I admit Tyler’s a good storyteller, and I come off sounding like the Olivia Pope of Fun in most of them. I can tell Sasha and Josh are genuinely entertained. But as he goes on and on with all this shared history, I’m weighed down by the drooping awareness that I gave Tyler so much of my heart and my time, and received so little in return.
It is astonishing to me that, in all the time we were together and the years we’ve been apart, this is what he remembers. If I had to share my Tyler Jones stories, there would be a couple of great ones, including The Night He First Brandished the Magic Dong™ and The Time He Showed Me Why Women Love Oral Sex, but otherwise, they’d mostly be That Time Tyler Said He Loved Me to Get in My Pants, and That Other Time Tyler Said He Loved Me to Get in My Mouth.
A glance at Josh tells me that, as his gym buddy rambles on and on about our escapades and sexcapades, the bloom is coming off the rose. I understand immediately; if you asked me which is the more meaningful relationship in my life, I’d say Josh without hesitation. But for sure Josh can see as clearly as I can the imprint that Tyler has left on me. I’d have a spoiled-milk expression, too, if Tabby were here talking about all the shenanigans she and Josh shared.
His jaw ticks, and when Tyler stops to actually breathe, Josh cuts in to engage Sasha on her interests, her job, her life.
Tyler takes this opportunity to turn, and reach for my hand again, bringing it to his mouth. “Hazel?”
Something squeezes my lungs until the air is all gone. “For what?”
He nods, eyes closed, and his lips move up and down my knuckles with the movement. Over Tyler’s bowed head, Josh catches my eye and we both quickly look away.
“I’m sorry for ending things, and making you feel that you weren’t worth my time long term.” So Tyler does remember. “I’m sorry I couldn’t let you move on afterward. I’m sorry I used you as an escape whenever things got hard in other areas of my life. And I’m sorry I disappeared without a word.”
When he looks at me, I give him a little smile. It’s nice to hear all this. I can’t pretend it isn’t. But I’m obviously still in shock because I don’t really have words in response, even all the wrong ones.
The waiter deposits a Diet Coke in front of him and with that, things click into place.
“You’re in recovery,” I blurt.
He nods. “Yeah. Yeah. I am. I’m so much happier.” He lets go of my hand to lift his glass and take a sip. “I wish I could do a lot of things over again.”
I’m thrilled for him, because it’s obviously a good decision, but I’m so windblown by Tyler’s appearance that I can’t even enjoy the food. One sip in and my drink tastes rotten. My meal is overflavored and feels like a fluorescent bulb in my mouth.
Tyler and Sasha—and to a lesser extent Josh—seem to do just fine with minimal input from me, but I can’t pretend I’m not relieved when the check comes, and the two dudes whip out their wallets. I don’t even put up a fight.
“Haze,” Josh says quietly, “you want to box that up and take it home?”
I look at my plate. I’ve had maybe two bites. “Okay. Sure.”
Josh grabs my bag of food as we stand, and puts a brotherly arm around my shoulders before Tyler can pull me aside. “That was a fun night,” Josh says quietly, looking down at me.
“It was great.” I can hear the question in my words, like Wait, was it fun? I was on Planet Freak-Out for most of it and didn’t notice.
“Let me give you my number.” Tyler slips my phone from where it’s loosely held in my hand, and opens a new text box, texting himself This is Hazel’s number, followed by a little smiley face.
I want to snatch his phone and see how many of those texts he has with different girls’ names. But then I feel like an asshole for thinking it, because he bends down and puts a chaste kiss on my cheek.
“You’re a bigger person than I am,” Tyler says, and it’s awkward because Josh still has his arm around my shoulders so Tyler’s practically kissing Josh’s hand, but Tyler doesn’t seem to mind baring his soul in public anymore. “It was really good to see you.”
Josh walks Sasha out; he says he’s going to drive her home, and something in my chest forms a fist and punches both of them for that. Tyler hops in a Jeep Cherokee, and waves as he drives off. My car starts on the second try, and I drive home in a haze, pulling up outside my building without paying attention to anything along the way.
Because Josh is at Sasha’s.
The thought sticks in my head like a tack in a corkboard: Pay attention to this. Josh is at Sasha’s. Obsess about this later. Just … not yet.
I pull off my clothes and drop them on the floor right next to the laundry hamper in an act of rebellion that, most likely, Josh won’t even see. I scrub off my minimal makeup and throw the wipe in the trash with a violence that Tyler doesn’t get to appreciate. I get into my bed in my BAD BITCH T-shirt and DRAGON PUSSY underwear, and turn on the TV on my dresser with every intention of watching Steel Magnolias.
Five minutes in, I burst into tears.
I gasp, clutching my boob as if it’s my heart, and look up at my bedroom doorway.
Josh is there.
Josh is here? I didn’t even hear him come in, and he’s moving over and sitting on the side of my bed while I melt down at the sight of Sally Field running around the house in curlers.
“I used the key you gave me. I hope that’s okay?”
I can only nod.
“Hey,” he says gently. “What’s wrong? What happened after I left?”
“Nothing.” I wipe away the evidence on my cheeks. “I just feel emotional.” I stretch across him to my bedside drawer, where not only are there several vibrators but there is chocolate. He watches me push past a messy pile of sex toys for sugar without saying a single thing, and also doesn’t say anything when I shove an entire Twix into my mouth, then start talking around it. “Seeing Tyler was a lot. I thought you were going home with Sasha and I wanted to talk to you.”
I bury my face in his shirt and inhale like I’m huffing him. He smells like Tide and the echoing tang of vinegar from his parents’ house, and I imagine opening my mouth and eating his shirt, swallowing it with the chocolate bar.
Then I realize that the blanket has slid off my body and he can see the back of my Dragon Pussy underpants. He pulls his attention to my face, eyes wide and unfocused.
“This night could be better,” I tell him, tucking my shirt over my butt.
“I had no idea Jones and Tyler were the same guy.” He runs an apologetic hand through my crazy hair. “I would never have set you guys up.” A pause. “I mean, obviously.”
“I know.” I watch him read my Bad Bitch T-shirt a couple of times before he laughs.
“Strangely enough,” he says quietly, “I adore you in this mood.”
I ignore the silvery, giddy monster that wiggles through me when he says this. “It threw me because he was being so nice, and I swear that for like two years all I wanted to hear were the things he was saying tonight.” I start crying again. Holy bejeezus I am a mess. “Tyler was the guy who broke my heart and has made me so wary of getting emotionally involved again and then he was there. He looked the same, but remembered all the ways he was shitty and apologized for them.” I let out a wail and use Josh’s shirt as a handkerchief. “And then you went home with Sasha and I wanted to talk to you.”
“You said that already, Haze.”
“Well, I really, really mean it.”
He holds me for a few minutes. Who knows, maybe it’s an hour. I lose track of time and space; if someone decided to invent a comfort machine, it should be shaped just like Josh Im. His right hand rubs slow circles on my back, and his left hand is anchored in the hair at the back of my head, and he’s saying quiet things like
I could tell how shocked you were.
Shh, I know. Come here, Haze. It’s okay.
Finally, I pull back and apologize in a sob-thick voice for covering his shirt in my melodramatic tears and snot. “You should totally go home and watch some TV and forget this ever happened. I don’t know why I’m such a mess.”