Justin watched as Trace yelled at Mandy. He cringed every time Trace raised his arms like he would hit her.
"I’m just saying, Trace—"
"For once, would you keep your big mouth shut!? I’m so sick and tired of listening to you babble on and on about all these shit! I’m tired of it, Amanda!"
"Well, I’m tired too, Trace! How the hell am I supposed to just sit here and act like everything’s okay? I SAW YOU! You can’t hide it from me now because I SAW YOU! With my own two eyes, don’t you know that?"
"What the HELL are you talking about? You’re lying through your teeth again, Mandy!"
Justin looked from Mandy to Trace, to Mandy again. He waited for her to speak, but when she looked up at Trace, tears were rolling down her face. Justin made a move to hug her, to comfort her, but saw the face Trace was wearing. He was angry beyond belief and Justin himself has never seen him this way before.
When she spoke, her voice trembled with every word.
"I was eating at the restaurant across the street, Trace! You walked in, ordered your food, took her hand and kissed it! My heart crumbled into pieces, Tray…but I couldn’t do anything. I didn’t want to make a scene. All throughout dinner tonight, I was waiting for you to tell me about her, about your ‘business’ date last night because that would assure me that you’re not lying to me. But you didn’t tell me…and you even told me that you ate dinner with Dave! What kind of a girl is named Dave?!"
Justin was frozen in his seat. He looked at Trace, not really believing that his best friend would do such a thing. He had known Trace almost all his life…this was really not like him. Any minute now, Trace would deny everything…because it’s not true. None of it was true.
"I’m sorry, Mandy…it didn’t mean anything. That was Donna…and she was just in town, so we had dinner, you know? Just to talk. It didn’t mean anything."
Justin’s head hurt. He couldn’t believe that Trace had gone behind Mandy’s back and had seen his ex. If it really meant nothing, he should’ve told her about it. This isn’t the Trace he knew.
Justin’s heart ached when Mandy nodded her head, sighed and stood up.
"I’ll see you around, Tray. You too, Justin."
Justin watched Trace watch Mandy head for the door. They were at Trace’s house and Justin knew that Mandy’s house was a good 5 blocks away. He expected Trace to at least offer to take her home. But he just sat there, holding his head in his hands and shaking it.
"Man, I gotta’ go…give you some time to think about this. But…I gotta’ tell you this. That girl is the best thing that has happened to you. How can you treat her this way? I love you man…you know you’re my best friend…but you gotta’ know when you’re crossing a line…and this is one thick line you’ve crossed."
Justin kept his eyes open while he slowly drove out of Trace’s street. He was about to give up when he saw a slumped figure walking on the sidewalk. He drove next to her and rolled down the passenger window.
"Mandy…c’mon. I’ll drive you home."
Mandy looked at him, tears still rolling down her pretty face. She looked down at her walking feet and sighed heavily.
"I’m okay, Justin. You can tell Trace that I can go home by myself."
"He didn’t ask me to drive you home…I just want to, okay? Get in, it’s late and your house is 5 blocks away."
Mandy stopped walking, which made Justin’s car stop moving as well. Justin watched her, knowing that she doesn’t know whether she should get in or not. She finally shrugged her shoulders and opened the passenger door.
"Actually, it’s 6 blocks away," she said, fastening her seatbelt on.
There was a momentary silence between them as Justin drove purposefully slow.
"I’m sorry you had to see that, Justin."
Justin didn’t take his eyes off the road, Instead, his right hand reached for Mandy’s and he squeezed it.
"I’m sorry you had to go through that. Look, Mandy…I love Trace…but what he’s doing to you isn’t right. He’s a lucky guy to have you but he doesn’t see that. He’s a great friend…but he’s a lousy boyfriend. How many times has he made you cry? Every time I see you, you’re crying. You deserve better than that. You deserve a man who would treat you right, who would never make you cry." And I would never make you cry, Mandy.
Justin stopped in front of Mandy’s house. He watched her take her seatbelt off and couldn’t help but yearn for her. He has kept his feelings hidden for a really long time now.
It all started when Trace and Mandy had a fight. Mandy called him, not having anyone else to turn to. She had apologized for unloading on him about his own best friend and Justin dismissed her apology with, "He’s a great guy, Mandy…but even I have to admit that he’s stupid when it comes to relationships." Mandy had been crying for almost an hour on the phone with him that he finally told her that he was going to pick her up. The minute he saw her, sitting on their porch, eyes and nose swollen and red, his heart ached. He reached for her and gave her the best hug he could give her.
They had driven for ice cream and had spent the whole night talking. No, he didn’t spend it comforting her and telling her what an ass Trace was when it comes to relationships, though he wouldn’t have complained if he had to. They started talking about their dreams, hopes and interests. And as it turned out, they had a whole lot in common.
And from then on, Justin couldn’t look at Mandy the same way…nor could he really look Trace in the eye anymore.
As he drove towards his own house, he couldn’t stop himself from thinking that if only Mandy was with him, things would be different. She wouldn’t be crying this much…in fact, she wouldn’t be crying at all. He would give her all the love that he could give because he had never met another woman who deserved only that from a man. But then he stopped.
What am I thinking?!?He thought, not being able to believe that he was thinking what he was thinking of.
"I can’t believe I’m asking you this, Mandy…but what are you still doing with him? I’m sorry, but both of us know that you’re worth more…SO MUCH MORE than this," Justin asked as he watched Mandy look through a rack of jackets.
She had called him up and they went to the mall. They were looking for a birthday gift for Trace. It had been a month since the Donna incident and Justin couldn’t believe that Mandy had just turned her head the other way. After that night, Justin was sure she’d had enough.
Maybe I just underestimated her love for him.
"I dunno, Justin. I mean…if you asked me why I’m still with him after all the shit that he’s put me through, I wouldn’t have an answer. I love him that much, I guess. Or, maybe I’m just real dumb, I dunno!"
"What I wouldn’t give to have someone like you…someone who would love me as much as you love Trace. I mean…I WISH someone would love me like you love Trace. Maybe then she’d stick with me through all the busy schedule and all the travelling and the screaming girls and all that."
"Hey…I stick with you through all that!" she said, playfully punching his shoulder. She gave a jacket to a saleslady and asked her to wrap it up.
If you only knew what I’m talking about here, Mandy. If you only knew!
Justin smiled as her lovely voice answered the phone.
"Hi, Mandy. Where are you?" he asked, lying down on yet another hotel bed.
"Hey…Justin! I’m here at Trace’s. Where are YOU?"
He could hear Trace’s voice in the background and he could hear him singing.
"You’re at Tray’s? At…what time is it there," he asked, looking at his watch. "It’s 11 in the evening. You planning on staying there for the rest of the night?"
He wasn’t sure if he wanted to know her answer to that.
Shut up, Justin! Mandy and Trace are together and Mandy staying at Trace’s house shouldn’t come as a shock,he thought as he waited for her answer.
"Yeah, I am. It was kinda’ our anniversary, and we sorta’ had a celebration. He’s in the shower right now, though."
"Oh…well, that’s cool," he said. He couldn’t help but sound disappointed.
"So…where are you tonight?"
For a minute, he couldn’t remember where they were that night. He looked at his bedside table, saw the hotel pamphlet and smiled.
"We’re in Salt Lake tonight until tomorrow."
"That’s nice. You must be very tired from all this travelling that you’ve been doing," she said. Justin didn’t miss the concern that he heard in her voice.
"It gets tiring, I can’t deny that. But this is just a small price to pay. I’m enjoying what I’m doing and that should count for a whole lot!"
"Well, I’m glad to hear that you love it that much. The last thing I need to hear from you is a poor little rich boy story."
They laughed together and then, were silent for a while. Justin could hear her breathing and he longed for her.
"I miss you, Manders…" he said, his voice trailing. He had started calling her ‘Manders’ when they became too close, they couldn’t let a day pass without talking.
"I miss you too, Justin. Whenever you’re touring, I have to be content with the few minutes we get to talk and that’s not nearly enough, if you ask me."
Justin’s heart felt so full that moment and he couldn’t help but close his eyes. He couldn’t believe the next words were from his mouth.
"I wish you were here with me tonight."
There was silence. For a minute, Justin thought that Mandy was gone, but then he heard Trace’s voice.
"Honey…who’re you talking to? And why do you look like the world’s problems are all on your shoulders?"
He could almost hear Mandy smile faintly at Trace.
"Listen, I gotta’ go. I’ll talk to you again tomorrow, okay?"
And then she hung up. Justin sat on his bed, looking at his cellphone. What had pushed him to say that? Sure, they go as far as to say that they miss each other…but they don’t wish to be together!
At least Mandy doesn’t.
Justin’s smile dropped when he opened his door and found Mandy standing there. Her face was blank and emotionless. Justin didn’t miss this, so he stepped aside and let her enter his home. He watched her cautiously and followed her to the kitchen. He sat on the counter and watched her open his refrigerator. He wondered why she still hadn’t uttered a word when she took out a pint of Ben & Jerry’s.
And then, he knew.
Before she could do anything else, tears began rolling down her face and she blindly looked for Justin’s body. When she reached him, she hugged his waist as tight as she could. Justin began stroking her head and rocking back and forth.
"It’s going to be okay, Manders. Whatever it is, you’re gonna’ pull through it like you always do. I’m here, remember? We’ll get through this together."
She cried for a good half-hour before slowly moving away from his embrace, wiping her tears away and eating the half-melted ice cream. Justin watched her, knowing that she’d talk when she was ready…and that’s when she’s had some ice cream.
It felt like eternity, but then she finally spoke.
"I went to Trace’s tonight. I wanted to surprise him because he thought I was gonna’ be spending the whole night in the library to study for tomorrow’s finals."
She said it like she was just telling him a story. He knew more was to come.
"So I went up to his room, right? I heard him singing in the shower…and found that…that model he used to date."
"You mean, Rachel?" Justin asked, sliding down from the counter and taking out a bottle of water. He started drinking it as he waited for her to swallow the bite of ice cream.
"Yeah…her," she said, pronouncing the last word like it was dirty. "She was sleeping…and she was naked under the covers. I…I ran out of the house as fast as I could. I don’t think Trace even knows that I know. "
And then the tears appeared again. Justin’s heart crumbled as he gathered her in his arms. He couldn’t help but feel a little sense of dejá vu. He had lost count of how many times she had run to him crying her eyes out because of Trace. But he didn’t tire of it.
He was, however, tired of Trace’s blindness. Justin couldn’t understand why Trace would treat someone this way…much less Mandy. He knew that Mandy was and will always be the best girl he had ever met.
Justin watched as Mandy slept on the bed in his guestroom. She had been too tired from crying that she fell asleep on the couch while Justin was talking. He could spend all night watching her sleep and that would be enough. She was so beautiful, lying there as if her troubles and heartaches have disappeared.
He moved his chair closer to the bed and smiled. He ran his finger across her cheekbone and had to breathe in when he felt the warm, smooth skin. She started to move but she didn’t wake up. He smiled again. He stood up and pulled the sheets up to her bare arms. He walked to the door and stood there, holding the door. He stayed there, watching her sleep, as if willing her to wake up and run to his arms again.
He started to close the door, but peered in at the last moment.
"I love you, Amanda Jones," he whispered.
He closed the door, walked back to his room and rested on his bed. He looked up at the ceiling and shook his head.
When will you ever get the strength to tell her,he thought.
He turned around and found the other half of his bed empty. He closed his eyes and pictured Mandy sleeping there next to him. He could almost feel her warmth against his body as he holds her near. And then, he opened his eyes and found that side still empty and cold.
If I was with her, she’d understand everything…my schedule, my fans…and I’d never EVER hurt her.
Justin’s heart ached as he wrapped his arms around Mandy. She was crying again. This time, it was because she had finally decided that things with Trace have to end.
Mandy hugged Justin tighter as she cried more.
"I’m sorry, Tray. You know how much I love you…but I can’t keep getting hurt. You can’t keep running around with other women and apologizing to me after. I knew from the start that you wanted your freedom, so now I’m giving it to you. I can’t stand it any longer…my heart can’t take any more pain."
Trace couldn’t believe his ears. Is this for real,he thought. How can it be?
"Mandy…you’re talking gibberish. We can work this out. This is US we’re talking about here. We’ve been through a lot of shit and we work through them all. We can keep this up…we’ll work together."
Mandy shook her head. In all actuality, she couldn’t believe that she had the strength to do this…but she found it in her. This is what she really needed. It was time she finally thought of herself.
"I’m sorry, Trace. But we’ve always worked through the shit because I always turned my head away. I always ignored your little mistakes. But I can’t anymore. I really can’t. I’m sorry. It’s over."
Trace got down to his knees and hugged Mandy’s legs. He hugged them as tight as he could as tears began rolling down his face.
"I can’t let you go, Mandy. I love you…you and I both know that. I’m just a little stupid sometimes. You can’t leave me…this is all just a dream, isn’t it?"
Mandy closed her eyes as she pushed Trace away and made him stand up. She opened her eyes, sighed and looked straight into Trace’s own eyes.
"If it is a dream, it wouldn’t hurt this much."
She gently moved away from Justin’s embrace and smiled up at him. His blue eyes were filled with concern and it caught Mandy by surprise. She had never had anyone look at her the way Justin was looking at her right now.
"Thank you for being here, Justin. I really needed you," she said, kissing him on the cheek.
Justin was caught off guard but smiled. He playfully punched her shoulder and squeezed her hand.
"That’s okay. I’ve always been here for you…why not now? I’m really sorry about all this, though."
"You shouldn’t. I’m not. I know that breaking up with him was the best decision I had made since I met him. I can’t let myself get hurt anymore. I’ve learned to love myself now…thanks to you!"
Justin smiled and took her in his arms again. They sat there, in front of his pool, and looked up at the stars.
"I’m glad I have someone to look at the stars with," Mandy said not taking her eyes off the deep blue sky. "I’m glad I have you, Justin."
"I’m glad I have you too, Manders."
If I was the one, if I was the one,
In your life.