I’d managed to stay under the radar for the past few weeks, but there was no way I could avoid Mazzie’s opening night. She’d been like the sister I always wanted, looking out for me as the shop got cleaned out and I inched closer to my own grand opening.
With our shared love of all things Italy, I’d begun to forge a friendship with her fiancé too and was grateful for them both. Coming back after ten years had been as shitty as I’d expected. The welcome from my father, exactly as I imagined it would be.
Since I’d come home, he’d only sobered up once, just long enough to ask questions I didn’t want to answer.
Was it a mistake to come back after all these years?
Time would tell.
“Lucas,” Mazzie exclaimed, pulling me through the front door. The singer was even better than he sounded from the street. It was a solid rendition of “Folsom Prison Blues,” and like I’d told Mazzie, I had no problem listening to Johnny Cash next door. The noise when our hours overlapped was something she worried about, but there was no need for her to turn it down. “Come here, there’s someone I want you to meet.”
I couldn’t decide if Mazzie being so outgoing was a good or bad thing. On one hand, she seemed determined to help make my shop a success by telling anyone and everyone about me.
But that was the problem too. The less the people in my hometown knew, the better.
“Brooke . . . Lucas Warner. He’s the guy I was telling you about. Lucas, this is Brooke.”
Mazzie had told me already that Brooke wanted her first tattoo after the baby was born. I stuck out my hand. “Nice to meet you, Brooke.”
“Same to you. I’m so excited to get my first tattoo when you open.”
“Excuse me, guys.” Mazzie left us to greet more people at the door.
“The place is slammed,” I said, glad to see it. “A honky-tonk in the middle of Kitchi Falls. Who would’ve thought?”
“It’s a great fit,” Brooke said. “But I’m not exactly an authority on this town. Just moved here two years ago.”
“That’s what Mazzie told me. M
ust have been a big change from the city.”
“Don’t let her fool you.” Gian came up to us and handed me a beer. “Brooke is as much of a staple here now as the rest of the family.” He gave Brooke a Sprite. “Sorry, Brooke,” he said.
She sighed. “It’s fine. I don’t miss alcohol in the least. It’s super easy working at a vineyard and never having a glass of wine. Which I love. No big deal.”
“Thanks,” I said to Gian. Then to Brooke, “Poor thing. I don’t envy you.”
“Yeah,” she said as the singer finished his song. “No fun. But totally worth it.”
“I’ll take your word for it,” I said. Not that I didn’t want kids, but a wife was usually a prerequisite, and that hadn’t been in the cards for me.
“So what d’you guys think?” Gian asked us, looking around the place. He was clearly proud of his fiancé, and rightly so. We could be in Nashville for all I knew. Or Scottsdale, though I had to take Mazzie’s word on the latter. The former, I knew intimately well.
“I think it’s incredible,” Brooke said. “I just can’t wait to come back when I can actually partake,” she said, indicating our drinks.
Mazzie sidled up to Gian. The two were never far apart from each other.
“Here we go,” she said to him. “Wish me luck.”
Gian planted one on her, the two of them clearly head over heels for each other, and Mazzie made her way to the stage, presumably to give a speech.
Smiling from ear to ear, she took the microphone.
And that’s when I saw her walk in the door.
As much as I didn’t want to be rude to Mazzie, I also had no desire to be seen, and so I turned toward the bar. Kitchi Falls wasn’t that big of a town, so a reunion was inevitable.
Just not tonight.
And if I were really, really lucky, maybe not ever.