“I know why you’re saying this,” he said finally, “but you’re missing out. You know, when it works, love is pretty amazing. It’s not overrated. There’s a reason for all those songs.”
I looked down at my hands. “They’re just songs, Dexter. They don’t mean anything.”
He walked over and stood right in front of me, taking my hands in his. “You know, we only sang that tonight because we were dying up there. Lucas heard me humming it the other day and got all inspired and came up with that arrangement. They don’t know it has anything to do with you. They just think it’s a good crowd pleaser.”
“I guess it is,” I said. “Just not for me.”
I felt it then. That strange settling feeling that meant the worst part of breaking up was over, and now there were only a few pleasantries to exchange before you were done for good. It was like the finish line coming up over the hill, and knowing that what lies ahead is all within your sight.
“You know,” he said, rubbing my thumb with his, “it could have gone either way with us. All those marriages and everything. Another day, you’d be the one who believed, and I’d be sending you away.”
“Maybe,” I replied. But I couldn’t even imagine believing in love the way he did. Not with the history we shared. You had to be crazy to come out of it and think forever was still possible.
He leaned forward, still holding my hand, and kissed my forehead. I closed my eyes as he did so, pressing my toes into the grass. I took in everything about him that I’d grown to like: the smell of him, his narrow hips, the smoothness of his skin against mine. So much in so little time.
“I’ll see you around,” he said, pulling back from me. “Okay?”
I nodded. “Okay.”
He squeezed my hand one last time, then let it drop and started across the grass. His feet left fresh tracks: the ones from earlier were gone, already absorbed, as if nothing had happened up to here.
Once inside I went up to my bedroom and got undressed, pulling on an old pair of boxers and a tank top and crawling under the sheets. I knew this feeling, the 2 A.M. loneliness that I’d practically invented. It was always worse right after a breakup. In those first few hours officially single again the world seems like it expands, suddenly bigger and more vast now that you have to get through it alone.
That was why I’d started listening to the song, in the beginning: it took my mind off things. It was the one constant in my life, however I felt about it, the one thing that had remained a part of me as stepfathers and boyfriends and houses shifted in and out. The recording never changed, the words staying the same, my father’s voice taking the same breaths between lines. But now I couldn’t even do that. It was now stuck in my mind the way Dexter had sung it: mocking and sweet and different, carrying a heavier and stranger weight than it ever had before.
I kept thinking about how he’d kissed my forehead as we said good-bye. It had to be the nicest breakup ever. Not that it made it any easier. But still.
I rolled over and pulled the pillow tight under my head, closing my eyes. I tried to distract myself with other songs: the Beatles, my current favorite CD, old 1980s hits from my childhood. But Dexter’s voice kept coming back, slipping easily over the words I knew too well. I fell asleep with it still playing in my mind, and the next thing I knew it was morning.
“Come on! Who wants to KaBoom?”
I looked at Lissa. It was over ninety degrees out, the sun was blasting hot, and somewhere over to my left, a barbershop quartet was singing “My Old Kentucky Home.” It was official: we were in hell.
“Not me,” I said. Again. Two weeks into her job shilling a new sports drink/caffeine jolt soda, and Lissa still couldn’t accept that I didn’t like the taste of it. And I wasn’t alone.
“It’s… it’s like… fizzy lemonade,” Chloe said delicately, swirling the tiniest sip of it around in her mouth. “With a weird cheap cola aftertaste.”
“So what do you think?” Lissa asked her, refilling the row of plastic cups on the table in front of her.
“I think…” Chloe said. Then she swallowed, and made a face. “Eeeech.”
“Chloe!” Lissa hissed, glancing around. “Honestly.”
“I told you, it tastes like crap,” I said, but she just ignored me, piling more KaBoom merchandise-plastic Frisbees, T-shirts, and plastic cups all emblazoned with the same swirling yellow sunshine logo-onto the table. “You know that, Lissa. You don’t even drink this stuff.”
“That is not true,” she said, adjusting her KaBoom name tag, which said Hi, I’m Lissa! Want to Boom? I’d tried to point out that this could be taken in other ways than sampling products, but she’d only waved me off, so self-righteous in her quest to spread the KaBoom message to cola drinkers everywhere. “I drink this stuff like water. It’s amazing!”
I turned around and looked behind me, where a family of four was passing by, hands already full of Don Davis Toyotafaire freebie merchandise. They didn’t stop, though. In fact, the KaBoom table was pretty much deserted, even with all the free stuff Lissa and her coworker, P.J., were giving away.
“Balloons, everyone! Who wants a KaBoom balloon?” Lissa shouted out into the crowd. “Free samples, folks! And we’ve got Frisbees!” She picked up one of the Frisbees and hurled it across the parking lot. It sailed evenly for a little ways before banking off and missing one of the new Land Cruisers by about a foot before crashing to the pavement. Don, who was talking up some customers by a row of Camrys, glanced over at us.
“Sorry!” Lissa said, covering her mouth with her hand.
“Easy on the Frisbees, slugger,” P.J. told her, picking up one of the plastic sample cups and downing it. “It’s still early.”
Lissa smiled at him gratefully, blushing, and I realized Chloe’s hunch about her feelings for P.J. were, in fact, correct. KaBoom, indeed.
The Don Davis Motors Toyotafaire had been in the works for weeks. It was one of the biggest sales bonanzas of the year, with games for the kids, fortune-tellers, Slurpee machines, even one very tired looking pony that was walking circles around the auto bays. And, right this way, in the shade by the showroom, local author and celebrity Barbara Starr.
Normally my mother never did publicity except when she had a new book out, and she now was at a point in her writing when she didn’t even want to leave her study, much less the house. Chris and I had been used to her schedule for years and knew to keep quiet when she was sleeping-even if it was at four in the afternoon-to stay out of the way when she passed through the kitchen mumbling to herself, and to understand that we’d know when she was done when she pushed the typewriter carriage to the left one last time, clapped her hands twice, and let out a loud, very emphatic, “Thank you!” It was the closest she came to religion-this one, final expression of gratitude.