‘The thing is,’ one of them, who was stocky and sporting shorts and a chain wallet, said, ‘the name has to have punch. Energy, you know?’
‘It’s more important that it be clever,’ another, who was taller and thinner with curly hair, a little dorky-looking, said. ‘Which is why you should go with my choice, the Crankshaft. It’s perfect.’
‘It sounds like a car shop, not a bike place,’ the short guy told him.
‘Bikes have cranks,’ his friend pointed out.
‘And cars have shafts.’
‘So do mines,’ the skinny guy said.
‘You want to call it the Mine Shaft now?’
‘No,’ his friend said as the other two laughed. ‘I’m just making the point that the context doesn’t have to be exclusive.’
‘Who cares about context?’ The short guy sighed. ‘What we need is a name that jumps out and sells product. Like, say, Zoom Bikes. Or Overdrive Bikes.’
‘How do you go into overdrive on a bike?’ another guy, who had his back to me, asked. ‘That’s stupid.’
‘It is not,’ the guy with the wallet muttered. ‘Besides, I don’t see you offering up any suggestions.’
I stepped away from Clementine’s and starting walking again. Just as I did, the third guy suddenly turned, and our eyes met. He had dark hair, cut short, incredibly tanned skin, and a broad, confident smile, which he now flashed at me. ‘How about,’ he said slowly, his gaze still locked with mine, ‘I just saw the hottest girl in Colby walking by?’
‘Oh, Jesus,’ the dorky one said, shaking his head, as the other one laughed out loud. ‘You’re pathetic.’
I felt my face flush hot, even as I ignored him and kept walking. I could feel him looking at me, still smiling, as I put more and more distance between us. ‘Just stating the obvious,’ he called out, as I was about out of earshot. ‘You could say thank you, you know.’
But I didn’t. I didn’t say anything, if only because I had no idea how to respond to such an overture. If my experience with friends was sparse, what I knew about boys – other than as competitors for grades or class rank – was nonexistent.
Not that I hadn’t had crushes. Back at Jackson, there was a guy in my science class, hopeless at equations, who always made my palms sweat whenever we got paired for experiments. And at Perkins Day, I’d awkwardly flirted with Nate Cross, who sat next to me in calculus, but everyone was in love with Nate, so that hardly made me special. It wasn’t until Kiffney-Brown, when I met Jason Talbot, that I really thought I might actually have one of those boyfriend kind of stories to tell the next time I got together with my old friends. Jason was smart, good-looking, and seriously on the rebound after his girlfriend at Jackson dumped him for, in his words, ‘a juvenile delinquent welder with a tattoo’. Because of Kiffney-Brown’s small seminar size, we spent a fair amount of time together, battling it out for valedictorian, and when he’d asked me to prom I’d been more excited than I ever would have admitted. Until he backed out, citing the ‘great opportunity’ of the ecology conference. ‘I knew you’d be okay with this,’ he’d said to me as I nodded, dumbly, hearing this news. ‘You understand what’s really important.’
Okay, so it wasn’t like he called me beautiful. But it was a compliment, in its own way.
It was crowded at Last Chance Café, with a line of people waiting to be seated and two cooks visible through a small kitchen window, racing around as orders piled up on the spindle in front of them. I gave my order to a pretty, dark-haired girl with a lip ring, then took a seat by the window to wait for it. Glancing down the boardwalk, I could see the guys still gathered around the bench: the one who’d talked to me was now sitting down, his arms stretched behind his head, laughing, as his short, stocky friend rode a bike back and forth in front of him, doing little hops here and there.
It took a while for the food to be ready, but I soon realized my dad was right. It was worth the wait. I was digging into the onion rings before I even got out the door to the boardwalk, which by then was crowded with families eating ice-cream cones, couples on dates, and tons of little kids running along the sand. In the distance, there was a gorgeous sunset, all oranges and pinks, and I kept my eyes on it as I walked, not even looking over at the bike shop until I was almost past it. The guy was still there, although now he was talking to a tall girl with red hair, who was wearing a massive pair of sunglasses.
‘Hey,’ he called out to me, ‘if you’re looking for something to do tonight, there’s a bonfire at the Tip. I’ll save you a seat.’
I glanced over at him. The redhead was now giving me the stink eye, an annoyed look on her face, so I didn’t say anything.
‘Ah, she’s a heartbreaker!’ he said, then laughed. I kept walking, now feeling the redhead’s gaze boring in somewhere between my shoulder blades. ‘Just keep it in mind. I’ll wait for you.’
Back at the house, I found three plates and some silverware, then set the table and put out the food. I was shaking ketchup packets out into a pile when my dad came downstairs.
‘I thought I smelled onion rings,’ he said, rubbing his hands together. ‘This looks great.’
‘Is Heidi coming down?’ I asked, sliding his burger onto a plate.
‘Not sure,’ he replied, helping himself to an onion ring. Mouth full, he added, ‘The baby’s having a hard night. She probably wants to get her to sleep first.’
I glanced up the stairs, wondering if it was possible that Thisbe was still crying, as I’d been gone at least an hour. ‘Maybe I’ll, um, just ask her if she wants me to bring it up to her.’
‘Sure, great,’ he said, pulling out a chair and sitting down. I stood there for a second, watching as he ate another ring, tugging a nearby newspaper over with his free hand. I’d wanted to have dinner with my dad, sure, but I felt kind of bad about it happening this way.
Thisbe was still crying: I could hear her as soon as I got to the top of the stairs, Heidi’s dinner on a plate in one hand. When I got to the pink room, the door was ajar, and inside I could see her sitting in a rocking chair, her eyes closed, moving back and forth, back and forth. I was understandably hesitant to bother her, but she must have smelled the food, because a beat later, she opened her eyes.
‘I thought you might be hungry,’ I called out. ‘Do you – should I bring this to you?’