Chapter 15

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Wolf was the first to break the silence. "So, Nik," he said, rising half out of his chair, fingers brushing up the side of the salad bowl. Lux, in a rare show of awareness, picked it up and handed it over. Wolf began sweeping bits of lettuce and tomatoes onto his plate as he looked over at Nik. "How's everything going? Have you settled in yet?"

Nik shrugged. "It's going fine. I've finished unpacking, but it takes time to get settled in a new place." He laughed. "I haven't even gotten used to be back here yet."

Nadine was nodding sagely, even as I thought to myself that she wouldn't know anything about that. She had lived in one place all her life.

"When are we getting a tour?" Lux asked through a mouthful of casserole. "I want to see the rest of your apartment!"

"I'll show you around after we're done eating," Nik promised with a chuckle. "There's not much to see, though. You've already seen the living room, and there's only a kitchen, a bedroom, and an en-suite bathroom. That's it. It's not a big place."

Lux pouted, impetuous as ever. "I want to see anyway. That's the whole point of a housewarming party, isn't it?"

Nik sat back in his seat, tapped his bottom lip with a finger, a frown descending upon his face. "Oh, right. So that's why you're here – to check out the apartment, not to celebrate with me."

Lux stuck out her tongue at him, but the playful gesture looked at odds with her narrowed eyes. She hadn't yet forgiven the slight just moments ago, when he had bypassed the empty spot next to her and chosen to sit by me instead.

Lux had always been one to hold a grudge. Iwould know.

I had been the victim of her cold shoulder more than once. In our last year of high school, an argument had made me the recipient of her frostiness for a whole month. The trigger ofwhat I'd thought of as the incident had been a popular action movie released that year. Nik and I had, quite by accident, caught sight of the poster outside the cinema and wandered in. Watching a movie on a date should have been simple — except I had apparently agreed to catch the film with Lux.

When Lux found out, she was not happy.

"We can still go," I'd said, putting on the most placatory tone I could manage. "I don't mind seeing it again."

But I had been speaking to the side of her head. She hadn't even bothered to scowl at me properly.

"No," she'd snapped. "I don't want to go with you anymore, not after you went with your boyfriend. I'm not your second choice."

And she had refused to say another word. I had eventually thrown my hands up in frustration and left. Her silence had persisted an entire month. The others had first tried to mediate. Nik had spoken to her. Nadine had sniped at her, rolling her eyes. In the end, none of it had worked. Until one day, Lux had simply gotten over it and started speaking to me again.

As I took a large mouthful of potato salad, I wondered if any of them remembered. Or perhaps it was one of the flaws they could overlook in favour of the big eyes and bright smile Lux used to her perfect advantage — but only if you stayed in her good books. The acid that dripped down my throat now wasn't all from the oil and vinegar in the food.

We ate in silence for the next few moments, none of us looking at the other. Nadine spent the time running her tongue over her teeth in what she probably thought was a surreptitious move.

"Oh," Lux exclaimed, "I love this!"

I looked up to see her leaning across the table, tortilla chip in hand. The creamy dip she had scooped up was dripping off the edge as she delivered the chip to her mouth.

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