Home > Josh and Hazel's Guide to Not Dating(8)

Josh and Hazel's Guide to Not Dating(8)
Author: Christina Lauren

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.

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.”

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