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Deciphering the Code
Three days later, there has been no Zarita, no baseball, no dancing at the stadium. Edward is back to his old self, hunched over his laptop. Zelda is finding it hard to get through work, all these pointless exchanges of cash for beverages. Hot water poured over beans. The calendar ticks closer to the Fourth of July, and it tortures her to think of watching fireworks by herself.
She’s dawdling with the credit machine, straightening the roll of paper, when a customer bursts through the door, giving off the energy of a small parade. It’s Jackson.
“Hi Edward. Hey Courtney, could you be a doll and cover for Zelda while I take her for a walk?”
Courtney prepares to deliver her trademark death stare, but in the face of Jackson’s smile she is powerless.
“Thank you. Zelda?”
Zelda would also like to rebel, but she faces a different temptation: the chance to have a juicy argument with one of her betrayers. She circles the counter and pushes through the door. She is already at the far side of the courtyard when Jackson catches up with her.
“So here’s the thing. I’m trying to understand why you’re so angry.”
They pass a bakery called Sugar Butter Flour.
“Codes, Jackson. Codes! I just screwed you a month ago, and my best friend moves right in? Not cool!”
They turn past the Rock Bottom Brewery.
“Okay. I would get that, if we had something serious going on. I hate to remind you, but you screwing me was a case of mistaken Gigantes.”
El Burro, white adobe arches, a field of black tables.
“And what did you do,” says Zelda, “when you found out you were screwing the object of your best friend’s affections? You stopped. You followed The Code.”
Jackson pauses. “Ah. Good point.” They pass Gemcraft and Diamonds. He taps his forehead. “Okay. Think about this. The Code isn’t really about sex. It’s about feelings. I didn’t have feelings for you. And you didn’t have feelings for me, because I wasn’t the Gigante who wrote you the poem, who flirted with you at the stadium.”
Zelda stops in front of Marshall’s and pushes the heel of her hand against her temple. She speaks through gritted teeth. “No, I had feelings for you because every time you came to the café you lit up the fucking room.”
She keeps going, past Pacific Catch. Jackson pursues.
“Jesus. I’m sorry. But the thing is, all that time I had a thing for Zarita.”
Zelda raises her hands to the heavens. “Oh! This just gets better and better. So if you had a thing for Zarita, why the hell did you screw me?”
“Because you’re hot, and you were throwing yourself at me, and because I’m a chickenshit.”
“Zarita! She’s educated, she’s got this serious job. And I make my living in a fucking monkey suit. So instead of the girl I wanted, I went with the girl who wanted me.”
“You are such a man.”
They cross the parking lot of the Doubletree Hotel.
“Look,” says Jackson. “I thought you were happy doing the dance thing with Edward. I thought everything was clear now. Zarita didn’t want to go out with me, she was worried about you. But I talked her into it.”
They take a left and proceed along a wall of orange stucco.
“She really misses you. She’s embarrassed, and ashamed, and you’re the only one who can set this straight.”
“Oh!” says Zelda. “So you two throw shit all over me, and it’s up to me to clean up the mess. Isn’t that a fucking birthday party?”
Lisa’s Tea Treasures.
“Look,” says Jackson. “If I bought into all your ethical codes and standards, I would make it easy on everyone and just break up with her. Problem being, I care about her, and you two are the closest friends I know, and you belong together, and no one’s going to be happy until you give her a call and offer her the chance to grovel.”
They enter the courtyard.
“Besides,” says Jackson. “You’ve got Edward.”
Zelda stops at a map of the shopping center. “Oh, I see how this works. Zarita gets you, and I get the freak! I get the special case, the hobo who lives by the river because he’s so fucked up he can’t even live inside like normal people. I’m sorry, I don’t do losers, I don’t do mental cases. So take your friend Edward and kindly insert him up your ass!”
Zelda expects some sort of rebuttal, but Jackson is looking at a spot behind her, where Edward is standing next to his bike. He stares, expressionless, then turns and walks away.
“Edward!” Zelda calls, but it’s too late, he’s already past the corner. “Oh, Edward.”
A half-hour later, Zelda is making the rounds of the garbage bags, ready to end her shift and join Jackson at Boswell’s for a much-needed drink. She pulls a new bag around the rim and turns to find Edward, standing there with a shopping bag.
“Edward! Oh my god, I’m so sorry.”
“Well those… those things I said.”
Edward gives a wry smile. “Did you say anything that wasn’t true?”
“So you’re… you’re not mad?”
“Then why did you run off?”
“I was worried about you. And I couldn’t find any at Trader Joe’s, so I had to go across the street to the drug store.”
He hands her the bag. Inside is a box of Red Vines. Zelda drops them and gives Edward a hug.
“That’s the kind you like, right?”
Photo by MJV