“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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.