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Nik shook her head.

“I’m not arguing that point. Of course he’s hot, did you see those forearms? I meant it’s not true that he was staring at me all night.”

Courtney and Dana looked at each other and laughed. There was no point in arguing with them about this. Especially since she wasn’t even sure if she was right.

“You have a rebound with Carlos if you want,” she said to Courtney. “I’m taking a vow of celibacy. Men are clearly not for me at this point in my life.”

Dana and Courtney dissolved into laughter.

“No really, you guys. I mean it!”

Their heads were down on the table. Courtney’s face was possibly buried in a slice of pizza? It apparently didn’t matter, they were still laughing.

“I’m not joking! I need a break. Once you find yourself on the JumboTron with a guy kneeling at your feet with a princess ring in his hand, you start to reevaluate your life, okay?”

Courtney sat up, a piece of pepperoni in her bangs. After that performance, Nik wasn’t going to tell her it was there.

Dana gulped down the rest of her drink and waved Pete over for more drinks.

“A pitcher of water, too, please,” Nik said to him. “I want to be able to at least somewhat function tomorrow.”

As soon as he walked away, Dana turned to her.

“If we say we believe you and your vow of celibacy, can we get back to Fisher’s texts?”

“We believe you, we believe you,” Courtney said, the pepperoni bobbing up and down as she nodded her head.

They did not actually believe her, she knew that, but there was no point in arguing with them right now. They’d see. She took her phone back from Courtney.

“Here.” Nik unlocked the phone and pushed it across the table. “After the glimpse that I saw, I don’t know if I want to see the rest.”

Dana picked up the phone and Courtney looked over her shoulder. Nik looked at their faces as they scrolled through the messages. After about two seconds, they both looked ready to kill.

“That bad, huh?” she asked.

Courtney’s eyes narrowed at the phone. Oh no, it was even worse than she’d thought.

“Okay. What do they say?”

Dana cleared her throat. Thank God neither of them offered to just delete them for her. Her friends knew her far too well for that.

“‘You fucking bitch, I can’t believe you did that to me on my birthday.’ That was the first one,” Dana said.

“‘I can’t believe you would be that stupid. I was the best thing that ever happened to you.’” Dana looked up from the phone. Nik nodded for her to continue. “‘You’re such a’—I’m not saying that word—‘my friends always said so. I saw your potential when no one else did. You were lucky to be with me, you’re never going to get the chance again. No one else will ever love an unfeeling bitch like you.’”

Well, at least she didn’t need to feel guilty about hurting him anymore.

“I don’t want anyone else to ever love this unfeeling bitch. Something terrible always happens when a man says ‘I love you.’ First, Justin said it and then he tried to sabotage my career, then Fisher said it and I get put on a big screen and he texts insults to me. If that’s what love means, no thank you.”

Dana took a sip of her drink and kept reading.

“‘You’re going to die alone, and you could have been my princess.’ There are five exclamation points at the end of the word princess. FYI.”

At least that made her laugh. Thank God for unnecessary exclamation points.

“Okay, and here’s the pièce de résistance.” Dana pushed the phone over to her, and she looked at the picture that filled the screen: Fisher, Dodgers cap on backward, middle finger in the air, with the princess engagement ring on said finger.

“OH MY GOD.”

Dana and Courtney exploded with laughter. Courtney’s head shook so much that the pepperoni finally fell onto the table and she didn’t even notice. Nik laughed until tears streamed out of her eyes. They collapsed against the booth cushions, laughing so much and so loudly that even the too-cool-for-school dudes at the end of the bar turned and stared.

“Are you KIDDING me? Is this some collective hallucination? What was IN those drinks that Pete brought us? Since when is Fisher Vanilla freaking Ice?”

“Well.” Nik managed to stop laughing and reached for what was definitely her final drink. “I feel better already.”

Chapter Three

. . . . . . .

On Monday morning, Nik stared at her laptop from the other side of the room. It wouldn’t stop pinging at her. She’d turned the sound off, she’d moved over to the couch, but she knew it was still happening. It had been almost forty-eight hours since the nightmare proposal, and she was getting hundreds of messages in a constant stream through every possible avenue. She’d had so many texts when she’d woken up the day before that she’d thought her phone had malfunctioned.

Apparently, her JumboTron moment had been on SportsCenter on Saturday night. And then again on Sunday. She’d had no idea that she knew so many people who regularly watched SportsCenter.

To make things even worse, some enterprising person had tagged her on Twitter with the video of the proposal, so she was getting thousands of tweets about it. The bulk of them ranged from insulting to abusive, with a lot of just plain mean thrown in for kicks. A lot of men out there seemed personally insulted that she, a black woman, had rejected a white man. Most of their messages to her used either her least favorite insult for women or her least favorite insult for black people and, in many cases, both.

Until she’d blocked Fisher’s number, he’d also kept sending her messages, and most of them weren’t as unintentionally funny as the Vanilla Ice picture. The last few had been kind of scary, and she didn’t scare easily.

The whole time she had to keep tweeting her way through it, because she used Twitter professionally, and she refused to let on that any of these assholes were upsetting her. Plus, that was her “brand” and all—that kind of sarcastic, witty, tough-skinned woman who nothing could bother. She had to pretend to be laughing with the rest of the world about what a bitch she was, retweet a few stupid memes with her face on them, and make a joke on Facebook about her relationship status changing, when she felt overwhelmed and outnumbered the whole time.

At least she hadn’t seen any footage of Carlos and Angela posted anywhere. They’d probably jumped in before that camera crew had gotten anything worth posting. Whatever it was, she was grateful for it. She wouldn’t have wanted them to get dragged into this chaos or to get punished by the whole world for their good deed.

Good deeds—plural. Not only had they pulled her away from the camera crew, gotten her away from the stadium of doom, and delivered her to her friends, but as she’d discovered on Saturday night after winning the fight with Dana and Courtney to pay their bar tab, Carlos had already paid for it. And she didn’t even know his last name, or how to get in touch with him to thank him.

“Wait a minute, Nikole,” she said out loud. She talked to herself a lot when she was alone in her apartment, which was frequently. “You are a journalist. You should be able to find this man in less than five minutes.”

It took her about a minute and a half. There he was, Carlos Ibarra, picture and all, on the website of his hospital. Thank God the bourbon on Saturday hadn’t dulled her memory. There was no email address listed, but she clicked around the hospital website to see what the other email addresses at his hospital looked like. She jumped over to her email account, opened the “compose” pane, and tried to ignore the dozens of new emails that had come in since she’d last looked.

To: [email protected]

From: [email protected]

Subject: Thanks again

Hi! It’s me, your friendly non-princess from Saturday. I just wanted to a) thank you again for everything you did, and b) yell at you for not letting me buy you the drink I owed you afterward. I don’t know if you saw, but the whole proposal has kind of gone viral, which . . . is an experience, that’s for sure. Anyway, I hope you’re well, and thank your sister for me, too!

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