“No, but Dave is also not a flaky asshole.”
This trips my fuse. “What is your deal with Tabby? She’s only ever been nice to you.”
She flinches at my volume, because it’s pretty high, which I know is rare. “It’s not even that you’re too good for her, or she’s too good for you,” she says, “it’s like you guys are in different circles. You have different values.”
It’s true that our parents—who moved here from Seoul when they were newly married and nineteen—aren’t huge fans of Tabitha, but I also think they might not be huge fans of any non-Korean girl I date. Unfortunately, I don’t think that’s what Emily means. I give her a bewildered look.
She turns to face me fully, ticking reasons off on her fingers. “Tabby is the only person I know who has silk sheets. She spends hours getting ready to end up looking like she’s just rolled out of bed. You, on the other hand, love camping and still occasionally wear the sweatpants I got you for Christmas nine years ago.”
I shake my head, still not following.
“She thinks of Heathers as a pretty good guide to social etiquette.” Emily stares at me. “She laughs at Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion completely without irony but has sat through four Christopher Guest films with us without cracking a single smile. Even when she does come home to visit you, she spends half her time battling out Who Wore It Better debates in the comments on Instagram.”
I blink, trying to connect the dots. “So your issue with her is … you think she’s shallow?”
“No, I’m not saying that. If those things make her happy, then fine. What I’m saying is I think you don’t have a lot in common. I watch you guys interact and it’s, like, silence, or ‘Can you hand me the carrots over there on the counter?’ She is very, very enmeshed in the world of fashion, and Hollywood, and appearances.” Emily stares up at me, and I get the silent communication as I shuffle the load of clothes she’s selected for me from one arm to the other.
“Well, then it’s convenient for both her and me that I don’t care what I wear. Obviously, I let the women in my life choose.”
My sister’s eyes narrow and I watch as she shrewdly takes a different tack. “What do you guys do when she’s here?”
I file through the images of Tabby’s last few visits. Sex. Walking to the corner for groceries. Tabby didn’t want to go canoeing or hiking and I didn’t feel like hitting the bars, so we stayed in for more sex. Dinner out nearby, followed by sex.
I’m pretty sure my sister doesn’t want that level of specificity, but she doesn’t need me to answer, apparently, because she rolls on. “And what do you do when you visit her?”
Sex, clubs, crowded restaurants, everyone on their phones texting people across the room, more clubs, me complaining about the clubs, me hiking Runyon Canyon alone, coming back to her place and having more sex.
Emily looks away. “Anyway, I’m meddling.”
“You are.” I guide her toward the cashier; I’m getting bored looking at clothes.
I pay for our items, thank the woman at the register, and we leave, walking along the paved path of the outdoor mall, ducking past kiosk workers aggressively waving skin cream samples at us. Emily looks up at me with reconciliation in her smile. “Let’s get back to what we were talking about before.”
We are in agreement here. “I think we were talking about the barbecue.”
She slides her eyes to me. “You mean we were talking about Hazel.”
Ah. Clarity slaps me. Turning, I stop her with a hand on her shoulder. “I already have a girlfriend.”
My sister gives me a pruney face. “I’m aware.”
“In case you’re trying to start something between me and Hazel Bradford, I can tell you without any question that we are not compatible.”
“I’m not trying anything,” she protests. “She’s just fun, and you need more fun.”
I give her a wary glance. “I’m not sure I’m man enough to handle Hazel’s brand of fun.”
Emily swings a shopping bag over her shoulder and flashes me a toothy grin. “I guess there’s only one way to find out.”
I’m sure the man in front of me understands my dilemma—nay, I’m sure he sees this several times a day. “Indecision personified,” I say, pointing to my chest. “The problem here is you have so many good choices.”
“Um.” The PetSmart cashier stares at me, maneuvering his gum from one side of his mouth to the other. “I can try to help?”
“I’m deciding between a betta fish and a guinea pig.”
“I mean, that’s kind of a big difference?” His glasses slowly slide down his nose, and I’m transfixed because their path is halted by an enormous, angry whitehead perched there like a doorstop.
“But if it were you,” I say, waggling my eyebrows, “what direction would you go? Fish or furry? I already have a dog”—I gesture to the leashed Winnie at my side—“and a rabbit, and a parrot. They just need one more friend.”
The teenager looks at me like I’m completely lacking any marbles. “I mean—”
“Lick it good.”
He stares at me and it takes me a beat to realize it’s my phone that’s just blasted these three words from Khia’s “My Neck, My Back (Lick It).”
I burst into motion, scrambling for my purse. “Oh, God!”
“Suck this pussy just like you should, right now.”
“Oh my God, oh my God.” I fumble inside my bag, pulling the phone out.
“Lick it good.”
“Oh—I’m so sorry—”
“Suck this pussy just like you should, my neck, my back …”
I drop my phone and have to push Winnie’s excited, exploring nose away from it before I can grab it—“Lick my pussy and my crack”—and silence it with the swipe of a finger.
“Emily!” I sing-yell to cover my abject horror, and apologize to the elderly pug owner looking at leashes. I may have just given her a stroke. Her dog is now barking maniacally, setting off Winnie, who sets off three other dogs in line to check out at the registers. One squats to poop from all the stress.
“Good God, Hazel, where are you?”
“PetSmart.” I wince. “Getting … something?”
The line falls dead for several seconds and I look at the screen to see if I’ve lost the call. “Hello?”
“You think what your apartment needs is another animal?” she asks.
“I’m not getting a Great Dane, we’re talking rodent or fish.” I look up at the PetSmart employee—Brian, he’s apparently named—and excuse myself with a tiny humiliated wave. “By the by, old friend,” I say to Emily, “did you perchance change my ringtone again?”
“I couldn’t stand that Tommy Boy line one more time—I’m not even kidding.”
I imagine sending a flock of dragons to her house to feast on her. At the very least a hungry swarm of mosquitoes. “So Khia is better? Sweet Jesus, you could have just made it ring.”
She laughs. “I was sending a message. Stop using all these weird ringtones, or turn your phone on silent.”
“You are so bossy.”
As anticipated, she ignores this. “Look, is it cool if I give Josh your number?”
“Not if he’s going to call me before I have a chance to change the ringtone.”
“We’re out shopping,” she tells me. “He’s such a sad sack now that Tabitha is in L.A., and I know you guys had fun at the party. I just want him to get out more.”
I hear Josh’s sullen growl in the background: “I’m not a sad sack.”
The idea of hanging out with Josh Im makes me oddly giddy. The idea of hanging out with a sad sack Josh Im sounds like a challenge. “Ask him if he wants to come over for lunch tomorrow!”
Emily turns, repeating the request presumably to Josh, and then there’s silence.
A lot of silence.