“I had news,” John Miller grumbled, but it was over. He knew he’d been beaten. “Big news.”
“How serious is this?” Dexter asked Ted, leaning forward. “Just-making-conversation-I’ll-show-up-to-see-you, or definitely-I-have-pull-at-the-label-I’ll-come-see-you?”
Ted reached into his pocket. “She gave me a card. She’s got a meeting tonight, but when I said we usually started the second set by ten-thirty she said she’d make it by then, no problem.”
Dexter slid me off his lap, then stood up, and Ted handed him the card. He squinted at it for a good while, then handed it back. “Okay,” he said. “Find Lucas. We have to talk about this.”
“You know this could be nothing,” John Miller said, still smarting a bit. “It could be a bunch of smoke up your ass.”
“And it probably is,” Ted replied. “But it also could be that she likes us and we get a meeting and before the summer’s out we’re in a bigger place, bigger venue, bigger town. It happened to Spinnerbait.”
“Hate Spinnerbait,” John Miller said, and they all three nodded, as if this was clear fact.
“Spinnerbait has a deal, though,” Dexter added. “And a record.”
“Spinnerbait?” I said.
“They were this band that started playing the bars near Williamsburg when we did,” Dexter said to me. “Total assholes. Frat rats. But they had this really good guitar player-”
“He wasn’t that good,” Ted said indignantly. “Totally overrated.”
“-and their original stuff was tight. They got signed last year.” Dexter sighed, then looked up at the ceiling. “We hate Spinnerbait.”
“Hate Spinnerbait,” John Miller repeated, and Ted nodded.
“Okay, get ahold of Lucas,” Dexter said, slapping his hands together. “Emergency session. Band meeting!”
“Band meeting!” Ted yelled, as if everyone who was in the band and could feasibly hear it wasn’t within a two-foot radius. “I’m gonna go scrub up and we reconnoiter in the kitchen, twenty minutes.”
Dexter grabbed the cordless phone off the top of the TV, jabbed in some numbers, and then left the room with it pressed against his ear. I could hear him ask for Lucas, then say, “Guess what Ted scored at work today?” Then a pause, as Lucas offered a theory. “No, not tangerines…”
John Miller sat down on the couch, crossing one leg over another and leaning back so that his head hit the wall behind him with a thunk. Chloe looked at me, raising her eyebrows, then shook a cigarette out of her pack and lit it, dropping the spent match in an ashtray already overflowing with tangerine peels.
“Okay, I’ll bite,” I said finally. “What’s your news?”
“No, now it’s completely anticlimactic,” he grumbled. He still looked so much like a little kid to me, all red haired and freckled, like a grade schooler you might see on TV in a peanut butter commercial. It didn’t help that he was pouting.
“Suit yourself,” I said, and picked up the remote, turning the TV on. It wasn’t like I was about to beg him or anything.
“My news was,” he said slowly, lifting his head off the wall, “that she agreed to come to Bendo tonight.”
“Yes. Finally. I’ve only been asking her for weeks. ” He reached up and scratched his ear. “And it was a very big deal because I was beginning to think I was going to make no progress at all with her.”
I said to Chloe, “John Miller is in love with his boss.”
Chloe exhaled loudly. “At Jump Java?”
John Miller sighed again. “She’s not really my boss,” he told us. “She’s more of a coworker. A friend, really.”
Chloe looked at me. “This is Scarlett Thomas?”
I nodded, but John Miller’s eyes shot open. “You know her?”
“I guess,” Chloe said, shrugging. “Remy knows her better, though. She and Chris go way back, right?”
I swallowed, concentrating on flipping the channels on the TV. I’d known about John Miller’s infatuation with Scarlett back when it was just curious interest, then watched-along with the rest of the employees at various Mayor’s Village businesses-as it progressed to puppy-dog-esque devotion before finally reaching the ridiculous level of romantic pining that was its current state. Scarlett was the manager of Jump Java, and she’d only hired John Miller because of Lola, who she still owed a favor to for her last cut and color. And while I’d listened to John Miller sing her praises, I’d managed to keep it quiet that I knew her more than just in passing. Until now.
I could feel John Miller looking at me, even as I pretended to be completely engrossed in a news story about structural problems with the new county dam. He said, “Remy? You know Scarlett?”
“My brother dated her,” I said, in what I hoped was a no-big-deal kind of voice. “It was ages ago.”
He reached over and took the remote, hitting the mute button. The dam remained on the screen, holding water back just fine, it seemed to me. “Tell me,” he said. “Now.”
I looked at him.
“I mean,” he said quickly, “can you tell me? Anything?”
Across the room, Chloe laughed. I shrugged and said, “My brother dated her toward the end of their senior year. It wasn’t serious. Chris was still in his pothead thing, and Scarlett was way too smart to put up with it. Plus she already had Grace, then.”
He nodded. Grace was Scarlett’s daughter, who was three now. She’d been born when Scarlett was a junior, causing a minor neighborhood scandal. But Scarlett had stayed in school, finishing during a summer session the credits she’d missed, and now was taking classes part-time at the university while managing Jump Java and, apparently, putting up with the besotted John Miller passing longing glances over the muffins about twenty hours a week.
“Isn’t Scarlett a little out of your league?” Chloe asked him, not unkindly. “I mean, she’s got a kid.”
“I am wonderful with children,” he said indignantly. “Grace loves me.”
“Grace loves everybody,” I told him. Just like Monkey, I thought. Kids and dogs. It’s just too easy.
“No,” he said, “she especially likes me.”
Dexter stuck his head through the doorway and pointed a finger at John Miller. “Band meeting!” he said.