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Chapter no 25 – Kenna

Reminders of Him

I got a paycheck. It was small, and the way the paydays worked out, it was only for a partial week, but it was enough to finally get a new phone.

I’m sitting on the picnic table outside my apartment browsing apps. I opened at the grocery store today, so I had several hours between that shift and my shift at the bar tonight, so I’m just passing time outside. I try to get as much vitamin D as I can, considering my outdoor time was scheduled and limited for five solid years. I should probably buy vitamin D supplements so my body can catch up.

A car pulls into a parking spot, and I look up in time to see Lady Diana waving wildly at me from the front seat. We work different shifts most days, which is unfortunate. It would be nice to be able to ask her mother for a ride to and from work, but my hours are longer than Lady Diana’s. Ledger has given me rides a handful of times, but I haven’t seen him at all since he dropped me off at my apartment after my second shift last Saturday night.

I’ve never met Lady Diana’s mother. She looks to be a little older than me, maybe midthirties. She smiles and follows Lady Diana across the grass until they reach me. Lady Diana gestures toward the phone in my hand. “She got a phone—why can’t I have a phone?”

Her mother sits next to me. “She’s an adult,” her mother says, glancing at me. “Hi. I’m Adeline.”

I never know how to introduce myself. I’m Nicole at both of my jobs, but I introduced myself as Kenna to Lady Diana the first time, and also as Kenna to the landlord, Ruth. This is going to catch up to me eventually, so I somehow need to figure out a way to make the lie a truth.

“Kenna,” I say. “But I go by Nicole.” That feels okay. It’s kind of a lie.

Kind of the truth.

“I got a new boyfriend at work today,” Lady Diana says to me. She’s bouncing on her toes, full of energy. Her mother groans.

“Oh, yeah?”

Lady Diana nods. “His name is Gil, he works with us, he’s the guy with the red hair, he asked me to be his girlfriend. He has Down syndrome like me and he likes video games and I think I’m gonna marry him.”

“Slow down,” her mother says. Lady Diana spoke in one solid run-on sentence, so I’m not sure if her mother is telling her to slow down when she speaks or slow down on the wedding plans.

“Is he nice?” I ask her. “He has a PlayStation.” “But is he nice?”

“He has lots of Pokémon cards.” “Is he nice, though?” I repeat.

She shrugs. “I don’t know. I’ll have to ask him.”

I smile. “Yes. Do that. You should only marry people who are nice to you.”

Adeline looks at me. “Do you know this kid? Gil?” She says his name with contempt, and it makes me laugh.

I shake my head. “No, but I’ll keep an eye out for him.” I look at Lady Diana. “And I’ll make sure he’s nice.”

Adeline looks relieved. “Thank you.” She stands up. “Are you coming to the lunch on Sunday?”

“What lunch?”

“We’re having a small lunch here for Mother’s Day; I told Lady Diana to invite you.”

I feel the sting in the mention of that holiday. I’ve tried not to think about it. It’ll be the first time I’ve experienced it outside of prison and in the same town as Diem.

Lady Diana says, “Kenna’s daughter was kidnapped, so I didn’t invite

her.”

I immediately shake my head. “She wasn’t kidnapped. I just . . . it’s a

long story. I don’t have custody of her right now.” I am mortified. Adeline can tell.

“Don’t worry, the lunch is for everyone who lives here,” Adeline says. “We mostly host it for Ruth since her kids live so far away.”

I nod, because I feel like if I agree to come, she won’t pressure me, and then maybe I won’t have to explain why Lady Diana said my daughter was kidnapped. “What can I bring?”

“We’ve got it covered,” she says. “It was good to meet you.” She starts to walk away, but spins around. “Actually, do you know anyone with an extra table and a few chairs? I think we’re gonna need more seating.”

I want to say no, since I don’t know anyone but Ledger. But I don’t want her to think I’m as lonely as I am, so I just nod and say, “I can ask around.”

Adeline tells me it was nice to finally meet me, and then she walks toward their apartment, but Lady Diana lingers behind. When her mother is gone, she reaches for my phone. “Can I play a game?”

I hand her the phone, and she sits in the grass next to the picnic table. I need to get ready for my shift at Ward’s. “I’m gonna go change. You can play with my phone until I get back down.” Lady Diana nods but doesn’t look at me.

I’d love to be able to save for a car so I no longer have to walk to work, but being forced to save up in order to just move away and make the Landrys more comfortable is really eating into my financial plans.

 

 

I get to the bar early, but the back door is unlocked.

I feel confident in what I need to do after having worked here last week. I put on my apron and start to get the sink water ready when Roman walks to the back.

“You’re early,” he says.

“Yeah. Wasn’t sure how bad traffic would be.” Roman laughs. He knows I don’t have a car.

“Who used to wash dishes before Ledger hired me?” I ask him.

“Everyone. We all pitched in when we had a spare second, or we’d wait until the end of the night and take turns staying late to clean.” He grabs

his apron. “I doubt we’ll ever want to go back down an employee after this. It’s nice actually getting to leave when the bar closes.”

I wonder if Roman knows my position is only temporary. He probably

does.

“It’s gonna be busy tonight,” he warns. “Last day of finals were today.

I have a feeling we’re gonna see a rush of college kids.”

“Mary Anne will love that.” I pour liquid soap into the bin. “Hey. Quick question.” I face him. “There’s a luncheon at my apartment on Sunday. They need an extra table. Do you guys happen to have one here?”

Roman nudges his head toward the ceiling. “Up in storage, I think.” He looks at his phone screen. “We still have a while before we open. Let’s go check.”

I turn off the water and follow him out to the alley. He pulls a ring of keys from his pocket and flips through them. “Excuse the mess,” he says, inserting a key into the door. “I usually keep it a little cleaner up here in case we have a runt, but it’s been a while.” He pulls the door open to reveal a well-lit stairwell.

“What’s a runt?” I ask as I follow him up to the apartment. The stairwell curves after the last step, and the door opens up to a space about the size of the back kitchen of the bar. It’s the same floor plan, but it’s finished out to actually be a living space.

“Runts are what we call the leftover drunk people at the end of the night that no one claims. Sometimes we put them on the couch up here until they sober up and remember where they need to go.” He flips on a light, and the couch is the first thing I see. It’s old and worn, and I can tell it’s comfortable just by looking at it. There’s a stand with a flat-screen TV on it a few feet away from a king-size bed.

It’s an efficiency apartment, complete with a kitchen and a small dining room with a window that overlooks the street in front of the bar. It’s twice the size of mine and actually has a little charm.

“It’s cute.” I point to the counter in the kitchen when I see at least thirty coffee mugs lined up against the wall. “You addicted to coffee or just coffee mugs?”

“It’s a long story.” Roman flips through his keys again. “There’s a storage area behind this door. Last time I looked, there was a table, but I can’t make any promises.” He gets the door unlocked, and when he pulls it

open, there are two six-foot tables stacked vertically against the wall. I help him as he pulls one out. “You need both of them?”

“One will do.” We lean the table against the couch, and then he closes and locks the door.

We both lift one end to carry it downstairs. “We can leave it at the bottom of the stairwell for now and then throw it in the back of Ledger’s truck tonight,” he says.

“Awesome. Thank you.”

“What kind of luncheon is it?”

“Just a potluck.” I don’t want to admit it’s for Mother’s Day. It would seem like I’m celebrating the holiday, and I don’t want to be judged.

Not that Roman seems like the judgmental type. He actually seems like a decent person, and he’s handsome enough that I’d probably look at him differently if I didn’t already know what it was like to kiss Ledger.

I can’t look at another man’s mouth without wishing I was looking at Ledger’s. I hate that I still find him as attractive as I did the first night I walked into his bar. It would be so much easier to be attracted to someone else. Anyone else.

Roman props the table up at the bottom of the stairwell. “Do you need chairs?”

“Chairs. Shit. Yes.” I didn’t think about chairs. He heads back upstairs, and I follow him. “So, how do you and Ledger know each other?”

“He’s the one who injured me playing football.”

I pause at the top of the stairs. “He ended your football career, and now you’re . . . friends?” I’m not sure I follow how that trajectory could have occurred.

Roman eyes me carefully as he unlocks the storage room door again. “You really don’t know this story?”

I shake my head. “I’ve been sort of preoccupied for several years.”

He laughs quietly. “Yeah. I guess so. I’ll give you the condensed version.” He opens the door and starts grabbing chairs. “I had to have knee surgery after the injury,” Roman says. “I was in a lot of pain. Got addicted to pain pills and spent every penny I made in the NFL on my addiction.” He sets two chairs outside the door and then grabs two more. “Let’s just say I fucked up my life pretty good. Word got back to Ledger, and he tracked me down. I think he felt somewhat responsible, even though what he did to my

knee was an accident. But he showed up when everyone else bowed out. He made sure I got the help I needed.”

I don’t know what to do with all the information he just handed me. “Oh. Wow.”

Roman has all six chairs stacked against the wall before he closes the door. He grabs four and I grab two, and we head back down. “Ledger gave me a job and rented this apartment to me when I got out of rehab two years ago.” We set the chairs against the wall before walking outside. “I honestly don’t even remember how it started, but he’d give me a coffee mug on the weekly anniversary of my sobriety. He still gives me a mug every Friday, but now he just does it to be an asshole because he knows I’m running out of space.”

That’s honestly kind of adorable. “Hopefully you like coffee.”

“I survive on coffee. You don’t want to be around me if I haven’t had it.” Roman’s eyes lock on something behind me. I turn around to find Ledger standing between his truck and the back door to the bar. He’s staring at us.

Roman doesn’t pause like I do. He keeps walking toward the back door to the bar. “Kenna is borrowing a table and some chairs for a thing she’s having Sunday. We put them at the bottom of the stairwell. Grab them before you leave.”

Nicole,” Ledger says, correcting Roman.

“Nicole. Whatever,” Roman says. “Don’t forget. Tables. Chairs. Ride home.” He disappears into the bar.

Ledger looks at the ground for a moment before staring at me. “What kind of thing do you need a table for?”

I shove my hands in my back pockets. “It’s just a lunch on Sunday. At my apartment.” He continues to stare at me as if he wants more of an explanation.

“Sunday is Mother’s Day.”

I nod and start walking toward the door. “Yep. Might as well celebrate with the mothers at my apartment since I can’t celebrate the day with my own daughter.” My voice is clipped when I walk inside. Maybe a bit accusatory. The door falls shut behind me with a thud, and I walk straight to the sink and turn on the water. I grab the headphones Mary Anne let me

borrow last week, but this time I plug them into my phone now that I finally have one. I loaded up an audiobook to get me through the shift.

I can feel a slight breeze meet my neck when Ledger enters the building. I wait a few seconds and then look over my shoulder to see where he is and what he’s doing.

He’s walking toward the front, staring straight ahead the whole time. I can’t tell what he’s thinking when he wears that stoic expression. The thing about Ledger’s expressions is I haven’t really seen many of them since the first night he was working. He seemed loose and carefree that night behind the bar. But since the moment he found out who I was, he seems inflexible in my presence. Almost like he’s doing everything he can to keep me from knowing his thoughts.

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