“No way,” the drummer said, crossing his arms over his chest as Dexter started up the stairs, moving to check out the windows on the front side of the house. “Why do I always have to do the stupid shit, anyway?”
“Because you’re a redhead,” Dexter told him, and the drummer made a face, “plus, you have slim hips.”
By now I wasn’t even waiting for a gap in traffic anymore. Instead I was watching as Dexter found a rock around the side of the house, then came back and squatted down in front of a small window on the far end of the porch. He studied it, then the rock, readying his technique while the dog sat down beside him, licking his ear. The drummer stood behind, still looking miffed, his hands in his pockets.
Call it rampant control issues, but I couldn’t stand to watch this. Which was why I found myself pulling back up the driveway, getting out of my car, and walking up the steps just as Dexter was pulling his arm back, rock in hand, to break the window.
“One,” he was saying, “two…”
“Wait,” I called out, and he stopped, the rock tumbling from his hand and landing on the porch with a thunk. The dog jumped back, startled, with a yelp.
“I thought you left,” Dexter said. “Couldn’t do it, could you?”
“Do you have a credit card?” I asked him.
He and the drummer exchanged looks. Then Dexter said, “Do I look like I have a credit card? And what, exactly, do you need purchased?”
“It’s to unlock the door, idiot,” I told him, reaching into my own pocket. But my wallet was in the backseat, buried in my purse.
“I have one,” the drummer said slowly, “but I’m only supposed to use it for emergencies.”
We looked at him, and then Dexter reached up and smacked him on the back of the head, Three Stooges style. “John Miller, you’re a moron. Just give it to her.”
John Miller-his real name, although to me he was still somehow Ringo-handed over a Visa. I opened the screen door, then took the card and slid it between the lock and the doorjamb, wiggling it around. I could feel them behind me, watching.
Every door is different, and the weight of the lock and the thickness of the card are all factors. This skill, like the perfect toss of an Extra Large Diet Zip, was acquired over time, with lots of practice. Never to break and enter, always just to get into my own house, or Jess’s, when keys were lost. My brother, who had used it for evil at times, had taught me this when I was fourteen.
A few pulls to the left, then the right, and I felt the lock give. Bingo. We were in. I handed John Miller back his card.
“Impressive,” he said, smiling at me in that way guys do when you surprise them. “What’s your name again?”
“Remy,” I told him.
“She’s with me,” Dexter explained, and I just sighed at this and walked off the porch, the dog now trailing along behind me. I bent down and petted him, scratching his ears. He had cloudy white eyes, and horrible breath, but I’d always had a soft spot for dogs. My mother, of course, was a cat person. The only pets I’d ever had were a long line of big, fluffy Himalayans with various health problems and nasty temperaments who loved my mother and left hair everywhere.
“That’s Monkey,” Dexter called. “Him and me, we’re a package deal.”
“Too bad for Monkey,” I replied, and stood up, walking to my car.
“You’re a bad ass, Miss Remy,” he said. “But you’re intrigued now. You’ll be back.”
“Don’t count on it.”
He didn’t answer this, instead just stood there, leaning against a porch post as I pulled out of the driveway. Monkey was sitting next to him, and together they watched me drive away.
Chris opened the door to Jennifer Anne’s apartment. He was wearing a tie.
“Late,” he said flatly.
I glanced at my watch. It was 6:03, which, according to Chloe and Lissa and everyone else who had always made me wait, meant I was well within the bounds of the official within-five-minutes-doesn’t-count-as-late rule. But something told me maybe I shouldn’t point this out just now.
“She’s here!” Chris called out over his shoulder, then shot me the stink eye as I walked in, shutting the door behind me.
“I’ll be right out,” Jennifer Anne replied, her voice light. “Offer her something to drink, would you, Christopher?”
“This way.” Chris started into the living room. As we walked, our shoes made swishy noises on the carpet. It was the first time I’d been to Jennifer Anne’s, but I wasn’t surprised by the decor. The sofa and the love seat were both a little threadbare and matched the border of the wallpaper. Her diploma from the community college hung on the wall in a thick gold frame. And the coffee table was piled with thick, pretty books about Provence, Paris, and Venice, places I knew she’d never been, arranged with great care to look as though they were stacked casually.
I sat down on the couch, and Chris brought me a ginger ale, which he knew I hated but thought I deserved. Then we sat down, him on the couch, me on the love seat. Across from us, over the fake fireplace, a clock was ticking.
“I didn’t realize this was a formal occasion,” I said, nodding at his tie.
“Obviously,” he replied.
I glanced down at myself: I had on jeans, a white T-shirt, with a sweater tied around my waist. I looked fine, and he knew it. There was a clang from the kitchen, which sounded like an oven closing, and then the door swung open and Jennifer Anne emerged, smoothing her skirt with her hands.
“Remy,” she said, coming over and bending down to kiss my cheek. This was new. It was all I could do not to pull back, if only from surprise, but I stayed put, not wanting another dirty look from my brother. Jennifer Anne settled down beside him on the couch, crossing her legs. “I’m so glad you could join us. Brie?”
“Brie,” she repeated, lifting a small glass tray from the end table and extending it toward me. “It’s a soft cheese, from France.”
“Oh, right,” I said. I just hadn’t heard her, but now she looked very pleased with herself, as if she actually thought she’d brought some foreign culture into my life. “Thank you.”
We were not given the opportunity to see if the conversation would progress naturally. Jennifer Anne clearly had a list of talking points she had culled from the newspaper or CNN she believed would allow us to converse on a level she deemed acceptable. This had to be a business tactic she’d picked up from one of her self-improvement books, none of which, I noticed, were shelved in the living room on public display.