I take the four vegetable panini's and berry smoothies over to my table of friends, seeing their faces light up with delight. I love that my food does this to people. I like to spread joy, and if a cheesy vegetable filled sandwich does the job, so be it. I give the biggest one to Laine who grants me her 'You Are The Best' look, rubbing her hands together in glee.
I walk back to the kitchen to make my acai bowl, joining them after. It isn't often that I have the time to sit and talk with my friends, the business taking over my life. But, I feel it's important to keep in touch with the people you love. Even for half an hour, it all counts.
"Seen much of lover boy recently?" Victoria says, slurping away at her smoothie.
I dig into my food, ignoring the tone that tells me she wants sexual details. "No, he's busy, I'm sure."
Laine picks up the bird patterned napkin and dabs at her mouth. "Are you talking about Noah?"
Tamsin giggles. "Who else?"
Laine rests back in her chair, massaging her ready to pop belly. "You do know he's a single man now, right?"
My entire stomach dips at the news, the usual pain crowding in their at the sound of his name. It's a common feeling concerning Noah Larsson. "No, I didn't know he was single."
"Geesh," Ellie says, her eyes half smiling and concerned. "Could you sound any happier about it?"
Laine claps her hands. "Now is your perfect chance to ask him on a date."
I busy myself with stirring my food to mix the ingredients. "I'm not asking Noah on a date." I've had enough disappointment from him and have done my fair share of chasing. I spoon an enormous amount of granola in my mouth and shake my head. "No way."
"Why not? You have nothing to lose now he's single," Ellie replies, nudging my shoulder.
I carry on shaking my head. "I'm not being his rebound." Again.
Victoria puts her empty plate and glass in the middle of the table and leans forward on her elbows. "You've already had sex. What's the biggie?"
"You've what?" Laine chokes on her shake, and I worry she'll go into early labour from the shock.
I narrow my eyes on Victoria mouthing, "Thanks a lot." And turn to Laine seeing her struggle to register the news of mine and her brother's sexual endeavours.
"You have not had sex with him," she says.
This could go one of two ways. Laine will either hate me forever or approve of our not-really relationship. "It was one time when he had this huge fight with Clara. I promise all we usually do is talk, but he started crying and I felt sorry for him." I rush out.
"Oh, boy," Ellie mumbles, finding interest in the courgette that has fallen out of her panini.
"Wait." Laine grits her jaw. "Did he use you?"
"No." I raise my hands, admitting to myself that at the time when he'd finished having sex with me on the counter and said 'That's Better' a moment of horror filled me, body and soul.
I'm over it now, though.
Totally, over it.
"Bail's, come on, tell her the truth," Tamsin says, her emerald green eyes firm on mine.
The peer pressure builds as all my girlfriends frown in my direction, nodding their heads not so subtly at Laine, who is none the wiser.
I take a deep breath. "Okay, by once, I mean six times. All of which were here after we both finished work."
Laine scrunches up her face. "Eww. TMI, Bailey. Please tell me it isn't where you've prepared my food?"
I can't lie to her but try to at least. "Of course not. Health standards and all that. We don't have a five-star rating for nothing."
"You are lying! I can tell so in your eyes," she fake cries, her mouth wanting to laugh.
Ellie gets closer to the table and smirks at Laine. "Hey, Laine. Here's a thought for you! Your brother's semen could be in your sandwich."
"Ellie," we all shout, to which she falls back into the couch and cackles to herself.
Ellie is a loveable rogue and an old school friend of mine, so I'm stuck with her for the rest of my life. I read something that said if you are friends with a person for a substantial amount of time they are your forever friend.
Ellie is my loveable, funny, crazy ass forever friend.
"I'm kidding, guys," she says, but she keeps on laughing so we know she's not.
Laine looks pale. "If you are having relations with my brother then I would like for you to keep them from me. I only want to know the sweet stuff, deal?"
There is nothing to shake on. Noah doesn't like me like she's thinking, so I divert the conversation. "Deal. How's baby doing today?"
Laine glances down at her stomach and gets a wondrous gleam in her eyes. "Sleeping from last night. I swear the kid was up partying all night. Trevor had to sleep on the sofa because I kept kicking him in the back when I tried to get comfy. Pregnancy is not comfortable. Trust me."
Tamsin laughs out loud. "Oh, I know. It's why I never want to have kids."
Laine glances over with a raised eyebrow. "You don't see kids in your future?"
"Nah," she says, dunking her straw up and down in the smoothie. "I like sex too much to want to ruin it."
"That makes no sense," Victoria responds, clicking her tongue. "I heard pregnancy makes you want sex more."
"Not true at all," Laine laughs, something off in her tone. "I hate sex."
"See, Victoria," Tamsin points at Laine. "Told you so. Laine hates sex since becoming pregnant. You need more proof?"
Laine winces. "I'm so eaten up by guilt. It doesn't help with things."
Ellie leans forward, intrigued by Laine's story. "Because of your sister?"
"Yeah, because of Betty." Laine's voice wobbles, and I can tell it's painful to even think about it for her.
I get up from my seat and walk around the table to her chair, draping my arms around her shoulders to give her a big squeeze, kissing the side of her head. I know she's hurting for what she did to her sister. Laine isn't a bad person. Trust me. "Things will work themselves out, sweetheart, okay?"
Laine grabs hold of my arms with her fingers and leans into my side. "Thanks, Bailey. It means a lot."
With that, the deli door opens with a loud chime, and we all turn to see Noah striding through the door, a huge bunch of flowers and a cookbook in his hands. I see him rehearsing the words in his head, before he comes to a stop at the sight of my friends.
It doesn't stop him, though. It's slightly surreal seeing him in the flesh because it must be two close to two months since we spoke to each other.
God, he's always so handsome in those tight suits, but seeing him dressed down in his jeans and bomber jacket is even sexier. I always loved his hair longer, especially now it's grown out long enough to comb back from his face.
"Bailey," he whispers and I'm afraid I gravitate towards him.
"Yes?" I ask, pushing my heel into the floor to stop myself from moving any further.
It's like it's hard for him to stop staring at me as his gaze sweeps all over my face. "God, I've been such a stupid idiot. Are you okay?"
I frown, but nod my head. "I'm okay."
I remember the last time we spoke I mentioned my feelings for him, and he shut me down. Almost like it scared him, trying to brush his own feelings away before I recognised them. But, the funny thing is, I already knew he felt the same way.
I got angry at him, and he retreated even further, trying to make me see that we were friends. Friends don't look at friends the way we did. And I told him that enough times until he said he never wanted to see me again.
"These are for you," he whispers, handing me his gifts, eyes following my every move when I take them. "Yes, that's the latest Mary Berry book."
My baking inspiration in one tiny British lady.
I catch his smile with my own as I turn the book over to read the back. "This isn't due out for a few months yet."
"I know," he says, stopping himself from pushing my hair back when it falls into my face. "I have contacts who kindly gifted you an early copy."
That's pretty sweet, right? I lower the gifts in my hands and stare up at him. "Why did you do this, Noah?"
His chest expands with his big intake of breath. "I did this because I miss you. Because I'm so damn sorry for the way I left things. Would you be willing to come to my house so I can cook you something tonight?"
"I just heard that you're single. Is that true?" I whisper.
He nods. "It's true."
At least the deli is quiet now so I can make a logical decision. It's a small place, so the noise can really bounce off the walls when we get a lot of people in here. I usually ride off that energy, but today I don't need it.
"How long have you been single?" I ask.
"Three months," he tells me confidently.
My arms wrap around my waist before he reaches for my fingers to tug them free from my body. Our fingers link and he swipes his fingers over the top of my hands.
"You okay?" he's asking for a second time.
I squeeze his hands back because they're warm and familiar, needing to be honest with him when I say, "Just working out if I believe you."
A tinge of disappointment settles into his eyes, but he shakes it away and nods his head. "I get why given our past. I promise it's over, sweetheart. I'm never going back."
There's such sincerity in his tone. It's like he knows what he does and doesn't want in his life now. It was always so easy to recognise his unsureness before, and I ignored the signs.
"Okay, let's do dinner tonight," I say finally, and he falls forward for a moment on laugh, having to stop himself from kissing me.
I kind of wish he had kissed me. The thought warms my chest. Those lips are something else, especially when he wets them a little and presses sweet kisses across my face.
He's creeping closer to me, closing his eyes in time for me tipping my head back, sealing his lips on my forehead. "I'll pick you up at six." Then he's waving to his sister and striding out of the deli.