“You want to be beautiful?” I asked him.
“Are you saying I’m not?”
I looked at the ceiling, shaking my head.
“I’m kidding, I’ll stop. God, relax, would you? I’m not asking you to recite the Declaration of Independence at gunpoint.”
“I wish,” I said, and he laughed, loud enough to blow out the candle on the table, leaving us again in total darkness.
“Okay,” he said as I turned back to face him, sliding my arms around his neck. “You don’t have to say it out loud. I already know why you like me.”
“You do, huh?”
He wrapped his arms around my waist, pulling me closer. “So,” I said. “Tell me.”
“It’s an animal attraction,” he said simply. “Totally chemical.”
“Hmm,” I said. “You could be right.”
“It doesn’t matter, anyway, why you like me.”
“Nope.” His hands were in my hair now, and I was leaning in, not able to totally make out his face, but his voice was clear, close to my ear. “Just that you do.”
“This,” Chloe said as another bubble rose up and popped in her face, “is disgusting.”
“Stop,” I told her. “He can hear you, you know.”
She sighed, wiping her face with the back of her hand. It was hot, and the black asphalt of the driveway made things seem positively steamy. Monkey, however, sitting between us in a plastic baby pool up to his haunches in cold water, was totally content.
“Get his front feet,” I said to Chloe, squeezing more shampoo into my hand and lathering it up. “They’re really dirty.”
“All of him is dirty,” she grumbled as Monkey stood up and shook again, sending soap suds and dirty water over both of us in a wave. “And have you looked at these nails? They’re longer than Talinga’s, for God’s sake.”
Monkey stood up suddenly, barking, having spied a cat working its way through a row of hedges on the edge of Chloe’s yard. “Down boy,” Chloe said. “Hello? Sit, Monkey. Sit. ”
Monkey shook again, dousing us both, and I pushed down on his butt. He sat with a splash, his tail flopping over the side. “Good boy,” I said, even though he was already trying to stand up again.
“You know, if my mother were to show up now I’d be homeless,” Chloe said, spraying Monkey’s chest with the hose. “Just the sight of this mangy beast within spitting distance of her prized Blue Category Chem Special would give her an aneurysm.”
“Blue Category What?”
“It’s a kind of grass,” she explained.
Chloe had first given me a flat-out no when she opened the door to see me on her front porch, shampoo and dog in hand, before I’d even begun my hard sell. But after a few minutes of wheedling, plus a promise to buy her dinner and whatever else she wanted to do that night, she’d relented, and even seemed to warm to Monkey a bit, petting him cautiously as I got the baby pool-a Wal-Mart bargain at a mere nine bucks-out of my car. I’d planned to wash the dog at my house, but Chris had co-opted our hose to rig up an elaborate watering system for the lizards, which left me with few options.
“I still can’t believe how low you’ve stooped,” she said now as I finished the final rinse, then let Monkey leap from the pool and do a series of full-body shakes up and down the driveway. “This is total girlfriend behavior.”
“No,” I said, steering Monkey away from the grass before Chloe had a chance to freak out. “This is a humanitarian act. He was miserable.”
Which was true. Plus, I’d been spending a fair amount of time with Monkey lately, and okay, there was a certain odor to him. And if all it took to fix things was a five-dollar bottle of dog shampoo, some nail clippers, and a quick trim, what was the harm in taking action? It wasn’t for me, anyway. It was for Monkey.
“I thought you weren’t getting attached,” she said as I pulled the clippers out of my pocket and sat the dog down again.
“I’m not,” I told her. “It’s just for the summer. I told you that.”
“I’m not talking about Dexter.” She nodded at Monkey, who was now trying to lick my face. He stank of citrus now: all they’d had left was an orangey citrus scent. But we’d trimmed the hair over his eyes and around his feet, which made him look five years younger. It was true what Lola said: a good haircut changed everything. “This is an additional level of commitment. And responsibility. It’s going to make things complicated.”
“Chloe, he’s a dog, not a five-year-old with an abandonment complex.”
“Still.” She squatted down beside me, watching as I finished up one paw and switched to the other. “And anyway, what happened to our wild and carefree summer? Once you dumped Jonathan I thought we’d just date our way to August. No worries. Remember?”
“I’m not worried,” I said.
“Not now,” she said darkly.
“Not ever,” I told her. I stood up. “There. He’s done.”
We stood back and surveyed our work. “A vast improvement,” she said.
“Anything would have been,” she said, shrugging. But then she bent down and petted him, running her hand over the top of his head as I spread a few towels across the backseat of my car. I liked Monkey, sure, but that didn’t necessarily mean I was up for picking dog hair out of my upholstery for the next few weeks.
“Come on, Monk,” I called out, and he sprang up, trotting down the driveway. He just hopped in, then promptly stuck his head out the back window, sniffing the air. “Thanks for the help, Chloe.”
As I slid into the front seat, the leather hot under my legs, she stood and watched me, her hands on her hips. “You know,” she said, “it’s not too late. If you go ahead and break up with him now you’d still have a good month’s worth of quality single-girl time before you leave for school.”
I stuck my key in the ignition. “I’ll keep that in mind,” I said.
“See you around five-thirty?”
“Yeah,” I told her. “I’ll pick you up.”
She nodded, then stood there, one hand shielding her eyes as I backed out into the street. Of course it would be that cut-and-dried for her, how I could end things with Dexter. It was the way we’d always operated. Chloe was, after all, my twin in all things concerning boys and relationships. Now, I was throwing her a curve, veering off in a way she couldn’t understand. I knew how she felt. Ever since I’d met Dexter, things weren’t making much sense to me either.