Nikki felt small talons wrap around her waist. Unable to speak, or do anything but blush, she remained limp as Lexington pulled her up. Brooklyn had taken the man's arm and hoisted him into a standing position.

"I-I-I-I'm s-so sorr-r-rry!" Nikki apologized, the words tumbling clumsily out of her mouth. Sweat began to build on her brow, her face flaming.

The man rubbed his elbow, and smiled sympathetically. "Hey, don't worry about it. Just hit my funny bone, I'm fine. Are YOU alright?"

The man asked, stepping forward. His crystal blue eyes were... Genuine. Nikki felt herself blush even more as the stranger expressed sympathy.

"Y-yeah, I'm f-fine."

"Oh, you two haven't met, have you?" Lexington piped in. The small gargoyle stretched his hand towards Nikki in introduction. "This is our new friend, Nikki." He turned to indicate the man. "Nikki, this is Matt Bluestone. He's Elisa's partner."

Nikki continued to blush and look away from the officer, still a bundle of awkward nerves.

"Nice to meet you." Matt extended his hand to Nikki. She shook hands timidly with the officer.

"Y-you too."

"But formalities aside, I have a question. Guys, have you seen Elisa? I thought she might be up here."

"We didn't woke up very long ago, we haven't seen her yet." Broadway stated.

"Hmm. Weird. She was supposed to give me an update on the Dracon case." Matt rubbed his chin thoughtfully. He looked back at Nikki, his eyes lingering on her face for just a moment longer.

"You don't happen to be an undercover agent with information on the case do you?" He asked jokingly. Despite her nerves, Nikki giggled. "No, d-definitely not. I mean, I cut m-meat for a living. I'm not sure that there's much I c-could do to help."

Matt looked somewhat taken aback, and raised a skeptical eyebrow.

"O-oh n-no no, not like t-that! I'm bu-butcher! It's totally l-legal." Matt tried with all his might, but couldn't contain his laughter. Nikki felt a pang of relief and offense simultaneously.

"Is th-there something w-wrong with that?" She asked, folding her arms.

"No, no nothing at all," the detective reassured her. "Just... Not what I was expecting. You enjoy that job?"

"Yep. Been hunting and field dressing game my whole life."

"Hmm. You've piqued my curiosity, Miss Harrison. You'll have to elaborate for me sometime." Matt turned back to the staircase. "I have a few stops to make, check up on the Protection Case. Let Elisa know that I'm looking for her!" Matt called as he descended the staircase.

"Will do!"

"See ya later!" The gargoyles called after him.

Nikki waited until the redheaded detective was out of sight, then turned to the trio.

"So, what exactly is the 'Protection Case'? And who's this Dracon guy?"

"The protection thing? I have no idea, honestly." Brooklyn admitted. "Dracon is head of a local gang. Real crummy guy."

"Oh. Well. That sounds like an exciting case."

"Speaking of exciting," Lexington interjected "any updates on James?"

Nikki blushed again and smiled giddily. "I went back to the store and we're going on a date Tuesday night."

"So the practice dates worked?" Lexington implored.

"You know, I think they did. I do feel more confident." Nikki stated, pondering her small transformation.

"Then you'll be sure to let us know how the date goes!" Broadway added.

"Wait, you say that as if I won't see you before Tuesday night. Will I see you guys?"

"Afraid not. We've been extending patrol times and areas." Brooklyn explained.

"Well, darn. What will I do all night? I'm finally staring to adjust to gargoyle time!" She joked.

"We've got tonight! What did you have in mind?" Broadway asked.

"You guys know how to play Spoons?" Nikki asked, pulling a deck of cards and a handful of plastic spoons from the duffel bag. The remainder of their night consisted of playing intense games of Spoons, retrieving stolen spoons from Bronx and munching on potato chips. After playing spoons and various other card games for a few hours, Nikki decided to head home.

"I hate having to work tomorrow. I need to go home and get some rest." As usual, the gargoyles gave her a lift back to her sister's balcony. Another enjoyable night of socialization had come to an end for Nikki.

Tuesday night! It's Tuesday! She thought giddily, walking home from work. She had been able to leave work early in order to get home and prepare for her date, granted that she close up shop later that week. The walk home was surprisingly enjoyable. Nikki had a new spring in her step and daydreams buzzed about her head. The entire elevator ride consisted of her contemplating topics of conversation.
Okay, okay. Think, Nikki! How much makeup do you want to wear? She pondered upon these important matters as she showered. If you wear too much you risk looking like a diva. But you don't want to look too causal. Wait; do I want to look too causal? It's just a pizza date. Towel wrapped about her, she plugged in the hair straightener and brushed her teeth. But it's also a first date! Darn it, aren't people supposed to write books or scholarly articles about these sort of things? She popped her head outside of the bathroom door, searching for the clock. The sound of Tessa's sewing machine met her ears. Okay, I still have an hour before I have to leave. Sweet! She turned back to reenter the bathroom. Wait... Tessa's home? Nikki slipped on a bathrobe and walked into the master bedroom. Tessa's desk was flanked by clothing patterns and varied fabrics, as usual. Tessa wore her hair in a ponytail and concentrated on her sewing. But something was off. Her eyes looked almost... Sunken.

"Tessa?" Nikki asked, approaching her big sister.

"Yeah?" Tessa turned to Nikki, her face listless. "Oh. Honey is your date tonight?"

This isn't like her at all. She should be hovering over my shoulder, spouting advice.

"Yeah. So... Whatcha working on?"

Tessa extended the leg of a pair of trousers, showing the new set of stitches.

"Scott was running late to work this morning. Shoved his keys in his pockets and tore a hole in them. That hole hit the pant leg seam. So here I am, trying desperately to fix my careless husband's mistakes. As if I don't enough on my plate at the moment!" She flung her head on the desk, moaning.

Wow. Um... Weird.

"Tess... Is something wrong? I mean, they're just pants."

"Look, Nikki. I'm kinda stressed right now, all right? I'll talk to you later. Just go on your date."

"Okay. Well, I hope you feel better." Nikki whispered timidly, and left.

What the heck, Tessa? This isn't like you at all. Nikki's train of thought turned from joyful to perplexed as she straightened her intensely curly hair. What does she have to be stressed about? She said yesterday that all of her orders have been completed. Scott is employed, I'm doing fine. Nothing back home has come up lately. She bounced these thoughts around as she did her hair. It took nearly 45 minutes, but Nikki finally finished straightening her hair and put on some make up. Okay, worry about Tessa later. In the meantime... Well, I guess that I should use a moderate amount of makeup. Nothing wrong with enhancing my features. Some foundation, bronze eyeshadow, a thin streak of eyeliner, and a coat of mascara later; she left the bathroom and began to rummage through the dresser.
Okay... Nope. Too blue. Not warm enough. Ew, why do I own this?... Nikki finally settled on wearing a mauve blouse with a pair of her nicer jeans. Skipping the heavy shoes, she slipped on some flats for the occasion. Haven't had reason to wear flats for a while now. And the sidewalks aren't as icy, I can risk wearing them. Nikki loaded up her purse with the necessities- wallet, keys, cell phone, and of course, her ever-trusty handgun. The purse was even designed for a concealed carry.

Note to self: thank mom again for the concealed carry handbag. I actually used it.

Tessa was still stressed, so there was no point in talking to her further. The entire elevator ride and walk down the sidewalk consisted of breathing exercises. It's just a date, Nikki. Don't be nervous. Be calm. And don't stutter. Guys like coherent sentences. The sun was just starting to sink beneath the skyline as she entered the pizza parlor. Her wristwatch revealed the time to be two minutes 'til seven. Nikki had scarcely looked up when she saw the familiar young man sitting at the other end of the waiting area. Along with the big grin on his face, he wore a navy blue polo shirt and a pair of clean jeans. Nikki bashfully returned the smile as he stood up to greet her.

"Hey!" His voice was enthusiastic, excited.

"Hey, James! You clean up well." She observed. Good job, girl. That was a smooth comment integration.

"Why, thank you. I don't do nearly as well as you, though. Your hair hasn't always been straight, right?" He joked lightly.

"Not typically." She laughed in response. James turned and escorted her to a table in the middle of the pizzeria.

"So, I've never actually been here before. Do we serve ourselves or do we have a waiter?" Nikki asked.

"You've never been here?" James asked, feigning shock as he pulled out a chair for his date. "Oh, it's fantastic! And yes, we do have a waiter."

"Well, I'll be sure to be ready when he comes by." She picked up the menu and began to inspect the items. Moments later, their young, blonde waiter appeared. His notepad at the ready, he said, "Hey, folks. My name is Brandon and I'll be serving you this evening. Can I get anything for the two of you to drink?"

"Sure, and I think that we might actually be ready to order." James responded, as he turned and smiled at Nikki.

"Okay, no problemo. What can I get for you this evening?" He prattled on.

"I would love a glass of root beer." Nikki answered folding up her menu, and turned to James.

"Are we splitting a pizza?" She whispered.

He nodded.

"Okay, then I'll have the Meat Lover's Deluxe for my half." She informed the waiter.

"Make the that the whole order." James piped in. "And I'd love a Coke to wash that down."

Brandon disappeared into the abyss of college-age employees and customers, and James turned his attention back to his date.

"Got a thing for meat, huh?" He asked.

"Yeah, you could say that. I'm not necessarily an addict but a connoisseur, if you will."

"Funny, I don't recall you buying any steaks."

"Are you supposed to recall that kind of information?" She teased. " And you're right. My parents send in most of our meat. I grew up on a ranch."

"Oh, is that right? So you have the good stuff!"

"Absolutely! I just moved over here several months ago. Now, continuing our checkout-line conversation about numbers, how long have you lived here?"

The two continued to chat as their drinks came, interviewing each other and swapping stories. They only stopped talking to take an occasional bite out of the meat-piled pizza. James was notably impressed.

"I gotta admit; I'm impressed that you didn't order a salad. I love it when girls actually eat something of substance."

"If that's the case, you won't regret having any meals with me. Meat is one of my favorite food groups." She chuckled.

They conversed for another hour after the pizza had been annihilated. Their questions became more complex and in-depth; they began to gain background information about each other. James paid for the meal, and the two exited the restaurant. They swapped jokes and laughed as they walked to Nikki's apartment. Her stomach was alive with butterflies and she found herself giggling giddily at even the smallest of his jokes. Man, I really don't want this date to end. He's so fun! The young woman thought as they rode up the elevator. Once outside her door, Nikki looked shyly at the ground and whispered. "Well. This is my place."

"Nikki," He began. She looked up at James. He smiled at her, causing his hooked nose to scrunch ever so slightly. "I had a great time."

"So did I."

"You wouldn't happen to want to do this again?"

SECOND DATE. SCORE! She screamed within her own thrilled mind.

"I'd love to. But I'm not sure that Brandon would be thrilled to have us back again. He didn't seem like a people-person." The poised Nikki answered calmly.

James laughed a little too much at the joke.

"Nah, forget about Brandon. We can do something else. I'll call you after Christmas and we can discuss it then?"

"Oh, Christmas is three days away. Are you sure you can wait that long?" She smiled flirtatiously.

"I may not be able to. We'll see how quickly I cave." He joked back. He then wrapped his arms around the little woman and pulled her in for a hug. Nikki's heart sped up as she returned the gesture. They both pulled away slowly, keeping eye contact.

"Goodnight, Nikki."

"Goodnight James."

She entered the apartment as he disappeared into the elevator. She looked around, and saw a joyful Scott and Tessa hanging ornaments from a tiny, plastic tree.

"Set up the tree without me?"

Tessa turned and beamed at her sister. "Hey, hon! Get over here and help us decorate. And tell us about your date!"

She doesn't seem too stressed anymore.

Nikki set down her purse and picked up a plastic candy cane to hang on the tree.