But Don didn’t get it. First, he had no respect for the beaded curtain. In he’d walk, without hesitation, putting his hands on her shoulders even as she was still typing. When he did this, my mother’s keystrokes grew speedier: you could hear it, as if she was rushing to get out what was in her head before he broke her train of thought entirely. Then he’d go to take a shower, asking her to bring him a cold beer in a few minutes, would you, darling. Fifteen minutes later he’d be calling for her, wondering where that beer was, and she’d type fast again, pounding out the last lines she could before he padded back in, smelling of aftershave and asking what they were having for dinner.
The weird thing was that my mother was going along with it. She seemed totally smitten, still, with Don, to the point that she saw creeping around in the wee hours to write as a completely fair trade. With all her other husbands and boyfriends, she’d always stuck to her schedule, lecturing them, as she had us, about her “creative needs” and the “disciplinary necessity” of her time spent in the office. But she seemed more willing to compromise now, as if this was, indeed, going to be her last marriage.
Now, Chloe headed to the bathroom as I walked over to the table Don had set up for my mother next to the showroom. MEET BEST-SELLING AUTHOR BARBARA STARR! was painted on the banner that hung behind her, in big red letters framed by hearts. She was wearing sunglasses, fanning herself with a magazine while she talked to a woman wearing a fanny pack who had a toddler on her hip.
“… that Melina Kennedy was just the best character ever!” the woman was saying, switching the baby to her other side. “You know, you just really felt her pain when she and Donovan were separated. I couldn’t stop reading, I really couldn’t. I just had to know if they got back together.”
“Thank you so much,” my mother said, smiling.
“Are you working on something new?” the woman asked.
“I am,” my mother said. Then she lowered her voice and added, “I think you’ll like it. The main character is a lot like Melina.”
“Oooh!” the woman said. “I can’t wait. I honestly can’t.”
“Betsy!” a voice shouted from over by the popcorn machine. “Come here a second, will you?”
“Oh, that’s my husband,” the woman said. “It was just so nice to finally meet you. Really.”
“Same to you,” my mother replied as the woman walked away, over to where her husband, a shorter man wearing a bandanna around his neck, was scrutinizing the mileage on a minivan. My mother watched her go, then glanced at her watch. Don wanted her to stay for the full three hours, but I was hoping we’d get to go soon. I wasn’t sure how much more barbershop music I could take.
“Your public loves you,” I said as I walked up.
“My public is not really here, I don’t think. I’ve already had two people ask me about financing, and I’ve mostly just directed people to the bathroom,” she said. Then, more brightly, she added, “But I have really enjoyed that wonderful barbershop quartet. Aren’t they charming?”
I plopped down on the curb beside her, not even bothering to answer this.
She sighed, fanning herself again. “It’s very hot,” she said. “Could I have some of your drink?”
I looked down at the bottle of KaBoom Lissa had forced on me. “You don’t want this,” I said.
“Nonsense,” she said easily. “It’s scorching out here. Just let me have a sip.”
I shrugged and handed it over. She screwed off the top, tipped it to her lips, and took a decent-size mouthful. Then she made a somewhat uneasy face, swallowed, and handed the bottle back to me.
“Told you,” I said.
Just then the white Truth Squad van bumped into the parking lot, pulling into a space by the auto bay. The back door opened and John Miller jumped out, his drumsticks tucked under his arm, followed by Lucas, who was eating a tangerine. They started unloading equipment and stacking it as Ted climbed out of the driver’s side, slamming the door behind him. And then, as I watched, Dexter got out of the van, pulling a shirt on over his head. He checked his reflection in the side mirror, then ducked around the side of the van, out of my sight.
It wasn’t the first time I’d seen him, of course. The morning after we broke up, in fact, I’d been standing in line at Jump Java for Lola’s morning mocha when he walked in, crossed the room in a most determined fashion, and came right up to me.
“So I’m thinking,” he said, no hello or hi or anything, “that we need to be friends.”
Instantly, my internal alarms went off, reminding me of the breakup logic I’d been preaching for almost as long as I could remember. Not possible, I thought, but out loud I said, “Friends?”
“Friends,” he repeated. “Because it would be a shame if we did the whole awkward, ignoring-each-other, pretending-nothing-ever-happened thing. In fact, we could just jump right in and deal with it right now.”
I looked at the clock next to the espresso machine. It was 9:05. “Isn’t it a little early,” I said slowly, “to take that on?”
“That’s just the point!” he said emphatically as a man talking on his cell phone glanced over at us. “Last night we broke up, right?”
“Yes,” I said, in a quieter voice than he was using, hoping he’d catch the hint. No luck.
“And today, here we are. Meeting up, as we are bound to do endless other times between now and when the summer ends. We do work across from each other.”
“Agreed,” I said as I finally got up to the front of the line, nodding as the guy behind the counter asked if I wanted Lola’s usual.
“So,” he went on, “I say that we just admit that things may be a little strange, but that we won’t avoid each other or allow things to be awkward at all. If anything feels weird, we acknowledge it straight up and move on. What do you think?”
“I think,” I said, “that it won’t work.”
“Because you can never go from going out to being friends, just like that,” I explained, grabbing some napkins out of the dispenser. “It’s a lie. It’s just something that people say they’ll do to take the permanence out of a breakup. And someone always takes it to mean more than it does, and then is hurt even more when, inevitably, said ‘friendly’ relationship is still a major step down from the previous relationship, and it’s like breaking up all over again. But messier.”