“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?”
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.”