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She laughed.

“Yeah, maybe don’t do that. At least, not just yet.”

She took his empty plate and Angela’s and got up to toss them away. While she was gone, Angie leaned over to him.

“I knew it,” she said.

He didn’t have time to respond before Nik sat back down.

She sat closer to him this time, so close that her shoulder was touching his. Every part of him wanted to put his arm around her, but instead he moved his legs so he was touching hers. She smiled but didn’t look at him.

They sat like that in silence for a few minutes, until Angela leaned over.

“Carlos, I’m going crazy here. Is it supposed to take this long? Do you think something is wrong?”

He opened his mouth to answer, when Jon burst into the room.

“Everyone is okay!” he said, with a huge smile on his face.

The whole room was on their feet. Nik put her hand on his arm.

“Jessica? The baby?” Tia Eva asked, her voice wavering.

“Jessie is fine and the baby is, too!” he said. Tears started running down his face.

Oh thank God.

“When can we see them?” he asked Jon. “Everything’s fine? Really?”

Tia Eva was sobbing into Jon’s arms. He looked up from her and nodded at Carlos.

“Really. They’re both hooked up to a few machines, and the baby’s going to have to stay in the hospital for a week or so, they think, but the doctors say she’ll be all right. I’m not sure when you can see them, but sometime tonight. I’ve got to get back to them right away, but I wanted to tell you all the good news.”

Carlos’s hand somehow made its way into Nik’s. She squeezed hard, and he squeezed back.

“What’s her name?” His mom asked, just as Jon was about to leave the room. “Jessie said you hadn’t decided yet.”

He smiled.

“I think she wanted to be the one to tell you guys. I don’t want to spoil that for her. Just a little while longer.”

And before anyone else could ask him a question, he raced back down the hall.

Carlos pulled Nik and Angela together into a hug and buried his head in Nik’s shoulder.

“They’re going to be all right!” That was all he could say, over and over.

When he finally let them go, he realized his face was wet.

“I don’t even know why I’m crying,” Nik said. “I don’t even like babies.”

He and Angela both laughed as the tears streamed from their eyes.

Carlos wiped his eyes with his sleeve, and then went over to hug his mom and his aunt.

After a few minutes, he came back to Nik. She’d found a box of tissues. She took a few and handed the box to Angela, who brought them over to their mom and aunt.

“Oh thank God,” he said. “I’m so relieved. I’m so happy.”

He gave her another enormous hug.

“I don’t even know Jessie,” she said. “I don’t know why I’m crying.”

He grinned.

“You probably got some chili in your eye; don’t worry about it.”

She laughed between her tears.

“That must be it.” She pulled away and wiped her eyes again. “I should go now, though. I don’t want to be in the way. This is a family thing.”

Carlos shook his head.

“Oh no you don’t. You can’t leave now. Wait at least until we find out if we can see Jessie.”

Carlos sat back down and threw his arms around both Angela and Nik. Luckily, he was pretty sure his mom and aunt were too distracted by their discussion of what the baby name could be to notice.

Finally, Jon bounced back into the room.

“You can all see Jessie, but only for a few minutes, okay? The baby is in the NICU. I’m going back to her, but I’ll take you to Jessie first.”

“Jessica!” Tia Eva raced into the room and threw her arms around Jessie. “I was so worried. I love you so much.”

Well, that did it. The whole room was crying again. Including both him and Jon.

When it was his turn to give Jessie a hug, he pulled Nik along with him.

“This is Nik. She’s the one who recommended all of those creepy books I bought you that you loved. She dropped by to bring food for all of us while we were waiting, and I made her stay so she could meet you.”

Jessie was glowing, despite the tears still streaming down her face. She reached out to grab Nik’s hand.

“Nik, it’s so nice to meet you. Those books kept me from going crazy over the past five weeks, I can’t thank you enough.”

Nik smiled back at her.

“I was happy to help. And I’m so happy that everything went well today.”

Jessie beamed at her.

“Me too. We still have a bumpy road ahead. She’ll be in the NICU for a while, and I’m”—more tears spilled from her eyes, and Carlos put his hand on her shoulder—“worried, but the doctors seem very optimistic, so I’m going to be optimistic, too.”

“What is her NAME?” his mom said from the other side of the room.

Jessie smiled. He and Nik stepped back so everyone could see her.

“Her name.” Jessie looked at her mom and smiled. “Her name is Eva Jane. After her two grandmothers.”

Tia Eva charged the bed and would have tackled Jessie with her hug if Carlos hadn’t intervened.

Chapter Eighteen

. . . . . . .

As soon as Carlos walked inside his house, he fell down onto his couch and tugged Nik down with him.

“I am so damn tired,” he said.

He buried his head in the curve of her neck and finally let his face relax.

“I could not be happier right now to be here on the couch with you. I managed to keep it together around my family for most of the night, and now I need to let myself fall apart for, like, thirty seconds.”

She wrapped her arms around him. He breathed in her smell, her warmth, her presence. They lay there in silence for a long time.

She kissed him on the cheek.

“Hey. I’m really sorry that I showed up at the hospital without checking with you. I think I made something already stressful for you harder. I feel really bad about that.”

He’d already forgotten that he’d been irritated when Nik walked in. So much had happened tonight.

“No, it’s okay,” he said. “I was surprised when you showed up, but I think having you—and the enchiladas—there made it easier on everyone. Plus, my mom hates hospitals and getting to criticize my cooking helped take her mind off of things.”

She ran her fingers slowly through his hair and he closed his eyes. He wished he could stay like this forever.

“When my dad died . . . my mom was at the hospital with him by herself. She’d called both me and Angie, but neither of us got there in time. It was pretty hard on her. I don’t think she’s set foot in a hospital since. I could tell she was having a tough time there tonight, especially since we were all so worried.” He bent down and kissed her hand. “The enchiladas helped. Thank you.”

She squeezed his hand.

“Did you . . . how was yesterday?”

He pushed her hair back from her face and smiled at her. Of course she’d remembered.

“I spent the evening with Angie. She said Mama likes to spend the day at church. Angie usually spends it with friends or Jessie. The first year Angie asked me if I wanted to meet up with her, but I told her I had to work. Which was true, but I’d switched with someone to make sure I was working all day that day.” He ran his finger down her cheek. “But yesterday the two of us ate a lot of tacos and drank some of Dad’s favorite beer, and just . . . talked.” He never would have spent the anniversary of his dad’s death with Angela if it hadn’t been for Nik. He was so glad he had. “Thanks for . . . well, thanks.”

She smiled up at him.

“You’re welcome.”

He leaned forward the few inches between them and kissed her. It had been so hard to not kiss her in the hospital. She kissed him back hard. They dove into each other like they were parched, like it had been just weeks and not hours since they’d last kissed, like she’d wanted to kiss him in these last few hours as much as he’d wanted to kiss her.


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