Ask Me Again

By: Gina L. Maxwell

CHAPTER ONE




THREE THOUSAND FOUR HUNDRED and twenty-six.

That’s how many days of her life Trish Howell wasted with a man who broke up with her because he decided it was “for her own good.” She still couldn’t believe that after more than nine years of planning their lives together—marriage, children, big house away from the city where they’d host barbeques for their city-dwelling friends—Nick had ended it all in a single conversation.

It wasn’t as if their demise had been obvious with little disagreements escalating into bigger arguments. If they’d been fighting maybe it wouldn’t have felt like, after a decade of building a life together, he suddenly hit her over the head with a damn two-by-four.

As it happened, he’d kissed her in the morning before she headed off to her small yet thriving aesthetician business. After a long day at work, they’d enjoyed a nice dinner together then settled in to watch their favorite shows. But Nick must not have been in the mood for How I Met Your Mother that night, because instead of turning on the TV, he turned off their relationship.

No brief satellite interruptions, no blue screen while the system rebooted for another try, no customer service number to call for technical support.

Just…off.

Now Trish’s once-successful life consisted of shacking up with her older sister Rhianna, her husband, and their two teenage kids in the dinky town she grew up in, while working as a waitress/bartender at Paddy’s, the local Irish pub. Insult, meet Injury.

Trish pulled the lever for the Guinness on tap and watched the dark liquid fill the glass in a daze. That’s how she’d moved through the world for the last two weeks since leaving her life behind in New York City. She only had two settings: dazed in public, and broken in private.

Picking up her tray of drinks, she walked around the end of the bar and wound her way through the tables filled with Friday night customers to get to the six-top in the back corner. She dropped off their drinks and checked on her other tables before stopping at a four-top that had just swapped inhabitants.

“Evening, everyone,” she said, pulling out her notepad. “Can I start by getting you some drinks while you look over the menu?”

“Oh my goodness, is that little Trish Howell?”

Trish looked up in the direction of the feminine voice and barely stopped herself from wincing. “Hi, Mrs. Madsen, how are you?” Mrs. Madsen was a friend of the family. The kind who had chats with Trish’s mom after church, and once a year their families got together for a barbeque and pool party.

“Your mom told me about what happened with you and Nick, you poor thing, but I didn’t know you were moving back home.” Then to the three other ladies at the table Mrs. Madsen clarified, “She would have told me, but we haven’t had time to talk at church the last couple of weeks.” Mrs. Madsen turned her curious gaze back to Trish. “I bet you’re glad to be back, aren’t you, dear?”

Trish did her best to lift the corners of her mouth into some semblance of a smile. “Words can’t express how it feels to be back, Mrs. Madsen.” Her crushed dreams and wounded pride said it all.

“You’re so sweet. Well, wait till I tell Henry you’re home and working here at Paddy’s...”

Trish tuned out the rest of Mrs. Madsen’s plans for filling her husband in on the town grapevine’s news of the prodigal daughter’s return. She focused on holding her tight smile and nodded every so often to continue the pretense of listening, then made an excuse about waiting customers and promised to be back shortly to take their order.

She took cover behind the bar where she’d be able to keep herself busy washing glasses and restocking supplies with limited customer interaction for a while. Noticing the garnishes needed refreshing, she grabbed several limes and began slicing them into even sections. Erin, the young owner of the pub and an old high school friend, emerged from the back room and joined Trish.

“Hey, hon, how you holding up?” Erin shot her a brief concerned look as she grabbed two used glasses, dipped them into the deep sink of hot, soapy water then into the sanitized water before setting them on the drying rack.

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