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“Hi.” Nik poked her head into Natalie’s office. “Do you have a second?”

She’d thought for the past few weeks about Carlos’s suggestion to write a piece about Natalie’s Gym and had decided he might be right. A gym in L.A. that had a sliding scale was unusual in the first place, and one that was as positive about all kinds of bodies as Natalie’s was like a unicorn. A ton of women’s magazines would jump at a story about a woman-owned gym in L.A., especially with someone as perky and photogenic as Natalie at the heart of it.

Natalie looked up and smiled at her.

“Nik! Of course. Hi!” How was Natalie’s hair always so perfect? This woman worked out for a living, and yet she had a perfect swinging blond ponytail.

“Hi. I wanted to ask you if you were open to me writing a story about you and your gym.”

Natalie’s smile faded. She stared blankly at her and didn’t say anything. So Nik kept talking.

“I’ve written for the L.A. and New York Times, Variety, GQ, the New Yorker, and a lot more. You can look me up to check out my work to make sure I’m legit. This isn’t why I started coming to your gym—I started for very different reasons—but it’s pretty rare to find a place that promotes feminism, actually practices being inclusive, and is accessible to women of so many different backgrounds and socioeconomic classes. So I want to write about it.”

Natalie still didn’t say anything. Uh-oh. Nik didn’t really want to write this story without Natalie’s cooperation and permission.

“Yes.” Natalie nodded, but still wasn’t smiling. “Okay. Email me and we can schedule a time to talk in the next few weeks. Does that work for you?”

Nik took the card Natalie handed to her and gave her one of her own.

“Absolutely. Thanks so much, and I’ll be in touch. See you in there.”

Natalie nodded and turned back to her computer.

Nik left Natalie’s office and walked into the locker room to change for class. Natalie hadn’t seemed happy about the idea of Nik writing about the gym, even though this was only a good thing for her business. This piece was either going to be a disaster or more interesting than she thought.

At the bar after class, as soon as they got their drinks, Courtney zeroed in on Dana.

“Okay, spill it.”

Dana’s eyes widened.

“Spill what? What are you talking about?”

Nik was equally confused.

“Yeah, spill what?” she asked Courtney.

Courtney glared at Nik.

“Not you too. Are you too busy with your new man to see what’s right in front of your face?”

She gestured at Dana.

“This one is over here smiling like there’s no tomorrow, beaming at her phone when she thinks we don’t see her, AND when I stopped by her house the other day to drop off cupcakes, she had a huge vase of gorgeous peonies in her bedroom and she said she had to go for a run as soon as I looked at them.”

Oooh. Nik looked at Dana, who had a very happy, and very guilty, look on her face.

Courtney banged her hand on the table.

“Who.” BANG. “Is.” BANG. “The New Woman?” BANG. BANG. BANG.

By this time the whole bar was looking at them, and Dana, shaking with laughter, had her face in her hands. Finally she sat up.

“Okay. Courtney’s right. I didn’t tell you guys because . . .” She sighed. “I didn’t tell you guys because The New Woman is Natalie. And since we’re still all in the class with her for another week, I thought—”

Nik was glad her glass wasn’t in her hand, or she would have dropped it.

“Natalie, our Natalie? Natalie from the gym? Tall? Blond? HOT? That Natalie?” she asked.

Courtney was still staring dumbfounded at Dana.

“That Natalie,” Dana said. “Anyway, it’s still pretty new—I asked her a question after class a few weeks ago, and one thing led to another and we became running partners.”

That’s not how “one thing led to another” was supposed to end.

“And then?” Nik asked.

“And one day, we got back to my place after a run, and I invited her inside for some vitamin water, and then . . .”

Courtney leapt across the table to throw her arms around Dana.

“I’m so mad at you for keeping this a secret from us,” she said, while hugging her tightly.

Nik shook her head. “Now I’m going to have to put a long disclaimer on my story about the gym—I can’t even believe this.” She tried to frown, but Dana was grinning so hard it was impossible not to grin back at her.

“Don’t get too excited, you guys,” Dana said. “Again, it’s only been a few weeks, but things are good so far.”

Nik sat back and smiled.

“Now who’s mad at me for signing all of us up for self-defense classes, huh? You two will never be able to argue with me ever again.”

They both threw ice at her.

Chapter Sixteen

. . . . . . .

Nik pulled up to Carlos’s house late Saturday afternoon, with a six-pack of beer in her hand and her old Stanford T-shirt on. She had a feeling that enchilada making was a messy endeavor.

“Hey! Come on in.” Carlos wrapped his arms around her and held on tight.

“Everything okay?” she asked.

He nodded and kissed her hair.

“It’s been a kind of emotional week, that’s all. Glad you’re here.”

She pulled his head down to her and kissed him.

“I’m glad to be here.”

They stood like that for a while, until he kissed the top of her head and pulled away.

“Okay. Let’s get cooking.”

They walked together into the kitchen, which looked prepared for battle. There were packs of tortillas stacked in one corner, bags of dried chilies in another, aluminum baking pans all over the kitchen table, and many other ingredients that she didn’t recognize lined up on the counter. Her eyes widened.

“You ready for this?” Carlos surveyed the kitchen and rubbed his hands together.

She wasn’t totally sure, but she nodded anyway.

“The first thing we have to do is to make the sauces,” he said.

Sauces, plural. This dude didn’t play around. She handed him the six-pack, and he took two beers out of it and put the rest in the fridge.

“Excellent. Let me get you started and I can pull out some snacks for us.”

Soon, she was standing over the sink, pulling the papery skins off what seemed like hundreds of tomatillos. He was standing next to her, quartering onions, and lining them up on a big cookie sheet with garlic and a variety of green peppers.

It felt peaceful, standing there and cooking with him. Some game was on the TV, but on low, so it was perfect background noise. They weren’t talking, but the silence between them felt easy. She could feel him smiling next to her.

When she was done, she washed and dried the weirdly shaped little fruits and lined them up in even rows on the cookie sheet.

“Perfect.” He’d moved on to shredding the pot full of beef. It smelled amazing. She opened her mouth and he slid a piece between her lips.

“Oh my God, that’s good,” she said.

“Now I know that you are sincere when you say that in bed, because you say it just like that.”

She smirked at him.

“Or I could be lying both times.”

He shook his head.

“Impossible. I know how good that meat is. If I’m cocky about anything, it’s my enchiladas.”

She shook her head as she washed her hands.

“‘If he’s cocky about anything,’ he says.”

He laughed and picked up the two cookie sheets full of vegetables.

“Open the oven so I can get these inside?”

Once the vegetables were broiling, she turned to him.

“What’s next?”

He nodded at the other side of the stove.

“We need to get the chilies stemmed and seeded, and then soak them long enough so they soften. Put those on, and pull the chilies apart over the garbage can so the seeds come out, pull the stems off, then drop the pieces in that big pot.”

She opened the bags of chilies as he carefully transferred all of the shredded beef from the cutting board to a big bowl. Once the bags were all open, she ripped each dried chili open with her fingers, and let the dry seeds rain out into the garbage can. Some of the seeds kind of stuck to the inside of the chilies, so she scraped them out with a fingernail before tossing the chili pieces into the pot on the stove.


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