They sat down on the curb. I kept thinking we should roll down the window, say something to let them know we were there, but already it seemed too late to do so without repercussions.
“Truth be told, my good man,” John Miller said solemnly, turning his own disposable camera in his hands, “I am somber. And serious. And hurt.”
“My good man,” Dexter told him, leaning back on his palms and stretching his feet out in front of him, “I understand.”
“The woman I love will not have me.” John Miller squinted up at the sky. “She thinks I am not husband material, and, in her words, a bit immature. And today, in defiance of this proclamation, I quit my very easy job in which I made nine bucks an hour doing not very much at all.”
“There are other jobs, my squire,” Dexter said.
“And, on top of that,” John Miller continued, “the band will mostly likely be rejected by yet another record label because of the artistic integrity of Sir Ted, who will drive us all into retirement by stubbornly refusing to admit that his potato opuses are a bunch of crap.”
“Aye,” Dexter said, nodding. “It is true. Young Ted may, indeed, shoot us all in the foot.”
This was news to me, but not entirely surprising. Dexter had told me that Ted’s vehement insistence that they do no covers for a demo, ever, had worked against them in previous towns, with previous chances.
“But you, fine sir.” John Miller clapped Dexter on the shoulder, a bit unsteadily. “You have problems of your own.”
“This is true,” Dexter replied, nodding.
“The women,” John Miller sighed.
Dexter wiped a hand over his face, and glanced down the road. “The women. Indeed, dear squire, they perplex me as well.”
“Ah, the fair Remy,” John Miller said grandly, and I felt a flush run up my face. Lissa, in the front seat, put a hand to her mouth.
“The fair Remy,” Dexter repeated, “did not see me as a worthwhile risk.”
“I am, of course, a rogue. A rapscallion. A musician. I would bring her nothing but poverty, shame, and bruised shins from my flailing limbs. She is the better for our parting.”
John Miller pantomimed stabbing himself in the heart. “Cold words, my squire.”
“Huffah,” Dexter agreed.
“Huffah,” John Miller repeated. “Indeed.”
Then they just sat there, saying nothing for a moment. In the back of the Excursion, I could feel my heart beating. Watching him, I knew there was nothing I could do now to take any of it back. And I felt ashamed for hiding.
“What kind of money you got?” John Miller said suddenly, digging into his own pocket. “I think we need more beer.”
“I think,” Dexter said, pulling out a wad of bills and some change, which he promptly dropped on the ground, “that you’re right.”
Paul and Trey came out of the store then, and Paul yelled over at us, “Hey, Remy-was that diet you wanted or regular? I couldn’t remember.” He stuck his hand in the bag he was carrying and pulled out two bottles, one of each. “I got you both, but…”
Lissa put her hand on the window button to lower it, then glanced back at me, not knowing what she should do. But I just froze, my eyes on Dexter. He looked at Paul, slowly comprehending the situation, and then over at the truck, at us.
“Diet,” he said out loud, looking right at me, as if suddenly he could see me.
Paul looked over at him. “What’s that?”
Dexter cleared his throat. “She wants diet,” he said. “But not in a bottle, like that.”
“Hey man,” Paul said, smiling slightly, “what are you talking about?”
“Remy drinks Diet Coke,” Dexter told him, standing up. “But from the fountain drink thing. Extra large, lots of ice. Isn’t that right, Remy?”
“Remy,” Lissa said softly. “Should we-”
I opened up my door and was out, dropping to the ground-it was unbelievable how high up the Excursion was-before I even really knew what I was doing. I walked up to them. Paul was still smiling, confused, while Dexter just looked at me.
“Huffah,” he said, but this time John Miller didn’t chime in.
“This is fine,” I said to Paul, taking the drinks from him. “Thanks.”
Dexter was just staring at us and I could tell Paul was uneasy, wondering what was going on.
“No, it’s okay,” Dexter said suddenly, as if someone had asked him. “Not awkward at all. But we’d say if it was, right? Because that’s the deal. The friends deal.”
By now, Trey had started toward the truck, wisely knowing to keep out of this. John Miller walked into the Quik Zip. And then there were three.
Paul glanced at me and said, “Everything okay?”
“Everything,” Dexter told him, “is just fine. Fine.”
Paul was still watching me, waiting for verification. I said, “It’s fine. Just give me a minute, okay?”
“Sure.” He squeezed my arm-as Dexter watched, a pointed look on his face-then walked over to the truck, climbing in and shutting the door behind him.
Dexter looked at me. “You know,” he said, “you could have let me know you were there.”
I bit my lip, looking down at the Diet Coke. I lowered my voice, then said, “Are you okay?”
“Fine,” he said, too quickly, then snapped his fingers, all happy-go-lucky. “Absolutely-freaking-fantastic!” Then he looked at the truck again. “Man,” he said, shaking his head. “That thing has a freaking Spinnerbait sticker on it, for God’s sake. Better hurry, Remy, old Tucker and Bubba the third are probably getting impatient.”
“Why are you acting like this?”
Okay, so I knew why. This, in fact, was the standard post-breakup behavior, the way he should have been behaving all along. But since it was starting now, instead of then, I was thrown a bit.
“You were the one who said we should be friends,” I said.
He shrugged. “Oh, come on. You were just playing along with that, right?”
“No,” I said.
“This is all you,” he said, pointing one somewhat wobbly finger at my chest. “You don’t believe in love, so it just follows logic you wouldn’t believe in like, either. Or friendship. Or anything that might involve even the smallest personal risk.”