“It’s summertime, bitches!” Brogan says for at least the third time tonight. Everyone raises their glasses and drinks.
Well, not quite everyone. While everyone else kicks back and celebrates the end of the Spring semester at Valley U, my youngest brother sits at the bar with his head bowed over a textbook. Flynn still has one more week to finish up his sophomore year of high school.
Even without seeing his expression, I know he’s got a sullen look on his face. Maybe it’s not the most conducive environment for studying, but when Archer and Brogan suggested a party to celebrate both the start of summer and the renovation of the bar, I got excited about the prospect of sharing the bar updates with these people who have become a big part of my life in a short time. I wanted Flynn to be a part of that.
The bar is nowhere near complete. Contractors brought everything up to code, refinished the floors, tore down the wall that separated the game room and the sitting area, then gave the walls and ceiling a fresh coat of paint.
Knox and I did the bar ourselves. There was something cathartic about having a physical touchpoint to something that was so important to our mother. I can still picture her hands resting on top of this same wooden bar. The top is scratched and dented, there’s even a spot we found where Knox had carved his initials on the underside, but we sanded it and gave it a fresh new coat of lacquer that makes it gleam under the lights.
Even with the place looking new, there’s a lot to do before we open later this fall. I still want to extend the small stage that’s there to give more room for bands and live music, maybe karaoke. We also need new furniture, billiards tables, dart boards, maybe some electronic games, and then there’s the outdoor space I haven’t even started to think about. I could hurry it along, maybe open this summer, but I’m enjoying the process of doing some of the projects with my brothers and I don’t want to rush it.
For the first time in years, I feel like I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be. Life is a series of moments, most flying by too fast to take note of, but sometimes when you’re really lucky, you can forget about everything else and just soak up all the good things happening right this second. It’s bliss. An overwhelming peace. A belief in destiny or fate bringing you to a point that you never could have imagined. It’d feel hokey to say it out loud, but you feel it anyway and you let it stretch out inside of you for as long as it’ll last. That’s how my life has felt since I met Jane.
Brogan and Archer are behind the bar with me. They’re making up drinks and attempting to flip bottles like they’re Vegas bartenders. We’re not selling anything tonight, but I’m finding that behind the bar is my favorite spot in this place.
“Why is the rose green?” Jordan asks from a stool in front of me. He lifts a coaster with the bar’s name and logo. His girlfriend Daisy designed it for me. I couldn’t have dreamed of anything more perfect. A green rose. Simple and unexpected, but beautiful.
“The rose is tipsy,” Gavin explains, then looks at me. “Tipsy equals nauseous, nauseous equals green, right?”
After a lot of back and forth with my brothers, we decided to rename the bar. Rosie’s Place didn’t feel right without the namesake, but we still wanted to honor her. So, the Tipsy Rose was born.
“No. That doesn’t make any sense.” Jordan swivels on the old bar stool to face Gavin. The metal and red pleather chair squeaks from years of sitting unused. “I’m guessing it’s a nod to Jane. You know, because she’s also Ivy Greene.”
Gavin blanches. “Oh shit, I didn’t even think about that. Jane’s signature color is green. Roses equals love and for you, love equals Jane, which equals green,” he says more to himself than me or Jordan like he’s working out the logic. A big grin takes over his face. “That’s romantic as hell, Holland.”
Fighting a smile, I nod. I could just tell them I let Daisy have complete artistic control, but this is way more fun. Besides, it might not have been an intentional correlation, but everything in my life is shrouded in hues of Jane.
I glance toward the open space in front of the bar. Jane and her friends are dancing to a playlist that Flynn made special for the occasion. My girl catches my eye like she could feel me watching and aims a grin right at me. I couldn’t have done all this without her, and I wouldn’t want to even if I could.
Glass shatters near my feet.
“Oh shit,” Archer wears a sheepish smile as he takes in the broken tequila bottle. It was mostly empty, but I’m wearing what was left of it and the smell is strong.
“Another one down,” Knox says. “You two keep at it and we’ll be out of booze to drink.”
“Yeah. Maybe you two should stick to drinking the drinks,” I say as I grab the broom to clean up the mess.
Archer takes it from me. “I got it.”
Brogan rests both hands on top of the bar and looks out at the space. “I can picture it. This place will be packed on weeknights and weekends. It’s gonna be the coolest bar in town. Archer and I will bring the football guys and the hot girls, and then everyone else will follow.”
“I think you might be exaggerating your pull on the general population. You’re not that awesome.” Jordan tips up his beer bottle, hiding his smirk as Brogan plays like he’s offended.
“Definitely exaggerating his ability to get hot girls to do what he wants,” Knox adds.
Despite their ribbing, his words spur an idea.
“Do you want a job here when it opens?” I ask him. I hadn’t even begun to think about hiring all the staff I’m going to need to run this place, but Brogan is an easy choice.
“Really?” His brows lift and easy affection lights up his face. “Yes. Definitely. You’re sure?”
I clap him on the shoulder and squeeze. “Absolutely, but if you break it, you buy it.”
The main door of the bar opens and the last of our guests arrive. Dahlia heads straight for the dance floor where the girls engulf her immediately followed by squeals and a rejuvenated effort on their dancing. Felix and his friend Lucas move toward the bar to join us guys.
“Walters.” Gavin stands. “We fucking did it. Can you believe it? College is over.”
“Nah, I really can’t.” He shakes his head. “I can’t decide if I’m stoked or sad. It changes every few minutes.”
The two hugged and then Felix turns a circle. “The place looks great, man. I’m happy I’m getting to see it before I leave.”
“Thanks.” I grab a couple of beers and set them on the bar top.
Felix takes one and tips it toward me in thanks, then hands the other to his friend. “You remember Lucas?”
“Yeah. Hey.” I give the guy a chin jut with the greeting.
“Hi.” He pauses and looks around. “Is this a couple’s thing? Nobody told me this was a couple’s hang. Damn you, Walters.”
Felix chuckles. “Jane told me to make sure you came, so blame her.”
A proud smile slowly creeps onto his face. “She wants to make sure she says goodbye. I knew she liked me.”
I clear my throat.
Laughing, he runs a hand over his mouth, hiding his grin. “Sorry, forgot you were there.”
He drops his hand and gives me a playful glare. “I really wanted to hate you, man, but you’re just so cool. She was my childhood crush, and you were my football idol. Crazy, right?”
The first time I met him, he mentioned that he was a huge Ivy Greene fan and even had posters of her on his bedroom walls growing up. And that he also had a poster of me. I gotta admit, it made me laugh to picture posters of me and Jane hanging side by side.
“Well, she’s my forever crush, so I guess I can forgive you.”
He laughs it off and takes a long swig of beer.
“Testing, testing,” Jane’s voice comes through the microphone. She adjusts it, then the music starts.
It’s the same song she performed at the Spring Fling. My mother’s favorite, but a faster tempo, and this time Penelope joins her. Goose bumps dot my arms as their voices fill the bar.
“Holy shit. Is that Penelope Hart with Jane?” Lucas’s wide-eyed stare leaves the stage to glance at all of us before quickly locking back on the girls singing.
“She stopped by to see Jane on her way to her next tour location,” I say, realizing after I say it how crazy it all is. I fell for a TV star who is friends with literal pop stars. Someday, if that’s what she wants, I have no doubt that Jane will be selling out stadiums just like them. She’s magic.
I know I’ll never get tired of listening to her sing or watching her light up as she stands on stage. Even this small one with a few people watching, she comes alive.
Knox gets up and comes around the bar to toss his empty in the trash.
“Want another?” I ask him, still watching my girl.
“Nah, I think I better get Flynn home before it gets weird up in here. Those three look like their seconds from storming the dance floor to make out with their women and Archer and Brogan are going to get drunk and leave your happy coupled-up asses to find a real party.”
A chuckle shakes free from my chest. Yeah, that all sounds just about how I imagine it will go down too. “Thanks for coming.”
“Of course. Mom would be proud as hell.”
On stage, Jane turns in a circle with her arms outstretched and lets Penelope take the next verse by herself.
“She’d love it, wouldn’t she?” This bar being brought back, all of us together, even Jane.
Knox’s mouth pulls into a half smile. “I meant of you. She’d be proud as hell of you, but yeah, Hen, she’d love this too.”
Warmth spreads through my chest at my brother’s words and my throat tightens.
He and Flynn head out as Jane and Penelope finish the song. Their audience is small, but we cheer big. Lucas loudest, of course.
Jane comes bouncing over, the biggest smile on her face and still lit up from singing. Penelope is at her side. They stop in front of Lucas whose jaw is dropped and he’s quiet as he stares at them together.
“I think his head is going to explode,” Felix mutters.
“Lucas, this is Penelope Hart. Pen, this is the guy you were asking about.”
“Me?” His voice squeaks. It actually squeaks. “You were asking about me?”
“I think you two have a lot in common actually,” Jane says, then steps back to give them space.
I’m doubting that, but still think it’s sweet that Jane is giving the guy an intro. But then Penelope opens her mouth.
“Oh my gosh. I have been dying to meet you. I’m a huge fan. That touchdown you made in the Colorado game last December gave me chills. I can’t believe you’re so talented and Jane says you’re super funny and cute, too. I mean of course you’re cute.” Penelope waves in front of him.
“I’m sorry did you say you were a fan of his?” Jordan asks.
“Yeah.” She nods her head up and down quickly. “You’re number eighty-seven, right? I started following the team after I came to visit Valley U last Spring. I even have a poster of the team hanging up on my tour bus. Anyway, something about your smile always brightens my day. And your touchdown dance is perfection. You have to show me your moves.”
“Oh my god,” Gavin says as the two of them head off to the dance floor together.
We’re all watching the interaction and holding back laughter. “Who would have thought that superstar Penelope Hart was a closet Lucas Moore fan?” I say to Jane as she comes to stand next to me.
“I know. I think I just lost my number one fan,”
“Never.” I wrap my arms around her waist and drop a kiss on her cheek.