He was so thankful none of his friends were here to witness him babbling about a movie star—they would make fun of him from here to eternity.
“She was honestly great! Which is the whole reason I met Fisher, actually. Anna and I got along really well, and she ended up inviting me to her birthday party, and that’s where I met Fisher. When he asked me out, I was positive that he just wanted to go out with me because he wanted me to write a puff piece about him for something. I sort of never stopped thinking that, actually.”
She shook her head and laughed.
“The funny thing is that whenever I went to industry parties with him, when people I knew through my work saw us together, they would look so confused. A few times, when he was on the other side of the room, they even said to me, ‘You’re here with that guy?’ I was never sure if that was an insult to me, or to him.”
The waitress set their spicy and sweet wings down on the table, and they both grabbed one.
“Anyway, going out with Fisher was very low-stress, until two days ago. I’ve had such a busy few months of work and Fisher was just a fun guy I hung out with when I had time. I even felt guilty about saying no to his proposal, because I didn’t want to hurt his feelings! That was, until . . . well, apparently, I’m not as good at reading people as I thought I was.”
He looked closer at her. He was pretty good at reading people, and she looked really stressed about this whole situation.
“Have you heard from him again? Since his bad texts on Saturday?”
She looked up at him.
“How did you know they were bad?”
He gestured to her face.
“That same worried look that’s on your face right now was on your face on Saturday night when you told your friends he’d texted you. I figured there was something in there that bothered you, and since you’d just rejected him in front of thousands of people, I assumed it was something pretty nasty.” He held up his hand when she started to protest. “I’m not blaming you for rejecting him in front of thousands of people. As a matter of fact, I was pretty impressed that you were honest with him, instead of being nice to him just to make him feel better. But when I saw that look on your face, I figured he wanted to lash out at you.”
“He sure did. Which . . . I like revenge as much as the next person, so I get that, but he didn’t have to keep going.”
He dropped his chicken and sat up straight.
“Is he still texting you?”
“I’m not sure. The last text I got from him before I blocked him was ‘Watch your back.’ I’m sure he’s just trying to freak me out. I don’t really think Fisher is the violent-revenge-for-rejecting-him type.” She shook her head. “But I should know better than to say that there’s no such thing as one violent-revenge type; anyone can be like that. I didn’t tell Courtney and Dana about that text. They would have freaked out, moved in with me, firebombed his house, and reported him to the police, probably in that order. Unfortunately, he succeeded in freaking me out, if that was his motive.”
He sympathized with Courtney and Dana. He would want to do the same if anyone texted stuff like that to Angela.
He reached across the table and touched Nik’s hand.
“I’m sorry that happened to you. Are you . . . do you live alone?” He shook his head. “Wow, did that sound creepy. What I meant was, are you okay? Are you worried that he’ll come to your house if you don’t respond to him?”
She started to shake her head and stopped.
“I wasn’t at first. I do live alone—I probably shouldn’t tell you that; you’re still a stranger, but hey, you have a good sister, you can’t be too terrible—and I wasn’t worried at all yesterday. But then today, after Fisher’s texts, and then all of the tweets and emails from strangers that were way worse than what he said . . . when I walked into my apartment, well. That was another reason I was glad to leave to go to dinner tonight; it was good to get out of there and have some company.”
He wanted to ask her what was in those messages from strangers that were way worse than Fisher’s texts, but he wasn’t sure if she wanted to talk about it. And he wasn’t sure if he was ready to hear the response.
Two more platters of food landed on their table. He scooped papaya salad and pork belly onto both of their plates.
“I’m glad I could help, but it sucks that he’s made you so anxious about this.”
She took a bite of the pork belly and grinned.
“This is delicious, but also it’s hot as hell.” She squeezed his hand, and he smiled at her. They looked at each other for a long time, their hands still linked across the table. Finally, she broke the eye contact and dropped his hand.
“Okay, please, let’s talk about something that isn’t me. I deserve your best teen-client story, after that.”
“I have a lot of good ones, but my favorite is the kid we nicknamed Santa, because he and his girlfriend tried to hide up the chimney.”
She rubbed her hands together.
“Tell me everything.”
. . . . . . .
When the waitress brought the check to the table, Nik handed the waitress her credit card.
“This one is on me. I’m still mad at you for paying for our drinks from Saturday. I owed you.”
He pursed his mouth and considered.
“Okay, fine, but you get all of the leftovers. Deal?”
He said that like it was a punishment. Which, considering how spicy some of their leftovers were . . . he might be correct about that.
“Deal. I can have them for lunch tomorrow, in between all of the cupcakes.”
As they walked to her car, he elbowed her.
“Yes?” she said, in answer to his look.
“I know you’re pretty nervous about all of the Fisher stuff. Do you want me to follow you home just to make sure everything is okay? I mean, I’m sure everything is fine, I just thought I’d—”
“Yeah,” she said. “That would be great.”
Why had she agreed to this so quickly, she wondered on the short drive to her house. She usually hated it when men got all protective about her safety, like she was some delicate flower who didn’t know how to protect herself.
But that hadn’t been what Carlos had done, and she’d appreciated it. After her panic from this afternoon, it would be nice to have backup for those thirty seconds it took for her to walk through her apartment. Plus, not to be shallow, but the way Carlos’s T-shirt clung to his biceps . . . she was pretty sure Carlos could take Fisher down easily.
But wait a second. Was she really going to get some dude she hardly knew to do a walk-through of her apartment just because she got a few nasty text messages? That was ridiculous. She was a grown woman; she’d lived on her own for years; she could take care of herself. She should text him right now and tell him that she was fine and didn’t need his help.
Yeah, she’d do that. She reached in her pocket for her phone. When she got home, she’d text her girlfriends and tell them how stupid she’d almost been.
Well, she’d text her girlfriends if she was still around to text them.
She could hear Courtney’s voice in her head.
What do you have to lose here? Are you really worried about looking silly in front of a man you barely know? Who cares?
She cared, damn it.
But her friends would kill her if she sent Carlos away and anything happened to her.
Okay, fine. She put her phone back in her pocket.
She parked in the lot behind her apartment building and met Carlos on the front steps.
“Thanks for coming inside with me. I feel like an idiot,” she said as she unlocked the door.
“Don’t worry about it,” he said. “I’m a pretty impressive dude; people feel like idiots around me all the time. I’m used to it.”
Despite her rising anxiety, she laughed as they walked up the stairs to her second-floor apartment.
“Did he have a key?” Carlos asked in a low voice.
Nik sighed and stopped on the stairs.
“I never gave him one, but I left my keys around all the time, and it’s easy to get keys copied. And there was one time when I forgot my keys at his house for a whole weekend and had to get my set of extra keys back from Dana. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, but . . . I’m paranoid now, I guess.”
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