Only the first one of those points was correct.
“No, I told you. I have to swear off men for a while. Every relationship I’ve had with a man in the past decade has been awful. There was Justin and Fisher, and remember that graphic designer I dated last year, who told me he was in an open marriage on the fourth date? I’ve had enough.”
Courtney nodded, like she’d heard this a million times before. To be fair, she probably had.
“Yes, yes, we know, except we also saw the way you looked at Carlos on Saturday night. Maybe you should swear off men for a while after you’ve had your rebound.”
Did they not listen to her, or did they just decide they knew better?
“One: I told you guys, starting anything with him, or any man, is a bad idea. Men always think they can make demands on me, and I’m sick of that. Two: Carlos is clearly not interested in me—he didn’t make the slightest move on me on Monday night. And three: if I did want to date someone right now, Carlos is absolutely not that someone.”
Dana put her hand on Nik’s.
“You’ve got to get over this doctor thing. This guy is not like Justin. Not all doctors are like Justin.”
Nik sighed and took a sip of her drink.
“I know he isn’t. Like, I know that intellectually. And I’ve been over Justin for a long time. I really have been. But it took years after I was over him to get past how shitty he made me feel about my writing. I’m just now at the place where I’m proud of both my work and my career, and I don’t want anyone to try to fuck with that.”
“We know, honey. But you’re a very different person than you were when you dated Justin. What would you have done two weeks ago if Fisher had pulled a Justin and told you not to take a great new job?”
“I would have laughed at him,” Nik said immediately.
“Exactly!” Courtney said. “To take another example from Justin’s greatest hits, what would you have done if that Morton dude you dated had read one of your pieces and had told you to give up writing?”
Nik had to laugh. Her friends remembered everything. Well, almost everything.
“Morris, not Morton. And fine, I would have thrown him out of my apartment. I get your point. I’m in a better place in my life, fine. But still.”
“But still what?” Dana threw her arm around her. “Have more faith in yourself, Nik. We do.”
Nik refused to let herself cry.
“Oh, shut up. It’s only because of the faith you two have in me that got me out of the relationship with Justin in the first place, so there.”
She pulled both of her friends into a brief hug. As much as she loved her friends, they were wrong about Carlos, though. Everything they’d said about the guys she’d recently dated had proved it: the reason it was so easy to discount them and their opinions was because she didn’t like those guys all that much. Carlos, though, she actually liked. Dating someone you found both smart and interesting seemed much harder. Much riskier.
“To get us back on topic: we were talking about how Monday night I asked a man who I barely knew to come to my apartment with me because I was feeling helpless. And if there’s one thing I hate, it’s feeling helpless.”
“You also hate raw peaches,” Dana said.
“That fuzz against your teeth!”
“And those five-finger running shoes,” Courtney said.
“They make your feet look like hobbit feet!”
“Filled doughnuts,” Dana said.
“They ooze!” Nik said. “Especially the ones with red stuff inside—it’s like there’s blood in there.”
“When people have the keyboard sound up on their phone,” Dana said.
“Okay, but doesn’t everyone hate that?” Nik asked them.
“Beaches,” Courtney said.
“So much sand,” Nik said. “It gets everywhere. And I mean everywhere. I don’t know why people love them.”
“People who don’t use the Oxford comma!”
“Don’t forget Chardonnay!”
“Okay, okay, fine, you guys can stop now,” Nik said. They would have gone on forever if she hadn’t interrupted them. “You’re both correct. I hate many things, okay? But feeling helpless is high up there. You happy now?”
It was amazing that two women who were so different in both looks and personality could have the exact same smug smile.
“Yes,” they said in unison.
“After all that, now you know you have to go with me to a self-defense class, right?” Nik said.
“Oh.” Dana looked at Courtney, and they both looked back at Nik. “We were always going to go with you. We just had to make fun of you first. When’s the first class?”
* * *
• • •
Carlos sat down on the corner of his couch with his dinner late on Wednesday night. He hadn’t heard from Nik since Tuesday morning—he’d texted her to check in and see how she was doing, and she’d texted back that she was much better and thanked him again. He’d assumed that was a brush-off and he shouldn’t text her again, but now he was reconsidering that. Nik’s brush-offs didn’t seem that subtle, for one thing. He’d seen that at Dodger Stadium. Maybe he’d text her one more time.
Did those Thai leftovers kill you? I hope you ate them yesterday. They get spicier over time.
A few seconds after he pressed send, his phone rang. My God, was it that easy?
He looked at his phone. Angela. Nope, not that easy.
“Hey,” she said. “I just got off the phone with Jessie.”
His cousin Jessica had just been diagnosed with preeclampsia, and he’d been fielding calls from his mom and aunt about it all day. He’d finally gotten to talk to Jessie right before he left the hospital that evening.
“I talked to her, too,” he said to Angela. “Don’t freak out. It’s still early, but it’s a good sign that her doctors sent her home and had her go on bed rest instead of admitting her.”
Part of him wished her doctors had admitted her to the hospital—that way she and the baby would be safe and monitored every day in case of any problems. The thing no one told you about being a doctor was how much you would panic when people you loved had anything wrong with them. Doctors knew way too much about the worst-case scenarios.
“You’re telling me not to freak out? From what Jessie said, you freaked her out! She said her doctors made her feel less stressed about this, and when she left her doctor’s appointment, she wasn’t too worried, but after she talked to you, she’s all anxious again.”
His phone buzzed.
Oh wow, really? Thanks for the news bulletin. That would have been a nice thing to tell me on Monday night, not well after I ate them for lunch on Tuesday and had my tongue on fire for 12 full hours. Now I know why you let me have them.
He tried not to laugh. He didn’t want to have to explain his laughter to Angela.
“I’m sorry I freaked Jessie out, but she needs to know when she should go back to the hospital. If her blood pressure gets too high, it can be dangerous.”
He texted back.
I don’t know what you’re talking about. I was just being a gentleman.
“She knows all of that; that’s what her doctor is for! We all know all of that now. We have Google, too.”
He rolled his eyes at his bowl of lentil soup. It was like Angela wasn’t even listening to him.
“I didn’t know that because of Google. I know because I’m a doctor!”
They all remembered he was a doctor when they needed him, but ignored it whenever they felt like it.
“I know you’re a doctor, but stop making her more anxious about everything! She needs your support right now, not you trying to drive her blood pressure up.”
Of course Jessie had his support. Jessie was his younger cousin, but only by a year. She had teased him and played with him and laughed at him and encouraged him and been proud of him his whole life. One of the framed pictures he had in his house was of him at three and Jessie at two, both looking dubiously at baby Angela.
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