“I’m going to be an hour late.”
I pressed the phone to my ear and listened to the one and only bartender tonight explain why he wouldn’t be in on time. It was eleven in the evening, I was officially off work and had a two-day weekend to look forward to. Almost.
“I’ll cover for you until you get here, Hector.”
“Thanks Megan, you’re the best.”
Hanging up the phone, I straightened my white blouse and black skirt. Going from assistant manager to bartender at the Strauss Hotel in one night wouldn’t be so bad if my day wasn’t already a giant crap sandwich.
“It’s just an hour,” I mumbled to myself and grabbed my purse.
It wasn’t like I had much of a life outside of work anyway. Even though there were over one hundred Strauss luxury hotels littered across the globe, the only location that had an open position with room for fast promotion was in Manhattan—and the position paid well. But leaving my family and friends back home in Chicago for the lonely city of New York had been an adjustment.
A few weeks ago, my best friend Kate’s soon-to-be sister-in-law came to stay with me. Emma Wade and I had become close since Adam and Kate got together. She was looking to get out of Chicago and I offered her my spare bedroom. Though she never told me details, her situation seemed urgent. I could understand that. We were friends, but we had a silent understanding that our reasons for fleeing to New York were our own.
But tonight she had plans, which meant another evening in an empty apartment.
Stretching my neck, I walked through the impressive lobby but couldn’t seem to shed the invisible weight crashing down on my shoulders—probably because it was over six months of stupid mistakes that affected not only myself, but my parents as well.
My heels clicked on the shiny marble floors as I wound down the corridor and into the bar. The low lighting and slight smell of vanilla and bourbon was almost soothing. The Strauss Hotel Bar was a sleek, modern take on the rustic and rugged. Glossy cherry tabletops reflected tiny beams from the single candles atop them. If you didn’t know better, you could mistake the surroundings for a high-end restaurant in Aspen.
Thank God it wasn’t busy tonight. Only a couple of scattered patrons occupied the corner tables.
“Hi Megan,” Shari said. Her short black bob bounced as she walked around the bar, untying her apron. “Where’s Hector?”
“He’s running a bit late so I’m covering.”
Shari froze, hands on her apron. “Are you sure? I could stay.”
“No, you’ve been here since the lunch shift.”
Shari stepped closer and lowered her voice. “Yeah, but by the looks of it, you’ve been crying on and off all day.”
A sharp breath stuck in my throat. Damn it. Running my fingertips under my eyes I took a deep breath. My father had been showing heavy signs of dementia right after I left for New York and it was getting worse. Quickly. That was the latest information I could decipher from my mother’s voicemails and texts today. I would have gone home to help my mother take care of him, but since neither of them were working I needed my job so I could help support them.
“Is it your dad?”
“Yeah, he went to a specialist this morning and I have been waiting to hear back from my mom all day.” It wasn’t a lie. But it wasn’t the whole truth.
“How is he doing?”
“Not good. He forgot who I was when I called yesterday. Called me Fresca.” A small laugh escaped. Even to my own ears it sounded raw and wounded. “Fresca was my dog when I was eight.”
Shari rested a hand on my arm and just the small contact made my chest tighten. “Megan, I am so sorry.”
“Yeah, me too. I took this job so I could help with his bills, but now I feel I am too far away to really help. I don't know what to do.”
“You know I’m here if you need me, right?”
I nodded and let myself take a deep breath. It was the only way to keep from crying. Sometimes it just felt as though everything was spinning out of control and that the weight I carried every day would eventually pull me under.
“Seriously, is there anything I can do?"
Shari had been working at The Strauss Hotel Bar for three years and was the only friend I had managed to make. She was a single mom who tended bar at night so that she could be home with her daughter during the day. And she knew all about my dad’s problems—well, his health problems. No one knew about the other problems. Not even my best friend back home.
“Yes, go home to your beautiful daughter. Working will help keep my mind busy.”
“If you’re sure,” she said, hesitating.
“I’m sure.” I was more than sure. The only thing I wanted to do right then was just get lost, pretend that I was some bartender without a care in the world.
“Okay, well everyone is taken care of and it’s been pretty slow. If you change your mind, just give me a call,” she said, dropping her apron behind the bar and giving me a hug.
“I won’t.” My cell phone buzzed and I pulled it from my purse. “But thanks. Kiss Sydney for me.”
Shari smiled and I headed behind the bar while reading the text from my mother:
Sorry I missed your call today, honey. Dr. Forman agreed to do a conference call tomorrow at one o’clock to discuss Dad. Love you.
I closed my eyes and willed myself to hold it together. If Dr. Forman wanted to talk, then things must have gotten exponentially worse. And I was stuck here, eight hundred miles away from where I was needed most.
After my longtime boyfriend Brian cheated on me with my best friend’s aunt, who had fake boobs and very real money, I thought I had hit a low point. But when my boss tried to kissed me, only to then fire me, things rapidly spiraled out of control.
My ex-boss, Tim St.Roy, was charged with embezzling several million dollars from high-end clients in a real-estate scam. Tim was tried and convicted, his greed costing him ten years in a minimum-security prison. It cost my parents everything. The stolen funds were never recovered—and neither would my parents, since my advice to diversify and take a risk left them penniless.
I had turned their stable life into chaos. And now, my mother was too old for most available jobs and with no retirement, no way to pay for my dad’s increasing medical expenses, and a second mortgage on the house, we were one bad month away from foreclosure.
Texting my mom that I would be on the call, I put my cell back in my purse and stepped behind the bar. One customer had already left and no one was at the counter. Maybe I could avoid actually waiting on someone until Hector got here. Then I could go home to my shoebox apartment and wallow in the most recent news—news that had me crying in the employee bathroom.