“I know, I know. Sorry, forget my advice. What I should have said was, that fucking sucks; do you want to come up here this weekend and get really drunk with me? We can pick out some incredibly ugly tuxes for the wedding if you want.”
“Alexa would skin me alive. And really, man, thanks. I would, if the baby wasn’t still in the hospital. But as soon as she’s home, I’m on my way. I’ll keep you posted.”
A weekend getting drunk with Drew sounded like exactly what he needed.
“Awesome, I’m looking forward to it. Okay, now I really do have to go.”
“Tell Alexa I said hi.”
He hung up the phone and got out of his car. Talking to Drew had helped in some ways and made it worse in others. He was so happy about marrying Alexa in just a few months that it made the breakup feel even worse.
Oh well. He walked up his front steps and unlocked his door. Drew couldn’t sit around in his underwear on his couch and eat pizza and drink beer all night like he could. Who had it better, huh?
He tried not to answer that.
* * *
• • •
Nik jumped at the noise outside on Monday afternoon. Did people really need to set fireworks off in the middle of the afternoon? The Fourth of July wasn’t even for a few days. The amateur fireworks got earlier every damn year. She stood up to get some water and realized she couldn’t remember the last time she’d left the house. Oh right, for her last self-defense class. Four days ago. She’d been buried in work all week—or as her friends claimed when they tried to get her to go out to brunch that weekend and she’d refused, she had buried herself in work.
At least she’d been able to concentrate on work again. It was a relief to dive headfirst into a story and not let herself think about Carlos, and what he was probably doing right now, and how much she missed him, and why she hadn’t heard a single thing from him in the eight days since he’d slammed his front door. The thing was, as soon as she stopped working, those things were all she could think about.
She looked down at herself and winced. She was wearing the same leggings she’d been wearing for days and a threadbare tank top. And she desperately needed a shower.
Twenty minutes later, she left her house, showered; in a mostly clean pair of jeans, a gray T-shirt, and her biggest pair of sunglasses; and with her hair in a topknot. See, she could act like a human being. Sort of.
She walked the mile to the coffee shop while she listened to the audiobook of her latest true crime book. She wished she could tell Carlos to get it for Jessie.
She still wasn’t sure if she’d done the right thing when she’d sent Jessie cupcakes. But she’d been a few hospital rooms away when Jessie had had her baby. She’d cried along with Carlos’s whole family when Eva was born, and she’d seen the tiny baby just hours later. It still hurt, more than she wanted to acknowledge, that Carlos had said it was a waste for her to meet his family, after everything they’d shared that night. But it felt wrong to pretend none of that had happened, that she didn’t care, just because she and Carlos were over. So she’d sent the cupcakes, the ones that Carlos had told her that Jessie and her husband had particularly liked. None of the spicy chocolate ones.
She thought about sitting down to drink her large iced coffee at the coffee shop, but she hadn’t brought a book or her laptop, and she didn’t feel like staring at the tiny bright screen of her phone. She wandered down the street and half-heartedly glanced into boutiques, but she wasn’t really in the mood for shopping. After a few blocks, she turned around and walked home.
She was still in the world of the murderous cult as she approached her building. It wasn’t until she was halfway up the steps that she saw someone standing by the front door.
Fisher. Fisher was standing by the front door.
“What the fuck are you doing here?” she said to him. She backed away to stand on the sidewalk. She didn’t want to talk to him in the shadows of her building. He followed her.
“Hi, Nik.” He put his hand on her waist. She immediately stepped away. “I’ve missed you.”
Was he fucking kidding her?
“I haven’t missed you. What are you doing here?”
He tossed his hair back and smiled.
“I should have expected that from you. You’re always making little jokes, aren’t you? I hoped I’d get a warmer greeting, though, after everything we were to each other.”
“You hoped you’d get a warmer greeting?” She had actually dated this guy. For months, even. What in God’s name had she been thinking? “After those texts you sent me? You can go straight to hell.”
He smiled his gleaming white smile at her and tried to put his arm around her. She stepped away again, but he followed.
“Look, I know we both got a little heated after the Dodgers game, and I’m sorry if I said anything to upset you, but—”
“If? Was that supposed to be an apology?”
The smile was still plastered on his face. How had she ever found him attractive?
“Look, can we go somewhere a little more private and talk?” He looked around at the people driving and walking by them and grimaced. “Upstairs, maybe?”
She tossed the rest of her iced coffee into the trash can at the curb.
“No. Say what you have to say to me here. You seem to like having important conversations in public. Why stop now?”
“Just keep your voice down, okay? I got a lot of bad publicity last time. I don’t want to have to deal with that again.”
Well, now she’d have to turn up the volume.
“Bad publicity last time . . . I can’t even believe you. Spit it out, Fisher. What are you doing here? I thought you got the message that I didn’t want to see or talk to you anymore.”
Finally his smile dropped away, and he moved closer to her. She backed away again.
“Look, Nik. Haven’t you realized by now what a mistake you made? We had a good thing going. Mutually beneficial, isn’t that what they call it? Good for you for many reasons, and quite frankly, it was good for me to be seen with you. People had this impression of me that I was shallow and only good for the dumb-guy parts, and no one would even send me the good scripts.”
For good reason. The dude had a great body but couldn’t act his way out of a paper bag.
“But more than once,” he continued, “directors would talk to you at parties, and then they would see me with you and they would be a lot nicer to me. And my agent told me people said they thought there must be more to me if I was dating someone smart and interesting and urban like you.”
Urban. She wondered if Fisher’s agent had really said that or if that was Fisher’s translation from “black.” At least now she knew where the out-of-the-blue proposal had come from.
“So you proposed to me, in public, without talking to me about it first, because you thought it would help you get ahead in your career?”
He nodded eagerly.
“It would have! I still don’t understand why you said no. It would have been great for you, too.” He waved his arm up and down her body. “I mean, look at you. People who look like you don’t usually get to go to the places I would take you. You had so many more opportunities, dating a person like me.” He smacked her butt.
Without even thinking about it, she took a step back, shifted her weight onto her back heel, pulled her fist back, and punched Fisher right in the face.
“Oh wow. It really does hurt your hand,” she said as Fisher writhed on the ground at her feet.
A woman walking with a baby stroller stopped next to them.
“That was amazing!” she said. “How did you learn to punch like that?”
Nik shook out her fingers. The pain was worth it. She grinned at the woman.
“Natalie’s Gym, over on Larchmont. It’s fantastic; you should take one of her classes!”
The woman rocked the stroller back and forth with her foot while she took out her phone and made a note.
“Natalie’s Gym. Thank you! Great job.” She started to walk away with the baby, and then turned back and looked down at Fisher, who was still on the ground. “I bet you’ve had that coming to you for years!” She waved good-bye to Nik as she walked off.
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