I pulled up to Brent's house on Thursday afternoon at two minutes to three. I parked on the curb, just like I used to. I walked up his front steps and rang the doorbell. Brent answered the door within seconds. "A little early, just like you used to be," he smiled.
"Only for things other than school," I returned.
"Come in," he said as he opened the door wider.
I stepped over the threshold. I looked around as I removed my shoes. Once his house had felt like home to me. Now, it was as if I had never been there. There were pictures up on the walls, some old, some recent. On the table by the door were smaller framed photos, including one of Brent and I at our senior prom, years ago.
Brent caught my gaze and said, "That was a long time ago, wasn't it?"
"Yeah," I smiled to myself involuntarily. "A lot has changed since then, too," I returned his gaze.
He beamed back at me. "Come on, let's go upstairs." He turned and went up. I followed him. He led me to his room. I noticed the changes immediately.
He had switched his bed and his desk around, so that the bed was where the desk once was. His poster of a giant black beast with glowing yellow eyes was now on the wall above the desk. Next to his door was a shelf I had never seen before. His stereo sat on top of it and the lowest shelf was filled with books. The middle shelf was lined with knickknacks and CDs.
"Nice," I said.
"You haven't seen it since I moved things around?"
I looked at him with my eyebrows raised and didn't say anything.
"No, that's right. I don't guess you would have."
"When did you do it?"
"Two months ago."
"And you've left it like this?" Back when Brent and I had been dating, every few weeks he would rearrange the things in his bedroom. It drove me nuts. He said he did it because he spent his whole life moving, and he liked change. I thought he was just crazy.
"Yeah. I like it. I feel comfortable with it."
"I suppose that's good. I mean, it is your room," I spoke sarcastically.
"True… Well, have a seat," he gestured to his bed.
I sat. He sat beside me. For a moment, we just sat in silence, not looking at each other. "This is awkward."
"It is. Do you want to play some games?" he asked.
I looked at him. "Sure, why not?"
Brent leaned over and pulled his game system out from under his bed. He got up and connected it to the TV on top of his dresser, which was on the wall next to his desk, nestled in the corner of his room. While he was setting it up, I removed my lightweight jacket. He put in a game. "Hope you don't mind this one," he said.
"Not at all."
"Hey, let's fight against each other."
"You used to hate that."
"I know. I just want to get the feel of it again," I said smugly, smirking to myself.
"Okay." Brent set up the controls of the game. The game we were playing was one of those games where you run around and shoot people. He and I used to team up and virtually enact some of the scenarios that came with the game as well as make up our own. We were a great team. And he was right, I once hated playing against him. As I fiddled with the controls, I noticed that my old character was still saved.
Once in the arena, he and I began hunting each other. He fired first, but I shot and killed him. He came back to life. The chase continued. I got him from behind the second time.
"I hope you aren't doing this to me vicariously," he said.
"Nah. Just warming up."
A few minutes later, I had killed him five times. He had only killed me once.
"I'd say you're pretty warmed up," he said.
"Just getting there." I gave him a flirtatious smile.
Brent paused the game after I killed him another time. "How long has it been since you've played this game?"
Brent looked at me.
"Your sister isn't the only kid I've been known to baby-sit."
"Ahh. So you've been practicing."
"Only when I baby-sit."
"Who is the kid?"
"The son of one of my friends. I occasionally watch him as a favor to her. He's eight."
"Cool." Brent's eyes pivoted back to the screen. "You wanna team up?"
"Now, that I've shown you what I've got, sure."
Brent put an end to our current game and set up the new one.
"Where is Laura, anyway?"
We started playing. "She's over at Claire's house. She watches her five days a week after school so I can work or do what I want to."
"Hmm. She getting along any better with Claire's sons?"
"Yeah. They're fine now."
"That's good. When she first started going to Claire's, she hated it."
"She missed you for a long time."
"I missed her, too."
We were silent for a few minutes.
"So," Brent began, "I understand you had our old computer professor last semester?"
"And how would you know this?"
"Because I have him now."
"I see. And who brought me up, you or him?"
"He did. But I did bump in to him back in October, and I asked about you."
"'Cause he asked me about you."
"That was the last time."
"What did you say to him?"
"Basically that I didn't know you any more."
"That's it." I paused for a moment as I lined my shot up to kill a baddie. "What did he have to say about me?"
"Now or in October?"
"He said you had the highest grade in his class. He really liked you. He thinks you have a lot of potential. The way he talked about you… Well, it made me feel as if he expected me to do as well as you and that he would be disappointed in me if I didn't."
"I did give him a brief summary of us. So he knew about our falling out."
"That's a nice way of putting it."
"Maybe he was just trying to encourage you to do well," I suggested.
"Did he say anything else?"
"Not really. He did say…" Brent stopped.
He sighed, "He said he was worried about you."
I raised an eyebrow to the TV screen. "Worried about me?"
"He said that sometimes you would show up to class completely out of sorts, tired and worn out. He was worried, that maybe it was something outside of school and work. He wanted to know if I knew anything, which I didn't. But it didn't sound like you."
"Was this October or recently?"
"October. He did mention it again the other day, though."
"The other day?"
"I told him I was talking to you again."
"So," he began, "he was worried about you."
I started laughing.
"What's so funny?"
"I wondered what he thought of me some days."
"'Cause I was always tired. There were days when my eyes wouldn't focus on the computer screen. I couldn't hold a thought in my head. I am amazed that I passed that class like I did."
"Well, what was going on?"
I laughed. "Too much partying."
"I hope you didn't do anything stupid."
I smiled. "Well… I'll tell you this one thing. There were days when I wasn't conscious of being in class. And there is one day I don't remember at all. I only know it happened because I apparently ran into one of my friends after class. She told me later that she was thinking the whole time that I was talking to her, 'Man, Colleen is still wasted from last night. She doesn't know what she is saying.'"
"What did you do?"
I just grinned secretively. "That's my secret."
Brent shook his head. "Do you still party like that?"
"Not as bad. And I try not to on school nights. But this job at Kiki's has also made me slow down. But what about you? Don't tell me you haven't done your fair share of partying."
Brent smiled sheepishly. "Nothing on a school night, though. And I remember everything."
"Then you haven't lived the college life."
"Colleen, did you ever drive home drunk?" Brent looked away from the game and looked at me.
"I was always okay."
"Were you ever drunk?"
"Do you want to hear the answer to that?"
"I wouldn't have asked if I didn't."
"I did. But, I swear, I was always alright."
Brent looked away.
"Look, if you want to judge me, do it. I don't care. You can say to yourself as much as you want to that you won't do something, but when it is right in front of you, reality is a whole other issue. You can say you won't drive drunk. However, when you are drunk, everything looks okay."
"I won't judge you." He looked back to me. "And I can't tell you not to do it again. 'Cause you're right. Things happen. Especially when you are drunk."
"You sound as if you know something."
Brent looked back to the game again.
"Look, I told you something. Now it's your turn."
"Yeah, I got drunk. I was so far gone. I lost control. Leslie said something to me and I hit her. I can drink, but there is a certain point that I won't pass anymore."
"You hit her?" It was now my turn to ignore the game.
"Yeah. I felt terrible the next morning and I apologized. Profusely. She accepted it."
"Yeah. I will never drink that much again. I'm… I'm afraid I'd do it again."
"It takes a smart person to realize that and a stronger one to live by it."
"You should have seen my mom when she found out."
"That you were drunk?"
"Oh my God. How many cows did she have?"
"A whole herd."
"How did she find out?"
"My clothes smelled of beer."
I started laughing.
"You ever been caught?"
"No. I think my parents know something. They aren't stupid, but I think they think that if I can work and maintain good grades and stay out of trouble, then I'm okay."
"There is a certain amount of logic in that. And it does sound like your parents."
For a few minutes we were quiet again. "Oh," I said suddenly. "I have something to show you." I paused the game, leaned over and pulled something out of my jacket. "Here." I held up a photograph of Emma, smiling into the camera.
Brent dropped his controller. "She is adorable." He took the picture from my hands and held it gingerly by the edges. "She is precious. She has grown so much. I don't believe it."
I smiled proudly. "That's my baby girl."
Brent looked at me. "She is the cutest baby I have ever seen. I just can't believe how much she has grown. How old did you say she was? Almost two?"
"Yeah. But she is about the size of a three-year old, at least the one she met at my old work."
"She's like a little angel."
"She is a little angel."
Brent handed the picture back to me. "Hold on." He got off the bed and left the room. I looked at Emma's picture for a moment before I returned it to the pocket of my jacket. Brent had said it exactly right. She was an angel.
He came back into the room and handed me a picture. "It's Laura's school picture from this fall."
I looked at it. "She's beautiful. She looks like you. And your mom."
"She's really growing up." I tried to hand the picture back to Brent.
"Keep it," he said. "We've got plenty."
"Thanks." I looked at it for a moment longer before I put it in the pocket with Emma's picture. "Brent, how did you know to find me at school that Friday morning?"
"I saw you a few times, mostly in your car when you were coming and I was going. Once I saw you in the parking lot as you walked to the school building. I was in my car that time, too."
"Oh. Okay." I glanced up at the time. "You mind if I use your bathroom to get ready for work?"
"Not at all."
"Let me get my stuff out of my car." I got off of Brent's bed and walked down the stairs. I ran outside and grabbed my bag out of the car. I went back upstairs to his bathroom and ducked in. I changed my shirt and pants, washed my face, and put on fresh makeup and perfume, as well as deodorant. I piled my hair up on top of my head and pulled a few small wisps out around my face. I stepped out of the bathroom and Brent's gaze met mine.
His eyes moved slowly up and down my body as he followed my newly acquired grooves. "You wear that to work?"
"Yeah." I was wearing a white shirt that was low-cut and fit snugly across my breasts. The shirt came down to my waist. I was wearing tight black pants with straight legs. I had a black leather belt with metal studs around my waist, slightly below my shirt. My belly button was barely covered.
"Wow, you look amazing," he said wistfully.
"Thanks. I have to go." I picked up my jacket and threw it on over my shoulders.
"Let me walk you to your car."
I put my shoes on at the bottom of Brent's steps. My shoes were black and made me another inch taller, although they were neither platforms nor heels, but rather, something in between. Once out by my car, I turned to Brent and said, "Thanks, I had fun."
"Me too. Even if you did kick my ass."
"Maybe that will keep you from being so cocky."
We both laughed.
"Well…" I started.
Brent leaned toward me and hugged me close. I hugged him back. I thought for a moment that I felt the stiffness of an erection against my pelvis.
I got into my car.
"I'll call you," he said.
"Okay. See you later."
I closed my door and Brent backed away from my car. He stood there and waved as I turned around and drove off into the distance.