“Tell me what’s going on,” I said sternly, “or I’m out of here. Don’t think I won’t do it.”
They were still tittering, trying to control themselves. Finally Talinga took a deep breath and said, “Remy, honey. We found you a man. ”
“A man?” I said. “God. I thought maybe I was getting some free cosmetics or something. Something I need. ”
“You need a man,” Amanda said, moving to my next nail.
“No,” Talinga said, “ I need a man. Remy needs a boy.”
“A nice boy,” Lola corrected her. “And today is your lucky day, because we happen to have one for you.”
“Forget it,” I said as Talinga bent down next to me, poking at my face with a makeup brush. “Is this the one you tried to set me up with before? The bilingual one with nice hands?”
“He’ll be here at six,” Lola went on, ignoring me completely. “His name is Paul, he’s nineteen, and he thinks he’s coming to pick up some samples for his mother. But instead he’ll see you, with your beautiful hair-”
“And makeup,” Talinga added.
“And nails,” Amanda said, “if you stop wiggling around, goddammit.”
“-and be completely smitten,” Lola finished. Then she did two more small snips and ran a hand through my hair, checking her work. “God, you had some split ends. Disgraceful!”
“What in the world,” I said slowly, “makes you think I’ll go through with this?”
“Because he’s good-looking,” Talinga said.
“Because you should,” Amanda added.
“Because,” Lola said, whisking the cape off me, “you can.”
I had to admit they were right. Paul was good-looking. He was also funny, pronounced my name right, had a firm handshake-and, okay, nice hands-and seemed to be a good sport about the fact that it was such an obvious setup, exchanging a wary expression with me when Lola “just happened” to have a gift certificate from my favorite Mexican place that she was suddenly sure she’d never use.
“Do you get the feeling,” Paul asked me, “that this is out of our control?”
“I do,” I agreed. “But it is a free dinner.”
“Yes,” he said. “Good point. But really, don’t feel obligated.”
“You either,” I told him.
We stood there for a second while Lola and Talinga and Amanda, in the next room, were so quiet I could hear someone’s stomach growling.
“Let’s just go,” I said. “Make their day and all.”
“Okay.” He smiled at me. “I’ll pick you up at seven?”
I wrote down my address on the back of a Joie business card, then watched as he walked out to his car. He was cute, and I was single. It had been almost three weeks since Dexter and I had split, and not only was I dealing with it, we’d almost finessed the impossible: a friendship. And here was this nice guy, an opportunity. Why wouldn’t I take it?
One possible answer to this question appeared as I was walking out to my car, digging in my purse for my keys and sunglasses. I wasn’t looking where I was going, much less around me, and didn’t even see Dexter come out of Flash Camera and cross the parking lot until I heard a loud clicking noise and looked up to see him standing there, holding a disposable wedding camera.
“Hey,” he said, winding the film with one finger. Then he put the camera back up to his eye and bent back a bit, getting me from another angle. “Wow, you look great. Got a hot date or something?”
I hesitated, and he took the picture. Click. “Well, actually…” I said.
For a second, he didn’t move, not winding the film or anything, just looking at me still through the viewfinder. Then he took the camera away from his eye, then smacked his forehead with one hand and said, “Ouch. Oh, man. Awkward moment time. Sorry.”
“It’s just a setup,” I said quickly. “Lola did it.”
“You don’t have to explain,” he said, winding the film, click-click-click. “You know that.”
And then it happened. One of those too-long-to-just-be-a-regular-pause-in-conversation pauses, and I said, “Okay. Well.”
“Oh, man, awkward. Double awkward,” he said. Then shrugged his shoulders briskly, as if shaking this off, and said, “It’s okay. It’s a challenge, after all, right? It’s not supposed to be easy.”
I looked down at my purse, realizing my keys, which I’d been digging for this whole time, were in fact in my back pocket. I pulled them out, glad to have some kind of task, however stupid, to focus on.
“So,” he said casually, pointing the camera over my head and taking a picture of Joie’s storefront, “who’s the guy?”
“No. I mean, this is what friends discuss, right? It’s just a question. Like asking about the weather.”
I considered this. We had known what we were getting into: eating ten bananas wasn’t easy either. “The son of a client here. I just met him twenty minutes ago.”
“Ah,” he said, rocking back on his heels. “Black Honda?”
“Right. Saw him.” He wound the film again. “Looked like a nice, upstanding guy.”
Upstanding, I thought to myself. As if he were running for student council president, or volunteering to help your grandmother across the street. “It’s just dinner,” I said as he snapped another picture, this one, inexplicably, of my feet. “What’s with the camera?”
“Defective shipment,” he explained. “Somebody at the main office left the box out in the sun, so they’re all warped. Management said we could have them, if we wanted them. Kind of like the tangerines, you know. Can’t turn down free stuff.”
“But will the pictures even come out?” I asked, noticing now, as I looked closer, that the camera itself was bent, warped, like the VCR tape I’d accidentally left on my dash the summer before. It didn’t look like you could even get the film out, much less develop it.
“Don’t know,” he said, taking another picture. “They might. Or they might not.”
“They won’t,” I said. “The film’s probably ruined from the heat.”
“Or maybe,” he said, holding the camera out at arm’s length and smiling big as he snapped a picture of himself, “it isn’t. Maybe it’s just fine. We won’t know until we develop it.”