Home > Josh and Hazel's Guide to Not Dating(6)

Josh and Hazel's Guide to Not Dating(6)
Author: Christina Lauren

“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.


I imagine a host of sibling glares being fired back and forth like bullets:

Way to put me on the spot, jerk!

You’d better say yes or you’re going to make her feel bad!

I hate you so much right now, Emily!

She’s not as crazy as she seems, Josh!

Finally, she comes back. “He says he’d love to.”

“Great.” I bend down, making fish kisses at the beautiful teal betta I think I’m going to adopt. “Tell him to bring takeout from Poco India when he comes.”


I burst out laughing. “I’m kidding, oh my God. I’ll make lunch. Tell him to come over anytime after eleven.” I end the call and pick up the fish in the tiny plastic cup. “You are going to love your new family.”


Winnie and I head out with fish in hand to meet Mom for lunch. My mom moved to Portland from Eugene a few years ago, when I finished college and it became apparent that I was unlikely to move back home anytime soon. I’m far more my mother’s daughter than my father’s, personality-wise, but I look exactly like my dad: dark hair, dark eyes, dimple in the left cheek, wiry and not as tall as I’d like to be. Mom, on the other hand, is tall, blond, and curvy in all the best snuggly-mom ways.

My dad was a decent parent, I suppose, but the predominant emotion I got from him throughout my life was disappointment that I wasn’t sporty. A son would have been ideal, but a tomboy would have sufficed. He wanted someone to jog in the park with, and throw around a football with for a couple of hours. He wanted weekend-long sportsball tournaments, with shouting and maybe some unfriendly opposing-team fatherly shoving. Instead, he got a goofy chatterbox daughter who wanted to raise chickens, sang Captain and Tennille in the shower, and worked at the pumpkin patch every fall since she was ten because she liked dressing up as a scarecrow. If I wasn’t entirely bewildering to him, then I was surely more work than he’d signed up for.

My parents divorced when I was twenty and happily established with a life and friends in Portland. I’ll be honest: I wasn’t the least bit surprised. My response reveals me to be the monster I am because primarily I was irritated that I would have to make two separate stops when I went home, and when I visited Dad, Mom wouldn’t be the buffer of joy anymore.

But even though I knew I was technically an adult at twenty, I kept telling myself that Dad and I would bond when I was older … when I was out of college … that he’d be so proud at my wedding someday … that he’d make a great grandpa because he could play and then hand back the kid and return to the game without a wife glaring at him from across the room.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t in the cards. Dad died a few weeks before Christmas the year I turned twenty-five. He was at work, and, according to his longtime coworker Herb, Dad basically sat down at his desk and said, “I’m feeling tired,” fell unconscious, and never woke up.

A weird honesty developed between my mom and I after Dad died. I always knew that my parents didn’t have the tightest romantic bond, but I didn’t realize how flat they had been, either, to the point that they were essentially two strangers moving around the same house. The ways I’m like Mom—a little wacky, I admit—were totally exasperating to Dad. Mom and I are both huggers, maybe overly enthusiastic about the things we love, and terrible joke tellers. But where I love animals and costumes and seeing faces in clouds and singing in the shower, Mom favors making wild skirts out of bold fabrics, creating artwork out of colored glass, wearing flowers in her hair, quoting musicals, and dancing while mowing the front lawn in her red cowboy boots.

Dad couldn’t stand her eccentricities, even though they’re what attracted him in the first place. I remember clearly one fight they had in front of me where he told her, “I hate it when you act like a weirdo out in public. You’re so fucking embarrassing.”

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