Chloe rolled her eyes and headed into the store. Lissa slid off the hood, shaking her own cup. “Refill time,” she said. “You?”
I handed over my drink, and she followed Chloe in, one in each hand. Jess came over and sat on the bumper, smiling to herself. “I love it that she owes me,” she said, watching as Chloe fixed the drinks, with Lissa chattering away beside her. From the way Chloe kept glancing at her, her mouth dropping open, aghast, I knew she was getting the full story about my mother and Don. So I filled Jess in, getting much of the same reaction, and by the time they returned and we all had our drinks, everyone was more or less on the same page.
“Asshole,” Chloe said decisively, taking a sip of her drink. Then she made a face, coughed, and said, “Yuck. This is regular Coke.”
“Thank God,” Jess said as they traded, both of them wincing now. “Because this stuff I’m drinking tastes like shit.”
“So let me get this straight,” Chloe said, ignoring this. “Patty sent the picture to your mom?”
“Yep,” I replied.
“But she got the pictures developed at Flash Camera.”
Chloe swallowed, considering this. “And Dexter knew it was her, and what the implications were, so he showed it to you to get you back for dumping him.”
There was a moment of silence, during which all I could hear was the sloshing of ice, creaking of straws, and a few doubtful murmurings. Finally Jess said, “I’m not getting the logic of that, exactly.”
“Me neither, now that I think about it,” Lissa agreed.
“There is no logic,” I said. “He was just being a jerk. He knew it was the one way he could really hurt me, so he did it, just when I’d tried to make amends and had my guard down.”
“What?” I said, irritated.
“I think,” Chloe began tentatively, “that there’s really no proof that he even knew that you knew her.”
“Wrong. He met her at my mother’s cookout. And she was at Toyotafaire too.”
“Not naked,” Lissa pointed out.
“What does that have to do with it? Naked or not she still had the same face.”
“But,” Chloe said, “how could he have known it was Don that took the picture? Or even that it was in your mom’s room? I mean, I haven’t even been in there. Has he?”
Now, I was the quiet one, as this logic-if it was even that-suddenly began to click together in my head. I’d just assumed, in my shock, that Dexter had seen my mother’s bedroom, and especially that ugly biblical tapestry. But had he? For all he knew, it was just a picture of a woman who worked for my stepfather getting her kicks taking nudie lingerie pictures in someone’s bedroom. Anyone’s bedroom.
“I’m all for you being pissed at Dexter,” Chloe said, tapping her nails on the hood of the car. “But it should be for a good reason. Face it, Remy Starr. You’re in the wrong here.”
And I was. I’d been so ready to blame Dexter for everything, from my mother’s marriage dissolving to making me trust him in a way I hadn’t anyone else in a long time. But none of it was his fault.
“Oh, my God,” I said softly. “What now?”
“Go find him and apologize,” Lissa said decisively.
“Admit it was a mistake, don’t find him, move on,” Chloe countered.
I looked at Jess, but she just shrugged and said, “I have no idea. It’s all you.”
I’d yelled at him. Told him to fuck off, thrown the picture at him, and stalked out even as he was trying to explain. I’d dumped him because he’d wanted more from me than to be a faceless, smelling-of-sunshine-and-chlorine summer boyfriend, made to order.
So what had changed? Nothing. Even if I did go to him, we’d already be too late, no time left to make a foundation before we were flung to opposite coasts, and everyone knew that kind of relationship never worked.
It was just like my mother said. Everything, in the end, comes down to timing. One second, one minute, one hour, could make all the difference. So much hanging on just these things, tiny increments that together build a life. Like words build a story, and what had Ted said? One word can change the entire world.
Hey, Dexter had said that first day he sat down beside me. That was one word. If I’d talked one minute longer with Don in the office, Dexter might already have been called away and gone when I came out. If my mother and I waited maybe another hour, Don might not have been at the dealership the day we went shopping for her new car. And if Jennifer Anne hadn’t needed that oil change on that particular day of that particular week, maybe she wouldn’t have ever looked over a Jiffy Lube counter and seen Chris at all. But something, somehow, had made all these paths converge. You couldn’t find it on a checklist, or work it into the equation. It just happened.
“Oh, man,” Jess said suddenly, tugging at the cuff of my jeans. “Check this out.”
I looked up, my mind still reeling. It was Don. He was driving a shiny, brand-new dealer-tagged Land Cruiser, which he parked on the other side of the Quik Zip. He didn’t see us as he got out, hitting the remote door lock, and went inside, smoothing a hand over the thinning hair on the back of his head as he did so.
“God,” I said. “Talk about timing.”
“What?” Lissa whispered.
“Nothing.” We all watched as he moved down the aisle of the Quik Zip, picking up a bottle of aspirin and a bag of potato chips, which, I figured, was the chosen meal of adulterers. Even when he was checking out he didn’t look at us, glancing instead at the headlines of the newspapers stacked by the register. Then he walked out, fiddling with the lid of the aspirin, and got back into his car.
“Asshole,” Chloe said.
It was true. He’d hurt my mother badly, and there wasn’t much I could do to make her feel better. Except maybe one thing.
Don started the car and headed toward us. I lifted up my Diet Zip, feeling the weight in my hands.
“Oh, yes,” Lissa whispered.
“On three,” Jess said.
He didn’t see us until he was right next to Lissa’s car, and by then I’d already put my whole arm into it, my cup sailing through the air and smacking right against the windshield, exploding soda all over the shiny hood. He hit the brakes, swerving slightly, as two other cups crashed against the back door and sunroof, respectively. But it was Lissa’s, surprisingly, that had the best hit. It nailed his half-open window perfectly, the lid breaking off on impact, sending a wave of ice and 7UP smack in his face and down his shirt. He slowed down but didn’t stop, the cups sailing off as he jerked into traffic, the car leaving a wet trail as it drove away from us.