“I’d wear a hat until it grows back,” he said, sipping his beer, “but that’s just me.”

“It’s not that bad,” Sal said, as usual trying to come to the aid of one of Romero’s uncles.

“Nah, nah, nah.” Romero shook his head adamantly. “Don’t lie to him just ’cause you feel bad. He’s a big boy. He can take it.” Romero turned back to Max. “Look at that shit. It looks like halfway through the haircut the guy just dropped the scissors and said, ‘Fuck it!’”

Manny started wheezing with laughter, and that just got everyone else going. Everyone that is except Sal. Being the oldest of the three brothers, Sal had spent the least amount of time around Romero and his uncles. Alex and Angel had assured Sal many times this was the norm for Romero and his uncles. Still, unless you were around it a lot, it could make you uncomfortable or at least make you feel like you didn’t know his uncles well enough to be laughing at them. Especially if you thought Romero’s uncles would be as offended by his insults as most people would be. Though it went both ways in Romero’s family. Alex was already grinning inwardly just thinking about Romero’s great Uncle Janks, who was inside watching the game. The guy was worse than Romero and his uncles, but to look at him, you’d think he was just a sweet elderly man with a cane.

Alex had asked Janks earlier when he’d gone inside to say hello why he didn’t come outside and watch the game on the patio television with everyone else. His cantankerous response had been “Because it’s too loud. I can’t hear shit out there.” Then he’d pointed at Romero. “Especially with his f**king mouth running the whole time.”

Romero, of course, had just laughed, waving his great uncle off, motioning for Valerie and Alex to follow him out back. Even being prepared because they’d both been around Janks before, Alex and Valerie had still exchanged a stunned but humorous glance.

Not surprisingly, Sal changed the subject from Max’s haircut or Romero might’ve gone on for a while. But Romero didn’t balk at the subject change, since Sal brought up the fight. Instantly, they were debating how it was going to go down.

Alex turned to Valerie suddenly, wishing they could just skip out. They should be celebrating tonight, especially since this was their first weekend trying to change the way things were between them.

He leaned against the side of her face and whispered, “You wanna get outta here?”

Valerie turned to him, her eyes a bit wide. “What about the fight?”

Lifting and dropping a shoulder, he smiled, nuzzling her ear. “I thought maybe you’d rather go celebrate some other way.”

Once again, she smiled brightly as if Romero and his uncle’s antics had made her forget momentarily about celebrating. “Yes!” she said, nodding. “But after the fight. It’s all they’ve been talking about down at the office, and I know they’ll be talking about it on Monday.”

If he didn’t already know it, this only confirmed it. He had it bad for her. Hearing Valerie say she wanted to wait until after the fight was actually a bit disappointing. Normally, he wouldn’t pass up a fight for anything, especially one with this much hype. But Max and Manny were right. Alex wouldn’t argue with Romero because there just wasn’t any arguing with the guy. Everyone was saying that, unlike all his other fights, Sanchez wasn’t heavily favored this time. The story was he hadn’t prepared as he normally would, so it was likely that, unlike his other fights that usually ended with him knocking out someone in the early rounds, this one was expected to go all the way.

They’d been watching all the pre-main event fights outside in the patio TV, but they were moving inside now for the big fight. Even though it would soon be starting, Alex knew between the introductions and all the opening formalities it’d be at least another hour before he and Valerie could start celebrating.

The way Romero was acting it was obvious he thought he’d be celebrating his winning bets soon enough. Romero clapped his hands then rubbed them together in anticipation. With a big grin, he glanced at Janks, who was sitting back in his recliner. He was as much a boxing aficionado as Romero and his uncles were. “You having fun, Janks?”

Janks turned to him with that ever-grumpy face and nodded.

“Then tell your face that.” Romero smirked. “What are you, constipated?” He turned to Max. “Someone get the guy a drink.”

“You know I can’t drink, ass**le,” Janks shot back then hacked loudly.

“Easy there, Grandpa.” Romero laughed.

“All right, shut up,” Manny said, holding up the remote and turning the volume up as each of the fighters took his time making his way into the ring.

Max and Manny’s family room was so packed as was the usual whenever they all got together to watch a fight of this caliber. So Alex stood against the kitchen island that opened up to Romero’s uncles’ family room, and Valerie leaned up against him.

Normally, unlike Angel who’d never had qualms about showing his affection for Sarah regardless of who was around, Alex was more reserved with the sweetness. Things were different now. He could be open about how much Valerie meant to him because he didn’t have to worry that he might hear about someone seeing her hanging with another dude and having to play it off as if it were no big deal. Because it was a big deal. A very big f**king deal.

Always had been.

But in conversation he’d always played it off. Though he had to wonder if anyone ever bought it, since he wasn’t very good at hiding his utter annoyance about the thought of Valerie with anyone else. It felt good that now he could openly cuddle her—kiss her sweetly—and he did just that. With his arms wrapped snugly around her waist, he nuzzled the side of her face, and she brought her hand up to touch his cheek. “I’m crazy about you, Val,” he whispered even as Angel and Sarah stood just a foot away.