On a rainy Friday afternoon about a month after that night of clubbing, I was once again at Brent's house, playing video games. We had discussed things on the phone, and we both felt comfortable playing games, but we didn't want to watch a movie or something because, as Brent said, "I don't want you to get the wrong idea." I appreciated his respect for my relationship with Tristan.
"What did you do?" he asked, laughing.
"He just looked at me and said, 'That's nice. I'm just here for a sandwich.' I was so embarrassed."
"And I bet your face got all red."
"It did," I chuckled. "I felt so dumb. I didn't even notice that this poor guy was a member of the fire department, not a police officer."
"Man," he said. "That was a good one. It sounds like you had fun working there."
"I did. I miss it. I made some awesome friends working at the coffee shop. It was a dream job. It helped me a lot."
"What do you mean?"
"With you," I said. "I found the support and friendship I needed with that job, not to mention the fact that staying busy kept my mind off of things with you."
"Then, why did you quit?"
"Once it got sold, I decided I needed to do something else. I want to be a bartender, so a job opened up as a server where a friend of mine frequented. I applied, they interviewed me that day. I was hired."
"And you like it?"
"I love it. Especially when we have bands come in and play. I have met some cool people. But I still miss working at the coffee bar. There was a certain level of closeness that we had there that doesn't exist at Kiki's. Do you still like your job?"
"Not like I used to. It has grown very monotonous, and I don't know what it is going to do for me in the future. But it pays the bills now, so I won't leave it."
"But if something better opened up that might go somewhere, would you take it?"
"Yeah. It's not like I have any emotional attachment to this one."
"Does Leslie still work there?"
"Do you feel weird when you see her there?"
"Yeah, especially when I see her with Steven. Her new boyfriend, the one she dumped me for."
"Then why don't you look for a new job?"
"Why? I have what I need now."
"That's why I quit watching your sister. I couldn't bear to stay here where we once were. I felt really uncomfortable, especially when you brought Leslie around."
"I know. My mom got on to me about that."
"Bringing Les around when you were here. She knew you didn't like it. After you quit, she raised hell because she had to find another sitter."
"I wasn't happy about leaving. But I couldn't handle the emotional stress. Plus, I wanted to work at the coffee shop. It was what I wanted to do. And it helped."
"I know. But my mom blamed me for your leaving."
"It wasn't you. It was everything. I had to find myself. We all do. That's life."
"So it is." Brent was silent and I was content to let things sit. "She asks me about you."
"Laura. She wants to see you."
"I miss her."
"That's what I tell her."
"And I want to see her, but I don't think I should right now."
"I don't know. I just don't think it would be right."
"She liked you better than Leslie."
"I spent eight hours a day with her. You think we didn't talk?"
"True. What else did you guys talk about?"
"What about me?"
"She thought you were mean. She thought Leslie was mean, and she made you meaner. She said she liked it when we were going out because you acted nicer to her."
"I suppose I was. It was all because of you, though. If Laura wanted me to do something and I didn't want to, you would make me."
"And it wasn't so bad, was it?"
"No. I actually enjoyed myself some of the time."
"Not to mention the fact that she thought she had a pretty cool brother."
Brent smiled. "She's happier now that I'm not with Leslie. And she's happy because I'm talking to you again."
It was my turn to smile. "That's good to know." I put the controller of the game system on my lap and stretched upward. I flopped back on Brent's bed.
"Just need to take a break."
Brent paused the game and put his controller down as well. He twisted himself around and looked at me.
I sat up, brushing my hair back behind my ears as I did so.
"I really like what you've done with your hair."
"How did you get it to be that color?"
"Black base, two coats of blonde highlights done about two months apart, and a layer of bright red highlights done about two weeks ago, two months after the last layer of blonde."
"It's cool. Different, but cool. I also like it straight."
"The miracle of hair products."
"It looks controllable now."
He reached up and touched it. "It's soft, too. I wish you had done it like this when we were going out."
"It's just cool."
"You wouldn't have let me. You didn't even want me to get it cut when it was down to my butt."
"True. But I would have liked it if you had done it. I guess I was just scared of you changing."
"'Cause I was so perfect and all."
I smiled nervously, looking at Brent.
He smiled back at me. He leaned toward me, and next thing I knew, his lips were on mine. He was kissing me.
I went with it for a moment, not knowing what to think, until he pulled away.
Before I could speak, he was kissing me again. He put his hand at the base of my skull and held my head. His other hand stroked my cheek. Mine just sat in my lap. First one tear, then two, spilled out of my eyes. Tristan, I thought, I am so sorry. Beneath Brent's fingers, I began to tremble. Why, I asked myself. Why is this happening? Tristan, please, forgive me. I pushed Brent away.
He looked at me and wiped the tears from my cheeks.
"I have to go," I said suddenly as I jumped off his bed. I raced out of his room, down the steps, grabbed my shoes, and ran out of his house to my car. In the rain, I pulled my shoes on, getting soaked. I climbed into my car, started it up, turned around and drove away. As I passed his house, I saw Brent standing on his front porch, watching me. I stopped at the stop sign at the end of the block and cried. The tears were coming so fast I couldn't see. They were falling like the rain outside my car.
A few minutes later, I drew a collective breath and pulled away from the stop sign. I got onto the main road and headed to Tristan's house. I was still crying, but I could see through my teary haze. Twenty minutes later, I stood in the rain on Tristan's front porch, gathering the strength to ring the doorbell. I pressed the button and waited for Tristan to open the door.
He opened it. "Colleen!" he exclaimed. "Come in out of the rain!"
I stepped through the door.