I started at this, then realized he was talking about my corsage, which was now hanging kind of limply, as if it, too, had consumed a bit too much champagne. “Is Dexter around?”
Lucas pushed back his chair, which was on casters, and rolled a bit, sticking his head through a door in the back. “Dex!” he said.
“What?” Dexter yelled back.
Dexter came out, wiping his hands on his shirt, with an easygoing, can-I-help-you kind of smile. When he saw me it shifted, but just a bit. “Hey,” he said. “When’s the homecoming dance?”
“Weak,” Lucas mumbled, pushing himself back to the machine. “And late.”
Dexter ignored this, coming up to the counter. “So,” he said, picking up a stack of snapshots and shuffling them, “what can we do for you? Need some pictures developed? Perhaps an enlargement? We’re running a special on four-by-sixes today.”
“No,” I said, talking over the sound of the machine Lucas was working, as it made chunk-chunk noises, spitting out someone’s precious memories. “I just wanted to talk to you.”
“Okay.” He kept messing with the pictures, not really looking at me. “Talk.”
“How was D.C.?”
He shrugged. “Ted threw a fit, the whole artistic integrity thing. Stormed out. We managed to sweet-talk them into another meeting, but for now we’re stuck doing another wedding tonight while we’re left hanging. In the lurch. Happening a lot lately, it seems.”
I just stood there for a second, gathering my words. He was being kind of a jerk, I decided, but pressed on anyway. “So,” I said, “I’m leaving soon, and-”
“I know.” Now he looked at me. “Next week, right?”
I nodded. “And I just wanted to, you know, make peace with you.”
“Peace?” He put the pictures down. The one on top, I saw, was of a group of women posing around a quilt, all of them smiling. “Are we at war?”
“Well,” I said, “we didn’t exactly part well the other night. At the Quik Zip.”
“I was kind of drunk,” he admitted. “And, uh… maybe I wasn’t dealing with your Spinnerbait relationship quite as well as I might have.”
“The Spinnerbait relationship,” I said slowly, “has now been terminated.”
“Well. Can’t say I’m sorry about that. They are, like the biggest suckjob band, and their fans-”
“Okay, okay,” I said. “I know. Hate Spinnerbait.”
“Hate Spinnerbait!” Lucas mumbled.
“Look.” Dexter leaned across the counter at me, “I liked you, Remy. And maybe we couldn’t be friends. But, God, you sure didn’t waste any time, you know?”
“I never wanted it to be ugly,” I told him. “And I did want us to be friends. But it just never works. Never.”
He considered this. “Okay. I think you’re right. Maybe we’re both a bit at fault here. I wasn’t exactly honest when I said I could deal with us being friends. And you weren’t exactly honest when you said, you know, that you loved me.”
“What?” I said, a bit too loudly. It was the champagne. “I never said I loved you.”
“Maybe not in so many words,” he said, shuffling the pictures again. “But I think we both knew the truth.”
“No way,” I said, but I could feel it now, that loose end slowly winding up, closer and closer to tied tight.
“In five more days,” he decided, holding up his open hand, “you would have loved me.”
“Well, it is a challenge. Five days, and then-”
“Dexter,” I said.
“I’m kidding.” He put the pictures down, and smiled at me. “But we’ll never know, right? Could have happened.”
I smiled back. “Maybe.”
And there we had it. Closure. The last item of so many, eliminated from my list with a big, thick check mark. I could almost feel the weight of it lifting, the slow, steady feeling as all my planets aligned and everything, at least for now, was right with the world.
“Remy!” I heard someone yell from outside, and then turned around to see Amanda standing in the doorway to Joie, wearing a dye cap on her head and snapping her fingers. “You’re missing the dance party!” Behind her, Talinga and Lola were laughing.
“Wow,” Dexter said as Amanda continued her bump-and-grind, unaware of the elderly couple passing, carrying a bag of birdseed and eyeing her disapprovingly. “Looks like we work at the wrong place.”
“I should get back,” I said.
“Okay, but before you go, you should check these out.” He pulled out a drawer, then took out a stack of glossy prints, spreading them on the counter in front of me. “The last and best shots for our wall of shame. Just look.”
They were pretty bad. One was of a middle-aged guy posing bodybuilder style, flexing his muscles while his potbelly pooched over a very small Speedo bathing suit. Another featured two people standing on the bow of a ship: the man was grinning, loving it, while the woman was literally green, and you just knew the next picture featured vomit. Depravity and embarrassment was pretty much the theme of the collection, each one sillier or more disgusting than the last. I was so caught up reacting to a shot of what looked like a cat trying to mate with an iguana that I almost skimmed past a picture of a woman in her bra and panties, posing seductively, entirely.
“Oh, Dexter,” I said. “Honestly.”
“Hey.” He shrugged. “You do what you gotta do. Right?”
I was about to answer this when I suddenly realized something. I knew this woman. She was dark-haired, lower lip pouting seductively, sitting on the end of a bed with her hands on her hips so that her cleavage was enhanced, considerably. But even more importantly, I knew what was behind her: a large, ugly tapestry, depicting biblical scenes. Right over her head, to the left, was John the Baptist’s head being served on a plate.
“Oh, my God,” I said. It was my mother’s room. And this woman on the bed was Patty, Don’s secretary. I looked at the date stamp at the bottom of the picture: Aug 14. The previous weekend. When I’d been staying at Lissa’s and my mother was in Florida, deciding that everything was now going to be okay.
“Really something, huh?” Dexter asked me, peeking over the top of the picture. “I knew you’d like that one.”