No matter how many novels of theirs I read, Christina Lauren’s ability to infuse their stories with freshness and verve, time and time again, never seizes to amaze me, but it is their singular brand of wit and heart that keeps me coming back for more. Their latest offering is a delicious case of opposites attracting, set in the prickly world of modern-day dating, where the plot takes the ‘friends to lovers’ trope and flips it on its head by telling the story of two people who remain adamant they are not dating, regardless of how much everything they do or feel says otherwise. The writing is delightful—clever and engaging—but, as always, the characters steal the show as their endearing quirks and indomitable spirits shine through on every single page. This is one of those wonderful books that will leave you sighing and swooning and smiling and cursing yourself for not being a slower reader.
“I always thought I caught you in . . . a phase. Apparently you’re just like this.”
Hazel Bradford and Josh Im first met in college, but it would be nearly a decade before their friendship truly began. They are complete opposites in every possible way—Josh’s Korean American background instilling in him the importance of close family ties and filial duty, and turning him into an even-keeled and unflappable young man who approaches everything in life with forethought and common sense, while Hazel is wild and impulsive, exuberant and unpredictable, more at ease with her third graders than other adults as most people rarely seem to see past her quirks—yet a tender affection grows between them in spite of all their differences. Because, for all her oddities, Hazel’s child-like innocence and heart of gold are hard to resist, and something Josh is set on protecting.
“I think we’re going to be best friends. 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.”
As their friendship continues to blossom but they both continue to remain single, a pact is made between them—they would begin double-dating, picking suitors for one another, until they’d both find happiness in love. One dating disaster after another, however, only confirms what neither of them are willing to admit to themselves—that most men can’t handle Hazel, and that most women are not Hazel-y enough for Josh. And then a drunken night of sex changes everything, even as they continue pretending the next day that nothing has changed between them at all, and that they are not desperately in love with their best friend.
…his hands come to my face and his mouth comes over mine and it’s intense, just the way I always dreamed it might be, to kiss someone I love so deeply already and who’s seen me exactly as I am.
The authors continue to build Josh and Hazel’s bond through both their perspectives, thus exploring the effects of their friendship and, later, budding romance on both characters. In Hazel, they also craft one of the bravest yet most vulnerable heroines I’ve ever encountered, a lifetime of judgment and insecurity over her own quirks making it hard for her to believe in love and acceptance. And while nothing has ever felt as natural to her as loving Josh, she fears she would forever be too silly, too wild, too Hazel-y for a man as perfect as Josh, never realising that in all the time they’ve known one another, her perfect man has never, not once, asked her to be someone she’s not.
“I know I’m like Pig-Pen in Charlie Brown, and I have chaos around me, but it’s like he doesn’t even care. He doesn’t need me to change or pretend to be someone else. He’s my person. He’s my best friend.”
Heartwarming, uplifting and even hilarious at times, this story not only portrays the raw realities of modern-day dating, but it also celebrates two lead characters who are anything but stereotypical clichés. It hit all the right spots for me, and it quickly became not only a new Christina Lauren favourite, but also one of those books I couldn’t stop filling others’ ears with.
“You are perfect for me.”
Two days, two flights, more drama than a drunken night in a freshman dorm, and here I am: back home again. So of course my door won’t open.
Jiggling the key free, I kneel down until I’m level with the lock. I replaced both of the doorknobs when I refinished the front and back porches only a year ago, and can’t think of a single reason why the front door would be jammed.
Unless, I think, leaning in to get a closer look, someone tried to pry it open.
I straighten, looking down at my watch as I debate what to do. This day has been nothing but a nightmare, and even though I know I should go to my sister’s place and sleep on the couch, the only thing I want right now is to take my clothes off and climb into my own bed. It’s after two a.m., which means Hazel is most likely inside and asleep in the guest room, so there’s no harm in letting myself in and explaining it all in the morning, right?
With this decided, I reach for my bag and turn down the stairs, headed toward the backyard.
The light from the street doesn’t make it to this side of the house: it’s damp, and shaded by trees even in daylight. Right now, it’s pitch black. I pull my phone from my pocket, shining the flashlight along the ground until I reach the gate. I haven’t been back this way for a few weeks; the hinge protests as I swing it open, and my footsteps squelch in the wet grass as I make my way up the back stairs and to the door. Thankfully, this lock seems fine. I unlock it quickly and silently, only to trip on something as soon as I step inside. A shoe—one of at least six random pairs piled haphazardly in the corner and spilling out onto the rug. Exhausted and too tired to care, I kick them out of the way.
A shower will have to wait.
I’m shuffling toward my bedroom when a flash of movement catches in the light of my phone. I swing it around to see a bag of chips on the counter, a trail of crumbs leading to an empty pizza box, and a sink full of dirty dishes. Inside my chest, something itches to clean it all up now, but I’m distracted when I hear a gasp behind me. Turning, I throw my arms up just in time.
“Shi—” is all I get out before there’s a searing bolt of pain and everything goes black.
When I come to, it’s to find Hazel standing over me. She looks like something out of a cartoon: crazy wide eyes and an umbrella brandished threateningly over her head. She’s dressed only in a tank top and the smallest pair of shorts I’ve ever seen. If I didn’t want to murder her right now I might actually take a moment to appreciate the view.
“Did you hit me with an umbrella?”
“No. Yes.” She drops it immediately. “Why are you sneaking in your own back door?”
The pain in my head intensifies at the volume of her voice. “Because someone broke the front lock and my key wouldn’t work.”
“Oh.” She bites down on her bottom lip. “It’s not broken, exactly. I locked myself out and tried to pick it with a bobby pin. Technically it’s the bobby pin that broke. Not the lock.”
She rests a hand on each hip and looks down at me. The problem with this is that it pushes her chest out and even in this light I can tell that I should turn up the thermostat. Hazel is definitely not wearing a bra.
“I thought you were a murderer.” She points to her dog, who is half lying on me, licking my face. “Winnie started growling and then I heard someone banging around the side of the house. You’re lucky I didn’t smash your brains all over your Clean Room–level kitchen floor.”
I squeeze my eyes shut. Maybe if I keep them closed long enough I’ll open them again and realize none of today even happened. No luck. “Right now it looks like a family of raccoons has been living here.”
Hazel has the decency to look at least a little guilty be- fore she waves me off, walking to the refrigerator to open the freezer drawer. I shift my eyes away just before she bends over.
“I was going to clean it up,” she says, bag of frozen peas in hand. “Why are you home?” She kneels down, handing them to me. “Things didn’t go well?”
“An understatement.” I sit up and place the ice-cold peas against my forehead, where I can tell there’s already a lump. In some ways, this is a fitting end to the trip from hell. Day one, Tabby admitted she’s been sleeping with someone else. I spent the rest of the afternoon on the beach, staring out at the ocean and not feeling surprised, exactly, but working to give genuine thought to her insistence that we could work it out. But on day two, she admitted they started sleeping together before she moved to L.A., that she moved to be closer to him, and that he’d helped her get a job. The cherry on top was when she told me she hoped she could keep seeing us both.
Day two also happens to have been today.
“Do you want to talk about it?”
It’s all starting to sink in that Tabitha and I are over. I stare straight ahead, eyes locked on that single freckle on Hazel’s shoulder. What does it mean that I’m more interested in asking when she first noticed that freckle than explaining what happened with Tabby? Is it shock? Exhaustion? Hunger? I drag my eyes back to her face.
“I’m okay.” I look down at my socks. They’re gray with tiny pineapples and cups of Dole Whip on them—a gift from Tabby on one of my first visits down there after the move. She’d taken me to Disneyland and I remember standing in line thinking, I’m going to marry this woman one day. What an idiot.
Two years we were together—with her in L.A. for half of it—and all I feel now is duped and pathetic.
Hazel sits down next to me on the dark floor. “I take it you ended things?”
“Yeah.” I adjust the peas and look over at her. “Turns out, she is a treasonous skank.”
Hazel makes a grumpy face.
“And has been since before she moved.”
To this, Hazel adds a feral growl. “Wait. Seriously?”
“Seriously. She’s been sleeping with him since before she left. She moved to be closer to him.”
“What a dick.”
“You know,” I say, “the worst thing isn’t even that I’m going to miss her. It’s how stupid I feel. How blindsided. This other guy knew all about me, but I had no idea.” I look at her, and—because I know she’ll understand why this kills me—tell her, “His name is Darby.”
“She’s been having sex with a dude named Darby?”
Anger twists hotly inside me. “Exactly.”
She lets out a bursting cackle. “Tabby and Darby. That’s too dumb, even for Disney.”
A single sharp laugh escapes. “But why wouldn’t she tell me about him? Why drag me on?”
“She probably wanted to keep you because you’re the blueprint for Perfect.” A pause. “You know, except for the Aliens thing.”
Her hair is a disaster on top of her head. Her eyes are puffy from exhaustion. But still, she’s smiling at me like I’ve been gone for months. Does Hazel Bradford ever stop smiling?
“You’re trying to make me feel better,” I accuse.
“Of course I am. You’re not the asshole here.”
“That’s right, you are, because you broke my face.”
“Your face is fine.” She pushes up to stand and holds out a hand. I let her help me up, and she pats my chest. “But how’s your heart?”
She nods, and leans down to pet a sleepy Winnie. “Don’t ever sneak into a house when a woman is there alone, or you’ll risk getting an umbrella to the face.”
“It’s my house, dumb-ass.”
“A text letting me know you were coming back would have saved your face, dumb-ass.” She turns to head toward the guest room. “Get some sleep. We’re going miniature golfing with my mom tomorrow.”