“Now where exactly are you taking us, Elijah?”
I stop on the landing, waiting for the three of them to join me. “It’s a little complicated.” I take the keys out of my pocket, singling out the newest, shiniest one. “This is my friend Addison’s place. You might remember her from—”
“The Getaway Girl?” Lydia asks, tucking a bottle of wine she brought underneath her arm. “From the newspaper?”
“Yes, she’s…both of those things and none of them.” I search for the words to explain who Addison is to me. And politician or not, I can’t really find them. “Just meet her.”
“Sure, man.” Chris lays a hand on his wife’s shoulder. “We trust you.”
“Thanks.” Until I slide my key into the lock, I don’t consider that Addison could very well bash me over the head with a skillet for bringing company over without any notice. There’s no time to change my mind, now, though. Frankly, I don’t think I could leave and spend another night in my hotel room, either. This is where I want to be.
I open the door, just enough to make sure she’s decent—and there she is. Standing in the doorway to the kitchen, the arch of one foot propped on the opposite knee, drinking a can of Diet Coke and looking bored. Wearing jeans and—thank God—not a sports bra and leggings. “Can I help you?”
“Hi, Goose.” Already the strain of the day is melting off me. “Can this be one of those times you forget to be mean to me?”
“Are you sure? It would make a little girl’s Christmas.”
Her frown makes me smile. “Are you drunk, Captain?”
“No, but I got that way last night. I had to.”
She looks away, but not before I catch the softening around her eyes. “So whose Christmas am I ruining?”
I urge Sonia to peek through the door. “Hello,” she says.
“Ah!” Addison jumps a good foot in the air. “What—you were serious? Whose kid is this?”
“Ours,” answers Chris with a polite smile, pushing the rest of the door open and stepping past me to get inside. “Sorry for dropping in on you like this, Addison. The captain kidnapped us under the pretense he’d be buying us dinner.”
Lydia steps forward and offers her hand. “Turns out he wanted to introduce you instead. I’m Lydia, this is my husband Chris. And you already met Sonia.”
Appearing dumbfounded, Addison shakes her hand. “Nice to meet you.” I watch in fascination as Addison shoves stray hairs into her ponytail and turns in a circle, bumping her hip off the wall. Oh…wow. I don’t think I’ve ever seen her nervous. Not once. Something about it makes my throat ache. “I didn’t go shopping. I was just going to eat Honey Bunches of Oats.”
“Well, I’m in the mood for takeout anyway—” Lydia cuts herself off, her attention clearly arrested by the apartment’s décor. “Oh. This is…eerily festive.”
“Mom! Look!” Sonia skids to a halt near a row of freshly painted mailboxes, all of which say Letters to Santa in red and white stripes. “I can ask for my phone!”
“Um. Wait.” Addison retreats into the kitchen and two seconds later, the apartment explodes with Christmas, lights flashing, “Carol of the Bells” playing, statues dancing. Chris and Lydia take a hasty step toward each other, as if under attack. When Addison comes back into view, she’s waving a magnetic notepad I recognize from the fridge. On top, it says, “Dear Santa. Here are my demands…” and each letter looks like it has been clipped from a different magazine or newspaper. One of Addison’s biggest sellers these days—and an idea she came up with herself. “You can use this to write your wish list.” She hands the notebook to Sonia. “I’m basically one of Santa’s elves, so I’ll make sure he gets it.”
Sonia turns to her parents wide-eyed, then launches herself at Addison.
Addison’s arms lift slowly to return the hug.
As quickly as the moment starts, it ends, Sonia running circles around the apartment to take everything in. Addison rubs hands down the sides of her jeans, shifting on the balls of her feet. She looks over at me and I’m caught. There’s a sheen to her eyes and just like seeing her nervous, it throws me off, because it’s so unlike her.
“I’m sorry,” I mouth over the music, relief swamping me when she nods once.
I’m just beginning to wonder if there’s something seriously wrong with my throat when Addison lifts her chin and waltzes past me, rolling me a look down her nose. “Well? You know where the takeout menus are, Captain. Make yourself useful.”
Smiling like an idiot, I head for the living room side table, but I’m brought up short by Chris and Lydia’s identical expressions. They’re looking at me like I’ve just announced I’ll be running for mayor of the moon.
“I’ll go help Addison with plates,” murmurs Lydia.