The Last Time I Saw You: A Novel

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9781400068647: The Last Time I Saw You: A Novel
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From the beloved bestselling author of Home Safe and The Year of Pleasures, comes a wonderful new novel about women and men reconnecting with one another—and themselves—at their fortieth high school reunion.

To each of the men and women in The Last Time I Saw You, this reunion means something different—a last opportunity to say something long left unsaid, an escape from the bleaker realities of everyday life, a means to save a marriage on the rocks, or an opportunity to bond with a slightly estranged daughter, if only over what her mother should wear.

As the onetime classmates meet up over the course of a weekend, they discover things that will irrevocably affect the rest of their lives. For newly divorced Dorothy Shauman, the reunion brings with it the possibility of finally attracting the attention of the class heartthrob, Pete Decker. For the ever self-reliant, ever left-out Mary Alice Mayhew, it’s a chance to reexamine a painful past. For Lester Heseenpfeffer, a veterinarian and widower, it is the hope of talking shop with a fellow vet—or at least that’s what he tells himself. For Candy Armstrong, the class beauty, it’s the hope of finding friendship before it is too late.

As Dorothy, Mary Alice, Lester, Candy, and the other classmates converge for the reunion dinner, four decades melt away: Desires and personalities from their youth reemerge, and new discoveries are made. For so much has happened to them all. And so much can still happen.

In this beautiful novel, Elizabeth Berg deftly weaves together stories of roads taken and not taken, choices made and opportunities missed, and the possibilities of second chances.

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About the Author:

Elizabeth Berg is the author of many bestselling novels as well as two works of nonfiction. Open House was an Oprah’s Book Club selection, Durable Goods and Joy School were selected as ALA Best Books of the Year, and Talk Before Sleep was short-listed for an Abby Award. Her bestsellers also include The Year of Pleasures, The Day I Ate Whatever I Wanted, and Dream When You’re Feeling Blue. Berg has been honored by both the Boston Public Library and the Chicago Public Library and is a popular speaker at various venues around the country. She lives near Chicago.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One
Dorothy Shauman Ledbetter Shauman is standing in front of the bathroom mirror in her black half-slip and black push-up bra, auditioning a look. Her fortieth high school reunion, the last one, is one week away, and she’s trying to decide whether or not to draw a beauty mark above her lip for the occasion. It wouldn’t be entirely false; she does have a mole there, but it’s faint, hard to see. She just wants to enhance what already exists, nothing wrong with that; it’s de rigueur if you’re a woman, and it’s becoming more common in men, too. Wrong as that is. Dorothy would never have anything to do with a man who wore makeup or dyed his hair or carried a purse or wore support hose or cried or did any of those womanly things men are appropriating as though it’s their god-given right. No. She prefers an all-American, red-blooded male who is not a jerk. They’re hard to find, but she holds out hope that she will have some sort of meaningful relationship with one before she’s six feet under.

She regards herself in the mirror, tilts her head this way and that. Yes, a beauty mark would be fun, kind of playful. She pencils in the mark gingerly, then steps back to regard herself. Not bad. Not bad at all. Sexy. Just like she wanted. Helloooo, Marilyn. She pictures Pete Decker looking up from his table full of jocks when she walks into the hotel ballroom and saying, Va va va voom! And then, Dorothy? Dorothy Shauman?

“Uh-huh,” she will say, lightly, musically, and walk right past him. Though she will walk close enough to him for him to smell her perfume. Also new. One hundred and ten smackeroos. She got perfume, not cologne, even though her personal belief is that there is no difference. She’d asked the counter woman about that. She’d leaned in confidentially and said, “Now, come on. Tell me, really. If you were my best friend, would you tell me to get the perfume over the cologne?” And the woman had looked her right in the eye and said, “Yes.” Dorothy was a little miffed, because the woman had acted as though Dorothy had affronted her dignity or questioned her ethics or something. Like the time Dr. Strickland was telling Dorothy to get a certain ($418!!!) blood test and she’d said, “Would you tell your wife to get it?” And Dr. Strickland had drawn himself up and quietly said, “I would.” Dorothy had been all set to give him an affectionate little punch and say, “Oh, come on, now; don’t be so prissy,” but then Dr. Strickland had added, “If she were still alive,” and that had just ruined everything. It wasn’t her fault the woman had died! Dorothy had been going to refuse the test no matter what, but when he said his wife was dead, well, then she had to get it. Those dead people had more power than they thought.

Dorothy has never gone to a high school reunion. She’d been married when they had them before, and who wanted to bring that to a reunion. Now she is divorced, plus she saw that movie about saying yes to life. She steps closer to the mirror and raises her chin so her turkey neck disappears. She’ll hold her head like this when she walks by Pete Decker. Later, when they’re making out in his car, it will be dark, and she won’t have to be so vigilant. Oh, she hopes he drives to the reunion; she happens to know he lives a mere three and a half hours away. She knows his exact address, in fact; and she Google-Earthed him, which was very exciting.

In high school, Pete had a four-on-the-floor, metallic green GTO, and Dorothy always wanted to make out with him in that car. But she never even got to sit in it. She bets he has something like a red Lexus coupe now. And she bets that at the reunion he’ll watch her for a while, then come up to her and say, “Hey, Dots. Want to take a walk?” And she’ll say, all innocent, “Where?” And he’ll get a little flustered and say something like “You know, just a walk, get some air.” She’ll hesitate just for a second, just long enough to make him think she might refuse, and then she’ll shrug prettily before she agrees to accompany him outside. They’ll go right to his car and he’ll open the passenger-side door and raise an eyebrow and she’ll say, “Pete!” like she’s offended at the very notion. But then she’ll get in, will she ever. She likes this part of the fantasy best: She’ll get in, he’ll come around and get in on his side, and then, just before he lunges at her, he’ll look at her with smoke practically coming out of his eyes. And in her eyes, a soft Yes, I know. I, too, have wanted this for years.

Dorothy does plan on being a little mean to Pete at first; she has finally learned it can be a good thing to be mean to men. Apparently they like it; it’s supposed to appeal to their hunting instinct. That’s why she’s going to walk right by him when he first sees her and notices how attractive she is. Considering.

Her daughter, Hilly, is the one who told her about being mean to men. She said you do it just at the beginning and then every so often, just to keep up a level of intrigue, like immunization shots. And it works, too, because when Hilly started doing it, wasn’t she engaged in what seemed like ten minutes! She’s getting married in Costa Rica next month, and Dorothy thinks it’s a wonderful idea, the destination wedding. Thank God Dorothy’s ex will pay for everything. Poor he was not. She supposes he’ll bring his new wife to the wedding, and pander to her every single second. Holding her hand, as though they were teenagers. Bringing her drinks, as though the woman is incapable of doing anything for herself. Staring into her eyes like the secret of the universe is written there. It’s nauseating, the way they behave, anyone would say so. Hilly calls them the Magnets, though she might only do that to offer some kind of support to her mother, who lives alone now and must take out the garbage and figure out whom to call for repairs and check the locks at night and kill centipedes in the basement and everything else. Dorothy suspects the truth is, Hilly actually likes her stepmother. She hasn’t said so directly, but she did say that she’s happy for her dad, and wasn’t that just like nails on a chalkboard. But Dorothy did the noble thing and said yes, she was, too. Uh-huh, yes, he did seem happy now, Dorothy said, and she just wanted to throw up.

Hilly’s fiancé is a doctor. A proctologist, specializing in the wonderful world of buttholes and rectums, but still. Dorothy is working up to asking the question that—come on!—must occur to everyone to ask him: What exactly made you choose this line of work? When Dorothy tried to ask her daughter about it, all Hilly did was get mad. It is true Dorothy could have used a more sensitive approach—what she’d asked Hilly was “Why in the wide, wide world would you ever want to look up people’s heinies all day?” Still, Dorothy doesn’t see why Hilly had to take such offense. Her daughter had said something like perhaps Dorothy should consider the fact that preventing and treating cancer is a pretty noble goal. But that still didn’t answer the question, did it?

Dorothy thinks it was a book her daughter read that taught her about being mean to men. Who knows, if Dorothy had been mean to Pete Decker in high school, they might have gotten married. They went out once—well, not a date technically, but they did spend some time together on the class trip to Washington, D.C., and Dorothy was awfully nice to Pete and then of course that was that, he never called her. But if they had gotten married, they probably would have gotten divorced, and then she wouldn’t be looking forward so much to going to her high school reunion. Apart from her friends Linda Studemann and Judy Holt, she’s really only going to see him. And, to be honest, to show off her recent weight loss. That was the one nice thing about her divorce: During the grief part, before she realized how much better off she was without her husband, she lost twenty-three pounds. She bets she’ll look better than the cheerleaders, and even better than Candy Sullivan, who had been queen of everything. Not that Candy Sullivan is coming. According to Pam Pottsman, who is the contact person for this year’s reunion, Candy came to the five-year reunion and hasn’t come to any since. “Is she dead?” Dorothy asked, ready to offer an impromptu eulogy praising Candy’s good points, even though Candy never gave Dorothy the time of day. But Pam said no, Candy wasn’t dead, apparently she just thought she was too good to come, and then they both started talking about what a snob Candy always was, and she wasn’t even really all that hot. “Did you know she stuffed her bra?” Pam said, and Dorothy said, “Really?” and felt that delicious rush, and Pam said, “Yup, I sat across from her in Mr. Simon’s psychology class and I saw Kleenex coming out of the top of her blouse one day and I whispered to her that it was showing and she got all embarrassed and stuffed it back in and wouldn’t look at me.”

“But wait a minute,” Dorothy said. “I saw her naked in gym class, and she didn’t need any Kleenex.”

“What year?”

“Senior. And she did not need Kleenex.”

“Well, that psychology class was sophomore year,” Pam said, and she sounded a little disappointed that Candy Sullivan had outgrown her need for bra stuffing. But then she told Dorothy how a lot more people were coming this year than ever before, probably because it was the last reunion their class was going to have; and she named several of their classmates who had signed up. Dorothy thinks it will be fun to see poo...

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