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“This is a personal question, and I understand if you don’t want to answer, especially since Dana is my friend. But how did you learn to trust people again after what happened to you?”

Natalie shook her head slowly.

“It was really hard. I beat myself up for a while after my marriage ended. I blamed myself for trusting my ex, for letting him control me, for giving in to everything. I didn’t trust my own judgment for a long time. The whole time I was researching the idea for this gym, I kept second-guessing myself, thinking it was a terrible idea. But I was right; I did have a good idea, and even just doing all of that research was me learning to trust myself. Once I learned to trust myself, my instincts, and my emotions, trusting other people was a lot easier.”

Nik drove home a few hours later, after lots of time hanging around the gym, and even taking one of those cycling classes that she always mocked Dana for loving. She couldn’t stop thinking about everything that Natalie had said, but especially that last part. Did she trust herself? With her work, definitely. With anything else? She had no idea.

Chapter Twenty-one

. . . . . . .

When Carlos’s phone rang on the way home from the hospital on Saturday night, he grabbed for it.

Drew. Not Nik. Why did he keep doing this to himself? She wasn’t going to call him. Not after what he’d said to her.

He sighed and answered the phone.

“Hey, man, what’s up?”

“Hey,” Drew said. “How’s the baby?”

He’d texted Drew right before he had left the hospital on the night the baby was born but hadn’t talked to him since. He hadn’t really been in the mood to hear stories of relationship bliss. And he really hadn’t wanted to deal with telling him about Nik. But he couldn’t avoid his best friend forever.

“Still in the NICU, but doing pretty well. I’m on the way home from the hospital right now, just spent a few hours hanging out with her and Jessie.” Jessie had been released on Wednesday. Her blood pressure wasn’t quite normal, but it was getting lower every day. But little Eva still had at least another few days in the hospital so her tiny lungs could improve and she could gain weight.

“I’m on my way to the hospital. I’m on call and just got called back in. How’s Jessie?”

“She got released on Wednesday, but she’s only left the hospital to sleep. She’s at Eva’s side all day. But all of the signs are good. Such a relief.”

“Great. I bet Jessie won’t relax until Eva’s at home, though.”

He thought of Jessie’s anxious face and how Jon kept trying to force her to eat.

“Not one bit.”

Drew coughed.

“So I have some news.”

Uh-oh. That could be anything.

“Okay . . .”

Drew laughed.

“You sound so suspicious. We have a wedding date! Mark it on your calendar in bright red, et cetera.”

A wedding date, of course. He should have expected that.

“Great, when is it?”

Drew laughed.

“Here’s the thing: it’s in October.”

He counted the months in his head.

“This October? Four months from now October?” He grinned. “Wait. Do you have other news to tell me?”

“What do you . . . oh God, no, Alexa isn’t pregnant! We’re moving fast, but not that fast. Our favorite venue had a cancellation, and after Alexa had pulled some strings to get us to the top of the waiting list, we couldn’t say no. Alexa’s already been frantically looking for wedding dresses with her friend Maddie. And apparently, I need to start frantically doing something—I’m just not sure what that something is. So I figured I’d call you, because you’re really good at telling me what to do.”

Carlos laughed. He was indeed really good at telling Drew what to do.

“You finally acknowledge this now. You spent years complaining about it.”

“Look, I always did what you said . . . eventually. Anyway, I think we need to find tuxes or something? You want to come up again some weekend soon and we can sort that out?”

Carlos got off the freeway exit for his house. A trip up to the Bay Area sounded like the break from his life that he needed.

“As soon as the baby’s at home with Jessie and Jon, I’ll drive up there. I was just thinking that I needed a long solo drive.”

“Perfect. Tux shopping sounds basically terrible, but at least we’ll get a fun weekend out of it. Oh, and please text me how to spell Nik’s name so we don’t get it wrong on the invite.”

Shit. He couldn’t dodge this one.

“Actually . . . you don’t need to know how to spell her name. We broke up.”

He heard a horn honk at the other end of the line.

“What? I almost ran a red light. When? What happened?”

It felt so depressing to say it out loud, but he had no real choice.

“Last weekend. Sunday morning, the day after Jessie had the baby. We were at the hospital together . . . long story, it’s not important. Anyway, I told her I was in love with her and . . . it didn’t go well.”

“Catch me up here: you’re in love with her? I thought you gave me some bullshit about how it wasn’t serious.”

He sighed.

“I guess you realized that was bullshit sooner than I did. But it doesn’t matter; she doesn’t feel the same way.”

He’d only told this terrible story twice and he was already sick of it.

“Oof. She was at the hospital when Jessie had the baby? So she met your family?”

Thanks, Drew, for narrowing in on one of his sore spots.

“Unfortunately. Get this—she sent cupcakes to Jessie at the hospital on Monday.”

He had been both touched and furious when he’d walked into Jessie’s hospital room on Monday to see that Cupcake Park box. He knew, even before Jessie had told him, that they’d come from Nik.

“That was so nice of her,” Drew said. “I bet you wanted to smash every single one of those cupcakes with the bottom of your foot.”

“I wanted to throw them out the fucking window.”

He heard the noises from the other end of the phone that signaled that Drew had driven into the parking garage.

“Do you have to go?”

“Nah, I have at least three or four more minutes,” Drew said. “The staff parking is way on the top floors. It’ll take a while to get up there. What do you mean it didn’t go well? I’m guessing she didn’t say it back?”

Carlos pulled up in front of his house and turned off his car, but he didn’t bother to go inside yet.

“Not only did she not say it back, she said it would be better if we could pretend I’d never said it, which wasn’t exactly the reaction I’d hoped for. So I got mad, said some not great stuff to her, left the house, and drove away.” He sighed. “You don’t have to tell me that I didn’t handle it well. I already know that.”

He looked out the window while he was talking. Damn, he really needed to mow his lawn.

“Have you talked to her since?” Drew asked.

Carlos sighed again.

“No. I want to, but I don’t know what to say. I don’t know if there’s anything I can say.”

He’d thought about texting her, especially after Jessie got those cupcakes. He’d wanted to say thank you and to apologize for being such an ass. Mostly the latter. But after he’d seen all of those texts from Fisher after their dramatic breakup, he sort of felt like he should avoid texting her anything. He didn’t want to be that guy.

“Hmmmm,” Drew said. Carlos heard him get out of his car. “I can think of a few things. I seem to remember a certain conversation last year right around this time . . .”

“That was different—you hadn’t told Alexa how you felt,” Carlos said. He should have known Drew would throw his own advice back in his face.

He’d be lying, though, if he tried to pretend that the only reason that he hadn’t texted Nik was because of Fisher’s crazy texts. The real reason was: what if it didn’t make any difference?

He’d obviously sprung the whole thing on her too fast, which had been a big part of the reason everything escalated like it did. He should have done it all so differently. He’s already thought of at least five or six better ways he should have told her. He wanted another chance to talk to her about everything. About them. But it all still felt so tender. He wasn’t ready for her to reject him again.

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