as Olivia walked out from behind the bar. She slid into the spot beside Bret, smiling politely at the man across from her.
“Olivia, thank you for joining us,” Bret said. “This is Hugh Marshall, your new bartender. Hugh, this is Olivia Walker, Keegan’s general manager.”
She reached across the table and shook his hand. His grip was warm and solid, almost painful.
“Nice to meet you, Hugh,” Olivia said.
He grinned. “Nice to meet you too, Olivia.”
He was a large man with rusty brown hair and a wide, friendly face. She couldn’t quite place his age, but she assumed it was somewhere between thirty and thirty-five. In fact, he almost made her think of an older version of Charlie.
Olivia liked him already.
“So have you done a lot of bartending?” Olivia asked.
Hugh nodded. “Yeah, I’ve been doing it on and off for about ten, twelve years now. Kept my license up. I’ve mostly been in New York City.”
“How did you possibly go from New York City to New Winslow?”
“I came back to help out my parents,” Hugh replied. “They live in New Winslow and they’re both disabled and getting up there. So I’m back in the area for the long-term.”
“So you’re well aware of…”
Good. No need to worry about him freaking out and leaving.
“So you won’t need to worry about this one,” Bret said, his tone surprisingly light.
He turned to Hugh. “We had some issues with the previous guy drinking on the job.”
Bret chuckled but Hugh didn’t seem to find it amusing, keeping his face neutral. He glanced at Olivia, making brief eye contact. Apparently Olivia’s discomfort was obvious enough that he noticed it.
Bret obviously didn’t notice anything. “Alright, I have to run,” he said, motioning for Olivia to slide out of the booth and let him out. “He’s all yours, Olivia.”
A few minutes later, Bret was gone and Hugh and Olivia were sitting at the booth. “So all your hiring paperwork is done, right?” Olivia asked.
“Yeah, Bret had me do all that,” Hugh replied. “He said you’d take care of orientation stuff.”
“Right, sorry,” she said, shaking her head. “I’ve had a few part time hires, but it’s been a long time since I’ve had a full-time person come on.”
“The previous bartender?” Hugh asked.
She flinched. “Sorry,” Hugh said. “It’s none of my business, you don’t need to tell me anything.”
“No, it’s fine,” she said. “It’s fine. It’s just…”
Olivia didn’t really have anything to finish that with so instead she slid out of the chair and stood up. “Alright, how about I give you the tour? I have you on until close tonight, so you’ll be going straight into the water with me.”
Hugh was good. He clearly knew his stuff and he was friendly and charming with the customers. Once he was acclimated to the bar, it wasn’t long until he was comfortably serving drinks on his own. Come dinner service, Olivia was working in the kitchen and running orders to the tables, but she tried to come check on him as often as possible.
At one point, she stepped out the door and Hugh flashed her a grin. As she smiled back, she was mortified to realize she was blushing. NO, God, she was his boss and they had just met. The last thing she needed right now was to get taken in by his charm.
It was a weeknight with no games on TV, so things were fairly slow as the evening wound down. Finally, it was just the two of them in the building as she locked the front door.
“So, how are you feeling?” Olivia asked.
“Tired,” Hugh admitted with a laugh. “But good. That felt good, like falling back into my old routines.”
“You did great,” Olivia said. “Not that I was worried, but for your first night, you seemed to know exactly what you were doing.”
“It’s not that different from any of the other bars I worked at,” Hugh said. “Once I got the layout of the area, a beer’s a beer, you know?”
“Well, I appreciate it.”
Between the two of them, cleanup went quickly and twenty minutes later they were locking up. “Do you need a ride?” Hugh asked, clearly noticing there was only one car in the lot.
“No, my roommate is going to pick me up.”
Olivia was again spared answering as Andrew pulled into the lot and pulled up to the sidewalk. The car windows were down and he smiled at them. “All set?” he asked.
“Ready to sleep for a month,” Olivia said with a laugh.
She turned to Hugh. “Thank you for everything tonight,” she said. “You were fantastic. See you tomorrow.”
She climbed into the passenger seat, then waved to Hugh. He waved back and turned to walk toward his own car.
“New guy?” Andrew asked as he pulled out of the parking lot.
“Yeah,” Olivia said, her good mood slowly draining away as the glow of working with Hugh faded. “New bartender.”
They were silent for a moment as Andrew turned away from the usual route home. Mia had been staying at Olivia’s mother’s tonight. It was past midnight, but Mom had sheepishly asked if maybe they could still pick her up as she and her longtime boyfriend, Sammy, were leaving on another trip tomorrow.
“How is he?” Andrew asked after a minute.
“No idea, haven’t talked to him,” Olivia responded automatically.
Andrew gave her a strange look, and Olivia realized what he’d meant. “Oh, Hugh! He’s good. Friendly, good at the job. Nice guy.”
They lapsed back into silence as they drove down the silent, wooded road toward her mother’s house. “I could hear him last night,” Andrew said quietly.
“I tried to talk to him.”
“How’d that go?”
He grimaced. “How do you think?”
“He needs help,” Olivia said. “More help than I can give. Than any of us can. Do you think he realizes that?”
“I’m not sure he realizes where he is half the time,” Andrew said. “I just…I feel like I should be doing more.”
“Why?” Olivia said, feeling like a hypocrite for even asking.
He didn’t answer and she didn’t push. Instead, they were quiet again as he pulled into her mother’s driveway.
Olivia had grown up in a split-level house tucked a little way off the road. Her mother had kept the house after her parents divorced and Sammy had moved in about ten years earlier. Olivia loved Sammy. Even though she’d never been a child in the house with him, he had always been a warm and fatherly presence since he’d arrived in her life.
Andrew and Olivia got out of the car and started up the walkway. The crickets were chirping and she could hear frogs croaking a little way into the woods behind the house. The noise was comforting, the sound of her entire life in this place.
Sammy was opening the door as they climbed the steps. “Hey, thanks for coming so late,” he said, his voice almost a whisper.
“You’re babysitting for free, I’m not going to complain about five extra minutes of travel,” Olivia replied.
He laughed, his voice a deep chuckle, then stepped aside for her and Andrew to come inside.
Her mom was sitting on the sofa with Mia asleep beside her. At nearly one and a half, Mia had recently hit a growth spurt to go with her teething. She wore a diaper and tshirt and her impossibly long legs were splayed across the cushion as she snuggled in beside her grandmother.
Even after spending every day with her, Olivia’s heart was still full to bursting just looking at her daughter sometimes.
She greeted her mom with a kiss on the cheek. “How was she?” she asked.
“Fantastic,” her mom replied. “Spent the evening splashing in the wading pool on the deck, then had some dinner and fell asleep halfway through The Lion King.”
“Perfect. Thank you so much for taking her.”
“Thank you for coming to get her. Oh, hi, Andrew. How are you, sweetie?”
Andrew smiled from behind Olivia. “I’m well, thanks,” he whispered.
“We’ll take her and let you two get some sleep before you leave,” Olivia said, scooping up Mia.
Mia settled her head on Olivia’s shoulder and let her legs dangle as Olivia shifted her onto her waist. She barely moved beyond that as Olivia and Andrew said goodbye and walked out of the house.
“So listen,” Olivia said as she was strapping Mia into her seat. “I’m going to have Mia sleep in with me for a little while before transitioning her to her own bed. I’m thinking I might start tonight. You don’t have to answer me right now, but I wanted to offer you the nursery to use as your own room as long as you’re here.”
“Liv,” Andrew started as he buckled his seatbelt. “You don’t have to do that.”
“I want to,” Olivia said.
She gave Mia’s harness one last tug to make sure it was secure, then moved out of the backseat and closed the door. The sound echoed through the silent neighborhood and she winced a little as she opened the driver’s seat and climbed in.
She turned to Andrew. “I mean it,” she said. “I want to bring Mia in with me for a while to get used to being out of the crib. And you pay half the rent, you deserve to have a room. I saw the boxes Cleo brought you. You should be able to have your own space to put your own things.”
Andrew was quiet as she started the car. “Like I said, you don’t have to answer now,” she said. “And I know you’re going to leave when you can. But I’d like you to consider it.”
He nodded. “I will, thanks.”
Satisfied, she pulled onto the main road and started driving home.