I locked my office behind me as I left well after I planned to.
Thank God it’s Friday.
I yawned and tightened my ponytail, but still, blonde flyaways escaped.
“More like thank God I’m finished,” I muttered to myself. I trudged out of the building and knew that wasn’t entirely true. My work wasn’t done here yet. I’d started this candle company when I was still in college. Between sneaking into frat parties, cramming for exams, and learning how to handle hangovers as efficiently as possible, I’d formed my very own business. It’d been fun, and I’d made a ton, but I was ready for something else to fill my life.
I was almost finished with the company. In a couple of weeks, I’d be selling it in a private online silent auction. My baby was worth millions, and I didn’t want to dust my hands off and say hasta la vista.
“Hey. Tacos sound good.” It was my turn to get dinner and bring it home for my roomies. So when I reached my car and started it, I headed for El Vaquero.
I wouldn’t hand over my company and wish it good riddance. I didn’t plan to drop it and run. My strategy was to stick with the new owner and help them acclimate to it for one year. So these last few weeks had been a rush of tidying it all up and getting things ready for the sale.
I was done with this hasty preparation for today. I was finished with this day, this week, this month. Exhaustion crept into me like a bad itch I couldn’t reach. Yeah, it’s a perfect night for tacos, drinking margs, and hanging out at the house.
“If I can ever get there,” I groaned, but even that complaint didn’t work. It morphed into another yawn halfway through my words.
Traffic had clogged the roads. Dallas was notorious for construction and detours, but come on. Couldn’t people learn to merge just this once and not cause accidents? At least this Friday when I was so pooped?
Stalled for the time being, I pulled up my phone and left it on my lap so no one would see I was using my device. I did my best to remember my friends’ preferences, favorites, and hard hell nos. Mary Ellen refused to eat onions, so I knew from practice to order those in a separate container. Rylee was never satisfied with the restaurant’s hot sauces, so I ordered multiples of every heat level they offered. And Karen?
“Oh,” I said, nodding. “God forbid I forget to order double the limes for the margs.” I wasn’t repeating that mistake ever again. I might not have the best grasp on how to work as though there were unending hours in the day, but I was attentive to details, like my roomies’ likes and dislikes.
“Or maybe that’s why this is so stressful,” I mused to myself once I placed the big-ass order. Because I worked hard to pay attention to the details, I overstressed things that didn’t need to be a priority? Jenny used to tease me that I was a perfectionist. I might have been when things seemed more in my control as a kid and teen, even a young adult. When adulthood hit and said hold my beer, I’d learned perfectionism was a lofty load of crap no one could achieve.
Still, this mattered. Watson Wicks was my baby. I’d started the candle company from scratch, and I wanted the sale and handover to be perfect. It would only be right to know my business was in good hands and would thrive, not fade and eventually go out like a flame on one of my best-selling wood-wick candles though those had a very long burn time, thank you very much.
I wanted the company to grow and succeed after I gave it up, but again, I had to start accepting that wouldn’t be under my control by then.
“This is gonna be harder than I thought.” I turned up the music, trying to drown out the uneasiness that had been pricking at me more and more. I’d made up my mind. I’d decided. It was time for something new. A whole adventure awaited me somewhere, and now was the time to grab it.
My pep talk would stick better if my friends could chime in their support. I tapped my hand on the steering wheel impatiently. “Come on. Someone move.”
And by the grace of whatever deity was the mascot for Fridays, cars moved, that truck finally turned, and I could go. Driving just slightly faster than the speed limit, I grinned and headed toward the restaurant, eagerly counting down the minutes until I’d come home and soak into the comfort of tacos, margs, and my irreplaceable friends.
Fifteen minutes later, I pulled into the driveway of the older house all five of us shared. College was in the past, but none of us wanted to leave this arrangement and strike out on our own. Why would we? With Friday traditions like this one, what incentive did we have to leave?
“Tacos and margs!” I announced as I entered through the side door. I hoisted the bags of food and drinks up high like I had a bounty of gifts.
“From El Vaquero?” Karen asked, arching a brow. “If they forgot the limes…”
I grinned as I let myself into the mayhem. “Don’t worry, I ordered extra.”
Hurrying and pulling off last-minute tidying, all five of them applauded my late arrival. Rylee was most enthusiastic, clearing the coffee table we’d dine at. “Whoop, whoop! Time to get drunk on tequila!”
“Long day?” I guessed.
She tilted her head to the side, and her long black hair shifted like a curtain. “Nah. But it’s my night off from tending bar.” Her smile was wide and infectious as she made gimme hands at the dinner bags.
“Unless it’s organic tequila,” Jenny hurried up close to give me a side hug, “I think I’ll stick with just the tacos tonight.”
Who says those are organic? I wisely kept my mouth shut.
“You think the tacos are organic?” Rylee quipped.
I shot her a stink eye, that troublemaker.
Karen dug through the bag holding the drink trays as Mary Ellen came in last. She smiled and lifted her hand in a quick wave hello as she approached. “What’d you get?”
“Tacos and margs from El Vaquero,” I answered as I sat. My feet were just too damn tired to be standing. Rylee squeaked as I almost fell on her, and with laughing, pushing, and food-grabbing chaos, we settled in around the coffee table to dig in.
“Do you think the chef washed his hands before touching our tacos?”
Rylee had already taken a bite, and I slapped her back when she damn near choked.
Jenny giggled, rolling her eyes. “Not sure if I want some burly chef getting his spicy fingers on my taco, but—”
Mary Ellen’s blush came quickly. She giggled too, shaking her head. “You are awful!”
I couldn’t hold back a laugh either.
“But do you think he sanitized his hands before handling our food?” she asked and scrunched her nose. She tucked back her mousy brown hair and slid her glasses up as she reached for a container.
“What the hell?” Rylee said as she wiped her mouth. “If there are any germs, the alcohol will kill it.”
I arched a brow at her, not sure that science was one hundred percent legit.
“Dammit!” Karen stood, setting her hands on her hips as she frowned at me. “They forgot the limes. Again!”
I cringed, ducking my head as I lifted my shoulders. “I swear, I ordered them!”
She growled, flagging the receipt around. “I know. You ordered double but they didn’t put them in the bag. I’m calling the manager,” she swore, proving the unfortunate joke about her namesake.
“Easy, easy.” Jenny waved her hand in the air to suggest our most particular friend should settle down. “At least eat the tacos first while they’re fresh and hot. Call later.”
She grumbled but sat, still scowling slightly as she reached for a plate.
“Genius idea, Lauren,” Rylee said around moans. “I was starving. And I was just thinking earlier that we hadn’t had tacos in a while.”
“Well,” Karen said as she loaded a shell high with meat and cheese, “I’m certainly never going to try takeout from that Viking restaurant again.”
We all cracked up, even Mary Ellen, although it had been her mistake.
“I think that place is more for dining in,” I replied.
“It was a dance club,” Karen teased, looking at Mary Ellen.
She was the Nervous Nelly of our group. Mary Ellen wasn’t type-A like Karen, she wasn’t laidback like Jenny, and she wasn’t a risk-taker daredevil like Rylee. I doubted she’d ever compare herself to me either, but she was our baby of the group—delicate and quiet. And we loved her for it. We were all close, no matter what, and I dreaded the day when we might split and go our own ways.
Don’t even think about it. Eat and enjoy. Live in the now.
“I didn’t know.” Mary Ellen said, smiling shyly.
“Picking up the takeout from a place where Vikings stripped on stage didn’t clue you in?” I teased.
She rolled her eyes. “Okay. Okay. Enough about that.”
Jenny and I shared a glance, then again with the other two.
“Hey, we’re just joking.” I said gently.
“I have news.” She sat up straighter, as though she wasn’t already seated primly with rigid posture. “A bigannouncement.”
Rylee set her margarita down so quickly, some splashed over onto the table. “Are you pregnant?”
Jenny swatted her arm. “Oh, my God. Stop. What is it? Is your weird brother coming in to town again?”
“Hey, he could hang out with Kyle next door.” I giggled in reference to our hippie neighbor.
“Did you get a promotion?” Karen asked seriously, slanting her brows together. “I’m telling you, they are taking advantage. If you don’t request that they sit down and assess your daily expectations with an honest consideration of a competitive wage analysis—”
She shook her head to us all, smiling. “No, no. None of that.” She wiped up the spill from Rylee’s cup and then set the container in its proper place on a coaster.
“Then what?” I smiled in excitement as I squeezed her knee. She could hardly keep a straight face she was so enthusiastic, and this deliberate pause kept me in suspense. “Tell us!”
With a light laugh, she set her plate down. “I have a date tomorrow night!”
We reacted as one, cheering, squealing, and clapping. Rylee jumped up and threw her arms up, like someone had scored a touchdown.
Well, maybe Mary Ellen will score!
“Mary Ellen, that’s fantastic!” I pulled her toward me for a side hug on the couch.
This rarely ever happened. Mary Ellen getting a date was like Texas seeing snowfall. And when it happened, it never ended well or no one was ever prepared for it.
“Maybe.” she said carefully, glancing at us in turn, “this one will go well. Maybe this time it’ll be different.”
After a series of duds, I sure hoped so. She lacked the backbone to be assertive and confident in herself. We all knew the world was filled with assholes and jerks and unfortunately, she’d met quite a few of that kind.
“We’ll help you get ready,” Rylee said.
“Oh, definitely,” Karen agreed, already sizing her up in a studious look as though considering outfit possibilities.
“I’m so excited for you, Mary Ellen,” Jenny gushed.
Me too. I was thrilled for our friend, but at the same time, a nagging thought of skepticism and doubt remained loud and clear. I hadn’t finished my margarita yet. I was still clear-headed enough to be the usual pragmatic woman I prided myself to be.
Mary Ellen deserved to find a prince charming. A nice, honest, and patient man who could make up for all the lousy experiences she’s suffered so far.
He better not hurt her. Or I will go after him myself.