Adam looks up at me with his beer paused midway to his lips. “She’s not like … crazy or anything, is she?”
There’s a twinge in my gut at this, a protective aversion to that word, but I refrain from asking him to define crazy. I wave him off instead. “Definitely not crazy.”
Of course it’s this moment she decides to make an appearance, bursting into the kitchen in a bright yellow sundress. “Who’s crazy?”
“Winnie,” I say quickly. “She’s been chasing squirrels again.” Placing a hand on the small of her back, I usher her closer. “Hazel, this is my friend Adam. Adam, this is Hazel. You two might actually see each other this year because Hazel just got a job at Riverview, and Adam’s team participates in the youth program there.”
Adam stands to greet her, and I watch as her eyes widen and visibly travel the entire length of him. Subtle, Haze.
“It’s so nice to meet you,” she says, vigorously shaking his hand. “Be sure to stop by and say hi if you’re ever in the school.” Leaning in, she puts a hand to the side of her mouth and adds conspiratorially, “Unless of course this sucks, then never speak to me again. Oh my God, Josh. Your face. I’m kidding!”
“Definitely not crazy,” I mumble, moving to let Winnie back inside before clapping my hands. “Let’s go.”
Hazel’s friend Cali—an admin at the school where she used to work—plans to meet us at the bar, so we pile into my car, with Adam crammed into the front and Hazel in the back seat, poking her head between us.
She leans farther forward to see out the windshield when we park. “Isn’t it great?” she says, halfway in my lap. “I didn’t even know this place existed until Google sent a message to my soul.”
Out on the street, I look up at the flashing marquee that announces it’s trivia night. The other businesses in the area are glass and modern, or retro hipster and painted in glaring colors. They bear no resemblance at all to the dark brown building in front of us, its A-frame roof lined in humming neon lights.
The sidewalk leading to the entrance is faded and cracked but bordered by buckets of glossy ferns and bright purple flowers. The sounds of Elvis Presley and steel guitars can be heard from outside. Hazel nearly skips to the door.
“We can always go somewhere else,” I hedge, and reach for her hand to reel her in, pulling her back toward me.
“Are you kidding?” She points to a string of umbrella lights and fake roof thatching tacked just above a pair of glass doors. “I mean, look at this place.”
“Oh … I’m looking.”
She gives me a playful poke to the stomach before tugging me forward. “Come on. Cali is already here and I promise you’ll be impressed. She does yoga,” she adds, and wiggles her brows suggestively.
I pay our entry fee at the door and follow her inside the dimly lit bar. It’s early but the place is already packed. The main room is reflected in a smoked mirror that serves as backdrop to a small stage. Paper lanterns sway overhead and waitresses in grass skirts wind their way between crowded tables, trays held aloft and filled with everything from bottles of lime-corked Corona to tiki-shaped glasses with colored smoke rising above the rims.
Hazel and Cali spot each other from opposite sides of the bar and Cali waves us over to where she’s been saving a table.
Hazel must see the way my eyes widen, because she pushes up on her toes and whispers, “Told you.”
Adam leads the way, with Hazel and I close behind. “I know you did,” I say, leaning down to talk above the noise, “but you also described her as an avid knitter with a great personality and three cats. Forgive me for being cautiously optimistic.”
Cali is about Hazel’s height with strawberry-blond hair and light eyes. When she stands to hug Hazel, I’m treated to a view of long legs in a pair of little red shorts, and curves in all the right places. I catch Adam noticing, too.
Hazel makes the introductions and nearly as soon as we sit, our waitress materializes, tossing coasters down in front of us.
“Game’s about to start,” she says, pulling a pencil from her hair and pressing it to a lined notepad. “Anything I can get you beforehand?”
We place a drink order, select a mix of different appetizers, and she leaves us with our scorecards.
“So how do you two know each other?” Cali motions between me and Hazel.
“The short version is that we knew each other in college,” Hazel says, “and then met up again recently. I’m friends with his sister.”
“You dated in college?” Cali asks.
I’m not sure which of us jumps to correct her first, but there’s a lot of head shaking and at one point Hazel is doing a comedic reenactment of someone choking. “More like casual acquaintances,” I say evenly.
Cali points to Adam and dials up her smile. “And how do you know Josh?”
“We met at a youth sports event.”
Her interest is definitely enhanced. “Are you an athlete?”
“Football.” He gives her a proud smile that’s all straight white teeth and just a trace of dimple. It’s an all-American smile, the type you expect to see on cereal boxes and stadium jumbotrons. Unfortunately I’ve seen that smile at least a dozen times before, only usually it’s directed at cheerleaders and groupies at after-game parties. My eyes flash to Hazel and only now does it occur to me that I’ve set her up with Adam the Panty Dropper, and she’s staying at my place.
Brilliant move, Josh.
“I tore my PCL two winters ago,” he continues, “and Josh got me back on the field in time for spring training.”
The conversation slows when our waitress returns. Hazel’s drink is a literal fishbowl filled with some kind of blue alcohol and gummy fish. When Adam and Cali’s attention is drawn by a loud crash behind us, Hazel mimes that it’s my job to make sure her shirt stays on.
We dig into our appetizers just as a middle-aged guy in a blazer and jeans—our emcee for the night—steps out on the stage.
“Hello, everyone!” he shouts, to surprisingly lively applause. “Some of you may recognize me from Channel Four Weekend News. My name is Richard Stroker, and I am your host for tonight’s game.”
“Richard Stroker?” Hazel gapes at me from over the top of her drink. “His name is Dick Stroker? I knew tonight was going to be awesome.”
Adam blinks at her side, confused. “I don’t get it.”
There are about a hundred unsaid things in the look she gives me before she returns her attention to Dick.
“We’ll play seven rounds tonight,” Dick says. “Pop culture, music, math and science, world history, sports”—Adam does a little fist pump here—“wildlife, and grammar.” A collective boo moves through the crowd at the last one, but he continues. “You’ll notice several large television sets around the bar—courtesy of Bob’s Sports, thank you, Bob—where the questions will be displayed. Everyone should have seven scorecards, each one labeled with its respective category. We’ll score each category individually and then tally them for a cumulative winner at the end. Who wants to know what we’re playing for?”
I laugh when Hazel’s arm is the first to shoot up.
“Third place will receive a set of new steak knives from Kizer. Kizer: Because Chinese knives can be awesome, too. Our second-place team will win a year’s subscription to Omaha Steaks, valued at over three hundred dollars.” The room fills with the collective ring of ooohs and ahhhs. “Our last prize is the big one, folks. Because all the proceeds of tonight’s game go to the Children’s Cancer Fund, Budget Cruises has generously donated a three-day Pacific Coast cruise!”
While Cali and Adam are listening to the rules, Hazel leans across the table. “You have to be on my team.”
“In case you haven’t noticed,” I remind her, “we’re supposed to be on dates. With other people. Play with Adam.” I straighten, but she reaches out, grabbing my shirt.
“I want that cruise, Josh, and you’re smarter.”
“Why do you think I’m smarter?”