Just Friends

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Meet the Family

The Winters-Parker family dinners were a Thursday tradition, having been started by Jasmine’s Granny Mary. Being a mother of seven, she had plenty of grandchildren that she enjoyed cooking for, but a majority of them were no longer in proximity for the weekly dinners. As a result, the usual guest list was shrunk down to Jasmine, Henry and his fiancée, their parents, then the Parkers: her Aunt Gwen and Uncle Hank, Alex and his girlfriend, and Lacey and her boyfriend. Alex and Lacey’s brother, Jake, was no longer close enough for dinners, and therefore seeing him, his wife, and his daughter was reserved for special occasions.

Fortunately for Jasmine, despite the online announcement of her relationship with Leo, Lacey couldn’t make it to dinner, nor could Caitlin, which meant that there were two people less when she brought Leo over as her boyfriend. Even still, she was rather nervous and found herself gripping Leo’s hand with significant force.

“Um, I know you’re nervous, but could you let up on the death grip a little?” he joked.

She swallowed the lump in her throat and nodded. “Sorry. You ready for this?”

Leo nodded and squeezed her hand. “Let’s do this.”

“Hey,” she called as they stepped through the door. “I’m- I mean, we’re here.”

In moments, the pair of them were swarmed by her relatives and Jasmine released Leo’s hand to give hugs while Alex pulled Leo aside. “Man, I can’t believe this is actually happening.”

“You know, things happen,” Leo shrugged, then gave Alex a hug. “What can I say?”

Alex laughed. “How about, ‘Alex, you were right this whole time! We shall name our firstborn after you and-’”

“Nah, that’s taking it too far,” Leo said. “How about we get drinks?”

“You’d better get one for Jas. She looks like they’re killing her,” Alex muttered before he wandered into the kitchen.

Leo sidled over to Jasmine and put his lips by her ear. “I’m gonna make us some drinks. What do you want?”

“Big glass of wine. Red.”

“Got it,” he said, then he planted a kiss on the top of her head and left for the kitchen.

As soon as he left, her family became even more excited, especially Helena. “Sweetheart, I’m so happy for you! Isn’t it funny how things work out? Just a couple weeks ago, you said you weren’t even interested in him.”

“I don’t even know why she wouldn’t be,” Gwen said, nudging Helena.

“Hon, I’m right here,” Hank said.

Gwen nodded and then kissed her husband’s cheek. “I know!”

Jasmine’s eyes were wide and she wore a phony smile as she tried to get away from her family. “Um, I think I need to-”

“Come with me!” Theo said, pulling her away. As they walked towards the other side of the house, she leaned over and whispered, “I get it. Too much. I think the boys are in the kitchen.”

“Oh, thank god. I don’t think I can handle the interrogation right now,” Jasmine laughed.

Theo nodded. “At least not before alcohol. But might I say, while we’re alone, kudos.”

“Thanks?”

“Hell yeah. Leo is hot, he’s smart and charming, and he’s funny,” Theo said as her eyes started to glaze over.

Jasmine nudged the other woman. “Hey, you have Alex, remember?”

The look of faux disappointment on Theo’s face was enough to make both women start laughing hysterically as they walked into the kitchen.

“What’s so funny?” Alex asked suspiciously.

“None of your beeswax, nosy,” Theo said as she grabbed a glass of wine away from him. “Thanks, babe!”

As those two began talking amongst themselves, Leo handed Jasmine some wine and said, “There you go. How bad was it?”

“Awful. Theo had to save me,” she said. “Where’s Granny? Is she not cooking?”

Alex shrugged. “She went to the bathroom about twenty minutes ago.”

Jasmine grimaced and took a sip of her drink before she set her glass down. “I’m going to go check on her. Don’t let anyone drink my wine.”

“Gotcha,” Leo said with a nod.

When she got to the bathroom, she knocked on the door and awaited a response, but got none. After a few moments, she knocked even louder and waited before calling out, “Granny? Are you in there?” There was still no response, so Jasmine opened the door to find her grandmother sitting against the back of the toilet, perfectly still, with her eyes closed and her head drooped down. “Oh, my god! Leo, come in here! I need help!”

Within moments, Leo, Alex, and Theo all made their way to the bathroom, and Leo lept into action to take Mary’s pulse. After a very long moment, he said, “She’s still alive, she has a pulse.”

“Then what’s wrong with her?” Alex asked.

Before Leo could answer the question, Mary let out a snort and opened her eyes, only to yelp in surprise. “Oh!”

“Granny! You were asleep?” Jasmine asked, crouching down next to the toilet and holding Mary’s hand.

Mary nodded and held her free hand to her chest. “Yes, I suppose I was.”

“On the toilet?” Alex asked.

“When you get old, you’ll fall asleep on the toilet too. Just you watch,” Mary said, pointing at Alex with a smile. “Sorry about that. If you can give me a minute, I’ll be right out and we can talk. Hello, Leo.”

“Hi, Mrs. Winters,” Leo said with a smile before he left the bathroom.

Alex and Theo left the room next while Jasmine helped Mary up. “Sorry, Gran. We didn’t mean to scare you.”

“Oh, don’t worry about me. I’m sure you were thinking the worst, so I figure we’re even,” Mary said before she winked at her granddaughter.

Jasmine smiled and walked back out to the kitchen, where she quickly downed the rest of her wine. Rather than make any comment on it, Leo refilled the glass without a word, then topped off his own glass.

When Mary entered the kitchen, Jasmine and Leo were filling up their third glasses. “Pour me one, will you, dear?”

“Granny, are your doctors okay with you drinking?” Jasmine asked, her voice getting higher in pitch.

“Don’t be silly. No doctors are going to tell me what to do unless they look like Leo,” Mary said with a wink. “But yes, they’ve said I can have a glass a day. Now, tell me what’s going on here, young lady.”

Leo tried to stifle his laughter, especially when Jasmine pointed a glare in his direction, but was unable to do so. “Well, um, Minnie and I are dating.”

“Minnie? Oh, that’s cute,” Mary said.

“Yeah, he seems to think so,” Jasmine grumbled while Leo put his arm around her shoulders.

“How did you two start dating?”

“Yeah,” Alex said as he turned the corner with Theo, Helena, and Gwen. “How did this start? I’m very interested to know how my best friend and my cousin, who have hated each other for over a decade, have started dating.”

Before Jasmine even had a chance to stumble over her words, Leo said, “After the elevator, we met up for coffee. It was kind of like all our energy spent hating each other was channeled into something different, something better. I decided to ask her out for a movie and she said yes! I didn’t expect anything to come of it, but it turns out we have a lot more in common than we thought and I’m really glad we got trapped in the elevator together.”

“And I guess I didn’t hate him as much as I thought I did. So far, it’s actually been pretty fun,” Jasmine added before looking up at him with a smile, a genuine one.

“Wow, that’s cheesy,” Alex said.

Gwen smacked her son’s shoulder. “It’s sweet and you know it.”

“Ow! Ma, that hurt. You really gotta ease up. I don’t play derby like you,” Alex complained.

“And whose fault is that?” Gwen asked.

Leo started laughing and said, “Dude, you really should know better than to be a smartass around your mom.”

“Dinner’s ready!” Mary said, distracting everyone from the previous conversation to help bring all the dishes to the table.

As they all took their spots at the table, it turned out that Leo was sat directly across from Richard, who was glaring in his direction. Leo leaned over to Jasmine and whispered, “Does your dad hate me or something?”

“Yep.”

“Why?”

“Ninety-eight percent because of your dad, two percent because you’re dating me,” she said before she bit into a buttered roll. “Just lead with sports. He’s a hockey fan. Rangers.”

With that, he swallowed the lump in his throat and smiled at the man across from him. “So, Mr. Winters, I hear from your daughter that you’re a Rangers fan?”

Richard swallowed his food and narrowed his eyes. “Yes, your point?”

“I like hockey too. It’s a shame that the Rangers didn’t make it into the playoffs last year, but they played pretty well last season, don’t you think?”

“Yeah, but Vegas deserved the cup. They proved themselves in their first season, which is more than enough to earn respect,” Richard said while shoveling more food into his mouth. “I didn’t take you for a hockey fan.”

“Rangers aren’t my team, but yeah. It’s definitely more entertaining than other sports,” Leo said.

“Hey now, don’t get too carried away bashing other sports,” Gwen warned.

“Not talking about roller derby, I swear,” Leo said. “I know you’re a total badass.”

Gwen grinned. “That’s right, and don’t you forget it.”

The rest of dinner went a lot more smoothly, with various family members catching up with each other, asking Leo and Jasmine questions, and Richard interrupting relationship talk with hockey talk.

Even with it going well, Jasmine kept bouncing her leg under the table until Leo, without so much as a glance, rested his hand on her knee. When she stopped bouncing, he moved his hand to hers and interlocked their fingers, then squeezed lightly.

Once people started leaving the table to clear off the dirty dishes, Jasmine and Leo lingered behind and she said, “Thank you. I know I haven’t been taking this seriously, but this was nice. Coming to this with you has been an entirely different experience from their usual mission to get me a boyfriend.”

“See? Not too bad of an idea, huh?” Leo asked, giving her hand another squeeze.

“Yeah,” she smiled. “And now would be as good a time as any to break out the big guns.”

“You mean…?”

With a nod, Jasmine leaned towards Leo and closed her eyes, allowing him to close the distance between them. His lips moved softly against hers and his free hand moved to brush her hair out of her face. When they pulled apart, Jasmine rested her forehead against his and peeked out of the corner of her eye to see her family members spying from the other room.

“Mission successful,” she joked.

Leo laughed and planted another quick kiss on her lips, sending tingles down her spine. “Maybe we should help clean up before your dad decides he hates me again.”

She shrugged. “I think you’re in the clear, but if you get on his bad side, just say that your dad was the worst player in college. My dad is convinced it’s your dad’s fault they lost the championship game.”

“Gotcha.”


Leo had driven Jasmine home and walked her up to her apartment, fully intending to go home to sleep, but soon he was sitting on her couch, watching Bring It On for some reason. By the time they got to the scene where Torrance listens to the tape from Cliff, Leo was rolling his eyes.

“What?” Jasmine asked.

He shrugged and shook his head. “I don’t know. I mean, I guess this whole idea of ‘oh, I wrote you a song to tell you how I feel’ is just so cliché and dumb.”

“Okay, but it’s also kinda sweet,” she said. “Not that I want someone to write me a song, but if they were to make me a mixtape or something? That used to be a thing, and it sucks that gestures like that aren’t as common anymore.”

“So you’re saying you want someone to make you a mixtape to tell you how they feel?”

“I don’t know, maybe?”

Leo raised an eyebrow. “And what if they just put a bunch of corny overused love songs that make you wanna puke?”

She laughed. “Then clearly they didn’t care enough to put actual effort into it. It’s gotta be genuine, not easy.”

“Why are we even watching this again?” he asked.

“Because you refused to leave for some reason and I wanted to watch it and it’s my house,” she said with a grin. “Now pass me the Oreos.”


The next morning, Jasmine woke up to a text from Leo.

>>> Leo: Don’t forget, tonight’s your turn! Dinner with my mom @ 6

>>> Jasmine: Got it. Are we going out or what?

>>> Leo: Yeah, wear something sexy ;)

>>> Jasmine: To meet your mother? Yeah right

>>> Leo: You’ve met her before!

>>> Jasmine: Yeah, but not as your “girlfriend”

>>> Jasmine: And either way, I’m not wearing a sexy outfit

>>> Leo: Whyyyyy

>>> Jasmine: Because. Idk what I’m gonna wear, but it’s not gonna be sexy

>>> Leo: Fine :( I’m sure you’ll look beautiful anyway, no matter what you wear

>>> Jasmine: Thanks I guess?

>>> Jasmine: So tonight’s dinner with your mom, but are we doing anything with your dad at all?

>>> Leo: So far, no. I don’t talk to him much

>>> Jasmine: Which explains why he doesn’t know you don’t wanna be a doctor

>>> Leo: Noooope we’re not talking about that right now

>>> Leo: I’ll pick you up at 5:30 tonight?

>>> Jasmine: Yep, sounds good!

Even as she met with clients throughout the day, Jasmine couldn’t take her mind off the dinner, which proved to be a great hindrance when trying to answer questions about in-home hospice care. Considering this was a fake relationship, the nerves she had were very real and she couldn’t help but want to impress Astrid Mathers.

When she got home, she tried to be efficient. First, she took a shower, did her hair, then her makeup. Next, she laid out five outfits and the corresponding accessories and shoes, but that’s where she got stuck. She couldn’t decide.

In the midst of her trying on dress number three, a light pink dress with polka dots, there was a knock on her front door and she frantically checked her phone. It was already five-thirty.

“Just a minute!” she said as she rushed towards the door. When she opened it, Leo was in a nice dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up to the elbow and a tie, which only made her feel worse about not being ready.

“Wow, Min. You look great,” he said.

She shook her head and pulled him inside. “I’m not ready. I can’t decide on an outfit.”

“What’s wrong with the one you have on, Minnie?” he joked, hoping to lighten the mood.

“I- I don’t know, it’s just not right,” she said. “I have more. Come help me, please.”

As she pulled him into the bedroom, he was tempted to make a dirty joke, but her frazzled state was sign enough that he ought to hold off. When he saw the other dresses laying on the bed, it took all of five seconds for him to decide, and he held up the dark blue one with short sleeves and a scoop neck. “This one.”

“Really? Why?”

“The blue will make your hair look more red, plus it’s modest enough to meet my mom but still sexy,” he said, winking at her. “Compromise.”

“Ugh, I’m not even going to dignify that with a response. Thanks for helping me pick, now get the hell out,” she said as she pushed him back out of her bedroom and shut the door behind him.

He sat on the couch as he waited, and soon Jasmine emerged with a smile on her face, radiant enough to make his mouth go dry. “Wow, um, you look amazing.”

“Thanks,” she said. “Not so bad yourself.”

“Shall we go get my mother?”

She grimaced. “We’re riding with her?”

Leo laughed and nodded. “Yes, but you’ll be fine.”

“I really won’t,” Jasmine said. “I thought we were meeting her at the restaurant.”

“You two live in the same building. It doesn’t make sense for us to drive separately from the same place to the same place,” he said.

“Well, shit, I wish you would have said something earlier!”

He put his hands up. “Sorry, I thought you knew! My bad.”

She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I thought I had more time to mentally prepare for this.”

Leo took hold of both her hands. “Look at me. You’ll be fine. You’re smart, you’re accomplished, you’re gorgeous, and you’re smitten with her son, as far as she knows. She’ll love you.”

“Okay,” she nodded.

As they walked down the hall and around the corner to Astrid Mathers’ apartment, Jasmine tried to keep calm. Deep breath in, slowly let it out.

Leo knocked on the door and when it opened, he dropped Jasmine’s hand to give his mother a hug. “Hey, Mom. You look great.”

Astrid’s hair was pulled back into an immaculate bun and she wore a light blue dress that complemented Jasmine’s, though the style reminded Jasmine of the forties. The older woman clearly had taste.

“Thanks, honey,” Astrid said as she pulled away from her son to look at Jasmine. “You, dear, look beautiful!”

Jasmine blushed. “So do you! I love your dress.”

“Isn’t it just perfect?”

“Definitely,” she nodded before she held out her hand. “I don’t know if you remember me, but I’m Jasmine.”

Astrid took Jasmine’s hand with her own and shook it, unaware that she still had yellow paint smudged on some of her fingers. “Oh, of course. Winters!”

“Mom,” Leo said, glancing down at her hands. “Were you working today?”

“Of course, why do you- oh, damn it. I thought I washed it all off,” Astrid said as she looked at her hands. “I didn’t get any on either of you, did I?”

Jasmine quickly examined her hands and the back of Leo’s shirt before she shook her head. “No, I don’t think so.”

Astrid sighed. “I don’t know if Leo told you, but I work in art restoration, which is a pretty messy job at times. I was mixing colors today, clearly.”

“I don’t mind messy,” Jasmine said. “That must be such an interesting job!”

“It can be,” Astrid said, smiling.

“Well, before we just spend the next hour chatting in the hall, how about we get to dinner?” Leo asked. “I’m hungry.”

Jasmine nodded. “Yeah, definitely. So, um, Mrs. Mathers- oh, I mean, Ms. Mathers-”

“It’s actually Ms. Greenwood-Mathers, but you can just call me Astrid, dear.”

“Astrid. Um, how long have you been doing art restoration?”

The women continued chatting all the way down to the car and through the entire drive to the restaurant, generally talking over or ignoring Leo’s attempts at joining the conversation, which would have irritated him if he weren’t so pleased that it was going well.

Once they were seated, however, Astrid finally directed a question at her son that nearly caused Jasmine to spit out her drink. “So, how come it took you so long to start dating this one?”

“Well, Mom, I was a bit of an asshole to Min for a good part of our adolescence, so it took a while to be worth her time,” Leo said.

Despite the blush spreading across her face, Jasmine took hold of Leo’s hand and said, “And when he helped me in the elevator, I could see that he had changed.”

“Well, I’m glad. I think you two make an adorable couple,” Astrid said with a smile. “And tell me more about this elevator incident! I didn’t get many details out of Leo.”

“Okay, sure. Well, um, the elevator got stuck and I was having a panic attack because I’m, uh, fairly claustrophobic, and Leo helped keep me calm. He talked to me and asked questions, distracted me, and by the end of it, I wasn’t panicking as much,” Jasmine said. “If I had been in there alone, I definitely would have been hyperventilating and crying, possibly to the point of fainting. It’s happened before.”

“How terrifying. It’s lucky he was there, isn’t it?”

Jasmine looked over at Leo for a second and smiled. “Yeah, lucky.”


Dinner had gone exceedingly well, much to Jasmine’s relief. Astrid was a very genuinely sweet woman and it was clear that Leo had gotten his good humor from her. They talked for an hour after they had finished their meals, then they went over to Astrid’s apartment for dessert, a cheesecake that Leo had apparently made. All in all, it was a very successful night.

Still, as she lay in bed, she couldn’t sleep. She grabbed her phone off her bedside table and opened the texts from Leo. The last message he had sent was the picture from that night’s ‘date.’ He was holding her from behind, except just before the picture had been taken, he started tickling her so that she started laughing. If it had been anyone else, she would have said it was a picture of a happy couple.

>>> Jasmine: It’s a cute picture

Considering how late it was, she didn’t expect a response. She rested her phone on her chest and closed her eyes, hoping to fall asleep, but then the phone vibrated and she snatched it back up to see the response.

>>> Leo: We make a cute couple, clearly ;P

>>> Jasmine: Why are you awake??

>>> Leo: Why are YOU awake?

>>> Jasmine: Can’t sleep

>>> Leo: Me neither. Wanna hang out?

>>> Jasmine: I’m literally in bed

>>> Leo: So?

>>> Jasmine: I don’t even know where you live

>>> Leo: And how weird is that? We’re dating and you don’t know where I live

>>> Jasmine: Fake dating

>>> Leo: Not the point lol

>>> Jasmine: Fine. I guess I’ll come over

He texted her his address and she pulled on some pajama bottoms and a sweatshirt. He only lived about ten minutes away, and there was no point in getting all dressed up again.

When she got to his place and knocked at the door, she was shocked when Leo opened it up shirtless. Well, shirtless, wearing an apron over his bare chest, and covered in a white powder.

“What are you doing?” Jasmine asked.

“Making cookies. From scratch.”

She raised her eyebrows and followed him into the kitchen, which was very spacious and also very covered in flour. “And how did you manage this mess?”

“I slipped on the floor while I was carrying the flour over to the counter. I’m not proud.”

She started laughing and couldn’t bring herself to stop for a few minutes, but when she finally caught her breath and regained her composure, she asked, “Do you want some help cleaning this up?”

Leo smiled. “Please. I’ll repay you in baked goods.”

“I’ll hold you to that,” she said, pointing her finger at him. “Now, where’s your cleaning wipes, and/or a broom?”

He quickly fetched cleaning supplies and they worked together to get rid of the mess of flour before Jasmine settled on a stool while Leo started making the cookies.

“So were you already planning on making cookies when I texted you or did you start because I was coming over?” Jasmine asked.

“Second one,” he said. “I know you have a wicked sweet tooth, Min.”

She laughed. “Guilty. So why were you awake?”

“Couldn’t sleep.”

“How come?”

He sighed. “I’m not doing too great in my classes. And it’s nothing to do with our arrangement, I swear, but still. Dad’s not going to be happy.”

Jasmine frowned before she spoke. “You should tell him.”

“Tell him what?”

“That you’d rather open up a bakery,” she said. “You should be doing what makes you happy instead of killing yourself to make him happy.”

“And what about all the money he’s poured into my education?” Leo asked.

She shrugged and shook her head. “I don’t know. I can’t pretend to have all the answers, but I do know that if you keep doing this, it’s going to drive a wedge between you and your father until you resent him.”

He was silent as he considered her words, the only sound being a spoon knocking against the side of the mixing bowl as he mixed the dough. Eventually, he took a deep breath and said, “You’re probably right, but I don’t even know how to tell him.”

“Just think about it. You don’t have to do it now, or even tomorrow. I do think you should say something before the end of the semester, or quarter, whatever, however the classes are broken up.”

“It varies, but point taken.”

She smiled at him. “So when are you going to hand over that bowl so I can eat the cookie dough?”

With a playful scoff, he turned away so she couldn’t reach the bowl. “Here I am trying to bake for you and all you want is cookie dough! I’m insulted!”

“Come on, let me at it,” she laughed, getting up from her stool and walking around the counter to corner him. “You can bake whatever I don’t eat!”

As Jasmine backed him into the counter, he lifted the bowl high above her head and said, “Come and get it, Winters.”

“I take that as a challenge,” she said, right before she climbed on top of the counter and then grabbed the bowl from his hand and scooped some dough right into her mouth.

“Cheater,” he said with a grin.

Jasmine pulled the spoon out of her mouth, which was still full of cookie dough, and said, “Victory is mine.”


When Jasmine woke up the next morning, her first thought was how she was relieved that it was Saturday. Her next thought was how she had a strange weight on her torso, until she looked down and noticed an arm draped over her side. As her eyes followed the arm to its owner, she was confronted with the still-sleeping Leo, lightly snoring next to her.

They had stayed up past four in the morning and Jasmine was sure that she had fallen asleep on his couch, which meant that he had to have carried her to bed. She was still wearing all of her clothes, as was he, and it seemed that they had fallen asleep spooning.

As she looked at his face, it was softer than when he was awake. Not that he had rough features, but he seemed more carefree and innocent. She noticed a light dusting of freckles underneath his eyes and on his nose, and his lips were poutier as he slept than they ever were when he was awake. It was unsettling just how sweet he really looked, and Jasmine forced herself out from under his arm and off the bed, desperate to get thoughts of running her fingers along his skin out of her mind.

Even as she removed herself, he still slept soundly and she was able to sneak her way out of the bedroom, and out of his apartment without waking him. By the time she was sitting in her car, however, she had gotten a text from him.

>>> Leo: Where’d you go?

>>> Jasmine: I have some errands I need to run. You should go back to sleep

>>> Leo: Is everything okay?

>>> Jasmine: Yeah, I’m fine :)

>>> Leo: Okay, I’ll ttyl?

>>> Jasmine: Yep! Get some sleep!

Once she sent the text, she rested her head against the steering wheel. It all felt too real and she knew that if she didn’t set boundaries, old feelings from her high school crush might resurface.

Rather than drive immediately home, Jasmine pulled out her phone and decided to text one of her friends, Eliza, to meet up for breakfast. What she needed more than anything else was normalcy.

>>> Jasmine: Hey, are you home? And more importantly, are you awake??

>>> Eliza: Unfortunately. What’s up?

>>> Jasmine: Wanna get food?

>>> Eliza: Yeah, sure! Where at?

>>> Jasmine: Let’s just go to Denny’s

>>> Eliza: Down

>>> Jasmine: Meet you there in 15?

>>> Eliza: Make it 20, I gotta shower

>>> Jasmine: Who gives a shit? I stink too

>>> Eliza: Lol fine, see you in 15

The restaurant was fairly vacant, aside from three other tables, so when the two women arrived, they were seated quickly.

“So, what’s going on, Jas?” Eliza asked, pulling her curly black hair back with a hair tie. “It’s really early on a Saturday, something must be up.”

Jasmine shrugged. “It’s just been a while and I really needed to get out of the house.”

Eliza raised an eyebrow. “And this has nothing to do with the fact that you’re dating Mathers? Which, by the way, thanks for telling me.”

“Sorry,” Jasmine grimaced. “I didn’t want to make a big deal out of it.”

“But it is a big deal. One, you have a boyfriend. Two, it’s Leo fucking Mathers. You’ve hated him for forever,” Eliza said.

“I mean, not forever,” Jasmine mumbled.

Eliza rolled her eyes. “Right. Your little crush from seventh grade to tenth grade. Newsflash, if it lasts longer than a year, it’s more than just a crush. You were straight up in love with that boy.”

“Shut up.”

“Okay, fine. But let me say something. If you’re really serious about him, I’ll support you one hundred percent, but I’m not gonna promise to like him or be nice to him until he proves that he’s worth your time,” she said.

Jasmine smiled. “You’re such a sap.”

“Shut up.”

“So what’s been going on with you?”

“I don’t know,” Eliza said with a shrug. “Lots of hookups mostly.”

The pair of them started laughing and soon the waitress came over to take their order. When she left again, Jasmine settled back into the booth seat and said, “I’ve missed you. It’s been weird not being able to talk to you as much.”

“And whose fault is that?”

“Yours! You’re never not working,” Jasmine said with a laugh, crumpling up a napkin and throwing it at Eliza.

Eliza nodded and shrugged. “You’re not wrong. I have like no spare time lately.”

“When is the department going to promote you? You’ve been their top guy for like three years running, haven’t you?”

“Four years,” Eliza corrected. “And the promotion is actually supposed to be coming up next month.”

“So you’re going up to a lieutenant, right? That’s awesome! Does that mean you get to drive the rig?”

“I’m a driver now, but the promotion would put me in charge of training other firefighters and running the day-to-day stuff,” Eliza said. “Driving the rig is exciting at first, but I’m kinda over it.”

Jasmine laughed. “Yeah, you always were more interested in being the boss, anyway.”

“And how’s your job?”

“It varies,” she said with a shrug. “I know that I’m helping people when they’re struggling the most, but it’s hard not to get attached sometimes, and then when they die, it’s hard. I can’t always just take a day off to get over it. Like, last month, there was the sweetest old lady, Parkinson’s. She couldn’t remember five minutes ago, but she recognized my face every time I came in and she wanted to make coffee for me.”

“Oh, wow, that’s so sweet.”

“Right? Anyway, her hands shook too badly most of the time, so I’d help her make the coffee, and I’d go through the paperwork with her and her son. By the end, she had had a seizure through the night and she passed away,” Jasmine said.

Eliza reached out and squeezed Jasmine’s hand. “I’m sorry, Jas.”

She nodded. “I came in that morning and found the coroner. It was rough.”

“That’s part of the job, though, right?”

“Yeah,” she nodded. “It’s what I signed up for, to help dying people.”

Eliza sighed and nodded. “Yeah, I know. As long as you’re getting help too. You can’t run yourself ragged doing everything for everyone else. You need to be taken care of too.”

As Jasmine thought about that day on the elevator, she smiled involuntarily. “Don’t worry, I am.”

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