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Closing up, Zoey lingered suspiciously close to Emma.

“Do you need anything? A ride home?” They had had this conversation far too many times for Emma to actually mean the offer. She just offered, because it was what they did.

“Thanks, but if I leave my bike outside overnight, I might as well put up a sign that says Steal me! But actually… Emma, you have young niblings, right?”

That was not an inquiry Emma had expected from Zoey, of all people.

“Yeah, wh-”

“And you used to be into theater?”

Oh no, where was this going?

“The new show we’re working on has a bit of a different target audience from who we usually play for, I don’t really know how to reach out to that demographic.” We, of course, meant Zoey and her theater buddies.

“I don’t know how I can help with that. I don’t know how to reach out to any demographic.”

“I know, I know. I kind of started this all wrong.”

This was so weird. Zoey wasn’t like this. She said what was on her mind.

“Wanna start over, then?”

“No, look, I wanted to offer you-you know, in case your niblings are interested-ugh, I can put you on a list, so you can get a set amount of tickets on discount. Like, you know, as a friend.”

Part of Emma wanted to dig deeper into that ‘as a friend’. Teasingly, of course. What was the difference, if Zoey really saw her as a friend or just wanted to make sure there was an audience to her show? She let it go, instead.

“That’s- I appreciate that you thought of them. Do I have to decide anything, right now? I’ll have to talk that through with my brother-in-law and see if the rascals would be into that.”

“No, no, you’ve got that kind of time. We haven’t even started selling tickets, yet. I’ll let you know about when the whole thing’s happening and what the show even is and such. Would that be okay? I mean, if you’re totally not interested, you can let me know, you know? I’m not trying to bug you into it.”

“I’ll hear you out. I wouldn’t let you waste your effort.”

“Good, good. Great.” She looked eager to finish their workday, as quickly as possible and leave without a word further.

“Zo? You’re kind of nervous about this, huh?”

“Nervous? Uh, maybe a little. It’s stupid.” With that sheepish smile and fiddling with her hair, she looked even younger than she was. How was this Emma’s manager? What had Nora been thinking, hiring her in that position?

“Wait, does it kind of matter to you that I see your show?”

A nervous laugh. “If we don't get a paying audience, that's a heap of dung on fire.”

“I know. I mean specifically I ? Do you want me to see you play?”

Some frantic mumbling and a furious blush were Zoey's only response.

“Naw, look how bad I would have been at being a big sister. I'll come see you in your show. Even if the kids don’t come, I’ll check it out.”

“Don't let it get to your head.”

“No one needs to know. I'm just trying to be a halfway decent aunt, who takes her niblings to the theater. It’s not my fault my coworker is in the cast. I feel like giving you a hug now. Would that be appreciated?”

Zoey was visibly taken aback. She would have expected relentless teasing. She had prepared for that, certainly not for any forward type of affection. As a result, it wasn’t without some hesitance that she accepted it.

If no one needed to know, she could admit, at least to herself, that, yes, for some reason, it was kind of important to her that Emma saw the payoff of what she was working on. Which was absurd. That was Emma, her coworker she barely even got along with. What did it matter what she thought?

“You’re not all that bad at that whole sister thing,” she told her. Realizing what that might have implied, she hurried to clarify, “I’m sure your sister is grateful for what you do for her kids.”

“Watch it, Zo, it’s all fun and fluffy, until you use Jane as an excuse to make me cry.”

“I wouldn’t dare. Not that you’re much of a threat.” Especially while crying. Had that ever happened since Zoey had taken over management at Beanie’s? No, she was pretty sure she hadn’t ever seen Emma cry.

“Keep telling yourself that.” That was better. That was charted ground. They knew how to navigate this. “Imagine how threatening I would be if I were tall. Thank G-d my power doesn't always shine through.”

“Can you see me tremble? Go home and annoy your boyfriend.”

“I’ll do just that. Once you get out of here, so I can lock the door. Shoo!”

“Don’t shoo me. I’ll leave voluntarily. I have a life, you know?”

“Oh no, are you about to sing a song about it?”

“Piss off. I love you too.”

Both having their backs turned to the other, Emma and Zoey froze at the words. Huh. Neither had expected Zoey to say that. Without a word, they agreed to leave this uncommented. It was with her head as red as a beet that Zoey left the coffee shop. Emma saved her the embarrassment of her looking at her and locked the door in silence, but when she heard Zoey huff in frustration as she walked away, she smiled. She was beginning to understand Paul’s thing about found family.