She closed the book, placed it on the table, and finally, decided to walk through the door. She led us down the hall, away from the library's study room, and whispered, "What's up?"
"Where have you been?" I asked. "I've been calling you all week."
I was only eighteen, and my experience with breakups was limited. On one hand, I had my one-and-only personal breakup, which had consisted of me walking in on my girlfriend being groped by my oldest friend. On the other hand, I had movies and TV, in which such breakups were merely the prelude to the actual romance. On a third hand, I had the ongoing histrionics of my high-school friends, all of which were pretty stupid, and none of which plumbed the emotional depths I thought I'd had with the girl I'd once loved. The idea of a couple splitting up with minimal drama was one of those things I knew existed but had never witnessed--like a blue whale or a quark.
And yet I recognized that sigh.
"Oh, Bupkis," she said.
"My name is Max." If I was correct about where this conversation was going, she had given up all rights to affectionate nicknames.
"Don't ruin this."
"Ruin what?" I asked. "You're the one who's dumping me."
She flinched. "Bupkis..."
"I want to remember how much fun we had together," she replied, "not how it ended."
"Why does it have to end?"
"For starters, you're a freshman, and I'm not."
"We have different priorities."
"I don't have any priorities."
"There's that," she said. "And the fact that I'm going to grad school next year."
"We could do long distance."
"Really?" She closed her eyes. "Are you really thinking that far ahead with someone you've only been sleeping with for three weeks."
"But we're so good together!"
"Which is why we need to wrap this up," she told me. "Before it gets complicated."
"But complicated is good, right?"
She averted her eyes. "Not for me it isn't."
"I don't get you," I mumbled.
"There's that too."
Neither of us looked at each other or said anything for a long time, until she concluded, "Look, I have a final tomorrow. Can we talk about this later?"
"Do you really want to talk about this later?"
She shook her head.
I then uttered what was probably the smartest thing I'd said since the moment I'd walked into the building. "Then don't worry about it."
My mind, stalled and adrift, ceded control of my body to my feet, which shuffled me through the exit doors of the library and to a bench just outside. The December chill tried to remind me that I'd forgotten my jacket, but I wasn't paying attention.
If the loss of my high-school sweetheart was the back story to my personal narrative, then what was I to the woman I just walked away from? Just another chapter? Was that what she was to me?
In the midst of this identity crisis, I barely noticed the figure who appeared beside me. "Can I sit here?"
My new neighbor settled down with a peripheral rustle of wool and a whiff of cigarette smoke. "Aren't you cold?"
I shrugged, turned to the owner of the voice, and blinked at a pair of sharp eyes, a set of smiling lips, and a hint of soft curves that squirmed at the touch of the frozen concrete slab we shared.
You know, you can cram a lot of chapters into a novel.
"Hi," I said to her. "I'm Max."