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Nik

She typed the email in a hurry and pressed send before she could reconsider. Her friends would be so triumphant if they knew she’d emailed him. They would think she bought into their stupid rebound idea, when that wasn’t at all the case. Obviously she found him attractive—she wasn’t made of stone—but just as obviously, it was the wrong time to get involved with anyone. She just wanted to thank him again for saving her, that was all.

Of course it wasn’t until after she’d hit send that she thought about the major downside of actually sending an email right now—she’d have to look at her incoming messages to see if he responded.

She couldn’t even get any work done. The story she’d been working on at the baseball game was still stuck in the same place it had been when Fisher had told her to look at the JumboTron screen. She’d been halfway through a sentence, and now she had no idea how the sentence was supposed to end. She probably had important work-related emails, but she’d have to wade through the hundreds of other messages to find them. She threw her arms in the air, went into her bedroom, put on the first real clothes she found, and left to go for a walk. Without her phone.

By the time she’d walked the thirty minutes to Courtney’s cupcake shop, she felt a little better. Despite herself, the fresh air and the blue sky made her relax, and the physical activity even cheered her up a little. When she walked into Cupcake Park, she didn’t quite have a smile on her face, but at least she could tell the scowl had gone away.

“Hey!” Courtney was alone in the shop when she came in, wearing her trademark pink lipstick and a pink polka-dot apron. “You haven’t been answering your phone. Dana and I have both been trying to call. How are you doing?”

She groaned and leaned against the counter. Courtney’s brightly colored cupcakes, all decorated with frosting flowers or trees, stared back up at her from the other side.

“Coffee, please?” She shouldn’t have even bothered to ask. Courtney had already poured cups full for both of them and set one of each of her favorite cupcake flavors in front of her. “You’re the best, thanks.”

“We both know that,” Courtney said. The bell rang, and Nik stepped aside so that the three teenage girls who came in could see and debate their cupcake choices. By the time they left five minutes later, Nik had finished her lemon cupcake and most of her coffee. Courtney poured her a new cup.

“How did business go today?”

Courtney had opened her cupcake shop just under a year ago, and there had been a number of touch-and-go moments with it, but lately business looked like it was picking up.

“It was great. There was a line out the door for like half the day, and I just got two big orders, including one for a wedding.” Courtney looked hard at Nik. “But I know you didn’t walk all the way over here to find out how my business is going. How are you? How bad is it?”

Nik groaned.

“It’s so bad.” She took a sip of coffee and reconsidered. “I mean, I’m not dying or anything, and this should all fade away within a few days. But God, it doesn’t feel like that right now. I’m not answering my phone because I had to turn the sound and the vibrate off, and then put it in my refrigerator to chill out, because it feels like the whole world is calling me or texting me. I needed a break.”

She could not tell Courtney that she’d emailed Carlos. She would do her “I told you so” dance around the whole cupcake shop. Had Carlos replied to her email yet? Ugh, she wished she’d brought her phone, just so she’d know.

Courtney checked the time and walked over to flip the sign on the door from OPEN to CLOSED.

“Do you think all of the proposal brouhaha will blow over?”

Nik grabbed a broom to help Courtney do her end-of-the-day cleaning of the shop.

“I’m sure it will. I just hope it blows over soon. The only email I responded to so far today was from the TODAY show, telling them no, I would not come on the show to talk about the proposal. I’m kind of worried that Fisher will say yes to them or someone like them, but there’s nothing I can do to stop that, and I feel like reaching out to him at this point is a very bad idea.”

“Have you heard anything more from him?” Courtney tossed Nik a cloth to wipe down the countertops while she packed away the rest of the cupcakes.

“Unfortunately, yes. I’ve blocked him everywhere, which probably means he’s saying all sorts of shit about me that I can’t see, but at this point, that’s better than the alternative.”

Courtney turned on Missy Elliott to keep them company as they cleaned up.

“Oh, I’ll find out what he’s saying about you, don’t worry about that.” Courtney had an evil grin on her face that Nik decided not to ask about. It was probably better that she be ignorant of whatever Courtney was planning to do to Fisher.

“Want a ride home?” Courtney asked her. “Dinner? Leftover cupcakes?”

“No, no, and yes. Or rather, no, yes, and yes. Have I ever said no to leftover cupcakes? But I can walk home. I need to work up my appetite for these.”

Courtney filled up a box of cupcakes and put it in one of her pink and white bags.

“Let me know if you need anything else. And if you need company tonight, I can be there at the snap of your fingers; you know that, right?”

Nik walked around the counter to give Courtney a hug.

“I know. Thanks.”

Of course, once Nik walked home, she’d started to regret not getting a ride from Courtney. Not because the walk tired her out, but because she wished she wasn’t alone. As she approached her building she was on high alert for Fisher’s silver sports car in the area.

“You’re being stupid,” she said to herself on her doorstep. “Also, you’re talking to yourself in public this time; you should really save that for inside the house, Nikole.”

She unlocked her front door, and then hesitated on the threshold. Finally, she grabbed a cast-iron pan from her kitchen and, feeling like an idiot the entire time, looked in every hiding place in her apartment. After finding nothing other than a lot more dirty laundry than she thought she’d had, she tried to relax and sat back down at her laptop to check her email.

Fifty-seven more people had emailed her in the two hours that she’d been gone. And not a single one of the fifty-seven was named Carlos Ibarra.

* * *

• • •

“It was like this, Dr. Ibarra,” Luke, his newest patient said. “There was this girl, right?”

Carlos laughed.

“How did I know that that’s how this story was going to start? But keep going, all of the best stories start that way.”

Carlos listened to the kid’s story, took notes, gave him both medical advice—for the sprained ankle that he got from running down the street with the girl (rest, ice, elevation, lots of ibuprofen) and the rash he’d gotten from hiding in the poison-oak-laced bushes behind her house (a prescription cream)—and general life advice (girls who make you go through dangerous situations to prove your worth to them are always exciting at first and then you regret it).

That, of course, made him think about how he’d shoved that cameraman out of the way in order to get Nik safely out of Dodger Stadium. The difference, though, was that was his idea, not hers. But he understood where his patient was coming from—he still felt a rush when he thought about swooping down on Nik and getting her out of the stadium. It was probably just because he didn’t do anything dangerous these days other than driving too fast.

He’d had SportsCenter in the background on Sunday morning and was engrossed in the Sunday L.A. Times movie section, when he’d heard the announcer say “Can you believe what happened to this poor guy?” He’d looked up at the screen, just in time to see Nik’s wide-open mouth and Man Bun drop down onto one knee. He’d been wondering all day how Nik was doing. He wished he’d figured out a way to smoothly get her phone number before he and Angie had left the bar. Maybe sometime he would go back to see if he could accidentally run into her there. She said she and her friends went to that bar a lot, right?

He went back to his office after that appointment, hopefully his last one of the day, unless there was an emergency in the next hour and a half. He typed his notes from his appointments into the online system, making sure to only note the parent-friendly details from the stories that the teens had told him since their parents all had access to their information. With just half an hour to go until his Monday was over, he clicked over to his work email, to see what stupid administrative tasks people had sent him this time.

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