When Lori walks up Dex’s drive, she sees him kneeling by the steps to his porch, gouging an old basketball with a box cutter. The box cutter is dull and the hide of the ball is thick, so he isn’t cutting so much as he’s slashing. The ball is old, and the bright orange Lori remembers from high school games of Horse has dulled into a deep, graying brown. When Dex finally punctures it the ball spews dust in a wheeze that almost sounds asthmatic.
“The shit are you doing?” she sneers as she kicks her way up his walk, her heavy boots snapping against the concrete. Dex works his fingers inside the cut and holds the ball open as he flattens it.
“Time to retire the old fella,” he tells her, and when the ball is rendered a sad, flat carcass he lifts the lid of the city trash can and flings it inside like a Frisbee. Dex crosses himself facetiously and lowers his voice: “In nomine Patris, et Spiritus Sancti.”
“I think there’s more words to that,” Lori tells him.
“Well fuck it. I ain’t even Catholic.” Dex rubs his arms. He’s wearing a thin long sleeve tee, one he always wears. The seams at the shoulders are wearing out and each threadbare elbow has a thin, short rip at its apex. “Damn. It’s colder out here than I thought it’d be.”
“Yeah, I know, right?” Lori says, making her way up the steps. “Some dumbass might even try to tell you it’s January.”
“Yeah, yeah. Get yer ass inside.” Dex opens the door and lets her in before following.
Inside it’s substantially warmer, though not as warm as it might be in other people’s houses. Dex’s parents own the place but he lives here alone now, paying utilities and generally bumming off his folks while he builds his own funds. When his mother still lived here she kept it warm enough to bake bread, but Dex starts to sweat at 70 degrees. Luckily Lori’s always wearing her ugly gray and brown sweater, so it’s never an issue for her.
“I’m hungry,” Lori tells him.
“Well then go eat,” Dex says. They’ve already made plans to head out to The Nacho Shack, however, and Dex pulls on a sweater for the walk.
Lori snuffles her chilly nose and watches him while he’s turned away and she has the chance. With his black curly hair and his rounded face he’s pretty average looking, but there are moments or angles or something that Lori doesn’t have the words for where he’s so goddamn handsome that a warm trickle drips from her chest to her gut. She can only take these moments in quick bursts before her mind goes to her greasy hair and her horse teeth and the stomach that seems flat enough so long as she wears the ratty gray and brown sweater she always wears. When she thinks of those things she feels like she’s stolen something, and she has to stop before the embarrassment can make her face red.
Dex ruffles his hair and grabs his phone and wallet. He scratches at his shoulder, at a scar he got in high school. He’s so milquetoast that he mostly keeps the scar’s origin to himself. The few people he’s told who didn’t see him get it assumed he wass just making it up, trying to make himself seem less bland than he was.
A kid who grew up two doors down from Lori had taken to harassing her every chance he got. He’d follow her before, during, and after school, calling her a dyke and telling her he planned to kill her or rape her or both. Then one day Dex told him to back off. Dex had never met Lori but didn’t like how ugly things were getting between these two kids he passed in the hall. The guy had a box cutter and jammed it in Dex’s shoulder, then got shipped off to juvie. Lori heard from someone that he was dead now, beaten up in some prison upstate. Lori felt a little guilty over how relieved that news made her feel when she heard it.
Dex ruffs his hair again and checks himself in the mirror. “Will you hurry up, you pussy?” Lori groans. She really is hungry and this honestly is getting on her nerves a bit.
“Alright, alright,” and he grabs his keys and goes up to her, wrapping an arm around her shoulder and shaking her playfully. Then he looks down and pinches her nose. “You’re so cuuuuute!” he teases, a head taller than her, and she shoves him and punches him in the scarred shoulder.
“Oh, fuck you!” she snaps, and makes her way outside, smiling while also scowling. Dex follows her and locks the door. When he was pinching her nose there was a fleeting urge to kiss her forehead, because she’s almost like a little sister to him. Sometimes there are moments when the words are capitalized – KISS HER – and when those words grow in his mind, he sees her both again and for the first time. He sees her huge toothy smile, and the wide scattering of dark freckles on her dimpled cheeks, and the gray-blue eyes almost hidden behind messy bangs that aren’t quite brown and aren’t quite red. And in those times, with those words so huge in his head, she isn’t like a sister to him at all.
Friendship is a bond, but also, sometimes, a chain.
The Nacho Shack is down and around the block, so they walk, Lori’s baggy jeans scraping against themselves, Dex occasionally running his fingers through his hair in the cold wind. They’ll probably eat outside, warmed by fresh tacos and fueled by too much Cuban coffee. They’ll tease and kick each other, like they’ve done for nearly a decade, and they’ll ignore fleeting wishes that will pass between their ears. They walk, neither arm-in-arm nor with outstretched hands. They are bound both together and apart by placid, steadfast familiarity.