He had not wanted --or at least not been able--to say goodbye to Lori in person the other day at the Arcade, yet Brian felt it was cold to do it by phone. He stretched out on his bed trying to figure out a way to do both; say goodbye and still be kind. He thought about it all day but he did not call her. Instead, he ended up rereading her texts to him. He’d saved them all, like a lovesick schoolboy. You're disgusting, he told himself, get real.
The next afternoon he held his cell in his hand a long time before he got the nerve to punch in her number. Brian had decided that Lori somehow possessed the gift of pure joy, it poured out of her. When she answered her phone she always sounded like she’d just been laughing. For a brief second he simply took pleasure in her soft, eager voice; it flowed over him like warm oil. Then he remembered he was calling to say goodbye to her. Forging ahead, he was determined to be as ruthless as necessary. Quickly he explained his reason for calling, telling her he felt that she needed to be with people her own age and that she shouldn’t visit his house or call him anymore.
“It’s an impossible situation and I’m sorry I let it go on for so long,” He shut his eyes as he spoke the words casually, “Obviously you took our friendship the wrong way. That’s probably my fault and I apologize.”
“But…,” she sounded dazed, “Brian, I thought you liked me”
“Lori, I’m 32; you’re 16,”
“So? I don’t like boys my age that much, anyway.”
He smiled a little at this and contradicted her,
“Yes, you do.”
“No, I’ve always liked older men! Really!”
“In that case you need to spend time with someone about 18 years old, Lori. That’s enough of an older man for you.”
“A hundred years ago girls of 15 married older men all the time. And even 50 years ago in certain states in the south, girls could marry at 13!”
“Okay, let’s come back from la-la land,” he pointed out, “This is the 21st century we’re living in and men who get involved with women under 18 go to jail.”
“Then you don’t really like me, you never really liked me---is that what you’re saying?”
Her voice sounded plaintive and oh, so young. He evaded the question,
“That really has nothing to do with it. What I’m saying is I’m too old for you and we can’t see each other anymore.”
She said nothing for the moment, then blurted out,
“I wish I was 21!”
Sweetheart, believe me I wish you were 21 too; my life would be a lot easier instead of the struggle it is at the moment.
“You’ll be there one of these days. Sixteen is a cool age; just enjoy it.”
“Please don’t do this, Brian.”
“You’re a good kid, Lori, you’re just confused. I have to say goodbye now.”
She was crying quietly and he was desperate to get off the phone. Tears from any woman made him uncomfortable; hearing Lori cry made him crazy, especially since it was over him.
“Bye, Brian,” Her voice was just above a whisper.
He went upstairs and grabbed his guitar. Maybe he could lose himself in his music for a couple hours.
It was the next night and Brian was on the sofa reading a book on music composition he’d borrowed from the library. He’d been thinking of going back to school part time. Probably just to the community college.
Bridget sat down in the chair and, ignoring the book in his hand, talked on and on about one of her friends. It seemed this friend was so talented, such a good cook and so beautiful it was a wonder she was still single. Brian nodded. When she took a breath he stuck his nose in the book again.
Bridget was somewhat miffed, especially when she saw him pull out his phone and look at it.
He’d received a text from Lori. Supposedly she was only trying to let him know that a musical group he liked was coming to town. Brian knew that really she wanted to contact him somehow and hoped he'd answer. He sighed.
“Is that girl still calling you?” Bridget asked. Without waiting for an answer she launched into a diatribe.
“Jeez, she’s become a pest. She seemed like an innocent and sincere girl when she came over that night, but I’m starting to think…after all, you’ve made it clear you’re not interested and what is she crushing on a 32 year old man for anyway? Some women are trash from the get-go, Brian. Evidently you were wrong about her and so was I; I guess she’s just a little teenage tramp. I mean if she---“.
Brian jumped to his feet, “Shut up, Bridget, just shut up! Don’t talk about her that way ever again!” his face was dark with anger, “You don’t know squat about this. She’s a just a young girl who met a bum with a guitar and got a little carried away. She isn’t what you said and she never could be.”
Bridget was stunned; her brother had never been so furious with her before, but typically, she just kept talking,
“Brian, don’t tell me you seriously care for this girl! I thought you were over any feelings you had. She’s only—“
“I know she’s only a kid! As if you hadn’t told me twenty times! I’m not going to reply to her text and I haven’t talked to her since the other night. I’ll get a new phone, okay? I told her to stay away, to go get lost. So what else do you want me to do, put a contract out on her?”
“Brian, calm down; it’s for the best. And if you don’t like her why are you this upset?”
“She’s a sweet kid and I had to be rough on her. That upset me, why wouldn’t it? Look, I don’t want to talk about this!”
She regarded him sadly for a moment. Then she whispered almost to herself.
“Oh, Bry, you haven’t cared for anyone in such a long time; why did it have to be her?”
“What are you going to do?”
She just wouldn’t let it die. The persistent women in this town—one way and another they were killing him.
“I already did it. I told her to stay away and not to text or phone me.”
“Yeah, well she evidently wasn’t listening,”
“I can’t help that. As you’ve reminded me over and over, she’s a child. So she’ll get over it soon enough and then she’ll stop trying to contact me. Give her a chance, Bridgie.”
He returned to his book. If he went back to school he could see now that he certainly would not be able to do it living with Bridget.
“You’re crazy about her, aren’t you?” she marveled.
He wouldn’t even look up as he scoffed, “Don’t talk crap, Bridge.”
“I know you Brian; she got under your skin somehow.”
“Are you deaf? I told you I don’t want to talk about it anymore, and I mean it.”
Bridget sailed on as if he hadn’t said anything, “Maybe it’s because you haven’t found a woman your own age. You need to marry and have some kids. It’s time.”
Deep in his heart, Brian loved his sister, but there was no doubt about it, she was bossy and opinionated. And she was getting on his last nerve, his very last nerve.
“I’ve dated a couple of women since…since all this happened.”
“I’m not talking about an afternoon with Jenny Hot-pants Lomax; I’m talking about a woman you could really love and respect. I know so many nice women.”
“Would you leave me alone, Bridget? I’m fine. I don’t want to get married, but if I did I wouldn’t need you to broker the deal.”
He’d lost his place twice, but he tried again to read murmuring, “Anyway, I need some time before I meet anyone.”
“Why?” Bridget pounced on that, “Don’t tell me you think you love this girl!”
He completely lost patience at last, and threw the book across the room, shouting,
She shrugged and went to the kitchen to make some coffee. What had this girl done to mesmerize her brother? Was she some kind of Lolita who had purposely bewitched him? And what kind of reputation did she have, anyway? Bridget brooded as she asked herself these questions and began to detest Lori Lassiter.
It was around 6 pm a couple nights later and Brian had been composing on his synthesizer in the music room when Bridget peeked through the archway,
“I’m going over to Mom’s for a while; do you want to come along?”
“Nah. Not this time. Any leftovers you want to bring back will be fine, though,” he smiled.
She nodded and left.
After another hour or so he realized he was getting really hungry and he went down to the kitchen. Opening the refrigerator he stared into it waiting for inspiration. Nothing really looked that appetizing. Bridget had protein drinks and health food stashed everywhere. Blechhh. Then he remembered that it was his mother’s night for barbeque ribs. What a fool he was, he should have gone with Bridget. Well, maybe he could run up to Sam’s, their barbeque was pretty good. He heard a tentative light knock on the front door. One of Bridget’s husband-hunting friends, no doubt, they came here night and day. Unfortunately most, except for Renesmee and one or two others, were pretty ugly in his opinion, despite Bridget's claims about them. Looks weren’t everything, of course, and people had a right to be themselves even if they were unattractive, but there was no reason to be a fanatic about it. He was still considering going up to Sam’s as he opened the door, expecting the worst.
It was Lori. She looked a little nervous, but her eyes lit up at the sight of him. I'm a dead man. When I met her I might just as well have stepped in quicksand.
“Please, Brian, talk to me just for a minute.” She was wearing some sort of getup that Brian thought made her look pretty cute in a bohemian sort of way. Her wavy black hair hung shiny and long and the scent of strawberry shampoo wafted over him.
Yep, shoot me, somebody just shoot me.
“All right,” he allowed grumpily, “But out here; you can’t come in. Where’s your car?” He stepped out onto the front walk and shut the door behind him, looking around.
“I didn’t use my parents’ car; I walked. Anyway, I came over because I’ve been thinking about everything. I know you said you didn’t like me, but—”
He interrupted her, “I never said that—“
She shrugged impatiently, “Whatever. You were trying to make me think you didn’t feel anything much for me. It took me a while, but, I figured out that you were trying to protect me. Deep down, you do care for me,”
“Not the way you mean.”
Her eyes pleaded with him, “You’re lying, Brian, I know you are. Just tell me the truth. I know you care about me but I need to hear you say it. Then if you still want me to go, I’ll go.”
“It doesn’t matter if I care or not—“
“Yes, it does. It matters that people care for each other. It’s the most important thing of all. And when they do care for someone they should tell that person!”
“Who told you that, Dr. Phil?”
She giggled a little, “You’re so funny. But I mean it, Brian. I have to know how you feel, but for real.”
“Lori, please don’t make me say things that you don’t want to hear.”
Her brows flew together over her nose and he wouldn’t have been surprised if she’d stamped her foot.
“Oh, excuse me--like what would that be? What could possibly hurt me more than you saying I can’t ever see you again? Tell me, because I’d like to know!”
Brian realized he had never heard her be even slightly sarcastic before. Under any other circumstances he would have been amused. She reminded him of a very small kitten, back raised, dancing sideways while spitting and hissing in an effort to look bigger than it was.
He took a breath, wiped all expression off his face and tried again, “You have to listen, Lori, and try to understand. I am totally not interested in you romantically.”
It was out there now, a reference to romance, but it didn’t matter; she didn’t believe him anyway. He could see that in her face, in her whole bearing.
“That’s not true.”
“Okay, fine,” he lied, “I didn’t want to hurt you, but there’s no way around it evidently; I’m seeing a woman. She’s my age and we’re pretty serious. So, you see I couldn’t be seeing any other girl right now, anyway.”
Lori faltered a moment, frowning as she considered this information. Then her face cleared again and she said with what later would seem to him amazing insight,
“If you are seeing some woman, then you’re just seeing her to avoid me.”
He looked up at the sky and roared in frustration. Her tenacity was amazing. Evidently it was not enough to say he didn’t consider her date material; he would have to make her actively dislike him.
“What do I have to do, beat you with a stick? I don’t know how else to tell you—I want a relationship with a grown woman. YOU are a child!”
She looked away and Brian could see tears now. So he was finished; he was done. There was really nothing more he could say to her; because he didn’t have it in him to be any crueler than he’d already been. He just couldn’t do it. And he couldn’t stop himself from apologizing now, “I’m sorry, Lori, I never meant to hurt you.“
Looking into her face all he could think at that moment was crying had made her eyes impossibly blue. She looked small and forlorn. He mentally grabbed himself by the scruff of the neck. This had to end now, once and for all, he couldn’t take much more. And he was suddenly afraid she was working herself up into some sort of rash declaration. Not a good thing.
“I need to tell you something,” she began, wiping her tears away with the back of her hand.
“No, you need to go, Lori.”
“But I have to tell you! I’m in lo--”
“Don’t.” he cut her off in a cold voice, “Now go home before I call your parents to come and get you.”
She looked at him for a beat, shaming him for his cruel remark, then without another word she headed for the sidewalk. Brian watched her walk away. He should have been relieved. But he wasn’t.
He could hear her footsteps fading away as he went into the house and closed the door. Resolutely he headed upstairs and began throwing his things into a beat up duffel bag.
Later that night Bridget came through the front door with half of a key lime pie, a plate of barbeque ribs and a container of their Mom’s special coleslaw. She called out to Brian but there was no answer. After putting away the groceries she went upstairs thinking he must be asleep. Something about the silence made her wonder and she decided to knock on his door. There was no sound. She cautiously opened the door. Glancing in quickly she saw the room was empty and she ran upstairs to his music room knowing what she would find.
His drums were still there and the synthesizer, but he’d taken his guitar and bass. Everything was neat as a pin in both rooms, as usual; just an envelope on his bedside table containing a very short letter for her.
“Sorry, Bridgie, but this really is the best thing for everyone. Don’t worry; I’ll keep in contact this time. It’s a good gig and I’ll be gone for awhile if nothing goes wrong. I promise I’ll be back some day. Give Mom and Dad a hug for me, I’ll send you the itinerary when I get on the road. Love, Bry”
“That brat!” Bridget thought, as tears filled her eyes, “She hounded and chased Brian away. He would be here right now if not for her; the little witch.”
She looked again at the bedside table and realized Brian had left something else. His cell phone lay discarded by the lamp. Now nobody could contact him.
To head back to Lori Lassiter's continuing story go HERE
For continuing chapters on Brian Ottomas starting five years later go HERE