Leaving Glen and Molly behind with a broken car was against Lexi’s common sense, but based on the way they both looked, it was the right thing to do. Besides, when had she ever been sensible anyway? She tucked an annoying strand of hair back behind her ear. Coquette buzzed along comfortably. They were running about seventy-five, based on the cars they were passing. The Alfa’s speedo wasn’t working, of course.
“Why the streaks?” Dobie asked.
“I’ll need more exposition before I can answer that, Mr. Cassarole.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“What are you talking about, silly? What streaks?”
“In your hair.”
“Oh, that. It’s not streaks, it’s a stripe. Note there’s only one of them. It’s too big to be a ‘streak.’ I think someone called it a ‘flash’ once too, but that just sounds foolish.”
“Are you avoiding my question?”
“No, just being garrulous. Jeez, did I eat a dictionary this morning or what? The white stripe in my hair is there because I want it there.”
He threw up his hands. “That much is obvious. What made you want it there?”
“I just decided one day that this is what I look like. It was a long time ago, too. Don’t you do that? Choosing your clothes and hair is all about deciding what you look like.”
“About what you should look like, you mean.”
“No, what I do look like. Outside interpretations of my appearance are not my bailiwick and I don’t factor them into fashion decisions if it can be helped. And I’m still using big words–what’s up with that?” Before he could ask another question, she turned the subject around on him. “How do you decide what you look like?”
“It depends on what I need to do, I suppose. I’ll admit to a measure of vanity–“
“No need to do anything that drastic. Molly said your suit cost as much as a Jeep Cherokee, and she can tell things like that by looking.”
“–but I don’t think it’s a bad thing to take pride in one’s appearance.”
“And that’s why you wear suits all the time?”
“Of course not. You’ve seen me in other things.”
“A cashmere cardigan might as well be a suit,” she said with a smile. “But you don’t have any clothes you’d be willing to get dirty in.”
“That’s just because I prefer to stay clean.”
“So does Molly. But she could still find something in her closet to wear to a pie fight.”
Dobie frowned. “What on earth is a pie fight?”
Lexi arched her eyebrow at him. “You cause me physical pain,” she said. “I’ll bet you don’t even own jeans.”
“So you don’t like me because my clothes are too nice?”
“When did this become about me liking you or not? And if I decide I don’t, it won’t be your clothes that do it, that’s for sure. If I even speak so shallowly, it’s because I’m lying.”
“Then I don’t understand the criticism. You don’t like that I take pride in my appearance?”
“No, Dobie, it’s not about what I do or don’t like. I’m trying to find out what you like. Remember my friend Nikki, the short one? She doesn’t own a pair of jeans, either. In fact I’ve never seen her wear pants. She likes her big floor-sweeper skirts and frilly fragile goth gear. And she dresses that way because it’s how she wants to look, regardless of what other people think is appropriate.”
“You’re talking about the girl with the pale face and the purple eye makeup.”
“There can be only one.”
“And you’re saying that when she goes out with all that paint on her face and black lipstick and a ring in her nose, that she just happens to look that way? I don’t buy it.”
“Nikki doesn’t have a nose ring. And I’m not saying it’s happenstance.” Lexi pursed her lips, thinking. “I’m saying she stops and thinks about what she wants to look like–how she pictures herself, and then she makes the person in the mirror match that. I try to do that too. I wondered if it was the same for you. I want to know what drives the decision to wear this suit or that one, and if rich bastards make the choices they do for the same reasons that gothgirls do.”
“Goth girls? Is that what you call yourselves?”
“No, it’s what I call Nikki, because it’s what she is. I’m more of a perky goth. All labels are of course applied in a non-pigeonholing manner–that is to say, Nikki can listen to Megadeth and buy Hello Kitty gear and still be a goth.”
It was Dobie’s turn to raise his brows. “This is fascinating. Do you ‘type’ all of your friends?”
“In a tongue-in-cheek way, sure. It’s just another way of giving them secret names. Don’t you do the same thing? Of course you do, in your own way, you class conscious son of a bitch, and if you say you don’t I’ll dare you to host a dinner party in your servants’ dining room. Don’t think I didn’t notice that the walls are painted a different color in the hallways they’re supposed to use.” She spoke cheerfully.
“So tell me more, then. Tell me how you see the world.”
“Couldn’t do that. I’d have to destroy you afterward.”
“So Molly is a perky goth also?”
“Hell damn shit fuck no. Molly’s unclassifiable, because to call her a preppy is to deny the weirdness in her soul, and yet she has no gothic aesthetic at all. I wouldn’t defy her basic Mollyness by calling her a goth. Dori’s a perkygoth, though. Her buddy Brian is a total rivethead, and our friend Liz hangs somewhere between goth and punk.” Lexi looked to see if Dobie was following her, then rubbed her nose, which was hot. The freeway was sparsely traveled, and she had slowed up a bit to stay with traffic and keep Coquette happy. Dobie looked positively delighted. “Who else did you meet?” she said, thinking aloud. “Andrew is a gamergoth. Cygnet’s a DJ–that’s a whole ‘nother fashion lesson, there–and Peach is the absolute model of a modern beatnik.”
“How about Glen?”
“He’s a gearhead who dresses like a preppy, which makes him what we call an Engineer.”
“And you’re not?”
“Of course I am. But we’re talking about fashion sense, and I don’t dress like an engineer. If you factor in attitudes and motivations it gets complex, ‘cuz in that case I’m a perkygoth tomboy gearhead alternacutie, as well as a basket case media junkie. And maybe some other stuff,” she added. She was making it all up as she went along, but Dobie didn’t seem to notice.
“I see. We should stick to fashion, then.”
“Yes, exactly. It’ll be better for both of us. I’m talking about true faces, or the faces we show to the world, in cases of other people whose minds I can’t read to know why they do what they do.”
“I see,” Dobie said again. “What do you say Victor is, then?”
“Bouncer slash crony.”
“You say that because of his clothes?”
“Yup. He wears suits that he can fight in, but they always complement yours.”
“Do they?” Dobie asked with a frown. “I never noticed.”
“If you had, people would question your sexuality. But anyway, that’s what I think. For all I know Victor’s a closet metalhead, but his clothes say bouncer. Or Mafia goon actually–a well-dressed subset of the Bouncer tribe.”
“You’ll have to draw me a flow chart some time.”
“Make your own,” she said cheerfully.
“What’s Joseph? An engineer?”
“More or less.”
“And Harold as well?”
“No, Harold’s more of an Uncle, because of the jeans and the haircut. I bet he’s been going to the same barbershop since Nixon was president. Roger’s an Uncle, too–you know, the one who took you fishing and pointed out the names of all the trees. Not that I ever had one of those.”
“Neither did I. What’s Lars?”
“Lars is a dork in a suit. He’s a dweeb who can afford to hire a tailor instead of shopping at Sears, but the clothes are more about masking who he feels like he is, than about making himself who he wants to be.”
“Aren’t those the same thing?”
“There’s a difference,” Lexi said. “I can’t explain it, I can just feel it.”
“You just don’t like Lars.”
“You think?” she said sarcastically.
“How about Judith?”
“Woo. She’s a dragon-lady. So’s Becka Packard. Judith is way nicer, but she’s still got those crazy twelve-diamond rings that can be used to make a down payment on a house, or to rip open the face of an insolent underling with a single bitchy backhhand.”
Dobie laughed harder than he had in days. “You’re more observant than I would ever have imagined.”
“So, the telling question: what am I?”
“I don’t know. That’s why I asked about your clothes in the first place, and why you chose them.”
“I choose my clothes for their elegance,” Dobie said. “But that doesn’t mean I refuse to get dirty.”
“I have yet to see you do it. I’ll put you in the GQ man tribe for now, ‘specially seeing as how you’ve been in that magazine.”
“And what is a GQ man like?”
“Tongue in cheek? I try not to stereotype people for real, for the record. GQ men don’t wear jeans, that’s for sure. They have manicures and pedicures, and Philippe Patek watches.”
“Patek Philippe,” he corrected her, turning his hand self-consciously so his sleeve would cover his watch.
“And they wear suits in the desert.”
“Now you’re just making fun of me. I think those are bold words coming from a woman who’s not even wearing a shirt,” he said.
“You’ll get no apologies from me for keeping cool. Besides, I look good,” she said, squaring her shoulders and presenting her red-white-and-black Lycra-wrapped chest.
“That you do. I must say, whatever you call your style, it works for you. I can’t say that it would for anyone else. I don’t mean this as an insult, but I’m usually not attracted to small-busted women.”
Lexi blinked a few times. “No good thing was ever communicated by a sentence that began, ‘I don’t mean this as an insult,’ you know.”
“Of course I’m offended! Congratulations, Dobie, I’m really hard to offend, but you’ve done it.”
“But I was just saying I find you attractive–“
“In spite of my tiny tits. Gee, I’m all aswoon. If Cygnet were here, she’d have popped you in the mouth. Oh, but wait, you’d like her better. Her boobs are bigger than mine.”
“I didn’t mean it that way. You’re not that small–“
She looked straight forward through the windshield. Her irritation was already fading to amusement at his unconscious crassness–or it would, if he’d just change the subject. “You need to shut up now, Dobie.”
“I just meant that it’s the way you carry yourself, you don’t need to be…built a certain way to get my attention.”
“You really need to shut up, Casserole.”
“And I find you very sexy.”
Lexi jerked the wheel suddenly, violently left to right and back again, four times. Coquette slewed from one side of the road to the other, fishtailing back and forth. She let the car whipsaw until the slide got lurid enough to put them nearly sideways at sixty miles per hour, then brought the Alfa back under control. It was so damn hard to spin an Alfa, she almost laughed. The little adventure shut Dobie up, at least. He had his feet braced against the floor, his hands gripping the door and the edge of his seat, and the subject was conclusively changed.
With a pleasant sigh, Lexi tucked her hair back behind her ear again.