“Jessie told me you yelled at her. You have to stop doing that! It’s going to make her blood pressure worse, I already told you that. And I looked up preeclampsia, and—”
“Angela. Are you really trying to tell me something about medicine you found on the Internet right now? Seriously?”
But also, he had to come up with an idea for something to do with Nik—before they got to the good part—that made it clear this thing wasn’t on a path to a proposal. He liked her a lot, and the sex had been great, but he was not on the hunt for a girlfriend, let alone a wife. All he wanted from Nik was to have someone to blow off steam with every once in a while, whether that was more great sex or more great sex plus a few drinks or more great sex plus some joking around, et cetera.
“I’m just saying, if you want Jessie to relax, you’re going about it the wrong way. The books were great and so were the cupcakes. Keep doing things like that. Stop hounding her about her blood pressure.”
Why did his family always say things like this to him? He wasn’t “hounding” Jessie; he was just trying to make sure she was taking care of herself. He wished he had some of Nik’s rosé right now. Hell, he wished he had Nik with him right now.
“Fine. I just wanted to make sure that she’s taking this seriously. I don’t want anything to happen to Jessie or the baby.”
He walked over to his pantry, his favorite room in this house. He hadn’t had time to cook for a few weeks, and he’d missed it. All of the chopping and stirring and puttering around relaxed him after a long day. He put a big pot of water on to boil.
“I know,” she said. “She knows that, too. Just try to be more gentle about it with her, okay?”
“Okay, okay, I promise. Satisfied?” he said to his sister. Nothing else would get her off the phone.
He hoped Nik understood that he wasn’t looking for a girlfriend. He thought so. Because after everything that had happened with Fisher, both at the Dodgers game and afterward, he was pretty sure Nik was in no mood to get back into a relationship. But was there a way to make that clear to her without acting like he assumed she’d fallen in love with him or something?
Oooh. Here was an idea. He put his phone on speaker so he could text and keep talking to Angela.
What’s your feeling on Mexican food? Any interest in checking out my favorite taqueria?
There. A date at a taqueria should say “fun, but not serious” right on the label.
“Hey, speaking of medical stuff.” Angie’s voice got really casual. Too casual. “Have you thought any more about making that doctor’s appointment? Just you know, with Jessie having these issues, and our family history and all, it’s good to . . .”
“Angela.” He grated cheese harder than necessary into a big bowl. “Stop. Don’t worry about me, I’m fine.”
“I know that’s what you say, but what does it hurt to get a few checks?”
He was so tired of this conversation. He didn’t want to go to the doctor, and he didn’t need to go to the doctor.
“Angela. I’m fine. I eat healthy, I run, I get enough sleep, I’m making myself a salad for dinner right now. Relax. Channel your worry about Jessie in a more productive way than bugging me, like knitting or chopping wood or something calming.”
He reached into the back of his pantry and found his pepper grinder. He ground a bunch of pepper on top of his mountain of grated cheese.
He checked his phone, just to make sure he hadn’t missed Nik’s text. Not that he assumed that people would always text him back immediately, but this morning when he’d asked Nik if she wanted to hang out on Friday night, she’d texted back pretty quickly.
“Knitting? Chopping wood? Have you never met me before? I tried to knit a scarf once and ended up almost cutting off the circulation in my fingers. And do you think I live in a cottage in the woods and have an ax? I live in Los Angeles, remember? The way we do stress relief here is yoga classes, acupuncture, and weed.”
“Okay, great.” He added salt and a handful of dried spaghetti to the now boiling water. “Go to yoga, go to acupuncture. As your older brother, I cannot advise you to do that last one, but if you do it, maybe you’ll stop bugging me, and we’ll all be happier and more relaxed!”
Maybe Nik was offended that he was only suggesting a taqueria. Maybe she wanted him to be one of those “standing in a long line for fancy pizza” kinds of dudes. Maybe she was standing in one of those lines with another guy right now.
“Yes, well, I’ll see what I can do.”
He pulled his tongs out of a drawer and stirred the pasta with them.
“Hey, have you talked to our friend from Dodger Stadium lately?” she asked. “I told you I liked her, didn’t I?”
Maybe she’d said yes this morning just to pacify him but he’d never hear from her again, and his text would be just out there in the universe, unanswered, forever.
“Nope. Anything else you need to nag me about tonight?”
“Shut up and go eat your salad. Talk to you tomorrow.”
Ten minutes later, he sat down at his kitchen table with a big bowl of cacio e pepe. Okay, yes, it wasn’t a salad, but man couldn’t live on lettuce alone, could he? Plus, he’d worked off a lot of calories with Nik the night before.
His phone buzzed.
Come on, I’ve lived in California way too long not to love Mexican food, what an insulting question. If I get over the insult, which I’m not sure I will, checking out your favorite taqueria sounds great.
He laughed at his phone and put down his fork.
A thousand apologies. But who knows, you may not like everything at this place. Some of it might be too spicy or too weird for you.
He took his first bite.
Want to bet?
. . . . . . .
Nik woke up on Friday at her usual eight a.m. and immediately thought about her date with Carlos that night. Okay, it wasn’t a date date. It was just a glorified hook up, with food first—she was pretty sure they both knew that. But still. Whatever it was, she was excited about it.
She forced herself to work all morning, but by noon, her mind was wandering to where they’d go tonight, how he would look, and oh shit, what she should wear. The last time he’d seen her it was after she’d raced out of her house when Courtney had called her in a panic, and she had not at all been prepared to see anyone, let alone him. She needed to show that she could look good if she tried.
Something casual, chill, and cool. Something she would look incredibly sexy in, but still looked like a normal outfit to wear to a taqueria on the Friday night of a holiday weekend. All of that should be no problem at all for her, the person who had worn her holey Stanford T-shirt and threadbare yoga pants almost every day this week.
She dug into the back of her closet, the place she put stuff that she bought whenever she got a big rejection and let her online shopping fingers roam free.
Oooh, that leather jacket. She’d bought it last month when the New Yorker had rejected a piece she was sure they’d love. It had arrived in the middle of one of L.A.’s spring heat waves, so she hadn’t even tried it on and had stuck the box in her closet.
She opened it and winced at the number on the receipt. What had she been thinking? Was it too late to return this?
Then she put it on. Holy shit, this thing made even her old yoga pants look hot. She adjusted the zippers and grinned at herself in the mirror. If she wore that, plus her one sexy pair of jeans that gave her an ass like one of those rap guys’ girlfriends, she could wear any shirt and she would look great.
She sat back down at her desk and looked at her to-do list, full of crap she had no desire to do. After fifteen minutes of trying to make phone calls and just getting voice mail boxes—some of them full—she gave up. It was Friday afternoon; everyone on the East Coast had already cut out of work by now, and everyone on the West Coast was pretending they had. She might as well join them.
After an hour and a half of yoga, an hour of yoga recovery flat on her back on her couch, a shower, and an hour of trying on shoes and makeup to go with her outfit, she was ready for Carlos, only two minutes after he was supposed to pick her up. Luckily, he was five minutes late.
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