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It was another day at Sleazy Dan’s. The bar’s actual name was Dan’s the sleazy was implied by the strippers, the lack of windows and the floor that stuck to your feet when you walked. It was on the edge of Reno, and it felt to Minnie like the end of the world. When she stepped in from the bright Nevada sunshine it felt like she was entering an alternate universe and she wasn’t quite sure how she’d gotten here.
She removed her own t-shirt and bra and replaced it with the cropped white version that left nothing to the imagination. She looked over at Karan, stage name Lacey Amour covering her thong and pasty clad body in body glitter and was thankful for her daisy dukes.
She tried to tell herself it could be worse but she couldn’t quite decide how. She was living hand to mouth in a seedy motel, working as a waitress in a strip club. She’d abandoned her kids to chase some guy and for what? He’d long moved on and now she was alone and ashamed.
She’d tried to stop drinking more than once. Right now, she was three days sober. It was a vicious cycle, when she was sober the clarity of what she’d done to her family brought her to her knees and she was too ashamed to reach out to them and when she was drinking she couldn’t. She’d work it out. She had to.
Lacey walked over and gave her a weak smile. “We better get out there before Dan comes looking.”
“You want to get a drink after?”
“We’ll see.” Truthfully it was more of a one hour at a time than a one day proposition right now.
Harry was behind the bar and tipped his head at her. He wasn’t a bad guy, that made him the only one in this joint. The front row was half full of seedy businessmen, three regulars sat at the bar and the booths were empty, apart from a ridiculously handsome guy alone in the back booth who looked more interested in his phone than the talent on stage.
She grabbed a tray and walked over.
“I’m Jade. What can I get you?” She asked and he looked up at her. She never used her real name here. Damn he was good looking. He looked cultured and neat. What the hell he was doing here she had no clue. Slumming it must have been his thing. Everyone in this place had a thing.
“Scotch on the rocks thanks. Whatever your best is.”
Their best wasn’t much but as she weaved her way back to him after collecting his order from harry, the eyes of at least one of the businessmen boring into her, that was what she was carrying. She slid his drink and bowl of stale nuts across the table to him.
“You work here long Jade?’ He drew out her name nice and slowly.
“You like it?”
“It’s a job.” She gave a one shoulder shrug.
“Yeah, funny job for an accountant though.” She froze. Hairs pricked all over her body. “Isn’t it Minnie?”
He leaned in and picked up his drink taking a long slow sip of it before putting it down. Meanwhile Minnie didn’t move, not a hair not a muscle.
“I’m a waitress.” She said when she finally found her voice.
“Sure, you’re also the mother of three great kids and the sister of my fiancé Lucy.”
“You know Lucy, and my kids?”
“I do. They sure miss you.”
“Jade.” Harry was calling her from the bar.
“I have to go. I’ll lose my job…”
“Take your time I’m not going anywhere.”
He was waiting for her at the end of her shift. Usually when you saw a strange guy in the carpark at Sleazy Dan’s you panicked but tonight she didn’t feel panicked.
“You want to grab a coffee or a burger?” he tilted his head towards the diner over the road.
“I’m Chase by the way. It’s nice to meet you”
She was trying to process this. The guy knew Lucy, no he’s said he was her fiancé and he knew her kids. She was aware the kids were with her mom in New Hampshire. She knew they were safe but she didn’t know much more.
They sat opposite each other in the diner booth and he slid his phone across the table. A photo of her kids was on the screen. She ran her finger across the outline of their faces and blinked back the tears that clouded her vision. She needed to see them clearly.
“Scroll through, there are lots more.” His voice was gentle. She swiped the image and here they were at a lake, at a football game, her son playing baseball, another with Lucy. “They’re doing fine, settled in, they’ve got great friends.”
The waitress came and he ordered coffee and two burgers. They didn’t need her then her kids they were doing fine without their crazy drunk of a mother who had abandoned them. “Good. I want them to be happy.”
“What about you? You don’t look real happy to me Minnie.”
“I’m doing okay.”
“Let’s cut through the crap. You’re working in a dive bar, you live in a dump, the boyfriend is gone, you’re all alone and you’re barely making it.”
“Don’t sugar-coat it.” She snorted.
“I’m not here to judge you I’m simply stating the facts. I don’t think this life you’ve got going here is making you happy. You drinking?’
“How’s that any of your business?” She growled at him.
“I’m trying not to.”
“Trying is good.” His tone was gentle. “it’s hard to quit especially without help.”
“It is.” He had that right.
The coffee and burgers came. She was starving, she couldn’t really cook in her motel room. She was living on cereal, chocolate bars and ramen noodles. She started eating. He sat back watching. What did it matter what he thought? She was hungry she was going to eat.
“Do you want to go home?” He asked when she’d polished off the burger. “Is that what you want?”
“I can’t go home, Chase. There are some things you can’t just apologize for and move on. Sometimes you can’t just say you’re sorry and expect people to forgive you.”
“True. You can’t. “
It felt like a slap. Had she thought he was here to rescue her and tell her it was all okay. Maybe.
“So why ask?”
“I have a proposition for you. Lucy and I are getting married in three months. I want you to go to treatment until just before the wedding. Rehab. There’s a wonderful place that the doc on TV swears by. I’ll get you the treatment if you are willing to do the work. Afterwards, if it sticks, you come home, come to the wedding and make amends.”
“And?” She knew there was more.
“And you see…you don’t swoop in expecting to uproot your kids and turn their lives upside down. You work your way back in. I don’t know how it will play out. I really don’t. Maybe you’ll never get your kids back, maybe you don’t deserve to, I can’t say what will happen because I don’t know. But what I do know is that they need to know you’re okay and healthy and that you care enough about them to get that way. Your family needs to heal, and only you can make that happen.”
Minnie looked across at him. This was her one shot. It was a shot she didn’t deserve and she knew it. She was lost and broken and damaged but she was still smart somewhere in there, smart enough to know that whatever he was offering was better than this life.
“Yes. I say yes, let’s do it.”