Main Josh and Hazel's Guide to Not Dating

Josh and Hazel's Guide to Not Dating

5.0 / 5.0
How much do you like this book?
What’s the quality of the file?
Download the book for quality assessment
What’s the quality of the downloaded files?
Hazel Camille Bradford
knows she’s a lot to take—and frankly, most men aren’t up to the
challenge. If her army of pets and thrill for the absurd don’t send them
running, her lack of filter means she’ll say exactly the wrong thing in
a delicate moment. Their loss. She’s a good soul in search of honest
fun.

Josh Im has known Hazel since college, where her zany
playfulness proved completely incompatible with his mellow restraint.
From the first night they met—when she gracelessly threw up on his
shoes—to when she sent him an unintelligible email while in a
post-surgical haze, Josh has always thought of Hazel more as a spectacle
than a peer. But now, ten years later, after a cheating girlfriend has
turned his life upside down, going out with Hazel is a breath of fresh
air.

Not that Josh and Hazel date. At least, not each other.
Because setting each other up on progressively terrible double blind
dates means there’s nothing between them...right?
Year:
2018
Publisher:
Hachette UK
Language:
english
Pages:
309
ISBN 13:
9780349421858
File:
MOBI , 822 KB
Download (mobi, 822 KB)

You may be interested in Powered by Rec2Me

 

Most frequently terms

 
2 comments
 
Chanyeol
I cant stress enough the amount of love i have fot this book. Its amazing and so heartwarming. I pretty sure i cried too. Love the friends to lovers trope
17 June 2021 (17:41) 
Muko
My favorite book..
It's funny ,gives you butterflies it's refreshing I definitely recommend ?
22 June 2021 (16:03) 

You can write a book review and share your experiences. Other readers will always be interested in your opinion of the books you've read. Whether you've loved the book or not, if you give your honest and detailed thoughts then people will find new books that are right for them.
1

A Ladder to the Sky

Year:
2018
Language:
english
File:
MOBI , 587 KB
0 / 0
2

The Simple Wild: A Novel

Year:
2018
Language:
english
File:
MOBI , 1.32 MB
5.0 / 5.0
Christina Lauren is the combined pen name of longtime writing partners/besties/soulmates and brain-twins Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings, the New York Times, USA Today and #1 international bestselling authors of the Beautiful and Wild Seasons series, Sublime, The House and Autoboyography.


You can find them online at:

ChristinaLaurenBooks.com

Facebook.com/ChristinaLaurenBooks

@ChristinaLauren





OTHER WORKS BY CHRISTINA LAUREN


Love and Other Words

Roomies

Dating You / Hating You

THE BEAUTIFUL SERIES

Beautiful Bastard

Beautiful Stranger

Beautiful Bitch

Beautiful Bombshell

Beautiful Player

Beautiful Beginning

Beautiful Beloved

Beautiful Secret

Beautiful Boss

Beautiful

THE WILD SEASONS SERIES

Sweet Filthy Boy

Dirty Rowdy Thing

Dark Wild Night

Wicked Sexy Liar

YOUNG ADULT

The House

Sublime

Autoboyography





Copyright




Published by Piatkus

ISBN: 978-0-349-42185-8

All characters and events in this publication, other than those clearly in the public domain, are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Copyright © 2018 Christina Hobbs and Lauren Billings

The moral right of the author has been asserted.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher.

The publisher is not responsible for websites (or their content) that are not owned by the publisher.

Piatkus

Little, Brown Book Group

Carmelite House

50 Victoria Embankment

London EC4Y 0DZ

www.littlebrown.co.uk

www.hachette.co.uk





Contents




About the Author

Other Works By Christina Lauren

Title Page

Copyright

Dedication

Prologue

One

Two

Three

Four

Five

Six

Seven

Eight

Nine

Ten

Eleven

Twelve

Thirteen

Fourteen

Fifteen

Sixteen

Seventeen

Eighteen

Nineteen

Twenty

Twenty-One

Twenty-Two

Twenty-Three

Epilogue

Acknowledgments

Praise for the novels of Christina Lauren





For Jen Lum, and Kati; e and David Lee.





PROLOGUE



HAZEL CAMILLE BRADFORD



Before we get started, there are a few things you should know about me:

1. I am both broke and lazy—a terrible combination.

2. I am perpetually awkward at parties and in an effort to relax will probably end up drinking until I’m topless.

3. I tend to like animals more than people.

4. I can always be counted on to do or say the worst possible thing in a delicate moment.

In summary, I am superb at making an ass out of myself.

At the outset, this should explain how I have successfully never dated Josh Im: I have made myself entirely undatable in his presence.

For instance, the first time we met, I was eighteen and he was twenty and I vomited on his shoes.

Surprising no one who was there (and consistent with point number two, above), I don’t remember this night, but trust me—Josh does. Apparently I’d toppled an entire folding table of drinks mere minutes after arriving at my first real college party, and retreated to the shame corner with my fellow freshmen, where I could drown my embarrassment in the remaining cheap alcohol.

When Josh tells this story he makes sure to mention that before I threw up on his shoes, I charmed him with a dazed “You are the hottest guy I’ve ever seen, and I would be honored to give you sex tonight.”

I chased down the bitter taste of his horrified silence with a badly advised body shot of triple sec off Tony Bialy’s abs.

Five minutes later, I was vomiting all over everything, including Josh.

It didn’t end there. A year later, I was a sophomore, and Josh was a senior. By then I’d learned you don’t do shots of triple sec, and when a sock is slid over the doorknob, it means your roommate is getting laid, so don’t come in.

Unfortunately, Josh didn’t speak sock, and I didn’t know he was rooming with Mike Stedermeier, star quarterback and the guy I was currently banging. Currently banging, as in that very moment. Which is why the second time I met Josh Im, he walked into his dorm room to find me naked, bent over his couch, going for it on fourth and long.

But I would say the best example comes from a little story we like to call The Email Incident.

Spring semester of my sophomore year, Josh was my anatomy TA. Up until that point, I’d known he was good-looking, but I’d had no idea that he was actually amazing. He held extra office hours to help people who fell behind. He shared his old notes with us and held study sessions at coffee shops before exams. He was smart, and funny, and laid-back in a way I already knew I would never master.

We were all infatuated with him, but for me it went deeper: Josh Im became my blueprint for Perfect. I wanted to be his friend.

So, I’d just had my wisdom teeth out. I was convinced beforehand that it would be simple: pull a few teeth, take a few ibuprofen, call it a day. But as it happens, my teeth were impacted and I had to be knocked out for their removal. I woke up later at home, in a painkiller-induced sweat, with hollow aching caves in my mouth, cheeks full of cotton tubes, and the frantic recollection that I had a paper due in two days.

Ignoring my mom’s suggestion that she soberly send one for me, I composed and sent the following email, which Josh currently has printed out and framed in his bathroom:

Dera Josh.,

In class you sed that if we email you our paper you would look over them. I wanted to send you my paper and I put it in my calendar so as not forget. But the thing that happened is that I had a witsdom tooth out actually all of them. I have tried very hard in this clas and have a solid B (!!!). You are very smart and I nknw that I will do better if you help me. Can I have a few extra days???? I’m not feeling very well with this pills and please I know that you can’t make exceptions for all the pope but if you do it for me this one thing I will give all my wishes in a fountain for youfrom now on

i love you,

Hazel Bradford (it’s Hazel not Haley like you said it’s ok don’t be embearassed emberessed sad)

Incidentally, he also has his reply printed out, and framed just below it:

Hazel-not-Haley,

I can make this exception. And don’t worry, I’m not embarrassed. It’s not like I puked in your shoes or rolled around naked on your couch.

Josh

It was at this moment precisely that I knew Josh and I were destined to be best friends and I could never, ever mess it up by trying to sleep with him.

Unfortunately, he graduated, and sleeping with him wouldn’t be a problem because it would be nearly a decade before I saw him again. You’d think in that time I would have become less of a hot mess, or he would have forgotten all about Hazel-not-Haley Bradford.

You’d be wrong.





ONE



HAZEL



SEVEN YEARS LATER

Anyone who knew me in college might be horrified to hear that I ended up employed as an elementary school teacher, responsible for educating our wide-eyed, sponge-brained youth, but in truth, I suspect I’m pretty great at it. For one, I’m not afraid of making a fool of myself. And two, I think there’s something about the eight-year-old brain that just resonates with me on a spiritual level.

Third grade is my sweet spot; eight-year-olds are a trip.

After two years spent student-teaching fifth grade, I felt constantly sticky and harried. Another year in transitional kindergarten and I knew I didn’t have the endurance for so much potty training. But third felt like the perfect balance of fart jokes without the sometimes-disastrous intentional farting, hugs from kids who think I’m the smartest person alive, and having enough authority to get everyone’s attention simply by clapping my hands once.

Unfortunately, today is the last day of school, and as I take down the many, many inspirational pages, calendars, sticker charts, and art masterpieces from my classroom walls, I register that this is also the last day I’m going to see this particular third grade classroom. A tiny ball of grief materializes in my throat.

“You have Sad Hazel posture.”

I turn, surprised to find Emily Goldrich behind me. She’s not only my best gal, she’s also a teacher—though not here at Merion—and she looks tidy and recently showered because she’s a week ahead of me into summer break. Em is also holding what I pray is a bag full of Thai takeout. I am hungry enough to eat the little jeweled apple clip in her hair. I look like a filthy mop head covered in the fading glitter eight-year-old Lucy Nguyen decided would be a fun last-day surprise.

“I am, a little.” I point around the room, at three out of four empty walls. “Though there’s something cathartic about it, too.”

Emily and I met about nine months ago in an online political forum, where it was clear we were both childless because of all the time we spent there ranting into the void. We met up in person for venting over coffee and became immediate fast friends. Or, maybe more accurately, I decided she was amazing and invited her to coffee again and again until she agreed. The way Emily describes it: when I meet someone I love, I become an octopus and wind my tentacles around their heart, tighter and tighter until they can’t deny they love me just the same.

Emily works at Riverview teaching fifth (a true warrior among us), and when a position opened for a third grade teacher there, I sprinted down to the district with my application in hand. So desperate was I for the coveted spot in a top-ten school that only once I got out of my car and started the march up the steps to HR did I register that I was (1) braless and (2) still wearing my Homer Simpson slippers.

No matter. I was properly attired for the interview two weeks later. And guess who got the job?

I think it’s me!

(As in, it isn’t confirmed but Emily is married to the principal so I’m pretty sure I’m in.)

“Are you coming tonight?”

Em’s question pulls me out of the mental and physical war I’m waging with a particularly stubborn staple in the wall. “Tonight?”

“Tonight.”

I glance at her patiently over my shoulder. “More clues.”

“My house.”

“More specific clues?” I’ve spent many a Friday night at Em’s, playing Mexican Train dominoes with her and Dave and eating whatever meat Dave has grilled that night.

She sighs and walks to my desk, retrieving a hammer from my dalmatian-print box of tools so I can more easily pry the metal from the plaster. “The barbecue.”

“Right!” I brandish the hammer in victory. That little asshole staple is mine to destroy! (Or recycle responsibly.) “The work party.”

“It’s not officially work. But a few of the cool teachers will be there, and you might want to meet them.”

I eye her with faint trepidation; we all remember Hazel Point Number Two. “You promise you’ll monitor my booze intake?”

For some reason, this makes her laugh, and it causes a silver pulse of anticipation to flash through my blood when she tells me, “You’ll be just fine with the Riverview crowd.”

..........

I get the sense Emily wasn’t yanking my chain. I hear music all the way to the curb when I climb out of Giuseppe, my trusty 2009 Saturn. The music is by one of the Spanish singers that Dave loves, layered with the irregular sound of glass clinking, voices, and Dave’s awesome braying laugh. My nose tells me he’s grilling carne asada, which means that he’s also making margaritas, which means I’ll need to stay focused to keep my shirt on tonight.

Wish me luck.

With a deep, bracing breath, I do one more check of my outfit. I swear it’s not a vanity thing; more often than not, something is unbuttoned, a hem is tucked into underwear, or I’ve got an important garment on inside out. This characteristic might explain, in part, why third graders feel so at home in my classroom.

Emily and Dave’s house is a late Victorian with a shock of independently minded ivy invading the side that leads to the backyard. A winding flower bed points the way to the gate; I follow it around to where the sound of music floats up and over the fence.

Emily really went all out for this “Welcome, Summer!” barbecue. A garland of paper lanterns is strung over the walkway. Her sign even has the correct comma placement. Dinner parties at my apartment consist of paper plates, boxed wine, and the last three minutes before serving featuring me running around like a maniac because I burned the lasagna, insisting I DON’T NEED ANY HELP JUST SIT DOWN AND RELAX.

I shouldn’t really get into the comparison game with Emily, of all people. I love the woman but she makes the rest of us look like limp vegetation. She gardens, knits, reads at least a book a week, and has the enviable ability to eat like a frat boy without ever gaining weight. She also has Dave, who, aside from being my new boss (fingers crossed!), is progressive in an effortless way that makes me feel like he’s a better feminist than I am. He’s also almost seven feet tall (I measured him with uncooked spaghetti one night) and good-looking in an Are you sure he isn’t a fireman? kind of way. I bet they have amazing sex.

Emily shrieks my name, and a backyard full of my future friends turns to see why she’s just shouted, “Get your rack over here!” But I’m immediately distracted by the sight of the yard tonight. The grass is the kind of green you’ll only find in the Pacific Northwest. It rolls away from the stone path like an emerald carpet. The beds are full of hostas just starting to unfurl their leaves, and a massive oak stands in the center of it all, its branches heavy with tiny paper lanterns and stretched in a canopy of leaves protecting the guests from the last bit of fading sun.

Emily waves me over and I smile at Dave—nodding like, Duh, Dave, when he holds up the margarita pitcher in question—and cross through a small group of people (maybe my new colleagues!) to the far end of the yard.

“Hazel,” Em calls, “come over here. Seriously,” she says to the two women at her side, “you’re going to love her so much.”

So, hey guess what? My first conversation with the third grade teachers at Riverview is about breasts, and this time I wasn’t even the one to bring them up. I know! I wouldn’t have expected that, either! Apparently Trin Beckman is the most senior teacher in our grade, and when Emily points to her breasts, I readily agree she’s got a great rack. She seems to think they need to be in a better bra and then mentions something about three pencils I don’t entirely catch. Allison Patel, my other third grade peer, is lamenting her A cups.

Emily points to her own A’s and frowns at my perky C’s. “You win.”

“What does my trophy look like?” I ask. “A giant bronze cock?”

The words are out before I can stop them. I swear my mouth and my brain are siblings who hate each other and give each other wedgies in the form of mortifying moments like this. Now it seems my brain has deserted me.

Emily looks like a giant bird has just flown into her mouth. Allison looks like she’s contemplating this all very seriously. We all startle when Trin bursts out laughing. “You were right, she is going to be fun.”

I exhale, and feel a tiny bolt of pride at this—especially when I realize she’s drinking water. Trin isn’t tickled by my lack of filter because she’s already tipsy on one of Dave’s killer margaritas; she’s just cool with weirdos. My octopus tentacles twitch at my side.

A shadow materializes at Emily’s right but I’m distracted by the perfectly timed margarita Dave presses into my hand with a whispered, “Take it slow, H-Train,” before disappearing again.

My new boss is the best!

“What’s going on over here?”

It’s an unfamiliar male voice, and Emily answers, “We were just discussing how Hazel’s boobs are better than all of ours.”

I look up from my drink to see whether I actually know the person currently studying my chest and … oh.

Ohhhh.

Dark eyes widen and quickly flicker away. A carved jaw twitches. My stomach turns over.

It’s him. Josh.

Josh fucking Im. The blueprint for Perfect.

He coughs out a husky breath. “I think I’ll skip the boob talk.”

Somehow Josh is even better-looking than he was in college, all tanned and fit and with his flawlessly crafted features. He’s ducking away in horror already but my brain takes this opportunity to give my mouth a revenge wedgie.

“It’s cool.” I wave an extremely casual hand. “Josh has already seen my boobs.”

The party stops.

Air stills.

“I mean, not because he wanted to see them.” My brain desperately tries to fix this. “They were forced on him.”

A wind chime rings mournfully in the distance.

Birds stop flying midair and fall to their deaths.

“Not forced, like, by me,” I say, and Emily groans in pain. “But like his roommate had me—”

Josh puts a hand on my arm. “Hazel. Just … stop.”

Emily looks on, completely confused. “Wait. How do you guys know each other?”

He answers without taking his eyes off me. “College.”

“Glory days, am I right?” I give him my best grin.

With an expectant look tossed to each of us Trin asks, “Did you guys date?”

Josh pales. “Oh my God. Never.”

Holy crap, I forgot how much I like this guy.

..........

That little shyster Dave Goldrich, principal, waits until I’ve had three margaritas before telling me I officially have the job as Riverview’s newest third grade teacher. I’m pretty sure he does this to see what astounding response comes out of my mouth, so I hope he isn’t disappointed with “Holy shit! Are you fucking with me?”

He laughs. “I am not.”

“Do I already have a thick HR file?”

“Not officially.” Bending from somewhere up near the International Space Station, Dave drifts down to plant a kiss on the top of my head. “But you’re not getting the favorite treatment, either. I separate work life from personal. You’ll need to do the same.”

I pick up on the only thing that matters here. “I’m your favorite?” I bare my teeth, flashing my charming dimple. “I won’t tell Emily if you won’t.” Dave laughs and makes a dramatic reach for my glass, but I evade him, leaning in to add, “About Josh. Is he a tea—?”

“My sister didn’t tell me you’re joining the staff at Riverview.” Josh must be part vampire because I swear he just materializes in empty spaces near warm bodies.

I straighten, flapping at the air in front of my face and trying to clear the confusion. “Your sister?”

“My sister,” he repeats slowly, “known to you as Emily Goldrich, known to our parents as Im Yujin.”

All of a sudden, it clicks. I’ve only ever known Em’s married name. It never occurred to me that the beloved big brother—or oppa—I’m always hearing about is the very same Josh I barfed on all those years ago. Wow. Apparently this is the grown-up version of the metal-mouthed tween brother I’ve seen in the row of photos in Emily’s living room. Well done, puberty.

Turning, I yell over my shoulder, “Emily, your Korean name is Yujin?”

She nods. “He’s Jimin.”

I look at him like I’m seeing a new person in front of me. The two syllables of his name are like a sensual exhale, something I might say immediately preorgasm when words fail me. “That might be the hottest name I’ve ever heard.”

He blanches, like he’s afraid I’m about to offer to have sex with him again, and I burst out laughing.

I realize I should be mortified that Past Hazel was so dramatically inappropriate, but it’s not like I’m that much better now, and regret isn’t really my speed anyway. For the count of three quick breaths, Josh and I grin at each other in intense shared amusement. Our eyes are cartoon-spiral wild.

But then his smile straightens as he seems to remember that I am ridiculous.

“I promise to not proposition you at your sister’s party,” I tell him, pseudo–sotto voce.

Josh mumbles an awkward “Thanks.”

Dave asks, “Hazel propositioned you?”

Josh nods, holding eye contact with me for a couple more seconds before looking over to his brother-in-law—my new boss. “She did.”

“I did,” I agree. “In college. Just before vomiting on his shoes. It was one of my more undatable moments.”

“She’s had a few.” Josh blinks down when his phone buzzes, pulling it out of his pocket. He reads a text with absolutely no reaction and then puts the phone away.

There must be some male pheromone thing happening, because Dave has extracted something from this moment that I have not. “Bad news?” he asks, brows drawn, voice all low, like Josh is a sheet of fragile glass.

Josh shrugs, expression even. A muscle ticks in his jaw and I resist reaching out and pressing it like I’m playing Simon. “Tabitha isn’t going to make it up for the weekend.”

I feel my own jaw creak open. “There are real people named Tabitha?”

Both men turn to look at me like they don’t know what I mean.

But come on.

“I just—” I continue, haltingly. “Tabitha seems like what you’d name someone if you expect them to be really, really … evil. Like, living in a lair and hoarding spotted puppies.”

Dave clears his throat and lifts his glass to his mouth, drinking deeply. Josh stares at me. “Tabby is my girlfriend.”

“Tabby?”

Swallowing back a strangled laugh, Dave puts a gentle hand on my shoulder. “Hazel. Shut up.”

“HR file?” I look up at his familiar face, all bearded and calm. It’s dark out now, and he’s backlit by a few strings of outdoor lights.

“The party doesn’t count,” he assures me, “but you’re a maniac. Ease Josh in a little.”

“I think the fact that I’m a maniac is partly why I’m your favorite.”

Dave nearly breaks, but he manages to turn and walk away before I can tell. I am now alone with Josh Im. He studies me like he’s looking at something infectious through a microscope.

“I always thought I caught you in … a phase.” His left eyebrow makes a fancy arch. “Apparently you’re just like this.”

“I feel like I have a lot to apologize for,” I admit, “but I can’t be sure I won’t be constantly exasperating you, so maybe I’ll just wait until we’re elderly.”

Half of his mouth turns up. “I can say without question I’ve honestly never known anyone else like you.”

“So completely undatable?”

“Something like that.”





TWO



JOSH



Hazel Bradford. Wow.

Pretty much everyone we went to college with has a Hazel Bradford story. Of course, my old roommate Mike has many—mostly of the wild sexual variety—but others have ones more similar to mine: Hazel Bradford doing a mud run half marathon and coming to her night lab before showering because she didn’t want to be late. Hazel Bradford getting more than a thousand signatures of support to enter a local hot dog eating contest/fund-raiser before remembering, onstage and while televised, that she was trying to be a vegetarian. Hazel Bradford holding a yard sale of her ex-boyfriend’s clothes while he was still asleep at the party where she found him naked with someone else (incidentally, another guy from his terrible garage band). And—my personal favorite—Hazel Bradford giving an oral presentation on the anatomy and function of the penis in Human Anatomy.

I could never quite tell whether she was oblivious or just didn’t care what people thought, but no matter how chaotic she was, she always managed to give off an innocent, unintentionally wild vibe. And here she is in the flesh—all five foot four of her, a hundred and ten pounds soaking wet, huge brown eyes, with her hair in an enormous brown bun—and I don’t think anything has changed.

“Can I call you Jimin?” she asks.

“No.”

Confusion flickers across her face. “You should be proud of your heritage, Josh.”

“I am,” I say, fighting a smile. “But you just said it ‘Jee-Min.’ ”

I’m given a blank stare.

“It’s not the same,” I explain, and say it again: “Jimin.”

She takes on a dramatic, seductive expression. “Jeee-minnnn?”

“No.”

Giving up, Hazel straightens and sips her margarita, looking around. “Do you live in Portland?”

“I do.” Just behind her, in the distance, I see my sister walk up to Dave, pull him down to her level, ask him something, and then they both look at me. I’m positive she’s just asked where Tabby is.

I knew, when Tabitha took the job in L.A.—her dream job to write for a fashion magazine—that there would be weekends when one or the other of us would be stuck and unable to fly south (me) or north (her), but it sucks that on three out of four of her weekends to come up here, she’s flaked last minute.

Or maybe not flaked so much as had a last-minute work emergency.

But what kind of emergencies do they have at a style magazine?

Honestly, I have no clue. Whatever.

Hazel is still talking.

I turn my attention back down to her just as she seems to wrap up whatever it was she was asking. She stares at me expectantly, grinning in her wide-open way.

“What’s that?” I ask.

She clears her throat, speaking slowly, “I asked whether you were okay.”

I nod, tilting my bottled water to my lips and trying to wipe away the irritation she must see slashed across my mouth. “I’m good. Just mellow. Long week.” I do a mental tally: I averaged eleven hours and thirty-five clients a day this week alone so I could be free all weekend. Knee replacements, hip replacements, bursitis, sprains, torn ligaments, and one dislocated pelvis that made my hands feel weak before I even attempted to work on it.

“It’s just that you’re sort of monosyllabic,” Hazel says, and I look down at her. “You’re drinking water when there are Dave’s margaritas to be had.”

“I’m not very good at …” I trail off, gesturing with my bottle to the growing melee around us.

“Drinking?”

“No, just …”

“Putting words together into sentences, and then sentences together into conversation?”

Pursing my lips at her, I say primly, “Socializing in large crowds.”

This earns me a laugh, and I watch as her shoulders lift toward her ears and she snickers like a cartoon character. Her bun wobbles back and forth on the top of her head. A guilty pulse flashes through me when I realize that despite being goofy, she’s sexy as hell, too.

I can feel the reaction work its way from my heart to my groin, and cover with “You are so weird.”

“It’s true. I’m around kids all day—what do you expect?” I’m about to remind her that it seems like she’s always been this way when she continues, “What do you do for a living?”

“I’m a physical therapist.” I look around the yard to see whether my business partner, Zach, has shown up yet, but I don’t see a flash of orange hair anywhere. “My partner and I opened our practice about a year ago, downtown.”

Hazel groans in jealousy. “You get to talk about cores all day, and working things nice and deep. I would never get any actual work done.”

“I mean, I occasionally get to tell people to take their pants off, but it’s rarely the people you want to see naked from the waist down.”

She gives me a thoughtful frown. “I sometimes wonder what the world would be like if clothes were never invented.”

“I literally never wonder that.”

Hazel rolls on without pause. “Like if we were just naked all the time, what things would have been developed differently?”

I take a sip of my water. “We probably wouldn’t ride horses.”

“Or we’d just have calluses in weird places.” She taps her lips with her index finger. “Bike seats would be different.”

“Very likely.”

“Women probably wouldn’t shave their labia.”

A jarring physical reaction cracks through me. “Hazel, that is a terrible word.”

“What? We actually don’t have hair inside our vaginas.” I stifle another shudder and she levels me with the fiery stare of a woman scorned. “Besides, no one winces at the word ‘scrotum.’ ”

“I absolutely wince at ‘scrotum.’ And ‘glans.’ ”

“Glaaaans,” she says, elongating the word. “Terrible.”

I stare at her for a few quiet seconds. Her shoulders are bare, and there’s a single freckle on her left one. Her collarbones are defined, arms sculpted like she exercises. I get a flash of a mental image of Hazel using watermelons as weights. “I feel like you’re making me drunk just by speaking.” I peer into her glass. “Like some kind of osmosis is happening.”

“I think we’re going to be best friends.” At my bewildered silence, she reaches up and ruffles my hair. “I live in Portland, you live in Portland. You have a girlfriend and I have a huge assortment of Netflix series backlogged. We both hate the word ‘glans.’ I know and love your sister. She loves me. This is the perfect setup for boy-girl bestship: I’ve already been unbearable near you, which makes it impossible to scare you away.”

Quickly swallowing a sip of water, I protest, “I’m afraid you’re going to try.”

She seems to ignore this. “I think you think I’m fun.”

“Fun in the way that clowns are fun.”

Hazel looks up at me, eyes on fire with excitement. “I seriously thought I was the only person alive who loves clowns!”

I can’t hold in my laugh. “I’m kidding. Clowns are terrifying. I won’t even walk too close to the storm drain in front of my house.”

“Well.” She threads her arm through mine, leading me closer to the heart of the party. When she leans in to whisper, my stomach drops somewhere around my navel, the way it does at the first lurch of a roller coaster. “We have nowhere to go but up.”

..........

Hazel sidles us up to a pair of guys standing near the built-in grill—John and Yuri, two of my sister’s (and now Hazel’s) colleagues. Their conversation halts as we approach, and Hazel holds out a firm hand.

“I’m Hazel. This is Josh.”

The three of us regard her with faint amusement. I’ve known them both for years.

“We go way back,” John says, tilting his head to me, but he shakes her hand, and I watch her methodically take in his shoulder-length dreads, mustache, beret, and T-shirt that reads SCIENCE DOESN’T CARE WHAT YOU BELIEVE. I hold my breath, wondering what Hazel is going to do with him because, as a white dude with dreadlocks, John has made it pretty easy for her, but she just turns to Yuri, smiling and shaking his hand.

“John and Yuri work with Em,” I tell her. I use my bottle to point to John. “As you may have guessed, he teaches science to the upper grades. Yuri is music and theater. Hazel is the new third grade teacher.”

They offer congratulations and Hazel curtsies. “Do third graders get music?” she asks Yuri.

He nods. “Kindergarten through second is vocal only. In third they begin a string instrument. Violin, viola, or cello.”

“Can I learn, too?” Her eyebrows slowly rise. “Like, sit in on the class?”

John and Yuri smile at Hazel in the bemused way that says, Is she fucking serious? I imagine most elementary school teachers nap, eat, or cry when they have a free period.

Hazel does a little dance and mimes playing a cello. “I’ve always wanted to be the next Yo-Yo Ma.”

“I … guess so?” Yuri says, disarmed by the power of Hazel Bradford’s cartoon giggle and bewitching honesty. I turn and look at her, worrying about what Yuri has just gotten himself into. But when he checks out her chest, he doesn’t seem worried at all.

“Yo-Yo Ma began performing when he was four and a half,” I tell her.

“I’d better get cracking, then. Don’t let me down, Yuri.”

He laughs and asks her where she’s from. Half listening to her answer—only child, born in Eugene, raised by an artist mother and engineer father, Lewis & Clark for college—I pull out my phone and check the latest texts from Tabby, each of them sent about five minutes apart. I hate that I get a tiny bit of pleasure knowing that she kept checking her phone.





I blow out a controlled breath, and type,



..........

“She said you were going to be best friends?” My sister frowns at a shirt and drops it back on the pile at Nordstrom Rack. “I’m her best friend.”

“It’s what she said.” A laugh rises in my chest but doesn’t make its way out when I remember Hazel accepting her fourth margarita from Dave and asking me to staple her shirt to her waistband. “She’s a trip.”

“She’s made me weird,” Em says. “It’ll happen to you, too.”

I think I know exactly what Em means, but seeing the effect Hazel has had on my sister—making her more fun-loving, giving her social confidence that only now, in hindsight, can I really attribute to Hazel—I don’t consider this oddness a bad thing. And Hazel is so unlike Tabby and Zach—so unlike everyone, really, but maybe the polar opposite of my girlfriend and best friend, who both tend to be quiet and observant—that I think it might be fun to have her around. Like keeping interesting beer in the fridge that you’re always surprised and pleased to find there.

Is that a terrible metaphor? I glance at my sister and mentally calculate the amount of physical damage she could inflict with the hanger she’s holding.

“She’s half ‘hot exasperating mess’ and half ‘color in a monotone landscape.’ ” Em pulls the shirt from the hanger and hands it to me. I fold it over my arm, letting her—as usual—pick my clothes. “I can’t believe Tabby isn’t here, again.”

I don’t bite. It’s the third time she’s tried to bait me into a conversation about my girlfriend.

“Doesn’t she know that relationships take work?”

Sliding my gaze over to her, I remind her, “She has a deadline, Em.”

“Does she really, though?” Her voice is high and tight and she takes out her frustration on a pair of shorts she throws back down on the stack in front of her. “Doesn’t this evasion of hers feel like … like …”

I prepare for this with a deep breath, hoping my sister doesn’t go there.

“Like she’s cheating?” she asks.

And she went there.

“Emily,” I begin calmly, “when Dave is working crazy hours at the school, and you come over and eat dinner at my place and vent about how you haven’t seen him in days, do I tell you, ‘Well, maybe he’s got someone on the side’?”

“No, but Dave is also not a flaky asshole.”

This trips my fuse. “What is your deal with Tabby? She’s only ever been nice to you.”

She flinches at my volume, because it’s pretty high, which I know is rare. “It’s not even that you’re too good for her, or she’s too good for you,” she says, “it’s like you guys are in different circles. You have different values.”

It’s true that our parents—who moved here from Seoul when they were newly married and nineteen—aren’t huge fans of Tabitha, but I also think they might not be huge fans of any non-Korean girl I date. Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s what Emily means. I give her a bewildered look.

She turns to face me fully, ticking reasons off on her fingers. “Tabby is the only person I know who has silk sheets. She spends hours getting ready to end up looking like she’s just rolled out of bed. You, on the other hand, love camping and still occasionally wear the sweatpants I got you for Christmas nine years ago.”

I shake my head, still not following.

“She thinks of Heathers as a pretty good guide to social etiquette.” Emily stares at me. “She laughs at Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion completely without irony but has sat through four Christopher Guest films with us without cracking a single smile. Even when she does come home to visit you, she spends half her time battling out Who Wore It Better debates in the comments on Instagram.”

I blink, trying to connect the dots. “So your issue with her is … you think she’s shallow?”

“No, I’m not saying that. If those things make her happy, then fine. What I’m saying is I think you don’t have a lot in common. I watch you guys interact and it’s, like, silence, or ‘Can you hand me the carrots over there on the counter?’ She is very, very enmeshed in the world of fashion, and Hollywood, and appearances.” Emily stares up at me, and I get the silent communication as I shuffle the load of clothes she’s selected for me from one arm to the other.

“Well, then it’s convenient for both her and me that I don’t care what I wear. Obviously, I let the women in my life choose.”

My sister’s eyes narrow and I watch as she shrewdly takes a different tack. “What do you guys do when she’s here?”

I file through the images of Tabby’s last few visits. Sex. Walking to the corner for groceries. Tabby didn’t want to go canoeing or hiking and I didn’t feel like hitting the bars, so we stayed in for more sex. Dinner out nearby, followed by sex.

I’m pretty sure my sister doesn’t want that level of specificity, but she doesn’t need me to answer, apparently, because she rolls on. “And what do you do when you visit her?”

Sex, clubs, crowded restaurants, everyone on their phones texting people across the room, more clubs, me complaining about the clubs, me hiking Runyon Canyon alone, coming back to her place and having more sex.

Emily looks away. “Anyway, I’m meddling.”

“You are.” I guide her toward the cashier; I’m getting bored looking at clothes.

I pay for our items, thank the woman at the register, and we leave, walking along the paved path of the outdoor mall, ducking past kiosk workers aggressively waving skin cream samples at us. Emily looks up at me with reconciliation in her smile. “Let’s get back to what we were talking about before.”

We are in agreement here. “I think we were talking about the barbecue.”

She slides her eyes to me. “You mean we were talking about Hazel.”

Ah. Clarity slaps me. Turning, I stop her with a hand on her shoulder. “I already have a girlfriend.”

My sister gives me a pruney face. “I’m aware.”

“In case you’re trying to start something between me and Hazel Bradford, I can tell you without any question that we are not compatible.”

“I’m not trying anything,” she protests. “She’s just fun, and you need more fun.”

I give her a wary glance. “I’m not sure I’m man enough to handle Hazel’s brand of fun.”

Emily swings a shopping bag over her shoulder and flashes me a toothy grin. “I guess there’s only one way to find out.”





THREE



HAZEL



I’m sure the man in front of me understands my dilemma—nay, I’m sure he sees this several times a day. “Indecision personified,” I say, pointing to my chest. “The problem here is you have so many good choices.”

“Um.” The PetSmart cashier stares at me, maneuvering his gum from one side of his mouth to the other. “I can try to help?”

“I’m deciding between a betta fish and a guinea pig.”

“I mean, that’s kind of a big difference?” His glasses slowly slide down his nose, and I’m transfixed because their path is halted by an enormous, angry whitehead perched there like a doorstop.

“But if it were you,” I say, waggling my eyebrows, “what direction would you go? Fish or furry? I already have a dog”—I gesture to the leashed Winnie at my side—“and a rabbit, and a parrot. They just need one more friend.”

The teenager looks at me like I’m completely lacking any marbles. “I mean—”

“Lick it good.”

He stares at me and it takes me a beat to realize it’s my phone that’s just blasted these three words from Khia’s “My Neck, My Back (Lick It).”

I burst into motion, scrambling for my purse. “Oh, God!”

“Suck this pussy just like you should, right now.”

“Oh my God, oh my God.” I fumble inside my bag, pulling the phone out.

“Lick it good.”

“Oh—I’m so sorry—”

“Suck this pussy just like you should, my neck, my back …”

I drop my phone and have to push Winnie’s excited, exploring nose away from it before I can grab it—“Lick my pussy and my crack”—and silence it with the swipe of a finger.

“Emily!” I sing-yell to cover my abject horror, and apologize to the elderly pug owner looking at leashes. I may have just given her a stroke. Her dog is now barking maniacally, setting off Winnie, who sets off three other dogs in line to check out at the registers. One squats to poop from all the stress.

“Good God, Hazel, where are you?”

“PetSmart.” I wince. “Getting … something?”

The line falls dead for several seconds and I look at the screen to see if I’ve lost the call. “Hello?”

“You think what your apartment needs is another animal?” she asks.

“I’m not getting a Great Dane, we’re talking rodent or fish.” I look up at the PetSmart employee—Brian, he’s apparently named—and excuse myself with a tiny humiliated wave. “By the by, old friend,” I say to Emily, “did you perchance change my ringtone again?”

“I couldn’t stand that Tommy Boy line one more time—I’m not even kidding.”

I imagine sending a flock of dragons to her house to feast on her. At the very least a hungry swarm of mosquitoes. “So Khia is better? Sweet Jesus, you could have just made it ring.”

She laughs. “I was sending a message. Stop using all these weird ringtones, or turn your phone on silent.”

“You are so bossy.”

As anticipated, she ignores this. “Look, is it cool if I give Josh your number?”

“Not if he’s going to call me before I have a chance to change the ringtone.”

“We’re out shopping,” she tells me. “He’s such a sad sack now that Tabitha is in L.A., and I know you guys had fun at the party. I just want him to get out more.”

I hear Josh’s sullen growl in the background: “I’m not a sad sack.”

The idea of hanging out with Josh Im makes me oddly giddy. The idea of hanging out with a sad sack Josh Im sounds like a challenge. “Ask him if he wants to come over for lunch tomorrow!”

Emily turns, repeating the request presumably to Josh, and then there’s silence.

A lot of silence.

Awkward.

I imagine a host of sibling glares being fired back and forth like bullets:

Way to put me on the spot, jerk!

You’d better say yes or you’re going to make her feel bad!

I hate you so much right now, Emily!

She’s not as crazy as she seems, Josh!

Finally, she comes back. “He says he’d love to.”

“Great.” I bend down, making fish kisses at the beautiful teal betta I think I’m going to adopt. “Tell him to bring takeout from Poco India when he comes.”

“Hazel!”

I burst out laughing. “I’m kidding, oh my God. I’ll make lunch. Tell him to come over anytime after eleven.” I end the call and pick up the fish in the tiny plastic cup. “You are going to love your new family.”

..........

Winnie and I head out with fish in hand to meet Mom for lunch. My mom moved to Portland from Eugene a few years ago, when I finished college and it became apparent that I was unlikely to move back home anytime soon. I’m far more my mother’s daughter than my father’s, personality-wise, but I look exactly like my dad: dark hair, dark eyes, dimple in the left cheek, wiry and not as tall as I’d like to be. Mom, on the other hand, is tall, blond, and curvy in all the best snuggly-mom ways.

My dad was a decent parent, I suppose, but the predominant emotion I got from him throughout my life was disappointment that I wasn’t sporty. A son would have been ideal, but a tomboy would have sufficed. He wanted someone to jog in the park with, and throw around a football with for a couple of hours. He wanted weekend-long sportsball tournaments, with shouting and maybe some unfriendly opposing-team fatherly shoving. Instead, he got a goofy chatterbox daughter who wanted to raise chickens, sang Captain and Tennille in the shower, and worked at the pumpkin patch every fall since she was ten because she liked dressing up as a scarecrow. If I wasn’t entirely bewildering to him, then I was surely more work than he’d signed up for.

My parents divorced when I was twenty and happily established with a life and friends in Portland. I’ll be honest: I wasn’t the least bit surprised. My response reveals me to be the monster I am because primarily I was irritated that I would have to make two separate stops when I went home, and when I visited Dad, Mom wouldn’t be the buffer of joy anymore.

But even though I knew I was technically an adult at twenty, I kept telling myself that Dad and I would bond when I was older … when I was out of college … that he’d be so proud at my wedding someday … that he’d make a great grandpa because he could play and then hand back the kid and return to the game without a wife glaring at him from across the room.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t in the cards. Dad died a few weeks before Christmas the year I turned twenty-five. He was at work, and, according to his longtime coworker Herb, Dad basically sat down at his desk and said, “I’m feeling tired,” fell unconscious, and never woke up.

A weird honesty developed between my mom and I after Dad died. I always knew that my parents didn’t have the tightest romantic bond, but I didn’t realize how flat they had been, either, to the point that they were essentially two strangers moving around the same house. The ways I’m like Mom—a little wacky, I admit—were totally exasperating to Dad. Mom and I are both huggers, maybe overly enthusiastic about the things we love, and terrible joke tellers. But where I love animals and costumes and seeing faces in clouds and singing in the shower, Mom favors making wild skirts out of bold fabrics, creating artwork out of colored glass, wearing flowers in her hair, quoting musicals, and dancing while mowing the front lawn in her red cowboy boots.

Dad couldn’t stand her eccentricities, even though they’re what attracted him in the first place. I remember clearly one fight they had in front of me where he told her, “I hate it when you act like a weirdo out in public. You’re so fucking embarrassing.”

I don’t know how to explain it. I was fourteen when he said that to her, and those last four words broke something in me. I saw myself and Mom from the outside in a way I hadn’t before, like Dad represented this mainstream ideal and she and I were these loud, bouncing yellow dots outside of the standard curve.

When I looked up at her, I’d expected her to be shattered by what he’d said. But instead, she looked at him pityingly, like she wanted to console him but knew it would be a wasted effort. Dad missed out on so much by not enjoying every second he had with her, and in the end, she was terribly disappointed that he was so dull. I learned a very important thing that day: my mom would never try to change for a man, and I wouldn’t, either.

..........

She’s waiting for me at Barista when we walk up, but it’s apparent that she’s really been awaiting Winnie, because it’s a full two minutes of puppy voice and ear ruffling before I even get a glance. At least it gives me time to decide what I’m going to order.

Mom looks up just as the waitress delivers a muffin and latte to her. “Hey, Hazie.”

“You already ordered?”

“I was hungry.” With a hand bearing rings on every finger, Mom peels the paper wrapping away from the muffin, staring down at Winnie. “I bet I could drop this entire thing and she wouldn’t notice.”

I order a curry chicken salad and black coffee and look over at my dog. Mom’s right, she’s obsessed with the trio of speckled finches under the table next to us, casually pecking at sandwich crumbs. I can see Winnie’s insanity ratcheting higher with every peck.

A car honks, a couple passes by with Winnie’s favorite thing ever—a baby in a stroller—and nothing.

But then Mom drops a huge chunk of muffin and Winnie pounces on it in a flash as if she sensed some change in the atmospheric pressure. Her movement is so fast and predatory that the birds burst away, escaping into a tree.

Mom drops another piece of muffin.

“Knock it off, you’re ruining her.”

“She’s named Winnie the Poodle,” Mom reminds me. “Already ruined.”

“Because of you I can’t eat a single meal without her watching me like I’m dismantling a bomb. You’re making her fat.”

Mom leans down and kisses Winnie on the nose. “I’m making her happy. She loves me.” This time, Winnie catches the bite of muffin before it even lands on the sidewalk.

“You’re the worst.”

Mom sings to my dog, “Best, best, best.”

“Best,” I agree, thanking the waitress when she delivers my coffee. “By the way, Sassypants, I like your haircut.”

Mom reaches up, touching it like she forgot she had hair, without any self-consciousness whatsoever. She’s always worn it long, mostly because she does forget it’s there, and luckily it’s low maintenance: thick and straight. Now it’s trimmed so it lands just below her shoulders, and for the first time ever, there are some layers at the front.

I reach over, touching the ends. “Call me crazy but it looks like you actually had someone else cut it this time.”

“I couldn’t do layers like this,” she agrees. “Wendy has a girl who does her hair.” Wendy is Mom’s best friend, who moved up to Portland about ten years ago, and was another draw for Mom to relocate here. Wendy is a Republican first, a real estate agent second, and any time left over she devotes to hassling her husband, Tom, about being lazy. I love her because she’s basically family, but honestly I have no idea what she and Mom ever find to talk about. “I went to see her yesterday. I think her name was Bendy. Something like that.”

Delight fills me like sunshine. “Please let it be Bendy. That is fantastic.”

Mom frowns. “Wait. Brandy. I think I combined Brandy and Wendy.”

I laugh into a hot sip. “I think you did.”

“Anyway, I hadn’t cut it in forever, and Glenn seems to like it.”

I pause and then take another long, deliberate sip as Mom looks directly at me, her green eyes shining with mischief.

“Glenn, eh?” I pretend to twirl my mustache.

She hums and spins her rings.

“You’ve been seeing a lot of him lately.” Glenn Ngo is a podiatrist from Sedona, Arizona, and about four inches shorter than Mom. They met when she went in because her feet were killing her, and instead of telling her to stop wearing her cowboy boots, he just gave her some orthopedic inserts for them and then asked her out to dinner.

Who says romance is dead?

I knew they were dating but I didn’t know they were I’ll cut my hair the way you like it since I have zero vanity dating.

“Mom,” I whisper, “have you and Glenn …?” I dunk my spoon in and out of my coffee cup a few times.

Her eyes widen and she grins.

I gasp. “You floozy.”

“He’s a podiatrist!”

“That’s exactly my point!” I drop my voice to a hush, joking, “They’re known fetishists.”

“You shut up,” she says, laughing as she leans back in her chair. “He’s good to me, and he likes to garden. I’m not saying anything for certain, but there’s a chance he might be visiting on a more … permanent basis.”

“Shacking up! I am scandalized!”

She gives me a cheeky smile and takes a sip of her drink.

“Does he mind the singing?” I ask.

Her look of victory is everything. “He does not.”

Our eyes hold, and our smiles turn from playful to something softer. Mom found a good one, someone I can tell really gets her. An ache pokes at my chest. Without having to say it, I know we both question whether those guys really exist. The world seems full of men who are initially infatuated by our eccentricities, but who ultimately expect them to be temporary. These men eventually grow bewildered that we don’t settle down into calm, potential-wifey girlfriends.

“What about you?” she asks. “Anyone … around?”

“What’s with the emphasis? You mean, around inside my pants?” I take a bite of the salad deposited in front of me and Mom gives a little Yeah, that’s not exactly what I meant but go ahead shrug.

“No.” I straighten and push away the mild concern that her question immediately triggered this next thought: “But guess who I did run into? No, never mind, you’ll never guess. Remember my anatomy TA?”

She shakes her head, thinking. “The one with the prosthetic leg on your roller derby team?”

“No, the one I wrote the email to while high on painkillers.”

Mom’s laugh is this breathy little twinkle. “Now, that I remember. The one you liked so much. Josh something.”

“Josh Im. I also threw up on his shoes.” I decide to leave out the roommate sex for now. “So, weirdest thing: he’s Emily’s brother!”

This seems to take a few seconds for Mom to process. “Emily your Emily?”

“Yes!”

“I thought Emily’s last name was Goldrich?”

I love that it would never occur to my mother that a woman would take her husband’s name. “She’s married, Mom. That’s her married name.”

She feeds Winnie a handful of muffin crumbs. “So, you and her brother …?”

“No. God no. I’m an established idiot with him, and he’s most likely a Normal Dude.” Our shared code for the kind of man who wouldn’t appreciate our particular brand of nuts. “Besides, he has a girlfriend. Tabitha,” I can’t help but add meaningfully, and Mom makes a yeeesh face. “He calls her Tabby.”

Mom’s yeeesh face deepens.

“I know, right?” I poke at my salad. “But he’s actually pretty cool? Like, you wouldn’t look at him and automatically think he’s a banker.”

“Well, what is he?”

“A physical therapist. He’s all muscley.” I maneuver an enormous piece of lettuce into my mouth to beat down the image of Josh Im working his strong hands over my sore thighs.

Mom doesn’t say anything to this; she seems to be waiting for more, so I swallow with effort and venture onward into Babble County.

“We hung out together at Emily’s barbecue last night, and it’s weird because I feel like since he’s already seen me at my most insane, and he has a girlfriend, I don’t have to try to pull up the crazy plane around him. I always wanted to be friends with him and here he is! My new friend! And he looks at me like I’m this fascinating bug. Like a beetle, not a butterfly, and it’s fine because he already has a butterfly and when you think about it, beetles are pretty great. It’s nice.” For some inexplicable reason, I repeat it again. “It’s nice.”

“That is nice.” The way Mom studies me is making me feel like I forgot to dress myself this morning; it’s with this Does my adult daughter know her own mind? kind of maternal focus.

I shake my head at her and she laughs, absently petting Winnie.

“You” is all she says.

I growl. “No, you.”

She looks back at me with such adoration. “You, you, you.”





FOUR



JOSH



I pull in front of Hazel’s apartment complex and stare up at the flat gray buildings. From the outside, they look like perfect cubes. Structures like these make me wonder whether an architect actually took time to design this. Who would create a concrete block with bland windows and look back at the blueprint and go, “Ah. My masterpiece is complete!”

But the tiny garden out front is pretty, full of bright flowers and neatly spaced ground cover. And there’s underground parking, which can’t be beat in a town like …

Clearly, I’m stalling.

I reach for the bag on the passenger seat and carry it with me up the walkway to the buzzer at the front door.

Pressing the button for 6B, I hear a shriek from several floors up and step back to see Hazel leaning out the window, waving a pink scarf.

“Josh! Up here!” she yells. “I’m so sorry, the stairs are broken so you’re going to have to scale the outer walls. I’ll throw down some ropes!”

I stare at her until she laughs and shrugs, disappearing. A few moments later, the front door buzzes loudly.

The elevator is small and slow, giving me a mental image of a bored teenager riding a stationary bicycle in the basement, sweatily coaxing a pulley to raise and lower tenants and guests. Down a yellow hallway I go, stopping at 6B, where the welcome mat bears three colorful tacos and reads come back with tacos.

Hazel opens the door, greeting me with an enormous grin. “Welcome, Jeee-Meeeeeen!”

“You’re a maniac.”

“It’s a gift.”

“Speaking of gifts.” I hand her the bag of fruit. “I got you apples. Not tacos.”

In the Korean community, it’s customary to bring fruit or a gift when visiting someone’s home, but Hazel—the teacher—inspects the bag with amusement.

“I usually only earn one of these at a time,” she says. “I’ll have to be very impressive today.”

“It was either apples or a bag of cherries, and apples just seemed more appropriate.”

She guffaws at this before motioning for me to come inside. “Want a beer?”

Given the awkwardness of this semiblind friend-date, I absolutely want a beer. “Sure.”

I toe off my shoes near a group of hers, and Hazel looks at me like I’m stripping. “You don’t have to do that. I mean, you can if you want, but know that pile of shoes has a lot more to do with me being too lazy to pick them all up than it does with wanting to save the carpet.”

“Family habit,” I explain.

But one look around and … I believe her. Her apartment is tiny, with a small living room and galley kitchen, a tiny nook for a table, and a hall that leads to what I assume is the only bedroom and bathroom. But it’s airy and bright, with a couple of windows in the living room and a balcony on the far wall.

It’s also full of stuff, everywhere. When Emily and I were young, our mother would read us a book about mischievous gwisin who would slip out at night and play with children’s toys, pull food from cabinets and pots from shelves. When the family awoke, the gwisin would disappear, leaving whatever they’d been playing with out for someone else to clean up.

I’m reminded of this as I take in Hazel’s space. Still, it’s not messy so much as it is full. Books are stacked on the coffee table. Pages of brightly colored construction paper sit in piles on the floor. Folded clothes are draped over the arms of chairs, and a basket of laundry pushes rebelliously against a closet door. I know most people would call this lived in, but it presses like an itch against the part of my brain that thrives on order.

I watch her turn and walk into the kitchen, taking in her cutoffs and pale yellow sweatshirt that falls off one shoulder, revealing a red bra strap. Her hair is in that same huge bun right on top of her head, and her feet are bare, each toenail painted a different color.

She catches me staring at her feet.

“My mom’s boyfriend is a podiatrist,” she says with a teasing smile. “I can totally introduce you.”

“I was just admiring your fine art.”

“I’m an indecisive type.” She wiggles her toes. “Winnie picked out the colors.”

I look around for a roommate, or any sign of someone else living here. Emily implied that Hazel lives alone. “Winnie?”

“My labradoodle.” Hazel turns to the fridge, bending and digging, presumably, for beer. I shoot my gaze to the ceiling when I realize I’ve let my eyes go blurry on the view of her ass. “My parrot is Vodka.” Her voice reverberates slightly from inside as she reaches to the far back. “My rabbit is Janis Hoplin.” She looks over her shoulder at me. “Janis gets really crazy around men. Like, humping crazy.”

Humping? I glance around the apartment. “That’s … hmm.”

She has a dog, a rabbit, and a parrot.

“Oh, and my new fish is Daniel Craig.” She straightens with two bottles of Lagunitas in one hand, cracks open our beers on a brass mustache mounted to her kitchen wall, and hands me one. “I thought it best to ease you in, so they’re all at my mom’s.”

“Thanks.” We clink the necks together, both take a sip, and she’s looking at me like it’s my turn to speak. Generally I have no problem making conversation, but rather than feeling uncomfortable around Hazel, I actually feel like the most entertaining thing for both of us would be if she would just keep babbling. I swallow, wiping the liquid from my upper lip. “You like animals, huh?”

“I like babying things. I swear I want, like, seventeen kids.”

I freeze, unsure whether she’s being serious.

Her mouth curves up in a thrilled arc. “See?” Her index finger aims at her chest. “Undatable. I like to drop that one on the first date. Not that this is a date. I don’t really want seventeen kids. Maybe three. If I can support them.” She bites her lip and begins to look self-conscious just when I’m starting to dig the way she’s throwing the kitchen sink at me. “This is where Dave and Emily usually tell me I’m babbling and to shut up. I’m really glad you came for lunch.” A pause. “Say something.”

“You named your fish Daniel Craig.”

She seems delighted that I’m actually listening. “Yes!”

She pauses again, reaching up to brush away a wayward strand. Is it weird that I like that her hair seems to be as resistant to being tamed as she does?

I dig around in my brain for something not related to my current train of thought. Apparently I fail, because what comes out is “Summer vacation looks good on you.”

She relaxes a little, looking down at her cutoffs. “You’d be amazed what a few days without an alarm clock can do.”

The words alarm clock are enough to make the shrill blast of mine echo in my thoughts. “Must be nice. I’d sleep until ten every day if left to my own devices.”

“Yeah, but according to Google you’ve got a booming physical therapy practice, and”—she motions in the general vicinity of my chest—“you get to look at that in the mirror every morning. It’s worth getting up.”

I don’t know what feels more incongruous: the mental image of Hazel using a computer, or the idea that she used it to look me up. “You Googled me?”

She huffs out a little breath. “Don’t get an ego. I Googled you sometime between Googling beef Wellington and chicken coops.”

At my questioning look, she adds, “The chicken thing should be pretty self-explanatory. Spoiler alert: you can’t raise chickens in a nine-hundred-square-foot apartment.” She gives a dramatic thumbs-down. “And I was going to make something elaborate for lunch today but then remembered I’m lazy and a terrible cook. We’re having sandwiches. Surprise!”

Being near Hazel is like being in a room with a mini cyclone. “That’s cool. I love sandwiches.”

“Peanut butter and jelly.” She makes a cartoonish lip-smacking sound.

I burst out laughing, and have a strange urge to ruffle her hair like she’s a puppy.

She turns back to the kitchen and pulls out a baking sheet with supplies: a stack of small bowls, a few innocuous baking ingredients—including cornstarch—and some bottles of nontoxic paint.

Peering over her shoulder, I tell her, “I’ve never made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches like this before.”

Hazel looks at me, and this close up I can see that her skin is nearly perfect. Dating Tabby makes me notice things like this—hair, and lipstick, and clothes—because she’s always pointing them out. Now that she’s made me aware of it, I hardly ever see women without makeup on, and it makes me want to stare a little bit at the smooth, clean curve of Hazel’s jaw.

“This isn’t for the sandwiches,” she says. “We’re making clay.”

“You—” I stop, unsure what to say. Now that I know what we’re going to be doing, I realize I had no idea what to expect, and it seems pretty obvious that, of course, we’d be doing some random art project. “We’re having a playdate?”

She nods, laughing. “But with beer.” Handing me the tray, she lifts her chin to indicate that I should take it to the living room. “Seriously, though, it looks fun and I wanted to try it out before attempting it in front of twenty-eight third graders.”

Hazel brings us sandwiches and we mix up a couple of bowls of clay, adding paint to make a variety of batches in a rainbow of colors. She gets a smear of purple on her cheek and, when I point it out, reaches over to put her entire paint-wet green palm on my face.

“I told you you’d have fun,” she says.

“You actually never said that.” When she looks up, feigning insult, I add, “But you’re right. I haven’t made clay in at least two … decades.”

My phone chimes with Tabby’s text tone, and I apologize under my breath, pulling it out carefully with my clay-covered hands.



I stare at the screen, looking up at the name again to confirm it’s from Tabby, and not a wrong number.

But it’s Sunday.

Was Tabby planning to come up today? Was she going to make up for flaking on Friday … and skip work tomorrow?

Confusion slowly cools into dread, and it drains all the blood from my heart into the pit of my gut. Not only am I fairly sure she wasn’t planning on coming to Portland tonight, she’s also never said anything nearly that filthy to me before.

I wipe away most of the clay and with shaking hands, I type:



The three dots appear to indicate she’s typing … and then disappear. They appear again, and then disappear. I stare at my screen, aware of Hazel’s eyes on me occasionally as she works a blob of bright blue clay.

“Everything okay?” she asks quietly.

“Yeah, just … got a weird text from Tabby.”

“What kind of weird?”

I look up at her. I like to keep my cards pretty close to my chest, but from the expression on Hazel’s face, I can tell I look like I’ve been punched. “I think she just sent me a text that was meant for … someone else.”

Her brown eyes pop wide open and she uses a blue-green finger to pull a strand of hair from where it’s stuck to the purple paint on her cheek. “Like, another guy?”

I shake my head. “I don’t know. I don’t want to go out on a mental ledge right now, but … sort of.”

“I’m gonna guess it wasn’t, like, a ‘Can I borrow a cup of sugar?’ type of text.”

“No.”

She goes quiet, then makes a little choking noise in the back of her throat. When I look up at her, it’s almost like she’s in pain.

“Are you okay?” I ask.

Hazel nods. “I’m swallowing down my terrible words.”

I don’t even have to ask. “What, that she was destined to screw up because her name is Tabitha?”

She points an accusing finger at me. “I didn’t say it. You said it!”

Despite the hysterical thrum of my pulse in my ears, I smile. “You can’t hide a single thought you have.”

There’s still no reply, and my thoughts grow darker with every passing second. Was her text meant for someone else? Is there any other explanation for her silence now? The thought makes me want to vomit all over Hazel’s chaotic living room floor.

Hazel drops the clay into a bowl and uses a wet wipe to clean her hands. I half wonder how I look right now: bewildered, with a giant green handprint on my face.

“How long have you been together?” Hazel asks.

A tiny montage of our relationship plays in front of me: meeting Tabby at a Mariners game in Seattle, realizing we were both from Portland, having dinner and taking her home with me. Making love that first night and having a feeling about her, like she could be it for me. Introducing her to my family and then, unfortunately, helping her pack up her apartment, and all the promises that her move to L.A. wouldn’t change us. “Two years.”

She winces. “That is the worst amount of time when you’re our age. Two of your hot years, gone. Invested.” I’m barely listening but she doesn’t even notice. Apparently when the Hazel train gets going, it doesn’t stop until it’s gone completely off the tracks. “And if you’ve been living together or engaged? Forget about it. By then your lives are all crisscrossed and overlapping and like, what are you supposed to do? Do you get married? I mean, generally speaking, but obviously not in your situation. You know … if she’s cheating on you.” She covers her mouth with her hands and mumbles from behind them, “Sorry. It’s a curse.”

In my lap, my phone lights up with a text.



I groan, rubbing my face. This reply makes me feel infinitely worse. I mean, she’s lying. Right? That’s what’s happening right now? One exclamation point means enthusiasm. Four means panic. There’s a car inside my veins, driving too fast, no brakes.

“This is not good,” I mutter.

I feel more than hear Hazel crawl over toward me and when I uncover my eyes, she’s so close, sitting cross-legged beside me and staring at the mess of clay on the floor. I don’t know why I do it—I barely know her—but I wordlessly hand her my phone. It’s like I need someone else to see it and tell me I’m misreading everything.

It’s Hazel’s turn to groan. “I’m sorry, Josh.”

I take the phone back and toss it behind us onto her couch. “It’s okay. I mean, I could be wrong.”

“Right. Sure. You probably are,” she agrees, half-heartedly.

I let out a slow, controlled breath. “I’ll call her tomorrow.”

“You could call her now, if you need to. I would be going insane. I can leave the room and give you some privacy.”

Shaking my head, I tell her, “I need to sleep on this. I need to figure out what I want to ask her.”

She goes still beside me, lost in thought. Traffic passes by, unhurriedly, on the street outside. Hazel’s fridge gives off a metallic rattle, almost like a shiver, every ten seconds or so. I stare at her every-colored toenails and notice a tiny tattoo of a flower on the side of her left foot.

“Do you have a comfort movie?” she asks.

I blink up, not sure I’ve understood. “A what?”

“For me, it’s Aliens.” Hazel looks at me. “Not the first one, Alien, but the second, with Vasquez, and Hicks, and Hudson. Sigourney Weaver is so badass. She’s a warrior, and a quasi–foster mother, and a soldier, and a sexy beast. I would do her so fast. It’s the first movie I saw where a woman demonstrates how easily we can do it all.”

I let her odd brown eyes steady me; it’s almost like I’m being hypnotized. “That sounds pretty great.”

“I still can’t believe Bill Paxton died,” she says quietly.

I think Tabitha and I are done. I’m not even sure what to feel; it’s a weird no-man’s-land between sad and numb and relieved. “Yeah.”

Her eyes soften and I’m finally able to give the name a color: whiskey.

Very gently, she asks, “Wanna watch Aliens?”





FIVE



HAZEL



I can forgive Josh for never having seen Aliens—because no one is perfect—and in his favor, he tried to pretend he wasn’t terrified in the opening scene when the dream alien rips out of Ripley’s torso. If he thought that was bad, imagine his reaction when Hudson, Hicks, and Vasquez find all the cocooned colonists in the corridors. Boom! Aliens everywhere!

In the end, he wouldn’t go so far as to agree with me that it’s the best movie ever made, but before he left he managed to work in the phrases Game over, man, game over and They mostly come out at night. Mostly. Clearly I’m a stellar influence.

I spend some time the next morning with Winnie at the park. While she lounges in the grass next to me, I stare up at the clouds, trying to find animals in them and wondering what it is about Josh Im that I’m so drawn to. It isn’t just that he’s good-looking. It isn’t only that he’s kind. It’s his calm center that’s a gravitational pull to my chaotic one. Every time I’ve met his eyes—from that first puke-filled night to now—I’ve felt a gentle hum inside my breastbone: I’m a satellite that’s found its safe-space beacon.

A few days after our friend-date, I ambush Josh at work to take him on an ice cream break. Partly it’s because deep down I really want to have ice cream for lunch every day this summer, but partly, too, it’s the memory of Josh’s expression while he was reading the texts from Tabby. He looked like he’d been kicked. I’m still waiting for him to update me, to tell me what happened with her, but despite the display of emotion he shared with me at my place, he’s gone back to his even-keeled, dry-humored self.

I’m afraid to tell Emily what the text said because I get the distinct impression she does not like Mistress Tabitha, and I also sense that the last thing Josh needs is an opinionated sister telling him how to feel about this. I’m just going to have to woman up and ask him about it myself.

“So.” I smile over my cone at him.

He knows exactly what’s coming and just stares at me flatly.

I must be pretty easy to read because it feels like Josh is never surprised by anything I say. “Do you love or hate the way I’ve already insinuated myself into your life?”

He takes a bite of his mint chip and swallows. “I remain undecided.”

“And yet you’re here.” I sweep my hand over the outdoor table, gesturing to the beauty before us: his little kid-size cup and my enormous, dripping two-scoop cone. “Enjoying a magnificent break from work.”

Josh arches an eyebrow. “I wouldn’t turn down ice cream.”

I acknowledge this with a sage nod. “Well, regardless, Jimin, I like you.”

“I know you do.”

“And as someone you would never date, but who will soon be your best friend, I can say with no ulterior motive that I don’t like that you’re in a relationship with a potentially treasonous skank.”

His eyes go wide. “Wow. Let’s jump right in.”

“Ha!” I smack my thigh. “So that came out a little balder than intended. What I meant to say”—I clear my throat delicately—“is have you talked to Tabby since Sunday?”

“We’ve been playing phone tag.” He gives me a wary look before dropping his attention to his cup again, scraping around the edge. “And yes, I realize that seems odd given that we’re in the same time zone. She’s avoiding this conversation. Maybe I am, too.”

Wait. It’s been five days since that weird text came in, and they haven’t even spoken to each other? I would feel like a grenade with the pin pulled free. Granted, I probably tend to overprocess things rather than under-, but to be in a relationship and wondering whether infidelity is happening and not need to know ASAP?

“Are you both dead inside?”

He doesn’t miss a beat. “We might be.”

“Why don’t you go to L.A. and do this in person?”

He looks up at me, dropping the tiny spoon into his empty cup. “So here’s where I keep getting stuck. She’s not moving back. I get that now. So, if we work through this, either I move to L.A.—”

“Gross.” I scrunch my nose.

“Exactly, or she and I … what? Have a long-distance relationship forever?”

“If you go that direction you are going to get tennis elbow because that is a lot of phone sex.” I lick a drip of chocolate from my cone and as an afterthought add, “Good thing you’re a physical therapist.”

Josh gazes at me impassively.

“Maybe she could get a job somewhere more appealing to both of you—”

He shakes his head. “I have an established practice here, Haze.”

“Or,” I continue, feeling the warm glow fill me when I realize he’s shortened my name out of familiarity, “she could decide L.A. isn’t for her. Geography is just space; you can’t let that come between you if it’s good.”

Josh eyes me, unblinking. “I thought you didn’t want me to be with a ‘treasonous skank’?”

“Of course I don’t. But do we actually know whether she’s treasonous?” I take a long lick of my ice cream. “You haven’t talked to her.”

He grumbles something and stands to throw his cup away in a nearby trash bin. “I need to get back to work.”

Hefting up my cone I stand, following him down the block. He’s walking back all stiff and soldierly, and I have to jog to keep up. The top scoop of my ice cream slides off and lands on the sidewalk with a sorrowful splat. I stare at it, forlorn.

“I can see you working out whether it’s okay to pick that up and put it back on.” He rests a hand on my arm. “Don’t do it.”

The chocolate and peanut butter begin to melt, and a whimper tears out of me. “It was so delicious. I’m blaming you for walking so fast and angrily.”

His hand stays there, and I look up at him with a pout that slips away as I realize he’s working this Tabby thing around in his thoughts like a Tetris piece.

“You should go to L.A.,” I tell him. “Whether it’s to fix things or end them, it can’t be done over the phone, and definitely not over text.”

“Zach and Emily think I should end it, and they don’t even know about the text.” He drops his hand back to his side. “My mom and dad don’t like her, either. Thanks for at least considering the possibility that she’s not a treasonous skank.” He pauses. “I’m worried she is, though.”

“Why don’t they like her?” I ask.

Straightening, he turns to start walking again. I give a fond farewell to my melting ice cream before reluctantly following. “They don’t know each other very well.”

“How is that possible? You’ve been together for two years!”

“Tabby never really went out of her way to build a relationship with Umma—my mom—and my dad is quiet to everyone, but I’m not sure she’s even tried to have a conversation with him. Especially to my parents, that’s a pretty hard thing to overcome.”

He digs in his pocket for his phone when it chimes with a tone I’ve come to understand is Tabby’s. I watch as he reads the text a few times and then looks up at me.

“Seems like you and Tabby are on the same page.” He shows me the text.



..........

Josh heads back to the office, and I watch him leave, feeling protective. He’s built like an athlete—all lean muscle and definition—but there’s a vulnerability in him somewhere, the back of his neck, maybe, the small downward tilt of his head. We’ve only been friends for a week now, but I don’t want him to get his heart broken. I’m also bummed there won’t be anyone around to give me shit in the way he does—so straight and somehow, beneath it all, entertained by me anyway.

To make matters worse, when I return to my apartment, I hear Winnie barking maniacally from inside. Panicked, I rush in and my first step is a sodden one. With a gasp, I register that my apartment is completely flooded. The carpet squishes under my feet. Winnie barks from the bedroom, and between her hollers, a quiet hiss comes from somewhere deeper inside; water gushing happily everywhere. A pipe must have burst because a miniature lake spreads across the living room and kitchen, down the hall. I slosh through it, scanning for the source before realizing that it’s the sink in the bathroom.

I find Winnie standing on the safe island of my bed, yelling at me. Vodka squawks angrily from his perch when he sees me and Janis hops around her cage like a maniac. It’s such an oddball sitcom moment that I actually laugh, but the sound quickly dies into a tiny whimper.

It takes only a few twists of the valve to shut it off, but the damage is done. I collapse back on my butt in the deepest puddle and stare out through the bathroom door. The carpets are ruined. The furniture also probably ruined. Piles of papers I’d left on the living room floor have disintegrated. Books, clothes, shoes, dog toys, everything.

For a few minutes, I’m only stunned. I have no other thought but

Oh shit.

Oh shit.

Oh shit.

I hate having to be the grown-up in situations like this. I know it’s not my fault, but my landlord is going to freak out anyway and I’m going to have to work really hard to not feel the need to apologize. He’ll blame this on Winnie or Janis somehow because I had to charm his pants off to let me have them here in the first place. (I didn’t actually charm his pants off—gross.) I’ll have to clean out everything in the apartment, and move—at least for a while. I’ll have to find somewhere to stay with my animals, so most hotels are out of the question. I can’t stay in Mom’s tiny apartment with the dog and bird and rabbit and possibly permanent Glenn. Emily has a spare room, but her house is so obsessively clean that just being there for dinner sometimes stresses me out.

Pushing up, I find my purse on the kitchen counter and make the first call to the landlord. Perhaps not surprisingly, he just got off the phone with my downstairs neighbor, whose ceiling started dripping, so I’m relieved to not be the one to break the news. He lets me know he’ll cover the cost of my rent elsewhere until this is fixed, and I know my insurance will replace anything ruined by the flooding. It’s a relief, but this still sucks because there’s no one but me to pack it up, to figure it out, to find somewhere to sleep in the meantime.

I’m sure Mom will take Janis, Vodka, and Daniel. Winnie has to stay with me. I shove everything I can into a couple of suitcases and pack up my animal family into the car before sitting and staring out the windshield. Daniel swims winningly in the small cup in my cup holder. Vodka repeats the word cookie about seven hundred times in the back seat. Winnie leans over the console and licks my ear. I can hear Janis burrowing in some newspaper in her cage.

“We’re homeless, guys.”

Winnie looks at me like I’m being melodramatic, so I call Emily for sympathy.

“Flooded?” she repeats. “Seriously?”

I feel my lip wobble and the wobble spreads to my chin and then I’m crying into the phone, babbling about all the ruined art projects and carpet and my favorite blue espadrilles and how I’m not going to live with my bird and bunny for the next few weeks and I liked that apartment because it was sunny and my neighbor baked cakes a lot so it always smelled good and—

“Hazel, shut up,” Emily yells into the phone. “I’m trying to tell you. I think you can stay at Josh’s.”

I sniffle. “If Josh is anything like you about laundry and vacuuming, he would murder me in my sleep.”

“He’s going to be in L.A. for a couple weeks.”

I pause. So he booked the ticket, then. I’m both happy for Josh and sad. I want someone better for him than Tabitha, even though I barely know him and I’ve never met her.

“Let me add him in real quick.” Emily disappears before I can protest, and when she comes back, she makes sure we’re each on the line.

“I’m here.” Josh sounds tired and bored, and I can’t tell if it’s his usual lackadaisical manner or he’s upset … or both.

“So, Hazel’s apartment flooded,” Emily begins.

Josh sounds significantly more alert when he says, “Wait, seriously? While we were out just now?”

“You two were out just now?” Emily asks.

I ignore the strident interest in her voice and explain, “A pipe burst, and normally I’d be making lots of terrible sex jokes about that, but really, it just sucks.” I fidget with my car keys in the ignition. “I’ll be out for at least three weeks.”

Emily hops in: “Josh, I was thinking she could crash at your place until she finds somewhere to stay longer term. You’ll be gone and there’s plenty of space. She’ll even keep the tornado confined to the guest room.”

“I will?” I wonder whether Emily really believes this.

“No pets,” Josh says immediately.

“Winnie?” I counter. “I can pay you rent.”

“Is she housebroken?”

I press a hand to my chest, genuinely offended. “I beg your pardon, sir, my canine has impeccable manners.”

Josh laughs dryly. “Okay, sure.”

“Really?” I dance happily in my seat. “Josh, you are the best.”

“Whatever.”

His tone makes my heart wilt a little. “You sound so sad, best friend.”

“I’m your best friend,” Emily reminds me.

I can’t help the giddy lean to my words. “It’s been my plan all along to have you two fighting for my love.”

Josh sighs. “I’m hanging up now. I’m at work, and leave for L.A. at seven. Emily will give you her spare keys.”

“You doing okay?” I ask.

“Wait,” Emily says. “Why wouldn’t he be okay?”

I blurt out the first thing that comes to mind. “He was having some intestinal distress earlier.”

Josh groans across the line. “I’m fine.” He pauses, and when he speaks again, his voice is a little gentler. “Call me if you, you know, need anything, Hazel.”

My heart squeezes so tight. “Thanks, Josh.”

He doesn’t say anything else, but I hear when he disconnects from the call.

Emily falls completely silent.

“Hello?”

She clears her throat. “I’m still here.”

“So, can I swing by for the keys? That’s so insanely nice of him, I can’t—”

“What is going on with you and Josh?”

I make a frantic time-out gesture, but Emily can’t see it. “Nothing, gah. Josh and I aren’t romantic, like at all. I just really, really, really like him. He’s like a Hazel magnet. I love his dry humor and sarcasm and that he seems to get me. I think we’re just becoming really good friends and it makes me really happy.”

“Really?” she says, and I start to answer before realizing that she’s making fun of my tendency to be superlative.

“Really,” I say. “Seriously. There is zero attraction there.”

Emily snorts. “Okay.”





SIX



JOSH



Two days, two flights, more drama than a drunken night in a freshman dorm, and here I am: back home again. So of course my door won’t open.

Jiggling the key free, I kneel down until I’m level with the lock. I replaced both of the doorknobs when I refinished the front and back porches only a year ago, and can’t think of a single reason why the front door would be jammed.

Unless, I think, leaning in to get a closer look, someone tried to pry it open.

Hazel.

I straighten, looking down at my watch as I debate what to do. This day has been nothing but a nightmare, and even though I know I should go to my sister’s place and sleep on the couch, the only thing I want right now is to take my clothes off and climb into my own bed. It’s after two a.m., which means Hazel is most likely inside and asleep in the guest room, so there’s no harm in letting myself in and explaining it all in the morning, right?

With this decided, I reach for my bag and turn down the stairs, headed toward the backyard.

The light from the street doesn’t make it to this side of the house: it’s damp, and shaded by trees even in daylight. Right now, it’s pitch black. I pull my phone from my pocket, shining the flashlight along the ground until I reach the gate. I haven’t been back this way for a few weeks; the hinge protests as I swing it open, and my footsteps squelch in the wet grass as I make my way up the back stairs and to the door. Thankfully, this lock seems fine. I unlock it quickly and silently, only to trip on something as soon as I step inside. A shoe—one of at least six random pairs piled haphazardly in the corner and spilling out onto the rug. Exhausted and too tired to care, I kick them out of the way.

A shower will have to wait.

I’m shuffling toward my bedroom when a flash of movement catches in the light of my phone. I swing it around to see a bag of chips on the counter, a trail of crumbs leading to an empty pizza box, and a sink full of dirty dishes. Inside my chest, something itches to clean it all up now, but I’m distracted when I hear a gasp behind me. Turning, I throw my arms up just in time.

“Shi—” is all I get out before there’s a searing bolt of pain and everything goes black.

..........

When I come to, it’s to find Hazel standing over me. She looks like something out of a cartoon: crazy wide eyes and an umbrella brandished threateningly over her head. She’s dressed only in a tank top and the smallest pair of shorts I’ve ever seen. If I didn’t want to murder her right now I might actually take a moment to appreciate the view.

“Did you hit me with an umbrella?”

“No. Yes.” She drops it immediately. “Why are you sneaking in your own back door?”

The pain in my head intensifies at the volume of her voice. “Because someone broke the front lock and my key wouldn’t work.”

“Oh.” She bites down on her bottom lip. “It’s not broken, exactly. I locked myself out and tried to pick it with a bobby pin. Technically it’s the bobby pin that broke. Not the lock.”

She rests a hand on each hip and looks down at me. The problem with this is that it pushes her chest out and even in this light I can tell that I should turn up the thermostat. Hazel is definitely not wearing a bra.

“I thought you were a murderer.” She points to her dog, who is half lying on me, licking my face. “Winnie started growling and then I heard someone banging around the side of the house. You’re lucky I didn’t smash your brains all over your Clean Room–level kitchen floor.”

I squeeze my eyes shut. Maybe if I keep them closed long enough I’ll open them again and realize none of today even happened. No luck. “Right now it looks like a family of raccoons has been living here.”

Hazel has the decency to look at least a little guilty before she waves me off, walking to the refrigerator to open the freezer drawer. I shift my eyes away just before she bends over.

“I was going to clean it up,” she says, bag of frozen peas in hand. “Why are you home?” She kneels down, handing them to me. “Things didn’t go well?”

“An understatement.” I sit up and place the ice-cold peas against my forehead, where I can tell there’s already a lump. In some ways, this is a fitting end to the trip from hell. Day one, Tabby admitted she’s been sleeping with someone else. I spent the rest of the afternoon on the beach, staring out at the ocean and not feeling surprised, exactly, but working to give genuine thought to her insistence that we could work it out. But on day two, she admitted they started sleeping together before she moved to L.A., that she moved to be closer to him, and that he’d helped her get a job. The cherry on top was when she told me she hoped she could keep seeing us both.

Day two also happens to have been today.

“Do you want to talk about it?”

It’s all starting to sink in that Tabitha and I are over. I stare straight ahead, eyes locked on that single freckle on Hazel’s shoulder. What does it mean that I’m more interested in asking when she first noticed that freckle than explaining what happened with Tabby? Is it shock? Exhaustion? Hunger? I drag my eyes back to her face.

“I’m okay.” I look down at my socks. They’re gray with tiny pineapples and cups of Dole Whip on them—a gift from Tabby on one of my first visits down there after the move. She’d taken me to Disneyland and I remember standing in line thinking, I’m going to marry this woman one day. What an idiot.

Two years we were together—with her in L.A. for half of it—and all I feel now is duped and pathetic.

Hazel sits down next to me on the dark floor. “I take it you ended things?”

“Yeah.” I adjust the peas and look over at her. “Turns out, she is a treasonous skank.”

Hazel makes a grumpy face.

“And has been since before she moved.”

To this, Hazel adds a feral growl. “Wait.

Seriously?” “Seriously. She’s been sleeping with him since before she left. She moved to be closer to him.”

“What a dick.”

“You know,” I say, “the worst thing isn’t even that I’m going to miss her. It’s how stupid I feel. How blindsided. This other guy knew all about me, but I had no idea.” I look at her, and—because I know she’ll understand why this kills me—tell her, “His name is Darby.”

“She’s been having sex with a dude named Darby?”

Anger twists hotly inside me. “Exactly.”

She lets out a bursting cackle. “Tabby and Darby. That’s too dumb, even for Disney.”

A single sharp laugh escapes. “But why wouldn’t she tell me about him? Why drag me on?”

“She probably wanted to keep you because you’re the blueprint for Perfect.” A pause. “You know, except for the Aliens thing.”

Her hair is a disaster on top of her head. Her eyes are puffy from exhaustion. But still, she’s smiling at me like I’ve been gone for months. Does Hazel Bradford ever stop smiling?

“You’re trying to make me feel better,” I accuse.

“Of course I am. You’re not the asshole here.”

“That’s right, you are, because you broke my face.”

“Your face is fine.” She pushes up to stand and holds out a hand. I let her help me up, and she pats my chest. “But how’s your heart?”

“It’ll recover.”

She nods, and leans down to pet a sleepy Winnie. “Don’t ever sneak into a house when a woman is there alone, or you’ll risk getting an umbrella to the face.”

“It’s my house, dumb-ass.”

“A text letting me know you were coming back would have saved your face, dumb-ass.” She turns to head toward the guest room. “Get some sleep. We’re going miniature golfing with my mom tomorrow.”

..........

I’m so tired and sleep so soundly that I forget her last words until I wake up and shuffle into the kitchen to find Hazel in shorts, knee-high argyle socks, a polo shirt, and a beret. I know her well enough now to realize this must be her Goin’ Golfin’ costume. She’s also wearing my apron and standing at the sink as a cloud of black smoke balloons around her.

“I’m not used to your stove,” she says by way of explanation, trying to angle her body to hide whatever is happening in front of her.

“It’s just gas.” I bend to retrieve a towel and use it to wrap around the handle of the still-smoking cast-iron pan. The aroma of burnt bacon quickly saturates my T-shirt. Walking the pan to the back door, I set it on the painted concrete porch outside to cool.

“I have gas at home but it doesn’t do that.”

“Doesn’t do what?” I say over my shoulder. “Make fire?”

“It doesn’t make it so hot!”

Closing the door behind me, I toss the towel to the counter and survey the damage. I think she’s been making pancakes. Or at least that’s what the beige liquid running down the front of the lower cabinets indicates. There’s a torn bag of flour and what has to be the contents of my entire pantry scattered across the countertop. There are dishes everywhere. I take a deep, calming breath before continuing.

“It’s a professional-grade range.” I pick up the garbage can to swipe a handful of broken eggshells inside. “It has higher BTUs, so it gets hotter faster and can generate a larger flame.”

She puts on an affected British accent. “Riveting, young sir.”

Winnie sits obediently just outside the kitchen and watches with what I swear is a look that can only mean Do you see what I put up with?

Yeah, Winnie. I do.

“Hazel, what are you doing?”

She holds up both hands. In one there’s a Mickey Mouse spatula she must have brought from her place; the other palm is stained purple. I don’t even want to know. “I’m making breakfast before we go golfing.”

“We could have just gone out for breakfast.” By the looks of things, we’ll have to do that anyway.

“I mean, obviously the bacon is a bit … ashier than I normally like,” she says, “but we still have pancakes.” At the stove, she plates up two of the saddest flapjacks I’ve ever seen. Turning back to me, she holds the plate proudly. “How many do you want?”

I’m surprised by the wave of fondness that angles through my chest. Hazel nearly created a fire in my kitchen, I have a bruise on my forehead from her umbrella—and a lock to fix—but I’d still rather choke down a plateful than hurt her feelings while she’s wearing argyle and a beret. “Just the two.”

“Good,” she says brightly, setting the plate on the counter and depositing a bottle of syrup next to it. Ready to start another batch, she reaches for a pitcher of batter and pours it into what I can tell from here is a too-hot pan. “I talked to your sister this morning.”

I look up from where I’m delicately scraping off some of the burnt bits. “Already?” I glance to the clock on the stove. “It’s barely eight.”

“I know, but I texted her last night when I thought someone was breaking in. I had to update her that I wasn’t being murdered in bed, which led to me having to tell her you’re home.”

Great. If there’s anyone who’s going to gloat over this, it’s Emily. She might even throw a party. I return to my pancakes. “What did she say?”

“I didn’t give her any other details. She wants you to call when you’re up.”

“I’m sure she does,” I say, barely loud enough for her to hear, but she does.

“You know, you don’t have to tell her everything. Saying you ended things is plenty.”

“How do you think that’ll work?” I look up as she tucks a strand of hair behind her ear, exposing the long line of her neck. “You’d be able to keep from spilling that Tabby was cheating for over a year?”

Hazel looks at me quizzically. “It’s not my story to tell.”

The idea of not having to share the specifics makes relief rush through me, cool and limber. Emily would never run out of I told you sos.

I look down to see a mournful Winnie staring up at me, her brown eyes pleading for me to drop something. I tear off a chunk of pancake and carefully feed it to the dog.

“Don’t spoil her,” Hazel tells me over her shoulder.

“Hazel. The dog you don’t want me to spoil is wearing a Wonder Woman T-shirt.”

I hear the click of the burner being turned off, and then she’s there in front of me, leaning on the other end of the counter. “Your point?”

“I don’t have one.” I feed the dog another bite of pancake. “But do I really have to go miniature golfing?”

She tears off a bite of too-hot pancake and eats it. “You don’t have to. Mom and I were going to go, and I didn’t think you’d want to be alone.”

As soon as she says it, I know she’s right. But I should also check in at home. It’s been a couple of weeks since I spent any time with my family. “I was going to head to my parents’ place later.”

She shrugs. “Up to you. If you want to come with us, I can go to your parents’ with you after. I haven’t met them yet.”

“You don’t have to babysit me, Hazel.”

She pushes away from the counter and gives me a guilty smile. “Okay. Sorry. I’m being too Hazel-y.”

I watch her wash the dishes and manage to clean up the kitchen quite capably while I pick at my breakfast. She isn’t pouting, and it doesn’t seem like I’ve hurt her feelings—she honestly just seems to have heard something in my tone that I didn’t intend. “What does that mean,” I ask, “ ‘being too Hazel-y’?”

Turning with a dish towel in her hand, she shrugs. “I tend to be too chatty, too silly, too exuberant, too random, too eager.” She spreads her hands. “Too Hazel-y.”

She is all of these things, but it’s actually why I like her. She’s entirely her own person. I reach for her wrist when she moves to leave the kitchen. “Where are we going mini-golfing?”

..........

Hazel looks nothing like her mother, but genetics work in wild, mysterious ways, because I would never doubt for a second that she came from this woman, Aileen Pike-not-Bradford, as she’s introduced to me. She’s wearing a flowing skirt decorated with embroidered peacocks and a bright blue tank top, and not only does she have rings on every finger, her earrings brush the tops of her shoulders. She and Hazel dress nothing alike but they both silently scream Eccentric Woman.

Aileen hugs me upon greeting, agrees with Hazel that I’m adorable but not her daughter’s type, and then apologizes for Hazel’s painkiller email all those years ago. “I knew I should have typed it for her.”

“I still have it printed out.” I grin at Hazel’s complete lack of self-consciousness. “I may actually frame it for the duration of Hazel’s visit in my house.”

“A constant reminder of my charm?”

I take the golf club and a bright pink ball from the guy behind the counter. “Yeah.”

“Speaking of your home,” Aileen begins, “is my daughter trashing it?”

“Mildly.”

Hazel tosses her blue golf ball from hand to hand like she’s juggling it. A single golf ball. “I knocked him out with an umbrella last night.”

At her daughter’s proud tone, Aileen slides knowing eyes to me. “Be glad it wasn’t a frying pan, I guess?”

Given that the umbrella gave me a bruise the size of a baby fist on my forehead, I can’t really disagree. “She’s got quite a swing.”

We make our way to the windmill at the start of the course, and out of courtesy for our elder, let Aileen go first. She easily makes a hole in one: through the sweeping windmill, up and over a tiny hill, and down into the hole in the back corner.

It takes me ten shots to make it—so long that Hazel and Aileen are sitting on the bench by the little creek, waiting for me when I approach. Hazel has a handful of pebbles from the path and is trying to get one into the guppy statue’s waiting mouth.

“Are you a mini-golf shark?” I ask.

“If only it got me something useful.” Aileen laughs, and again, I’m reminded of Hazel. She has the same husky belly laugh that seems to come out of her as naturally as an exhale. These two women: laugh factories.

“Mom used to bring me here every Saturday,” Hazel explains, “while Dad watched college football.”

They exchange a knowing look, which morphs into a smile, and then Aileen asks her daughter for an update on the apartment. It’s a few weeks away from being move-in ready. I listen to them speak and marvel over how they seem to communicate in half sentences, finishing thoughts with a nod, an expression, a dramatic hand gesture. They seem more like sisters than mother and daughter, and when Hazel gives her mom crap about her boyfriend, I look over in shock, expecting Aileen to be scandalized, but instead she just grins and ignores Hazel’s needling.

Hazel and Aileen have the same wackiness with an undercurrent of unshakable confidence; people look at them as they pass, as if there is something ultimately magnetic about the two of them obliviously dancing their way through the course. I follow behind, registering how quickly I’ve become the straight man to Hazel’s clowning.

I end up being glad we didn’t put any money on this outing; Aileen cleans the floor with us. To make up for our bruised egos, she buys us coffee and cookies, and I’m treated to several amazing Hazel stories, such as the time Hazel dyed her leg hair blue, the time Hazel decided she wanted to play drums and entered the high school talent show after only two weeks of lessons, and the time Hazel brought home a stray dog that turned out to be a coyote.

By the time we get back to my car, I realize I haven’t really thought about Tabby for more than an hour, but as soon as the awareness hits, the sour twist works its way back into my gut and I close my eyes, tilting my face to the sky.

That’s right. My girlfriend was sleeping with another dude for most of our relationship.

“Oof,” Hazel says, looking over at me across the top of my car. “You just left the happy bubble.”

“Just remembered I’m an idiot.”

“So here’s the thing.” She follows after me, climbing into the car. “I know this Tabby thing sucks, but everyone feels stupid in relationships at least some of the time, and you have a better excuse than anyone. Me, I work to not feel stupid most of the time. I don’t always understand the best way to interact with other humans.”

I grin over at her. “No.”

She ignores this. “I tend to get too excited, I realize that, and I say all the wrong things. I have zero chill. So yeah, guys have made me feel stupid about a trillion times.”

“Seriously?”

She laughs. “This can’t surprise you. I’m a maniac.”

“Yeah, but a benevolent one.” I turn the key in the ignition, and we both wave as Aileen pulls out of her spot, a bumper sticker that reads NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON FOR PRESIDENT clinging proudly to the back of her battered Subaru.

“I realize that finding the perfect person isn’t going to be easy for me because I’m a lot to take,” she says, “but I’m not going to change just so that I’m more datable.”

Shifting the car into drive, I chance a glance over at her. “You’re awfully hung up on your position on the datable scale.”

“I’ve learned to be,” she says, and then pauses for a moment. “Do you know how many guys like to date the cute wild girl for a few weeks before expecting me to chill a little and become more Regular Girlfriend?”

I shrug. I can sort of imagine what she’s saying.

“But at the end of the day,” she says, and puts her hand outside the open window, letting the wind pass through her fingers, “being myself is enough. I’m enough.”

She’s not saying it to convince me, or even herself; she’s already there. I watch her pick up my phone and choose some music for the drive to my parents’ place and wonder whether that’s part of my problem: I used to think I was so together, but now the only thing I feel is a hollow sense of not enough.





SEVEN



HAZEL



It never occurred to me that meeting Josh’s parents might be something I’d need to prepare for. They’re just people, right? Emily’s mentioned that they’re super protective (particularly of Josh, since he isn’t married), but … whose parents aren’t? I know his mom is always filling his fridge with food, but that’s not unusual, either. Seriously, if it weren’