The click-clack of my high heels echoed through the empty space. The smell of wood polish, old cigarettes, and alcohol filled the air of the bar I’d practically grown up in and was now the owner of.
I was taken by a whirlwind of emotions, some happy, others not so much. It had been years since I’d stepped foot in the bar, but alas, I had no choice in the matter. Taking in my surroundings, the voice on the other end of the phone still echoed through my head, “I’m sorry, Ms. Cross, but your father lost his battle with cancer early this morning.”
I’d been paralyzed at getting the news and now I was in his bar. My dad had worked day and night. He put his blood, sweat, and tears into Crossroads Bar, and besides me, it was his pride and joy. Now it and his other property were mine.
The plausibility of what to do with the place popular among locals had stumped me. Fort Shasta, California was my hometown, but I had never completely felt I belonged. Keeping the bar open would mean staying in the small town filled with people with small town mindsets.
Dad, on the other hand, loved the town he’d called home since he was sixteen and ran away from home. He made a life for himself and never looked back.
My dad hadn’t even told me he was sick until two weeks ago. When I got the news my schedule was packed, and there was no way to reschedule many of the surgeries I had to perform. I was planning my trip up when the cancer took him before I could see him–before I could say ‘goodbye’.
Reluctantly, I stepped deeper into the place my dad held so close to his heart. I got caught up in his “Wall of Fame”. The wall was filled with photos of him with long time patrons and the odd celebrity that would come through.
I paused at one photo in particular. It was me and Dad outside the bar, three years prior, the last time I’d come home. Dad had the biggest grin on his face. I’d just completed my residency and would be off to work with Doctors Without Borders for six months. Dad was so proud of me for sticking to my guns and persevering through my obstacles.
Running my fingers across the photo, tears trickled down my cheeks. With Dad I lost the only family I had. It had just been me and him since I was two years old. Dad was my everything and though I hadn’t seen him in a few years, he was still the number one man in my life.
Of course, in the photo he had a cigarette hanging out the side of his mouth. Dad was a chain smoker, always a cigarette in his hand. No matter what he was doing, there was either a cigarette in his hand or nearby. I had photos of him, all with cigarettes. Hell, there was a newborn photo of me, I had to be about two weeks old and my dad sat with me in one hand and a cigarette in the other. That was typical of him, but all that smoking caught up with him.
I tried urging him to quit, especially when I was in medical school and learning intensely what cigarettes did to the body. He had tried on several occasions to quit, but the addiction was too strong.
My last twenty-four hours were a roller coaster of insanity. I’d just arrived at my office when I got the phone call. Upon getting the news, I sat and cried in my office for a good fifteen minutes before I pulled myself together. I knew I had to make it back to my hometown as soon as possible. There was no one else to handle Dad’s final accounts and wishes but me.
I’d informed the staff I had a family emergency and went straight home. Well, as fast as I could get home in LA rush hour traffic. When I arrived home, I threw my things on the couch, and bolted into my bedroom to pack a suitcase for my trip.
That’s when I found him— my fiancé—in bed with another woman. I felt I needed to double check the calendar to make sure it wasn’t a Friday the Thirteenth. My heart had broken twice in one day. There hadn’t been enough time, though, to really hash it out with my fiancé the way I wanted because I needed to pack and be on the road to Fort Shasta as soon as possible. I’d left him with the parting message of getting his shit out of my house and not being there when I returned.
Nothing could make my day worse. Absolutely nothing.
The door of the bar creaked open and light streamed in. I could only make out the silhouette of a man through the bright sunlight until he stepped inside, and his face came into view.
Standing there was the reason I’d avoided home for so long. Liam, my ex-boyfriend. He looked the same, still hot, and still here. He still stood tall in jeans and a button up shirt. Just the sight of his stubble filled chin gave me lustful flashbacks. I could never forget those eyes, green as ever.
“I should have known the doctor was in town when I saw the fancy car parked outside,” he stepped toward me.
I rolled my eyes. I didn’t have time for his childish ways. Liam never got why I wasn’t the typical small-town girl, and my aspirations were bigger than measly old Fort Shasta. He would always make fun of me, calling me a ‘City Girl’. My dreams were always bigger than Middle-of-Nowhere, California.
“Always the sour puss, eh, Girlie.” He used his old nickname for me. I swallowed hard hearing it. There were so many memories associated with that name. Some of the memories were good, while others were bad. Luckily most were good.
“What are you doing here, anyway?” I asked harshly, wiping away the tears I’d just shed over my dead father.
“I work here, Sweet Cheeks,” he said calmly as he stepped towards the bar.
“What do you mean, ‘work here’?”
Liam ran his fingers through his messy chestnut brown hair and flashed his perfect smile. His eyes locked with mine. I tried to not show him how much I was still attracted to him, even though he’d broken my heart.
My hands fanned me at the heat entrapped in my body.
“Fuck did Dad ever get an air conditioner in this place?” I was sweating up a storm while fanning myself inside the warm bar. The thermostat in my car had read 107 degrees. Triple digit temperatures were no joke in Northern California. Though to be honest, I wasn’t just hot from the scorching weather, but the man that stood in front of me.
“He did, but it broke down. Getting it fixed was pricy so he just stuck to the old fashion way— ceiling fans,” his eyes never left mine. I allowed my eyes to shift away as I scanned the room.
“So, this thing about you working here, you’re kidding right?”
“Not kidding, I started here part-time about a year ago to help out your dad when he found out he was sick. As he got worse, it became more of a full-time gig, but you know me, I’m always down for helping Mr. Cross,” a small smile came to my face.
That was one thing Liam was always good for, helping my dad out when needed. Even after Liam and I broke up, he and Dad stayed close, which was one reason I hadn’t been home. Going home meant seeing Liam, something my heart had never been ready for.
Something hit me. Liam had learned of my dad’s sickness a year before. I’d only learned two weeks before his death. Anger filled me. Liam could have given me a heads up a long time before. Why hadn’t Liam contacted me? I knew we ended on bad terms, but he still could have had the balls to tip me off to my dad’s condition.
I opened my mouth to say something when my cell phone started to ring in my purse. Opening my bag, I pulled out my phone and scoffed at the number on the screen. It was my now ex-fiancé I’d left in LA.
Answering the call, all the anger I was feeling about that, Liam, and my dad’s death came through in my voice, “What do you want?” I growled into the receiver.
“Beth, Baby.” My stomach churned at the sound of his voice. Fuck him.
“My instructions were clear. Get your shit, get out of my house, and never fucking call me again. I don’t know how that wasn’t clear.”
I felt Liam’s eyes on me and his ears listening. Sharply, I turned and stomped out the front door into the scorching heat.
“Baby, I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean–”
“You didn’t mean to get caught. Yeah, I know.”
“It was a misunderstanding,” Kevin, my ex, whined. God, he was such a fucking baby, crying to me after he’d been the one to do me wrong, I wasn’t going to stand for any of it.
“Misunderstanding, really? Your dick was in the vagina of another girl and I walked in on it. I don’t think that was a misunderstanding,” I yelled, wanting to pull my hair out in anger and frustration. He wasn’t going to use his charm to reel me back in, I was gone. “Kevin, I have too much going on right now. Just leave me alone. I left your stupid ring on the dresser; take it and your shit. I’m done.”
I hung up and went back into the bar where Liam was standing behind the counter. He looked up from the counter as he took a sip from the glass he held in his hand.
“Trouble in paradise?” I heard the concern in his voice. I appreciated it in a way. I stood and looked directly at the man I once loved–still loved in a sense. I shook my head.
“Already drinking, are we?” I nodded at the tumbler in his fingers.
“It’s just coke.”
There was so much to do, and I had no clue how long it effectively would take me. I sighed at the thought of the days ahead of me.
“So,” I said, eager to change subjects. “How’s your daughter?”
After Liam and I went our separate ways, he had a daughter. I remembered hearing the news from my best friend and the pain I felt knowing the man I’d always wanted to start a family with was doing just that with someone else.
“She’s so good. Smart as a whistle and with all the energy in the world.” Liam gushed over his daughter, who couldn’t be more than six years old.
“That’s fantastic. How old is she now?”
“Serenati is six now. Let me show you.” Liam was quick to whip out his phone. He showed me his menu screen. There was an adorable little redhaired girl hugging a teddy bear close. She wore a sparkling red dress and stood in front of a Christmas tree in what I could tell was Liam’s parent’s living room. I smiled down at her big gap-toothed grin. Adorable.
“She’s cute,” I commented to Liam who beamed with delight over his little girl who looked so much like him, but also very much like her mother.
“That was at Christmas. She’s a little bigger now, but that’s one of my favorite pictures of my little bug.” He was taken with the love he had for his daughter, I could see it in his eyes. “She’s with her mom tonight. I’ll pick her up in the morning.”
I knew things didn’t work out between him and his baby’s mother. They had in fact broken up while she was still pregnant, but he was obviously a great father and his life revolved around his little girl with an unfortunate name.
I began to move in the direction of my dad’s back office. There would hopefully be some clues in there to lead me in the right direction of what I needed to do.
Opening the door of the small space, I was instantly transported back in time. I was back to being a little girl and sitting in my dad’s lap while he smoked a cigarette and did his work.
I sighed. I had no idea what to do. Dad had run the bar on his own for years and I didn’t know his business that well. I wouldn’t know the first thing to do with a bar. I had a life back in LA, not in Fort Shasta. I had a house, a job, a fi–never mind. But there was a life waiting for me, I’d never intended to move back home, I would have to figure out something and fast.
There were papers everywhere. I didn’t where or how to start. Maybe the stack of bills on the file cabinet would be a good place to begin. My fingers took grasp of the stack of envelopes and I took them with me to Dad’s old beat up chair.
Plopping my butt in the chair, I started with the first bill on top, it was from a credit card company. An old knife laid on top of another stack of papers. I grabbed it and used it to open the statement. Unfolding the piece of paper in my hands, my eyes instantly went wide at the numbers I saw. Dad hadn’t ever said anything about any major debts, but his credit card statement had another story.
“Fuck,” I hissed as I tossed it down and continued onto the next bill. I would need a drink sooner rather than later.