Amanda was always the social one in the marriage.
Sure, Daniel learned to fake it — idle chit-chat in the school parking lot, drinks by the pool at the country club. But he never quite shook that scrawny kid that itched to slip from school at the first ring of the bell, found nothing there as rewarding as holding a pair of clippers in a closed-off yard with an old man. He had felt the same tension drain from his muscles at his bachelor party, sharing a toast with Mr. Miyagi in his kitchen, Louie left behind at the bar. That same weekend, he had watched Amanda’s college friends sweep her up at the airport with a promise to return her in one piece but no promise to call in the meantime.
Yeah, Daniel faked it all right. But it was Amanda that could make friends with her seat partner on an airplane. Amanda who could ask an old acquaintance to lunch and mean it. Amanda who could come out of the most uncomfortable dinner of all of their lives with a standing appointment for mani-pedis.
Daniel hadn’t approved of it at first. Sure, he’d conceded at the time, Carmen was nice. But, he’d followed it, who would choose to date Johnny Lawrence?
Amanda had chillily informed him that he got no say in who she saw and made to walk out of the bedroom. Halfway out she had stopped and turned around. She had let out a deep sign, and after so many years Daniel recognized it when Amanda was about to give in, say something she would normally only think.“Maybe,” she had said, “you should spend more time worrying about who would choose to be married to you.”
Then she had left to meet Carmen, leaving Daniel frozen and blinking by their bed.
That friendship had outlasted their marriage.
Now Daniel was running into Amanda in the parking lot of Reseda Heights, standing across from her in the parking lot instead of by her side. And it wasn’t fair, wasn’t fair to want it while next to someone else, while dodging Amanda’s doggedly forward gaze, but his eyes caught on her ringless hand and desperately wanted to reach across the foot of pavement and grab it.
Carmen smiled sunnily, her own hand lighting gently on Amanda’s shoulder. She said, “Just like last time.”
“Well,” said Amanda, smiling, too, but without it reaching her eyes, “not just like last time.”
Daniel wondered if it would be possible to goad Johnny into killing him now that they were dating.
“I just invited Amanda to come in for dinner,” said Carmen, and Daniel saw the slight nudge her hand gave against her shoulder.
Immediately, Amanda said, “You guys should join us.”
Daniel glanced at Johnny, who gave him a half-shrug.
Amanda was the one who served him the papers, but he had been the one to start a new serious relationship a month later. Neither had yelled. She had kept the house, he had kept Miyagi’s place, they split custody of the kids down the middle, and she wasn’t making it even a little bit hard for him to gradually wrap up his affairs at the dealership.
It would be pretty petty to ruin that over dinner.
“Okay,” Daniel said, finally meeting Amanda’s eyes.
Amanda didn’t look away from him, just smiled wider. “Great.”
Before turning to let them in, Carmen smiled at Daniel like she knew exactly what she was doing. Bitch.
(…Then Daniel mentally apologized for calling her bitch. He was pretty sure both Amanda and Johnny would kill him for that one.)
Inside, Amanda and Carmen exchanged some words in low voices, and Amanda tossed aside her purse and sank onto one of the couches. Daniel rolled up his sleeves and trailed Carmen into the kitchen, following her instructions and pulling a pot down from a high cabinet. Johnny hovered by the counter until Carmen gestured at the living room with a knife. He shot Daniel a pleading look and slunk away.
Rosa stepped out of her room long enough to look around, mutter something in Spanish, and shut herself back in her room.
Now Daniel was stirring a pot on the stove, a dish cloth thrown over his shoulder, sneaking frequent glances at Johnny and Amanda, both of whom were sitting stone-faced in the living room.
“You don’t have to worry,” said Carmen softly, looking up from the cutting board to follow his gaze. She set the knife down, carrying the board to the small amount of counter next to the stove. Conspiratorially, she added, “I think they will get along if they try.”
“You don’t know them like I do,” said Daniel.
Carmen let out a little laugh as she resumed chopping. “Well, maybe not like that.”
Daniel chose to attribute the heat rising up his neck to the steam coming off the pot, which he was now staring intently into, rather than to any consideration of that comment.
Carmen blithely continued, “But there has to be a reason you liked both of them, right?”
“Yeah, well,” said Daniel, “Sometimes when people are similar they don’t end up being friends, they just end up clashing. Sometimes it gets bloody.”
“Yes,” said Carmen thoughtfully, giving him a sideways look, “and then what happens after that?”
Jesus, thought Daniel, suppressing a shudder. How much did Johnny tell her?
Within a few minutes, Daniel was able to gratefully switch off the burner and make a foray into the living room.
It was bleak. Johnny and Amanda were sitting opposite each other in different couches. Both of them were staring at their phones. A quick glance told him that Amanda was drafting emails, and he didn’t need to look to know that Johnny was just mindlessly swiping back and forth on the homescreen. “You know,” said Daniel, planting on hand on his hip and heaving the world-weary sigh he used on Sam and Anthony, “just ‘cause you can’t cook doesn’t mean you can’t help. Can’t you set the table or something?”
Johnny glanced up. “And take Miguel’s job? No way.”
“Fine,” said Daniel, pulling the dishcloth off his shoulder and flicking it in his direction. “But you’re doing the dishes.”
Amanda glanced at Johnny, holding down a smile. “Hmm, Johnny,” she said, “is there any chance that that is also Miguel’s job?”
“It’s an important part of his training,” said Johnny immediately. “You know how LaRusso’s got his whole car waxing scheme?”
Amanda laughed. “Did he tell you about that or did Robby? LaRusso Auto got some good labor out of your kid, you know.”
Johnny leaned forward to rest his elbows on his knees. “They both told me,” he said, “two very different stories.”
“Hey,” said Daniel, glancing between them, not quite certain who he should be directing the comment toward. “Robby gets it.”
“I think we all get it,” said Amanda, raising her eyebrows at Daniel.
Carmen poked her head out of the kitchen. “My sous-chef deserted me.”
“Oh come on,” said Johnny, grinning now, “don’t you think he’s big enough to run the kitchen all by himself?”
Carmen laughed. “Maybe someday I will join the club for watching Daniel do all the work. Not today.”
Johnny looked back at Daniel. “That just means she doesn’t trust you in her kitchen, you know.”
Daniel just grimaced and followed Carmen back. Behind him, Amanda and Johnny were laughing.
Oh, he thought, this is much worse.
It was literally like a scene from a nightmare.
Well, maybe not literally, but Daniel thought that someday it would be, because he was almost certainly going to start having nightmares about the scene in front of him.
Daniel stepped into Johnny’s apartment, tossed his keys on Johnny’s table, and stopped short at the sight of Amanda on Johnny’s couch. Next to Johnny. Right next to, actually. Johnny was sprawled easily in the corner of the couch, and Amanda was leaned against his shoulder, her legs spread out along the length of the couch, bare feet on the arm-rest. Her high heels were abandoned on floor.
As Daniel gaped from the doorway, both of them called out, “Hey, babe!”
A rush of secondhand embarrassment flooded Daniel. He expected Amanda to apologize, say she slipped. He expected Johnny to stammer something, stand up from the couch so he wouldn’t have to look at either of them, later get insecure about being Daniel’s rebound. Instead, they just collapsed into giggles. Like they’d planned it.
Which, given the smell wafting off of them and the shoebox on the floor next to Amanda’s heels, they probably had.
“You didn’t want to open a window?” asked Daniel, crossing the room to at least crack the blinds and let in some light. “It’s like you hot-boxed the entire apartment.”
“God, you’re such a square,” said Johnny, leaning back into the couch and throwing an arm over his eyes. “Amanda, why’d you marry such a square?”
“Don’t talk about Daniel that way,” murmured Amanda, her own eyes closed. “He’s a nice square.”
“Wait,” said Daniel, blood freezing as he stopped in front of them. “Amanda. Where are the kids?”
Amanda groaned, shoving off of Johnny and sitting up. “Relax,” she said, “Robby and Sam are both at Moon’s, Anthony’s at… whichever one. The blond one. Henry?”
“Harry,” corrected Daniel. His heart-rate returned to something approximating its normal rhythm. He crossed his arms, staring down at the carpet, at a pile of ground-in cheeto crumbs. He would need to hassle Johnny about vacuuming later. “So you just… got stoned together? You do this?”
“We’ve been looking for an opportunity,” said Johnny. He sat up and stretched, rolling out his neck. “Next time she’s smoking me out, though. Your wife can put it away. She went through my entire stash.”
Daniel wondered if it would be rude to correct “Ex-wife” if Amanda didn’t mention it.
She barely seemed to have noticed. “You shouldn’t have weed around Miguel,” she said, completely unrepentant. “I was doing you a favor.”
“You know I got it from his Yaya,” Johnny replied.
Daniel sank into one of the chairs at Johnny’s table, finally pulling off his work coat. He folding it neatly and held it in his hands. “I didn’t even know you smoked,” he said dumbly.
“I didn’t,” said Amanda. “Until you started eroding our marriage with…” she waved a hand, “karate acid.”
“You’re — you’re saying I drove you to drugs?” Daniel sputtered.
For reasons Daniel did not see, Johnny found that hysterical. “So you were just high all of last year?” he asked after several seconds of loud laughter. “That explains why it took you so long to divorce him.”
Amanda started laughing, too, which was when Daniel had to shove himself to his feet, drop the coat onto the table, and push his way into the kitchen. He braced himself against the counter and tried to conjure Mr. Miyagi’s calm voice as he pushed a breath out through gritted teeth.
Once again, he heard Amanda and Johnny’s voices drifting in from the living room, and once again, he somehow got roped into cooking for them.
Let no one say that Daniel did not understand that he was absolutely not within his rights to complain about this. It was, objectively, a perfect situation. Amanda, his business partner, his longest confidant, the mother of his children, not only acting graciously toward Johnny but genuinely liking him? Johnny, his other business partner, his new romantic partner, his livelong bitter karate rival, not only accepting Daniel’s lingering relationship with Amanda but forming his own? It was perfect, and no one benefitted more than Daniel, and he acted accordingly.
He cooked for Amanda and Johnny when they were stoned. He took all the kids to the beach so that Johnny and Amanda could take Carmen out to brunch. He proposed going on double-dates.
And what did his generosity win him? It won him this. Being scarred in ways he had never been scarred before, not in over 30 years of violent karate altercations.
“You do not,” he told Johnny, jabbing a finger at his chest. “You do not. Never say anything like that again.”
Johnny just laughed at him, batting his hand away and stepping back. He shucked off his flannel and pulled an old T-shirt over his head. “I’m telling you, LaRusso,” (Daniel silently rolled his eyes; one day he would fully break that habit of Johnny’s), “we have the exact same taste.”
Daniel scrubbed his eyes with his hand. “I should never have let you two meet. I should have faked my death for Amanda and then only courted you once I was back in town with a fake mustache.”
Johnny ignored him to start counting on his fingers. “Tom Cruise,” he said. “Sylvester Stallone. Patrick Swayze. Whoever the young guy was in that new Baywatch movie they made —”
Daniel spared him a disbelieving look. “You watched that together?”
Johnny had moved onto his second hand. “You, obviously —”
Daniel clapped his hands over his ears, started humming very loudly, and walked back out into the living room.
Standing in the driveway in front of Mr. Miyagi’s old house, Daniel stared down at Amanda’s gym bag as though he could burn a hole in it. “18 years,” he said incredulously, gaze not moving. “18 years with me and nothing. Not a moment of interest.” He looked up at her and threw up his arms. “And now you want to learn karate from him?”
Amanda hiked the bag up on her shoulder and looked at him like he was an idiot. “Daniel,” she said. “I am not a 10-year-old waiting for my dad to pick me up from the dojo.” She went so far as to bring out air-quotes. “I am not ‘learning karate’ from anyone. Johnny is going to show me how to do the thing where you break the board that’s on fire, because that seems sick.”
“Are you sure that’s safe?” he asked weakly.
She gave him a withering look, and he held up his hands in surrender.
“Okay, okay. Not my business.” He changed tacks. “So was that the problem? My style of karate just wasn’t flashy enough for you?”
Amanda grinned at him in a way that told him that she knew exactly how much he hated this. She gave him a friendly pat on the shoulder as she stepped toward the back garden. “What can I say, Daniel?” she asked. “You have a thing for Cobra Kai.”
Sometimes, it was hard for Daniel to think of examples of how he was being wronged. It wasn’t like either of them were neglecting him. He and Amanda still had that ease around each other, like they were a unit, and he and Johnny still had that fire, the rivalry-fueled obsession that had calmed but didn’t seem likely to ever burn out. Both of them respected what the other had with Daniel; Johnny was careful about the kids, always conscious of stepping on Amanda’s toes, and Amanda never pulled Johnny into her and Daniel’s old arguments, never bad-mouthed him behind his back. Really, when Daniel had been married to Amanda and friends with Johnny, he had behaved much worse.
But sometimes it was extremely obvious how he was being wronged. It was when the photo albums came out that Daniel finally decided that this was the worst thing that had ever happened to him. Including all events of the 1980s.
Amanda, maybe, he could have predicted this from. She had nearly two decades of snapshots logged in the Cloud. What he hadn’t anticipated was Johnny disappearing into a closet and emerging with their yearbook.
He watched helplessly as Amanda and Johnny cackled at his awkward senior portrait: baby-faced, hair slicked back, the dated suit upon which his mother had insisted.
“So many of his stories,” said Amanda, “just became hilarious.”
Daniel muttered something about seeing if Sam would be up for some late-night karate and made a hasty retreat against Johnny saying something about letting this kid haunt his life for 30 years.
“Hey, Daniel.” Amanda’s voice, filtering through the tinny speakers of his iPhone, sounded nervous, pitched too high.
Daniel, dropped the bonsai clippers and snatched the phone off of the table, taking it off speaker. “Is something wrong?” he asked.
“No,” said Amanda. “No, no life-or-death situations over here. I just…” she trailed off for a moment. When she spoke again, it was in the flat, professional voice she used to fire employees. “I just wanted to tell you that Anoush and I are together.”
Daniel pushed a hand through his hair. “What?”
“It’s new,” said Amanda. “But it’s serious.”
Daniel let out a breath. “Okay,” he said. “Yeah. Okay. Congratulations. I’m — seriously, Amanda. I’m really happy for you. You know I love Anoush —”
He stopped, the truth of it hitting him. He and Anoush went way back. Even now, when Daniel was at the dealership more and more infrequently, they were still solid. Friends.
“We should get together,” said Daniel suddenly, the plan still coming to him. “You and Anoush and me and Johnny. The kids. This weekend? We could have a barbeque.”
“Oh,” said Amanda, surprise bleeding into her voice. “Yeah. Okay. At the house?”
Daniel nodded. “I can grill.”
Okay, so it wasn’t exactly the same. There was no way, first of all, that he was ever going to get Anoush to make fun of Amanda with the same gusto that Johnny used against him. But standing at the grill, striking up a long conversation with Anoush about, he still spotted Amanda staring at them from behind her sunglasses.
Anoush followed his gaze. “Oh,” he said. “I guess I wanted to mention… it means a lot to Amanda that you invited us out here. I think she was — or, well, she is — worried things are going to be weird between us.”
Daniel’s mouth dropped open.
“I’m not trying to say you can’t feel weird about it, obviously,” continued Anoush, oblivious. “I just mean, she’s glad you put this together. We both are. I can’t remember the last time a party felt this good.”
Daniel turned toward him. “Honestly, Anoush,” he said, “it hadn’t even occurred to me. After everything that happened between me and Amanda, I’m glad she’s with someone I know is going to treat her right.”
Anoush smiled and clapped Daniel on the back. Daniel watched as he wandered off to pull another beer out of the cooler Johnny had brought and Amanda had set up near the pool, as he said something to Carmen that made her laugh.
Daniel’s gaze wandered down to the tongs in his hand. He blinked at them several times before looking up again. Carmen was saying something back, now, to Anoush. Amanda and Johnny were talking while sunning side-by-side in chairs by the pool. Sam and Miguel and Robby were all competing to show Anthony how to pull off a particular kick.
Somehow, standing at a barbeque with his boyfriend, his ex-wife, his ex-wife’s boyfriend, the woman who was inexplicably both his boyfriend and his ex-wife’s best friend, and all their children, it occurred to Daniel that he felt less alone than he had since Mr. Miyagi died. Since before then, maybe. He flipped a burger patty and smiled down at the grill.
“Hey, are those almost ready?” Johnny yelled. Quickly, Amanda joined in the heckling.
“Hold your horses!” he yelled back, rolling his eyes. He served two burgers onto two plates, set down the spatula, and held them aloft, walking toward them.
“See, Johnny?” said Amanda. “I knew there was a reason we liked him.”