She catches my eyes again, a protective gleam there. “I’ve talked to Emily. You were a great boyfriend. Tabby was a dick.”
“I don’t know … maybe that was sort of convenient for me? I was beginning to realize how much we’d grown apart but it was easier to keep things the way they were than be the one making the decision.”
“That makes sense.”
“I think what I liked was being someone’s person.”
Hazel’s fingers come to rest on my wrist, and I blink up again to catch her reaction. She doesn’t meet my eyes but a flush of color deepens along the tops of her cheeks. “You’re my person,” she says. “Thanks for sticking up for me tonight.”
She gives these vulnerable words so freely it makes fondness clench at something in my chest. Taking her hand, I bring it to my mouth and press a quick kiss to the backs of her knuckles.
“I like being your person.”
The corner of her mouth turns up, and she sits back on her heels. “And Winnie’s, apparently. Who knew she was so easy for a pretty face.”
I grin. “What can I say?”
Hazel groans, rolling her eyes skyward before she moves to her feet. “All right, lover boy. Let’s do some cartwheels so I can laugh at you and wipe that smug look off your face.”
“I’m not the one insisting I can still do this. I’m fine being an old man.”
I follow, watching her legs as she makes her way across the lawn. The sky is a bruise behind her, blue and purple in the dusky light pollution from downtown. I’m momentarily distracted by the way her skin looks under the beams of the backyard lights.
Hazel takes a moment to shake out her hands and roll her head a few times in each direction. “Honestly. How hard can this be?” She moves into as deep a lunge as she can in her denim skirt. “Like riding a bike, right?”
I motion back toward the house. “Should I get the first aid kit or …?”
Straightening, she stretches her arms over her head, but not before shooting a glare in my direction. She waits one, two, three seconds, and goes for it—body tumbling forward, feet in the air, and flowy tank top going right up over her face and flashing me a prolonged shot of her neon yellow bra.
When she’s right side up again, her bun has slipped to the side of her head but her expression is one of pure joy.
“Oh my God. That … was so FUN!” She bats the hair away from her face and tucks the front of her tank into her skirt. “And uh … sorry for the peep show.”
I bite back a laugh. “It wasn’t a hardship.” I tilt my head. “You going again?”
She does, and if possible, her smile is even bigger than the first time.
“Why did I ever stop doing this?” she says, clearly dizzy but continuing on to do a line of cartwheels down the grass.
Once vertical, she points to me. “Your turn.”
Wrapping her fingers around my wrists, she tugs me to stand in front of her.
“I can’t. I’m taller than you.”
She blinks a few times, confused. “So?”
“It’s further to fall?”
“Come on. We’ll do it together.”
I glance around the yard, suddenly nervous. “The neighbors will see me.”
Unswayed, she moves to my side and gets into position. “Come on, it’s dark. Arms up. One … two … three!”
The world turns upside down and when it rights itself again, Hazel and I are a tangle of arms and legs in the grass, and I’m laughing so hard it hurts.
“Ow,” I say, rubbing my stomach and everything else I managed to pull on the way down.
“But was I right?” She’s breathless, hair wild and face flushed and how has nobody seen how crazy and fucking amazing she is?
I decide right there to make sure somebody does.
“Yeah, Haze. You were.”
I wouldn’t exactly say we were scraping the bottom of the barrel by date seven, but Josh did feel the need to fake diarrhea, and I readily rushed him out to the car, apologizing profusely to our confused dates over my shoulder.
I’d set him up with a girl I met in line at the grocery store. A word to the wise: that’s a bad idea, okay? She seemed so cool when we were talking about our shared love for the store’s juice bar, but it turned out that juicing was pretty much the only thing Elsa wanted to talk about other than her private asides to Josh about how willing she was to suck his dick in the bathroom.
Josh set me up with a partner at the Fidelity branch that manages his money. (The fact that Josh has enough money to “manage” still boggles my mind. I’m thrilled when I have enough left over at the end of the month to order a pizza.) This partner, Tony, wasn’t terrible to look at, but he spent the first twenty minutes talking about what he could and couldn’t eat from the menu, and the next twenty minutes mansplaining the rules of football to me and Elsa. Elsa didn’t seem to notice; according to Josh, she was reaching for his crotch under the table every few seconds. He said it was like batting away piranhas in the Amazon.
I probably would have suffered through it because my chicken parm was delicious, but Josh couldn’t take it and ran to the men’s room, with Elsa in close pursuit. Only his cry of “My stomach! I need a toilet!” kept her from following him in.
He texted me from the bathroom, a manic SOS, and five minutes later we’re in his car with the music cranked and the bliss of sheer, unadulterated relief coursing through our bloodstreams.
“That was the worst so far,” he tells me, turning right onto Alder. “I still feel her fist around my balls.”
“I’d apologize and wish that never happened, but then I wouldn’t have had the pleasure of hearing you use the phrase ‘fist around my balls.’ ”
He glares at me briefly.
“Don’t even say it’s not funny, Josh. It’s incredibly funny.”
I see him check the time on the dashboard, and follow his attention. It’s barely eight on a Friday night. I don’t feel like going back to my apartment, and I know that if Josh goes back to his he’ll just get in his sweats and watch TV. According to Emily, there has been a dramatic resurgence in Josh’s sweatpants-wearing since I moved out.
“I’m still hungry,” I tell him. Getting him to stay out won’t be easy, and if theatrics are what it takes, I’m game. I rub at my stomach and do my best to look emaciated. “I left my delicious dinner to help protect your virtue.”
It begins to drizzle outside, and Josh surprises me by turning down the music. I know him well enough to anticipate that this next part is a peace offering. For some crazy reason Josh will bend over backward to make me happy. “We could stay out for a bit.”
I smile in the dark car. “You’re reading my mind, Jiminnie.”
He glances at me, and then flicks his turn indicator. “You up for some drinks with your food?”
“When am I not?”
I’ve only seen Josh tipsy on one occasion, at Emily’s house over a couple bottles of soju. He got pink and giggly and just a little bit loud (well, loud for Josh) before falling asleep against my shoulder and waking up like nothing ever happened. Outside of that he isn’t much of a drinker, and when he does drink, he’s adorably slow. He nurses a single gin and tonic while I manage to quaff down three, an entire hamburger, and a basket of chips and salsa.
He holds his glass, long fingers brushing away the drops of condensation. “Why are we so bad at this?”
“Speak for yourself.” I hold up my empty glass. “I’m awesome.”
“I mean the dating thing.” He runs his hand through the front of his hair. “People either have zero interest or want to bang in the restaurant.”
The bartender takes the empty basket and replaces it with a new one full of fresh chips. I tell myself I really don’t need any more, but who am I kidding. I reach for a handful, saying, “That sounds pretty normal to me. It’s nothing, or sex.”