Six Months Later
The shop was bustling. Someone - and everyone denied it, but Nicky thought it had been Booker - had let slip to the media how Merrick, development giant, had been trying to destroy the shop and the papers found the David and Goliath story a huge customer pull. They’d even had a small segment on the news, Nicky and Nile pushed in front of the cameras as Andy glowered violently from the back office. It definitely encouraged the owner to keep the status quo - after all, the shop was suddenly making a lot more money.
The fact that Booker refused to acknowledge the possibility it had been him was part of why Nicky was willing to give him another chance. He was steadfast, but Andy wouldn't have thought of it and Nile had been left out of a lot of the drama. Nicky knew Joe would have asked him before doing it, and that he certainly hadn't done it himself. The only logical conclusion was that Booker, in his infinite wisdom and with his ridiculous number of ‘contacts’ he’d built up over his life, had tried to make it up to them.
Andy had kept him suspended for weeks, trying to decide with Nicky and Nile's help - and a decent amount of input from Joe - exactly what to do with him. He’d been alone all through the final days of his revision, and even though Nicky thought of him when his exam was scheduled, he didn’t call. Booker had never been so alone.
When he failed the Bar exam, even Joe's heart softened to him. He had waited a week before calling, desperately begging to be allowed back. He didn't want to start from the beginning somewhere new while he studied, knowing how difficult it would be to balance all of the moving parts, how much further behind it would push him, and how much he honestly missed them all. Including Nile.
They all understood, in time. When he came back, Nile had already forgiven him. She was apprehensive, and she wouldn't forget the way he had thrown her under the bus to get ahead, but she was willing to give him another chance. She checked every machine she used the moment before she used it though, and it took a while before she would turn her back to Booker.
Nicky kept him at a further distance, no more socialising out of work, and for a while he struggled not to shake him and ask how he could have been so foolish. They’d been good friends for so long, best friends, even - learning to truly forgive him would take time.
It was hard to see him. At first, Joe had been all vitriol and fury, trying to defend Nicky from the man who had hurt him, but when he realised that Nicky held no real malice towards Booker, he calmed.
The faith Andy had in all of the members of her little family was clear when she took a vote and they all chose to give Booker a second chance- a probation where anything less than the smallest, most honest mistake would see him kicked out with no hope of return.
They had all been nervous at first, all their conversations stilted and checking themselves ten times more than they normally would, but as Booker's probation continued they found a new normal. He seemed to understand, to accept the bed he’d made for himself, and worked hard to prove himself.
The fight the shop was waging with Merrick was not always easy. They’d dealt with health inspectors coming because of anonymous complaints, strange ‘orders’ and sometimes, a group of his thugs hovering on the street outside, intimidating potential customers away. He was not willing to give up, but neither were they. Joe was quietly putting together a file on him, tying together loose ends that could be used to trip him up.
Copley's offices were small, suitable for his team of paralegals and first years, and Joe had his own little boxy room to himself but if he wasn't dealing with clients or sensitive documents it was easier to find him in the coffee shop than anywhere else. The corner he and Nicky found themselves in more often than not had become their permanent spot, and if he ever needed a quiet place for an afternoon meeting with a pro bono client he knew the others would set them at ease.
If it wasn't perfect, Nicky thought, then it was very close to it. Nearly five months of seeing Booker almost every day, eyes full of regrets and apologies with every glance in Nicky's direction, had smoothed down the spiky feelings until they were almost friends again. He and Joe were moving into Nicky's comfortable little apartment together, and Nile was applying to college for Art History. Everything seemed to be falling into place.
Until the phone call.
"I have to leave for a while," Andy tried to explain as she pulled her jacket on and grabbed the emergency overnight bag that had lived in the back office as long as Nicky had been there. Nile nodded, going back to collecting cups from the tables.
"How long?" Nicky asked, frowning as he folded his arms and stood between her and the door.
"I don't know. Quynh called." Her voice broke as she looked almost frantically at Nicky. "I've been waiting…"
"Go, go!" Nicky nodded, shooing her and stepping out of the way. "We can look after the shop. It is in safe hands."
Nodding, Andy managed a smile. "I know. Thank you." She swept out of the door as Booker and Nile exchanged glances.
"You heard me, we are looking after the shop, don't stand and gape!" Nicky put his hands on his hips and raised his eyebrows at them, before sighing a little. "This hasn't happened in a long time. When Quynh first left, she… she apparently called, a few times. Andy went to see her but she was never where she said she would be."
"How long has it been?" Nile asked, setting a tray of cups by the dishwasher and leaning against it, watching Nicky carefully.
"Three, maybe four years I think- since she called last, at least." Nicky frowned, a bloom of sadness coming over him as he realised how long it had been since he had seen his friend, seen her and Andy together, and seen a smile that reached Andy's eyes fully. "I hope this time is different."
“So who’s in charge?” Nile asked, raising an eyebrow at the other two. “I’m guessing not Booker.”
“Hey!” Booker grinned a little bashfully, used to occasional good-natured teasing and bumped their shoulders together gently as he passed by her. “It’s always been Nicky, not that Andy’s left us to it for a while- unless something happened while I was away?”
Nicky shook his head. “The last time was maybe… two years ago? It was her birthday, we all overdid it a little. It doesn’t mean much, just… keep doing what you’re doing?”
“Now that I’m sleeping with the manager, do I get more free coffee?” Joe called over with a bright grin, and Nile threw a balled up paper towel at him.
“No, Yusuf, if anything it means you get less ,” he replied curtly, moving around the counter. They’d almost finished cleaning up, nearly ready to leave for the day, and still Joe had his books scattered across the table. “Tidy up, amore mio , we don’t have much left to do.”
Surveying the little shop as Joe started putting his books away, Nicky smiled to himself. Things were truly almost perfect now, and if Andy could bring Quynh back this time, they really would be.