I could hear Ted saying something, talking fast.
“I was about to solve the puzzle!” John Miller yelled. “I only needed an L or a V. ”
“Nobody cares,” Lucas told him.
Dexter continued to listen to Ted, who apparently had not taken a breath yet, making only hmm-hmm noises now and then. Finally he said, “Okay then!” and hung up the phone.
“So?” Lucas said.
“So,” Dexter told us, “Ted has it under control.”
“Meaning?” I asked.
“Meaning that he’s royally pissed, because, apparently, I was supposed to pay the power bill.” Then he smiled. “So! Who wants to tell ghost stories?”
“Dexter, honestly,” I said. This kind of irresponsibility made my ulcer ache, but apparently Lucas and John Miller were used to it. Neither one of them seemed particularly fazed, or even surprised.
“It’s fine, it’s fine,” he said. “Ted’s got the money, he’s going to call them and see what he can do about getting it on tonight or early tomorrow.”
“Good for Ted,” Lucas said. “But what about you?”
“Me?” Dexter seemed surprised. “What about me?”
“He means,” I said, “that you should do something nice for the house by way of apology for this.”
“Exactly,” Lucas said. “Listen to Remy.”
Dexter looked at me. “Honey, you’re not helping.”
“We’re in the dark!” John Miller said. “And it’s your fault, Dexter.”
“Okay, okay,” Dexter said. “Fine. I’ll do something for the house. I’ll-”
“Clean the bathroom?” Lucas said.
“No,” Dexter said flatly.
“Do a load of my laundry?”
Finally, John Miller said, “Buy beer?”
“Yes,” Dexter said. “Yes! I will buy beer. Here.” He reached into his pocket and came up with a crumpled bill, which he held up for all of us to see. “Twenty bucks. Of my hard-earned money. For you.”
Lucas swiped it off the table, fast, as if expecting Dexter to change his mind. “Wonderful. Let’s go.”
“I’ll drive,” said John Miller, jumping to his feet. He and Lucas left the kitchen, arguing about where the keys were. Then the screen door slammed, and we were alone.
Dexter reached over the kitchen counter and found another candle, then lit it and put it on the table as I slid into the chair opposite him. “Romantic,” I told him.
“Of course,” he said. “I planned all of this, just to get you alone in a dark house in the candlelight.”
“Chee-sy,” I said.
He smiled. “I try.”
We sat there for a second, in the quiet. I could see him watching me, and after a second I pushed out my chair and walked around the table to him, sliding into his lap. “If you were my roommate and pulled this kind of crap,” I said as he brushed my hair off my shoulder, “I’d kill you.”
“You’d learn to love it.”
“I doubt that.”
“I think,” he said, “that you are actually, secretly attracted to all the parts of my personality that you claim to abhor.”
I looked at him. “I don’t think so.”
“Then what is it?”
“What is what?”
“What is it,” he said, “that makes you like me?”
“No, really.” He pulled me back against him, so my head was next to his, his hands locked around my waist. In front of us the candle was flickering, sending uneven shadows across the far wall. “Tell me.”
“No,” I said, adding, “it’s too weird.”
“It is not. Look. I’ll tell you what I like about you.”
“Well, obviously, you’re beautiful,” he said, ignoring this. “And that, I have to admit, was what first got my attention at the dealership that day. But then, I must say, it’s your confidence that really did me in. You know, so many girls are always insecure, wondering if they’re fat, or if you really like them, but not you. Man. You acted like you couldn’t have given less of a shit whether I talked to you or not.”
“Acted?” I said.
“See?” I could feel him grinning. “That’s what I mean.”
“So you’re attracted to the fact that I’m a bitch?”
“No, no. That’s not it.” He shifted his weight. “What I liked was that it was a challenge. To get past that, to wriggle through. Most people are easy to figure out. But a girl like you, Remy, has layers. What you see is so far from what you get. You may come across hard, but down deep, you’re a big softie.”
“What?” I said. Honestly, I was offended. “I am not soft.”
“You bought me plastic ware.”
“It was on sale!” I yelled. “God!”
“You’re really nice to my dog.”
“And,” he continued, “not only did you volunteer to come over here and teach me how to properly separate my colors from brights-”
“Colors from whites. ”
“-but you also stepped up to help solve our power bill problem and smooth over the differences with the guys. Face it, Remy. You’re sweet.”
“Shut up,” I grumbled.
“Why is that a bad thing?” he asked.
“It’s not,” I said. “It’s just not true.” And it wasn’t. I’d been called a lot of things in my life, but sweet had never been one of them. It made me feel strangely unnerved, as if he’d discovered a deep secret I hadn’t even known I was keeping.
“Okay,” he said. “Now you.”
“Now me what?”
“Now, you tell me why you like me.”
“Who says I do?”
“Remy,” he said sternly. “Don’t make me call you sweet again.”
“Fine, fine.” I sat up and leaned forward, stalling by pulling the candle over to the edge of the table. Talk about losing my edge: this was what I’d become. True confessions by candlelight. “Well,” I said finally, knowing he was waiting, “you make me laugh.”
He nodded. “And?”
“You’re pretty good-looking.”
“ Pretty good-looking? I called you beautiful.”