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
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.