Who says romance is dead?
I knew they were dating but I didn’t know they were I’ll cut my hair the way you like it since I have zero vanity dating.
“Mom,” I whisper, “have you and Glenn …?” I dunk my spoon in and out of my coffee cup a few times.
Her eyes widen and she grins.
I gasp. “You floozy.”
“He’s a podiatrist!”
“That’s exactly my point!” I drop my voice to a hush, joking, “They’re known fetishists.”
“You shut up,” she says, laughing as she leans back in her chair. “He’s good to me, and he likes to garden. I’m not saying anything for certain, but there’s a chance he might be visiting on a more … permanent basis.”
“Shacking up! I am scandalized!”
She gives me a cheeky smile and takes a sip of her drink.
“Does he mind the singing?” I ask.
Her look of victory is everything. “He does not.”
Our eyes hold, and our smiles turn from playful to something softer. Mom found a good one, someone I can tell really gets her. An ache pokes at my chest. Without having to say it, I know we both question whether those guys really exist. The world seems full of men who are initially infatuated by our eccentricities, but who ultimately expect them to be temporary. These men eventually grow bewildered that we don’t settle down into calm, potential-wifey girlfriends.
“What about you?” she asks. “Anyone … around?”
“What’s with the emphasis? You mean, around inside my pants?” I take a bite of the salad deposited in front of me and Mom gives a little Yeah, that’s not exactly what I meant but go ahead shrug.
“No.” I straighten and push away the mild concern that her question immediately triggered this next thought: “But guess who I did run into? No, never mind, you’ll never guess. Remember my anatomy TA?”
She shakes her head, thinking. “The one with the prosthetic leg on your roller derby team?”
“No, the one I wrote the email to while high on painkillers.”
Mom’s laugh is this breathy little twinkle. “Now, that I remember. The one you liked so much. Josh something.”
“Josh Im. I also threw up on his shoes.” I decide to leave out the roommate sex for now. “So, weirdest thing: he’s Emily’s brother!”
This seems to take a few seconds for Mom to process. “Emily your Emily?”
“I thought Emily’s last name was Goldrich?”
I love that it would never occur to my mother that a woman would take her husband’s name. “She’s married, Mom. That’s her married name.”
She feeds Winnie a handful of muffin crumbs. “So, you and her brother …?”
“No. God no. I’m an established idiot with him, and he’s most likely a Normal Dude.” Our shared code for the kind of man who wouldn’t appreciate our particular brand of nuts. “Besides, he has a girlfriend. Tabitha,” I can’t help but add meaningfully, and Mom makes a yeeesh face. “He calls her Tabby.”
Mom’s yeeesh face deepens.
“I know, right?” I poke at my salad. “But he’s actually pretty cool? Like, you wouldn’t look at him and automatically think he’s a banker.”
“Well, what is he?”
“A physical therapist. He’s all muscley.” I maneuver an enormous piece of lettuce into my mouth to beat down the image of Josh Im working his strong hands over my sore thighs.
Mom doesn’t say anything to this; she seems to be waiting for more, so I swallow with effort and venture onward into Babble County.
“We hung out together at Emily’s barbecue last night, and it’s weird because I feel like since he’s already seen me at my most insane, and he has a girlfriend, I don’t have to try to pull up the crazy plane around him. I always wanted to be friends with him and here he is! My new friend! And he looks at me like I’m this fascinating bug. Like a beetle, not a butterfly, and it’s fine because he already has a butterfly and when you think about it, beetles are pretty great. It’s nice.” For some inexplicable reason, I repeat it again. “It’s nice.”
“That is nice.” The way Mom studies me is making me feel like I forgot to dress myself this morning; it’s with this Does my adult daughter know her own mind? kind of maternal focus.
I shake my head at her and she laughs, absently petting Winnie.
“You” is all she says.
I growl. “No, you.”
She looks back at me with such adoration. “You, you, you.”
I pull in front of Hazel’s apartment complex and stare up at the flat gray buildings. From the outside, they look like perfect cubes. Structures like these make me wonder whether an architect actually took time to design this. Who would create a concrete block with bland windows and look back at the blueprint and go, “Ah. My masterpiece is complete!”
But the tiny garden out front is pretty, full of bright flowers and neatly spaced ground cover. And there’s underground parking, which can’t be beat in a town like …
Clearly, I’m stalling.
I reach for the bag on the passenger seat and carry it with me up the walkway to the buzzer at the front door.
Pressing the button for 6B, I hear a shriek from several floors up and step back to see Hazel leaning out the window, waving a pink scarf.
“Josh! Up here!” she yells. “I’m so sorry, the stairs are broken so you’re going to have to scale the outer walls. I’ll throw down some ropes!”
I stare at her until she laughs and shrugs, disappearing. A few moments later, the front door buzzes loudly.
The elevator is small and slow, giving me a mental image of a bored teenager riding a stationary bicycle in the basement, sweatily coaxing a pulley to raise and lower tenants and guests. Down a yellow hallway I go, stopping at 6B, where the welcome mat bears three colorful tacos and reads come back with tacos.
Hazel opens the door, greeting me with an enormous grin. “Welcome, Jeee-Meeeeeen!”
“You’re a maniac.”
“It’s a gift.”
“Speaking of gifts.” I hand her the bag of fruit. “I got you apples. Not tacos.”
In the Korean community, it’s customary to bring fruit or a gift when visiting someone’s home, but Hazel—the teacher—inspects the bag with amusement.
“I usually only earn one of these at a time,” she says. “I’ll have to be very impressive today.”
“It was either apples or a bag of cherries, and apples just seemed more appropriate.”
She guffaws at this before motioning for me to come inside. “Want a beer?”
Given the awkwardness of this semiblind friend-date, I absolutely want a beer. “Sure.”
I toe off my shoes near a group of hers, and Hazel looks at me like I’m stripping. “You don’t have to do that. I mean, you can if you want, but know that pile of shoes has a lot more to do with me being too lazy to pick them all up than it does with wanting to save the carpet.”
“Family habit,” I explain.
But one look around and … I believe her. Her apartment is tiny, with a small living room and galley kitchen, a tiny nook for a table, and a hall that leads to what I assume is the only bedroom and bathroom. But it’s airy and bright, with a couple of windows in the living room and a balcony on the far wall.
It’s also full of stuff, everywhere. When Emily and I were young, our mother would read us a book about mischievous gwisin who would slip out at night and play with children’s toys, pull food from cabinets and pots from shelves. When the family awoke, the gwisin would disappear, leaving whatever they’d been playing with out for someone else to clean up.
I’m reminded of this as I take in Hazel’s space. Still, it’s not messy so much as it is full. Books are stacked on the coffee table. Pages of brightly colored construction paper sit in piles on the floor. Folded clothes are draped over the arms of chairs, and a basket of laundry pushes rebelliously against a closet door. I know most people would call this lived in, but it presses like an itch against the part of my brain that thrives on order.