Hazel scrunches up her face before lobbing a piece of popcorn at him. Winnie immediately wolfs it down.
“The only person I bicker that comfortably with is my wife,” he says, “and it’s a skill that’s taken years to perfect.” Rounding the couch, he drops down onto the cushion next to my sister. They look so easy together. It’s hard not to wonder whether I’ll ever have that. Judging by my results with Cali, it does not look good.
Fortunately, I get little time to wallow because Hazel shoves her foot into my kidney, attempting to make room for Winnie under the blanket. I push her foot away. “You know there’s another side to this couch, right?”
Dave looks at us, smug. “See?”
“David, gross.” Hazel pulls up the blanket. “We just ate.”
Emily reaches for a handful of popcorn and sits back against the couch. “So, back to the double date of doom, what happened to those two? I assume they don’t want to see either of you again since you were basically trivia nerd besties who plan to never get laid.”
“Oh, we haven’t told you the best part—” I start, but Hazel interrupts me.
“The cruise is the best part, Jimin.”
I push her off the edge of the cushion and continue. “They went home together.”
Emily’s mouth falls open. “They did not.”
“They did.” Hazel nods happily from where she’s landed on the floor, as if she’s thrilled for them. “I stopped by my old school to drop off a box of supplies yesterday and saw Cali in the faculty room touching up the concealer on a giant hickey. Who gives hickeys anymore? Honestly.”
“But you are going to do it again, right?” Emily asks, watching as Hazel climbs back onto the couch, roughly inserting herself into my space again. “Please don’t let my brother go back to the sweatpants.”
Hazel tosses a piece of popcorn in her mouth and gives me a little shrug. “I don’t know, what do you think?”
“Off the top of my head,” I say, “I can’t think of any friends I want to alienate. But I’m not opposed to trying.”
Hazel considers this. “Yeah, nobody else at my new or former place of employment—I have to maintain my thin veneer of a professional demeanor. And most of my friends are married or gay, or even weirder than I am.”
I frown at her. “That’s hard to believe.”
“We know tons of people!” Emily chimes in, scooting to the edge of the cushion and turning to face her husband. “What about that adorable girl at your chiropractor?”
Dave searches his memory for a face. “The redhead? She’s a lesbian.”
“There’s no way Josh is getting lucky anytime soon,” Hazel says, “so that won’t matter.”
Emily straightens. “Oh! What about your brother? He’d have so much fun with Hazel.”
“My brother is engaged.”
Emily levels him with a flat look. “David, we all know that’s not going to last.”
“We might want to let it run its course regardless.”
Hazel reaches for the bottle of wine and mutters to me, “I think we’re going to need this.”
“What about that guy at the dentist’s office,” Dave says, “the one who does the scheduling?” He looks around the couch. “We should find a notebook to write all these down.”
Emily rummages through an end table drawer and I hold up my glass for Hazel to refill.
Pencil in hand, Emily starts making notes. “The guy who does your lawn is always playing with Winnie, Josh. And he’s really cute.”
Dave looks at her from where he’s reaching for a cookie. “Isn’t he, like, nineteen?”
“You might be right.” She turns to Hazel. “Haze, do you have a problem with younger men?”
Hazel burps before answering. “Nope.”
“Joshy, what about you?”
“I think younger men are fine but I’d prefer a woman. And at least old enough to vote, please.”
David’s eyes light up. “What if we made them dating profiles on Grindr or eharmony or one of those?”
Emily’s brows come together. “I don’t think Grindr is the right one. Let me Google it.”
Hazel leans against my shoulder, staring at them. “They don’t even need us here for this.”
I take a sip of wine. “I think you’re right.”
“You know … my hairstylist is pretty cute,” Hazel says thoughtfully. “And funny, too. You might like her.”
She looks up at me. She’s so close, her whiskey eyes seem lighter tonight. “Mm-hm. She likes to fish. Do you like to fish?”
“I have an appointment next week.” With one hand, she pulls her hair up on top of her head. “Maybe I’ll talk to her?”
“But what about you?” I ask. “If we’re going to do this, I still want to do it together.” Hazel opens her mouth to answer, but stops. I follow her gaze to where Emily and Dave are both watching us. “What?”
“Nothing.” Emily bends to write something down, and I’m guessing it’s just a scribble because we’ve caught her ogling us. “You’re just cute together.”
Hazel sits up, preening. “That’s because we’re both insanely attractive.” She looks back at me. “I think Josh might like my hairdresser, though. But he can’t screw it up because I really love my hair right now.”
I lift my glass. “Scout’s honor.”
Dave reaches for Emily’s arm. “You know that barista at Heavenly Brews? The one you think is always flirting with you?”
Emily holds up her hands in defense. “All I’m saying is he never charges me for a double shot.”
“Anyway, I could talk to him about Hazel.” In Hazel’s direction he adds, “He’s pretty cute—as far as guys go. Dark hair, athletic. No obvious psychotic tendencies that I’ve noticed, and he makes a kick-ass cappuccino. I think he’s in graduate school or something.”
Hazel tilts her head side to side. “I’m interested. Baristas tend to like the peculiar girls.”
Something pulses in me when I hear her describe herself that way.
“So we have a plan then?” Emily asks. “Hazel will talk to her stylist and Dave can talk to the hot barista. We’ll meet back here to finalize the details?”
Hazel offers a hand and I reach over to shake it. This is all becoming very … communal. I just hope no one gets invested in someone for me before I do.
Unfortunately, I spend the Saturday morning after date number two searching for a new stylist.
I’m scrolling through Yelp reviews when Winnie starts to bark, her wet nose pressed against the front room window. Poor Josh and his once-spotless glass.
Winnie can barely contain herself and races back and forth, tail wagging furiously and feet slipping along the wood floors. There are only two people who get that kind of reaction. One of them woke up with a headache and has gone back to bed, and the other is my mom.
“Calm down,” I say, pulling her back by her collar so I can open the door. “You’d think nobody pays attention to you.”
“There she is,” my mom croons. “There’s my pretty, good girl.”
I’m shocked—shocked, I say—to find that she’s not speaking to me.
Winnie dances around Mom’s legs as she comes inside, and I close the door behind her. “I’m so happy to see you, too, Mom!”
“You hush,” she says, and hands me a white paper bag that smells suspiciously like blueberry muffins. All is forgiven. Doing a quick glance toward the kitchen she adds, “I see you haven’t burned the place down.”
I deliver a thumbs-up over my shoulder. “So far so good!”
Thank God my apartment should finally be ready soon. I’m excited to be back in my space with my rabbit and bird and fish. Still, I’ll admit I’m going to miss cohabitating with my new best friend.
Winnie follows Mom as she crosses the room, settling comfortably at her feet beneath the kitchen table. “Where’s that captivating boy?” Mom asks.