Molly went downstairs and made herself a late-evening snack; vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce and strawberries. It was way too much food for this time of night, and she hadn’t worked out all week on account of not being able to go to the gym, and–fuck it, she was having a bad month. She’d earned a goddamn midnight sundae.
All the while she kept an eye on the time, though. It was before ten-thirty, she still had time to call him, if she wanted to. It was just a matter of deciding if she really, really wanted to. Maybe she should call Katharine instead, and talk to her about him. The only trouble with that was, Katharine had already heard plenty about Glen too, almost as much as Lexi had, and since Katharine was already married and so traditional about such things as to be annoying, she was looking at Glen as marriage material and hadn’t even met the guy yet. Hardly an objective observer, was Katharine.
By the time the ice cream was gone, she decided that she was arguing over nothing, and called him. She wanted to be his friend, even if nothing beyond that happened, and that was all this was. A friendly phone call.
He sounded surprised when he answered the phone, like he often did, and Molly wondered (as she had before) if anyone else ever called him. “Hi, Glen,” she said. “I just called to say hello. Can you chat?”
“Oh–sure.” There was the sound of metal objects being moved around.
“What’re you doing?”
“Car stuff,” he said.
“In your house?”
“Why not? It’s too cold to work outside. Besides, plenty of small parts can be cleaned in the dishwasher.”
Molly was horrified. “You’re putting car parts in the dishwasher? Jesus, Glen!”
She could hear him grinning. “Why not? It gets the dirt and dust off better than I could. The only problem is brake dust–it sticks to the walls of the dishwasher, instead of rinsing off. But everything else comes off great.”
“Remind me never to eat at your house,” she said.
“You can bring your own dishes. How are things?”
“Good. It’s winter, it’s freezing, and the tennis courts are closed so I sit home and read.” The actual reason she couldn’t play tennis didn’t bear mentioning. “How about you?”
He chuckled. “About the same. Not much fun driving old cars in the winter. I generally stick to the new cars. Generally. Have you talked to Lexi about the Road Associates? Is she happy?”
“She’s excited to pieces about it, silly! If there’s one thing Lex enjoys, it’s belonging to secret societies. Especially when she doesn’t have to make them up. Does everyone like her okay?”
“Well, if I knew someone had a secret they weren’t willing to tell her, I certainly wouldn’t tell it to you.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” she demanded playfully.
“It’s not hard to see that anything anyone says to one of you goes right to the other. I’ve seen you two in operation.”
“You have seen exactly nothing.” Molly held the phone with her shoulder so she could wash the dishes. “You haven’t even gotten the full tour yet.”
“Oh? And when do I get that?”
“I don’t know.” Her voice was full of sudden mirth. “Do you think you’re ready for what you might see?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Glen said gruffly, playing along with a cowboy accent. “I reckon as I certainly could.”
“Well, I can’t show you over the phone. You’ll just have to wait.”
“When will you be in Michigan again? Hey, that rhymes.”
Had he just asked her that? She couldn’t believe he’d brought it up. Maybe there was hope after all. “I don’t know. Why?”
“It’s a surprise.” It had been on the tip of his tongue to ask if she was interested in going to the Chicago Auto Show, but then he realized she probably wasn’t. Of course, there were many things they could do in Chicago together. He knew the city pretty well, and whether she did or not, it would be fun to show her the little quiet corners he’d found. Then again, it was a bit presumptuous to assume she’d want to go off alone with him. She flirted with him a lot, but it didn’t necessarily mean anything, despite what Molly (and Lexi) had said. He could be wrong. They could both be wrong. Glen’s doubts raced around in a little spiral, and he ended up leaving it at that.
“So when are you publishing the article about Lexi?” Molly asked Glen after he got monosyllabic; she wasn’t sure what had gotten to him, but changed the subject since that was obviously what he wanted. Overriding the temptation to push him on whatever mystery thing bothered him was surprisingly easy.
Glen was more comfortable with this direction. “I don’t know exactly. You know it’s never a story of absolutes.”
“I haven’t done much magazine work, actually. I assumed it was more or less the same as doing a newspaper freelance piece.”
“Not really. The lead times are longer. You also get bumped a lot more frequently. I haven’t really even finished this piece yet, and when it is, it’s possible that they’ll kick it around for a year before they run it.” He sighed. “I’ve really been dragging my feet, to be honest. I should’ve finished it and gotten it out there right after she blew up the Crane-Packard in New York. The collective media eye was on her for a day or two there, and that would’ve been striking when the proverbial iron was hot.”
“Why didn’t you finish it?”
“I don’t know. It just didn’t feel done.”
“I know what that’s like.” Her sarcasm went unnoticed, or unremarked-upon anyway.
“Maybe if I knew more about Ren. I considered talking to some people who knew him, and getting their impressions of Lexi.”
“You can talk to me,” Molly offered, half-joking. “I knew him. And I’ve got plenty of impressions of Lexi. You should see my impression of her in a toy store.”
Glen chuckled. “Okay, then,” he said. He wanted to keep talking to Molly, but was afraid she’d veer into some other subject he didn’t feel comfortable discussing and then he’d have to snub her yet again. He was acutely aware that if he refused to chat with her enough times, she’d eventually lose interest in talking to him. And she was obsessed with things, it seemed, that just weren’t “safe” subjects. It was like she had a sixth sense for the soft spots and the secret places. Talking about Lexi and Ren was safe ground though, he figured. That way he could just sit and listen to her voice whose slightly nasal tone (very different from Jewel’s near-whisper) was starting to grow on him. “I already know what you think of Lexi, but can you tell me about how she and Ren were together? You’ve known her since you were kids. Did he change her at all, when they met?”
“He rebuilt her,” Molly said. “I guess that sounds bad, but it really wasn’t. He was like a catalyst for her. And I’ve heard people say that she did the same for him. Before they met, Lexi was…she wasn’t mousy, exactly, but she wasn’t all there, either. She had a very active internal life, and she went about her business quietly, if you can believe that.”
“I mean…shit, what do I mean?” Molly was at an uncharacteristic loss for words. She closed her eyes, shutting off her view of the kitchen, and just talked. “She had some of the same energy–and the same messed-up sense of style–that she does now, but it was measured out differently. Lexi was the sort of person, back then, who would move heaven and earth for her friends but wouldn’t lift a finger to save herself. She was willing to get into fights for her friends, would drive a thousand miles to help you move, or because you were crying over some jerk who dumped you, but she stuck with the abusive bastard she dated before Ren for almost three years, knowing he was a piece of monkeyshit the whole time. She would just shrug like it was her lot in life to be stuck with Darron, and she’d make do with what little bits of happiness she could find.
“When she met Ren, she changed. He unlocked her sense of self-worth, or something. No, he did more than that. I don’t know what he did. Oh, hell, you really had to see them together. It was almost frightening. You’re familiar with the concept of ‘breaking the fourth wall’ in theater and movies, right?”
Glen nodded. He caught himself doing that on the phone with Molly a lot; he’d start picturing the way she talked with her hands, and responded accordingly, forgetting that she couldn’t actually see him. “That’s when a character steps forward and addresses the audience, right?”
“Exactly. You don’t see it a lot these days, except in comedy, but it’s been done in drama, too. The characters who did it gave you a sense of being more powerful than the others, usually. Even in funny movies, when it happens now, if a character suddenly turns to the camera and winks, they’ve got this otherworldliness about them for a moment. Like they alone can see the cameras or the audience. Like they’re in on the great cosmic joke of existence. Have I lost you yet?”
“Lexi and Ren together were like that, but for real. If they were characters in a play, I could see both of them, at the same time and with no apparent cue, turning to the audience and just making faces at them. When you were around them, you could tell that they weren’t just in on the cosmic joke, they were making up new ones of their own.”
“Did Lexi stop helping others to help herself?”
“No. She just realized–finally!–that she could use her energy for herself as well as for everyone else. It’s not like she’s short of energy. I think Ren taught her that, on some subconscious level. They had their own language, I can barely tell you how they communicated. It was usually verbal, but it wasn’t always.”
“I’ve heard that they finished each other’s sentences.”
“I think I told you that. Yes, it’s true, and it was very irritating. But cute, at the same time.”
“Were you jealous?”
“Hm?” Molly was surprised. Not only did the line of questioning change suddenly, but the tone of Glen’s voice did also. She wasn’t sure he was aware of it, but he’d spoken more softly. Either he’d heard jealousy in her voice, or he was jealous of Lexi and Ren himself. “Plenty of people were,” she said. “But I wasn’t one of them. If a guy knew me that well, I think I’d be afraid of him.”
“I don’t know, I guess I’m a control freak. Since things didn’t work out with Rich, I just…I need a guy I don’t feel like I have to compete with, to out-perform financially or professionally or whatever, and if I was with someone who could read my mind, I’d feel like I was at a disadvantage. I think I’d go out of my way to trick him and hide things from him.”
“You’d be that self-destructive?”
“I think I might. My demure demeanor hides the soul of an utter and complete bitch.”
“I don’t think that’s true,” Glen said. “I think that men who are afraid of strong women write them off as ‘bitches,’ because they don’t want to admit to being weaker.”
Molly laughed. “Keep talking like that and you’ll make me want to get my hooks in you,” she said, deciding to risk being forward.
He seemed to take it as flirting, and didn’t back down. “That could be fun,” was his reply. “Do you fish for supper, or do you catch-and-release?”
“Depends on if you’re over the legal size limit, of course,” she responded quickly.