“What is your problem?” Dexter shouted.
“My problem?” I snapped. I could feel my heart beating, thunk thunk thunk, in my chest. Who lurks around neighborhoods past midnight, sneaking up on people? “You scared the shit out of me.”
“No.” He walked up to me, shoes leaving a trail across the damp grass, until he was right in front of me. “At the club. When you just took off, no explanation? What was that all about, Remy?”
I had to take a moment to collect myself. And mourn for my Diet Zip, which I had refilled just minutes earlier. “You were busy,” I said, shrugging. “And I got tired of waiting.”
He stuck his hands in his pockets and looked at me for a second. “No,” he said. “That’s not it.”
I turned my back to him and dug out my keys, shaking them until I found the one that fit the front door. “It’s late,” I said. “I’m tired. I’m going inside to go to bed.”
“Was it the song?” He stepped up even closer to me as I stuffed the key in the lock. “Is that why you freaked out and left?”
“I did not freak out,” I said flatly. “I just figured you had your hands full with that girl, and-”
“Oh, God,” he said. He stepped back, down the steps, and laughed. “Is that what this is about? You’re jealous?”
Okay. Those, as far as I was concerned, were fighting words. I turned around. “I don’t get jealous,” I told him.
“Oh, right. So you’re not human, then.”
“Remy, for God’s sake. All I know is that one minute I’m telling you I’ll be done in a second and the next you just vanish, and the last I see is you talking to some old boyfriend about meeting him later. Which was kind of surprising, considering we’re seeing each other. Or so I thought.”
There was so much erroneous information in this statement that it honestly took me a second to decide, outline style, what to address first. “You know,” I said finally, “I waited around, Ted said you were deep in negotiations with this girl, my friends were ready to leave. So I left.”
“Ted,” he repeated. “What else did Ted say?”
He reached up and pulled his hand through his hair, then let his hand drop to his side. “Okay, then. I guess everything’s fine.”
“Absolutely,” I said and turned around again, turning the key in the lock.
And then, just as I was about to push the door open, he said, “I heard you, you know.”
I stopped, pressing my palm against the wood of the door. I could see myself in the small square of glass there, and him reflected behind me. He was kicking at something in the grass with his toe, not looking at me.
“Heard me what?” I said.
“Talking to Scarlett.” Now he did look up, but I couldn’t turn around. “I wanted to tell you I’d be done in a minute and to wait, if you could. So I walked over, and I heard you. Talking about us.”
So that had been what had surprised Scarlett. I reached up and tucked my hair behind my ear.
“It’s nice to know where I stand, I guess,” he said. “Summer boyfriend and all. Set ending. No worries. A bit surprising, I have to admit. But maybe I should just admire your honesty.”
“Dexter,” I said.
“No, it’s okay. My mother did always say I’d make a lousy husband, so it’s good to get a second opinion. Plus I like knowing you don’t see us going anywhere. Takes the guesswork out of it.”
I turned around and looked at him. “What did you expect? That we’d stay together forever?”
“Are those the only options? Nothing or forever?” He lowered his voice. “God, Remy. Is that what you really believe?”
Maybe, I thought. Maybe it is.
“Look,” I told him, “honesty is good. I’m going away to college, you’ll be gone by the end of the summer, or maybe, after tonight, even sooner. Ted made it sound like you were leaving tomorrow.”
“Ted is an idiot!” he said. “Ted probably also told you I sleep with every girl we meet, didn’t he?”
I shrugged. “It doesn’t-”
“I knew it,” he said. “I knew there was some Ted factor involved in this. The Ted curve. What did he say?”
“It doesn’t matter.”
He sighed, loudly. “A year ago I got involved with the girl who booked bands for this club in Virginia Beach. It ended badly and-”
I held up my hand, stopping him. “I don’t care,” I told him. “I don’t. Let’s not do the true confessions thing, okay? Believe me, you don’t want to hear mine.”
He looked surprised at this, and for a second I realized he didn’t know me at all. Not at all.
“I do, though,” he said, and his voice was softer now, conciliatory, as if all this was fixable in some way. “That’s the difference. I’m not in this just for a week, or a month, Remy. I don’t work like that.”
A car drove by, slowing down as it passed. The guy behind the wheel was blatantly staring at us. It took all I had not to flip him the finger, but I resisted.
“What are you afraid of?” he asked, coming closer. “Is it that bad that you might actually really like me?”
“I’m not afraid,” I said. “That’s not it. It’s just simpler this way.”
“So you’re saying we should just decide now that this summer doesn’t mean anything? Just use each other and then when you go or I go it’s over, see you later?”
It sounded so bad when he said it that way. “I have worked all my life to get out of here scot-free,” I said. “I can’t take anything else with me.”
“This doesn’t have to be a burden,” he said. “Why do you want to make it one?”
“Because I know how things end, Dexter.” I lowered my voice. “I’ve seen what commitment leads to, and it isn’t pretty. Going in is the easy part. It’s the endings that suck.”
“Who do you think you’re talking to?” he said incredously. “My mother’s had six husbands. I’ve been related to half the country at one time or another.”
“It’s not a joke.” I shook my head. “This is how it has to be. I’m sorry.”
For a minute neither of us said anything. After so many years of only thinking these things, saying them out loud felt so strange, as if now they were officially real. My cold, hard heart exposed, finally, for what it truly was. Fair warning, I thought. I should have told you from the start. I will let you down.