By: Winter Renshaw

“You know,” she says. “I was thinking on the way home.”

“Uh, oh,” I tease.

She shoves my arm playfully. “No, I was thinking about that ring.”

Tucked away in a safety deposit box at our bank is Demi’s flawless five carat engagement ring. The appraisal came in around a hundred grand, and we were hoping to use it for a down payment on a house someday.

At the time, it seemed justified. Brooks royally screwed her over, and her father is still working on the credit card fraud situation. But she always had slight reservations.

“He probably bought that ring with other people’s money,” Demi says. “Money he stole from the good people in Rixton Falls who trusted him.”

“Yeah. I’m sure.”

“I’m going to sell it and put the money toward them. It’ll hardly put a dent in the damage Brooks did, but it’s better than nothing. We have the rest of our lives to save for our retirement, and they don’t.”

“That’s big of you, Demi.” I clear my throat and slip my arm over her shoulders. She fits under me just perfectly. “I completely agree. It’s the right thing to do.”

The knock at our door at six signals that our guests have arrived.

“I’ll get it,” I offer.

“Royal!” Haven jumps into my arms before I’ve even pulled the door all the way open. She wraps her arms around my neck and dangles, and I lift her up and carry her to the kitchen.

“Hey, man.” Derek pats my back and smiles.

We’ve been reconnecting these last couple of months. Getting to know each other again. Turns out the bonds of friendship aren’t as easily severed as I thought they were. Sometimes when we’re hanging out, it feels like we never really had that separation of time. It’s like someone placed a bookmark between us and we picked up right where we left off.

Demi says that’s the measure of true love and also true friendship. I couldn’t agree more.

“Aunt Demi’s making Nana’s lasagna.” I sit Haven down at the head of the kitchen table where she likes to sit because she loves to be in the middle of all of us.

“Hi, Aunt Demi.” Haven waves.

“Hey, baby doll,” Demi says, browning Italian sausage over the stove. “I’ll be over there for kisses in a minute, okay?”

“Okay!” Haven’s legs swing under the chair.

“Is that a panda on your shirt?” I ask.

Her face lights, and she grins.

“You know I love pandas. They’re my favorite.” I told her that the last time I saw her. Don’t really have a favorite animal, but it seemed to make her smile.

“I remembered, Royal,” she says.

“She wanted to wear it for you,” Derek says. “Apparently, she’s pretty fond of you for some reason.”

“And who wouldn’t be?” I wink.

“Need any help, Dem?” Derek offers.

“No, no. You guys can go in the living room and hang out there if you want. Haven, do you want to help me make Nana’s lasagna?” Demi lifts a wooden spatula and points it at her niece. “I have a little apron that’s just your size . . . and I could use a ton of help . . .”

Haven looks to Demi, then to Derek, and lastly, to me.

“No, thank you, Aunt Demi. I’m going to play with Royal. He likes to play Legos and puzzles with me.” Haven melts me with her big, blue eyes. They match Demi’s. And if we’re lucky, maybe someday we’ll have a little girl with that very same gaze.

“Burn.” Derek laughs.

“That’s cool, that’s cool,” Demi says, her hands in the air. “I get it. Royal’s fun. I’m boring. I only color with you and braid your hair, but that’s cool. Whatever.”

Haven hops down from the chair and walks back to me, reaching for my hand and slipping hers into mine.

“Come on, Royal.” She leads me to the living room and goes straight for the box of Legos hidden under the sofa. Haven stayed with us a couple of weeks ago while Derek was entertaining a new client during his custody weekend. Demi insisted on taking her to Target and buying her whatever she wanted, and she chose pirate Legos. “Let’s play.”

At least she didn’t pick Barbies. I’d never hear the end of it from Derek if I was sitting on the floor dressing Ken dolls.

An hour later, the four of us are sitting around the kitchen table, enjoying Demi’s dinner, which tastes bite-for-bite like something Bliss would make, and Haven’s telling me all about her new preschool teacher.

“They bumped her up to three day,” Derek says. “She was the smartest kid in her class.”

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