“Right!” I brandish the hammer in victory. That little asshole staple is mine to destroy! (Or recycle responsibly.) “The work party.”
“It’s not officially work. But a few of the cool teachers will be there, and you might want to meet them.”
I eye her with faint trepidation; we all remember Hazel Point Number Two. “You promise you’ll monitor my booze intake?”
For some reason, this makes her laugh, and it causes a silver pulse of anticipation to flash through my blood when she tells me, “You’ll be just fine with the Riverview crowd.”
I get the sense Emily wasn’t yanking my chain. I hear music all the way to the curb when I climb out of Giuseppe, my trusty 2009 Saturn. The music is by one of the Spanish singers that Dave loves, layered with the irregular sound of glass clinking, voices, and Dave’s awesome braying laugh. My nose tells me he’s grilling carne asada, which means that he’s also making margaritas, which means I’ll need to stay focused to keep my shirt on tonight.
Wish me luck.
With a deep, bracing breath, I do one more check of my outfit. I swear it’s not a vanity thing; more often than not, something is unbuttoned, a hem is tucked into underwear, or I’ve got an important garment on inside out. This characteristic might explain, in part, why third graders feel so at home in my classroom.
Emily and Dave’s house is a late Victorian with a shock of independently minded ivy invading the side that leads to the backyard. A winding flower bed points the way to the gate; I follow it around to where the sound of music floats up and over the fence.
Emily really went all out for this “Welcome, Summer!” barbecue. A garland of paper lanterns is strung over the walkway. Her sign even has the correct comma placement. Dinner parties at my apartment consist of paper plates, boxed wine, and the last three minutes before serving featuring me running around like a maniac because I burned the lasagna, insisting I DON’T NEED ANY HELP JUST SIT DOWN AND RELAX.
I shouldn’t really get into the comparison game with Emily, of all people. I love the woman but she makes the rest of us look like limp vegetation. She gardens, knits, reads at least a book a week, and has the enviable ability to eat like a frat boy without ever gaining weight. She also has Dave, who, aside from being my new boss (fingers crossed!), is progressive in an effortless way that makes me feel like he’s a better feminist than I am. He’s also almost seven feet tall (I measured him with uncooked spaghetti one night) and good-looking in an Are you sure he isn’t a fireman? kind of way. I bet they have amazing sex.
Emily shrieks my name, and a backyard full of my future friends turns to see why she’s just shouted, “Get your rack over here!” But I’m immediately distracted by the sight of the yard tonight. The grass is the kind of green you’ll only find in the Pacific Northwest. It rolls away from the stone path like an emerald carpet. The beds are full of hostas just starting to unfurl their leaves, and a massive oak stands in the center of it all, its branches heavy with tiny paper lanterns and stretched in a canopy of leaves protecting the guests from the last bit of fading sun.
Emily waves me over and I smile at Dave—nodding like, Duh, Dave, when he holds up the margarita pitcher in question—and cross through a small group of people (maybe my new colleagues!) to the far end of the yard.
“Hazel,” Em calls, “come over here. Seriously,” she says to the two women at her side, “you’re going to love her so much.”
So, hey guess what? My first conversation with the third grade teachers at Riverview is about breasts, and this time I wasn’t even the one to bring them up. I know! I wouldn’t have expected that, either! Apparently Trin Beckman is the most senior teacher in our grade, and when Emily points to her breasts, I readily agree she’s got a great rack. She seems to think they need to be in a better bra and then mentions something about three pencils I don’t entirely catch. Allison Patel, my other third grade peer, is lamenting her A cups.
Emily points to her own A’s and frowns at my perky C’s. “You win.”
“What does my trophy look like?” I ask. “A giant bronze cock?”
The words are out before I can stop them. I swear my mouth and my brain are siblings who hate each other and give each other wedgies in the form of mortifying moments like this. Now it seems my brain has deserted me.
Emily looks like a giant bird has just flown into her mouth. Allison looks like she’s contemplating this all very seriously. We all startle when Trin bursts out laughing. “You were right, she is going to be fun.”
I exhale, and feel a tiny bolt of pride at this—especially when I realize she’s drinking water. Trin isn’t tickled by my lack of filter because she’s already tipsy on one of Dave’s killer margaritas; she’s just cool with weirdos. My octopus tentacles twitch at my side.
A shadow materializes at Emily’s right but I’m distracted by the perfectly timed margarita Dave presses into my hand with a whispered, “Take it slow, H-Train,” before disappearing again.
My new boss is the best!
“What’s going on over here?”
It’s an unfamiliar male voice, and Emily answers, “We were just discussing how Hazel’s boobs are better than all of ours.”
I look up from my drink to see whether I actually know the person currently studying my chest and … oh.
Dark eyes widen and quickly flicker away. A carved jaw twitches. My stomach turns over.
It’s him. Josh.
Josh fucking Im. The blueprint for Perfect.
He coughs out a husky breath. “I think I’ll skip the boob talk.”
Somehow Josh is even better-looking than he was in college, all tanned and fit and with his flawlessly crafted features. He’s ducking away in horror already but my brain takes this opportunity to give my mouth a revenge wedgie.
“It’s cool.” I wave an extremely casual hand. “Josh has already seen my boobs.”
The party stops.
“I mean, not because he wanted to see them.” My brain desperately tries to fix this. “They were forced on him.”
A wind chime rings mournfully in the distance.
Birds stop flying midair and fall to their deaths.
“Not forced, like, by me,” I say, and Emily groans in pain. “But like his roommate had me—”
Josh puts a hand on my arm. “Hazel. Just … stop.”
Emily looks on, completely confused. “Wait. How do you guys know each other?”
He answers without taking his eyes off me. “College.”
“Glory days, am I right?” I give him my best grin.
With an expectant look tossed to each of us Trin asks, “Did you guys date?”
Josh pales. “Oh my God. Never.”
Holy crap, I forgot how much I like this guy.
That little shyster Dave Goldrich, principal, waits until I’ve had three margaritas before telling me I officially have the job as Riverview’s newest third grade teacher. I’m pretty sure he does this to see what astounding response comes out of my mouth, so I hope he isn’t disappointed with “Holy shit! Are you fucking with me?”
He laughs. “I am not.”
“Do I already have a thick HR file?”
“Not officially.” Bending from somewhere up near the International Space Station, Dave drifts down to plant a kiss on the top of my head. “But you’re not getting the favorite treatment, either. I separate work life from personal. You’ll need to do the same.”
I pick up on the only thing that matters here. “I’m your favorite?” I bare my teeth, flashing my charming dimple. “I won’t tell Emily if you won’t.” Dave laughs and makes a dramatic reach for my glass, but I evade him, leaning in to add, “About Josh. Is he a tea—?”
“My sister didn’t tell me you’re joining the staff at Riverview.” Josh must be part vampire because I swear he just materializes in empty spaces near warm bodies.
I straighten, flapping at the air in front of my face and trying to clear the confusion. “Your sister?”