“Hello ladies, are you here to watch the football game?”

A laugh snuck out before I could help it. My mom and I couldn’t look less like football fans if we tried.

“No, we’re actually just grabbing some food,” I replied into the drink menu. I don’t often jump into conversations at sports bars and wasn’t in the mood to start that night.

We ordered Moscow mules, and were debating over the food menu when our new friend piped up again. “I’m Randy, and this is my wife, Wendy. Where have you guys come from… Massachusetts?”

My mom and I did look a bit ridiculous. We were both wearing turtleneck sweaters and long pants, fresh off the plane and now looking a bit overdressed for the Florida bar.

“Linda and Olivia. We’re from Saint Louis, so we did come from winter. Are you locals?” my mom replied, clearly more willing to have a conversation than I was.

“Yes actually, we are. Lived on the island for a long time. In fact, I wrote all those books over there, and I’m a partner of this restaurant,” Randy replied.

”Wait, THOSE books?” my mom practically shrieked, pointing to the front of the restaurant. “My husband has read all of them!”

“Oh, Linda, no one has read all of them,” Randy chuckled. “Not even me.”

“Well he’s going to have to come in and meet you,” my mom said, sipping her drink. “He ran to the store, but he’s our Uber driver for the evening.”

“How did your husband become your Uber driver? Never mind… I don’t want to pry,” Randy gave us a confused smile and turned back to Wendy.

I thought he might be kidding about the books, but five minutes into observing him, I realized he knew all the waiters and a lot of the customers by name.

I was dumbfounded. This friendly man at the bar wrote the books my dad and grandpa read at the beach for years, AND he was partially responsible for our family tradition of eating dinner (and lunch, and then dinner again) at Doc Fords on Sanibel. I cannot count how many times I’ve stepped foot in that restaurant.

When my dad—honorary Uber driver of the evening—arrived and came to find us at the bar, he immediately recognized why we’d texted him to come inside.

“Oh my gosh, hi, I’m Peter. It is so nice to meet you. I love your books… haven’t read them all though.”

Randy gave my mom a “told you so” look and thanked my dad, striking up a conversation about our vacation plans and how he wound up as our Uber driver.

Turning back to me, Randy asked, “What did you major in, Olivia?”

“I double-majored in business and writing, but I’m not sure what I want to do yet.”

“Oh good, you will need that business knowledge. Writing is the worst isn’t it? I’ve never understood the business (*says the New York Times bestselling author), but you should keep doing it. Try to get published in some magazines—something with a deadline—because that will make all the difference. And when someone tells you not to do something, you should do it anyway,” he declared confidently.

“You ever think about writing a book? How old are you, Olivia?”

“I’m twenty-three.”

“Well, twenty-three, you have plenty of experience to write a book.”

Turning to my dad, he said, “Now really, you all need to go to Tarpon Island on your rental boat. Call the Harbor Master and tell him I sent you. He’ll let you on the island.”

So the next day we gave it a shot. We phoned the Harbor Master from our boat, tentatively floating near the sign that clearly read “private club.” After a comical conversation with the people at the dock (they actually called Randy to make sure we weren’t lying) we cruised into the harbor, thrilled he remembered our conversation and his promise at the island bar.

Writing advice and an unexpected adventure, all because two seats at the bar opened at just the right time next to a kind, chatty author—fortunately intent on sharing his island and writing wisdom with some oddly dressed strangers.

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