“If you want to pretend like you don’t know what it’s like in that house, that’s fine. But I honestly couldn’t take it anymore, and I was tired of being blamed for absolutely nothing,” I said angrily as I wiped away the tears that were threatening to fall.
“Look, I know it was difficult for you to live there with them-”
“Difficult!? Are you serious right now!? Gavin treated me like shit, told me that I was never something that he wanted in his life- I was just the remnants of Mom’s previous relationship!”
I swatted away Miles’ hand as he reached for me. I was just tired of this. Maybe I was dramatic, but I wasn’t crazy. I held onto my chest, trying to calm the panic that was inexplicably rising within me.
“I understand why you see things the way that you do, but you have to at least try and see from my perspective. How hurtful it…” I tried to calm my breath, “I love you, Miles, but the way Gavin treated me, it wasn’t right, and I need space right now.”
“I can see that you are really emotional about this,” he said, and I angrily rolled my eyes, “but I need you to come home. I honestly think that once you all are in the same room, everything will sort itself out.”
“Like magically?” I said, stupefied at the notion that we could just somehow fix everything together through sheer proximity.
“I just think that you have been really dramatic about this whole situation,” Miles reiterated.
“Yes, Miles. We all heard you. You need to jump to the next part in Mom’s script where you admit that she has been dramatic too,” I said as I steeled myself from slamming my hand on the table. “You finally decided to be a part of this family because? Because she ended up in the hospital over this?”
“Woah,” Miles said, holding up his hands.
“I just don’t get it. There are so many times that I needed you and tried to reach out to you, but you know… even at that moment where I really needed you, I realized that you would never be there. So, I stopped making you that person for me.”
“Zoe. Hey!” He said, holding my hand down as I tried to leave, “I’m sorry. You’re right. Maybe I don’t really understand everything that’s going on here, but I want to. I’m here, and I think I can really help you,” he paused, “if you let me.”
“I have to go soon and do something for work,” I fibbed.
“Oh, okay. I can drive you. I’ll just let Mom know that we’ll be coming by at some point tonight.”
I was going to say something but shut my mouth because somehow, I knew it would just lead me into more problems.
“Where have you been staying?” Miles asked as I threw my things in the back of his rental car.
“With friends,” I said as I looked out the window.
“What friends?” Miles asked insistently.
“I have friends too, you know. You’re not the only person capable of making friends.”
“Alright. Alright. Don’t tell me,” Miles said, “but you’ll have to at least tell me where you are working. Otherwise, we’ll just be stranded here in this parking lot.”
I gave him the directions to the restaurant. I had to make sure that Nico would be okay before I dealt with… everything. Thankfully Miles turned on some music. I didn’t want to talk to him anymore, but the problem with not talking to Miles meant that I had every opportunity to dwell in the mess of my thoughts.
Maybe I could fix things. It wasn’t too late for me to just grab my bag and go back up to Nolan’s apartment like nothing ever happened. No one would know. He was probably still working anyway, so I wouldn’t see him until late at night.
I looked down at my phone and noticed that Nolan hadn’t texted me. I held my breath as I realized that I hadn’t even left a note. While I was contemplating how much I hated myself, Miles turned the corner, and we found ourselves in front of the restaurant. The white letters: Fierce Thyme, seemed to be mocking me.
“Ha,” he smiled as he pointed, “great name for a restaurant. It was one of the top restaurant names I had on my list. When should I pick you up?”
“I just have a few things I need to do. So, two or three hours?” I suggested.
“I’ll be nearby. Just text me if you need me,” Miles said as he waved goodbye and drove off.
I looked up at the Fierce Thyme and let my legs lead me into the restaurant. I nodded to the servers, and they smiled as they saw me walk past. As I found my way into the kitchen, I could already hear Nico.
“No! It’s not ready!” He shouted.
“Hi,” I said as I knocked on the door.
“Yes! The person we need,” Nico said as he embraced me.
“Is that octopus?” I asked as I saw tantalizing tenacles tempting me.
“We have to finalize the menu, and we need another pair of taste buds to test the balance for the competition.”
It took a lot longer than I thought to finalize the menu. I knew that Nico would still be tinkering with it even though we were only days away from the actual competition. 3 days to be sure.
There was still a lot that had to be done, but thankfully Jan and her amazing connections were able to finalize the space. Between Jan and Nolan, restaurants from all over Los Angeles wanting to be a part of this day.
“This was an amazing idea,” Nico said as he looked over at me. “I’m glad that you thought of this. It reminded me of why I even went into cooking in the first place.”
“It’s no big. Seriously,” I smiled. “I’m just glad that we were able to make this all work.”
“Melina Trowel is supposed to be coming in today for a sneak peek of what we are concocting. Would you be able to check out back?” Nico said as he pointed through the alley.
“You had her come through the alley!?” I laughed.
“Well, we couldn’t have her walking in through the front door. I didn’t want everyone questioning whether or not she was biased,” Nico said saucily.
“Okay,” I said, holding up my hands, “I’ll go check out back.”
I opened the door to the alley and paused.
I could feel my heart beating in my fingertips, and my breath froze solid in my lungs.
While I didn’t want to look, I also couldn’t look away. There… right in front of me was Melina Trowel, and attached to the other side of her lips was Nolan.