Chat
of weeks, tops. It’s been an amazing haul—just filling out paperwork for over a month, for one thing. Inspections, license applications, tax forms, contracts—none of which had anything to do with the actual work of painting, sanding, buying furniture and fixtures, rigging the sound system, you name it. And there’s still a ton of piddly stuff left. But most of the heavy lifting is done. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.”
    “It must be like reaching a life goal,” he suggested. “Being able to work for yourself.”
    By now she was leaning with the small of her back against the counter behind her. “I wouldn’t go that far. It is just a bar. But it’s nice to be out of Gloucester. I was way too long in that place.”
    He smiled and suggested, “Things look good after a few years, but maybe for all the wrong reasons?”
    She nodded. “Yeah, exactly. A bunch of habits you start thinking are a life.” She gave him a thoughtful look. “I have you to thank for waking me up, at least partly.”
    He was genuinely surprised. “Me?”
    “That night we met at the end of the pier, after my shift. You were looking for the guy that killed poor old Norm, so you bought me a lobster roll and a milkshake to butter me up—you probably don’t even remember that.”
    “Sure I do,” he said, his own memory being much sharper than she could know.
    “Well, call it the right gesture at the right time. I don’t know,” she mused. “But that hit me right where it counted. Made me think how I was about to make a really big mistake and probably take a huge step backward.”
    He looked at her inquiringly.
    She frowned and stared at the floor for a moment. “I’m not making much sense. You remember seeing a kind of slimy guy at the bar earlier that night—long hair, tattoos?” she asked. “You commented about him—how I gave him a free drink to make him look good to his buddies.”
    “Kenny,” he said.
    Her mouth dropped open. “You remember his name?”
    His face reddened. “I might’ve been a little envious.”
    She touched her lips with her fingertips, assessing this revelation, which he now wished he’d withheld.
    But her conclusion set him at ease. Her face softened and her shoulders slumped slightly. She stepped up to the bar and laid her hand on his. Their faces were close together as she said, “You had nothing to worry about.”
    He didn’t know what to say.
    “I kissed you that night to thank you for being nice to me,” she explained. “But there was more. I had almost decided to make a play for Kenny, even though every bone in my body told me I shouldn’t. You woke me up.”
    “With a lobster roll?”
    She laughed and stepped back, accepting his offer of humor to regain her balance.
    “That’s when I decided to pull up stakes. Coryn, my daughter, was out of the house and on her own; I’d saved up enough money to make a new start. It was time. When this place came on the market, and it was in your hometown, I couldn’t believe it. The coincidence was too much to ignore.”
    “Like a sign?” he suggested.
    She made a face. “I don’t believe in that junk. But I wasn’t going to ignore it, either.”
    “Christ,” he told her, waving a hand around at the clutter, “I’m going to feel pretty bad if it goes belly-up.”
    “It won’t,” she said simply. “I did my homework, too. I’m not a total romantic.”
    “But a bit of one.”
    “Yeah,” she conceded after a pause. “I guess.” She was silent before adding, “That’s why I drove up to Thetford to find you, after reading about the accident. I wasn’t really going shopping.”
    “I wondered,” he admitted, sitting very still.
    “I did want to offer any help I could,” she said quickly. “I meant that. Still do. But I suppose I wanted you to know I was in the area, too, for what it was worth.”
    “A lot.”
    She’d been staring into the middle distance at that point, but his rejoinder made her look at him

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