But a hand goes up in the back and waves us over; of course Josh is already here.
“Oh my God, is that him?” Sasha leans to the side, staring toward the table where Josh has now stood. I start to agree that yes, I am the most generous yoga student in her class and she should totally give me a discount, but then the person beside him stands, too, and oh.
My head goes blank for
I already know “Jones.”
He isn’t Jones Something. He’s Tyler Jones.
I rarely have moments that throw me, but this one is a doozy. Tyler was my six months. Six months together followed by years of him studiously manipulating me into thinking we might happen again someday so that I’d sleep with him again, and again.
Josh knows about Tyler, but not the extent of the head games he played, and without a doubt Josh has no idea that my ex Tyler is the gym buddy he calls Jones.
And damn it, Ty looks good. He’s still got that soft floppy blond skater hair that falls over his left eye. His knee-buckling smile hasn’t changed with time, the scar on his chin is still the best way to make a great face better, and he’s still insanely tall for no good reason. Tonight he has on a well-worn flannel and some perfectly beat-up button-fly jeans that cover up what I know to be a magical dong. I bet under the table I’d see his requisite black Chuck Taylors and in his back pocket he’s tucked his Yankees cap. It’s like walking backward into my life from six years ago.
The expectant smile is wiped clean off Tyler’s face when he sees me and moves around the table. He pushes his way through the crowd, coming at me like a predator, and I’m the prey with no survival skills—just rooted in place. Sasha has made her way to Josh and I assume they’re doing the introductions without us because all I can really see is Tyler marching closer, heads turning because—let’s face it—he’s a hot man on a mission. Before I’ve decided whether I’m going to stay, or turn and run, his arms are around my waist and I’m off the floor with his face pressed into my neck as he says my name over, and over, and over.
Hazel, Hazel, Hazel.
Oh my God.
Holy shit, what are you doing here?
How are you?
I had no idea it would be you!
Holy shit. Holy shit. Holy shit.
Josh’s eyes meet my wide gaze over Tyler’s shoulder, and I can see him trying to work this out. Without context it must look like one hell of a blind date greeting. His brows pinch down in question, and I mouth a simple Tyler.
I can make out the swear word from here. Tyler Jones? his lips say next, and I nod.
Sasha puts her hand on his arm to redirect his attention back to her, but I can tell he’s only ten percent there. Every few seconds he looks up at me, and I’m watching him as if he can somehow guide me on what to do here.
“I can’t believe it’s you,” Tyler says, putting my feet back on the floor, cupping my jaw, and bending so we’re face-to-face.
I bite my lip, pulling back a little because I have the distinct impression he’s about to kiss me. “It was … a surprise for me, too.”
“Really?” His mouth takes on a cockily skeptical curve. “I thought Josh told you who you were meeting.”
“Yeah, but … I never knew you as ‘Jones.’ ”
Only now does it occur to him that I wasn’t trying to surprise him with this “blind” date, and that I had no idea that he would be here. God, it’s so typical of Tyler to think this has somehow all been orchestrated for him.
He ducks down again, catching my eyes. “I hope it’s a good surprise?”
This throws me a little, this display of hesitance.
“I’m still deciding,” I tell him. “The last time I saw you, you were sneaking out of my bedroom without saying goodbye. You left for Europe the next day with the person I later realized was your girlfriend.”
His eyes hold on to mine, and he’s nodding the entire time I’m speaking, like my words are gifts bestowed by a benevolent goddess. “I was a shit. I was a complete shit to you, Hazel, and it’s haunted me every day.” Tyler lets out a shaking exhale, and he seems genuinely thrown. “Holy crap, I can’t believe you’re here.”
He jerks me again into his chest, and my expression of surprise is smashed against his sternum.
My fingers are shaking when his giant hand engulfs them and he tugs, leading me back to the table where Josh and Sasha are seated and ordering drinks. I come up right as Josh is saying, “Aaaand the woman walking up just now will have a double Bulleit and ginger.” He meets my eyes, and adds, “In a short glass.”
Josh knows I need to toss one back right now. It must be written all over my face.
“Josh, dude!” Tyler smacks the table and the salt and pepper shakers clatter together. “You didn’t tell me Hazel is Hazel Bradford! Did you know she’s the love of my life?”
Josh’s jaw drops to the floor, and I too want to guffaw heartily at Tyler’s declaration. How many Hazels has he met in his life? I also want to let out a banshee scream loud enough to break every window in the establishment.
“We were together for two and a half years, man,” Tyler says, and as I start to challenge this calculation, he sees Sasha and apologizes for being rude (Tyler? Apologizing for social snubs?), reaching to shake her hand with the one that isn’t still wrapped around mine. “Sorry, sorry. I’m Tyler.”
“Sasha,” she says, dazed, like we are as fascinating as early-days reality television.
“I’m totally freaking out right now.” Tyler looks back at me and wipes his free hand across his forehead as if he’s sweating from the shock of it all. “Josh and I work out together sometimes. I had no idea he was fixing me up with my ex. I’ve been thinking about this woman every day for the past four years.”
I’m not even sure how to absorb these superlatives, so I just give him a tight smile and sit down across from Josh, who’s staring at me with such singular intensity I worry he’s burning a red dot into my forehead.
The delivery of our drinks, and the time Tyler takes to order one for himself, gives me a few seconds of oxygen, and head space.
1.Tyler looks fantastic.
2.He seems genuinely apologetic, if not a little over the top.
3.My brain is goo. This is the Tyler Jones Effect. He’s charming, and beautiful, and has always been my kryptonite.
So much for growth.
I remember the first time he broke up with me, how it felt to hear him say that I was fun, but not long-term material.
I remember the first time he left my bed after coming over for sex, and told me it was always so good that way between us, and thanks for a fun night.
We probably had sex twenty more times after that, and every time I felt like shit afterward. It got to the point where it wasn’t even that I wanted Tyler Jones so much as I just wanted to not have this weak spot in my heart. Every time I thought, This time, I’m going to say no! This time, I’m going to ask him to get out after I’ve come but before he has!
This time, this time, this time.
I reenter the conversation as Tyler is telling the story of the time we went skiing and I made it down the mountain alive after somehow losing my poles and careening face-first over a thick sheet of ice. It’s not a story I particularly relish him starting off with, but at least it’s one where my undergarments are intact and my skirt isn’t over my head.
“Yeah, Hazel has a pretty hard skull,” Josh jokes quietly, and I’m the only one to burst out in a nervous, too-loud cackle. He looks at me, grinning at my awkward hysteria too close to the surface. Josh reaches across the table and brushes his fingertips across the back of my hand in what is either an I’m right here, you’re okay gesture or a Be cool one.
Tyler is full of Hazel Bradford is the wildest ever! stories, and regales a riveted Sasha and Josh with The Time I Looked into Adopting a Tiger, The Time Senior Hazel Went Streaking Through Freshman Orientation, and most mortifyingly, The Time We Decided We Should Have Sex in the Bathrooms at Every Major Museum in Portland.
Josh gives me a pruney face because we were just at the Portland Art Museum two days ago. “Gross,” he whispers, and wipes his hands on the thighs of his jeans.