By: Tijan

“I’m easy. That works for me. You have to show me around the neighborhood anyway. I know where you work and where your apartment is. That’s it. Ken mentioned a grocery store not far from here, too.”

“Ken?” Sia grabbed her purse and coat.

I shrugged, hitting the elevator button. “My nickname for him.”

“Does he know he has a nickname?”

“He will.”

When we walked through the lobby, he came out of his office and held the door for us. “Ladies, you have a safe night now.”

“Thanks, Ken.”

He paused, and then a grin spread over his face as well. He nodded again. “Miss Addison. Ms. Clarke.”

Sia stepped outside and shoved her hands in her coat. “Why does he use my last name, but your first name?”

I stepped out behind her, and the door closed. Shrugging, I nudged her shoulder with mine. “I get the special nickname. You know, because I’m special.” I winked, and she rolled her eyes.

“Don’t get a big head because the doorman likes you. You’re the one who lives here.”

“How can I not? He’s adorable. And besides,” I continued as we began walking side by side, “Ken and I have this connection. It was instant, and it was glorious. You’ve got competition.”

Sia leveled me with a hard look. “I do, huh?”

I nodded. “He’s going to be my best friend. At the rate our relationship is moving, I’m sure it’ll take two days. I’ll need that best friend bracelet back. I’ll have to get it enlarged for Ken. I think he has bigger wrists than you.”

“Stop.” She tilted her head back and laughed. “You think you’re so funny.”

“On occasion.”

She continued to laugh, but threw an arm around my shoulder and hugged me tight to her side. “I’ve missed this.”

“Acting like you’re my boyfriend?” I gave her arm a pointed look.

She squeezed me. “No, this. You. You’re joking, and you’re smiling, and you’re…the old you.” She grew somber. “Maybe moving out was just what you needed.”

“Yeah. Maybe.”

I could feel Sia watching me from the corner of her eye, making sure I was okay with what she said, and I was. Surprisingly. My chest felt lighter. My shoulders didn’t feel an invisible weight on them. And she was right. I’d always been able to laugh or joke for a moment—many of our nights together had been spent that way—but this was different. I wasn’t on a break, or hiding from Liam’s ghost. I felt free.

My stomach rumbled again, this time louder.

Sia heard it. “We awakened the beast.” An overhang stuck out from the restaurant’s front door, and she slowed. “And we’re here. I’m hungry now, too.”

Dark red fabric covered the overhang, and as we swept inside, past the black windows that faced the streets, I could see that black and red was the theme inside as well. Large black leather booths lined the auburn walls, carefully spaced to allow privacy. It was cozy and warm, but I felt an underlying tension in the room. A hostess led us to a back booth, and I remembered coming to this place once before with Sia. It had been a weekday during the noon hour, and the feeling had been markedly different. The entire room had been lit up and every table busy. The tension wasn’t there then, not like it was now.

Sia slid into our booth. “We’re going to drink. Just warning you now.”

The hostess waited, holding my menu as I slid in across from Sia. Then she placed the menu in front of me and asked, “Would you like to order a beverage right away?”

“Hell, yes, she will.” Sia moaned, opening up the drink menu. “A glass of chardonnay for me, and a water too. Addison, please order some alcohol with me. I don’t want to be the only one boozing it up, and we deserve it after today.” She gave me the drink menu and turned to the hostess. “She just moved in down the street. I’m thinking we’ll need to buy a bottle to take home, too.”

“I’m sure that can be arranged.”

By the time I’d picked my glass of Merlot, Sia was fast friends with the hostess, and two bottles were coming with us, on the house.