I nodded, and she went back to browsing. At least she was feeling better: the lamp did match the trash can.
I pushed the cart through hand towels, storage supplies, and halfway into candles-where the smell became a stench-all the while reminding myself that everything does not necessarily have a Greater Meaning. It was just a bargain set of plastic ware, for God’s sake, not a promise ring. This settled me somewhat, even as the more rational part of my mind reminded me that never, in the course of oh, say, fifteen relationships since junior high school, had I ever had the urge to buy a boyfriend anything more permanent than a Zip Coke. Even at birthdays and Christmas I kept to my basic gifts, stuff like shirts and CDs, things that would eventually go out of style. Not like plastic picnic ware, which would probably be around to greet the roaches after the final nuclear holocaust. Plus, if you really went deep into the meaning of gifts, dishes equaled food, food equaled sustenance, and sustenance equaled life, which meant that by giving even one plastic fork I was basically saying I wanted to take care of Dexter forever and ever, amen. Yikes.
On the way to the checkout, Lissa and I passed the clearance table again. She picked up a retro-looking alarm clock. “This is cute,” she said. “And look at those plastic plates and silverware. Maybe I could use those for when we fix stuff in the room.”
“Maybe,” I said, shrugging and ignoring the table as if it was someone I’d dated.
“But what if I didn’t use it?” she went on, in the voice I recognized as Lissa entering Prime Indecisive Mode. “I mean, it’s only seven bucks, right? And it’s cute. But I probably don’t have room for it, anyway.”
“Probably not,” I said, starting to push the cart again.
She didn’t move, the alarm clock in one hand, fingering the cute plastic pouch the cutlery came in. “It’s really cute, though,” she said. “And it would be better than using takeout stuff all the time. But still, it’s a lot of silverware, I mean it’ll only be me and Delia…”
This time I didn’t say anything. All I could smell were those candles.
“… but maybe we’d have other people in sometimes, you know, for pizza or whatever?” She sighed. “No, forget it, it’s just an impulse thing, I don’t need it.”
I started to push the cart again, and she took a couple of steps. Two, to be exact.
“On the other hand,” she said, then stopped talking. A sigh. Then, “No, forget it-”
“God!” I said, reaching behind me and grabbing the plastic pouch, stuffing it into the cart. “I’ll buy it. Let’s just go, okay?”
She looked at me, wide-eyed. “Do you want it, though? Because I’m not really sure I’ll use it-”
“Yes,” I said loudly. “I want it. I need it. Let’s go.”
“Well, okay,” Lissa said, somewhat uncertainly. “If you really need it.”
Later, when I dropped her off, I told her to make sure she took everything, even the plastic ware. But in typical fashion, she cleaned out every bag from my trunk except one. I promptly forgot about it, that is until a few nights later, when Dexter and I were unloading some groceries he’d bought for the yellow house-peanut butter, bread, orange juice, and Doritos-from my car. He grabbed all his bags, then was about to shut the trunk when he stopped and leaned over.
“What’s this?” he asked, pulling out a white plastic shopping bag, knotted neatly at the top-I’d taught Lissa well-so that its contents wouldn’t spill.
“Nothing,” I said quickly, trying to take it from him.
“Wait, wait,” he said, holding it out of my reach. The peanut butter fell out of one of his other bags, rolling across the yard, but he ignored this, too intrigued by what I didn’t want him to see. “What is it?”
“Something I bought for myself,” I said curtly, grabbing for it again. No luck. He was too tall, and his arms too long.
“Is it a secret?”
He shook the bag slightly, listening to the sound it made. “Doesn’t sound secret,” he decided.
“What does secret sound like?” I asked. Idiot. “Give it here.”
“Like tampons,” he told me, shaking it again. “This doesn’t sound like tampons.”
I glared at him, and he handed it over, as if now he didn’t want to find out. He walked across the grass to pick up the peanut butter, wiping it on his shirt-of course-and chucking it back into the bag.
“If you must know,” I said, as if it was absolutely no big deal whatsoever, “it’s just this plastic ware I bought at Linens Etc.”
He thought about this. “Plastic ware.”
“Yes. It was on sale.”
We stood there. From inside the yellow house, I could hear the TV, and someone laughing. Monkey was standing on the other side of the screen door, watching us, his tail going full speed.
“Plastic ware,” he said slowly, “like knives and forks and spoons?”
I brushed a bit of dirt off the back of my car-was that a scratch?-and said casually, “Yeah, I guess. Just the basics, you know.”
“Did you need plastic ware?” he asked.
“Because,” he went on, and I fought the urge to squirm, “it’s so funny, because I need plastic ware. Badly. ”
“Can we go inside, please?” I asked, slamming the trunk shut. “It’s hot out here.”
He looked at the bag again, then at me. And then, slowly, the smile I knew and dreaded crept across his face. “You bought me plastic ware, ” he said. “Didn’t you?’
“No,” I growled, picking at my license plate.
“You did!” he hooted, laughing out loud. “You bought me some forks. And knives. And spoons. Because-”
“No,” I said loudly.
“-you love me!” He grinned, as if he’d solved the puzzler for all time, as I felt a flush creep across my face. Stupid Lissa. I could have killed her.
“It was on sale,” I told him again, as if this was some kind of an excuse.
“You love me,” he said simply, taking the bag and adding it to the others.
“Only seven bucks,” I added, but he was already walking away, so sure of himself. “It was on clearance, for God’s sake.”
“Love me,” he called out over his shoulder, in a singsong voice. “You. Love. Me.”