He considered this, then said, “Okay. Point taken. And in this scenario of yours, since I’m the one pursuing the idea of a friendship, then it would be me who would get hurt again. Correct?”
“Hard to say,” I said, taking Lola’s coffee and mouthing a thanks to the counter guy as I stuffed a dollar bill into the tip box. “But if this followed the formula, yes.”
“Then I,” he said, “will prove you wrong.”
“Dexter,” I said softly as we walked to the door, “come on.” It seemed surreal to be discussing the previous night in such analytical terms, as if it had happened to someone else and we were just off to the side, doing the play-by-play.
“Look, this is important to me,” he said as he held the door open and I ducked beneath his arm, keeping the cup in my hands level. “I hate bad breakups. I hate awkwardness and those weird stilted conversations and feeling like I can’t go somewhere because you’re there, or whatever. For once I’d like to just skip all that and agree to part as friends. And mean it.”
I looked at him. Last night, as we’d stood in my front yard, I’d dreaded this, seeing him again. And I had to admit I kind of liked that it was already pretty much over with, the first awkward Ex Sighting. Check it off the list, move on. Break up efficiently. What a concept.
“It would be,” I said, brushing a hair out of my face, “the challenge of all challenges.”
“Ah,” he agreed, smiling. “Indeed. You up for it?”
Was I? It was hard to say. It sounded good on paper, but when actually put into practice I suspected there would be a few variables that would really screw up the numbers. But I hadn’t backed down from a challenge yet.
“Okay,” I said. “You’re on. We’re friends.”
“Friends,” he repeated. And then we shook on it.
That had been two weeks ago, and since then we’d talked several times, sticking to neutral topics like what was happening with Rubber Records (not much yet, but there was talk of A Meeting) and how Monkey was (good, but suffering through an infestation of fleas that had left everyone at the yellow house scratching and cranky). We’d even eaten lunch together once, sitting on the curb outside of Flash Camera. We’d decided there had to be rules, and established two so far. Number one: no unnecessary touching, which could only lead to trouble. And number two was if anything happened or was said that felt strange or awkward, there could be no strained silences: it had to be acknowledged as quickly as possible, brought out in the open, dealt with and dismantled, like diffusing a bomb.
Of course my friends all thought I was crazy. Two days after we’d broken up, I’d gone with them to Bendo, and Dexter had come over and chatted with me. When he’d left, I’d turned back to a row of skeptical, holier-than-thou faces, like I was drinking beer with a bunch of apostles.
“Oh, man,” Chloe said, pointing a finger at me, “don’t tell me you guys are going to be friends.”
“Well, not exactly,” I said, which only made them look more aghast. Lissa, who’d spent the better part of the summer reading the kind of self-help books I normally associated with Jennifer Anne, looked especially disappointed. “Look, we’re better friends than dating. And we hardly dated at all, anyway.”
“It won’t work,” Chloe told me, lighting a cigarette. “Crutch for the weak, the whole friends thing. Who used to say that?”
I rolled my eyes, staring up at the ceiling.
“Oh, that’s right!” she said, snapping her fingers. “It was you! You always said that, just like you always said that you should never date a guy in a band-”
“Chloe,” I said.
“-or give in to a guy who really pursues you, since they’ll just lose interest the moment the chase ends-”
“Give it a rest.”
“-or fall for someone with an ex-girlfriend who is still hanging around, because if she hasn’t gotten the message he probably isn’t sending it.”
“Wait a second,” I said. “That last one has nothing to do with this.”
“Two out of three,” she replied, waving her hand. “My point is made.”
“Remy,” Lissa said, reaching over and patting my hand, “it’s okay. You’re human. You make the same mistakes as any of us. You know, in that book I was reading, Coming to Terms: What Love Can and Can’t Do, there’s a whole chapter on how we break our rules for men.”
“I am not breaking my rules,” I snapped, hating that I’d ended up on the advice-receiving end of things, jumping from Dear Remy to Confused in Cincinnati all in one summer.
Now, at Toyotafaire, Chloe and I left my mother chatting with another fan and headed over to a patch of grass for some shade. At the microphones, Truth Squad was almost totally set up. Don had told us over dinner a few days earlier that he’d hired them to play an hour-long set of nothing but car-related songs to really push the idea of fun, freewheeling summer driving.
“Okay, so I’ve got some prospects for us,” Chloe said as Truth Squad launched into “Baby You Can Drive My Car.”
She nodded. “College guys.”
“Hmm,” I said, fanning myself with one hand.
“His name is Matt,” she continued, “and he’s a junior. Cute, tall. He wants to be a doctor.”
“I don’t know,” I said. “It’s too hot to date.”
She looked at me. “I knew it,” she said, shaking her head. “I knew it.”
“You,” she said, “are so not one of us anymore.”
“What does that mean?”
She crossed her legs at the ankles, kicking off her shoes, and leaned back on her palms. “You say that you’re single and ready to be out there with us again.”
“But,” she went on, “every time I’ve tried to set you up or introduce you to anyone, you beg off.”
“It was just the one time,” I told her, “and that was because I’m not into skaters.”
“It was twice,” she corrected me, “and the second time he was totally cute and tall, just the way you like them, so don’t give me that crap. We both know what the problem is.”
“Oh, we do? And what is that?”
She turned her head and nodded toward where Truth Squad was in full swing, while two little kids in KaBoom T-shirts were dancing, jumping around. “Your ‘friend’ over there.”