He shook his head. “Nope. No idea.”
“What made you,” I expanded, “feel like it was a worthwhile risk?”
“It isn’t a financial investment, Remy,” he said, sticking the milk back in the fridge. “There’s no math to it.”
“That’s not what I mean.”
“What do you mean?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know. Forget it.”
He put his glass in the sink, then ran water over it. “Do you mean what made me love her?”
I wasn’t sure I could take further discussion of that question. “No. I mean, when you thought about whether or not you wanted to open yourself up, you know, to the chance that you could get really hurt, somehow, if you moved forward with her, what did you think? To yourself?”
He cocked an eyebrow at me. “Are you drunk?”
“No,” I snapped. “God. It’s a simple question.”
“Yeah, right. So simple I still don’t even know what you’re asking.” He flipped off the light over the sink, then wiped his hands on a dishtowel. “You want to know how I debated about whether or not to fall in love with her? Is that even close?”
“Forget it,” I said, pushing off the table. “I don’t even know what I’m trying to find out. I’ll see you in the morning.” I started toward the foyer, and as I got closer, I could see my keys laid out neatly on the table by the stairs, waiting for me. I slid them into my back pocket.
I was on the second step when Chris appeared in the kitchen doorway. “Remy.”
“If what you’re asking is how I debated whether or not to love her the answer is I didn’t. Not at all. It just happened. I didn’t ever question it; by the time I realized what was happening, it was already done.”
I stood there on the stairs, looking down at him. “I don’t get it,” I said.
“Any of it.”
He shrugged and flipped off the last kitchen light, then started up the stairs, brushing past me. “Don’t worry,” he said. “Someday, you will.”
He disappeared down the hall, and a minute later I heard him shut his door, his voice low as he made his required good-night-again-this-time-by-phone call to Jennifer Anne. I washed my face, brushed my teeth, and was on my way to bed when I stopped by the half-open door of the lizard room.
Most of the cages were dark. The lights for the lizards were kept on timers, which clicked them on and off at just the right cycles to make the lizards believe, I supposed, that they were still sunning themselves on desert rocks instead of sitting in a cage in a converted linen closet. But at the far end of the room, on a middle shelf, one light was on.
It was a glass cage, and the floor of it was covered in sand. There were sticks crisscrossing it, and at the top of one stick were two lizards. As I came closer, I saw that they were entwined-not in a mating, nature-takes-its-course kind of way, but almost tenderly, if that was even possible, like they were holding each other. They both had their eyes closed, and I could see the pattern of their ribs, revealed and hidden with each breath they took.
I kneeled down in front of the cage, pressing my index finger against the glass. The lizard on the top opened his eyes and looked at me, unflinching, his pupil widening slightly as he focused on my finger.
I knew this meant nothing. They were just lizards, cold-blooded and probably no smarter than the average earthworm. But there was something so human about them, and for a minute all the things that had happened in the last few weeks blurred past in my mind: Dexter and I breaking up, my mother’s worried face, Don’s finger pointing at me, all the way up to Chris shaking his head, unable to put into words what seemed to me, at least, the most simple of concepts. And all of it came down to one thing: love, or the lack of it. The chances we take, knowing no better, to fall or to stand back and hold ourselves in, protecting our hearts with the tightest of grips.
I looked back at the lizard in front of me, wondering if I had finally gone completely crazy. He returned my gaze, now having decided I was not a threat, and then slowly closed his eyes again. I leaned in closer, still watching, but already the light was dimming as the timer kicked in, and before I knew it, everything was dark.
“Remy, sugar? Come here for a minute, will you?”
I got up from behind the reception desk, putting down the stack of body lotion invoices I’d been counting, and walked back into the manicure/pedicure room, where Amanda, our best nail girl, was wiping down her work space. Behind her was Lola, patting her scissors into her open palm.
“What’s going on?” I asked, already suspicious.
“Just sit down,” Amanda told me, and the next thing I knew I was sitting: Talinga had snuck up behind me and pressed down on my shoulders, whipping a hair cape around me and snapping it at the neck before I even knew what was happening.
“Wait a second,” I said as Amanda grabbed my hands and planted them, quick as lightning, onto the table between us. She spread out my fingers and started filing my nails with quick, aggressive jerks of an emory board, biting her lip as she did so.
“Just a quick makeover,” Lola said smoothly, coming up behind me and lifting up my hair. “A little manicure, a little trim, a little makeup-”
“No way,” I said, pulling free from her grip. “You are not touching my hair.”
“Just a trim!” she replied, yanking me back into place. “Ungrateful girl, most women would pay big money for this. And you get it for free!”
“I bet not,” I grumbled, and they all laughed. “What’s the catch?”
“Keep your hands still or I’ll cut more than this cuticle,” Amanda warned me.
“No catch,” Lola said breezily, and I braced myself as I heard snipping behind me. God, she was cutting my hair. “A bonus.”
I looked at Talinga, who was testing lipsticks on the back of her hand, glancing at me every so often as she gauged my colors. “Bonus?”
“A plus. A gift!” Lola laughed one of her big laughs. “A special present for our Miss Remy.”
“A gift,” I repeated, warily. “What is it?”
“Guess,” Amanda said, smiling at me as she started applying smooth streaks of red polish to my pinky nail.
“Is it bigger than a bread box?” I said.
“You wish!” Lola said, and they all started laughing hysterically, like this was the funniest thing ever.