Finding Perseverance(5)

By: T. E. Black

Max, the previous owner, was a good businessman. He knew how to keep customers coming back when they had a million other bars to choose from. He established a friendship with every patron who walked through the door, and in return, they kept the bar alive.

So how did I get my hands on the title to this beauty, you ask? Simple. Max is the closest thing I have to a father. I’ve known him since I was fourteen. He let Rook and me move into the apartment above the bar when we were eighteen. He was also the man who gave me my first job and then, ultimately, my career.

“How’s everything going, beautiful?” Jacob, a regular barfly asks, catching me off guard when I walk around the bar.

Smiling genuinely at him, I nod while grabbing his usual drink.

“It’s going, Jake. How about you? Still betting on the fights?”

Jacob has been coming to Max’s since before I knew the place existed. An older man at the age of sixty-seven, he’s one of those people who never grew up. He’s kind, sure. But his gambling problem is a major fault in my eyes.

From what I’ve seen and heard, his habits have caused him to lose everything he loved in life. His wife, his kids, his job working on the railroad—all vanished because he couldn’t save a dime of his money.

“I’m going to win big one day. You know that, right?” He chuckles. “And, when I do win, I’m going to come in this bar, buy every bottle of top-shelf liquor you have, and then drown myself in it.”

Belting out a laugh, I place his drink in front of him. “At least you’ll die a happy man.”

“Hardly. You should know about what happens to a man who gambles everything away, Ryleigh. I seem to recall a certain father who had the same issues as I do.”

I watch as Jake’s brows furrow in self-disappointment, although I don’t understand where it comes from. He can change his life. He may be older, but it doesn’t mean he can’t win his family back.

“You’re nothing like my father. Plus, you only know what I’ve told you about him.” I take a pull from my beer sitting beside me. “My father was a violent drunk who gambled away everything we owned. He chose to walk out on us. He was the one who caused my family to move to Boston, because he fucked us over, Jake.”

I watch closely as he takes a pull from his own beer. “Where’s the difference between him and me, sweetheart? I’m the same kind of monster that your old man was.”

Jake is nothing like him. When I was twelve, I felt like I was fifty because of the stress my father had placed on our family. It wasn’t long after he had walked out on us that my mother decided to make the move from Pennsylvania to Boston. The move changed my life in more ways than one. That was when I met Rook Wallace.

Slumped shoulders show how poorly Jake thinks of himself right now, and my heartstrings tug for him. Placing my hand on his shoulder, I give it a little squeeze.

“You’re a good man, Jake. Don’t be so hard on yourself.” Taking his now empty bottle, I slide another toward him. “This one is on the house.”

Jake smiles softly, and nods his head in a thank you before turning his attention to one of the televisions in the bar. A sportscast begins to rerun the stats of the top professional fighters in the business, and just as I expect, one of them is Rook himself.

“Wallace is going to be my good luck charm,” Jake cracks a knowing smile.

I roll my eyes and lean against the distressed wood bar top. “He’s hardly a good luck charm.”

“Don’t be bitter, sweetheart. You’re too pretty for it.” He winks. “I remember when the two of you were eighteen. Max warned every poor soul in this bar that if they laid eyes on you for longer than five seconds, he’d start revoking memberships.”

I laugh. “I miss Max. Do you think he likes Florida?”

“I think he’s soaking up the sun on a beach and drinking whiskey from the bottle. He always loved you and Rook, though. He even loved that little shithead, Trent.”

He’s right, Trent is a little shithead, but he is family. Rook, me, and Trent were a family—our own little clan. It was perfect. They were my light when life should've been dark. They cared for me more than anyone ever had, and I reciprocated their love.