Chapter One Atlas
The way ass whole is misspelled in red spray paint across the back door of Bib’s makes me think of my mother.
She would always insert a brief pause between syllables, making it sound like two separate words. I wanted to laugh every time I heard it, but it was hard to find the humor in it as a child when I was always the recipient of the hurled insult.
“Ass… whole,” Darin mutters. “Had to be a kid. Most adults know how to spell that word.”
“You’d be surprised.” I touch the paint, but it doesn’t stick to my fingers. Whoever did this must have done it right after we closed last night.
“Do you think the misspelling was intentional?” he asks. “Are they suggesting you’re so much of an asshole that you’re a whole entire ass?”
“Why do you assume they were targeting me? They could have been targeting you or Brad.”
“It’s your restaurant.” Darin takes off his jacket and uses it to pry a large shard of exposed broken glass out of the window. “Maybe it was a disgruntled employee.”
“Do I have disgruntled employees?” I can’t think of a single person on payroll who would do something like this. The last person I’d had quit was five months ago, and she left on good terms after getting a college degree.
“There was that guy who did the dishes before you hired Brad. What was his name? He was named after some kind of mineral or something—it was super weird.”
“Quartz,” I say. “It was a nickname.” I haven’t thought about that guy in so long. I doubt he’s holding a grudge against me after all this time. I fired him right after we opened because I found out he wasn’t washing the dishes unless he could actually see food on them. Glasses, plates, silverware—anything that came back to the kitchen from a table looking fairly clean, he’d just put it straight on the drying rack.
If I wouldn’t have fired him, he would have gotten us shut down by the health department.
“You should call the police,” Darin says. “We’ll have to file a report for insurance.”
Before I object, Brad appears at the back door, his shoes crunching the broken glass beneath his feet. Brad has been inside taking inventory in order to see if anything was stolen.
He scratches the stubble on his jaw. “They took the croutons.”
There’s a confused pause.
“Did you say ‘croutons’?” Darin asks.
“Yeah. They took the whole thing of croutons that were prepared last night. Nothing else seems to be missing, though.”
That wasn’t at all what I was expecting him to say. If someone broke into a restaurant and didn’t take appliances or anything else of value, they probably broke in because they were hungry. I know that kind of desperation firsthand. “I’m not reporting this.”
Darin turns to me. “Why not?”
“They might catch whoever did it.”
“That’s the point.”
I grab an empty box out of the dumpster and start picking up shards of glass. “I broke into a restaurant once. Stole a turkey sandwich.”
Brad and Darin are both staring at me now. “Were you drunk?” Darin asks.
“No. I was hungry. I don’t want anyone arrested for stealing croutons.”
“Okay, but maybe food was only the beginning. What if they come back for appliances next time?” Darin says. “Is the security camera still broken?”
He’s been on me to get that repaired for months now. “I’ve been busy.”
Darin takes the box of glass from me and starts to pick up the remaining pieces. “You should go work on that before they come back. Heck, they might even try to hit up Corrigan’s tonight since Bib’s was such an easy target.”
“Corrigan’s has working security. And I doubt whoever it was will vandalize my new restaurant. It was a matter of convenience, not a targeted break-in.”
“You hope,” Darin says.
I open my mouth to respond, but I’m interrupted by an incoming text message. I don’t think I’ve ever reached for my phone faster. When I see the text isn’t from Lily, I deflate a little.
I ran into her this morning while I was running errands. It was the first time we’ve seen each other in a year and a half, but she was late for work and I had just received the text from Darin informing me we had a break-in. We parted somewhat awkwardly on the promise that she would text me once she got to work.
It’s been an hour and a half since then, and I still haven’t heard from her. An hour and a half is nothing, but I can’t ignore the nagging in my chest that’s trying to convince me she’s having doubts about everything that was said between us in that five-minute exchange on the sidewalk.
I’m definitely not having doubts about what I said. I might have gotten caught up in the moment—in seeing how happy she looked and finding out she’s no longer married. But I meant every word I said to her.
I’m ready for this. More than ready.
I pull up her contact info in my phone. I’ve wanted to text her so many times over the last year and a half, but the last time I spoke to her, I left the ball in her court. She had so much going on, I didn’t want to complicate her life even more.
She’s single now, though, and she made it sound like she was finally ready to give whatever could be between us a chance. However, she’s had an hour and a half to think about our conversation, and an hour and a half is plenty of time to form regrets. Every minute that passes without a text is going to feel like a whole damn day.
She’s still listed as Lily Kincaid in my phone, so I edit her contact info and change her last name back to Bloom.
I feel Darin hovering, looking over my shoulder at my phone screen. “Is that our Lily?”
Brad perks up. “He’s texting Lily?”
“ ‘Our Lily’?” I ask, confused. “You guys met her once.”
“Is she still married?” Darin asks.
I shake my head.
“Good for her,” he says. “She was pregnant, right? What did she end up having? A boy or a girl?”
I don’t want to discuss Lily because there’s nothing to discuss yet. I don’t want to make it more than what it might be. “A girl, and that’s the last question I’m answering.” I focus on Brad. “Theo coming in today?”
“It’s Thursday. He’ll be here.”
I head inside the restaurant. If I’m going to discuss Lily with anyone, it’ll be Theo.
We hope you are enjoying the book so far. To continue reading...