I don’t even have to ask. “What, that she was destined to screw up because her name is Tabitha?”
She points an accusing finger at me. “I didn’t say it. You said it!”
Despite the hysterical thrum of my pulse in my ears, I smile. “You can’t hide a single thought you have.”
There’s still no reply, and my thoughts grow darker with every passing second. Was her text meant for someone else? Is there any other explanation for her silence now? The thought makes me want to vomit all over Hazel’s chaotic living room floor.
Hazel drops the clay into a bowl and uses a wet wipe to clean her hands. I half wonder how I look right now: bewildered, with a giant green handprint on my face.
“How long have you been together?” Hazel asks.
A tiny montage of our relationship plays in front of me: meeting Tabby at a Mariners game in Seattle, realizing we were both from Portland, having dinner and taking her home with me. Making love that first night and having a feeling about her, like she could be it for me. Introducing her to my family and then, unfortunately, helping her pack up her apartment, and all the promises that her move to L.A. wouldn’t change us. “Two years.”
She winces. “That is the worst amount of time when you’re our age. Two of your hot years, gone. Invested.” I’m barely listening but she doesn’t even notice. Apparently when the Hazel train gets going, it doesn’t stop until it’s gone completely off the tracks. “And if you’ve been living together or engaged? Forget about it. By then your lives are all crisscrossed and overlapping and like, what are you supposed to do? Do you get married? I mean, generally speaking, but obviously not in your situation. You know … if she’s cheating on you.” She covers her mouth with her hands and mumbles from behind them, “Sorry. It’s a curse.”
In my lap, my phone lights up with a text.
I groan, rubbing my face. This reply makes me feel infinitely worse. I mean, she’s lying. Right? That’s what’s happening right now? One exclamation point means enthusiasm. Four means panic. There’s a car inside my veins, driving too fast, no brakes.
“This is not good,” I mutter.
I feel more than hear Hazel crawl over toward me and when I uncover my eyes, she’s so close, sitting cross-legged beside me and staring at the mess of clay on the floor. I don’t know why I do it—I barely know her—but I wordlessly hand her my phone. It’s like I need someone else to see it and tell me I’m misreading everything.
It’s Hazel’s turn to groan. “I’m sorry, Josh.”
I take the phone back and toss it behind us onto her couch. “It’s okay. I mean, I could be wrong.”
“Right. Sure. You probably are,” she agrees, half-heartedly.
I let out a slow, controlled breath. “I’ll call her tomorrow.”
“You could call her now, if you need to. I would be going insane. I can leave the room and give you some privacy.”
Shaking my head, I tell her, “I need to sleep on this. I need to figure out what I want to ask her.”
She goes still beside me, lost in thought. Traffic passes by, unhurriedly, on the street outside. Hazel’s fridge gives off a metallic rattle, almost like a shiver, every ten seconds or so. I stare at her every-colored toenails and notice a tiny tattoo of a flower on the side of her left foot.
“Do you have a comfort movie?” she asks.
I blink up, not sure I’ve understood. “A what?”
“For me, it’s Aliens.” Hazel looks at me. “Not the first one, Alien, but the second, with Vasquez, and Hicks, and Hudson. Sigourney Weaver is so badass. She’s a warrior, and a quasi–foster mother, and a soldier, and a sexy beast. I would do her so fast. It’s the first movie I saw where a woman demonstrates how easily we can do it all.”
I let her odd brown eyes steady me; it’s almost like I’m being hypnotized. “That sounds pretty great.”
“I still can’t believe Bill Paxton died,” she says quietly.
I think Tabitha and I are done. I’m not even sure what to feel; it’s a weird no-man’s-land between sad and numb and relieved. “Yeah.”
Her eyes soften and I’m finally able to give the name a color: whiskey.
Very gently, she asks, “Wanna watch Aliens?”
I can forgive Josh for never having seen Aliens—because no one is perfect—and in his favor, he tried to pretend he wasn’t terrified in the opening scene when the dream alien rips out of Ripley’s torso. If he thought that was bad, imagine his reaction when Hudson, Hicks, and Vasquez find all the cocooned colonists in the corridors. Boom! Aliens everywhere!
In the end, he wouldn’t go so far as to agree with me that it’s the best movie ever made, but before he left he managed to work in the phrases Game over, man, game over and They mostly come out at night. Mostly. Clearly I’m a stellar influence.
I spend some time the next morning with Winnie at the park. While she lounges in the grass next to me, I stare up at the clouds, trying to find animals in them and wondering what it is about Josh Im that I’m so drawn to. It isn’t just that he’s good-looking. It isn’t only that he’s kind. It’s his calm center that’s a gravitational pull to my chaotic one. Every time I’ve met his eyes—from that first puke-filled night to now—I’ve felt a gentle hum inside my breastbone: I’m a satellite that’s found its safe-space beacon.
A few days after our friend-date, I ambush Josh at work to take him on an ice cream break. Partly it’s because deep down I really want to have ice cream for lunch every day this summer, but partly, too, it’s the memory of Josh’s expression while he was reading the texts from Tabby. He looked like he’d been kicked. I’m still waiting for him to update me, to tell me what happened with her, but despite the display of emotion he shared with me at my place, he’s gone back to his even-keeled, dry-humored self.
I’m afraid to tell Emily what the text said because I get the distinct impression she does not like Mistress Tabitha, and I also sense that the last thing Josh needs is an opinionated sister telling him how to feel about this. I’m just going to have to woman up and ask him about it myself.
“So.” I smile over my cone at him.
He knows exactly what’s coming and just stares at me flatly.
I must be pretty easy to read because it feels like Josh is never surprised by anything I say. “Do you love or hate the way I’ve already insinuated myself into your life?”
He takes a bite of his mint chip and swallows. “I remain undecided.”
“And yet you’re here.” I sweep my hand over the outdoor table, gesturing to the beauty before us: his little kid-size cup and my enormous, dripping two-scoop cone. “Enjoying a magnificent break from work.”
Josh arches an eyebrow. “I wouldn’t turn down ice cream.”
I acknowledge this with a sage nod. “Well, regardless, Jimin, I like you.”
“I know you do.”
“And as someone you would never date, but who will soon be your best friend, I can say with no ulterior motive that I don’t like that you’re in a relationship with a potentially treasonous skank.”
His eyes go wide. “Wow. Let’s jump right in.”
“Ha!” I smack my thigh. “So that came out a little balder than intended. What I meant to say”—I clear my throat delicately—“is have you talked to Tabby since Sunday?”
“We’ve been playing phone tag.” He gives me a wary look before dropping his attention to his cup again, scraping around the edge. “And yes, I realize that seems odd given that we’re in the same time zone. She’s avoiding this conversation. Maybe I am, too.”
Wait. It’s been five days since that weird text came in, and they haven’t even spoken to each other? I would feel like a grenade with the pin pulled free. Granted, I probably tend to overprocess things rather than under-, but to be in a relationship and wondering whether infidelity is happening and not need to know ASAP?
“Are you both dead inside?”