“Doubtful,” I said. “If he moved out tomorrow she’d have a new prospect within a week. I’d lay money on it.”
“I think she loves him,” Lissa said. “And love is needing someone. Love is putting up with someone’s bad qualities because they somehow complete you.”
“Love is an excuse to put up with shit that you shouldn’t,” I replied, and Jess laughed. “That’s how it gets you. It throws off the scales so that things that should weigh heavily don’t seem to. It’s a crock. A trap.”
“Okay, then,” Lissa said, sitting up straighter, “let’s talk about untied shoelaces.”
“What?” I said.
“Dexter,” she said. “His shoelaces were always untied. Right?”
“What does that have to do with anything?”
“Just answer the question.”
“I don’t remember,” I said.
“Yes, you do, and yes, they were. Plus he was clumsy, his room was a mess, he was completely unorganized, and he ate in your car.”
“He ate in your car?” Jess asked incredulously. “No shit?”
“Just the one time,” I said, and ignored the it’s-a-miracle-throw-up-a-hallelujah face she made. “What’s the point here?”
“The point is,” Lissa cut in, “that these are all things that would have made you send any other guy packing within seconds. But with Dexter, you put up with them.”
“I did not.”
“You did,” she said, pouring more Skittles into her hand, “and why, do you think, were you willing to overlook these things?”
“Don’t say it was because I loved him,” I warned her.
“No,” she said. “But maybe you could have loved him.”
“Unlikely,” I said.
“Extremely unlikely,” Jess agreed. “Although, you did let him eat in your car, so I suppose anything’s possible.”
“You were different around him,” Lissa said to me. “There was something new about you that I’d never seen before. Maybe that was love.”
“Or lust,” Jess said.
“Could have been,” I said, leaning back on my palms. “But I never slept with him.”
Jess raised her eyebrows. “No?”
I shook my head. “I almost did. But no.” The night he’d played the guitar for me, that first time, picking out the chords of my father’s song, I’d been ready to. It had already been a few weeks, which at one time might have been considered a record for me. But just as we’d gotten close, he’d pulled back a bit, taking my hands and folding them against his chest, instead pressing his face into my neck. It was subtle, but clear. Not yet. Not now. I’d wondered what he was waiting for, but hadn’t found a good time to ask him. And now I’d never know.
“That,” Lissa said, snapping her fingers as if she’d just discovered uranium, “proves it. Right there.”
“Proves what?” I said.
“Any other guy you would have slept with. No question.”
“Watch it,” I said, pointing at her. “I have changed, you know.”
“But you would have, right?” she asked. She was so insistent, this new Lissa. “You knew him well enough, you liked him, you’d been hanging out for a while. But you didn’t. And why is that?”
“I have no idea,” I said.
“It’s because,” she said grandly, sweeping her hand, “it meant something to you. It was bigger than just one guy and one night and out you go, free and clear. Part of the change I saw in you. That we all saw. It would mean more, and that scared you.”
I glanced at Jess but she was scratching her knee, choosing not to get into this. And what did Lissa know anyway? It was Dexter who’d stopped things, not me. But then again, I hadn’t tried to push it further, and there had been other chances. Not that that meant anything. At all.
“See?” Lissa said, pleased with herself. “You’re speechless.”
“I am not,” I said. “It’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.”
“Dexter,” she said quietly, “was the closest you’ve come to love, Remy. Real love. And you dodged it, at the last second. But it was close. Real close. You could have loved him.”
“No way,” I said. “Not a chance.”
When I got home later that night I realized, irony of ironies, that I was locked out. I’d given my key to my mother, and never thought to ask for it back. Luckily, Chris was home. So I just tapped on the window over the kitchen sink, making him jump about four feet vertically and shriek like a schoolgirl, which made having to forge through the dark and navigate around the pricker bushes in the backyard at least worthwhile.
“Hey,” he said nonchalantly as he opened the back door, all cool now, as if we both hadn’t just witnessed this particularly spineless behavior. “Where’s your key?”
“Here, somewhere,” I said, stopping the door before it slammed shut. “Mom and Don were locked out earlier.” Then I filled him in on the gory details as he munched on a peanut butter sandwich-bread butts again-nodding and rolling his eyes in all the right places.
“No way,” he said as I finished. I shushed him, and he lowered his voice. Our walls, we both knew, were thin. “What a chump. He was yelling at her?”
I nodded. “I mean, not in a violent way. More in a pouty, spoiled brat kind of way.”
He looked down at the last remnants of bread butts in his hand. “No surprise there. He’s a total baby. And the next time I trip over one of those Ensures on the side porch someone’s going down. Down. ”
This made me smile, reminding me of how much I really liked my brother. Despite our differences, we did have a history. No one understood where I was coming from the way he did.
“Hey Chris?” I asked him as he pulled a carton of milk from the fridge and poured himself a glass.
I sat down on the edge of the table, running my hand over the surface. I could feel little pieces of sugar, or salt, fine but distinct beneath my fingers. “What made you decide to love Jennifer Anne?”
He turned around and looked at me, then swallowed with a glunking noise my mother always screamed at him about when we were kids, saying it made him sound like he was drinking rocks. “Decide to love?”
“You know what I mean.”