I watch her turn and walk into the kitchen, taking in her cutoffs and pale yellow sweatshirt that falls off one shoulder, revealing a red bra strap. Her hair is in that same huge bun right on top of her head, and her feet are bare, each toenail painted a different color.
She catches me staring at her feet.
“My mom’s boyfriend is a podiatrist,” she says with a teasing smile. “I can totally introduce you.”
“I was just admiring your fine art.”
“I’m an indecisive type.” She wiggles her toes. “Winnie picked out the colors.”
I look around for a roommate, or any sign of someone else living here. Emily implied that Hazel lives alone. “Winnie?”
“My labradoodle.” Hazel turns to the fridge, bending and digging, presumably, for beer. I shoot my gaze to the ceiling when I realize I’ve let my eyes go blurry on the view of her ass. “My parrot is Vodka.” Her voice reverberates slightly from inside as she reaches to the far back. “My rabbit is Janis Hoplin.” She looks over her shoulder at me. “Janis gets really crazy around men. Like, humping crazy.”
Humping? I glance around the apartment. “That’s … hmm.”
She has a dog, a rabbit, and a parrot.
“Oh, and my new fish is Daniel Craig.” She straightens with two bottles of Lagunitas in one hand, cracks open our beers on a brass mustache mounted to her kitchen wall, and hands me one. “I thought it best to ease you in, so they’re all at my mom’s.”
“Thanks.” We clink the necks together, both take a sip, and she’s looking at me like it’s my turn to speak. Generally I have no problem making conversation, but rather than feeling uncomfortable around Hazel, I actually feel like the most entertaining thing for both of us would be if she would just keep babbling. I swallow, wiping the liquid from my upper lip. “You like animals, huh?”
“I like babying things. I swear I want, like, seventeen kids.”
I freeze, unsure whether she’s being serious.
Her mouth curves up in a thrilled arc. “See?” Her index finger aims at her chest. “Undatable. I like to drop that one on the first date. Not that this is a date. I don’t really want seventeen kids. Maybe three. If I can support them.” She bites her lip and begins to look self-conscious just when I’m starting to dig the way she’s throwing the kitchen sink at me. “This is where Dave and Emily usually tell me I’m babbling and to shut up. I’m really glad you came for lunch.” A pause. “Say something.”
“You named your fish Daniel Craig.”
She seems delighted that I’m actually listening. “Yes!”
She pauses again, reaching up to brush away a wayward strand. Is it weird that I like that her hair seems to be as resistant to being tamed as she does?
I dig around in my brain for something not related to my current train of thought. Apparently I fail, because what comes out is “Summer vacation looks good on you.”
She relaxes a little, looking down at her cutoffs. “You’d be amazed what a few days without an alarm clock can do.”
The words alarm clock are enough to make the shrill blast of mine echo in my thoughts. “Must be nice. I’d sleep until ten every day if left to my own devices.”
“Yeah, but according to Google you’ve got a booming physical therapy practice, and”—she motions in the general vicinity of my chest—“you get to look at that in the mirror every morning. It’s worth getting up.”
I don’t know what feels more incongruous: the mental image of Hazel using a computer, or the idea that she used it to look me up. “You Googled me?”
She huffs out a little breath. “Don’t get an ego. I Googled you sometime between Googling beef Wellington and chicken coops.”
At my questioning look, she adds, “The chicken thing should be pretty self-explanatory. Spoiler alert: you can’t raise chickens in a nine-hundred-square-foot apartment.” She gives a dramatic thumbs-down. “And I was going to make something elaborate for lunch today but then remembered I’m lazy and a terrible cook. We’re having sandwiches. Surprise!”
Being near Hazel is like being in a room with a mini cyclone. “That’s cool. I love sandwiches.”
“Peanut butter and jelly.” She makes a cartoonish lip-smacking sound.
I burst out laughing, and have a strange urge to ruffle her hair like she’s a puppy.
She turns back to the kitchen and pulls out a baking sheet with supplies: a stack of small bowls, a few innocuous baking ingredients—including cornstarch—and some bottles of nontoxic paint.
Peering over her shoulder, I tell her, “I’ve never made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches like this before.”
Hazel looks at me, and this close up I can see that her skin is nearly perfect. Dating Tabby makes me notice things like this—hair, and lipstick, and clothes—because she’s always pointing them out. Now that she’s made me aware of it, I hardly ever see women without makeup on, and it makes me want to stare a little bit at the smooth, clean curve of Hazel’s jaw.
“This isn’t for the sandwiches,” she says. “We’re making clay.”
“You—” I stop, unsure what to say. Now that I know what we’re going to be doing, I realize I had no idea what to expect, and it seems pretty obvious that, of course, we’d be doing some random art project. “We’re having a playdate?”
She nods, laughing. “But with beer.” Handing me the tray, she lifts her chin to indicate that I should take it to the living room. “Seriously, though, it looks fun and I wanted to try it out before attempting it in front of twenty-eight third graders.”
Hazel brings us sandwiches and we mix up a couple of bowls of clay, adding paint to make a variety of batches in a rainbow of colors. She gets a smear of purple on her cheek and, when I point it out, reaches over to put her entire paint-wet green palm on my face.
“I told you you’d have fun,” she says.
“You actually never said that.” When she looks up, feigning insult, I add, “But you’re right. I haven’t made clay in at least two … decades.”
My phone chimes with Tabby’s text tone, and I apologize under my breath, pulling it out carefully with my clay-covered hands.
I stare at the screen, looking up at the name again to confirm it’s from Tabby, and not a wrong number.
But it’s Sunday.
Was Tabby planning to come up today? Was she going to make up for flaking on Friday … and skip work tomorrow?
Confusion slowly cools into dread, and it drains all the blood from my heart into the pit of my gut. Not only am I fairly sure she wasn’t planning on coming to Portland tonight, she’s also never said anything nearly that filthy to me before.
I wipe away most of the clay and with shaking hands, I type:
The three dots appear to indicate she’s typing … and then disappear. They appear again, and then disappear. I stare at my screen, aware of Hazel’s eyes on me occasionally as she works a blob of bright blue clay.
“Everything okay?” she asks quietly.
“Yeah, just … got a weird text from Tabby.”
“What kind of weird?”
I look up at her. I like to keep my cards pretty close to my chest, but from the expression on Hazel’s face, I can tell I look like I’ve been punched. “I think she just sent me a text that was meant for … someone else.”
Her brown eyes pop wide open and she uses a blue-green finger to pull a strand of hair from where it’s stuck to the purple paint on her cheek. “Like, another guy?”
I shake my head. “I don’t know. I don’t want to go out on a mental ledge right now, but … sort of.”
“I’m gonna guess it wasn’t, like, a ‘Can I borrow a cup of sugar?’ type of text.”
She goes quiet, then makes a little choking noise in the back of her throat. When I look up at her, it’s almost like she’s in pain.
“Are you okay?” I ask.
Hazel nods. “I’m swallowing down my terrible words.”