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On Friday, I was glowing. The sun was up, it was warm, and it was my birthday. I had gone out the previous afternoon with my two best friends, Mattie and Marilyn, and gotten my belly button pierced. It was sore, but I wanted to show it off, so I was wearing my tank top. As I approached the school building, I saw Brent outside, waiting for me.
"Colleen!" he called.
I stopped as he approached me, "Yeah?"
He blinked, "You got your belly button pierced?"
"Is that what you stopped to ask me?"
"No, I mean, can we talk? Please?"
He didn't answer for a moment, and as I turned to walk away from him he said, "Because I miss you?" A question more than a statement.
I stopped. "You miss me?" I asked without turning around. I didn't want to look at him and lose my strength.
"Yeah," he said.
I waited. The thought running through my brain was, 'why now?'
"So, can we talk?"
I sighed and turned around. "I guess so." He approached me again. "But not now. I have class. Tomorrow?" I asked.
"I have to work. How about Sunday?"
"Okay." I smiled. "Let's go to the old coffee shop."
"Alright. Is two o'clock good?"
"Yeah," I said.
He smiled appreciatively. "Cool."
I stepped back away from him. "I have to go." I saw Tristan walking on the sidewalk, coming up behind Brent.
"Okay," he said. "I'll see you Sunday." He paused. "Oh, yeah, happy birthday."
"See you Sunday." I grinned as Tristan got closer. When he reached me, he took me in his arms and we exchanged a quick kiss. We walked into the building arm in arm.
"Who was that?" he asked.
"Brent? As in your ex-Brent?"
"What did he want?"
"I'm going to meet him for coffee on Sunday."
Tristan stopped walking. "Colleen…" he began.
"It'll be okay, Tris. I'm with you now."
"But it took you so long to get over him…" he trailed off.
"But I did get over him."
"Then why are you meeting him?"
"Because he asked."
"I'll be honest with you," he started. "I don't like the idea of you meeting him. I don't think you'll go back to him, but I don't want to see you get hurt all over again."
"He can't hurt me anymore," I reassured him.
"Yeah. Besides, even if he did, all I have to do is remember that I have the best guy in the whole world right here." I hugged him close.
Together we went to class.
Sunday came and I drove out to the coffee shop where Brent and I used to go all the time. I also used to work there. I quit after it was sold and I met the new owner. Another job opportunity opened up for me and I began serving late at night in a restaurant/bar. I was hoping to become a bartender there in another year, after I turned twenty-one.
As I stepped through the door, I saw Jamie working. It wasn't yet two, Brent wasn't there, and besides Jamie, the place was empty.
"Colleen!" she exclaimed.
Jamie moved out from behind the counter and hugged me. "How have you been?"
"Good. Tired. Not used to doing Sundays."
"So, is this your one Sunday this month?" I asked.
"Yeah. Shannon usually does them," Jamie explained. "But she wanted off."
"It's a fun shift," I said sarcastically. I used to work most of the Sunday shifts, seven and a half hours. It was long, I spent most of the time on my feet, but the tips made it worthwhile.
"So what are you doing here?" Jamie asked.
"I'm meeting Brent at two."
Jamie looked at me. "What about Tristan?"
"Oh, we're still together. Brent just wanted to talk about something."
"You don't know what it is?"
"Nope. I was reluctant to even do it, but then I remembered how much I wanted to talk to him before Christmas. So I figured I'd give him the chance."
"Sometimes I think you're too kind."
I laughed. "I'm inclined to agree with you."
"You want a drink?" she asked.
"Yeah, I suppose. Give me a sixteen ounce mocha, only one shot, whole milk, whipped cream."
"Got it. I heard this wild rumor that you got your belly button pierced the other day."
"Yep. I got it done on Thursday."
"Oh yeah. Happy belated birthday!" she said excitedly.
"So let me see it!"
I lifted my shirt up and showed her my belly button.
"Oh my God!" she squealed. "You did it! Was it scary?"
"Yeah," I admitted. Just then the door opened and Brent strolled in. I kept talking to Jamie. "But Mattie and Marilyn were with me."
"I can't believe it!" She shook her head. She finally acknowledged Brent's presence as she started grinding the espresso beans. "Hi."
"Hi," he said to her. "Hi, Colleen."
"Hey, Brent. You want a drink?" I asked.
"A large mocha."
"Skim or whole milk?" Jamie asked.
Jamie looked at me. "Did Mattie get a new tattoo?"
"Yeah. I don't know who was more nervous, her or me. I'm glad Marilyn was there to drive us home," I smiled. I turned to Brent. "You want to go sit down?" I asked.
I followed him to the table in the corner.
"So the belly button thing is new?" he asked.
"Did it hurt?"
He shook his head. "I never would have thought you would do something like that."
I grinned at him.
"Colleen," Jamie said. "Your drink."
I got up and returned to the counter.
Jamie rang me up. "$1.74."
I smiled wickedly, the old employee discount of 50% off. "Thanks," I said as I handed her three bucks. "Keep the change."
"Thank you," she said.
I returned to my seat at the table with Brent.
"You used to work here, right?"
Brent went to the counter to pay for his drink before Jamie could even call his name. He paid her the full price, $4.06, for the mocha and returned. He took a sip of his drink. "This is good. This place still makes the best mochas I've ever had."
I was quiet.
"I avoided this place for a long time because I knew you worked here."
"That shouldn't have kept you away," I said.
"I was afraid of running into you. I didn't know what to say."
I didn't say anything.
"I realized that I didn't treat you very well towards the end of our relationship."
I remained silent. I looked down at my cup. My hands were wrapped tightly around it. I raised it to my lips and drank.
"Who was that on Friday?"
"Tristan. My boyfriend." I looked at him.
"Have you guys been going out long?" he asked.
"Two months. What about you? Are you still seeing Leslie?"
"No. We broke up just before Christmas."
"Oh." I looked away from him. I couldn't even say I was sorry to hear it. Shortly before Christmas I got lonely. I started thinking about Brent again and everything that had happened between us. We had dated for a year and a half, so there was a lot for me to think about. I didn't feel like I had any closure, and I felt like I couldn't move on in my life until I got it. I wanted to talk to him, but I couldn't. I was too scared. I eventually moved on without closure. I raised my eyes. His gaze met mine.
"She dumped me. After she started going out with another guy." I smiled sadly. "What comes around goes around, I guess."
Brent had dumped me after he started dating Leslie. I suppose he was cheating on me with her, and vice versa, but things were far from perfect between us. I knew before he broke up with me it was over anyway. "Sorry to hear that," I finally managed to utter.
"Nah, don't be. I think I deserved it."
"No. Nobody ever deserves to be treated like that."
"You've changed," he said.
"I had to. So have you."
"Where are you working now?" he asked.
"Kiki's. I'm serving there."
"Don't you have to be twenty-one?"
"Not to serve. I can't bartend for another year though."
"You want to bartend?" he looked surprised.
I looked away. "Yeah. I think it would be cool. I really got into doing things with people by working here." I raised my cup to my lips and took another swallow. "Not to mention the tips."
"I just can't picture you doing anything like that."
"You said it. I've changed. I'm not the girl you once knew."
"I can see that." He was quiet. After a moment, he took a few swallows of his own mocha.
"So what do you do now?"
"I'm still working at the furniture store."
"Oh." I paused. "You're still in school. What are you taking?"
"Just some computer classes and a math class. It is only four classes, but I have fifteen credits. You?"
"Five classes, six with the Bio lab. Only fifteen credits this semester, compared to the seventeen last semester. What are you doing after the semester?"
"I'll probably continue at the community college. I'm not completely through with my program. You going to Mason soon?"
"Next fall. I've already been accepted."
"What's your GPA?" he asked.
"That's good," he said as he gazed into my eyes. "Maybe I should have stayed with you," he smiled nervously as he drank from his mocha again.
I didn't know how to respond to his comment, so I remained silent.
"I guess I shouldn't have said that," he finally said. "Sorry."
"No, don't be." I took another swallow of my drink. "So, what did you want to talk about?"
Brent sighed, "I just wanted to see how you were doing. I meant it when I said I missed you. I wanted to apologize for the way I treated you. It wasn't fair of me."
"Fairness had nothing to do with it."
"What makes you say that now? When I first broke up with you, you said I treated you unfairly."
"You said it yourself, what comes around goes around. I once saw it as unfair, but it was who you were. You did what you thought was best."
Brent smiled. "Well, I got mine. What I did to you was returned to me."
"I suppose. Actually, do you remember Dan? My mom's fiancé?"
"Well, I started thinking about you when my mom broke up with him. She was so strong about the whole thing."
"And that made you think about me?"
"I realized that you were very strong to go through everything I did to you. I treated you like dirt, but you kept going, doing what you thought was right. You were like my mom. You had a lot of strength."
"Thanks." I looked down at my hands.
"So, I'm sorry for treating you like I did."
Brent looked at me quizzically.
"You know that you broke my heart. I told you as much."
"Yeah," Brent gazed out the window at the cars passing by.
"But that was all you knew. I didn't tell you anything else. You broke my heart, but you also set me free."
"I was chained to you. I didn't know it, but I was. I knew that our relationship was over. Things weren't what they had been between us. I wasn't happy. Neither were you. But I was so afraid to be on my own that I couldn't let go. You had to do that for me."
"But even after I broke up with you," he began in a criticizing tone, "you still didn't let go."
"No. Not at first. I clung to you. But I was being honest when I told you that all I wanted was your friendship. You have to remember that when I was with you, I didn't have any friends. I only had you. And I needed a friend." I paused. "You broke my heart. Twice. Once when you broke up with me, and again when refused to be my friend."
"Don't be. Like I said, you set me free. I wasn't strong then. I wanted you to think I was because I wanted to impress you. But I wasn't."
"You are now, though."
"I fed you an illusion of strength. But it bled into other areas of my life. I eventually believed I was strong, so I am strong."
"And now I'm impressed."
I looked at him. "But to be honest, I don't care that you're impressed."
"You must care, just a little bit."
"What makes you say that?"
"I didn't come because I care."
"Then, why did you come?"
"Because you are now seeking the same thing I was looking for five months ago."
"You want some closure. You want to salvage something from us, something that says we were worthwhile."
"I'm not seeking closure."
"Then what do you want?"
"You earned my love once. Now you have to figure out how to earn my friendship."
Brent took my hand in his. "Colleen, I am sorry for everything. I shouldn't have treated you like I did. And I realize now you are an amazing person. I made a mistake in letting you go. I should have held on to you."
I removed my hand from his. "You can say all the mushy stuff you want. Maybe I'll believe you, maybe I won't. But you won't earn my friendship by doing it."
He was silent as he swallowed his drink.
"Why do you want my friendship?"
"I told you. I think you are an amazing person."
"No. I know that already."
"I miss you."
"You don't. This is your form of closure. You want to save something from us."
He was quiet. "I don't have an answer for you."
"If you want my friendship, you must earn it. I have to believe you are deserving of it. I have to trust you again."
"Is it that important to you?"
"It is. I don't want to be hurt or used. I have to look out for myself. Plus, I want to know I can trust you again."
"And I have to prove that to you?"
Brent sighed heavily.
"The way I see it, if I mean that much to you and if you really want my friendship, you'll work for it. You won't give up."
Brent looked at me.
"People change, but there are certain things about people that never change. You have never been one to give up when you want something."
"You have a lot of faith in me considering you don't trust me."
"It takes faith to earn trust."
At that moment, the phone in the coffee bar rang. Jamie answered it.