“Uh-oh,” Jess said darkly as we sat at Bendo. “I know that look.”
Chloe looked at her watch. “Well,” she said, “it is about that time. You leave in three weeks.”
“Oh no!” Lissa cried, finally catching on. “Not Paul. Not yet.”
I shrugged, sliding my beer in a circle on the table. “It makes sense,” I said. “The time I have left, I want to concentrate on being with my family. And you guys. There’s no point in dragging it out so there has to be some big airport scene with him.”
“Good point,” Chloe agreed. “He definitely hasn’t been of airport status.”
“But I like Paul,” Lissa said to me. “He’s so sweet.”
“He is,” I said. “But he’s also temporary. As I am for him.”
“And so, he joins the club,” Chloe said, holding up her beer. “To Paul.”
We drank, but even as I did so I flashed back to what Dexter had said to me in the parking lot of the Quik Zip, about how he’d end up no different from the guy before, or the guy after. And he wasn’t, really. Just a blip between Jerk Jonathan and Perfect Paul, one more summer boyfriend who was already fading from memory.
Or was he? Dexter had been on my mind. I knew it was because things had, in fact, ended badly, regardless of our efforts. He was one thing that didn’t get done as planned, and I couldn’t check him off the way I wanted to.
Paul, on the other hand, had been inching that way for the last few days. But honestly, I hadn’t really been in it from the get-go. It wasn’t his fault. Maybe I was just tapped out and needed a break instead of starting something new. But so often I’d felt like I was going through the motions, moving mechanically as we talked, or went to dinner, or hung out with his friends, or even made out in the darkness of his room or mine. Sometimes, when we weren’t together, I had trouble even picturing him clearly. It seemed, in light of this, the right time to end things neatly and totally.
“The boyfriend club,” Jess said now, leaning back in the booth. “God. How many guys has Remy dated?”
“A hundred,” Lissa said instantly, then shrank back when I looked at her. “I mean, I don’t know.”
“Fifty,” Chloe decided. “Not less than.”
They all looked at me. “I have no idea,” I said. “Why are we talking about this?”
“Because it’s topical. And now, as you are about to leave to spread your dating experience across not only this town but also the country -”
Jess laughed out loud.
“-it’s only fair that we run through a greatest hits, if you will, of your past just as you embark on your present.”
“Are you drunk?” I asked her.
“First!” she said, ignoring me. “Randall Baucom.”
“Oh, Randall,” Lissa sighed. “I loved him too.”
“That was sixth grade,” I pointed out. “God, how far back are we going?”
“Next,” Jess said, “seventh grade. Mitchell Loehmann, Thomas Gibbs, Elijah what’s-his-bucket…”
“The one with the jug head,” Lissa added. “What was his last name?”
“I never dated anybody with a jug head,” I said indignantly.
“Then we had the six months of Roger,” Chloe said, shaking her head. “Not a good time.”
“He was an asshole,” I agreed.
“Remember when he cheated on you with Jennifer Task and the whole school knew but you?” Lissa asked me.
“No,” I said darkly.
“Moving on,” Chloe sang out, “we get to ninth grade, and the triple whammy of Kel, Daniel, and Evan, as Remy methodically works her way through the offensive line of the soccer team.”
“Now, wait just a second,” I said, knowing I was getting defensive, but God, I had to stick up for myself sometime. “You’re making me sound like a total slut.”
Silence. Then they all burst out laughing.
“Not funny,” I grumbled. “I’ve changed.”
“We know you have,” Lissa said earnestly, patting my hand in her sweet way. “We’re just talking about the old days here.”
“Why don’t we talk about you guys, then?” I said. “How about Chloe and the fifty-odd people she’s dated?”
“I cheerfully claim every one of them,” she said, smiling at me. “God, Remy. What’s up with you? Lost your touch? Not proud of your conquests anymore?”
I just looked at her. “I’m fine,” I said.
The count continued, while I tried not to squirm. There were guys I didn’t remember-Anton, who’d worked selling vitamins at the mall-and guys I wished I didn’t, like Peter Scranton, who’d turned out to be not only a total jerk but also involved with a girl from a school in Fayetteville who’d made the two-hour trip to town specifically to kick my ass. That had been a fun weekend. And still the names kept coming.
“Brian Tisch,” Lissa said, folding down a finger. “He drove that blue Porsche.”
“Edward from Atlantic Beach,” Jess added. “The two-week required summer fling.”
Chloe took a deep breath, then said dramatically, one hand fluttering over her chest, “Dante.”
“Oh, man!” Jess said, snapping her fingers. “The exchange student. Remy goes international!”
“Which leads us,” Chloe said finally, “to Jonathan. And then Dexter. And now…”
“Paul,” Lissa said sadly, into her beer. “Perfect Paul.”
Who was now, as I watched, walking in the door of Bendo, pausing to get his ID checked. Then he saw me. And smiled. He started across the room, the same way Jonathan had, unaware of what was about to happen. I took a deep breath, telling myself that by now this should be second nature, like falling into the water and instantly knowing to swim. But instead I just sat there as he approached.
“Hey,” he said, sliding in beside me.
He took my hand, wrapping his fingers around mine, and suddenly I felt so tired. Another breakup. Another end. I hadn’t even taken the time to figure out how, exactly, he’d react, the kind of prep work that had always come naturally before.
“You need a beer?” he asked me. “Remy?”
“Look,” I said, and the words came on their own, no thought required. It was just process, cold and indifferent, like plugging numbers into an equation, and I could have been someone else, listening and watching this, for all I felt. “We need to talk.”