Those are boyfriend things. These are girlfriend feelings.
I’m Josh’s girlfriend, whether he wants me or not.
I curl back up next to him. “Josh.”
Slowly, so slowly, he opens his eyes and turns his head to see me. “Yeah?”
Voices rise and I look up to see Sasha and Tyler stomping toward our blankets, grinning, sweaty, breathless. They tumble down beside us, chests heaving.
The quiet intimacy between Josh and me dissolves into a mist.
“Holy shit,” Tyler says. “That was epic.”
A tiny ripple of guilt works its way through me. I wasn’t paying any attention to the band, even though I knew how excited Tyler was to see them. I feel like I’m doing everything just a tiny bit wrong today.
I sit up and lean over to squeeze his hand, impulsively. “I’m so glad you had a good time down there.”
Josh pushes to stand. “I’m going to get a beer. Anyone else want something? Tyler? Beer?”
“I don’t drink,” Tyler reminds him.
Josh barks out a laughing “Okay” before turning.
Sasha follows him, and he doesn’t even look at me before he’s marching down the small hill toward the bank of vendor booths to the right of the stage.
“Can I ask you something?” Tyler says, sitting up.
Unease swirls in my belly. “Sure.”
“Did you and Josh ever …?”
He nods, and I shift, reasoning that it’s not exactly a lie. “No. We never dated each other.”
“It sometimes seems like there’s more going on with you two.”
And honestly, the only way to avoid this conversation is to stand when System of a Down comes on, and pretend I am very, very excited to hear all of their songs that I’m not even sure I know. I close my eyes, and for just fifteen minutes, I try to push out all of these emotions.
I dance away the feeling that I’m trying to talk myself into being attracted to Tyler.
I dance away the feeling that I’m in love with Josh, and am prolonging his rejection because I know it will slaughter me.
I dance away the feeling that I’m putting way too much of my energy into this, when I should be just enjoying my day, and the air, and the music.
I spin, and spin, and it’s so fucking fun, I haven’t had this kind of fun in forever, just dancing like a maniac. The air is cold on my bare arms when I toss away my sweater and I’m aware that most people on the lawn are sitting, but if they knew how good it felt to let it all out and dance like this—arms out, hips rocking, the grass cold and wet underfoot—they would be up here doing the exact same—
I turn and look at Tyler behind me on the grass. “Come dance!”
I reach out for him but he laughs uncomfortably, and then looks to the side, to the family on a blanket near us, who are watching us with smiles.
“Just—come sit here.” He pats the blanket next to him.
Tyler leans in. “You’re … being sort of embarrassing.”
It falls flatly, with a clang, like a penny into an empty bucket.
So this is what it feels like.
My smile doesn’t even break, and I laugh out an incredulous, “What?”
He stands, coming closer. “You’re like the only person dancing up here. Just come sit and talk to me.”
Finally, my feet stop moving. “Please tell me you’re not that guy right now.”
“The guy you’ve always been, who wants me to be quirky but not weird, who wants me to dance only when other people are dancing, who likes telling all the stories about me but doesn’t remember how much he bitched about each of those moments when it happened.”
His expression falls. “I’m not trying to do that. You’re just—”
A fire is lit beneath my breastbone. “Just having fun?”
Grimacing, he shrugs. “Do you have to be so out there all the time? Can’t we just hang?”
“We are hanging!”
He looks around. “It’s just that some people were looking, and I didn’t want you to be embarrassed.”
“I’m not embarrassed.”
“Hazel doesn’t get embarrassed,” Josh says from behind me with a laugh. But his smile falls when I turn to him, and he sees the expression on my face. “Whoa, what did I miss?”
“Hazel was dancing,” Tyler says, leaning into the word like he knows Josh will Get It.
Josh, however, does not Get It. “And?”
“And … come on.” He looks to Sasha now, but she is similarly unswayed.
She piles her eighty feet of hair on her head and rests her hands there. “You were dancing in the pit like fifteen minutes ago.”
“But it’s the pit,” Tyler reasons, losing steam.
“Fuck off, Tyler,” I say, and then I notice it: the baseball hat on Josh’s head. The sight of it temporarily wipes clear my irritation. It’s a bright orange-yellow—I mean, a nearly blinding color—with giant black block letters across the entire front: CHEESY.
And I don’t know why, but it just makes me burst out laughing.
“Where did you get this?”
Josh breaks his stern attention from Tyler to pull the hat off his head and put it on mine. “I saw it and I thought it would make you laugh.” Josh’s eyes soften, and he gives me such an adoring smile, it’s nearly painful. “You look ridiculous in that. I hope you wear it all day.”
“So, back up. Josh gave you a hat and that’s when you decided you’re in love with him?”
I drop an avocado into my shopping basket and growl at Emily. It’s a school holiday and I seem to be fighting some kind of stomach bug, so I talked her into joining me for a little morning grocery shopping. Maybe a little too early, judging by her expression. “Are you paying attention?”
“I think so, but my brain is also still spiraling from the first words out of your mouth a half hour ago.”
She has a fair point. The first thing I said when she climbed into Giuseppe the Saturn was “I’m in love with your brother, and I need you to tell me whether I’ve got a chance.”
Emily went silent for about ten openmouthed seconds before demanding that I start at the beginning.
But what is the beginning?
Is the beginning when I first saw Josh at a party ten years ago and there was something about him that just … sang to me? Or is the beginning when he came over and we made clay and we discovered that Tabby was cheating on him?
Or is the beginning the drunken night on my floor, or the sober, sleepy, tender night in my bed?
It’s only been six months since we started hanging out, but already it feels like he’s this redwood in the forest of my life, and so starting at the beginning is bewildering.
I started with the night he brought Tyler to Tasty n Sons. She knew a lot of this already—how thrown I’d been, how conflicted. Of course, now I know I was conflicted because I’m in motherfucking love with Josh Im, but at the time it seemed so much more convoluted. And I detailed everything—from my sobfest, to Josh appearing out of thin air, to the night sex, and the morning after, when it felt like my head was filled with cotton balls and Josh told me to give Tyler another chance.
I growl again. “Tyler had just told me how embarrassing I was being, and then Josh walked up with this stupid hat”—I point to it, still perched on my head—“and told me I looked ridiculous and to never take it off. Don’t you get it?”
Emily stops near a display of bananas. “Yeah. I get it.”
“And? Is Josh going to crush my heart like a grape beneath a boot?”
“You mean,” she says carefully, “is Josh in love with you, too?”
I nod. My heart is climbing up from my chest into my throat. I don’t think I could get another word out with the question put so plainly in the space between us.
“I know Josh has feelings.” She shifts her basket to her other arm. “I know he was trying to figure out what they meant, and where you were with it.” Emily winces. “I don’t want to give you false hope and tell you that I think he feels the same, because he’s been really careful to not be too … descriptive of his feelings when he talks to me.”