She looked down at the phone gripped in her hand to see if maybe Carlos had texted again without her noticing, or maybe Drew had finished his surgery and sped over from the hospital.
“Alexa?” She looked up, and a red car was parked at the curb in front of her, a tall Latino guy getting out of the driver’s side.
“Carlos? Hi! It’s nice to meet you,” she said.
“Likewise.” He opened the passenger door for her and put her suitcase in the trunk. She settled into his car, then sat bolt upright. She really should have stopped in the bathroom and put her underwear back on.
He grinned at her once they were both in the car. Did he know what she was thinking? Did guys tell one another stories like that? She had no idea.
“Sorry if you had to wait,” he said. “I checked your flight info online, and you weren’t supposed to land until right now.”
They were already on their way out of the airport, dodging cars and rental car shuttles. He definitely drove like a guy driving a red sports car.
“Oh my goodness, it’s no problem,” she said. “Thank you so much for coming to pick me up. I really appreciate it.”
He threw a smile in her direction before pulling out of the airport.
“Don’t worry. Drew’s going to owe me big for this one. By the way, are you hungry? I have no idea when he’s going to be done, and I don’t want you to starve waiting for him. Want to pick something up on the way to his place?”
She set her tote bag down on the floor next to her feet, grateful that he’d asked. Maybe this guy was nicer than she’d assumed. She’d stress-eaten all of her purse snacks over the course of the workweek and hadn’t had time to eat anything today except for a salad at noon and a bag of peanuts on the airplane.
“I would love that, thank you. As long as it’s not out of your way?” Oh God, she thought, please don’t let him say it’s out of his way.
He laughed and turned down the radio.
“Tons of stuff in between here and there. Plus I’m hungry, too. Drew didn’t give me much warning here.”
She pulled off her cardigan and put it in her bag.
He glanced at her as he changed lanes.
“This was a last-minute thing—Drew couldn’t have helped it. But he was definitely looking forward to you coming.”
She shrugged. That was nice of Carlos to say, but . . . thank goodness he went back to the food topic.
“What are you in the mood for? In-N-Out? Pizza? Tacos? Sush—”
“Tacos, definitely,” she said, almost salivating. She relaxed against the leather seat and let her eyes drift shut for a second. She was suddenly exhausted, from the stress of the week, her sleepless nights, the last few hours of uncertainty.
“Awesome.” He accelerated and her eyes popped open. She probably should stay alert with him driving like this.
“One question before I decide where to get the tacos: how are you with spicy food?”
“I think my mom used to put Tabasco sauce in my bottles as a kid. I can take anything you’re dishing out.”
He changed lanes with barely a glance over his shoulder and grinned.
Thirty minutes later, she carried their food up the stairs to Drew’s apartment, while Carlos brought her suitcase. After he opened the door, she walked inside to see big windows, white walls, chrome appliances, and black-and-white prints everywhere. She dropped her tote bag next to the gray couch and looked around for a place to put the tacos.
“Put them on the coffee table,” Carlos said. “The game’s on. I’ll get napkins and beer.”
Alexa kicked off her shoes and left them in the corner by her suitcase. She wanted to change into her yoga pants and a T-shirt, instead of the sleek red shift dress she’d worn to work that day. But it felt awkward to wheel her stuff into Drew’s bedroom like she belonged there and change into her comfy clothes. She didn’t even know where Drew’s bedroom was.
The spread of tacos Carlos laid out on the table distracted her.
“Oh my God, that looks so good,” she said. She’d tried to pay for them, but he’d pushed her wallet aside. To be fair, he’d ordered for her, too.
He turned on the basketball game and plopped in the easy chair. Thank goodness Drew had an ugly throw blanket draped over the back of his couch. She sat in a corner, put the blanket over her lap, and tucked her feet up with a sigh of relief.
“These are so good,” she couldn’t stop saying as they ate. “Why don’t we have potato tacos at every taqueria in the Bay Area? I’m going to be angry about that for months, if not years.” She poured more of the habanero salsa over her taco.
Carlos added another taco to his plate and laughed.
“Don’t worry,” he said. “You can get potato tacos anytime you come down to visit.”
How was she supposed to answer that? She doubted if she’d ever be back to visit Drew. Anything she said to his friend about that would either be presumptuous or needy. So instead, she added a dollop of guacamole to her taco and took a bite.
She grabbed a carnitas taco next, and reached for one of the salsas that she hadn’t tried yet.
“Oh no.” Carlos took it away from her and handed her a container of the tomatillo salsa. “Try this one. That one I got for poor Drew. He can’t do too much spice.”
She raised her eyebrows at him and opened her mouth, then thought better of what she was about to say.
“I know what you were going to say,” Carlos said. “It’s a trial having a white dude as a best friend, but I’ve been working on him.”
They both burst out laughing and dug back in to the food.
Drew heard Alexa’s laugh from the other side of his apartment door. It made him smile, the way it had ever since her first laugh in the elevator. He opened the door to see her sitting with Carlos, both with plates of tacos from Carlos’s favorite taqueria on their laps. Carlos must approve if he’d brought her there. They were laughing so hard they didn’t notice him at first.
Hold on. Why was Carlos still here? He hadn’t told him to entertain her, just to drop her off at his apartment and let her in.
He wanted to sit next to her on his couch, kiss her, tell her how hot she looked in that dress, see her smile at him, maybe reach up under her dress to check her underwear situation. Instead, she was laughing with his best friend and hadn’t even heard him open the door.
“Hey,” was all he said.
She looked up and smiled at him, just the way he’d wanted her to. He smiled back, so happy to see her that he had to take a step back.
“You get me any tacos?” he asked Carlos. “I see you’re drinking my beer.”
Carlos gestured to the table but made no move to leave.
“Tacos for everyone, and I even remembered your favorite salsa. There’s more beer in the fridge.”
Drew went into the kitchen for a beer. At least there’d been a third plate on the table, so apparently Carlos hadn’t completely forgotten that Drew existed.
He sat on the couch next to Alexa and took a swig of his beer. She turned to face him, her smile more tentative now. He reached for her hand, and she gripped his fingers for a second.
“You must be starving,” she said. She let go of his hand but moved closer to him on the couch. “Have some tacos. How did the surgery go?”
He loaded up his plate and moved closer to her in the process, so by the time he sat back against the couch cushions they were hip to hip. Carlos was intent on the basketball game, but he had a tiny smirk on his face. He knew Drew was dying to get rid of him, damn him.
He took a bite, realized he hadn’t answered her question, tried to talk, then saw the error in that. She laughed at him, and he grinned once he could.
“Surgery went well. This is that kid I was telling you about last weekend, the one who was in the car accident.” He took another bite, happy that she was relaxed against him. “Sorry that I couldn’t pick you up.”
“It’s okay,” she said. She wiped her hands with a paper towel and set her plate back down on the table. “Will you need to go into the hospital this weekend to check on him?”