I pushed past everyone, not bothering to apologize when I stepped on toes or elbowed someone in the ribs.
Just as I reached Tyler, he shot a quick glance in my direction. He pulled me easily into his arms and I held him tightly as he watched his dream being destroyed right before our eyes.
We clung to each until a beautiful woman with long brown hair came running at us. When Tyler saw her, he left me. His arms circled her and they sobbed together. I didn't feel any rejection. I couldn't. She looked too much like him. It was his sister, Kayla Foster, and when she introduced herself after the fire captain came to talk to Tyler, I knew that he'd shared details about me with her.
It wasn't just that she knew my name. I expected that when she said she saw me on television with her brother. It was more than that. She knew about the Marglobe tomatoes and the halibut. She talked about the dress I'd worn to the VIP event at Nova. She mentioned, quietly, that he had told her I was special and that she was glad I was in his life.
"Is there anything I can do for you, Tyler?" I fill the silence between us. There may be people brushing past us as we stand together on the sidewalk across the street from where the restaurant used to be, but their presence doesn't change anything. Tyler's sole focus at this moment is the same as mine. It's the shell of Nova that's now surrounded by a chain link fence and at least a dozen yellow warning signs meant to keep people a safe distance away.
He straightens his back as he taps the brim of his ball cap with his fingers. I stare at the bandage wrapped around his hand. It's a lingering reminder of his attempt to get inside the restaurant that morning. He'd burned it on the door handle before the heat, and some people passing by, stopped him.
I heard him telling Kayla that he didn't know how bad the fire was until he looked in through the front windows to see flames blanketing the ceiling and trailing down the walls of the dining room. It was another few minutes before the first fire engine arrived. By then, there was nothing anyone could do to save Nova.
Darrell had given it a valiant effort when he tried to douse the flames with a fire extinguisher after smoke filled the back office where he was working on next week's schedule for the sous chefs. When he realized it was futile, he raced to fetch his and Tyler's knife sets before he rushed out the back door just as the fire consumed the kitchen and the overhead sprinklers finally kicked in.
Luckily, he was the only one in the restaurant when the fire started. When someone on the cleaning crew returned to get their forgotten phone they frantically told a policeman that Darrell was working inside when they had left an hour before. No one could have known that he was actually in a dry cleaning shop down the block trying to catch his breath. Miraculously, he only suffered minor smoke damage and everyone who lived above the restaurant was able to flee with time to spare.
"There's something," he starts to say in a husky tone. "I have some stuff I need to say."
"Work stuff," he clarifies. "I want to speak to the staff. I want you to set up a meeting. I need to talk to everyone at once. That has to happen soon."
I hesitate. I've been fielding calls and texts from some of my co-workers since the fire. It's not a secret that I'm dating Tyler. They see me as a direct route to him. I've used the same tired line on everyone, telling them that I don't know anything but I'll be in touch as soon as I do.
Common courtesy may dictate that it's not the time to talk about what's going to happen to our jobs, but most of the people who worked at Nova have a mortgage or rent to pay. They have financial responsibilities and without any word from Tyler on what the future holds, some have started putting out feelers to see if any other restaurant in Manhattan is hiring.
"I can do that." I nod. I can, obviously. I just don't know where or when he wants this to happen. Soon is subjective but I'll make it work.
"Cadence." He takes a deep breath. "I need to go. I'm meeting with an insurance adjuster in fifteen minutes. I want the staff meeting at my apartment, tomorrow is best for me. Make it in the afternoon preferably, say around four o'clock."
It's as though he reads my mind and my needs as he leans toward me, brushes his lips against mine and kisses me tenderly before he darts across the street.
"You're thinking what I'm thinking." Sophia walks into my bedroom cradling a mug of hot tea in her hands. "That fire wasn't an accident."
My gaze zeroes in on her face. We haven't said much to each other about the fire since it happened. I know Sophia. She's kept quiet about it until now to give me space to process things. She's considerate that way. Judging by what she just said, she assumes I'm ready to talk about it. I'm not so sure that I am.