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Dana walked in five minutes later, still wearing her running clothes.

“Hey, there you are. It’s a mob scene out there.”

“Hey!” Nik stood up to hug her, sweaty running clothes and all. “How are things with Natalie?”

Dana beamed.

“Great. I was just finishing a workout with her at the gym when I got your text.” Dana looked at her. “We can talk about that later, though. Are you okay?”

Nik shook her head.

“I’m not great.”

Dana pulled her in close.

“Oh, honey, what happened?”

Nik let herself be comforted by Dana’s tight hug for a few moments.

“I can’t tell you anything until Courtney gets back here, because she’ll—”

“Destroy both of you, yes.” Courtney walked back into the kitchen with three cups of coffee on a tray and set them on the table. She opened a cabinet, reached into the back, and pulled out a bottle of bourbon, and poured a tot into each of their cups.

“Okay. My staff can hold down the fort for a little while. What did he do, and how painful will it be when I kill him?”

Nik took a swig of coffee and winced. That was a lot more bourbon than she’d expected.

“He told me he loved me. And when I didn’t say it back, he was furious, said I used him up and discarded him like I do every man I date, and stormed out of his house. You know, garden-variety Nik breakup.” She sighed and reached for her drink again.

Courtney shook her head and poured more bourbon into Nik’s cup.

“Okay, obviously we hate him now, but I’m going to need you to back up here. He told you he loved you? Did you see this coming? Did you . . . were you glad that he said it? How did he make you feel like shit? What happened in between the ‘I love you’ and the storming out of the house part? I feel like we’re missing a lot here.”

Nik glanced down at herself and realized she was still wearing Carlos’s old UCLA T-shirt. She reached for another cupcake.

“No, I didn’t see it coming! It came out of nowhere first thing this morning. And no, of course I wasn’t glad he said it! You guys know how I feel about ‘I love you’s! I don’t get this. I was so happy with the way things were, and he had to fuck it all up.”

“Did you . . . tell him that?” Dana asked.

She shrugged. So fucking what if she had?

“More or less. We had a deal! We talked about this! He said he didn’t want anything serious. I relied on that! And then he springs this ‘I love you’ bullshit on me this morning.”

Dana narrowed her eyes.

“When you say ‘more or less,’ what exactly do you mean? What did you say to him?”

Oh God. Now Dana, the romantic, was going to get all upset on Carlos’s behalf, she just knew it.

“I told him that he was probably just feeling emotional because of last night. Oh!” She just realized she’d texted them about Jessie but had never given them the update. “The baby was born last night. She and Jessie are both okay.”

“Oh, that’s so great!” Dana said. “But wait. You told him that he was just being emotional? Didn’t you think that would upset him?”

Well, yes, now she did.

“I didn’t think about that before I said it! Look, I was kind of flustered when he sprang this on me, okay? It was first thing in the morning—everyone knows I’m not at my best first thing in the morning anyway. I was exhausted because we were at the hospital for hours last night, we got back to his house super late, and then—”

Courtney broke in.

“Wait a second. You were at the hospital with him? When did that happen? How?”

So much had happened in the past twenty-four hours.

“It’s a long story, but like I texted you guys, I’d been at his house helping him make enchiladas for his cousin, and . . .” She saw Dana and Courtney exchange a glance and stopped. “What? What does that look mean?”

“Nothing,” Courtney said. “Go on. You were helping him cook enchiladas for his pregnant cousin, and?”

She knew it didn’t mean “nothing,” but she went on anyway.

“And we had just put the first batch in the oven when he got the call from his cousin in the hospital. So he raced there, and I stayed back to finish baking them.”

Why were they making her go through this whole timeline? They knew this part already; she’d texted them last night. She’d also told them the important part, which was that Carlos had ruined everything.

“But how did you get from there to the hospital?” Courtney asked.

“I texted him to check in and see how he and his family were doing, and he said they were all stressed and hungry, so I packed up one of the pans of enchiladas with some paper plates and took them over there, which meant that I was there when they found out that Jessie and the baby were both okay. We were all so relieved.”

She’d been so happy just last night, of course it all had to come crashing down this morning.

Courtney and Dana exchanged those annoying looks again. Why were they looking at her—and each other—like that?

“You brought them food to the hospital. Did he ask you to bring it, or . . .” Dana raised her eyebrows.

She shook her head.

“No, and that’s the other thing! When I walked into the waiting room, he didn’t seem happy that I was there at ALL. He barely looked at me, and his sister had to jump in to answer the ‘How do you two know each other?’ question from his mom.” She’d thought he’d gotten over that. She’d thought in the end he was happy to have her there. And she’d been so happy to be there, to share that experience with Carlos and his family. That’s why what he’d said this morning had felt like such a slap in the face. “I tried to leave after dropping off the food, because it didn’t seem like he wanted me there, but his mom insisted that I stay and eat. But obviously I shouldn’t have gone: this morning, one of his comebacks to me saying that I thought this was just a casual thing was ‘You met my family!’ like that automatically made us married or something.” She refused to let herself cry. “And he said he wished I hadn’t come.

“Anyway,” she said, before either of them could say anything comforting. That would just put her over the edge. “Why is it so weird that I brought them food to the hospital?”

Dana put her hand on her arm.

“It just . . . that doesn’t seem like you, that’s all.”

Nik shook Dana’s hand off and took a huge bite of her cupcake. She tried to calm down as she chewed. It didn’t work.

“That’s a pretty mean thing for one of my best friends to say about me. You don’t think I’d bring food for you in the hospital if you were sitting there waiting for a family member?”

Dana reached for her arm again.

“Of course you would. That’s my point. You would for me, you would for Courtney, you would for probably a handful of other people, but that’s it. I love you with my whole heart, Nik, but you don’t do favors for people you don’t care about. I can’t picture you doing something like that for any of the guys you’ve dated in the last five years. The rest, you’d absolutely contribute to flowers or food or whatever, if someone else organized it, but a hospital visit? No, come on.”

Nik sat and thought about that. Okay, she had a point there.

“Even if that’s true, what does it matter? I’m not saying I don’t care about him. I told him I cared about him! But when I told him that, he acted like I’d told him his food was just as good as the food from Taco Bell or something. I said I was happy to keep going the way we’d been going, and we could just pretend he’d never said ‘I love you.’”

“What did he say when you said that?” Courtney asked.

Nik put her head in her hands.

“He got really mad. Why do people think ‘I love you’ is the only meaningful thing you can say to a person? Why did he have to say he loved me?”

“Nik.” Courtney’s voice was gentle, which meant she was about to say something bad. “Why does it scare you so much for someone to say they love you?”


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