She was smiling so happily, with this new conversion. As if somewhere high over the Southeast seaboard, she’d finally found the answer to the puzzle that had eluded her for so long. My mother always had ducked out of relationships when the going got tough, not wanting to dirty her hands with messy details. Maybe people could change.
“Oh, goodness, I just can’t wait to see him,” she said to me now, walking to the table and picking up her purse. “I think I’ll just run down to the dealership and bring him lunch. He loves it when I do that. Honey, if he calls, don’t let on, okay? I want it to be a surprise.”
“Okay,” I told her, and she blew me a kiss as she sailed out the door and across the lawn to her car. I had to admire it, that absolute kind of love that couldn’t even wait a couple of hours. I’d never felt that strongly about anyone. It was nice, this rushing need to say something to someone right this very second. Almost romantic, really. If you liked that sort of thing.
The next morning I was in line at Jump Java, half asleep and waiting for Lola’s morning mocha, when I saw the white Truth Squad van pull up outside, rattling to a stop in the fire lane. Ted hopped out and came into the store, pulling some wrinkled bills out of his pocket.
“Hey,” he said when he saw me.
“Hey,” I replied, pretending to be engrossed in a story on redistricting on the front page of the local newspaper.
The line for coffee was long, and full of cranky people who wanted their drinks made with such intricate specifics that it gave me a headache just listening to the orders. Scarlett was working the espresso machine, trying to keep up with a slew of nonfat, soy-milk double-tall requests with a sour look on her face.
Ted was a bit behind me in line, but then the guy between us, disgusted by the wait, walked out. Which left us next to each other, so we had no choice but to talk to each other.
“So Lucas told me you guys have a meeting with Rubber Records,” I said.
“Yup. Tonight, in D.C. We’re leaving in an hour.”
“Really,” I said as we slowly crept forward about an inch in the line.
“Yeah. They want us to play for them, you know, in the office. And then maybe at this showcase on Thursday, if they can get us a spot. Then, if they like us, it might get us something permanent up there.”
He shrugged. “It is if they like our stuff. But they’re pushing for some stupid covers instead, which, you know, totally goes against our integrity as a band.”
“Oh,” I said.
“I mean, the other guys, they’d do freaking anything for a contract, but, you know, to me it’s about more than that. It’s about music, man. Art. Personal expression. Not a bunch of corporate, upper-management bullshit.”
A businessman holding the Wall Street Journal glanced back at us, but Ted just looked at him, indignant, until he faced forward again.
“So you’re doing ‘The Potato Opus’?” I asked.
“I think we should. That’s what I’ve been pushing all along. Like us for our original stuff, or not at all. But you know Lucas. He’s never been behind the potato stuff at all. He’s so freaking lowbrow, it’s ridiculous: I mean, he was in a hair-metal band. What the hell does he know about real music?”
I wasn’t sure what to say to this.
“And then there’s John Miller, who’d play anything as long as he doesn’t have to go back to school and push paper in his daddy’s company some day. Which leaves us with Dexter, and you know how he is.”
I was startled, slightly, at this. “How he is?” I repeated.
Ted rolled his eyes. “Mr. Positive. Mr. Everything’s-Gonna-Be-All-Right-I-Swear. If we left it up to him, we’d just go up there with no game plan, no set of demands, and just see how it goes.” He flipped his hand in a loose, silly way, punctuating this. “God! No plan, no worries whatsoever. Ever! I hate people like that. You know what I’m talking about.”
I took in a breath, wondering how to respond to this. It was the same thing I’d always been so annoyed with about Dexter, as well, but coming from Ted it sounded so small-minded, and negative. He was so opinionated, so sure he knew everything. God. I mean, sure, maybe Dexter didn’t think things through quite enough, but at least you could stand to-
“Next!” Scarlett yelled. I was at the front of the line. I stepped up and told her I wanted Lola’s regular, then moved aside so Ted could get his extra-large, black coffee, no lid.
“Well,” I said, as he paid, “good luck this week.”
“Yeah,” he replied. “Thanks.”
We walked out together, him to the van, me starting down to Joie, where I was ticking down my last days as receptionist ex traordinaire. It was August 20, and I was leaving for school in three weeks. If we’d stayed together, I’d always assumed it would be me leaving Dexter behind. But now, I saw, it might have been me staying here, watching him go. Funny all the ways things could work out. But this was better, totally. Of course it was.
With Dexter gone for a full week, I didn’t have to worry about chance encounters or awkward moments. It made life so much easier, and inspired me to really get things done, as if him being in my same area code was enough to affect my sense of equilibrium.
First, I cleaned. Everything. I detailed my car, Armor All-ing every inch of it, and had my oil changed. I shampooed the interior, realphabetized my CDs, and, yes, cleaned the windows and windshield from the inside. This inspired me so much I tackled my room, stuffing four garbage bags with my closet discards for the thrift shop before hitting the clearance rack at the Gap, to stock up on new, college-me clothes. I was so industrious I shocked myself.
How had I gotten so disorganized? Once, keeping the vacuum cleaner lines even on my bedroom carpet was second nature. Now, struck with this sudden fervor, I found mud tracks in my closet, spilled mascara in my cosmetic drawer, one mismatched shoe-one!-stuffed far underneath my bed. It made me wonder if I’d been in some sort of fugue state. Restoring order to my personal universe suddenly seemed imperative, as I refolded my T-shirts, stuffed the toes of my shoes with tissue paper, and arranged all the bills in my secret stash box facing the same way, instead of tossed in sloppy and wild, as if by my evil twin.
All week, I kept making lists and crossing things off them, ending each day with a sense of great accomplishment eclipsed only by complete and total exhaustion. This, I told myself, was exactly what I’d wanted: a clean exit, smooth and effortless, every t crossed and i dotted. There were only a few more loose ends, a couple of items to deal with. But I already had a game plan set, the steps numbered and outlined clearly, and there was still plenty of time.