He laughs, leading me up the steps to a small porch filled with potted ferns and a tinkling wind chime.
The door is unlocked and Josh steps inside. “Appa?” he calls out, waving me in. “Umma?”—followed by a stream of words I don’t understand.
I trip on the sexual speed bump that is the sound of Josh speaking Korean, but my attention is immediately snagged by a voice from the other side of the house.
“My mom,” he explains quietly, and proceeds to toe off his shoes and place them neatly just inside the door. “Umma,” he calls out, “I brought someone.”
I follow suit, managing to slip off my sandals just as an adorable dark-haired woman turns the corner into the living room.
I’m not sure I fully appreciated exactly how much Emily and Josh look alike until now, when I see the amalgamation of their features standing in front of me. Josh’s mom is petite, just like her daughter, with chin-length dark hair that flips up rebelliously at the ends on the left side. She’s not smiling yet, but there seems to be one permanently residing in her eyes.
Josh places a hand on the center of my back. “This is my friend Hazel.”
I sense a hint of sibling rivalry as his brows come together. “Well … my Hazel, too,” he says, and I don’t have to tell you that I am freaking delighted by this. “Haze, this is my mom, Esther Im.”
“It is nice to meet you, Hazel.” Her smile spreads to her mouth and it takes over her entire face. It’s Josh’s unexpected, sun-coming-out smile. I love her already.
My first instinct is always to hug, to glom all over people as if there’s some direct line that leads from my heart to my extremities. Fortunately I happen to be holding the world’s largest fruit basket and my arms are otherwise occupied.
Unfortunately, every K-drama I’ve ever seen chooses this exact moment to shuffle through my brain and I bend, bowing deeply at the waist and sending apples and oranges sailing across Mrs. Im’s spotless entryway floor.
A few things happen in rapid succession. First, I let out a stream of curse words—something I shouldn’t be doing in front of anyone’s mother, let alone my new bestie’s sweet Korean umma. Next, I throw the rest of the basket at a very surprised and unprepared Josh and dive for the floor, scuttling across the rug on my hands and knees.
Josh doesn’t even sound horrified by my antics anymore: “Hazel.”
“I’ve got them!” I say, frantically scrambling for the bruised fruit and making a basket out of the front of my shirt for safekeeping.
“Hazel.” His tone is firmer now, and I feel his hands on my waist as he drags me back toward them and helps me to my feet.
Hurricane Hazel strikes again.
“I’m so sorry,” I say, smoothing my hair and twisting my skirt so it’s facing the right direction. “I’ve been so excited to meet you and of course that means that I do something like launch a fruit basket.” With as much grace as I can muster, I pull a couple of clementines from the vicinity of my cleavage. “Can I put these in the fridge for you?”
Seated at the kitchen counter, I glare down at the glass of water Josh sets in front of me, muttering, “At this rate I won’t even be invited to the wedding.”
Josh’s mom is at the stove, dropping onions into a pot that looks like it is at least as old as Josh.
“What are you talking about?” he whispers, and kneels down at my side.
“She started speaking in Korean. Was she saying she hated me?”
“Of course not. She thinks you’re a pretty funny girl.”
Pretty funny? Or pretty, funny? Is that a half compliment, or two solid ones? Either way, my eyes widen and I grin. “Your mom is pretty comma smart.”
Without expecting me to translate this, Josh taps me on the nose and moves to the counter, reaching for something in a cupboard too high for his mom to reach. He isn’t exactly what you would call redwood tall, but he’s got at least a few inches on me, and looks like a giant standing next to her.
Mrs. Im glances over at me. “So, Hazel, where does your family live?”
“My father passed away a few years ago, but my mom lives here in Portland.”
“I’m sorry to hear that.” She turns again to give me a sympathetic smile. “Josh’s grandmother died last year. We still miss her very much.” She scoops rice into two bowls, handing one to Josh, who immediately tucks into it. “You have no brothers or sisters?”
“No, ma’am. Just me.”
She crosses the room to set the other bowl in front of me. It smells amazing. “And you’re a teacher?”
I pick up my chopsticks—metal, not wood—and manage to scoop the first bite into my mouth. It’s delicious—fried rice and vegetables. I may marry Josh myself if it means I can eat like this every day.
“She teaches with Emily,” Josh offers.
“Oh, that is nice,” she says. “I like Yujin-ah having good friends at work.”
Good friends. I manage to tear my face from my food and give him a thumbs-up, right as the bomb drops.
“And Tabby?” Mrs. Im asks. “It’s been a long time since we’ve seen her.”
My eyes dart to Josh’s. Like the soul mate I always knew he’d be, Josh is already looking my way. I give him an encouraging nod, one meant to remind him that this is his life and he only has to tell people as much—or as little—as he wants.
Even if those people are his family.
Clearing his throat, Josh pretends to be super engrossed in his empty bowl. He is a terrible actor.
“Actually, I wanted to talk to you about that.” He clears his throat again. “Tabby and I broke up.”
Now, obviously I am an outsider and privy only to the things that I’ve been told, but I don’t think I’d be off base in describing his mom’s immediate reaction as fucking elation.
She does her best to look casual, though, pinching his waist with a frown before depositing another scoop of fried rice into his bowl, but the terrible acting gene is obviously genetic. “So Tabby is not your girlfriend anymore.”
“No.” Her gaze slips to me and Josh reads the silent question there. “No,” he tells her meaningfully, and I might be offended if I didn’t have this delicious bowl of rice keeping me joyful.
“Tabby never visited,” she dramatically stage-whispers to me, and then moves to the fridge. “We should have a big dinner to celebrate.”
If my current life were a movie, I would (1) be much better groomed, and (2) co-star in a montage of scenes in which Josh sits on the couch in his sweatpants and I dance around in front of him, trying to get him to laugh. Since he cleared his schedule and took the time off work anyway to go see Tabitha, he’s decided he wants a staycation for the remainder of the two weeks, which I insist is super lame. I’m on summer break. We could go to Seattle! We could go to Vancouver! Let’s go canoeing, or hiking, or biking, or even to a bar to get hammered and topless!
Nothing. He’s not into it. Instead, he’s watching Netflix with one hand tucked in the elastic waistband of his sweats. Even telling him that I can practically see his abdominal muscles atrophying—and it is a sad prospect, indeed—doesn’t rouse him from his slouch.
I don’t really know how much he’s told Emily. When we were over there for dinner the other night, she seemed as annoyed at her brother’s ex as she ever was, but there doesn’t seem to be any specific direction to her ire. It was more How could my amazing brother have wasted so much time with that woman than How could that whore have cheated on my amazing big brother for so long?
And I sort of understand why he doesn’t want to tell her. Aside from fanning her protective-sibling fire, being cheated on is obviously humiliating, and I realize that’s ninety-nine percent of why Josh is glued to his couch. It would suck to have his girlfriend choose a job over their relationship, but it must suck even more to realize that Tabby actually chose another dude (Darby!!) who helped her get that job, and she happily strung Josh along because he’s Perfect, and, who knows, maybe because he’s also really amazing in bed.