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There was nothing like a pure spontaneous compliment to make you like someone.

“Thanks so much. I had a lot of fun writing it. I’m glad it came through for the reader. And . . . I think Carlos said you work for the mayor of Berkeley?”

Alexa nodded.

“Chief of staff.”

“Wow, big job. How do you like it?”

Her wide smile said it all.

“I love it. Sometimes I hate it, obviously, and sometimes it drives me up a wall. But even in some of those times, I love it.”

They talked about both of their jobs for a while, while the guys talked about doctor stuff, until the waitress interrupted.

“Have you guys had a chance to look at the drink menu?” she asked.

Both Nik and Alexa shook their heads; they had been too busy talking.

While Alexa looked at the drink menu, Nik looked around and smiled despite herself. The sunset through the glass roof of the restaurant tinted the sky a soft pink. There were plants growing everywhere and lights hanging from ropes overhead. Even she had to admit that it was stupidly romantic. Carlos reached over and took her hand under the table. The restaurant must be getting to him, too. She smiled at him.

“I’ll have a glass of the sparkling rosé,” Alexa said.

Carlos squeezed her hand. Nik looked down at her menu so she wouldn’t giggle.

“Um, I’ll have one of those, too, please,” she said. He squeezed her hand harder and she squeezed back.

They switched their conversation to the food menu and the four of them hotly debated whether to get fries or mashed potatoes with their steaks (they decided on both).

After they ordered food, Alexa brought the conversation back to Nik’s job.

“I loved all the stuff about Ivy’s stylist in that piece. My best friend is a stylist in the Bay Area, and obviously that isn’t as high profile a job as it is around here, but it was still such a great read for her, especially since Ivy’s stylist is another black woman.”

She still could not believe Carlos hadn’t told her that Alexa was black.

“That’s so interesting that your friend is a stylist. I hadn’t really realized there were stylists outside of the celebrity centers of New York and L.A. But of course there are plenty of people who live elsewhere who need to get dressed, too. I guess I’m so stuck in this world I’ve gotten myopic about it.”

Carlos tapped her on the hand that was just reaching for her wine.

“Excuse me. I hate to interrupt. But what the hell is a stylist?”

The rest of the table burst out laughing, even Drew. Carlos immediately turned on him.

“Oh, so this is something you know? You leave L.A. and now you’re an expert?”

Nik was still laughing, more at the look on his face than anything else.

“I don’t know why Drew knows it, but honestly, this isn’t the kind of thing most people know unless you pay a lot of attention to celebrities, which, for good or bad, I do. A stylist is basically someone to help you get dressed, which sounds stupid, but for celebrities, it’s totally necessary. And honestly, whenever I talk to one, I wish I had one myself.”

Alexa nodded.

“Yeah, that’s exactly what Maddie does. She has some local minor celebrities in her client list, but more of her clients are just really busy women who have to look polished, but don’t have the time or inclination to figure out how to do it themselves. Using people like her has become more common, especially for women who aren’t sample size, whether they’re petite or plus-size or tall or anything else where shopping for clothes is a lot more of a pain. I’m just grateful she’s my best friend and she helps me for free. I wouldn’t be able to afford her on my salary. And I’ll tell you how Drew knows what a stylist is—because Maddie told him he was no longer allowed to go out in public with me if he kept wearing those busted old canvas sneakers he loved so much, that’s how.”

Carlos’s laugh boomed across the restaurant.

“You mean someone actually managed to get him to get rid of those things? I’d been trying for years! I’m convinced of the utility of stylists now—no need to say anything else.”

While they were still waiting for their food, Nik got up to go to the bathroom and Alexa joined her. When they were washing their hands afterward, Nik looked at Alexa in the mirror, and the two glasses of sparkling wine on an almost empty stomach eliminated her filter.

“Okay, I just have to say. Carlos did not tell me that you were black.”

Alexa dropped her hands on the counter.

“Neither of them told me you were black! What is wrong with them? I know Drew saw you on that video, so he definitely knew. I never saw it, though—I don’t pay attention when he’s watching most things on ESPN, except when Serena is playing. When you sat down, I almost killed them both.”

Nik handed her a paper towel.

“I thought you looked surprised when I sat down.”

Someone else walked into the bathroom, and Alexa lowered her voice.

“Pleasantly surprised, obviously, but I mean come on.” She held open the door for Nik on the way out of the bathroom. “But hey, Carlos is great, so now I’m even happier for him.”

Nik decided to ignore that comment. She knew that she and Carlos were on the same page, and if his friends wanted to do some kind of “we want everyone to find the happiness that we’ve found!!!” thing that newly engaged couples did, he would have to be the one to burst their bubble, not her.

After dinner, dessert, and a few after-dinner drinks, the four of them hugged good-bye.

“Well, that was a lot better than I thought it would be,” Nik said when she got into Carlos’s car.

Oops. She hadn’t meant to say that out loud.

“What do you mean? You didn’t think you were going to like my friends?”

She dodged that question.

“You didn’t tell me Alexa is black!”

He froze, halfway through backing out of his parking spot.

“Seriously? I didn’t?” He laughed. “I was just going to say that I’m sure I told you that, but then, I’m sure that’s the kind of thing you’d remember.”

She looked at him sideways, her eyebrows sky-high.

“You’re absolutely right; I would have.”

He shook his head as he drove the short distance to her apartment.

“I can’t believe that. I’m sorry.” He put his hand on her knee and smiled at her. “I guess I’m going to have to find a way to make that up to you, aren’t I?”

She smiled back at him.

“Well, I did have plenty of rosé this evening.”

Chapter Fifteen

. . . . . . .

Wednesday night after work, Carlos drove straight to Angela’s apartment. The last time he was there he’d noticed that her cheap IKEA bookshelf was falling apart, so he’d bought her a new good one. He called when he was outside of her house.

“Hey!” she said when she answered the phone. “Did those million messages in the family group text drive you as crazy as it did me?”

He laughed and got out of the car.

“Oh my God, Angie—I checked my phone after a few hours of seeing patients and panicked because I had thirty-five new messages, but they were just Mom, Tia Eva, and Jessie all talking about Popsicles? What was even happening there?”

Angela sighed.

“I know! I’m sure Jessie’s going stir-crazy, but that made even me want to yell at her.”

Carlos popped open his trunk.

“Please tell her not to do that again. I know you’ll get mad at me if I say it. But also, come open the door. I’m here.”

He hung up the phone and lifted the box with her new bookshelf in it out of his trunk. He was at the front door of her building just as she opened it.

“What are you doing here? You didn’t tell me you were coming over tonight.”

He walked past her to the elevator.

“Do you have a hot date? I hope so.”

She rolled her eyes as they got in the elevator.

“No, but good try. Just making dinner and getting some work done tonight. What’s in that box?”

He followed her out of the elevator to her apartment.

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