“We can still go apartment hunting as planned, if you want,” Casey offered as they clattered down the stairs. “Severride can be a bit of a bulldozer when it comes to his friends.”
“We’ll talk about it when I have coffee in my hands and another in my system,” Brett replied firmly, pushing the front door open and stepping out into the blustery sunny day. She yelped as she was nearly knocked off of her feet by a strong gust that caught her just right.
“Whoa! C’mon, featherweight, use me as an anchor so you don’t fly away.” Casey quickly moved to her right, taking on the brunt of the wind as she wrapped her arm around his and snuggled into his side, tucking her face into his shoulder.
“Lead on, Casey. I’m right behind you – literally.”
He laughed, shortening his stride slightly so she could keep up. Their destination, Chocolatte, was only a block away so it was a mercifully short trek.
“Hey Matt, Sylvie!” The barista called as Casey held the door open so Brett could duck under his arm. “What’s up? I usually don’t see you on your off days.”
“Now Ty, you know I can’t go more than a day without seeing your handsome mug.” Casey said solemnly before grinning. “We’re doing some apartment hunting. Trying to find something before the college kids discover that this is actually the neighborhood to be in.”
Ty was actually Tyler Livingston, former All Pro linebacker for the Chicago Bears. He had retired early and by choice, funding his wife Daria’s dream of opening a café that was the male equivalent of the bikini barista stands that had become such a fad lately. They had compromised on the uniforms though; NFL jerseys and fitted Levi’s now adorned the various six foot plus men who moved easily around the large café and bakery, talking and joking easily with customers.
Ty had been so highly entertained by the idea that he had taken it further; nearly all of the baristas were formerly affiliated with the NFL in some way, with the occasional current and former player stopping in to help out, and half of the proceeds went directly to local school districts and community centers to help fund the after school programs that fueled both mind and bodies.
“I heard that. That’s why we keep it so low key on advertising and depend on word of mouth. It’s like our own little oasis round here right now.” Tyler replied. “Me and the guys are trying to keep it that way by buying up the local businesses and apartments so we can support where we can, but it’s an uphill battle.”
“You are definitely a much better landlord than the last guy that owned our building,” Casey said fervently, moving aside to let Brett order first.
Ty smiled toothily at Brett as she moved closer. “You want your usual? Black coffee for you Matt, and a skinny white chocolatte for the lovely lady.” He winked at her. “Hey Sylvie. When are you going to come fully over to the dark side?”
“Hi Ty.” She grinned back. “I keep telling you, you keep flirting with me and you’re gonna get in trouble. And I like my drink, thank you. Your wife suggested it to me.” She nodded to Daria, who had come up silently behind him.
Tyler opened his mouth to reply, only to jump about a foot in the air as his wife pinched him smartly on the butt. “And now it is on the house, for putting up with this idiot,” she said, glaring up at her husband, who topped her by over a foot. “What have I told you about flirting with the customers? Especially the ones who are already taken!”
Casey and Brett glanced at each other, their eyes wide. “Daria, we’re not—” Brett began hastily, but the fierce petite woman was on a roll, continuing her scolding in liquid, rapid fire Italian. She did spare a second to shoot a wink at them as she took a breath, which made them both grin.
Tyler waited patiently until she paused to take another breath before leaning down and scooping her up over one broad shoulder.
“Excuse me, folks,” he said as she sputtered and laughed from her upside down position. “It’s my lunch break. Shane will be out in a moment to fix your drinks.”
“Tyler Livingston, it’s only ten o’clock in the morning!”
“Okay, then it’s a breakfast break.” He and Casey exchanged a male smirk as he walked away, Daria still scolding despite her laughter.
“Never a dull moment in here,” he laughed, turning to follow a giggling Brett over to the corner window table.
“The best part is that it’s happened so often that the regulars don’t even bat an eye anymore,” she replied. “I hope I find someone who loves me even half as much as he does Daria, even after over a decade of marriage and three kids.”
Casey took a sip of his coffee, considering her for a moment before replying. “It is possible,” he mused. “Usually when you least expect it.”
Brett frowned at him. “That’s an abrupt about face, coming from the guy who pushed me to go to lunch with Ryan,” she challenged.
“That was for you, not for him,” he shrugged, leaning back in his chair to fix her with a steady blue gaze. “The first date after a long relationship is always the hardest. Naomi came back three different times before I finally agreed to go out to dinner with her.” He gestured at her with his cup. “I figured I was in a better position to give you that final friendly nudge—”
He grinned. “—than Kidd and Foster were.”
She narrowed her eyes at him, but conceded the point. They had convinced her, but it was really his goading that was the final straw.
Casey gave her a moment before changing the subject. “So as I was saying, we can still go house hunting. I don’t want you to feel obligated or pressured –“
“Casey,” she interrupted firmly. “I’m in.”
“I’ll move in with you.” She said. “It’s a gorgeous apartment, and I’m not letting you pass up such a fantastic opportunity. If the only way that you’ll accept Mrs. Fielding’s offer is to have a roommate to share costs and space, then I’m in. I’m going to wait until after the wedding to actually move in, since I’m still on the lease with Cruz, but that’s only a couple of months away.” Her face suddenly lit up with mischief. “Besides, now I get to brag that I live in the hottest building in the city, with a firefighter for a roommate and right next door. Gotta carry on tradition, after all.” She teased, cocking her head. “You think Mrs. Fielding will share her snickerdoodle recipe before she leaves?”
Casey smirked. “I appreciate the compliment, although I promise I won’t tell Cruz.” He returned as she blushed. “Or Severride for that matter. You’d never hear the end of it. He’s bad enough when Katherine flirts with him.” He pointed his coffee at her in admonishment when she snickered. “If you get that recipe though, you have my undying gratitude and devotion.”
She raised her brows, meeting his gaze. “Challenge accepted.”
If only it were that easy, but she was up for the true challenge. She liked Casey, enjoyed spending time with him at work and the odd moment at Molly’s. But they had never had an opportunity to do so one on one for an extended period of time. Living with him would give her an inside rare look at Matt Casey the man, in a casual, comfortable, and intimate setting.
Maybe whatever it was that was slowly building between them might actually ignite, once they didn’t have the subtle (and not so subtle) pressures of their friends around them. She didn’t know, and honestly had no expectations at the moment, which was a heady and freeing feeling.
Casey had been right to push her into going out with Ryan, but it had actually had a bit of an adverse effect. She had come to the decision that she really just didn’t want to wade into the dating pool. Instead, she wanted to invest that time, energy and emotion into her current friendships and relationships that she had already. Not just at 51, but with her friends at Chicago Med and PD that she had cultivated over her career. And her first priority was continuing to grow her friendship with the man sitting across from her.
Casey watched the emotions flash across Brett’s expressive face, wondering what she was thinking about so intently. Whatever it was, he didn’t ask and she didn’t offer, as they finished their coffee in comfortable silence.
He finally cleared his throat, smiling as she jumped slightly in surprise. “Sorry. Didn’t meant to startle you, but we should probably get going,” he hinted, taking their cups to the trash.
She nodded, standing and stretching up on her toes. Casey watched her for a moment, his gaze warm with male appreciation, before he moved to help her put on her jacket.
“Always the gentleman,” she said lightly, threading her hand through his arm and snuggling up to his side as they made their way out the door. “Are the dimensions the same as in Severride’s apartment, or do we need to go back and get a visual and some measurements before we go spend money?”
He paused, thinking. “Pretty sure the bedroom dimensions are the same, but I know Katherine and her husband did some modifications to the kitchen and living room. We should probably go back anyway and let her know that we accept her offer.”
Brett nodded, tugging him along. “See? There you go, getting into trouble without someone to look after you.”
He glanced down at her with a warmly affectionate smile. “Well, now I’ve got you to do that.”