He got to the restaurant early, and sat there for half an hour with two water glasses on the table, nervously bouncing his leg. “I’m waiting for someone,” he says to the waitress, who already knows this, when she stops by to fill his water glass for the third time.
He fidgets with the menus on the table, hides the drink menu underneath the lunch menu and then replaces it back on top (to show the drink menu that it can’t scare him) but turned to face the other side of the booth. He checks his phone. Still ten minutes before she said she would be here. He turns his phone over to sit facedown on the table. The waitress fills his water glass again.
BoJack’s positioned himself so he can see the door so he spots Hollyhock as soon as she walks in, ten minutes late.
He’s surprised to find she looks mostly the same. She’s wearing jeans and a blazer over a t-shirt, maybe in some half-hearted attempt to dress up the outfit. Sneakers. Traveling light, a backpack hanging off one shoulder. She told him this is a layover, in route from Minneapolis back to Portland, which doesn’t really make sense, but BoJack wasn’t sure if he was supposed to point that out. So he didn’t. Her mannerisms are similar too; she leans in closer to the host stand and waits until she’s acknowledged to smile and say something.
BoJack knows he only has a few more seconds before she sees him, so he tries to make the most of it, studying the subtle changes in her face. Her hair looks lighter. He wonders if she googled him. He probably won’t ask, but she probably did, at least before flying here, right? It’s easy to discover how the past ten years have treated him—it’s all public—but he couldn’t find anything on Hollyhock, besides a few passing references on Wesleyan’s website (she graduated with honors) and the Instagram account she long-since blocked him from viewing. BoJack has rarely envied people who aren’t famous, but right now he’s close to it, considering that the whole world can find out how well or not-well he’s aging with a single click, but other people get the chance to surprise people after a long time apart. Is that worth the crushing weight of obscurity? Maybe.
Hollyhock catches his eye. She doesn’t necessarily smile but she says, “Oh,” and her eyes get wider and she crosses the restaurant to join him.
BoJack straightens in his seat. “Hi, Hollyhock.”
“Hi BoJack,” she says as she slides into the booth across from him, slinging off her backpack. “Thanks for meeting me.”
“Yeah of course. How long do you have?”
“About an hour, hour and a half.”
“We should order soon then, you never know with these places.” BoJack twists around in his seat to flag down the waitress.
“I haven’t even looked at the menu yet.”
“Well, it’s right there. Drink menu, too, if you want anything besides water.”
“I actually don’t drink… anymore,” Hollyhock says slowly, sliding the drink menu away so that she can unfold the lunch menu.
His attempt to bypass any awkwardness by rushing into ordering has backfired. He says, “That’s good,” and immediately backtracks. “I mean, not good, but– probably for the best.”
“Yeah, thanks,” she says, her elbows resting on the table on either side of the menu, which she stares down at. “Things never got bad-bad, but I could tell that it wasn’t a good idea for me.”
“I’m proud of you,” BoJack says, and she smiles a little, still looking at the menu. “If my, uh… trainwreck of a life helped you come to that realization, then maybe it was all worth it.”
Hollyhock glances up, narrowing her eyes through a smile. “Was it?”
“Eh, maybe not all of it.”
She looks back to the menu, still smiling slightly. BoJack thinks this is going well, somehow. Maybe they can skip the, we haven’t seen each other in ten years, you disconnected your phone number to dodge my calls, you wrote me a letter asking me to never contact you again, of it all, and just get back to normal. A tentative, cautious normal where they don’t have to look at things directly.
“The flatbread sounds good,” Hollyhock says. “Farmhouse flatbread? Sun dried tomato, peppers…”
“With flatbreads, it all comes down to the crust,” BoJack says. “If it’s a rebranded pizza then yes, obviously you should order that, but if it’s that type of crust that’s basically a cracker? No way. The anti-bread agenda has gone way too far.”
“I know, right?” Hollyhock agrees emphatically. “I hate it when the crust is like that. I’ll ask what kind of crust it is.”
“If they’re serving cracker-crust we might as well just leave,” BoJack says, slipping into a blustery tone. “Bread is one of the precious few things that makes life worth living and I wouldn’t trust anything else on this menu if the chef thinks that’s okay.”
Hollyhock’s laugh is sort of restrained and tense now, and BoJack kicks himself. He made things weird again, probably on account of his too-revealing crack about how he hasn’t killed himself yet because of bread. Typical.
“So you must be twenty-nine now,” BoJack blurts, desperate to smooth things over. He’s been quietly, privately tracking her birthdays, glancing at the calendar on that day in September every year and thinking of her. “Right?”
“Yeah, it’s crazy,” she says. “My twenties are slipping away.”
“Yeah, they tend to do that.” BoJack pauses, takes a sip of his water. “So, how… uh, how are you? How are… things?”
Definitely inadequate, but what the hell is he supposed to say?
Hollyhock says, “Good. Things are really good. I’m getting married in June.”
Before BoJack can react, the waitress swoops in to take their order. Hollyhock asks about the crust and the waitress says it’s thin but not too crispy, so they each order a flatbread. The nice thing about eating with another horse is that they have an equally large appetite and never expect to split a meal, even when it comes to the gray-area menu items, like a flatbread, where you could share them. BoJack has learned the hard way to never go out to eat with birds, for instance; once a vulture he dated refused to order anything for herself and instead picked his plate clean while he was in the bathroom.
When the waitress leaves, taking the menus with her, BoJack looks back at Hollyhock. “You’re getting married? To– to who? Not that I would know him or anything, but–”
“Actually you do know her,” Hollyhock interrupts. “You remember my friend Tawnie from Wesleyan?”
It takes a second or two to sink in. And once it does, BoJack still says the first thing that comes to mind. He’s kicked a lot of bad habits, but not that one.
“You’re gay now? I guess that makes sense,” he says. “Should’ve known when you started playing rugby.”
Hollyhock only laughs, which is a relief. “Yeah, I know, eight gay dads and their daughter turns out to be a lesbian. I’m a real success story for the gay agenda.”
“They must be very proud. And congratulations, by the way,” BoJack says, waving one hand. “You and Tawnie… From what I remember of her, it makes sense. I liked her.”
“Yeah, we used to drive each other crazy in college. Getting into fights every other week.” Hollyhock’s expression goes soft and painfully fond with recollection. “When it finally dawned on me why we were so intense…”
BoJack smiles at her, feeling sort of choked up with emotion himself. “Glad you figured it out sooner rather than later. I’ll always remember that one time I visited you, and seeing how you two talked to each other. And thinking, wow, my little sister is way more mature than I am.”
Hollyhock nods, considering. “Maybe. But it’s also her. It’s not always that easy for me, with other people. But with Tawnie, I’ve always been able to tell her anything.”
BoJack looks down at the table, reaches for his water glass that’s nearing empty again. He doesn’t know what to do with his hands. “That’s really special,” he tells her, because it is. Has he ever really had that? Even with Diane there were huge secrets he kept, knowing that as close as they were, as much ugly as they shared between them, there were things that would push it too far and ruin it.
And they did, in the end.
(Or maybe it wasn’t the things he did that ruined everything, but the fact that he didn’t tell her. He still can’t quite sort out where the line is, between action and reaction. It must be some murky combination of the two.)
“Listen, Holly,” BoJack begins, his voice rough, but she interrupts.
“We’re going to have kids,” she says, her voice too loud. She glances around the restaurant and adjusts her volume. “That’s kind of why we decided to get married now. I mean, not that we’d have to, it doesn’t really mean anything, but we thought it’d be nice–”
“Oh, that’s great,” BoJack says, taking a moment to push through the surprise. “Are you gonna adopt?”
“No, we’re gonna do it the old fashioned way. With a sperm donor.”
“Is that the old fashioned way?”
“I think so.”
“So which one of you is gonna be the…?” BoJack ventures, trailing off, but trusting that he’s clear enough.
“The mom?” Hollyhock supplies, quirking an eyebrow. “We’re both gonna be the mom, that’s kind of the point–”
“I know, and you know what I’m asking, you were just trying to catch me being un-woke,” he says, aiming an accusatory finger at her. “That’s entrapment.”
“I am,” she says, interrupting him. “Going to have the baby.”
“Oh.” BoJack blinks. “Continuing the Horseman line.”
“Yep.” She takes a drink of water and the waitress, with great timing, brings the food out.
The crust is okay. Not ideal, but it’s got at least some body to it. They eat quietly for a few minutes and BoJack tries to stop himself from finishing his own flatbread in one frenzy. He can be a bit slower, a bit more mindful about this. Restraint.
“So I’m going to be an uncle,” he says. “Technically.”
“Technically,” she agrees.
She seems nervous. About the decision? About telling BoJack? He wants to ask her if this is why she wanted to reconnect now, all these years later. He wants to ask her if she’s afraid.
He says, “I think you’re going to be a great mom.”
“Thanks, BoJack,” she says quietly. Then, “One of my dads is sick.”
“Oh. I’m sorry to–”
“And I knew as a kid that I would lose all of them one day,” she says. “But I remember thinking that because Papa Robinson is the oldest that means he’ll definitely die first. And because Papa Hsung is the youngest I thought that meant I would end up alone with him in the end and I was like. Oh, bummer.”
BoJack laughs, surprised by her candor, and Hollyhock smiles.
“I know that’s terrible.”
“I don’t think it’s terrible,” BoJack says. “I mean, it’d be hard not to pick favorites. There’s so many of them.”
“Yeah.” Her eyes go wide, a little distant. “I knew this would start to happen, but I guess I didn’t really realize until now that I’m going to have to lose a parent eight times. Feels sort of unfair.”
BoJack nods, his throat constricting a little. “Well.” His voice comes out froggy so he coughs once. “You got all the good parts eight times, too. Right?”
“Yeah,” she says, a sad smile settling on her face.
“I’m sorry to hear that, though.”
Both their plates are cleaned now, they have probably half an hour left together, and they still haven’t really looked at this thing directly, instead talking across the gaping chasm between them. BoJack starts to sweat a little.
“You– I’m sorry,” he starts, leaning forward a little. Hollyhock goes perfectly still, prey animal instincts or something. “You said you never wanted to see me again. You were convincing. I… I respected that. I really thought that we would never…” He gestures between them, not trusting himself to say any more words.
She nods, swallows. “I guess I changed my mind?” Her voice goes high-pitched and a little wobbly.
“Why?” he asks, and he feels the question in his chest. It’s been an open wound for a while, the fact that people can choose to leave him, and he has no say in the matter. And the fact that they can later change their mind about it. He’s been seeing Princess Carolyn more often these past few years.
“I, uh.” Hollyhock takes in a deep steadying breath. She blinks back tears. BoJack remembers when they first met and how openly she cried in front of him. You shouldn’t feel bad about feeling bad. Now, she’s more restrained. He wonders if the years have changed her, jaded her, caused her to lose that incredible openness. He wonders if she hasn't changed at all and it’s just because he's here, causing her to put up walls. “I want to explain it to you,” she says. “But I’m not sure I can.”
“Hollyhock,” BoJack says. “I don’t want to put any pressure on you. I know that was a mistake I made before, one of them, that I clung onto you, made you feel responsible for my own wellbeing. So now, whatever you are willing to give, I’ll take it, and I won’t ask for anything more. If that’s just this one lunch, that’s fine. If it’s a phone call once a year, that’s fine. If it’s… I send birthday gifts to your kid but we don’t talk, that’s fine.”
Hollyhock nods, turned to stare out the window next to the booth while she listens. When BoJack’s finished his speech, she wipes her nose on her sleeve and then grimaces at the smear of snot. “Ugh. I’m a mess.”
BoJack offers her his unused napkin. “Here.”
“Thanks.” She blots at her eyes and nose. “Tawnie doesn’t know I’m here.”
“You don’t have to decide right now,” he tells her. “I just needed to say that. It’s your choice. I’ll be here.”
Before Hollyhock can reply, the waitress descends on them, either ignorant of or unsympathetic to their emotional moment. “Can I get you anything else?” she asks while she collects their plates.
“Just the check,” BoJack says, turning his head down and exchanging a small, teary-eyed smile with Hollyhock across the table. When she leaves, BoJack wipes his eyes on his sleeve, discreetly, or so he imagines, laughs at himself, and says, “So, are you gonna hyphenate?”
Hollyhock laughs genuinely, snorting. “Yeah. That poor kid. No, for real, I’m taking Tawnie’s last name.”
“Good decision. No offense to your dads, but…”
After he pays for their meal and after a little more small talk, they get up and head out of the restaurant, stopping to linger on the sidewalk out front.
“You’re in Portland now?” he asks, feeling manic as their time together comes to an end. Feeling that familiar urge to thrash a little, either cling or push away. He tries hard to keep his arms by his side, not take anyone else down with him.
“Well, that’s not too far,” he says. “Same time zone.”
“It is. I’ll… call you.” Hollyhock smiles and starts taking a few steps backward.
“I will… wait for you to call me,” he says.
“Thanks, BoJack,” she says, warm and sincere. She turns to keep walking down the sidewalk.
BoJack stands watching for a few minutes, until she gets into a cab and until the car disappears around the corner. It was only an hour out of his life but it feels like a total reset. Like he can’t even remember what he was doing before this. In fact–
He reels around, looking up and down the busy street.
“Where the hell did I park?”
Oh well. He’ll figure it out.