LATER, in the silence of the empty bar, Nate felt happier than he had in a long time as he cleared the last of the glasses and pushed the chairs and tables back into place.
Jeannie was coming over tomorrow night and would cook dinner for him and the girls.
Wednesday evenings were fairly quiet and he was sure they’d have plenty of time to talk.
He was certain they had the rest of their lives to talk, but Nate felt in a strange hurry and couldn’t wait to find out everything about her.
He looked around the bar. Maybe he could set up a little area for them, with a tablecloth and some flowers, even a candle?
He was sure the girls would make themselves scarce. Cally would take Tasha upstairs to watch a reality TV show if he brought her in on his plan.
He felt nervous and excited and, for the first time in a long while, he felt hopeful, like life suddenly had more to offer.
He turned off one set of lights over by the toilets and was heading behind the bar to the second set when there was a loud banging at the door to the pub.
Thinking it was one of the WI ladies who had forgotten something, Nate l pulled back the bolt and opened the door.
The woman in front of him was certainly familiar, although her face looked a little more pinched than the last time he’d seen her, and her blonde hair a little longer.
It was a shock to see her there now.
Nate stepped back, open-mouthed, as Steph, his ex-wife and Cally’s mother, pushed past him into the bar.
“Hi, Nate,” she said, her inflection slightly raised as always, her voice raspy and deep. “I’m back.”
Nate was reeling from the return of his ex-wife the night before when the area manager from the brewery arrived at the Mucklebury Arms just before opening time on Wednesday.
Nate knew the six weeks he’d been allocated to save the pub weren’t up until Saturday, and he also knew this was not a good sign.
“Mr Forman, hello.”
The men shook hands in the doorway before settling at the table by the window.
The older man refused Nate’s offer of a drink as he opened his briefcase and removed a stack of papers.
Nate tried to read upside-down, but it was not a skill he had ever mastered.
“I’ll cut to the chase,” Mr Forman began. “You’ve made a sterling effort, but the brewery has decided to call time on this one. The pub is to close and the property will be sold off.”
Nate didn’t know what to say. On one hand this came as no surprise.
On the other, he was shocked how strongly he felt that the brewery was making the wrong decision.
“Is there no other way?” he asked. “I honestly feel as though the Mucklebury Arms could have a future. There’s a huge amount of goodwill in the village for the place.”
Mr Forman looked a little uncomfortable.
“I’m sorry, Nate. To be truthful, it’s not been an easy few years for the brewery, and they’re short of money. They’re looking for a quick sale and this property has been a thorn in the side for a while now.”
“But what about my proposal for food? Was that taken into consideration?”
“Of course it was. We take all your ideas seriously. It looked good on paper, Nate, but we don’t have the money to invest in the equipment, especially with that other place just over the green doing so well on the food side.”
“But it would be a different type of menu altogether!”
“I’m sorry, Nate.”