Salty

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35

O L L I E

Seattle wasn’t that different from Chicago. Tall buildings, busy streets, fast-paced citizens that had their shit way more together than a chef that was flying by the seat of his pants. There was no plan. Well, Seattle had been the plan for the last two years, but upping life completely in a matter of days was not part of it. For instance, Ollie had money—quite a lot of money from teaching alone—that was not set aside for the Airbnb he was currently staying in. Seven days here was worth not having to worry about bed bugs in some overused hotel room that was lacking a thorough cleaning. However, it was not worth the dent to the bank account. He needed to find something and something soon.

It took a few days to get used to the transportation system. He’d spent the week dressing out of his suitcase every morning and skipping breakfast to make a commuter bus. Compared to Chicago busses, they were pretty clean, thankfully. Today was the first time that he needed to take the metro to meet a realtor and view a new space. Of all the places he’d scoped out online, the one today looked the most promising. Especially because it had an apartment in the basement. If he could save on two spaces for one price, that would be a definite bonus for cutting the plan short by a few years.

Stepping off the railcar, Ollie took a sip of his scorching hot coffee. It burnt his tongue, but damn it felt good in his cold chest. It reminded him that the body he was filling was actually still living, even if it didn’t feel like it lately. He felt numb. Hopefully, today would be the day he found the perfect place for his restaurant. That was going to be the first step in finding himself again.

The old, brick building was only two blocks from the metro’s stopping point. That was a definite bonus. Maybe he wouldn’t need a car after all. That was, so long as Seattle didn’t get as much snow as the Midwest in the winter. An empty lit sign hung above the door, making Ollie question what the hell he would even name the place. His name was out of the question. His name was supposed to be left back in Chicago with the family and restaurant that still claimed it. This blank sign made his stomach churn with anxiety.

“Oliver?”

His name was being questioned by an abnormally tall, but very attractive, woman whom was holding a binder with a set of keys laying on top. Her long black hair was extremely curly and loose. Ollie found it a little weird that she was wearing a nametag—displaying the name of Holly and the realty business she worked for—when it was just going to be the two of them at this showing. Was he not supposed to trust her without it?

Seattle was weird.

“That’s me,” he sighed, wondering if he should have worn his own name. That just seemed stupid.

“Great!” she used the keys to place into the lock. “I’m Holly, I’ll be showing you around the building today.”

The glass door was unlocked to give way to a lobby that was perfect for a waiting and hostess area. It was smaller than the area Mulligan’s had back home, but the actual floor of the restaurant, he knew, had almost double the occupancy limit. Hopefully, there wouldn’t be much of a wait for people to be seated.

“Do you have other restaurants, or will this be your first?”

He sipped from his coffee and scanned the room again, not meeting her direct eye contact. “I own one with family back in Chicago. I’ll be the chef.”

“Oh, great!” she exclaimed. “You’ll love the area. It’s very up and coming.”

Not the words he wanted to hear. Up and coming meant trendy. Trendy food meant a menu that constantly changed and rarely had the time to perfect anything. If he took this place, it was going out on a major limb that the people of this area would be interested in classic homestyle foods with his touch on them.

“This listing mentioned an apart...” his question was cut off by the sound of the door opening behind them.

“Sorry I’m late,” Mikah’s apology made Ollie heatedly spin in his spot. There stood his brother, dropping his coat from off of his shoulders with his hand extended towards the realtor for a shake. “Mikah Mulligan—Ollie’s business partner and brother.”

This wasn’t happening. Mikah could not be here, in Seattle, at a showing he was never invited to. There was no way he could have even known about it. Ollie’s eyes were not deceiving him though. His younger brother was here, dressed for success. The moron had even cut off the stupid bun off the top of his head. Although his hair was still on the shaggy side, he no longer looked like he was a twenty-something scene kid trying to be the hipster bartender.

"Mikah,” Ollie growled, his irritation already getting the better of him.

“I really do apologize for being late,” Mikah continued, ignoring Ollie. “My brother neglected to tell me we were becoming a chain.”

Ollie clutched Mikah’s upper arm firmly to drag him away. They needed to talk in private. “Excuse us.”

“No problem,” Holly smiled sweetly, already looking like she was ready to end this showing.

Ollie directed Mikah out of the lobby and to the main floor of the restaurant. There was a bar area they were going to use as a place to discuss Mikah’s serious lack of privacy. Thankfully, this bar was completely void of any sort of bottle that could be used to smash over his little brother’s head. Odds were in Mikah’s favor...this time.

“How the hell did you find me here?” Ollie looked around the restaurant for the beacon that was honed over him. It had to be there somewhere. “I didn’t tell anyone where I was going to be.”

Mikah rocked on his heels proudly. “Lies. You told your Google Home exactly where you’d be today.”

Ollie’s lips formed a hard line. That traitor. It wasn’t the Google Home that he told of the showing. It was his calendar that he had long ago linked to the device. He knew he hated that damn thing for a reason.

“And you just broke into the apartment to evade my privacy?”

“Your privacy where that apartment is concerned went out the fucking window when you walked out.”

Mikah took it upon himself to pull a flipped barstool from off the top of the bar and place it back to the floor. He then took a second down for his brother before taking a seat. His jacket was tossed to the empty bar top where he fished through one of its pockets for a few moments before pulling out a handful of what he needed.

“Double bubble?” he offered out a brightly-packaged piece of chewing gum.

“You’re a child.”

“Last I checked, I’m not the one in the family that throws tantrums. Do you want a piece or not?”

With narrowed eyes, Ollie took a piece for himself and took the stool beside Mikah. “My calendar only had the realtor’s name. How did you find me? Can they give away that information?”

“No,” Mikah’s head shook, still looking damn pleased with himself. “I then used your Google Home to search for listings by this realtor. Wasn’t too hard to know exactly which listing you were looking at.”

“How so?”

Mikah’s palms lifted, and he looked around the closed establishment and back to Ollie. “Dude, this is Mulligan’s 2.0. The brick walls, the old booths, the bar, the stamped ceiling...”

Ollie swallowed hard. He unwrapped the chewing gum and tossed the piece into his mouth. It tasted like fake flavoring with a side of cancer-inducing agents used for color. It tasted like absolute shit. He continued to chew it anyways. The flavor was gone within about ten seconds.

“Tell me I’m wrong,” Mikah continued.

He couldn’t. There were some resemblances to the restaurant he’d left in the dust. It wasn’t all the same though. There wasn’t a cocky bartender. There wasn’t a kitchen full of staff that cursed the day he’d taken over for his father There wasn’t a piece-of-shit ex-girlfriend to handle the books. There wasn’t an office that reminded him of the day he’d killed his dad. There wasn’t a girl that he wanted more than anything by his side, getting him to let his guard down with the simple drop of her bangs into her beautiful face.

“It’s different.”

“It’s not.”

“Why are you here?” Ollie barked back. “Tell mom that she wasted sending you on this little trip to fetch me. I don’t appreciate being stalked. I’m not going back.”

“I would, but she doesn’t know that I’m here. No one does. I’m a lone wolf.”

Mikah was probably the last person Ollie thought would show up in Seattle to retrieve him, with his mother being the first, and Kit probably second. Somehow, he knew deep down that Sloan wouldn’t bother him here. He didn’t have to see her face after he left her standing there to know that she was upset.

“You left the love of your life back at Mulligan’s. That’s why I’m here.”

Ollie’s eyes rolled and he leaned back into the barstool with a huff. “You came all this way to continue this? I told you that I don’t give a shit about Shelby. You want her, she’s all yours.”

“I fired Shelby,” Mikah leaned into his elbows. “Hope you don’t mind that I made that executive decision without your input. She’s not who I’m talking about, and you know it.”

He would have killed for a toothpick right now. Ollie looked away from Mikah towards the vacant restaurant. He didn’t want to think about leaving Sloan back in Chicago. He was trying not to think about Sloan at all and efforts were proving to be futile. She was a hard girl to forget. Especially the last words he heard her speak.

“Fired the misses, eh?” Ollie took another piece of Mikah’s Double Bubble for himself. “I think I would have paid to see that go down. How will she afford all those shoes she loves to throw when she’s angry?”

“Don’t.”

“Don’t what?”

“Don’t make jokes to hide that you’re not okay.”

“I’m not!” Ollie yelled louder than he knew was necessary. “Stop acting like you know me!”

“Because I do know you!” Mikah’s voice boomed louder that Ollie’s. “For fuck’s sake, Ollie! Have you forgotten that we grew up together? I know you better than anyone!”

Maybe a long time ago that was true. Not anymore. No one knew Oliver Mulligan anymore. Hell, he didn’t even know himself.

“Ollie, dad’s death was not your fault.”

“Shut up,” Ollie’s head began shaking. This was not a subject that was up for discussion. The only person he felt remotely comfortable with talking about his dad with was Sloan, and that’s because she didn’t know him. “You know nothing about...”

“You did not kill him,” Mikah continued. “He was sick, Ollie. The man was mentally exhausted for years, and you are hitting that point too. Running away from the restaurant is not going to make the fact that he is gone any better.”

“You weren’t there!” his head continued to shake, not wanting to hear it. The bar was becoming stuffy, and his fingers were frantically trying to unbutton his jacket to get more air. “You were not in that barn...”

“I didn’t have to be in the barn,” Mikah reached out and put his hand on his brother’s shoulder to attempt to calm him. “The location had nothing to do with you. It was somewhere high, where he could be alone. I’m sure he didn’t expect you to walk in. He had no way of knowing you were even in town that day. It wasn’t to make you feel bad for hanging a swing as a kid, or to make you feel bad for wanting the restaurant. I mean shit, maybe he chose the barn because of Kit’s assault happening there. Maybe he chose the barn because he hated the farm as much as mom hated the restaurant. Maybe he chose it because that’s where I told him I was dropping out of school and we had our big blowout. We won’t ever know why he chose the goddamn barn. It-wasn’t-your-fault.”

Ollie’s face became saturated with tears before he could stop it. He used the sleeve of his jacket to clean himself up. He probably hadn’t cried in front of Mikah since they were kids, and he wasn’t about to make a habit out of it.

“Come home,” Mikah begged. “Tell Sloan how much she means to you. We all see it. Everyone wants you home. Even me. Who else am I going to piss off every day? It’s part of my job description.”

“You’re so full of shit,” Ollie’s head shook no as he stared up at the stamped ceiling of the old building. Mikah may have been right. It was very similar to the one back home that was in the kitchen. He loved it so much he’d saved it when they had to tear it out. “I’m a shit brother. I’m a shit son. The kitchen staff is on the brink of walking out on me—as they should because I’m not dad.”

“You’re not a shit son,” he lifted his finger. “Jury is still out on a shit brother. Next time, sit me down and tell me the truth about my girlfriend being the worst like a man. I’m letting that shit slide this time. I got what I deserved. In my defense, I lost my dad and my brother that day. I was upset, and lonely, and needed someone to talk to that knew him. You weren’t there. And as for the kitchen staff, Ollie, the only reason those guys stayed after dad was because of you. They love you like a son, and they are just as worried about you as we are. They aren’t going anywhere. Kit and I helped you buy the restaurant for a reason. We weren’t going to let those guys lose their jobs, and they wanted to make sure you were okay. They even chipped in for the plane ticket to get me here to bring you back. Come home.”

Ollie’s head continued shaking no as he wiped more tears away. “I need a fresh start. I want more control over what I’m creating.”

“I will ease up on the menu under one condition... and that’s for you to go to grief counseling,” Mikah offered with an extended hand for Ollie to shake on a deal. “And I’d really like if we could keep bands on the weekends, but I’m leaving that up to you.”

“Uh, Mr. Mulligan?” the Realtor’s voice interrupted the two brothers. With both men being considered Mr. Mulligan, they both turned to see her pointing at her watch. “I hate to pressure you, but I do have another showing across town in a half hour.”

"Ollie, don’t take this place. You want Mulligan’s. You always have. Come home. That kitchen isn’t the same without you. You grew up in it. It’s yours. You know dad loved that restaurant too. He’d want you there.”

Ollie looked back to the extended hand like it would burn him. In some way or another it probably would. He was finally here, in Seattle, sitting in what could be his own restaurant. So what if he wanted it to look like home? That didn’t mean anything.

Ollie stood quickly, leaving Mikah at the bar and walking back to the realtor who didn’t need her damn name plastered to her jacket.

“OLLIE!” Mikah cried out after him so loud that it practically echoed threw the aged room. Footsteps were sounding off behind him. “You think you don’t deserve to be happy because of Shelby and dad, and it’s bullshit! Sloan is the best thing to ever happen to you, and you’re running from her! You’re a fucking coward!”

Holly’s eyes were like saucers as Ollie stormed past her. “I’ll take it.”

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