Keegan’s was too loud. The energy of the place used to boost his own energy when he was working, but right now Noah just felt like it was crushing him. He was standing just outside the door, checking IDs as people walked in. Another new measure of Bret’s apparently. Olivia had told him they weren’t allowing minors in after eight. Noah thought this was a little ridiculous, what minors were coming to Keegan’s anyway? But he was also extremely conscious of the fact that he shouldn’t have this job at all. So if they wanted him checking IDs in a town of nine hundred, he would do it.
Noah felt like he was on display as people walked in. A few did a double take as they saw him and he got an uneasy feeling that the rumors of his absence might have been a bit more extreme than the truth. Maybe he should ask Liv? Or maybe he should just keep his mouth shut forever and be grateful for whatever he got.
There was a break in people coming in and he stepped inside to check in, trying to ignore the stale scent of beer. He looked around the familiar bar that was now completely unfamiliar. Back behind the bar where he’d spent five years, Hugh was now pouring drinks and chatting with customers with ease. Noah saw a woman he recognized getting a round of beers from him. She was cute, short with bright red hair. They’d flirted a few times, but when she came in tonight, the sympathy in her eyes was too much for him to take so he’d pretended he didn’t know her.
He ran a hand over his hair. He’d cut it right after getting home and the short length felt much more comfortable with the beard he was still getting used to. Andrew’s hair had grown out more while he’d been here, hadn’t it? It looked good on him, a little wild in a way that clashed with everything else about Andrew. Noah had wanted to cut his hair off as soon as he could, but Andrew probably had higher standards than the one hairdresser in town, didn’t he?
Everything seemed fine, so Noah walked back out, wishing he’d brought an energy drink or something. He’d woken up on his bedroom floor this morning, more tired than he’d been when he’d gone to bed this morning. He wasn’t sure if he’d sleepwalked or rolled off the bed or what. But that dragging feeling had followed him all day and he’d just about given up trying to wake himself up.
Even standing outside to avoid the smell of alcohol as much as possible, he could barely focus. It was all too familiar. There was the bar where he’d regularly drank on the job. And the jukebox where he’d yelled at Liv for having the audacity to exist. Oh, and the side door he’d slammed as he quit and stormed out.
Noah took a deep breath. He couldn’t fix those things, no matter how much he wanted to go back and change them. It was like they’d said over and over in rehab, all he could do was move on from here. So that’s what he needed to do.
He needed a drink.
The thought was so clear that it might as well have been spoken out loud. It’d be tricky, but he could get a drink. If he couldn’t get back behind the bar without anyone noticing him, he could go downstairs and open a bottle. It didn’t matter what it was, he’d grab something quick and stash it. Then-
What the fuck was wrong with him? Noah squeezed his eyes shut as he tried to pull back from the suddenly all-too-feasible plan forming in his brain. He needed a glass of water. The cool air helped, but he couldn’t stay in the parking lot all night. He’d have to face the sight of the bar, the temptation and shame, and just the pervading smell of alcohol. What the fuck was he doing? He wasn’t even three months sober and here he was working at a bar? What kind of hilarious cosmic joke was this?
As if she’d heard his thoughts, Liv was standing behind him with a water bottle. She handed it to him and he drank it gratefully. “Thanks,” he said, wiping his mouth.
“I noticed you hadn’t come out back in a while, so I figured you could use it.”
“It’s been busy,” he said.
She glanced around the full parking lot. “Yeah, the kitchen’s been pretty nonstop. How are you doing?”
She looked a little skeptical, so he elaborated on the answer that had come out automatically. “I’m okay,” he said. “Just trying to settle in.”
“It’s weird,” Olivia admitted. “I know Bret’s rules are unreasonable, but-”
Noah shook his head. “No, they’re really not. It’s…it’s hard.”
“Is there anything I can do to make it easier?”
Was there? He didn’t want to add anything else to her plate, but she’d made it clear she wanted to. “You’re already doing a lot,” he said.
She squeezed his hand. “Go take your break,” she said. “Charlie’s on his way over to cover before he leaves.”
He nodded, then took his water bottle and walked over to where his truck was parked under a floodlight and leaned against the bed, sipping his water and looking into the night.
They closed at eleven tonight. He only had three hours left. Then he’d go home, go to bed, wake up, and start the whole thing over again.
Every day. Until he died.
Noah took a sip of water, trying not to think too hard about anything at all. He really should have been better at this.
A car pulled into the lot and as it got closer to the one spot left, the one right beside Noah’s truck, he realized it was Olivia’s car. Andrew pulled into the parking spot beside him and got out of the car.
“Oh, hi,” he said.
Noah was mid-sip of water. He toasted Andrew with the water bottle and swallowed. “Hey.”
“I’m just bringing Liv her car.”
Noah had given her a ride here but she’d be working long after he left and had insisted that he didn’t need to linger in the parking lot and wait for her. That discussion had happened at the beginning of his shift tonight, since he’d assumed he’d just stick around so she didn’t walk home alone. He’d deal with her calling him overprotective.
“Thanks,” he said.
In the floodlight, Noah saw Andrew’s gaze fall to his chest, where the word SECURITY was written across the tight black t-shirt he wore. “Security, then?”
“Yeah. Can’t do my previous job for obvious reasons.”
Noah cringed as Andrew just nodded awkwardly. Could he not make things terrible for like thirty seconds?
“When are you done?” Andrew asked, gracefully moving the conversation forward.
Then something clicked into place in Noah’s brain. “Wait,” he said, looking at the car, then at Andrew. “How are you getting home?”
“I’m going to walk.”
Noah rolled his eyes. “No,” he said.
“What do you mean, no?” Andrew demanded. “It’s what, fifteen minutes?”
“In the dark,” Noah said. “Here.”
He reached into his pocket and pulled out his keyring. “Take my truck,” he said.
“You’re really going to let me drive your truck because you think I’m going to get eaten by a bear on my way back?” Andrew asked.
Andrew looked like he wanted to argue, but to Noah’s relief, he reached up and took the keys. “Eleven?” he said.
“Good, I’ll be back to get you. Thanks.”
Andrew put the keys in his pocket and walked into Keegan’s. Feeling played, but unsure exactly how, Noah emptied his water bottle and headed in.
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Five minutes before close, Olivia came up to Noah where he was standing at the front door.
“Listen…” she started, clearly reluctant.
He nodded, feeling that familiar flush of shame starting. “I know,” he said, forcing a smile through the humiliation. “It’s fine.”
She looked like she wanted to say something else, but then a table flagged her down and she had to hurry away. Noah started walking toward the back to get his jacket.
Hugh was walking toward him, carrying a huge tray of dirty dishes. “Can you do me a favor and run downstairs for some paper refills?” he asked.
Noah cringed. “I can’t,” he said. “I’m really sorry. I…”
It was too embarrassing to say that he had a curfew out loud. Hugh looked like was about to say something, but Olivia passed by at that second.
“I’ll get them in a sec,” Olivia said to Hugh. “Noah has to get going.”
He could see the realization in Hugh’s face and he thought he’d rather Hugh just thought he was a jackass. “Yeah, thanks,” Hugh said, then slipped through the doors.
“I’ll see you later,” Olivia said to Noah, then turned and went downstairs to the basement.
He hurried out back before anyone could stop him for anything else and went to the coat rack. His brown leather jacket was hanging on it, so he grabbed it and slipped out the back door.
It was colder than it had been a few hours ago during his break. Noah tossed his jacket on, ignoring the twinge in his wrist as he twisted to slide his arm into the sleeve. As he started to walk up to the parking lot, he saw his truck parked in the spot where he’d had it this morning.
Andrew rolled down the driver’s side window and poked his head out as Noah got closer. “I forgot how utterly horrifying this thing is to drive,” he said.
Noah laughed, the dark cloud over his mood lightening slightly for the first time in hours. “Slide over,” he said. “I’ll drive.”