“Did I ever. Thank God that happened after I proposed to Alexa; otherwise I would have totally lost my nerve.”
“Yeahhhh, so, funny story. I was sitting right behind them when that happened.”
“What? Are you kidding me?” Carlos heard some commotion in the background, and then Drew clearly talking to Alexa. “That proposal I told you about! Carlos was there. He was sitting right behind them.” Drew came back on the phone. “Alexa is dying over here and says you have to tell me all the details.”
“Put him on speaker!” Alexa shouted in the background.
Carlos laughed and told the story, with all of the details he could remember. After spending all day talking about scary topics, it was fun to tell them about how he’d met Nik.
“Wait, so after you threw this unsuspecting, traumatized woman into your car—and then drove her through L.A. in that terror mobile, you and Angela went out drinking with her?” Alexa asked.
“I can’t believe you would say something like that about my car! Is this what happens when people get a ring on their finger and stop being polite?”
“The entire world knows you’re terrifying to be in a car with,” Drew said. “Finish the story.”
“Some friend you are. But, yes, that’s pretty much exactly what happened. Except we weren’t just with her, we were with her and her two best friends. It was me and four very angry women. I was just grateful I got out of there alive.”
The three of them cracked up, and Carlos wished again that they all lived in the same city.
He would tell Drew the rest of the Nik story sometime when Alexa wasn’t also there. Nothing against Alexa, but this was a guy kind of conversation. Maybe soon, he’d have more than an almost kiss to tell him about.
“Okay, guys, I’d better run.”
“Talk to you soon,” Drew said. “Keep me posted on Jessie, okay?”
Carlos nodded, even though he knew Drew couldn’t see him.
“Will do, buddy. Thanks.”
. . . . . . .
When Carlos left work on Wednesday, all he wanted was a very strong drink. His day had been full of minor disasters: a patient’s dad had yelled first at the patient, then at Carlos; he’d called a patient by the wrong name, and then had called her by a different wrong name when he tried to apologize; a nurse had dropped a tray of urine samples on his shoes. Thank God he’d had an extra pair of shoes in his office.
Well, there was one other thing than just a strong drink that would put him in a better mood . . .
“Oh hell, why not?” he said to himself and scrolled to Nik’s name in his phone.
Hey, you in the mood for that drink?
They’d been texting on and off since they’d seen each other last, but until now neither of them had mentioned getting together again. He kept almost bringing it up, but each time it was either so early in the day that it would look too premeditated or so late in the evening that it would look like a booty call. Now seemed like just the right time, but with his luck today, she’d be out with another guy already.
He drove toward the grocery store while waiting to see if she’d answer. He could stop for gas at the station next door. And if she said no, or even worse, didn’t answer, at least he could splurge on some good bourbon.
Just as he pulled into the grocery store parking lot, his phone buzzed.
I am absolutely in the mood for that drink, but I can’t tonight. Courtney’s in the midst of a cupcake crisis; we have to deliver a zillion cupcakes up into the hills, her help bailed on her and her car broke down so we have to do it all in mine.
Apparently, Courtney was having a day like he was.
Oh, the hell with it. He had no other plans tonight but to sit on the couch and yell at his TV screen.
Do you need help? I’m not far away, and my car is 100% functional.
He got her text back within seconds.
Are you sure? That would be a lifesaver, but seriously, if you’re busy, it’s no problem.
Did he really want to spend his evening driving cupcakes around? No, of course not. Did he have an ulterior motive for volunteering to help? Obviously.
On my way.
When he got to Cupcake Park, Nik was standing in front waiting for him.
“You’re our hero. Drive around the back into the alley, that’s where we can load up. Just FYI, Courtney is freaking out, so don’t be surprised when you see her.”
He waved and drove on into a narrow alley around the corner. He pulled up when he saw a rack full of cupcake boxes and parked behind Nik’s car.
“Carlos!” Courtney came running to the car, with many colors of frosting all over her pink and white apron. “You’re a hero and a saint, and I’ll find a way to thank you but I can’t do that right now because we’re in a time crunch. Help us load up.”
Carlos jumped out of the car.
“Aye aye, captain.”
They very carefully loaded what felt like hundreds of boxes of cupcakes into the two cars, while Courtney ran back and forth bringing more boxes out.
“Only on the floor!” Courtney shouted. “No boxes on seats! They’ll fall off at the slightest hit of the brakes and disaster will strike.”
He couldn’t look at Nik, otherwise he knew he would laugh out loud.
“See what I meant about her freaking out?” Nik said as soon as Courtney went back inside.
“You weren’t kidding about a cupcake crisis.”
They unceremoniously tossed all of the crap that had been in both his and Nik’s trunks into the back room at Cupcake Park to maximize the space for the cupcakes. When they were all loaded up to Courtney’s specifications, she programmed the address of the place they were going into Nik’s phone, and took Nik’s car key out of her hand.
“I’ll take your car and meet you two there.” She pointed her finger at Carlos. “No crazy driving, do you hear me?”
He turned to Nik.
“Why would she say that to me? I’m an excellent driver.”
Nik laughed at him and got in the passenger seat.
“You’d better drive like you’re transporting a tiny baby. If a single one of those cupcakes arrives with even slightly smashed frosting, Courtney will murder you.”
He pulled out of the alley and zoomed toward the freeway.
“I’m offended that you would even feel the need to tell me that. I’ve been driving on L.A. freeways since I was practically a toddler. Those cupcakes will arrive in perfect condition, mark my words.” He revved the motor at a stoplight, and Courtney, in the car next to his, looked over at him in horror.
“You just woke up the baby in the back seat, and it’s pissed,” Nik said.
He sped through the light when it turned green and laughed on his way to the freeway entrance.
“I was in a terrible mood, but that look on Courtney’s face just cheered me right up. She might kill me, but it’ll be worth it.”
“Oh, she will definitely kill you, but she’ll kill you after you get her cupcakes to the event.” Nik relaxed into his passenger seat. “Speaking of babies, how’s your cousin?”
He ran his hand through his hair and sighed.
“She’s hanging in there, thanks for asking. Oh, she told me she tore through that Jamestown book and loved it. I’m not sure if that’s because she was anxious or bored, but either way it helped, so thanks for the recommendation.”
“My pleasure.” He glanced back in her direction just to see her smile. “It’s always good to find people who seem nice and normal and share my love for this genre. It makes me feel less evil to be so into such terrible stories. Wait. Your cousin is nice and normal, isn’t she?”
To be honest, he’d always kind of thought that Jessie’s love of true crime showed the evil side to her, but he probably shouldn’t say that out loud.
“I guess that depends what you’re comparing ‘nice and normal’ against,” he said.
“Well, you and your sister both seem . . .” She looked sideways at him. “Nah, I take that back. Your sister seems nice and normal, maybe. You, I don’t know.”
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