69,110
07.03.2019

When Maddy brought Ceecee home from the hospital she was soon after diagnosed with postpartum depression. She wasn’t bonding with Ceecee and would sometimes leave her in her crib for hours without a feed or changing of her diaper.

Mom stepped in and they moved into the family home. Mom gave Maddy an ultimatum. Either she would go to counselling or Mom would call child services on her. Yep, Mom pulled out the big guns.

Months passed and Maddy was getting better. She was making more of an effort, playing with Ceecee, bathing her and putting her to bed at night. Mom was over the moon.

Ceecee was fourteen months old when the accident happened.

Mom was now confident enough to leave Maddy with Ceecee so she left them both at home to go to the grocery store for an hour. What Mom returned to would change us forever.

Ceecee was crying so hard on the kitchen floor she was blue in the face. Maddy was cowering in a corner with her hands pulling at her hair. Mom called an ambulance and was told by the phone operator not to touch Ceecee. Mom was hysterically crying when she went to take a closer look at Ceecee. There was no blood but her little body was twisted at an awkward angle.

It turns out Maddy was getting lunch ready for Ceecee and put her up on the kitchen counter. Maddy turned to the refrigerator for just a second.

Ceecee fell back off the counter and severed her spine when she hit a stool on the way down.

Can you imagine the pain that little girl was in?

We don’t talk about Maddy. Ceecee has asked about her a lot. She knows her Mom’s name and that her Dad doesn’t like to talk about her. That’s it.

Max refuses to talk about her but about a year ago he came to me for name of a top private investigator. He wanted to find out where Maddy was.

We found out that Maddy had turned herself in to the police before being placed in a rehabilitation facility. She was never charged with neglect and child endangerment because the courts found she was mentally ill. Maddy lives in Arizona with a husband and their two children, both boys. When Max heard this last bit of information, he went gonzo. He was a wreck for a long time after Maddy left.

I never held Maddy responsible for what happened to Ceecee. As far as we all knew, it really was a horrible accident. And one she will be living with for the rest of her life. I’m sure she left Max out of guilt.

What kind of person wouldn’t have guilt? After all, she almost killed her daughter.

I love Ceecee like she was my own. I would do anything to keep my Cricket happy.

Something tugs at my lapel. Tina is standing before me and looking up at me with an uneasy face. She’s so close to me we’re toe to toe and her face is at my chest. One small move and we’d be kissing.

What the heck?

I start, “Ahh…”

She smiles a sad smile and muses, “When someone wears the face your wearing they usually need a hug.”

She places one arm around my waist, rests her head on my chest, with her other hand at the back of my neck stroking the hair there.

We stand like that for almost a minute and I feel my body relax. She squeezes my waist, lifts her head and asks, “Better?”

My brow furrows and I look past her shoulder, thinking. I am feeling better.

I give her a small nod. She smiles, lets go of me and walks back to Max.

Probably the best forty second hug I’ve ever had.

Chapter Six

The White Rabbit

“So what’s going on with you two?”

Turning to look at Nat I answer, “We’re just friends.” She looks sceptical.

She slyly shoots, “Sure didn’t look like that hug you gave him this afternoon was between friends.”

I scoff, “Oh, c’mon, tell me he didn’t look like he needed a hug!”

She mutters, “I wouldn’t have known because I wasn’t watching Nik all day long. Unlike somebody I know.”

I try to change the subject. “Pass the blankie, hon.” She takes the blankie off her feet and pulls it over both of ours.

We’re on my awesome soft cream colored sofa watching some singing contest on TV.

After I gave Nik the hug he so terribly needed I started to feel awkward. This was because every eye in the room was watching us like the Hawks they are. Max, Trick, Mimi and Cecilia couldn’t conceal their happiness. Lola, Nat and the sisters faces all held a bit of shock. And Ghost was openly scowling at me. Not too long after, I made excuses for us girls and we left in a hurry.

Work for the rest of the afternoon went quickly and on the way home I asked Nat if we could get Chinese food for dinner. She was down for that.

Now, here we are, on my sofa, watching crappy reality TV and eating Chinese food out of the cartons.

Ahh, this is the life.

I couldn’t have asked for a better way to spend a weeknight. I’m loving that Nat’s here to stay. I feel secure in knowing she’s close by.

Nat utters, “All I’m saying is that the only guy I’ve ever seen you hug like that was The Moron.” Of course, she’s referring to Jace.

Bear decides it’s time to find the most uncomfortable place to sleep and jumps on the sofa to lie down on my feet. I pat his furry little head and he purrs loudly.

I say, “I don’t know what to tell you, babe. I’ve only ever had a few guy friends and I only knew them a short time before I moved to New York. So, I guess I’m a little inexperienced in what is and isn’t appropriate with a guy friend. I’m just treating him like I’d treat you, Meems, and Lola.” I end on a shrug.

Picking at her food with her chopsticks, she casts me a side long look and whispers, “I just don’t want you getting hurt.” She pats my covered foot. “You’re a sensitive soul, my chickadee. I love you more than anything. I’m just looking out for you.”

Under the blankie, I nudge her foot with mine. I mutter, “I know doofus.” I furrow my brow and look right at her, “There’s just something about him, isn’t there?”

She rolls her eyes and exclaims, “Uh, yeah! It’s called animal magnetism and he has it in bucket loads. He’s also sexy and that neck tattoo…hawt! I’m also diggin’ the eyebrow scar…and the brother.”

Laughter bursts out of me. I say, “Wait a sec, I thought I caught you staring at Ghost this afternoon and now you’re into Max?”

Making a thoughtful face, she replies, “I don’t know about the Casper guy. He freaks me out. Too intense, ya know? I think if I was looking for some fun I’d go with Max, he’s easy to get along with.”

I raise an eyebrow at her and cry, “Max burst in on our one year reunion with a gun! If that’s not intense, I don’t know what is.”

Her body shakes with silent laughter. She chuckles, “That was so freakin’ awesome.”

We look at each other and burst out laughing.

Yeah, it was pretty awesome

Nat and I arrive in to work with a few minutes to spare. I put her to work immediately by sending her over to Winnie’s to introduce herself to whoever is working that morning and getting our morning fuel.

It’s Saturday so it’ll be a busy one for us.

Thank Heavens for that.

I have a bit of money. But like Nik said “I’d rather spend someone else’s money, that way I make more profit”. Unfortunately for me, I do not have that much money to spend on the store. When Mia was born, my parents talked me into adding her to my life insurance, so I did. When she died I received a substantial amount of money and threw all of it into Safira. And when Mom died, I received a very decent sized inheritance. I put that money into an interest earning account and cannot touch it for another five years. So, yes, I have quite a bit of money. None of which I can touch.

After paying the girl’s wages, I’m not left with a huge amount so when we have a busy day of work, it makes me stupid happy.

I travel twice a year to scout out potential suppliers. This doesn’t mean I don’t like my current suppliers, it just means I like to broaden our clothing and accessory options.

The girls all get any clothing bought at Safira at wholesale price. So, basically, I don’t get a cent from any clothing sold to them. I do this because I love them and they are so good to me.

Nat walks into the studio holding two caramel lattes and places one on the counter for me then goes about re-folding yesterdays messed up clothes.

Rawr Raaawr

“Yeesh babe, you gotta get someone to fix that damn thing.” Max is standing behind the counter holding a white parcel.

I sigh loudly and state, “God, I know! It’s just awful. I’m just so busy I keep forgetting.” I make a point to stare at the parcel; I narrow my eyes and ask suspiciously, “Whatcha got there?”

He smirks, “Well, I guess you can call it a gift. I’ve been told to tell you not to open it until I’m gone, though.”

What on earth?

I’m stunned. I question, “Ahh, okay?”

Max laughs and assures, “It’s nothin’ bad, toots. Just accept it and say thank you.”

Still stunned, I take the parcel from him and say, “Thank you, Max.”

He raises a brow, shrugs, and admits, “Well, technically, it’s from Nik the Dick,” he winks and adds “but I’ll take any thank you you wanna give.”

I blush and smack his shoulder with the parcel. I accuse, “You dawg! I need to work so you can just shoo.”

He kneels before me, takes my hand and kisses it dramatically. He replies seriously, “It’s always a pleasure, my lady.”

I giggle as he leaves, place the parcel on the counter and stare at it.

What could it be?

I’ve never been good at accepting gifts. And the girls usually hound me for weeks before my birthday til I crack and just tell them what I want.

I’m staring so intently that I haven’t heard Nat come up behind me.

I jump when she speaks. “What’s in the box?”

I’m wide eyed and I answer slowly in a whisper, “I have no idea and it’s freaking me out.”

Nat grabs the box from the counter and rips the tab off. We both lean a little closer as she open it.

There in the box is a big yellow envelope with my name on it. Nat opens the envelope and dumps the contents in to the now empty box.

I’m a little confused at first. There are four laminated cards in clear cases and a note.

I reach for the note first.

Take them and use them. I won’t take no for an answer. Nik.

Nat takes a look at a laminated card and whispers, “No shit?”

I look at her wide eyed and enquire, “What are they?”

Shocked, she marvels, “VIP passes to The White Rabbit.” She smiles wickedly and states, “We’re going out tonight!”

I’m curious about these VIP passes so I turn on the computer and go to The White Rabbit’s website.

No shit?!

I loudly whisper, “No shit?!” I’m stunned.

Nat looks at my shocked face and replies wide eyed, “No shit what?!”

I hold up a VIP pass and shout, “These babies are a hundred bucks a pop! And you can only use them for one night. It gets you access to the VIP lounge, a private booth, and unlimited drinks.”

Nat is giddy. Smiling and bouncing up and down. She yells, “NO SHIT?”

I whisper, “No shit.”

Now I know why Nik told Max to tell me not to open it until he was gone. He knew I’d refuse his gift. After reading his note, I don’t want to refuse these passes. I think he feels he owes me but I’m going to tell him next time I see him that he absolutely doesn’t. Friends help friends.

I call Mimi and she squeals so loud my ear throbs. Next I call Lola and she’s stunned into silence.

We all agree that tonight we go to The White Rabbit.

All the girls meet up at my apartment to get ready. My apartment is the biggest of all of ours.

We spend two hours perfecting our outfits, doing our hair and makeup.

Nat has been placed in charge of my makeup. She applies smoky black shadow and eyeliner to my eyes, clear lip gloss on my lips, and finishes my look with false lashes and mascara.

I look at myself in the mirror and can hardly recognize the person staring back at me.

I look good.

No, I look sexy. I can’t believe it.

I take a look around at my girls. Lola’s hair is straightened and down and is wearing a tight red tube dress which is thigh high and black and red heels. Mimi’s hair is also straightened and she is wearing black wide-legged hipster slacks, a turquoise off the shoulder blouse, and black heels. Nat’s hair is lightly curled and she is rocking a black pencil skirt with a charcoal tank tucked into it, charcoal ankle boots, and a thick white belt high on her waist. My hair is parted at the side and in its natural state of wave; I’m wearing a tight black long sleeved dress which comes just above the knee and bright purple suede heels.

Goddamn, we look good!

I kiss Bear goodbye.

Time to get our dance on.

It’s 11pm and still no sign of Tina or the girls.

Damn it.

I really hoped she would use the VIP passes I gave her. I owe her big for NT3 Advertising sponsoring us and I hoped to share some of the fortune, which she helped me get, with her and the girls.

I’m up in the security room scanning the monitors for any sign of them out the front. I’m just about to go back in the club when I spot Nat on the monitors. They’re lining up with the regular club goers. I didn’t explain they could walk right in.

I’m such a putz.

If I don’t send someone to get them they’ll be waiting there all night. I call Max on his cell and tell him to get the girls so they can actually enjoy their night rather than spend it lining up out the front of the club.

I’m actually looking forward to seeing Tina outside of her comfort zone. She doesn’t look like the kind of girl who goes clubbing regularly. I hope she’ll loosen up and have some fun tonight.

In fact, I’ll do anything to make sure she has a good time tonight.

❮❯