“Wow,” I sarcastically say, standing in the kitchen with Mark. “It's a floor!”
He sighs, unimpressed with my reaction. “It's new!”
“Am I meant to be excited?”
“Yeeeah!” He replies. “We don't have that nasty bloodstain anymore!”
I smile at his cuteness. “How much did it bug your OCD to have that there?”
He puts his arm around me. “I did it for you.”
“Yeah. Three months after it happened!”
“Hey, we were busy dealing with Dimato,” he replies.
“Uh, yeah, for two weeks after it happened.”
He puts his hand under my chin, & squishes my cheeks. “Just be nice & say thank you Mark.”
“Thank you, Mark.”
Paige comes through from their bedroom, hair a little messy from her nap. As she approaches her due date, she's been finding it easier to have an afternoon nap. Mark lets me go & turns to her. He cups her face with both hands & kisses her. He then bends down & kisses her large bump. There's a tight pang in my chest- that's what I missed out on while pregnant with Felicity. I had to do it all on my own, & a part of me is jealous that Paige & Mark get to experience this together, even though I’m really happy for them. Maybe some day I’ll have the chance to have what they have.
"I was just showing Erin the new floor," Mark says, turning back to me & snapping me from my thoughts.
I step aside so Paige can see the floor as she steps closer. She stares at it & nods.
“Looks good,” she replies.
“Am I the only one excited by this?” He asks.
Paige & I look at each other.
“Yep,” we both reply.
He sighs, turning away.
“But,” Paige says, turning him back. “I’m happy that you're so happy about it.”
They kiss & I suddenly feel awkward. Thankfully the front door opens & Tyler steps in, holding the door open for Piper.
“Hey, how were your days?” Paige asks.
“Busy,” Tyler replies, shutting the front door as Piper walks over to the kitchen bench.
“Boring,” Piper says, sitting down at the bench. “Until I got to be at the garage.”
Tyler settles in a chair beside Piper, his shoulder brushing hers. I see the two pairs, at different stages of their relationships but both very happy. And I miss that- having someone there for me. I know I have my brothers, but… It's not the same. I miss being able to curl up in bed after a long, tiring day & have someone there next to you. To hold you, kiss you, make you forget about the troubles of your day. A month after that hellish week, we finally got Felicity's cot. Which means for the last eight weeks, I haven't been sharing my bed with her. And it's been over three months since I’ve dated. My heart has healed from the heartbreak over Eddie, & the loneliness is sinking in. Deep & hard.
I sigh, fighting back the emotions.
“Hey,” Mark says, placing a hand on my shoulder. “Are you okay?”
"Hmmm? Oh, yeah, I'm fine."
He frowns. “You don't sound like it.”
“I’m… I'm gonna go… Check on Felicity.”
I head into the corridor to our bedrooms, stopping far enough in so they can't see me & lean my back against the wall, letting my tears silently fall. I didn't think this would be so hard.
“You think she's okay?” I hear Mark ask the others.
“She said she is,” Tyler replies.
“I agree with Mark,” Paige says. “She's not happy & she's trying to hide it.”
“What do you think we should do?” Mark asks.
“Just be there for her,” Paige says. “Don't push her into opening up. Let her open up when she's ready.”
I wipe away my tears, push myself off the wall & head towards my room.
I walk in to the Waterhole the next morning for my meeting with Sheila about what we’re going to do next to promote the pub. Sheila's behind the bar when I walk in. She sees me, & waves as she smiles at me. I smile & wave back. She points to the couches & I go & sit down. I place my sketch book, files & my iPad down on the glass table, & place my handbag on the floor.
A group of four young men about my age are playing pool. Four very handsome men. The most appealing looking one I note has a wedding band, which makes my chest tighten. But then my eyes meet the eyes of one of his mates as he crosses to their table, which is the next high one over from me. At first glance, I wouldn't take much notice of him. He's not quite as handsome as his friends- baby faced compared to the chiseled jawlines of his mates- but there's something so… Captivating. He's very casually dressed, his brown hair a spikey mess on top. Neither of us can stop staring at each other. He picks up his glass of beer in his right hand, resting his left arm on the table. He smiles, lifting his beer a little higher in a toast like fashion, & then takes a sip. I smile back.
“Sorry about that,” Sheila says, stepping over & sitting down. “Sudden rush of patrons.” She sees that I’m making eyes with him. “But I see that you’re keeping yourself entertained.”
I look at her. “What?”
“Like the view?” She asks, glancing over at the guy.
My jaw drops open a little, not sure how to respond to that.
“What's your plan?” Sheila asks.
“Just to clarify, we’re talking business now, right?” I ask.
She smiles. “Unless you want to talk pleasure?”
I just stare at her for a long minute. “I think you should look into having The Waterhole actively posting things on social media,” I tell her. “You know… Events coming up, both run by us & any community ones we’re involved in. As well as any specials you have. Photos from the events, as well as bringing in musical acts. I know when it was called Charlie’s that that was a regular thing, & I think we could bring them back.”
"Sounds like a brilliant plan,” She replies. “But… There's a problem.”
“I know. You're not very tech savvy, & I’ve already worked out a plan.”
“If it's teaching me how to operate social media, you’re barking up the wrong tree, love.”
I smile. “Actually, I was going to pitch that I run the pages,” I reply. “To begin with. Until we find an Assistant Manager who can handle managing the pages.”
“Are you sure?”
I nod. “The Lassiter’s folio is our biggest at the moment,” I reply. “Aaron has the smaller clientele handled, & has most of the hotel handled too. Besides, I’m better suited to running clients the size of The Waterhole. Much as Lassiter’s is important, we’re liaising with the other hotels around the world, & I’m more comfortable handling smaller businesses.”
“Well, aren't you just the life saver!”
I smile. “Happy to help.”
“You definitely have the kindness gene in your family.”
“Oh, you definitely are the Brennans number one fan!”
“Did your handsome eldest brother tell you he dated my daughter?”
I raise my eyebrow. “No.”
“Well, he did. Her name is Naomi. They were lovely together. I’m very disappointed that she dumped him to chase after moneybags…”
I raise my eyebrow even more. “Naomi dated Paul?”
She nods. “He was conned by Terese’s brother of all people. Was made to believe that he had cancer, when he didn't. And Naomi, who was working as Paul's PA at the time, fell for him, breaking your brother's poor heart,” she says. “Dumped him when he was sick. She almost married Paul, too. Thankfully she didn't.”
“Wow,” I reply.
“Anyway… Let me get us some drinks, & then you can show me these new social media pages.”
She scurries away to the bar. I catch sight of the four young men in the corner of my eye. I look over, once again meeting his eyes, this time just as he bends over setting up a shot.
“Enjoying the eye candy?” Sheila asks.
We’ve been here for most of the day, setting up the various social media pages- Facebook, Twitter & Instagram- & looking into the things we can upload straight away. But my eyes kept drifting to the men who are still playing pool.
“What?” I reply, looking at her. “No.”
She gives me a look. “For someone who says they’re not, you're giving a lot of your time to staring at him.”
“Them,” I correct.
“Oooh, got your eyes on more than one?”
I shuffle pages around, trying hard to hide how flustered I am.
“Word of advise, from someone with a world’s experience,” She says. “A young woman who has been through half of what you have deserves happiness. Which means you deserve the world.”
I turn to her, confused. “What are you getting at?”
“If you like what you see… Go for it,” she replies. “He looks like he’ll be nicer to you than that Edward boy ever was. So stop fussing over an old chook like me, & go talk to the handsome young fellow!”
"Oh, I... I don't know.”
“Oh, look! His friends are leaving!”
I look up & sadly find that she's right- his three friends are leaving. I look at him, praying that he leaves too. But he settles at the table.
“So go talk to him!”
I look at her. “No.”
“Take a risk!”
I sigh, looking at my stuff. I turn back, ready to say more, but she's already halfway over to the bar. I glare at her.
“Subtle!” I call to her.
I look at him- he’s looking at his mobile. I don't want to disturb him. So I lean back with my iPad, looking at the new social pages. Once we’re doing events or musical guests, I’ll set up Snapchat & Periscope. But, for now, the ones we have will do.
But my eyes keep going back to him. One time he catches me, & instead of darting my gaze away, I hold it. He smiles at me.
As I smile back, I find the courage to approach him. I get up & walk over to him, holding his gaze the whole time.
“Hi,” he says, & I instantly recognise he has a British accent. “I'm Jay. It's nice to finally talk to you.”
“Hi,” I reply. “I’m Erin.”
“Erin. What a beautiful name.”
I smile. “Thank you.”
“You're welcome,” he replies, smiling. “Has your friend left?”
I frown. “Friend?”
“Mother?” He asks. When I’m still confused, he adds, “That woman you were with.”
"Ohhhh!" I reply. "Sheila. Not my mother. Or a friend. She's a client… And my neighbour…”
He nods. “So… What do you do?”
“PR,” I reply. “I took the pub on a couple of months ago.”
“Why would a pub need a PR woman?”
“When they're owned by the hotel next door?”
He nods. “Well, if you're not working any longer,” he replies. “You can always gather up your things & join me.”
"Technically I’m still working,” I reply, before looking at Sheila. She's back to serving patrons. I look at him. “But Sheila has abandoned our work, to force me into coming & talking to you.”
He raises an eyebrow at me. “So you didn't want to come over?” He replies. “Get out.”
“Excuse me?” I reply, looking shocked.
“I’m joking,” He replies. “Which… Totally backfired.”
I tilt my head a little. “You're… Kinda funny.”
“So does that mean you’ll join me?”
I think it over. “You buy the first round, & I will.”
He raises an eyebrow. “Coming round to the idea of speaking to me then.”
“Mmmm call it trying something new.”
“Well, go you!” He replies. “What would you like?”
“Get me a coke.”
“Not a beer? Cider?” He asks. “Wine? You're definitely a wine woman.”
I narrow my eyes a little. “I'm still working.”
“Try something new.”
“I'm talking to you, aren't I?”
He looks shocked. He points a finger at me. “I like you.”
I shrug. “Everyone says that.”
He smiles. “Go get your stuff before someone steals it,” he says, picking up his glass. “I’ll go get our drinks.”
He downs the rest of his beer. He then waves me off, encouraging me to go get my things, before heading to the bar.
As I collect my things, I can't help smile. Maybe my loneliness will be over soon…
“Urgh!” Paige says, as we walk into our home. “Can we get an alternative way into our house? Those stairs are making me feel like I’m climbing Mount Everest!”
I smirk. “How about a foot massage?”
She turns to look at me. “Best hubby ever!”
I step over to her, cupping her face with both hands. I then lean down & press my lips to hers. She moans into my mouth, sliding her hands up my chest to wrap her arms around my neck. I hold her as close as I can, being careful of our two bundles of joy. After our kiss, she walks over to the couch. She lowers herself down & I can't help but smirk at the way she does now as I walk around the back of the couch & sit down at the other end.
She kicks off her shoes- she's been wearing flats the last few weeks that are easy for her to slip on & off, & are comfortable- & slowly shifts so her legs stretch out along the couch, her feet in my lap & her back supported by a cushion. I gently massage her left foot, & she lets out a contented sigh.
“Am I boring you?” He asks.
I look up from my mobile, having checked the time. He’s looking at me, his blue eyes waiting for mine. I drop my eyes, staring at his lips & I wonder what it would be like to kiss him.
“No,” I say, softly. I snap my eyes back to his, regain my composure, & add, “I… I have to go collect someone shortly.”
“Oh,” he replies. “Husband?”
I raise an eyebrow. “Do you see a ring on my finger?”
He shrugs. “He could have just proposed & hasn't got the ring yet.”
“If I was gonna get engaged, I expect some kind of ring before I accept it.”
“Wow, how charming of you!”
“Okay… What about a boyfriend?”
I scoff, rolling it into laughter. “What?”
“Just… Scoping out if I have any competition.”
“If I had a… Any of those,” I reply. “Do you think I would've spent my afternoon chatting with you?”
He raises an eyebrow. “You saying I’m not good enough?”
He narrows his eyes. “Alright,” he says, letting them relax. “So… Do I get to find out who you have to leave me for?”
I move my straw around in my glass, trying to figure out if I should admit that I’m a single mother to a twenty-one month old girl.
“You… Don't have to say,” he replies. “Not if you don't want to.”
“Uhh… It's my daughter,” I reply. “I have a young daughter. Almost two. Years old, not two kids…”
He smiles. “You're really cute when you babble like that.”
I smile, trying not to blush.
"So... Father not in the picture?"
“Yeah, you could say that,” I mutter.
“Ooo, sensing tension,” He replies. “So I’m going to steer us away from that topic.”
“You're welcome,” he replies. “Got time for another one?”
“Uhh… No,” I reply. “Sorry. I should… I should go.”
“No worries,” he replies. “It was nice meeting you.”
I smile. “Same.”
He pulls a blank page from my things, & writes down a phone number along with his name.
“In case we don't happen to see each other here again,” he says, placing the page back on the pile. “And I won't ask for yours in return. That way it's your call if we see each other again. Though I strongly vouch for that being a ‘yes’. We clearly get along.”
I smile. I then get up, but overbalance as I do. He quickly reaches out to support me, the movement causing me to end up pressed against his chest, my hands splayed either side of his collar bones as his left arm wraps around my waist. We're close enough for the sexual tension between us to intensify so much, there's an overwhelming urge to lean forward an inch & kiss him.
But my instincts kick in. My heart has been broken too many times the last few years- even just the last few months- & I can't open up my heart to love again, even though it feels so right to be in his arms.
I push myself back & he drops his arm.
“Uhh… Thank you,” I say, turning to gather up my things. “For… Catching me.”
He smiles. “You're welcome,” he replies. “I hope to see you again.”
I smile. “Maybe.”
“Well, you have my number,” he replies. “If that ‘maybe’ ever becomes a ‘yes’.”
I smile, holding my things tightly against me. For a long moment, we stare at each other.
I snap out of it. “I… I should go.”
He nods. “Have a safe trip home.”
I turn & walk out casually, not wanting to hurry out like I want to, because I know he’ll be watching. Once the door is safely shut, I stop for a moment. I close my eyes & deeply sigh. I haven't felt like this in a long time. Am I being too cautious about opening myself up again? Should I see where this is heading?