“Did you get into a fuss?”
“No. Not really. Kind of. We ran into my parents. Eakins was brought up. There was a misunderstanding.”
A knowing smile lit up Phaedra’s face. “He figured out you were using him?”
“What? No. I’m not using him,” I said, guilt washing over me.
“I’m … renting him. He doesn’t have to take me if he doesn’t want to. I’m not being fake. I’m being pretty damn mean actually.”
Phaedra watched me try to talk my way out of the hole my words were digging. “So, why did he quit coming around?”
“I think he thinks I’m somehow involved in an investigation of his little brother.”
“What in the Sam Hades? Where did that come from?”
I blew my bangs from my face. “It’s a long story.”
I felt her watching me as I made my way out to the main dining area.
She shook her head, waved me away, and I moved on to the next patron.
The sky opened up, and huge drops began dive-bombing the street and sidewalk. They were bouncing off so hard that they scattered after impact, appearing like steam hovering over the concrete.
“It’s getting ugly out there,” I said to Don. “Want me to call Michelle to have her pick you up?”
Don shook his head. “Don’t want her getting the grandbabies out in this. They’re my great-grands, you know. They call me Papa.”
“I know,” I said with a warm smile. “They’re lucky ducks. I would have loved to have you as my papa.”
He chuckled. “You do. Why in heaven’s name do you think I come to visit you every day?”
I gently touched his back with my fingers. “Well, maybe just eat your cheesecake a little slower. Hopefully, the rain will ease up.”
I bent down to kiss his cheek, his jowl sinking under my lips. The smell of his aftershave and his scratchy stubble were two of a hundred things I loved about this man.
Several men sprinted along the glass wall and ducked into the door, laughing and out of breath. Taylor squeegeed his glistening arms with his hands while shaking the water from his face.
Kirby pointed at the bar, prompting Taylor to lead Zeke and Dalton to the empty stools in front of the drink station. Taylor and I locked eyes while he passed behind me. I picked up a few dirty dishes and tried not to rush them to Hector before returning to stand next to Phaedra.
“Your boy has the day off,” Phaedra said.
All three men were wearing soaked T-shirts and jeans. Taylor’s gray T-shirt had a small red bulldog over his heart with the words Eastern State circling around it. He turned his red ball cap backward, and I smiled, knowing he’d deny it if I pointed out that he matched.
“I do kind of like it,” Taylor said, his threatening glare vanishing. He elbowed Dalton, who pushed him off.
Phaedra shook her head and held up menus. “You gonna eat or what?”
“We are,” Zeke said, clapping his hands and rubbing them together.
Phaedra placed a menu in front of each of them and then left us for the kitchen.
Taylor glanced up at me for only a second before he studied the entrees.
“Cherry Coke,” they said in unison.
I breathed out a laugh as I turned to grab cups, and then I filled them with ice.
Taylor’s expression smoothed, and he cleared his throat. “Sorry. Not you.”
“Dalton said you had a nice ass,” Zeke said.
“You disagree?” I said, pouring my special cherry concoction into their Cokes.
Taylor made a face, as if I’d just asked the stupidest question in history. “No. I just don’t want them noticing.”
I set their cups on the bar and handed them straws. “What are you eating?”
I looked to the other two for confirmation.
Zeke shrugged. “We decided before we got here. They’re fucking good.”
“If they’re so good, why haven’t you been in for almost a week?” I asked, instantly regretting it.
“If you like the paninis, you should try Phaedra’s cheesecake,” I said, ignoring Zeke’s jab.
I left them to put in their order, notifying Chuck, and then I turned to check on my tables. Twelve was almost out of soda, and they were still talking.
Damn it. I’d known she would need more.
Don wasn’t quite finished, but he was sitting still, a blank stare on his face. His glasses had fallen down the bridge of his nose, barely hanging on at the tip.
He fell over, hitting the tiled floor hard with his shoulder and head. His glasses slid off his face, flying a few feet across the floor.
“Don!” I yelled, running over to him.
Once I reached him, I fell to my knees and cradled his head with my hands. I leaned over and then looked to Phaedra and Chuck, who had both run out of the kitchen.
“He’s not breathing.” The reality of what that meant made my heart sink. “He’s not breathing! Someone, help him!” I screamed.
Taylor, Zeke, and Dalton all joined me on the floor. Zeke checked Don’s pulse and then looked at Taylor as he shook his head.
“Call an ambulance!” Taylor yelled to Phaedra. “Scoot back, sweetheart.” He positioned himself next to Don and crossed his hands, one over the other, on the center part of Don’s lower chest.
Dalton angled Don’s head upward and then pinched his nose, breathing into Don’s mouth once, before Taylor began compressions.
I crawled backward several feet until Kirby knelt beside me. Don’s glasses were next to my hand, so I snatched them up and held them to my chest, watching the guys working on him. Everyone was quiet, listening to Taylor counting compressions aloud and instructing Dalton when to administer breaths.
Zeke checked Don’s pulse, and each time he shook his head, I felt my body sink lower.
Taylor was out of breath, but he took one look at me, and whatever expression was on my face gave him renewed strength. “C’mon, Don!” Taylor said. “Breathe!” he barked to Dalton.
Dalton leaned over, giving a breath, all hope gone from his eyes.
Taylor shrugged Zeke off, continuing to press into Don’s chest. “I’m not giving up.” He looked up at me. “I’m not giving up.”
Chuck picked me up off the floor and supported my weight as he held me to his side. “I’m sorry, kiddo.”
Just a few minutes after the sirens could be heard, they were loud and right outside the door, the lights casting reds and blues inside the Bucksaw.
Taylor, Dalton, and Zeke let the paramedics take over, one of them patting Taylor on the back. They loaded Don onto the gurney and carted him outside into the rain and then into the ambulance.