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Ahh yes, that’s the other reason she didn’t mind Natalie’s sugar-sweet attitude. Because every so often, she could see the cyanide hidden in there.

Natalie walked them through wrapping their hands with tape and putting on gloves. Nik held her fists up in the air. She nodded at them with a triumphant smile. Her whole body felt stronger, just with these on.

There were two rows of punching bags hanging in the room, one on each side. She, Dana, and Courtney were all in a line.

“Okay, great! Everyone is ready. Now, remember everything I told you, remember your form, and start punching!”

Nik stood back, paid attention to her form, and sent her fist flying into the punching bag.

Holy shit. Natalie wasn’t kidding. That thing was like a brick wall. But it was pretty satisfying to see it swing from her jab. She threw another punch.

After a few minutes, Natalie was at her side.

“Nik! You’re doing so, so great today—just look at you.”

She grunted, tried to make her form perfect, and punched again.

“Oh, that was a good one. Excellent job. One question: why did you sign up for this class?”

Nik looked at the punching bag instead of at Natalie.

“Eh, I thought it would be fun to come with my girlfriends, you know.”

Natalie patted her on the shoulder and smiled.

“Of course! Okay. Now tell me the real reason.”

Nik turned to look at her, and Natalie was smiling back, as bright as could be. Nik sighed.

“My ex-boyfriend was a real asshole.” She realized that could describe more than one person. “Actually, too many of my ex-boyfriends are assholes.”

“You aren’t alone there!” Natalie stood behind the punching bag and held it still. “Okay, now picture their faces on this punching bag. And then punch the hell out of it.”

Nik took a step backward, stared at the bag, and let her fist fly. It felt great.

“Fantastic!” Natalie said.

Nik grinned.

“That was fantastic, wasn’t it?”

By the time they made it to the bar after class, all three of them were high on pure adrenaline.

“Did you see me punch that bag?” Courtney asked the other two. “By the time we’re done with this class, I’m going to have it flying across the room. I promise you.”

“I’m going to be so fucking sore tomorrow, and I don’t even care.” Nik made a fist and flexed her just visible muscles. “My biceps hurt right this second, and I’m not even mad about it. That was awesome.”

Dana said nothing; she just beamed at the damp table.

Pete dropped their drinks off at the table, and they all thanked him.

“Now do I get to say ‘I told you so’ about this class? Aren’t you guys glad you did it with me?” Nik asked them.

“I am very glad we did it with you,” Dana said.

Courtney shook her head.

“Sure, fine, the class is better than we thought, but Dana and I have a much bigger ‘I told you so’ coming up.”

She’d walked right into that one, hadn’t she?

“What did we sayyyyy?” Courtney said to Dana, her hand raised high in the air. Dana high-fived her, with a small, but just as smug, smile on her face. “We told you that you needed a rebound, didn’t we? I can’t believe we’ve waited this long. Tell us everything.”

Nik couldn’t keep the smile off her face as she told them the story—or most of it, at least.

“Thank God we convinced you to get over that whole bias against doctors thing,” Dana said.

“Oh, I still don’t like doctors, but in the end I couldn’t help myself,” she said.

The three of them all laughed.

“Wait.” Nik had a terrible thought. “What if Carlos doesn’t realize that this is just a rebound? What if he’s a serious relationship kind of guy? I don’t want to accidentally get into another Fisher situation.”

“Oh, come on.” Courtney laughed. “This is Los Angeles. There is no such thing as a ‘serious relationship kind of guy’ in this city. You don’t know this because you aren’t looking for one, but I promise you, men like that don’t exist here.”

Nik shook her head and drained her drink.

“That can’t be true. Remember all of those cozy little couples holding hands at brunch last time we went? Also, one of the supposedly mythical serious relationship Los Angeles men just proposed to me, remember?”

Courtney rolled her eyes.

“Fisher doesn’t count. Everything about that proposal was fucked up. And all of the couples we saw having brunch were there after their third successful date, but they’ll move on to someone else within three weeks to three months, maximum. Serious couples don’t go to brunch; they stay home and cook for each other. Everyone knows that.”

Courtney liked making bold pronouncements about what “everyone knew,” most of which just made Nik laugh. But this time . . . Nik’s mind flashed back to some cozy brunches she’d made for Justin. She gratefully took her new drink from Pete.

“Okay, but what about all of the married people? You’re not going to claim that there are no married people in all of Los Angeles, are you?”

Courtney sat up straight and winced.

“I think I’m already sore from that damn class. Yes, of course there are married people in L.A. People arrive in L.A. in serious relationships or already married, that’s the only way it happens. No one meets a spouse in L.A., except for celebrities, and those relationships are all fake, anyway.”

Dana, who had been rolling her eyes throughout all of Courtney’s decrees, nodded.

“Our cynical friend over here is wrong about everything except that last thing. Celebrity relationships are all fake.”

Nik narrowed her eyes at Dana.

“Wait, you can’t mean all celebrity relationships. Even I know in my heart that John and Chrissy—”

“Back to Carlos,” Courtney said. “I knew he was worthy. You told me how much he liked the spicy cupcake. And I believe we all remember that Fisher did not.”

All three of them nodded.

“Excellent point.” Nik waved at Pete and pointed at their drinks to request another round. “I feel like, in the future, all you need to say is ‘Fisher liked that’ to steer me away from someone, or ‘Fisher didn’t like that’ to steer me toward them.”

Pete put their drinks down on the table to a flurry of thank-yous.

“However.” Nik took a sip of her gin and tonic and smiled. “I do have to thank Fisher for one thing: if he hadn’t proposed to me at Dodger Stadium, I never would have met Carlos. And after last night, well, that would have been a real shame.”

The three of them clinked glasses.

* * *

• • •

Carlos walked into his apartment on Thursday night with an enormous grin on his face. He should be exhausted, after getting barely any sleep at Nik’s place last night, then racing home just to shower and change and head to an extra-long work day, but he didn’t remember when he’d felt less tired. He was ready to go back to Nik’s tonight to keep going. If only.

He was very glad he’d texted her this morning about Friday night. He’d almost waited, in the interest of being chill about everything, but then he remembered how much he’d hesitated to ask her out for drinks in the first place, and how ridiculous that felt now.

He walked into his kitchen to see what he could scrounge up for dinner. When his phone rang, he was certain for about a second it was Nik calling him. He glanced at the screen and shook his head at himself.

“Hey, Angie.”

“I heard you talked to Jessie last night.”

“I did.” He’d almost forgotten about that. It had happened right before he realized he had run out of gas. “She sounded good, but bored. She said I have to get her more books. I’m going to try to do that tomorrow or Saturday.”

When he’d suggested Friday night to Nik, he’d had no real plan in mind other than to see her again. But then she’d texted him back asking him what he was in the mood to do, and he felt like the answer she was looking for was not “sex on your couch, then pizza, then more sex was pretty great last night— we could do that again?” The guys she tended to go out with were probably “fancy pizza place in Silver Lake where you had to stand in a long line” kinds of guys, and nothing against guys like that, but that wasn’t him.

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