I was working on homework one Wednesday afternoon when the phone rang.
"Colleen? It's Brent."
"Oh, hey. What's up?"
"Just wondering if you wanted to talk."
"Umm," I thought about it for a moment. I surveyed the pile of books and papers around me. "Sure, for a bit."
"Did I interrupt something?"
"I was just doing homework, a necessary evil."
"Do you get a lot of homework?"
"Some weeks. Some weeks it isn't so bad. I've just had to get used to doing it all at home instead of at work."
I heard some background noise.
"Hold on," Brent said. "I'm on the phone with Colleen," I heard him say, his voice muffled.
I heard a small voice in the background say something I couldn't discern.
"No, maybe later. Now leave me alone." Returning to me, "Sorry. That was Laura. She wants to talk to you."
"How's she doing?"
"She's fine. She just turned ten, but she has the attitude of a thirteen-year old."
I laughed. I knew Laura would be getting an attitude. She'd already been developing one when I last saw her. "I'm sure. How's your mom?"
"She's great. I think for the first time in her life she is happy being single. I don't think she wants to be single forever. But for now, she's happy. She saw that in you. So, thanks."
"Why do you say that?"
"You got on with your life and she saw that, so she got on with her life, too."
I thought to myself, who would have thought that at the age of twenty I would be a role model for someone eighteen years older than me? All I said was, "If you say so."
"Yeah, I think she really learned from you. Which in turn helped Laura. I think she saw a strong female role model and saw our mom get stronger and saw that happiness doesn't always depend on someone else. I only hope she remembers it when she gets a little older."
"Is she still overweight?"
"Yeah, but she has lost a lot of weight. My mom and her started going on walks together in the evening."
"You looked like you've lost some weight. Have you?"
"Some. I also started working out to tone my stomach. I didn't want to get my belly button pierced and not show it off because of some rolls of fat."
Brent laughed. "Well, that makes sense. But I never thought you were fat."
"Oh, I was. I can look back at our prom picture and I think, 'what was I thinking?' I was fat."
"You look good now though."
"Thanks." I smiled into the phone. "Can you hold on for a minute while I run and get the portable?"
I put the phone down, got up from my desk, and ran downstairs. When I reached the portable, I picked it up and turned it on. "Okay."
"How is your family?"
"And you niece? I can't imagine how much she's grown."
"Emma is amazing. She's almost two now."
"Walking and talking?"
"Always. I love her so much I could eat her."
Brent laughed. "She was still so little the last time I saw her. She couldn't even crawl."
"Yeah, you missed a lot. For a while, I felt sorry for Emma because she wouldn't get the chance to know you. Then, I felt sorry for you because you wouldn't get to know my niece."
Brent was silent for a moment. "And now?"
"I still feel sorry for you because you don't know her. She is an amazing little girl. She is so smart, just like her parents. And whatever happens in life, I want to be there for her."
"How are James and Natalie?"
"Happy, still very much in love. Sometimes so much so that it makes me sick."
"Because of us…" he trailed off.
"No. Because James is my brother."
"Yeah. Nat's even pregnant again."
"Really? That is so cool. Are you excited?"
"Yeah, we're all excited."
"Do they know if it is a boy or a girl yet?"
"No, it's too early. The baby isn't due until September."
"Wow. Emma is almost two, and you're going to be an aunt again."
"So much has changed…"
For a moment, we were both silent.
"Hey… You want to come over next week and do something?" Brent asked.
"I don't know. Play video games or something."
"Call me on Wednesday and I'll see if I can. It depends on how much homework I have and my work schedule."
"I'll do that." He paused. "Well, I reckon I will let you go now so you can do your homework."
"You still talk like my family."
"You 'reckon' you'll let me go."
"Did I say that?"
"Oh man. I haven't said that in a long while. It must be you."
"Yeah, me and my southern accent," I said sarcastically.
"Well, I like it."
The compliment didn't remain unnoticed.
"Anyway, I will let you go now."
"Alright. Tell your mom and Laura I said hi."
"I'll do that. I'll call you later."
I turned the phone off. I looked at the clock. I had to be in class in an hour, so I started getting ready. I left my house a little early so I could stop by the coffee shop and pick up two drinks, one for me and one for Tris, since he also had class on Wednesday.
"Everything okay?" Tristan asked as I handed him his coffee.
"You look like you have something on your mind."
"Brent called today."
"What did he want?"
"Just to talk." I sighed. "And he wants me to go to his house sometime next week to hang out."
"I told him to call me next week, and I'd see."
"Will you go over there?"
"I'm not sure."
"Well, what if I'm making a mistake? What if… What if he does something to hurt me?"
"Emotionally? He can't hurt you if you don't let him."
"Has he ever raised a hand against you?"
"Then why are you worried?"
"I don't know. It's all very weird to me. He did talk to me out of the blue. I can't help but wonder if he has a hidden agenda."
"He could, I suppose. You don't know that, though. It could be that he is being completely honest with you."
"And how do you feel about this whole thing?"
"It's weird. I'm not completely comfortable with it. I don't like it. But I couldn't stop you if I wanted to. And I don't want to. I want you to do what you want and be yourself, but I don't want you to get hurt. That is what I am afraid of. Because I trust you completely."
I smiled to him. "That means a lot to me. I need your support."
Tristan hugged me close. "I know. And you have my support." He leaned in and we shared a warm kiss before we parted ways for class.
On Wednesday afternoon a week later, my phone rang. "Hello?"
"Hey, Colleen." It was Brent.
"Hey. What's up?"
"Not much. You?"
"What are you doing?"
"Homework. What are you up to?"
"I was sitting here reading."
"Nah. For fun."
"Look, I was calling to see if you wanted to come over tomorrow afternoon."
"I guess so. I have to work tomorrow night and I have class tomorrow morning. But I'm free in the afternoon."
"So, what did you want to do?"
"I was thinking we could just hang out, you know? Nothing special or important."
"Do you remember how to get here?" Brent asked.
"Yeah, I couldn't forget something like that. What time do you want me to be there?"
"What time is your class?"
"I get out at 12:15 and I have to be at work at 5:30."
"How about three o'clock?"
"I'll see you tomorrow, then."
"I'll let you go so you can do some more homework, okay?"
"Sure. See you tomorrow."
"See you," he said as I pulled the phone away from my ear.