“I know. I don’t feel ready to go back either.”
“Maybe I can visit soon.”
She brightened. “I would love that. I want you to see my new place.”
“Me too. We’ll see how things go, I guess. Work will probably be intense for a little while until everyone gets settled and we get into a routine.”
“What do you think of Risa?” We hadn't had a chance to catch up about her replacement at the company since the marketing powwow that morning.
She took another sip of her drink. “She’s smart. She seems driven, like you. I think she’ll do well.”
Her matter-of-fact description made me wonder if she might be a little jealous. I had anticipated that she might be, but Alli was good-natured, and at the end of the day, she’d support any decision that was good for the business.
“I’m glad you think so. She's no Alli Malloy, but she seems passionate. I’m hoping after her crash course this afternoon she’ll hit the ground running and take us to the next level.”
“Hopefully. How do you like her?”
I caught her grin and knew immediately what she was aiming for. “I know what you're thinking, and no, I'm not going to freak out on her for ogling Blake. I’d be in for a lifetime of misery if I started doing that now. I swear, if I had a dollar for every time some woman stared a little too long, I wouldn’t need angel funding.”
“A lifetime, eh?”
I frowned. “Whatever. It’s an expression, Alli.”
She started laughing, then stopped abruptly. Her focus had shifted away from me. She paled.
“Oh my God,” she breathed.
I twisted in my seat, and my gaze quickly fixed on Blake walking side by side with none other than his brother.
Alli looked like she was seeing a ghost, except Heath was healthier than I’d ever seen him, with ruddy cheeks and bright eyes that never left hers. Something in the air shifted. I became as transfixed on the two of them as they were on each other.
Alli’s color returned. She slid off the stool and pushed her hair back behind her ear with a shaky hand. She took a few cautious steps in his direction, and he took two long lunges in hers, scooping her up and into his arms. She squealed, and a broad smile crossed his face as he lifted her off the ground and into his embrace.
She wrapped her arms around his neck, nuzzling him there as he held her close. They stayed like that for what seemed like several minutes. When Alli pulled back, her eyes glistened with unshed tears. She pulled Heath close for a kiss, and he met her with equal fervor, as if he had been starved.
We shouldn’t have been there—or they shouldn’t have been there—but the fact that we all were didn’t seem to matter to either of them. I nudged Blake and he nodded.
“Let’s go see if the table’s ready,” he murmured.
We left them and checked in with the hostess who sat us promptly. I was still reeling.
“What just happened?” My adrenaline was still pumping. I was thrilled for Alli, but my head was spinning from how this had come about so quickly.
“He’s back,” Blake answered simply.
“As long as he stays out of trouble.”
I looked across the restaurant to where the couple still stood. Alli was laughing and brushing tears away while Heath peppered her with kisses. They looked so incredibly happy. In a matter of moments, the cloud of doubt and misery hovering over my dearest friend had passed over. The joy I felt for her overwhelmed the concern that still lingered regarding their relationship.
“How was he able to leave so early?”
“I spoke to the judge and worked it all out. He got on the first plane back.”
They joined us then, their energy palpable. Alli seemed like a new person. They both did.
“Erica, it’s great to see you.”
I stood and gave Heath a hug. He hugged me back, hard, then stepped back and gave me a half smile, as if he were trying to communicate something to me without words. Maybe he was sorry for shredding Alli emotionally for the past few weeks. I smiled back, suddenly unable to entertain any emotional reservation in the presence of their contagious joy.
“How have you been?” I cringed inwardly. Was that the wrong question to ask someone fresh out of rehab?
“Awesome. Never better.”
The enthusiasm and confidence in his reply quelled my concern, and we all settled down at the table. He seemed so different. Not just healthy, but more real, more genuine somehow.
We ordered drinks and our meal. Heath stuck with water. I felt immediately guilty for wanting a second martini.
“Let’s toast,” Heath said as soon as the drinks arrived, true to form.
“Absolutely,” I agreed.
“What should we toast to?” Alli asked.
“To new beginnings…” His gaze shifted to Alli and she looked back at him, starry-eyed.
“To new beginnings,” she murmured.
That was it. Any question there may have been about their relationship status post-rehab had just been answered. I only knew two other people so hopelessly in love, and I didn’t even want to think about how destroyed I’d feel if I had to spend weeks away from Blake. I’d be a puddle of romantic goo just like these two.
“Well, this is timely,” I said. “Alli heads back to New York tomorrow. Maybe you could travel together.”
Heath coughed a little and rested his elbows on the table. He looked quickly to Blake and then to me.
“Actually, I’m going to be staying in Boston for a while.”
Alli paled again and looked to him.
“The court situation. Blake got me back early, but I need to stay here for the rest of the time I would have been at the center in L.A. so I can finish the treatment here.”
“But…” Alli cut herself off.
There were no “buts” about his options. He was lucky to be this close now.
“I didn’t realize that.” Alli faced forward, shifting her body away from him for the first time since they’d sat down together.
“We’ll figure it out, okay?” His voice was quiet as he reached for her hand and cradled it in his own.
After a moment she swallowed and nodded. “Okay.” Her spark came back with a small smile.
The rest of the evening passed without incident. We made small talk, catching up and sharing stories. Heath asked me questions about the business that revealed how much Blake had already told him. That he’d spoken of me to Heath, despite the distance and circumstances, meant something to me. That he’d made this whole reunion happen meant even more.