As tears drench the cotton of my pillow, I realize I must have imagined our special connection after all. Brent was just a guy who’d been at war for too long, and I was the first convenient woman in his path. That’s all. As soon as he’d ejaculated, he’d probably instantly regretted it. Because why would he want me, when he could have Amy, who’s thin, pretty and blonde? I really can’t blame him. Of course, it still doesn’t explain why he cried in my lap like a child, but at this point, I’m tired of wondering about this Brent enigma. I have no more energy left for it. And resolve to focus on what’s actually important: my studies.
I sit down at my desk with my coffee and force myself to start working on my paper. No more Brent. No more hunky soldier. No more taboo sex or crying jags. He’s not interested in me, and although it pains my soul … I have to live with that fact.
With the palms of my hands pressed flat to the carpet in my room, I lower myself down to start a series of push-ups. Hopefully, the physical exertion will clear my mind. It always worked at the base: whenever I felt angry, or sad, or homesick, I’d do push-ups until the feelings melted away into nothingness, and all I could feel was the burn in my muscles, my breath hot in my throat. And if there was any residue of the feelings after that, the endorphins would kick in and take care of the rest.
Cole has always disapproved of this method. He doesn’t believe in ignoring emotions. He believes in addressing them head on, and allowing them to guide my decisions. But I met Cole too late because I can’t unlearn my behavior now.
101 … 102 … 103. I continue with the push-ups, but so far no luck: I can’t put last night out of my head. Janie. How much I had enjoyed talking to her. How much I enjoyed fucking her, right out in public like that. I replay the evening over and over again in my mind. But every time I get to the part where I blacked out and found myself sobbing on her knees in the foyer, I grimace in humiliation. Fuck! What a way to end a date, especially since I basically ran off like a coward afterwards. 156 … 157 … 158 ….
Suddenly there’s a knock at the door. I clench my jaw in irritation as I continue my push-ups. 182 … 183. Again, the knock.
“Brent? Sweetie?” comes Mom’s voice from behind the door. Sighing with exasperation, I stop the push-ups and get to my feet, opening the door with sweat streaming down my face, breathing hard. Mom’s looking up at me in her bathrobe, holding the portable house phone in her hand. She’s staring at me like I’m some kind of monster. Poor woman probably doesn’t recognize the little boy she raised.
“What is it, Mom?” I ask as kindly as I can.
“Someone on the phone for you,” she says, holding it out to me. Confused, I take it from her. What is this, 1998? Anyone who would call me, would do so on my cell phone.
“Thanks,” I mumble, and go back inside my room.
“Hello?” I say into the portable phone.
“Brent!” booms Cole’s voice from the other end.
“Yo man. Why are you calling me on the house phone? How do you even have this number?”
“It wasn’t that hard to find. Your cell keeps going to answering machine, dumbass. Why’s it off?”
Confused, I grope into the pocket of my leather jacket – he’s right, it’s off. Battery must have died sometime late last night.
“I guess I must have forgotten to charge my phone. Sorry dude.”
“That wild, was it?” laughs Cole. I don’t answer, not sure how to.
“No worries. It’s why I’m calling you anyways. After we finished talking last night, I got a little worried.”
“Why?” I snort dismissively.
“Look, I may be jumping the gun here, but I wanna suggest a buddy system. It’s something that’s been put into practice as a kind of therapy ….”
I cut him off.
“Yo, I don’t need therapy,” comes my defensive growl.
“I’m not saying you do, Brent. But you only just got back, and you’ve been through a lot the last four years. No civilian can even remotely fathom the pain. So yeah, the army set up this buddy system where they pair soldiers with one another so they can, you know, talk. Keep on eye on each other.”
“Right,” I snort. “Might as well become an Avon lady while you’re at it.”
But Cole’s not offended.
“Come on, we talk already. What’s the difference?”
I suppose there isn’t really one. And maybe Cole’s right. Maybe I do need someone to talk to. About last night, especially.