Carlos put his hand on her shoulder.
“You and Jon, you are the people taking care of her. And you’ll do a wonderful job, I promise.”
She punched his arm.
“Damn you, Carlos. I just stopped crying, and now you’ve got to get me started again?”
She leaned in for a hug, and he kissed her on the forehead.
“I’m so happy for you, Jessie. And I can’t wait to spoil little Eva rotten.”
She opened his office door.
“I can’t wait for that, either. Oh, and you thanked your friend Nik for me for the cupcakes, right? Tell her I said that was so thoughtful. I want to send her a thank-you card, but this week has just been . . .”
He had not thanked Nik on Jessie’s behalf, no.
“Don’t worry about it. You’ve been kind of preoccupied this week; she understands.” He was sure Nik did understand, so that wasn’t exactly a lie. “Go back upstairs to your baby. Call me if you have any questions at all, okay?”
Right, right, she was his cousin, not his patient. This shit was hard.
“Actually, you should probably call the NICU and not me, they know this stuff better than I do. But let me know if you need anything at all, okay?”
“I will. Have I ever told you how glad I am that you’re my cousin?”
“I’m not sure, refresh my memory about why? You had at least ten or fifteen reasons, correct? Can you list them for me?”
She walked into the hallway.
“Never, you’re cocky enough as it is.”
She disappeared toward the elevators with another wave over her shoulder, and he went laughing back to his desk.
Maybe he should text Nik to thank her for the cupcakes. He couldn’t keep pretending to Jessie that he’d done that without actually doing it, right?
And wouldn’t Nik want to know that Eva was okay and was getting to go home from the hospital? She’d been there the night Eva was born; she’d cried along with everyone else. Shouldn’t he let her know?
He laughed at himself. That was a pretext, and he knew it. He didn’t need to thank Nik; he needed to apologize to Nik. He hated what he’d said to her that awful morning, he hated the memory of the hurt look on her face when he’d walked out of his house, and he hated that she’d remember him like that. Even if she didn’t love him back, he didn’t want her to hate him.
An email was probably the way to do this, not a text. A text felt too immediate. Like he’d be expecting a response.
He scrolled back through his work emails until he found her email address.
From: [email protected]
Jessie wanted me to make sure to thank you for the cupcakes. They made her so happy. She appreciated it a lot. So did I. She’s doing a lot better and Eva is, too—they’re taking her home from the hospital today.
I’m sorry for what I said that morning and how I acted. I can’t apologize enough.
You don’t have to respond to this.
That seemed so blunt and inarticulate, but at least it was all true.
He pressed send.
* * *
• • •
Nik pulled into the grocery store parking lot at ten on Friday night. It was her favorite time to go to the grocery store, and she hadn’t been able to go on a Friday night in a while. The place was almost empty, the employees were in party moods, and the other people who were there on Friday nights were always buying huge bags of chips and cartons of cheap beer, which always made Nik so happy she wasn’t going to their terrible parties.
As she walked inside, a bleary-eyed man carrying a huge bag of diapers almost knocked into her on his way out.
“Sorry!” he shouted. Then he walked into the parking lot right into the path of a car that braked just in time. Poor guy probably hadn’t slept in a week.
That made her think of Jessie and Jon, and baby Eva. And Carlos.
She’d barely been able to think about anything else since she’d gotten Carlos’s email the day before. She’d written and deleted about five responses until she’d finally given up.
She walked through the store, still thinking about the email. She stopped in the baked goods aisle and stared at four shelves full of different gluten-free flours without really seeing them. She wanted so much to respond, but she had no idea what to say.
She shook her head to try to clear her mind. Thinking like this was not going to help. And for God’s sake, especially not in the grocery store. She had a list, remember? And—she finally realized what she was staring at—sorghum flour was not on it. She pushed her cart until she found olive oil and checked it off her list.
She sped through the store, grabbing bananas, granola, bread, tomatoes, bacon. Oh good, she could make herself a BLT when she got home tonight. People always said it was a bad idea to go to the grocery store while hungry, but she always made herself delicious meals when she got home from the grocery store on those Friday nights.
She made her way to the dairy aisle to stock up on yogurt. When she saw the big tubs of sour cream, she laughed out loud, startling the employee stocking the dairy case. She didn’t think she would ever be able to see sour cream without remembering when she’d spackled her face with it after she’d set herself on fire with chilies. And when she laughed so hard with Carlos about it that they’d ended up sitting on the bathroom floor in tears. She grabbed six containers of yogurt, still with a smile on her face.
Would she always think about Carlos whenever she saw sour cream? She hoped so, despite everything. Seeing that sour cream made her think of how happy she’d been around him, at every moment. It made her think of how proud he was of all of her accomplishments, from writing for the New Yorker to signing up for boxing class. It made her think of how he’d dropped everything to help her, more than once, and how happy she was to be able to help him the night Eva was born. She never wanted to stop thinking about him.
WAS THIS WHAT LOVE WAS?
Being happy when you thought about someone; wanting to never stop thinking about them, even when you were fighting; having every damn thing in the grocery store remind you of them, from diapers to sour cream; wanting to be a better writer and friend and person because of how they were and how they made you feel; wanting to be with them, all the time, even though you kept fighting it.
She was in love with him.
She walked to the register like she was in a dream. She didn’t know how to do this. How did a person even handle this sort of thing?
She didn’t like this; she didn’t like it at all. She felt gooey and vulnerable and helpless. She didn’t like feeling any of those things. If this was what Natalie had meant by trusting herself and her emotions, she wasn’t a fan of it at all.
When she’d been with Justin, she’d felt anxious and needy and constantly on edge, like she had to prove herself all the time. Thinking about him had never made her feel happy like thinking about Carlos did. She knew Carlos loved her—as difficult and prickly and loud as she was—just for being her. And she loved him for being the funny, kind, warm person he was. She loved him so much.
Oh no, this was awful.
She preferred her comfortable, easy, safe flings with guys she didn’t care about to all of these terrible feelings. Her first instinct was to get in her car, get on the freeway going east, and just keep driving.
Yes, that was a good idea. She should drive until she hit the desert and then stay there. That way, she would never have to deal with this and maybe eventually it would go away.
She stuck her credit card in the stupid card reader that beeped at her like she’d done something wrong and thought hard about that plan. She could go right now. These bananas and that granola, plus the bottled water that she’d bought weeks ago and had been too lazy to take out of her trunk, all of that could last her a few weeks, right? Not that she would have any way of knowing. She hadn’t driven to the desert or slept outside since . . . okay, it was definitely within the last ten years—she’d be fine.
She pushed her cart to her car and loaded her groceries into the trunk. What all did she need, anyway? Food, water, a bucket of some sort? There must be an REI that was open late nearby somewhere where she could buy one and a flashlight and an emergency sleeping bag that would become an actual cocoon for her so she didn’t have to deal with how she’d fucked everything up.
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