Thankfully, outside the house it was much quieter. I could hear only the ocean and various neighborhood sounds—kids yelling, an occasional car radio, someone's TV blaring out a back door—as I walked down the street to where the neighborhood ended and the business district began.
There was a narrow boardwalk, lined with various shops: a smoothie place, one of those beach-crap joints that sells cheap towels and shell clocks, a pizzeria. About halfway down, I passed a small boutique called Clementine's, which had a bright orange awning. Taped to the front door was a piece of paper which read, in big block print, IT'S A GIRL! THISBE CAROLINE WEST, BORN JUNE 1, 6 LBS, 15 OZ. So this was Heidi's store, I thought. There were racks of T-shirts and jeans, a makeup and body lotion section, and a dark-haired girl in a pink dress examining her fingernails behind the register, a cell phone clamped to her ear.
Up ahead, I could see what had to be the burger joint my dad mentioned— LAST CHANCE CAFÉ, BEST O RINGS ON THE BEACH!, said the sign. Just before it, there was one last store, a bike shop. A bunch of guys around my age were gathered on a battered wooden bench outside, talking and watching people pass by. "The thing is," one of them, who was stocky and sporting shorts and a chain wallet said, "the name has to have punch. Energy, you know?"
"It's more important that it be clever," another, who was taller and thinner with curly hair, a little dorky-looking, said. "Which is why you should go with my choice, The Crankshaft. It's perfect."
"It sounds like a car shop, not a bike place," the short guy told him. "Bikes have cranks," his friend pointed out.
"And cars have shafts."
"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.