Caught in the Middle, Part 2 (To read Part 1, click here.)
I took a deep breath for as long as I could in order to stall. When I couldn’t wait any longer, I opened the door and walked into what looked like a battle of testosterone.
“No way, mate. Footy is so much better than American football. You guys have all that protective gear! Real men shouldn’t be afraid of getting hurt!” Julian said as he kicked up his feet on to the coffee table.
“Do you even hear yourself? When a sport is called something so girlie as footy, there is no way it’s any good!” Scott got up, walked over to the kitchen and grabbed another few bottles of beer.
“You’re one to talk! Look at you, you’re drinking light beer!” Julian snorted, but took the bottle Scott offered him anyway.
“Julian, can I talk to you for a second?” I stood behind him, hoping to God my pounding heart wasn’t loud enough for Scott or Julian to hear.
He turned around to look at me for a few seconds, as if pondering whether or not I was serious about talking to him. I held my gaze, not to seem like I was challenging him or anything, but just enough to warn him we were about to have a serious conversation.
We hadn’t had one of those since the day we broke up.
When he got up, I turned to Scott, whose eyes never left the television. “Scott, we’re going down to the coffee shop for a bit, okay?”
He nodded and seemed as if he couldn’t care less.
I grabbed my jacket from the coat rack and walked out the door with Julian following closely behind me.
“I feel like I’m being sent to the principal’s office,” he said, as we walked into the elevator.
“If I’m going to let you stay here, I need you to be honest with me. I want to know what’s going on, what happened, and what happens next.”
Julian laughed. “I feel like we’ve had this conversation before.”
We did – the day we broke up. I used more or less the same words. It was something like, “If we are going to keep fighting for this, I need you to be honest with me. I want to know how you really feel about all this, why you feel the way you do, and where we go from here.”
I must not be very creative.
“It’s not funny, Julian.”
“Z, come on. Lighten up.”
I shook my head and exited the elevator. I headed straight to the little coffee shop on the first floor of our apartment building; my runaway place whenever I needed to be alone.
“Hey, Rodney. Can I have the usual?” I smiled at the owner.
“And your friend?”
“Espresso. Thanks.” Julian stopped me from taking out money from my wallet, and dug into his pocket. He took out a few crumpled up bills and left them on the counter.
“They’ll be ready in a minute. Go ahead and take a seat,” Rodney said, flashing his trademark friendly smile.
I started walking to my usual corner table. Noticing a giggly couple occupying it, I quickly turned around to head towards the other side of the room, bumping into Julian who had been following my every move.
For a few short seconds, I froze. I hadn’t been mere inches away from Julian since our last goodbye hug. I found myself staring at his scruffy chin, suddenly remembering how it used to drive me wild whenever he’d kiss my neck.
“Where would you like to sit?”
I swallowed. “Corner… other corner,” I said, brushing past him and walking as fast as I could to the end of the room.
Rodney came up to us with his black tray, and set our coffees on the table before Julian even sat down.
As soon as Rodney was out of earshot, Julian grabbed my hand. “Look, Z, I’m really sorry about dropping in unannounced like that. I really didn’t know where else to go.”
“Yes, yes, we’ve established that.” I let go of his hand, and crossed my arms against my chest. “You have no one else besides Danny, Hugo and me. We’re past that. What I want to know is what happened. How did you get kicked out in the first place?”
“I told you, if I’m going to let you stick around, I want full disclosure.”
“But why do you need to know?”
“Because! You, me and Scott under the same roof? That is already a strange enough situation. If there is more drama coming my way, I need to know about it. If one day Lisa, Lucy, or what’s her name comes barging through my door, and you guys end up having world war three in my living room, I want to be prepared for it.”
“We’re not going to have world war three in your living room. I promise you.”
“How do I know that for sure?”
“Because she was very, very clear about never wanting to see or hear from me again.”
His face fell, and I was suddenly speechless. I recognized that look; sadness, anger, helplessness, all rolled into one.
“Julian,” I reached out and patted him on the arm. “If it’s too hard to talk about, I understand. I’m sorry.” As curious as I was, it was obvious he was still hurting. How could I be so insensitive?
“It’s not hard to talk about, but it’s hard to talk to you about it.”
I nodded. “I know, I know. We’ve barely spoken a word to each other in a long time. We used to be friends but we’re not like that anymore. I’m sorry. I wasn’t thinking.”
“No, it’s not that.”
“I haven’t been very nice to you, I know. I… It was just easier to not talk to you or see you and… When you were standing at the door, I was just… I don’t know, scared, I guess. I didn’t really prepare myself for what it would be like to see you again.”
“But we did see each other after the breakup. We met at Danny’s wedding.”
“You waved at me from the other end of the ballroom. That doesn’t count.”
“At least we were civil with each other. That’s got to count for something.”
I laughed. “Yeah, I guess it does.”
“Yeah, it does. We didn’t have ‘world war three’ at Danny’s and Emma’s wedding. That should count for a lot.”
I smiled for a second longer than I should have. Julian was gazing into my eyes when I remembered he used to always say it was my smile he fell in love with the first time he saw me.
I cleared my throat. “Look, if you don’t want to talk, it’s fine.” I pushed my empty coffee cup aside. “We should head back up before Scott gets worried.”
“He seems nice.”
“Scott? Yeah, he is.”
“So… you’re happy… with him, I mean?” He wasn’t looking at me when he asked that.
“What kind of question is that?”
“I just… want to know.”
“I thought you didn’t want to talk?”
“No, you said I didn’t want to talk.”
“I asked about you first and you didn’t answer me. Until you answer me, I’m not saying a word.”
He shook his head and had half of a grin on his face. “Listen. This is how it’s going to be, okay? You tell me whether or not you’re happy, then I’ll tell you everything you want to know about me and Lisa.”
“Why is it so important for you to know if I’m happy or not?”
“Why can’t you just answer the question?”
Julian still had that half grin on his face, but something told me he didn’t really find our banter amusing at all.
I sat back, my way of showing him it was getting a bit weird.
“Please just answer the question, Z. I’m begging you,” Julian said. Within seconds, the grin had completely disappeared from his face, and in its place was a pained expression.
“Fine, I will. But tell me why.”
“Because, Z. Every day since we split up, I’ve been going out of my mind wondering if you are happy and if breaking up was the right thing to do.”
“Not a day goes by that I don’t think of you. I know we agreed that being together was too hard, too complicated. But what if we were wrong?”
Before I could react, my phone started vibrating along with the roaring sound of Katy Perry’s “California Gurls.”
“Please, don’t answer that. Not now,” Julian pleaded.
I looked at him, then at my phone, then at him again. It literally took two seconds to decide what to do.
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