Brent was silent. "If earning your trust is what I have to do, then I'll do it."
I smiled at him briefly before I laughed. "You don't know how long I have waited for this day."
"What do you mean?"
"Once I realized that I was a pretty cool person and that people actually liked me and wanted to be around me, I wanted you to see it. I wanted you to realize what a cool person I am. I dreamed about this. What I would say, how I would react, how I would feel. Then I let it fade away and quit thinking about it. And here you are. But this is nothing like I imagined." I continued to laugh quietly.
Brent flashed me a dazzling smile.
"Colleen!" Jamie called. "Phone."
I rose and took the phone from Jamie. "Yo?"
I heard Mattie's distinct laugh. "How's it going?"
"Does he want you back?" she asked me.
I had met Mattie just before Brent and I broke up. She became the friend I needed. She helped me through so much of the crap he put me through. If it hadn't been for her… I am eternally thankful for Mattie's friendship. Besides just being my friend, Mattie had also been my boss while I was employed at the coffee shop. I loved her to death and even though we couldn't hang out as much as we once did, we still talked on the phone a lot. I had told her on Friday I was meeting Brent.
"Not really. Kind of."
"I will. Not now. Let me call you back."
"No. Come over later."
"Alright, I'll be over when I finish up here."
"Want to talk to Jamie some more?"
"Sure. Love you."
"Love you, too," I said as I passed the phone back to Jamie.
I returned to Brent.
"Was that Tristan?"
"Aren't we being nosy?"
"I'm just curious," he said, defending himself.
"Well, for your information, no, it wasn't Tristan. It was Mattie. She wants me to meet her later."
"You're still friends with her?"
"Oh, yeah, she is one of my best friends."
"What about Marilyn?"
"Of course. You still keep in touch with Darien? Or anybody from the old gang?" I asked, trying to shift the focus.
"Not really. I only talk to Darien when I see him. I never see anybody else."
"That's too bad. He was a cool guy. We had a lot of fun."
"Yeah. I haven't spoken to Alex in a while, either."
"You guys were good friends. What happened?"
"I'm not sure," Brent paused. "No, I can't say that. I do know. I know what happened to him, to Darien, Everett, Chris, everybody. I didn't make the effort to do anything with them. Just as I did to you. I started dating Leslie, and I didn't care about anybody else. I'm sorry I did it, too, because I lost some good friendships."
Once again, I didn't know how to respond to him. "Brent, can I ask you something?"
I sighed. I finally had my chance. Back in December, I had wanted to ask him these questions. I wanted to know the answers, no matter how much they hurt me. "What happened between us?"
"I messed up."
"No. That's not what I meant. Why did you go? Was it something I did? Or didn't do?"
"No. I think…" he stopped and looked away from me. "This isn't easy for me. After Leslie left, I thought about this. A lot. I think I am more like my mom than I ever thought I was. I got bored. Not because you weren't interesting, but because I like variety."
"But I wasn't interesting. I had no friends, no outside interests, no job, and we were in all the same classes. We knew all the same people."
"But I loved you anyway. I think that you and I had a real chance, but I screwed it up. I spent a year and a half with you and loved every minute of it, even the unpleasant ones, because they were real. I was tired of reality. I wanted something new and exciting, instead of the comfort and security you gave me. That's what Leslie was. She was older, she was different, she was new."
I swallowed. "Did you care at all about me? About what happened to me?"
"I did. That night that you found out about Les, I watched you crumble on my front porch. I saw your heart bleeding on the concrete. And I was sorry. I hurt with you, but I didn't understand it. After that, I asked my mom about you whenever you spoke to her. I wanted to know you were okay. After Christmas, when we didn't hear from you again, I was saddened."
"Why didn't you ask me if I was okay?"
"I don't know. I was scared, I guess. You wanted to look strong. I wanted to look like I didn't care. I didn't want to hurt you any more than I did. I see now it probably hurt you more doing nothing than calling you."
"So, our relationship did mean something to you?"
"Of course. I spent a year and a half of my life with you. How could it not mean anything to me? I was stupid."
I smiled at my cup, which was nearly empty. I sighed. "I should go. I have to meet Mattie." I grabbed my purse and stood up.
Brent rose to his feet as well. "Thanks for talking with me. I enjoyed it."
"So did I."
Brent grabbed my hand. "I meant everything."
"I know," I said as I dropped his hand. I turned away from him and walked to the door. "Later, Jamie!" I yelled.
I left the store and hopped into my car. My stereo clicked on, and the music was blasting. It was a CD I had left on by Fetish of the Mind, one of the local bands I had heard play at the coffee shop. As I started backing my car out, singing along with the words, with the window down, I saw Brent walking to his car. As I drove past him, I waved. He raised his hand and waved back. I drove off, leaving him behind.
As I walked through the door at Mattie's house, she hugged me. "How'd it go?"
"I want to hear all about it. But first, I have everything packed," she smiled at me. "Let's go," she grabbed me by the hand and led me to the basement. "Chase is over at a friend's house, so we are in good shape."
"Cool beans," I said as I followed her down the stairs.
Once in her basement and after we had settled into our usual low-slung modern chairs, Mattie stuck her hand under the shelves, producing a pipe. "For you. You may have the first toke. And then, tell me everything."
I took the pipe and the lighter. I raised the pipe to my lips, lit the end, held the flame. Inhaled. The smoke burned my lungs, but the flavor was smooth. I handed the pipe to Mattie. She inhaled without using the lighter. I exhaled, "That is good stuff."
"Yep," Mattie said, nodding, holding the smoke in. "Start talking."
I told Mattie about my meeting with Brent as we passed the pipe back and forth.
"So what are you going to do?" she asked when I finished. She had put the pipe down on the table between us, the marijuana supply in it exhausted.
"I think I'll give him a chance."
Mattie looked at me. "You sure it's a good idea?"
"I have nothing to lose. I can only gain his friendship. He can't hurt me anymore."
"Do you know that he can't hurt you anymore?"
"I won't let him. If he does, he won't see it. I guess, in a sense, I am testing myself."
"What about Tristan?"
"I wouldn't leave Tris or do anything to hurt him. Things between us are really good. And Brent is going to have to learn that I am not the same person."
"Well, whatever happens, I'm proud of you."
"Thanks. I wouldn't be here if it weren't for you, though."
"Nah. You're a tough girl. You would have pulled through."
"If you say so."
Mattie laughed at me, "How's work?"
"Great. I love it." Mattie and I spent the next hour talking, enjoying each other's company. After too long, I stood up and said, "Well, I had better go. I do have homework to do."
"Yeah," Mattie said, rising to her feet as well. "I have got to get something started for Chase for dinner. He'll be home soon."
"I still think he has the coolest mom in the whole world."
"Thanks. Sometimes I need to hear that."
At the front door, Mattie hugged me close and kissed me on the lips. "Take care, kid. Give me a call tomorrow to let me know what is going on."
"Will do," I said, my arms still around her shoulders, "You take it easy at work tomorrow. Don't work to hard."
Mattie snorted. "Nothing's changed. I never work too hard."
I released her, "I know it."
"Love you, too."
I walked out to my car. As I climbed inside and revved it up, I waved to Mattie, still standing at the front door. I put my seat belt on, got comfortable for the drive home, making sure to put a piece of gum in my mouth. As I backed out of the parking space, I thought about everything that had brought me to where I was. What brought me away from Brent, to Mattie, to Tristan, to smoking pot again. It was a wild journey.
I meant it when I told Mattie that I never would have made it through the mess with Brent without her. I met her at the right time in life. Outside of my relationship with Brent, I didn't have any friends, except Marilyn. When things started to go bad between us, I needed someone. By chance, I started going to the coffee shop for hot chocolate in the morning. That's how I met Mattie. She and I started talking and we've been friends ever since. She is no longer my only friend, but she started me along the right path. Without her, I don't know where I would be, or even if I would still be alive.
My friendship with Mattie is rather weird. She is nearly ten years older than I. She is a single mom, too. On the surface, we have very little in common. But in some way, we connect. She has awakened my sense of freedom and independence. To some, it wouldn't make sense to say that I needed someone else to feel my freedom and find myself, but I did. Mattie is that person. She also gave me my job at the coffee shop. I felt financial freedom for the first time and I was forced to become a more extroverted person. I also got to know a lot of cool people by working at the coffee shop. She also got me into smoking pot again. I had smoked back in high school, but I gave it up in my junior year. She smoked a lot while I was around her and one day, I just took the pipe and smoked with her. We had a lot of fun that day and I've been smoking with her since.
There is also something more between Mattie and I. One night, her son, Chase, was going to be at a friend's house, so she invited me to spend the night. We drank and smoked, both acting wild and goofy, having a blast. I don't remember more than that. Except, waking up the next morning in Mattie's bed. We were both naked, entwined in each other. I woke up before her and I watched her, sunlight filtering through the curtains. I tried to remember what had happened, but I couldn't. I found myself at peace with her. When she awoke, we looked at each other and started laughing.
"You remember anything?" she asked.
We laughed for a moment longer before we climbed out of bed to put our clothes on. We made breakfast together. I left before Chase came home. Since then, we haven't discussed that night. I really wish that I could remember it because it was my first, my only, experience with a woman. I want to know how it happened. All this was before Tristan. After that night, we kissed occasionally on the lips. Even after I started dating Tristan, we kept it up. Tris has no problem with it, although it bothered him at first, he has since adjusted.
While Brent and I had still been going out, I began to watch his sister, Laura, in the afternoons so he could work. Brent's mom worked all day, too, and she eventually kicked her fiancé out, so there was nobody there to watch his sister. I originally didn't take money for it, but I did eventually. Even then, I was cheap. A lot of what I made went right back to Laura for movies and toys. I loved watching her, but at the end of the summer, nine months after I started, I had to quit. I felt uncomfortable always being in Brent's house. I felt like I couldn't move on with my life. Plus, I had started working at the coffee shop, and school was starting back up.
I met Tristan when the fall semester started at school. I had a thing for him right from the start. He was hot, funny, different, and kind. We started off real slow, especially since he had a girlfriend. They broke up around Thanksgiving after going out for a year. I sympathized with him, knowing how much it could hurt. I waited until after our finals. I didn't think I would see him again. When I did because we had a class together again, I decided to make my move. On Valentine's Day, I gave him a simple card that said, "Be Mine," and put my phone number on the back of it. Two days later, he called and we set up a date. We connected during our conversations and were more interested in talking than watching the movie. We ended up leaving the theater early and heading to McDonald's so we could talk while we ate. We are exclusive, but we are still taking things slowly, both of us cautious.
I have a lot of good things in my life between Tristan, Mattie, school, and friends. I hope that if Brent is serious about wanting a friendship that he is willing to accept the fact that I am not the same.