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Next: Chapter 5 – Grounded

(First, stop right there!  Did you read Chapter 4 of our South Boston romance serial novella yet? If not, read this first! )

THEY WALKED past the window at a regular clip – but too fast to see who was inside Roza Lyons.  Maddy had accompanied Olivia so she didn’t look like a complete “psycho.”  They were just two women who happened to be walking into the Irish bar for a drink.  It would be a coincidence that Jimmy was inside – serendipitous.

“We’re just gonna have to go in and take a seat at the bar. There are two near the front,” said Maddy wearing high rise jeans and a crop top she wore with thick silver and turquoise statement belt.  Olivia adjusted the the collar of her white button down and wished she put on something a little snappier.  She felt plain and dowdy.

“Can’t we just casually walk through the bar?” Olivia asked.

“Don’t be ridiculous. We are two girls out for a drink.”

Olivia took a deep breath and nodded her head.  Maddy was well skilled when it came to dating games.  She always had a string of men texting her, buying her drinks, sliding in her DMs.  A few months back, a married man Maddy slept with sent her flowers every day for a week. She was confident. She worked in a art gallery as an assistant curator.  Her honey blond hair had an expensive cut and her blue eyes were lined with thick and full dark lashes. Through a combination of kickboxing and yoga, her jeans accentuated her thin waist and round bottom.

When they passed through the front door, they were hit with the sounds of a busy bar.  All five televisions were on and waiting for the Game 2 of the Bruins playoffs.  The jukebox was playing some low-key 70’s soft rock and conversations could be heard in bits and pieces. There wasn’t a bouncer at the front door, so Maddy and Olivia walked to two empty seats at the front of the bar.  Olivia spotted Jimmy sitting at the other end of the bar.  His back was towards them.  He was talking to another guy – roughly the same age as Jimmy.  Maybe his roommate, a coworker or a friend.

“Ladies, how are you this evening?” a young, handsome bartender with an Irish brogue asked.

“We’re good. How are you?” Maddy flirted.

“Fine, fine,” said the bartender. His cheeks blushed as he placed two menus on the bar in front of them.

“Are you drinking?” he asked.

“Of course,” said Maddy.

Olivia nodded.

“I’ll have a cider” said Maddy.

“Tito’s and soda”

Jimmy’s back was still facing them.  So now what? Olivia thought sipping her drink.  Suddenly, her plan seemed juvenile and ridiculous and she wanted to pay for her drink and quickly exit the bar.  To her right was an old man – he had to be in his late seventies – wearing a fisherman’s cap and a worn tweed blazer frayed around the collar and cuffs.  His hands shook as he picked up a short glass filled with brown liquor.  Olivia watched as he lifted the glass slowly to his lips and sipped.  Placing the glass down on the bar he smiled and stared straight ahead.  Not looking at anything in particular – maybe remembering his late wife.  His youth.  Lost dreams.  She thought about her grandfather. He was strong and tall and usually gruff and unlikeable.  Don’t mind him.  His bark is worse than his bite” her grandmother would say kissing the top of his head.

A sadness washed over Olivia as she finished her drink. She felt unbalanced as if she might slip off of the the barstool and float away. Maddy was talking about setting her alarm to get up for a 6:00am fighter’s conditioning class at Peter Welch’s Gym before she had to head to the gallery at 9am.

“Do you want to sign up?” she asked.

Olivia shook her head no.  She was not in the right mental capacity to commit to a crowded boxing gym where she would subjected to commands to jab and upper cut and pair up for partner work.  That all seemed exhausting.

“Well, I’m signing up right now,” said Maddy registering for class via MindBody app.

“Ladies, your next round is on the two gentlemen down at the end of the bar,” said the bartender nodding his head in the direction of Jimmy.  He was smiling raising a bottle of Bud Lite.

“Oh wow, he’s a snack,” said Maddy. “Thank you,” she called down the bar, turning on a smile that lit up her face and caused her blue eyes to shine.

Olivia smiled too and raised her newly poured Tito’s and Soda in the air as a gesture of thanks.  She felt her face grow red when he smiled back.  Then Jimmy turned his back again.

“Seriously? Is that it?”

“Hold on. They’ll walk over,” said Maddy without a doubt in her mind.

And sure enough within a minute, Jimmy and friend walked over.

“Thank you for the drinks,” said Olivia

“No problem, ladies,” said Jimmy.  “This is Mike,” he added.

“I’m Maddy.”

They made polite conversation.  Do you guys come here a lot? Are you Bruins fans? Work resumes. Colleges attended.  Mike was Jimmy’s college roommate in town for work.  He lived in New York.  Mike was shorter than Jimmy but above average in height.  He had light brown hair cut short and a slight build.  He worked for a startup app that outsourced e-commerce order fulfillment. She pretended to be interested all the while watching Jimmy out the corner of her eye. 

Olivia could feel her face smiling as she looked up at Jimmy as he took turns talking and glancing up at the TV to watch the Bruins game. Although, she had a date with him, he seemed even more of a stranger. She was waiting for a connection.  A butterfly feeling.  Sure, he was tall and handsome and if she tried hard enough, she imagined that she could muster up some feelings for him but it would be forced. 

Olivia decided it would have been better to “bump into him” by herself.  Right now, Jimmy politely divided his attention with an all in approach to the conversation.  Questions directly at Maddy. “What type of art is at your gallery?”  “Which gym do you go to?”  To Olivia, “How was work that day?”  “What have you been up to”  Reminiscing about college to include Mike.  Remember that party at our apartment that ended in a huge water fight. Like dumping pots and pans filled with water over people’s heads and throwing water in people’s faces. Mike ended up pulling in the hose from the yard and spraying everyone and everything. Our place was trashed.” You know college.

They ordered another round of drinks and Olivia found herself focusing on the old man at the bar again.  His name was Fran.  She overheard the bartender call him that.  He liked to doodle with a pen on cocktail napkins. Olivia tried to make out the words and pictures he drew.  She could feel her energy draining more. She was alone in a bar full of people. She looked for something to anchor her. 

Maddy was holding court, keep Jimmy and Mike entertained.  She was a great storyteller. Animated and sincere.  She was telling a story from her childhood when she got locked inside the dryer by her older brother. Olivia took another sip of her drink and made an exit plan.  She would excuse herself to the ladies room and head out the back door and walk home.  She would text Maddy when she was outside. 

“I’m gonna run to the ladies room.”

Maddy smiled and nodded.  Jimmy moved out of the way to let Olivia slide down from the barstool.  He gently placed his hand on her shoulder.  She could feel the warmth of his hand through the cotton of her shirt.  The touch was encouraging but she found herself annoyed.

As Olivia walked to the bathroom, she noticed the crowd in Roza Lyons had doubled and the noise level increased.  She pushed her way through the waves of people. She kept her head down.  She didn’t want to recognize a face and have to stop and make screaming small talk.  Inside the quiet of the ladies room, she washed her hands and threw cold water on her face.  She blotted away the moisture with a paper towel.  Her cheeks were flush red from the alcohol.  She applied another coat of gloss onto her lips. She thought of Paul and his phone calls.

IT WAS a Friday night when she told Paul she was moving out.  Each day that week, she made broken promises to herself that today would be the day she would break the news to him. They weren’t fighting or anything.  It was just a quiet distance that had been growing over the last year.  Sex was sparse and awkward – disappointing for both of them.  They were miles apart in the small one bedroom they shared.

“I don’t think I can do this anymore,” Olivia told Paul when he got home from working overtime.  His jeans were dirty from working a twelve hour shift.  His work boots were untied but still on his feet.  He walked to the fridge and took out a Heineken.  He sat across from her at the small kitchen table silent.  He took a deep breath and then let it out slowly.  His face looked deflated and sad.  She had seen this face many times.  Peering up from his phone.  Watching her while she ate her salad.  Waiting for her when she woke up.  Always watching.

“I knew it was gonna happen.” He finally said.  “I just didn’t know when.”  She tried to explain that she felt adrift. She didn’t know who she was or who she was supposed to be.  She just knew she didn’t want to be there.  Anywhere but there.

He didn’t yell.  He didn’t cry.  He didn’t plead with her to stay.  He helped her carefully pack up her life into boxes, into the back of her car.  They hugged tenderly and he slipped an envelope into her hand, then turned and walked up the stairs to the apartment.  She didn’t open the contents of the envelope for a week.  Inside was a letter.

Walking out the bathroom, she paused at the threshold and looked down the crowded bar towards the front.  She could see the top of Paul’s head.  She turned and navigated her way out the back of Roza Lyons to cut through the area where people smoked cigarettes. She would slip through the fence of the firehouse parking lot as a short cut and then walk the three blocks to her apartment.

Outside the sky was just turning a midnight blue.  The sun had set but the lightness of spring could still be seen through the dark sky. The smell of cigarette smoke consumed her. There was two small clusters of smokers doing their thing.  She began to maneuver her way around them when she heard her name called.

She turned to find her landlord Steve.  He was smoking a cigarette and he exhaled a large stream of swirly smoke and smiled at her. “Where you off to?”

“Uhhmmm…home?” Olivia said hesitantly as if Steve asked her a loaded question where consequences could emerge depending on her answer.

“Home? It’s only 8:15.” He was wearing a light blue oxford shirt and jeans.  His sleeves were casually rolled up to reveal strong forearms and an expensive looking watch. He extended to her a Coors Light which she took a drink from. 

“You can have it. I’m double fisted.”

“Thanks.”

“This is Marty and Freddie.”  Steve nodded in the direction of two other middle aged men to the left of Steve.  Marty was balding with kind eyes.  Freddie was short and wide with a thick curly beard. 

“Hey,” she said casually. 

“No fun in there? “ Steve nodded his head in the direction of the bar.

“Not really.”  She shifted her weight back in forth in her red clog sandals until she felt grounded. 

“It’s pretty packed.  I was hoping to sit at the bar to watch the game.  No luck.  I saw you and Maddy when I walked in.  I waved but you didn’t see me I guess.”

“You did? I’m sorry!”  Olivia began to laugh.  Of course she didn’t see Steve.  He wasn’t on her radar.  He was at that age that tended to be invisible until standing right of in front of her.

“Nah, no worries.  You look like you were busy.” He smiled and looked right into Olivia’s eyes.  She felt her stomach flip slightly and she could feel her cheeks growing warm.  

“Well, cheers!  Thanks for the beer,” said Olivia raising her bottle to his. 

“Cheers!”

Her phone vibrated in her bag.  She took it out and prepared herself for what she knew she would find.  Two texts. 

From Maddy: Did you fall in? Please don’t tell me you left me here…

From Jimmy: Where d’you go

She looked up at Steve who’s eyes remained locked on her.  “Nothing important,” she said taking another sip of her beer.  She would see where this would take her.

Okay, readers!  Where should this go next?  Does she go back into Roza Lyons to return to Jimmy and Maddy, does she where it goes with her landlord Steve or does she just go home?  Head to our Instagram to vote! 

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About the Author

Maureen Dahill

Maureen Dahill is the editor of Caught in Southie and a lifelong resident of South Boston sometimes mistaken for a yuppie. Co-host of Caught Up, storyteller, lover of red wine and binge watching TV series. Mrs. Peter G. Follow her @MaureenCaught.