The only girl I had ever seriously dated went by the name of Melody Cohn. Mel knew me and actually grew to like me during my pre-punk days. We started going out in the 8th grade and somehow managed to stay together despite the changes of the following year. I went punk and she moved away (thankfully, she didn't move very far). Though we had been officially broken up since early sophomore year, we had briefly reconciled a few times before arguing and swearing never to talk to one another again. Our last such bout was early June and I had not spoken to her since.
I had my hesitations about calling her, but I really didn't have anywhere else to turn. If it was a simple matter of just wanting to get laid, I'd have waited til Dan's party. It was more than that though: I was confused and I wanted someone who knew me to help me straighten shit out. Mel was it by default.
Much to my relief, she didn't give me that much of an attitude about calling out of the blue.
"What is it this time?"
Of course, attitude can be pretty relative….
"Nothin," I lied. "I'm bored."
"Yeah, well I'm busy."
"Doing…." she paused. "OK, you got me. Doing nothing."
"Look, if you don't want to talk, I'm not gonna waste my fucking time."
"I didn't hang up yet, did I?"
"No," I was forced to admit.
"So what is it?" she repeated. "What do you want?"
"I…. look, things are kinda fucked up right now. Can I see you?"
I expected her to say no. She was stubborn and usually took convincing. However, I just didn't have the patience for it this time and was ready to hang up.
"Sure," she said instead. "You can buy me lunch."
Mel's unexpected consent to a visit threw my plans for a loop. I called Robbo early the next day to let him know that I wouldn't be hanging out with him.
"Finch'll be heartbroken," he joked.
"So what? We still have the weekend."
"Dude, don't remind me."
When I told him I was going to see Mel, he gave me a healthy dose of teasing.
"Don't you remember the last time?" he asked me. "When you came back, you were like 'Fuck that bitch, I'm never talking to her again, she's got no soul' and all that."
"Yeah, I remember."
"And then you bet me $50 that you wouldn't see her again."
"Yeah, I…no, wait. No I didn't!"
"Damn," he muttered. "Anyway, have fun."
"I'll try, man."
Neither one of us had mentioned Cori.
Mel lived right by a mall, which, unfortunately, was where our visits convened. I hated malls with a passion. They were manifestations of greed run amuck, mixed with a slapdash assortment of poseur culture and brainless idolatry. Fucking Calvin Klein can charge $80 for a $30 pair of jeans and people will brag that they paid the $80. Unbelievable. The only times I ever went to malls was when I felt like heckling people with my friends or I absolutely had to buy something or meet someone. This was a clear cut case of the latter.
I met Mel in the food court around 11:45. She hadn't changed a bit since I saw her last. She, like Cori, was short, topping out at 5'2 ½". Her red-brown hair reminded me of cinnamon, even though the color wasn't quite the same. She wore Lisa Loeb-style glasses, a red sweater and lack jeans with zippered pockets. There was a time when I would try to visually undress her every time I laid eyes on her, but those days had passed.
"Hi Seth," she greeted. She didn't sound anywhere near as belligerent as she did over the phone and I took that as a good omen. We grabbed some food, sat down and managed to talk face to face like two normal adults, despite the fact that we were neither normal nor adults.
"How was Thanksgiving?" I asked.
"You got your college apps out yet?" she asked.
We continued in this vein for quite awhile, keeping things civil but banal as well. Normally, this kind of small talk drove me crazy, but I was relieved to not be talking about "issues" at that very moment. Unfortunately, Mel went and ruined it for me.
"You sounded depressed over the phone," she pointed out.
"Depressed?" I asked and tried to laugh it off. "Nah."
"Come on Seth. Everyone gets depressed."
"Right. But I'm not."
"You said you were fucked up."
"I said things were fucked up. Things. Not me."
"Stupid stuff," I said dismissively. "All this college shit is giving me a headache."
"Is that all?" she asked.
"What do you mean all? It's a pretty big thing."
She shrugged. "I dunno. It just seems like there's more."
"Well? Is there?"
It would be wise to mention at this time that Mel hates Cori and pretty much always has. Having known her in the old days, she regarded her as a snob. Then, following the transformation, she saw Cori as a bad influence on me (even though initially it was I who influenced her) and a distraction from our relationship. At the time, I regarded it as mere jealousy, but I now saw that it might have been spawned out of concern. It was this concern that I sought now.
"Me and Cori aren't talking," I told her. "She did something stupid, I might have overreacted and we're both pissed."
"Oh," she said, sucking in her breath. "That's…um…. bad."
"I know you don't like her, but she's my fucking friend. Or at least she was. So cut me some fucking slack."
"Seth," she said, touching my arm. "I know you were friends. I just don't know what you think I can do about it."
"I don't know either," I said. "This whole thing made me realize that she means a lot to me. I mean, we haven't spoken in only two days and I'm already sick over it. I was hoping that if I hung out with you I'd be able to forget about her. But now I'm missing her and…."
"Seth, are you crying?"
"No!" I snapped. Indeed I wasn't, but I wasn't too far off. The impulse control switches inside of me were going haywire. I was either on the verge of collapsing into tears or going into a profanity laden, red faced, chair-throwing frenzy of anger. Goddamn Cori. Why the fuck did she do this to me?
"Look," she said. "You know what I think about Cori. If you two never spoke again, I'd be happy. But you wouldn't be. She's your friend. Whatever she did and whatever you did, she's your friend."
"But she lied to me," I protested. "I…I was fucking angry and I said some stuff I don't think I can take back."
Mel rolled her eyes. "So what! Do you have any idea how many arguments we've had? And yet here we are."
"Yeah. That's true…. I guess."
"Do you remember how depressed I was the first time we broke up?" she asked. "I nearly developed an eating disorder. I was sick over it. I deleted all your emails, tore up all your pictures. I never wanted to see you again because you'd hurt me. But you know what, even after I did all those things, I still hurt. And I was sick of being sick. So I took you back. And I liked being with you all over again. It wasn't that I forgot that you'd hurt me or that I thought you'd never do it again; it was that I got over it. People aren't perfect, Seth, and their imperfections aren't always what you'd want or expect them to be. Deal with it."
"You know what," I said after a moment's pause. "You're right. Cori and I have been friends for nearly 4 years. Why the fuck should something like this ruin everything?"
"That's the spirit. Now unfortunately I must go…."
"Damn," I muttered.
"What?" she asked sardonically. "Did you think we'd go off somewhere and…"
Instead of getting angry, she merely laughed. "You need to grow up," she told me. "Then again, maybe I do too."
That was all the signal I needed. I pulled her into me and practically devoured her face with my lips. She felt soft and warm to the touch. As I ran my hands over the bulge of her bra straps, I already envisioned us getting back together. Robbo was right: I had absolutely no resolve when it came to Mel.
"Well…that was fun," she said after we had locked face for a few solid minutes. "But I really do have to go. Call me."
"I will. Thanks Mel."
It'd be another few months before I called her again, by which point a lot had changed. She'd have a boyfriend then and was off-limits and I'd be too preoccupied to care. Cori would be back in the picture, but not in a way either of us would have been able to predict when we sat down at the food court that day.