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She took a sip of her wine and looked at him. He seemed like he wanted to talk, but she wanted to tread lightly. She still didn’t know him that well.

“Least favorite as a doctor, or least favorite as a person? Not to say that doctors aren’t people, but . . . you know what I mean.”

He took her bowl without asking and went over to the kitchen to get them both seconds.

“Yeah, I know what you mean,” he said when he came back. “No wonder you’re such a good writer. You ask good questions. Least favorite as a person. Or rather, least favorite as a person who is also a doctor, and therefore has to be professional when I really just wanted to punch that man in the face. Calling CPS isn’t nearly as satisfying.”

Child Protective Services.

“Abuse?” she asked.

He nodded.

“Yeah. Stepdad. The girl was getting the cast off of her broken arm; I wasn’t there when she came in for the arm, so I don’t know what happened then, but a few things she said when I was taking it off worried me, so I managed to get him out of the room and got the details out of her.” He stared down at his knees and sighed. “It’s not new to me. I’ve seen it before, but it’s a stomach punch every time.”

She moved closer to him and took his hand. He held on tight but didn’t say anything. She didn’t ask any more questions; she figured now was the time to just be silent and let him talk or not talk as much as he wanted.

After a few minutes, he looked up at her and shrugged.

“On top of everything else, it makes me think of my dad. Which sucks, because between Father’s Day this coming weekend and the anniversary of his death next Friday, I try to avoid thinking about my dad as much as possible in June.”

She squeezed his hand. She hadn’t realized that the anniversary of his father’s death was right around Father’s Day.

“Why does this make you think of your dad? Because he was so much better than that guy?”

He laughed and let go of her hand, but only so he could put his arm around her.

“Well that, too. But also because I remember when something similar happened to one of his students. This was when Angela and I were younger; I think I was around twelve and she was ten, something like that. And he sat us down at the kitchen table and told us that his student had come to him, and how if anyone tried to do anything like that to us, we could come to him, and if any of our friends were dealing with something like that, we could always come to him. My mom tried to stop him at one point, told us we were too young to hear all of that, but he said ‘Susana, they need to know this, it’s important!’” She ran her fingers through his hair, and he leaned his head on her shoulder. “He was right. It was important.”

After a few minutes, he sat up and looked down at their almost empty dishes.

“Hey, do you want some ice cream? I went a little wild at the grocery store tonight. I have three flavors.”

Wine, risotto, and three kinds of ice cream. It’s like the man knew she was coming over.

“Bring them all out.”

He stood and picked up her dishes.

“Will do. I’m sorry if this was too heavy. We can talk about something else.”

She shook her head.

“I wouldn’t have asked if I didn’t want to talk about it. It’s not too heavy.”

He came back a few minutes later and set a bowl with three scoops of ice cream in it in front of her.

“What do we have here?” she asked.

“Dark chocolate brownie, vanilla, rum raisin,” he said.

She took the spoon he handed her.

“I like all of those things.” They sat together, eating ice cream and not talking for the next few minutes.

“Does Angela remember that? About your dad?” she asked him.

He shook his head.

“I have no idea. Angie and I don’t really talk about my dad. Sometimes she brings him up, but it’s too . . . I don’t really want to talk to her about him. Partly it’s because she’s always bugging me to go to the doctor, probably because she’s scared something will happen to me, too, but I’m too busy to deal with all of that right now. But also, it makes me too sad, I guess, which is stupid. It’ll be five years next Friday. I shouldn’t be sad about this anymore, but I guess I am.”

There were so many things that she wanted to say to him, but who the hell was she to tell him how to deal with his grief over his dad’s death? She’d never experienced that before. But one thing she knew for sure.

“It’s not stupid,” she said. “He was your dad. Of course you’re still sad.”

He wrapped his arms around her.

“Yeah. He was my dad,” he said. “And he was a pretty great dad.”

She took a deep breath.

“I bet Angela is still sad, too. It might make you feel better to talk to her about it. She’s the only one who knows how it feels to have lost your dad.”

He nodded slowly.

“That’s true. She is.”

She rubbed her hand against his stubbly cheek. Would he get mad at her for this?

“I know you’re busy and I’m sure you’re fine, but maybe think about going to the doctor? Just to make Angela feel better?”

He stiffened up.

“I’ll think about it.”

She maybe shouldn’t have said anything.

“I’m sorry, it’s probably not my business.”

He shook his head.

“No, it’s okay. One of the things I like about you is that you always say what you mean.”

Huh. That was a thing that most people didn’t like about her. She leaned up and kissed him on the cheek. He turned and kissed her on the lips.

“Thanks for listening. I’m sorry if I—”

She held her finger up to his lips to stop him.

“No apologies. We all need a shoulder to lean on sometimes. I wouldn’t have offered mine if I didn’t want to.”

* * *

• • •

Carlos knew Nik well enough at this point to know that she didn’t do anything she didn’t want to. But he was used to being the one offering his shoulder for people to lean on. He wasn’t sure how he felt about it being the other way around.

He couldn’t believe he’d talked to her about his dad. He didn’t talk to anyone about his dad. It had been kind of nice, actually, especially since Nik hadn’t pounced on the topic and asked him a million questions. She’d just mostly listened.

“Oh, hey, Angie is at Jessie’s house tonight for dinner. I should check to see if there have been any updates.”

She took a spoonful of rum raisin ice cream.

“No problem. How’s Jessie doing?”

“Bored, but okay. We just need to keep her there.”

He pulled his phone out of his pocket to see four texts from Angie. His heart rate sped up, but when he clicked on them, they were four different selfies of her and Jessie together. At least, he thought the fourth one was of the two of them.

“What the hell is this picture?” He showed Nik the last one, with two faces covered in some white material with holes cut out for eyes and lips.

She shook her head at him, a disappointed look on her face.

“For someone with a sister and a cousin who’s like a sister, you should know what a sheet mask is. The best kind of girlfriend activity. You pop them on, relax for ten to twenty minutes, usually take a few selfies, and take them off. You should try them; I bet it would help after a long day at work.”

He laughed and put his arm around her.

“That’s what a big-screen TV and basketball were invented for.”

She handed him the remote from the coffee table and leaned her head on his chest.

“Speaking of, I’m impressed at your restraint. I know the playoffs are on.”

So he turned on the game, and they spent the next hour curled up on the couch watching the second half of a pretty exciting game between two teams he couldn’t care less about. His ideal post-work wind down kind of game—he got all the fun of the lead changes and the great shots, but none of the up and down emotions of a true fan of either of those teams.

“Ahhh, that was excellent,” he said when the buzzer blew. Nik didn’t respond. He pushed her hair back from her face. She was fast asleep, her head still on his chest. He bent down and kissed her forehead.


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