Maggie turned to look at me. ‘My brother,’ I explained, pushing my chair back.
‘You have a brother?’
‘Come and see for yourself.’
When we got out to the floor, Hollis was standing by a box of half-off swimsuits, examining a purple thong bikini.
‘Not your size,’ I said as I approached. ‘Or color, either.’
‘Too bad,’ he replied. ‘I think it would look boss on me, don’t you?’
‘I think you should stick to trunks,’ I told him.
‘Actually,’ Maggie piped up, ‘in Europe, men often wear a more bikini style. Every summer we have at least one group of German tourists who show up in them.’
‘No way,’ Hollis told her. ‘Over there, you just go to the nude beach. No suit needed, period!’
‘This is Maggie,’ I said to him. ‘Maggie, my brother, Hollis.’
‘You went to a nude beach?’ she asked him. ‘Seriously?’
‘Sure, why not? You know what they say. When in Rome. Or Spain…’ He tossed the thong back into the box. ‘So, Aud, you up for a little very late lunch or super early dinner? Dad says there’s a place with great onion rings I should try.’
‘The Last Chance,’ Maggie told him. ‘End of the boardwalk, on the left. I recommend the tuna melt.’
Hollis sighed. ‘I love a tuna melt. That, you can’t get in Spain. Even if you are naked.’
I glanced back at the office. ‘I actually have a lot of work to do…’
‘Oh, come on! You haven’t seen me in two years.’ Hollis shook his head at Maggie. ‘My sister. She got all the drive in this family, obviously.’
‘Go,’ Maggie said to me. ‘You can just stay later tonight, or something.’
‘Listen to Maggie,’ Hollis said. He said her name casually, like they’d known each other for years. ‘Come on. Let’s go bond.’
Out on the boardwalk, it was that golden time of the afternoon, past the heat of the day but before it began to cool off for evening. Hollis and I fell in behind a group of women with strollers, their wheels clacking across the boards beneath us.
‘So, where’s Laura?’ I asked him. ‘She doesn’t like onion rings?’
‘Loves them,’ he replied, sliding on his sunglasses. ‘But she has work to do. She’s applying for some grant for the spring and has some essays to write for it.’
‘Wow,’ I said. ‘She sounds like the driven one.’
‘No kidding. She’s unstoppable.’
He tipped his head back, looking up as a row of pelicans flew overhead, toward the water, and I watched with him for a moment. Then I said, ‘She seems really nice, Hollis.’
‘She is.’ He smiled at me. ‘She’s not like any of the other girls I’ve dated, huh?’
I wasn’t sure how to answer this. But he was asking, so I said, ‘Not really, no.’
‘You should have heard Mom,’ he said, laughing. ‘For years she’s on me for only dating vapid, mindless drones – her words, of course –’
‘– and now I show up with someone smart and amazing, and she totally freaks out. You should have seen her at dinner when Laura was talking about her work. So jealous she was almost sputtering.’
Wow, I thought. Out loud I said, ‘Jealous? You think?’
‘Oh, come on, Aud. You know Mom’s used to being the smartest woman in the room. It’s her thing.’ He reached up, adjusting his sunglasses. ‘She kept pulling me aside, telling me I was making a mistake, that I was too serious about Laura too quickly. Like I’m going to take relationship advice from her, with that grad student lurking outside, sleeping in his car like some kind of stalker.’
‘What?’ I said.
He glanced at me. ‘Oh, you know. She was sleeping with some grad student, he got serious about her and actually wanted something from her, so she cut him loose, and now he’s hanging around, licking his wounds.’
I had a flash of the guy in the dark-framed glasses, sitting out by the pool with his book. I didn’t even know his name.
‘I felt so bad for the guy,’ Hollis was saying now. ‘Although God knows he should have seen it coming. It’s not like she hasn’t done it before.’
It took me a minute to absorb all this, so I focused on the bike shop, which was coming up ahead. I could see Wallace and Adam on the bench outside, sharing a bag of potato chips. ‘You think she does that a lot?’
‘Oh, God, yes. Since the divorce, anyway.’ He slid his hands in his pockets, then glanced at me. ‘I mean, you knew that, right? You had to.’
‘Sure,’ I said quickly. ‘Absolutely.’
He watched my face for a moment. Then he said, ‘Not that I can say anything, though. Considering I used to be just like her.’
Again, I was speechless. What do you do when you finally hear everything you’ve always thought said aloud? This time, though, I was saved from having to reply, as Adam spotted us. ‘Hey, Auden! Come settle an argument!’
Hollis glanced over at him and Wallace. ‘Friends of yours?’
‘Yeah,’ I said as Adam waved us over. Hollis looked surprised, which I tried not to take personally. ‘Come on.’
When we got over to them, I introduced my brother as Adam hopped off the bench, landing in front of us. ‘Okay,’ he said, holding up his hands. ‘We’re finally on the brink of a new name for the shop.’
‘Which is to say,’ Wallace piped in from behind him, his mouth full of chips, ‘that we’ve narrowed the list of possibilities to ten.’
‘Ten?’ I said.
‘But only five are any good,’ Adam added. ‘So we’re taking an informal poll to see who likes which ones.’
Hollis, always game, looked up at the bare awning. ‘What’s it called now?’
‘The Bike Shop,’ Wallace told him. Hollis raised his eyebrows. ‘It’s temporary.’
‘For the last three years,’ Adam said. ‘So, okay. The list in no particular order, is as follows: Overdrive Bikes, the Chain Gang, Colby Cycles…’
I was distracted temporarily as Eli came out of the shop, pushing a small pink bike with training wheels. He had a helmet in his free hand, and a couple with a little girl in tow were right behind him.
‘… the Crankshaft and Pedal to the Metal Bikes,’ Adam finished. ‘What do you think?’