He shakes his head, sipping from the drink that must be mostly melted ice by now. “I swear your dating experience is the oddest.”
I look over at him. He’s so ridiculously hot, it amazes me that all women don’t react to him the way Elsa did. But he’s also so innocent in some ways. “No, Josh, listen. Haven’t you ever just wanted to rip someone’s clothes off?”
“So you agree, don’t you, that you’ve had an instant attraction to every person you ended up sleeping with?”
“Well, sure,” he concedes, “but most of the time I’m not trying to finger her under the table the first time we go to dinner.”
Heat flashes across my face and I clear my throat. The image that just burned a trail of fire through my brain—Josh reaching over, pressing his open mouth to my neck and sliding his hand down my pants—was … unexpected. “Maybe you’re just hard to resist.”
He gives a skeptical look down at his glass. I watch him carefully use his straw to take another sip. When he doesn’t reply I ask, “How many women have you been with?”
He pauses, staring at the ceiling as he counts. I watch as the bartender pours seven drinks in the time it takes Josh to finish tallying. I may have to readjust my mental image of his sex life. Go Josh.
After another moment of silence he turns to me and says, “Five.”
I drop my chip. “It took you four minutes to count to five? They must not have been very memorable.”
“I was just messing with you.” He picks up my chip and grins at me, showing me all of his perfect white teeth. “They were all pretty long term, though. You may have noticed I’m not great at the casual thing.” He takes another gulp, a bigger one this time, draining it with a long swallow. “Your turn.”
“Me?” I honestly have no idea how many guys I’ve been with, so I pull a lowball number out of the air. “Maybe twenty.”
His eyes go wide and he coughs as he swallows. “Twenty?”
“Actually probably more? Let’s say thirty.”
Josh shakes his head and laughs. “Wow, okay.”
This response is not an improvement.
“Don’t do that.” I point a finger at him. “Don’t act like I’ve crossed some magical threshold of appropriate numbers for a woman. If I was a dude and said that, you’d reply, ‘In high school, right?’ and then high-five me and call me brah.”
I drain my drink, too, and he watches, looking both amused and chastened.
“Fair enough.” He stares at me, eyes moving over my features as if gauging them somehow. “Sorry.” Lifting his hand, he offers a conciliatory high five. “Right on, brah.”
I laugh, smacking his hand, and he reaches for his glass, swirling the liquid inside. “What’s your longest relationship?”
Humming, I think back. “Six months, I guess?”
I turn and stare at him. “You need to stop being a judgmental ass. I already told you relationships are hard for me. I think most guys are sort of boring, and every guy I like ends up deciding I’m too wild or weird after a couple weeks. I can only keep what’s hidden below the tip of this crazy iceberg for so long.”
Something softens in his expression then, like he’s flipping a flash card from shocked to tender. “For the record, I’ve seen what’s below the tip and it’s pretty great. Odd, but great.” He narrows his eyes at my delighted expression. “I know there’s a ‘just the tip’ joke in there but I need another drink first.” He lifts his hand, waving the bartender over to bring us another round.
But this time, instead of ordering a gin and tonic for himself, he orders a Talisker, neat. And this drink he finishes in less than fifteen minutes, soon ordering another.
As we drink, and talk, and drink some more, Josh’s face grows flushed and warm, and eventually his words come more easily: His first love was a girl named Claire, in high school. She was Korean American, just like Josh, and their families knew each other. They went to the same church, and lost their virginity to each other after dating for a year. She immediately told her parents, who told his parents, who were furious and made them break up.
“And they grounded me for the rest of the year.”
“That seems a little harsh. I probably would have thrown a fit and eventually snuck out to meet her.”
“Your mom is great, so I don’t mean this as disrespectful to her, but it’s different in Korean families. I’m the oldest son and that’s a big responsibility.”
“So that was the end of it?”
“We don’t disobey our parents.”
He shakes his head, sipping.
I lean forward on my elbow, my three … four? gin and tonics making me feel all fond and warm. “Did you love her?”
Josh is amused by this, and leans on the table, mimicking my position. “I loved her in the way we love in high school, sort of intensely, idealistically, and without knowing each other all that well.”
In some ways it seems crazy that we’ve been hanging out all this time—even living together for a while—and I don’t know any of this about him.
I sigh. “My first love was a guy named Tyler. Freshman year in college.”
“Let me guess, he was a fratty white dude.”
This makes me giggle because Tyler was pretty fratty. Backwards Yankees cap, square superhero jaw, baseball player, insisted he drank PBR because of some subtle flavor that most people missed. “Yeah, but there was depth there, too.”
Josh snorts into his glass.
“There was! He was nice on the inside. He was my six months,” I say, wistful. “I thought we’d be this wacky combination couple of eccentric woman and jock dude, but then he told me one night I was embarrassing him and I was like, fuck you, I’m out.”
“Good for you.”
“Will you think I’m lame if I say that I still liked him?”
He looks at me over the top of his glass. “You’re looking at the guy whose girlfriend was banging someone else for over a year.”
I suck in a breath through my teeth. “Right. I mean … Tyler would come around when he was drunk and lonely and I’d let him in, wondering whether I made the right decision, and we’d have sex again. Then at the next party, he’d be like”—I put on my stoner voice—“ ‘Dude. Hazel, you’re so weird.’ ”
“I had one of those.” He finishes his second scotch. His cheeks are so adorably pink and I give them a mental pinch. “The ex who comes over when they’re lonely. Mine was Sarah. Except we were together for a year and a half and she cried when we broke up, telling me she wanted to marry me someday, just not yet. She wanted to see other people to be sure.”
I groan. “Gross.” Though in the interest of full transparency, I’ll admit it comes out a little more like Grossssthss.
“She would come over drunk and seduce me, and the next day I’d hate myself.”
“It’s hard to say no when there’s a naked woman in your bed.”
His face flushes redder. “Very true.”
“Did it bother your parents that Tabby wasn’t Korean?”
Josh takes his third scotch from the bartender with two hands, thanking her quietly. “I think it bothered them more that she never took the time to get to know them, and she never tried to connect with Em, either. As I’m sure you’ve noticed, my parents are pretty mellow. They aren’t going to push themselves on anyone, but it matters to them that they know what’s going on and that the person I’m with becomes a part of our family. Tabby was never interested in that. It’s funny that I’m only now realizing why they never pushed for us to get married. It was awkward, a little, when Emily told us Dave proposed, and I wasn’t even with anyone. I think we all assumed I would get married first simply because I’m older. But they knew she wasn’t right for me, even if I didn’t yet.”
I think of my mom, and how she knows almost every detail of my life. I can’t really imagine it any other way. “That makes sense.”