Emily slides the menu on the table, snapping my focus away from the window and back to the approaching waiter. She smiles up at him, giving her order before I give mine, and handing over our menus. We’ve yet to say a word to each other, and it feels like the tense beginning of a chess match, or the hush before the first serve at Wimbledon.
My sister and I unroll our napkins in unison, tucking them onto our laps, and then we inhale, eyes meeting. When she looks at me, she doesn’t have to say what she’s thinking. But this is Emily, so of course she does.
I nod. “I know.”
“Josh.” With her elbows planted on the table, she leans in closer. “Like … seriously.”
I shake my head, and thank the waiter when he returns to set my coffee in front of me. “I know, Em.”
“What is this?” she asks, spreading her hands as if Hazel and I are naked right here at the table.
I lift a shoulder. Honestly, I have no idea. It just happened. But looking back, it feels like we’d been headed there since the first time we saw each other at the barbecue. Even on our dates, she’s always been the center of my attention, the person I’m really with.
“Is it a thing?”
Emily’s foot bounces under the table and I reach out with my own, stilling it. “To who?” I ask. “Her or me?”
“Either! Or both.”
I pour a splash of cream into my mug. “I don’t know what it is, okay? My head is a mess.”
“I know you, Josh,” she practically growls. “I know you. You’re the most serially monogamous guy I’ve ever met. You don’t just have sex with someone. I don’t care how drunk you are.”
What can I say to this? It’s the same thing she said under her breath at her house before dinner. She isn’t wrong. I’ve never had casual sex. I’ve honestly never understood the impulse; sex is so supremely intimate. I give away a nonrefundable piece of myself, every time.
When I don’t answer, she taps her index finger on the table as if to further emphasize her point. “You’re not that guy. You’ve never even tried to be that guy.”
“Emily.” I put the cream down gently, feeling the tension from my fingertips all the way up my arm. “I know this about myself. Look at me, I’m not being blasé. It’s messing with my head, okay?”
“Oppa,” she asks, sliding into Korean, “do you love her?”
I don’t answer. I can’t, because it feels like the idea of saying it breaks something inside me open, exposing this precious organ. I’ve been avoiding the word since I stepped back from her bed, found my clothes in the dryer, and left her apartment. I gave love away so easily to Tabby, and compared to what I feel for Hazel? Those emotions now seem pathetically dilute, and still—I was bruised. That word—love—feels like a wrecking ball. I get the mental image of cracking open a walnut and staring at the pieces of flesh in my palm, knowing it can’t ever go back together.
It seems hard to find enough air to form words. Hazel’s mouth and her shoulders, the soft pink tips of her breasts, her bursting laugh, and the quiet way she told me to stay inside her before she fell asleep beneath me on the floor—it all swims in my head. “I don’t know.”
My sister leans back in her chair like she’s been pushed. “ ‘I don’t know’ means yes.”
“I think I might.” I look at Emily. “I think I might be in love with her.”
Our food is delivered and we thank the waiter with mumbled words. I watch Emily lift her fork and poke at her salad. Suddenly, I can’t even imagine eating.
What if it’s not just a confused infatuation after good sex? What if it’s what my brain and heart seem to believe, and I really do love Hazel? What if she’s it for me, and I’m not it for her?
I push my plate an inch or two farther away.
“Josh, you guys are so different.”
It’s honestly the last thing I need to hear right now. “Come on. I know that.”
“She’s never going to be chill. Hazel has no chill.”
Despite my mood, this makes me laugh. “Em. Anyone who’s spent more than five minutes with her knows that.” I’m hit with a mental image of Hazel’s purple palm while she was cooking me pancakes. I wonder whether I’ll ever learn where the stain came from.
And as if she’s said something unkind, Emily adds in a whisper, “But she’s the best. Hazel has the biggest heart.”
A beast inside me has tightened a fist around my own heart when she says this. Hazel is without a doubt the best person I’ve ever known.
“I thought you wanted to set us up, Em. After the barbecue?”
“I did,” she says. “But you’re so close now. It worries me.”
“You can’t hurt her.”
I meet my sister’s eyes and see the heat there. It’s a moment before I can speak past the emotion clogging my throat. “I wouldn’t—I won’t.”
“I’m serious.” She points her fork at me. “You have to be sure. You have to be positive. Hazel’s like this rogue star that just sort of floats around. She has a lot of friends—because how can you not love her?—but only a few she’s close to. You’re really important to her. She would honestly break if she lost you, Josh.”
I look up at her, skeptical. Hazel is made of brick and fire and iron. “Come on, Em.”
“You don’t think I’m serious?”
“Hazel isn’t fragile. She’s a brute.”
“Where you’re concerned she is. She idolizes you.” She pulls her cheek up in a sarcastic smile. “God knows why.”
I sigh, blinking down at the swirling white in the brown coffee.
“But if you changed your mind about something like that,” Emily says, “I think that’s the one thing that could dim her light. We both know Hazel is a butterfly. I think you have the power to take the dust from her wings.”
A month of normal hang-out time is what Josh and I seem to need in order to stop having to make a joke about the Drunk Sex all the time to show how OKAY WITH IT we are. Every weekend for the subsequent four weeks, we do very friend-appropriate things, like catch a couple of plays, peruse local art galleries, have dinner with Emily and Dave where we assure them we haven’t slept together again, and avoid bars and drinking (and nudity) whenever possible. Josh even starts bringing me lunch every Wednesday at school so we can Just Hang Out.
In the end, maybe it’s good that I have intimate knowledge of his penis so that I can confidently recommend him to my friends for the dating?
We are definitely—very vocally—Totally Ready to Try the Double-Dating Thing Again, so I pick up his date, Sasha, at the yoga studio where she teaches, because she says it will be easier for her to shower and get ready there than go all the way home on the bus. Things I have learned about Sasha since asking her to come on this blind double date:
1.She has never owned a car, nor does she ever plan to.
2.Her clothes are all made from hemp, vegan leather, or recycled soda bottles.
3.She hasn’t cut her hair in four years because she doesn’t feel it’s given her permission.
Although she seems like a conscientious and lovely person, I’m no longer feeling very confident that she’s a good match for Josh, per se. To be perfectly honest, it might be time to admit I’m not a very good matchmaker—we’ve had a lot of duds.
We’re having dinner at one of John Gorham’s restaurants, Tasty n Sons. Toro Bravo is probably my favorite restaurant in all of Portland, but I’ve never been to this one of his, and I have purposefully not eaten anything since breakfast so that I can stuff my gob and require Josh to roll me home in a wheelbarrow, date or no date.
When I pick her up, Sasha looks fantastic. She’s wearing black jeans and a cute red T-shirt that shows off great boobs. Good job, hemp! Her hair is up in some sort of Rapunzel braid that looks like it weighs about seventy pounds. When we walk into the crowded restaurant, heads turn. I’m pretty sure if Josh and the guy he’s bringing—someone named Jones—didn’t show up, Sasha and I could have a pretty hot ladies’ night out.