“I knew you would be back,” Nico said as he embraced me.
“How is everything? Do you feel ready for tomorrow?” I asked, knowing that he needed to leave around this time to be in the right headspace for the morning.
“I’m not sure if I’m ready, but I think I’m as ready as I’ll ever be,” he said. “What about you? Where have you been? What’s going on?’
“Stuff happened, and I… I don’t know,” I said quietly. “I’m sorry that I wasn’t here, but I know that you will do well tomorrow.”
“You’ll be there? Right?” Nico asked.
“Of course I’ll be there,” I smiled.
“Great,” he laughed, “because someone is going to have to keep my parents’ company throughout everything going on tomorrow. Are you going to be in costume?”
In all the craziness, I had forgotten to get a costume for Halloween. I shook my head, but somehow my smile belied my anxiety.
“Most of the girls go in costume. I’m sure one of them has an extra costume,” Nico suggested. “I’m sure some of them are still working if you head over.”
I nodded and took his advice. I was worried about whether or not I would run into Nolan, and for some odd reason, Nico happened to mention that he wasn’t in the office at the moment.
I stilled my breath of relief as I nodded and headed over to The Underground. Tonight, they had a DJ who had the floor shaking, and it was barely 9 o’clock. I was making my way through the crowd when I felt a hand around my wrist pull me toward the bar.
“Hey, girl! Where have you been? Are you okay?” Nikki screamed with concern in my ear, “we have all been worried about you.”
“It’s just….” I looked at her, and it was like she knew. I didn’t want to lie to her. I liked Nikki, especially after everything she had done for me. I knew it was her who always put in a good word for me with the girls at the office.
“Come on, let’s go up,” she said as she motioned for two drinks from Chris, our new trainee bartender. “Don’t worry, he’s not here,” she said as she opened the door and led me to her office.”
“Does everyone know?” I asked quietly.
“No. I just could tell. I knew something was going on with you guys forever ago. It’s not like Nolan to date someone he works with, but I sometimes would see the way he would look at you. He likes you likes you,” she laughed.
“We’re not dating,” I confessed, “I honestly don’t know what it is. It has been confusing… and then I saw him kissing Melina Trowel in the alley….”
“Oh no,” she sighed. “They dated forever ago. I mean, it’s hard to keep track with Nolan because-” she caught herself, “I’m sorry, I don’t mean to insinuate anything about you or- oh my god, I should just stop talking.”
“No, it’s okay,” I smiled. “I knew kind of what I was getting into. I have known Nolan forever. I just didn’t know that he dated Melina or what their history was. I didn’t even really know what we were… so everything just took me by surprise.”
“I get it. I’m so sorry that this happened,” Nikki said as she handed me a drink, “but fuck men. I don’t care that he’s my boss. That was shitty. It was a really shitty thing to do.”
“We never really did clarify anything, so I think that moment really helped clarify everything,” I said as I took a sip. “I’m just embarrassed that I let this affect me so much. Plus, I felt like I left everyone in the lurch… I mean, I really feel horrible.”
“It’s honestly okay. Most everything was already being planned. The main thing was making sure that Nico was ready, and you did that. This event happens every year, so it wasn’t anything new. It’s just that this year we had a competition in the mix.”
“I mean, I really didn’t do much. I-”
“Zoey, here’s some unsolicited advice: take the win. We are a team. Sometimes we all have moments, but we work together. The whole competition was your idea, and we all worked together to make it happen. Let it go. Take a breath. Take a sip. It’s okay,” Nikki said softly.
“Thank you,” I said as I suddenly started to cry. “I’m sorry… I- I don’t know what’s happening.”
“It’s okay. A lot has been going on. Everything is okay,” Nikki said as she gave me a big hug. “More important than anything, I’m sure you have a killer costume for tomorrow that’ll really make Nolan eat his heart out.”
I shook my head.
“I swear, I must be your fairy godmother or something,” Nikki laughed. “We girls have costumes here for every occasion. I’m sure we can find you something. Come on. I’ll take you to where we store some costumes upstairs.”
“Okay,” I managed to say through a choked sob.
“Pull yourself together, girl. Take a drink. You want him eating his heart out, not running for a tissue box,” she said, and I laughed.
We went upstairs, but not before Nikki managed to sneak a bottle of wine out of the stash we had for fancy clients. She put her finger over her lips to hush my protests, and we snuck upstairs to look through the costumes.
“Not that one,” she laughed, “you don’t want to be looking like a Glinda the Good Witch at this thing. We need something kinda raunchy but sophisticated, something nice to look at but not too sweet….”
“I don’t know,” I said as I lifted an eyebrow, “some of these outfits look like they barely cover anything. I don’t want half of my body falling out of something.”
“Here,” she said as she handed me a bunch of things to try on.
We had a mini fashion show where we laughed and drank wine. It was actually really fun. We ended up settling on an outfit that Nikki put aside for me, making me promise to come in early so she could help me with my hair and make-up.
“Ahem,” someone said as they cleared their throat to get our attention.
“Shit,” I heard Nikki whisper as she handed me the wine bottle through the curtain. “Hi, Boss!”
Fuck, I thought to myself.
“What are you doing up here so late?” I heard Nolan say.
“Well, I was just going through the inventory. You know… getting ready for tomorrow,” Nikki lied.
“Really?” Nolan replied. Fuck. I knew he didn’t believe a word she said. “Well, thank you for putting in the extra time. I’ll make sure it’s reflected in your overtime. I’d love the new inventory list on my desk as soon as possible.”
“Yep. Sure thing,” Nikki replied.
“Well…” Nolan said. “Are you going to just stand there?”
I couldn’t tell what was happening out there, but I could sense that whatever it was, wasn’t good. I could hear Nikki’s heels clicking as she left. I held my breath, uncertain if I was alone.
“And you,” I could hear Nolan’s voice getting closer, “are you never going to return my calls?” He asked as he opened the curtain.
“What the fuck Zoey? What is going on?” Nolan said, confused.
“I saw you in the alley,” I managed to blurt out. I tried to make it sound like an accusation, but I was scared. More importantly, I didn’t want to have this conversation right now.
“Are you serious? This? All of this is just because of a stupid kiss?” Nolan asked.
“What?” Now I was the confused one. “That was more than just a kiss,” I said, pointing the finger at his chest, “you two were basically fused together.”
“That’s ridiculous,” he said.
“Ha. You’re right. This is me, ridiculous Zoey, now leaving the building,” I said as I tried to push past him.
“Are you seriously that insecure?” Nolan said as he pulled me from leaving.
“Woah. Wait. I am rightfully upset, and you’re calling me insecure? Fuck you,” I said as I tried to wrench my arm out of his grasp.
“If I remember correctly, we never even said what this even was,” he said as he gestured between us.
“You said you loved me,” I said accusingly.
“And you never said it back.”