“I forgot how much I love these things!”
“Outdoor events with day-drunk, aging Gen Xers?” I ask.
She smacks my shoulder and then turns, bouncing, throwing her arms up in a distractingly catlike stretch. I glance at Tyler as he watches Hazel sway to nothing but voices and the crowd shifting around us. His attention goes from her to the groups in our immediate proximity, some of whom are watching her with curious looks. And then he looks back to her, eyes tight.
“Come sit by me, Craze.”
Irritation shoves the words out of me: “I’m not sure that’s a great nickname, Ty.”
Tyler—I’ve known him at the gym for a few years now. He’s always seemed like a good guy, usually smiling, helps spot anyone who needs it. But right now, he’s looking at me like he sees every seductive thought I have about the woman dancing before us and he’s figuring out how he can pull my brain out through my nostrils.
“Well, it’s my nickname for her, Josh.”
He shrugs. “Starting now.”
I can’t help but push. “What did you call her in college?”
Tyler smirks. “ ‘Babe.’ ”
Well, I guess I can understand why he’d want to go for something more original this time around.
“Because that’s what she was,” he says, looking me up and down a little now, appraising what he must realize is the competition. How did he not see it before? Hazel and I are together all the time. “She was my babe.”
With impeccable timing, Hazel turns and plops down cross-legged in front of us. “Who was your babe?”
Tyler scratches his jaw, fidgeting. “You.”
Her frown is immediate. “I was your babe?”
I lean back on my hands, grinning at them both.
“I was just telling Josh, that’s what I called you in college,” he clarifies.
God, this is so deliciously awkward. He glances at me, huffing a little. “Yeah. Remember?”
She screws up her nose, and then looks at me, gauging my reaction. The realization that she always looks to me, for solidarity, for my opinion, for reassurance, lights a fuse in me, and it’s honestly all I can do to keep from leaning forward and kissing her in front of him.
The roadies clear the stage closest to us, and cheers rise like a wave across the park. My phone buzzes at my hip with a text from Sasha. “Sasha says she found some friends down in the pit and is going to hang there if anyone wants to join her.”
“Who’s opening?” Hazel asks Tyler.
He blinks blankly at her for a beat, and then smiles patiently. “Metallica.”
“They’re opening? I thought they were headlining.”
Tyler’s wince makes me want to giggle. “No, they’re getting it started.”
“I don’t think I can handle that much body slamming at ten in the morning,” she says, with a genuine smile back.
With a look to me, and then a look to her, he pushes up and lopes off to meet Sasha down near the stage.
As soon as he’s gone, we both flop back on the grass and stare up at the churning clouds overhead.
“It might rain,” I say.
“That cloud looks like a turtle.”
I follow where she’s pointing. “It looks like a bowl of popcorn to me.”
She responds to this with a simple “I feel like you and Tyler don’t like each other anymore.”
Rolling my head to the side to look at her, I say, “What makes you think that?”
“There was some testosterone-y thing happening just now.”
“About him calling you ‘babe’?” I look back at the sky. “I don’t know, I think ‘babe’ is the world’s lamest nickname.”
That might be hyperbole; I just really don’t like Tyler today.
“You never called anyone ‘babe’? Not even Tabby?”
“Not even Tabby.”
She makes a little thoughtful noise next to me and then falls quiet.
“Did you have fun on your date the other night?” I ask.
I can hear her grin when she says, “You mean, before you showed up?”
“It was okay. I wasn’t feeling great, and he really loves to reminisce about Ye Olden Days, but it seems like he’s trying so hard, I don’t really want to dog him.”
When I don’t reply, she adds, “I think you’re right that it’s worth giving him another chance.”
The air around me goes still. “When did I tell you to give him another chance?”
Her neck flushes and she looks at me, brow furrowed. “The morning after … the last time we … You said to give him another chance.”
Pushing up onto an elbow, I stare down at her. “I said if it’s where your head is, then it’s worth giving him another chance. It was about you, and what you need to explore, not about him and what he deserves or what I think you should do.”
She absorbs this for a few quiet breaths before turning away. “The weird thing about our dating game was that it’s left me feeling like I need to come out of this with someone at the end.”
I stare down at her, at the few strands of hair that have come free of the buns, and the way I can tell she didn’t bother putting on makeup this morning and she still looks stunning.
“I think we both know that’s bull.”
She nods. “I know. But it’s a feeling.”
“And even if it were true, it doesn’t have to be Tyler,” I remind her.
She turns back to me again, and her gaze drags across my mouth. “No. It doesn’t have to be Tyler.”
We’re quiet during the first few songs of the Metallica set. In fact, we’re so quiet, I wonder whether Josh has fallen asleep beside me. I’ve been people-watching, but neither of us has been paying any particular attention to the actual show. When I peek at him, I see that he’s awake, and just staring thoughtfully up at the sky.
“Don’t ask me what I’m thinking,” he says, grinning over at me when he sees me looking at him.
“I wasn’t going to!”
“You totally were.”
He’s right. I was. I lie down on my side and prop my head on my hand to study him. This is the perfect light for photographs: muted but bright, with vibrant green all around us. I’m tempted to pull my phone out of my bag and take a picture of his profile. I love the smooth, straight line of his nose, the powerful curve of his cheekbones, the geometry of his jawline.
I love your face, I think. I tap his temple with my index finger. “I just like knowing what’s going on in that brain of yours.”
He shrugs, and adjusts his hands where they’re crossed over his stomach. “I was wondering what Sasha packed in the lunch basket.”
“Are you hungry?” I ask.
“I will be eventually, and was thinking I might want to figure out where the hot dogs are instead.”
Laughing, I push up and crawl over him to peek. “She’s got apples, celery with peanut butter, and what looks like some sort of wheat berry salad. No sandwiches or like … food.”
He doesn’t respond to this at all, and given that he’s craving a hot dog, I’m pretty sure he’ll find no satisfaction in this basket. I look down at him from where I’m propped on all fours, and realize that he’s staring directly down my shirt.
“Are you looking at my boobs?”
His eyes move from my chest to my face, and instead of wisecracking or making a joke about how he forgot to bring tape and staples to keep my shirt on later when I’m drinking beer, he just closes his eyes and sighs.
It looks like defeat, or frustration, or something similar to the uncomfortable yearning that’s pressing tight against my breastbone. It feels like there’s a pile of bricks on my chest. I want to bend down and just put my mouth on his.
With a tiny whimper, I imagine the relief of that, of kissing him outside, of how he might slide his hands to my face, cupping me and holding me there. For some reason, I don’t think he’d turn away. I stare down at Josh, with his eyes closed, and imagine straddling him, feeling him tense beneath me, teasing him where we can’t do anything about it.