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Ohhhhhh, is that what being a gentleman is? Letting the woman absorb all of the pain while you take the glory? Now I understand what all of those men who told me they were such gentlemen were saying.

He had to mute his call so he could laugh at that.

“Look,” Angela continued. “I know you’re stressed right now, coming up on the five-year anniversary of Dad, but—”

He stopped laughing.

“It’s not that,” he said. He’d been trying to ignore that the anniversary of his father’s death was coming up. “I’m just trying to take care of this family, that’s all.”

Ever since his father’s death, Carlos had sort of considered himself head of his family. He’d never say that out loud to his mother or to Tia Eva, but he assumed they thought the same thing. Jessie’s dad had never been around, so his dad had always done all of the car maintenance, yard work, and home repairs for all of them. When his dad died, Carlos had taken over all of that. But it was more than just the physical work: he thought of his family as his responsibility. He wasn’t going to have anything happen to Jessie on his watch.

“Look, I don’t want to fight about this,” he said to Angela. “I’m just trying to take care of Jessie the best I know how. I have to work late tomorrow, but I’m going to stop by to see her on Friday.”

Don’t tell anyone I told you the gentleman code. The other gentlemen out there will murder me.

“Oh great, I have an idea: before you stop by to see Jessie, why don’t you go to the doctor? She would love that, and so would I.”

He sighed. Not this again.

“Next topic, Angela.”

She laughed.

“Fine, but remember what I said. By the way, did you see the video of that proposal pop up everywhere? Wild, right? Poor Nik. I wonder how she’s holding up.”

My lips are sealed. I mean, until I write the big exposé about this.

“She’s hanging in there,” he said, without thinking.

Oh shit.

“Oh, is she? How do you know that, may I ask?”

Well he definitely could not say it was because he and Nik had been texting throughout this conversation. Anytime he even hinted that he enjoyed a woman’s company, Angela was convinced they’d live happily ever after. And while he still didn’t know what was going to happen between him and Nik, he knew that wasn’t in the cards.

“We had dinner on Monday night. She emailed me to say thanks for Saturday—she wanted me to say thanks to you, too, by the way—and we ended up grabbing Thai food.”

“Hmmmm. Weird that you didn’t mention that she wanted you to say thanks to me. I wonder how that happened?”

Why couldn’t they still be talking about Jessie?

“I’ve kind of had a lot going on this week, Angie. Between being a doctor and taking care of our whole family, it sort of slipped my mind.”

“Well, I liked her, and it seems like you liked her, too, so . . .”

Just make sure you don’t use my real name in your exposé. Give me one of those hipster baby names, like Carver or Fletcher or Winston.

He never should have let it slip that he’d even thought about Nik after Saturday night. He needed to nip this in the bud right away. Even if something did end up happening with Nik, it wasn’t going to be the kind of relationship his sister kept pushing him toward.

“I didn’t like her that much. I only had dinner with her because I felt sorry for her. She was dealing with some harassment after the video went public and was freaked out.”

Maybe someday he’d be able to date someone seriously, but it was way too soon since his father had died for that. He couldn’t put another woman over his mother and sister—not to mention Jessie and Tia Eva. He needed to be able to race to Angie’s house when she sprained her ankle or go furniture shopping with his mom on the weekend or change the tires on Tia Eva’s car. All of the things his dad used to do. If he was dating someone, he wouldn’t be able to do any of that.

“Mmmhmmm,” Angie said. “You felt sorry for her, sure. Like I believe that one.”

He shook his head.

“Good-bye, Angela. Talk to you later.”

How about Atticus? You seem like you could be an Atticus.

He put his feet up on his coffee table and laughed and laughed.

Chapter Six

. . . . . . .

“I cannot believe you’re making us do this,” Courtney said as they got out of the car. “You know I avoid all situations where the correct attire is athleisure.”

Nik zipped up her hoodie and ignored her.

“Oh hush,” Dana said to Courtney. “I like that outfit on you. I’ve been trying to tell you for months how much more comfortable you’d be in leggings or yoga pants at work all day.”

Courtney shook her head as they walked toward the gym. Nik had almost avoided this class in principle because it was called “Punch Like a Girl,” but it was the only class on the Eastside that started in the next few weeks. And it somehow felt urgent for her to do this now. It wasn’t that she really thought Fisher—or any of the other creepy guys who sent her messages—would actually do anything to her. It was more that she’d realized that she would have no idea what to do if any of them did.

She couldn’t wait to tell Carlos that she was taking the class. She was pretty sure he’d get a kick out of it. That was, if she ever saw him again. They’d texted for hours last night, and on and off again today, but that didn’t mean anything.

“I don’t care how comfortable leggings are; I like my dresses for work, thank you very much,” Courtney said. “I spent years dressing in ugly plus-size suits for corporate America. It’s a relief to wear A-line dresses in ridiculous patterns. Plus, I run a cupcake shop that I named after myself; dressing like a cupcake is very hashtag on brand.”

“I cannot believe you said ‘hashtag’ out loud like that.” Dana pulled her hair up into a ponytail. “You’ve clearly been doing too much store-related social media lately. We might need to have an intervention.”

Courtney pulled her phone out of the pocket in her leggings.

“Are you kidding me? I just hit twenty-five thousand Instagram followers! I’m doing something right.” She smiled at a picture of a cupcake before she tucked her phone back in her pocket. “Yes, I know I’m obsessed; you don’t have to tell me twice.”

Nik pulled out her own phone. Who knows, that source may have emailed her back!

I swear to God, a patient today told me she babysits for a kid named Kaftan.

She hid her smile.

The gym was a big, kind of anonymous-looking building with only a metallic gold sign over the door that said NATALIE’S GYM.

“Where did you find this place?” Dana whispered to Nik. “I’ve never seen a sparkly gold sign at a gym before.”

“Shhh,” Courtney said. “I feel more at home at this place already if there are sparkles involved.”

Nik ignored them and went up to the blond woman in a pink tank top sitting at the front desk.

“Hi, I signed up online for three of us for the class.” She refused to say the name.

“Punch Like a Girl? Fantastic!” The incredibly thin, perky, ponytailed woman beamed at her. “What are your names?”

“Nikole Paterson, Dana Carter, Courtney Park,” Nik said, pointing at herself and each of her friends in turn.

“Nice to meet all three of you!” the woman said. “It’s a sliding scale, so just let me know what you’re comfortable paying. Usually you can pay for one class at a time, but for this class, we like you to pay for the whole six weeks in advance, so we can count you in for the whole run of the class.”

Nik handed over her credit card. She’d never heard of a sliding scale gym in L.A. before, especially not a cute one like this. That would have been useful when she was just starting out, but luckily, she could afford to pay the list price now.

“Great!” The woman stood. “You’re all paid up and checked in, the locker rooms are through there, and we’ll be in Studio A for the class—starts in ten minutes!”


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