I hear my grandmother’s muffled laughter before I feel Maverick’s wriggling body against my face, his tail thumping my pillow as he dives headfirst under the comforter, circling to nudge his wet nose under my arm.
“Get her Mav!” Therese says, still laughing. “Push those lazy bones out of bed!”
“Grandma!” I protest as Mav resurfaces to pitch himself against me, his front legs draping over my neck like a scarf, his yips of excitement vibrating through my body. I manage to lift Maverick off my neck and above my head as I twist myself onto my back. His tongue lolls out of his mouth, and I sit up suddenly as a drop of drool lands on my chin. “Ew! Mav!”
Therese giggles as she hobbles into my room sits gingerly on the edge of my bed. As of Monday, she hasn't had the companionship of the doughnut-shaped seat protecting her tailbone. As soon as she realized she would no longer need its services, she had gleefully taken scissors to it. It was as though she were attacking all signs of infirmity rather than disposing of what had been a very helpful tool.
“I thought Mav and I might hang out in the backyard, do some weeding while you work on your book this morning. I told Eli we could meet him around one for lunch. Will that give you enough time?”
A glance at my phone tells me it’s nearly eight. “That’ll be perfect,” I say, grabbing Maverick by the tail and pulling him toward me and away from my silky throw pillows. In the three days he’s been with us he’s managed to leave his teeth marks on three times the number of household and personal items. “I hope Eli has good news.”
My grandmother runs her hands over the pleats of her soft navy skirt. As usual, she looks as though she’s been up for hours and is ready to entertain whoever walks through her front door. “That boy is quickly making himself invaluable to everyone. Did you know Jake made him fulltime before he left for New York?”
I smile thinking of the way Jake pushed Eli, taught him, and teased him. Watching them together, it wasn’t difficult to imagine what Jake’s upbringing must have been like. I’d met Jake’s parents briefly at his farewell party in their home, and I’d been struck by the warmth and power that exuded from his father, the confidence and charm of his mother. Hosting on opposite sides of the property, they’d seemed independent and yet inexplicably tied to each other.
Maverick pounces his way toward me again until his front paws are on my chest, his golden face looking up at me. He lets out a small bark as though he knows I’m the one holding up the show.
“You’re very bossy!” I say, nuzzling him to me. “I’ll get dressed and then help you guys get set up outside,” I say.
I think of the vast expanse of the yard, how I’d have to set up Mav’s playpen or tie him to a leash so that he couldn’t wander off into the woods. Mav was fully potty-trained (he rang a bell that hung on the front door to communicate), but he was still a puppy, and he sometimes rang it as an excuse to get outside. I thought of how hectic Jake’s life was about to become if his meetings in New York and Nashville were a success. How would he manage work and take care of Mav without pulling that beautiful hair out?
“Grandma... I want to surprise Jake with something when he gets back.”
“You know I’d do anything for that man,” she says. “What’s the plan?”
I knew he would be safe, sitting outside on the sidewalk in full view, but I would have preferred keeping Mav with us. If we renovated the diner, maybe we could build a four-season porch where dogs were allowed. As we wait for Eli to arrive, I watch Mav to see how he’ll conduct himself with passerby.
“So far, so good,” I say to Therese. Lunchtime at the diner is a busy place, and Mav seems content to people watch and give out free kisses when hands reach for him.
We know Eli has arrived when Mav begins barking and jumping up and down. Through the window, we watch as he scratches behind Mav’s floppy ears. Sensing an audience, he turns to wave at us.
“I thought you might bring him along,” Eli says, joining us at the booth. I notice the way he swiftly casts his eyes around before taking off his coat.
“Looking for a certain, dark-eyed beauty?” I can’t help but tease.
Eli flushes and says something about her being the best server at the diner.
“I knew you had a crush on me,” Brenda says, walking up with a pot of coffee.
Eli had been in the process of setting his backpack down and folding himself into the booth, but he stops mid-motion, blushing furiously as he looks at Brenda. I can see him grappling for the kind of comeback Jake would have coached him to say. “So, do I have a chance?”
His delivery is so awkward, we all burst out laughing.
“Hanging out with Jake is rubbing off on you,” I say.
I stifle another laugh as Eli says with all seriousness, “You think so?”
I nod because I still can’t trust myself.
After we give Brenda our orders, Eli is all business.
He pulls his phone out of his back pocket. “So, I have great news for you. Your partners at Nate’s Bar and Grill have agreed to buy your interests in the company under the terms outlined in the existing buyout agreement. They want you to sign a non-compete clause, which does not prevent you from opening any new restaurants. It only prohibits the opening of restaurant chains similar in offerings and aesthetics to Nate’s. The terms of the non-compete are here,” and Eli pulls folders out of his backpack, slides one to me too. “Your attorney says the buyout is generous and monetarily acknowledges Nathan’s role as the company founder. He doesn’t think you could ask for a better deal.”
I grab my grandmother’s hand as her eyes mist over, give it a soft squeeze. She smiles back at me.
Since my arrival in Tomahawk Hill, she’d had a few bad days, born mostly out of a sense of helplessness: the knowledge that with her current physical handicaps she couldn’t do much on her own. Her broken leg seemed to signify the permanence of her shattered life without grandfather, her bruised tailbone her bruised ego; necessity forcing her to ask others for help, her frailty as bright and in focus as the hot pink doughnut she sat on.
But today, she faces a new dream with the next generation by her side, and I can read the knowledge of this in her now confident smile, in the eager way she opens the folder before her.
I open my folder too, preparing to read when angry growls rumble outside the diner.
Heads throughout the restaurant swivel to see what’s going on and there’s Maverick; his tail as straight as a pointer’s, his chubby legs crouched for battle and his face as fierce as a golden retriever puppy can be--having a face-off with Don Pederson.
Whatever has happened, it’s clear from the look of annoyance and (maybe the trace of fear), on Don’s face that I need to get out there.
Don smiles with relief when he sees me me. “Is this your dog?” he says. “I was just walking by, and he started acting up.”
“Maverick, come here,” I say. He’s so happy to see me he makes dizzy circles, knotting his leash. I bend over and pick him up, kiss his head. I smile at Don apologetically. “This is Maverick. Maybe stretch your hand slowly toward him, pat him on the head and we can all be friends.”
I’m surprised when Don hugs his arms to his chest and takes a step back. “That’s alright. I don’t like animals.”
“Oh,” I say, at a loss as to how golden retrievers could be lumped in with all other animals. “Well, Maverick won’t hold that against you, will you Mav?” He’s already turned his back on Don and is trying to bury his head under my arm. “This is Jake’s puppy.”
“Jake got a dog?”
Talking to Don directly for any length of time always made me feel like when as a kid, I had to practice holding my breath underwater during swimming lessons: I was dying to surface and bored, all at the same time.
“More like Mav found Jake. Someone dumped this little guy on the side of the road a few weeks ago.”
“Ah.” Don continues to eye Mav warily. “Well, I was going to come in and say ‘hey’ to Dana.” He hesitates, and I sense the need for evasive tactics. I mentally brace myself.
“I’d like to ask Dana out. I hadn’t heard if she was seeing anyone?”
I shake my head. “You know, I don’t think she is, but I think she’s pretty happy being single right now.” I wonder how Don could have missed the lacklustre responses to the questions he’d directed at Dana Friday night, the way she stared at him during his attempts to joke, while the rest of us had laughed politely.
He astounds me when he says, “Until the right guy comes along, most girls, are.”
“Right...” I say. When he looks at me expectantly, I avoid answering by turning to Mav, who seems to have fallen asleep. He puts me to sleep too bud.
“Why don’t I hang onto him and give you a chance to walk into the diner?” I say. “And I’m sorry for Mav growling at you like that; hope you didn’t take it personally.”
He gives me a cocky smile. “If he were a person, I’d have taken it personally, but since he’s a dog...” he looks at me like he’s waiting for me to laugh.
“Right...” I say again, giving him a weak smile. Don doesn’t move a muscle, continues to stare. I feel slightly dismayed. This conversation was interminable! I wonder if he’s still waiting for me to laugh at his joke. But, if I laughed, wouldn’t it only encourage him to keep talking?
We both turn as the door to the diner opens, and Brenda walks out, a bowl of water and one of Maverick’s chew toys in her hands. “Well hi there, Don! Coming in?” And then to me with a wink, “thought Maverick could use some water and a little entertainment while you came in for your lunch.”
I set Maverick on the sidewalk, and he forgets all about the rest of us as he attacks the chew toy. Don doesn’t even hold the door open for Brenda, lets himself in as we follow. I touch Brenda’s elbow and whisper, “he’s going to ask Dana out.”
Her eyes flash with amusement. “I should encourage Don to eat first, so he doesn’t lose his appetite, don’t you think?”
I grin. “A paying customer is a paying customer. And,” I add, “after the conversation I just had to endure, maybe you could get him to buy some dessert and coffee too, before he goes back to the kitchen.”
I know how impassive Rich can be when he isn’t sold on my ideas and that the best strategy to get him on my side is to present all the facts first, sharing my excitement only after I could see that we were on the same page, but he’d called me as Therese and I arrived back home from lunch, and I’d blurted everything to him in a rush, still on a high from chatting with my grandmother all the way home.
Jake is going to invest in my malt-mix, and he wants the diner to be a part of his new hotel! Therese is going to sell her ownership in Nate’s to help fund the renovations for the diner, and he’s invited me to invest in the restaurant as well. Could he believe it?
The very first thing Rich says when I pause to catch a breath is, “Did Therese ask you if you’d like to buy-in first?”
I halt my spastic pacing as though Rich has materialized in front of me with a big, red, stop sign. “What? Why would she do that?”
I can hear his laptop keys go silent. In my excitement, I hadn’t noticed that he had continued to work while I talked. It’s nearly noon in LA, which means he is catching up on his emails, already looking forward to a midday run at the gym.
“You know I’ve always wanted to buy into your grandparent’s restaurant,” he says impatiently. “It would have been yours someday so she should have asked you what you wanted her to do. It would have been prudent of her to give you a choice.”
I put my hand up as though Rich can see me, a knot of worry forming between my brows. “Wait, Rich, she did give me a choice.”
I hear the squeak of a chair, and I imagine Rich jumping out of his seat, his turn now to pace. “And you didn’t think to ask me, your future husband, what I thought we should do?”
“She asked me what I wanted for the diner, and I said that I would like to see it become a landmark. It was the first restaurant my grandparents owned, the very first Nate’s in a way. And it was a project they began together. When Jake Hurst approached us about what the diner could be, as part of his new resort, it felt right!” I pause, hating how apologetic I sounded, how appeasing. “Rich, I’m sorry I didn’t run it by you, but the diner is going to be a big deal.”
“It’s one restaurant Olivia, not six, not a potential franchise!”
I supposed now was not a good time to mention that I wanted to invest the money from the sale of my Main Street properties into the malt-mix and the diner, rather than our first LA home.
“So your grandmother is going to take her money out of Nate’s where she’s earning a steady income and sink your inheritance into a resort that may or may not make money?”
I’m beginning to feel impatient and slightly horrified at the way Rich is talking about my grandmother’s assets and my hopes. “Rich, it’s her money. And you know what else? I’d rather she takes risks and put her money toward what she believes in rather than keep it ‘safe’ for me.” I start pacing. “And where is this interest in Nate’s coming from anyway? Rich, you don’t know anything about running a restaurant.”
“But you do.”
“But...we’ve never really discussed any of this. I had no idea your aspirations included becoming a restauranteur in any way, shape, or form. The last time I checked, you wanted to be the next millionaire real estate agent, maybe with a reality show.”
He sighs. “Well, we haven’t had a chance to talk things through, have we? I mean, you’re living in Tomahawk Hill right now, and I’m in LA.”
I release the death grip I have on my phone, tell myself to calm down. I hate it when we argue; when we aren’t on the same page. “Rich, we agreed I’d be here until after Christmas. You even sounded excited about it.”
He snorts. “Yeah, I love being alone every night.”
Indignation flares hot in my chest. “With as little attention as I’ve been getting from you this past month, I might as well have been a couch cushion. Don’t pretend like you don’t find it extremely convenient to work all hours of the day and night and not have to think about me. That is until you have to answer emails-- then suddenly you feel the urge to call.”
Maverick bounds into my room, his brown eyes pools of worry. I sink onto my carpet and let him lick my face. I sigh. “I’m sorry,” I say. “I didn’t mean to raise my voice. I know you call when you can. We do need to talk through some things. I meant to discuss some of this with you over the weekend, but I just never got around to it. I’m sorry.”
When Maverick barks a response, Rich says, “did your grandmother get a dog?”
“We’re dog-sitting for Jake while he’s out of town on business.”
“Huh,” he says.
I have no idea what that ‘huh’ implies, but I know I need to get off the phone before our conversation deteriorates further. I’d also need to seriously consider how to broach the subject of no longer wanting to place the bulk of my money into our first house or flipping properties in LA.
“Look, Liv,” he says, interrupting me. “Let’s talk about his later, okay? I have a feeling you’re having second thoughts about where to invest your money. Maybe we should take the time to digest everything we’ve just told each other before we continue this conversation.”
I nod as though he can see me, instantly grateful for how well Rich knew me and that I no longer needed to worry over how to bring up the subject myself.
“Okay. Maybe we can revisit this tomorrow?”
“It’s too late to change your mind about keeping Nate’s in the family?”
The paperwork with Therese’s signatures was being scanned and sent now if Eli hadn’t already done it right after our lunch. I knew I could stop it all from happening, but it was what my grandmother wanted. She wanted to take my grandfather’s lucrative business and use the proceeds to water his dreams.
“It’s too late,” I say. “When you’re ready, I’d love to tell you what we have planned for the diner.”
“Okay,” he says, and I hear the tired smile in his voice. “I miss you, Liv. We’ll discuss this, right? No more big decisions without me. Lets build this life together.”
When he got that protective tone, I typically warmed to it. Audrey said it was because I didn’t have overbearing parents as she did. “Yours were so hands-off, of course, you love Rich bossing you around. You take that to mean he cares. But Liv, honestly, don’t you think he’s a little much sometimes?”
It would be easier and more fun to make the decisions about my inheritance without Rich, but he was right; these decisions would impact both of us in the future and we needed to make them as a unit. The problem was, even as I said, “I promise I won’t make any more life-altering decisions without you.,” I felt my earlier irritation with him resurface and I wondered if we could make a decision about the diner that would make both of us happy.