“Open up already. I’m freezing!”
I grinned, pulling the door open to let my friend inside. The brisk wave of cold air sent chills over my arms, but the smell of snow did wonders for my distracted mood. I loved winter. Something about the snow and ice just soothed that part of me that was constantly go go go.
Danielle shook off the last-minute flurries of snow that dusted her hair and frowned. “Is that what you’re wearing? I thought this was a celebration?”
I looked down at my sweater and jeans. I’d spent the morning at the piano, playing around with a few new song possibilities, but nothing seemed right. I didn’t mind, though. Creativity was a muscle, and I worked with it enough to know that I probably just needed a day off to relax and recharge. I’d be back to writing a hit jingle in no time.
Still, I hadn’t thought to change my outfit when I’d finished. “What’s wrong with what I’m wearing?” I asked. “And what are we celebrating? It’s New Year’s Eve drinks, Danielle, not exactly a party.”
“Exactly,” Danielle said, waving my questions away. “It’s time to celebrate the chance to start over. New year, new you! Don’t you want to do something different next year?”
Of course I did. I wanted to become Creative Director for Fulson Sound, a promotion I’d been working toward for years. A little birdie told me that the position was likely to become available in the upcoming year and I was going to prove that I deserved it.
“I’ve worked too hard to start over, but I am hoping for a major change this year,” I finally admitted.
“That’s my girl!” Danielle said with a grin. “Now, I need to freshen up before we go anywhere.”
Watching Danielle take off her coat, I had to admit that maybe I’d underdressed. She’d had gone all out with a shimmery cocktail dress that shined under the twinkling lights of my apartment. Paired with the makeup she’d put on, Danielle glowed.
Maybe it would be better to dress up.
But when I saw her feet, that was enough to snap me out of my thoughts. “Absolutely not. There’s no way you’re wearing stilettos with snow everywhere. If you don’t freeze your toes off, you’ll slip and break an ankle. I have some boots you can borrow.”
Danielle frowned and just when I thought she’d argue, she nodded. “I’ll make you a deal. Put on something more festive and I’ll take the boots.”
I narrowed my eyes. In all the years I’d known Danielle, she’d rarely ever given up an argument before it started without something else up her sleeve. “You’re not going to argue about the boots?”
She laughed, shrugging. “No point when you’re right. Besides,
it was a train wreck getting up the stairs. So, do we have a deal?” “Deal. I’ll be back in a minute.”
“Perfect. I’ll just touch up my makeup and we’ll go when you’re ready.”
I headed to my bedroom, already regretting the idea of changing out of my comfy clothes, but a deal was a deal and I never reneged on a promise. Digging out a sweater dress and leggings that were almost as comfortable as my jeans, I changed my clothes. I didn’t bother with makeup or my hair. I wasn’t looking to impress anyone and I didn’t have time for a relationship.
It took some rummaging, but eventually I found a pair of ankle boots with a chunky heel just high enough to suit Danielle’s outfit. They also had the added bonus of great traction on the soles, so she’d remain upright in the snow. The perfect compromise for Danielle.
When I showed them to her, she grinned, then dug a fresh pair of boot socks from her clutch and put them on. I could practically see her wiggling her toes in delight. “I’ll be honest, my toes were freezing. These are definitely a step up.”
“Well, they better make their way back into my closet. No thieving.”
“Me?” Danielle asked with an innocent look that was far too practiced to be real. “Never.”
“Let’s get going. We’re already late.”
Danielle looked at the clock above the stove with a mischievous grin. “Oh, you’re right. Sasha’s going to be annoyed.” Considering Danielle was often late, I doubted it, but I still laughed as we dragged our coats on.
It was a little before eleven when we pulled up to Pembrooke Bar, snagging a prime parking spot near the sidewalk.
“I could have worn my heels after all.” Danielle smirked. I didn’t answer, just rolled my eyes at her and got out of the car. We’d been coming to Pembrooke since we turned twenty-one, as had every other local. The bar was a Redford staple, passed down from generation to generation since its inception. The current owner and main bartender, Dale, was a lifelong local, which gave the place an extra sense of security for us. Nothing would happen to anyone with him watching. The fact that he gave us access to the sound system was just an added bonus on karaoke nights.
I rounded the car, letting Danielle twine our arms together the moment I got close enough. Holding onto each other, we rounded the large snow tufts at the edge of the sidewalk and made it to the front of the old brick building.
“Ladies,” the bouncer said, with a tip of his head. Nate was sweet, easy on the eyes, and easily as old as my father. He was another reason the bar had always been a safe haven.
“Evening, Nate. How’s the family?” I asked. Nate’s daughter had just had her first daughter after three sons and grandpa was over the moon.
“They’re great. Baby Cece is already the center of her brothers’ worlds. She’s going to have a pack of protectors for the rest of her life.”
“As if you’d let them act any other way,” Danielle teased.
“You’re not wrong.” He winked and waved us in. “Out of the cold, the both of you. No need to start the new year sick.”
We wished each other a happy new year and stepped past the threshold, unwinding our coats and scarves to leave on the coat rack. The space heater nearby would take care of any remaining snow or wetness before we were ready to leave.
Warm in the bar air, we made our way through the throng of New Year’s patrons to our usual table.
“You’re late,” Sasha said. Her fingers twitched on the tabletop like she wanted to drum them on something but held herself back. Her punctual nature made it hard for her to accept other people’s tardiness. It was a testament to her job as a lawyer that she was able to keep her calm in situations that annoyed her. Thankfully, we’d been friends for long enough that she knew it wasn’t likely my fault we were late.
“Only by a few minutes. Besides, it was a shoe emergency.” Danielle shook her feet at her and Willow, and thankfully, both smiled. Sasha rolled her eyes but nodded us toward our seats.
Willow turned around to get Dale’s attention and pointed Danielle and I out. She mouthed, DD to me, and Dale smiled. With a wave to all of us, he started whipping up what I knew would be our favorite cocktails, or in my case, a mocktail. Willow turned back with a little sigh, sipping her own drink.
“Did you work today?” I asked her, noting that while she wasn’t in scrubs, she did have the look that came from too many harried hours on her feet.
She snorted. “Of course I did. When am I ever not working?”
A nurse at the local hospital, Willow spent most of her waking hours with her patients at Redford Hospital. Beyond that, she saved her free time for us and her nephew, Tyler, Sasha’s son.
“How did I end up with three workaholic friends?” Danielle asked, her playful grin lighting up her face.
“I’m not a workaholic,” Willow argued. “I just have long shifts. It’s the nature of the job.”
“Same,” Sasha said, with a graceful shrug. We all knew her exhaustion was less about work being a lot and more to do with co-parenting her son with her ex on top of work. “There’s not enough hours in the day.”
Danielle turned to me with a raised eyebrow, and I lifted my hands in surrender. “I’m working for that promotion, remember?”
“Oh, please. Daddy would give you it in a heartbeat if you wanted it.”
“I want to earn it, Danielle, not be handed my ideal position because I’m friends with the owner’s daughter.”
Danielle just waved my statement off like it didn’t matter, and I tried not to get frustrated. I adored my friend, but she’d had her life handed to her. Her family was wealthy and she’d always gotten whatever she wanted. It had left her a little spoiled and occasionally disconnected from the real world. But that was part of Danielle’s charm.
Thankfully, Dale broke up the semi-tense moment, delivering our drinks with a cheeky smile. “Happy New Year, ladies. What does this upcoming season have in store for you?”
“Work,” Willow, Sasha, and I said together, laughing when Danielle rolled her eyes at us.
Dale smiled, tucking his drink tray under his arm so he could lean on our table. “Oh, yeah? I haven’t seen any of you with a companion in a while. Is love in the plans this year?”
The moment he said love, Danielle’s eyes lit up. Our friend was a romantic at heart. She read romance novels and watched rom-coms religiously. Even when we were younger, love songs were all she listened to. She’d even declared Valentine’s Day as her favorite holiday. There was no part of love that Danielle shied away from, often throwing herself into a relationship even if it wasn’t quite the right fit.
I envied that part of her most days. The ability to throw
caution to the wind and just feel. I’d already learned that not everyone who said they loved you, actually did, and I was less than ready to indulge in a repeat performance.
Still, I couldn’t help wondering what it would be like to have someone interested in my day, my work, my dreams. What would that be like?
I shook my head, taking a drink of my mocktail and groaning. Despite the fact that neither Redford nor the Pembrooke were all that fancy, Dale made a mean espresso mocktail.
“This is amazing,” I said, lifting the glass. Dale inclined his head, but the glint of amusement in his eyes told me he knew I was avoiding the subject.
When none of the others answered him, Dale laughed. “Well, maybe this year is the one that’ll change the lot of you, eh? It’d be nice to see you all happily settled.”
With that, he winked and ambled off to the bar as if he hadn’t just dropped an emotional atomic bomb on our table.