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“Ha-ha, my bishop takes your queen!” Yvie teased as she gently knocked over my queen piece onto the chessboard.

Her king was open for me to move my rook and put him into check but if I did then that would leave my own king open to her other bishop. Then again, I could always sacrifice my pawn to seize the bishop that stole my queen…but that would also leave a clear pathway for her rook to put my king into check. Dammit, this kid was good! Every single time we play chess, she kicks my ass – I was so proud!

“You really got me blocked, kid.”

“I’ve been practicing with Uncle Hunt.” She beamed proudly. “He says I’m way better than he was at my age.”

“You’re better than me too.” Hunter and I used to play together back when we were kids since we were the only ones who were interested in chess while our siblings preferred video games. Glad to see he was teaching her well. Yvie didn’t care for video games either which was strange for Cohen’s daughter. She preferred chess and reading books. Reminded me a lot of myself when I was her age. I hope that she won’t also grow up into the rebellious brat I was in my teens. “So, are you excited to see the new First Unicorn movie with your Dad?”

“You bet, Libby!” She still called me Libby even after all these years. We figured out it was her baby way of trying to say Livie which is nickname Clara used for me sometimes. Then the name just stuck. “I’ve been practicing the songs and everything so I can sing along to all the best parts!”

“Just make sure you don’t sing too loud.” I suggested. “Not everyone might know the words as well as you. Gotta let them hear it for themselves, you know?” Yvie was sweet but man was she tone-deaf.

“I know, I know. Mommy said the same thing. I wish she could come with us too.”

“It’s your Daddy’s turn with you tonight.”

“I know but…never mind.”

“No, what is it, kiddo?”

“Sometimes…I think it would be nice if Daddy could come to the house like he did before. Like when he used to spend the night and stuff and he would make gummy bear pancakes in the morning. That was fun.”

I felt a little sad hearing her say that. Her parents could no longer be in the same room with each other without arguing. My parents have always been together and they had fights like any other married couple but nothing like the kind of stuff Yvie had to witness between Cohen and Clara.

“What do you say to a scoop of strawberry ice cream after we finish our game?” Mom made a batch of it last night because she knew Yvie was coming over and it was her favourite. The mere mention of her favourite flavour wiped the frown off her face.

After the ice cream, I took her outside to play on our pirate ship. No one has played on that old thing since Poppy was little but it was still in good shape. And Yvie got really excited when she saw it.

“Ahoy mateys! The wicked sea monster is about to blow!”

“RRRROOOAARRR!” I yelled.

“No, no. Cut!” She shook her head and gesturing as if she had an invisible clapperboard. “You’re not supposed to roar Libby.” She said, breaking her pirate character to correct me.

“What am I supposed to do?”

“I don’t know but lions roar, not sea monsters.”

“Well, maybe she’s a…sea lion? Ha! Yes! A giant sea lion that’s gonna destroy your pirate ship in it’s maiden voyage!”

“Um…well…okay…that’s fine! Continue.”

I chuckled at how serious she was about our make-believe adventure. She was so creative and always came up with the most interesting ideas. I didn’t mind making an ass of myself to assist in her creative expression. Though I’m pretty sure Dad got a kick out of seeing me act a fool.

Not too long after, I saw Cohen come up the street. He was right on time and by right on time I mean an hour later than he was supposed to arrive, but I’d come to expect that from him. I had to distract her with chess, ice cream, and pirate ship adventures just so she wouldn’t wonder why her Daddy was late to pick her up…again! Now I was starting to get why things went south so badly between him and Clara.

I sent Yvie inside to gather her things while I went to talk to him. I noticed right away that he was growing a beard, which he always proclaimed to hate. His new girlfriend probably liked facial hair. “Hey, Cohen.”

“Hey, Olive. Where’s Yvie?”

“She’s getting her stuff together.”

He flashed an impatient look and then glanced down at his watch.

“Relax.” I said. “The movie doesn’t start till 7:15. You have plenty of time.”

“Nah, we’re not going to the movie tonight.”

I blinked. “Why not? You didn’t get tickets?”

“No, Kyra just got off a ten-hour shift and she’s not in the mood to see some kid’s movie.”

“So?” I somehow managed to keep my cool but I already knew where this was going, and my claws were itching to come out. “You and Yvie can see the movie together without her.”

He shook his head and made this face like I just said something dumb. “Yvie and I can just watch TV or something. We’ll see the unicorn movie another time.”

“But she was looking forward to it Cohen.” I said. “She’s gonna be so disappointed. I can’t believe you’re putting Kyra’s needs ahead of Yvie’s.”

“Look Liv, thanks for helping us out with Yvie. Watcher knows I prefer to deal with you instead of Clara but…this really isn’t any of your business. I can spend time with my kid however I want, alright.”

I kept quiet, but only because Yvie could come outside any minute. When he and Clara broke up for good, he took her to court to get more weekend visits. Clara used to say he was being spiteful since she was the one to call it off but I thought he just wanted more time with his daughter. But even though he got what he wanted, he’s not with her most of the time. Yvie will end up with his mother or with one of his brothers while he goes out with Kyra.

Doesn’t he realise what a gem she is? She’s so smart and such a joy to have around. Who wouldn’t want to spend time with her? I gladly cancel dates or reorganize my schedule for her and she’s not even my blood.

I wanted to say all of that, but Yvie came outside so I didn’t. She loves her Dad so much and I know he loves her a bunch too. I just don’t like how he prioritizes Kyra over his daughter because to me, that’s just fucked up on a major level.

Cohen was gonna get it from me someday soon! There were times I thought Clara overreacted when it came to him – now I understand.

But Cohen was right about one thing. It technically wasn’t my business.

“How did the hand off go?” Clara asked.

“Um…fine.”

“Did she tag along?”

“Not this time.” I answered.

“Good, cause Cohen doesn’t pay any attention to Yvie whenever she’s around. Plus, Kyra’s always making some comment about Yvie’s weight. She’s seven! Seven-year-olds like cupcakes not gluten-free, sugar-free granola balls or whatever hipster bullshit she tries to feed my kid!”

I decided not to tell Clara about the movie thing. Tonight was supposed to be a fun girls’ night and I didn’t want to ruin the mood. Plus, she would find out anyway once Cohen dropped Yvie back to her. We were finally getting to hang out after so long and I refuse to let Cohen mess with our buzz before it even started.

Poppy tagged along to our girls’ night. I sat by the bar and listened to her and Clara sing a duet on the karaoke machine. P was a horrible singer! If Nori could hear her now she would cringe at how off-key she sounded.

Horrible singing aside, this was just what I needed to relax and unwind. As I sipped on my third cocktail, I started feeling a little lightheaded. My drinking tolerance was a little low now compared to my wild college days when I used to knock these things back like water.

I should have stopped with that drink but then I figured – what the hell! I was out with my sister and best friend. I didn’t have to get up early in the morning so I might as well get hammered if I wanted.

The bar was kinda empty for a Saturday night, especially during happy hour. Where was everyone? Maybe some new bar opened and everyone was there instead. Or maybe we came too early? I was hoping to meet some cute guys, but the only people there besides the three of us was the female bartender and a couple sitting over by the window looking like they were about to have a fight. We’d probably have to find somewhere else to go after Poppy and Clara finished their song since this place was so boring.

“…mind if I take this seat?” I heard a smooth, deep voice say over my shoulder.

My heart skipped a beat once I recognised it. “Sure.”

He sat down on stool next to me and gestured to the bartender. “I’ll have what she’s having.”

“And I thought there weren’t gonna be any cute guys here.” I said.

“Well you’re lucky I decided to pass through.” He smirked. Damn, he was hot! He looked even better now that he was older.

“Clara told me you were back.” I said. “Did she tell you we’d be here tonight?”

“Nope. Pure coincidence, I guess.”

“So how come you only message her and not me?” I asked directly. I hadn’t seen Sean in years and I had to find out he was back in town as an off-comment from Clara and not from him. “My number’s still the same, you know.”

“I know…I…uh…I’ve been meaning to call you. I just got busy.”

“Oh, yes, I heard you’re in the party planning business now.”

“Ahem.” He cleared his throat dramatically. “Event management, for your information.”

“My bad.” I giggled.

“I mostly do events for the new night club in Skyward Palms.”

“Oh, yeah? I’ve been meaning to check them out.”

“You should drop by this Friday. We booked DJ Khalif to play. I’ll get you guys some comps.”

“I have to check my schedule…” I said coyly, even though I didn’t have squat planned for Friday night.

“Whatever your plans are, cancel them. This is my first club event here in Oasis Springs and I’m putting you and Clara on the list. You’re coming!”

“Hmm, aren’t you being a little presumptuous?” I bit my lip hoping he would get the meaning. I’m never bold like that when flirting with a romantic prospect but with three drinks in my system my inhibitions were lowered.

“I’m just saying you’re gonna miss out on one kick-ass party if you don’t come.”

He didn’t get it. That was fine. As he talked some more about his event planning business I couldn’t help but think about those pool party pics that he posted on Simstagram for his birthday. I always wondered if his abs were as rock hard as they looked. His lips weren’t very full, but I had a feeling he was an amazing kisser. I can only imagine how great they might feel on me…

Okay, I really needed to get it together before I made a fool of myself. Maybe I shouldn’t have ordered that fourth drink. He cleared his throat. “Are you okay?” He asked, noticing how flustered I was.

“Great.”

“My sources tell me you’re an advisor to the mayor now.”

I chuckled. “Your sources flatter me. No, I’m just a community organizer. I’m part of the Green Initiative. We’re working on a community garden at the Desert Bloom Park.”

He nodded. “So what’s the point of it all?”

“It’s to promote organic gardening practices and bring awareness to the importance of healthy eating habits. We are having an exhibit in a couple of weeks and we’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback so far. The end goal is to get people to support our local gardeners by buying from them instead of the cheaper imported stuff from the grocery stores that are filled with hormones and chemicals and all that garbage.”

“Sounds ambitious, but I’d expect no less from you.”

The way he smiled at me made my heart race. I was thankful the lighting was so dim because I must have been blushing so hard under his stare. Then he looked at his watch and winced. “Shit, I gotta get going.”

“Oh?” I tried not to sound too disappointed. “Hot date?” I hoped not.

“I have a meeting. Taking a client to meet the owner of the Solar Flare Lounge.”

“That boring ass place down the street?” I chuckled. “My parents go there.”

“The client’s an older guy celebrating his retirement. I wouldn’t pick it either but that’s the place he wanted and I’m not big enough to turn down gigs.” He shrugged. “Gotta get that paper, you know?”

I nodded. “I get it.”

“I’m gonna see you on Friday, right – for the party?”

“I’ll be there.”

“Good.” He smiled. “Make sure Clara comes too. She’s been giving me shit saying she knows how to plan a party better than me. I need to rub it in her face.”

“Rub what in my face?” Clara asked from behind him. I didn’t even realise when she and Poppy came over to the bar.

“My impeccable party planning skills.” Sean stated.

She rolled her eyes, “You were the one who never had enough booze at all of your little parties.”

“Hey, I tried but it’s not like I could have gone to the store.”

“That’s why you get a fake ID, dummy!” She chided playfully. “So you can buy it yourself.”

“Or you get your cool older cousin to buy it for you.” Poppy chimed in. “That’s what Ollie and I did.”

“Exactly!” Clara agreed.

I forgot about those days when Liam used to supply the alcohol for our parties – for a fee of course. He was always so cool like that.

“Well, I promise there will be more than enough alcohol. There’s gonna be Wutaheftabir on tap. Imported because DJ Khalif is from Germany and it’s his favourite.”

“Hm…we’ll come, but only so I can trash your weak party planning skills and because I like imported beer.” Clara declared.

After he said goodbyes to Clara and Poppy, I got off the stool and pulled him to the side. “Can I see you this week – before Friday, I mean? Like, we can grab a bite or coffee?”

“I…uh…can’t.” He groaned. “I’m busy all week with the preparations for Friday…”

“Oh…okay, that’s fine.”

“Tell you what, we’ll do something together next week. Just the two of us, ‘kay?” He pulled me into a tight hug. “See you later, Liv.”

“See you.”

Damn. He smelled so good! He smelled even better than he used to before. Was it his cologne or was all just him? I almost didn’t want to let him go.

After Sean left, the bar started to fill up with people in Bear suits. Turns out it was Bear Night. Ugh! Every year, a group of Bears fans gets together in their Bear suits, to toast the anniversary of the formation of their favourite basketball team.

Poppy and Dad hate the Bears as they are Llama fans. I don’t follow sports at all. I only know enough about basketball so I can follow Poppy’s games, otherwise I don’t know jack about other teams and stats. According to them, the Bears suck so I take their word for it.

Because of that Poppy was ready to call it a night and since she was my ride home, I left with her. Clara decided to stay after she saw some of her friends from work. Our ladies’ night ended a little early, but I didn’t mind because I started to feel the effects of those four cocktails.

The fresh air did some good for the nausea but because my vision was slightly blurred, I had to follow Poppy’s lead. She was completely sober, and I was jealous. I really overdid it back there. At least my hangover wouldn’t be too bad since I ate dinner at home before going out. We were walking to the car – or at least, we were supposed to be heading towards the car. “Where the hell are we going, P?”

“It’s a surprise!” She grinned.

“I’m not in the mood for surprises.”

“You’re never in the mood for surprises.”

“Exactly, so why aren’t you taking me to the car?” Why were all the streetlights so bright suddenly?  “I gotta go to bed. Ugh! I’m never drinking again!”

She giggled. “That’s what you always say.”

“P, slow down!” I cried as I tried to keep up. I didn’t know where I was going nor did I care to go anywhere other than home but I wasn’t in any condition to call a cab and let her go off on her surprise adventure alone. I needed her.

“You shouldn’t have ordered tang and zing. You know it’s a creeper. Juice on the rocks is what you start with after a period of abstinence.” She said as she jogged ahead of me.

“Aren’t you the expert!” I rolled my eyes.

“You forget that I have to be sober until the season ends – Coach’s rules. I know what I’m talking about.”

“Ugh…I think I’m gonna be sick.” Maybe I would take her advice and stick to a juice on the rocks until I’m acclimated again. Or I could stick to beer. Or become a teetotaller.

“We’re here!” She announced.

“Uh-huh…and…what’s so great about here?” I looked around and all I saw was an empty lot and some shrubs and rocks. Wait… we were standing behind the Art Gallery. That meant we were not that far from the bar. Somehow, it felt like we had walked miles away not right next-door.

“Don’t you remember?” She asked. “We’d come here as kids whenever Dad had a gallery exhibit.”

“Oh, yeah, I remember.” I grinned. “We used to come out here and play and then Mom would find us and yell at us for running off cause we could’ve been killed or kidnapped.”

“And then we’d totally do it again the next time!” She chuckled.

“We were crazy kids.” I mused.

“Do you remember the best part about this spot?”

I smiled as I remembered. “How easily you can see the stars from here.”

We could see the stars even better at home since we lived on a hill at the edge of the town but other than that, this spot was the best spot. Those art exhibits used to be so boring. I couldn’t wait to go home and do anything other than wear some poufy dress and watch adults discuss my Dad’s work.

Nori was always into it. She loved going to those parties but as kids Poppy and I would rather find something more fun to do, so we did. We discovered this spot and we would lie down and point out as many different constellations as we could find.

She and I lied there for almost an hour, talking and catching up on our lives. We hardly got to spend time with each other lately. Poppy was a professional basketball player so that kept her busy. Plus, she and Everett were figuratively attached at the hip and still going strong after all these years. He’s been keeping her happy all this time, but he also makes it hard for me to spend quality time with my little sister.

“What do you think Nori’s up to now?” Poppy asked. “Think we should call her? It must be morning in Windenburg by now.”

“She had a show.” I remembered. “She probably just got home and went to bed.”

“Oh!” She gasped. “I think I saw a shooting star!”

“Looks like a satellite to me.”

“I’m gonna make a wish anyway.” She squeezed her eyes shut, and then sighed. “I miss her.”

“I miss her too.” Knowing it was Nori she was referring to. The last time we saw her was at Christmas. Even though we have a group chat and we talk with her everyday, it never feels like enough.

“I’m glad we went out tonight.” She said. “I needed it.”

I needed it too, more than I even realised. The nausea and dizziness were gone, probably because I was lying down for so long. Our girls’ night with Clara had to end a lot sooner and wasn’t as wild as I had hoped. And yet, as I was lying on the sandy ground, risking the chance of having bugs crawl into my hair, I was having the best time with her, under stars.

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