There was a short silence. Then Leah said, ‘And how do you know this, exactly?’
‘I might have been just inside the door, checking the air on the display bikes.’
Someone snorted. Adam said, ‘You are the worst gossip, Wallace. Worse than a girl.’
‘Hey!’ Esther said.
‘Sorry. Just an expression,’ Adam told her. ‘Seriously, though, Maggie might be right. Maybe he does have something going on, somewhere else. When I invited him tonight, he said he’d try to make it, but he already had plans with someone to run some errands.’
‘Errands?’ Leah said. ‘Who runs errands at night?’
‘It didn’t make sense to me either,’ Adam told her. ‘But that’s what he said.’
I looked around the kitchen, then walked over to a nearby drawer, pulling it open, then the one beneath it. In the third, I found what I was looking for: the Colby phone book. It was such a small town, only one Laundromat was listed.
‘The Washroom, Clyde speaking.’
I glanced outside again, then stepped closer to the fridge. ‘Hey, Clyde. It’s Auden. Is Eli there?’
‘You bet. Hang on.’
There was a bit of interference, and a short exchange, as the receiver was handed over. Then Eli said, ‘You are missing out on some serious apple crumble right now.’
‘I got dragged to a hot-dog party,’ I said.
A pause. ‘Really.’
‘Yeah.’ I turned around, shutting the phone book. ‘Apparently, they are a very important rite of passage. So I figured I should check it out, for my quest and all.’
‘Right,’ he said.
For a moment, neither of us said anything, and I realized that it was the first time in a long while that I’d felt nervous or uncomfortable around Eli. All those crazy nights, doing so many crazy things. And yet this, a simple phone conversation, was hard.
‘So let me guess,’ he said. ‘Right about now, Adam’s probably still cooking hot dogs, even though no one wants any more.’
I glanced outside. Sure enough, Adam was at the grill, opening up another pack. ‘Um,’ I said. ‘Yeah, actually.’
‘Leah and Esther are probably starting to argue about leaving.’
Another look proved that yes, they did look like they were having a somewhat spirited conversation. Leah, at least, was gesturing pretty widely. ‘They are. But how did you –’
‘And my brother,’ he continued, ‘having arrived talking big about throwing down and scoring with women, is most likely drunk and dozing off somewhere. Alone.’
I peeked back at Jake. His eyes were definitely closed. ‘You know,’ I said, ‘with all the time we spent together, you could have mentioned you were a psychic.’
‘I’m not,’ he said. ‘You need a ride?’
‘I do,’ I replied, without even hesitating.
‘Be there in ten.’
Seventeen minutes later, and I was out on the deck with everyone else, watching Leah and Maggie argue.
‘The deal was,’ Leah was saying, her voice slightly slurred, ‘that I would come as long as we could leave at some point and do something else.’
‘It’s past midnight!’ Maggie replied. ‘It’s too late to go anywhere.’
‘Which was exactly your plan. Get me here, get me drunk –’
‘You got yourself drunk,’ Adam pointed out.
‘– and get me stuck. Same as always,’ Leah finished. ‘What happened to our big, fun summer before college? The one that was supposed to be full of new experiences and great memories we’d take with us for when we were apart? It was supposed to be… to be…’
She trailed off, clearly grasping for words. I said, ‘The best of times.’
‘That’s right!’ She snapped her fingers. ‘The best of times! What happened to the best of times?’
Everyone fell completely silent, I assumed because they were all contemplating this question. Then I realized it was because Eli had appeared behind me in the open kitchen door.
‘Don’t ask me,’ he said. We were all staring at him. ‘I just came for the hot dogs.’
‘Hot dogs!’ Adam burst out excitedly. ‘We’ve got hot dogs! Tons of hot dogs! Here! Have one!’
He grabbed a bun, stuffing a dog into it, and thrust it out toward him. Eli raised his eyebrows, then took it. ‘Thanks.’
‘No problem!’ Adam said. ‘Lots more where that came from, too. Plus there’s chips, and baked beans, and –’
‘Adam,’ Wallace said, his voice low. ‘Chill out.’
‘Right,’ Adam replied just as loudly. Then, in a somewhat more subdued tone, he added, ‘We have Popsicles, too.’
Everyone looked at Eli again. It was so awkward and tense, you would have thought we were at a wake, not a cookout. Then again, maybe we kind of were.
‘So, Eli,’ Maggie said after a moment, ‘how’s it going with the shop? Come up with a name yet?’
Eli glanced at her, then down at his hot dog. ‘It’s still in the discussion phase.’
‘Personally,’ Adam said, ‘I like The Chain Gang.’
‘That makes us sound like a singing group,’ Wallace told him.
‘A bad singing group,’ Leah added.
‘It’s better than Pump Cycles.’
‘What’s wrong with Pump Cycles?’ Wallace asked. ‘That’s a great name.’
‘It sounds menstrual,’ Adam told him. Esther swatted at his arm. ‘What? It does.’
‘I think,’ Jake said, surprising everyone, as we’d assumed he was fast asleep, ‘that we need a name with edge. Something dark, kind of dangerous.’
‘Like?’ Eli said.
‘Like,’ Jake went on, eyes still closed, ‘Barbed Wire Bikes. Or Flatline Bikes.’
Adam rolled his eyes. ‘You can’t call a tourist bike shop Flatline Bikes.’
‘Because people on vacation want to think about happy, relaxing things. When they rent a bike, they don’t want to think about dying in some accident.’
I could tell, by Adam’s face as he said this – relaxed, opinionated – followed by just after – shocked, then ashamed – that he’d had absolutely no idea what was going to come out of his mouth until it was too late. And now it was.
Another silence fell. Adam’s face was flushed, and I watched Maggie and Esther exchange a desperate kind of look. Beside me, Eli just stood there, the awkwardness tangible, something solid you could feel. All I could think was that it was my fault he was there, that any and all of this was happening. But I had no idea what to do about it until I saw the pot of baked beans on the table next to me.