“Do you want him to think you’re weak?” Jess asked her. “Do you want to give him that satisfaction?”
“How can he already be with somebody else?” Lissa asked her, and Jess just sighed, shaking her head. “I’m not even totally okay yet, and he’s with someone else? How can that be?”
“Because he’s a jerk,” I told her.
“Because he’s a guy,” Chloe added. “And guys don’t get attached, guys don’t ever give themselves over completely, and guys lie. That’s why they should be handled with great trepidation, not trusted, and held at arm’s length whenever possible. Right, Remy?”
I looked at her, and there it was again: that shifting of her eyes that meant she’d seen something in me lately she didn’t recognize, and it worried her. Because if I wasn’t cold, hard Remy, then she couldn’t be the Chloe she was, either.
“Right,” I said, and smiled at Lissa. I had to lead the way here, of course. She’d never make it out otherwise. “Absolutely.”
The band wasn’t called the G Flats at all. That was just their wedding persona, the one they had been forced to take on because of an incident involving the van, some authorities in Pennsylvania, and Don’s brother Michael, who was an attorney there. Apparently playing at my mother’s wedding had been some kind of payback, but it had also seemed like the right time to relocate, as the band-whose real name was Truth Squad-did every summer.
For the past two years, they’d worked their way across the country, always following the same process: find a town with a decent local music scene, rent a cheap apartment, and start playing the clubs. In the first week they all got day jobs, preferably at the same place, since they shared one mode of transportation. (So now, Dexter and Lucas worked at Flash Camera, while John Miller fixed lattes at Jump Java, and Ted bagged groceries at Mayor’s Market.) Although most of the guys had some college, or, in Ted’s case, a diploma, they always got easy jobs that didn’t require much overtime or thinking. Then they’d hit the local club scene, hoping to land a regular weekly gig, as they had at Bendo. Tuesday nights, which were the slowest there, were now all theirs.
They’d only been in town for a couple of days when I’d first met Dexter at Don’s Motors: they were sleeping in the van then, in the city park, until they found the yellow house. Now it seemed they’d stick around until they were run out of town for owing money or small legal infractions (it had happened before) or just got bored. Everything was planned to be transitory: they boasted that they could pack up and be gone in an hour flat, already drawing a finger across the wrinkled map in the van’s glove box, seeking out a new destination.
So maybe that was what kept me from giving The Speech, this idea that his life was just as impermanent at this moment as mine. I didn’t want to be like other girls that were probably in other towns, listening to Truth Squad bootlegs and pining for Dexter Jones, born in Washington, D.C., a Pisces, lead singer, thrower of challenges, permanent address unknown. His history was as murky as mine was clear, with his dog seeming to be the only family in which he had interest. I was soon to be Remy Starr, formerly of Lakeview, now of Stanford, undecided major, leaning toward economics. We were only converging for a few weeks, fleeting. No need to follow protocol.
That night me, Chloe, Jess, and Lissa got to Bendo around nine. Truth Squad was already playing, and the crowd was thin but enthusiastic. I noted, then quickly made a point of not noting, that it was mostly made up of girls, a few of them crowded up close, next to the stage, holding their beers and swaying to the music.
The music, in fact, was a mix of covers and originals. The covers were, as Dexter put it, “a necessary evil”-required at weddings, and useful at clubs, at least at the beginning of sets, to prevent being beaned with beer caps and cigarette butts. (This, apparently, had happened as well.) But Dexter and Ted, who had started the band during their junior year of high school, preferred their original compositions, the biggest and most ambitious of which were the potato songs.
By the time we sat down, the band was finishing the last verse of “Gimme Three Steps” as the assembled girls clapped and whoo-whooed. Then there was a few seconds of practice chords, some conferring between Ted and Dexter, and then Dexter said, “We’re going to do an original song for you all now, an instant classic. Folks, this is ‘The Potato Song.’”
More cheering from the girls, one of whom-a buxom redhead with broad shoulders I recognized from the perpetual lines for the ladies’ room-moved closer to the stage, so that she was practically at Dexter’s feet. He smiled down at her, politely.
“I saw her in the produce section,” he began, “late last Saturday. It hadn’t been but seven days since she went away…”
Another loud whoop, from someone who was, apparently, already fond of “The Potato Song.” Good thing, I thought. There were dozens where that came from.
“Once she’d loved my filet mignon, my carnivore inklings,” Dexter continued, “but now she was a vegan princess, living off of beans. She’d given up the cheese and bacon, sworn off Burger King, and when I wouldn’t do the same she gave me back my ring. I stood there by the romaine lettuce, feeling my heart pine” -and here he put a hand over his chest, and looked mournful, to which the crowd cheered- “wishing that this meatless beauty still would be all mine. She turned around to go to checkout, fifteen items or less. And I knew this was the last go-round, so this is what I said…”
He stopped here, letting the music build, and John Miller drummed a bit faster, the beat picking up. I could see some people in the crowd already mouthing the words.
“Don’t you ever give me no rotten tomato, ’cause all I ever wanted was your sweet potato,” Dexter sang. “Mashed, whipped, creamed, smothered, chunked, and diced, anyway you fix it baby sure tastes nice.”
“This is a song?” Jess asked me, but Lissa was laughing now, clapping along.
“This is many songs,” I told her. “It’s an opus.”
“A what?” she said, but I didn’t even repeat it, because now the song was reaching its climax, which was basically a recitation of every possible kind of vegetable. The crowd was shouting things out, and Dexter was singing hard, winding up the song: when they finished, with a crashing of cymbals, the crowd burst into loud applause. Dexter leaned into the microphone, said they’d be back in a few minutes, and then got down off the stage, grabbing a plastic cup off a speaker as he did so. I watched as the redheaded girl walked up to him, zeroing in, effectively cutting off his path as he started across the floor.