Home > Josh and Hazel's Guide to Not Dating(4)

Josh and Hazel's Guide to Not Dating(4)
Author: Christina Lauren

“I do.” Just behind her, in the distance, I see my sister walk up to Dave, pull him down to her level, ask him something, and then they both look at me. I’m positive she’s just asked where Tabby is.

I knew, when Tabitha took the job in L.A.—her dream job to write for a fashion magazine—that there would be weekends when one or the other of us would be stuck and unable to fly south (me) or north (her), but it sucks that on three out of four of her weekends to come up here, she’s flaked last minute.

Or maybe not flaked so much as had a last-minute work emergency.

But what kind of emergencies do they have at a style magazine?

Honestly, I have no clue. Whatever.

Hazel is still talking.

I turn my attention back down to her just as she seems to wrap up whatever it was she was asking. She stares at me expectantly, grinning in her wide-open way.

“What’s that?” I ask.

She clears her throat, speaking slowly, “I asked whether you were okay.”

I nod, tilting my bottled water to my lips and trying to wipe away the irritation she must see slashed across my mouth. “I’m good. Just mellow. Long week.” I do a mental tally: I averaged eleven hours and thirty-five clients a day this week alone so I could be free all weekend. Knee replacements, hip replacements, bursitis, sprains, torn ligaments, and one dislocated pelvis that made my hands feel weak before I even attempted to work on it.

“It’s just that you’re sort of monosyllabic,” Hazel says, and I look down at her. “You’re drinking water when there are Dave’s margaritas to be had.”

“I’m not very good at …” I trail off, gesturing with my bottle to the growing melee around us.

“Drinking?”

“No, just …”

“Putting words together into sentences, and then sentences together into conversation?”

Pursing my lips at her, I say primly, “Socializing in large crowds.”

This earns me a laugh, and I watch as her shoulders lift toward her ears and she snickers like a cartoon character. Her bun wobbles back and forth on the top of her head. A guilty pulse flashes through me when I realize that despite being goofy, she’s sexy as hell, too.

I can feel the reaction work its way from my heart to my groin, and cover with “You are so weird.”

“It’s true. I’m around kids all day—what do you expect?” I’m about to remind her that it seems like she’s always been this way when she continues, “What do you do for a living?”

“I’m a physical therapist.” I look around the yard to see whether my business partner, Zach, has shown up yet, but I don’t see a flash of orange hair anywhere. “My partner and I opened our practice about a year ago, downtown.”

Hazel groans in jealousy. “You get to talk about cores all day, and working things nice and deep. I would never get any actual work done.”

“I mean, I occasionally get to tell people to take their pants off, but it’s rarely the people you want to see naked from the waist down.”

She gives me a thoughtful frown. “I sometimes wonder what the world would be like if clothes were never invented.”

“I literally never wonder that.”

Hazel rolls on without pause. “Like if we were just naked all the time, what things would have been developed differently?”

I take a sip of my water. “We probably wouldn’t ride horses.”

“Or we’d just have calluses in weird places.” She taps her lips with her index finger. “Bike seats would be different.”

“Very likely.”

“Women probably wouldn’t shave their labia.”

A jarring physical reaction cracks through me. “Hazel, that is a terrible word.”

“What? We actually don’t have hair inside our vaginas.” I stifle another shudder and she levels me with the fiery stare of a woman scorned. “Besides, no one winces at the word ‘scrotum.’ ”

“I absolutely wince at ‘scrotum.’ And ‘glans.’ ”

“Glaaaans,” she says, elongating the word. “Terrible.”

I stare at her for a few quiet seconds. Her shoulders are bare, and there’s a single freckle on her left one. Her collarbones are defined, arms sculpted like she exercises. I get a flash of a mental image of Hazel using watermelons as weights. “I feel like you’re making me drunk just by speaking.” I peer into her glass. “Like some kind of osmosis is happening.”

“I think we’re going to be best friends.” At my bewildered silence, she reaches up and ruffles my hair. “I live in Portland, you live in Portland. You have a girlfriend and I have a huge assortment of Netflix series backlogged. We both hate the word ‘glans.’ I know and love your sister. She loves me. This is the perfect setup for boy-girl bestship: I’ve already been unbearable near you, which makes it impossible to scare you away.”

Quickly swallowing a sip of water, I protest, “I’m afraid you’re going to try.”

She seems to ignore this. “I think you think I’m fun.”

“Fun in the way that clowns are fun.”

Hazel looks up at me, eyes on fire with excitement. “I seriously thought I was the only person alive who loves clowns!”

I can’t hold in my laugh. “I’m kidding. Clowns are terrifying. I won’t even walk too close to the storm drain in front of my house.”

“Well.” She threads her arm through mine, leading me closer to the heart of the party. When she leans in to whisper, my stomach drops somewhere around my navel, the way it does at the first lurch of a roller coaster. “We have nowhere to go but up.”

..........

Hazel sidles us up to a pair of guys standing near the built-in grill—John and Yuri, two of my sister’s (and now Hazel’s) colleagues. Their conversation halts as we approach, and Hazel holds out a firm hand.

“I’m Hazel. This is Josh.”

The three of us regard her with faint amusement. I’ve known them both for years.

“We go way back,” John says, tilting his head to me, but he shakes her hand, and I watch her methodically take in his shoulder-length dreads, mustache, beret, and T-shirt that reads SCIENCE DOESN’T CARE WHAT YOU BELIEVE. I hold my breath, wondering what Hazel is going to do with him because, as a white dude with dreadlocks, John has made it pretty easy for her, but she just turns to Yuri, smiling and shaking his hand.

“John and Yuri work with Em,” I tell her. I use my bottle to point to John. “As you may have guessed, he teaches science to the upper grades. Yuri is music and theater. Hazel is the new third grade teacher.”

They offer congratulations and Hazel curtsies. “Do third graders get music?” she asks Yuri.

He nods. “Kindergarten through second is vocal only. In third they begin a string instrument. Violin, viola, or cello.”

“Can I learn, too?” Her eyebrows slowly rise. “Like, sit in on the class?”

John and Yuri smile at Hazel in the bemused way that says, Is she fucking serious? I imagine most elementary school teachers nap, eat, or cry when they have a free period.

Hazel does a little dance and mimes playing a cello. “I’ve always wanted to be the next Yo-Yo Ma.”

“I … guess so?” Yuri says, disarmed by the power of Hazel Bradford’s cartoon giggle and bewitching honesty. I turn and look at her, worrying about what Yuri has just gotten himself into. But when he checks out her chest, he doesn’t seem worried at all.

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