“Why don’t you ask him?”
“Because I’m a coward?” I say, which I thought was pretty well established already. When she doesn’t bite I try again. “Because asking might ruin this.”
“Hazie, you know I hate to burst your bubble, but I don’t think things are ever going to be the way they were before anyway. You guys have already had sex. Twice. Most friends don’t have sex, period.” Frowning, she turns and starts walking again. “Which reminds me, I need to grab some tampons.”
The color of the produce in a bin across the aisle goes all wavy at the edges, and the crack near my feet doesn’t register until Emily is there, bending to put things back in my basket, looking up at me from where she’s kneeling. “Hazel.”
“Oh my God.” My heart is a fist, punching punching punching, and a lurching, upside down feeling takes hold of my stomach.
She stands, holding my basket, and I can’t focus on her face because my heart is pounding in my eyeballs.
“Are you okay?”
“No.” I squeeze my eyes closed, trying to clear the film of panic from the surface. Opening them, I meet Emily’s gaze. “I haven’t had a period in like … two months.”
Emily and Dave are gone when I drop by with a giant container of kimchi and a twenty-pound bag of rice from Umma. If Hazel thinks I’m a neat freak, I’ve got nothing on my sister. The immaculate house looks like something out of a magazine spread—decorated simply with a collection of midcentury vintage furniture I know Emily has spent the last ten years carefully cultivating, fresh flowers in vases, and original art and funky light sconces decorating the walls.
But the pristine shine to the counters in the kitchen makes it very easy to spot the note she’s left for me.
I’m out. Dave should be home soon. If Umma gave you rice, don’t leave it. I don’t need any.
I smirk, stowing the rice in the pantry anyway, beside four other bags the same size. My rice situation is equally absurd—no way am I taking this back home. When I open the fridge to find room for the kimchi, I have to take out the container of leftover carne asada from Friday night.
A plate of leftovers and a beer later, they’re still not home.
Emily is often on my case for not having enough guy friends … is this what she means? That I’m sitting at my sister’s house, eating leftovers from her fridge and frowning at my watch when they stay out past six on a weeknight?
I call Hazel, but it goes straight to voicemail.
I call Emily—same. Does everyone have a life but me?
I know my restlessness is compounded because I’m sitting in my sister’s house, and there are signs of her happy marriage everywhere. Photos of her and Dave in Maui in a frame on a side table. A painting Dave did for her when they first met is mounted on a wall in the hallway. Their shoes are neatly lined up side by side on a rack just inside from the garage.
My house is clean, my furniture is nice, but the space is like an echo chamber lately. It’s so quiet. I never expected to think this, but I miss having Winnie there, watching her odd twilight mania around five every night when she sprinted through the house excitedly for ten minutes before flopping at my feet.
I miss tripping over shoes every time I walk in the door.
I miss Hazel. I’d buy a lifetime supply of fire extinguishers and eat bad pancakes every day to have her around again.
It could be different than it was before. We’re different now. She’s not just a new friend, she’s my best friend. The woman I love. We could have lingering talks over coffee or on a shared pillow, long into the night. She could bring her entire farm of animals, and I would be fine, I think. We could make a home of it.
The thought gives me such an intense pain in my chest that I stand, moving to the sink to wash my dish, and then pace circles around the house. Impulsively, I pull my phone out of my pocket, texting Dave.
I send him a thumbs-up and duck into the bathroom before I leave. On the wall, Emily has a framed painting of Umma and Appa’s hometown. Lush woods, a small creek beside a house. I wonder how Umma feels about this being stuck in the bathroom.
But when I glance down to flush, my eyes are drawn to the left, to the trash can just beside the sink. Inside it is a messy pile of white plastic sticks.
I think I know what these are.
And I think I know what the blue plus on every single one of them means.
It’s not your place to say anything.
It’s not your place to say anything.
I repeat the mantra my entire drive to Bailey’s.
Dave might not know yet that his wife is pregnant. And if he does, and he doesn’t mention it, then it’s certainly not my place to bring it up.
Oh my God, my sister is pregnant. She’s going to be a mom—I’m going to be someone’s uncle. I’m almost breathless with how happy it makes me. But there’s also something else: a sinking lead ball in my gut. I loathe admitting it, but it’s jealousy.
Emily was the first to get married. As the older brother, I took it in stride, reminding myself that we aren’t bound to tradition in the same way. My entire family welcomed Dave; the wedding was a blast.
But now she’s pregnant, and I’m … what? In love with a woman who doesn’t know what she wants? Who thinks she’s not right for me? I’m not even settled, let alone on my way to starting a family. And my parents aren’t getting any younger. I’m flexible about a number of traditions, but I’m unwilling to shrug off the responsibility that parents move in with the eldest son when they’re older. Umma wouldn’t say anything, but I know it wouldn’t be her choice to have me still a bachelor when that happens.
I park outside and lean forward, pressing my forehead to the steering wheel. I’d wanted to meet Dave for a beer to unwind and hang. Now it’s loaded with this—and we can’t even talk about it.
He’s already inside and at the bar with a beer in front of him, looking up at the television mounted on the wall. SportsCenter is recapping the biggest Oregon football rivalry from Saturday—the U of O Ducks versus the OSU Beavers, and I know without having to look that the Ducks won handily.
“Hey.” Dave puts his beer down and claps me on the shoulder when I sit.
“You got here fast.”
“The traffic gods were on my side,” he says, “and I was intensely motivated by the prospect of beer.”
“Teachers are out today so I was meeting with a parent.” He takes a drink. “It’s the job, and I seriously love hanging with the kids all day. It’s the rest I could do without. I think your sister went shopping or something.”
I nod, and try not to do that thing Em accuses me of where I smile when I’m hiding something. It doesn’t help that I feel oddly jittery. Not only am I stressing over the whole being-in-love-with-Hazel situation, I’m still shocked by the sight of all those pregnancy tests. Isn’t one sufficient? There had to be at least five in there.
I still can’t believe it. I take a second to imagine it all: Emily pregnant, the baby, and who it might resemble. Umma and Appa happily losing their minds as grandparents.
“You seem pensive,” Dave says.
I nod, and take a few wasabi peanuts from a bowl between us. “Just digesting the food I ate at your place.”
He laughs. “Is work okay?”
I thank the bartender when she deposits my beer in front of me. “Yeah, actually, work is great.” And it is. We’re talking about hiring another physical therapist to handle the workload. It would bring in more revenue and allow me to take a bit more time off from the practice. I love my job, but I frequently work ten- or eleven-hour days just to make sure I see everyone, and if Hazel and I …
I stop the thought before I can take it too far.
“I’m actually wondering whether I need to get a bigger place soon. I was home earlier, and Umma just looks so tiny.”
“She does seem to be shrinking.” Dave grins when he says this. “But,” he says, and then frowns a little, “and I know this bucks tradition, so please ignore me if this comes off as insulting, but you know Em and I would be happy to have them come live with us.”