“So do mines,” the skinny guy said. “You want to call it the Mine Shaft now?” “No,” his friend said as the other two laughed. “I’m just making the point that the context doesn’t have to be exclusive.”
“Who cares about context?” The short guy sighed. “What we need is a name that jumps out and sells product. Like, say, Zoom Bikes. Or Redline Bikes.”
“How do you redline on a bike?” another guy, who had his back to me, asked. “That’s stupid.”
“It is not,” the guy with the wallet muttered. “Besides, I don’t see you offering up any suggestions.”
I stepped away from Clementine’s and starting walking again. Just as I did, the third guy suddenly turned, and our eyes met. He had dark hair, cut short, incredibly tanned skin and a broad, confident smile, which he now flashed at me. “How about,” he said slowly, his gaze still locked with mine, “I just saw the hottest girl in Colby walking by?”
“Oh, Jesus,” the dorky one said shaking his head, as the other one laughed out loud. “You’re pathetic.”
I felt my face flush, hot, even as I ignored him and kept walking. I could feel him looking at me, still smiling, as I put more and more distance between us. “Just stating the obvious,” he called out, just as I was about out of earshot. “You could say thank you, you know.”
But I didn’t. I didn’t say anything, if only because I had no idea how to respond to such an overture. If my experience with friends was sparse, what I knew about boys—other than as competitors for grades or class rank—was nonexistent.
Not that I hadn’t had crushes. Back at Jackson, there was a guy in my science class, hopeless at equations, who always made my palms sweat whenever we got paired for experiments. And at Perkins Day, I’d awkwardly flirted with Nate Cross, who sat next to me in calculus, but everyone was in love with Nate, so that hardly made me special. It wasn’t until Kiffney-Brown, when I met Jason Talbot, that I really thought I might actually have one of those boyfriend kind of stories to tell the next time I got together with my old friends. Jason was smart, good-looking, and seriously on the rebound after his girlfriend at Jackson dumped him for, in his words, “a juvenile delinquent welder with a tattoo.” Because of Kiffney-Brown’s small seminar size, we spent a fair amount of time together, battling it out for valedictorian, and when he’d asked me to prom I’d been more excited than I ever would have admitted. Until he backed out, citing the “great opportunity” of the ecology conference. “I knew you’d be okay with this,” he’d said to me as I nodded, dumbly, hearing this news. “You understand what’s really important.”
Okay, so it wasn’t like he called me beautiful. But it was a compliment, in its own way.
It was crowded at Last Chance Café, with a line of people waiting to be seated and two cooks visible through a small kitchen window, racing around as orders piled up on the spindle in front of them. I gave my order to a dark-haired, pretty girl with a lip ring, then took a seat by the window to wait for it. Glancing down the boardwalk, I could see the guys still gathered around the bench: the one who’d talked to me was now sitting down, his arms stretched behind his head, laughing as his short, stocky friend rode a bike back and forth in front of him, doing little hops here and there.