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by Janet Yung

After opening the door of their home to Edward and Hazel, the woman Edward confided “might be the one,” Betty quickly discovered there wasn’t much about Hazel to like and the casual get together rapidly evolved from awkward to uncomfortable --  Edward and Hazel snuggling on the love seat and Jim and Betty seated across from them on the matching sofa.

It wouldn’t have been so bad except Betty had assured Edward any friend of his would gladly be accepted by both her and Jim as a friend of theirs.  Nodding at another mindless bit of conversation spewing from Hazel’s mouth, Betty admitted nothing could be further from the truth. 

The clock in the next room chimed eight, interrupting Betty’s silent evaluation of Hazel, with the realization it was no where close to midnight.  Jim, yawning broadly, extended his right arm, checking his watch as if to verify the time and unleashed an audible groan by what the timepiece confirmed.

“Can I get you something to drink?” Betty asked when introductions were exchanged and Hazel settled amid pillows she adjusted as her bottom made contact with the seat.

“Anything will be fine.”  Hazel glimpsed around the living room, her nose twitching, causing instant discomfort for Betty who wondered if the cat had made a recent deposit in the basement litter box.

“Okay.”  Betty darted to the kitchen, opening the basement door.  “Kitty,” she called, padding softly down the steps, hoping the cat was nestled in her favorite spot of the lower level family room.  A light in the corner shone on the striped cat bed, revealing the sleeping form.  Betty checked the litter pan to find it empty, then tip-toed out of the room.

“Where are the chips?”  Jim was rummaging through the pantry.

“Here,” Betty pulled a bag from the bottom shelf.

“Do we have any dip?”

“Just what‘s on the coffee table.” 

“Well, Hazel says she can’t eat dill dip and would prefer French onion.”

“Don’t go to any trouble,” Edward told Betty when he called with the news he had someone special for them to meet.

“She‘s out of luck”

Betty filled a glass with ice, popped open a soda can and dumped its contents in the glass..  “I hope she likes diet,”  Betty told Jim’s retreating back.

In the living room, Jim offered Hazel the chips with a jaunty tone, a vain attempt to elevate the mood.

“Oh,” Hazel held one for inspection. “I prefer plain,” Betty placed Hazel’s drink on the table with a thud.

“I’m sorry,” Jim apologized, “I’m afraid that’s all we have.”

Hazel took a deep breath.  “I’ll make due,” disappointment in every syllable.

Edward nestled against Hazel’s broad shoulders.  “Would you like me to run to the store?”

Betty couldn’t remember seeing Edward so eager to please.  She attributed his behavior to his unfortunate past in matters of love and life in general, supposing he was grateful for any companionship while struck by the notion dog would be better a better companion for Jim‘s forlorn high school friend.   

“Don’t be ridiculous.”  Hazel chomped on the dry chips, occasionally scooping up dip without any compliments to her hostess’s efforts, consuming it eagerly enough for Betty to believe Hazel found it palatable.

Hazel took a sip of soda.  She gagged with the first taste, nearly spitting it out.  “Is this diet?”  Her voice was so loud, Betty was convinced she’d rouse the sleeping cat.

“Yes, you said anything would be fine,” Betty reminded Hazel.  “Would you like something else?”

“A glass of wine would be good.”  Hazel eyed the glass in Betty‘s hand.

“I’ll be right back,” Jim volunteered, his eagerness to be helpful a ploy to be anywhere but here. 

“So, how did you two meet?” Betty smiled, directing the question to Edward who promised he’d fill her and Jim in on the particulars when they all finally met.

“In the doctor’s office,” Hazel  began before Edward could respond.  She accepted the glass of wine from Jim, taking a long drink before elaborating.  They sat in silence as she drank, Edward on the brink of spinning the yarn when Hazel resumed.  One sentence covered the encounter that led to an exchange of phone numbers and the first date, followed in detail by the particulars of what ailed Hazel.

Listening to the results of Hazel’s latest round of tests, Betty fought the urge to look at Jim sideways for his reaction to the disclosure, hoping he wasn’t rolling his eyes so openly the besotted Edward might notice.  The longer Hazel talked, the more Betty’s dislike intensified, realizing Hazel was the sort of woman Jim’s mother categorized as “enjoying poor health”, not the hardy specimen a fleeting look would suggest.

A sudden clatter from the kitchen momentarily halted the discussion.  The unmistakable sound of paws pattering down the hall followed and  Jim and Betty exchanged accusatory glances as to who had left the basement door ajar.

Before they could react, Hazel gasped, “What’s that?” eyes wide in horror, staring past Jim and Betty in the direction of the low growling sound Betty knew could only belong to Kitty.  The noise she made at the sight of something foreign and unfriendly on her turf.

“Oh, it’s just the cat,” Betty smiled, turning to retrieve the errant feline who was poised to pounce on Hazel.

Hazel cowered next to Edward, who relishing his role as protector from fierce creatures, said, “Hazel’s allergic,” and wrapped his arms around her, drawing her closer.

“I’m sorry,” Betty apologized, hurrying for Kitty and clutching her tightly, reprimanded the cat with, “bad, Kitty,” although she was certain no one, including the cat, believed a single word.

“Well, it’s time to be going anyway.”  Edward hoisted Hazel from the indentation in cushion her sturdy frame had made.

“I’m glad we had the chance to meet you, Hazel.”  Jim was in the foyer next to Edward when Betty returned from luring the cat downstairs with a treat.

“We’ll have to do this again soon.”  Edward shook Jim’s hand and gave Betty a hug, Hazel anxiously waited on the porch.

Jim and Betty watched Edward and Hazel walk to Hazel’s car, Hazel muttering as she walked.  When it appeared as though the pair was safely on their way, Betty was closing the door, waving.  The door was almost shut when Edward lunged from the car and rushed up the walk.

“So, what do you think?”  Edward beamed like a school boy, his face stuck as far inside as the door’s opening would allow.

“She seems nice,” Betty returned his smile, the muscles in her face aching.

“You know how much I value your opinion.”  A peck on Betty’s cheek and he practically danced down the walk to join Hazel the Horrible waiting in the driver’s seat of her late model sedan, her lips moving either singing along with a tune playing on the radio or mouthing her own review of the evening’s gathering.

Betty pressed her back against the closed door with a sigh of relief.  Jim emerged from the kitchen, holding a glass of beer and Kitty hard on his heels, hissing to ward off any return of the recently departed evil force.  “You are such a liar,” he grinned.

“Well, I couldn’t tell him the truth.”  The truth, Betty wanted to remind Jim might be a fatal blow to Edward’s fragile ego.  “Besides,” Betty said as she flicked off the outside light, “it won’t last.”

“I wouldn’t be too sure of that.”  Jim drained his glass.

For an instant, Betty had the uneasy feeling he might be right, but preferred the option of crossing that bridge when they came to it.

“I suppose we could avoid Hazel and Edward with excuses till Edward comes to his senses,” the optimistic side of Jim proposed.

“And, if that doesn‘t work, we always have Kitty,” Betty added.


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