“No,” I said flatly.
“Mmmm.” He poked at it with the fork, gently. “So tasty.”
“You,” I said finally, “are really pissing me off.”
He shrugged, as if he’d heard this before, then pulled the plate back toward himself, dipping the fork in for another bite. The cleaning crew was chattering away in the front of the room, stacking chairs. One woman with her hair in a long braid picked up my mother’s bouquet, cradling it in her arms.
“Da-da-da-dum,” she said, and laughed when one of her coworkers yelled at her to stop dreaming and get back to work.
Dexter put down the fork, the tasty, non-chalklike cake gone, and pushed the plate away. “So,” he said, looking at me, “this your mom’s first remarriage?”
“Fourth,” I said. “She’s made a career of it.”
“Got you beat,” he told me. “My mom’s on her fifth.”
I had to admit, I was impressed. So far I’d never met anyone with more ex-steps than me. “Really.”
He nodded. “But you know,” he said sarcastically, “I really think this one’s going to last.”
“Hope springs eternal.”
He sighed. “Especially in my mom’s house.”
“Dexter, honey,” someone called out from behind me, “did you get enough to eat?”
He sat up, then raised his voice and said, “Yes, ma’am, I sure did. Thank you.”
“There’s a bit more of this chicken dish left.”
“No, Linda. I’m full. Really.”
I looked at him. “Do you know everybody? ”
He shrugged. “Not everybody,” he said. “I just bond easily. It’s part of the whole repeating-stepfather thing. It makes you more mellow.”
“Yeah, right,” I said.
“Because you have to just go with the flow. Your life is not your own, with people coming in and out all the time. You get mellow because you have to. I mean, you know exactly what I’m saying, I bet.”
“Oh yes,” I said flatly, “I am just so easygoing. That is precisely the word that describes me.”
“No,” I told him. “It isn’t.” And then I stood up and got my bag, feeling my feet ache as they settled into my shoes. “I have to go home now.”
He got to his feet, taking his jacket off the back of the chair. “Share a cab?”
“I don’t think so.”
“All right,” he said, shrugging. “Suit yourself.”
I walked to the door, thinking he’d be behind me, but when I glanced back he was across the room, going out the other way. I had to admit I was surprised, after such intense pursuit, that he had given up already. The drummer had been right, I supposed. The conquest-getting me alone-was all that mattered, and once he saw me up close I wasn’t so special after all. But I, of course, knew that already.
There was a cab parked out front, the driver dozing. I climbed into the backseat, sliding off my shoes. It was, by the green numbers on the dashboard, exactly 2 A.M. At the Thunderbird Hotel across town, my mother was most likely fast asleep, dreaming of the next week she’d spend in St. Bart’s. She’d come home to finish her novel, to move her new husband into the house, to take another stab at being a Mrs. Somebody, sure that this time, indeed, it would be different.
As the cab turned onto the main road, I saw a glint of something through the park, over to my right. It was Dexter, on foot, turning into a neighborhood, and in his white shirt he stood out, almost as if he were glowing. He was walking down the middle of the street, the houses dark on either side of him, quiet in sleep. And watching him head home, for a second it was like he was the only one awake or even alive in all the world right then, except for me.
“Remy, really. He’s just wonderful.”
“I know what you’re thinking. I do. But this is different. I wouldn’t do you like that. Don’t you trust me?”
I put down the stack of checks I’d been counting and looked up at her. She was leaning on her elbow, chin cupped in her hand. One of her earrings, a huge gold hoop, was swinging back and forth, catching the sunlight streaming through the front window.
“I don’t do blind dates,” I told her, again.
“It isn’t blind, honey, I know him,” she explained, as if this made some kind of difference. “A nice boy. He’s got great hands too.”
“What?” I said.
She held up her hands-impeccably manicured, naturally-as if I needed a visual aid for this basic part of human anatomy. “Hands. I noticed it the other day, when he came to pick his mother up from her sea salt scrub. Beautiful hands. He’s bilingual.”
I blinked, trying to process the connection between these two characteristics. Nope. Nothing.
“Lola?” a voice called out tentatively from inside the salon, “my scalp is burning?”
“That’s just the dye working, sugar,” Lola called back, not even turning her head. “Anyway, Remy, I really talked you up. And since his mother is coming back this afternoon for her pedicure-”
“No,” I said flatly. “Forget it.”
“But he’s perfect!”
“Nobody,” I told her, going back to the checks, “is perfect.”
“Lola?” Now the voice sounded more nervous, less polite. “It’s really hurting…”
“You want to find love, Remy?”
“I don’t understand you, girl! You’re about to make a big mistake.” Lola always got loud when she felt passionate about something: now, her voice was booming around the small waiting room, rattling the sample nail polishes on the shelf above my head. A few more active vowels and I’d be concussed, and as quick to sue as the woman whose hair was burning off, ignored, in the next room.
“Lola!” The woman, now shrieking, sounded like she was on the verge of tears. “I think I smell burning hair-”
“Oh, for God’s sake!” Lola bellowed, angry at both of us, and whirled around, stomping out of the room. As a purple nail polish crashed onto my desk, missing me by inches, I sighed, flipping open the calendar. It was Monday. My mother and Don would be back from St. Bart’s in three days. I turned another page, running my finger down past the days, to count again how many weeks I had before I left for school.