* MEGAN *
I’ve always loved Joe’s Sandbar on a Friday night, but tonight, I wasn’t so sure. The crowd of Driftwood Island locals had the same energy as it always did, but instead of being one of the customers downing beers, I was on the other side of the bar tonight. And I was dog tired.
I knew I should be grateful for the job, and I was. Truly, I was. But I still couldn’t help but wish I was lying in bed instead of standing on my feet for hours, delivering drink orders. I’d been awake since five a.m., and it was nearly two a.m. now. Luckily, I didn’t have to wake up until seven a.m. tomorrow. If I had to wake up at five again I think I might have literally died from exhaustion. Okay, maybe not literally, but close enough.
I was working two jobs—one here and one at my best friend Julia’s café. But the real exhaustion was coming from taking care of my elderly grandmother. She was all the family I had left, and the way things had been going with her health this month, I wasn’t sure she would be around very much longer. I was trying to make her as comfortable as possible, and to soak up every last moment with her that I could, but it wasn’t easy when I could barely keep my eyes open half the time.
I survived by telling myself that things wouldn’t be like this forever. This was just a short season of my life, and one day I would look back on all these difficult times and it would just be a memory.
I hoped, anyway.
“Why don’t you go start cleaning up in the back?”
Joe’s voice broke into my thoughts, and I looked over at him in surprise. “Are you sure? It’s still half an hour until closing.”
“I can handle things out here for the next thirty minutes. And no offense but you look like shit. If you start cleaning up the back now, we can be out of here not much after two o’clock. More sleep for both of us, and I know we both could use it.”
I nodded at him gratefully, and headed to the back to start cleaning up what I could before the bar officially closed. Joe knew what it was like to work hard just as much as I did. He owned the bar, but he also did a lot of odd jobs during the day. I knew he often drove rich tourists back and forth from Driftwood Island’s local airport to the Evans Resort, and I admired him for being able to stay awake behind the wheel when he spent most of the time he should be sleeping in the bar instead, taking care of things. I spent much of my time during the day behind the wheel of a vehicle as well, running pastry deliveries for Julia’s café. But at least I was only driving around cupcakes, not people. At least the cupcakes didn’t expect me to be cheery and in a good mood. I could be as grumpy and tired as I wanted to be, and none of them ever complained.
The dirty dishes here at the bar never complained, either. I worked quickly, loading them into the industrial dishwasher after putting away the clean dishes from the machine’s first run of the night. I tidied up the food prep area which our cook had left as it was an hour ago when the bar officially stopped serving food. Our cook used to clean up back here, but Joe couldn’t afford to pay him for all the extra hours of cleaning over the course of the week. Now, Joe insisted that the cook leave as soon as all of the cooking was done. Sometimes, Joe stayed late here himself taking care of cleaning up. But sometimes, like tonight, when the front of the bar was mostly under control, he’d have me come back here and clean until last call came.
I didn’t mind. After hours of smiling and trying to be chipper for the crowd, it felt good to have no other company than the dishes. Not long after, I heard Joe yelling out last call, and I breathed a sigh of relief. I loved this town, and I loved this bar, but right now I didn’t love anything more than the idea of collapsing into bed.
When the bar cleared out and the lights came on, I worked just as quickly out front as I had in the back. I cleared dishes, wiped the tables and bar top, and swept the floor in record time. I was just about to ask Joe if it was okay for me to clock out and go home when the bar’s front door creaked open. I looked over, expecting to see someone coming back to retrieve a forgotten sweater or something like that, but what I saw instead was a ghost from the past walking into the bar. I had to rub my eyes to make sure I was really seeing what I thought I was seeing.
“Trent? Trent Miller?”
Trent grinned at me, his soft blue eyes lighting up at the sight of me. “Megan,” he said. “I didn’t expect to see you here this late, but what a pleasant surprise.” The familiar sound of his voice nearly brought tears to my eyes. Trent had been one of my best friends growing up. Oh sure, Julia always had been and always would be my very best friend, but Trent had been my best guy friend. We’d spent countless hours roaming the island together, causing more than our fair share of mischief. But Trent had moved away right after high school in an attempt to escape a bad family situation at home. I’d heard that his dad had recently died, but I honestly hadn’t expected him to come back for the funeral. I knew better than most how bad things had been between his dad and him, and I knew he’d sworn never to set foot on Driftwood Island again when he left as an angry eighteen year old. So seeing him standing in front of me eight years later came as a bit of a shock.
“I work here now,” I said. “Part time. We’re actually closed, which you should know. Or have you forgotten everything about the island in the time you’ve been away?”
He might have taken offense at the slightly accusing tone of my voice, but instead he just laughed. The sound of his warm laughter did funny things to my insides, and I reached to steady myself on the back of one of the barstools near me.
Since when did Trent Miller make my heart do flip-flops? And had he always been this handsome? I remembered him being good-looking, but the man standing in front of me right now was definitely a step above merely good-looking. He was taller than I remembered, and he was definitely more muscular than he’d been when he left. His broad chest accented even broader shoulders, and his biceps stretched against the fabric of his t-shirt. He’d let his dirty blonde hair grow out a tad bit longer than he used to, and it had a mussed up look to it that was almost too perfect to be accidental. He looked laidback and California cool, which I guess was to be expected since he’d spent the last eight years in California, working at a string of tech startups in Silicon Valley.
I suddenly felt self-conscious about how I must look. I knew that most of the locals, and even most of the tourists, thought I was pretty, with my petite frame, silky blonde hair, and generous curves. But right now I was sure that I had dark circles under my eyes from exhaustion, and that most of my makeup had melted off over the course of the night. Driftwood Island was always hot and humid in the middle of May, and this year the weather had been exceptionally sticky. I was a sweaty mess, not to mention the fact that my clothes were quite a bit cheaper than Trent’s. I could tell just by looking at him that everything he was wearing was expensive. I knew he’d done really well over in California, but damn. He must have really been raking in the dough.
“I may have forgotten just a little bit about this place,” Trent said, flashing me a smile that was definitely straighter and whiter than it had been eight years ago. “I’m used to big cities now, where the bars are all open until at least three in the morning. I forgot that Joe’s has to close at two, but I was wondering if I snuck in whether you’d hook me up with a beer anyway. It’s been a long day. I left California early this morning, and my charter flight from Miami just got into Driftwood Island about twenty minutes ago.”
For a moment, I could only stare at him. He’d been traveling all day, and he still looked this good? Not fair. But I did my best to push those thoughts away. I shouldn’t be jealous of my old friend, and I definitely shouldn’t be worrying about whether he noticed how much sexier than me he looked right now. Our friendship had never been like that. There had never been any hint of romance between us, and now was definitely not the time to start down that road. I could notice that he was good-looking, of course. But I had no business thinking thoughts beyond that. I was sure he must just be here to deal with wrapping up his father’s estate. After that, he’d be going back to California, and I’d be staying here. I was never leaving this island. This place was home.
But it would be nice to have the chance to catch up with him. I’d always regretted that we hadn’t stayed in touch better. It had been his fault, but I didn’t blame him for not answering my emails or texts as often as he could have. He had a new life, and he didn’t want to be dragged into any island drama. I should just take the chance I had now to reminisce and shoot the breeze with him for a few minutes. Yes, it would cut into my sleeping time, but some things were worth living on caffeine fumes. I gave Trent as bright of a smile as I could manage.
“I can’t sell alcohol after two. City rules. But I could always give you one. As long as Joe lets me get away with it, that is.”
Trent grinned. “You always have been a rascal. But Joe is the biggest rascal on the island. I’m sure he’ll let you.”
And he did. Joe was ecstatic to hear that Trent was in town, and came out to give his old friend a big bear hug. After a few minutes of talking about what each of them was up to these days, Joe let me pour a beer for Trent, and then said he was leaving.
“Sorry, Trent. I’d love to stay and talk longer, but I have a five a.m. pickup at the airport tomorrow. Hopefully I’ll see you around a bit before you head back to Cali. Come in before two a.m. one of these nights so I can shoot the breeze with you at the bar.”
“Will do,” Trent said.
Joe tossed the keys to me and told me to lock up when I left, and then I was alone with Trent. I’d spent hundreds of hours alone with Trent during high school, so this shouldn’t have been a big deal. But for some reason, my heart was pounding like crazy the moment Joe left the building. There was definitely a chemistry between Trent and I that hadn’t been there before.
I had a feeling this was going to be an interesting night.